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, August 05, 2006

Governors bristle at Bush Guard proposal

Governors bristle at Bush Guard proposal

By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer

The nation's governors are closing ranks in opposition to a proposal in Congress that would let the president take control of the National Guard in emergencies without consent of governors.

The idea, spurred by the destruction and chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina's landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi, is part of a House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act. It has not yet been agreed to by the Senate.

The measure would remove the currently required consent of governors for the federalization of the Guard, which is shared between the individual states and the federal government.;_ylt=Ao_iIi2dSIg8WXjP8ian.MpH2ocA;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-

"Federalization just for the sake of federalization makes no sense," said Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, a Democrat who had rough relations with the Bush administration after the disaster last year. "You don't need federalization to get federal troops. ... Just making quick decisions can make things happen."

Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, said "a whole bunch of governors" were opposed to the idea after the proposed change was brought up in a private lunch meeting.

Some two dozen governors met in Charleston for three days of discussions at the annual summer gathering of the National Governors Association. The association's leaders sent a formal letter of opposition to House leaders last week.

The language in the House measure would let the president take control in case of "a serious natural or manmade disaster, accident, or catastrophe," according to the NGA.

"The idea of federalizing yet another function of government in America is a, the wrong direction, and b, counterproductive," Sanford said. "The system has worked quite well, notwithstanding what went wrong with Katrina."

E. J. Dionne Jr - The End Of the Right?

The End Of the Right?

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, August 4, 2006; A17

Is conservatism finished?

What might have seemed an absurd question less than two years ago is now one of the most important issues in American politics. The question is being asked -- mostly quietly but occasionally publicly -- by conservatives themselves as they survey the wreckage of their hopes, and as their champions in the Republican Party use any means necessary to survive this fall's elections.

Conservatism is an honorable disposition that, in its modern form, is inspired by the philosophy developed by Edmund Burke in the 18th century. But as a contemporary American movement, conservatism is rooted intellectually in the 1950s and the circles around William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review magazine. It rose politically with Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964.

Conservatism was always a delicate balancing act between small-government economic libertarians and social traditionalists who revered family, faith and old values. The two wings were often held together by a common enemy, modern liberalism certainly, but even more so by communism until the early 1990s, and now by what some conservatives call "Islamofascism."

President Bush, his defenders say, has pioneered a new philosophical approach, sometimes known as "big-government conservatism." The most articulate defender of this position, the journalist Fred Barnes, argues that Bush's view is "Hamiltonian" as in Alexander, Thomas Jefferson's rival in the early republic. Bush's strategy, Barnes says, "is to use government as a means to achieve conservative ends."

Kudos to Barnes for trying bravely to make sense of what to so many others -- including some in conservative ranks -- seems an incoherent enterprise. But I would argue that this is the week in which conservatism, Hamiltonian or not, reached the point of collapse.

The most obvious, outrageous and unprincipled spasm occurred last night when the Senate voted on a bill that would have simultaneously raised the minimum wage and slashed taxes on inherited wealth.

Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism than this measure. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the bill failed.

The episode was significant because it meant Republicans were acknowledging that they would not hold congressional power without the help of moderates. That is because there is nothing close to a conservative majority in the United States.

Yet their way of admitting this was to put on display the central goal of the currently dominant forces of politics: to give away as much as possible to the truly wealthy. You wonder what those blue-collar conservatives once known as Reagan Democrats made of this spectacle.

Last night's shenanigans were merely a symptom. Consider other profound fissures within the right. There is an increasingly bitter debate over whether it made any sense to wage war in Iraq in the hopes of transforming that country into a democracy. Conservatives with excellent philosophical credentials, including my colleague George F. Will, and Bill Buckley himself, see the enterprise as profoundly unconservative.

On immigration, the big-business right and culturally optimistic conservatives square off against cultural pessimists and conservatives who see porous borders as a major security threat. On stem cell research, libertarians battle conservatives who have serious moral and religious doubts about the practice -- and even some staunch opponents of abortion break with the right-to-life movement on the issue.

On spending . . . well, on spending, incoherence and big deficits are the order of the day. Writing in National Review in May, conservatives Kate O'Beirne and Rich Lowry had one word to describe the Republican Congress's approach to the matter: "Incontinence."

In that important essay, O'Beirne and Lowry argued that the relevant question for conservatives may not be "Can this Congress be saved?" but "Is it worth saving?"

Political movements lose power when they lose their self-confidence and sense of mission. Liberalism went into a long decline after 1968 when liberals clawed at each other more than they battled conservatives -- and when they began to wonder whether their project was worth salvaging.

Between now and November, conservative leaders will dutifully try to rally the troops to stave off a Democratic victory. But their hearts won't be in the fight. The decline of conservatism leaves a vacuum in American politics. An unhappy electorate is waiting to see who will fill it.

David Rieff - The Beginning of the End of the Adventure

The Beginning of the End of the Adventure

Until the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah broke out on July 12, the foreign policy pursued by the Bush administration in its second term was a source of increasing consternation to those who had most fervently supported its aspirations to rid the world of evildoers — that is, the thinkers and policy analysts identified with muscular neoconservatism. Writing in The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, the magazine’s editor, accused the administration of pursuing policies that had allowed North Korea to test missiles with impunity and that had left the regime in Tehran “sitting pretty” — in short, of pursuing a “Clintonian” foreign policy, which is about as severe a condemnation as any upstanding neoconservative can deploy. For her part, Danielle Pletka, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, recently told an interviewer, “I don’t have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or in any part of the conservative foreign-policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration.”

But Hezbollah’s decision to break the de facto truce that it had maintained since Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and the subsequent Israeli onslaught, seems to have halted, at least for now, this maelstrom of criticism from the conservative advocates of a transformational foreign policy. Instead, it appears as if the analysts and pundits grouped around magazines like The Weekly Standard, and on such increasingly influential blogs as Power Line, are doing everything in their rhetorical power to urge the White House to return to the verities of regime change it espoused in the aftermath of 9/11 and settle accounts with the regimes in Syria and Iran that not only are backing Hezbollah, but, in the minds of neoconservatives at least, are also at the root of the problem in Iraq as well. Kristol summarized this position well when he wrote that “while Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel, they are also enemies of the United States.. . .This is our war, too.” He added, controversially, that it was time to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Why wait?” he demanded.

The idea that America has a special responsibility to combat tyranny around the globe has been a bipartisan assumption at least since the Truman administration. But in recent years, conservatives have been the most ardent proponents of aggressive regime change — witness their support for aiding the Nicaraguan contras and Jonas Savimbi’s Angolan guerrillas in the 1980’s. Today many conservative thinkers regard the Bush doctrine as the reiteration of the Reagan doctrine and take it as their sacred responsibility to promulgate such holy writ. But will their bellicose hopes be dashed in the coming weeks — as, historically, the hopes of the American right in Republican presidents so often have been (consider the Eisenhower administration’s indifference to the Hungarian revolution in 1956, or the right-to-life movement’s disenchantment with Ronald Reagan)?

There is a better-than-even chance that they will be. After all, despite what some of its spokesmen said at the start of the conflict, Israel is looking less and less willing to expend the blood and treasure necessary to deal a mortal blow to Hezbollah. The costs are just too high. America’s U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, may insist publicly that there can be no negotiating with a terrorist organization like Hezbollah, but his boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, sent the opposite message when, during her lightning visit to Beirut in late July, she met with Nabih Berri, the Shiite speaker of the Lebanese Parliament and Hezbollah’s unofficial interlocutor with Western governments. It is one thing for President Bush to present Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah as part of the wider global war on terrorism and quite another to open another front in that war when the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance and American commanders are faced with the necessity of committing more troops to what even the U.S. military is now beginning to characterize, rather desperately, as the battle for Baghdad.

Neoconservatives still speak confidently of the moral clarity of America’s agenda in the Middle East, but after more than three years of war in Iraq, this moral clarity is all but gone as far as the American people are concerned: according to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, half of the public thinks that whether we stay in Iraq a few more years makes “no difference” to America’s security. It is highly unlikely that this same public could be persuaded of the urgency of another war in the Middle East, another war on evil that will transform the region for the better. The president’s own party may need persuading as well: anyone doubting this need only look at how many Republican officeholders are putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the war in Iraq as they seek re-election in the fall. Airstrikes against Syria and Iran may be contemplated by both American and Israeli war planners, but a boots-on-the-ground war is a nonstarter for both Jerusalem and Washington, and bombing alone cannot produce regime change.

By allowing Israel to continue its harsh bombing campaign in Lebanon for weeks, the administration could have things both ways: practice a policy of restraint and lend its support to an ambitious scheme for regional transformation. But sooner or later, the U.S. is likely to put its weight behind some sort of compromise and cease-fire. Hawks within the administration may be calling for boldness, but Iraq gave boldness a bad name. That war has exhausted all of us, the Bush administration and the American public alike, and exhaustion breeds caution. There are worse ways to look at the world.

David Rieff is a contributing writer for the magazine.

Ending the neoconservative nightmare - Haaretz - Israel News

Ending the neoconservative nightmare
By Daniel Levy

Witnessing the near-perfect symmetry of Israeli and American policy has been one of the more noteworthy aspects of the latest Lebanon war. A true friend in the White House. No deescalate and stabilize, honest-broker, diplomatic jaw-jaw from this president. Great. Except that Israel was actually in need of an early exit strategy, had its diplomatic options narrowed by American weakness and marginalization in the region, and found itself ratcheting up aerial and ground operations in ways that largely worked to Hezbollah's advantage, the Qana tragedy included. The American ladder had gone AWOL.

More worrying, while everyone here can identify an Israeli interest in securing the northern border and the justification in responding to Hezbollah, the goal of saving Lebanon's fragile Cedar Revolution sounds less distinctly Israeli. Perhaps an agenda invented elsewhere. As hostilities intensified, the phrase "proxy war" gained resonance.

Israelis have grown used to a different kind of American embrace - less instrumental, more emotional, but also responsible. A dependable friend, ready to lend a guiding hand back to the path of stabilization when necessary.

After this crisis will Israel belatedly wake up to the implications of the tectonic shift that has taken place in U.S.-Middle East policy?

In 1996 a group of then opposition U.S. policy agitators, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, presented a paper entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" to incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The "clean break" was from the prevailing peace process, advocating that Israel pursue a combination of roll-back, destabilization and containment in the region, including striking at Syria and removing Saddam Hussein from power in favor of "Hashemite control in Iraq." The Israeli horse they backed then was not up to the task.

Ten years later, as Netanyahu languishes in the opposition, as head of a small Likud faction, Perle, Feith and their neoconservative friends have justifiably earned a reputation as awesome wielders of foreign-policy influence under George W. Bush.

The key neocon protagonists, their think tanks and publications may be unfamiliar to many Israelis, but they are redefining the region we live in. This tight-knit group of "defense intellectuals" - centered around Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Perle, Feith and others - were considered somewhat off-beat until they teamed up with hawkish well-connected Republicans like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Newt Gingrich, and with the emerging powerhouse of the Christian right. Their agenda was an aggressive unilateralist U.S. global supremacy, a radical vision of transformative regime-change democratization, with a fixation on the Middle East, an obsession with Iraq and an affinity to "old Likud" politics in Israel. Their extended moment in the sun arrived after 9/11.

Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend civilization."

Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon "creative destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.

Afghanistan is yet to be secured, Iraq is an exporter of instability and perhaps terror, too, Iranian hard-liners have been strengthened and encouraged, while the public throughout the region is ever-more radicalized, and in the yet-to-be "transformed" regimes of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is certainly more hostile to Israel and America than its leaders. Neither listening nor talking to important, if problematic, actors in the region has only impoverished policy-making capacity.

Israel does have enemies, interests and security imperatives, but there is no logic in the country volunteering itself for the frontline of an ideologically misguided and avoidable war of civilizations.

So what should be done, on both sides of the ocean?

It is admittedly difficult for Israel to have a regional strategy that is out-of-step with the U.S. administration-of-the-day. However, the neocon approach is not unchallenged, and Israel should not be providing its ticket back to the ascendancy. A U.S. return to proactive diplomacy, realism and multilateralism, with sustained and hard engagement that delivers concrete progress, would best serve its own, Israeli and regional interests. Israel should encourage this. Israel may even have to lead, for instance, in rethinking policy on Hamas or Syria, and should certainly work intensely with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in encouraging his efforts to reach a Palestinian national understanding as a basis for stable governance, security quiet and future peace negotiations. A policy that comes with a Jerusalem kosher stamp of approval might be viewed as less of an abomination in Washington.

Beyond that, Israel and its friends in the United States should seriously reconsider their alliances not only with the neocons, but also with the Christian Right. The largest "pro-Israel" lobby day during this crisis was mobilized by Pastor John Hagee and his Christians United For Israel, a believer in Armageddon with all its implications for a rather particular end to the Jewish story. This is just asking to become the mother of all dumb, self-defeating and morally abhorrent alliances.

Internationalist Republicans, Democrats and mainstream Israelis must construct an alternative narrative to the neocon nightmare, identifying shared interests in a policy that reestablishes American leadership, respect and credibility in the region by facilitating security and stability, pursuing conflict resolution and promoting the conditions for more open societies (as opposed to narrow election-worship). The last two years of the Bush presidency can be an opportunity for progress or an exercise in desperate damage limitation. It sounds counter-intuitive, but Israel should reflect on and even help reorient American expectations.

Daniel Levy was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.

New York Times | The Sound of One Domino Falling

The Sound of One Domino Falling
New York Times | Editorial

Friday 04 August 2006

It's been obvious for years that Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality, but the defense secretary now also seems stuck in a time warp. You could practically hear the dominoes falling as he told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that it was dangerous for Americans to even talk about how to end the war in Iraq.

"If we left Iraq prematurely," he said, "the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines." And finally, he intoned, America will be forced "to make a stand nearer home."

No one in charge of American foreign affairs has talked like that in decades. After Vietnam, of course, the communist empire did not swarm all over Asia as predicted; it tottered and collapsed. And the new "enemy" that Mr. Rumsfeld is worried about is not a worldwide conspiracy but a collection of disparate political and religious groups, now united mainly by American action in Iraq.

Americans are frightened by the growing chaos in the Mideast, and the last thing they needed to hear this week was Mr. Rumsfeld laying blame for sectarian violence on a few Al Qaeda schemers. What they want is some assurance that the administration has a firm grasp on reality and has sensible, achievable goals that could lead to an end to the American involvement in Iraq with as little long-term damage as possible. Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld offered the same old exhortation to stay the course, without the slightest hint of what the course is, other than the rather obvious point that the Iraqis have to learn to run their own country.

By contrast, the generals flanking him were pillars of candor and practicality. Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, said "Iraq could move toward civil war" if the sectarian violence - which he said "is probably as bad as I've seen it" - is not contained. The generals tried to be optimistic about the state of the Iraqi security forces, but it was hard. They had to acknowledge that a militia controls Basra, that powerful Iraqi government officials run armed bands that the Pentagon considers terrorist organizations financed by Iran, and that about a third of the Iraqi police force can't be trusted to fight on the right side.

As for Mr. Rumsfeld, he suggested that lawmakers just leave everything up to him and the military command and stop talking about leaving Iraq. "We should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy," he said.

Americans who once expected the Pentagon to win the war in Iraq have now been reduced to waiting for an indication that at least someone is minding the store. They won't be comforted to hear Mr. Rumsfeld fretting about protecting Spain from Muslim occupation.

Journalism Educators Ask White House to Abandon 'Anti-Press Policies'

Journalism Educators Ask White House to Abandon 'Anti-Press Policies'

By E&P Staff

Published: August 05, 2006 10:55 AM ET

NEW YORK Attendees at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in San Francisco on Friday passed a resolution condemning "anti-press policies" taken by the Bush administration in recent years. It was described as the first such resolution against a president since the Vietnam war era.

Policies that members of the leading group of journalism academics asked the White House to abandon included tight restrictions on the flow of information, "staged town meetings," refusal to allow photos of coffins returning from Iraq, "massive reclassification of documents," attempts to consolidate media, use of "bribes" to columnists and distribution of uncredited video news releases, and "using the courts to pressure journalists to give up their sources and to punish them for obtaining leaked information."

The resolution stated:

"The relationship between the presidency and press has always been uneasy. This tension is both unavoidable and generally salutary: When each side conducts its duties with honesty and integrity, both hold the power of the other in check. It is difficult to find a period in American history in which this mutual opposition did not exist.

"However, it has come to pass that the current administration has engaged in a number of practices and has enacted a series of severe and extraordinary policies that attack the press specifically and by extension, democracy itself.

"A working democracy requires a free press that is muscular in its reporting. It requires a press that holds leaders accountable for their actions. It requires a press that contrasts leaders' words with their actions. It requires a press that uncovers errors and wrongdoing by employing named and unnamed sources. We believe the actions of the current administration compromise these press functions.

"The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, American press history has been marked by periods in which press freedoms have retreated. The Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s represented one such period. Another was during the Civil War, in which journalists were jailed en masse because of dissent. The Espionage Act of 1917 paved the way for encroachments on press freedom (see Schenk v. United States). In each of these periods, politicians, judges, and scholars came to see, at least in hindsight, that anti-press policies in the name of national unity produced real harm to democracy itself. We believe that the Bush administration's anti-press policies and practices represent another major period."


The legal mind behind the White House’s war on terror.
Issue of 2006-07-03
Posted 2006-06-26

On December 18th, Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, joined other prominent Washington figures at FedEx Field, the Redskins’ stadium, in a skybox belonging to the team’s owner. During the game, between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, Powell spoke of a recent report in the Times which revealed that President Bush, in his pursuit of terrorists, had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without first obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by federal law. This requirement, which was instituted by Congress in 1978, after the Watergate scandal, was designed to protect civil liberties and curb abuses of executive power, such as Nixon’s secret monitoring of political opponents and the F.B.I.’s eavesdropping on Martin Luther King, Jr. Nixon had claimed that as President he had the “inherent authority” to spy on people his Administration deemed enemies, such as the anti-Vietnam War activist Daniel Ellsberg. Both Nixon and the institution of the Presidency had paid a high price for this assumption. But, according to the Times, since 2002 the legal checks that Congress constructed to insure that no President would repeat Nixon’s actions had been secretly ignored.

According to someone who knows Powell, his comment about the article was terse. “It’s Addington,” he said. “He doesn’t care about the Constitution.” Powell was referring to David S. Addington, Vice-President Cheney’s chief of staff and his longtime principal legal adviser. Powell’s office says that he does not recall making the statement. But his former top aide, Lawrence Wilkerson, confirms that he and Powell shared this opinion of Addington.

Most Americans, even those who follow politics closely, have probably never heard of Addington. But current and former Administration officials say that he has played a central role in shaping the Administration’s legal strategy for the war on terror. Known as the New Paradigm, this strategy rests on a reading of the Constitution that few legal scholars share—namely, that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to disregard virtually all previously known legal boundaries, if national security demands it. Under this framework, statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance have been set aside. A former high-ranking Administration lawyer who worked extensively on national-security issues said that the Administration’s legal positions were, to a remarkable degree, “all Addington.” Another lawyer, Richard L. Shiffrin, who until 2003 was the Pentagon’s deputy general counsel for intelligence, said that Addington was “an unopposable force.”

The overarching intent of the New Paradigm, which was put in place after the attacks of September 11th, was to allow the Pentagon to bring terrorists to justice as swiftly as possible. Criminal courts and military courts, with their exacting standards of evidence and emphasis on protecting defendants’ rights, were deemed too cumbersome. Instead, the President authorized a system of detention and interrogation that operated outside the international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war established by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Terror suspects would be tried in a system of military commissions, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, devised by the executive branch. The Administration designated these suspects not as criminals or as prisoners of war but as “illegal enemy combatants,” whose treatment would be ultimately decided by the President. By emphasizing interrogation over due process, the government intended to preëmpt future attacks before they materialized. In November, 2001, Cheney said of the military commissions, “We think it guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.”

Yet, almost five years later, this improvised military model, which Addington was instrumental in creating, has achieved very limited results. Not a single terror suspect has been tried before a military commission. Only ten of the more than seven hundred men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo have been formally charged with any wrongdoing. Earlier this month, three detainees committed suicide in the camp. Germany and Denmark, along with the European Union and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, have called for the prison to be closed, accusing the United States of violating internationally accepted standards for humane treatment and due process. The New Paradigm has also come under serious challenge from the judicial branch. Two years ago, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled against the Administration’s contention that the Guantánamo prisoners were beyond the reach of the U.S. court system and could not challenge their detention. And this week the Court is expected to deliver a decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case that questions the legality of the military commissions.

For years, Addington has carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket; taped onto the back are photocopies of extra statutes that detail the legal procedures for Presidential succession in times of national emergency. Many constitutional experts, however, question his interpretation of the document, especially his views on Presidential power. Scott Horton, a professor at Columbia Law School, and the head of the New York Bar Association’s International Law committee, said that Addington and a small group of Administration lawyers who share his views had attempted to “overturn two centuries of jurisprudence defining the limits of the executive branch. They’ve made war a matter of dictatorial power.” The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who defined Nixon as the extreme example of Presidential overreaching in his book “The Imperial Presidency” (1973), said he believes that Bush “is more grandiose than Nixon.” As for the Administration’s legal defense of torture, which Addington played a central role in formulating, Schlesinger said, “No position taken has done more damage to the American reputation in the world—ever.”

Bruce Fein, a Republican legal activist, who voted for Bush in both Presidential elections, and who served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, said that Addington and other Presidential legal advisers had “staked out powers that are a universe beyond any other Administration. This President has made claims that are really quite alarming. He’s said that there are no restraints on his ability, as he sees it, to collect intelligence, to open mail, to commit torture, and to use electronic surveillance. If you used the President’s reasoning, you could shut down Congress for leaking too much. His war powers allow him to declare anyone an illegal combatant. All the world’s a battlefield—according to this view, he could kill someone in Lafayette Park if he wants! It’s got the sense of Louis XIV: ‘I am the State.’ ” Richard A. Epstein, a prominent libertarian law professor at the University of Chicago, said, “The President doesn’t have the power of a king, or even that of state governors. He’s subject to the laws of Congress! The Administration’s lawyers are nuts on this issue.” He warned of an impending “constitutional crisis,” because “their talk of the inherent power of the Presidency seems to be saying that the courts can’t stop them, and neither can Congress.”

The former high-ranking lawyer for the Administration, who worked closely with Addington, and who shares his political conservatism, said that, in the aftermath of September 11th, “Addington was more like Cheney’s agent than like a lawyer. A lawyer sometimes says no.” He noted, “Addington never said, ‘There is a line you can’t cross.’ ” Although the lawyer supported the President, he felt that his Administration had been led astray. “George W. Bush has been damaged by incredibly bad legal advice,” he said.

David Addington is a tall, bespectacled man of forty-nine, who has a thickening middle, a thatch of gray hair, and a trim gray beard, which gives him the look of a sea captain. He is extremely private; he keeps the door of his office locked at all times, colleagues say, because of the national-security documents in his files. He has left almost no public paper trail, and he does not speak to the press or allow photographs to be taken for news stories. (He declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.)

In many ways, his influence in Washington defies conventional patterns. Addington doesn’t serve the President directly. He has never run for elected office. Although he has been a government lawyer for his entire career, he has never worked in the Justice Department. He is a hawk on defense issues, but he has never served in the military.

There are various plausible explanations for Addington’s power, including the force of his intellect and his personality, and his closeness to Cheney, whose political views he clearly shares. Addington has been an ally of Cheney’s since the nineteen-eighties, and has been referred to as “Cheney’s Cheney,” or, less charitably, as “Cheney’s hit man.” Addington’s talent for bureaucratic infighting is such that some of his supporters tend to invoke, with admiration, metaphors involving knives. Juleanna Glover Weiss, Cheney’s former press secretary, said, “David is efficient, discreet, loyal, sublimely brilliant, and, as anyone who works with him knows, someone who, in a knife fight, you want covering your back.” Bradford Berenson, a former White House lawyer, said, “He’s powerful because people know he speaks for the Vice-President, and because he’s an extremely smart, creative, and aggressive public official. Some engage in bureaucratic infighting using slaps. Some use knives. David falls into the latter category. You could make the argument that there are some costs. It introduces a little fear into the policymaking process. Views might be more candidly expressed without that fear. But David is like the Marines. No better friend—no worse enemy.” People who have sparred with him agree. “He’s utterly ruthless,” Lawrence Wilkerson said. A former top national-security lawyer said, “He takes a political litmus test of everyone. If you’re not sufficiently ideological, he would cut the ground out from under you.”

Another reason for Addington’s singular role after September 11th is that he offered legal certitude at a moment of great political and legal confusion, in an Administration in which neither the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, nor the national-security adviser was a lawyer. (In the Clinton Administration, all these posts, except for the Vice-Presidency, were held by lawyers at some point.) Neither the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, nor the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, had anything like Addington’s familiarity with national-security law. Moreover, Ashcroft’s relations with the White House were strained, and he was left out of the inner circle that decided the most radical legal strategies in the war on terror. Gonzales had more influence, because of his longtime ties to the President, but, as an Administration lawyer put it, “he was an empty suit. He was weak. And he doesn’t know shit about the Geneva Conventions.” Participants in meetings in the White House counsel’s office, in the days immediately after September 11th, have described Gonzales sitting in a wingback chair, asking questions, while Addington sat directly across from him and held forth. “Gonzales would call the meetings,” the former high-ranking lawyer recalled. “But Addington was always the force in the room.” Bruce Fein said that the Bush legal team was strikingly unsophisticated. “There is no one of legal stature, certainly no one like Bork, or Scalia, or Elliot Richardson, or Archibald Cox,” he said. “It’s frightening. No one knows the Constitution—certainly not Cheney.”

Conventional wisdom holds that September 11th changed everything, including the thinking of Cheney and Addington. Brent Scowcroft, the former national-security adviser, has said of Cheney that he barely recognizes the reasonable politician he knew in the past. But a close look at the twenty-year collaboration between Cheney and Addington suggests that in fact their ideology has not changed much. It seems clear that Addington was able to promote vast executive powers after September 11th in part because he and Cheney had been laying the political groundwork for years. “This preceded 9/11,” Fein, who has known both men professionally for decades, said. “I’m not saying that warrantless surveillance did. But the idea of reducing Congress to a cipher was already in play. It was Cheney and Addington’s political agenda.”

Addington’s admirers see him as a selfless patriot, a workaholic defender of a purist interpretation of Presidential power—the necessary answer to threatening times. In 1983, Steve Berry, a Republican lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, hired Addington to work with him as the legislative counsel to the House Intelligence Committee; he has been a career patron and close friend ever since. He said, “I know him well, and I know that if there’s a threat he will do everything in his power, within the law, to protect the United States.” Berry added that Addington is acutely aware of the legal tensions between liberty and security. “We fought ourselves every day about it,” he recalled. But, he said, they concluded that a “strong national security and defense” was the first priority, and that “without a strong defense, there’s not much expectation or hope of having other freedoms.” He said that there is no better defender of the country than Addington: “I’ve got a lot of respect for the guy. He’s probably the foremost expert on intelligence and national-security law in the nation right now.” Berry has a daughter who works in New York City, and he said that when he thinks of her safety he appreciates the efforts that Addington has made to strengthen the country’s security. He said, “For Dave, protecting America isn’t just a virtue. It’s a personal mission. I feel safer just knowing he’s where he is.”

Berry said of his friend, “He’s methodical, conscientious, analytical, and logical. And he’s as straight an arrow as they come.” He noted that Addington refuses to let Berry treat him to a hamburger because it might raise issues of influence-buying—instead, they split the check. Addington, he went on, has a dazzling ability to recall the past twenty-five years’ worth of intelligence and national-security legislation. For many years, he kept a vast collection of legal documents in a library in his modest brick-and-clapboard home, in Alexandria, Virginia. One evening several years ago, lightning struck a nearby power line and the house caught fire; much of the archive burned. The fire started at around nine in the evening, and Addington, typically, was still in his office. His wife, Cynthia, and their three daughters were fine, but the loss of his extraordinary collection of papers and political memorabilia, Berry said, “was very hard for him to accept. All you get in this work is memorabilia. There is no cash. But he’s the type of guy who gets psychic benefit from going to work every day, making a difference.”

Though few people doubt Addington’s knowledge of national-security law, even his admirers question his political instincts. “The only time I’ve seen him wrong is on his political judgment,” a former colleague said. “He has a tin ear for political issues. Sometimes the law says one thing, but you have to at least listen to the other side. He will cite case history, case after case. David doesn’t see why you have to compromise.” Even Berry offered a gentle criticism: “His political skills can be overshadowed by his pursuit of what he feels is legally correct.”

Addington has been a hawk on national defense since he was a teen-ager. Leonard Napolitano, an engineer who was one of Addington’s close childhood friends, and whose political leanings are more like those of his sister, Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona, joked, “I don’t think that in high school David was a believer in the divine right of kings.” But, he said, Addington was “always conservative.”

The Addingtons were a traditional Catholic military family. They moved frequently; David’s father, Jerry, an electrical engineer in the Army, was assigned to a variety of posts, including Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C., where he worked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a teen-ager, Addington told a friend that he hoped to live in Washington himself when he grew up. Jerry Addington, a 1940 graduate of West Point who won a Bronze Star during the Second World War, also served in Korea and at the North American Air Defense Command, in Colorado; he reached the rank of brigadier general before he retired, in 1970, when David was thirteen. David attended public high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his father began a second career, teaching middle-school math. His mother, Eleanore, was a housewife; the family lived in a ranch house in a middle-class subdivision. She still lives there; Jerry died in 1994. “We are an extremely close family,” one of Addington’s three older sisters, Linda, recalled recently. “Discipline was very important for us, and faith was very important. It was about being ethical—the right thing to do whether anyone else does it or not. I see that in Dave.” She was reluctant to say more. “Dave is most deliberate about his privacy,” she added.

Socially, Napolitano recalled, he and Addington were “the brains, or nerds.” Addington stood out for wearing black socks with shorts. He and his friends were not particularly athletic, and they liked to play poker all night on weekends, stopping early in the morning for breakfast. Their circle included some girls, until the boys found them “too distracting to our interest in cards,” Napolitano recalled.

When he and Addington were in high school, Napolitano said, the Vietnam War was in its final stages, and “there was a certain amount of ‘Challenge authority’ and alcohol and drugs, but they weren’t issues in our group.” Addington’s high-school history teacher, Irwin Hoffman, whom Napolitano recalled as wonderful, exacting, and “a flaming liberal,” said that Addington felt strongly that America “should have stayed and won the Vietnam War, despite the fact that we were losing.” Hoffman, who is retired, added, “The boy seemed terribly, terribly bright. He wrote well, and he was very verbal, not at all reluctant to express his opinions. He was pleasant and quite handsome. He also had a very strong sarcastic streak. He was scornful of anyone who said anything that was naïve, or less than bright. His sneers were almost palpable.”

Addington graduated in 1974, the year that Nixon resigned. In the aftermath of Watergate, liberal Democratic reformers imposed tighter restraints on the President and reined in the C.I.A., whose excesses were critiqued in congressional hearings, led by Senator Frank Church and Representative Otis Pike, that exposed details of assassination plots, coup attempts, mind-control experiments, and domestic spying. Congress passed a series of measures aimed at reinvigorating the system of checks and balances, including an expanded Freedom of Information Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law requiring judicial review before foreign suspects inside the country could be wiretapped. It also created the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which oversee all covert C.I.A. activities.

After high school, Addington pursued an ambition that he had had for years: to join the military. Rather than attending West Point, as his father had, he enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis. But he dropped out before the end of his freshman year. He went home and, according to Napolitano, worked in a Long John Silver’s restaurant. “The academy wasn’t academically challenging enough for him,” Napolitano said.

Addington went to Georgetown University, graduating summa cum laude, in 1978, from the school of foreign service; he went on to earn honors at Duke Law School. After graduating, in 1981, he married Linda Werling, a graduate student in pharmacology. The marriage ended in divorce. His current wife, Cynthia, takes care of their three girls full-time.

Soon after leaving Duke, Addington started his first job, in the general counsel’s office at the C.I.A. A former top agency lawyer who later worked with Addington said that Addington strongly opposed the reform movements that followed Vietnam and Watergate. “Addington was too young to be fully affected by the Vietnam War,” the lawyer said. “He was shaped by the postwar, post-Watergate years instead. He thought the Presidency was too weakened. He’s a believer that in foreign policy the executive is meant to be quite powerful.”

These views were shared by Dick Cheney, who served as chief of staff in the Ford Administration. “On a range of executive-power issues, Cheney thought that Presidents from Nixon onward yielded too quickly,” Michael J. Malbin, a political scientist who has advised Cheney on the issue of executive power, said. Kenneth Adelman, who was a high-ranking Pentagon official under Ford, said that the fall of Saigon, in 1975, was “very painful for Dick. He believed that Vietnam could have been saved—maybe—if Congress hadn’t cut off funding. He was against that kind of interference.”

Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who has spent considerable time working with Cheney and Addington in recent years, believes that they are still fighting Watergate. “They’re focussed on restoring the Nixon Presidency,” she said. “They’ve persuaded themselves that, following Nixon, things went all wrong.” She said that in meetings Addington is always courtly and pleasant. But when it comes to accommodating Congress “his answer is always no.”

In a revealing interview that Cheney gave last December to reporters travelling with him to Oman, he explained, “I do have the view that over the years there had been an erosion of Presidential power and authority. . . . A lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam both, in the seventies, served to erode the authority I think the President needs.” Further, Cheney explained, it was his express aim to restore the balance of power. The President needed to be able to act as Alexander Hamilton had described it in the Federalist Papers, with “secrecy” and “despatch”—especially, Cheney said, “in the day and age we live in . . . with the threats we face.” He added, “I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think the world we live in demands it.”

At the C.I.A., where Addington spent two years, he focussed on curtailing the ability of Congress to interfere in intelligence gathering. “He was a rookie, plenty bright,” Frederick Hitz, another C.I.A. lawyer, who later became Inspector General, recalled. After the Church and Pike hearings, legislators came up with hundreds of pages of oversight recommendations, he said. “Addington was very pro-agency. He was trying to figure out how to comply with government oversight without getting hog-tied.” Addington viewed the public airings of the C.I.A.’s covert activities as “an absolute disaster,” Berry recalled. “We both felt that Congress did great harm by flinging open the doors to operational secrets.”

When Addington joined the C.I.A., it was directed by William J. Casey, who also regarded congressional constraints on the agency as impediments to be circumvented. His sentiment about congressional overseers was best captured during a hearing about covert actions in Central America, when he responded to tough questioning by muttering the word “assholes.” After Reagan’s election in 1980, the executive branch was dominated by conservative Republicans, while the House was governed by liberal Democrats. The two parties fought intensely over Central America; the Reagan Administration was determined to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Using their constitutional authority over appropriations, the Democrats in Congress forbade the C.I.A. to spend federal funds to support the Contras, a rightist rebel group. But Casey’s attitude, as Berry recalled it, was “We’re gonna fund these freedom fighters whether Congress wants us to or not.” Berry, then the staff director for the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, asked Casey for help in fighting the Democrats. Soon afterward, Addington joined Berry on Capitol Hill.

When the Iran-Contra scandal broke, in 1986, it exposed White House arms deals and foreign fund-raising designed to help the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua. Members of Congress were furious. Summoned to Capitol Hill, Casey lied, denying that funds for the Contras had been solicited from any foreign governments, although he knew that the Saudis, among others, had agreed to give millions of dollars to the Contras, at the request of the White House. Even within the Reagan Administration, the foreign funding was controversial. Secretary of State George Shultz had warned Reagan that he might be committing an impeachable offense. But, under Casey’s guidance, the White House went ahead with the plan; Shultz, having expressed misgivings, was not told. It was a bureaucratic tactic that Addington reprised after September 11th, when Powell was left out of key deliberations about the treatment of detainees. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s aide, said that he was aware of Addington’s general strategy: “We had heard that, behind our backs, he was saying that Powell was ‘soft, but easy to get around.’ ”

The Iran-Contra scandal substantially weakened Reagan’s popularity and, eventually, seven people were convicted of seventeen felonies. Cheney, who was then a Republican congressman from Wyoming, worried that the scandal would further undercut Presidential authority. In late 1986, he became the ranking Republican on a House select committee that was investigating the scandal, and he commissioned a report on Reagan’s support of the Contras. Addington, who had become an expert in intelligence law, contributed legal research. The scholarly-sounding but politically outlandish Minority Report, released in 1987, argued that Congress—not the President—had overstepped its authority, by encroaching on the President’s foreign-policy powers. The President, the report said, had been driven by “a legitimate frustration with abuses of power and irresolution by the legislative branch.” The Minority Report sanctioned the President’s actions to a surprising degree, considering the number of criminal charges that resulted from the scandal. The report also defended the legality of ignoring congressional intelligence oversight, arguing that “the President has the Constitutional and statutory authority to withhold notifying Congress of covert actions under rare conditions.” And it condemned “legislative hostage taking,” noting that “Congress must realize . . . that the power of the purse does not make it supreme” in matters of war. In his December interview with reporters, Cheney proudly cited this document. “If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed in the Iran-Contra committee, the Iran-Contra report, in about 1987,” he said. “Part of the argument was whether the President had the authority to do what was done in the Reagan years.”

Addington and Cheney became a formidable team, but it was soon clear that Addington would not join Cheney as a politician. Adelman recalled Addington’s personality as “dour,” adding that, “unlike with Dick, I never saw much of a sense of humor. Cheney can be witty and funny. David is sober. I didn’t see him at social events much.” But, he added, “Dick wasn’t looking for friends at work. He was looking for performance. And David delivers. He’s efficient and dedicated. He’s a doer.” He went on, “Cheney’s not a lawyer, so he would defer to David on the law.”

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Cheney Secretary of Defense. Cheney hired Addington first as his special assistant and, later, as the Pentagon’s general counsel. At the Pentagon, Addington became widely known as Cheney’s gatekeeper—a stickler for process who controlled the flow of documents to his boss. Using a red felt-tipped pen, he covered his colleagues’ memos with comments before returning them for rewrites. His editing invariably made arguments sharper, smarter, and more firm in their defense of Cheney’s executive powers, a former military official who worked with him said.

At the Pentagon, Addington took a particular interest in the covert actions of the Special Forces. A former colleague recalled that, after attending a demonstration by Special Forces officers, he mocked the C.I.A., which was constrained by oversight laws. “This is how real covert operations are done,” he said. (After September 11th, the Pentagon greatly expanded its covert intelligence operations; these programs have less congressional oversight than those of the C.I.A.) Cheney, throughout his tenure as Defense Secretary, shared with Addington a pessimistic view of the Soviet Union. Both remained skeptical of Gorbachev long after the State Department, the national-security adviser, and the C.I.A. had concluded that he was a reformer. “They were always, like, ‘Whoa—beware the Bear!’ ” Wilkerson recalled. They immersed themselves in “continuity of government exercises”—studying with unusual intensity how the government might survive a nuclear attack. According to “Rise of the Vulcans,” a history of the period by James Mann, Cheney, more than once, spent the night in an underground bunker.

A decade later, when hijacked planes slammed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, Addington, perhaps more than anyone else in the U.S. government, was ready to act. During the Clinton Presidency, he had worked as a lawyer for various business interests, such as the American Trucking Associations, and in 1994 he had led an exploratory Presidential campaign for Cheney, who decided against running. Once Cheney became Vice-President, Addington helped oversee the transition, setting up the most powerful Vice-Presidency in America’s history. Addington’s high-school friend Leonard Napolitano said Addington told him that he and Cheney were merging the Vice-President’s office with the President’s into a single “Executive Office,” instead of having “two different camps.” Napolitano added, “David said that Cheney saw the Vice-President as the executive and implementer of the President.” Addington created a system to insure that virtually all important documents relating to national-security matters were seen by the Vice-President’s office. The former high-ranking Administration lawyer said that Addington regularly attended White House legal meetings with the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency. He received copies of all National Security Council documents, including internal memos from the staff. And, as a former top official in the Defense Department, he exerted influence over the legal office at the Pentagon, helping his protégé William J. Haynes secure the position of general counsel. A former national-security lawyer, speaking of the Pentagon’s legal office, said, “It’s obvious that Addington runs the whole operation.”

In the days after September 11th, a half-dozen White House lawyers had heated discussions about how to frame the Administration’s legal response to the attacks. Bradford Berenson, one of the participants, recalled how “raw” feelings were at the time: “There were thousands of bereaved American families. Everyone was expecting additional attacks. The only planes in the air were military. At a moment like that, there’s an intense focus on responsibility and accountability. Preventing another attack should always be within the law. But if you have to err on the side of being too aggressive or not aggressive enough, you’d err by being too aggressive.”

Berry said that Addington felt this keenly. “I’ve talked to David about this a little. Psychologically, it’s really taxing to read every day not about one or two but about a dozen, or two dozen, legitimate reports about efforts to take out U.S. citizens. . . . There’s a little bit of a bunker mentality that set in among some of the national-security-policy officials after 9/11.”

Almost immediately, other Administration lawyers noticed that Addington dominated the internal debates. His assumption, shared by other hard-line lawyers in the White House counsel’s office and in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, was that the criminal-justice system was insufficient to handle the threat from terrorism. The matter was settled without debate, Berenson recalled: “There was a consensus that we had to move from retribution and punishment to preëmption and prevention. Only a warfare model allows that approach.”

Richard Shiffrin, the former Pentagon lawyer, said that during a tense White House meeting held in the Situation Room just a few days after September 11th “all of us felt under a great deal of pressure to be willing to consider even the most extraordinary proposals. The C.I.A., the N.S.C., the State Department, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department all had people there. Addington was particularly strident. He’d sit, listen, and then say, ‘No, that’s not right.’ He was particularly doctrinaire and ideological. He didn’t recognize the wisdom of the other lawyers. He was always right. He didn’t listen. He knew the answers.” The details of the discussion are classified, Shiffrin said, but he left with the impression that Addington “doesn’t believe there should be co-equal branches.” Another participant recalled, “If you favored international law, you were in danger of being called ‘soft on terrorism’ by Addington.” He added that Addington’s manner in meetings was “very insistent and very loud.” Yet another participant said that, whenever he cautioned against executive-branch overreaching, Addington would respond brusquely, “There you go again, giving away the President’s power.”

Some of the protests from Democrats about the Administration’s legal arguments and some of the declarations of high principle from Republicans are mere partisan gestures. Both sides have changed their views about the need for a strong President, depending on whether they were in power. “It’s a matter of degree,” the liberal Princeton historian Sean Wilentz said. “War always expands the powers of the Presidency. And Presidents always overreach.” Lincoln infamously suspended habeas-corpus rights during the Civil War, locking up thousands of Confederate sympathizers without due process, and Franklin D. Roosevelt interned more than a hundred thousand innocent Japanese-Americans. “Someone said that this Administration is monarchical,” Wilentz added. “That’s just rhetoric. We’re not a dictatorship. At the same time, this White House has assumed powers for itself that no previous Administration has done.” Bush’s defenders frequently cite the example of Lincoln as a justification for placing national security above the rule of law. But Schlesinger, in his book “War and the American Presidency” (2004), points out that Lincoln never “claimed an inherent and routine right to do what [he] did.” The Bush White House, he told me, has seized on these historical aberrations and turned them into a doctrine of Presidential prerogative.

On September 25th, the Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo declaring that the President had inherent constitutional authority to take whatever military action he deemed necessary, not just in response to the September 11th attacks but also in the prevention of any future attacks from terrorist groups, whether they were linked to Al Qaeda or not. The memo’s broad definition of the enemy went beyond that of Congress, which, on September 14th, had passed legislation authorizing the President to use military force against “nations, organizations, or persons” directly linked to the attacks. The memo was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel who worked closely with Addington, and said, in part, “The power of the President is at its zenith under the Constitution when the President is directing military operations of the armed forces, because the power of the Commander-in-Chief is assigned solely to the President.” The memo acknowledged that Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but argued that it was a misreading to assume that the article gives Congress the lead role in making war. Instead, the memo said, “it is beyond question that the President has the plenary Constitutional power to take such military actions as he deems necessary and appropriate to respond to the terrorist attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001.” It concluded, “These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.”

Another memo sanctioned torture when the President deems it necessary; yet another claimed that there were virtually no valid legal prohibitions against the inhumane treatment of foreign prisoners held by the C.I.A. outside the U.S. Most of these decisions, according to many Administration officials who were involved in the process, were made in secrecy, and the customary interagency debate and vetting procedures were sidestepped. Addington either drafted the memos himself or advised those who were drafting them. “Addington’s fingerprints were all over these policies,” said Wilkerson, who, as Powell’s top aide, later assembled for the Secretary a dossier of internal memos detailing the decision-making process.

On November 13, 2001, an executive order setting up the military commissions was issued under Bush’s signature. The decision stunned Powell; the national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; the highest-ranking lawyer at the C.I.A.; and many judge advocate generals, or JAGs, the top lawyers in the military services. None of them had been consulted. Michael Chertoff, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, who had argued for trying terror suspects in the U.S. courts, was also bypassed. And the order surprised John Bellinger III, the National Security Council legal adviser and deputy White House counsel, who had been formally asked to help create a legal method for trying foreign terror suspects. According to multiple sources, Addington secretly usurped the process. He and a few hand-picked associates, including Bradford Berenson and Timothy Flanigan, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, wrote the executive order creating the commissions. Moreover, Addington did not show drafts of the order to Powell or Rice, who, the senior Administration lawyer said, was incensed when she learned about her exclusion.

The order proclaimed a state of “extraordinary emergency,” and announced that the rules for the military commissions would be dictated by the Secretary of Defense, without review by Congress or the courts. The commissions could try any foreign person the President or his representatives deemed to have “engaged in” or “abetted” or “conspired to commit” terrorism, without offering the right to seek an appeal from anyone but the President or the Secretary of Defense. Detainees would be treated “humanely,” and would be given “full and fair trials,” the order said. Yet the order continued that “it is not practicable” to apply “the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.” The death penalty, for example, could be imposed even if there was a split verdict. Moreover, in December, 2001, the Department of Defense circulated internal memos suggesting that, in the commission system, defendants would have only limited rights to confront their accusers, see all the evidence against them, or be present during their trials. There would be no right to remain silent, and hearsay evidence would be admissible, as would evidence obtained through physical coercion. Guilt did not need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The order firmly established that terrorism would henceforth be approached on a war footing, endowing the President with enhanced powers.

The precedent for the order was an arcane 1942 case, ex parte Quirin, in which Franklin Roosevelt created a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs who had infiltrated the United States via submarines. The Supreme Court upheld the case, 8–0, but even the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia has called it “not this Court’s finest hour.” Roosevelt was later criticized for creating a sham process. Moreover, while he used military commissions to try a handful of suspects who had already admitted their guilt, the Bush White House was proposing expanding the process to cover thousands of “enemy combatants.” It was also ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which, having codified procedures for courts-martial in 1951, had rendered Quirin out of date.

Berenson said, “The legal foundation was very strong. F.D.R.’s order establishing military commissions had been upheld by the Supreme Court. This was almost identical. What we underestimated was the extent to which the culture had shifted beneath us since World War Two.” Concerns about civil liberties and human rights, and anger over Vietnam and Watergate, he said, had turned public opinion against a strong executive branch: “But Addington thought military commissions had to be a tool at the President’s disposal.”

Rear Admiral Donald Guter, who was the Navy’s chief JAG until June, 2002, said that he and the other JAGs, who were experts in the laws of war, tried unsuccessfully to amend parts of the military-commission plan when they learned of it, days before the order was formally signed by the President. “But we were marginalized,” he said. “We were warning them that we had this long tradition of military justice, and we didn’t want to tarnish it. The treatment of detainees was a huge issue. They didn’t want to hear it.” In a 2004 report in the Times, Guter said that when he and the other JAGs told Haynes that they needed more information, Haynes replied, “No, you don’t.” (Haynes’s office offered no comment.)

At the Defense Department, Shiffrin, the deputy general counsel for intelligence, and a career lawyer rather than a political appointee, was taken aback when Haynes showed him the order. Earlier in Shiffrin’s career, at the Justice Department, his office had been in the same room where the Nazi defendants were tried, and he had become interested in the case, which he said he regarded as “one of the worst Supreme Court cases ever.” He recalled informing Haynes that he was skeptical of the Administration’s invocation of Quirin. “Gee, this is problematic,” Shiffrin told him.

Marine Major Dan Mori, the uniformed lawyer who has been assigned to defend David Hicks, one of the ten terror suspects in Guantánamo who have been charged, said of the commissions, “It was a political stunt. The Administration clearly didn’t know anything about military law or the laws of war. I think they were clueless that there even was a U.C.M.J. and a Manual for Courts-Martial! The fundamental problem is that the rules were constructed by people with a vested interest in conviction.”

Mori said that the charges against the detainees reflected a profound legal confusion. “A military commission can try only violations of the laws of war,” he said. “But the Administration’s lawyers didn’t understand this.” Under federal criminal statutes, for example, conspiring to commit terrorist acts is a crime. But, as the Nuremburg trials that followed the Second World War established, under the laws of war it is not, since all soldiers could be charged with conspiring to fight for their side. Yet, Mori said, a charge of conspiracy “is the only thing there is in many cases at Guantánamo—guilt by association. So you’ve got this big problem.” He added, “I hope that nobody confuses military justice with these ‘military commissions.’ This is a political process, set up by the civilian leadership. It’s inept, incompetent, and improper.”

Under attack from defense lawyers like Mori, the military commissions have been tied up in the courts almost since the order was issued. Bellinger and others fought to make the commissions fairer, so that they could withstand court challenges, and the Pentagon gradually softened its rules. But Administration lawyers involved in the process said that Addington resisted at every turn. He insisted, for instance, on maintaining the admissibility of statements obtained through coercion, or even torture. In meetings, he argued that officials in charge of the military commissions should be given maximum flexibility to decide whether to include such evidence. “Torture isn’t important to Addington as a scientific matter, good or bad, or whether it works or not,” the Administration lawyer, who is familiar with these debates, said. “It’s more about his philosophy of Presidential power. He thinks that if the President wants torture he should get torture. He always argued for ‘maximum flexibility.’ ”

Last month, Addington lost this internal battle. The Administration rescinded the provision allowing coerced testimony, after even the military officials overseeing the commissions supported the reform. According to a senior Administration legal adviser who participated in discussions about the commissions, Addington remained opposed to the change. “He wanted no changes,” the lawyer said. “He said the rules were good, right from the start.” Addington accused officials who were trying to reform the rules of “giving away the President’s prerogatives.”

President Bush has blamed the legal challenges for the delays in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees. But many lawyers, even some inside the Administration, believe that the challenges were inevitable, considering the dubious constitutionality of the commissions. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hamdan case is expected to establish whether the commissions meet basic standards of due process. The Administration lawyer isn’t sanguine about the outcome. “It shows again that Addington overreached,” he said.

Meanwhile, Addington has fought tirelessly to stem reform of other controversial aspects of the New Paradigm, such as the detention and interrogation of terror suspects. Last year, he and Cheney led an unsuccessful campaign to defeat an amendment, proposed by Senator John McCain, to ban the abusive treatment of detainees held by the military or the C.I.A. Government officials who have worked closely with Addington say he insists that legal flexibility is necessary, because of the iniquity of the enemy; moreover, he does not believe that the legal positions taken by the Bush Administration in the war on terror have damaged the country’s international reputation. “He’s a very smart guy, but he gives no credibility to those who say these policies are hurting us around the world,” the senior Administration legal adviser said. “His feeling is that there are no costs. He’ll say people are just whining. He thinks most of them would be against us no matter what.” In Addington’s view, critics of the Administration’s aggressive legal policies are just political enemies of the President.

Yet, from the start, some of the sharpest critics of detainee-treatment policies have been military and law-enforcement officials inside the Bush Administration; people close to it, like McCain; and our foreign allies. Just a few months after the Guantánamo detention centers were established, members of the Administration began receiving reports that questioned whether all the prisoners there were really, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had labelled them, “the worst of the worst.” Guter said that the Pentagon had originally planned to screen the suspects individually on the battlefields in Afghanistan; such “Article 5 hearings” are a provision of the Geneva Conventions. But the White House cancelled the hearings, which had been standard protocol during the previous fifty years, including in the first Gulf War. In a January 25, 2002, legal memorandum, Administration lawyers dismissed the Geneva Conventions as “obsolete,” “quaint,” and irrelevant to the war on terror. The memo was signed by Gonzales, but the Administration lawyer said he believed that “Addington and Flanigan were behind it.” The memo argued that all Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees were illegal enemy combatants, which eliminated “any argument regarding the need for case-by-case determination of P.O.W. status.” Critics claim that the lack of a careful screening process led some innocent detainees to be imprisoned. “Article 5 hearings would have cost them nothing,” the Administration lawyer, who was involved in the process, said. “They just wanted to make a point on executive power—that the President can designate them all enemy combatants if he wants to.”

Guter, the Navy JAG, said that, before long, he and other military experts began to wonder whether the reason they weren’t getting much useful intelligence from Guantánamo was that, as he puts it, “it wasn’t there.” Guter, who was in the Pentagon on September 11th, said, “I don’t have a sympathetic bone in my body for the terrorists. But I just wanted to make sure we were getting the right people—the real terrorists. And I wanted to make sure we were doing it in a way consistent with our values.”

While the JAGs’ questions about the treatment of detainees went largely unheeded, he said, the C.I.A. was simultaneously raising similar concerns. In the summer of 2002, the agency had sent an Arabic-speaking analyst to Guantánamo to find out why more intelligence wasn’t being collected, and, after interviewing several dozen prisoners, he had come back with bad news: more than half the detainees, he believed, didn’t belong there. He wrote a devastating classified report, which reached General John Gordon, the deputy national-security adviser for combatting terrorism. In a series of meetings at the White House, Gordon, Bellinger, and other officials warned Addington and Gonzales that potentially innocent people had been locked up in Guantánamo and would be indefinitely. “This is a violation of basic notions of American fairness,” Gordon and Bellinger argued. “Isn’t that what we’re about as a country?” Addington’s response, sources familiar with the meetings said, was “These are ‘enemy combatants.’ Please use that term. They’ve all been through a screening process. We don’t have anything to talk about.”

A former Administration official said of Addington’s response, “It seemed illogical. How could you deny the possibility that one or more people were locked up who shouldn’t be? There were old people, sick people—why do we want to keep them?” At the meeting, Gordon and Bellinger argued, “The American public understands that wars are confusing and exceptional things happen. But the American public will expect some due process.”

Addington and Gonzales dismissed this concern. The former Administration official recalled that Addington was “the dominant voice. It was a non-debate, in his view.” The confrontation made clear, though, that Addington had been informed early that there were problems at Guantánamo. “There wasn’t a lack of knowledge or understanding,” the former official said.

Addington has proved deft at outmaneuvering his critics. Documents embarrassing to Addington’s opponents have been leaked to the press, if not necessarily by him. A top-secret N.S.C. memo describing Powell’s request to reconsider the suspension of the Geneva Conventions appeared in the Washington Times the day after it was circulated to the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Vice-President; the article cited unnamed sources who accused Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left.” The Administration lawyer said, “The way Addington works, he controls the flow of information very tightly.” Addington chastised a Justice Department official who showed a legal opinion on the treatment of detainees to the State Department. He repeatedly directed Gonzales, the White House counsel, to keep Bellinger, the N.S.C. lawyer, out of meetings about national-security issues. “Lip-lock” is the word Addington’s old Pentagon colleague Sean O’Keefe, now the chancellor of Louisiana State University, used to describe his discretion. “He’s like Cheney,” O’Keefe said. “You can’t get anything out of him with a crowbar.” The Administration lawyer said, “He’s a bully, pure and simple.” Several talented top lawyers who challenged Addington on important legal matters concerning the war on terror, including Patrick Philbin, James Comey, and Jack Goldsmith, left the Administration under stressful circumstances. Other reform-minded government lawyers who clashed with Addington, including Bellinger and Matthew Waxman, both of whom were at the N.S.C. during Bush’s first term, have moved to the State Department.

Waxman, a young lawyer who headed the Pentagon’s office of detainee affairs, departed soon after he had a major confrontation with Addington over the issue of clarifying military rules for the treatment of prisoners. Waxman believed that international standards for the humane treatment of detainees should be followed, and argued for reforms in the Army Field Manual. He hoped to reinstate the basic standards that are specified in the Geneva Conventions. This meant the prohibition of torture, overt acts of violence, and “outrages on personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Although the Vice-President’s office is not part of the military chain of command, last September Addington summoned Waxman to his office and berated him. Waxman declined to comment on the incident, but a former colleague in the Pentagon, in whom Waxman confided, said that Addington accused Waxman of wanting to fight the war on terror his own way, rather than the President’s way. The Army Field Manual still hasn’t been revised, and, according to those involved, Addington and his protégé Haynes remain the major obstacles.

Last fall, Richard Shiffrin, the Pentagon lawyer who was left out of the Administration’s initial discussions of the military commissions, learned from the Times about the Administration’s decision to sanction warrantless domestic electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency. This was remarkable, because Shiffrin was the Pentagon lawyer in charge of supervising the N.S.A.’s legal advisers. “It was exceptional that I didn’t know about it—extraordinary,” Shiffrin said. “In the prior Administration, on anything involving N.S.A. legal issues I’d have been made aware. And I should have been in this one.”

Shortly after September 11th, Addington and Cheney, without alerting Shiffrin, held meetings with top N.S.A. lawyers in the Vice-President’s office and told them that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, had the authority to override the FISA statutes and not seek warrants from the special court. According to the Times, Addington and Cheney pushed the N.S.A. to engage in practices that the agency thought were illegal, such as the warrantless wiretapping of American suspects making domestic calls. General Michael Hayden, the former head of the N.S.A., who was recently confirmed as director of the C.I.A., has denied being pressured. Shiffrin, however, doubted that the N.S.A. lawyers were expert enough in Article II of the Constitution, which defines the President’s powers, to argue back. He described the Administration’s legal arguments on wiretapping as “close calls.”

Others are more critical. Fourteen prominent constitutional scholars, representing a range of political views, recently wrote an open letter to Congress, claiming that the N.S.A. surveillance program “appears on its face to violate existing law.” The scholars noted that Bush had made no effort to amend the FISA law to suit national-security needs—he simply ignored it. The Republican legal activist Bruce Fein said, “What makes this so sinister is that the members of this Administration have unchecked power. They don’t care if the wiretapping is legal or not.” But the former high-ranking Administration lawyer suggested that the situation is more serious than an intentional infraction of the law. “It’s not that they think they’re skirting the law,” he said. “They think that this is the law.”

Fein suggested that the only way Congress will be able to reassert its power is by cutting off funds to the executive branch for programs that it thinks are illegal. But this approach has been tried, and here, too, Addington has had the last word. John Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, put a provision in the Pentagon’s appropriations bills for 2005 and 2006 forbidding the use of federal funds for any intelligence-gathering that violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects the privacy of American citizens. The White House, however, took exception to Congress’s effort to cut off funds. When President Bush signed the appropriations bills into law, he appended “signing statements” asserting that the Commander-in-Chief had the right to collect intelligence in any way he deemed necessary. The signing statement for the 2005 budget, for instance, noted that the executive branch would “construe” the spending limit only “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations.”

According to the Boston Globe, Addington has been the “leading architect” of these signing statements, which have been added to more than seven hundred and fifty laws. He reportedly scrutinizes every bill before President Bush signs it, searching for any language that might impinge on Presidential power. These wars of words are yet another battlefront between Addington and Congress, and some constitutional scholars find them troubling. Few of the signing statements were noticed until one of them was slipped into Bush’s signing of the McCain amendment. The language was legal boilerplate, reserving the right to construe the legislation only as it was consistent with the Constitution. But, considering that Cheney’s office had waged, and lost, a public fight to defeat the McCain amendment democratically—the vote in the Senate was 90–9—the signing statement seemed sneaky and subversive.

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association voted to investigate whether President Bush had exceeded his constitutional authority by reserving the right to ignore portions of laws that he has signed. Richard Epstein, the University of Chicago law professor, said, “What’s frightening to me is that this Administration is always willing to push the conventions to the limits—and beyond. With his signing statements, I think the President just goes too far. If you sign these things with a caveat, do the inferior officers follow the law or the caveat?”

Bruce Fein argues that Addington’s signing statements are “unconstitutional as a strategy,” because the Founding Fathers wanted Presidents to veto legislation openly if they thought the bills were unconstitutional. Bush has not vetoed a single bill since taking office. “It’s part of the balancing process,” Fein said. “It’s about accountability. If you veto something, everyone knows where you stand. But this President wants to do it sotto voce. He wants to give the image that he’s accommodating on torture, and then reserves the right to torture anyway.”

David Addington is a satisfactory lawyer, Fein said, but a less than satisfactory student of American history, which, for a public servant of his influence, matters more. “If you read the Federalist Papers, you can see how rich in history they are,” he said. “The Founders really understood the history of what people did with power, going back to Greek and Roman and Biblical times. Our political heritage is to be skeptical of executive power, because, in particular, there was skepticism of King George III. But Cheney and Addington are not students of history. If they were, they’d know that the Founding Fathers would be shocked by what they’ve done.”

Ambassador claims shortly before invasion, Bush didn't know there were two sects of Islam

Ambassador claims shortly before invasion, Bush didn't know there were two sects of Islam
08/04/2006 @ 10:51 am
Filed by Christian Avard

Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.

In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.

Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

Research by RAW STORY has confirmed a surprising lack of public statements from the president regarding the branches of Islam, but did uncover at least one mention of their existence. A fact sheet released by the White House in December of 2001 does indeed use the term Sunni to describe a Lashkar-E-Tayyib, "the armed wing of the Pakistan-based religious organization, Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad." Other mentions, not originating from the White House, were common in government documents and proceedings, as well as in media coverage of the middle east.

Other reports also place Bush announcing newfound knowledge of the differences between Muslim groups shortly before entering the Iraq war.

In an interview with RAW STORY, Ambassador Galbraith recounted this anecdote from his book to exemplify “a culture of arrogance that pervaded the whole administration.”

“From the president and the vice president down through the neoconservatives at the Pentagon, there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate on which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society,” said Galbraith. “The arrogance came in the form of a belief that this could be accomplished with minimal effort and planning by the United States and that it was not important to know something about Iraq.”

The Bush Administration’s aims when it invaded Iraq in March 2003 were to bring it democracy and transform the Middle East. Instead, Iraq has reverted to its three constituent components: a pro-western Kurdistan, an Iran-dominated Shiite theocracy in the south, and a chaotic Sunni Arab region in the center.

Galbraith argues that because the new Iraq was never a voluntary creation of its people--but rather held together by force--America’s ongoing attempt to preserve a unified nation is guaranteed to fail, especially since it’s divided into three different entities.

“You can’t have a national unity government when there is no nation, no unity, and no government,” said Galbraith. “Rather than trying to preserve or hold together a unified Iraq, the U.S. must accept the reality of Iraq’s breakup and work with the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs to strengthen the already semi-independent regions.”

Galbraith further argues that the invasion of Iraq destabilized the Middle East while inadvertently strengthening Iran. One of the administration's intentions in invading Iraq was to undermine Iran, but instead, the Iraqi occupation has given Tehran one of its greatest strategic triumphs in the last four centuries.

Once considered to be Iraq’s worst enemy, Iran has now created, financed and armed the Shiite Islamic movements within southern Iraq. Since the Iraqi Parliamentary elections of 2005, the Shiites have made considerable political gains and now have substantial influence over the country’s U.S.-created military, its police, and the central government in Baghdad. In addition, Iraq is developing economic ties with Iran that Galbraith believes could soon link the two countries’ strategic oil supplies.

Galbraith says that, “thanks to George W. Bush, Iran today has no closer ally in the world than the Iraq of the Ayatollahs.” As a result, he argues, sending U.S. forces into Iraq, has in effect, made them hostage to Iran and its Iraqi Shiite allies and left the U.S. without a viable military option to halt Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

A seasoned diplomat, Galbraith served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia, where he negotiated the 1995 Erdut Agreement that ended the Croatian war.

Galbraith fears the United States may have lost the war on the very day it took Baghdad. “The American servicemen and women who took Baghdad were professionals--disciplined, courteous, and task-oriented,” said Galbraith. “Unfortunately, their political masters were so focused on making the case for war, so keen to vanquish their political foes at home, felt certain that Iraqis would embrace American-style democracy, yet they were so blinded by their own ideology that they failed to plan for the most obvious tasks following military victory.”

Galbraith believes that the Bush Administration’s effort will only leave the U.S. with an open-ended commitment in circumstances of uncontrollable turmoil. In the end, he believes, America’s most important objective is to avoid a worsening civil war.

“There is no easy exit from Iraq,” said Galbraith. “The alternative, however is to continue the present strategy of trying to build national institutions-displaced in the 2003 invasion-but how can you do that where this now is no longer an existing nation?”

More than 100 MPs sign petition attacking PM

More than 100 MPs sign petition attacking PM
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 05 August 2006

The extent of the Labour backbench unrest over Tony Blair's handling of the Middle East crisis is laid bare for the first time today in a petition calling for an immediate ceasefire.

More than 110 Labour MPs, including Paul Clark, the parliamentary private secretary to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, have signed the petition. That would be enough to wipe out Mr Blair's Commons majority. Mr Blair will not face the immediate threat of a vote because the Commons has risen for the summer recess, but it shows that he has lost the support of almost a third of the Parliamentary Labour Party on the issue.

The petition has been organised by Crisis Action, a campaign organisation.

The signatories included Martin Salter, the MP for Reading West, a member of the Parliamentary committee, a group of senior MPs who meet the Prime Minister every week. Most Liberal Democrat MPs, including Sir Menzies Campbell, said they would sign the petition, along with 10 Tory MPs.

Cabinet ministers are ordered not to sign petitions to avoid splits in the Government. "We contacted every cabinet minister and none of them said they supported Mr Blair's position, which is pretty surprising," said Brendan Cox, director of Crisis Action. He said the petition, available at, had been signed by more than 35,000.

* A new political party launched by the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq plans to contest every by-election and field up to 70 candidates at the next general election. Reg Keys, 54, who stood against Tony Blair last year, and launched Spectre, said members would meet over the next two weeks to establish its strategy.

Iraqi civil war has already begun, U.S. troops say

Iraqi civil war has already begun, U.S. troops say

By Tom Lasseter
McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, many U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad say it has already begun.

Army troops in and around the capital interviewed in the last week cite a long list of evidence that the center of the nation is coming undone: Villages have been abandoned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims; Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shiites in car bombings and assassinations; Shiite militia death squads have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis; and when night falls, neighborhoods become open battlegrounds.

"There's one street that's the dividing line. They shoot mortars across the line and abduct people back and forth," said 1st Lt. Brian Johnson, a 4th Infantry Division platoon leader from Houston. Johnson, 24, was describing the nightly violence that pits Sunni gunmen from Baghdad's Ghazaliyah neighborhood against Shiite gunmen from the nearby Shula district.

As he spoke, the sights and sounds of battle grew: first, the rat-a-tat-tat of fire from AK-47 assault rifles, then the heavier bursts of PKC machine guns, and finally the booms of mortar rounds crisscrossing the night sky and crashing down onto houses and roads.

The bodies of captured Sunni and Shiite fighters will turn up in the morning, dropped in canals and left on the side of the road.

"We've seen some that have been executed on site, with bullet holes in the ground; the rest were tortured and executed somewhere else and dumped," Johnson said.

The recent assertion by U.S. soldiers here that Iraq is in a civil war is a stunning indication that American efforts to bring peace and democracy to Iraq are failing, more than three years after the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.

Some Iraqi troops, too, share that assessment.

"This is a civil war," said a senior adviser to the commander of the Iraqi Army's 6th Division, which oversees much of Baghdad.

"The problem between Sunnis and Shiites is a religious one, and it gets worse every time they attack each other's mosques," said the adviser, who gave only his rank and first name, Col. Ahmed, because of security concerns. "Iraq is now caught in hell."

U.S. hopes for victory in Iraq hinge principally on two factors: Iraqi security forces becoming more competent and Iraqi political leaders persuading armed groups to lay down their weapons.

But neither seems to be happening. The violence has increased as Iraqi troops have been added, and feuding among the political leadership is intense. American soldiers, particularly the rank and file who go out on daily patrols, say they see no end to the bloodshed. Higher ranking officers concede that the developments are threatening to move beyond their grasp.

"There's no plan - we are constantly reacting," said a senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I have absolutely no idea what we're going to do."

The issue of whether Iraq has descended into civil war has been a hot-button topic even before U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003, when some opponents of the war raised the likelihood that Iraq would fragment along sectarian lines if Saddam's oppressive regime was removed. Bush administration officials consistently rejected such speculation as unlikely to come to fruition.

On Thursday, however, two top American generals told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq could slip into civil war, though both stopped well short of saying that one had begun.

Political sensitivity has made some officers here hesitant to use the words "civil war," but they aren't shy about describing the situation that they and their men have found on their patrols.

"I hate to use the word `purify,' because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.

Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994. "That was without doubt a civil war - the same thing is happening here.

"But it's not called a civil war - there's such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.

On the other side of Baghdad, Shiites from the eastern slum of Sadr City and Sunnis from the nearby neighborhood of Adhamiyah regularly launch incursions into each other's areas, setting off car bombs and dragging victims into torture chambers.

"The sectarian violence flip-flops back and forth," said Lt. Col. Paul Finken, who commands a 101st Airborne Division task force that works with Iraqi soldiers in the area. "We find bodies all the time - bound, tortured, shot."

The idea that U.S. forces have been unable to prevent the nation from sliding into sectarian chaos troubles many American military officials in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Chris Pease, 48, the deputy commander for the 101st Airborne's brigade in eastern Baghdad, was asked whether he thought that Iraq's civil war had begun.

"Civil war," he said, and then paused for several moments.

"You've got to understand," said Pease, of Milton-Freewater, Ore., "you know, the United States Army and most of the people in the United States Army, the Marine Corps and the Air Force and the Navy have never really lost at anything."

Pease paused again.

"Whether it is there or not, I don't know," he said.

Pressed for what term he would use to describe the security situation in Iraq, Pease said: "Right now I would say that it's more of a Kosovo, ethnic-cleansing type thing - not ethnic cleansing, it is a sectarian fight - they are bombing; they are threatening to get them off the land."

A human rights report released last month by the United Nations mission in Baghdad said 2,669 civilians were killed across Iraq during May, and 3,149 were killed in June. In total, 14,338 civilians were killed from January to June of this year, and 150,000 civilians were forced out of their homes, the report said.

Pointing to a map, 1st Lt. Robert Murray, last week highlighted a small Shiite village of 25 homes that was abandoned after a flurry of death threats came to town on small pieces of paper.

"The letters tell them if they don't leave in 48 hours, they'll kill their entire families," said Murray, 29, of Franklin, Mass. "It's happening a lot right now. There have been a lot of murders recently; between that and the kidnappings, they're making good on their threats. ... They need to learn to live together. I'd like to see it happen, but I don't know if it's possible."

Riding in a Humvee later that day, Capt. Jared Rudacille, Murray's commander in the 4th Infantry Division, noted the market of a town he was passing through. The stalls were all vacant. The nearby homes were empty. There wasn't a single civilian car on the road.

"Between 1,500 and 2,000 people have moved out," said Rudacille, 29, of York, Pa. "I now see only 15 or 20 people out during the day."

The following evening, 1st Lt. Corbett Baxter was showing a reporter the area, to the west of where Rudacille was, that he patrols.

"Half of my entire northern sector cleared out in a week, about 2,000 people," said Baxter, 25, of Fort Hood, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Wesley Ramon had a similar assessment while on patrol between the Sunni town of Abu Ghraib and Shula, a Shiite stronghold. The main bridge leading out of Shula was badly damaged recently by four bombs placed underneath it. Military officials think the bombers were Sunnis trying to stanch the flow of Shiite militia gunmen coming out of Shula to kill Sunnis.

"It's to the point of being irreconcilable; you know, we've found a lot of bodies, entire villages have been cleared out, we get reports of entire markets being gunned down - and if that's not a marker of a civil war, I don't know what is," said Ramon, 33, of San Antonio, Texas.

Driving back to his base, Johnson watched a long line of trucks and cars go by, packed with families fleeing their homes with everything they could carry: mattresses, clothes, furniture, and, in the back of some trucks, bricks to build another home.

"Every morning that we head back to the patrol base, this is all we see," Johnson said. "These are probably people who got threatened last night."

In Taji, an area north of Baghdad, where the roads between Sunni and Shiite villages have become killing fields, many soldiers said they saw little chance that things would get better.

"I don't think there's any winning here. Victory for us is withdrawing," said Sgt. James Ellis, 25, of Chicago. "In this part of the world they have been fighting for 3,000 years, and we're not going to fix it in three."