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, March 10, 2007

Attorney General Gonzales' new problems add to Bush's continuing ones

Attorney General Gonzales' new problems add to Bush's continuing ones

Ron Fournier
Assoicated Press

WASHINGTON — Another day, another scandal. The Justice Department's improper and illegal use of the USA Patriot Act has Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in trouble, an all-too-familiar circumstance for President George W. Bush's inner circle.

The last thing a troubled president needs is another friend in trouble.

"This strikes me as another blow for the administration," said Republican consultant Joe Gaylord.

He was not the only Republican fretting about the Republican president's White House after a Justice Department audit criticized the FBI's use of extraordinary powers, granted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, to obtain personal information secretly.

"This is, regrettably, part of an ongoing process where the federal authorities are not really sensitive to privacy and go far beyond what we have authorized," said Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lawmakers already were seething at the Justice Department for the firing of eight federal prosecutors and Gonzales' dismissive response to critics.

"One day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later," Specter said Thursday.

It is too soon to tell whether Gonzales, a close Texas friend of Bush, might be forced to leave. Even his ouster, however, would do little to change a perception that the Bush administration is unraveling amid declining public support and trust. Some big names already have had to leave.

Donald H. Rumsfeld was forced to resign after Democrats seized control of Congress in fall elections that were a repudiation of Bush's policies on Iraq.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a powerful adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, left the White House to face perjury charges in the investigation of the exposure of a CIA official. He was convicted Tuesday in a trial that also revealed that top Bush aide Karl Rove and a State Department official played roles in the CIA leak, part of a White House strategy to undermine a critic of the Iraq war.

Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs and former Republican Party chairman, is clinging to his job amid revelations of shoddy treatment for wounded troops from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The latest events are more heavy baggage for a president who already is close to his limit. Re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2004, Bush watched his job approval rating plummet in 2005 with the rise of violence in Iraq and the government's weak response and follow-up after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to huge swaths of the country's southern coastline.

With a rating of just 35 percent, Bush's standing is the weakest of any second-term president at this point in 56 years.

"Gonzales' problems here feed into and build on all of the competence issues that have been dogging the administration since Katrina," said Charles Franklin, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Gonzales, architect of Bush's controversial approach to detaining and interrogating terror suspects, drew the wrath of lawmakers when he dismissed the hubbub over fired prosecutors as an "overblown personnel matter." Critics say the U.S. attorneys were dismissed for refusing to do the administration's political bidding.

Under fire, Gonzales beat an abrupt retreat and agreed to accommodate Democratic-led investigations.

On the wrongdoing regarding the Patriot Act, a spokesman for Gonzales said he was incensed by the allegations.

If nothing else, perhaps Gonzales is displaying a scintilla of accountability, a trait the administration only reluctantly embraced after Katrina and throughout the Iraq war.

Still, some say it may be time for Gonzales to go.

"The president is dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan and a new Congress, and the last thing in the world he needs is this," said Joseph diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia in President Ronald Reagan's administration. "At some point, he throws up his hands and says `Get somebody new.' I don't know when that is."


EDITOR'S NOTE _ Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press for nearly 20 years.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Paul Krugman - Department of Injustice

Department of Injustice


For those of us living in the Garden State, the growing scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors immediately brought to mind the subpoenas that Chris Christie, the former Bush “Pioneer” who is now the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, issued two months before the 2006 election — and the way news of the subpoenas was quickly leaked to local news media.

The subpoenas were issued in connection with allegations of corruption on the part of Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who seemed to be facing a close race at the time. Those allegations appeared, on their face, to be convoluted and unconvincing, and Mr. Menendez claimed that both the investigation and the leaks were politically motivated.

Mr. Christie’s actions might have been all aboveboard. But given what we’ve learned about the pressure placed on federal prosecutors to pursue dubious investigations of Democrats, Mr. Menendez’s claims of persecution now seem quite plausible.

In fact, it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power. Bear in mind that if Mr. Menendez had lost, the G.O.P. would still control the Senate.

For now, the nation’s focus is on the eight federal prosecutors fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In January, Mr. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that he “would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons.” But it’s already clear that he did indeed dismiss all eight prosecutors for political reasons — some because they wouldn’t use their offices to provide electoral help to the G.O.P., and the others probably because they refused to soft-pedal investigations of corrupt Republicans.

In the last few days we’ve also learned that Republican members of Congress called prosecutors to pressure them on politically charged cases, even though doing so seems unethical and possibly illegal.

The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office. The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn’t go along with the Bush administration’s politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.

Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.

How can this have been happening without a national uproar? The authors explain: “We believe that this tremendous disparity is politically motivated and it occurs because the local (non-statewide and non-Congressional) investigations occur under the radar of a diligent national press. Each instance is treated by a local beat reporter as an isolated case that is only of local interest.”

And let’s not forget that Karl Rove’s candidates have a history of benefiting from conveniently timed federal investigations. Last year Molly Ivins reminded her readers of a curious pattern during Mr. Rove’s time in Texas: “In election years, there always seemed to be an F.B.I. investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. After the election was over, the allegations often vanished.”

Fortunately, Mr. Rove’s smear-and-fear tactics fell short last November. I say fortunately, because without Democrats in control of Congress, able to hold hearings and issue subpoenas, the prosecutor purge would probably have become yet another suppressed Bush-era scandal — a huge abuse of power that somehow never became front-page news.

Before the midterm election, I wrote that what the election was really about could be summed up in two words: subpoena power. Well, the Democrats now have that power, and the hearings on the prosecutor purge look like the shape of things to come.

In the months ahead, we’ll hear a lot about what’s really been going on these past six years. And I predict that we’ll learn about abuses of power that would have made Richard Nixon green with envy.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

McGovern: Cheney must go

McGovern: Cheney must go
Says Libby's conviction points to vice president's involvement in CIA leak
By John Nichols

George McGovern has a word for Vice President Dick Cheney: "Resign."

Responding to Tuesday's conviction of Cheney's former chief-of-staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI - after a trial that revealed Cheney's intimate involvement with a scheme to discredit a critic of the administration's war policies - the former congressman, senator and presidential candidate said it was time for the vice president to go.

"What we have learned about how he has conducted himself leaves no doubt that he should be out of office," McGovern says of Cheney. "If he had any respect for the Constitution or the country, he would resign."

And if Cheney does not take the liberal Democrat's counsel?

McGovern: Cheney must go
Former Senator George McGovern

"There is no question in my mind that Cheney has committed impeachable offenses. So has George Bush," argues McGovern. "Bush is much more impeachable than Richard Nixon was. That's been clear for some time. There does not seem to be much sentiment for impeachment in Congress now, but around the country people are fed up with this administration."

At age 84, McGovern has attained the elder statesman status that is afforded politicians who held or sought the presidency. He enjoys the respect of fellow Democrats and more than a few Republicans for being, like former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a straight-talking man of deep commitment who may have lost one presidential election but won the battle for a place of honor in the nation's history texts.

McGovern testifies before congressional caucuses about how to end the war in Iraq, delivers distinguished lectures, travels widely to discuss his well-received books, defends school lunch programs with a former Republican colleague in the Senate, Bob Dole, and campaigns tirelessly - in the memory of his late daughter, Terry - to enlighten the nation about the need to better address the scourges of alcoholism.

It is in that final capacity that McGovern will return tonight to Madison, a city that has always greeted him kindly, to headline a soldout fundraising benefit at the Inn on the Park for the Teresa McGovern Center, a substance abuse treatment facility that operates under the umbrella of Tellurian UCAN. Money raised at what promises to be a packed event will be used to expand services at the McGovern Center, as well as to help pay for treatment for patients who cannot cover their own expenses.

McGovern will speak about the need to recognize alcoholism as a threat not just to individuals but society. He will recall the poignant story of his daughter's struggle with the disease, which ended in her death at age 45 in Madison in 1994. That's the personal side of this journey, his first to Madison since the death of his wife, Eleanor, in January.

But as he mingles with Madisonians, who were among the most ardent and faithful supporters of his 1972 campaign for the presidency, talk of politics will never be far from the forefront. And, even if he may be an elder statesman, McGovern will not mince words about the current occupants of the White House.

"I think this is the most lawless administration we've ever had," he says of the Bush-Cheney team. That's a strong statement coming from a man who tangled in 1972 with Nixon, and then saw Nixon's presidency destroyed by the Watergate scandals. But McGovern says there is no comparison.

"I'd far rather have Nixon in the White House than these two fellows that we've got now," said the former three-term senator from South Dakota. "Nixon did some horrible things, which led to the effort to impeach him. But he simply was not as bad as Bush. On just about every level I can think of, Bush's actions are more impeachable than were those of Nixon."

Of particular concern to McGovern is the war in Iraq, which he has steadfastly opposed.

"The war was begun in clear violation of the Constitution," McGovern says. "There was no declaration of war by the Congress. Secondly, it's a flagrant violation of international law: Iraq was not threatening the United States in any way. Yet, the United States went after Iraq. The president and vice president got away with it, at least initially, because they were willing to exploit the emotional power of the 9/11 attack to achieve their goal of getting us into a war in the Middle East."

McGovern, a decorated World War II veteran, approves of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's suggestion that Congress should look into employing the power of the purse to force the administration to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Frankly," the former senator says, "I would support anything that would get our troops out of there."

During his tenure in the Senate, McGovern worked with a Republican, Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield, to try and pass legislation to force the end of the Vietnam War. He also supported efforts to "chain the dogs of war," which were spearheaded by his liberal Democratic colleague, Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, a leading proponent of the 1973 War Powers Act.

Eagleton, who died this week at age 77, was briefly McGovern's running mate in the 1972 race. But the revelation that Eagleton had checked himself into the hospital three times for physical and nervous exhaustion led, after some internal turmoil, to a decision by McGovern to drop the Missouri senator from the ticket.

That decision, McGovern now says, was "absolutely a mistake." He now believes that the controversy would have quickly blown over. He also says that dropping Eagleton from the ticket did more harm than good.

McGovern is not afraid to delve into the historical record, even when it involves incidents related to his own career in public life. "We ought to learn from history," says the former senator, who notes that he earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University "thanks to the G.I. Bill."

"I think that the greatest deficiency in our politics these days is the fact that our leaders fail, by and large, to remember our history," says McGovern.

A close second is the caution of the current political class. McGovern calls the Congress "lily-livered" for failing to check and balance Bush and Cheney on the war.

McGovern does not suffer from the condition. He's as bold now as ever, and there is a sense of urgency about the man who could easily relax and accept the honors accorded an senior statesman of his own party and the country.

"I feel an obligation to speak up when I see these flagrant things happen," says McGovern. "I can't be silent when President Bush and Vice President Cheney choose to disregard the Constitution. Maybe if there were other people in the White House, I could slow down a little. But I can't do that as long as this administration is in charge."

Speaking of which: Is there a Democratic contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination that McGovern likes? He's making no endorsements at this stage. But, like a lot of Democrats, McGovern says, "Right now, (Illinois Sen.) Barack Obama looks awfully good."

Then again, a typically frank McGovern admits, "I've gotten to the point where I think just about anyone would be better than Bush."

Dick Cheney in Twilight

Dick Cheney in Twilight

George Bush's sense of humor has always run more to frat-house gag than art-house irony, so he may not have appreciated the poetic justice any more than the legal justice on display in the Libby verdict.

Or, to be more precise, the Cheney verdict.

Bush stumped just about everyone seven years ago when he tapped the safe and solid Dick Cheney to be his running mate. But Bush didn't want any trouble. He didn't want a Vice President who preened before the cameras. He didn't want a policy sparring partner. And he didn't want someone who would check out after five years and run for President himself. And because Bush got exactly the kind of partner he wanted, he now faces the very problem he tried to avoid. Cheney has become the Administration's enemy within, the man whose single-minded pursuit of ideological goals, creaking political instincts and love of secrecy produced an independent operation inside the White House that has done more harm than good.

On an imaginary political balance sheet, Cheney is the Democrats' most valuable asset. And reversing that situation is getting close to impossible. Cheney recently made his weekly pilgrimage to the Senate, where he had lunch on March 6 with Republicans. He took his usual seat on one side of the stately Mike Mansfield Room and watched the proceedings quietly. Various Senators came by to ask him about his health after a blood-clot scare the day before. Others quietly lent support in the wake of that morning's four-count guilty verdict of Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. But for all the personal shows of support, more Republicans with each passing week have acknowledged privately what is felt across Washington when it comes to the Vice President: his time has passed.

And what a time it was. Back in the days of Bush's first term, aides to Cheney loved to regale journalists with tidbits about the scope of the Vice President's influence and the intensity of his commitment to protecting the U.S. from a terrorist attack. He was so driven and hands-on, the aides would say, that he and Libby would routinely ask to see raw intelligence rather than the processed analysis put together by the cia and other agencies. "He's a voracious consumer of intelligence," said an admiring aide to the Vice President. "Sometimes he asks for raw intelligence to make his own judgment. He wants it all."

He may have come across as deferential to the President in public, but friends and advisers in the fall of 2002 described Cheney as nothing less than the engine of the Administration. "There's no way in which he is not driving the train on this," said one, referring to Cheney's role in pushing Bush and the Administration inexorably toward an invasion of Iraq. "Analysis, advocacy-it's all done by Cheney or his proteges or his former mentor [Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld]. It's about context. It's reflective not so much of Cheney's direct influence on the President as it is of his influence on-his dominance of-the decision-making process. It's about providing the facts and analysis to the decision maker that the decision maker needs. Bush is making the decision, but the Veep is directing the process toward the decision that he thinks is the right one." In other words, Cheney had so rigged the process that important decisions were foregone conclusions, ones that had been reached by the Vice President well in advance.

So when the verdict against Libby came down, it was also a rebuke to that hermetic power-sharing arrangement at the top of the White House. The legal outcome was never in doubt. Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had been massing evidence of perjury for months and then unveiled it piece by piece until even the defendant chose not to testify in his own defense. Libby's highly touted defense lawyers, meanwhile, seemed weak and scattered. Their promise to reveal how the White House had left Libby to be the fall guy for higher-ups was introduced and then abandoned. And it would have taken them down a road Libby steadfastly refused to travel-the one that led to the Vice President's door.

From the start, the case was only marginally about Libby. What was really on trial was the whole culture of an Administration that treated the truth as a relative virtue, as something it could take or leave as it needed. Everyone knows now that Bush and Cheney took the country into a deadly, costly and open-ended war on flimsy evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Congress went along. And yes, the public on balance supported it. But no one was more responsible than the Vice President for pushing the limits of the prewar intelligence that did all the convincing. And when former ambassador Joseph Wilson questioned the credibility of that intelligence-and the motives that helped polish it-it was Cheney who led the fight to bring him down.

None of that was illegal. So four years later, the Libby trial still prompts the question, Why did Libby get into legal trouble in the first place? Why did the Vice President's top aide not simply admit to what everyone knew was true-that he discussed the identity of Wilson's wife Valerie Plame, a CIA officer, with at least one reporter? Since most experts agree that Libby was unlikely to be prosecuted on a charge of revealing her identity, it is hard not to conclude that Libby cooked up his stories to protect Cheney. If Libby had gone a different route and admitted in his grand jury testimony that he had told a reporter about the identity of Wilson's wife, Fitzgerald's next question would have been, Were you acting on Cheney's orders? And it would not have been long before Cheney was giving testimony under oath. There was, said Fitzgerald in his summation, "a cloud over what the Vice President did."

Libby's conviction comes at the end of a dreadful year for Cheney: last February he accidentally sprayed a friend with bird shot while hunting in Texas. A week before the midterms, in a gift to Democrats, he all but endorsed waterboarding on a North Dakota radio talk show as an interrogation technique. Mary Cheney, his openly gay daughter, ran afoul of conservative activists in December when it was revealed that she and her partner were expecting a baby. Late last month, while he was touring Bagram air base in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber attacked the camp's perimeter and killed at least 23 people in what the Taliban called an assassination attempt. Then on March 5, doctors found a blood clot in Cheney's leg, for which he will be treated with blood-thinning medication for several months.

But the personal setbacks have merely been the counterpoint to the larger policy reversals Cheney has suffered in internal debates in the past year. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is executing an unmistakable course correction in U.S. foreign policy, quietly stepping away from the strident and unilateral positions of the neoconservatives and cutting deals with — or opening lines to — the remaining members of the axis of evil. Backed by a strong new team of career diplomats, Rice prevailed on Iraq to invite Iran to a regional conference on security and then swiftly agreed to attend-unwinding Washington's vow just a few weeks ago that it would have no direct contact with Tehran until it stopped enriching uranium.

A few weeks earlier, after working for months with the Chinese, President Bush signed off on a deal with North Korea to freeze its primary nuclear reactor in exchange for economic aid and closer diplomatic ties. That deal was strikingly reminiscent of a controversial pact that Bill Clinton inked with North Korea in 1994 — and that the Bush team criticized in the first term. When hard-liners inside the government complained to reporters that the White House was selling out to a dictator, Bush backed Rice in public. Even in intelligence matters, the area in which Cheney was once most dominant and in which he invited the most trouble in the Libby case, his hand has been weakened. For example, in public testimony before Congress lately, intelligence officials have emphasized more ambiguities and uncertainties in their conclusions about threats overseas than was commonplace at the height of Cheney's power. Democratic Senators report that a refreshing new degree of candor has returned in classified sessions as well. "Cheney's influence on intelligence has declined markedly," said Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Cheney is hardly unaware of Rice's new dominance. A senior Administration official told Time last week that Cheney has been part of all the arguments and has simply begun to lose some. But that alone means ideas that would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago — early engagement, muscular multilateralism, even patient negotiation — are becoming more acceptable in Bushland. American diplomats have asked the Jordanians for their notes on the Clinton-era negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, seeking to restart the Middle East peace talks that fell apart abruptly at the end of 2000. That's yet another turnabout for an Administration that lampooned those very talks in 2002.

Of course, some of the repositioning was inevitable, and most of it was long overdue. Even if Bush and Cheney didn't want to listen to the polls on the home front, they couldn't ignore the few allies they had left overseas. Britain's Tony Blair announced a partial pullout from Iraq last month, and then moderate Arab neighbors in the region began to clamor for Bush to pull up before he crashed. On Wednesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan made an impassioned public appeal in a joint meeting of Congress for Washington to take the lead on Middle East peace talks.

While Rice rewires foreign policy, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten is showing signs that he can match Cheney on domestic matters. The Bush Administration has said it will retreat on the issue of domestic surveillance and abide by laws regulating wiretaps passed years ago by Congress. And the Democrats in Congress are finding Administration officials far more forthcoming with facts and figures about the conduct of the war in Iraq, in part because the White House knows that the next step-subpoenas-won't help their dwindling poll ratings. "There has been an ebb and flow," said Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, "and the President has come to realize that the broader assertions of Executive power had to be tempered."

But there is another force driving the Bush team to pivot: the ticking of the clock. "It's very hard to do things at the very, very end," said Wendy Sherman, who coordinated North Korean policy in the Clinton State Department. "If the President wants to end eight years and have people say, 'You lost Iraq, you lost Iran, you lost North Korea, and you made the Middle East worse,' it's not a good moment in history. And so the pragmatists are predominant at the moment. This is their window."

How did cheney, a man once considered by members of both parties to have a feel for the golden mean, create a culture in which his top aide perjures himself? Some of it is his solitary roots: Cheney has never been a natural politician. He's more of a High Plains drifter who hailed from one of the least populated states in the nation, who took up the lonely job of utility lineman when he dropped out of college. Although he won a seat in Congress six times, he didn't have to work at it the way some lawmakers did. He easily rolled up huge margins in his Republican-tilted Wyoming district that literally covered the whole state. Personal charm wasn't so much Cheney's secret — the census was. In those days, everyone in Wyoming pretty much knew everyone else. Most years Cheney outpolled his rivals by more than 2 to 1.

So when he decided to give running for President a try in 1994, he soon realized he was unsuited for the big game. He raised a million dollars and built a good organization, but he found that the little things got to him. His fund-raising dinners, Cheney told aides, "weren't substantive enough." He didn't care to pal around with donors. He therefore called it off and never ran on his own again. This removal from people, from politics, from the sensors that make leaders responsive to people, turned into Cheney's Achilles' heel. And it actually deepened when he became Vice President. Bush picked Cheney because Cheney would never run again, but that also meant the newly minted Veep never had to put his ear to the ground.

Then came the war, which changed all of us but affected Cheney more than most. He was still wired in on everything, but that didn't mean he was in touch. He was convinced he was right about grave matters — that Saddam Hussein was a threat that had to be removed, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was intent on using them, that critics of Administration policy were at best misguided and at worst traitorous. "It's always been a joke in his office that his staff is extraneous," said a staff member. "The only thing you can do is provide him with information he doesn't possess yet. He doesn't need your analytical skill and judgment. He has that already."

Even in his own family, Cheney has a reputation for simply not being there. At times he simply departs the room, not physically but mentally, says a family friend who has also worked for him. He loses himself in thought or a book or whatever he's doing and can't be raised or roused. When that happens, his daughters have a nickname for him: the Bull Walrus. And so they will wave their hands and affectionately call out their pet name for their dad — "Hey! Bull Walrus!" — as if he were sleeping on a big rock near the Arctic Sea. And then he'll come to.

So long as Bush remains Commander in Chief, however, and Cheney his faithful lieutenant, the Vice President's power will flow through the Oval Office. Cheney remains the Administration's point man in its war of words with Iran and helped persuade the President to send an extra carrier group to the Persian Gulf last month. He remains a force in White House debates about the conduct of the war, and though he has been forced to retreat in some areas, he has not walked away from the fight. He remains Bush's best messenger when delivering the tough love that Washington spoons out from time to time, as it did two weeks ago when the Administration pushed Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf to take the war on al-Qaeda up a couple of notches.

Libby's four-count conviction guarantees that Cheney's White House role will remain in the news for most of the year. At the moment, Libby faces 18 months to three years in prison, though Judge Reggie Walton has discretion over the sentence he will hand down on June 5. In Libby's favor is the Columbia Law School grad's otherwise clean criminal record. Meanwhile, Libby's lawyers will try to argue for a new trial-something few observers expect Walton will permit-and then will ask the judge to allow Libby to postpone his jail sentence until an appeal can be heard. Retired Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin maintains that an appeal could be considered-and ruled on-in as little as six months, but it could stretch into 2008 if the appeal briefs are extensive. Given the way his lawyers tried to slow down the process with pretrial motions last year, they are likely to be.

And that's part of the plan. If his appeal fails, Libby's only recourse is a presidential pardon, and the chances of that go up as Bush's days in office dwindle. That means the longer Libby can keep the wheels of justice turning, the more likely he is to avoid spending any time in jail. Already the betting on a pardon is running at 65% by the end of Bush's term, and the Washington Post has announced a pool to predict the date. Democrats have called on Bush to swear off a pardon, but that outcome is not likely. If Bush ruled one out now, he might encourage Libby to seek leniency from Fitzgerald in his sentencing phase in return for cooperating with the prosecutor. In his first comments after the verdict was announced, Fitzgerald left the door open to such negotiations: "Mr. Libby is like any other defendant. If his counsel or he wish to pursue any options, they can contact us."

Then there is the argument that Bush should boot his Vice President before he strikes again. It's an often forgotten fact that three of the past six Presidents either dumped or tried to dump their Vice Presidents: Richard Nixon tossed Spiro Agnew for Gerald Ford in 1973, Ford tossed Nelson Rockefeller and tapped Bob Dole as a running mate in the 1976 campaign, and Bush's father George Herbert Walker Bush let his top aides try to give the heave-ho to Vice President Dan Quayle when he was dragging down the G.O.P. ticket by three or four points in 1992.

The father's instincts have never been the son's. Replacing the Veep now would create exactly the unpleasant succession scenario Bush had hoped to avoid when he chose Cheney in the first place. He didn't want someone soaking up all the attention and energy as he headed into his last 18 months in office. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

With reporting by Brian Bennett, Massimo Calabresi, James Carney and Elaine Shannon/Washington,8816,1597226,00.html

"Peak Oil" RIP. Official Obit Frontpaged in the New York Times

"Peak Oil" RIP. Official Obit Frontpaged in the New York Times

Raymond L. Learsy
Huffington Post

Now that sustained high oil prices and environmental concerns have stimulated massive efforts to develop alternative fuel sources, the oil industry pooh-bahs are finally realizing they have overstepped themselves. For decades they have been frightening us into accepting ever higher prices with their postured concerns of the imminent demise of oil. Suddenly they and their allies in the media are rushing to inform us they have been wrong wrong wrong, for decades.

Oil is not scarce, nor are we about to run out of it!

On Monday March 5 in a first page right-hand column The New York Times' oil specialist Jad Mouawad, following up on the recent commentary by Cambridge Energy Research analyst Daniel Yergin, two of the oligopoly's most amenable parrots, have finally come round to the argument I have been making for years (see "Oil Is Not Scarce -- The Oil Industry Continues to Play Us for Fools," 5/24/06, not to speak of my book Over a Barrel: Breaking the Middle East Oil Cartel, pub date 08/05).

But why this sudden sea change? Mouawad unwittingly telegraphs the producers new strategy when he opines that OPEC's clout will be reinforced in coming years" because the cartel "is poised to control more than 50 percent of the oil market". The king of the thieves, Saudi Arabia, is now bandying about about a number for its potential reserves pegging them closer to 1 trillion barrels. You may remember when scarcity was the ploy the Saudis owned up to having only 260 billion barrels of oil (and not to overlook Matt Simmons who made millions trading by propagating his Halloween scenario in "Twilight in the Desert", spooking us with predictions of the near term end of Saudi oil"). Now, suddenly having more oil not less is the game plan and that makes great good sense if the goal is to run alternative energy developers off the playing field. Mouawad, always ready to impart the oil patch pitch advised us the oil companies "see few alternatives to fossil fuels" (where did the Times find this guy). What else would those sitting on top of all the oil say, particularly if they wanted to scare away any competition.

There seems to be a lot more oil our there and under our oceans than most so-called experts thought, many of whom have their own vested interests to tweet "peak, peak, peak". As Times' Mouawad breathlessly related in his longish epiphany not only are new, deepwater deposits being found, but new technology and techniques developed in the last decade are discovering and bringing to the surface trillions more barrels still left in wells long thought unrecoverable. Indeed, the Cambridge consultants now put recoverable oil reserves at 4.8 trillion barrels, and that's their low-end guesstimate.

Of course, the diehard peak-oil theorists among petroleum geologists and those pundits with their own agendas still won't face up to their error. They continue to sound the alarm of shortages, price spikes, and economic decline just down the road. If this dubious line of reasoning sounds familiar, it is. Ever since oil was first discovered more than a century ago, alarmists have been predicting its imminent disappearance. But such stubborn wrongheadedness isn't winning any new converts these days, merely casting the naysayers in the dim light of the ill-informed.

Here are the two things we must not lose sight of:

• First, OPEC, the Saudis, and Big Oil in general are not our friends. They're all in it for the money, no matter how their extreme greed harms us and the global economy. What is more, far too many of the billions upon billions of dollars we've shipped to the Middle East have bankrolled those who seek to destroy us. We have to free ourselves from their grasp. And we can only do that by developing alternative sources of energy.

• Second, if Big Oil doesn't bankrupt us and if Islamic extremists don't kill us, we'll do the job for them unless we can wean ourselves away from fossil fuels, no matter how large the supply. Global warming is no joke; greenhouse gases are choking the life out of our planet. Our only hope for saving ourselves is by cutting emissions and developing alternative sources of energy.

That means we mustn't be lulled by any temporary price declines or false hopes that the likes of ExxonMobil will find a conscience. The biggest of Big Oil admits that the planet is warming, but, "hey, it's not my problem" appears to be its response (see "Size Begets Arrogance...," 3/2/07). Making obscene profits is Exxon's be-all, end-all.
Now that the truth about oil resources has been revealed by America's most famous newspaper, we can at least hope that the scarcity threat has lost its punch. But if the truth is going to set us completely free, we have to keep the pressure on Congress to rein in our consumption of fossil fuels while giving more support to the development of alternatives.

The Gonzales Eight

NY Times Editorial

The Gonzales Eight

Americans often suspect that their political leaders are arrogant and out of touch. But even then it is nearly impossible to fathom what self-delusion could have convinced Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico that he had a right to call a federal prosecutor at home and question him about a politically sensitive investigation.

That disturbing tale is one of several revealed this week in Congressional hearings called to look into the firing of eight United States attorneys. The hearings left little doubt that the Bush administration had all eight — an unprecedented number — ousted for political reasons. But it points to even wider abuse; prosecutors suggest that three Republican members of Congress may have tried to pressure the attorneys into doing their political bidding.

It already seemed clear that the Bush administration’s purge had trampled on prosecutorial independence. Now Congress and the Justice Department need to investigate possible ethics violations, and perhaps illegality. Two of the fired prosecutors testified that they had been dismissed after resisting what they suspected were importunings to use their offices to help Republicans win elections. A third described what may have been a threat of retaliation if he talked publicly about his firing.

David Iglesias, who was removed as the United States attorney in Albuquerque, said that he was first contacted before last fall’s election by Representative Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico. Ms. Wilson, who was in a tough re-election fight, asked about sealed indictments — criminal charges that are not public.

Two weeks later, he said, he got a call from Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, asking whether he intended to indict Democrats before the election in a high-profile corruption case. When Mr. Iglesias said no, he said, Mr. Domenici replied that he was very sorry to hear it, and the line went dead. Mr. Iglesias said he’d felt “sick.” Within six weeks, he was fired. Ms. Wilson and Mr. Domenici both deny that they had tried to exert pressure.

John McKay of Seattle testified that the chief of staff for Representative Doc Hastings, Republican of Washington, called to ask whether he intended to investigate the 2004 governor’s race, which a Democrat won after two recounts. Mr. McKay says that when he went to the White House later to discuss a possible judicial nomination (which he did not get), he was told of concerns about how he’d handled the election. H. E. Cummins, a fired prosecutor from Arkansas, said that a Justice Department official, in what appeared to be a warning, said that if he kept talking about his firing, the department would release negative information about him.

Congress must keep demanding answers. It must find out who decided to fire these prosecutors and why, and who may have authorized putting pressure on Mr. Cummins. And it must look into whether Senator Domenici and Representatives Wilson and Hastings violated ethics rules that forbid this sort of interference. We hope the House committee will not be deterred by the fact that Mr. Hastings is its ranking Republican. The Justice Department also needs to open its own investigation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s claim that these prosecutors were fired for poor performance was always difficult to believe. Now it’s impossible.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Soviet-era compound in northern Poland was site of secret CIA interrogation, detentions

Soviet-era compound in northern Poland was site of secret CIA interrogation, detentions

Larisa Alexandrovna and David Dastych
Published: Wednesday March 7, 2007

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US, Britain asked Poland to join clandestine program

POLAND -- The CIA operated an interrogation and short-term detention facility for suspected terrorists within a Polish intelligence training school with the explicit approval of British and US authorities, according to British and Polish intelligence officials familiar with the arrangements.

Intelligence officials identify the site as a component of a Polish intelligence training school outside the northern Polish village of Stare Kiejkuty. While previously suspected, the facility has never been conclusively identified as being part of the CIA's secret rendition and detention program.

Only the Polish prime minister and top Polish intelligence brass were told of the plan, in which agents of the United States quietly shuttled detainees from other holding facilities around the globe for stopovers and short-term interrogation in Poland between late 2002 and 2004.

According to a confidential British intelligence memo shown to RAW STORY, Prime Minister Tony Blair told Poland's then-Prime Minister Leszek Miller to keep the information secret, even from his own government.

“Miller was asked to keep it as tight as possible,” the memo said.

The complex at Stare Kiejkuty, a Soviet-era compound once used by German intelligence in World War II, is best known as having been the only Russian intelligence training school to operate outside the Soviet Union. Its prominence in the Soviet era suggests that it may have been the facility first identified – but never named – when the Washington Post’s Dana Priest revealed the existence of the CIA’s secret prison network in November 2005.

Reached by telephone Monday, Priest would not discuss the allegations in her article beyond her original report.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano would not confirm or deny any allegations about the Polish facility. He maintained the rendition program was legal and conducted “with great care.”

“The agency’s terrorist interrogation program has been conducted lawfully, with great care and close review, producing vital information that has helped disrupt plots and save lives,” Gimigliano said Monday. “That is also true of renditions, another key, lawful tool in the fight against terror.”

“The United States does not conduct or condone torture, nor does it transfer anyone to other countries for the purpose of torture,” he added.

US intelligence officials confirmed that the CIA had used the compound at Stare Kiejkuty in the past. Speaking generally about the agency’s program, a former senior official said the CIA had never conducted unlawful interrogations.

“We never tortured anyone,” one former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. “We sent them to countries that did torture, but not on this scale.”

The official added that many agency staff had strong feelings about the rendition program. “Career people were really opposed to this.”

All intelligence sources interviewed said the CIA is no longer operating a rendition or secret detainment program.

Polish intelligence officials declined to comment. Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, the former head of Polish intelligence, told a Polish news agency in 2005, however, that the CIA had access to two internal zones at the Stare Kiejkuty training school. Current and former Polish authorities have adamantly denied that Poland played any role in the clandestine program.

US, United Kingdom invited Poland to join program in 2002

In April 2002, according to British foreign intelligence sources (MI6), senior officials in the Bush and Blair administrations decided that the Bagram base near Kabul in Afghanistan could not operate successfully in the Bush administration’s “no holds barred” policy towards suspected terrorists.

MI6 officials say the two administrations then decided to fly high-value suspected terrorists to secret gulags in Eastern Europe. The CIA-operated flights would pass through the air space of a number of countries – among them Britain, Germany, Spain and Poland. European Union officials and human rights groups would later say these interrogations may have violated the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the United States and Poland are both signatories.

After a series of secret meetings chaired by MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett in London and then-CIA Director George Tenet in Washington, Polish intelligence was invited to join the project, British and Polish intelligence sources say.

Authorities singled out a remote and infrequently used airfield in the Northern Polish town of Szymany for transit flights; a near-by Polish intelligence training school at Stare Kiejkuty would be used as an eventual detention-interrogation center for temporary detention and short-term interrogations.

The White House did not return two calls seeking comment. Tenet could not be reached.

Rendition programs were first employed by the Clinton administration in order to target suspected elements of al Qaeda. These covert operations, run out of the CIA, were used intermittently and on a limited basis. It was not until the Bush Administration that the use of extraordinary rendition became a matter of policy and was employed on a large scale.

The Szczytno-Szymany Airport

Szczytno-Szymany used to be a military airfield in northeastern Poland, one of many such airstrips that could accept the large Soviet-made military planes of the Warsaw Pact; before that, it had served as an airstrip for German Luftwaffe bombers targeting Warsaw in the Second World War. In 1996, seven years after Poland’s communist government fell, the military airfield was turned into a private company: Airports “Mazury-Szczytno.”

However, traffic wasn’t heavy enough to provide decent income to the state and private owners of the airfield, so motorcycle and car races were organized on the tarmac; small-scale production and repairs also buttressed the company’s budget.

But after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom – the US military campaign against Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks – everything changed. In the years that followed, American planes began arriving from Afghanistan, continuing on to Morocco, Uzbekistan and Guantanamo Bay, according to Szymany locals and airport staff.

Then-Szymany airport manager Mariola Przewlocka told European Union investigators the flights were likely linked with the intelligence complex at Stare Kiejkuty, about 12 miles away from the airport.

Przewlocka said that whenever one of the suspected flights was scheduled to land, “orders were given directly by the regional border guards… emphasizing that the airport authorities should not approach the aircraft and that military staff and services alone” would handle landings.

“Money for the services was paid in cash, sometimes as much as four times the normal charge,” the former airport manager added. “Handling of the passengers aboard was carried out in a remote corner of the Szymany airstrip. People came in and out from four-wheel drive cars with shaded windows.”

The cars were seen traveling to and from the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence facility, where British and Polish intelligence officials say US agents conducted short-term interrogations before shuffling prisoners to other locations.

Przewlocka also spoke in detail with the Chicago Tribune, whose correspondent traveled to Szymany last month.

“Secret prisons” were likely temporary “black sites”

Former European and US intelligence officials indicate that the secret prisons across the European Union, first identified by the Washington Post, are likely not permanent locations, making them difficult to identify.

What some believe was a network of secret prisons was most probably a series of facilities used temporarily by the United States when needed, officials say. Interim “black sites” – secret facilities used for covert activities – can be as small as a room in a government building, which only becomes a black site when a prisoner is brought in for short-term detainment and interrogation.

For example, detainees could be shuffled from a temporary black site in one country to a temporary black site in another country, never staying long enough at either to attract notice. Such an arrangement, sources say, would allow plausible deniability by the host country as well as the US. Investigators looking for a permanent facility would never find one. Such a site, sources say, would have to be near an airport.

Washington-based security expert and president of Global Security John Pike says short-term detention in already existing facilities would be “sensible tradecraft” and a more likely scenario than a network of specific, long term prisons.

“A short-term operation does not develop a big signature and you don’t have a continual parade of people,” said Pike. “When it becomes noticeable, they move it all.”

“It’s a shell game,” he added.

Pressure from US and Britain to keep quiet

In the wake of the Washington Post expose, member countries of the European Union began to demand answers.

According to British and Polish intelligence officials, foreign journalists, and EU sources interviewed for this article, the countries participating in the US rendition and detention program and their governments were kept largely out of the loop. Officials say Bush and Blair administration contacts selectively chose politicians in the EU and other countries, keeping their respective governments in the dark.

Having only a select few members of the European Union aware of the program, coupled with the transience of the prison network, made it difficult for European Union investigators to verify allegations of secret detention sites.

A ten-member EU delegation traveled to Poland in November 2006 to investigate Szymany airport and the facility at Stare Kiejstuty. The team’s report indicates that key government officials first agreed to meet with the delegates, but declined to do so after their arrival.

The delegates requested interviews of 20 Polish government officials, journalists and others, but were allowed to speak with only nine. Of those interviewed, only a handful could offer any substantive information.

One of the more interesting interviews came from former Szczytno-Szymany Airport chairman Jerzy Kos. According to the report, Kos stated that at the time the airport was under his authority, it belonged to the Military Property Agency and was leased by his company.

Kos stated that after a Boeing 737 landed on Sept. 22, 2003, a standard military procedure came into force under which Polish Border Guards determined the character of incoming flights and expedited certain arrivals.

“The military procedure was a simplified one, including provision for no customs clearance,” Kos told investigators. He said he had “no information about the passengers as procedure was undertaken by soldiers and not the civilian airport staff.”

Kos asserted that during his tenure from 2003 to 2004, Gulfstream planes transferring through the airport were treated as military flights in the same fashion as the Border Guards had handled the Boeing 737 in September 2003.

Air traffic controllers “had been informed by the Warsaw-based Air Traffic Agency that Gulfstream planes would land at the airport by fax,” Kos told investigators.

Polish public television journalist Adam Krzykowski added more detail.

Krzykowski alleged that the September 2003 Boeing 737 carried a crew of seven and was joined at the Szymany airfield by five passengers who declared themselves businessmen. According to the EU report, Krzykowski maintained that all twelve “were American citizens.”

“The Boeing flight was not subject to standard border control procedure, but to a … simplified procedure [which] meant that no customs officers were present during the control and passengers were checked only on basis of a list delivered to the Border Guards,” he said. “According to the Border Guards, such a procedure is used when a person has already been checked up on previously.”

The final report of the European Union’s investigation into Poland as well as the other countries alleged to be part of the rendition program can be read here. Most of those the EU sought to question did not cooperate with investigators, including suspected governments, journalists and key officials in the United States.

Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter who received a Pulitzer Prize for her article exposing the CIA’s secret detention centers, declined to speak with EU investigators.

“The Post never allows its reporters to testify to government inquiries no matter what government it is, so there was nothing unusual in that regard,” Priest said Monday.

The only member of the Bush Administration given leave to discuss the program with the EU was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said she expected American allies to co-operate and keep quiet about sensitive anti-terrorism operations.”

The Reopening of Szymany Airport

The “prime-time” for Szymany International Airport seems to have ended in 2006, when the investigation by the European Parliament was finished without a clear result or definitive proof of “CIA secret prisons” existing in Poland.

Polish officials refused to cooperate and vehemently denied any role in the CIA program. The airport company had to suspend its activities, due to a dispute over the ownership of the Szczytno-Szymany airfield.

In November 2006, the company signed a lease agreement with the Military Property Agency, which still owns the land and the facilities. This agreement opened the way for financing of the airport by the regional administration and the Polish government.

The Szymany airfield, now in civilian hands and allegedly free of “rendition flights,” will soon become a regional airport. Its beautiful location in the Masurian Lakes Region will likely kindle its development, and the fame of its history surrounding secret CIA flights could certainly become an attractive tourist-catching slogan.

Muriel Kane contributed research for this article and John Byrne contributed reporting.

Larisa Alexandrovna is Managing Investigative News Editor and intelligence and national security correspondent for Raw Story. She can be reached at:

David Dastych is a former Polish intelligence operative, who served in the 1960s-1980s and was a double agent for the CIA from 1973 until his arrest in 1987 by then-communist Poland on charges of espionage. Dastych was released from prison in 1990 after the fall of communism and in the years since has voluntarily helped Western intelligence services with tracking the nuclear proliferation black market in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. After a serious injury in 1994 confined him to a wheelchair, Dastych began a second career as an investigative journalist covering terrorism, intelligence and organized crime.

President Bush fires employee for serving in the Reserves

President Bush fires employee for serving in the Reserves

Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 11:54:54 PM PST

President Bush gives lip service to supporting those who serve in our military. For instance, he praises employers who stand by their workers in the National Guard and the Reserves:

"We are fighting the war on many fronts. And we could not win the war without the help of the Guard and the Reservists. They in turn could not do their vital work without the support of their employers... Many employers are putting national interests above their own self interests." said Bush, praising those that are providing full pay and benefits and job security for workers performing full-time military duty.

President Recognizes Employer Efforts
November 9th, 2001

On the other hand, some employers put self interest above the national interest, and have no regard for a loyal employee who is also serving in the Reserves. Employers, such as... well, President Bush!

A stark example of this was brought up in the Senate Judiciary Hearing today regarding the firing of the U.S. Attorneys, the so-called Gonzales Seven, in an exchange between Chuck Schumer and one of the fired U.S. Attorneys, David Iglesias:

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY): One of the reasons that they said-- that the Justice Department said-- that you had a performance problem, was that you were an "absentee landlord". Just to get the record clear here: isn't it true that you served in the Navy Reserve which required you to serve your country approximately forty days per year?

Fmr. U.S. Attorney David Iglesias: That's correct sir. In fact, I took my call from [Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys] Mike Battle (the call where Battle informed Iglesias he was fired) ironically on Pearl Harbor Day as I was coming back from Navy duty in Newport, Rhode Island. I'm required to serve at least 36 days per year. Sometimes I add a little extra duty so it probably averages out to 40, maybe 45 days of duty per year.

Schumer: Didn't the Department know you were a Reservist when they recommended you for U.S. Attorney position in the first place?

Iglesias: I'm very proud of my Navy service and it was on my resume-- featured very prominently.

Schumer: How did you feel when they accused you of absenteeism and you knew that the primary reason that you were out of your office was to be in the Reserve?

Iglesias: Well, it's very ironic, since the Department of Justice enforces USERRA, the Uniform Services Employment Rights and Reemployment Act, which ensures that Guard members and Reserve members have full employment rights and are not discriminated against on the basis of their military affiliation.

Schumer: And were you ever before that told that you were in danger of being fired or that your absences were hurting the U.S. Attorney's office in New Mexico or anything to that effect?

Iglesias: Never, sir.

Of course we are fairly certain that absenteeism wasn't the real reason that Iglesias was thrown under the bus; in all likelihood, Iglesias was fired because he didn't cave to the Republican strong-arm tactics of Senator Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson to fast-track, for political purposes, a public corruption case involving Democrats. That would make the the claim that Iglesias was fired for absenteeism even more shameful; not only would it be against every principle that this President claims to hold in terms of supporting our men and women in uniform, but it would also be a lie and a smear against a true patriot.

But then, maybe this is all a big misunderstanding, since President Bush may think, from his own personal experience, that the National Guard and the Reserves are commitments that you can just walk away from on a whim in a time of war. So I'll cut the President some slack, and I will forgive him if the error is corrected. So I ask President Bush to restore David Iglesias, a fine man serving his country, to his position as U.S. Attorney.

Greg Palast - - Bush’s New US Attorney a Criminal?

Bush’s New US Attorney a Criminal?

BBC Television had exposed 2004 voter attack scheme
by appointee Griffin, a Rove aide.
Black soldiers and the homeless targeted.

by Greg Palast

March 7, 2007.

There’s only one thing worse than sacking an honest prosecutor. That’s replacing an honest prosecutor with a criminal.

There was one big hoohah in Washington yesterday as House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers pulled down the pants on George Bush’s firing of US Attorneys to expose a scheme to punish prosecutors who wouldn’t bend to political pressure.

griffin-caging.pngBut the Committee missed a big one: Timothy Griffin, Karl Rove’s assistant, the President’s pick as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Griffin, according to BBC Television, was the hidden hand behind a scheme to wipe out the voting rights of 70,000 citizens prior to the 2004 election.

Key voters on Griffin’s hit list: Black soldiers and homeless men and women. Nice guy, eh? Naughty or nice, however, is not the issue. Targeting voters where race is a factor is a felony crime under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In October 2004, our investigations team at BBC Newsnight received a series of astonishing emails from Mr. Griffin, then Research Director for the Republican National Committee. He didn’t mean to send them to us. They were highly confidential memos meant only for RNC honchos.

However, Griffin made a wee mistake. Instead of sending the emails — potential evidence of a crime — to email addresses ending with the domain name “” he sent them to “@GeorgeWBush.ORG.” A website run by prankster John Wooden who owns “” When Wooden got the treasure trove of Rove-ian ravings, he sent them to us.

And we dug in, decoding, and mapping the voters on what Griffin called, “Caging” lists, spreadsheets with 70,000 names of voters marked for challenge. Overwhelmingly, these were Black and Hispanic voters from Democratic precincts.

tim-griffin.jpgThe Griffin scheme was sickly brilliant. We learned that the RNC sent first-class letters to new voters in minority precincts marked, “Do not forward.” Several sheets contained nothing but soldiers, other sheets, homeless shelters. Targets included the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida and that city’s State Street Rescue Mission. Another target, Edward Waters College, a school for African-Americans.

If these voters were not currently at their home voting address, they were tagged as “suspect” and their registration wiped out or their ballot challenged and not counted. Of course, these ‘cages’ captured thousands of students, the homeless and those in the military though they are legitimate voters.
We telephoned those on the hit list, including one Randall Prausa. His wife admitted he wasn’t living at his voting address: Randall was a soldier shipped overseas.

Randall and other soldiers like him who sent in absentee ballots, when challenged, would lose their vote. And they wouldn’t even know it.

And by the way, it’s not illegal for soldiers to vote from overseas — even if they’re Black.

But it is illegal to challenge voters en masse where race is an element in the targeting. So several lawyers told us, including Ralph Neas, famed civil rights attorney with People for the American Way.

Griffin himself ducked our cameras, but his RNC team tried to sell us the notion that the caging sheets were, in fact, not illegal voter hit lists, but a roster of donors to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Republican donors at homeless shelters?

Over the past weeks, Griffin has said he would step down if he had to face Congressional confirmation. However, the President appointed Griffin to the law enforcement post using an odd little provision of the USA Patriot Act that could allow Griffin to skip Congressional questioning altogether.

Therefore, I have a suggestion for Judiciary members. Voting law expert Neas will be testifying today before Conyers’ Committee on the topic of illegal voter “disenfranchisement” — the fancy word for stealing elections by denying voters’ civil rights.

Maybe Conyers should hold a line-up of suspected vote thieves and let Neas identify the perpetrators. That should be easy in the case of the Caging List Criminal. He’d only have to look for the guy wearing a new shiny lawman’s badge.

Read the full story, “Caging Lists: Great White Republicans Take Voters Captive” in Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse: Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales from a White House Gone Wild. The new edition, with a new chapter on Theft of the Election, will be released April 24th (by Penguin/Plume in paperback).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cowboy Costume

Via Atrois:

Glenn Greenwald has a good post about the basic Coulter/Dowd storyline that the press loves and what it says about the conservative movement. I think this from Mission Accomplished Day provides the perfect illustration of the entire thing.

Chief among the cheerleaders was MSNBC's Chris Matthews. On the May 1, 2003, edition of Hardball, Matthews was joined in his effusive praise of Bush by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter and "Democrat" Pat Caddell. Former U.S. Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-CA) also appeared on the program.:

MATTHEWS: What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?


MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?


MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Bob Dornan, you were a congressman all those years. Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?


MATTHEWS: Ann Coulter, you're the first to speak tonight on the buzz. The president's performance tonight, redolent of the best of Reagan -- what do you think?

COULTER: It's stunning. It's amazing. I think it's huge. I mean, he's landing on a boat at 150 miles per hour. It's tremendous. It's hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn't matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It's stunning, and it speaks for itself.

MATTHEWS: Pat Caddell, the president's performance tonight on television, his arrival on ship?

CADDELL: Well, first of all, Chris, the -- I think that -- you know, I was -- when I first heard about it, I was kind of annoyed. It sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there's a real -- there's a real affection between him and the troops.


MATTHEWS: The president there -- look at this guy! We're watching him. He looks like he flew the plane. He only flew it as a passenger, but he's flown --

CADDELL: He looks like a fighter pilot.

MATTHEWS: He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat that he does wear, that makes him -- I mean, he seems like -- he didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does.

CADDELL: Yes. It's a -- I don't know. You know, it's an internal thing. I don't know if you can put it into words. [...] You can see it with him and the troops, the ease with which he talks to them. I was amazed by that, frankly, because as I said, I was originally appalled, particularly when I heard he was going in an F-18. But -- on there -- but the -- but you know, that was --

MATTHEWS: Look at this guy!

CADDELL: -- was hard not to be moved by their reaction to him and his reaction to them and --

MATTHEWS: You know, Ann --

CADDELL: -- you know, they -- it's a quality. It's an innate quality. It's a real quality.

MATTHEWS: I know. I think you're right.

Later that day, on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Matthews said:

MATTHEWS: We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.

Libby Verdict Deals Blow to Bush Administration

Libby Verdict Deals Blow to Bush Administration

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2007; 2:28 PM

The conviction of former White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby today dealt another blow to President Bush's beleaguered administration and marked the latest chapter in a record of mistakes, missteps and setbacks growing out of an Iraq war policy that went badly awry.

The Libby verdict comes at an especially difficult time for the administration. Revelations about substandard living conditions and bureaucratic roadblocks for some wounded outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have thrown the administration on the defensive over the sensitive issue of how the government treats its war veterans.

At the same time, the administration is coming under fire in Congress over the firing of a group of U.S. attorneys for what critics say were political reasons. Several of those former U.S. attorneys were testifying on Capitol Hill as the Libby verdict was announced at the federal courthouse a few blocks away.

The conviction of someone who once served at such a high level in the White House carried symbolic power when it was handed down at noon. But in the immediate aftermath of the verdict, analysts on different sides of the political system debated whether history will judge the Libby decision as significant in and of itself.

There was agreement, however, that, even as a footnote in the record of the administration, the verdict was a reminder of just how much Iraq has enveloped the Bush presidency and damaged or destroyed the reputations and careers of so many who have been touched by it directly.

The cost to Libby could be extraordinarily personal and painful. Once the chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, Libby now faces possible time in prison. Only a successful appeal, which many lawyers would handicap as unlikely, or a presidential pardon, which Libby's friends will now begin to demand, could keep him from that fate.

But Libby is just one of a string of officials whose careers have been stamped by the war. Bush's presidential legacy is tied to the war. Former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld lost his job over the war. Other officials, including Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell have seen their reputations affected by the war.

The Libby case captivated official Washington as prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald began his investigation into how the name of CIA official Valerie Plame became public and whether her unmasking was deliberate retaliation by administration officials for criticism leveled at their war policy by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Fitzgerald's investigation proved terribly debilitating to the administration during the summer and fall of 2005, as it appeared that not only Libby but also White House senior adviser Karl Rove, the president's most influential political strategist, might face charges.

In the end, Rove never was prosecuted. And long after Libby was indicted, it was revealed that Plame's name was first leaked not by White House officials intent on revenge, but by then-deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage, who with Powell was often at odds with the White House and Cheney over Iraq policy.

The trial was equally irresistible as Washington spectacle. It featured a parade of big-name journalists such as NBC's Tim Russert brought in to testify on behalf of the prosecution that Libby had lied about his conversations, and the appearance of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. She had gone to jail rather than reveal her sources to Fitzgerald, although eventually, with Libby's permission, she acknowledged that she was told about Plame by the former vice presidential adviser.

The verdict may well produce predictable political reactions on the left and right, with the left seeing it as vindication of their argument that the administration has gone to any lengths to challenge critics of his policy and the right seeing Fitzgerald as a runaway prosecutor who gained a conviction without charging anyone for the underlying crime of illegally revealing the identity of a covert intelligence official.

"I think as a historical matter it goes down as part of an Iraq policy gone bad," said a Republican lawyer, who asked not to be identified in order to speak more freely. "They tried to salvage the policy when criticized. They overreached and ended up with a serious black eye because of it."

Democrat Geoffrey Garin argued that the outcome of the Libby trial only adds to the political argument from his party that the Republicans should be turned out of the White House in 2008, to complete a clean sweep in Washington that began with the 2006 midterm elections.

"For the general electorate, this just adds to the feeling that there's something really rotten at the core of this administration and that the country needs a pretty big change," he said.

Others disputed whether the public was so riveted by the Libby trial that it will rise to that significance politically, calling it a Washington sideshow that will not ripple far beyond the banks of the Potomac.

But even some Republicans sense that the administration is a diminishing force and that every new setback, whether today's verdict or the Walter Reed scandal, adds to the pressure on Republicans looking ahead to the next election to separate themselves even more from the administration.

Libby likely will pay a significant price for what happened in the summer of 2003 as the administration saw its Iraq policy under serious attack for the first time. But his is part of a much larger story that is still being written as the country wrestles with the most unpopular war since Vietnam.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Paul Krugman - Valor and Squalor

Valor and Squalor
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Monday 05 March 2007

When Salon, the online magazine, reported on mistreatment of veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center two years ago, officials simply denied that there were any problems. And they initially tried to brush off last month's exposé in The Washington Post.

But this time, with President Bush's approval at 29 percent, Democrats in control of Congress, and Donald Rumsfeld no longer defense secretary - Robert Gates, his successor, appears genuinely distressed at the situation - the whitewash didn't stick.

Yet even now it's not clear whether the public will be told the full story, which is that the horrors of Walter Reed's outpatient unit are no aberration. For all its cries of "support the troops," the Bush administration has treated veterans' medical care the same way it treats everything else: nickel-and-diming the needy, protecting the incompetent and privatizing everything it can.

What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veterans' health care - like the Federal Emergency Management Agency - became a shining example of how good leadership can revitalize a troubled government program. By the early years of this decade the Veterans Health Administration was, by many measures, providing the highest-quality health care in America. (It probably still is: Walter Reed is a military facility, not run by the V.H.A.)

But as with FEMA, the Bush administration has done all it can to undermine that achievement. And the Walter Reed scandal is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration's misgovernment became obvious to everyone.

The problem starts with money. The administration uses carefully cooked numbers to pretend that it has been generous to veterans, but the historical data contained in its own budget for fiscal 2008 tell the true story. The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans' medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.

To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.

More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency's Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack "special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service," will be turned away.

So when you hear stories of veterans who spend months or years fighting to get the care they deserve, trying to prove that their injuries are service-related, remember this: all this red tape was created not by the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but by the Bush administration's penny-pinching.

But money is only part of the problem.

We know from Hurricane Katrina postmortems that one of the factors degrading FEMA's effectiveness was the Bush administration's relentless push to outsource and privatize disaster management, which demoralized government employees and drove away many of the agency's most experienced professionals. It appears that the same thing has been happening to veterans' care.

The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.

And Mr. Waxman, who will be holding a hearing on the issue today, appears to have solid evidence, including an internal Walter Reed memo from last year, that the prospect of privatization led to a FEMA-type exodus of skilled personnel.

What comes next? Francis J. Harvey, who as far as I can tell was the first defense contractor appointed secretary of the Army, has been forced out. But the parallels between what happened at Walter Reed and what happened to New Orleans - not to mention parallels with the mother of all scandals, the failed reconstruction of Iraq - tell us that the roots of the scandal run far deeper than the actions of a few bad men.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ny Times - The Must-Do List


The Must-Do List

The Bush administration’s assault on some of the founding principles of American democracy marches onward despite the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections. The new Democratic majorities in Congress can block the sort of noxious measures that the Republican majority rubber-stamped. But preventing new assaults on civil liberties is not nearly enough.

Five years of presidential overreaching and Congressional collaboration continue to exact a high toll in human lives, America’s global reputation and the architecture of democracy. Brutality toward prisoners, and the denial of their human rights, have been institutionalized; unlawful spying on Americans continues; and the courts are being closed to legal challenges of these practices.

It will require forceful steps by this Congress to undo the damage. A few lawmakers are offering bills intended to do just that, but they are only a start. Taking on this task is a moral imperative that will show the world the United States can be tough on terrorism without sacrificing its humanity and the rule of law.

Today we’re offering a list — which, sadly, is hardly exhaustive — of things that need to be done to reverse the unwise and lawless policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Many will require a rewrite of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, an atrocious measure pushed through Congress with the help of three Republican senators, Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham and John McCain; Senator McCain lent his moral authority to improving one part of the bill and thus obscured its many other problems.

Our list starts with three fundamental tasks:

Restore Habeas Corpus

One of the new act’s most indecent provisions denies anyone Mr. Bush labels an “illegal enemy combatant” the ancient right to challenge his imprisonment in court. The arguments for doing this were specious. Habeas corpus is nothing remotely like a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrorists, as supporters would have you believe. It is a way to sort out those justly detained from those unjustly detained. It will not “clog the courts,” as Senator Graham claims. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has a worthy bill that would restore habeas corpus. It is essential to bringing integrity to the detention system and reviving the United States’ credibility.

Stop Illegal Spying

Mr. Bush’s program of intercepting Americans’ international calls and e-mail messages without a warrant has not ceased. The agreement announced recently — under which a secret court supposedly gave its blessing to the program — did nothing to restore judicial process or ensure that Americans’ rights are preserved. Congress needs to pass a measure, like one proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, to force Mr. Bush to obey the law that requires warrants for electronic surveillance.

Ban Torture, Really

The provisions in the Military Commissions Act that Senator McCain trumpeted as a ban on torture are hardly that. It is still largely up to the president to decide what constitutes torture and abuse for the purpose of prosecuting anyone who breaks the rules. This amounts to rewriting the Geneva Conventions and puts every American soldier at far greater risk if captured. It allows the president to decide in secret what kinds of treatment he will permit at the Central Intelligence Agency’s prisons. The law absolves American intelligence agents and their bosses of any acts of torture and abuse they have already committed.

Many of the tasks facing Congress involve the way the United States takes prisoners, and how it treats them. There are two sets of prisons in the war on terror. The military runs one set in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. The other is even more shadowy, run by the C.I.A. at secret places.

Close the C.I.A. Prisons

When the Military Commissions Act passed, Mr. Bush triumphantly announced that he now had the power to keep the secret prisons open. He cast this as a great victory for national security. It was a defeat for America’s image around the world. The prisons should be closed.

Account for ‘Ghost Prisoners’

The United States has to come clean on all of the “ghost prisoners” it has in the secret camps. Holding prisoners without any accounting violates human rights norms. Human Rights Watch says it has identified nearly 40 men and women who have disappeared into secret American-run prisons.

Ban Extraordinary Rendition

This is the odious practice of abducting foreign citizens and secretly flying them to countries where everyone knows they will be tortured. It is already illegal to send a prisoner to a country if there is reason to believe he will be tortured. The administration’s claim that it got “diplomatic assurances” that prisoners would not be abused is laughable.

A bill by Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, would require the executive branch to list countries known to abuse and torture prisoners. No prisoner could be sent to any of them unless the secretary of state certified that the country’s government no longer abused its prisoners or offered a way to verify that a prisoner will not be mistreated. It says “diplomatic assurances” are not sufficient.

Congress needs to completely overhaul the military prisons for terrorist suspects, starting with the way prisoners are classified. Shortly after 9/11, Mr. Bush declared all members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to be “illegal enemy combatants” not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions or American justice. Over time, the designation was applied to anyone the administration chose, including some United States citizens and the entire detainee population of Gitmo.

To address this mess, the government must:

Tighten the Definition of Combatant

“Illegal enemy combatant” is assigned a dangerously broad definition in the Military Commissions Act. It allows Mr. Bush — or for that matter anyone he chooses to designate to do the job — to apply this label to virtually any foreigner anywhere, including those living legally in the United States.

Screen Prisoners Fairly and Effectively

When the administration began taking prisoners in Afghanistan, it did not much bother to screen them. Hundreds of innocent men were sent to Gitmo, where far too many remain to this day. The vast majority will never even be brought before tribunals and still face indefinite detention without charges.

Under legal pressure, Mr. Bush created “combatant status review tribunals,” but they are a mockery of any civilized legal proceeding. They take place thousands of miles from the point of capture, and often years later. Evidence obtained by coercion and torture is permitted. The inmates do not get to challenge this evidence. They usually do not see it.

The Bush administration uses the hoary “fog of war” dodge to justify the failure to screen prisoners, saying it is not practical to do that on the battlefield. That’s nonsense. It did not happen in Afghanistan, and often in Iraq, because Mr. Bush decided just to ship the prisoners off to Gitmo.

Prisoners designated as illegal combatants are subject to trial rules out of the Red Queen’s playbook. The administration refuses to allow lawyers access to 14 terrorism suspects transferred in September from C.I.A. prisons to Guantánamo. It says that if they had a lawyer, they might say that they were tortured or abused at the C.I.A. prisons, and anything that happened at those prisons is secret.

At first, Mr. Bush provided no system of trial at the Guantánamo camp. Then he invented his own military tribunals, which were rightly overturned by the Supreme Court. Congress then passed the Military Commissions Act, which did not fix the problem. Some tasks now for Congress:

Ban Tainted Evidence

The Military Commissions Act and the regulations drawn up by the Pentagon to put it into action, are far too permissive on evidence obtained through physical abuse or coercion. This evidence is unreliable. The method of obtaining it is an affront.

Ban Secret Evidence

Under the Pentagon’s new rules for military tribunals, judges are allowed to keep evidence secret from a prisoner’s lawyer if the government persuades the judge it is classified. The information that may be withheld can include interrogation methods, which would make it hard, if not impossible, to prove torture or abuse.

Better Define ‘Classified’ Evidence

The military commission rules define this sort of secret evidence as “any information or material that has been determined by the United States government pursuant to statute, executive order or regulation to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national security.” This is too broad, even if a president can be trusted to exercise the power fairly and carefully. Mr. Bush has shown he cannot be trusted to do that.

Respect the Right to Counsel

Soon after 9/11, the Bush administration allowed the government to listen to conversations and intercept mail between some prisoners and their lawyers. This had the effect of suspending their right to effective legal representation. Since then, the administration has been unceasingly hostile to any lawyers who defend detainees. The right to legal counsel does not exist to coddle serial terrorists or snarl legal proceedings. It exists to protect innocent people from illegal imprisonment.

Beyond all these huge tasks, Congress should halt the federal government’s race to classify documents to avoid public scrutiny — 15.6 million in 2005, nearly double the 2001 number. It should also reverse the grievous harm this administration has done to the Freedom of Information Act by encouraging agencies to reject requests for documents whenever possible. Congress should curtail F.B.I. spying on nonviolent antiwar groups and revisit parts of the Patriot Act that allow this practice.

The United States should apologize to a Canadian citizen and a German citizen, both innocent, who were kidnapped and tortured by American agents.

Oh yes, and it is time to close the Guantánamo camp. It is a despicable symbol of the abuses committed by this administration (with Congress’s complicity) in the name of fighting terrorism.