Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, April 27, 2006

  Getting the bums rush in Iraq

An interesting story is buried in tomorrow's NYT article on the visit of Rice and Rumsfeld to Iraq. If I'm reading the situation rightly, the outgoing Iraqi national security adviser, Dr. Muwaffak Al Rubaie, put a marker down in his prepared remarks at a meeting between Iraqi and American officials. That was just before Rumsfeld spoke. Dr. Rubaie stated without qualification that there will be a big reduction in American troops in Iraq later this year. Rumsfeld and the DOD, by contrast, studiously avoided comment on that proposition.

The removal of American troops has been a bone of contention between Iraq and the Bush administration for many months. As I noted recently (here), Sy Hersh has commented that the main reason that the U.S. intervened against Ibrahim al-Jaafari's attempt to continue as prime minister is that Jaafari was expected to ask the U.S. to withdraw its troops.

Months ago, the Bush administration boycotted the international meeting held in Egypt to discuss the future of Iraq. You probably didn't hear much about this rather awkward meeting because, with Bush boycotting, the U.S. media prefered to ignore it. As expected, the participants in Egypt, including the officials from Iraq, called upon the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

So here we have another Iraqi official restating what ought to have been clear by now, that the Iraqi government wants us to get our armed forces out of their country beginning soon. For Dr. Rubaie, who is stepping down soon, this may have been the last best opportunity to make that point forcefully to the Bush administration.

In remarks today at a meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, Iraq's national security adviser, Dr. Muwaffak Al Rubaie, said that there would be large reduction in the American troop presence by the end of the year.

"Certainly at the end of this year, there is going to be a sizeable gross reduction in U.S. troops," he said, speaking at the opening of a meeting between senior Iraqi and American officials.

He added that within the next two years, "We hope most coalition troops will go back home."

Dr. Rubaie, who has previously said that 30,000 troops could withdraw from Iraq this year, also suggested that Iraqi and American officials were working on a formal plan to turn over responsibility to Iraqi security forces as security conditions and other milestones are achieved....

Mr. Rumsfeld, who spoke after Dr. Rubaie's statement, made no comment on the Iraqi official's assertion that a large number of American troops would be withdrawn this year. He has previously expressed hope that could happen but said it would depend on improvement in security conditions and other factors....

Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff said he had no immediate comment on Dr. Rubaie's statements.

Who says that the Bush administration takes pride in ignoring its own citizens wishes? The truth is that their considerable energies are devoted primarily to ignoring the wishes of the Iraqis.

  The House finally to debate the Iraq War?

That's the scoop from The Hill today. The report suggests that John Boehner gave way to growing pressure from some Republicans to allow the House to debate the Iraq war at length.

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Republican colleagues yesterday that they will have a full and lengthy floor debate on the Iraq war, a dramatic change of course for GOP leaders who had previously resisted Republican and Democratic calls for such a debate.

Four House Republicans have signed a Democratic-sponsored discharge petition that would begin 17 hours of debate over Iraq on the House floor. The Republicans signed on because GOP leaders had ignored their requests for a debate, said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the four mavericks.

Boehner told colleagues about his plan for debate on Iraq yesterday morning during a closed-door meeting of the Republican Conference that was mostly devoted to discussing soaring gas prices. Boehner's remarks, which were unexpected, caused a hush to fall over the audience, said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), who attended the meeting and is one of the four GOP signatories to the Democratic discharge petition.

Yet The Hill's account also raises doubts about how serious or substantive the actual debate, if it transpires, may turn out to be. Boehner states that the House will not debate any of the resolutions that have been put forward to date, not even the bipartisan one sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie. Instead, says Boehner:

they would debate a resolution produced by the Republican-controlled House International Relations Committee, but it is unknown what form that resolution will take....

Sam Stratman, the committee's spokesman, said yesterday that he had not heard anything about crafting a resolution on the Iraq war.

"This is very strange. I haven't heard anything about it," he said.

It is very strange indeed. What is going on here? Does this reflect a decison by the Republican leadership that they need, finally, to discuss the Iraq War openly? Will there be a serious, substantive debate?

Or is this merely an occasion to give the appearance of seriousness, and the appearance of bipartisanship? The mysterious way in which this decision is being unshrouded gives the impression that this will be little more than an election-year stunt. It will be interesting to see, if the debate actually transpires, whether the resolution will be couched once again (as the debate about Rep. Murtha's resolution last December was) in terms designed to embarrass Democrats. You will recall that it was not Murtha's resolution that was debated, but instead a straw-man resolution from Duncan Hunter.

In any case, this has the potential, if handled well by the Democrats, to move the national debate on Iraq forward. It also has the potential to become another opportunity lost.

Crossposted at Booman Tribune.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

  More than 460 killed or tortured

The last post showed that the administration's attempt to downplay the number of people who've been subjected to "extraordinary rendition" has to be cast aside. The new report from the European Parliament shows that more than 1,000 secret CIA flights passed through Europe on the way to secret prisons.

In this post, the issue is the mistreatment of those prisoners that the U.S. admits to having in custody. Is it all the work of "a few bad apples," as the President would have it?

I draw your attention to another new report, this one on torture and murder of detainees in U.S. prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo. The "Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project" (DAA) was authored jointly by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights First.

Their findings are based primarily on U.S. government documents, such as the mass of documentation obtained by the ACLU through a FOIA request. The DAA report's significance is assessed by Drew Brown for Knight Ridder.

The main findings of the DAA are:

*Detainee abuse has been widespread. The DAA Project has documented over 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel are credibly alleged to have abused or killed detainees. These cases involve more than 600 U.S. personnel and over 460 detainees....These numbers are conservative and likely lower than the actual number of credible allegations of abuse....

*Only fifty-four military personnel—a fraction of the more than 600 U.S. personnel implicated in detainee abuse cases—are known to have been convicted by court-martial; forty of these individuals have been sentenced to prison time.

*Available evidence indicates that U.S. military and civilian agencies do not appear to have adequately investigated numerous cases of alleged torture and other mistreatment. Of the hundreds of allegations of abuse collected by the DAA Project, only about half appear to have been properly investigated. In numerous cases, military investigators appear to have closed investigations prematurely or to have delayed their resolution. In many cases, the military has simply failed to open investigations, even in cases where credible allegations have been made.

*DAA Project researchers found over 400 personnel have been implicated in cases investigated by military or civilian authorities, but only about a third of them have faced any kind of disciplinary or criminal action....

*In cases where courts-martial have convened, only a small number of convictions have resulted in significant prison time. Many sentences have been for less than a year, even in cases involving serious abuse. Of the hundreds of personnel implicated in detainee abuse, only ten people have been sentenced to a year or more in prison.

*No U.S. military officer has been held accountable for criminal acts committed by subordinates under the doctrine of command responsibility.... Only three officers have been convicted by court-martial for detainee abuse; in all three instances, they were convicted for abuses in which they directly participated, not for their responsibility as commanders.

*The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has investigated several cases of abuse involving its personnel, and reportedly referred some individuals to the Department of Justice for prosecution. But few cases have been robustly investigated.

*The Department of Justice appears to have taken little action in regard to the approximately twenty civilians, including CIA agents, referred for criminal prosecution for detainee abuse by the military and the CIA, and has shown minimal initiative in conducting its own investigations into abuse cases. The Department of Justice has not indicted a single CIA agent for abusing detainees; it has indicted only one civilian contractor....

*The majority of the approximately 330 cases took place in Iraq (at least 220 cases), followed by Afghanistan (at least sixty cases), and Guantánamo Bay (at least fifty cases).

*DAA Project researchers found that authorities opened investigations into approximately 210 out of the 330 cases (about 65 percent)....

*The 210 cases in which there is evidence of an investigation involve at least 410 personnel (in many cases, more than one perpetrator is alleged to be involved in a case).

*Almost all of the military personnel who have been investigated are enlisted soldiers (approximately 95 percent of the total), not officers....

*75 percent of the cases in which investigations were conducted do not appear to have resulted in any kind of punishment (approximately 160 of the 210 investigated cases, involving approximately 260 accused personnel)....

*Researchers identified more than 1,000 individual criminal acts of abuse.

*The most common alleged types of abuse were assault (found in at least 220 cases), use of physical or non-physical humiliation (at least ninety cases), sexual assault or abuse (at least sixty cases), and use of “stress” techniques (at least forty cases).

Analysis: The numbers documented by the DAA Project reveal a general failure of accountability in detainee abuse cases, particularly with respect to commanders. Reasons include an apparent disinclination by commanding officers and civilian authorities to pursue meaningful punishment of serious offenses, and a series of general investigative failures...

That's the thing about "a few bad apples". They spoil the whole bunch.

  More than 1,000 secret flights by CIA through Europe

The CIA has always tried to downplay the actual number of times terror suspects have been "extraordinarily renditioned"--in other words, flown oversees, imprisoned secretly, and tortured. No surprise, it's a national disgrace that even many in the CIA are ashamed of.

The European Union Parliament today issued a report that blew the cover off the vague and disingenous picture painted so far by the Bush administration. The EU will have an ongoing investigation, but this preliminary finding shows that the CIA has run more than 1,000 secret flights through European airports since 2001. Many of the flights are so suspicious in nature that the known facts about their flight patterns and stop-overs draws attention to itself. Indeed, the number of suspicious CIA flights given by the EU is very preliminary; it is based entirely upon an analysis of the flights of fewer than 50 aircraft used by the CIA. There could be still other planes in use by the CIA.

The actual number of torture flights through European countries, therefore, is very likely to be much higher than the "100 to 150" prisoners Bush administration officials admitted in last December to having "renditioned".

According to the Associated Press report on the EU report today:

U.S. officials previously said that as of late December, some 100 to 150 people had been seized in "rendition" operations involving detaining terror suspects in one country and flying them to their home country or another where they were wanted for a crime or questioning.

Let me add that in Dana Priest's report on secret prisons from Nov. 1, 2005 in the Washington Post, the number of people sucked up into these hell-holes was reported to be "more than 100".

More than 100 suspected terrorists have been sent by the CIA into the covert system, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.

That figure was intended by Dana Priest to be a conservative estimate, obviously. The release of this EU committee's report gives some measure of just how much it may have underestimated the actual situation.

The committee, which set out initially in January to investigate reports of secret European prisons, ended up focusing on the CIA flights themselves. Information about the flights was given by Eurocontrol, the air-safety agency for the EU. As the AP reports:

"We were requested by EU Parliament to make an analysis of the flight routes for these planes. There may be others," said Jean-Jacques Sauvage, a senior official of the Brussels-based agency. He said Eurocontrol did not keep track of who was on the planes.

The report said that on a number of occasions the CIA was clearly responsible for detaining terror suspects on European territory and transferring them to countries where they could face torture.

[Italian lawmaker Giovanni] Fava told the AP it was unclear how many people were transferred by the CIA on undeclared flights....

He accused the CIA of breaching the Chicago Convention, an international treaty governing air traffic. It requires aircraft used in military, customs and police operations to seek special authorization to land in signatory states.

The Guardian has further details.

Data showed CIA planes made numerous undeclared stopovers on European territory, violating an international air treaty requiring airlines to declare the routes and stopovers for planes on police missions, the Italian politician Giovanni Claudio Fava, who drafted the report, said.

"The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect ... they are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel," he added.

Mr Fava referred to the alleged secret transfer of an Egyptian cleric abducted from a Milan street in 2003, a German who claimed he was transferred from Macedonia to Afghanistan, and the transfer of a Canadian citizen from New York to Syria among other suspect flights.

He said documents provided by Eurocontrol showed the plane transferring suspect Khalid al-Masri, a Kuwaiti-born German national, from Macedonia to Afghanistan in 2004 flew from Algeria to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on January 22; from Palma de Mallorca to Skopje, Macedonia, on January 23, and from Skopje to Kabul via Baghdad overnight on January 24.

Fava also said that according to his information, the groups of agents on these flights often were the same. In other words, the CIA has a cadre of rendition and torture specialists who are running something like a regular service on an illegal airline.

That would fit well with the observation by Ken Silverstein about what he's been told about the current culture and climate at the CIA:

But what's been little noted thus far is what looks to be a similar revolt brewing at the CIA. An ex-senior agency officer who keeps in contact with his former peers told me that there is a "a big swing" in anti-Bush sentiment at Langley. "I've been stunned by what I'm hearing," he said. "There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don't want to get caught up in it."

This former senior officer said there "seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people" at the agency to avoid involvement in some of the particularly nasty tactics being employed by the administration, especially "renditions"--the practice whereby the CIA sends terrorist suspects abroad to be questioned in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and other nations where the regimes are not squeamish about torturing detainees. My source, hardly a softie on the topic of terrorism, said of the split at the CIA: "There's an SS group within the agency that's willing to do anything and there's a Wehrmacht group that is saying, 'I'm not gonna touch this stuff'."

And well they should be afraid. The "rendition" of even one human to be tortured at a convenient time in a place to-be-announced-later, is despicable. What word is available, then, to describe the "rendition" of hundreds or possibly thousands by our government?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

  George Bush, Environmental Champion

Via Think Progress, which picks up a report by the Palm Springs Desert Sun, we learn that the President has been bragging about an arduous bike ride he took up the Clara Burgess Trail inside the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

In doing so, he ignored a "voluntary avoidance" guideline for the Trail, which is in place all spring. Its purpose is to avoid disturbing the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep during lambing season.

As Think Progress notes, a presidential bike ride usually involves a massive convoy to protect Bush against himself. I bet he really showed those sheep.

Monday, April 24, 2006

  Still lying, after all these years

George W. Bush just cannot get his fill of lying to the public. It's as if he's adicted to lying, gets his jollies from standing in front of people who know better and telling bald-faced lies. Today in Irvine, California Bush put on one of his crazy talk specials.

And here's the danger of having an enemy with a safe haven in Iraq, Iraq has got wealth. Iraq has -- had weapons of mass destruction and has the knowledge as to how to produce weapons of mass destruction. And the confluence of a terrorist network with weapons of mass destruction is the biggest threat the United States of America faces. They have said it's just a matter of time.

Ok, so what the heck is that about? Where are those WMD from Iraq? And how did Iraq become a haven for terrorists, except by your invasion of the country?

But it's very important for the American people to understand that they're trying to run us out of Iraq for a purpose. And the purpose is to be able to have safe haven from which to launch further attacks.

I suspect that most Americans have figured out by now that the Iraqis are trying to run us out of their country--which we're occupying. That's what's behind all the deaths and things.

I based a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty, and secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free.

But not free of American occupation forces?

I also wanted to let you know that it's before you commit troops that you must do everything you can to solve the problem diplomatically. And I can look you in the eye and tell you I feel I've tried to solve the problem diplomatically to the max, and would have committed troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq knowing what I know today.

This is the problem, right here. Bush can look you right in the eye and lie to you. About the diplomacy, that is, not about the rest. Of course he would have invaded Iraq no matter what facts he was presented; isn't that what he stands accused of?

I was comforted by the fact that Tommy [Franks] and I were raised in the same part of the world. He went to Midland Lee High School with Laura, by the way. I felt like -- I felt like that there was kind of a kinship to begin with...

This was the high-school friend whom Laura did not run down. So you know there was a kinship of some sort. Thus, as we have learned, Iraq is not all screwed up.

  The White House promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn’t

So said the report about the manipulation of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq on 60 Minutes yesterday. In part, the CBS report covers the well-known story of the fake documents allegedly from Niger, and how the White House clung to the yellowcake allegation long after it had been discredited. It also describes how, even months after the invasion of Iraq, the White House was leaking misleading information to reporters, trying to buttress allegations it knew to be false.

The main interest in the 60 Minutes segment, however, is the first-hand account, provided by a high-ranking CIA official, of how the White House cherry-picked intelligence to promote the Iraq war. The official is Tyler Drumheller.

"It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure. It’s an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure," Drumheller tells Bradley.

Drumheller was the CIA's top man in Europe, the head of covert operations there, until he retired a year ago. He says he saw firsthand how the White House promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn’t:

"The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other," says Drumheller.

Drumheller says he doesn't think it mattered very much to the administration what the intelligence community had to say. "I think it mattered it if verified. This basic belief that had taken hold in the U.S. government that now is the time, we had the means, all we needed was the will," he says.

Later in the interview, Drumheller repeated and expanded upon allegations that had already been reported by NBC last month. (The sources for the NBC report were anonymous, but may have included Drumheller.)

A key allegation is that in September, 2002 the CIA convinced Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, to feed information secretly to the U.S. about Iraq's WMD capabilities. The White House was delighted initially with the breakthrough.

According to Drumheller, CIA Director George Tenet delivered the news about the Iraqi foreign minister at a high-level meeting at the White House, including the president, the vice president and Secretary of State Rice.

At that meeting, Drumheller says, "They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis."

But as it turned out, Sabri told the CIA the truth, that Hussein did not have active weapons of mass destruction programs.

"The policy was set," Drumheller says. "The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

Drumheller expected the White House to ask for more information from the Iraqi foreign minister.

But he says he was taken aback by what happened. "The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they're no longer interested," Drumheller recalls. "And we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'"

The NBC report adds considerable detail, including the information that the CIA pressured Sabri to defect to the U.S., and then broke off contacts with him when he refused.

The White House refused to comment to CBS about this report, though Condoleezza Rice has dismissed the revelation about Sabri. She argues that he was just one source and therefore unreliable. Drumheller, however, points out that the White House was more than ready to use a single source when it seemed to strengthen the case for war.

He also put his finger on one of the central problems we face today. Many Americans simply are unwilling to believe the evidence that has been documented over and over again. To believe it is to be forced to confront an awkward question: What do we do about a President who conspired to deceive the nation?

"The American people want to believe the president. I have relatives who I've tried to talk to about this who say, 'Well, no, you can’t tell me the president had this information and just ignored it,'" says Drumheller. "But I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

  Another imminent threat, this time from Iran

In the months before unleashing the full invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration did its best to convince us suckers that Hussein was an imminent threat to attack the United States. For example, Condoleezza Rice on CNN from Sept. 8, 2002:

And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought—maybe six months from a crude nuclear device...

The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

Again, George Bush in his infamous speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002:

Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

And here's John Bolton at the Hudson Institute on Nov. 1, 2002:

We estimate that once Iraq acquires fissile material -- whether from a foreign source or by securing the materials to build an indigenous fissile material capability—it could fabricate a nuclear weapon within one year.

You get the idea. And the fear-mongering continued right up to the eave of war. This despite the fact that Bush had been informed in a one-page Presidential Summary in Jan. 2003 that EVERY relevant government agency disagreed with his claims that Iraq was a danger to attack the U.S. Here is what Murray Waas reported about the Summary:

According to interviews and records, Bush personally read the one-page summary in [George] Tenet's presence during the morning intelligence briefing, and the two spoke about it at some length. Sources familiar with the summary said it was highly significant that the president was informed that it was the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence agencies participating in the production of the January 2003 NIE that Saddam was unlikely to consider attacking the U.S. unless Iraq was attacked first.

Cheney received virtually the same intelligence information, according to the same records and interviews. The president's summaries have been shared with the vice president as a matter of course during the Bush presidency.

But this pattern of mendacity is old news. Let's move on to the new pattern, this time of the administration's statements regarding Iran's alleged nuclear capabilities. See if you notice anything familiar in this recent report by Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder.

The State Department's top arms control official charged Friday that Iran is speeding up its efforts to master the process of enriching uranium on an industrial scale and may be close to surmounting all of the technological barriers.

"We are very close to that point of no return," said Robert Joseph, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security....

Joseph's comments coincided with the Pentagon's release of an interview transcript in which Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said that he has no confidence in the current U.S. intelligence estimate that Iran is at least five years away from having a nuclear weapon....

"It's fair to say, I believe, that the Iranians have put both feet on the accelerator," said Joseph. "They are moving very quickly to establish new realities on the ground."

He said that once Iran has mastered the 164-machine pilot plant at Natanz, "you're well on your way to an industrial-scale capability."

Funny coincidence that Joseph's remarks echoed Rumsfeld's opinion expressed just a few days earlier, especially in so far as it flatly contradicts what nearly all experts have said.

"We believe that [Iran] is still a number of years off before they are likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade," Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said Thursday during a speech in Washington.

But Rumsfeld has other ideas. The venue he selected to air them? The Laura Ingraham Radio Show on April 18:

INGRAHAM: Are you confident that that estimate of a few days ago of being five years or perhaps even ten years away is realistic and accurate given the fact that in the past we've certainly underestimated nuclear capabilities?


INGRAHAM: No which part?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, I'm not confident.


SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think it's a very difficult target for our intelligence community. They work hard at it and they're fine people, but it's a difficult thing to do. Our visibility into their circumstance is imperfect. I would add that if one is asked the question how long would it take them to do certain things totally, alone, on an indigenous basis without assistance from other countries you'd get one answer. If you said to them, if you said what if they were able to get ballistic missiles from North Korea, as they have, and what if they were able to acquire fissile material from somebody? How long would it take? I think you'd get a somewhat different answer.

If one wished to float a specious new absurdity on some idiot's radio program, one could do worse than select Laura Ingraham. The actual line of questioning of the Defense Secretary, as you can see from this selection, was intense.

Anyhow, it appears that the administration is starting to make its move toward painting Iran as an imminent threat to the United States. Or perhaps, a gathering threat. So far, Bush & Co. remain in the stumbling around phase. But do not be fooled by their seeming incompetence--well, ok, their actual incompetence--this appears to be a concerted campaign of progaganda.

Just moments ago, as I finished this post, a reliable mouthpiece, the Washington Times, pitched in helpfully with 'We really don't know' status of Iran nukes. The point of the piece seems to be to show that confusion reigns about how to interpret the Iranian nuclear program, and even Democrats like Jane Harman agree that there's no clear evidence to show whether Negroponte or Joseph is right.

It looks, then, like the administration will argue eventually that, with no clear choice between the alarmist and non-alarmist pictures of Iran, it is better to be safe than sorry. The Washington Times piece, quoting Harman's statements on Fox News, seems to cultivate the impression that she views it as her role to back up the Republicans on this. Here are some less helpful comments she made, which were left unmentioned by the Times (from CNN):

"This is not a time to be saber-rattling in our government, talking about the military option," Harman told Fox.

"Just the fact that the Iranian government is making a lot of noise doesn't prove their capability. Remember, the Iraqi government made a lot of noise, and they had nothing."

Yet when Bush & Co. get around to selling a war, it's a sign that they're in the mood to talk, not to listen.

  Push polling from Fox News

Via The Carpetbagger Report, I see that Fox, the paragon of blanched news, also fancies itself as a political operative. Their latest poll is hilariously biased. Many of the questions are so leading that they really belong in push-poll.

It starts out like an authentic poll, but quickly veers into GOP la-la land. The entire middle, a score of questions bunched together (# 17-37), betray an attempt to convince the respondents that the nation's economy is super spiffing, contrary to their own misperceptions. This is Fox news pollster as teacher, correcting and chiding pupils to get their facts straight. And who is to blame for Johnny Public's misperception? Why, the media naturally. Check out question # 37:

Considering that over the past twelve months the stock market is up, employment has increased and the disposable income of U.S. workers has increased, do you think the news media has generally done a good job or bad job providing accurate news about the nation's economy?

Rather sadly, for Fox, a plurality of respondents to that question still thinks the media have done a good job. So not only is Fox doing push-polling, but they're doing it incompetently as well.

Another long section of the poll tries to drum up support for Bush's sabre rattling toward Iran. Consider question # 40:

Do you think it would be responsible or irresponsible for the United States to have war plans for Iran already prepared?

Presumably that means war plans against Iran. I wonder if Fox's famed reporters bothered to ask the Pentagon how many countries we do NOT have war plans on file for (or against)? The age-old plan to invade Canada famously includes, for example, elaborate details on bombing their maple-syrup refineries.

Next the Fox poll turns to trying to persuade the respondents (or, as I prefer to call them, the victims) that the Republican Congress can't be blamed for failing to achieve any good for the country. The point seems to be that Congressmen should be applauded for spending so much time in their districts. Here is the kicker, question # 45:

Some people have started calling the current Congress a "do nothing" Congress because they are expected to be in Washington fewer than 130 days this year. Others say that it is not the number of days Congress spends in Washington, but how much has [sic] gotten done. Do you agree or disagree with calling this Congress is [sic] a "do nothing" Congress?

And others still are not wasting time talking about vacation days, and instead are pointing out its many failings. Curious that for all the attention Fox devotes to creating straw men, they can't compose grammatical questions. Perhaps that explains why, once again, they've failed to convince the victims to give the GOP the benefit of the doubt (54% agree that it is a "do nothing" Congress).

I meant it when I said this poll is delicious. Early on, it concentrates its fury on illegal immigrants. Here is just the opening salvo (question # 10):

Do you think illegal immigrants from Mexico should be given special treatment and allowed to jump in front of immigrants from other countries that want to come to the United States legally, or not?

Nobody taught these pollsters about run-on sentences, evidently, though it's fun to see "or not" tucked in at the end. As questions 14 and 15 indicate, the main point of this exercise it to test whether the recent mass protests can be turned into cause for resentment, and thus a wedge issue.

I find many things in this poll to be disturbed about. It's outrageous for any news outlet, even a laughingstock like Fox News, to engage in push polling.

I will add that the responses to question # 8 are appalling, in their own special way:

Who do you think should have the final say on U.S. military matters -- civilian leaders or military personnel?

Astoundingly, 54% of the vicims of this poll said that military personnel should have final say, only 20% said civilians. I don't think that is the answer Fox wanted. The question comes after a string of questions abour Rumsfeld and the retired officers' criticism of him. Perhaps the polls victims were unusually cheesed off at the flagrant attempt to bolster support for Rumsfeld, and by the time question # 8 arrived something just snapped in their brains.

But, otherwise, holy crap! Is this where the militarization of American discourse has brought us?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

  The knives come out for Cheney?

The London Sunday Times has a slightly breathless story on GOP discontent with Bush's faux shakeup: Dump Cheney for Condi, Bush urged. The urging seems to be eminating from a relatively few pharynges.

REPUBLICANS are urging President George W Bush to dump Dick Cheney as vice-president and replace him with Condoleezza Rice if he is serious about presenting a new face to the jaded American public.

They believe that only the sacrifice of one or more of the big beasts of the jungle, such as Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, will convince voters that Bush understands the need for a fresh start.

The jittery Republicans claim Bush’s mini-White House reshuffle last week will do nothing to forestall the threat of losing control of Congress in the November mid-term elections....

[Fred] Barnes, who is close to the White House, said he believed Cheney would be willing to stand down in order to help Bush. “It’s unlike Bush to dump somebody whom he likes and respects,” he cautioned. “But the president needs to do something shocking and dramatic such as putting in Condoleezza Rice.”

The article also quotes an anonymous 'Republican strategist' as saying “If I were Bush I would think of changing Cheney. It is one of the few substantial things he can do to change the complexion of his administration. The rest is nibbling around the edges.”

For the most part, though, this is Fred Barnes' show, plus a light dusting of Beltway chatter. On the face of it, that does not amount to much. But it would be strange for Barnes to be shooting his mouth off quite like this, unless he thought that Cheney is indeed vulnerable. I might like to know more about the circumstances in which Barnes said (or blabbed?) these things to the reporter, Sarah Baxter.

So, are the knives out yet? Or is it the fingering of scabbards that we hear?

Friday, April 21, 2006

  "Abrasive and inflexible" is better than nothing

According to this new report in the New York Times, Iraqi Shiites have finally settled upon a candidate for Prime Minister, Jawad al-Maliki, who has gained the acceptance of Sunni and Kurdish political parties. So it has been a worthwhile few months of civil war. Iraqis finally will be able to form a government and move forward with the business of whatever the future may hold.

Unmitigated good news. Except that there are one or two small doubts nagging at me. There is the odd fact that until quite recently the Sunnis and Kurds both regarded al-Maliki (his real name is Nouri Kamel) as an extremist Shiite.

Just one day ago, Sunni Arab leaders and Kurdish officials had expressed a preference for the other Shiite politician who had been considered a strong candidate for nomination as prime minister, Ali al-Adeeb. They had described Mr. Maliki as too sectarian and inflexible to win wide support among other political groups.

Another description of al-Maliki caught my eye as well, in the NYT sidebar: "Some rival coalitions see him as abrasive and inflexible." Those qualities must be a great advantage in certain government positions, I have no doubt. Yet I do have to wonder whether they are quite the right qualifications for a prime minister. Given that the country is riven by sectarian divisions, his selection may have been a tad too hasty.

There's also the fact that al-Maliki was an exile for 23 years, who returned only after the invasion. That almost guarantees that personally he does not have a broad base of support in Iraq. In fact, until today he was also virtually unknown outside Iraq as well.

Before his return from exile, he was asked about what kind of society he wanted his country to become in the future.

Mr Maliki said he wanted to see a pluralist Iraq whose various ethnic and sectarian groups regarded each other as equals.

Even so, he has been among the most hardline Shiite politicians in resisting moves for local autonomy in Iraq, and insisting on retaining central power for the Shiites.

His rise to power began as he served on the De-Baathification Commission. That was a roaring success for Iraq from any number of perspectives.

Later, he was among the most hard-nosed Shiite representatives in drafting a hard-nosed Constitution, which then had to be shoved down the throats of Sunnis. When Sunnis turned out in large numbers last December to reject this Constitution, al-Maliki remarked

Democracy means accepting the opinion of the majority. They [Sunnis] should accept the other and the outcome of the ballot boxes. The Sunnis need to take this into consideration.

But those are after all the smallest of doubts. Surely from the perspective of the United States, an abrasive and inflexible al-Maliki in power was better than the alternative...allowing Ibrahim al-Jaafari to continue as Prime Minister. As Seymour Hersh noted on the Diane Rehm show on April 11, 2006, the Bush administration could not possibly permit Mr. Jaafari to be reappointed for fear that he would ask the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. Now that really would not have done.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

  Fighting the terrorists over there so we wreck their country

This is definitely not convenient. Report documents major increase in terrorist incidents.

The number of terrorist attacks documented by U.S. intelligence agencies jumped sharply in 2005, crossing the 10,000 mark for the first time, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Officials caution that much of the increase, due to be reported publicly next week, stems from a change last year in how terror attacks are counted, coupled with a more aggressive effort to tally such violence worldwide.

But the documents say, and officials confirm, that some of the rise is traceable to the war in Iraq, where foreign terrorists, a homegrown insurgency and sectarian strife have all contributed to political bloodshed.

More than half the fatalities from terrorism worldwide last year occurred in Iraq, said a counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the data haven't been made public. Roughly 85 percent of the U.S. citizens who died from terrorism during the year died in Iraq....

"There's no question that the level of terrorist attacks in Iraq was up substantially," said the official...

Nothing here to see, just some last throes.

  Mosques as fiefdoms

When was the last day that the news out of Iraq sounded better than the previous day's news? While you're thinking, I'll post this link to an article by Jonathan Steele in tomorrow's GuardianBaghdad mosques become vigilante forts as sectarianism divides suburbs.

It's the kind of thoroughly discouraging report we regularly get, for example, from Knight Ridder's correspondent Tom Lasseter (why didn't he get a Pulitzer, anyhow?), and it runs almost directly counter to the sunny reports that the Bush administration, in its last throes, doles out. Clearly journalists such as Lasseter have the goods, and Bush & Co. don't, so this report by Steele sounds entirely credible to me.

In the wave of sectarian violence that has hit Iraq since the destruction of one of the country's holiest shrines in February, many mosques around Baghdad have become training grounds and weapons stores as much as places of prayer.

More significantly, they are now seen as the preserve of a single sect - the meeting place and bastion of one or other beleaguered community. The al-Nour mosque in Baghdad's western suburb of al-Jihad used to have both Shia and Sunni worshippers. "Only one Shia comes to the mosque now," said Adnan, a young guard who did not want to give his real name. He and other Sunnis are on watch each night to defend the mosque....

As Baghdad splits up into no-go areas for the Iraqi police, the danger is that the groundwork is being laid for a civil war in the city. If sectarian violence increased, the separate mosque defenders could start coordinating, turning the city into a jigsaw of no-go areas, like Beirut in the 1980s. They could also make common cause with the insurgents and turn against the Americans.

"This is our biggest problem, the militias and the untrustworthiness of the official security forces. It could easily turn into fiefdoms, each area with its own militia," warned Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni who serves as interim speaker of the new parliament.

Sectarian militias combining with erstwhile opponents to turn against American troops? By some kind of coincidence, that is rather close to a prediction that Tom Lasseter himself recorded last October in this report.

Some Iraqi troops went a step further, saying they were only awaiting word from the marja'iya before turning on American forces. Although many Shiites are grateful for the overthrow of Saddam, they also are suspicious of U.S. motives....

"In Amariyah last week, a car bomb hit a U.S. Humvee and their soldiers began to shoot randomly. They killed a lot of innocent civilians. I was there; I saw it," said Sgt. Fadhal Yahan. "This happens all the time. If they keep doing this, the people will attack them. And we are part of the people."

Sgt. Jawad Majid chimed in: "We have our marja'iya and we are waiting for them to decide when the time to fight (the Americans) is, when it is no longer time to be silent.

The occupation of Iraq, never an easy operation, just keeps getting nastier.

  Self-identifying as heroes

Dave Neiwert has a characteristically trenchant post on the aggrandizement of the self-styled Minutemen, Oh, those merry Minutemen. His main point is that, whatever face they try to present to the public, they attract large numbers of that kind of overt racist that used to be flocking to smaller, more marginalized militia groups.

To get a sense of the grim and twisted mentality that flourishes under the auspices of this group, you need only listen to their founder Jim Gilchrist hyperventilating on All Things Considered on April 6th.

"A 2000 mile physical barrier would be the last resort for us to survive as a sovereign nation, our nation's final attempt to preserve its prosperity and domestic tranquility. And sadly, it would stand as a constant reminder of the failure of America's political and business leaders to stop an invasion of a magnitude unprecedented in the history of the United States, an invasion that threatens our heritage, culture, prosperity, domestic tranquility, governance under the rule of law, and our very existence as a sovereign nation of assimilated Americans.

In tone and substance, it is crabbed, authoritarian and millenarian, megalomaniacal and diabolically manipulative. It warns that our way of life is under attack, and seems to threaten civil war unless a great wall is built. As wiser men than I have said, "Boogaa, boogaa!"

Stickler for details that I am, I've always been struck by the ways these tin-plated Napoleons self-identify. After all, what kind of a twit would self-identify as a Revolutionary War hero? The answer, I suppose, is a very considerable twit.

Again, stickling some further details: Wasn't it the case that the actual Minutemen were a more or less regular militia outfit, rather than vigilantes? That is, they were an extension of town militias; they were organized precisely so that they would be prepared in case of necessity (rather than going out on frequent patrols); they were created in order to resist the government of the day, rather than to supplement its forces. Oh, and they included all levels of society, rather than just its dregs.

So describe me as puzzled about why this group of weekend saviors on the Mexican border decided to self-identify with an entirely different kind of group from colonial New England. Stop making those sighing sounds. Sure, I understand the psychological imperative of small minds to self-aggrandize. Yet, hasn't the "Guardian Angels" movement fallen into disrepair? Why not just expropriate that name?

Because that is more or less the direction this crowd is trying to move toward. Just yesterday we learned from USA Today that the "Minutemen" wish to become a national movement.

[Executive Director Stephen] Eichler won't release membership numbers but says about 200,000 people identify themselves as Minutemen. By the end of the year, Eichler says, the group expects to have 500 chapters in states across the country, including Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest.

That will be a lot of people to have guarding national borders in Kansas and Missouri. Just as well that they're not any longer trying to hide behind trees to evade the redcoats.

The one place I gather they won't be found is at Lexington and Concord.

  Tony Blair: Once more into the breach

Last week it seemed for a few moments like Britain might actually act as a critical brake upon Bush & Co.'s dalliance with nuclear warfare. On Sunday week, Foreign Minister Jack Straw ridiculed the idea on the BBC.

The idea that Washington could launch a nuclear strike against Iran was "completely nuts", Straw said in an interview on BBC television....

Military action against Iran was "not on the agenda", Straw said....Straw said Britain, Washington's closest European ally, would not accept a pre-emptive strike against Iran, adding: "I am as certain as I can be sitting here that neither would the United States."...

"There is no smoking gun ... We can't be certain about Iran's intentions and that is therefore not a basis on which anybody would gain authority for military action," he said. Reuters.

That was welcome news, even if Straw's denial sounded just a trace too vehement. I could easily have imagined Tony Blair, with his standing in British opinion polls having dropped even lower than Bush's numbers in the U.S., going along for one last joy ride with that nutty White House gang.

It's always a mistake, however, to assume that Blair will finally do the right thing. And this week, he's busy demonstrating again that he doesn't have to be sensible. The Independent sounds the alarm, Blair and Straw at odds over US action in Iran:

Jack Straw has warned Cabinet colleagues that it would be illegal for Britain to support the United States in military action against Iran. But Tony Blair has backed President George Bush by warning that ruling out military action would send out a "message of weakness" to Iran.

Differences opened up yesterday between Mr Blair and the Foreign Secretary over growing alarm in the US at the refusal of Mr Bush to rule out military action. Mr Straw said on BBC Radio 4 that it was "inconceivable" that Britain would support a military strike against Tehran. Four hours later, Mr Blair refused to go that far when challenged to do so at Prime Minister's questions by the former minister, Michael Meacher.

Mr Blair accused Iran of fostering international terrorism, and said young people were signing up to be suicide bombers directed at US and UK targets. " I do not think this is the time to send a message of weakness," he said.

Mr Straw has told ministerial colleagues he does not believe that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, would approve the legality of British action, because Iran does not pose a direct threat to Britain.

Blair would have trouble with Labour MPs if he backs Bush, the paper also reports. So are you encouraged by that? Neither am I.

This split inside Blair's Cabinet, if real, is eerily reminiscent of what transpired in the year before the Iraq invasion. American commentators have rightly noted the parallels between the Bush administration's dismissive comments in 2002 about reports of secretive planning to invade Iraq, and their behavior now as new reports swirl regarding Iran. The parallels in Britain are starting to look equally strong. It could be said that we're somewhat better informed about the situation in Britain, then and now, since British ministers have been more confrontational and outspoken in public than high-ranking members of the Bush administration.

Take for instance the record left behind by the late Robin Cook, one of the Cabinet ministers who resigned in protest against the invasion of Iraq. In the spring of 2002, he joined several other ministers in trying to dissuade, or prevent, Blair from committing Britain to Bush's war. This rebellion failed because Blair was intransigent and lorded it over the Cabinet. Yet the infighting at the time resembles what appears to be taking shape now over Iran, to judge by the report in The Independent.

Cook kept a personal diary in those years, which he published in late 2003 (with some later annotations added). I drew attention last year to this book, because of its usefulness for evaluating and supplementing leaked documents like the Downing Street memo. For my purposes now, it's enough to quote a few extracts from Cook's diary dating to that initial period of infighting within Blair's cabinet.

Thursday March 7: A real discussion at cabinet. Tony permitted us to have the debate on Iraq which David [Blunkett] and I had asked for. For the first time I can recall in five years, Tony was out on a limb.

David was first over the top. Being now home secretary he cunningly camped on the need for a proper legal authority for any action: "What has changed that suddenly gives us the legal right to take military action that we didn't have a few months ago? Has anybody asked the legal opinion of the attorney-general, and what is he saying?"

Pat Hewitt lamented that we were expected to listen to US worries about Iraq when we could not get them to listen to us before slapping higher tariffs on our steel exports. "We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush."

I am told that in the old days prime ministers would sum up the balance of view in the discussion. This would be simple in the present case as all contributions pointed in one direction. However, Tony does not regard the cabinet as a place for decisions. Normally he avoids having discussions in cabinet until decisions are taken and announced to it.

Tony appeared totally unfazed at the fact that on this occasion the balance of discussion pointed strongly in the reverse direction of his intentions. Rather than attempt to sum up the discussion of this supreme body of collective government, he responded as if he was replying to a question-and-answer session from a party branch.

He was patient with us, but he was firm where he saw Britain's national interests lie: "I tell you that we must steer close to America. If we don't we will lose our influence to shape what they do."

This was the last cabinet meeting at which a large number of ministers spoke up against the war. I have little sympathy with the criticism of Tony that he sidelined the cabinet over Iraq. On the contrary, over the next six months we were to discuss Iraq more than any other topic, but only Clare Short and I ever expressed frank doubts about the trajectory in which we were being driven.

Monday March 25: Among my old contacts in the Foreign Office I cannot find any who can convincingly demonstrate that something dramatic has changed in Iraq in recent months which would produce a justification for military action that was not there a year ago.

Thursday April 11: At cabinet Tony reported in full on his visit. Pat Hewitt spoke up bravely on the importance of UN cover for any military action on Iraq. "There will be a lot of tension among the Muslim communities in Britain if an attack on Iraq is seen as a unilateralist action. They would find it much easier to understand, and we would find it much easier to sell, if there was a specific agreement at the UN on the need for military action."

Tony characteristically refused to be boxed in. He regards the UN process as important but "we should not tie ourselves down to doing nothing unless the UN authorised it". Rather more alarmingly he said, "The time to debate the legal base for our action should be when we take that action."

To judge by Cook's account, Jack Straw was not at that time among the leaders of the rebellion against Blair's Iraq policy. (Months later, for what it's worth, Cook gives the impression that Straw had some doubts about the rush to war.) This time, however, he might well be leading the charge against the war-mongering in D.C.

What is perhaps most striking is the similarity between the main arguments used by each side, then and now. In 2002, Blair's opponents led with the argument that an invasion of Iraq would be illegal, and that Attorney General Goldsmith would have to rule in favor of invasion. Then, Blair countered that Britain needed to cooperate with the Bush administration, and setting any preconditions to that cooperation would just hinder Britain and undermine its national interests.

Now in 2006, Straw seems to be pressing the legal issue, and arguing that Attorney General Goldsmith will not rule in favor of invasion. Blair is countering that Britain's national interests are at stake in confronting Iran, and taking any options `off the table' would weaken the U.K.'s position.

In other words, here we go again. Chiz.

Monday, April 17, 2006

  Let us praise a few Pulitzers

The Pulitzer Prize Board had no sooner announced its annual awards today than the usual angry leftists began grumbling. The well-meaning but naïve folk at the Columbia School of Journalism soon felt the wrath, not of their liberal peers, but of the amateur gasbags loosely associated with what is quaintly called, in the parlance of our times, the blogosphere (shudder).

I will take it upon myself to set them straight on a few things, though I have little doubt the lesson will be lost on these poor benighted souls. As for myself, I have no truck with journalism prizes. Even the best of them encourage all manner of muckraking and prying into other people's business. There ought to be, but there aren't, prizes for reporting good news, about sensible people going about their personal affairs, avoiding entanglements with the government, and the like. But alas, the Pulitzers reward prying of the worst sort.

Yet liberals can never accept the ground rules, even when they're written in their favor. The to-do over a few scraps of prize-money thrown into the maw of the ravening beast that is modern journalism! Well, the most controversial award, for national reporting, went to James Risen and Eric Lichtblau for their story last December in the New York Times on domestic eavesdropping. Might as well begin there.

The report was of course nearly treasonous, blowing the whistle as it did on President Bush's illegal use of the NSA. That, I have no doubt, is the only reason the Pulitzer Board gave any attention to Risen and Lichtblau. Any attention whatever, I say; it was never more than a tempest in a teapot, and Senators Specter and Roberts have put the whole story right back where it belongs (don't mind a spot of tea myself!).

None the less, we who remember the old school of reporting, the school of minding your own business unless there was a damn good reason for blabbing what confidential sources were telling you, can take some measure of satisfaction in the award to Risen and Lichtblau. It's not so much that the NYT revealed some mildly embarrassing tittle-tattle. More to the point, the NYT agreed to suppress information when they were told to do so. It's not so much that the paper eventually published an abbreviated version of the article by Risen and Lichtblau (even Time magazine might have done that); it's the fact that the newspaper smothered the story for over a year.

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

While this is not quite mind-your-own-business reporting, it is very possibly the best we can hope for in the current climate of crusading journalism. If you compare this to the situation thirty-three years ago, you will notice that we've made great strides in the matter of suppressing unwelcome news.

In 1973, Jack White noticed (not that it was any of his business) that Richard Nixon had forgotten to pay his income taxes. It was only for a few years, but of course a journalist is bound to publish this fact rather than just sending a reminder to the President that he needed to file those returns. Well, be that as it may.

The point is that White sat on the story for twelve days before publishing, and that was made a big deal among reporters. The day he wrote the story, the workers at his paper began a general action, a strike in the parlance of our times. Thus did Jack White wait out the strike for nearly two weeks before going into print with his muckraking report. At the time, it seemed like an extraordinarily long delay for such a big story. Yet here was the NYT, only two years ago, shoving a spying scandal back behind the sofa cushions for more than a full year.

So as distressed as I am to see these two rascals Risen and Lichtblau rewarded, let us imagine instead that the Pulitzer prize was awarded NOT for the year 2005, that is to say for the published report itself, but instead for 2004, for the suppression of the report during a presidential election and beyond. Can't you just hear liberal crania popping throughout newsrooms big and small?

And those bloggers, these Pulitzers will provide them with plenty of complaints to grind and grind for days. They're already howling, somewhere, that there were no Pulitzers awarded for reporting on the Downing Street memo. Such irony, because of course reporters didn't get around to actually reporting on that until everybody already knew about it. So what is the Pulitzer Board supposed to file that under? "Breaking News"?

This evening I overheard in the grocery store one scruffy fellow, a blogger by the looks of it, complaining that the award for "Criticism" went to a fashion critic. This fellow seemed to have the notion, can you believe it, that the recipient ought to be making critical comments about the government or perhaps the media. The fool, nobody had ever informed him that "criticism" means flitting around in the margins of music, attending Broadway plays, and the like.

I suppose he imagined that people like himself, who do nothing but carp on-line all day, ought to get the Pulitzer Board's attention. The proud heirs to the mantle of MediaWhoresOnline, or some such. And now they will criticize the Pulitzer selections with malice, knowing full well that next year the Board will cave to their pressure and award them all a lifetime achievement award. For criticism.

Crossposted at My Left Wing and at Daily Kos.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

  Fixing the evidence around the policy, after the invasion as well

Even after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration went on cherry-picking the "evidence" for Iraqi WMD. Just as before the war, if Bush wanted to promote a story, the story was promoted.

It was no surprise to learn from the Plame investigation, for example, that the "facts" about Iraqi contacts with Niger that the White House leaked to journalists in June/July 2003 included a fair dose of misinformation. Already been disproven? Shovel it anyway. Thus spake the Leaker in Chief, and it was good.

A little earlier that spring, Bush was being disingenuous about another matter. This involved the discovery of those ever elusive WMD in Iraq. During the spring and early summer of 2003, you'll recall, this hapless crowd went nearly hoarse crowing that it finally had found iron-clad proof. Over and over again.

The biggest 'find', though, were the mobile weapons labs. You know, the ones that hurtled down the highways and byways of Iraq, taking their bioweapons show on the road. With Kerouac as their bible, the hepcats in these trailors jived all night, drove all day, and mixed it up plenty in those back seats. Or so the administration said (more or less). Over and over again.

Now that the leaking White House is being leaked against, though, we learn that this silly story was shot down even before the White House trumpeted it for the first time on May 29, 2003. In tomorrow's Washington Post

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories....

The contents of the final report, "Final Technical Engineering Exploitation Report on Iraqi Suspected Biological Weapons-Associated Trailers," remain classified. But interviews reveal that the technical team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons....

The technical team's findings had no apparent impact on the intelligence agencies' public statements on the trailers. A day after the team's report was transmitted to Washington -- May 28, 2003 -- the CIA publicly released its first formal assessment of the trailers, reflecting the views of its Washington analysts. That white paper, which also bore the DIA seal, contended that U.S. officials were "confident" that the trailers were used for "mobile biological weapons production."

Throughout the summer and fall of 2003, the trailers became simply "mobile biological laboratories" in speeches and press statements by administration officials.

Competing reports came in to Washington, initially. There may have been legitimate room for debate, early on, about whether these labs might be mobile (chiz!) labs. But that does not excuse the administration. About a "discovery" that was very far from certain, it expressed utter certainty. Over and over again.

Monday, April 10, 2006

  The White House spins, but Waas blocks

The story in Monday's NYT, based upon the assertions of an anonymous White House source, is a blatant attempt to distance George Bush from the Plame leak. There are several elements to the spin that source is dishing up, but the most substantial point, at first glance, is that Bush authorized the disclosure of parts of the NIE in June. If true, that would be days before Libby set to work, in early July, doling out tidbits of (still?) classified intelligence while simultaneously outing Valerie Plame.

So Bush is in the clear? Hardly. A report by Murray Waas from February 2nd has the goods on what the White House was doing in mid to late June, 2003. And what would that be? Obsessing about the holes in the Niger story, and planning how to cope with Joseph Wilson's activities in exposing those holes.

First, the NYT piece.

A senior administration official confirmed for the first time on Sunday that President Bush had ordered the declassification of parts of a prewar intelligence report on Iraq in an effort to rebut critics who said the administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters....

The disclosure appeared intended to bolster the White House argument that Mr. Bush was acting well within his legal authority when he ordered that key conclusions of the [NIE to be revealed]...

Moreover, the disclosure seemed intended to suggest that Mr. Bush may have played only a peripheral role in the release of the classified material and was uninformed about the specifics -- like the effort to dispatch Mr. Libby to discuss the estimate with reporters....

There are indications that Mr. Bush issued the declassification order in late June...

If Mr. Bush acted that early, it would suggest that the administration was growing increasingly concerned as evidence emerged that the intelligence was deeply flawed. But the White House account also appears to separate Mr. Bush from the involvement in the selective release of the information to a few reporters...

The main ideas that the WH is propagating here are

(i) that Bush was out of touch with what Libby or Cheney did with classified information

(ii) that he was within his legal authority to declassify it (because he was releasing it not for political purposes, but rather to inform the public, as Executive Order 13292 permits)

(iii) that he made this decision in June 2003, thus well before Joseph Wilson's op-ed appeared on July 6

I won't touch point (i) with a barge pole. Point (ii) really depends for its effect pretty heavily upon whether we accept both the facts and the premises of point (iii). We should note immediately that the NYT does not assert as a fact that the decision was made in June. Indeed, the Times' pointed refusal to assert it as a fact suggests to me that the question of when precisely Bush decided to declassify the key judgments of the NIE remains very much up in the air. So much for the central "fact" of point (iii).

Now for the premise of (iii) that Bush's decision had nothing to do with Wilson's activities. Murray Waas's report in the National Journal from February 2, 2006 pretty nicely torpedoes the entire premise.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad."...

Tenet requested the previously undisclosed intelligence assessment in large part because of repeated inquiries from Cheney and Libby regarding the Niger matter and Wilson's mission, although neither Cheney nor Libby specifically asked that the new review be conducted, according to government records and to current and former government officials.

Waas goes on to describe how Cheney and Libby were highly suspicious of any reports about Iraq coming from the CIA, and how in particular they were obsessed about Wilson and Plame at this early stage.

One indication of Cheney's personal interest in the subject was that some of Libby's earliest and most detailed information regarding Plame's CIA employment came directly from the vice president, according to information contained in Libby's grand jury indictment.

"On or about June 12, 2003," the indictment stated, "Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division. Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."...

Sources said that Tenet may have discussed Plame with Cheney because of requests from Cheney, Libby, and other administration officials for more information about the Niger matter and Wilson's mission. Cheney's and Libby's interest in Niger was apparently rekindled after New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote on May 6, 2003, that the CIA had sent an unnamed former ambassador to the African nation in February 2002 to investigate allegations that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger.

It was this obsession of Cheney and Libby in May and early June, then, that caused the CIA to generate the June 17th memo. Waas reports that a few days after the memo was written, both Cheney and Libby were informed about it.

In other words, the concerted effort to block, circumvent, undermine, or otherwise confront the danger that Joseph Wilson's revelations might pose for the White House had begun at least a month before Wilson actually published his op-ed. No matter if Bush can walk his decision to declassify back into late June, therefore. It does nothing to distance Bush from the concerted effort inside the White House to find something to do about what Wilson knew and was already telling.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Sunday, April 09, 2006

  Another embarrassing WMD memo

Last night I called attention at Daily Kos to a remarkable claim in this Sunday's Washington Post. This front-page article in the Post refers to an unpublished, and presumably classified, document the White House received in January 2003, apparently before the now infamous State of the Union Address on Jan. 28. This memo states unequivocally that reports alleging Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger are "baseless and should be laid to rest."

Yet that is precisely what the Bush administration did not do in the run up to war. I would be another six months before they finally admitted the obvious about the Niger claims (without however acknowledging the existence of this memo). It's a bit surprising that this revelation has not gotten more attention. So far, I've seen only Kevin Drum pick up the obvious importance of this memo, buried as it is inside a story about the Plame affair.

Anyhow, I suppose it's our job to help the story along. Here is the Washington Post:

Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

There's no getting around it, yet another potentially explosive revelation that George Bush knowingly misled the nation about the evidence for Iraqi WMD as he rushed headlong to war. Will the media report on this memo?

  That civil war that isn't going on in Iraq?

It would be awkward to admit at this date that our policies in Iraq have led to civil war, even more that our troops are caught in the middle of it. The thing to do then is to proclaim that the civil war has not yet officially started, as General Pace did on March 5 on Meet the Press

MR. RUSSERT: If you were to be asked whether things in Iraq are going well or badly, what would you say? How would you answer?

GEN. PACE: I’d say they’re going well. I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well from everything you look at...

MR. RUSSERT: Knight-Ridder reported this week that U.S. intelligence agency more than two years ago said that the insurgency “had deep local roots, was likely to worsen, and could lead to civil war.” And that was just ignored by political and military leadership because they wanted to believe their own rosy scenario.

GEN. PACE: I do not believe it has deep roots. I do not believe that they’re on the verge of civil war...

Under the circumstances, this statement yesterday to the BBC by an Iraqi minister was somewhat unhelpful:

A senior government official has, for the first time, said Iraq is in a state of undeclared civil war.

"Iraq has actually been in an undeclared civil war for the past 12 months," Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Ali Kamal told the BBC's Arabic Service.

"On a daily basis Shia, Sunni, Kurds and Christians are being killed and the only undeclared thing is that a civil war has not been officially announced by the parties involved."

Mr Kamal added that while there was a civil war, it was "not on a wide scale"....

Similar views to those of Mr Kamal were expressed in March by Iraq's former interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi. At the time, US President George W Bush said there were many voices that disagreed with that view.

Indeed there are, Mr. President. If you, my reader, would like to get any of them on the record, the RNC has their contact information.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

  January Study: Iraq is (was) in danger of collapse

This evening brings a report from tomorrow's Sunday New York Times, U.S. Study paints somber portrait of Iraqi discord. A bleak picture it is, too, contradicting all the rosy scenarios that the government has been painting lately.

Curiously, the date of this internal staff report, compiled by Embassy and military personnel stationed in Baghdad, is Jan. 31, 2006. Therefore the last two months of rosy scenarios are exposed for the shams they were.

How grim is the portrait? It depicts an Iraq that, already in January was badly fractured along ethnic and religious lines. The study also describes the provincial governments around Iraq as unstable in the extreme, for the most part.

The patterns of discord mapped by the report confirm that ethnic and religious schisms have become entrenched across much of the country, even as monthly American fatalities have fallen. Those indications, taken with recent reports of mass migrations from mixed Sunni-Shiite areas, show that Iraq is undergoing a de facto partitioning along ethnic and sectarian lines, with clashes — sometimes political, sometimes violent — taking place in those mixed areas where different groups meet....

A copy of the report, which is not classified, was provided to The New York Times by a government official in Washington who opposes the way the war is being conducted and said the confidential assessment provided a more realistic gauge of stability in Iraq than the recent portrayals by senior military officers....

In a color-coded map included in the report, the province of Anbar, the wide swath of western desert that is the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency, is depicted in red, for "critical." The six provinces categorized as "serious" — Basra, Baghdad, Diyala and three others to the north — are orange. Eight provinces deemed "moderate" are in yellow, and the three Kurdish provinces are depicted in green, for "stable."

The "critical" security designation, the report says, means a province has "a government that is not functioning" or that is only "represented by a single strong leader"; "an economy that does have the infrastructure or government leadership to develop and is a significant contributor to instability"; and "a security situation marked by high levels of AIF [anti-Iraq forces] activity, assassinations and extremism."

The most surprising assessments are perhaps those of the nine southern provinces, none of which are rated "stable." The Bush administration often highlights the relative lack of violence in those regions.

In other words, nearly the whole map of Iraq is splashed with garish colors warning of danger. Why has this information, collected over six weeks by the people in Iraq who ought to know the actual situation, not had an impact upon our government's thinking...or at least, their public pronouncements? Why do we have people like Gen. Peter Pace (Meet the Press, March 5, 2006) still making absurdly sanguine comments about the Iraq war ("going very, very well")?

Because the study was shunted aside:

The report was part of a periodic briefing on Iraq that the State Department provides to Congress, and has been shown to officials on Capitol Hill... It is not clear how many top American officials have seen it; the report has not circulated widely at the Defense Department or the National Security Council, spokesmen there said.

It sounds as if, once again, it came as Inconvenient News. There is a reason why I chose that name for my new blog.

  Playing rough with both ends of the stick: The LA Times gets it

There's the business end of a hockey stick, and the other end that's never supposed to come into play. It's increasingly clear that the White House has been playing rough politically with both ends of a big stick, it's authority to declassify, or to not declassify, documents. In fact, Bush&Co. have violated the Executive rules of declassification both going and coming. Even if it does not mean legal peril, the abuse of power looks very bad for the President.

Democrats have been saying this for years to no avail, but recent reports have suddenly brought the spotlight within range of the issue. If today's story in the LA Times is an indication, the abuse of declassification may finally become the talk of pundits. Not a moment too soon.

This entry is longer and maybe harder than your average hockey stick. My only excuse is that the subject merits it.

Here is the LA Times story. Half-way through, the authors segue nicely to the topic of the negative abuse of declassification.

[Scott McClellan] accused Democrats of failing to grasp the distinction and of "engaging in crass politics."

Democrats have been fuming over what they say are repeated refusals by the White House to release information that would not compromise national security.

In 2004, for example, the White House rejected a request by eight Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee for a one-page "president's summary" of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The lawmakers noted in their request that the document contained no sensitive material beyond information that had been released publicly a year earlier.

The LAT story then points out, as Waas reported last month, that the Summary in question was politically sensitive precisely because it undercut Bush's assertions about aluminum tubes. This is what I would call negative abuse of declassification.

From here, the LAT piece then branches out to the question of the positive abuse of declassification:

More examples were cataloged in February by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Writing to John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, Rockefeller pointed to a pattern of "abuse of intelligence information for political purposes."

The LAT then examines the following examples in detail:

* Bush's speech on Feb. 9, which abruptly revealed that an (alleged) plot to blow up the Library Tower in LA had been foiled. At the time, Bush was trying to defend his (illegal) NSA spying. Such potentially sensitive info was exposed for political advantage, both Rockefeller and the journalists imply.

* The leaking of classified info in 2002 to help Bob Woodward with his puff-book, Bush at War. The authors quote Rockefeller as saying that the administration's approach to leaks is "extraordinarily hypocritical."

"Preventing damage to intelligence sources and methods from media leaks will not be possible until the highest levels of the administration cease to disclose classified information on a selective basis for political purposes," Rockefeller said.

The contours of the LA Times story are encouraging, I'd say. It begins by discussing McClellan's tacit admission that Bush authorized Libby to leak information from the NIE, and ends up looking at the political motives behind the positive abuse of declassification. But the fulcrum of the discussion is the illegitimate refusal to declassify. This is the most remarkable thing, because it's the element that so far has been absent from news reporting.

It could become the most critical single element in the public perception of Bush's abuse of power.
It will be hard to convince Bush's supporters that the declassification of the NIE and other intel was harmful to national security. Likewise, they're minds would explode before admitting that when officials blurt things out willy-nilly, it constitutes anything other than de facto and legitimate declassification; procedures be damned, you can be sure they'll insist.

Yet the negative abuse of declassification is different. It will be hard for Bush&Co. to put a positive spin upon a conspiracy to keep some docs classified, even while other docs on which they're based have been outed declassified. Since the Presidential Summaries in question are highly abbreviated by nature, it will be difficult to claim that they include new details. What's more, once journalists begin to focus on the negative abuse of declassification, they will almost certainly have to discuss the legal directives that apply.

Fortunately federal rules on declassification are relatively straightforward in principle. They are governed by Executive Orders 12958 as emended by 13292. For our purposes, the most significant sections of 13292 read:

Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations.

(a) In no case shall information be classified in order to:

(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;

(2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;

(3) restrain competition; or

(4) prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security....

Sec. 3.1. Authority for Declassification.

(a) Information shall be declassified as soon as it no longer meets the standards for classification under this order.

The legal issues concerning positive and negative abuse of the authority to declassify are admirably laid out in an April 6 letter by Henry Waxman to the President. (PDF file; hat tip to Terre's excellent diary for this link.)

His letter, like this diary and the LAT story, is predicated largely upon three explosive reports in the last month by Murray Waas (see below). Waxman's letter states:

Two recent revelations [by Waas] raise grave new questions about whether you, the Vice President, and your top advisors have engaged in a systematic abuse of the national security classification process for political purposes. News accounts suggest that the White House both (1) leaked classified intelligence information to further its faulty case for war and (2) improperly concealed information regarding your personal knowledge of serious doubts about this intelligence....

The thrust of these new revelations is that you and your advisors at the White House have been engaged in a much wider and systemic [sic] effort to undermine and flout the classification provisions of your own executive order. On one hand, you and your advisors appear to have selectively released classified information in an attempt to support your case for war and blunt the criticisms of Ambassador Wilson. On the other hand, you and your advisors seem to have improperly concealed information indicating that you were warned that intelligence on Iraq's nuclear program was challenged by experts in your own Administration.

Sure, the question of the administration's motive for preserving the classification of the Summaries is slightly more complex than the legal issues. The basic point is not hard to grasp, though: Bush does not want the public to learn that he knew before the war that intelligence agencies challenged some of the most important grounds for war that he spent half a year trumpeting.

Here is where journalists will actually need to do a little thinking, and maybe a little digging too. If they get apprised of Waxman's letter, however, they'll discover that much of the essential synthesis has been done for them. I hope that other bloggers will join me and keep pushing the letter to the fore, until journalists pay attention.

The declassification process was used by the White House as a weapon. And there's a simple way to demonstrate that in their eyes it was a weapon, rather than a simple hockey stick: the fact that they used the butt end of it to keep documents classified merely because their release would be politically embarrassing.

To conclude, I'd like to encourage everyone to read all three reports by Waas. I've seen quite a bit of confusion over the last month about what these actually reveal, and how they fit into wider issues such as the Plame case.

March 2, 2006: What Bush was told about Iraq. This reveals that Bush received and read one-page Presidential Summaries in Oct. 2002 and Jan. 2003, which stated that federal agencies did not agree with major parts of the case for war he was making. That contradicts statements made by Bush's top advisors in July 2003, to the effect that Bush never knew about any dissents within government. See my diary for a lengthier analysis of this report, which is the most important of the three.

March 30, 2006: Insulating Bush.  This reveals that Rove and Hadley initiated a high-level conspiracy in July 2003 to keep the aforementioned Presidential Summaries secret at least until after the 2004 election, fearing that their disclosure could sink Bush's re-election chances. I had some things to say about it in this diary.

April 6, 2006: Libby says Bush authorized leaks. This reports on the court filing by Fitzgerald, which says Libby has testified that in summer 2003 Cheney said Bush authorized leaks of info from the NIE. More importantly, it reveals that "Libby has also asserted that Cheney authorized him to leak classified information to a number of journalists during the run-up to war with Iraq." The latter has largely been overlooked so far.

  Tea Parties: Serious Organised Crime, mind you

Those of us who are worried about the erosion of civil liberties on this side of the Atlantic ought to keep one eye cast on Britain. Parallel outrages are being perpetrated through Tony Blair's own ministry of fear. During Blair's war on terra, Brits have given ground rather precipitously across a range of freedoms that they'd guarded jealously for a long time.

So far the infringement on liberties in the UK has been less pernicious than in the U.S., but no less gaudy. If you don't think so, just try drinking tea outdoors in the center of London. As a British tour guide found out, tea parties are now illegal under the "Serious Organised Crime" law. A testament to Tony Blair's statesmanship. Some Londoners wonder when they'll be rid of his legacy.

Blair has been behaving like a man possessed, trampling every civil liberty unlucky enough to cross his path. He just pushed through what is tantamount to a compulsory national ID card. Anybody renewing a passport in the UK has to buy a national ID as well. The House of Lords tried to stop this beast, but crumbled in the end. Then, there's the new bill allowing the government to detain suspects for months without charge. Again a rebellion in Blair's Labour Party fell short of blocking it.

As if new legislation chipping away at liberties were not enough, there was the obscene spectacle last June when London police slaughtered an innocent man.

You remember the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, whose head was blown apart after the subway bombing merely because an anti-terrorism unit suspected on the thinnest of evidence that he might be a terrorist. As the British public subsequently learned, their police forces had secretly ratified a "shoot-to-kill" policy, by which they awarded themselves the roles of judge, jury, and executioner whenever things got really tense.

At the time, a shocking number of Brits celebrated the killing and rallied to the defense of the Metropolitan Police, though no evidence ever was produced that would even appear to tie de Menezes to any terrorist group. Even while the police account of what occurred fell apart as a web of deception, many continued to express both supreme faith in the police actions and contempt for those who dared to challenge the execution of an unarmed man as unlawful.

That is how a terrified public is liable to react to a government's demands for excessive and unchecked power to fight terrorism. We need only compare this event to the reaction in the US to the killing of an innocent airline passenger, Rigoberto Alpizar, last December by air marshals operating under their own shoot-to-kill policy.

In Britain, nine months of investigation of the de Menezes shooting have exposed all manner of police incompetence, dishonesty, and arrogance. Yet the heads of police forces all around the country pronounced themselves thoroughly satisfied with the shoot-to-kill policy as such. They're damned determined to carry on shooting anybody at sight who seems to merit such treatment. So much for a nation's ability to step back from the brink, once the precipice has been pointed out.

What happened to the tea party? Well, it was arrested, that's what happened to it. The best account is in The Independent, so let's have it tell the tale.

A peace activist who organised an anti-war tea party that took place opposite the House of Commons faces prison.

Mark Barrett, a tour guide, was convicted under recent legislation banning demonstrations near Parliament and was fined £500 including costs.

He is one of a group of activists who meet every week to drink tea and eat cake on Parliament Square in protest at "an attack on freedom of expression"....

[Barrett said] "I don't believe peaceful protesters who have a disagreement with the way the state operates should ask permission to make their views known, particularly in this location." Mr Barrett, 36, was arrested in August under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which requires protesters to obtain police permission before demonstrating within a kilometre of Parliament.

He said: "We were sitting down, sharing food, and a police inspector told us he believed we were having an unauthorised protest and if we didn't break up we would be arrested. When I refused to go away, I was picked up and bundled into a police van."

Now some have said they can see why a policeman might object to an exotic, eastern drink like tea and fear the worst, in terms of potential terrorism. But in fact, tea parties used to be a staple of British life as late as the nineteenth century, and they are not unknown today in far flung places like Cornwall and Lancashire. There does seem to be some sort of food "angle" to the strict enforcement of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act. The Independent says that Christmas carolers were not arrested for congregating in the same spot near Parliament last winter. Yet earlier, a chef was nabbed:

Maya Evans, 25, a chef, became the first person to be convicted under the legislation last year. She received a conditional discharge with costs of £200....she was arrested at the Cenotaph in Whitehall reading out the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq.

I can't imagine what it was about her cooking that set the police on edge. Perhaps it was something other than the food per se. I don't suppose the actual list she was reading was found to be too long and tiresome?

I'd like to think that tea parties are not slowly being outlawed in Britain behind the cloak of anti-terrorism. I hasten to add that these revelers were not sitting there watching for the houses of Parliament to be blown up, nor had they deliberately abandoned their tellies. The arrests date to last summer, before that movie, when nobody had much thought of resisting the government.