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)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bush's Final Year

Bush's Final Year

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 2, 2008; 12:38 PM

As President Bush begins his final year in office, the White House is aiming for one last major domestic legislative triumph: permanent expansion of government spy powers, including retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that assisted in warrantless surveillance.

In an impromptu briefing aboard Air Force One, as Bush returned to Washington from his Texas vacation yesterday, White House counselor Ed Gillespie told reporters that an administration-supported bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is Bush's top priority.

"FISA is front and center," Gillespie said, according to a pool report from New York Times White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg. "If it is allowed to lapse we will be less safe as a country."

When Congress caved to White House pressure in August, it authorized continued warrantless eavesdropping only until Feb. 1. Now, the White House wants the move made permanent. "Terrorists do not work on six month time frames," Gillespie said.

Senate Democrats were poised to once again give Bush everything he wanted last month, until the threat of a filibuster by Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd led Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid to postpone a vote until late January.

Why is this such a big deal to the White House? Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane explained in the New York Times last month: "At stake is the federal government's extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.

"The N.S.A.'s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure."

In short, it's a historic battle over the future of the country as a surveillance state.
Beyond FISA

Beyond FISA, Bush's domestic priorities appear to be the kind his advisors once dismissed as "small ball."

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush's final-year agenda is a stripped-down list of what he can realistically hope to get done, since the clout he once touted is fading awa. . . .

"Long gone are the big ideas of Social Security and immigration reform, which collapsed on Capitol Hill. His final State of the Union speech in late January is expected to reflect today's policy reality, eschewing new initiatives in favor of unfinished proposals."

Amy Gardner writes in The Washington Post that Bush's agenda -- which she calls "ambitious" -- includes "tackling the mortgage lending crisis and securing more money from Congress for Iraq.

"Those plans, however, face significant challenges, not the least of which are Bush's approval ratings and his ability to take national attention away from those campaigning to replace him. . . .

"Bush and his aides appear to be making a concerted effort to keep the president's agenda before the public, scheduling a trip for Monday, when Bush will lay out his plans personally."

But as Gardner notes, "the trip is likely to run up against coverage of the Iowa caucuses tomorrow and the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday."

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that Gillespie described a new push for congressional action to shore up the troubled housing market.

"Gillespie told reporters that the president wants Congress to do more to 'help make the market more stable.' The administration sees 'an opportunity for bipartisan consensus' on a housing initiative, despite the feuding that erupted last year between the Republican White House and the Democratic House and Senate over issues including the Iraq war, health care, and spending for parks and museums."

McKinnon explains: "Shoring up public sentiment on the economy -- especially the battered housing sector -- could be vital to staving off a recession as Mr. Bush enters his last year in office. Pollsters say many people who aren't directly affected by rising defaults on subprime-mortgage loans are feeling the effects anyway, as they see the values of their homes drift downward. Even if Mr. Bush fails to get much more action out of lawmakers, White House pressure could help Republicans' political fortunes by reinforcing negative public perceptions of inaction in the Democratic-led Congress."

Gillespie "suggested that Mr. Bush also will make a push for energy-policy changes. . . . A possible focus this time is opening controversial new supply sources such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf. . . .

"'I think we've reached a way of working with Congress that does get results for the American people,' Mr. Gillespie said, reflecting on the spate of legislation that Congress passed in December. 'It's not always pretty, but it does get results that I think are beneficial.'"

For more on Bush's way of working with Congress, see my Dec. 13 column, Congress Goes Belly Up.

And budget expert Stan Collender blogs his predictions for the coming year: "As they did this past year, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans won't allow congressional Democrats to do much of anything so that the Dems can't get credit for making it happen. Democrats will have a majority but won't have either the 60 votes to stop a filibuster in the Senate or the 2/3 vote need to overcome a veto. The White House, meanwhile, will continue to insist that the economy is fine because the president's policies have made it so.

"Unless there's a clear economic crisis that everyone agrees is happening which provides the political cover elected officials need to move away from their established positions, the only thing we're likely to see from the White House, House, and Senate this year as far as the economy is concerned are pious statements and lots of hearings that place the blame elsewhere and don't lead to anything actually happening."
Rovelessness Watch

Jon Ward writes in The Washington Times: "President Bush is benefiting from a Karl Rove-free White House and the lower-profile approach of his successor, who high-ranking Republican Party activists and operatives say helped the administration to key victories at the end of last year.

"Mr. Bush named Barry Jackson in September to replace Mr. Rove, the 'architect' of Mr. Bush's electoral successes, and his understated style is credited with rallying Capitol Hill Republicans to wins on Iraq, spending and national health insurance.

"While friends and colleagues of Mr. Rove use words like 'flamboyant,' 'gregarious' and 'flashy' to describe him, they portray his former deputy, Mr. Jackson, as 'a man of few words' who is the right fit for a president now reliant on Republican legislators sticking with him."
The Year of Climate Change?

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post that "Bush's views [on climate change] have evolved. He has found the science increasingly persuasive and believes more needs to be done, especially after a set of secret briefings last winter. . . .

"The coming year offers a final test of whether Bush is willing to move beyond the policies of the past seven years and embrace more aggressive measures, including a mandatory limit on carbon emissions with pollution credits that can be bought and sold -- a system known as cap-and-trade. . . .

"Bush's attention comes at a time when he and top advisers feel better about his presidency, confident they have turned a corner after two years of political setbacks and can now focus on reformulating his legacy. Heading into his final year, Bush has turned to big, bracing challenges abroad, most notably finding Middle East peace and forging a consensus on climate change. If global warming turns out to be a defining issue of this generation, advisers said, Bush does not want to be remembered as a roadblock."
Expansive Ambitions Abroad

Even as his domestic vision dims, Bush's international ambitions are getting more expansive.

Howard LaFranchi writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "Air Force One will be busy crossing oceans as the homebody president shifts to a boots-on approach to making his mark on the world.

"Bush will launch into this new global mode early in January, when he will make a seven-country, week-long tour of the Middle East. Aside from visiting Israel -- for the first time as president -- and the Palestinian territories, he'll make stops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

"Then in February, Bush heads to sub-Saharan Africa, where he will highlight his administration's role in the global fight against AIDS and in focusing foreign assistance and development funds on the most efficient, corruption-fighting democracies. After two international summits -- NATO in Bucharest, Romania, in April, and the Group of Eight economic summit in Japan in July -- Bush will attend the Beijing Summer Olympics in August.

"In some respects, Bush is following a typical pattern among recent presidents. Finding themselves increasingly irrelevant domestically as eyes turn to who might be the next White House occupant, presidents tend to turn to foreign policy -- and foreign travel -- to put the finishing touches on their legacies.

"But Bush, as much the lame duck at home as any two-term president on his final lap, faces a pattern of dislike abroad, both of himself and of his foreign policy, as he undertakes a year of travel."
Pakistan Watch

Indeed, as recent history in Pakistan shows, Bush's intervention on the international scene can generally be counted on to make things worse.

Jay Solomon writes in the Wall Street Journal that in the wake of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination last week, "some of her aides are charging the U.S. didn't do enough to protect the former prime minister after she returned to Pakistan.

"They note that the Bush administration played a central role in brokering an agreement with Mr. Musharraf that allowed her return after an eight-year exile. And they say Washington should have done more to guarantee her safety once she was on the ground and facing numerous threats."

Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers wrote in the New York Times last week: "The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday left in ruins the delicate diplomatic effort the Bush administration had pursued in the past year to reconcile Pakistan's deeply divided political factions. Now it is scrambling to sort through ever more limited options, as American influence on Pakistan's internal affairs continues to decline. . . .

"The assassination highlighted, in spectacular fashion, the failure of two of President Bush's main objectives in the region: his quest to bring democracy to the Muslim world, and his drive to force out the Islamist militants who have hung on tenaciously in Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state considered ground zero in President Bush's fight against terrorism, despite the administration's long-running effort to root out Al Qaeda from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."

Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler wrote in The Washington Post: "For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy -- and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism."

Peter W. Galbraith writes in a Washington Post op-ed that Bush should "demand an international investigation of the Bhutto killing, since Musharraf's government cannot be trusted to do an honest probe. And President Bush should choose his words more carefully. He does not help matters by repeatedly describing Musharraf as a man of his word. Such assertions make the United States look either gullible or cynical. Neither is a good approach to a failed state with at least 70 nuclear weapons and no one clearly in charge -- and, with Bhutto's death, no obvious hope on the horizon."

Andrew J. Bacevich writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "Faced with the prospect of 'losing' Pakistan, what should the world's sole superpower do? Despite Musharraf's flaws, should Washington back him to the hilt as the only alternative to chaos? Or should Bush commit the United States without reservation to building a strong democracy in Pakistan?

"To pose such questions is to presume that decisions made in Washington will decisively influence the course of events in Islamabad. Yet the lesson to be drawn from the developments of the last several days -- and from U.S. involvement in Pakistan over the course of decades -- suggests just the opposite: The United States has next to no ability to determine Pakistan's fate. . . .

"At the beginning of his second term, Bush spoke confidently of the United States sponsoring a global democratic revolution 'with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.' Ever since that hopeful moment, developments across the greater Middle East -- above all, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and on the West Bank -- have exposed the very real limits of U.S. wisdom and power.

"Now the virtual impotence of the U.S. in the face of the crisis enveloping Pakistan -- along with its complicity in creating that crisis -- ought to discredit once and for all any notions of America fixing the world's ills."
The Torture Tapes

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti reported in the Sunday New York Times that the CIA apparently destroyed videotapes of its agents torturing terror suspects for fear that their release would hurt the agency's image.

Instead, of course: "To the already fierce controversy over whether the Bush administration authorized torture has been added the specter of a cover-up. . . .

"The Justice Department, the C.I.A.'s inspector general and Congress are investigating whether any official lied about the tapes or broke the law by destroying them. Still in dispute is whether any White House official encouraged their destruction and whether the C.I.A. deliberately hid them from the national Sept. 11 commission."

Shane and Mazzetti report that "political and legal considerations competed with intelligence concerns in the handling of the tapes.

"The discussion about the tapes took place in Congressional briefings and secret deliberations among top White House lawyers, including a meeting in May 2004 just days after photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had reminded the administration of the power of such images. . . .

"The investigations over the tapes frustrate some C.I.A. veterans, who say they believe that the agency is being unfairly blamed for policies of coercive interrogation approved at the top of the Bush administration and by some Congressional leaders. Intelligence officers are divided over the use of such methods as waterboarding. Some say the methods helped get information that prevented terrorist attacks. Others, like John C. Gannon, a former C.I.A. deputy director, say it was a tragic mistake for the administration to approve such methods.

"Mr. Gannon said he thought the tapes became such an issue because they would have settled the legal debate over the harsh methods.

"'To a spectator it would look like torture,' he said. 'And torture is wrong.'"

And here's a fascinating tidbit from the Times story: "The tapes documented a program so closely guarded that President Bush himself had agreed with the advice of intelligence officials that he not be told the locations of the secret C.I.A. prisons."

But what possible reason would there be for him not to know? Nothing I can think of -- except plausible deniability.
Obstruction

Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, who served as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 commission, write in a New York Times op-ed that "the recent revelations that the C.I.A. destroyed videotaped interrogations of Qaeda operatives leads us to conclude that the agency failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot. Those who knew about those videotapes -- and did not tell us about them -- obstructed our investigation.

"There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A. -- or the White House -- of the commission's interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.

"When the press reported that, in 2002 and maybe at other times, the C.I.A. had recorded hundreds of hours of interrogations of at least two Qaeda detainees, we went back to check our records. We found that we did ask, repeatedly, for the kind of information that would have been contained in such videotapes."

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald writes: "Both legally and politically, it's hard to imagine a more significant scandal than the President and Vice President deliberately obstructing the investigation of the 9/11 Commission by concealing and then destroying vital evidence which the Commission was seeking. Yet that's exactly what the evidence at least suggests has occurred here.

"What possible justification is there for the White House to refuse to say what the role of [vice presidential chief of staff David S.] Addington, [former attorney general Alberto] Gonzales, Bush and [Vice President] Cheney was in all of this? Having been ordered by Bush's new Attorney General not to investigate, are the Senate and House Intelligence Committees (led by the meek Silvestre Reyes and the even meeker Jay Rockefeller) going to compel answers to these questions? In light of this Op-Ed, do Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee think the White House should publicly disclose to the country the role Bush and Cheney played in the destruction of this evidence? If there are any reporters left who aren't traipsing around together in Iowa, it seems pretty clear that this story ought to be dominating the news."
A Surprising Veto

Steven Lee Myers and David Herszenhorn write in the New York Times: "For months President Bush harangued Democrats in Congress for not moving quickly enough to support the troops and for bogging down military bills with unrelated issues.

"And then on Friday, with no warning, a vacationing Mr. Bush announced that he was vetoing a sweeping military policy bill because of an obscure provision that could expose Iraq's new government to billions of dollars in legal claims dating to Saddam Hussein's rule.

"The decision left the Bush administration scrambling to promise that it would work with Congress to quickly restore dozens of new military and veterans programs once Congress returns to work in January. . . .

"Mr. Bush's veto surprised and infuriated Democratic lawmakers and even some Republicans, who complained that the White House had failed to raise its concerns earlier. . . .

"The veto was an embarrassment for administration officials, who struggled on Friday to explain why they had not acted earlier to object to the provision."

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "Bush's decision to use a pocket veto, announced while vacationing at his Texas ranch, means the legislation will die at midnight Dec. 31. This tactic for killing a bill can be used only when Congress is not in session."

But wait! Congress was in session -- sort of.

Feller explains: "The House last week adjourned until Jan. 15; the Senate returns a week later but has been holding brief, often seconds-long pro forma sessions every two or three days to prevent Bush from making appointments that otherwise would need Senate approval.

"Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, 'The House rejects any assertion that the White House has the authority to do a pocket veto.'

"When adjourning before Christmas, the House instructed the House clerk to accept any communications -- such as veto messages -- from the White House during the monthlong break."

And what's the advantage of the pocket veto?

"A Democratic congressional aide pointed out that a pocket veto cannot be overridden by Congress and allows Bush to distance himself from the rejection of a major Pentagon bill in a time of war."
Signing Statement Watch

Amy Gardner writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush signed a bill Monday allowing states, local governments and private investors to cut investment ties with Sudan as a way to pressure the Khartoum government into ending violence in the country's Darfur region.

"But Bush qualified his support by saying that the measure could allow state and local actions to interfere with national foreign policy. The president said he has instructed his administration to enforce the law in a manner that prevents that outcome."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "The measure, called the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act, is aimed at pressuring Sudan to end the violence in the Darfur region, where 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million driven from their homes in a four-year conflict that Mr. Bush has termed a genocide.

"The bill, which passed both houses of Congress unanimously, makes it easier for mutual funds and private pension fund managers to sell their investments and allows states to prohibit debt financing for companies that do business in Sudan. It also requires companies seeking contracts with the federal government to certify that they are not doing business in Sudan. . . .

"But the administration has expressed reservations about the bill, and Mr. Bush's signature was accompanied by a proviso known as a signing statement, in which he said he was reserving the authority to overrule state and local divestment decisions if they conflicted with foreign policy. The statement said the measure 'risks being interpreted as insulating' state and local divestment actions from federal oversight."

Spokesman Scott Stanzel's explanation at Monday's press briefing was less than enlightening. Said Stanzel: "[W]hile the legislation has an admirable objective of seeking to improve conditions and end suffering in Sudan, certain provisions of the bill do raise constitutional concerns. Under the Constitution, the federal government is entrusted with a full and exclusive responsibility for the conduct of foreign affairs.

"So to the extent that any actions taken pursuant to the act interfere with the federal government's foreign policy aims, that action would be unconstitutional. So as the signing statement makes clear, the administration will take appropriate measures to ensure that the United States, through the federal government, speaks with one voice in foreign policy matters."

Q: "Could you give us an example?"

Stanzel: "I can take that question and probably provide you more guidance from some of our attorneys, who have obviously very closely examined this law. But those are our general concerns."
Unpardonable

The Washington Post editorial board writes: "Mr. Bush continues his run as one of the stingiest presidents in American history when it comes to pardons. . . .

"It is curious that a president as enthusiastic as Mr. Bush is about flaunting his presidential powers in affairs both domestic and foreign refuses to use one of the most noble to recalibrate the machinery of justice when it dispenses punishment that does not fit the crime. It is sadder still when this kind of corrective is withheld by a self-described 'compassionate conservative.'"
Happy New Year

The New York Times editorial board writes: "There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. . . .

"The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat -- and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could. . . .

"[T]he next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them."
Top Ten List

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick weighs in with "The Bush Administration's Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007."

Among them: "The NSA's eavesdropping was limited in scope. . . . Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason. . . . The United States does not torture."
Countdown

Rupert Cornwell writes for the Independent: "For the millions of Americans who are ticking off the days until deliverance, it is the perfect present -- a 2008 calendar countdown until George Bush leaves the White House, its every page adorned with a quote from the President who has mangled not only the country's image, but also the English language, as no other in the history of the Republic.

"Novelty calendars are always a staple of the holiday season, but this one is a best-seller. The Bush Out of Office Countdown, it is called, January 2008 Through the Bitter End. Priced at $11.99 it includes some of the verbal gems that have adorned the past seven years. 'They're edgy and a way to mark the days, so it's a perfect tie-in,' a spokesman for the distributors Calendars. com says. 'The intensity of dislike [for Bush] is driving these sales.' . . .

"[T]he last entry for the slightly stretched 2008 diary -- for Tuesday, 20 January 2009 when his successor will be inaugurated -- perhaps best sums up the preceding eight years of incoherence. Thus the 43rd President of the United States at a 2004 campaign event in Oregon: 'I hope you leave here and walk out and say, "What did he say?"'"

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2008/01/02/BL2008010201493_pf.html

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Glenn Greenwald - 9/11 Commission: Our investigation was "obstructed"

9/11 Commission: Our investigation was "obstructed"



(*** Updated below - Outside prosecutor appointed



Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V)



The bi-partisan co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, jointly published an Op-Ed in today's New York Times which contains some extremely emphatic and serious accusations against the CIA and the White House. The essence:

[T]he
recent revelations that the C.I.A. destroyed videotaped interrogations
of Qaeda operatives leads us to conclude that the agency failed to
respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot.
Those who knew about those videotapes -- and did not tell us about them
-- obstructed our investigation.
More strikingly still, they explicitly include the White House at the top of their list of guilty parties:
There
could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A.
-- or the White House -- of the commission's interest in any and all
information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet
no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence
of videotapes of detainee interrogations.
To underscore the seriousness of their accusations, Keane and Hamilton end with this:
What
we do know is that government officials decided not to inform a
lawfully constituted body, created by Congress and the president, to
investigate one the (sic) greatest tragedies to confront this country. We call that obstruction.
It's hard to imagine a more serious scandal than this. As I noted the other day, it is a confirmed fact
that Alberto Gonzales and David Addingtion -- the top legal
representatives of George Bush and Dick Cheney, respectively --
participated in discussions as to whether those videotapes should be
destroyed. The White House refuses to disclose
what these top officials said in those meetings. Did they instruct that
the videos should be destroyed or fail to oppose their destruction? The
NYT previously quoted one "senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter [who] said there had been 'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes."


Thus, we have evidence that "top White House officials" vigorously argued that these videos should be destroyed.
The number one aides to both the President and Vice President both
participated in discussions as to whether they should be, almost
certainly with the knowledge and at the direction of their bosses.



And now we have the 9/11 Commission Chairmen stating as explicitly as
can be that the mere concealment (let alone destruction) of these
videos constituted the knowing and deliberate obstruction of their investigation
into the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history. Combined with the
fact that the videos' destruction almost certainly constitutes
"obstruction of justice" with regard to numerous judicial proceedings
as well, we're talking here about extremely serious felonies at the
highest levels of our government.



Both legally and politically, it's hard to imagine a more significant
scandal than the President and Vice President deliberately obstructing
the investigation of the 9/11 Commission by concealing and then
destroying vital evidence which the Commission was seeking. Yet that's
exactly what the evidence at least suggests has occurred here.



What possible justification is there for the White House to refuse to
say what the role of Addington, Gonzales, Bush and Cheney was in all of
this? Having been ordered by Bush's new Attorney General not to
investigate, are the Senate and House Intelligence Committees (led by
the meek Silvestre Reyes and the even meeker Jay Rockefeller) going to
compel answers to these questions? In light of this Op-Ed, do Mitt
Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee
think the White House should publicly disclose to the country the role
Bush and Cheney played in the destruction of this evidence? If there
are any reporters left who aren't traipsing around together in Iowa, it
seems pretty clear that this story ought to be dominating the news.

UPDATE: Michael Mukasey does the right thing:

The
Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the destruction
of CIA interrogation videotapes and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey
appointed an outside prosecutor to oversee the case. . . .


"The Department's National Security Division has recommended, and I
have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal
investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that
investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.



Mukasey named John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to oversee the case.

Marcy Wheeler has some background on Durham that looks encouraging. In his written statement, Mukasey said:
Following
a preliminary inquiry into the destruction by CIA personnel of
videotapes of detainee interrogations, the Department's National
Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is
a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter . . . .


An investigation of this kind, relating to the CIA, would ordinarily be
conducted under the supervision of the United States Attorney for the
Eastern District of Virginia, the District in which the CIA
headquarters are located. However, in an abundance of caution and on
the request of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of
Virginia, in accordance with Department of Justice policy, his office
has been recused from the investigation of this matter, in order to
avoid any possible appearance of a conflict with other matters handled
by that office. . . . .

There
are some important, unknown details here, such as whether there are
limits on the scope of the investigation and what powers the outside
prosecutor will have. But by all appearances, Mukasey here did exactly
what he should have done. As Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation
demonstrated, an honorable, aggressive independent prosecutor and clear
acts of White House lawbreaking can be a potent combination.

UPDATE II: A more developed AP article fills in one important detail which I indicated was missing. It reports that Durham "will not serve as a special prosecutor such as Patrick Fitzgerald, who operated autonomously while investigating the 2003 leak of a CIA operative's identity."


When the Plame investigation began, John Ashcroft recused himself from
any involvement in the investigation (due to his multiple ties to
numerous subjects of the investigation), and his deputy, James Comey,
then named Fitzgerald and assigned him full authority
(.pdf) to exercise independently all powers of the Attorney General.
Here, from what I can tell, at least from the AP article, Mukasey is
not recusing himself, and the DOJ will thus retain authority over the
prosecutor and the investigation. I'd want to know more details about
that before drawing conclusions about what it means exactly.

UPDATE III: Former DOJ official Marty Lederman:

Initial
reports are that the Attorney General appointed an "outside" counsel to
oversee the criminal investigation of the CIA tape destruction. But there's nothing really "outside" about John Dunham. He's a career DOJ prosecutor, the number two official in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut. . . .


This is not like the Scooter Libby case, in which the "special"
prosecutor was guaranteed substantial independence from Main Justice.

The
initial press reports were wrong in what they described. The only thing
that is at all out of the ordinary in terms of who will manage this
criminal prosecution is that the U.S. Attorney's Office that ordinarily
would handle it -- the Eastern District of Virginia -- recused itself
(for reasons that are unknown, but almost certainly because the
destruction of the videotapes may constitute obstruction of justice in
cases that office prosecuted, such as the Moussaoui and Padilla
prosecutions). Thus, DOJ simply assigned prosecutorial responsibility
instead to Durham, who ordinarily works in the Connecticut U.S.
Attorney's office. But the case is just like any other case within the
DOJ, and Mukasey, as Attorney General, retains supervisory
responsibility over it.


Lederman says that this is not surprising -- and implies that there's
nothing improper about it -- since there is no formal reason why
Mukasey should recuse himself (the way that Ashcroft's multiple ties to
Rove and others led him to do so). That might be, but the fact that
Mukasey appears to retain control certainly ought to undermine public
confidence in this investigation, at least to the extent that it ought
not impede the Senate and House Intelligence Committees from
aggressively investigating what occurred here.

UPDATE IV: The Washington Post adds a few details,
including that Durham "will report to the deputy attorney general"
(Acting DAG Craig Morford); that "Former attorney general Janet Reno
named Durham as a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that
FBI agents and police officers in Boston had ties to mafia informants";
that he is a "registered Republican"; that both CIA Director Michael
Hayden and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson both recused themselves
from the investigation; and that it is unclear whether Mukasey and his
aides will also recuse themselves from any involvement here, as
Democrats have previously demanded.

UPDATE V: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is unhappy that the prosecutor here will lack independence:

While
I certainly agree that these matters warrant an immediate criminal
investigation, it is disappointing that the Attorney General has
stepped outside the Justice Department's own regulations and declined
to appoint a more independent special counsel in this matter. . . .


The Justice Department's record over the past seven years of sweeping
the administration's misconduct under the rug has left the American
public with little confidence in the administration's ability to
investigate itself. Nothing less than a special counsel with a full
investigative mandate will meet the tests of independence, transparency
and completeness. Appointment of a special counsel will allow our
nation to begin to restore our credibility and moral standing on these
issues.

In
one sense, one could argue that it's unfair to impute the corruption of
Alberto Gonzales to Michael Mukasey and simply to assume that a fair
investigation therefore won't be conducted (particularly given that a
prosecutor like Durham would unlikely tolerate undue interference).

But I think Conyers' broader point is more persuasive: the record
of this administration leaves no doubt that they will interfere as much
as they can to prevent any type of accountability for their actions,
and that fact alone -- regardless of one's views of Mukasey -- compels
as independent an investigation as possible, one that resides beyond
the suspicions that a passing familiarity with this administration
necessarily and quite reasonably engenders.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/01/02/obstruction/index.html





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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Great Divide


The Great Divide









Yesterday The Times
published a highly informative chart laying out the positions of the
presidential candidates on major issues. It was, I’d argue, a useful
reality check for those who believe that the next president can somehow
usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.


For what the chart made clear was the extent to which Democrats and
Republicans live in separate moral and intellectual universes.


On one side, the Democrats are all promising to get out of Iraq and
offering strongly progressive policies on taxes, health care and the
environment. That’s understandable: the public hates the war, and
public opinion seems to be running in a progressive direction.


What seems harder to understand is what’s happening on the other
side — the degree to which almost all the Republicans have chosen to
align themselves closely with the unpopular policies of an unpopular
president. And I’m not just talking about their continuing enthusiasm
for the Iraq war. The G.O.P. candidates are equally supportive of Bush
economic policies.


Why would politicians support Bushonomics? After all, the public is
very unhappy with the state of the economy, for good reason. The “Bush
boom,” such as it was, bypassed most Americans — median family income,
adjusted for inflation, has stagnated in the Bush years, and so have
the real earnings of the typical worker. Meanwhile, insecurity has
increased, with a declining fraction of Americans receiving health
insurance from their employers.


And things seem likely to get worse as the election approaches. For
a few years, the economy was at least creating jobs at a respectable
pace — but as the housing slump and the associated credit crunch
accelerate and spill over to the rest of the economy, most analysts
expect employment to weaken, too.


All in all, it’s an economic and political environment in which
you’d expect Republican politicians, as a sheer matter of calculation,
to look for ways to distance themselves from the current
administration’s economic policies and record — say, by expressing some
concern about rising income gaps and the fraying social safety net.


In fact, however, except for Mike Huckabee — a peculiar case who’ll
deserve more discussion if he stays in contention — the leading
Republican contenders have gone out of their way to assure voters that
they will not deviate an inch from the Bush path. Why? Because the
G.O.P. is still controlled by a conservative movement that does not
tolerate deviations from tax-cutting, free-market, greed-is-good
orthodoxy.


To see the extent to which Republican politicians still cower before
the power of movement conservatism, consider the sad case of John
McCain.


Mr. McCain’s lingering reputation as a maverick straight talker
comes largely from his opposition to the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and
2003, which he said at the time were too big and too skewed to the
rich. Those objections would seem to have even more force now, with
America facing the costs of an expensive war — which Mr. McCain
fervently supports — and with income inequality reaching new heights.


But Mr. McCain now says that he supports making the Bush tax cuts
permanent. Not only that: he’s become a convert to crude supply-side
economics, claiming that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.
That’s an assertion even Bush administration officials concede is false.


Oh, and what about his earlier opposition to tax cuts? Mr. McCain
now says he opposed the Bush tax cuts only because they weren’t offset
by spending cuts.


Aside from the logical problem here — if tax cuts increase revenue,
why do they need to be offset? — even a cursory look at what Mr. McCain
said at the time shows that he’s trying to rewrite history: he actually
attacked the Bush tax cuts from the left, not the right. But he has
clearly decided that it’s better to fib about his record than admit
that he wasn’t always a rock-solid economic conservative.


So what does the conversion of Mr. McCain into an avowed believer in
voodoo economics — and the comparable conversions of Mitt Romney and
Rudy Giuliani — tell us? That bitter partisanship and political
polarization aren’t going away anytime soon.


There’s a fantasy, widely held inside the Beltway, that men and
women of good will from both parties can be brought together to hammer
out bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.


If such a thing were possible, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Mr.
Giuliani — a self-proclaimed maverick, the former governor of a liberal
state and the former mayor of an equally liberal city — would seem like
the kind of men Democrats could deal with. (O.K., maybe not Mr.
Giuliani.) In fact, however, it’s not possible, not given the nature of
today’s Republican Party, which has turned men like Mr. McCain and Mr.
Romney into hard-line ideologues. On economics, and on much else, there
is no common ground between the parties.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31krugman.html?ref=opinion&pagewanted=print



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Looking at America

December 31, 2007

NY Times Editorial


Looking at America








There are too many moments
these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of
them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the
most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of
prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying
videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the
founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men
and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human
decency.


It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror,
this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless
behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.


The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly
frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this
new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his
advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to
protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no
safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.


Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s
position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international
institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled
on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through
the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the
world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.


In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse,
sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and
Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been
called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians
with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to
defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens,
authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping
phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a
warrant.


We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled
in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways
to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and
international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely
without charges or judicial review.


Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to
allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force
doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to
prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make
sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.


The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national
unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies
far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at
the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick
Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as
much power as they could.


Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and
Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, so that the
White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws.
Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance
to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers
are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the
abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.


In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where
“high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts,
including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that
“experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed,
after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans
would never know.


The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect
for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped
on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false
confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were
let go without any apology or hope of redress.


These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two
terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much
more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply
discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.


We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will
have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to
someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them
honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see,
once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&ref=opinion&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin



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