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, December 08, 2007

Kevin Drum - What The Tapes Would Have Shown

WHAT THE TAPES WOULD HAVE SHOWN....Yesterday we learned that in 2005, despite earlier warnings from Congress, the White House, and the Justice Department, the CIA destroyed two videotaped interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives who had been captured shortly after 9/11. Why? CIA director Michael Hayden says the tapes were destroyed because of fears that they might leak and give away the identity of CIA interrogators, but that's an excuse so thin that I hesitate to even call it laughable. In fact, the decision was made just as questions were starting to be raised about the torture of CIA prisoners, and the tapes were almost certainly destroyed for fear that they'd be subpoenaed and it would become clear just how harsh our "harsh interrogation" measures really were.

So what would investigators have seen if they'd had access to the tapes? One of the captured prisoners was an al-Qaeda operative named Abu Zubaydah, and it turns out we have a pretty good idea of what the tape would have shown. First, Spencer Ackerman gives us this from James Risen's State of War:

Risen charges that Tenet caved to Bush entirely on the torture of al-Qaeda detainees. After the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah, a bin Laden deputy, failed to yield much information due to his drowsiness from medical treatment, Bush allegedly told Tenet, "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?" Not only did Tenet get the message — brutality while questioning an enemy prisoner was no problem — but Tenet also never sought explicit White House approval for permissible interrogation techniques, contributing to what Risen speculates is an effort by senior officials "to insulate Bush and give him deniability" on torture.

And here is Barton Gellman's gloss of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics.

[Other unrelated bungling described, all of which is worth clicking the link to read.]

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"

Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to" And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

So here's what the tapes would have shown: not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical "confessions" under duress. This was all prompted by the president of the United States, implemented by the director of the CIA, and the end result was thousands of wasted man hours by intelligence and and law enforcement personnel.

Nice trifecta there. And just think: there's an entire political party in this country that still thinks this is OK.

Friday, December 07, 2007


by Scout Finch

Yesterday, CBS News acquired the November 30th Inspector General Report on Iraq, also known as the "Management of the Iraq Security Forces Fund in Southwest Asia - Phase III.

Incredibly enough, cash isn't the only thing missing from Iraq. Turns out those missing billions may have been driven away by fully armed "Iraqi Security Forces" in dumptrucks and tractor-trailers.....provided by the US Army. From Laura Strickler at CBS News:

Auditors for the Inspector General reviewed equipment contracts totaling $643 million but could only find an audit trail for $83 million.

The report details a massive failure in government procurement revealing little accountability for the billions of dollars spent purchasing military hardware for the Iraqi security forces. For example, according to the report, the military could not account for 12,712 out of 13,508 weapons, including pistols, assault rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and machine guns.

Emphasis mine. Simply stunning. The US military can account for less than 800 of 13,500 weapons they have supplied the "Iraqi security forces." I find it very difficult to believe that there was any sort of accounting system in place to track the dispersion of these weapons. Were the Iraqi's able to just walk into the weapons depot and take whatever they liked? Are they missing because these so-called "Iraqi Security Forces" are now insurgents? If these weapons aren't being used to secure Iraq, then isn't it safe to assume they are now being used against our forces?

The CBS pieces goes on to note:

The report comes on the same day that Army procurement officials will face tough questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding their procurement policies. One official, Claude Bolton, assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology has already announced his resignation on the heels of sharp criticism of army contracting. Bolton’s resignation is effective Jan. 2, 2008. The Army has significantly expanded its fraud investigations in recent months.

The criticism has been going on for years and Claude Bolton has been serving in that position since 2002, so he's hardly been rushed out the door. I can only speculate that the fraud investigation alluded to above is playing a larger role in his departure, but that remains to be seen.

Who is Claude Bolton, Jr. and how did this turn into such a disaster? Because that's what happens when you task Donald Rumsfeld with picking appointees:

A retired Air Force major general, Bolton was an interesting pick for the Army acquisition job. Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, says it's "very unusual" for a service member to retire from one branch of the military and then enter another as a senior political civilian. Bolton is one example of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "effort to create a much more harmonized acquisition corps across the services," says Soloway, who was deputy undersecretary for acquisition reform at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration and has worked with Bolton.
Before retiring in 2001 from the Air Force, Bolton was commander of the Air Force Security Assistance Center at Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He managed multibillion-dollar foreign military sales in that job and was heavily involved in acquisition reforms during the 1990s.

So long Claude. I'm sure that like many of the Bush and Rumsfeld cronies before you, you'll end up at KBR or some other corrupt extension of the DoD, where you'll continue being incompetent and ineffective in countless other ways at our expense. But, for now? Don't let the door hit you in the ass.

Hayden Says CIA Videotapes Destroyed

Hayden Says CIA Videotapes Destroyed

PAMELA HESS | December 6, 2007 11:55 PM EST | AP

WASHINGTON — The CIA videotaped its interrogations of two top terror suspects in 2002 and destroyed the tapes three years later out of fear they would leak to the public and compromise the identities of U.S. questioners, the director of the agency told employees Thursday.

The disclosure brought immediate condemnation from Capitol Hill and from a human rights group which charged the spy agency's action amounted to criminal destruction of evidence.

The Senate Intelligence Committee promised a full review of the situation.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said the CIA began taping the interrogations as an internal check on the program after President Bush authorized the use of harsh questioning methods. The methods included waterboarding, which simulates drowning, government officials said.

"The Agency was determined that it proceed in accord with established legal and policy guidelines. So, on its own, CIA began to videotape interrogations," Hayden said in a written message to CIA employees, obtained by The Associated Press.

The CIA decided to destroy the tapes in "the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them," Hayden wrote. He said the tapes were destroyed only after it was determined "they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquiries."

"The tapes posed a serious security risk," Hayden wrote. "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathizers."

Hayden said House and Senate intelligence committee leaders were informed of the existence of the tapes and the CIA's intention to destroy them. He also said the CIA's internal watchdog watched the tapes in 2003 and verified that the interrogation practices were legal.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, then the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was one of only four members of Congress in 2003 informed of the tapes' existence and the CIA's intention to ultimately destroy them.

"I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it," Harman said. While key lawmakers were briefed on the CIA's intention to destroy the tapes, they were not notified two years later when the spy agency went through with the plan. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the committee only learned of the tapes' destruction in November 2006.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from August 2004 until the end of 2006, said through a spokesman that he doesn't remember being informed of the videotaping program.

"Congressman Hoekstra does not recall ever being told of the existence or destruction of these tapes," said Jamal D. Ware, senior adviser to the committee. "He believes that Director Hayden is being generous in his claim that the committee was informed. He believes the committee should have been fully briefed and consulted on how this was handled."

Jennifer Daskal, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch, said destroying the tapes was illegal. "Basically this is destruction of evidence," she said, calling Hayden's explanation that the tapes were destroyed to protect CIA identities "disingenuous."

The CIA only taped the interrogation of the first two terror suspects the agency held, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah, under harsh questioning, told CIA interrogators about alleged 9/11 accomplice Ramzi Binalshibh, Bush said in 2006.

Binalshibh was captured and interrogated and, with Zubaydah's information, led to the capture in 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Hayden said a secondary reason for the taped interrogations was to have backup documentation of the information gathered.

"The Agency soon determined that its documentary reporting was full and exacting, removing any need for tapes. Indeed, videotaping stopped in 2002," Hayden said.

The CIA is known to have waterboarded three prisoners since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but not since 2003. Hayden banned the use of the procedure in 2006, according to knowledgeable officials.

The disclosure of the tapes' destruction came on the same day the House and Senate intelligence committees agreed to legislation prohibiting the CIA from using "enhanced interrogation techniques." The White House Thursday threatened to veto the bill.

Hayden's message was an attempt to get ahead of a New York Times story about the videotapes.

"What matters here is that it was done in line with the law," Hayden said. "Over the course of its life, the Agency's interrogation program has been of great value to our country. It has helped disrupt terrorist operations and save lives. It was built on a solid foundation of legal review. It has been conducted with careful supervision. If the story of these tapes is told fairly, it will underscore those facts."

The CIA says the tapes were destroyed late in 2005, a year marked by increasing pressure from defense attorneys to obtain videotapes of detainee interrogations. The scandal over harsh treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had focused public attention on interrogation techniques.

Beginning in 2003, attorneys for al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui began seeking videotapes of interrogations they believed might help them show their client wasn't a part of the 9/11 attacks. These requests heated up in 2005 as the defense slowly learned the identities of more detainees in U.S. custody.

In May 2005, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered the government to disclose whether interrogations were recorded. The government objected to that order, and the judge modified it on Nov. 3, 2005, to ask for confirmation of whether the government "has video or audio tapes of these interrogations" and then named specific ones. Eleven days later, the government denied it had video or audio tapes of those specific interrogations.

Last month, the CIA admitted to Brinkema and a circuit judge that it had failed to hand over tapes of enemy combatant witnesses. Those interrogations were not part of the CIA's detention program and were not conducted or recorded by the agency, the agency said.

"The CIA did not say to the court in its original filing that it had no terrorist tapes at all. It would be wrong to assert that," CIA spokesman George Little said.

Military Families Question Iraq War as Support for Bush Slips

Military Families Question Iraq War as Support for Bush Slips

By Christopher Stern

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Kent Fletcher, an Iraq war veteran, says he enthusiastically voted for President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Now, he is a registered Democrat who questions the need for the war, the way it has been managed and the treatment of returning veterans.

``Saddam Hussein wasn't a threat and the culmination of my career was that war and it wasn't necessary,'' says Fletcher, 32, a financial analyst in Bluffton, South Carolina, who served almost 10 years as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll shows that Fletcher's skepticism about the war reflects a growing disenchantment within the broader military community, long a bastion of support for the Bush administration and Republicans. Among active-duty military, veterans and their families, only 36 percent say it was worth going to war in Iraq. This compares with an Annenberg survey taken in 2004, one year after the invasion, which showed that 64 percent of service members and their families supported the war.

The views of veterans and their families are now closer in line with overall public sentiment. The poll shows that 32 percent of the general population supports the war.

`Enormous Sacrifices'

The change isn't ``surprising,'' says Andrew Bacevich, a former Army colonel and professor of international relations at Boston University whose son was killed in Iraq in May. ``Military families have been asked to make enormous sacrifices.''

The poll conducted Nov. 30-Dec. 3 also finds that 37 percent of military-family members approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a little more than the general population. The 2004 poll by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications in Philadelphia found that twice as many military families approved of Bush's performance.

``I don't think our commander-in-chief has inclusive long- term goals sketched out,'' said Victoria Colhouer, 49, of St. Petersburg, Florida, whose son is serving in Iraq.

The same trend holds true on the question of the treatment of active-duty military, veterans and their families. The poll finds that only 29 percent of all poll respondents say they believe the Bush administration is doing a good job handling those needs. Among military families, who directly benefit from those programs, 35 percent say the administration is doing a good job.

Favoring Democrats

At the same time, a plurality of military-family members, 39 percent, say they believe Democrats are likely to do a better job handling those issues, compared with 35 percent for Republicans.

When it comes to candidates in next year's presidential election, military families are less reliably Republican than in earlier campaigns. Two Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois run slightly ahead of former Republican Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among those voters, and both Democrats trail only slightly former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The survey of 1,467 adults nationwide includes 631 military family members, active-duty personnel and veterans. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for the military families it is plus or minus 4 points.

Max Ramos, 52, an Army master sergeant who was injured in Afghanistan in 2002 and is set to retire next month after 28 years of service, says he still supports Bush. At the same time, he understands that soldiers are angry about a military health- care system that is strained by the war.

`Person in Charge'

He says many of his military colleagues blame Bush because ``the person that is responsible for everything is the person in charge.''

In 2005, Fletcher, the Marine who switched party affiliations, published an editorial in the Huntington, West Virginia Herald-Dispatch newspaper scolding critics of Bush, who he said were also insulting the U.S. fighting forces.

``You don't have to spit on an Iraqi war veteran physically to spit on one metaphorically,'' he wrote. ``We are part and the same with the president's administration.''

Fletcher is now a member of, a group that promotes political candidates, particularly veterans who are critical of the Bush administration's Iraq war policies.

That shift in Fletcher's view may reflect a broader trend in the military about dissent. The Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll finds that 58 percent of military families -- the same margin as the overall population -- believe it is appropriate for retired military personnel to criticize Bush even in a time of war.

Separately, the poll also finds that almost half of Americans would support some form of military action against Iran over its nuclear program. The survey was conducted before the Bush administration released an intelligence assessment this week that concluded Iran halted nuclear-weapons development in 2003. The report has prompted a fresh round of criticism by Democrats of Bush's stance that Iran is a growing threat to the U.S. and its allies.

Bush: Misleading at Best

Bush: Misleading at Best

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, December 6, 2007; 1:47 PM

The White House acknowledged last night that President Bush learned in August that Iran might have shelved its nuclear weapons program, contradicting what the president said at his press conference earlier this week.

Bush said Tuesday that was first briefed on a dramatic new intelligence report about Iran just last week. He said that national intelligence director Michael McConnell told him in August there was some new information about Iran, but "didn't tell me what the information was."

Critics and journalists alike responded with incredulity that Bush didn't insist on some details. And so late yesterday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino disclosed in an unusual e-mailed statement to reporters that McConnell had in fact told Bush that the new information "might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment of Iran's covert nuclear program."

Perino insisted that Bush was told at the time that the findings were provisional enough that there was no need to change the tenor of his statements about Iran. But that doesn't hold water either. As I documented in yesterday's column, Bush's word choice on Iran did indeed change significantly in early August. He stopped speaking definitively about an Iranian nuclear weapons program -- shifting to vaguer accusations about their pursuit of the knowledge necessary to make such a weapon -- while ratcheting the rhetorical stakes up higher than ever, even going so far as to repeatedly warn of a possible nuclear holocaust.

Yet another challenge to the newly revised White House story is an alternate narrative, woven by some investigative reporters, in which White House officials and particularly Vice President Cheney were involved in a pitched battle over the last 18 months to squelch a report they knew would undermine a key pillar of their foreign policy. In this scenario, Bush presumably knew even before August that what he was telling the American people was unsupported.

Last night's reversal only increases the pressure on the White House to come clean. Why did Bush mislead reporters at the press conference about what he'd been told in August? Did he not remember what happened? Was he just being sloppy in his answer? Was he trying to throw reporters off the trail with some imaginative hair-splitting? Was he outright lying?

Exactly how long has Bush known that the intelligence didn't back up his assertion (either direct or implied) that Iran was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program? It's not just a question of what McConnell said that day in August. Is the White House really willing to say that was the first indication Bush ever had of such doubts?

And let's not forget the central mystery: Why did Bush and Cheney ratchet up the anti-Iran rhetoric if they knew their primary concern had abated? Why hype a threat they knew was overstated -- especially after the damage they inflicted on American credibility after invading Iraq on false pretenses?

The Contradiction

Martha Raddatz blogs for ABC News: "The White House made a stunning admission Wednesday that appeared to suggest President Bush has directly contradicted himself about when he learned U.S. intelligence that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. . . .

"After taking a reporters' question earlier today about exactly what the President was told, White House press secretary Dana Perino provided a response to reporters Wednesday night.

"Perino stated Bush had been told in August that Iran suspended it's covert nuclear weapons program.

"'In August, DNI Director McConnell advised President Bush that the intelligence community would not be able to meet a congressionally imposed deadline requiring a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran because new information had been obtained just as they were about to finalize the report,' Perino wrote in an emailed response.

"'He said that if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right. Iran does in fact have a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended,' Perino's email said.

"Perino also said McConnell told the President the new information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment of Iran's covert nuclear program."

Ed Henry reports for CNN: "The new account from Perino seems to contradict the president's version of his August conversation with McConnell and raised new questions about why Bush continued to warn the American public about a threat from Iran two months after being told a new assessment was in the works.

"But Perino said there was no conflict between her statement and Bush's Tuesday account of the meeting, when he said McConnell 'didn't tell me what the information was.'

"'The president wasn't given the specific details' of the revised intelligence estimate, which was released Monday, Perino said. Nor did Bush mislead Americans in October, when he warned of a third world war triggered by Iran's development of nuclear technology, she said.

"'The president didn't say we're going to cause World War III,' Perino said. 'He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.' . . .

"And Perino called [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad a 'liar' Wednesday, because the new NIE shows that Tehran did have a clandestine nuclear weapons program at one time.

"'If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes,' Perino said. 'The liar is Ahmadinejad, and he has a lot of explaining to do.'"

National security adviser Stephen Hadley spoke this morning to NPR's Renee Montagne and echoed Perino's new line.

Montagne expressed skepticism about Bush's version of his talk with McConnell: "Given that Iran is at the top of this administration's concerns, did that conversation end there?"

Hadley: "The director of national intelligence did alert the president that there was some new information. He didn't go into great detail on that information. And he also advised is that this was one of many streams of information, some of which were potentially in conflict. So he basically said, 'Mr. President, there's something that may be new, it indicated that there was a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may have been suspended -- its too soon to tell. We're going to work the information and come back to you, Mr. President.' And then they went off and worked it, and that's what you'd hope your intelligence community would do."

Montagne: "But didn't the president ask for more information on one of the most important aspects of his foreign policy?"

Hadley: "The president has been asking for more information on Iran for the last several years. He's spent a lot of time actually bringing the Iranian analysts in and interacting with them directly, trying to probe, understand what they know. . . ."

Montagne: "Why, weeks later, was he warning about Iran's nuclear weapons program possibly leading to World War III? That's pretty strong rhetoric."

Hadley: "It's right, it was right at the time, and it's right now."

The Perino Factor

Perino made a guest appearance with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News last night.

O'Reilly was fuming about the attacks on the president: "Yesterday, Senator Joseph Biden actually called the president a liar over the issue," he said, rolling a clip of Biden saying "For this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about the issue of war and peace I find outrageous."

O'Reilly: "Now Senator Biden refuses to come on 'The Factor.' He simply doesn't have the courage, but his office told us he based his assessment of President Bush on what national security advisor Steven Hadley said. So then we called Steven Hadley's office. And they told us point blank President Bush was informed about the new Iranian intel only last Wednesday.

"Joining us now from Washington, White House Spokesperson Dana Perino. You know, I've never understood why you, Tony Snow, McClellan, all of the White House spokespeople, and President Bush himself, and the president himself didn't get as angry as I get from the 'Bush lied' crowd. They can't prove any lies, but they say it over and over and over. . . .

"If somebody accused me of being a liar like Biden just did, I'd be all over them. I'd be all over them. Now are you as angry as I am about it?"

Perino: "It does make me angry. And especially because I think Senator Biden is acting much more like a political presidential candidate than a senator. Anybody who is serious about wanting to be in the Oval Office should take a deep breath and actually digest the information that we got.

"We just found out that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program. It proves that we were right, and that international pressure is what caused them to halt it."

Actually, Iran had a nuclear weapons program. But let's continue.

O'Reilly: "All right, but look, I don't mind Biden's partisanship. That's what - that's how the game is played. But he comes out, and he says to the world, not just to America, Ms. Perino, we have a president who continues to lie to the American people and the world about very serious subjects like life and death, war and peace. And I don't hear President Bush coming out saying listen Biden, knock it off, I didn't lie about anything. I'd like to hear that."

Perino: "Well, I'm happy to say it here."

Bush's Latest Statement

Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "President Bush called on Iran to 'come clean' about the scope of its nuclear activities Wednesday, as the White House made it clear there will be no change in its policy toward Tehran despite new intelligence questioning his claims about the country's nuclear ambitions. . . .

"The White House remained anxious to contain the fallout from this week's new intelligence report, which contradicts recent statements by Bush and Vice President Cheney that Iran intends to try to acquire a nuclear weapon. U.S. analysts judged that Iran is continuing to develop technologies that could be used for a bomb, but they believe with 'moderate confidence' that, as of the middle of this year, Tehran had not restarted the nuclear weapons program. . . .

"Administration officials offered no contrition or apologies for past rhetoric about Iran and said there will be no change in policy, such as relaxing its insistence that Tehran abandon nuclear enrichment as a precondition to negotiations with the United States. . . .

"White House spokesman Tony Fratto said aboard Air Force One that 'anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts.' . . .

"Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a presidential candidate, said if Bush believes nothing has changed because of the intelligence report, he is in denial.

"'If we don't use this moment to end this administration's fixation on regime change and bring the world onboard to a new approach of conduct change, with coordinated pressure and real incentives, the result will be to isolate the United States, not Iran,' Biden said."

"Outside experts said the White House is struggling to keep its policy on Iran from imploding."

David E. Sanger and Steven Lee Myers write in the New York Times that Bush "faced calls from across the political spectrum for the United States to make a more concerted effort to negotiate with Iran, offering a package of incentives that could persuade it to suspend its uranium enrichment program and clear up concerns that it is building a civilian energy program to develop the expertise for a covert military program.

"'Bush has made a big mistake, and he's not responding in a way that gives confidence that he's on top of this,' said David Albright, a former weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency and president of the Institute for Science and International Security. 'He isn't able to respond because he's not able to say he's wrong.'"

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times that the Iranian president has said the report vindicates Iran. "Ahmadinejad also has demanded an apology and compensation from the United States.

"Asked about those demands, Bush laughed and told reporters, 'You can mark down I chuckled.'"

The Alternate Narrative

Joe Klein writes for Time: "Almost exactly a year ago, after the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, the President met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 'Tank,' the Pentagon's secure facility. Bush asked the Chiefs about attacking Iran. He was told that a bombing campaign could do severe damage to Iran's military and nuclear facilities, but the Chiefs said they were opposed to such a strike because of the probable 'blowback.' The Iranians, Bush was told, could make life very difficult for the U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. They could shut off the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, thereby creating a global economic crisis. And they could use the threat of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks on the American homeland

"At about the same time, a new NIE on Iran was meandering through the intelligence community. A senior U.S. intelligence official told me last week that the report was prepared to say with a 'moderate' degree of certainty that Iran had stopped its nuclear-weapons program, but the information wasn't very conclusive. That finding would have put the U.S. in the same camp as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- deeply concerned about the Iranian efforts to enrich uranium but skeptical about the regime's efforts to fashion that uranium into a bomb."

As I noted yesterday, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported more than a year ago that the CIA had alerted the White House that it was wrong about how close Iran was to building a nuclear bomb. Hersh also reported that Cheney was actively trying to counter or suppress such a conclusion.

By contrast, the administration asserts that intelligence agencies changed their thinking on Iran only last summer.

If both Klein and Hersh are right, however, whatever new intelligence emerged in August only solidified widely-held views. And in that case, did Bush truly not know for a year that there were serious (if not definitive) doubts about the central plank in his anti-Iran platform?

Opinion Watch

Joseph L. Galloway writes in his McClatchy Newspapers opinion column: "That this NIE, albeit in very truncated summary form, ever saw the light of day says much about an intelligence community that's determined to get it right this time and to withstand the unrelenting pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and his minions to come up with an estimate that matches his dark conclusion that only American air strikes can stop Iran's ayatollahs from building nuclear weapons. . . .

"In an earlier day and time, Cheney had enough clout to bully intelligence analysts into revising their estimates about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's nuclear program and weapons of mass destruction. He also was able to shove bogus claims about non-existent mobile chemical and biological weapons labs into then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Back in those heady days before 'Mission Accomplished', it would have been inconceivable that an NIE could have been published that ran counter to Cheney's beliefs and opinions."

But former Cheney minion John R. Bolton writes in a Washington Post op-ed that "we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than 'intelligence' analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function."

Klein writes for Time: "Imagine if the President had said, 'This report means we don't want war. We want to talk, and everything -- including lifting of the economic sanctions and our acknowledgment that you are a major regional power -- is on the table so long as you put everything on the table too. That means not only your uranium-enrichment program but also your support for terrorist organizations.' How could Iran have said no to that?

"But that would have required some other President. This President appears to lack the desire, creativity and patience to engage in the most important diplomacy that a nation can face -- with its enemies -- over issues that could mean the difference between war and peace."

Cheney and the Politico

The transcript of Cheney's interview yesterday with Politico reporters Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris has a bit of news in it. But it's probably most notable for the sycophantic tone of the questions from the three reporters. Rather than probe the incredibly controversial and supremely influential vice president on his inconsistencies or question him about his record, they encouraged him to let loose on Democrats. The opening question:

Q: "But I'd love -- I mean, I'd love your overall assessment from -- of what's been happening on the Hill, like Pelosi's leadership and how Democrats have sort of handled their end of negotiating with you guys, whether it's Iraq, the economy, spending -- dealing with that right now. What is your assessment of how the Democratic Congress is handling -- "

Cheney: "Well, I don't think they're doing all that well. That probably wouldn't surprise anybody."

Cheney was particularly critical of anti-war Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha "and other senior leaders who now all march to the tune of Nancy Pelosi. . . . And that is -- well, it's surprising when I think of the -- I'm trying to think how to say all of this in a gentlemanly fashion -- but the Congress I served in, that wouldn't have happened. We would not have had a Speaker who, from my perspective, is that far out of the sort of mainstream -- she is a San Francisco Democrat, certainly entitled to her views, but able to dictate policy as effectively as she apparently does to the rest of the caucus."

Q: "Well, did any of those guys lose their spine? Is that what you're saying?"

Cheney: "I was being very diplomatic in the way I phrased it. (Laughter.) They're not carrying the big stick I would have expected with the Democrats in the majority."

Q: "Mr. Vice President, what has Senator Reid been like to work with?"

Cheney: "Difficult. He's -- I'll leave it at that. He's difficult."

Q: "Are you surprised at how partisan he's become, I mean, given both his state and his past politics? He has -- quite frankly, his past views on foreign policy have been -- (inaudible) -- Are you surprised that he's become so stridently anti-war, saying not long ago that the war is lost --"

Cheney: "Well, I obviously -- I have major differences with him. When he announced the war was lost, he was clearly wrong. And I -- the man I respect most on the other side of the aisle -- that nobody would be surprised about -- is Joe Lieberman."

The Politicos even offered Cheney a little strategic advice:

Q: "Do you think it's important for both the White House and for Republicans to be clear in the current climate that they do think that there are potentially devastating costs to some of these Democratic policies; that it's not about -- because often it's sort of written about and thought about in this political context, that Democrats want this, Bush doesn't and Bush wins. But that there are -- I mean, like what you say -- I mean, you sort of summarize what you say, it's like, listen to me, if we do what they want to do in Iraq, people could die if you don't have the right -- proper tools, or, we're more exposed."

But Cheney demurred: "I try to state it the way I stated it. Then there's always a great temptation out there anyway -- get into the media -- for people to try to sensationalize this stuff. I was very precise in terms of what I said, and that's how I would like to describe my views."

Allen, VandeHei and Harris then wrote up a story which the Drudge Report publicizes with this link: "CHENEY SAYS DEM MEN LACK 'BIG STICKS'"

They write: "Most striking were his virtually taunting remarks of two men he described as friends from his own days in the House: Democratic Reps. John Dingell (Mich.) and John P. Murtha (Pa.)."

In a separate story, the same three reporters write without once mentioning Cheney's May 2005 comment that the insurgency was in its "last throes": "Vice President Cheney today predicted Iraq will be a self-governing democracy by the time he leaves office, calling the current U.S. surge strategy 'a remarkable success story' that will be studied for years to come."

And they note: "By contrast to President Bush's paper-free Oval Office desk, Cheney's is a working desk, stacked with reference and reading material, including a pictorial directory for Congress and the latest issue of Politico."

Other Views of Iraq

Ann Scott Tyson and Sudarsan Raghavan write in The Washington Post: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that a stable and democratic Iraq is 'within reach.' But he cautioned that threats remain, pointing to insurgent efforts to create a stronghold in northern Iraq as U.S. commanders seek more than 1,400 additional Iraqi and U.S. troops there."

New York Times reporter Michael R. Gordon writes from Mosul: "Sunni insurgents pushed out of Baghdad and Anbar Provinces have migrated to this northern Iraqi city and have been trying to turn it into a major hub for their operations, according to American commanders."

Alissa J. Rubin writes in the New York Times: "The reduced violence in Iraq in recent months stems from three significant developments, but the clock is running on all of them, Iraqi officials and analysts warn.

"'It's more a cease-fire than a peace,' said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd, in words that were repeated by Qassim Daoud, a Shiite member of Parliament.

"Officials attribute the relative calm to a huge increase in the number of Sunni Arab rebels who have turned their guns on jihadists instead of American troops; a six-month halt to military action by the militia of a top Shiite leader, Moktada al-Sadr; and the increased number of American troops on the streets here.

"They stress that all of these changes can be reversed, and on relatively short notice."

A Former Insider Spills the Beans

In a remarkably candid interview with Evan Smith of the Texas Monthly, recently departed White House counselor Dan Bartlett acknowledges the White House's contested involvement in the "Mission Accomplished" banner; defends the White House press corps; and explains why the White House loves right-wing bloggers so much.

One of the many fascinating exchanges:

Smith: "What about the blogs?"

Bartlett: "We had to set up a whole new apparatus to deal with the challenges they pose. Are they real journalists? The Washington Post, for example, has journalists who are now bloggers. Do you treat them as bloggers? Do they get credentials?"

Smith: "Let's think of it as a practical matter. If one of those journalists-turned-bloggers, Chris Cillizza, e-mails you to say he needs an interview, and at the same time one of the Post's print reporters--say, Dan Balz--e-mails you and says he needs an interview, and you can do only one -- "

Bartlett: "Balz."

Smith: "Because the print edition of the Post has more of an impact?"

Bartlett: "Because Balz is on multiple platforms. He's booked more easily on television. He's read by more people. He influences people a bit more. Now, the question might not be as much Chris versus Dan as maybe, 'Is it Dan Balz or one of the guys at [the conservative blog] Power Line?'

Smith: "Yeah, or what if [conservative blogger] Hugh Hewitt called?"

Bartlett: "That's when you start going, 'Hmm . . . ' Because they do reach people who are influential."

Smith: "Well, they reach the president's base."

Bartlett: "That's what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It's a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we've cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on."

Detainee Watch

Michael Doyle writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Supreme Court justices sounded skeptical Wednesday about the Bush administration's treatment of foreign-born prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, raising questions about the future of White House war-on-terrorism tactics."

Linda Greenhouse writes in the New York Times: "When it comes to the rights of the detainees at Guant¿namo Bay, the Supreme Court, and not the president or Congress, will have the last word.

"That was the clear part of the message to emerge Wednesday from the Supreme Court argument on whether the men held as enemy combatants at the United States naval base in Cuba have been provided with constitutionally adequate means to challenge the legality of their detention.

"A majority of the court appeared ready to agree that the detainees were entitled to invoke some measure of constitutional protection."

Karl Rove Watch

Keith J. Kelly writes in the New York Post: "Karl Rove, the controversial and long-time senior adviser to President George W. Bush, is shopping a memoir in an auction that will kick off today and likely result in a seven-figure payday. . . .

"'It's going to be an interesting auction, he's smart and he's capable of moving beyond the cliches,' said [a] publisher, who predicted a $3 million sale."

Dear Leader

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush pleaded with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in a letter to keep his promise to fully disclose all nuclear programs by year's end, in the most personal Bush diplomatic approach toward Pyongyang since he called the country part of the 'axis of evil.'"

Calling Dad

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "Jenna Bush appeared on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' yesterday and made headlines when she 'spontaneously' called her dad during Tuesday night's taping.

"'Could you just pick up the phone right now and call him?' DeGeneres asked the First Twin, who's wrapping up her book tour. 'Sure,' Bush said. 'He's gonna kill me, though!' She grabbed the phone (covering the buttons as she dialed) and reached her parents on the only night -- whaddaya know? -- they weren't hosting a White House holiday party. 'How is my little girl doing?' asked the president, who then wished everybody a Merry Christmas. "

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Pattern of Deception

A Pattern of Deception

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 2:27 PM

President Bush changed the way he talked about Iran in August: He stopped making explicit assertions about the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a new national intelligence estimate in which the nation's 16 intelligence agencies concluded that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program four years ago -- a dramatic rejection of an earlier set of findings.

Bush yesterday said he was only briefed about the new estimate last week.

But a close examination of his word choice over the past year suggests that he learned something around August that got him to stop making claims that were apparently no longer supported by American intelligence.

Instead of directly condemning Iranian leaders for pursuing nuclear weapons, he started more vaguely accusing them of seeking the knowledge necessary to make such a weapon.

As he did that, he and the vice president accelerated their rhetorical efforts to persuade the public that the nuclear threat posed by Iran was grave and urgent. Bush even went so far in late August and October as to warn of the potential for a nuclear holocaust.

Indeed, a careful parsing of Bush's words indicates that, while not saying anything that could later prove to be demonstrably false, Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country.

It's an oddly familiar pattern of deception.

Bush's Changing Words

A survey of Bush's remarks about Iran's nuclear ambitions in 2007 suggests that a shift took place somewhere between August 6 and August 9. There wasn't a change in his overall message, just his carefully chosen words.

Here's Bush on Jan. 26: "As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And we've convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that that's unacceptable behavior."

On March 31: "Our position is that we would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon. . . .

"We respect the history of Iran, we respect the rich traditions of Iran. We, however, are deeply concerned about an Iranian government that is in violation of international accords in their attempt to develop a nuclear weapon."

On June 5: "The Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future, but they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place amongst the thriving."

On June 19, Bush spoke of "consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions. . . .

"Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we'll see."

On July 12: "[T]he same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers."

On Aug. 6 he said "it's up to Iran to prove to the world that they're a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon."

From that point on, he started choosing his words more carefully.

Here he is on Aug. 9: "They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability. . . . It's a very troubling nation right now."

But it certainly didn't tame the overall message.

Here he is on Aug. 28: "Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

"We seek an Iran whose government is accountable to its people -- instead of to leaders who promote terror and pursue the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons."

Oct. 4: "I have made the commitment that I would continue to work with the world to speak with one voice to the Iranians, to the Iranian government, that we will work in ways that we can to make it clear to you that you should not have the know-how on how to make a weapon, because one of the great threats to peace and the world would be if Iranians showed up with a nuclear weapon."

And, of course, here Bush is at his Oct. 17 press conference:

Q: "But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?"

Bush: "I think so long -- until they suspend and/or make it clear that they -- that their statements aren't real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it's in the world's interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian -- if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

"But this -- we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Sharp-Eyed Bloggers

Blogger Josh Marshall examines Bush's wording at that press conference and notes: "It's no longer the need to prevent the Iranians from getting the bomb. Now it's the necessity of 'preventing them from hav[ing] the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.'

"That's the tell.

"That change is no accident. He wants claims that will survive the eventual revelation of this new intelligence -- while also continuing to hype the imminence of the Iranian nuclear threat that his spy chiefs are telling him likely does not exist."

And here is Cheney a few days later, on Oct. 21, in what is widely considered the height of his saber-rattling, speaking of "the inescapable reality of Iran's nuclear program; a program they claim is strictly for energy purposes, but which they have worked hard to conceal; a program carried out in complete defiance of the international community and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. Iran is pursuing technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. The world knows this. . . .

"The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

As Matthew Yglesias blogs for The Atlantic, "the striking thing about this is the extent to which looking back at Cheney's statement he's tried very carefully to avoid directly contradicting the NIE while crafting phrases that are clearly designed to cause the listener to draw the precise wrong conclusion.

"It's not as if Cheney read the NIE and decided he had some reason to believe it was incorrect. Rather, he read it, decided he'd better not contradict it, but also decided that bottom line conclusions about how Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program were inconvenient, and thus decided to talk around that minor point and try to get the American people confused about what's happening. Stunningly cynical and yes I'm resolving once again to never be stunned."

What Happened in August?

At Bush's press conference yesterday, he said: "I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [national intelligence director] Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze."

Not only is it hard to believe that Bush received no indication of what the information said, but his shift in language suggests that he recognized around August that his prior statements about Iran were no longer defensible.

Not Believable?

Bush's assertion that he didn't know about the intelligence reversal until last week struck some observers as flatly absurd.

Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper write in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush opened himself to new criticism over his credibility when he said that the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, alerted him about new intelligence about Iran's weapons program in August but did not explain what it was in detail.

"As recently as October, Mr. Bush continued to warn darkly of Iran's nuclear weapons threat, invoking World War III, despite the new information. He responded to a question about that on Tuesday by saying he had received the final assessment, with its drastically altered findings, only last week."

CNN reports: "Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden on Tuesday said he can't believe President Bush hasn't known for months about a recent intelligence estimate that downplays the nuclear threat from Iran. . . .

"'Are you telling me a president that's briefed every single morning, who's fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government said they had abandoned their effort for a nuclear weapon in '03?' Biden asked in a conference call with reporters.

""I refuse to believe that,' he added. 'If that's true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he's one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.'"

Roxana Tiron write in The Hill that several Democrats "said that Congress should investigate the discrepancy between the Bush administration's recent doomsday rhetoric on Iran and the NIE's judgments."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "charged that the president knew Iran halted its nuclear weapons program months ago even while he warned that the international community must prevent Iran from having the know-how to make a nuclear weapon and avoid 'World War III.'"

And David Morgan writes for Reuters: "On Tuesday, some former intelligence officers said Bush and other top White House officials were probably briefed about the intelligence findings long before the NIE was published.

"'I can't imagine that McConnell . . . would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,' remarked Flynt Leverett, a former member of Bush's National Security Council."

Alternate Timeline

There are also questions about the administration's narrative that the intelligence reversal came recently.

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Last spring, as U.S. intelligence agencies worked to complete an assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons program, they were firmly on track to reach the same conclusion as previous reports: Tehran was bent on building the bomb.

"But within weeks, there was an abrupt change of course. The earlier drafts were scrapped. Analysts began to assemble a new report built around the single, startling conclusion that Iran's nuclear weapons program had actually been shut down for four years.

"What happened?

"As U.S. intelligence officials sought Tuesday to explain the remarkable reversal, they pointed to two factors: the emergence of crucial information over the summer, and a determination to avoid repeating the mistakes that preceded the Iraq war."

But there's an alternate timeline that seems at least as plausible -- and that would make Bush's deniability even more difficult to support.

Consider what Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker over a year ago: "The Administration's planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House's assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Here's Hersh with Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday:

Hersh: "At the time, I wrote that there was a tremendous fight about it, because Cheney in the White House -- the vice president did not want to hear this. So that there was a fight about that intelligence. And, actually, for the last year, I think the vice president's office pretty much has kept -- you know, the vice president has kept his foot on the neck of that report. That report was bottled up for a year.

"The intelligence we learned about yesterday has been circulating inside this government at the highest levels for the last year -- and probably longer."

And Hersh scoffed at Bush's suggestion that he didn't know about the changing intelligence until last week: "Either he didn't know what was going on at the highest levels -- the fight I'm talking about began last year. . . . Now, maybe he didn't know what was going on at the vice presidential level about something that serious. If so, I mean we pay him to know these things and not to make statements based on information that turned out not to be accurate. Or else he's misrepresenting what he knows.

"I don't think there's any question, this is going to pose a serious credibility problem. I assume people are going to be asking more and more questions about what did he know when. And his statement that McConnell comes to him -- the head of the intelligence services of the United States -- and says I have something serious to say to you and he says great, let me know when I want to hear it, is, you know -- it's his words and we can only say that if that's true, you know, that's -- that's not what we pay the guy to do."

Similarly, Scott Horton blogs for Harpers that a "highly reliable intelligence community source" told him: "The NIE has been in substantially the form in which it was finally submitted for more than six months. The White House, and particularly Vice President Cheney, used every trick in the book to stop it from being finalized and issued. There was no last minute breakthrough that caused the issuance of the assessment."

Iraq Redux

In the run-up to war in Iraq, administration policy was to create the perception that Saddam Hussein was an imminent and potentially nuclear-armed threat and was even involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- without exactly saying so. None of that was true, of course. But the message delivery was hugely successful, and the war was launched.

How intentionally misleading Bush and his advisers were before the invasion of Iraq has never been definitively established. Asked last year in a Newsweek poll, 45 percent of Americans said they believed the president was truthful and honest in laying out the case for war, while 48 percent said they believed he was deliberately misleading. Congress and the press seem to have lost interest in the issue.

But here's a fresh case study. And the evidence seems to indicate that even after Bush likely became aware that the intelligence did not support his claim that Iran was an imminent threat -- or even that it was evn pursuing nuclear weapons at all -- he embarked on a strategy of carefully calibrated misinformation.

The public deserves to know precisely what Bush was told when. And that's really only the tip of the iceberg. What was happening behind the scenes? What changed, such that the intelligence agencies finally went public with their findings? And why would Bush and Cheney warn so direly about something that they knew wasn't happening? What was their motivation?

Yesterday's Spin

I wrote in yesterday's column about what I called Bush's neck-snapping spin.

Peter Baker and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "President Bush scrambled yesterday to hold together a fragile international coalition against Iran, declaring that the Islamic republic remains 'dangerous' and that 'nothing has changed' despite a new intelligence report that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.

"While his top diplomats reached out to key counterparts, Bush began calling world leaders and held a White House news conference to argue that the new National Intelligence Estimate only reinforces the need for diplomatic pressure against Iran. Although the report determined that Iran stopped seeking a nuclear bomb in 2003, Bush said Tehran's secrecy shows it cannot be trusted."

Ken Fireman and Jeff Bliss write for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush, his credibility under fire because of intelligence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons drive in 2003, adopted a new argument yesterday to justify tougher sanctions: Just knowing how to produce a bomb is dangerous. . . .

"By shifting from seeking to block an actual weapons program to the 'more amorphous' knowledge standard, Bush is changing a decade-old U.S. policy and making a diplomatic resolution less likely, said [Hillary Mann] Leverett, former director of Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs at the White House National Security Council."

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune: "The president's stance on Iran -- including his continuing assertion that 'all options are on the table,' meaning potential U.S. military action to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb -- raised new questions about his credibility on such security issues, questions that both Democratic leaders and independent analysts were highlighting Tuesday. . . .

"It is a pattern of targeting the 'devil du jour,' suggested John Mueller, a professor of national security at Ohio State University. The last devil was Hussein, he said, and the new one Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"'Just the historical exaggeration of this threat fits into a long syndrome,' said Mueller."

Opinion Watch

Trita Parsi writes on behalf of the National Iranian American Council: "Rather than adjusting policy on Iran in accordance to the reality-check provided by the NIE, the President moved the goal post on Iran. As the NIE declared that Iran likely doesn't have a weapons program, the President shifted the red line from weaponization to the mere knowledge of enriching uranium -- an activity that in and of itself is not of a military nature and is permitted by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"By setting a new and arbitrary standard with no root or support in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, President Bush is insisting on adjusting reality to policy rather than policy to reality. There are numerous problems with this stance.

"First, it further undermines US credibility and leaves allies and foes alike with the impression that Washington seeks a military conflict with Iran regardless of the realities of Iran's nuclear program.

"Second, Iran already possesses the knowledge to enrich uranium. Given the President's logic, this reality would permit the US to continue to pursue a military option against Iran -- in spite of the absence of an Iranian weapons program."

Neocon icon Robert Kagan writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Regardless of what one thinks about the National Intelligence Estimate's conclusion that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- and there is much to question in the report -- its practical effects are indisputable. The Bush administration cannot take military action against Iran during its remaining time in office, or credibly threaten to do so, unless it is in response to an extremely provocative Iranian action. . . .

"Neither, however, will the administration make further progress in winning international support for tighter sanctions on Iran. Fear of American military action was always the primary reason Europeans pressured Tehran. . . .

"With its policy tools broken, the Bush administration can sit around isolated for the next year. Or it can seize the initiative, and do the next administration a favor, by opening direct talks with Tehran."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes: "Bush is correct to say that the revised intelligence estimate does not warrant a fundamental change in policy. A nuclear-armed Iran should be deterred. The tragedy for U.S. security and global peace is that Bush has twice squandered his chances to lead that vital effort."

The Washington Post editorial board encourages Bush to stick to his plan, and not agree to talks with Iran unless the regime first suspends uranium enrichment.

Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times opinion column: "If W. can shape the intelligence to match his faith-based beliefs, as with Iraq, then he will believe the intelligence -- no matter how incredible it is.

"If he can't shape it to match his beliefs, as with Iran, then he will disregard the intelligence -- no matter how credible it is."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Debunking Iran's Nuclear Program: Another 'Intelligence Failure' -- On the Part of the Press?

Debunking Iran's Nuclear Program: Another 'Intelligence Failure' -- On the Part of the Press?
Iraqi WMD redux: The release of the NIE throwing cold water on oft-repeated claims of a rampant Iranian nuclear weapons program has chastened public officials and policymakers who have promoted this line for years. But many in the media have made these same claims, often extravagantly.

By Greg Mitchell

NEW YORK (December 04, 2007) -- Press reports so far have suggested that the belated release of the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday throwing cold water on oft-repeated claims of a rampant Iranian nuclear weapons program has deeply embarrassed, or at least chastened, public officials and policymakers who have promoted this line for years. Gaining little attention so far: Many in the media have made these same claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.

Surely you remember Sen. John McCain's inspired Beach Boys' parody, a YouTube favorite, "Bomb-bomb-bomb, Bomb-bomb Iran"? That was the least of it. You could dance to it and it had a good beat. Not so for so much of the press and punditry surrounding the bomb. Who can forget Norman Podhoretz's call for an immediate attack on Iran, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal last May, as he argued that "the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force -- any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938."

As I've warned in this space for years, too many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure -- and White House propaganda effort -- and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.

For the rest of today and this week, media critics will be offering up all sorts of reminders of the near-fatal claims by many in the press relating to Iranian nukes. Sure to get attention are the scare stories in the summer of 2005 after "proof" of an Iranian nuke program somehow surfaced on a certain laptop, proudly unveiled by offiicials and bought by many in the media then as firm evidence (and now debunked, like much of the "proof" of Iraqi WMD provided by defectors a few years back).

Wth much effort, I've already found this beauty from David Brooks of The New York Times from Jan. 22, 2006, when he declared that "despite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time - before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point. This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We'll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning."

As recently as this past June, Thomas Friedman of The Times wrote: "Iran is about to go nuclear."

Even more recently, on October 23, 2007, Richard Cohen (like Brooks and Friedman, a big backer of the attack on Iraq) of The Washington Post, wrote: "Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world."

More in this vein is sure to come: I found those three quotes without even breaking a sweat. At least Friedman, Brooks and Cohen back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren.

Another Post columnist, Jim Hoagland, exactly one month ago summarized his year-long travels and study surrounding this issue, declaring "unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons....That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion." He added the warning that "time is running out on the diplomatic track."

One week before that, reporting on his trip to Moscow, Hoagland noted Putin's doubts that Tehran will be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon -- but called that failure "implausible."

We'd be remiss if we left out William Kristol, the hawk's hawk on Iran, who for the July 14, 2006 issue of The Weekly Standard called for a "military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

As often the case,'s popular blogger, Glenn Greenwald, may have gotten there first. A longtime critic of The Washington Post editorial page and its editor, Fred Hiatt, he has already happily reprinted a few choice passages from the past.

Here is the latest, from a Sept. 26, 2007 editorial in the Post, which flatly denounced Iran's "race for a bomb":

"As France's new foreign minister has recognized, the danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it.

"The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy -- that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce Mr. Ahmadinejad's superiors to suspend their race for a bomb. ...
Even if Tehran provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment -- and thus its progress toward a bomb -- will continue. That doesn't trouble Mr. ElBaradei, who hasn't hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking U.S. military action ...

"European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don't make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West."

Greenwald also resurrects Post editorial quotes in this vein going back to 2005, along with this choice snippet from a September online interview with Kenneth Pollack, whose complete wrongheadedness on Iraqi WMD somehow has not kept him from remaining a darling of the press as an expert on Iran's nukes and other Middle East issues:

"Q. How compelling is the evidence that Iranians are developing a nuclear weapons program?

"POLLACK: Obviously, the evidence is circumstantial, but it is quite strong."

I'll provide other examples of pundit malfeasance as they surface.
Care to comment or read more press criticism? Go to E&P Editor Greg Mitchell's new blog at

Greg Mitchell ( is editor of E&P. His book on Iraq and the media, "So Wrong for So Long," will published in March by Union Square Press. He blogs at:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Good Riddance to Them All

Good Riddance to Them All
By Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

Wednesday 21 November 2007

There was little for the unindicted co-conspirators of the Bush administration to give thanks for this week as the clock winds down on the 14 months they have left in power.

With former White House press secretary Scott McClellan spilling the beans on who told him to lie to the American people and cover up the White House's responsibility for the criminal act of revealing the identity of a covert CIA officer, it clearly was time for some folks to begin drafting their requests for presidential pardons.

McClellan, in a forthcoming book that will tell some, if not all, reveals that his 2003 statements absolving top White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of any involvement in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame were untrue - and that the orders to make those statements came from President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, Rove and Libby.

McClellan's revelation makes it abundantly clear that a subsequent statement by Bush that White House aides had no involvement in outing Ms. Plame, and that anyone who did would be fired was also, shall we say, inoperative.

It also confirms long-held suspicions that the whole despicable affair - an attempt to punish former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for debunking a bit of the bogus intelligence the administration wheeled out to justify invading Iraq - was orchestrated in the offices of Bush and Cheney, and with their knowledge.

It also might shed new light on why Bush quickly commuted Cheney's hatchet man Libby's prison sentence after he was convicted on four counts of lying to federal investigators. It simply wouldn't do to have Libby rolling over on his bosses.

Somehow, I have a strong feeling that this isn't the only or the last revelation of wrong-doing and criminality that we're likely to hear before and after Bush and Co. leave office, or that additional presidential acts of clemency will be needed to spare other top administration officials from prison and buy their silence.

What we've witnessed and endured during seven long years of the Bush presidency is the inevitable consequence of bringing vicious and unprincipled but successful political campaigners - attack dogs - into top White House jobs.

The idea that a political campaign should address any and all criticism by going for the throats of those who dare to question it may work on election day but it doesn't work, or shouldn't, when the full weight and power of the federal government is put behind it.

We are a better people and this is a better country than that, and this is why, when it's weighed and judged, the Bush presidency will be found to have perverted not only our system but also the very principles on which our nation was founded.

We don't rush into a war that has cost so many lives and so much national treasure, and has so damaged our standing in the world, based on a tissue of lies. But under the leadership of George W. Bush, that's what we did in Iraq.

We don't stand idly by, backs turned and eyes closed, while in wartime our friends and political contributors loot the national treasury of billions of taxpayer dollars. But the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress did just that.

We don't send our soldiers and Marines into combat without enough of everything they need to fight, survive and win. But that's what this administration and its political operatives in charge of the Pentagon did.

We don't turn the office of the attorney general and key parts of the Justice Department into a branch of a partisan political campaign - gutting offices charged with protecting the civil rights of minorities and directing the prosecution of those of a different political party - but this administration did.

We don't declare war and then expect that the entire sacrifice will be borne by the half a percent of our population who wear uniforms. We don't fight a long and costly war by cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and borrowing trillions of dollars to finance it from foreign competitors such as China. But this administration did.

We don't prosecute a war to spread democracy by curtailing democracy and suspending the Bill of Rights at home. We cannot promote our principles abroad by denying the same principles - the right to a lawyer, the right to a fair trial, the right to be secure in our homes - to ourselves. But this administration did.

We don't beat or torture confessions out of prisoners in violation of our laws and the laws of the civilized world. We don't lock people up and hold them incommunicado for years without charges or trials. But this administration did and does.

We don't applaud and cheer an administration and a Congress that make the rich vastly richer, the middle class less secure and the poor even poorer. But this administration has done just that, in violation of our principles and the principles of love, peace and charity that are engrained in the Christianity that these rogues and charlatans embrace so publicly but violate every day.

It will be a good day when they are gone, and good riddance to them all.