The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Changing Minds, One at a Time

Changing Minds, One at a Time

By Howard Zinn
The Progressive March 2005 Issue

As I write this, the day after the inauguration, the banner headline in The New York Times reads: "BUSH, AT 2ND INAUGURAL, SAYS SPREAD OF LIBERTY IS THE 'CALLING OF OUR TIME.' "
Two days earlier, on an inside page of the Times, was a photo of a little girl, crouching, covered with blood, weeping. The caption read: "An Iraqi girl screamed yesterday after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident."
Today, there is a large photo in the Times of young people cheering the President as his entourage moves down Pennsylvania Avenue. They do not look very different from the young people shown in another part of the paper, along another part of Pennsylvania Avenue, protesting the inauguration.
I doubt that those young people cheering Bush saw the photo of the little girl. And even if they did, would it occur to them to juxtapose that photo to the words of George Bush about spreading liberty around the world?
That question leads me to a larger one, which I suspect most of us have pondered: What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness - from being a racist to being in favor of racial equality, from being in favor of Bush's tax program to being against it, from being in favor of the war in Iraq to being against it? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.
It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness - embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.
This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas. It is so simple a thought that it is easily overlooked as we search, desperate in the face of war and apparently immovable power in ruthless hands, for some magical formula, some secret strategy to bring peace and justice to the land and to the world.
"What can I do?" The question is thrust at me again and again as if I possessed some mysterious solution unknown to others. The odd thing is that the question may be posed by someone sitting in an audience of a thousand people, whose very presence there is an instance of information being imparted which, if passed on, could have dramatic consequences. The answer then is as obvious and profound as the Buddhist mantra that says: "Look for the truth exactly on the spot where you stand."
Yes, thinking of the young people holding up the pro-Bush signs at the inauguration, there are those who will not be budged by new information. They will be shown the bloodied little girl whose parents have been killed by an American weapon, and find all sorts of reasons to dismiss it: "Accidents happen. . . . This was an aberration. . . . It is an unfortunate price of liberating a nation," and so on.
There is a hard core of people in the United States who will not be moved, whatever facts you present, from their conviction that this nation means only to do good, and almost always does good, in the world, that it is the beacon of liberty and freedom (words used forty-two times in Bush's inauguration speech). But that core is a minority, as is that core of people who carried signs of protest at the inauguration.
In between those two minorities stand a huge number of Americans who have been brought up to believe in the beneficence of our nation, who find it hard to believe otherwise, but who can rethink their beliefs when presented with information new to them.
Is that not the history of social movements?
There was a hard core of people in this country who believed in the institution of slavery. Between the 1830s, when a tiny group of Abolitionists began their agitation, and the 1850s, when disobedience of the fugitive slave acts reached their height, the Northern public, at first ready to do violence to the agitators, now embraced their cause. What happened in those years? The reality of slavery, its cruelty, as well as the heroism of its resisters, was made evident to Americans through the speeches and writings of the Abolitionists, the testimony of escaped slaves, the presence of magnificent black witnesses like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
Something similar happened during those years of the Southern black movement, starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the marches. White people - not only in the North, but also in the South - were startled into an awareness of the long history of humiliation of millions of people who had been invisible and who now demanded their rights.
When the Vietnam War began, two-thirds of the American public supported the war. A few years later, two-thirds opposed the war. While some remained adamantly pro-war, one-third of the population had learned things that overthrew previously held ideas about the essential goodness of the American intervention in Vietnam. The human consequences of the fierce bombing campaigns, the "search and destroy" missions, became clear in the image of the naked young girl, her skin shredded by napalm, running down a road; the women and children huddled in the trenches in My Lai with soldiers pouring rifle fire onto them; Marines setting fire to peasant huts while the occupants stood by, weeping.
Those images made it impossible for most Americans to believe President Johnson when he said we were fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, that it was all worthwhile because it was part of the worldwide struggle against Communism.
In his inauguration speech, and indeed, through all four years of his presidency, George Bush has insisted that our violence in Afghanistan and Iraq has been in the interest of freedom and democracy, and essential to the "war on terrorism." When the war on Iraq began almost two years ago, about three-fourths of Americans supported the war. Today, the public opinion polls show that at least half of the citizenry believes it was wrong to go to war.
What has happened in these two years is clear: a steady erosion of support for the war, as the public has become more and more aware that the Iraqi people, who were supposed to greet the U.S. troops with flowers, are overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. Despite the reluctance of the major media to show the frightful toll of the war on Iraqi men, women, children, or to show U.S. soldiers with amputated limbs, enough of those images have broken through, joined by the grimly rising death toll, to have an effect.
But there is still a large pool of Americans, beyond the hard-core minority who will not be dissuaded by any facts (and it would be a waste of energy to make them the object of our attention), who are open to change. For them, it would be important to measure Bush's grandiose inaugural talk about the "spread of liberty" against the historical record of American expansion.
It is a challenge not just for the teachers of the young to give them information they will not get in the standard textbooks, but for everyone else who has an opportunity to speak to friends and neighbors and work associates, to write letters to newspapers, to call in on talk shows.
The history is powerful: the story of the lies and massacres that accompanied our national expansion, first across the continent victimizing Native Americans, then overseas as we left death and destruction in our wake in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and especially the Philippines. The long occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the repeated dispatch of Marines into Central America, the deaths of millions of Koreans and Vietnamese, none of them resulting in democracy and liberty for those people.
Add to all that the toll of the American young, especially the poor, black and white, a toll measured not only by the corpses and the amputated limbs, but the damaged minds and corrupted sensibilities that result from war.
Those truths make their way, against all obstacles, and break down the credibility of the warmakers, juxtaposing what reality teaches against the rhetoric of inaugural addresses and White House briefings. The work of a movement is to enhance that learning, make clear the disconnect between the rhetoric of "liberty" and the photo of a bloodied little girl, weeping.
And also to go beyond the depiction of past and present, and suggest an alternative to the paths of greed and violence. All through history, people working for change have been inspired by visions of a different world. It is possible, here in the United States, to point to our enormous wealth and suggest how, once not wasted on war or siphoned off to the super-rich, that wealth can make possible a truly just society.
The juxtapositions wait to be made. The recent disaster in Asia, alongside the millions dying of AIDS in Africa, next to the $500 billion military budget, cry out for justice. The words of people from all over the world gathered year after year in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and other places - "a new world is possible" - point to a time when national boundaries are erased, when the natural riches of the world are used for everyone.
The false promises of the rich and powerful about "spreading liberty" can be fulfilled, not by them, but by the concerted effort of us all, as the truth comes out, and our numbers grow.

Howard Zinn's latest work (with Anthony Arnove) is "Voices of a People's History of the United States."

Getting the Purple Finger

Getting the Purple Finger

By Naomi Klein The Nation
28 February 2005 Issue

"The Iraqi people gave America the biggest 'thank you' in the best way we could have hoped for." Reading this election analysis from Betsy Hart, a columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service, I found myself thinking about my late grandmother. Half blind and a menace behind the wheel of her Chevrolet, she adamantly refused to surrender her car keys. She was convinced that everywhere she drove (flattening the house pets of Philadelphia along the way) people were waving and smiling at her. "They are so friendly!" We had to break the bad news. "They aren't waving with their whole hand, Grandma-just with their middle finger."
So it is with Betsy Hart and the other near-sighted election observers: They think the Iraqi people have finally sent America those long-awaited flowers and candies, when Iraq's voters just gave them the (purple) finger.
The election results are in: Iraqis voted overwhelmingly to throw out the US-installed government of Iyad Allawi, who refused to ask the United States to leave. A decisive majority voted for the United Iraqi Alliance; the second plank in the UIA platform calls for "a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq."
There are more single-digit messages embedded in the winning coalition's platform. Some highlights: "Adopting a social security system under which the state guarantees a job for every fit Iraqi...and offers facilities to citizens to build homes." The UIA also pledges "to write off Iraq's debts, cancel reparations and use the oil wealth for economic development projects." In short, Iraqis voted to repudiate the radical free-market policies imposed by former chief US envoy Paul Bremer and locked in by a recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
So will the people who got all choked up watching Iraqis flock to the polls support these democratically chosen demands? Please. "You don't set timetables," George W. Bush said four days after Iraqis voted for exactly that. Likewise, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the elections "magnificent" but dismissed a firm timetable out of hand. The UIA's pledges to expand the public sector, keep the oil and drop the debt will likely suffer similar fates. At least if Adel Abd al-Mahdi gets his way-he's Iraq's finance minister and the man suddenly being touted as leader of Iraq's next government.
Al-Mahdi is the Bush Administration's Trojan horse in the UIA. (You didn't think they were going to put all their money on Allawi, did you?) In October he told a gathering of the American Enterprise Institute that he planned to "restructure and privatize [Iraq's] state-owned enterprises," and in December he made another trip to Washington to unveil plans for a new oil law "very promising to the American investors." It was al-Mahdi himself who oversaw the signing of a flurry of deals with Shell, BP and ChevronTexaco in the weeks before the elections, and it is he who negotiated the recent austerity deal with the IMF. On troop withdrawal, al-Mahdi sounds nothing like his party's platform and instead appears to be channeling Dick Cheney on Fox News: "When the Americans go will depend on when our own forces are ready and on how the resistance responds after the elections." But on Sharia law, we are told, he is very close to the clerics.
Iraq's elections were delayed time and time again, while the occupation and resistance grew ever more deadly. Now it seems that two years of bloodshed, bribery and backroom arm-twisting were leading up to this: a deal in which the ayatollahs get control over the family, Texaco gets the oil, and Washington gets its enduring military bases (call it the "oil for women program"). Everyone wins except the voters, who risked their lives to cast their ballots for a very different set of policies.
But never mind that. January 30, we are told, was not about what Iraqis were voting for-it was about the fact of their voting and, more important, how their plucky courage made Americans feel about their war. Apparently, the elections' true purpose was to prove to Americans that, as George Bush put it, "the Iraqi people value their own liberty." Stunningly, this appears to come as news. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown said the vote was "the first clear sign that freedom really may mean something to the Iraqi people." On The Daily Show, CNN's Anderson Cooper described it as "the first time we've sort of had a gauge of whether or not they're willing to sort of step forward and do stuff."
This is some tough crowd. The Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991 was clearly not enough to convince them that Iraqis were willing to "do stuff" to be free. Nor was the demonstration of 100,000 people held one year ago demanding immediate elections, or the spontaneous local elections organized by Iraqis in the early months of the occupation-both summarily shot down by Bremer. It turns out that on American TV, the entire occupation has been one long episode of Fear Factor, in which Iraqis overcome ever-more-challenging obstacles to demonstrate the depths of their desire to win their country back. Having their cities leveled, being tortured in Abu Ghraib, getting shot at checkpoints, having their journalists censored and their water and electricity cut off-all of it was just a prelude to the ultimate endurance test: dodging bombs and bullets to get to the polling station. At last, Americans were persuaded that Iraqis really, really want to be free.
So what's the prize? An end to occupation, as the voters demanded? Don't be silly-the US government won't submit to any "artificial timetable." Jobs for everyone, as the UIA promised? You can't vote for socialist nonsense like that. No, they get Geraldo Rivera's tears ("I felt like such a sap"), Laura Bush's motherly pride ("It was so moving for the President and me to watch people come out with purple fingers") and Betsy Hart's sincere apology for ever doubting them ("Wow-do I stand corrected").
And that should be enough. Because if it weren't for the invasion, Iraqis would not even have the freedom to vote for their liberation, and then to have that vote completely ignored. And that's the real prize: the freedom to be occupied. Wow-do I stand corrected.

Naomi Klein is the author of "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" (Picador) and, most recently, "Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate" (Picador).

Friday, February 11, 2005

Paul Krugman - Bush's Class-War Budget

The New York Times
February 11, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
Bush's Class-War Budget
By PAUL KRUGMAN

It may sound shrill to describe President Bush as someone who takes food from the mouths of babes and gives the proceeds to his millionaire friends. Yet his latest budget proposal is top-down class warfare in action. And it offers the Democrats an opportunity, if they're willing to take it.

First, the facts: the budget proposal really does take food from the mouths of babes. One of the proposed spending cuts would make it harder for working families with children to receive food stamps, terminating aid for about 300,000 people. Another would deny child care assistance to about 300,000 children, again in low-income working families.

And the budget really does shower largesse on millionaires even as it punishes the needy. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities informs us that even as the administration demands spending cuts, it will proceed with the phaseout of two little-known tax provisions - originally put in place under the first President George Bush - that limit deductions and exemptions for high-income households.

More than half of the benefits from this backdoor tax cut would go to people with incomes of more than a million dollars; 97 percent would go to people with incomes exceeding $200,000.

It so happens that the number of taxpayers with more than $1 million in annual income is about the same as the number of people who would have their food stamps cut off under the Bush proposal. But it costs a lot more to give a millionaire a break than to put food on a low-income family's table: eliminating limits on deductions and exemptions would give taxpayers with incomes over $1 million an average tax cut of more than $19,000.

It's like that all the way through. On one side, the budget calls for program cuts that are small change compared with the budget deficit, yet will harm hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans. On the other side, it calls for making tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, and for new tax breaks for the affluent in the form of tax-sheltered accounts and more liberal rules for deductions.

The question is whether the relentless mean-spiritedness of this budget finally awakens the public to the true cost of Mr. Bush's tax policy.

Until now, the administration has been able to get away with the pretense that it can offset the revenue loss from tax cuts with benign spending restraint. That's because until now, "restraint" was an abstract concept, not tied to specific actions, making it seem as if spending cuts would hurt only a few special interest groups.

But here we are with the first demonstration of restraint in action, and look what's on the chopping block, selected for big cuts: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health insurance for children and aid to law enforcement. (Yes, Mr. Bush proposes to cut farm subsidies, which are truly wasteful. Let's see how much political capital he spends on that proposal.)

Until now, the administration has also been able to pretend that the budget deficit isn't an important issue so the role of tax cuts in causing that deficit can be ignored. But Mr. Bush has at last conceded that the deficit is indeed a major problem.

Why shouldn't the affluent, who have done so well from Mr. Bush's policies, pay part of the price of dealing with that problem?

Here's a comparison: the Bush budget proposal would cut domestic discretionary spending, adjusted for inflation, by 16 percent over the next five years. That would mean savage cuts in education, health care, veterans' benefits and environmental protection. Yet these cuts would save only about $66 billion per year, about one-sixth of the budget deficit.

On the other side, a rollback of Mr. Bush's cuts in tax rates for high-income brackets, on capital gains and on dividend income would yield more than $120 billion per year in extra revenue - eliminating almost a third of the budget deficit - yet have hardly any effect on middle-income families. (Estimates from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution show that such a rollback would cost families with incomes between $25,000 and $80,000 an average of $156.)

Why, then, shouldn't a rollback of high-end tax cuts be on the table?

Democrats have surprised the Bush administration, and themselves, by effectively pushing back against Mr. Bush's attempt to dismantle Social Security. It's time for them to broaden their opposition, and push back against Mr. Bush's tax policy.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Arianna Huffington - America's Finite Future?

America’s Finite Future?

By Arianna Huffington

January 11, 2005

Near the beginning of "Saturday Night Fever," John Travolta's Tony Manero, frustrated that his boss thinks he should save his salary instead of spending it on a new disco shirt, cries out, "Fuck the future!" To which his boss replies: "No, Tony, you can't fuck the future. The future fucks you! It catches up with you and it fucks you if you ain't prepared for it!"

Well, I don't know if you've noticed, but America has morphed into a nation of Tony Maneros — collectively dismissing the future. And nowhere is this mindset more prevalent than at the Bush White House, which is unwavering in its determination to ignore the future.

The evidence is overwhelming. Everywhere you look, it's IOUs passed on to future generations. Record federal debt. Record foreign debt. Record budget deficits. Record trade deficits.

And this attempt to fuck the future is not limited to economics. You see the same attitude when it comes to energy policy, health care, education, Social Security and especially the environment — with the Bushies redoubling their efforts to make the world uninhabitable as fast as possible. (See their attempts to gut the Clean Air Act, gut the Clean Water Act, gut the Endangered Species Act, gut regulations limiting pollution from power plants.)

And the even bigger problem? They don't see this as a problem. In fact, it actually all may be an essential part of the plan.

If this last sentence doesn't make a whit of sense to you, then you are clearly not one of the 50 million Americans who believe in some form of End-Time philosophy, an extreme evangelical theology that embraces the idea that we are fast approaching the end of the world, at which point Jesus will return and carry all true believers — living and dead — up to heaven ("the Rapture"), leaving all nonbelievers on earth to face hellfire and damnation ("the Tribulation"). Christ and his followers will then return to a divinely refurbished earth for a thousand-year reign of peace and love.

In other words, why worry about minor little details like clean air, clean water, safe ports and the safety net when Jesus is going to give the world an "Extreme Makeover: Planet Edition" right after he finishes putting Satan in his place once and for all?

Keep in mind: This nutty notion is not a fringe belief being espoused by some street corner Jeremiah wearing a "The End Is Nigh!" sandwich board. End-Timers have repeatedly made the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic books among America's best-selling titles, with over 60 million copies sold.

And they have also spawned a mini-industry of imminent doomsday Web sites like ApocalypseSoon.org and Raptureready.com. The latter features a Rapture Index that, according to the site, acts as a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity" and a "prophetic speedometer" (the higher the number, the faster we're moving toward the Second Coming). For those of you keeping score, the Rapture Index is currently 152 — an off-the-chart mark of prophetic indicators.

Now I'm not saying that Bush is a delusion-driven End-Timer (although he has let it be known that God speaks to — and through— him, and he believes "in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans"). But he and his crew are certainly acting as if that's the case.

Take the jaw-dropping federal debt, which currently stands at $4.3 trillion. Just last month the Government Accountability Office released a report that found that Bush's economic policies "will result in massive fiscal pressures that, if not effectively addressed, could cripple the economy, threaten our national security, and adversely affect the quality of life of Americans in the future."

And what was the administration's reaction to this frightening assessment? Vice President Cheney shrugged, took a hearty swig of the End-Time Kool-Aid, and announced that the administration wants another round of tax cuts. Basically a big fuck you.

Then there's our trade deficit, which ballooned to a record $165 billion in the third quarter of 2004, when imports exceeded exports by 54 percent. Thanks to this imbalance, America is racking up a staggering $665 billion in additional foreign debt every year — that's $5,500 for every U.S. household — and placing our future economic security in the hands of others. Here is Bush's response to this daunting prospect: "People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit." Sounds like he's really got it under control.

I guess after the Rapture, debts of all kinds will be forgiven. The White House is promoting a similar "What Me Worry?" attitude with our live-for-the-moment energy policy. America currently spends $13 million per hour on foreign oil — a number that will only increase as U.S. oil production peaks within the next five years just as consumption by industrializing nations doubles over the next 25 years.

So is the president pushing for a long-overdue increase in mileage standards or launching an all-out effort to break our dependence on foreign oil? Hardly. Instead, he's getting ready to make his umpteenth attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

And that is just a small part of the president's full-bore assault on the environment, best summed up by Sen. Jim Jeffords, the ranking minority member on the Environment and Public Works Committee: "I expect the Bush Administration will go down in history as the greatest disaster for public health and the environment in the history of the United States."

That said, it's not hard to see why Bush has hopped aboard the Apocalypse Express. Acting like there's no tomorrow dovetails just as neatly with his corporate backers' rapacious desires as it does with his evangelical backers' rapturous desires. It offers him a political twofer: placating his corporate donors while winning the hearts and votes of the true believers who helped the president achieve a Second Coming of his own. No small miracle, given his record.

It's important to point out, however, that it's not just the White House and the End-Timers. Acting as if we have a finite future has infected our entire culture. Just look at personal savings, which have fallen to next to nothing, with Americans socking away a meager two-tenths of 1 percent of their disposable incomes. Meanwhile, the average U.S. household carries about $14,000 of credit-card debt; one in four consumers spends more than he or she can afford; and, as a result, every 15 seconds, someone somewhere in America is going bankrupt. Which, I guess, in Bush World is how an angel gets his wings.

All this represents a seismic shift in our cultural outlook. Since our founding, the American ethos has been forward-looking, geared to a bountiful future, with each generation of parents working as hard as they can to ensure a better life for their children. Those days are clearly gone.

And it has put our entire civilization at grave risk — a point echoed with great clarity by Jared Diamond, whose new book, "Collapse," looks at the reasons why so many great civilizations of the past have failed.

Although Diamond offers a range of reasons why these societies collapsed, one message comes through loud and clear: We've got to stop living like there is no tomorrow — or "fuck the future" will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

© 2004 Christabella, Inc. All rights reserved.

Find this article at:
http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/column.php?id=753

Eric Lichtblau - 9/11 Report Cites Many Warnings About Hijackings

The New York Times
February 10, 2005
9/11 Report Cites Many Warnings About Hijackings
By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 - In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.

But aviation officials were "lulled into a false sense of security," and "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures," the commission report concluded.

The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."

The report takes the F.A.A. to task for failing to pursue domestic security measures that could conceivably have altered the events of Sept. 11, 2001, like toughening airport screening procedures for weapons or expanding the use of on-flight air marshals. The report, completed last August, said officials appeared more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing airlines' financial woes than deterring a terrorist attack.

The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.

Among other things, the report says that leaders of the F.A.A. received 52 intelligence reports from their security branch that mentioned Mr. bin Laden or Al Qaeda from April to Sept. 10, 2001. That represented half of all the intelligence summaries in that time.

Five of the intelligence reports specifically mentioned Al Qaeda's training or capability to conduct hijackings, the report said. Two mentioned suicide operations, although not connected to aviation, the report said.

A spokeswoman for the F.A.A., the agency that bears the brunt of the commission's criticism, said Wednesday that the agency was well aware of the threat posed by terrorists before Sept. 11 and took substantive steps to counter it, including the expanded use of explosives detection units.

"We had a lot of information about threats," said the spokeswoman, Laura J. Brown. "But we didn't have specific information about means or methods that would have enabled us to tailor any countermeasures."

She added: "After 9/11, the F.A..A. and the entire aviation community took bold steps to improve aviation security, such as fortifying cockpit doors on 6,000 airplanes, and those steps took hundreds of millions of dollars to implement."

The report, like previous commission documents, finds no evidence that the government had specific warning of a domestic attack and says that the aviation industry considered the hijacking threat to be more worrisome overseas.

"The fact that the civil aviation system seems to have been lulled into a false sense of security is striking not only because of what happened on 9/11 but also in light of the intelligence assessments, including those conducted by the F.A.A.'s own security branch, that raised alarms about the growing terrorist threat to civil aviation throughout the 1990's and into the new century," the report said.

In its previous findings, including a final report last July that became a best-selling book, the 9/11 commission detailed the harrowing events aboard the four hijacked flights that crashed on Sept. 11 and the communications problems between civil aviation and military officials that hampered the response. But the new report goes further in revealing the scope and depth of intelligence collected by federal aviation officials about the threat of a terrorist attack.

The F.A.A. "had indeed considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon," and in 2001 it distributed a CD-ROM presentation to airlines and airports that cited the possibility of a suicide hijacking, the report said. Previous commission documents have quoted the CD's reassurance that "fortunately, we have no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction."

Aviation officials amassed so much information about the growing threat posed by terrorists that they conducted classified briefings in mid-2001 for security officials at 19 of the nation's busiest airports to warn of the threat posed in particular by Mr. bin Laden, the report said.

Still, the 9/11 commission concluded that aviation officials did not direct adequate resources or attention to the problem.

"Throughout 2001, the senior leadership of the F.A.A. was focused on congestion and delays within the system and the ever-present issue of safety, but they were not as focused on security," the report said.

The F.A.A. did not see a need to increase the air marshal ranks because hijackings were seen as an overseas threat, and one aviation official told the commission said that airlines did not want to give up revenues by providing free seats to marshals.

The F.A.A. also made no concerted effort to expand their list of terror suspects, which included a dozen names on Sept. 11, the report said. The former head of the F.A.A.'s civil aviation security branch said he was not aware of the government's main watch list, called Tipoff, which included the names of two hijackers who were living in the San Diego area, the report said.

Nor was there evidence that a senior F.A.A. working group on security had ever met in 2001 to discuss "the high threat period that summer," the report said.

Jane F. Garvey, the F.A.A. administrator at the time, told the commission "that she was aware of the heightened threat during the summer of 2001," the report said. But several other senior agency officials "were basically unaware of the threat," as were senior airline operations officials and veteran pilots, the report said.

The classified version of the commission report quotes extensively from circulars prepared by the F.A.A. about the threat of terrorism, but many of those references have been blacked out in the declassified version, officials said.

Several former commissioners and staff members said they were upset and disappointed by the administration's refusal to release the full report publicly.

"Our intention was to make as much information available to the public as soon as possible," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Sept. 11 commission member.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

Eric Boehlert - Fake news, fake reporter

Fake news, fake reporter
Why was a partisan hack, using an alias and with no journalism background, given repeated access to daily White House press briefings?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Eric Boehlert


Feb. 10, 2005 | When President Bush bypassed dozens of eager reporters from nationally and internationally recognized news outlets and selected Jeff Gannon to pose a question at his Jan. 26 news conference, Bush's recognition bestowed instant credibility on the apparently novice reporter, as well as the little-known conservative organization he worked for at the time, called Talon News. That attention only intensified when Gannon used his nationally televised press conference time to ask Bush a loaded, partisan question -- featuring a manufactured quote that mocked Democrats for being "divorced from reality."

Gannon's star turn quickly piqued the interest of many online commentators, who wondered how an obvious Republican operative had been granted access to daily White House press briefings normally reserved for accredited journalists. Two weeks later, a swarming investigation inside the blogosphere into Gannon and Talon News had produced all sorts of damning revelations about how Talon is connected at the hip to a right-wing activist organization called GOPUSA, how its "news" staff consists largely of volunteer Republican activists with no journalism experience, how Gannon often simply rewrote GOP press releases when filing his Talon dispatches. It also uncovered embarrassing information about Gannon's past as well as his fake identity. When Gannon himself this week confirmed to the Washington Post that his name was a pseudonym, it only added to the sense of a bizarre hoax waiting to be exposed.

On Tuesday night, the reporter who apparently saw himself as a trailblazing conservative "embedded with the liberal Washington press corps" abruptly quit his post as Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent for Talon News, that after earlier taunting those digging into his past that he was "hiding in plain sight." Contacted by e-mail for a comment, Gannon referred Salon to the message posted on his Web site: "Because of the attention being paid to me I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life. Thank you to all those who supported me."

The Gannon revelations come on the heels of the discovery that Bush administration officials signed lucrative contracts for several conservative pundits who hyped White House initiatives and did not disclose the government's payments. The Talon News fiasco raises serious questions about who the White House is allowing into its daily press briefings: How can a reporter using a fake name and working for a fake news organization get press credentials from the White House, let alone curry enough favor with the notoriously disciplined Bush administration to get picked by the president in order to ask fake questions? The White House did not return Salon's calls seeking answers to those questions.

The situation "begs further investigation," says James Pinkerton, a media critic for Fox News who has worked for two Republican White Houses. "In the six years I worked for Reagan and Bush I, I remember the White House being strict about who got in. It's inconceivable to me that the White House, especially after 9/11, gives credentials to people without doing a background check."

Gannon reportedly did not have what's known as a "hard pass" for the White House press room, which allows journalists to enter daily without getting prior approval each time. Instead Gannon picked up a daily pass by contacting the White House press office each morning and asking for clearance. Mark Smith, vice president of the White House Correspondents Association, says it's up to White House officials to decide whom they want to wave in each day. "They don't consult us." If they had, Smith says, he would have been "very uncomfortable" granting Gannon the same access as professional journalists.

And the association never would have backed a reporter using an alias. Says Pinkerton: "If [Gannon] was walking around the White House with a pass that had a different name on it than his real name, that's pretty remarkable." Smith, who covers the White House for Associated Press radio, says he "could have sworn" that he saw credentials around Gannon's neck with the name "Jeff Gannon" on them.

"Somebody was waving him into the White House every day," notes David Brock, president and CEO of Media Matters for America, an online liberal advocacy group that led the way in raising questions about Gannon and Talon News.

Earlier this week, when asked about Gannon's access, White House press secretary Scott McClellan essentially threw up his hands and said he has no control over who is in the press room and whom the president calls on during his rare press conferences. "I don't think it's the role of the press secretary to get into the business of being a media critic or picking and choosing who gets credentials," he told the Washington Post.

"That's like [McClellan] saying, 'I'm chief of staff at a hospital and when a patient dies in surgery and it turns out the guy operating wasn't a doctor ... [it's] not my business to be a medical critic,'" says Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has written extensively about the inner workings of the Bush administration. "Nobody is asking him to be a media critic. They're asking him to make sure people in the press room -- the ones using up precious time during extremely rare press conferences -- are acting journalists, honest brokers dealing with genuine inquiry to get at the truth."

Suskind questions the White House's explanation that Bush had no idea who Gannon was when he called on him during the press conference. "Frankly, my sense is that almost nothing happens inside the White House episodically. They are so ardent with their message discipline. It all happens for a reason."

And it's not as if finding out the connection between Talon and GOPUSA was difficult. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, a group of congressional reporters who oversee press credential distribution on Capitol Hill, did just that last spring when Gannon approached the organization to apply for a press pass. "We didn't recognize the publication, so we asked for information about what Talon was," says Julie Davis, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun who is on the committee. "We did some digging, and it became clear it was owned by the owner of GOPUSA. And we had asked for some proof of Talon's editorial independence from that group ... They didn't provide anything, so we denied their credentials, which is pretty rare," says Davis. She adds, "There's limited space, and particularly after 9/11 there's limited access to the Capitol. Our role is to make sure journalists have as much access as possible, and to ensure that credentials mean something."

Talon's unusual access to the White House has upset journalists at other small outlets who don't enjoy the same privileged connections. "We're a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 22,000 and I'm pretty sure we couldn't get a White House press pass," says Mike Hudson, editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter in Niagara Falls, N.Y. "How does Gannon, which isn't even his real name, get past security?" Hudson wrote to Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., asking her office "to look into how a partisan political organization and an individual with no credentials as a reporter -- and apparently operating under an assumed name -- landed a coveted spot in the White House press corps."

Slaughter, a vocal critic of the administration's pundit payola practices, wrote to the White House on Monday urging Bush "to please explain to the Congress and to the American people how and why the individual known as 'Mr. Gannon' was repeatedly cleared by your staff to join the legitimate White House press corps."

Until this week, what little was known about Gannon was vague. But several Web sites he is connected with provide some possible clues. Introducing himself to readers of his ConservativeGuy.com Web site, Gannon once wrote, "I've been a preppie, a yuppie, blue-collar, green-collar and white collar. I've served in the military, graduated from college, taught in the public school system, was a union truck driver, a management consultant, a fitness instructor and an entrepreneur. I'm a two-holiday Christian and I usually vote Republican."

When the recent controversy erupted, Gannon positioned himself as more of an ardent right-winger, not to mention ardent Christian. On JeffGannon.com he wrote, "I'm everything people on the Left seem to despise. I'm a man who is white, politically conservative, a gun-owner, an SUV driver and I've voted for Republicans. I'm pro-American, pro-military, pro-democracy, pro-capitalism, pro-free speech, anti-tax and anti-big government. Most importantly, I'm a Christian. Not only by birth, but by rebirth through the blood of Jesus Christ." Posting on the right-wing FreeRepublic.com, Gannon, while working as a White House reporter, once urged fellow Freepers to stage a demonstration outside Sen. John Kerry's headquarters and chant Jane Fonda's name and throw DNC medals, a reference to the Vietnam ribbons of honor Kerry threw away during an antiwar demonstration in the early 1970s.

As a would-be reporter, Gannon often copied entire sections from White House press releases and pasted them into his stories, according to an analysis done by Media Matters. This despite the fact he once ridiculed legitimate journalists for "working off the talking points provided by the Democrats."

According to his bio on Talon's Web site (which has now been removed), he's a graduate of the "Pennsylvania State University System," which could mean anything from Penn State to a much smaller state-run school such as West Chester University. He also noted that he's a graduate of Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism -- which is a two-day, $50 seminar run by Morton Blackwell, a longtime Republican activist who co-founded the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and has said that those on "the ultra left harness hate and envy in their quest for unlimited power." Blackwell's journalism seminar aims to "prepare conservatives for success in politics, government and the news media," according to the institute's Web site. The classes are also designed to "bring balance to the media."

It was Blackwell, serving as a Virginia delegate to the GOP convention this summer, who handed out purple bandages in an effort to make fun of Kerry's Vietnam War wounds. They read: "It was just a self-inflicted scratch, but you see I got a Purple Heart for it?" Blackwell also served as a mentor to a young field organizer who is now Bush's deputy chief of staff. (Karl Rove called Blackwell just days after winning the 2000 election to thank him for his help.)

What likely forced Gannon to quit Talon News Tuesday were the revelations uncovered by bloggers such as World O' Crap, AmericaBlog, Mediacitizen, Daily Kos and Eschaton, along with their readers, about Gannon's past. For instance, bloggers uncovered evidence suggesting that the person and company that own the Web site JeffGannon.com also registered the gay-themed sites hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com and militaryescortsm4m.com. And according to this online research, that company, Bedrock Corp., is owned by a man named Jim Guckert, leading to speculation that Guckert and Gannon are one and the same. Bedrock is based in Wilmington, Del., where Gannon apparently is from.

As for Talon, its Web site says it is "committed to delivering accurate, unbiased news coverage to our readers." The site is run by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party delegate and political activist who also runs GOPUSA.com, which touts itself as "bringing the conservative message to America." As Media Matters documented, "In addition to Eberle's dual role as the head of both entities, both domain names TalonNews.com and GOPUSA.com are registered to the same address in Pearland, Texas, which appears to be Eberle's personal residence. The TalonNews.com domain name registration lists Eberle's e-mail address as bobby.eberle@gopusa.com ... Talon News apparently consists of little more than Eberle, Gannon, and a few volunteers, and is virtually indistinguishable from GOPUSA.com ... GOPUSA's officers and directors show a similar lack of journalism experience, but plenty of experience working for Republican causes." After Media Matters highlighted the background of Talon's "news team," Talon quickly yanked their bios from the site.

There is evidence that ownership of both Talon and GOPUSA changed hands Monday, just as the Gannon controversy was growing. More recently, many archived stories, including some dealing with the issue of homosexuality and defending the ban on gay marriage, were scrubbed from the Talon site. Eberle at Talon and GOPUSA did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Last year Gannon and Talon made a blip on the Beltway radar over an interview Gannon did with former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame, was exposed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak. That potentially illegal disclosure prompted an independent counsel investigation. Gannon apparently attracted investigators' attention when, in the interview with Wilson, he referred to an unclassified document that may have been distributed to conservative allies in the press to bolster the administration's case that it was Wilson's wife who suggested he be sent to Niger to investigate the claim that Iraq tried to purchase uranium, or yellowcake, from the African nation.

It's likely Talon and Gannon would have remained obscure had the swaggering reporter not popped his now famous question to Bush. The details surrounding the Jan. 26 press room incident are telling, as they highlight the elasticity Gannon and other partisan advocates often use in their "reporting." Gannon asked Bush, "Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy." He continued, "[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"

Reid never made any such comment about soup lines.

That afternoon conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh crowed that Gannon's question was "a repeat, a rehash, of a precise point I made on this program yesterday." However, Limbaugh conceded that Reid had "never actually said 'soup lines.'" That was simply Limbaugh's exaggerated characterization of Reid's concerns. Gannon either heard that phrase on Limbaugh's show or read it in Limbaugh's online column and then inserted it into his loaded question to Bush. On Feb. 2, with Gannon under fire for his lack of journalistic ethics, Limbaugh suddenly flip-flopped and told listeners that Gannon's question about Reid and soup lines "was an accurate recitation of what the Senate Democrat leaders had said." Then, in a Feb. 7 article in the Washington Post, Gannon finally conceded the quote was made up, but suggested he had nothing to apologize for.

All of which begs the question, "Who are they issuing credentials to?" asks Hudson at the Niagara Falls Reporter. "Could a guy from [Comedy Central's] 'The Daily Show' get press credentials from this White House?"

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Eric Boehlert is a senior writer at Salon.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Thomas Oliphant - Budget Shenanigans

The Boston Globe
THOMAS OLIPHANT
Budget shenanigans

By Thomas Oliphant, Globe Columnist | February 8, 2005

WASHINGTON

NO WONDER Dick Cheney swears he will never run for president. Even a quick peek at the astonishingly dishonest federal budget the administration released yesterday shows that President Bush and his veep plan on leaving ticking time bombs behind when they get out of town four years hence. By general agreement, the government's finances are lacking in elementary credibility. That's now. What is less well understood is how much of Bush's budgetary buffoonery is meant to become apparent after his successor is in office.

The first clue to the truth lies in a measure of the federal deficit this crowd adores obscuring but is forced by law to disclose. It's found only in a large table buried in the budget documents and estimates the government's operating red ink -- the amount by which spending exceeds revenue from income taxes and other fees. Last year it was far above the deficit figure that that typically makes its way into headlines -- $567 billion, compared with the "official" figure of $412 billion.

The difference is almost entirely accounted for by the large surplus in Social Security payroll taxes over benefit spending that the government "borrows" to make the books look less ridiculous. The higher number, however, is the amount of red ink that has to be financed by borrowing. And, as the budget documents also make clear, that operating deficit will be staying above a half-trillion dollars annually, swelling the national debt into the stratosphere. But that's only the tip the iceberg. The real outrage is the deliberate avoidance of unavoidable costs that the country faces if steps Bush wants to take are taken. If these steps are taken into account, a bad enough national debt of slightly more than $3 trillion four years ago will easily clear $11 trillion in a decade.

One of those steps involves the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush does not budget these enormous costs -- he sends the bill to Congress after they have been incurred. There is, for example, an $80 billion request for the rest of the year, with others certain to follow. Projecting the costs of ongoing operations, there is more than $400 billion in war costs around the corner that the budget pretends don't exist.

An even larger sum is involved with Bush's insistence that Congress make all of the income tax cuts enacted since 2001 permanent. The budget released yesterday masks the bulk of the costs. Making the income tax cuts permanent would add no more than $100 billion to the debt over the rest of this decade. But in the five years after that, when the full fiscal effect would be felt, the tax cuts add a whopping $1.9 trillion to the debt burden. Bush has also continued his practice of ignoring an enormous tax issue -- the increasingly onerous nature of what's called the alternative minimum tax. This is a provision in basic tax law that requires a minimal income tax payment regardless of how much income a taxpayer can shield through the loophole system. It was designed to catch very rich people with smart lawyers, but it is starting to catch ordinary people. By credible estimates, at least 10 million Americans will pay the alternative minimum in a decade if the tax cuts are made permanent. Since the result would be a revolution, a change in the law is considered inevitable, but the Bush budget makes no provision for one. Just for the record, fixing the problem would add at least $770 billion to the debt by 2015.

Also missing from the budget is any hint of what's in store for Social Security. The official reason is that Bush hasn't made a proposal, but this is a dodge. He has said enough about his beloved private investment accounts to make an estimation possible. He has said they would not be phased in until the first year Bush has left office; he would also divert 4 percent of the payroll tax from revenues that pay for current beneficiaries. On that basis, nearly $800 billion in so-called transition costs would be incurred by 2015. Nothing Bush proposed yesterday would put a dent in this outlook. With these kinds of debt burdens, major economic consequences are unavoidable. The Bush-Cheney hope, however, is that they will be long gone by the time the country has to deal with the consequences of their profligacy.

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Dan Froomkin - The Karl Rove Ascension


washingtonpost.com
The Karl Rove Ascension

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; 11:41 AM

Karl Rove is now, officially, in charge of pretty much everything at the White House.

But it's mostly just a title change.

President Bush's long-time chief political strategist is now assistant to the president, deputy chief of staff and senior adviser.

That's a lot of titles. But of course Rove has even more nicknames. He's been called "Bush's guru," "Bush's brain," "the man behind the curtain" and "the wizard of the West Wing." Rove himself cracked that his reputation is "evil Rasputin." And Bush alternately calls Rove "the architect," "boy genius," or "turd blossom" -- the last a reference to a West Texas flower that grows in cow manure.

The new titles come with no extra money --Rove was already maxed out on the White House pay scale. But he does move from his modest second-floor office (formerly occupied by Hillary Rodham Clinton) to one just a few steps away from the Oval Office.

If we look at my soon-to-be-updated West Wing floor plan, I figure he'll be shifting his base of operations from No. 24 down to No. 11, now that Harriet Miers has taken over No. 26 as the new White House counsel.

The news is being widely hailed as another indication that Rove has been authorized to use the power of the White House in this second Bush term to carve out a lasting Republican majority.

Critics see Rove's promotion as further evidence that this White House makes little or no distinction between politics and policy.

Rove was already officially in charge of strategic planning, political affairs, liaison to outside groups and intergovernmental affairs. Now he'll also be in charge of coordinating the policies of the National Security Council, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council and the Homeland Security Council.

But here's a thought: Is it possible that this change will actually encumber Rove more than empower him? He may have been more effective as a free-floating brain than he will be in his new role, which is likely to feature almost nonstop meetings, many of them very big. Ask anyone who's been there: Meetings can really hurt your productivity.

And official titles aside, while Bush may achieve lame-duck status in a matter of months, Rove remains king-maker for life. As a result, Rove's influence over Republican elected officials may soon exceed that of his boss, if it doesn't already.
How It Played

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "During President Bush's first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it's official. . . .

"For a man who spent a lifetime in the business of polls and campaign strategy, it is an expansive portfolio cutting across virtually the entire policy spectrum. But many in the White House said the new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times, calling it "a move that formally gives him what he has had in practice all along, a substantial voice in nearly every issue before the administration. . . .

"In bureaucratic terms, the move struck some analysts as curious. As senior adviser, Mr. Rove has always operated with a relatively free hand and open access to Mr. Bush. In assuming the deputy chief of staff's job as well, he will take on what some White House officials said were mainly administrative duties.

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "Karl Rove's promotion Tuesday elevated his image from the most powerful presidential adviser in modern times to, well, an even more powerful presidential adviser."

And apparently Rove even has groupies. "Fans can search the Internet and buy a camisole ($17.99) or boxer shorts ($14.99) featuring his photo inside a pink heart."

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Rove becomes one of the most influential advisors to serve a president. Experts said it was unusual for any White House aide other than the chief of staff to straddle the worlds of politics and domestic and foreign policy. . . .

"One former Republican White House staffer, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing Rove, called Rove's new job 'the mother of all portfolios.'

" 'I hope he likes going to meetings,' the former aide joked."

G. Robert Hillman writes in the Dallas Morning News: "For Mr. Rove, the promotion from senior adviser to deputy chief of staff expands his already-far reach within the administration -- and gives him a new first-floor, West Wing office close to the president."

Rupert Cornwell writes in the Independent: "George Bush yesterday made official what has been long been an acknowledged fact of Washington life -- the involvement of his top strategist Karl Rove not just in politics but in almost every aspect of administration strategy."

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "President Bush's political mastermind, Karl Rove, is getting a chance to spread his tentacles into White House foreign and domestic policy."

"PREZ GURU PROMOTED," says the headline in the New York Post.

Hotline's "Last Call" asks: "Isn't 'Rove Gets Bigger Role at White House' kind of like saying 'Willy Wonka Takes On More At The Chocolate Factory'?"

Here is the text of Bush's statement on Rove's move.
A Larger Reshuffle

Press secretary Scott McClellan announced several moves at yesterday's gaggle.

As Baker writes: "The Rove announcement capped a season of rebuilding at the White House after the November election. In the three months since, Bush has installed a new domestic policy chief, economic adviser, national security adviser, counsel, communications director, chief speechwriter and political director, among others.

"The White House announced yesterday that Gerson, chief speechwriter in the first term, will serve as a policy and strategic planning adviser, to be replaced by former Wall Street Journal editorial writer William McGurn. Bush also named campaign strategist Sara Taylor political director and broadened the portfolio of policy adviser Kristen Silverberg.

"Deputy press secretary Claire Buchan will leave the White House on Friday to become chief of staff to incoming Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez; she will be replaced by Dana Perino, communications director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality."
Live Online

I'll be Live Online taking your questions and comments today at 1 p.m. ET.
Jeff Gannon Watch

It looks like Jeff Gannon, the controversial White House correspondent for a tiny conservative outfit called Talon News, won't be showing his face in the White House briefing room anymore.

Gannon, who often threw softball questions to McClellan, hit the bigtime after pitching a real corker to Bush himself at his Jan. 26 news conference.

I've written about Gannon many times.

But the question to Bush really set off the blogosphere's left wing. Fueled by the Media Matters Web site, a virtual army of independent bloggers, particularly from the Daily Kos site, started digging into Gannon's background.

Timothy Karr summarizes the hunt against Gannon.

Here's Gannon's statement, from jeffgannon.com: "Because of the attention being paid to me I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life.

"Thank you to all those who supported me."
Two More Bubble Trips?

In a last-minute schedule addition, the White House has added two Social Security events on Thursday. Bush will fly to Raleigh and Philadelphia for two more conversations about Social Security which, as I wrote in yesterday's column, have thus far been carefully controlled to keep Bush in a bubble, protected from critics and hostile questions.

Valerie Bauerlein writes in the Raleigh News and Observer that Bush will attend a morning event at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts.

"Bush will be host for an hourlong conversation with business leaders, seniors and young people who support his plan. . . .

"Tickets will be tough to come by. Many are given to local backers, though a small number are available through the offices of [Sen. Elizabeth] Dole and Sen. Richard Burr." Dole and Burr, of course, are Republicans.

Carrie Budoff writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "President Bush is scheduled to return to Pennsylvania tomorrow for the first time since Election Day as part of his campaign to restructure Social Security.

"Bush is expected at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell at 4:35 p.m. for a 'conversation on strengthening Social Security,' according to the White House. . . .

"Participants in the event in Blue Bell must have tickets, which are being distributed through the college and the offices of Specter and Santorum, according to the White House."

But Pamela Lehman writes in the Allentown Morning Call: "Tickets to the event are available to the public through the county's GOP headquarters, said Adam Gattuso, executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Committee. Residents can call 610-279-9300 to get tickets, he said."
An Alternative Solution?

Susan Page writes for USA Today: "Most Americans are willing to endorse painful steps to ensure Social Security's long-term solvency -- steps that nick the rich, that is.

"Two-thirds of those surveyed by USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup last weekend say it would be a 'good idea' to limit retirement benefits for the wealthy and to subject all wages to payroll taxes. Now, annual earnings above $90,000 aren't taxed.

"But some ideas that President Bush said in his State of the Union address were on the table for consideration are rejected by solid majorities."

Here are the poll results.
Apparent Contradictions

Jonathan Weisman and Ben White write in The Washington Post: "To conclude that Social Security is careening toward a crisis in 2042, President Bush is relying on projections that an aging society will drag down economic growth. Yet his proposal to establish personal accounts is counting on strong investment gains in financial markets that would be coping with the same demographic head wind.

"That seeming contradiction has become fodder for a heated debate among economists, who divide sharply between those who believe the stock market cannot meet the president's expectations and those who say investor demand from a faster-growing developing world will keep stock prices rising."
The Social Security Pitch

David E. Rosenbaum and Robin Toner write in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush held another in a series of meetings with Congressional Republicans on Tuesday to try to allay their concerns.

"Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said he did not get the sense that the president was worried about the plan's reception. 'He's looking forward to the debate,' Mr. Shays said. 'He's having fun. The election's over, he's got four years, and I think he's determined to have a good four years.'

"Several who attended the meeting said some lawmakers voiced concerns over the political difficulty of the issue. Mr. Shays said, 'Some people said this is one of the toughest votes, and he said, "No, the toughest is sending people off to war." ' "
Budget Watch

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush's second-term agenda would expand not only the size of the federal government but also its influence over the lives of millions of Americans by imposing new national restrictions on high schools, court cases and marriages.

"In a clear break from Republican campaigns of the 1990s to downsize government and devolve power to the states, Bush is fostering what amounts to an era of new federalism in which the national government shapes, not shrinks, programs and institutions to comport with various conservative ideals, according to Republicans inside and outside the White House."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "The chairman of the House Budget Committee, anticipating stiff resistance to the administration's new spending plan, told the White House budget chief on Tuesday that President Bush might need to consider his first veto to hold Congress in line."

Christopher Swann writes in the Financial Times: "One day after President George W. Bush presented the most austere budget of his presidency, advocates for the poor were working hard to paint him as a Robin Hood in reverse -- a president who robs the needy to give to the rich."
Bush in Detroit

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush prodded Congress on Tuesday to adopt what he called the most disciplined federal budget in more than 20 years, warning lawmakers that sacrifices must be made to finance a wartime government."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush campaigned on Tuesday for his $2.57 trillion budget before a friendly audience of auto executives and civic leaders, and pointedly told them that Congress and the nation's business community 'have expressed their concerns about federal spending, and I've listened.' "

Glenn Maffei wrote for States News Service yesterday: "Detroit Economic Club officials said Monday the traditional question and answer period after the speech has been dropped for Bush's visit." They didn't explain why.

Here's the text of Bush's speech.
Medicare Watch

Ceci Connolly and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "The White House released budget figures yesterday indicating that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost more than $1.2 trillion in the coming decade, a much higher price tag than President Bush suggested when he narrowly won passage of the law in late 2003. . . .

"Beginning with his January 2003 State of the Union address, Bush pledged to keep the total cost of the drug benefit to $400 billion over 10 years. . . .

"The disclosure prompted new criticism by Democrats about the administration's long-term budget estimates. It also showed that Medicare, the national medical insurance program for seniors, may pose a far more serious budgetary problem in the coming decade than concerns about the solvency of Social Security."
Today's Calendar

Bush meets with the president of Poland, then holds a "conversation on class action reform" at the Department of Commerce.
Executive Power and Torture

The New Yorker's Jane Meyer speaks with John C. Yoo, who in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks was one of the administration lawyers who redefined the standards of interrogation.

"Yoo also argued that the Constitution granted the President plenary powers to override the U.N. Convention Against Torture when he is acting in the nation's defense -- a position that has drawn dissent from many scholars. As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn't have the power to 'tie the President's hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.' He continued, 'It's the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can't prevent the President from ordering torture.' If the President were to abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief, Yoo said, the constitutional remedy was impeachment. He went on to suggest that President Bush's victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was 'proof that the debate is over.' He said, 'The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.' "

That's reminiscent of Bush's assertion, in a Washington Post interview last month, that the country's "accountability moment" was passed. (See my Jan. 18 column.)
Ari Speaks

Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post: "Now here's a shocker: Don't expect to read anything critical of President Bush in former White House spinner Ari Fleischer's new memoir, 'Taking Heat.' Fleischer had 'several' policy disagreements with Bush, he says in an interview in the March issue of GQ, but won't talk about them or cite any mistakes his boss might have made: 'I believe in the man. I believe in his policies,' he says. 'I choose not to be a critic.' "
Not So Fast

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post: "Not so fast, Abu Mazen. Sure, President Bush has just invited you to come visit. . . .

"But the House is set to take up today a bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that apparently would prevent Mazen from entering the country."
Controversial Nominee

Andrew Martin writes in the Chicago Tribune that Bush has once again submitted Thomas Dorr's name for the post of undersecretary of rural development in the Department of Agriculture.

"Dorr, 58, a farmer from Marcus, Iowa, is a controversial choice to oversee rural development, in part because he has touted the virtues of large-scale agriculture and suggested that several Iowa counties had prospered because most of the residents are white."

Senate Democrats blocked Dorr from the same post during Bush's first term.
That Testy Dinner

James Kuhnhenn writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Despite a White House dinner date with the president the previous night, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid was still pretty steamed Tuesday about a 12-page Republican National Committee e-mail that described him as the 'chief Democratic obstructionist.' . . .

"As for dinner Monday with Bush, Reid said the president raised the subject of the mailing. He would not reveal what Bush said. But, when asked if the president appeased him, Reid told reporters: 'When you have a real bad chafe . . . it's hard to get soothed.' "

© 2005 washingtonpost.com

Jane Mayer - Outsourcing Torture

Published on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 by The New Yorker
Outsourcing Torture
The Secret History of America’s “Extraordinary Rendition” Program

by Jane Mayer

On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that “torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.” Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush’s statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.”

Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of “the Special Removal Unit.” The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”


TORTURED
Maher Arar, a 32-year-old Canadian citizen arrested during a stopover at New York's Kennedy airport on Sept. 26, 2002 as he was traveling to Montreal from Tunisia. Arar was deported to Syria, where he was tortured.

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as “extraordinary rendition.” This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America—including torture.

Arar is suing the U.S. government for his mistreatment. “They are outsourcing torture because they know it’s illegal,” he said. “Why, if they have suspicions, don’t they question people within the boundary of the law?”

Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.” What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects—people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants—came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms “illegal enemy combatants.” Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime. Scott Horton, an expert on international law who helped prepare a report on renditions issued by N.Y.U. Law School and the New York City Bar Association, estimates that a hundred and fifty people have been rendered since 2001. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that a more precise number was impossible to obtain. “I’ve asked people at the C.I.A. for numbers,” he said. “They refuse to answer. All they will say is that they’re in compliance with the law.”

Although the full scope of the extraordinary-rendition program isn’t known, several recent cases have come to light that may well violate U.S. law. In 1998, Congress passed legislation declaring that it is “the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States.”

The Bush Administration, however, has argued that the threat posed by stateless terrorists who draw no distinction between military and civilian targets is so dire that it requires tough new rules of engagement. This shift in perspective, labelled the New Paradigm in a memo written by Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, “places a high premium on . . . the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians,” giving less weight to the rights of suspects. It also questions many international laws of war. Five days after Al Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vice-President Dick Cheney, reflecting the new outlook, argued, on “Meet the Press,” that the government needed to “work through, sort of, the dark side.” Cheney went on, “A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

The extraordinary-rendition program bears little relation to the system of due process afforded suspects in crimes in America. Terrorism suspects in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have often been abducted by hooded or masked American agents, then forced onto a Gulfstream V jet, like the one described by Arar. This jet, which has been registered to a series of dummy American corporations, such as Bayard Foreign Marketing, of Portland, Oregon, has clearance to land at U.S. military bases. Upon arriving in foreign countries, rendered suspects often vanish. Detainees are not provided with lawyers, and many families are not informed of their whereabouts.

The most common destinations for rendered suspects are Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Jordan, all of which have been cited for human-rights violations by the State Department, and are known to torture suspects. To justify sending detainees to these countries, the Administration appears to be relying on a very fine reading of an imprecise clause in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (which the U.S. ratified in 1994), requiring “substantial grounds for believing” that a detainee will be tortured abroad. Martin Lederman, a lawyer who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002, after eight years, says, “The Convention only applies when you know a suspect is more likely than not to be tortured, but what if you kind of know? That’s not enough. So there are ways to get around it.”

Administration officials declined to discuss the rendition program. But Rohan Gunaratna, a Sri Lankan expert on terrorist interrogations who has consulted with several intelligence agencies, argued that rough tactics “can save hundreds of lives.” He said, “When you capture a terrorist, he may know when the next operation will be staged, so it may be necessary to put a detainee under physical or psychological pressure. I disagree with physical torture, but sometimes the threat of it must be used.”

Rendition is just one element of the Administration’s New Paradigm. The C.I.A. itself is holding dozens of “high value” terrorist suspects outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., in addition to the estimated five hundred and fifty detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Administration confirmed the identities of at least ten of these suspects to the 9/11 Commission—including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a top Al Qaeda operative, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a chief planner of the September 11th attacks—but refused to allow commission members to interview the men, and would not say where they were being held. Reports have suggested that C.I.A. prisons are being operated in Thailand, Qatar, and Afghanistan, among other countries. At the request of the C.I.A., Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally ordered that a prisoner in Iraq be hidden from Red Cross officials for several months, and Army General Paul Kern told Congress that the C.I.A. may have hidden up to a hundred detainees. The Geneva Conventions of 1949, which established norms on the treatment of soldiers and civilians captured in war, require the prompt registration of detainees, so that their treatment can be monitored, but the Administration argues that Al Qaeda members and supporters, who are not part of a state-sponsored military, are not covered by the Conventions.

The Bush Administration’s departure from international norms has been justified in intellectual terms by élite lawyers like Gonzales, who is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Gonzales, the new Attorney General, argued during his confirmation proceedings that the U.N. Convention Against Torture’s ban on “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of terrorist suspects does not apply to American interrogations of foreigners overseas. Perhaps surprisingly, the fiercest internal resistance to this thinking has come from people who have been directly involved in interrogation, including veteran F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents. Their concerns are as much practical as ideological. Years of experience in interrogation have led them to doubt the effectiveness of physical coercion as a means of extracting reliable information. They also warn that the Bush Administration, having taken so many prisoners outside the realm of the law, may not be able to bring them back in. By holding detainees indefinitely, without counsel, without charges of wrongdoing, and under circumstances that could, in legal parlance, “shock the conscience” of a court, the Administration has jeopardized its chances of convicting hundreds of suspected terrorists, or even of using them as witnesses in almost any court in the world.

“It’s a big problem,” Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general and a member of the 9/11 Commission, says. “In criminal justice, you either prosecute the suspects or let them go. But if you’ve treated them in ways that won’t allow you to prosecute them you’re in this no man’s land. What do you do with these people?”

The criminal prosecution of terrorist suspects has not been a priority for the Bush Administration, which has focussed, rather, on preventing additional attacks. But some people who have been fighting terrorism for many years are concerned about unintended consequences of the Administration’s radical legal measures. Among these critics is Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert who helped establish the practice of rendition. Scheuer left the agency in 2004, and has written two acerbic critiques of the government’s fight against Islamic terrorism under the pseudonym Anonymous, the most recent of which, “Imperial Hubris,” was a best-seller.

Not long ago, Scheuer, who lives in northern Virginia, spoke openly for the first time about how he and several other top C.I.A. officials set up the program, in the mid-nineties. “It was begun in desperation, ” he told me. At the time, he was the head of the C.I.A.’s Islamic-militant unit, whose job was to “detect, disrupt, and dismantle” terrorist operations. His unit spent much of 1996 studying how Al Qaeda operated; by the next year, Scheuer said, its mission was to try to capture bin Laden and his associates. He recalled, “We went to the White House”—which was then occupied by the Clinton Administration—“and they said, ‘Do it.’” He added that Richard Clarke, who was in charge of counter-terrorism for the National Security Council, offered no advice. “He told me, ‘Figure it out by yourselves,’” Scheuer said. (Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.)

Scheuer sought the counsel of Mary Jo White, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who, along with a small group of F.B.I. agents, was pursuing the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case. In 1998, White’s team obtained an indictment against bin Laden, authorizing U.S. agents to bring him and his associates to the United States to stand trial. From the start, though, the C.I.A. was wary of granting terrorism suspects the due process afforded by American law. The agency did not want to divulge secrets about its intelligence sources and methods, and American courts demand transparency. Even establishing the chain of custody of key evidence—such as a laptop computer—could easily pose a significant problem: foreign governments might refuse to testify in U.S. courts about how they had obtained the evidence, for fear of having their secret coöperation exposed. (Foreign governments often worried about retaliation from their own Muslim populations.) The C.I.A. also felt that other agencies sometimes stood in its way. In 1996, for example, the State Department stymied a joint effort by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to question one of bin Laden’s cousins in America, because he had a diplomatic passport, which protects the holder from U.S. law enforcement. Describing the C.I.A.’s frustration, Scheuer said, “We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them.” The agency realized that “we had to come up with a third party.”

The obvious choice, Scheuer said, was Egypt. The largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel, Egypt was a key strategic ally, and its secret police force, the Mukhabarat, had a reputation for brutality. Egypt had been frequently cited by the State Department for torture of prisoners. According to a 2002 report, detainees were “stripped and blindfolded; suspended from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beaten with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; subjected to electrical shocks; and doused with cold water [and] sexually assaulted.” Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s leader, who came to office in 1981, after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists, was determined to crack down on terrorism. His prime political enemies were radical Islamists, hundreds of whom had fled the country and joined Al Qaeda. Among these was Ayman al-Zawahiri, a physician from Cairo, who went to Afghanistan and eventually became bin Laden’s deputy.

In 1995, Scheuer said, American agents proposed the rendition program to Egypt, making clear that it had the resources to track, capture, and transport terrorist suspects globally—including access to a small fleet of aircraft. Egypt embraced the idea. “What was clever was that some of the senior people in Al Qaeda were Egyptian,” Scheuer said. “It served American purposes to get these people arrested, and Egyptian purposes to get these people back, where they could be interrogated.” Technically, U.S. law requires the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from foreign governments that rendered suspects won’t be tortured. Scheuer told me that this was done, but he was “not sure” if any documents confirming the arrangement were signed.

A series of spectacular covert operations followed from this secret pact. On September 13, 1995, U.S. agents helped kidnap Talaat Fouad Qassem, one of Egypt’s most wanted terrorists, in Croatia. Qassem had fled to Europe after being linked by Egypt to the assassination of Sadat; he had been sentenced to death in absentia. Croatian police seized Qassem in Zagreb and handed him over to U.S. agents, who interrogated him aboard a ship cruising the Adriatic Sea and then took him back to Egypt. Once there, Qassem disappeared. There is no record that he was put on trial. Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist who covers human-rights issues, said, “We believe he was executed.”

A more elaborate operation was staged in Tirana, Albania, in the summer of 1998. According to the Wall Street Journal, the C.I.A. provided the Albanian intelligence service with equipment to wiretap the phones of suspected Muslim militants. Tapes of the conversations were translated into English, and U.S. agents discovered that they contained lengthy discussions with Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy. The U.S. pressured Egypt for assistance; in June, Egypt issued an arrest warrant for Shawki Salama Attiya, one of the militants. Over the next few months, according to the Journal, Albanian security forces, working with U.S. agents, killed one suspect and captured Attiya and four others. These men were bound, blindfolded, and taken to an abandoned airbase, then flown by jet to Cairo for interrogation. Attiya later alleged that he suffered electrical shocks to his genitals, was hung from his limbs, and was kept in a cell in filthy water up to his knees. Two other suspects, who had been sentenced to death in absentia, were hanged.

On August 5, 1998, an Arab-language newspaper in London published a letter from the International Islamic Front for Jihad, in which it threatened retaliation against the U.S. for the Albanian operation—in a “language they will understand.” Two days later, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, killing two hundred and twenty-four people.

The U.S. began rendering terror suspects to other countries, but the most common destination remained Egypt. The partnership between the American and the Egyptian intelligence services was extraordinarily close: the Americans could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning, Scheuer said, and get answers by the evening. The Americans asked to question suspects directly themselves, but, Scheuer said, the Egyptians refused. “We were never in the same room at the same time.”

Scheuer claimed that “there was a legal process” undergirding these early renditions. Every suspect who was apprehended, he said, had been convicted in absentia. Before a suspect was captured, a dossier was prepared containing the equivalent of a rap sheet. The C.I.A.’s legal counsel signed off on every proposed operation. Scheuer said that this system prevented innocent people from being subjected to rendition. “Langley would never let us proceed unless there was substance,” he said. Moreover, Scheuer emphasized, renditions were pursued out of expedience—“not out of thinking it was the best policy.”

Since September 11th, as the number of renditions has grown, and hundreds of terrorist suspects have been deposited indefinitely in places like Guantánamo Bay, the shortcomings of this approach have become manifest. “Are we going to hold these people forever?” Scheuer asked. “The policymakers hadn’t thought what to do with them, and what would happen when it was found out that we were turning them over to governments that the human-rights world reviled.” Once a detainee’s rights have been violated, he says, “you absolutely can’t” reinstate him into the court system. “You can’t kill him, either,” he added. “All we’ve done is create a nightmare.”

On a bleak winter day in Trenton, New Jersey, Dan Coleman, an ex-F.B.I. agent who retired last July, because of asthma, scoffed at the idea that a C.I.A. agent was now having compunctions about renditions. The C.I.A., Coleman said, liked rendition from the start. “They loved that these guys would just disappear off the books, and never be heard of again,” he said. “They were proud of it.”

For ten years, Coleman worked closely with the C.I.A. on counter-terrorism cases, including the Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. His methodical style of detective work, in which interrogations were aimed at forging relationships with detainees, became unfashionable after September 11th, in part because the government was intent on extracting information as quickly as possible, in order to prevent future attacks. Yet the more patient approach used by Coleman and other agents had yielded major successes. In the Embassy-bombings case, they helped convict four Al Qaeda operatives on three hundred and two criminal counts; all four men pleaded guilty to serious terrorism charges. The confessions the F.B.I. agents elicited, and the trial itself, which ended in May, 2001, created an invaluable public record about Al Qaeda, including details about its funding mechanisms, its internal structure, and its intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction. (The political leadership in Washington, unfortunately, did not pay sufficient attention.)

Coleman is a political nonpartisan with a law-and-order mentality. His eldest son is a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan. Yet Coleman was troubled by the Bush Administration’s New Paradigm. Torture, he said, “has become bureaucratized.” Bad as the policy of rendition was before September 11th, Coleman said, “afterward, it really went out of control.” He explained, “Now, instead of just sending people to third countries, we’re holding them ourselves. We’re taking people, and keeping them in our own custody in third countries. That’s an enormous problem.” Egypt, he pointed out, at least had an established legal system, however harsh. “There was a process there,” Coleman said. “But what’s our process? We have no method over there other than our laws—and we’ve decided to ignore them. What are we now, the Huns? If you don’t talk to us, we’ll kill you?”

From the beginning of the rendition program, Coleman said, there was no doubt that Egypt engaged in torture. He recalled the case of a suspect in the first World Trade Center bombing who fled to Egypt. The U.S. requested his return, and the Egyptians handed him over—wrapped head to toe in duct tape, like a mummy. (In another incident, an Egyptian with links to Al Qaeda who had coöperated with the U.S. government in a terrorism trial was picked up in Cairo and imprisoned by Egyptian authorities until U.S. diplomats secured his release. For days, he had been chained to a toilet, where guards had urinated on him.)

Under such circumstances, it might seem difficult for the U.S. government to legally justify dispatching suspects to Egypt. But Coleman said that since September 11th the C.I.A. “has seemed to think it’s operating under different rules, that it has extralegal abilities outside the U.S.” Agents, he said, have “told me that they have their own enormous office of general counsel that rarely tells them no. Whatever they do is all right. It all takes place overseas.”

Coleman was angry that lawyers in Washington were redefining the parameters of counter-terrorism interrogations. “Have any of these guys ever tried to talk to someone who’s been deprived of his clothes?” he asked. “He’s going to be ashamed, and humiliated, and cold. He’ll tell you anything you want to hear to get his clothes back. There’s no value in it.” Coleman said that he had learned to treat even the most despicable suspects as if there were “a personal relationship, even if you can’t stand them.” He said that many of the suspects he had interrogated expected to be tortured, and were stunned to learn that they had rights under the American system. Due process made detainees more compliant, not less, Coleman said. He had also found that a defendant’s right to legal counsel was beneficial not only to suspects but also to law-enforcement officers. Defense lawyers frequently persuaded detainees to coöperate with prosecutors, in exchange for plea agreements. “The lawyers show these guys there’s a way out,” Coleman said. “It’s human nature. People don’t coöperate with you unless they have some reason to.” He added, “Brutalization doesn’t work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul.”

The Bush Administration’s redefinition of the standards of interrogation took place almost entirely out of public view. One of the first officials to offer hints of the shift in approach was Cofer Black, who was then in charge of counter-terrorism at the C.I.A. On September 26, 2002, he addressed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and stated that the arrest and detention of terrorists was “a very highly classified area.” He added, “All you need to know is that there was a ‘before 9/11’ and there was an ‘after 9/11.’ After 9/11, the gloves came off.”

Laying the foundation for this shift was a now famous set of internal legal memos—some were leaked, others were made public by groups such as the N.Y.U. Center for Law and National Security. Most of these documents were generated by a small, hawkish group of politically appointed lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and in the office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel. Chief among the authors was John C. Yoo, the deputy assistant attorney general at the time. (A Yale Law School graduate and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, Yoo now teaches law at Berkeley.) Taken together, the memos advised the President that he had almost unfettered latitude in his prosecution of the war on terror. For many years, Yoo was a member of the Federalist Society, a fellowship of conservative intellectuals who view international law with skepticism, and September 11th offered an opportunity for him and others in the Administration to put their political ideas into practice. A former lawyer in the State Department recalled the mood of the Administration: “The Twin Towers were still smoldering. The atmosphere was intense. The tone at the top was aggressive—and understandably so. The Commander-in-Chief had used the words ‘dead or alive’ and vowed to bring the terrorists to justice or bring justice to them. There was a fury.”

Soon after September 11th, Yoo and other Administration lawyers began advising President Bush that he did not have to comply with the Geneva Conventions in handling detainees in the war on terror. The lawyers classified these detainees not as civilians or prisoners of war—two categories of individuals protected by the Conventions—but as “illegal enemy combatants.” The rubric included not only Al Qaeda members and supporters but the entire Taliban, because, Yoo and other lawyers argued, the country was a “failed state.” Eric Lewis, an expert in international law who represents several Guantánamo detainees, said, “The Administration’s lawyers created a third category and cast them outside the law.”

The State Department, determined to uphold the Geneva Conventions, fought against Bush’s lawyers and lost. In a forty-page memo to Yoo, dated January 11, 2002 (which has not been publicly released), William Taft IV, the State Department legal adviser, argued that Yoo’s analysis was “seriously flawed.” Taft told Yoo that his contention that the President could disregard the Geneva Conventions was “untenable,” “incorrect,” and “confused.” Taft disputed Yoo’s argument that Afghanistan, as a “failed state,” was not covered by the Conventions. “The official United States position before, during, and after the emergence of the Taliban was that Afghanistan constituted a state,” he wrote. Taft also warned Yoo that if the U.S. took the war on terrorism outside the Geneva Conventions, not only could U.S. soldiers be denied the protections of the Conventions—and therefore be prosecuted for crimes, including murder—but President Bush could be accused of a “grave breach” by other countries, and be prosecuted for war crimes. Taft sent a copy of his memo to Gonzales, hoping that his dissent would reach the President. Within days, Yoo sent Taft a lengthy rebuttal.

Others in the Administration worried that the President’s lawyers were wayward. “Lawyers have to be the voice of reason and sometimes have to put the brakes on, no matter how much the client wants to hear something else,” the former State Department lawyer said. “Our job is to keep the train on the tracks. It’s not to tell the President, ‘Here are the ways to avoid the law.’” He went on, “There is no such thing as a non-covered person under the Geneva Conventions. It’s nonsense. The protocols cover fighters in everything from world wars to local rebellions.” The lawyer said that Taft urged Yoo and Gonzales to warn President Bush that he would “be seen as a war criminal by the rest of the world,” but Taft was ignored. This may be because President Bush had already made up his mind. According to top State Department officials, Bush decided to suspend the Geneva Conventions on January 8, 2002—three days before Taft sent his memo to Yoo.

The legal pronouncements from Washington about the status of detainees were painstakingly constructed to include numerous loopholes. For example, in February, 2002, President Bush issued a written directive stating that, even though he had determined that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the war on terror, all detainees should be treated “humanely.” A close reading of the directive, however, revealed that it referred only to military interrogators—not to C.I.A. officials. This exemption allowed the C.I.A. to continue using interrogation methods, including rendition, that stopped just short of torture. Further, an August, 2002, memo written largely by Yoo but signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee argued that torture required the intent to inflict suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” According to the Times, a secret memo issued by Administration lawyers authorized the C.I.A. to use novel interrogation methods—including “water-boarding,” in which a suspect is bound and immersed in water until he nearly drowns. Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, told me that he had treated a number of people who had been subjected to such forms of near-asphyxiation, and he argued that it was indeed torture. Some victims were still traumatized years later, he said. One patient couldn’t take showers, and panicked when it rained. “The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience,” he said.

The Administration’s justification of the rough treatment of detainees appears to have passed down the chain of command. In late 2003, at Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, photographs were taken that documented prisoners being subjected to grotesque abuse by U.S. soldiers. After the scandal became public, the Justice Department revised the narrow definition of torture outlined in the Bybee memo, using language that more strongly prohibited physical abuse during interrogations. But the Administration has fought hard against legislative efforts to rein in the C.I.A. In the past few months, Republican leaders, at the White House’s urging, have blocked two attempts in the Senate to ban the C.I.A. from using cruel and inhuman interrogation methods. An attempt in the House to outlaw extraordinary rendition, led by Representative Markey, also failed.

In a recent phone interview, Yoo was soft-spoken and resolute. “Why is it so hard for people to understand that there is a category of behavior not covered by the legal system?” he said. “What were pirates? They weren’t fighting on behalf of any nation. What were slave traders? Historically, there were people so bad that they were not given protection of the laws. There were no specific provisions for their trial, or imprisonment. If you were an illegal combatant, you didn’t deserve the protection of the laws of war.” Yoo cited precedents for his position. “The Lincoln assassins were treated this way, too,” he said. “They were tried in a military court, and executed.” The point, he said, was that the Geneva Conventions’“simple binary classification of civilian or soldier isn’t accurate.”

Yoo also argued that the Constitution granted the President plenary powers to override the U.N. Convention Against Torture when he is acting in the nation’s defense—a position that has drawn dissent from many scholars. As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn’t have the power to “tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.” He continued, “It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.” If the President were to abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief, Yoo said, the constitutional remedy was impeachment. He went on to suggest that President Bush’s victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was “proof that the debate is over.” He said, “The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.”

A few months after September 11th, the U.S. gained custody of its first high-ranking Al Qaeda figure, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. He had run bin Laden’s terrorist training camp in Khalden, Afghanistan, and was detained in Pakistan. Zacarias Moussaoui, who was already in U.S. custody, and Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber, had both spent time at the Khalden camp. At the F.B.I.’s field office in New York, Jack Cloonan, an officer who had worked for the agency since 1972, struggled to maintain control of the legal process in Afghanistan. C.I.A. and F.B.I. agents were vying to take possession of Libi. Cloonan, who worked with Dan Coleman on anti-terrorism cases for many years, said he felt that “neither the Moussaoui case nor the Reid case was a slam dunk.” He became intent on securing Libi’s testimony as a witness against them. He advised his F.B.I. colleagues in Afghanistan to question Libi respectfully, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He recalled, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’”

Cloonan’s F.B.I. colleagues advised Libi of his rights and took turns with C.I.A. agents in questioning him. After a few days, F.B.I. officials felt that they were developing a good rapport with him. The C.I.A. agents, however, felt that he was lying to them, and needed tougher interrogation.

To Cloonan’s dismay, the C.I.A. reportedly rendered Libi to Egypt. He was seen boarding a plane in Afghanistan, restrained by handcuffs and ankle cuffs, his mouth covered by duct tape. Cloonan, who retired from the F.B.I. in 2002, said, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”

After Libi was taken to Egypt, the F.B.I. lost track of him. Yet he evidently played a crucial background role in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s momentous address to the United Nations Security Council in February, 2003, which argued the case for a preëmptive war against Iraq. In his speech, Powell did not refer to Libi by name, but he announced to the world that “a senior terrorist operative” who “was responsible for one of Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan” had told U.S. authorities that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two Al Qaeda operatives in the use of “chemical or biological weapons.”

Last summer, Newsweek reported that Libi, who was eventually transferred from Egypt to Guantánamo Bay, was the source of the incendiary charge cited by Powell, and that he had recanted. By then, the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had passed and the 9/11 Commission had declared that there was no known evidence of a working relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Dan Coleman was disgusted when he heard about Libi’s false confession. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” he said. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

Most authorities on interrogation, in and out of government, agree that torture and lesser forms of physical coercion succeed in producing confessions. The problem is that these confessions aren’t necessarily true. Three of the Guantánamo detainees released by the U.S. to Great Britain last year, for example, had confessed that they had appeared in a blurry video, obtained by American investigators, that documented a group of acolytes meeting with bin Laden in Afghanistan. As reported in the London Observer, British intelligence officials arrived at Guantánamo with evidence that the accused men had been living in England at the time the video was made. The detainees told British authorities that they had been coerced into making false confessions.

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, told me that “the U.S. accepts quite a lot of intelligence from the Uzbeks” that has been extracted from suspects who have been tortured. This information was, he said, “largely rubbish.” He said he knew of “at least three” instances where the U.S. had rendered suspected militants from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan. Although Murray does not know the fate of the three men, he said, “They almost certainly would have been tortured.” In Uzbekistan, he said, “partial boiling of a hand or an arm is quite common.” He also knew of two cases in which prisoners had been boiled to death.

In 2002, Murray, concerned that America was complicit with such a regime, asked his deputy to discuss the problem with the C.I.A.’s station chief in Tashkent. He said that the station chief did not dispute that intelligence was being obtained under torture. But the C.I.A. did not consider this a problem. “There was no reason to think they were perturbed,” Murray told me.

Scientific research on the efficacy of torture and rough interrogation is limited, because of the moral and legal impediments to experimentation. Tom Parker, a former officer for M.I.5, the British intelligence agency, who teaches at Yale, argued that, whether or not forceful interrogations yield accurate information from terrorist suspects, a larger problem is that many detainees “have nothing to tell.” For many years, he said, British authorities subjected members of the Irish Republican Army to forceful interrogations, but, in the end, the government concluded that “detainees aren’t valuable.” A more effective strategy, Parker said, was “being creative” about human intelligence gathering, such as infiltration and eavesdropping. “The U.S. is doing what the British did in the nineteen-seventies, detaining people and violating their civil liberties,” he said. “It did nothing but exacerbate the situation. Most of those interned went back to terrorism. You’ll end up radicalizing the entire population.”

Although the Administration has tried to keep the details of extraordinary renditions secret, several accounts have surfaced that reveal how the program operates. On December 18, 2001, at Stockholm’s Bromma Airport, a half-dozen hooded security officials ushered two Egyptian asylum seekers, Muhammad Zery and Ahmed Agiza, into an empty office. They cut off the Egyptians’ clothes with scissors, forcibly administered sedatives by suppository, swaddled them in diapers, and dressed them in orange jumpsuits. As was reported by “Kalla Fakta,” a Swedish television news program, the suspects were blindfolded, placed in handcuffs and leg irons; according to a declassified Swedish government report, the men were then flown to Cairo on a U.S.-registered Gulfstream V jet. Swedish officials have claimed that they received assurances from the Egyptians that Zery and Agiza would be treated humanely. But both suspects have said, through lawyers and family members, that they were tortured with electrical charges to their genitals. (Zery said that he was also forced to lie on an electrified bed frame.) After spending two years in an Egyptian prison, Zery was released. Agiza, a physician who had once been an ally of Zawahiri but later renounced him and terrorism, was convicted on terrorism charges by Egypt’s Supreme Military Court. He was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.

Another case suggests that the Bush Administration is authorizing the rendition of suspects for whom it has little evidence of guilt. Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born citizen of Australia, was apprehended in Pakistan in October, 2001. According to his wife, Habib, a radical Muslim with four children, was visiting the country to tour religious schools and determine if his family should move to Pakistan. A spokesman at the Pentagon has claimed that Habib—who has expressed support for Islamist causes—spent most of his trip in Afghanistan, and was “either supporting hostile forces or on the battlefield fighting illegally against the U.S.” Last month, after a three-year ordeal, Habib was released without charges.

Habib is one of a handful of people subjected to rendition who are being represented pro bono by human-rights lawyers. According to a recently unsealed document prepared by Joseph Margulies, a lawyer affiliated with the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School, Habib said that he was first interrogated in Pakistan for three weeks, in part at a facility in Islamabad, where he said he was brutalized. Some of his interrogators, he claimed, spoke English with American accents. (Having lived in Australia for years, Habib is comfortable in English.) He was then placed in the custody of Americans, two of whom wore black short-sleeved shirts and had distinctive tattoos: one depicted an American flag attached to a flagpole shaped like a finger, the other a large cross. The Americans took him to an airfield, cut his clothes off with scissors, dressed him in a jumpsuit, covered his eyes with opaque goggles, and placed him aboard a private plane. He was flown to Egypt.

According to Margulies, Habib was held and interrogated for six months. “Never, to my knowledge, did he make an appearance in any court,” Margulies told me. Margulies was also unaware of any evidence suggesting that the U.S. sought a promise from Egypt that Habib would not be tortured. For his part, Habib claimed to have been subjected to horrific conditions. He said that he was beaten frequently with blunt instruments, including an object that he likened to an electric “cattle prod.” And he was told that if he didn’t confess to belonging to Al Qaeda he would be anally raped by specially trained dogs. (Hossam el-Hamalawy said that Egyptian security forces train German shepherds for police work, and that other prisoners have also been threatened with rape by trained dogs, although he knows of no one who has been assaulted in this way.) Habib said that he was shackled and forced to stand in three torture chambers: one room was filled with water up to his chin, requiring him to stand on tiptoe for hours; another chamber, filled with water up to his knees, had a ceiling so low that he was forced into a prolonged, painful stoop; in the third, he stood in water up to his ankles, and within sight of an electric switch and a generator, which his jailers said would be used to electrocute him if he didn’t confess. Habib’s lawyer said that he submitted to his interrogators’ demands and made multiple confessions, all of them false. (Egyptian authorities have described such allegations of torture as “mythology.”)

After his imprisonment in Egypt, Habib said that he was returned to U.S. custody and was flown to Bagram Air Force Base, in Afghanistan, and then on to Guantánamo Bay, where he was detained until last month. On January 11th, a few days after the Washington Post published an article on Habib’s case, the Pentagon, offering virtually no explanation, agreed to release him into the custody of the Australian government. “Habib was released because he was hopelessly embarrassing,” Eric Freedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School, who has been involved in the detainees’ legal defense, says. “It’s a large crack in the wall in a house of cards that is midway through tumbling down.” In a prepared statement, a Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico, said there was “no evidence” that Habib “was tortured or abused” while he was in U.S. custody. He also said that Habib had received “Al Qaeda training,” which included instruction in making false abuse allegations. Habib’s claims, he suggested, “fit the standard operating procedure.”

The U.S. government has not responded directly to Habib’s charge that he was rendered to Egypt. However, several other men who were recently released from Guantánamo reported that Habib told them about it. Jamal al-Harith, a British detainee who was sent home to Manchester, England, last March, told me in a phone interview that at one point he had been placed in a cage across from Habib. “He said that he had been in Egypt for about six months, and they had injected him with drugs, and hung him from the ceiling, and beaten him very, very badly,” Harith recalled. “He seemed to be in pain. He was haggard-looking. I never saw him walk. He always had to be held up.”


N379P
The US Torture Plane

Another piece of evidence that may support Habib’s story is a set of flight logs documenting the travels of a white Gulfstream V jet—the plane that seems to have been used for renditions by the U.S. government. These logs show that on April 9, 2002, the jet left Dulles Airport, in Washington, and landed in Cairo. According to Habib’s attorney, this was around the same time that Habib said he was released by the Egyptians in Cairo, and returned to U.S. custody. The flight logs were obtained by Stephen Grey, a British journalist who has written a number of stories on renditions for British publications, including the London Sunday Times. Grey’s logs are incomplete, but they chronicle some three hundred flights over three years by the fourteen-seat jet, which was marked on its tail with the code N379P. (It was recently changed, to N8068V.) All the flights originated from Dulles Airport, and many of them landed at restricted U.S. military bases.

Even if Habib is a terrorist aligned with Al Qaeda, as Pentagon officials have claimed, it seems unlikely that prosecutors would ever be able to build a strong case against him, given the treatment that he allegedly received in Egypt. John Radsan, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota, who worked in the general counsel’s office of the C.I.A. until last year, said, “I don’t think anyone’s thought through what we do with these people.”

Similar problems complicate the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in March, 2003. Mohammed has reportedly been “water-boarded” during interrogations. If so, Radsan said, “it would be almost impossible to take him into a criminal trial. Any evidence derived from his interrogation could be seen as fruit from the poisonous tree. I think the government is considering some sort of military tribunal somewhere down the line. But, even there, there are still constitutional requirements that you can’t bring in involuntary confessions.”

The trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, in Alexandria, Virginia—the only U.S. criminal trial of a suspect linked to the September 11th attacks—is stalled. It’s been more than three years since Attorney General John Ashcroft called Moussaoui’s indictment “a chronicle of evil.” The case has been held up by Moussaoui’s demand—and the Bush Administration’s refusal—to let him call as witnesses Al Qaeda members held in government custody, including Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. (Bin al-Shibh is thought to have been tortured.) Government attorneys have argued that producing the witnesses would disrupt the interrogation process.

Similarly, German officials fear that they may be unable to convict any members of the Hamburg cell that is believed to have helped plan the September 11th attacks, on charges connected to the plot, in part because the U.S. government refuses to produce bin al-Shibh and Mohammed as witnesses. Last year, one of the Hamburg defendants, Mounir Motassadeq, became the first person to be convicted in the planning of the attacks, but his guilty verdict was overturned by an appeals court, which found the evidence against him too weak.

Motassadeq is on trial again, but, in accordance with German law, he is no longer being imprisoned. Although he is alleged to have overseen the payment of funds into the accounts of the September 11th hijackers—and to have been friendly with Mohamed Atta, who flew one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers—he walks freely to and from the courthouse each day. The U.S. has supplied the German court with edited summaries of testimony from Mohammed and bin al-Shibh. But Gerhard Strate, Motassadeq’s defense lawyer, told me, “We are not satisfied with the summaries. If you want to find the truth, we need to know who has been interrogating them, and under what circumstances. We don’t have any answers to this.” The refusal by the U.S. to produce the witnesses in person, Strate said, “puts the court in a ridiculous position.” He added, “I don’t know why they won’t produce the witnesses. The first thing you think is that the U.S. government has something to hide.”

In fact, the Justice Department recently admitted that it had something to hide in relation to Maher Arar, the Canadian engineer. The government invoked the rarely used “state secrets privilege” in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Arar’s lawyers against the U.S. government. To go forward in an open court, the government said, would jeopardize the “intelligence, foreign policy and national security interests of the United States.” Barbara Olshansky, the assistant legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing Arar, said that government lawyers “are saying this case can’t be tried, and the classified information on which they’re basing this argument can’t even be shared with the opposing lawyers. It’s the height of arrogance—they think they can do anything they want in the name of the global war on terrorism.”

Nadja Dizdarevic is a thirty-year-old mother of four who lives in Sarajevo. On October 21, 2001, her husband, Hadj Boudella, a Muslim of Algerian descent, and five other Algerians living in Bosnia were arrested after U.S. authorities tipped off the Bosnian government to an alleged plot by the group to blow up the American and British Embassies in Sarajevo. One of the suspects reportedly placed some seventy phone calls to the Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the days after September 11th. Boudella and his wife, however, maintain that neither he nor several of the other defendants knew the man who had allegedly contacted Zubaydah. And an investigation by the Bosnian government turned up no confirmation that the calls to Zubaydah were made at all, according to the men’s American lawyers, Rob Kirsch and Stephen Oleskey.

At the request of the U.S., the Bosnian government held all six men for three months, but was unable to substantiate any criminal charges against them. On January 17, 2002, the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that they should be released. Instead, as the men left prison, they were handcuffed, forced to put on surgical masks with nose clips, covered in hoods, and herded into waiting unmarked cars by masked figures, some of whom appeared to be members of the Bosnian special forces. Boudella’s wife had come to the prison to meet her husband, and she recalled that she recognized him, despite the hood, because he was wearing a new suit that she had brought him the day before. “I will never forget that night,” she said. “It was snowing. I was screaming for someone to help.” A crowd gathered, and tried to block the convoy, but it sped off. The suspects were taken to a military airbase and kept in a freezing hangar for hours; one member of the group later claimed that he saw one of the abductors remove his Bosnian uniform, revealing that he was in fact American. The U.S. government has neither confirmed nor denied its role in the operation.

Six days after the abduction, Boudella’s wife received word that her husband and the other men had been sent to Guantánamo. One man in the group has alleged that two of his fingers were broken by U.S. soldiers. Little is publicly known about the welfare of the others.

Boudella’s wife said that she was astounded that her husband could be seized without charge or trial, at home during peacetime and after his own government had exonerated him. The term “enemy combatant” perplexed her. “He is an enemy of whom?” she asked. “In combat where?” She said that her view of America had changed. “I have not changed my opinion about its people, but unfortunately I have changed my opinion about its respect for human rights,” she said. “It is no longer the leader in the world. It has become the leader in the violation of human rights.”

In October, Boudella attempted to plead his innocence before the Pentagon’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal. The C.S.R.T. is the Pentagon’s answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year, over the Bush Administration’s objections, that detainees in Guantánamo had a right to challenge their imprisonment. Boudella was not allowed to bring a lawyer to the proceeding. And the tribunal said that it was “unable to locate” a copy of the Bosnian Supreme Court’s verdict freeing him, which he had requested that it read. Transcripts show that Boudella stated, “I am against any terrorist acts,” and asked, “How could I be part of an organization that I strongly believe has harmed my people?” The tribunal rejected his plea, as it has rejected three hundred and eighty-seven of the three hundred and ninety-three pleas it has heard. Upon learning this, Boudella’s wife sent the following letter to her husband’s American lawyers:


Dear Friends, I am so shocked by this information that it seems as if my blood froze in my veins, I can’t breathe and I wish I was dead. I can’t believe these things can happen, that they can come and take your husband away, overnight and without reason, destroy your family, ruin your dreams after three years of fight. . . . Please, tell me, what can I still do for him? . . . Is this decision final, what are the legal remedies? Help me to understand because, as far as I know the law, this is insane, contrary to all possible laws and human rights. Please help me, I don’t want to lose him.

John Radsan, the former C.I.A. lawyer, offered a reply of sorts. “As a society, we haven’t figured out what the rough rules are yet,” he said. “There are hardly any rules for illegal enemy combatants. It’s the law of the jungle. And right now we happen to be the strongest animal.”

© CondéNet 2005