Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

  The White House has new plans for your privacy

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in its never-ending battle against terrorism, and at first blush they don't look too good. Today it issued another one of its big national security Strategy documents, this one called "National Strategy for Information Sharing". It's all about sharing information regarding terrorism among federal, state, local agencies and with foreign governments. Coming as it does from the Bush administration, a pretty scary document at least in theory.

So I turned immediately to the description of its provisions for Protecting Privacy and Other Legal Rights in the Sharing of Information. Absolutely leaden. A lot of emphasis on keeping information secure once it’s in the governments hands; very little apparent interest in keeping citizens' private information private.

There are all sorts of issues you’d hope a government would take some concern for:

Insuring that authorities don’t acquire private information that has no use in the never-ending battle against terrorism; that it spreads private information only as widely as absolutely necessary; that it provides easy mechanisms to correct false information, and remove unnecessary and objectionable information; that it provides for multiple forms of oversight through the legislative and judicial branches, and stiff penalties for abuses; that it has a powerful Inspector General’s office; that its operations should be as transparent as possible.

Almost none of that is reflected in the document I found at the White House website, the roadmap for future use (and abuse) of private information in the name of the never-ending battle against terrorism. Instead, the WH presents the issue as one of balancing privacy rights against security concerns.

With proper planning we can have both enhanced privacy protections and increased information sharing…

I don’t see how that can be achieved, not if “privacy protections” has its normal meaning. The more private information is shared, the less privacy individuals have. It’s a pretty easy concept. I have to conclude that for Bush, “protecting” privacy means “controlling” it in the government’s hands.

Here is the sum total of what I would consider the essential checks against government abuse of individual privacy that this new Strategy provides for:

- Establish a redress process consistent with legal authorities and mission requirements

In other words you, the citizen, will be permitted to complain about violations of your privacy by the federal government in so far as your complaint fits the requirements of the "mission". That augurs well, doesn't it? You’ll have the devil’s own time trying to identify the “mission” of any agency, as I can’t imagine they’ll want to be helpful to any who might complain.

Then's there's a second, equally depressing statement:

- Make the public aware of the agency's policies and procedures as appropriate

"As appropriate", indeed.

The page I’ve been quoting from is merely a summary of the new Strategy’s “privacy principles”. It refers the reader to the ISE website, in case the reader had the crazy idea of reading the actual text of the new Privacy Guidelines. There are two links at the ISE page, one for an overview of the privacy policy guidelines, the other for the full text.

Neither link works. As appropriate.

crossposted from

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

  US Intelligence budget has nearly doubled in last decade

Compelled by Congress this year (H.R. 1, sect. 601) to reveal the size of the annual intelligence budget, the Director of National Intelligence issued a terse statement putting the figure for Budget Year 2007 at $43.5 billion. Walter Pincus has sources who tell him that if you add in the other intelligence budgets not included in Mike McConnell's tally (tactical intelligence for the individual military branches), the total would reach $50 billion.

In 1997 and 1998, the last years for which we have an official figure, the intelligence budgets were $26.6 and $26.7 billion. Thus the annual intelligence budgets are approximately double what they were a decade ago.

In 2005, an intelligence official speaking at a public conference in San Antonio inadvertently disclosed that the annual budget (including military services) was $44 billion.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, expressed amused satisfaction that the budget figure had slipped out.

"It is ironic," Mr. Aftergood said. "We sued the C.I.A. four times for this kind of information and lost. You can't get it through legal channels."

The $44 billion figure never was officially confirmed, but we can now see that it is in line with the figures we do have. So the intelligence budget exploded in size (up about 63%) sometime between 1999 and 2005, and has grown another 14% since then. This vast and rapid expansion in the government's intelligence apparatus is paralleled only by a similarly steep rise during Reagan's presidency. During the 1990s, however, intelligence budgets had stopped growing. It was only in 1999 that the CIA asked for a significant increase in its budget (of unknown size).

Hence the vastly inflated figure released today is almost certainly, in brief, the story of the National Security State that George Bush and friends have been building since 2001.

The White House was far from happy to have this information brought out into the light of day:

Disclosure, including disclosure to the Nation's enemies and adversaries in a time of war, of the amounts requested by the President and provided by the Congress for the conduct of the Nation's intelligence activities would provide no meaningful information to the general American public, but would provide significant intelligence to America's adversaries and could cause damage to the national security interests of the United States.

That was Bush's position as of February. And yet, despite the grave danger that Bush said was presented by H.R. 1 (the bill to implement the Sept. 11 Commission's recommendations), never the less he signed it into law in July. Governmental hypocrisy—it's a hallmark of secrecy for its own sake.

the new White House statement [in February] also took sharp exception to provisions in the bill that would strengthen the Public Interest Declassification Board, enhance whistleblower protections for intelligence community employees, and require increased intelligence and information sharing with state and local officials.

H.R. 1 required McConnell to disclose the annual intelligence budget by Oct. 30, and he waited to do so until the very last moment. His news release states bluntly that the public should expect no further information than the single budget figure he provides.

Any and all subsidiary information concerning the intelligence budget, whether the information concerns particular intelligence agencies or particular intelligence programs, will not be disclosed. Beyond the disclosure of the top line figure, there will be no other disclosures of currently classified budget information because such disclosures could harm national security. The only exceptions to the foregoing are for unclassified appropriations, primarily for the Community Management Account.

After 2009, we probably will find that the annual budget becomes a state secret again. A House-Senate conference on H.R. 1 introduced a "compromise" provision that permits the President to refuse to disclose intelligence budget figures beginning in 2009 merely by submitting a statement declaring that disclosure could harm national security. What is the likelihood that that will not occur?

Not great, to judge by the arm-twisting that has done on up until now. The 1997 and 1998 budget information was made public only because Steve Aftergood of FAS filed FOIA requests. Thereafter, the CIA refused to release any further budget figures:

Although the aggregate intelligence budget figures for 1997 and 1998 ($26.6 and $26.7 billion respectively) had previously been disclosed ... , intelligence officials literally swore under oath that any further disclosures would damage national security.

"Information about the intelligence budget is of great interest to nations and non-state groups (e.g., terrorists and drug traffickers) wishing to calculate the strengths and weaknesses of the United States and their own points of vulnerability to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies," then-DCI George J. Tenet told a federal court in April 2003, explaining his position that disclosure of the intelligence budget total would cause "serious damage" to the United States.

Even historical budget information from half a century ago "must be withheld from public disclosure... because its release would tend to reveal intelligence methods," declared then-acting DCI John E. McLaughlin (pdf) in a 2004 lawsuit, also filed by FAS.

Deferring to executive authority, federal judges including Judge Thomas F. Hogan and Judge Ricardo M. Urbina (pdf) accepted these statements at face value and ruled in favor of continued secrecy.

McConnell belongs to that school of thought by which democracy thrives through ignorance. Although little noted, last week he took another step to save the public from the burden of having too much information about its government's activities:

U.S. intelligence agencies will release summaries of national intelligence estimates only if Americans are in direct and immediate danger, or if police and fire departments need the information, the top intelligence official says.

NIE summaries will not be published if doing so would complicate U.S. policy interests "by revealing negative assessments of leaders or countries whose cooperation is essential for the attainment of policy objectives," or otherwise affect military, diplomatic or spy operations, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in an Oct. 24 memo to the intelligence agencies.

McConnell is reversing the recent trend of releasing key judgments from NIEs, the forward-looking analyses prepared for the White House and Congress that contain the views of the nation's 16 spy agencies on a single issue.

McConnell argues that making the Key Judgments of NIEs public may make analysts worry that their words will be scrutinized by those outside government, and may permit the NIEs to become fodder in political debate. Evidently, then, there was a Golden Age of government in which an ignorant public placed all its trust in wise and good leaders. That was the same Golden Age in which NIEs were anything but politicized.

The government began releasing NIEs about four years ago, most notably with the White House's July 2003 disclosure of key judgments from a controversial NIE on Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program. The White House was pressured to release those findings after parts of the NIE that supported the Bush administration's case for war against Iraq were leaked to the press.

Again, government secrets are critical to national security until they're not.

crossposted from

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

  “We’re closer now to war against Iran than we’ve ever been”

So said Joseph Cirincione this evening at a lecture on nuclear proliferation in Lancaster, PA. A highly respected expert in the field, and until recently the Director for Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cirincione’s comments deserve attention, even from those who don’t believe the situation is that dire.

One of the themes of his talk was that coming to grips with the fear that nuclear weapons cause, and becoming aware of how actors on the political stage evoke and manipulate that fear, is the only way for humans to take control of their own destiny and pull back from the abyss of virtually unchecked nuclear proliferation. People everywhere want to see the end of nuclear weapons, he said, yet the stoking of fear keeps causing us to seek out ever more perilous solutions to the problems.

During the question period I asked him whether he gives credence to reports that the Vice President and his friends were responsible for spreading false stories recently about a supposed nuclear facility in Syria. Cirincione said emphatically that he does believe them: “Absolutely.” As I discussed earlier today, the fear-mongering regarding Syria may be an indication of the direction this administration intends to take with Iran.

Cirincione also stated that he had confirmed that the Bush administration received from Iran a sweeping offer to negotiate a grand bargain in April 2003. The first detailed account of the Iranian offer was given by Gareth Porter last May.

The proposal, a copy of which is in the author's possession, offered a dramatic set of specific policy concessions Tehran was prepared to make in the framework of an overall bargain on its nuclear program, its policy toward Israel, and al-Qaeda. It also proposed the establishment of three parallel working groups to negotiate "road maps" on the three main areas of contention -- weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and regional security, and economic cooperation.

The offer reportedly was drafted by the Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, and passed on to the U.S. through the Swiss ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldimann. When the corporate media finally noticed the story last winter, Condoleezza Rice tried to cast doubt on it.

Rice was questioned about the document on Capitol Hill last week. She said she did not recall seeing it when she was national security adviser. "I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing," she said.

This evening, however, Joe Cirincione said that he has spoken to Kharrazi, who confirmed that he drafted the offer, as well as to Guldimann, who confirmed that he had passed it on to the U.S. The offer was (as we now know) rejected more or less abruptly by the neocons in the Bush administration, because they believed the US could force the collapse of the Iranian government. Cirincione described the Bush administration’s refusal to negotiate in 2003 as one of the greatest policy disasters of the last 30 or 40 years in regard to Iran.

It was while describing the consequences of that blunder that he expressed the view that we are closer now than we’ve ever been to war with Iran. It’s a view that a depressingly large number of people have been reaching.

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  More omens of war against Iran

For the past year I’ve been highly skeptical of claims that George Bush had resolved upon attacking Iran. Whatever he may have wanted early last spring, there were signs by June of 2006 that Bush was stepping back from the abyss. It may have been due to push-back by the Pentagon, or the complete collapse of post-election Iraq, or possibly a temporary eclipse of Cheney’s influence. Much of the administration’s saber-rattling since then I put down as the negotiating tactics of those Mayberry Machiavellis in the White House.

But increasingly these days we’re seeing more ominous signs of actual planning.

For example, a recent report suggests that an additional 20% of our operational fleet of U-2 planes was moved this year to bases in the Middle East in order to spy on Iran.

Today brings further news.

First, a curious provision tucked away in an appropriation bill to outfit B-2 “stealth” bombers with “bunker buster” bombs. The WH described this request as an “urgent operational need”.

From Congressional Quarterly:

Some Democrats are worried that President Bush’s funding request to enable B-2 “stealth” bombers to carry a new 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bomb is a sign of plans for an attack on Iran.

Buried in the $196.4 billion supplemental war spending proposal that Bush submitted to Congress on Oct. 22 is a request for $88 million to modify B-2 bombers so they can drop a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a conventional bomb still in development that is the most powerful weapon designed to destroy targets deep underground.

A White House summary accompanying the supplemental spending proposal said the request for money to modify ­B-2s to carry the bombs came in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” The summary provided no further details…

Previous statements by the Defense Department and the program’s contractors, along with interviews with military experts, suggest the weapon is meant for the kind of hardened targets found chiefly in Iran, which Bush suspects of developing nuclear weapons capability, and North Korea, which already has tested a nuclear device.

What is most alarming about the request is that the 15-ton bomb is still in its testing phase (the first test was held only in March). Only in June was the first contract (a small one) awarded to Grumman to retrofit the B-2 to carry the MOP. The current request, then, is a massive and sudden expansion of the operation. To what end?

CQ quotes Rep. James Moran (D-VA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) as saying they believe the bomb capabilities are intended for use against Iran.

[McDermott] said the funding request was the latest of many signs that indicated Bush was contemplating an attack on Iran. McDermott said such a scenario was his “biggest fear between now and the election.”

“We are not authorizing Bush to use a 30,000-pound bunker buster,” he said. “They’ve been banging the drums the same way as they did in 2002 with Iraq.”

Both Moran and McDermott plan to oppose the request in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Others, however, have learned to love the Bomb.

Not all Democratic lawmakers oppose the weapon. Non-nuclear bunker busters have emerged in recent years as favorites of Democrats concerned about Bush administration’s earlier plans to conduct research on nuclear models.

“We need to have this as a conventional weapon,” said Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “It adds to our deterrent.”

That may have been the intended object of all that loose talk of nuclear strikes against Iran—to convince wavering Democrats to view a non-nuclear attack as the best outcome they could hope for from this administration. It’s a game that Bush & Co. have played successfully before: Push Democrats into negotiating with themselves until they arrive at the “compromise” he wanted in the first place.

At a minimum, it’s time to jangle those phones in the offices of members of the Defense Subcommittee, chaired by John Murtha.

The leaking of false information about the Israeli attack in Syria on Sept. 5 is also cause for concern. Ten days ago David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti published a Judith-Milleresque report in the NYT claiming that the Israelis had destroyed a nuclear reactor under construction with North Korean help. Neither Israel nor Syria confirmed the allegation, and few experts have credited it.

But it was clear that the Vice President’s minions were pushing the story hard. They appear to have been behind the related and equally false stories that Syria was disassembling the bombed reactor in order to conceal evidence, and that a Syrian diplomat at the U.N. had admitted the facility was a nuclear reactor. It was a classic whispering campaign; the only insider who would attach his name to the allegations was true-believer John Bolton.

Now Steve Clemons appears to have produced some actual inside dope. His sources confirm that Cheney’s gang was behind the dissemination of false information about Syria:

Then, a journalist friend of mine -- not at the New York Times -- confided to me that they were being pressed by the White House and by fellow travelers of the Cheney gang to pump up the Syria nuclear story. This is one of several people who actually used the term "being Judith Miller'd" to me to describe how they felt in their interactions with the administration. Even the way they were using it, it still doesn't describe properly the kind of interaction going on.

Other sources tell Clemons that the Syrian facility probably was working on retrofitting Scud missiles to take chemical weapons warheads that could burst in the air. Be that as it may (and even though Clemons spills a lot of pixels wringing his hands about his inability to find sources who can back up the nuclear allegations by Sanger and Mazzetti), it looks very likely that the real crazies inside the Bush administration (Cheney & Co.) treated the Israeli attack as agitprop.

At a minimum, if Cheney can convince the serious people in Washington that Israel attacked a nuclear facility in Syria, he’ll have built a partial case for an American attack on the Natanz facility in Iran—before the Israelis take the initiative there as well.

And if the Syrians were playing with chemical weapons, then Cheney could count on their refusal to open up the bombed facility or make an international cause celebre of the attack. His own scenario, then, might well go uncorrected. It would thus “prove” that it’s possible to bomb a nuclear facility in a rogue state without provoking an international crisis.

At long last, it’s time for Congress to pass a resolution prohibiting Bush from attacking Iran without explicit authorization from those with Article I authority to make war.

crossposted from

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

  Clinton not sure whether Unitary Executive has gone too far

Hillary Clinton in her own words is almost always more disappointing than the ideal candidate of her supporters' imagination. Today Michael Tomasky of the Guardian publishes an interview with her that ought to make your heart sink, that is if your heart is able to stomach all the equivocations.

Tomasky says that his goal in the interview was to circumvent her habit of "avoiding [rather than] actually answering the question, and reverting to a pre-ordained script". Her responses however do more to highlight Clinton's legendary evasiveness.

The most striking answer was to the first question, which had been intended (we're told) to evoke some candid thoughts: Which of the powers of the president that George Bush has assumed would you relinquish?

Clinton hemms and haws about having to look into the matter after she takes office. Chiz.

Here's that section of the interview:

I want to start with some questions about foreign policy and terrorism. If you become president you'll enter the White House with far more power than, say, your husband had. What is your view of this? And what specific powers might you relinquish as president, or renegotiate with Congress - for example the power to declare a US citizen an enemy combatant?

Well, I think it is clear that the power grab undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration has gone much further than any other president and has been sustained for longer. Other presidents, like Lincoln, have had to take on extraordinary powers but would later go to the Congress for either ratification or rejection. But when you take the view that they're not extraordinary powers, but they're inherent powers that reside in the office and therefore you have neither obligation to request permission nor to ask for ratification, we're in a new territory here. And I think that I'm gonna have to review everything they've done because I've been on the receiving end of that. There were a lot of actions which they took that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution. There were other actions they've taken which could have obtained congressional authorization but they deliberately chose not to pursue it as a matter of principle.

I guess I'm asking, can a president, once in the White House, actually give up some of this power in the name of constitutional principle?

Oh, absolutely, Michael. I mean that has to be part of the review that I undertake when I get to the White House, and I intend to do that.

Let's look at the implications: "Other presidents...have had to take on extraordinary powers..." Actually, none have been obliged to do so. The problem is that some presidents wish to take them.

"But when you take the view that they're not extraordinary powers, but they're inherent powers..." That's not the problem. The Constitution gives the President no "extraordinary powers" except the role of commanding the armed forces during time of war or rebellion. The problem is that presidents wish to have powers that aren't granted by the Constitution.

"I think I'm gonna have to review everything they've done..." Why review? Hasn't the Senator from New York been paying sufficient attention during the last 6 years that she can declare definitively that she'll renounce powers that George W. Bush assumed? The question was not "Will you think about it?", but "What specific powers might you relinquish?".

"they took [actions] that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution." Taking actions without authority is merely the nub end of the problem. The real problem is that Bush takes actions that violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

It should have been relatively easy for Clinton to list a long series of presidential "powers" that she would renounce. In fact, Tomasky feeds her one suggestion in the question itself: the "power to declare a US citizen an enemy combatant". Yet Hillary Clinton cannot bring herself to identify a single power that she's definitely prepared to renounce before taking the oath to protect and uphold the Constitution.

The rest of the interview is fairly underwhelming as well, particularly if (like me) you'd like a candidate who's willing to lead.

Asked whether she agrees with the silly proposition that "the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms," Clinton first seems to reject it, or at least talk around it, but then doubles back to declare "Well, some do."

Asked why Congress doesn't cut off funding for Iraq, or attach it to timetables for withdrawal, as most Americans want, Clinton responds that Republicans won't let them. No explanation about why Democrats need to cave in and continue to send bills to Bush that the Republicans want.

Asked whether she'll support Mukasy's nomination despite his comments on torture, Clinton boldly declares that she's "gonna look at the entire record of the hearing." Again the dodge "I wasn't really paying attention at the time."

Tomasky also tried and failed to get Clinton to provide him with a single example of when she staked out a controversial position in favor of any progressive cause. As he remarks in a commentary on the interview:

One major concern of liberals about Clinton is her preternatural caution as a politician-her general unwillingness to stick her neck out and risk political capital in behalf of a progressive policy goal that wasn't a safe issue. I asked her to name one issue during her Senate tenure on which she'd done this. Answer: "Well, I think, you know, voting against funding. What did we get, 12, 13, 14 votes on that?" She was referring to a vote last May to make emergency supplemental appropriations to the Iraq war effort. The measure passed 80-14. Clinton and her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama, both voted no, announcing their votes very late in the process.

This, of course, wasn't really what I meant. By the time of this vote, she was in full presidential campaign mode and trying to establish her bona fides with the party's anti-war base. So the political risk inherent in this vote was small. Indeed it was Joe Biden, who was the only senator/presidential candidate to vote yea, who risked something politically, whatever one thinks of his vote substantively.

After I followed up, Clinton went into a defence of how progressive her voting record was; but again, this wasn't what I meant. I was asking about examples of leadership. So the answer to the question was that there really wasn't one thing that she could think of on which she'd taken a risk in behalf of a progressive policy end.

To be more precise, Clinton rejects the very premise that progressives have reason to think she's an "overly cautious politician":

Well, you know I've made so many votes, Mike, and I've tried to vote as I thought was the right thing to do, and if you look at my voting record as it's evaluated by most of the progressive organizations that look at voting records, I have a very, very high percentage of having voted with them, so I don't quite know what their concern is.

To be perfectly candid, I'm not one of those progressives who think Hillary Clinton is overly cautious. I'm a liberal.

crossposted from

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Monday, October 22, 2007

  At least 20% of U-2 planes sent to Middle East this year

This statement, made in passing by the Sunday Times defence correspondent Mick Smith, is noteworthy:

Seven American U2 spy planes have passed through RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire this year on their way to Akrotiri in Cyprus or Al-Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, the bases for flights over Iran.

Two observations crowd in:

First, the US is said to have an active fleet of only 35 U-2 planes (nominally headquartered in California). Twenty percent of them, a staggering proportion, were en route this year through England for the Middle East.

Second, Smith’s assertion of fact is apropos of very little in the article. The U-2 information looks to be a salient fact that just needed to see the light of day somehow or other.

The article in which that paragraph is buried requires a closer look. In one sense it mirrors the standard complaints about Iran that one sees in Murdoch papers, except the story is oddly self-deflating.

It focuses on conflicts that the SAS, British special forces, have had with smugglers crossing the Iranian border in the south near Basra. The headline, “SAS raiders enter Iran to kill gunrunners”, seems to be contradicted by the body of the report however (h/t Cernig). It states:

Last week, Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, said the Ministry of Defence was unable to say whether British troops had killed or captured any Iranians in Iraq. The ministry declined to comment, but privately officials insisted British troops never carry out hot pursuit across the border.

Half-way through the article, we would seem to be back to square one. Except that we’re not quite done. Smith rather suddenly shifts the focus away from border firefights:

There have been persistent reports of American special-operations missions inside Iran preparing for a possible attack. But the sources said British troops were solely stopping arms smuggling.

The fighting comes amid an increase in US and British intelligence operations against Iran. Britain’s forces have more than 70 Farsi experts monitoring Iranian communications, and the intelligence is shared with the United States.

Here is where the statement about U-2 flights occurs. Editorially, its inclusion in the story is justifiable (though only barely) as a counter-example of US/UK intelligence sharing.

But note that Smith does not state that the seven U-2 planes have been flying over Iran. He leaves that for the reader to infer, saying only that these are bases “for” flights over Iran. For the U-2 flights over Iraq, as Smith must know, the US doesn’t need the Cypriot and U.A.E. bases. Since 2003 the US has been able to use air fields in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait.

The context of the statement about U-2 planes is important. Smith is portraying the British response to smuggling from Iran as measured, and any conflicts with the Iranian military as straddling the border. Also, these operations are directed simply at blocking the smuggling. (Let’s set aside the question of whether all that is accurate.)

The American special forces, by contrast, are depicted as operating rather deep inside Iran, acting to prepare the ground for a large-scale attack on Iran.

There is a deliberate parallelism with Smith’s treatment of intelligence operations, to which he then turns. The British limit themselves to monitoring signals (presumably from outside Iran). And the US? We’re told it has shipped at least 20% of its U-2 fleet to the region during this year. The implication is clear: The US is regularly violating Iranian air space with U-2 flights, flights that have been stepped up dramatically in recent months by the addition of 7 further U-2 planes.

For several years there have been credible allegations that U-2 planes are spying on Iran, especially after a U-2 crashed in June 2005 at Al-Dhafra air base (U.A.E.).

The United States says the incident occurred as the plane was returning to base after an observation mission over Afghanistan…

Air Force spokesman David Small says U-2 planes are flying daily over Afghanistan and Iraq, in support of American and allied ground forces…

Although the Air Force spokesman did not mention Iran, it's considered certain that the United States is employing the U-2's surveillance capabilities there, as well. Washington suspects Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The Boston Globe added:

The military statement also did not specify the nature of the U-2's classified mission, saying only it was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom…

The U-2 mission will probably remain a mystery. Specialists said yesterday that the plane could have been gathering intelligence for operations in Afghanistan.

It could also have been spying over the eastern border into the mountainous regions of Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding. Another possibility, they said, was Iran, which borders Afghanistan to the west and where the United States suspects a covert nuclear weapons program is underway.

Operation Enduring Freedom ''is not synonymous with Afghanistan," Pike said. ''What they were looking at and what they were flying over could be two very different things."

In fact, the U.A.E. lies more or less directly south of the main areas of nuclear activity in Iran, as well as the porous low-lying border between Iraq and Iran. Afghanistan, however, is on the other side of Iranian air space from the U.A.E.

It’s also possible that the US may be able to fly U-2 missions to Iran out of Georgia and Azerbaijan, alliances the US has cultivated partly for that reason perhaps.

In the last two months, several articles appeared in the corporate media about the continued need for the U-2’s capabilities. Clearly the stories were being orchestrated by the military for purposes of its own.
Jonathan Karl of ABC was surprised to find at long last that he would be allowed to fly on the spy plane.

Meanwhile U.S. News declared that “The legendary U-2 spy planes are busier than ever”. True, but maybe for reasons other than those explored in the bland report.

If in fact the U.S. has now dedicated an additional 20% of its U-2 fleet to overflights of Iran, then we can make better sense of this modest barrage of stories about the normally secretive U-2 program.

It almost goes without saying that to violate Iranian air space could be an act of war; to do so systematically might be intended as a deliberate provocation.

You may recall that one of George Bush’s last acts in the push toward war in Iraq was to demand that Saddam Hussein accept U-2 flights over his country. It was one of the last gasp of the plan to “wrongfoot” Hussein. The Bush administration reacted petulantly when the dictator finally said he was willing to accede to the demand.

Unlike Iraq, however, Iran may have the capability to shoot down a U-2.

crossposed from

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

  America’s slave ships

Last year I argued in America’s slaves that the networks created by Bush’s CIA for purchasing (or seizing), for transporting, brutalizing, and holding without trial undifferentiated masses of foreign men, should not be rationalized as just a different form of imprisonment. They aren’t being treated as either war captives or criminals. Instead, I believe, the closest analogue for this system is slavery. It’s not the slavery of economic exploitation, of course, but the display of raw, unchecked power, of domination, of authority. Under Bush, when you get right down to it, this new slavery came into existence in order to crush out the very idea of resistance to his will.

Today, the Guardian newspaper highlights another dimension to the vile network created by George W. Bush: slave ships.

The Guardian reports that there is finally some movement in the British Parliament to investigate the longstanding allegations that the British island of Diego Garcia, where the US leases an air base, is one of the CIA’s black sites where men are held secretly and tortured. From the Guardian:

The all-party foreign affairs committee is to examine long-standing suspicions that the agency has operated one of its so-called "black site" prisons on Diego Garcia, the British overseas territory in the Indian Ocean that is home to a large US military base.

Lawyers from Reprieve, a legal charity that represents a number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, including several former British residents, are calling on the committee to question US and British officials about the allegations. According to the organisation's submission to the committee, the UK government is "potentially systematically complicit in the most serious crimes against humanity of disappearance, torture and prolonged incommunicado detention".

Clive Stafford Smith, the charity's legal director, said he was "absolutely and categorically certain" that prisoners have been held on the island. "If the foreign affairs committee approaches this thoroughly, they will get to the bottom of it," he said.

The government of Tony Blair was pressed many times by MPs about these allegations, but always fell back upon the Bush administration’s denials. The British have never actually looked into the matter—even though Gen. Barry McCaffrey said that prisoners are held at Diego Garcia; even though the torture flight logs amassed by investigators identified a CIA flight from Washington to Diego Garcia on Sept. 11, 2002 (shortly after Ramzi Binalshibh was captured); even though the report to the European Council by investigator Dick Marty stated …

"We have received concurring confirmations that United States agencies have used Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the UK, in the 'processing' of high-value detainees."

And even though the island in the Indian Ocean retains a small force of British military personnel as customs officers and police, the British government has until now never bothered to discover whether its territory is being used to violate international laws on human rights.

If allegations of secret imprisonment and torture aren’t sufficient to embarrass the British government into action, then perhaps talk of slave ships might be.

One possibility which the foreign affairs committee may explore is that suspects have been held on a prison ship off the coast of Diego Garcia. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, has said that he has heard from reliable sources that the US has held prisoners on ships in the Indian Ocean. There have also been second-hand accounts from detainees at Guantánamo of prisoners being held on US naval vessels.

One detainee told a researcher from Reprieve: "One of my fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantánamo. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship; they were all closed off in the bottom. The people detained on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo."

Until now, there have been only a few stray comments in print about the allegations that the US Navy is keeping torture vessels afloat, allegations that even the U.N. felt obliged to describe as rumors.

The United Nations says it has learned of serious allegations that the US is secretly detaining terrorism suspects, notably on American military ships.

The special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, said the claims were rumours at this stage, but urged the US to co-operate with an investigation…

He said that according to the reports, the ships were believed to be in the Indian Ocean.

The British were actively involved in the Indian Ocean slave trade until 1807. Two hundred years later, they seem to be back in business.

crossposted from

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

  “Seatbelts are part of the culture of death”

Milo was helping me this morning to replace my van’s brake pads when he happened to mention another one of the Bush administration’s outlandish appointments. I’m not one to gripe (that’s as good as my motto, in fact, as a blogger). But this particular appointment does seem just a tad over the top.

With little fanfare yesterday, Bush appointed Bobby Orr as the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Transportation Safety. The administration describes her as “highly qualified” for the job. How qualified? In the past, Orr has made many controversial statements about passenger safety. In particular, she has campaigned for years against mandatory seat-belt laws, which she claims are “about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death”.

That just seems a bit extreme to me.

It hardly needs stressing that Orr will now be in charge of the agency that ensures that seat belts remain available to drivers, even while she strenuously opposes their very existence.

For years Orr has been working a variety of angles trying to undermine seat-belt laws. For example, in March 2001 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Orr urged President Bush to move quickly to decertify automobiles that come equipped with standard seat belts.. And the next month, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Orr cheered a proposal by Bush to eliminate a clause in federal employees’ insurance policies that required them to use safety belts while driving on work-related business. Said Orr, at that time the Director of the Family Research Council: “We're quite pleased because driving a car is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have it.”

This is in fact, paradoxically, a cherished position of the “right to life” movement, one of whose most successful spin-offs is the “right to die in horrific circumstances, if God wills it” movement. Christian fundamentalist leaders, of which Orr is one, have argued again and again in recent years that seat belts are unknown in the Bible and therefore abominations against nature.

Many right-wing Christian groups have advocated successfully for state and federal “abstinence only” policies in regard to seat belts. The founding hero of their movement is University of Chicago guru Sam Peltzman, who argues that seat belts cause more damage than good by encouraging risky behavior.

Last year, Bush appointed a Peltzman accolyte, Jackie Keroack, to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Formerly the head of a Christian driving academy in Colorado Springs that also counseled against using seat belts, Keroack drew intense criticism from safety advocates. Ultimately, however, she was forced to resign her post in March because of allegations of fraud in her private practice.

Now it looks like we’re saddled with an equally intransigent seat-belt ideologue.

"We have another appointment that just truly politicizes traffic safety planning," said Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Motoring and Health Association. "The last time I looked, both Republicans and Democrats used seat belts in America."

Meanwhile, it looks like Orr is trying to duck questions about her hard-line stance, especially her inflammatory 2001 WaPo op-ed.

Reached by email, Orr referred questions to the Office of Public Affairs, which said she was simply supporting President Bush’s policy. “As she said then, the policy allows freedom of conscience and freedom of choice. Practically speaking, workers should be able to choose what kind of coverage matters to them.”

Unstated, but implicitly understood among fellow members of the seat-belt movement, is that once they have gutted the regulations mandating active-restraints, they plan to set their sights on passive-restraint systems. According to Milo, who has a second cousin in this movement, they’re already funding research to “prove” that air bags endanger eggs in a mother’s womb. After that, the target will be crumple zones and side reinforcement beams.

There appears to be no end in sight to this crusade.

crossposted from

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Monday, October 15, 2007

  A well-funded unbossed?

The New York Times reports today that a new non-profit backed by strong critics of the Bush administration will assemble a team of smart and skilled researchers to generate the kind of investigative reporting that American newspapers used to do. The group plans to give away the results of their investigations to any news outlets that are willing to print the information.

To my mind, that sounds like with a payroll.

Paul E. Steiger, who was the top editor of The Wall Street Journal for 16 years, and a pair of wealthy Californians are assembling a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets.

The nonprofit group, called Pro Publica, will pitch each project to a newspaper or magazine (and occasionally to other media) where the group hopes the work will make the strongest impression. The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations.

Let's see...long-term projects? Check. Uncovering misdeeds in government? Check. Uncovering misdeeds in business? Check. Uncovering misdeeds in organizations? Check.

Looks like traditional media types decided it was time finally to get out from under the thumb of the corporations that dominate the news business, and get into the unbossed line of work. A warm welcome, then. Make yourselves at home, there's plenty of room and no end of stories to be uncovered.

Nothing quite like it has been attempted, and despite having a lot going for it, Pro Publica will be something of an experiment, inventing its practices by trial and error. It remains to be seen how well it can attract talent and win the cooperation of the mainstream media.

Attracting talent won't be a problem, if they're truly unbossed and unbought and paying good salaries to boot. Getting the cooperation of the traditional media, however—that's a problem, at least as we've discovered here at unbossed. We give away good, basic research here day after day, week after week. And the corporate news media usually sniffs and turns its back, or if it does pick up our work it will rarely give even a modicum of credit. The new non-profit, with all the traditional trappings of a news outlet, may get more respect however.

Pro Publica plans to establish a newsroom in New York City and have 24 journalists, one of the biggest investigative staffs in any medium, along with about a dozen other employees. Mr. Steiger said he envisions a mix of accomplished reporters and editors, including some hired from major publications, and talented people with only a few years’ experience, so that the group will become a training ground for investigative reporters.

Headquartered in NYC; that's a good start. It might help to inoculate their work against the D.C. insiders' smugness that has done such damage to traditional news reporting during the last generation.

On the other hand, with close proximity to Wall Street (especially since it will be led by longtime WSJ staffers), Pro Publica may turn out to be rather less than eager to investigate fundamental issues of work, labor, and class than these times desperately require. It's not just that the beat reporter who specializes in labor issues has all but disappeared from the American newsroom. It's also the fact that the US has during the last generation rushed rapidly backwards in the direction of the Gilded Age, with a stagnation of wages, pensions and health coverage collapsing, and astonishing gaps in income and wealth opening up between the richest Americans and everybody else. The richest one percent of the country now has an income that is nearly twice as great as the total income of the poorest 50% of the country.

Since the funding for Pro Publica will come from members of that top 1%, it's a legitimate question to ask whether its reporting will highlight basic facts such as these.

crossposted from

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Friday, October 12, 2007

  Zombies to the left, super-patriots to the right

crossposted from the zombie-kingdom,

It turns out that the founder of, em dash, is a zombie in the pay of Hillary Clinton. Until today, my guess is that you would not known that. Read the infinitely entertaining Mr. Richard Poe for all the chilling details.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usPoe has spent many years working with the equally perspicacious David Horowitz to uncover all manner of left-wing conspiracies, shining particular light on the less real ones.

Poe has maintained an exhaustive, and still expanding, list of enemies. Some no doubt are personal enemies (neighbors, for example), others (perhaps the majority) are enemies of all mankind—enemies such as the late philosopher Karl Popper, a famous anti-totalitarian and exponent of the ‘Open Society’. Near the top of Poe’s list are George Soros and Hillary Clinton

Clinton, Poe has learned, has a secret “far-left agenda” that she’ll impose on America once she seizes control of the government. It turns out that our own em dash is part of Clinton’s secret conspiracy, as Poe has can now reveal.

Can it be that leaders of the leftwing blogosphere suck their nourishment directly from the swollen teat of Senator Clinton’s pendulous fundraising apparatus?

Oh yes, it can. There is a veritable army of zombie-bloggers sucking at Clinton’s pendulous swollen teats of nourishment. For Clinton "helped to start and support" Media Matters for America, which allegedly rents out some office space to the Center for Independent Media, which once gave a fellowship to em dash.

Em dash, you zombie, you’re out in the open now.

I must apologize then to faithful readers of, who might well feel that they have been duped by our pretence of reporting on facts and such at this site. There were no facts, there was no such. We are an army of zombies working to impose Hillary Clinton’s swollen teats upon an unsuspecting nation of innocents.

The recent post at unbossed tearing Clinton down for her bellicose foreign policy and hawkish advisers? A mere ruse to distract you, the reader, from our secret zombie endeavors.

The post denouncing Clinton and other Congressional hawks for disowning their 2002 vote that gave George Bush a blank check to invade Iraq? The description of Clinton the presidential candidate as a ”jellyfish”? Well, we fooled you, didn’t we?

And the cleverest ruse of all has been this one: Aside from taking the occasional swipe at Hillary Clinton, has mostly ignored her. Now that is deep zombie cover for you. You’d never have guessed whence we take our marching orders.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

  A forgotten anniversary

Five years ago today the House passed J. H. Res. 114, which authorized the President (presumably in perpetuity) to use any force “necessary” against the “continuing” threat to the nation posed by Iraq…just in case Iraq did in fact pose a threat. The vote was 296-133. On Oct. 11, 2002 the Senate followed suit, by a vote of 77-23. So began the quagmire.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe lop-sided Congressional votes smoothed the way for the rush to war that was sure to follow. It was accompanied by applause and back-slapping all around.

It occurred to me to wonder how this terrible child’s fifth birthday was being celebrated now in Washington, among those who brought it into the world.

It was the apple of George Bush’s eye back in 2002, a legacy that he wished and prayed for. In fact, Bush had enlisted the help and advice of friends around the globe in his eagerness to give birth to a big, spanking war.

So I visited the White House news page to see how the President was celebrating the festive occasion. A fifth anniversary of an authorization to use force comes only once, and I was certain that Bush the sentimentalist would mark it in style.

Imagine my surprise to find no mention of it there at all. Prominence is given to a proclamation celebrating a Revolutionary war general, which conveys some pleasant thoughts about the 18th century. But no word about the Congressional war authorization that the President so desperately wanted and has so often paraded in front of the public.

My thoughts then turned to the Pentagon. They’re surely going to want to record that on this very day five years ago began the march down into the abyss of Mesopotamia. Yet, curiously, here again there’s nothing. But heck, I thought, the Pentagon is so busy these days that it hasn’t even updated its own publications page for a full month. So busy is the Pentagon that it still hasn’t had a free moment to add a link there to the September quarterly report on Iraq, which presents such a grim contrast to General Petraeus’ upbeat report.

But the Vice President doesn’t appear to be up to much these days. Maybe the commemoration was being left to him, I thought. He was the real dynamo during the whole period of gestation. Surely he would not forget this glorious anniversary? Hmmm….it must have slipped Cheney’s mind as well. Maybe he didn’t feel he was quite the right person to take credit for the war authorization.

But who is stepping forward to commemorate this great event? A difficult question. Made me stop and pause for several moments. Then it struck me: This is a Congressional anniversary, as much as anything. There were 137 sponsors of the Authorization to use force against Iraq--people like John Boehner,
Tom Tancredo, and David Vitter.

As I visited the webpages of each of these members of Congress in turn, it slowly became clear that none of them had thought to mention this anniversary. Not even one of the Bill’s sponsors chose to commemorate its momentous passage. It was all the more odd because they’d all had so very much to say on the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which had claimed far fewer lives than the Iraq war they had actually sponsored. Even the chief war-mongers in the Senate, John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have neglected to celebrate the birth of the war that they embrace so fervently.

Republicans I suppose might claim that the war is now the Democrats’ responsibility. Be that as it may, I went searching for any tokens of the forgotten anniversary at the websites of the leading Democrats who’d voted for the damnable resolution. Would Sen. Harry Reid mention it? Nope. Sen. Jay Rockefeller? Nope. Sen. Chuck Schumer? Nope. Sen. Chris Dodd? Nope. Sen. Hillary Clinton? Nope again.

Rep. Steny Hoyer then. No, him neither. Rep. Jane Harman? Rep. Ike Skelton? Rep. Henry Waxman? Rep. John Murtha? No, no, no, and no.

Maybe this war is now an orphan. Will the next one be, as well?

crossposted from

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Friday, October 05, 2007

  The company presidential candidates keep

Perhaps, like me, you're less than convinced that any of the leading presidential candidates can be trusted entirely to adopt mature policies, however essential. Perhaps you're wondering whether they will definitively and forever sweep into the landfill of history all the many outrages against decency that President Bush has mounded up around the White House, like a fortress of so much manure.

Perhaps you're concerned that once again so-called liberals will try to compete with so-called conservatives in bellicosity, chest-thumping, strong-on-defensism, mine-shaft-gapism, and so forth—thus insuring some kind of continuity in the insane policies of the Bush administration. Perhaps, for example, you fear that each and every one of them would ultimately refuse to withdraw from Iraq (notwithstanding everything), out of an excess of caution regarding what the "serious people" in Washington might think of their hawkish credentials.

You should be worried, because by now virtually every one of them has publicly taken an obstreperous or incautious stance on some foreign policy issue...threatening Iran, for example. It already looks like a race to the bottom, and I fear that there'll be a lot of table-pounding before the primaries are over. This list of hawkish foreign policy advisors assembled by the main presidential candidates may give you even more grounds for concern.

In particular, I'm astounded (though not in the least surprised) to learn that Hillary Clinton relies upon the advice of that notorious Brookings-Institution fool, Michael O'Hanlon.

This is the person who recently returned from a hurried visit to Iraq, hosted by the US military, and declared in an op-ed that (a) he was a longtime critic of the Iraq War, and (b) "we are finally getting somewhere" in Iraq. Neither was true, as many people pointed out.

Last year, sensing that O'Hanlon was going to be promoted hard by the administration's apologists as a 'sensible' (i.e. hawkish) "liberal", I wrote a profile of O'Hanlon's recent career as a self-promoting goofball. His war-mongering has since become legendary, but it's worth emphasizing that O'Hanlon is a laughingstock for a whole range of reasons.

Here I'll quote part of that profile, where I talk about the desperation of think-tank "experts" to retain their seats in front of the microphones:

You can see that that is exactly what O'Hanlon prizes from the boast in his Brookings bio:
O’Hanlon has appeared on the major television networks more than 150 times since September 11, 2001 and has contributed to CNN, MSNBC, BBC, and FOX some 300 times over that same period.

Who in the hell counts up their television appearances? And who subdivides the tally between major and minor networks? It's pathetic, but all too characteristic. These people are desperate self-promoters living in fear that their pretensions to omniscience will be exploded and the microphones snatched away. O'Hanlon, for example, claims to be an expert in eleven areas of national and international policy (including expertise in several Asian countries). Yet he speaks only a single foreign language (French) and his undergraduate degree was in physics.

This know-it-all has been wrong about virtually everything important in Iraq (one of his proclaimed areas of expertise), such as when he congratulated Bush for denying that a civil war had broken out this spring [of 2006]. That was, by his own admission, the day after 30 headless bodies were discovered en masse in Iraq. And a full year after we began seeing headlines regarding the systematic kidnapping and torture committed by Iraqi Interior Ministry forces, he writes drivel like this:

If the country begins to descend toward civil war, the temptation of many [Iraqi security forces] will be to take sides in the sectarian strife rather than stop it.

Puffed up experts such as this are frauds who can only retain their grip upon respectability by avoiding scrutiny of their record.

That's sufficient to demonstrate, I believe, that O'Hanlon's advice even in his areas of "expertise" is about as worthless as any advice could possibly be. Even more troubling, he's a confirmed and unrepentant hawk on Iraq. In other words, he believes in principle in a policy of bashing certain countries, at least certain Middle Eastern countries, as long as the bashing is done efficiently and with some tidiness.

And this is the clown whom Hillary Clinton counts as a trusted advisor? To my mind, that says a great deal about her sense...not just about her preferred foreign policies, but also about her basic sensibilities.

All of the lists of advisors for Democratic candidates are troubling—for whom the lists include and whom they don't include—even if none of the others have stooped as low as to turn to Michael O'Hanlon. And the Republican candidates' advisors are even more extreme (Norman Podhoretz, for heaven's sake).

So it looks like our choices next year may boil down to (a) 8 more years of hell, or (b) 8 more years of heck.

crossposted from

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

  The CIA's black sites are back

Today's New York Times reveals that there have been even more Bush administration torture memos than the notorious 2002 torture-brief written by John Yoo. The new memos (which I'm tempted to call Yoo Two) have received plenty of attention. What hasn't been widely noted is the explicit statement in the NYT that the infamous and semi-secret "black sites" are back in use around the globe.

Torture Inc. was just off on vacation, as many of us suspected all along.

Here's what the Times has to say:

But in July [of 2007], after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas.

"Black sites" are the hell-holes in which the CIA had been torturing prisoners until George Bush ordered them closed last year, and the prisoners transferred to Guantanamo. At least, that's what Bush appeared to say that he had done. Here's the BBC's interpretation of Bush's Sept. 6, 2006 speech, which was typical of how journalists interpreted Bush's statements:

Mr Bush said there were now no terrorist suspects under the CIA programme.

Mr Bush said he was making a limited disclosure of the CIA programme because interrogation of the men it held was now complete and because a US Supreme Court decision had stopped the use of military commissions for trials...

All suspects will now be treated under new guidelines issued by the Pentagon on Wednesday, which bring all military detainees under the protection of the Geneva Convention.

All suspects? Forever into the future? Here is what Bush actually said:

I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. They are being held in the custody of the Department of Defense. As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September the 11th, 2001, can face justice...

As we prosecute suspected terrorist leaders and operatives who have now been transferred to Guantanamo, we'll continue searching for those who have stepped forward to take their places. This nation is going to stay on the offense to protect the American people. We will continue to bring the world's most dangerous terrorists to justice -- and we will continue working to collect the vital intelligence we need to protect our country. The current transfers mean that there are now no terrorists in the CIA program. But as more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical -- and having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.

Some may ask: Why are you acknowledging this program now? There are two reasons why I'm making these limited disclosures today. First, we have largely completed our questioning of the men -- and to start the process for bringing them to trial, we must bring them into the open. Second, the Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA program. In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.

This is unacceptable.

The speech seemed to me to be tip-toeing around the very thing that reporters were happy to assume: That in the future the military would take charge of holding and interrogating all terrorist suspects captured overseas. That inference had no basis in the speech, as far as I could see, aside that is from the fact that the military had just taken custody of a small group of CIA prisoners, whom Bush identified.

The part of the speech that I put into bold (above), in particular, seemed to suggest that the CIA very likely would be back into the torture racket soon enough, whenever new suspects had been seized somewhere.

In August 2007, Jane Mayer published a good history of the CIA black sites in the New Yorker. She surmised, among other things, that the wording of a new Executive Order from Bush suggested that Torture Inc. was not in fact out of business, as so many had assumed.

The program was effectively suspended last fall, when President Bush announced that he was emptying the C.I.A.’s prisons and transferring the detainees to military custody in Guantánamo. This move followed a Supreme Court ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found that all detainees—including those held by the C.I.A.—had to be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. These treaties, adopted in 1949, bar cruel treatment, degradation, and torture. In late July, the White House issued an executive order promising that the C.I.A. would adjust its methods in order to meet the Geneva standards. At the same time, Bush’s order pointedly did not disavow the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would likely be found illegal if used by officials inside the United States. The executive order means that the agency can once again hold foreign terror suspects indefinitely, and without charges, in black sites, without notifying their families or local authorities, or offering access to legal counsel.

The C.I.A.’s director, General Michael Hayden, has said that the program, which is designed to extract intelligence from suspects quickly, is an “irreplaceable” tool for combatting terrorism. And President Bush has said that “this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives, by helping us stop new attacks.”

It came as little surprise today, then, to see the NYT report that the black sites are back in the business of cruelly treating, degrading, and torturing prisoners.

* *

The rest of the Times' story is highly important as well. It chronicles how the Justice Department secretly reversed its public disavowal (in late 2004) of John Yoo's torture memo. Shortly after Alberto Gonzales was appointed Attorney General in Feb. 2005, he endorsed another (heretofore secret) memo written by the new head of the OLC, Steven Bradbury.

It appears that Bradbury was brought in to the job specifically to put down the revolt by top Justice Department's lawyers (led by Deputy AG James Comey) against some of the national-security excesses being committed by the Bush administration. He quickly produced a memo that authorized a variety of vicious CIA interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and hypothermia. Later in 2005, while Congress was considering legislation to prohibit "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of prisoners, Bradbury issued another secret brief declaring that none of the CIA's methods were cruel, inhuman, or degrading.

The Times states that "most lawmakers" did not know the latter memo even existed. I'd like to know which lawmakers did know. That knowledge would seem to make them a party to crimes against international law.

crossposted from

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

  End the US occupation of Iraq: Raise taxes on the rich

I've been arguing for nearly a year that the surest way for Congress to force George Bush's hand in Iraq is to raises the taxes needed to pay for the prolonged occupation. For altogether too many Americans, this has been a war without any apparent costs. That has got to stop.

In any case, Bush has shown that he'll ignore what the nation as a whole thinks about his policies. But he has always been attentive to what he calls his "base", the extremely wealthy, want from the government. So I've argued that Democrats should introduce legislation to raise taxes on the very rich to pay for Bush's war.

Finally, some members of Congress are doing just that.

Democrats on Tuesday proposed an income tax surcharge to finance the approximately $150 billion annual cost of operations in Iraq, saying it is unfair to pass the cost of the war onto future generations.

The plan, unveiled by Reps. David Obey, D-Wis., John Murtha, D-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., would require low- and middle-income taxpayers to add 2 percent to their tax bill. Wealthier people would pay an additional 12 to 15 percent, Obey said.

The plan's sponsors acknowledged it's unlikely to pass, but Democrats have been seeking in recent weeks to compare the approximately $190 billion cost of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in 2008 with the $23 billion increase that Democrats want in domestic programs. President Bush has threatened to veto most of those domestic spending bills...

Obey also announced that Democrats will not pass a supplemental spending bill for the Iraq war until next year, when Democrats hope public pressure could force Bush to change the course of the war.

Reuters adds:

"As chairman of the appropriations committee, I have no intention of reporting out of committee any time in this session of Congress any such (war funding) request that simply serves to continue the status quo," Obey told reporters.

Only about 25 percent of Americans support the administration's $190 billion war funding request, while about 70 percent want the proposed allocation reduced, a Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Tuesday said...

"If the president really is concerned about stopping red ink, we are prepared to introduce legislation which will provide for a war surtax for that portion of military costs that are related to our military actions in Iraq," Obey said...

"If the war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for," Obey said.

It's the right thing to do, the necessary thing for our nation's fiscal health, as well as a smart move politically. This is what I had to say in March about leveraging a tax increase in order to end the occupation of Iraq:

Will the rich squawk that they shouldn't have to give up their tax breaks? You betcha.

Will they denounce Congress? You betcha.

Will they have some things to say to Bush as well about ending the occupation sooner rather than later? What do you think?

Now, some would argue that Republicans and Bush in particular would fight such a bill tooth and nail. And indeed they might. It's political suicide though. The American public isn't about to buy the argument that the deficit has to continue to balloon; or that actually requiring Bush to think about the cost of the war while sending ever more troops to Iraq would be out of bounds.

No, I think a filibuster of such a bill in the Senate would doom the Republicans in the '08 elections. Most Americans would cheer the Democrats for taking a firm and principled stance.

And a veto from Bush? A real possibility, though you can bet it would sharpen a lot of minds for Republicans in Congress, as they ponder how they'll explain to voters their refusal to pay for a war that they want to allow to continue.

In any case, Democrats should make clear that any veto from Bush would mean that he won't get any further funds. Either he's forced to accept tax increases on the wealthy, or he loses the funding for his war without end.

At the moment, the Democratic "leadership" in the House is pooh-poohing the Obey/Murtha/McGovern proposal. It's as if they're determined to demonstrate to the American public finally and conclusively that Democrats in Congress have neither sense nor political courage. Presented with a responsible and indeed brilliant (ahem) plan for wrong-footing the President on Iraq, far from embracing it, Pelosi and Hoyer are running in the opposite direction.

It's time to bring some pressure on your Representatives and Senators, folks. Please join me in contacting them and demanding a tax increase on the wealthy to pay for the Iraq War. Many of these members of Congress are so out of touch with reality that they'd be shocked to discover how much support there is for such an idea.

Maybe its time will finally come.

crossposted from

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