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Presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says the US could have a military presence in Iraq for “maybe a hundred years,” and that “would be fine with me.” Speaking to a campaign rally audience in New Hampshire, McCain elaborates on his statement, saying that the US still maintains troops in South Korea, Japan, and other nations, and he has no problem with US soldiers remaining in Iraq for decades “as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed.” McCain continues the thread of his assertion after the rally, in an interview with reporter and author David Corn. Corn writes: “I asked McCain about his ‘hundred years’ comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that US troops could be in Iraq for ‘a thousand years’ or ‘a million years,’ as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: ‘It’s not American presence; it’s American casualties.’” [Mother Jones, 1/3/2008] McCain’s statement is not a “one-time gaffe,” as some claim. His repetitions include:
January 3, 2008: To a Detroit reporter, McCain says: “We’re still in Kuwait since the first Gulf War. If we can continue to show this progress, we could be there for 100 years, for all I know, as long as Americans are not dying. It’s not a matter of American presence; it’s a matter of success so we can beat back this adversary.”
January 6, 2008: On CBS’s Face the Nation, McCain says: “We’ve got to get Americans off the front line, have the Iraqis as part of the strategy, take over more and more of the responsibilities. And then I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years.”
In a New Hampshire speech on January 7, 2008: “We are in two wars. We are in a greater struggle that is going to be with us for the rest of this century.… These young people that are in this crowd, my friends, I’m going to be asking you to serve. I’m gonna be asking you to step forward and serve this nation in difficult times.”
At a Florida town hall rally on January 26, 2008: “I’d like to look you in the eye and tell you there’s not gonna be any more wars. I’d like to look you in the eyes and tell you that this terrible evil called radical Islamic extremism is defeated. I can’t do that. I’ve got to tell you that we’re gonna be in this struggle for the rest of this century because it’s a transcendent evil.” [Mother Jones, 4/29/2008]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The sanctuary of Trinity United Churco of Christ. [Source: Chocolate City (.cc)]PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, investigates claims that Democratic senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, belongs to “a racist, anti-American church.” The investigation concludes that Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, “teaches black empowerment, not racism, and that it claims Africa as its ethnic heritage.” Anonymous emails “ricocheting around the Internet” claim that Obama should not be president because his church is “anti-American” and “scary,” and, somewhat contradictorily, that Obama is not a Christian, but a “covert Muslim” (see December 19, 2007 and January 11, 2008). The emails began within hours of Obama’s Democratic primary win in the Iowa caucuses. One email declares: “If you look at the first page of their Web site, you will learn that this congregation has a nonnegotiable commitment to Africa. No where [sic] is AMERICA even mention [sic]. Notice too, what color you need to be if you should want to join Obama’s church… B-L-A-C-K!!!” PolitiFact writes: “It’s the latest salvo in the email wars—anonymous missives launched into cyberspace seeking to frighten voters away from presidential candidates in the guise of friendly warnings. Typically they use kernels of truth, then launch into falsehood.” Chicago historian Martin Marty, a white religious expert who has attended Trinity United services in the past, says: “There’s no question this is a distortion.… Whites are highly accepted. They don’t make a fuss over you, but you’re very much welcomed.” PolitiFact finds that Trinity United is one of the larger black “megachurches” in the US, preaches a message of black self-reliance, and has as its motto, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” The church does have a “nonnegotiable commitment to Africa.” However, it has no racial standards for its members, and does have white and other non-black members. Obama is a member who has attended regularly for years, though with the travails of recent presidential campaigning, his attendance has fallen off in recent weeks. The main focus of the email vitriol, aside from Obama, is Trinity’s senior pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who preaches passionately and focuses on what he calls “black liberation theology.” Obama has written in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, that it was Wright’s preaching that inspired him to convert from a secular agnosticism to Christianity during the 1980s. He titled his memoir after one of Wright’s sermons. PolitiFact finds, “Trinity’s commitment to Africa appears to be more a statement of philosophical orientation than of political support for any particular African country,” and notes that the church’s Web site states, “Just as those of Jewish heritage advocate on behalf of the state of Israel, and those of Irish heritage advocate on behalf of Ireland, and those of Polish descent for Poland, so must we of African descent care about the land of our heritage—the continent of Africa.” Divinity professor Dwight Hopkins, an African-American member of Trinity, describes the church as “highly evangelical and Bible-based.” The preaching, he says, tends to be “common-sense folk wisdom laced with theological sophistication.… There’s singing and shouting and people get happy. It’s an old-fashioned, mainstream down-home church that somehow is captured in this 8,000-person congregation.” John C. Green, a political science professor, says scholars do not view black liberation theology as racist, but some outsiders may hold that opinion. “A black empowerment theology could be seen as having a racist element because it isn’t neutral in regards to race,” he says. “The person who wrote this email obviously has very strong feelings about this.” In February 2007, Obama said of his church and his faith: “Commitment to God, black community, commitment to the black family, the black work ethic, self-discipline, and self-respect. Those are values that the conservative movement in particular has suggested are necessary for black advancement. So I would be puzzled that they would object or quibble with the bulk of a document that basically espouses profoundly conservative values of self-reliance and self-help.” In recent weeks, Obama has distanced himself somewhat from Wright and Trinity, because, his campaign says, he wishes to avoid bringing an overwhelming influx of media attention onto the church. The campaign said in a statement, “[B]ecause of the type of attention it was receiving on blogs and conservative talk shows, he decided to avoid having statements and beliefs being used out of context and forcing the entire church to defend itself.” Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity has called Trinity’s teachings “divisive,” and engaged in what PolitiFact calls “a spirited debate” with Wright on one of his broadcasts. Conservative ethicist Michael Cromartie agrees with Hannity, saying: “It’s too strong to call it racist but at the same time, it is a form of identity politics or identity theology, which insists you white people can come to this church, but you won’t get it.” Trinity has stated: “There is no anti-American sentiment in the theology or the practice of Trinity United Church of Christ. To be sure, there is prophetic preaching against oppression, racism, and other evils that would deny the American ideal.” Green is reminded of the 1960 presidential election, when many opponents of candidate John F. Kennedy attacked Kennedy for being Catholic. “But we didn’t have the Internet back then,” he says. “This kind of communication has always gone on, but it moves much faster now.” [St. Petersburg Times, 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 1/11/2008]
The New Republic writes a January 8, 2008 article detailing years of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and far-right conspiratorial content in the newsletters of libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX—see 1978-1996). [New Republic, 1/8/2008] Hours after the article is published, Paul issues a statement, which reads in part: “The quotations in the New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts. In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person’s character, not the color of their skin.” After citing his admiration for another civil-rights era icon, Rosa Parks, Paul continues: “This story is old news and has been rehashed for over a decade. It’s once again being resurrected for obvious political reasons on the day of the New Hampshire primary [where Paul is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination]. When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publically taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.” [Reason, 1/8/2008] Most reactions are strongly negative. Nick Gillespie of the libertarian magazine Reason calls the newsletters’ content “stunning,” “odious,” and “jaw-dropping.” Gillespie adds: “I don’t think that Ron Paul wrote this stuff but that really doesn’t matter—the newsletters carried his name after all.… It is hugely disappointing that he produced a cache of such garbage.” He calls Paul’s response “unsatisfying on about a thousand different levels.” [Reason, 1/8/2008] Radley Balko, also of Reason, writes that he “find[s] the prospect that Paul never read the newsletter implausible.” Reason senior editor Brian Doherty, who wrote a recent cover story enthusing over Paul’s candidacy, now writes that Paul’s “campaign’s reaction to this has been politically disastrous and given the third-rail nature of accusations of racism, Ron Paul’s campaign was likely fatally wounded.” [New Republic, 1/15/2008] David Boaz, a senior official of the libertarian Cato Institute, notes that Paul’s response indicates he is essentially unfit to be president, seeing as Paul’s defense has been, “I didn’t know what my closest associates were doing over my signature, so give me responsibility for the federal government.” Boaz writes that few at the Cato Institute were supportive of Paul even before the newsletters’ content became widely known: “We had never seen the newsletters that have recently come to light, and I for one was surprised at just how vile they turned out to be. But we knew the company Ron Paul had been keeping, and we feared that they would have tied him to some reprehensible ideas far from the principles we hold.” Paul may well have not written the newsletters, Boaz notes, “[b]ut he selected the people who did write those things, and he put his name on the otherwise unsigned newsletters, and he raised campaign funds from the mailing list that those newsletters created. And he would have us believe that things that ‘do not represent what I believe or have ever believed’ appeared in his newsletter for years and years without his knowledge. Assuming Ron Paul in fact did not write those letters, people close to him did. His associates conceived, wrote, edited, and mailed those words. His closest associates over many years know who created those publications. If they truly admire Ron Paul, if they think he is being unfairly tarnished with words he did not write, they should come forward, take responsibility for their words, and explain how they kept Ron Paul in the dark for years about the words that appeared every month in newsletters with ‘Ron Paul’ in the title.” Boaz notes that while many Paul supporters are angrily speculating about “conspiracies” leading to the expose of the newsletters (see January 12-15, 2008), they are not denying that Paul’s newsletters actually contained that content. Because of the content of these newsletters, Boaz writes, Paul “and his associates have slimed the noble cause of liberty and limited government.” [Cato at Liberty, 1/11/2008]
Syndicated conservative radio host Michael Savage, asserting the oft-debunked claim that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008), gives Obama’s name as “Barack Madrassas Obama,” referring to schools that teach radical Islam. As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Savage also repeats the falsehood that Obama was schooled in an Indonesian madrassah. [Media Matters, 1/11/2008]
A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, debunks Internet claims that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, is a covert Muslim whose middle name is Mohammed. The claims appear to be sourced from anonymous emails circulating throughout right-wing blogs and organizations. PolitiFact writes: “First off, Barack Obama’s middle name is not Mohammed; it’s Hussein. He was named after his father, a Kenyan who came to the United States from Africa as a student.” PolitiFact also verifies that Obama is not a Muslim, “covert” or otherwise. Obama is a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (see January 6-11, 2008). PolitiFact notes that the emails contradict themselves, on the one hand making the claim that Obama is a Muslim and on the other attacking his membership in Trinity United. Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs has said, “To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago.” [St. Petersburg Times, 1/11/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 1/11/2008] PolitiFact does further investigation and again debunks the claims months later (see April 18, 2008). PolitiFact has already debunked earlier claims that in 2005, Obama took his Senate oath of office on a Koran, when in reality he used his family Bible (see December 19, 2007).
At least one supporter of far-right libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) argues that a recently published article in the New Republic that exposed the overtly racist and conspiratorial content in Paul’s newsletters (see 1978-1996) was the result of a conspiracy by “beltway libertarians” from the Cato Institute to discredit Paul. According to Thomas DiLorenzo, the Koch family (see 1979-1980), who provide much of the funding for the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present and 1981-2010), is behind the conspiracy. “Proof” of this conspiracy, according to DiLorenzo, is that James Kirchick, the author of the article, has said he found many of the newsletters in the University of Kansas library; Charles Koch “is a major patron” of that university. DiLorenzo asks, “How on earth would a kid just out of college know to go to a library in Kansas, of all places, to dig up such stuff?” DiLorenzo goes on to say that he “recognized a paragraph [in Kirchick’s article] that was identical to one written on several occassions by one of the especially hate-filled Beltway losers who works at a DC ‘think tank’ on his spleen-venting personal blog. Either he wrote it or coached the author.” Author David Bernstein, who notes that the Cato Institute is preparing to publish a book of his, speculates that Kirchick may have used an Internet database called Wordcat to find the Paul newsletters, and writes, “Even ‘kids just out of college’ often know how to use the Internet, I believe.” And Kirchick calls DiLorenzo’s conspiracy theorizing “comically credulous.” [New Republic, 1/8/2008; Thomas DiLorenzo, 1/12/2008; David Bernstein, 1/12/2008; New Republic, 1/15/2008] DiLorenzo publishes his theory on the blog of former Paul chief of staff Lew Rockwell, who runs the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank in Alabama closely allied with Paul. [Thomas DiLorenzo, 1/12/2008] A week after the publication of the first New Republic article, Paul will deny having virtually any involvement with his newsletters (see January 16, 2008).
Mike Huckabee. [Source: mikehuckabee.com]Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and outspoken fundamentalist Christian, tells Michigan voters that the US Constitution should be amended to reflect what he considers to be Christian values. Huckabee says, “[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.” Based on the rest of his speech, it appears Huckabee is referring to his desire to pass constitutional amendments outlawing abortion and defining marriage as being strictly between a man and a woman. [MSNBC, 1/15/2008]
Republican political strategist Dick Morris falsely claims that “Clinton appointees” on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are preventing the advocacy group Citizens United (CU) from airing its new documentary, Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). However, the head of CU, David Bossie (see May 1998), says that the organization can indeed show the documentary. Morris, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, tells co-host Alan Colmes that the FEC “won’t let us run” the film “in movie theaters.” He explains, “The Clinton appointees [on the FEC] are blocking it.” However, Bossie tells a Washington Times reporter, “I can put it in theaters, I just can’t let anybody know it’s there.” The FEC requires CU to comply with disclosure requirements under campaign finance law if it wishes to advertise the movie, a requirement the organization is unwilling to meet. (The day after Morris’s appearance, a court rules that CU must disclose its donors in order to advertise the film—see January 15, 2008.) Morris was originally a producer of the film before stepping away from the project, but has said that he appears in the film as a commentator. [Media Matters, 1/16/2008] CU will release the film in theaters the next day (see January 10-16, 2008).
A three-judge panel rules that the conservative advocacy group Citizens United (CU) must agree to reveal the identities of the donors that made its documentary on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton possible, if it intends to advertise the film. The film, entitled Hillary: The Movie, is considered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to be “electioneering,” or the communication of partisan political views, as opposed to a more objective documentary as CU claims. CU challenged the FEC in court in a December 2007 filing, claiming that “issue-oriented television ads are protected by the First Amendment and should not be subject to disclosure requirements under McCain-Feingold campaign finance law,” referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Under the BCRA, partisan political communications such as the CU film are subject to blackout periods in a specific period before elections. The Supreme Court ruled that so-called “issue ads” can be run by partisan political groups such as CU (see Mid-2004 and After), but the FEC has ruled that such “issue ads” must include disclaimers, and the producers of the ads must file reports that name the ads’ contributors. CU is challenging such disclosure requirements, saying that advertisements for the Clinton film are commercial in nature and not political, and therefore protected under the First Amendment from being forced to disclose donor information. The court rules otherwise. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008 ; Washington Times, 1/16/2008; Media Matters, 1/16/2008]
An editorial in the conservative Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) claims that presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) is an “African nativist” driven by anti-American and anti-Christian views. According to the IBD editorial, “disturbing information has come to light” showing that “[a]t the core of the Democratic front-runner’s faith—whether lapsed Muslim, new Christian, or some mixture of the two—is African nativism, which raises political issues of its own.” The IBD editorial speculates that Obama is driven by “black nationalism” and fears that he and other African-Americans will continue to be held “captive” to “white culture” unless they take action. The editorial points to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, one of the pastors of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ where Obama and his family are members, as an “Afro-centric militant” who serves as Obama’s “personal spiritual adviser.” IBD then sounds the alarm about Obama’s “close family ties to Kenya,” particularly the “Muslim militants” of the Kenyan Luo tribe; Obama’s father was a Luo, as is his older half-brother Abongo “Roy” Obama, whom IBD describes as “a Luo activist… a militant Muslim,” and “a Marxist” who has “urge[d] his younger brother to embrace his African heritage.” IBD warns: “Beyond family politics, these ties have potential foreign policy, even national security, implications.… Would Obama put African tribal or family interests ahead of US interests? It’s a valid question, and one voters deserve to have debated regardless of the racial and religious sensitivities. Thanks to a media blackout of these issues, the electorate has yet to benefit from a thorough vetting of Obama.” IBD then informs its readers of Obama’s “Muslim past,” questioning his Christianity and worrying that if he is indeed a Christian, he would have repudiated his “childhood Muslim faith” and be viewed by Muslims as “an apostate,” thereby making him a possible target of “a fatwah” by radical Islamists. It concludes by avowing that Obama’s “Afrocentric doctrine” will be an overt threat to the US if he is elected president, stating, “If a President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies are anything like the Afrocentric doctrine he’s pledged to uphold, Americans will pay a hefty price, including those among the growing black middle class.” [Investor's Business Daily, 1/16/2008] The editorial comes three weeks after a similar claim by conservative scholar Daniel Pipes (see December 26, 2007), and days after conservative radio host Michael Savage claimed Obama was educated in an Islamic madrassa (see January 10, 2008). The assertions will be debunked (see January 22-24, 2008). [Media Matters, 11/29/2007]
A September 2007 photo of Ron Paul and Don Black, the former Klansman who runs the racist Stormfront.org Web site. [Source: BTX3 (.com)]An article in the libertarian newsletter Reason discusses the controversy surrounding the racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic material printed in newsletters issued by US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) from 1978 through at least 1996 (see 1978-1996). The controversy has erupted in recent weeks after an article by the New Republic publicized the newsletters and prompted Paul’s disassociation from those publications (see January 8-15, 2008). Paul, a self-described libertarian, has waffled on claiming authorship of the newsletters; he has gone from saying in 1996 that he wrote all the material in them (see May 22 - October 11, 1996) to more recently claiming that he wrote virtually none of their content and knew little of what was being published under his name for nearly 20 years. (In 2001 he told a reporter that in 1996 he did not admit that a ghostwriter wrote most of the material because to do so would have been “confusing” for voters (see October 1, 2001); this year, Paul is claiming to have virtually no knowledge of anything printed in the newsletters.) In mid-January, he told a CNN reporter that he had “no idea” who wrote some of the racially inflammatory rhetoric in his newsletters, and said he repudiated the flagrantly bigoted material printed therein.
Conservative Libertarian Said to Be Paul's 'Ghostwriter' - According to Reason reporters Julian Sanchez and David Weigel, some libertarian activists, including some close to Paul, name Paul’s “ghostwriter” to be Llewellyn “Lew” Rockwell Jr. Rockwell is the founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank in Alabama with which Paul has maintained close ties. Rockwell was Paul’s Congressional chief of staff from 1978 through 1982, and was vice president of Ron Paul & Associates, which published two of Paul’s newsletters before its dissolution in 2001. Sanchez and Weigel note, “During the period when the most incendiary items appeared—roughly 1989 to 1994—Rockwell and the prominent libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist ‘paleoconservatives,’ producing a flurry of articles and manifestos whose racially charged talking points and vocabulary mirrored the controversial Paul newsletters unearthed by the New Republic.” Rockwell is to this day a close friend and adviser to Paul, accompanying him to major media appearances, promoting his presidential candidacy, publishing his books, and selling Paul’s writings and audio recordings. Rockwell has denied writing any of the newsletters’ content, and refused to be interviewed by Sanchez and Weigel. He has called discussion of the newsletters “hysterical smears aimed at political enemies” of the New Republic. Paul himself calls the controversy “old news” and “ancient history.” A source close to the Paul presidential campaign says Rockwell indeed wrote much of the newsletters’ content, and says: “If Rockwell had any honor he’d come out and I say, ‘I wrote this stuff.’ He should have done it 10 years ago.” Former American Libertarian (AL) editor Mike Holmes says that Rockwell was Paul’s chief ghostwriter as far back as 1988, when Rockwell wrote material for AL under Paul’s name. “This was based on my understanding at the time that Lew would write things that appeared in Ron’s various newsletters,” Holmes says. “Neither Ron nor Lew ever told me that, but other people close to them such as Murray Rothbard suggested that Lew was involved, and it was a common belief in libertarian circles.” A Rockwell associate, Wendy McElroy, says Rockwell’s identity as Paul’s ghostwriter is “an open secret within the circles in which I run.” Timothy Wirkman Virkkala says he and members of the libertarian magazine Liberty, which he used to edit, knew that Rockwell wrote material under Paul’s name, as did Rothbard on occation.
Change in Strategy: 'Outreach to the Rednecks' - Sanchez and Weigel note: “The tenor of Paul’s newsletters changed over the years. The ones published between Paul’s return to private life after three full terms in Congress (1985) and his Libertarian presidential bid (1988) notably lack inflammatory racial or anti-gay comments. The letters published between Paul’s first run for president and his return to Congress in 1996 are another story—replete with claims that Martin Luther King ‘seduced underage girls and boys,’ that black protesters should gather ‘at a food stamp bureau or a crack house’ rather than the Statue of Liberty, and that AIDS sufferers ‘enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.’” They also note that the newsletters were a significant source of funding for Paul’s campaigns. Former Paul campaign aide Eric Dondero, who after leaving the organization in 2004 has become one of Paul’s most notable critics, says that Paul’s staff learned between his stints in Congress that “the wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in. You think the newsletters were bad? The fundraising letters were just insane from that period.” Ed Craig, the president of the libertarian Cato Institute, says he remembers a time in the late 1980s when Paul boasted that his best source of Congressional campaign donations was the mailing list for The Spotlight, the conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitic tabloid run by Holocaust denier and white supremacist Willis Carto until it folded in 2001. Rockwell and Rothbard broke with the Libertarian Party after the 1988 presidential election, and formed what the authors call “a schismatic ‘paleolibertarian’ movement, which rejected what they saw as the social libertinism and leftist tendencies of mainstream libertarians. In 1990, they launched the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, where they crafted a plan they hoped would midwife a broad new ‘paleo’ coalition.” Rockwell wrote in 1990 that his new libertarian movement must embrace overtly conservative values, including values he called “right-wing populism.” The strategy was codified in what he called “Outreach to the Rednecks,” and embraced overtly racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic views. Rockwell looked to Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), the leader of the 1950s “Red Scare,” and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as models for the new strategy. The newly, flagrantly racist material in Paul’s newsletters were apparently part of Rockwell’s “paleolibertarian” strategy. The strategy encompassed values espoused by Paul, including what the authors cite as “tax reduction, abolition of welfare, elimination of ‘the entire ‘civil rights’ structure, which tramples on the property rights of every American,’ and a police crackdown on ‘street criminals.’” Rockwell envisioned Paul as the leader of the new movement until 1992, when Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan convinced Paul to withdraw from the 1992 campaign and back his candidacy instead. At that point, Rockwell called himself and his fellow “paleolibertarians” “Buchananites” who could choose “either Pat Buchanan or David Duke” to represent them.
Change in Tone - In recent years, Paul has suspended his newsletters, disavowed the racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism of their content, and presented himself as a conservative libertarian who idolizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and embraces people of all races and religions. Sanchez and Weigel conclude that Paul is trying to bring a new generation of minorities into the libertarian fold, and write: “Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking ‘moral responsibility’ for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why. Otherwise he risks damaging not only his own reputation, but that of the philosophy to which he has committed his life.” [Reason, 1/16/2008]
Entity Tags: Mike Holmes, Julian Sanchez, Joseph McCarthy, Eric Dondero, Ed Craig, David Weigel, David Duke, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Willis Carto, Patrick Buchanan, The New Republic, Wendy McElroy, The Spotlight, Ron Paul and Associates, Reason, Murray Rothbard, Timothy Wirkman Virkkala, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Reporters show that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a leading Democratic presidential candidate, was never educated in a “madrassa,” or Islamic school, as some of his political enemies claim. Insight Magazine, a subsidiary of the conservative Washington Times, recently reported that the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) had unearthed information showing that Obama was educated in an Indonesian madrassa during his childhood. The Clinton campaign disputes that it is the source of the story, and calls it “an obvious right-wing hit job.” Obama indeed lived in Indonesia from 1967 through 1971, with his mother and stepfather, but was not educated in a madrassa. Instead, Obama, who was six when his family moved to Indonesia, attended the Basuki School from 1969 through 1971. According to a school official: “This is a public school. We don’t focus on religion.” CNN correspondent John Vause, who visited the school, reports: “I came here to Barack Obama’s elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa… like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.… I’ve been to those madrassas in Pakistan… this school is nothing like that.” A former classmate of Obama’s says the school was not radical in 1969: “It’s not [an] Islamic school. It’s general.… There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian.… So that’s a mixed school.” Associated Press reporters also visit two other schools attended by Obama, the SDN Menteng 1 and Fransiskus Assisi. SDN Menteng 1 is a secular public school, according to its vice principal, while Fransiskus Assisi is, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, “clearly a Catholic school.” After the Insight story is repeated on Fox News, the Obama campaign calls those broadcasts “appallingly irresponsible.” [CNN, 1/22/2008; Associated Press, 1/24/2008] Despite the debunking, some conservative radio hosts continue to assert that Obama is a Muslim (see January 10, 2008, February 21, 2008, April 3, 2008, July 10, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 21, 2008, and September 10, 2008).
Center for Public Integrity logo. [Source: Center for Public Integrity]The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, Bush administration (43), Bill Buzenberg, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dan Froomkin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Mark Reading-Smith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House press secretary Dana Perino dismisses a study by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) that found 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top officials before the invasion of Iraq that helped mislead the country into believing Iraq was an imminent threat (see January 23, 2008). Perino responds: “I hardly think that the study is worth spending any time on. It is so flawed in terms of taking anything into context or including—they only looked at members of the administration, rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world, because, as you’ll remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence.”
CPI Response - CPI’s Charles Lewis, a co-author of the study, retorts that Perino has little credibility because “this is the press secretary who didn’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis until a few months ago.… [S]he made a reference that she had—actually didn’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis back in the ‘60s. For a White House press secretary to say that is astonishing to me.” Lewis calls Perino’s comment “predictable,” and cracks, “At least she didn’t call this a third-rate burglary” (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “If my administration, that I’m the flack for, made 935 false statements, I would want to say, ‘Go do another study and take ten years and look at the world and Congress.’ The fact is, the world was rallied, as was the compliant Congress, into doing exactly what the administration wanted. And the bottom line is, she didn’t say that they were not false statements. Basically, they acknowledged they were false statements without her saying it. They have essentially said, ‘Gosh, I guess there weren’t any WMDs in Iraq,’ in other statements they’ve made, ‘it’s all bad intelligence.’”
Defense of Analysis - Far from being a flawed and superficial analysis, Lewis says, the analysis supplies “400,000 words of context, weaving in all of this material, not just what they said at the time, but what has transpired and what has tumbled out factually in the subsequent six years. So we actually have as much context so far as anyone has provided in one place. It’s searchable for all citizens in the world and for Congress and others that want to deal with this from here on.” [Democracy Now!, 1/24/2008]
Reporter Amy Goodman interviews Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the co-author of a study that documents 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top advisers in the two years before the Iraq invasion (see January 23, 2008). Lewis says that, after the raft of government reports that admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no links to al-Qaeda, he and his fellow researchers became interested in who stated those falsehoods, how they did so, and how often: “In other words, how did we get from this not being true to it being a war and what happened there?” Goodman asks if “what [the administration officials] knew behind the scenes and what they were saying publicly” is so different, then “aren’t you talking about lies?” Lewis is more diplomatic, replying that Bush and his seven officials chose “certain information over other information.” What interested him and his fellow researchers was “the process inside the White House… how this campaign was orchestrated.” The White House has apparently destroyed much of the documentary and electronic trail surrounding the run-up to war, he notes, and Congress has not held any hearings on the decision to invade Iraq. Perhaps, Lewis says, this analysis will be the beginning of a better understanding of that process and even the precursor to a real investigation. Lewis says that without interviewing the people involved, he must hesitate to call the 935 statements outright lies. Reporter Bob Drogin, author of the book Curveball that examines one of the linchpin sets of falsehoods that drove the US into war, says he is not sure what to think about the discussion over whether or not the 935 falsehoods are actually lies. “I mean, it’s sort of like asking, to me, whether they, you know, forgot to put their turn signal on before they drove off a bridge. I mean, they took us into the midst of a—you know, a terrible, a horrific, tragic war, and they did it on the basis of ponied-up false intelligence. And sort of where they pushed the evidence here or there is sort of—to me, is sort of secondary. The fact is, they got it absolutely wrong on every single quarter.” [Democracy Now!, 1/24/2008]
CNN Headline News talk show host Glenn Beck tells his viewers that if presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) wants to be consistent with her belief in affirmative action, she should give her opponent, African-American candidate Barack Obama (D-IL), “an additional five percentage points just for the years of oppression.” Beck makes his statement after asserting that anyone mentioning Obama’s race in a denigrating or derogatory fashion is “insulting,” and something only “professional separators” would attempt: “All they do is pull us apart so they can angle and try to grab as many people and ignite their base—and it’s outrageous. And it’s happening on all sides, on all issues, and it has got to stop or we’re going to disintegrate.” [CNN, 1/25/2008; Media Matters, 1/28/2008]
Presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) tells an audience that Iraq is only the first of other wars the US will be forced to fight. “It’s a tough war we’re in,” he says. “It’s not going to be over right away. There’s going to be other wars.… I’m sorry to tell you, there’s going to be other wars. We will never surrender but there will be other wars.” McCain does not say who exactly the US will be fighting in the near future. He does say: “And right now—we’re gonna have a lot of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] to treat, my friends. We’re gonna have a lot of combat wounds that have to do with these terrible explosive IEDs that inflict such severe wounds. And my friends, it’s gonna be tough, we’re gonna have a lot to do.” McCain has already said that the US could be in Iraq for the next hundred years (see January 3-27, 2008). [Huffington Post, 1/27/2008]
George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Bush gives his final State of the Union address. During the speech, Bush calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation awarding retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms that may have illegally cooperated with the NSA and other US intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). Bush says of those agencies: “[O]ne of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they’re planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February the 1st. That means if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.” He then says of the telecoms involved in domestic surveillance: “Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.” (In this statement, Bush refuses to admit that the telecoms have actually cooperated with US surveillance operations; two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney will make just such an admission (see January 30, 2008).) [White House, 1/28/2008; New York Times, 1/29/2008] Bush says that while the nation is at risk of terrorist attack if this legislation is not enacted, he will veto such legislation if it does not contain provisions to protect the telecom industry from civil and criminal prosecution. Harpers commentator Scott Horton calls Bush’s rhetoric a “squeeze play… an exercise in fear-mongering of the purest, vilest sort.” Horton boils down Bush’s comments to say, “‘If Congress doesn’t give me just what I want, then Congress will be responsible for whatever attacks befall the country,’ he reasons.” [Harper's, 1/29/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann reveals what may be a personal stake in the Bush administration’s push for immunity for telecommunications companies who helped the NSA spy on Americans (see January 28, 2008). Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s son Marc Mukasey is a partner in the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani (the same Rudolph Giuliani who up until recently was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president). Marc Mukasey is one of the lawyers representing Verizon, one of the telecom firms being sued for cooperating with the government’s surveillance program (see May 12, 2006 and June 26, 2006). Olbermann says of the Mukasey-Giuliani connection: “Now it begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich trying to protect the Krupp family industrial giants by literally re-writing the laws for their benefit. And we know how that turned out: Alfred Krupp and eleven of his directors were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann lambasts President Bush’s State of the Union call to protect US telecom firms from liability in their cooperation with government surveillance of US citizens (see January 28, 2008): “President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws ahead of protecting you from the terrorists. He has demanded an extension of the FISA law—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.… This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand: If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity and sends it to your desk and you veto it—you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists. Ya gotta have this law, or we’re all gonna die. But you might veto this law!” Olbermann terms Bush’s call for telecom immunity a “shameless, breathless, literal, textbook example of fascism—the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government.” With heavy sarcasm Olbermann says: “[The telecom immunity] isn’t evil, it’s ‘to protect America.’ It isn’t indiscriminate, it’s ‘the ability to monitor terrorist communications.’ It isn’t unlawful, it’s just the kind of perfectly legal thing, for which you happen to need immunity.… This is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or protecting the people from terrorists, sir. It is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or pretending to protect the people from terrorists.… The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month. Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason, but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
President Bush makes racially charged statements while addressing an audience at a Republican fundraiser in Hillsborough, California, outside San Francisco. The fundraiser, hosted by the chairman of an investment firm, raises $1.5 million for the Republican National Committee. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/31/2008] The media will not learn about Bush’s remarks until late 2009, when former Bush administration speechwriter Matt Latimer publishes his book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor. Latimer will write: “He talked about his own failings with alcoholism as the reason he supported his faith-based initiative. ‘My philosophy is, find somebody who hurts and do something about it,’ he said. ‘Don’t wait for government to tell you what to do.’ He bluntly talked about his own situation. ‘I was beginning to love alcohol over my wife and kids. It got to a point when Billy Graham came into my life. But I was hardheaded and didn’t want to listen for a while. And then I stopped drinking overnight. I am a one-man faith-based initiative. Alcohol was competing for my affections. And it would have ruined me.’ He said things that could ruffle feathers, such as how he’d recently gone to a faith-based program run by ‘former drunks.’ He said he went to see a prison ministry program, noting that ‘everyone was black, of course.’ All eyes turned in search of the sole African American in the audience of donors. They wanted to see if he was offended.” Latimer will write that the sole African-American donor did not “appear to be” offended, and will defend Bush, writing that he “didn’t mean it in a derogatory way. He just liked making blunt observations to shock his audience.” [Think Progress, 9/23/2009]
Alasdair Roberts. [Source: Sunshine Week (.org)]Alasdair Roberts, a public administration professor and author of The Collapse of Fortress Bush, writes of what he views as the abject failure of the US government to plan and coordinate both the “war on terror” and the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. Roberts writes that since the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has consistently failed to plan for, and to deal with, consequences and ramifications of their actions. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-133]
Military Response to 9/11 Questioned - Roberts contends that the Bush administration’s military response to the 9/11 attacks was not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only, possible response. In August 2006, a Washington Post op-ed observed that “[i]t was only natural that the military would take the lead in fighting terrorism after September 11.” Roberts writes that “this simple sentence [is] fraught with assumptions about the dynamics of post-millenial American government. Why is it ‘only natural’ that terrorism is a problem that should be handled only by the military? Other countries have dealt with decades-long terrorist threats and framed the problem in different ways,” with some approaching it as a law-enforcement problem, others from an intelligence perspective, and others by addressing internal security concerns. Few threaten to “take battle to the enemy,” as the Bush administration has done, for the obvious reason that they lack the ability to do so. Roberts posits that had al-Qaeda attacked Sydney in 2001, Australia would not have invaded Afghanistan. The Bush administration seized on a military response to the attacks almost immediately (see September 15, 2001), with the support of most Americans. “Impatience permeated its official statements,” Roberts writes of the administration. This is in part because, he writes, the military is the easiest, most powerful, and least legally constrained of al the tools at the president’s disposal. The US military’s “power, autonomy, and legitimacy heighten its attractiveness as a policy instrument.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-107]
Lacking in Fundamental Rationality - Both the administration and the Pentagon executed the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, quite well, he acknowledges, but once that was done, careful, logical planning and systematic execution gave way to ineffective bureaucratic thrashing. “An awareness of capabilities and risks is one of the signposts of rationality in decision-making,” he writes. It is also largely absent in the history of the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terrorism. “The administration followed the rituals of planning, Roberts notes: accounts of its behavior in Iraq are replete with strategy statements, operational plans, priority lists, and ‘megabriefs.‘… Unfortunately, much of this talk and paperwork was administrative flotsam. In reality, the Bush administration did not plan. It could articulate ambitious goals but could not marshal the administrative capacities of its agencies so that their work contributed directly to those goals. It could not induce agencies with overlapping responsibilities to collaborate. It could not anticipate curves in the road. The administration’s problem, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, was that it ‘did not have a system of national security policy decision-making that ensured careful examination of the downside of major decisions.’”
'Worn Bromides' as Major Lessons - Roberts quotes a 2005 RAND Corporation study that found, “Unity of command and broad participation are both important to the success of stabilizing and reconstriction operations… An active NSC [National Security Council] interagency process [is] necessary to ensure that the State and Defense Departments are acting off the same sheet of paper and to bring forward debate of alternate views and subsequent decision-making on important issues. Policy differences need to be explained and adjucated, if necessary by the president, as the planning process goes forward… Some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning also needs to be introduced.” Roberts writes, “It is a damning comment on the quality of governance within the Bush administration that worn bromides such as these could be presented as major lessons from the invasion.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 132-133]
Michael Savage. [Source: Portland Indymedia]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage calls the Democratic presidential primary race, now between African-American Barack Obama and female Hillary Clinton, “the first affirmative-action election in American history.” Savage says: “We have a woman and a multi-ethnic man running for office on the Democrat side. Is this not akin to an affirmative action election? Isn’t that why the libs are hysterical, tripping over themselves to say amen and yes to this affirmative election vote?” Because Americans do not support affirmative action, Savage asserts, voters will reject either Democratic candidate in the November presidential elections. “When they are heard from, the affirmative action ticket goes down in flames… I don’t really care who’s gonna be on the other side, they win. America’s not ready for an affirmative action presidency. I stand by those words.” Savage goes on to characterize Democratic supporters as “radical red-diaper doper babies from Brooklyn who made a fortune in the film business by urinating on the American flag and decimating the American value, the values that you grew up loving. They [are t]he ones who made a fortune hating America.” [Media Matters, 2/4/2008]
Manuel Miranda. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Departing State Deartment employee Manuel Miranda, a longtime Republican operative in the Office of Legislative Statecraft who has served in the US Embassy in Baghdad for the last year, writes a memo to US Ambassador Ryan Crocker saying that the State Department’s efforts in Iraq are so poorly managed they “would be considered willfully negligent if not criminal” if done in the private sector. “We have brought to Iraq the worst of America—our bureaucrats,” Miranda writes in the memo, which is cc’d to “ALCON” or “all concerned” at the State Department. “You are doing a job for which you are not prepared as a bureaucracy or as leaders. The American and Iraqi people deserve better.” The US will never win the confidence of the Iraqi people as long as the State Department and the Foreign Service are in control, Miranda writes. Their members are hard-working and willing, he observes, but in his judgment are ill-prepared and incompetent. Instead of a streamlined, efficient management team, Miranda says, the occupation’s civilian governance has been little more than a never-ending battle for bureaucratic control between different agencies and different factions within the same department. He accuses the Foreign Service of suffering from “attention deficit disorder.” “Any American graduate-school study group could do better,” he avers. The State Department responds: “We think Ambassador Crocker and his team are doing a very good job under extremely challenging circumstances. We have great confidence in their ability to carry out their mission.” Miranda is a former legal counsel for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and was involved in a controversy after he hacked into Senate Democrats’ Capitol Hill computer system, stole a private political strategy memo, and leaked it to the press. [ABC News, 2/8/2008; Miranda, 2/8/2008 ]
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. [Wall Street Journal, 2/6/2008] Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mike McConnell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Dick Cheney addressing the CPAC audience. [Source: AP / Evan Vucci]An unrepentant Vice President Dick Cheney tells an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he is proud of his administration’s actions in Iraq. “I have been proud to stand by” President Bush in the war on Iraq and other policy decisions. “And would I support those same decisions today? You’re damn right I would.” Cheney says, “We’re not going to waste a moment” of his and Bush’s last year in office, and promises to “revitalize” the US economy and continue to aggressively pursue the administration’s “war on terror.” Cheney’s speech is a grab-bag of ideas and policies, all extolling the virtues of the current administration. He pushes for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, saying, “Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be one of the largest government money grabs in American history, and we must not let it happen.” He credits Bush with preventing another massive terrorist attack: “The absence of another 9/11 is not an accident. It is an achievement.” Cheney says that the US’s telecommunications industry must be granted retroactive immunity for civil and criminal claims in its cooperation with the government’s domestic spying program. He claims that the administration’s support of “enhanced” interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists has gleaned critically useful information while avoiding illegal torture tactics. The US “takes human rights seriously” and does “not torture,” he claims. He concludes to riotous applause, “When the last chapter [of history] is written, it will be said that our nation became more prosperous and more secure because George Bush was the president of the United States.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2008]
In House testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency say that they stand by their agencies’ decisions not to waterboard detainees. Two days before, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that the CIA had used waterboarding and might do so again (see February 5, 2008). The Pentagon has banned its employees from using the tactic, and the FBI has stated, “its investigators do not use coercive tactics when interviewing terror suspects.” Rush Holt (D-NJ) asks Mueller and Maples why their agencies do not use coercive interrogation: “Do you never interrogate people who have critical information?” Mueller responds: “Our protocol is not to use coercive techniques. That is our protocol. We have lived by it. And it is sufficient and appropriate for our mission here in the United States.… We believe in the appropriateness of our techniques to our mission here in the United States.” Maples adds: “The Army Field Manual guides our efforts and the efforts of the armed forces.… We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.” The field manual bans the use of coercion against detainees. [Think Progress, 2/7/2008] The same day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. [Independent, 2/12/2008] The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Entity Tags: Vincent Warren, US Department of Defense, Khallad bin Attash, Daniel Pearl, Clive Stafford Smith, John McCain, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Thomas Hartmann, Center for Constitutional Rights, Ramzi Yousef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, urges President Bush to veto an upcoming bill prohibiting waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation after himself voting against the bill. The bill passes the Senate on a largely partisan 51-45 vote. It has already passed the House on a similar party-line vote, and Bush has already announced his intention to veto the bill. McCain has won a reputation as an advocate of prisoner rights and a staunch opponent of torture; his five-year stint as a POW in North Vietnam is well-known. But McCain voted against the legislation when it came up for a vote in the Senate, and he opposes the bill now. McCain says he is opposed to waterboarding, but does not want the CIA restricted to following the practices outlined in the US Army Field Manual, as the legislation would require. McCain says: “I knew I would be criticized for it. I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not” torture. “I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate” international rules against torture. McCain has said he believes waterboarding is already prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (see December 30, 2005). And CIA director Michael Hayden has said that current law may well prohibit waterboarding; he claims to have stopped CIA agents from waterboarding detainees in 2006, and also claims that the technique was not used later than 2003. McCain’s Senate colleague, Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that if Bush vetoes the bill, then he in essence “will be voting in favor of waterboarding.” [New York Times, 2/13/2008; Associated Press, 2/21/2008] Bush will indeed veto the bill (see March 8, 2008).
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), tells the House Judiciary Committee that the Bush administration routinely allowed the CIA to use interrogation tactics that were “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,” as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture. One of those techniques, waterboarding, is legal and not torture, Bradbury says, because it is a “procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards.” Those standards and limitations make waterboarding as used by the CIA substantially different from historical uses of the technique as it was employed during the Spanish Inquisition and by the Japanese during World War II. Bradbury, asked if waterboarding violates US and international laws against torture, says it does not. Waterboarding as practiced by the CIA bears “no resemblance” to what torturers in time past have done. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” Bradbury says. The “only thing in common is the use of water.” Spanish and Japanese water torture techniques “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” When asked if he is aware of any “modern use” of waterboarding that involves the “lungs filling with water,” Bradbury says he is not. Bradbury says that the Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was “beyond the capacity of the victim’s stomach.” Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to “blood coming of the victim’s mouth.” The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of “agony or death.” The CIA does not do that, Bradbury says. “Strict time limits” are involved—presumably governing the length of time that interrogators can induce the sensation of drowning. Additionally, “safeguards” and “restrictions” make waterboarding a much more controlled procedure. Together, waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is not torture. However, Bradbury admits that recent Supreme Court decisions have changed the OLC’s analysis, and says that in 2006 the CIA stopped using waterboarding. [TPM Muckraker, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
Bradbury's Comparison 'Obscene' - Bradbury claimed that no water entered the lungs of three al-Qaeda captives subjected to the practice; many believe that those captives had cellophane or cloth over their noses and mouths while waterboarded. Torture experts say that practice poses a serious risk of asphyxiation. Former OLC official Martin Lederman says he finds Bradbury’s testimony “chilling.” Lederman notes that “to say that this is not severe physical suffering—is not torture—is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding… is obscene.” Human rights experts have said that the CIA’s particular form of waterboarding is similar to those practiced by such regimes as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the French colonial government in Algeria, and the government of Myanmar (Burma). All three of those regimes have been criticized for brutality and flagrant human rights violations. [Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” [National Public Radio, 2/15/2008] Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” [Fox News, 2/17/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
With the Protect America Act expiring amid warnings of imminent terror attacks from Bush administration officials and Congressional Republicans (see February 16, 2008 and February 15-17, 2008), most experts outside the administration say its expiration will have little effect on national security. Under the PAA, the government could wiretap domestic phones and computer systems without a warrant, but the legislation was considered a temporary stopgap measure to give Congress and the White House a chance to work together to create new, permanent regulations covering domestic surveillance. The government’s domestic wiretapping program now reverts to the procedures followed for 30 years under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants from the FISA Court to engage in surveillance inside the US. Despite administration claims that the paperwork for those warrants is too cumbersome, many experts say that FISA gives the government the tools it needs to spy on terrorists. Timothy Lee from the conservative Cato Institute recalls that the last time FISA was revamped, after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush praised the overhaul, saying it “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.” Lee observes: “Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend. There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.” Ben Wittes of the centrist Brookings Institution says that because existing warrantless surveillance begun under the temporary laws could continue for up to a year, the “sky is not falling at all.” Wittes says he is “somewhat bewildered by the apocalyptic rhetoric” of the Bush administration. Many experts note that emergency FISA warrants can, and have, been granted in a matter of minutes, and government eavesdroppers have up to three days to wiretap a phone or computer and then retroactively acquire a warrant. But administration officials have a different view. White House press secretary Dana Perino says the PAA’s expiration “will harm our ability to conduct surveillance to detect new threats to our security, including the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.” Perino says that the PAA “temporarily closed” a “dangerous intelligence gap.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls that warning “categorically false.” Hoyer continues: “In fact, a wide range of national security experts has made clear that the president and our intelligence community have all the tools they need to protect our nation, if the Protect America Act—temporary legislation passed last August—expires.… We believe the president’s rhetoric is inaccurate and divisive, and an attempt to stampede the House of Representatives to rubber-stamp legislation by stoking the fears of the American people. We will not be stampeded.” [Washington Times, 2/16/2008]
An extraordinary assembly of elected representatives in Pristina adopts the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, declaring Kosova “an independent and sovereign state,” taking up the responsibilities previously belonging to UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) and the Republic of Serbia. The declaration specifically denies being “a precedent for any other situation.” It says independence is what the people of Kosova want and is consistent with UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. The government is envisioned as “a democratic, secular, and multi-ethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law.” The representatives accept the borders delineated in the Ahtisaari Plan. Kosova seeks reconciliation at home and friendly relations with neighboring states, “including the Republic of Serbia with whom we have deep historical, commercial, and social ties that we seek to develop further in the near future.” Earlier in the declaration, gratitude is expressed for the international intervention in 1999, “removing Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo” and putting Kosova under temporary UN jurisdiction. The declaration says “no mutually-acceptable status outcome was possible [after years of negotiation between Yugoslavia/Serbia and Kosova], in spite of the good faith engagement of leaders.” It invites an international civilian mission to oversee the Ahtisaari Plan, an EU legal mission, and continued NATO military involvement. The Kosovar government states its wish to join the EU. A year later, Kosova President Jakup Krasniqi, the KLA’s spokesperson during the war, will note in an anniversary speech that 54 countries have recognized the Republic of Kosova, including all of its neighbors, save Serbia. He says, “Serb community in Kosovo and Albanian community in Serbia should be a reason more for relationship and cooperation between two countries.” This is not the first time elected representatives have declared Kosova independent, but Kosova was occupied after it declared itself a republic during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. [Assembly of Kosova, 5/15/2010]
New evidence emerges proving that, despite earlier denials, a senior press officer was closely involved in writing the British government’s September 2002 dossier that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see September 24, 2002), a claim then known to be false. John Williams, then the director of communications at the Foreign Office, was granted access to secret intelligence as he helped prepare an early draft of the dossier (see September 10-11, 2002). Williams was a former political editor of the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper. According to a document that until now has been suppressed by the Foreign Office, Williams was given the same access to classified information as the primary author of the dossier, then-Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett. The Foreign Office document is only now being made available because an information tribunal reviewing pre-war intelligence ordered its release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the Williams document was not used as the basis for the “Scarlett dossier.” However, during the Hutton inquiry, Scarlett referred to the “considerable help” Williams had given him in writing the dossier. Additionally, Williams took part in Cabinet Office meetings on the dossier. The document refers to Iraq having missiles capable of “threatening NATO,” including Greece and Turkey, a claim repeated in the published dossier. It also states that there was “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That phrase was used in all three drafts of the dossier, though it was well known by that time that the claims of Iraqi-African uranium deals were based on forged documents. Some of Williams’s more extravagant language was not used. His draft begins: “Iraq presents a uniquely dangerous threat to the world. No other country has twice launched wars of aggression against neighbours.” Someone else wrote in the margin: “Germany? US: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico.” William Hague, the Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, says the Williams document is “further evidence that spin doctors, not intelligence analysts, were leading from the first in deciding what the British people were told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” [Guardian, 2/19/2008]
The logo for Citizens United Not Timid, with a graphic illustration representative of female anatomy. [Source: Media Matters]Republican strategist Roger Stone, the founder of a 527 group called “Citizens United Not Timid,” appears on MSNBC’s Tucker, a talk show hosted by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. Stone’s organization was founded to oppose the presidential candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and purports to “educate the American public about what Hillary Clinton really is.” What Clinton “really is,” the organization emphasizes, is the obscenity spelled out by the group’s acronym. The group emphasizes the acronym on its Web site and on T-shirts by showing the first letters of the words in its name in boldface. Stone has appeared on Carlson’s show numerous times in recent weeks. This appearance is notable because NBC, MSNBC’s parent company, recently issued an apology for Jane Fonda’s use of the word “c_nt” on a recent Today Show appearance, when Fonda was discussing the play The Vagina Monologues. Carlson does not inform his audience of Stone’s leadership of the anti-Clinton organization. Stone has said of the organization: “[I]t’s one-word education. That’s our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym.” Stone has said that he and a group of co-founders tried to brainstorm a name for the acronym “b_tch,” but “just couldn’t do it.” In recent days, MSNBC host Chris Matthews apologized for making sexist comments about Clinton, and MSNBC correspondent David Shuster was suspended for making objectionable comments about Clinton and her daughter Chelsea. The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters writes, “The events of the past few weeks are part of an extensive pattern, documented by Media Matters for America, of sexism, misogyny, and other bigotry heard on MSNBC.” [Media Matters, 2/20/2008] In August 2007, Stone was forced to leave the campaign of New York State Senator Joseph Bruno (R-NY) after he left a threatening, abusive, and profane telephone message for the 83-year-old father of Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY). [New York Times, 8/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Joseph Bruno, David Shuster, Citizens United Not Timid, Chris Matthews, Eliot Spitzer, Jane Fonda, Media Matters, Roger Stone, MSNBC, Tucker Carlson, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, syndicated conservative radio host Michael Savage, continuing the well-debunked assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008), says that American voters “have a right to know if he’s a so-called friendly Muslim or one who aspires to more radical teachings.” The media should not worry about Republican candidate John McCain’s connections to lobbyists, Savage says, and instead should be more concerned with “the Muslim connection to Obama.” Savage says: “Barack Hussein Obama. Father Muslim, grandfather Muslim. Nothing wrong with that. But we, the American people, being at war with radical Islam have a—have a need to know just exactly what kind of Muslim he was exposed to, what kind of Muslim he is, what kind of Muslim teachings he’s—he’s friendly to. We have a right to know if he’s a so-called friendly Muslim or one who aspires to more radical teachings.” [Media Matters, 2/22/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Politico, 2/22/2008]
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008] Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. [Associated Press, 2/23/2008] Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. [Politico, 2/22/2008]
The Bush administration says all major US telecommunications firms have agreed to cooperate “for the time being” with US intelligence agencies’ wiretapping, regardless of the recent expiration of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see February 16, 2008). According to a joint statement from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wiretaps will resume under the current law “at least for now.” The statement says in part, “Although our private partners are cooperating for the time being, they have expressed understandable misgivings about doing so in light of the ongoing uncertainty and have indicated they may well discontinue cooperation if the uncertainty persists.” Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said earlier that intelligence agencies have missed critical intelligence because of the expiration of the PAA, a claim they retracted hours later (see February 23, 2008). [Reuters, 2/23/2008]
A day after the director of national intelligence and the attorney general warned that the government is losing critical intelligence on terrorist activities because Congress had not reauthorized the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), the same two officials now admit that the government is receiving the same intelligence as it did before the PAA expired (see February 16, 2008 and February 22, 2008). Mike McConnell and Michael Mukasey now admit that the nation’s telecommunications firms are still cooperating with the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We learned last night after sending [the original] letter that… new surveillances under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act will resume, at least for now,” Mukasey and McConnell say in a statement. “We appreciate the willingness of our private partners to cooperate despite the uncertainty.” But in the same letter, McConnell and Mukasey contradict themselves, saying, “Unfortunately, the delay resulting from this discussion impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information.” No one in the White House will give specifics of what intelligence data may have been missed, or how serious it may have been. A Democratic Congressional official says he is skeptical that anything was missed because the law permits continued monitoring of terrorists and their associates regardless of the PAA’s expiration. “This is serious backpedaling by the DNI,” the Democratic official says of McConnell. “He’s been saying for the last week that the sky is falling, and the sky is not falling.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson, whose organization is suing a number of telecoms for information about the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, says, “In an attempt to get sweeping powers to wiretap without warrants, Republicans are playing politics with domestic surveillance legislation.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2008]
President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]
Senator Barack Obama, during a 2006 visit to Somalia. [Source: Associated Press]Conservative radio hosts such as Dan Caplis and “Gunny” Bob Newman use a photo of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wearing traditional Kenyan robes to imply that Obama has terrorist sympathies. As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Caplis says the photo shows Obama wearing “the same type of turban and clothing that Osama bin Laden wears,” while Newman asks, “[W]hy do you think Obama really had the photo taken, dressed up as a Somali warlord?” The photo was taken during an August 2006 visit by Obama to Kenya, where his father was born. [Media Matters, 2/25/2008] It was published a few days ago by the conservative Drudge Report. According to Yusuf Garaad Omar, head of the BBC’s Somali Service, the robes are “the normal clothes that nomadic people wear. The head turban is especially used by elderly people as a suggestion of respect. It is something that has no meaning whatsoever in Somalia culture. If you see someone dressed like that in Somalia, you think it is a nomadic person—that is all. There is no religious significance to it whatsoever. It is mainly the nomadic people who use it. Some of them are religious, some are not. It is simply a tradition of the place where they are from. In this particular place, Wajir in north-east Kenya, the community is majority ethnic Somali.… This debate reminds me of people back home in Somalia, who say that women should not wear trousers, or other cultures who say men should not wear a tie. I just don’t think it makes sense.” [BBC, 2/26/2008] Caplis asks his listeners why Obama would “put on similar clothing to the outfit worn by the man who personally ordered thousands of Americans, including women and kids, to be burned to death,” and says that “it would be as if [former President] John Kennedy had gone out and thrown on the fatigues and the funny baseball hat that Castro wore.” Newman, like Caplis a nationally syndicated Clear Channel talk show host, tells his audience, according to Media Matters: “We were five years into the war on terror when Obama knowingly and willingly dressed up in Somali warlord garb to have his photo taken.” He asks if Obama wore the robes “to garner support from Muslim-Americans who ideologically support Muslim terrorists?” and then asks, “Would it have been right for [former President] Harry Truman to dress up like a Nazi in 1948?” Caplis also tells his audience, “[Obama’s] middle name is Hussein, which should not be held against him for a second; his last name rhymes with Osama, which should not be held against him for a second.” [Media Matters, 2/25/2008] Months later, Newman will tell his listeners that an Obama presidency will welcome “an invasion of Muslim terrorists” (see July 10, 2008).
Entity Tags: Bob Newman, Clear Channel Communications, John F. Kennedy, Media Matters, Barack Obama, Harry S. Truman, Dan Caplis, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf Garaad Omar, Fidel Castro
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pens a blistering op-ed for the conservative National Review that accuses House Democrats of allowing the Protect America Act to expire (PAA—see February 16, 2008) and thereby endangering the country by leaving it unprotected against terrorist attacks. This is the same argument President Bush and Republicans have advanced in recent days in favor of continued warrantless wiretapping (see February 23, 2008). Hoekstra calls the Democrats’ action “unprecedented irresponsibility.” The “burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders” that implementing wiretaps will now engender, Hoekstra writes, “could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.” Hoekstra quickly turns to another key agenda for reauthorizing the PAA—providing retroactive immunity from lawsuits for American telecommunications firms. He echoes the arguments of Bush and other officials such as Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (see February 22, 2008) by writing that without such immunity, “these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future.” But Hoekstra takes the argument even farther, equating the Democrats’ refusal to reauthorize the PAA with their support from trial lawyers, who “have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.” He then says that US intelligence agents will suffer because, he asserts, “many of [them] have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.” Hoekstra claims that Democrats consistently favor working to investigate global warming over protecting the nation. [National Review, 2/25/2008] Hoekstra continues the attack the next day with a piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with his House colleague Lamar Smith (R-TX) and his Senate colleague Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO). The three open this column with the rhetorical question, “Are Americans as safe today as they were before Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire on Feb. 16?” and answer it with much the same arguments that Hoekstra advanced the day before. “We are less safe today and will remain so until Congress clears up the legal uncertainty for companies that assist in collecting intelligence for the government—and until it gives explicit permission to our intelligence agencies to intercept, without a warrant, foreign communications that pass through the US,” they claim. They also echo the claim asserted by McConnell and Mukasey that the nation’s intelligence community has lost valuable intelligence because of the lapse in legislation—without acknowledging that McConnell and Mukasey withdrew that claim within hours (see February 23, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2008]
Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, rules that the minutes of Cabinet meetings at which ministers discussed the legality of invading Iraq should be published. In his finding, Thomas says that documents and transcripts concerning the legal discussions should be made public in part because “there is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision.” In this case, Thomas says, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the principles that normally allow the government not to have to publish minutes of cabinet decisions. The government is expected to appeal Thomas’s decision. In and of itself, Thomas’s decision does not have enough legal weight to force publication. Many lawyers, legal experts, and antiwar figures believe that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. On March 17, 2003, then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ruled that the invasion was legal (see March 17, 2003), but Goldsmith had issued dramatically different opinions before the eve of the war (see Before October 7, 2002). One of Goldsmith’s legal opinions against the war, published on March 7, 2003, was kept from the Cabinet ministers, and many argue that had the Cabinet known of Goldsmith’s reservations, some of the ministers may not have supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Former international development secretary Clare Short, who quit the government following the war, says the Cabinet minutes would only give a “sanitized” account of the meetings, but their release would set an important precedent: “[H]aving made this decision, the discussion won’t stop there. There will be pressure for more,” she says. The Cabinet Office has not yet decided whether to obey Thomas’s ruling. [Guardian, 2/26/2008] That office previously rejected a Freedom of Information request for the transcripts. [BBC, 2/26/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]
College Republican member Ashley Todd is asked to leave a group of Ron Paul (R-TX) supporters in Brazos County, Texas, according to group leader Dustan Costine. According to Costine, Todd posed as a supporter of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and called the local Republican committee seeking information about its campaign strategies. Costine will later say: “She would call the opposing campaign and pretend she was on their campaign to get information. We had to remove her because of the tactics she displayed. After that we had nothing to do with her.” Todd had earlier told the Paul group that her tires had been slashed, and campaign paraphernalia had been stolen from her car because she supported Paul. “She’s the type of person who wants to be recognized,” Costine will say. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008] Seven months later, Todd will falsely claim to have been attacked by an Obama supporter who, she will say, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her cheek (see October 24, 2008).
A screenshot of Palin’s 2008 address to the Alaskan Independence Party’s convention. [Source: World News (.com)]Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) makes a videotaped address to the annual convention of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a far-right, secessionist third party that has had considerable success in state and local politics. Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP from 1995 through 2002, when he reregistered his voter status as “undecided.” Palin’s address steers clear of racist and secessionist rhetoric, but is very complimentary. She tells the assemblage: “I share your party’s vision of upholding the Constitution of our great state. My administration remains focused on reining in government growth so individual liberty can expand. I know you agree with that.… Keep up the good work and God bless you.” Palin has been given tremendous, if behind-the-scenes, support from former AIP chairman Mark Chryson throughout her political career (see October 10, 2008). Her attendance at the 1994 and 2006 AIP conventions, her address to the 2008 convention, and her husband’s membership in the AIP, will become a minor issue when she is named as the running mate for presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ). Chryson will insist that neither of the Palins had any real dealings with the AIP. “Sarah’s never been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party,” he will say. “Todd has, but most of rural Alaska has too. I never saw him at a meeting. They were at one meeting I was at. Sarah said hello, but I didn’t pay attention because I was taking care of business.” This contradicts Chryston’s near-boasting of his access to, and influence with, Palin during her tenure on the Wasilla City Council, as mayor of Wasilla, and as governor. And Dexter Clark, the current vice chairman of the AIP, will claim that Palin was an AIP member while she was Wasilla’s mayor, though she switched to the Republican Party to run for governor so as to have a broader appeal to the electorate. The McCain-Palin campaign will produce documentation that shows Palin registered as a Republican in 1988, and was never an official AIP member. [Salon, 10/10/2008] The AIP Web site’s convention page touts Palin’s videotaped message; the message is the only thing on the convention page. [Alaskan Independence Party, 2008]
Sally Kern. [Source: Tulsa World]Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) claims during a House speech that homosexuality is a bigger threat to America than terrorism, and compares homosexuality to “toe cancer.” Kern says, among other things: “Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it’s the death knell of this country.… I honestly think it’s the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat.” She even claims, “Gays are infiltrating city councils.” [Think Progress, 3/7/2008] In the aftermath of her remarks, Kern tells a reporter for the conservative Cybercast News Service (CNS) that she is the target of a “hate campaign.” She says, “They haven’t just attacked me—they’ve attacked my family, they attacked the Bible, they’ve attacked Christianity.” Her words were taken out of context, she says: “They made it sound like I was spewing hate and talking in one long rant against homosexuals. I would never do that. I have never done that.” A supporter, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, accuses “Kern’s attackers of being ‘terrorists.’” [Think Progress, 3/28/2008]
Larry Kilgore. [Source: Republican Party of Burleson County, Texas]“Consultant” Larry Kilgore, running on a platform to have Texas secede from the US and become a nation governed by “biblical law,” wins over 225,000 votes—18 percent of the total vote—in Texas’s Republican Party primary for the US Senate seat held by John Cornyn (R-TX). Cornyn wins the primary and eventually wins re-election. Kilgore’s showing prompts two campaign Web sites to proclaim the results as a victory for “Texas independence.” Kilgore’s proposed “sovreign state of Texas” would, according to his campaign platform, execute adulterers, free all prisoners, eliminate all social welfare programs, eliminate public education, and institute public flogging for illegal immigrants. Kilgore said as a US senator he would negotiate with the “US empire” for Texas independence, and would not vote on any legislation unrelated to the creation of an independent state of Texas. Kilgore has run unsuccessful campaigns for the Texas State House and for governor. During the campaign, Kilgore touted the support of a number of prominent figures in the Christian far right, including anti-abortion leader Michael Marcavage and ministers Dave Daubenmire and John Weaver. [Anti-Defamation League, 3/10/2008]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 ; New York Times, 3/11/2008]
In remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Association, President Bush misrepresents two important aspects of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Misrepresenting the 'Surge of Their Own' - Referring to the so-called “surge” of US troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007), Bush says: “As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities… . Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government… . I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.” Bush is referring to the Iraqi counterattack against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist terrorists—the so-called “Anbar Awakening.” He is wrong in saying that the Iraqis “launched a surge of their own” in response to the US troop escalation. The “Iraqi surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq predates the US surge by months. In fact, two years before the “Iraqi surge,” Bush had rejected offers of similar assistance from Sunni leaders eager to bring Sunni-led terrorism in Iraq to a close. Instead, the Sunni leaders took action without US approval. Bush is now linking the Sunni initiative to the US “surge,” and in the process misrepresents both the chronological chain of the events and the forces driving the “Iraqi surge.”
Misrepresenting the Effectiveness of the US 'Surge' - Bush also says that some US forces are coming home as “a return on our success” in the surge. That implies that because the “surge” is successful, Bush and US military commanders are beginning to bring some troops home. “And as a return on our success, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home,” he says: “They’re not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They’re coming home because we’re successful.” In reality, Bush has been quite reluctant to bring any troops home, only grudgingly giving way to the recommendations of US commanders such as General David Petraeus, the head of military operations in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus, Fallon, and other US military commanders have long said that the surge is designed to be temporary, with drawdown dates of early 2008 built into the planning from the outset. [Salon, 3/11/2008]
President Bush, in a videoconference with US military and civilian personnel on the problems in Afghanistan, says that he is “envious” of those working in the war-torn country. “I must say, I’m a little envious,” he says. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.… It must be exciting for you… in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.” [Reuters, 3/13/2008] As of March 12, 2008, at least 418 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostilities there. [Associated Press, 3/12/2008]
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage says of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, “I think he was hand-picked by some very powerful forces both within and outside the United State of America to drag this country into a hell that it has not seen since the Civil War of the middle of the 19th century.” Savage is referring to controversial statements made by Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whom Savage calls “the soul of Barack Obama’s movement.” Savage goes on to claim that Wright, and by extension Obama, align themselves with historical enemies of the United States: “And if you want a man who says not ‘God bless America,’ but ‘God d_mn America,’ if you want a man who takes the side of the imperial Japanese army, an army that killed not only hundreds of thousands in the Bataan Death March, but hundreds of thousand of Koreans, an army that operated on people while they were alive in Manchuria, a man who takes the side, in essence, of the Japanese Nazis of World War II, if you want a man who takes the side, in essence, of the Hitlers of the world, then you’ve got it in Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ.” Obama is merely “an ordinary apparatchik of the Democrat machine in Chicago” whose handlers intend to use Obama to bring upheaval and chaos to the nation. [Media Matters, 3/19/2008]
Fred Hollander, a New Hampshire resident, files a lawsuit challenging presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ)‘s ability to serve as president. Hollander names the Republican National Committee (RNC) as a co-defendant. [Hollander v. McCain et al, 3/14/2008] Hollander’s challenge hinges on a February 2008 report from conservative news blog News Busters that said since McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 (his parents, both US citizens were stationed on a Navy base in Panama at the time), he may not be eligible under Article II of the Constitution to be president. News Busters went on to report that McCain’s claim to have been born in the Coco Solo Naval Hospital in the Canal Zone was false, since that hospital was not built until 1941, and the nearest hospital at the time of his birth was not on a US military base, but in the Panamanian city of Colon. Therefore, the report concluded, “we were lied to” about McCain’s birthplace, and News Busters speculated that McCain’s citizenship was in question. However, News Busters was in error. According to subsequent investigations by the press, the Panama Canal Zone did contain a small hospital at the Coco Solo submarine base in 1936, and McCain was born in that hospital. Archival records also show the name of the Naval doctor who signed McCain’s birth certificate, Captain W. L. Irvine, the director of the facility at the time. News Busters, and Hollander, are in error in their reading of the law. Both of McCain’s parents were US citizens, and McCain was born on a US military base, which qualifies under the Constitution as “US soil.” The McCain presidential campaign has refused to release a copy of McCain’s birth certificate, but a senior campaign official shows Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs a copy of the McCain birth certificate issued by the Coco Solo Naval hospital. [News Busters (.org), 2/21/2008; Washington Post, 5/20/2008] Additionally, the Panama American newspaper for August 31, 1936 carried an announcement of McCain’s birth. [Washington Post, 4/17/2008 ] Two lawyers interviewed by CBS News concur that under the law, McCain is a “natural born citizen” and eligible to serve as president. Theodore Olson, the solicitor general for the Bush administration, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor generally considered to be a liberal, agree that challenges to McCain’s citizenship are specious. [CBS News, 3/28/2008] Hollander files what is later determined to be a fake birth certificate with the court that purports to prove McCain has Panamanian citizenship. The court throws Hollander’s lawsuit out on the grounds that Hollander has no standing to challenge McCain’s citizenship. [US District Court, District of New Hampshire, 7/24/2008 ; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 2/27/2009; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 4/24/2010] The lawsuit is similar in nature to numerous court challenges to McCain’s Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan. [Source: Raw Story]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” [New York Times, 3/18/2008; Raw Story, 3/18/2008]
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. [Town Hall (.com), 3/17/2008] And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 3/20/2008] McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/18/2008] ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” [ABC News, 3/18/2008] Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” [Associated Press, 3/18/2008] And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” [CNN News, 3/18/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Marc Ambinder, CNN, Hillary Clinton, Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press, Barack Obama, Democratic National Committee, Emily Sherman, Hugh Hewitt, Jake Tapper
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
The Iraqi government holds a “national reconciliation conference,” but it does little more than highlight the deep divides between the various religious and ethnic factions in that country. The conference, promoted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a national “dialogue” that would bring Iraq’s disparate factions together to begin working through their differences, is boycotted by three of the most important political blocs. Few, if any, Ba’athists take part in the conference. Neither do members of the militias or representatives of the various insurgencies. These three groups are widely considered to present the largest obstacles to reconciliation. And Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, a leader in the Sunni Awakening movement, storms out of the conference after the opening speeches and threatens to leave the conference altogether. “People want answers from us,” he says. “We’re not going to sit here only to listen to speeches.” The Awakening opposes the Sunni-led insurgency within Iraq. Shi’ite leader Sheik Muhammed Fahman al-Rikahis wonders how any reconciliation can take place if key groups are not invited or fail to take part in the dialog. “We were hoping to see more people invited, people who really represent the Iraqi components,” he says. “So the question is, why wasn’t everyone invited?” Several Shi’ite and Sunni groups either were not invited or refused to participate in the conference, though the government insists that every major political bloc had been invited. [New York Times, 3/19/2008]
US News and World Report interviews three US soldiers once held captive in the first days of the Iraq invasion: Private Jessica Lynch, Specialist Shoshana Johnson, and Private Patrick Miller. Lynch was captured and held for nine days in an Iraqi hospital before being rescued (see June 17, 2003); her story was quickly inflated by military public relations officials and eager media representatives into a fabricated tale of torture and derring-do (see April 3, 2003). Johnson and Miller received much less press coverage during their 22 days in captivity. Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, then a captain and a senior military spokesman, told reporters when Lynch was rescued that “she fired until she had no more ammunition.” That report was untrue. Thorp now says, “There was never, ever any intentional deception involving Lynch.” But the Pentagon and the news media alike were hungry for a telegenic hero, he notes. “That’s America. We want heroes, in baseball, in politics, in our day-to-day life.” [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008] Thorp, now a rear admiral, became the top public affairs official for then-Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Lynch: Weathering the Controversy - Lynch, who has weathered years of controversy about her unwitting involvement in a Pentagon PR campaign, is not convinced that there was no deception, as Thorp insists. “They wanted to make people think that maybe this war was a good thing,” she says. “Instead, people were getting killed, and it was going downhill fast. They wanted a hero.” All three say that they were no more heroic than any of the soldiers who fight every day. “It’s nice that people remember and stuff, but the way I look at it was I was just doing my job as a soldier,” says Miller, whom Lynch has cited as displaying outstanding bravery the day of their capture. Johnson adds: “I think we tossed around the hero word a little too much. I got shot and caught, and that’s it. [T]here are loads of soldiers out there who deserve all the props, and they don’t get enough.” Lynch, who was discharged from the Army months after her rescue (see August 22, 2003), does not watch television coverage of the war. “Honestly, it’s hard; it’s depressing,” she says. Five years after her capture, she still faces numerous physical disabilities and more surgery in the weeks and months ahead.
Miller: Wants to Return to Iraq - Miller, who shot several Iraqi soldiers before being, in his words, “gang-tackled” and captured, is still in the Army, having refused a medical discharge and needing to continue his wife’s medical insurance coverage. He recalls one conversation with an Iraqi during his captivity: “There was one who asked me why I came to Iraq, and I told him that I was told to come. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you just tell them no?’ I told him that if I tell them no, I go to jail. He couldn’t understand that.” Miller, now a staff sergeant, wants to return to Iraq, though Army regulations forbid a soldier once kept as a POW from returning to the country of his capture.
Johnson: Permanent Disability - Like Miller, Johnson’s captivity was relatively uneventful. She recalls one doctor in particular, “an old man with two wives and 11 children, who was really nice to me.” He protected her during her stay, even sleeping outside her door. “I don’t know if he thought somebody would come in, or something would happen to me,” she says. “When people start talking to me about Islam, that’s who I think of—a very nice man who took a big chance.” Johnson was going to write a book about her captivity, but her publishers backed out after Johnson did not give them the story they wanted. “They wanted this really religious book,” she says. “I’m a Catholic and my faith is important to me, but as a single mom with tattoos, I can’t be writing a book telling people how to live their life.” Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she has succeeded in winning permanent disability status from the Army after a long, bitter struggle (see October 24, 2003). She is raising her 7-year old daughter, studying to be a caterer, and says that in general she is coping well. [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008]
In an interview given during his trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney insists that the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) in Iraq is working: “On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.” When asked how his assessment of success jibes with polls that show two-thirds of Americans oppose the war—“Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting,” interviewer Martha Raddatz points out—Cheney replies, “So?” Raddatz asks: “So? You don’t care what the American people think?” Cheney replies: “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.” [ABC News, 3/19/2008; New York Times, 3/19/2008] Multiple polls show a relatively steady decrease in public support for the Iraq war, and for the presence of US troops in Iraq, since early highs in March 2003 when the US launched its opening attacks (see March 19, 2003). [Mother Jones, 3/19/2008]
A recent spate of chain email attacks on presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL) include claims that Obama may be the Antichrist of Biblical prediction. PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, notes that the email entirely distorts the words of the Book of Revelation to make its claim. The email reads: “According to The Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal.… the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything is it OBAMA??… I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to repost this as many times as you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet… do it! If you think I am crazy… Im sorry but I refuse to take a chance on the ‘unknown’ candidate.” PolitiFact notes that there are at least 635,000 hits on Google for the search term “Obama + Antichrist,” indicating that the subject has a certain interest to many. There are also literally thousands of blog posts about “Barack Obama the Antichrist” and such. PolitiFact states flatly, “Nothing about this detailed allegation is true.” According to PolitiFact’s research, which includes interviews with two religious scholars, the email makes a number of egregious errors.
The email misstates the name of the “Book of Revelation” as “Revelations.”
The email falsely says that the Book of Revelation uses the term “anti-christ” or any such term. Religious studies professor Dr. James D. Tabor tells PolitiFact: “The word Antichrist is not used in the Book of Revelation so this is important to point out. Everybody thinks the word is used.” Dr. L. Michael White, a professor of classics and religious studies, adds, “First and foremost, the word Antichrist and a figure called the Antichrist never occurs in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.” There are characters in Revelation that some interpret as being the Antichrist, particularly one beastly figure in Chapter 13 “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy” that some consider to be an allusion to the Antichrist. “It’s only in Chapter 13 and you could almost miss it,” Tabor says. White notes that most Biblical scholars do not consider that figure to represent the Antichrist. “It wasn’t there in the Bible,” he says. “It emerges in the Middle Ages. It’s something historians deal with.” The term does appear a few times in other books of the Bible, specifically First John and Second John.
The Bible does not identify the Antichrist as a man of any particular age. Nowhere does it describe “a man, in his 40s,” as the e-mail alleges. “As you notice, there’s nothing about being age 40,” Tabor says. “This is completely wrong. The Book of Revelation doesn’t say that. It says it’s a male, so I guess they got that right. It says ‘he,’ ‘he,’ ‘he.’”
The Bible does not identify the Antichrist as being Muslim; Islam was not founded as a religion until 400 years after the completion of the various books of the Bible. “A Muslim would be a monotheist and the last thing a Muslim would do is have anyone worship anyone other than God,” says Tabor. And Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, and January 11, 2008).
According to White, the email lifts much of its information from the Left Behind series, a group of post-apocalyptic novels written by Christian-right preacher Tim LaHaye and his co-author, Jerry Jenkins. The email is, White says, “a jigsaw puzzle of bits and pieces all filtered through the kind of end-of-world scenarios we get in the theology that is the underpinning of the Left Behind novels.” He says this kind of “patchwork interpretation of the Bible” is used by groups who wish to justify certain beliefs. “Of course, they never bothered to read the Scriptures carefully,” he says, “so it’s kind of a system of interpretation. That if you start with that presupposition… it’s all there you can just find it.… That description [in the chain email] never occurs anywhere in one place nor are the component parts really about the same situation. It’s a cherry-picking through Scripture to get it all to fit together.” PolitiFact calls the email’s claim “egregiously inaccurate.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/19/2008]
Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Responding to Vice President Dick Cheney’s dismissal of Americans’ lack of support for the Iraq war with the reply, “So?” (see March 19, 2008), a reporter says to White House press secretary Dana Perino that, contrary to Cheney’s assertions of “fluctuations in the public opinion polls,” “It’s not that there’s been fluctuations in polls; it’s been different degrees of opposition to the war. So is the vice president saying it really does not matter what the American public thinks about the war?” Perino responds: “No, I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.… But what he went on to say is that [the] president should not make decisions based on polls.” Another reporter observes: “The American people are being asked to die and pay for this, and you’re saying they have no say in this war?… Well, what it amounts to is you saying we have no input at all.” Perino replies: “You had input. The American people have input every four years, and that’s the way our system is set up.” [White House, 3/20/2008] According to polls conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, 94 percent of US citizens believe that “leaders should pay attention to the views of the people as they make decisions,” and 81 percent say leaders “should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public’s views.” Steven Kull, the director of PIPA, notes: “While Americans do not say that leaders should always follow the will of the public, they do think that American leaders should be considerably more responsive to the people and should even pay attention to polls. Dismissing the public as irrelevant and incompetent only contributes to already low levels of trust in government.” [World Public Opinion (.org), 3/21/2008]
The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for information about the recently announced, unauthorized access to Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files (see March 20, 2008). Waxman also asks that the State Department make the information public. In a letter to Rice, Waxman asks for the names of the two State Department contractors who broke into Obama’s files. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008; Henry A. Waxman, 3/21/2008 ] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the State Department will make results of its internal investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama’s office. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008]
The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
A typical US passport. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Jaikumar Vijayan explores the kind of information contained in passport files, in the wake of reports that Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s passport files were repeatedly breached (see March 20, 2008). All passport records are maintained in a classified records system in the State Department’s Passport Services annex in Washington, DC.
Extent of Information - Passport files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and contain all the information supplied on passport applications, including Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, family status, occupation, and physical characteristics. They do not, as has been widely reported, contain evidence of travel such as exit and entrance stamps, visas, or residence permits. The files also include investigative reports compiled as a part of the granting or denial of a passport, criminal records related to passports, court documents and administrative determinations related to passports and citizenship, copies of birth and baptismal certificates, medical, personal, and financial reports, and details of arrest warrants that may have been issued.
Origin of Information - The information comes from the applicants themselves as well as law enforcement agencies, investigative and intelligence sources, and officials of foreign governments.
Access to Information - The information is used not only by the State Department, the IRS, foreign governments, federal, state, and local authorities, attorneys representing a client in a passport case, and in some instances, members of Congress. Only State Department employees (or their contractors) who have valid identification cards and who have passed background checks may access the passport information database, and then only with passwords issued to them by their supervisors.
Access Logged - All access to the database is logged in a computer system, and potentially unauthorized or inappropriate access is flagged and brought to the attention of a supervisor. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008]
Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the Middle East, meets with Saudi King Abdullah on Abdullah’s horse farm for about four hours. Cheney also meets with his long-time friend, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi. The conversations between the men are not reported in any depth; a senior US official says the discussions are “confidential and private.” Cheney will then leave for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. [Agence France-Presse, 3/22/2008] Interestingly, after Cheney’s meeting with the Saudi leaders, the Saudi Shura Council, the governmental group that implements the decisions of the Saudi leadership, plans to secretly meet to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors,” according to the Saudi newspaper Okaz. A leading Saudi agency, the King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology, has prepared a plan to deal with the probability of radiation hazards in case of any unexpected nuclear attacks on Iran. [Deutche Presse-Agentur, 3/22/2008] Certainly a swift and massively destructive US strike against Iran is possible. Author and military expert William Arkin wrote in 2005 that the US could strike Iranian targets within about 12 hours from the time President Bush gave the final order (see January 25, 2005). Arkin quoted Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, as saying that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers were on, essentially, perpetual alert: “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes,” Carlson said. He added that his forces were the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” and could execute an attack “in half a day or less.” [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] And in 2006, reporter Seymour Hersh noted that US Air Force planning groups had drawn up detailed lists of Iranian targets as part of the military’s plan to launch major air attacks against Iran. Teams of US combat troops had clandestinely entered Iran to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic minority groups; US warplanes were making repeated practice “nuclear delivery” runs near the Iranian border in preparation for air strikes. [New Yorker, 4/17/2006]
President Musharraf swearing in Yousaf Raza Gillani as Pakistan’s latest prime minister. [Source: Agence France-Presse - Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)In parliamentary elections in February 2008, a coalition of opposition parties led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) took effective political control from President Pervez Musharraf, although Musharraf remains president (see February 18, 2008). On March 22, the leader of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, picks Yousaf Raza Gillani to become Pakistan’s new prime minister. Gillani assumes the position in a ceremony on March 25. Zardari is the husband of the recently assassinated and very popular Benazir Bhutto. He reportedly wants the prime minister position for himself, but he is not yet eligible for it as he does not hold a seat in parliament. Gillani is a relatively unknown low-key party stalwart. The New York Times comments that Gillani’s selection seems a “prelude to a drive by Mr. Zardari to take the job himself in the next few months.” [New York Times, 3/23/2008] Within hours of becoming prime minister, Gillani frees the judges that had been placed under house arrest during Musharraf’s state of emergency several months before (see November 3-December 15, 2007). He frees Supreme Court head Iftikhar Chaudhry, the 13 other Supreme Court judges, and 48 High Court judges who refused to sign a loyalty oath. [New York Times, 3/25/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney says that President Bush, not the US soldiers serving in Iraq, bears “the biggest burden” of the war. ABC reporter Martha Raddatz asks Cheney about what effect he believes the “milestone” of 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq has on the country. Cheney answers: “Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that’s involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think—it’s a reminder of the extent to which we’re blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously; he’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties.” [White House, 3/24/2008]
'Jaw-Dropping' Insensitivity - The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin writes that Cheney’s statement “crystallizes [his and Bush’s] detachment and self-involvement” quite vividly, illuminating the “bubble of flattery and delusion” in which he says they live. Froomkin adds: “And in an era where failing to support the troops is the ultimate political sin, Cheney’s breezy dismissal of their sacrifice—heck, they’re volunteers, and dying goes with the territory—was jaw-dropping even by the vice president’s own tone-deaf standards. Does Cheney really believe that Bush’s burden is so great? The president tells people he’s sleeping just fine, thank you, and in public appearances appears upbeat beyond all reason. Or does Cheney simply have no idea what it means to go to war? He and Bush, after all, famously avoided putting themselves in the line of fire when it was their time. Or are they just so wrapped up in themselves they can’t see how ridiculous it is to even suggest such a thing?”
Backhanded Agreement - Retired General Wesley Clark agrees with Cheney, in a backhanded fashion: “Well, I guess you could say [Bush] does bear an enormous burden of guilt and responsibility, for misdirecting the resources of the United States and for the travesty of going to war in Iraq.… But that’s not a burden that’s anything like the burden these families bear when their loved ones are overseas, and they suffer losses, or they come back home and they’ve got post-traumatic stress disease and other problems, when the little kids don’t recognize the parents when they come in the door because of the frequent deployments and so forth. This is an entirely different kind of burden. So I think that Vice President Cheney is not being fair to the men and women who serve. He should recognize the enormous sacrifices they’re making.” [Washington Post, 3/25/2008]
The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/24/2008] The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).
Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy, a study of the military’s influence on the US media and American public opinion, observes that while some commercial news networks are pointed out as unduly biased in favor of the administration’s viewpoint on Iraq, National Public Radio (NPR) is often viewed as a source of left-wing, anti-administration opinion. Solomon shows that just the opposite is usually the case. He begins by noting an NPR reporter’s comment on the Iraqi government’s large-scale military assault against Shi’ite insurgents in Basra today: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.” Solomon writes, “Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the US media establishment.” Solomon observed in the documentary film made from his book: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.” Solomon says that after considerable examination of NPR’s flagship news programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” “the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.” Like other news networks, NPR routinely uses Pentagon-approved “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary and analysis that is almost always supportive of the administration’s Iraq operations and strategies. Solomon writes: “Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR’s war coverage—especially from Washington. Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function. To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It’s supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn’t any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.” [CommonDreams (.org), 3/27/2008]
John Kasich, stumping for governor in 2010. [Source: CleveScene (.com)]Fox News contributor John Kasich (R-OH), a former US representative and a current managing partner of the financial firm Lehman Brothers, announces that he intends to challenge Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) in the 2010 midterm elections. Basic journalist ethics require Fox News to terminate its contract with Kasich and treat him as a candidate for office in future broadcasts. Instead, Kasich remains a Fox News employee until June 1, 2009, when he formally launches his bid for governor of Ohio. He regularly promotes his candidacy on Fox broadcasts, most often on the highly rated O’Reilly Factor, where he is a frequent guest and sometime guest host. Fox News commentators frequently laud Kasich; on June 17, 2008, Republican political analyst and paid Fox contributor Frank Luntz says he is “hoping that Kasich runs for governor of Ohio. I think John would be an outstanding candidate.” On July 15, 2008, talk show host Sean Hannity tells Kasich: “I’m advocating that you run for governor one day. And you’re not.… You’re not going along at all.” Kasich will continue to appear as a regular guest on Fox News programming after he formally launches his bid and Fox terminates its contract with him. He will make frequent appearances on Hannity’s show, where Hannity calls him “governor” and “soon-to-be governor,” and holds a fundraiser for Kasich in October 2009. On The O’Reilly Factor, Fox will show the URL for Kasich’s campaign Web site. On July 8, 2009, Hannity will tell Kasich on air: “You do me a favor. Go get elected governor, although why you would ever want that job, you’re out of your mind, but good luck. And I’m supporting you in the effort.” Kasich will also receive two $10,000 contributions from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. [Columbus Dispatch, 3/27/2008; Media Matters, 9/24/2010] Kasich will narrowly defeat Strickland in the 2010 gubernatorial elections. [Associated Press, 11/3/2010] After two months in office, his draconian budget cuts, insults to law enforcement officials and minorities, and heavy-handed attacks on unions will send his popularity plummeting and in April 2011 will spark a recall effort. [Think Progress, 4/11/2011]
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
David Petraeus. [Source: Princeton ROTC]General David Petraeus, the newly named commander of CENTCOM and the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East, takes time out from testifying to Congress to speak in a conference call to a group of the Pentagon’s carefully groomed “military analysts,” whom it uses regularly to promote the occupation of Iraq and sell the administration’s Middle East policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, tells Petraeus to “keep up the great work.” In an interview, Garrett reaffirms his intention to continue selling the occupation of Iraq: “Hey, anything we can do to help.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Darrell Issa. [Source: Washington Post]Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) says during a House subcommittee meeting that he does not understand why the federal government should pay any more money to assist 9/11 emergency responders who have become ill after working at Ground Zero. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and paramedics have become ill, some terminally so, from exposure to smoke and toxins released in the collapse of the World Trade Center; the subcommittee is considering whether to reinstate federal funding for the 9/11 victims’ fund. Minutes after a retired New York City police officer, Michael Valentin, speaks of the serious health problems he has suffered since responding to the attacks, Issa says: “I have to ask why… the firefighters who went there and everyone in the City of New York needs to come to the federal government… How much money has the federal government put out post-9/11, including the buckets of $10 and $20 billion we just threw at the State and the City of New York versus how much has been paid out by the City and the State of New York?… It’s very simple: I can’t vote for additional money for New York if I can’t see why it would be appropriate to do this every single time a similar situation happens, which quite frankly includes any urban terrorist. It doesn’t have to be somebody from al-Qaeda. It can be someone who decides that they don’t like animal testing at one of our pharmaceutical facilities.” The attacks on the World Trade Center did not involve a dirty bomb or chemical weapons, Issa notes. “It simply was an aircraft, residue of the aircraft and residue of the materials used to build this building,” he adds. Issa’s colleague, Anthony Weiner (D-NY), is visibly enraged at Issa’s comments, replying, “The notion that this is the City of New York asking for more money because we were the point of attack on this country is absurd and insulting…. There are people every single day, bit by bit by bit, who are dying from that attack.” [Newsday, 4/1/2008; New York Post, 4/2/2008] A day later, Issa will retreat from the harshest of his comments after enduring a withering barrage of criticism (see April 3, 2008).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responding to a recently released Justice Department memo authorizing a wide array of torture techniques against detainees in US custody (see April 1, 2008), decries both the authorization of torture as an acceptable interrogation methodology and “the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power.” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer adds: “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage repeats the false assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, a trope repeated by many conservative radio hosts (see January 22-24, 2008). In reality, Obama is a practicing Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ. The allegations that Obama is, or ever was, a Muslim have been debunked by, among others, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. Savage again lies to his listeners by telling them another oft-repeated falsehood, that Obama was educated in a radical Islamist “madrassah” during a childhood stint in Indonesia. Savage tells his listeners: “Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to—a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim.… Yes, check it out.” [Media Matters, 4/7/2008] Weeks before, Savage told his listeners that Obama and his former pastor supported the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Obama would bring chaos and devastation to the United States on a scale not seen since the Civil War (see March 13, 2008).
Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) tries to back away from his comments from the day before, where he disparaged New York City first responders who are now suffering long-term disabilities and illnesses stemming from the 9/11 attacks (see April 2, 2008).
Firestorm of Criticism - Frank Fraone, a California fire chief who led a 67-man crew at Ground Zero after the collapse of the World Trade Center, says: “That is a pretty distorted view of things. Whether they’re a couple of planes or a couple of missiles, they still did the same damage.” Republican colleague Peter King (R-NY) notes: “New York was attacked by al-Qaeda. It doesn’t have to be attacked by Congress.… I’m really surprised by Darrell Issa. It showed such a cavalier dismissal of what happened to New York. It’s wrong and inexcusable.” 9/11 victim’s relative Lorie Van Auken calls Issa’s comments “cruel and heartless.” She adds: “It’s really discouraging. People stepped up and did the right thing. They sacrificed themselves and now a lot of people are getting really horrible illnesses.”
Partial Withdrawal - Issa withdraws some of his earlier statements, now saying, “I want to make clear that I strongly support help for victims who suffered physical injury as a result of an attack on America, including support from Congress and the federal government.” Yet he refuses to withdraw his comments that the 9/11 attacks were little more than unremarkable plane crashes unworthy of any federal financial response. He now says that he only “asked tough questions about the expenditures.” Health officials estimate that it could cost up to $1 billion to properly care for survivors of 9/11 suffering from physical and emotional disabilities. A new bill to fund that care is being prepared for House debate. [New York Daily News, 4/3/2008; New York Post, 4/3/2008] A New York Daily News op-ed accuses Issa of “demeaning 9/11” and calls his remarks “callous in the extreme.” [New York Daily News, 4/3/2008]
Judge Richard D. Bennett of the US District Court in Maryland orders liens against properties owned by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) to secure damages awarded at trial. For decades, the WBC has protested against homosexuality and other “offenses,” and has since 2005 picketed soldiers’ funerals (see June 2005 and After), causing tremendous controversy. The church is being sued by Albert Snyder, whose son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, died in service. The WBC protested at the younger Snyder’s funeral, prompting the lawsuit (see March 10, 2006 and After). The jury awarded the Snyder family $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages (see October 2007), but Bennett reduces this to $5 million, which includes $2.1 million in punitive charges. One of Snyder’s lawyers says, based on his analysis of WBC financial records, that if the church is forced to pay even the lower amount, it would likely drive it into bankruptcy. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Topeka Capital-Journal, 4/4/2008]
Patrick McHenry. [Source: Patrick McHenry]The Pentagon tells Republican congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) not to re-air a video he had shot in Baghdad after he was accused of breaching operational security by giving detailed information about enemy rocket attacks. McHenry traveled to Iraq on March 22, where he made news by berating and insulting a guard for not allowing him into a gym because he lacked the proper identification.
YouTube Video - On April 4, after returning to the US, McHenry uploads a video he had shot while in the Green Zone onto YouTube and his Web site. The video shows McHenry pointing to a building behind him and telling viewers that a rocket had “hit just over my head” earlier. McHenry also names two more locations struck by rockets.
Veterans' Group - On April 6, a veterans group accuses McHenry of giving away intelligence information that can help insurgents better target positions inside the Green Zone. “The bottom line is that whoever launched that strike could take the information McHenry provided and use it to kill Americans in the Green Zone,” writes Brandon Friedman of VoteVets.org, an antiwar organization that calls for troop withdrawals and promotes veterans for public office, on the organization’s Web site. “This is why professionals operating in a combat zone are trained not to reveal any battle damage after an attack.” [McClatchy, 4/8/2008] Friedman adds: “McHenry—a fervent war supporter who has never served in the military—was apparently content to promote his Baghdad adventures at the expense of US troops on his Congressional website, during public appearances, and on YouTube. He did this until he got called out today.” [Brandon Friedman, 4/7/2008]
Pentagon Review - After Friedman’s post, McHenry pulls the video and sends it to the Pentagon for review. McHenry’s spokesman says he was not briefed on withholding its publication, but a Pentagon spokesman says he doesn’t know what McHenry was told: “but we routinely brief our operational rules to our visitors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military officials and soldiers are never allowed to publicly speak about battle damage. This is not the first time McHenry has violated security protocols in talking about his visit to Iraq. A Republican opponent for his seat, military attorney Lance Sigmon, recently uploaded a video to YouTube showing McHenry discussing his trip to Iraq with local Republicans. In the speech, McHenry gives actual distances of how close the rockets came to hitting the building that he and other visitors were sleeping in. That kind of information is very useful for the insurgents in targeting future rocket barrages. Sigmon, an Air Force veteran, calls McHenry’s actions “absolutely reprehensible.” [McClatchy, 4/8/2008]
No Apology - After McHenry pulls the video, Friedman notes that no apology accompanied the withdrawal, and “That leads me to believe that McHenry pulled the video because he’s more worried about the damage this could do to him politically.” Friedman adds, “In a bumbling attempt to make himself look braver and tougher than he really is, Congressman McHenry put US troops at further risk by publicly revealing details about the success of an enemy rocket attack.” [Brandon Friedman, 4/7/2008]
Speaking before a public hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, “We were attacked from Afghanistan in 2001 and we are at war in Afghanistan today in no small measure because of mistakes this government made—mistakes I, among others, made—in the end game of the anti-Soviet war there some 20 years ago.” [US Department of Defense, 4/10/2008]
Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) calls presidential contender Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) “that boy” in a speech. “Boy” is a well-known racial slur, especially among Southern Americans. At a dinner commemorating “Lincoln Day” in northern Kentucky sponsored by the state GOP, Davis tells his listeners that he once participated in a “highly classified national security simulation” with Obama. “I’m going to tell you something,” he says. “That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button. He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country.” Once the slur is reported by Politico, Davis sends a letter of apology to Obama over his “poor choice of words.” He adds, “I offer my sincere apology to you and ask for your forgiveness.” Davis does not refer to his characterization of Obama as unable to protect the nation based on his assessment of Obama’s actions during a national security simulation. [Politico, 4/14/2008; Politico, 4/14/2008]
While speaking to students at Drew University, prominent neoconservative and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is asked how the US government could justify violating personal rights with domestic eavesdropping and the Patriot Act. He responds: “If there’s a threat, you have a right to defend society. People will give up all their liberties to avoid that level of threat.” [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 4/18/2008]
A portion of Barack Obama’s marriage certificate. The full-size original can be viewed online. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, debunks a recent spate of claims that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, has ties to Islamist radicals in Kenya. The claims appear to be sourced from a letter sent by American missionaries in Kenya, saying that Obama has ties to a Kenyan opposition party and warning its readers “not to be taken in by those that are promoting him.” The email also claims: “By the way. His true name is Barak Hussein Muhammed Obama. Won’t that sound sweet to our enemies as they swear him in on the Koran! God bless you.” PolitiFact writes: “The e-mail reads like a bad game of ‘telephone,’ its claims drawn from assorted people and sources that have been stitched together. And yet, because it is signed by real people, who have a life in Africa, it somehow carries more credence than your average blog posting—and it’s spreading rapidly.” PolitiFact has debunked this claim before (see January 11, 2008), but notes that the claim continues to spread. PolitiFact posts a copy of Obama’s 1992 marriage certificate, which states “Barack H. Obama” married “Michelle L. Robinson” on October 3, 1992, in a ceremony officiated by Trinity United Church of Christ pastor Jeremiah A. Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). Obama’s driver’s license record in Illinois identifies him as “Barack H. Obama.” His property listings name him as either “Barack Hussein Obama” or “Barack H. Obama.” His registration and disciplinary record with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois notes that Obama was admitted to the Illinois bar on December 17, 1991, and has no public record of discipline. PolitiFact was unable to secure a copy of Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008). PolitiFact has located the originator of the email, Celeste Davis. Her husband Loren Davis confirms that he cannot substantiate the claims in the email. “That was what we heard there [in Kenya],” Davis tells a PolitiFact interviewer. Davis says he and his wife have lived and worked in Kenya for the past 12 years, and says his wife’s message was from a personal letter “never intended to be forwarded or sent out to the Web.” [St. Petersburg Times, 4/18/2008]
The various news networks cited in this day’s New York Times expose of their involvement in a overarching Pentagon propaganda campaign to promote the Iraq war by using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) say that, by and large, they were unaware of their analysts’ connections with both the administration and with defense contractors. (Many analysts used their access to the Pentagon and the networks to drum up business for themselves and their firms.) The networks say they are always concerned about conflicts of interest, but it is up to the analysts to disclose any such possible conflicts. As for the analysts, they say that the networks had only a dim awareness of their connections either with defense firms or the Pentagon. The networks don’t realize, the analysts claim, how frequently they meet with senior Defense Department officials or what is discussed. One NBC analyst, Rick Francona, says, “I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating.” Many analysts say that the networks did not inquire deeply into their outside business interests and any potential conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” says former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. “The worst conflict of interest was no interest.” Allard and others say their network liaisons raised no objections when the Pentagon began paying for their trips to Iraq, a clear ethical violation for any serious news organization. The networks’ responses are limited at best: ABC says it is the analysts’ responsibility to keep them informed of any conflicts of interest; NBC says it has “clear policies” that ensure their analysts are free of conflicts; CBS declines to comment; a Fox News spokeswoman says that network’s executives “refused to participate” in the Times article. As for CNN, it requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of interest, but like the other networks, it does not provide its analysts with specific ethical guidelines such as it provides to its full-time employees. In mid-2007, CNN fired one analyst for his conflicts of interest (see July 2007). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Author and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes of today’s revelations about the Pentagon’s six-year Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) that the new information serves as “a far greater indictment of our leading news organizations than the government officials” who actually perpetrated the program. Greenwald writes: “In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that’s precisely why our news organizations—which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones—turned to them in the first place.” The New York Times, which published the expose, still relies on the same military analysts for commentary and insight about the war in Iraq who are revealed as Pentagon supporters in its own reporting. And considering the reporting from five years previously (see March 25, 2003 and April 19, 2003), Greenwald notes that neither the Times nor anyone else should be particularly shocked at the unveiling of such a propaganda operation. What Greenwald does find “incredible” is the refusal of the news organizations to comment on the Times story. “Just ponder what that says about these organizations,” Greenwald writes: “[T]here is a major expose in the [Times] documenting that these news outlets misleadingly shoveled government propaganda down the throats of their viewers on matters of war and terrorism and they don’t feel the least bit obliged to answer for what they did or knew about any of it.” Only CNN provided any substantive response, but denied any knowledge of their analysts’ connections to either the Pentagon or to defense firms. Greenwald concludes, “The single most significant factor in American political culture is the incestuous, extensive overlap between our media institutions and government officials.” [Salon, 4/20/2008]
Neoconservatives Max Boot and John Podhoretz weigh in on the New York Times story exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Boot writes that the program is nothing more than “the Pentagon tr[ying] to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.” “[I]t’s no secret,” he writes, “that the Pentagon—and every other branch of government—routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is hardly unheard of for cabinet members—or even the president and vice president—to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.” Boot believes he has found “the nub of the problem” further into the article when reporter David Barstow wrote that the Pentagon’s operation “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” Boot retorts, in a backhanded criticism of the Times’s patriotism: “[I]t’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM [mainstream media]. We can’t have that!” Boot concludes: “The implicit purpose of the Times’s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs—conveniently enough—as the dominant shapers of public opinion.” [Commentary Magazine, 4/20/2008] Writing for the influential conservative blog PowerLine, Boot’s fellow neoconservative John Podhoretz echoes Boot’s dismissal of the Times’s expose: “Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media.” [Think Progress (.org), 4/20/2008]
Katrina vanden Heuvel. [Source: PBS]The editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, pens an incensed op-ed about the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda campaign designed to manipulate public opinion concerning Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Vanden Heuvel calls the operation “an all out effort at the highest levels of the Bush administration, continuing to this day, to dupe, mislead and lie to the American people—using propaganda dressed up and cherry-picked as independent military analysis.” Vanden Heuvel calls for an “investigation by all relevant Congressional committees—from Intelligence to Armed Services. The networks must also be held accountable for their role in duping Americans.” She writes that networks should immediately “fire those analysts who concealed their links and then refuse to hire analysts, military or other, without full conflict of interest disclosures. (They should also open up the airwaves, which belong to the people, to a full range of views!)” The analysts themselves “should be hauled up before the judgment of the institution they claim to revere and represent. [T]hese corrupt men… violated a sacred trust, putting their wallet, their access and the Pentagon above their duty and honor to the men and women they claim to revere.” [Nation, 4/20/2008]
Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Thomas G. McInerney, Stephen J. Hadley, Timur Eads, wvc3 Group, William Cowan, Robert Scales, Jr, US Department of Defense, Robert Bevelacqua, Robert Maginnis, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CBS News, CNN, Carlton Shepperd, David Barstow, David Grange, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Fox News, Jeffrey McCausland, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld, National Public Radio, Kenneth Allard, John Garrett, NBC, Rick Francona
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
CNN media critic Howard Kurtz writes a scathing op-ed expressing his dismay at the extent of the Pentagon’s secret propaganda operation to sell the Iraq war, and its use of retired military officers to promote its agenda and make its case on nightly news broadcasts (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Kurtz observes: “It’s hardly shocking that career military men would largely reflect the Pentagon’s point of view, just as Democratic and Republican ‘strategists’ stay in touch with aides to the candidates they defend on the air. But the degree of behind-the-scenes manipulation—including regular briefings by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials—is striking, as is the lack of disclosure by the networks of some of these government and business connections. With an aura of independence, many of the analysts used their megaphones, and the prestige of their rank, to help sell a war that was not going well.… [T]he networks rarely if ever explored the outside roles of their military consultants.” While both the Pentagon and the various networks have defended their use of the military analysts, and the networks have tried to explain their failure to examine their analysts’ connections to an array of defense firms—“it’s a little unrealistic to think you’re going to do a big background check on everybody,” says Fox News executive producer Marty Ryan—the reality, as Kurtz notes, is far less aboveboard. Kurtz adds, “The credibility gap, to use an old Vietnam War phrase, was greatest when these retired officers offered upbeat assessments of the Iraq war even while privately expressing doubts,” a circumstance reported on the part of numerous analysts in the recent New York Times expose. [Washington Post, 4/21/2008]
The Pentagon’s program for using “independent military analysts” to shape public opinion on the various news broadcasts and editorial pages (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) continues. According to New York Times reporter David Barstow, under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the analysts still get weekly briefings from senior Pentagon officials, though they no longer have the kinds of regular meetings with Gates that they had with Rumsfeld. And the networks continue to broadcast interviews and segments with the analysts on a regular basis. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
In the hours following the New York Times’s article about the Pentagon’s propaganda operation using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), a number of press officials express their concerns over the operation and the media’s role in it. The report “raises a red flag,” says Cox Newspapers bureau chief Andy Alexander. The editorial page editors at the Times and the Washington Post, both of which have published op-eds by some of the same retired officers cited in the Times story, say the report raises concerns about such access. The Times’s editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, says, “It makes you suspicious, absolutely.” Rosenthal’s bureau printed at least nine op-eds by some of the generals cited in the report. “When generals write for you now, you have to look at that. But you have to do that anyway. Anybody who participated in that program has to be scrutinized more closely.” Rosenthal’s counterpart at the Post, Fred Hiatt, whose pages have run at least one such op-ed, says, “Retired generals are entitled to speak out like anyone else, but I would have the same expectation of them to disclose anything that might be relevant.” He goes on to defend the Post op-ed, written by retired general Barry McCaffrey, saying that McCaffrey’s words demonstrate his independence from the propaganda operation. Rosenthal also defends his paper’s publication of the nine op-eds and also states that the writers clearly demonstrate their independence. Rosenthal refuses to divulge the names of eight of the nine op-ed authors. Neither the Times nor the Post ever disclosed the close ties their writers maintained with the Pentagon, nor did they disclose their ties to an array of military contractors. Rosenthal says that such connections are irrelevant because their op-eds were not necessarily about Iraq: “There is no instance in which a general who attended a briefing at the Pentagon repeated it on our Op-Ed pages.” He also says that none of the authors have any conflicts in their business relationships. The Times will probably continue to use retired officers for commentary, Rosenthal says. McClatchy News bureau chief John Walcott says that as long as the public knows who is writing a particular op-ed and what their connections are, publishing material from retired military officers is acceptable: “The reader is entitled to know where this or that commentator is coming from on an issue. It doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from commentating, it must be transparent.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/21/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Andy Alexander, Andrew Rosenthal, Barry McCaffrey, Bush administration (43), Cox Communications, Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, McClatchy News, New York Times, John Walcott
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Defense Secretary Robert Gates urges retired officers serving as “independent military analysts” for the news networks to make it clear that they are speaking for themselves, not their military services, in supporting political candidates, giving opinions, or providing commentary. Gates’s remarks come on the heels of a New York Times report that documents an overarching propaganda campaign by the Pentagon to use such “independent” analysts to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Gates says he sees nothing wrong with the Pentagon briefing such retired officers to prepare them for their network appearances. “I did read the article,” he says. “And frankly, I couldn’t quite tell how much of it was a political conflict of interest or a financial conflict of interest. The one service they owe everybody is making clear that they’re speaking only for themselves.” His main concern, he says, is “when they are referred to by their title, the public doesn’t know whether they are active duty or retired officers because those distinctions tend to get blurred.” [Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2008]
New York Times reporter David Barstow discusses his recent article about the Pentagon’s covert propaganda operation using “independent military analysts” to shape public opinion about the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Barstow explains that the Times took “so long” to report the program because “it took us two years to wrestle 8,000 pages of documents out of the Defense Department that described its interactions with network military analysts.” The Pentagon refused to turn over any documents until losing in federal court; even then, it failed to meet a number of court-ordered deadlines to produce the documents. It was only after the judge in the case threatened to sanction the department that the Pentagon finally turned over the documents. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
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