Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

  Here is your freedom of association

The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right of Americans peaceably to assemble…but not, evidently, their freedom from detention, interrogation, and fingerprinting after dispersing. Or so a court in New York has ruled.

This is a very dangerous precedent, and I believe that the New York Civil Liberties Union is being far too sanguine about the import of it.

“This decision is in keeping with a historical pattern of judicial rulings in times of high national anxiety when courts have articulated a legal standard that protects civil liberties, but have applied that standard to sustain government actions that interfere with individual rights,” Lieberman said. “Just as the landmark 1919 Schenck case established the clear and present danger standard under which a Socialist was jailed for distributing an anti-draft flier, but which was later used to prevent the government from criminalizing speech, today’s decision will likely have positive reverberations in the future.”


Positive reverberations?! Such as giving us that nauseating canard about shouting fire in a crowded theater? Such as the nearly ubiquitous supposition that Schenck ‘proved’ the government can, indeed, limit the right of free speech? That its putative right to limit free speech is even greater during war time? That the 1918 Sedition Act is constitutional? Chiz, chiz…I think I can do without more such positive reverberations.

The case heard in NY concerns several dozen Muslim Americans who in late 2004 attended a large convention in Toronto, "Reviving the Islamic Spirit". When they returned to the US, though their passports were in order, they were detained for long periods, searched, interrogated by DHS officials, harassed, and even photographed and fingerprinted.

Their crime? They’d attended a conference that was also attended by some non-Americans whom the US suspects of terrorist connections. From the Associated Press:

In late 2004, U.S. law enforcement agents became concerned that supporters of terror groups might try to attend several Islamic religious conferences, including the "Reviving Islamic Spirit" conference that drew 13,000 people to Toronto's SkyDome. So, as a precautionary measure, they instituted an unusual dragnet, instructing border agents to detain and search anyone entering the U.S. after attending one of these conferences abroad…

The government has not said how many people were searched trying to re-enter the U.S., but five of the Americans stopped in Lewiston sued, saying the government had infringed on their religious liberties and right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

NYCLU lawyer Christopher Dunn said the detainees were manhandled and intimidated during their long stays in customs.

"This is not just going through someone's bags," Dunn said. "This sort of guilt-by-association approach ... is not consistent with the First Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees basic freedoms.


This notion of guilt by association can of course be extended almost indefinitely, to peaceable assemblies both abroad (a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, say) and at home (a peace rally in Washington).

And what does guilt by association look like, in actual practice? In January 2005 the Buffalo News summarized some of the victims’ stories:

- Hassan Shibly, 18, says he was "led by three armed officers into a separate room for questioning and fingerprinting. In the room, he was told to stand face-first against the wall and spread his legs apart for a pat-down search. ‘I was just forced to go along. I refused, but they said legally I had no choice. We weren't treated as American citizens. We were treated as suspects.'"

- Sawsan Tabbaa, his mother, called being fingerprinted humiliating: "This was something I thought was only for criminals."

- Abeer Rizek, seven months' pregnant, said that border agents lifted her blouse to ascertain that she really was pregnant: "They patted everyone down. The whole thing was embarrassing, the whole ordeal."


The federal government’s defense of these outrages, delivered at an April 2007 hearing in New York, was grossly disingenuous:

The government was defended by Department of Justice attorney Lewis Yelin, who acknowledged that the stops had not been handled well but rejected the idea that travelers had been singled out because they were Muslim…

"Doesn't this look like profiling of Muslim-American citizens as they enter this country?" Judge Rosemary Pooler asked.

Yelin said it did not. "This could have been an airline pilots association meeting," he said, and attendees still would have been detained.

"If there was a non-Muslim CNN anchorman" returning from covering the event, Yelin said, "he would have been searched, too."


The federal government also claimed that there was no chilling effect on the victims’ rights to assembly because some of them had stated that they would be willing to attend such conferences in the future. Yes, that is how low the Justice Department has sunk under George Bush.

Despite these transparent lies, the panel of judges at the hearing reserved their severest skepticism for the argument by the New York Civil Liberties Union that the border searches were unconstitutional (which of course they were, on the face of it).

And yet DOJ lawyer Yelin even admitted during the hearing that DHS had put in place new regulations that would make such obnoxious searches less common, as a result of this incident. Indeed, in 2005 DHS admitted that the searches should never have occurred under federal policies.

The DHS inquiries will examine whether U.S. border agents incorrectly detained the Muslims by misusing a government database that is aimed at identifying potential terrorism suspects and violent gang members.

The list, which is kept by the FBI and is known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF), is part of a network of databases that have been compiled by U.S. agencies since the Sept. 11 attacks to monitor traffic at border crossings and airports.

The VGTOF list includes hundreds of names. It has been expanded during the past three years to include "associates" of suspected terrorists and gang leaders. The FBI acknowledges that in some cases, people have been flagged for increased scrutiny only because their names are similar to someone who has been targeted for surveillance, or because they unwittingly have had contact with the targets.

Under federal guidelines, such "associates" are not supposed to be detained or questioned. U.S. agents who come across them are merely supposed to make note of them as possible contacts in investigations.


Only a half-wit would justify trampling on constitutional rights in this way (apologies for linking to the vile Daniel Pipes, but he preserves information about earlier news stories which it’s impossible now to link to—revealing, for example, that during this incident a Pace University student, Miriam Soliman, was asked by a border guard whether the wire in her bra was a weapon; and that the Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf Hanson, keynote speaker at the convention, stated "They asked me about the religion of my family and wanted to make photocopies of my notebook and other material.").

And yet, somehow, the panel of judges in NY found nothing illegal about the federal government harassing citizens at the border just because they’d taken it into their heads to attend a peaceable religious gathering.

U.S. immigration authorities acted constitutionally when they subjected dozens of people returning from an Islamic convention in Canada to screening tactics usually reserved for people suspected of being terrorists, an appeals court said Monday…

"We do not believe the extra hassle of being fingerprinted and photographed — for the sole purpose of having their identities verified — is a significant additional burden that turns an otherwise constitutional policy into one that is unconstitutional," a three-judge panel wrote.


At the risk of overusing this word, the court’s ruling in this case (PDF) is utterly perverse. To my mind, the ruling begins to go completely off the rails at p. 11, where the court argues that the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security changed everything.

DHS, it reasons, is tasked with keeping terrorists out of the US, and therefore any procedures it implements to achieve that (so the court believes) are legal “so long as [Customs and Border Patrol] is not violating the individual’s constitutional or other statutory rights.”

Then, at pp. 19 ff., the court rejects the government’s claim that these searches did not interfere in, or chill, the plaintiff’s free association rights.

So how in the world did the court reach such a perverse ruling in the end?

It determined (pp. 21 ff.) that the government had a compelling interest in keeping potential terrorists out of the country, that this interest was “unrelated to the suppression of ideas” [not even ideas associated with Islam, evidently—smintheus], and that this interest could not possibly have been achieved “through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms”.

Because the only way to tell whether a Muslim is a terrorist sympathizer is to photograph and fingerprint her, peer at her belly, and examine her bra.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Monday, November 26, 2007

  Why is the death toll way down in Iraq?

There’s an assumption built into that question, accepted uncritically even by many who should know better. And who’s keeping the death toll? Consider this report today from McClatchy:

Gunmen in Baghdad's Shaab neighborhood stormed into a house not far from an Iraqi police checkpoint and killed 11 members of an Iraqi journalist's family, witnesses and journalism organizations reported Monday.

Iraqi police and U.S. military officials said they had no record of the killings.


In August Patrick Cockburn offered this definitive account of the matter.

The real death toll

More lies have been told about casualties in Iraq and the general level of violence there than at almost any time since the First World War. In that conflict, a British minister remarked sourly that he suspected the military authorities of keeping three sets of casualty figures: "One to deceive the Cabinet, a second to deceive the people and a third to achieve themselves."

The American attitude to Iraqi civilian casualties is along much the same lines. The Baker-Hamilton report drawn up by senior non-partisan Democrats and Republicans last year examined one day in July 2006, when the US military had reported 93 attacks on US and Iraqi forces. Investigation by US intelligence agencies revealed that the real figure was about 1,100.

The Iraqi government has sought to conceal civilian casualty figures by banning journalists from the scenes of bombings, and banned hospitals and the Health Ministry from giving information. In July, AP reported, 2,024 Iraqis died violently, a 23 per cent rise on June, which was the last month for which the government gave a figure.

This is almost certainly an underestimate. In a single bombing in the district of Karada in Baghdad on 26 July, Iraqi television and Western media cited the police as saying that there were 25 dead and 100 wounded. A week later, a list of the names of 92 dead and 127 wounded, compiled by municipal workers, was pinned up on shuttered shopfronts in the area.

The US military began the war by saying that it was not keeping count of Iraqi civilians killed by its troops. It often describes bodies found after a US raid as belonging to insurgents when the local Iraqi police say they are civilians killed by the immense firepower deployed by the American forces. Almost the only time a real investigation of such killings is carried out is when the local staff of Western media outlets are among the dead.


crossposted from unbossed.com

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  What you won’t find at the WH website today

The White House website is utterly perverse. Normally, what it doesn’t say is much more significant than what it does. The correct way to read Pravda on Pennsylvania Ave. is to look for what is omitted.

Today, for example, there are three gaps each the size of Texas.

First, there’s the story notable by its complete absence. Dick Cheney was hospitalized with a heart condition. The Vice President’s news page and the main White House news page both pretend to be unaware of the incident.

It’s almost as if Cheney had shot somebody else in the face and is hoping to sneak back home unnoticed.

Next there’s Bush talking about the Annapolis peace conference.

I am pleased to welcome Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas, and representatives of more than forty countries to the United States for the November 27 Annapolis Conference. The broad attendance at this conference by regional states and other key international participants demonstrates the international resolve to seize this important opportunity to advance freedom and peace in the Middle East.


Neither there, nor in his meetings with Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert, does Bush let the term “Hamas” escape across his lips.

Incidentally, in anticipation of the conference the State Department created a chronology of events related to the Palestinian peace process. It, too, excludes any mention of the Hamas government in Palestine, the elections that brought them to power, the unrest between Hamas and Fatah. The timeline even neglects to mention the Israeli bombardment of Palestine and the invasion of Lebanon last year. It does appear that the White House’s forgetfulness is catching.

A permanent presence in Iraq is what Bush and Cheney have been dead set upon from the beginning. Today the WH announced with Nouri al Maliki an agreement to keep US forces in Iraq for a long time to come.

It was all based neatly and cleanly upon a Declaration of Principles, which enunciates what the US eventually will get around to doing to help Iraq protect itself (and to prop up the Maliki government), as well as the Fine Things that will accrue to the US while it does so.

You’ll look in vain among those Principles for the specific phrase “Iraqi air force”. As I’ve commented in the past (Fictional Iraqi military branches are making "progress"), the US hasn’t provided Iraq with anything like an effective air force by means of which it might be able to protect itself.

Absent that, the permanent US presence looks for all the world like a protectorate over Iraq. And indeed you might be hard pressed to tell, at first glance, that this White House Fact Sheet on the Declaration of Principles

Iraq's leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq. We are ready to build that relationship in a sustainable way that protects our mutual interests, promotes regional stability, and requires fewer Coalition forces.

In response, this Declaration is the first step in a three-step process that will normalize U.S.-Iraqi relations in a way which is consistent with Iraq's sovereignty and will help Iraq regain its rightful status in the international community – something both we and the Iraqis seek. The second step is the renewal of the Multinational Force-Iraq's Chapter VII United Nations mandate for a final year, followed by the third step, the negotiation of the detailed arrangements that will codify our bilateral relationship after the Chapter VII mandate expires.


…does not date to the post World War One era Mandate of Mesopotamia.

Recognizing that the monarchy depended on British support…Faisal maintained a moderate approach in dealing with Britain. The twenty-year treaty, which was ratified in October 1922, stated that the king would heed British advice on all matters affecting British interests and on fiscal policy as long as Iraq had a balance of payments deficit with Britain, and that British officials would be appointed to specified posts in eighteen departments to act as advisers and inspectors. A subsequent financial agreement, which significantly increased the financial burden on Iraq, required Iraq to pay half the cost of supporting British resident officials, among other expenses. British obligations under the new treaty included providing various kinds of aid, notably military assistance, and proposing Iraq for membership in the League of Nations at the earliest moment. In effect, the treaty ensured that Iraq would remain politically and economically dependent on Britain.


crossposted from unbossed.com

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

  US Navy is stockpiling fuel in Persian Gulf

Many Middle East experts have wondered aloud what point there is to the Annapolis peace conference. It appears destined to achieve nothing significant. One of its main goals, I think, must be to demonstrate that Iranian-backed Hamas can in fact be marginalized. That PR victory would be worth enough to the Saudi regime that they'd send their Foreign Minister to a doomed conference.

Simultaneously, the US military is gearing up for some kind of very large show of force against Iran to occur during the next 90 days. Reuters reported over the weekend that large amounts of fuel are being stockpiled at US naval and air bases in the U.A.E., Qatar, and Diego Garcia (where long-range bombers are based).

In the past, these kinds of arrangements have foretold aggressive military operations or major changes in tactics in the region.

For example, we're told in passing that...

In February, oil industry sources told Reuters [Saudi Arabia] had raised the amount of jet fuel earmarked for the military from 1.5 million barrels last year to close to eight million in 2007.


In retrospect, it seems obvious that this quintupling of jet fuel was linked to plans to rely increasingly on air power in Iraq during 2007. The public was assured by the "surge's" architects that the goal was to win hearts and minds with a more carefully calibrated (yeah) counterinsurgency campaign. Had we known of the Saudi jet fuel deal, we might have surmised that the sophisticated strategy also included bombing a lot more Iraqis than before.

The current stockpiling of jet fuel and marine diesel can only be directed against Iran, however (h/t Cernig):

The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) has tendered for four tankers in November to move at least one million barrels of jet and ship fuel between Gulf ports, from Asia to the Gulf and to the Diego Garcia base, tenders seen by Reuters show...

"They have been very active," said a ship industry source, familiar with the MSC tender process, who asked not to be named.

"Out of the multiple charter requirements they issue, they usually do maybe one or two (tankers) a month in the Gulf. They were quiet over the summer months," he said.


The fuel includes JA1 and JP5, the latter used by carrier-based F-18 fighters. The MSC, asked by Reuters for comment, stated that there was "nothing abnormal about current requirements in the Gulf ". But a doubling of fuel tenders is a pretty good working description of "abnormal". Why deny it?

Reuters adds that even more fuel (including JP5) has been requested from Bahrain by the Defense Energy Support Center. And in addition, there's a very unusual arrangement whereby the MSC has chartered a large oil tanker for 90 days (beginning in early December) to carry fuel, including jet fuel, in any number of trips between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"What's most interesting is the time-charter in the Gulf. It's a big ship and here we have a commitment for a lot of movement of fuels, backwards and forwards down to the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman," the Gulf source said.

"This confirms there is going to be a lot of activity, possibly a serious demonstration to Iran that the military means to protect the Hormuz Strait," he said.


Yet the US Navy has been conducting exercises and showing the flag in the Persian Gulf regularly. Last week for example there were two naval groups conducting exercises. Therefore the (more than) doubling of naval fuel supplies appears to herald something more than the ordinary level of pushback against the Iranian military presence in the Gulf.

The stockpiles don't appear to be extensive enough to prepare for an actual attack on Iran, and US public opinion hasn't been prepped adequately anyway (despite increasingly tough talk from Bush & Co. during October). My guess is that there will be some other kind of excessive display of bellicosity during December or January.

It will nearly coincide with the Annapolis peace conference. The US exclusion of Hamas from the conference is seen as a challenge to their base of support in the Arab world:

Palestinian and Israeli analysts expected a weakening of public confidence in Hamas after Arab League foreign ministers voted in Cairo on Friday to attend the summit. A decision yesterday by Syria, Hamas' staunchest Arab ally, to send its Deputy Foreign Minister, was seen as a particularly damaging blow.


But Annapolis is intended also as a blow to Iranian prestige.

Hamas, and beyond it, the specter of Iran is focusing the minds of the Arab states too. Islamist movements like Hamas threaten the hold on power of the regions' authoritarian regimes. Iran's regional aspirations, with or without nuclear weapons, make Saudi Arabia, with a large Shiite minority in its eastern oil-producing region, or Bahrain with a majority Shiite population, extremely nervous. A peace settlement in Palestine would remove one area where Iran can make trouble.


Little surprise that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also denounced the Annapolis conference today.

It's tempting to infer, then, that the administration's bellicose planning now for the Persian Gulf may be intended to demonstrate that it can enforce its threat of "increased isolation" for Iran—to quote Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns from earlier this month.

Bellicose posturing is just the kind of plan that a nut like Dick Cheney would think is going to draw wavering countries over to your own side and increase the isolation of those you are threatening. If you can maneuver Iran into a corner by sitting around confabbing in Annapolis, then you ought to be able to do that much better with Cheney's favored means of diplomacy—military confrontation.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Monday, November 19, 2007

  Frances Townsend: Sycophant to the bitter end

Today Bush’s disastrous homeland security assistant, Fran Townsend, announced that she would “take a respite from public service”. Her career had been “both a blessing and a privilege”—but not, she seemed to think, “a curse”.

Her handwritten letter of resignation, dated simply “November 2007”, tells as much as you need to know about Townsend’s sycophantic career:

In 1937, the playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote of President George Washington: There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, til all men walk on higher ground in their lifetime.

Mr. President, you are such a man.


The English language hasn’t enough foul words to describe quite how a reader of the letter, other than George Bush, ought to receive that particular information. Anyhow Scott Horton is far too polite. His error is in treating Townsend’s blathering as if it were meant seriously.

It’s sycophancy, pure and simple…the very thing that has made many a career under Bush. Some on the left have speculated that Bush seeks to promote incompetents because of their incompetence. That’s partly to miss the point. Incompetence is merely a threshold value. It’s the thing that makes Bush’s minions so ready to play the sycophant. When you have nothing else to offer, you emphasize your skills as a sycophant.

It’s the coinage of the Bush administration.

Townsend deserves to be remembered, first of all, for her obscene failure to identify Hurricane Katrina as a major threat to national security in September 2005. That fiasco qualified her to lead the shameless CYA operation entitled ”Lessons Learned”. Townsend could be relied upon to go on pretending that the devastation wrought by a Gulf-coast hurricane was something other than entirely predictable.

Yet to get a flavor of the sycophancy involved, here are the opening paragraphs from her cover letter addressed to Bush once the lessons had been assembled:

You often remind us that your most solemn obligation as President is to protect the American people. And every day and night, millions of men and women throughout the Federal government—both civilian and military—work to achieve that objective. Given the dangerous world in which we live, they do an outstanding job.

Despite all we do, however, Hurricane Katrina was a deadly reminder that we can and must do better, and we will. This is the first and foremost lesson we learned from the death and devastation caused by our country’s most destructive natural disaster: No matter how prepared we think we are, we must work every day to improve.


Read the rest if you have a taste for the maudlin, or Townsend’s PR offensive at Ask the White House:

Joel, from Superior, WI writes:

Dear Ms. Townsend, What do you think is the most important thing the Bush administration will take away from the Katrina response, or lack thereof.

Frances Fragos Townsend:

Yesterday, I gave to the President my report on The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. I made 125 specific recommendations for change that fell into 17 broad categories. The most important lesson we take away is that although we rescued and evacuated 100,000 people by land and air in the five days after Hurricane Katrina, we must do better. We must truly transform our preparedness system and foster a culture of preparedness throughout the nation.


Notice the elusive word “we”. Far from clear who Townsend is talking about, though it looks like the federal government gets some or all of the credit for rescuing 100,000 people whereas the nation as a whole gets the blame for not having the right “culture of preparedness”.

For Townsend, that appeared to be one of the core lessons learned: Whether the issue was category five hurricanes or bird flu, the rest of us just needed to get our act together.

When the next great natural disaster struck, the California wildfires, Townsend was quick to assure us that the Bush administration was doing a bang-up job:

Over the past few days we've seen a disaster response operating exactly the way it should be…


Even when you, the citizen, recoil in disgust from what you’re seeing or hearing, in Townsend’s world it always turns out that the Bush administration is exactly right—mostly anyway. Take for example this grilling by Helen Thomas after Sen. Feingold publicly asked Bush to cut out the rhetoric about “Islamo-fascism”:

Q What about the President's Islamo-fascism? The president of the Islamic Society of North America, the new president, said last week she didn't think that was particularly helpful.

MS. TOWNSEND: What the President was trying to capture was this idea of using violence to achieve ideological ends -- and that's wrong. Regardless of what label you pin on it, it is this form of radical extremism that really wants to deny people freedom and impose a totalitarian vision of society on everyone, that we object to.

Q Who coined the Islamo-fascist slogan, and what does it mean --

MS. TOWNSEND: I'm not sure I could tell you who coined it --

Q -- in this administration?

MS. TOWNSEND: I'm not sure I could tell you if there is a single author or who coined it. And again, Helen, I guess what I was saying to Elaine is, it's meant to try and capture what is objectionable about the ideology; that is, the use of violence to achieve these ideological ends.


It isn’t so much meaningless, ignorant, idiotic, or inflammatory—because in the end it’s just a label after all. Why should a homeland security assistant care who put that phrase in the President’s mouth, it’s wrong to obsess about it. What’s right is that Bush was trying to capture the idea of using violence to achieve ideological ends.

It’s something that Americans are wholly unused to, so it was left to the President to open our eyes to the practice of harnessing violence to ideology.

Sycophant to the bitter end, Townsend used her resignation today to promote more of that good old-fashioned fear mongering:

Frances Fragos Townsend, who announced today she's leaving her job as White House homeland security adviser, said the U.S. must be on guard against the threat of a terrorist attack tied to next year's elections.

Before she leaves President George W. Bush's administration in early 2008, Townsend said she wants to make sure that plans are in place to head off any potential terrorist threat before or after elections for president and Congress and to ensure there is “no lag in information sharing” between the Bush administration and the next occupant of the White House.

“We know that al-Qaeda” tends to view elections “as a period of vulnerability,'' Townsend, 45, said in an interview. “I don't know if there will be a particular threat, but we can't ignore what we have already seen.''


So why quit now, if the nation is in peril?

Townsend said she plans to pursue a job in the private sector, because many of the skills she has developed in government can be applied to protecting private companies. “I assess vulnerability and gaps, and assess how to minimize consequences of events,” she said.


Minimizing the consequences for Bush of his own incompetence is what Townsend is notorious for.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

  The Achievements of the Divine George

Res Gestae Divi Agricolae

This monumental text, dating to the first quarter of the 21st century, is generally regarded as the most significant inscription to survive from antiquity. It records the emperor’s own account of his public career, which coincided with the final transition from Republic to Empire. It is a very partial and partisan account of those critical years, which omits much that we would wish to know about. Yet it also affords us a rare glimpse into the mind of the man who revolutionized the state, then at the very height of its powers.

The inscription was intended to be carved on a pair of gold pillars that flanked the entrance to the emperor’s mausoleum and library in Dallas. These have long since disappeared (though the building’s foundations were excavated at the end of the last century). The composite text that appears here has been reconstructed from fragments of the many copies that were inscribed on public buildings in all the major centers of the Empire. The most complete copy was inscribed on the Temple of the Divine George in Anger (Germany), for which reason the text often is called the Monumentum Iranum. Other extensive fragments were discovered in Baghdad, Damascus, Basingstoke, Palermo, and Tibilisi.

The account consists of the following nine sections:

(§ 1-3) George’s early career and rise to political dominance
(§ 4-14) Honors and acclaim bestowed on the emperor by the Senate and people
(§ 15-18) George’s largesse
(§ 19-21) Building and restoration projects
(§ 22-23) Public diversions
(§ 24-25) Arrogance of his political opponents, his own righteousness and fidelity to law
(§ 26-30) George’s military successes
(§ 31-33) His foreign policy successes
(§ 34-35) George restores, preserves, and protects the Robust Republic

The text presents many linguistic difficulties; even after a century and a half of scholarship (since the discovery of the first fragment in a grain mill in Poland), several phrases remain wholly obscure. Older editions of the text tried to regularize the grammar and spelling according to the standard English of the 21st century. The assumption of earlier editors was that the text had been corrupted during its dissemination overseas to non-native speakers.

But with the discovery of two fragments in Detroit 40 years ago, it became clear that the idiosyncrasies of language were original to the emperor. The scholarly consensus now is that George wrote his Res Gestae in a deliberately archaizing style. Evidently he wished to emphasize his claim that he had restored a more pristine Republic, obliterating the corruption of recent years while hearkening back to the “robust” government of an earlier era. It is true that George’s language does not have all that much in common with what we know of 18th century English style. However it’s abundantly clear, especially from his use of the title “Father of his Country”, that the emperor wished to be likened to George Washington, the first President of the Republic. The best explanation of the strained grammar, then, is that it was a conscious evocation of bygone times.

In the text here, I have modified the original language as little as possible except where the phrases would be incomprehensible to a modern reader.

George’s pseudo-anonymous biographer, Krauthammer (“German gavel”), says that the emperor worked frequently on his Res Gestae from 2004 until shortly before his death (§ 118). The biographer also quotes several sentences from something that he calls “George[’s] Will”, but these do not appear in our preserved text. It’s believed that Krauthammer is referring to a different document than the Res Gestae. A second biographer, Oh Hanlon, adds little of interest although he does suggest that “Cheney” was an alter-ego for the emperor; many of his alleged exploits seem highly improbable, however, and it is debatable whether he was a real individual or a fictional court figure.


Column 1

A copy is set out below of “The Achievements of the Divine George, by which he brought the world under the empire of the American people, and of the expenses which he bore for the unitarian executive and people of this great country.” The original is engraved on two gold pillars set up at Dallas.

§ 1 At the age of forty-four on my own responsibility and at my own expense I raised an army of lawyers, with which I successfully championed the liberty of Florida when it was being oppressed by the tyranny of a faction. On that account the Supreme Court passed decrees in my honor, enrolling me in the presidency in the two hundred and fiftieth [sic] year of the Republic. It decreed me to be The Decider and assigned me the right to give my decisions to the Senate, and gave me imperium. It ordered me as Unitary Executor to provide in concert with Cheney that the Republic should come to no harm. In the same year, when both towers fell in battle with the Enemies of freedom and liberty, the people authorized me to use force to preserve, protect, and reorganize the Republic.

§ 2 I attacked the man who tried to murder my daddy, avenging his crime through tribunals created by laws I myself passed. And afterwards when his followers made war on the Republic, I defeated them in battle forty-two times. I sleighed [sic] with my own hands in single battle two enemy clan-leaders and raised [sic] their cities to the ground.

§ 3 I allowed Cheney to get me into many sival [sic] and foreign wars, on land and see [sic], throughout the world. When I won I spared the lives of any American citizens who pleaded for mercy, as long as I heard about them in time. When Enemies of our freedom and liberty could be pardoned with both safety and security, I preferred to preserve rather than exterminate them. The American citizens who took the soldier’s oath of personal obedience to me numbered about 2,700,000. I settled more than 170,000 of these in colonies oversees [sic] or let them go back to their homes after their periods of service. To all of them I granted benefits and money as a reward for doing their duty to me. I captured 600 tankers, not counting ships smaller than a football field in length.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

  Milo gets one mostly right

You may recall that last November I wrote about a story sent to me from North Carolina by my friend Milo. It concerned a dispute among local Baptist churches, some of which wanted to expel the usurers in their congregations while others were for tolerance: The Only Sin that has its own advocacy group.

"I believe that avarice is sinful behavior, but it is not the only sinful behavior in the Bible," said Don Gordon, pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham. "Every generation has had its troubles. ... Let's focus on addressing the most pressing issues -- spiritual emptiness, hunger, AIDS, poverty, egocentric leadership -- and in that, be a light for Jesus Christ and God who loves the whole world."…

"We certainly won't be walking down the streets of heaven with people who've been lending money at crippling interest rates," said Ray Seeley of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Canton. "If they have a change in their lifestyle, I believe in bringing them in and loving them. If they do not change, they shouldn't even ask to be baptized -- that would be baptizing sin in the church. "


I took a lot of heat for that report from readers, and had to partially retract it.

I may have been a little precipitous in posting that story, though. Baptist ministers responded by insisting, in multiple emails, that they'd done no such thing—yet. They were concentrating for the moment on expelling gays rather than usurers, they explained.

I think we'll just have to see whether my report on the Baptists turns out to have been premature, then.


It's a good thing I did not retract the story fully. I see now that Milo was right about certain matters, though just a bit ahead of his time. The news report he sent me had occasion to mention a lobbying group for predator lenders:

Jeanette Holt, associate director for The Alliance of Predatory Lenders [said] "This new policy sounds to me like an interfering witch hunt."


After so many Baptists wrote to insist that I was essentially in error with that post, I tried to scare up some information on The Alliance of Predatory Lenders. When I found nothing at all, I concluded that Milo had been duped somehow.

But today I learned that there is such a group. At its new website, it calls itself The Predatory Lending Association

The Predatory Lending Association (PLA) is dedicated to extracting maximum profit from the working poor by increasing payday loan fees and debt traps. The working poor is an exciting, fast growing demographic that includes: military personnel, most minorities, and a growing percentage of the middle class.


So Milo was really onto something after all. The whole matter will need to be investigated anew.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

  Personal privacy means an efficient Big Brother

Last month I commented, regarding a disturbing (and overlooked) White House initiative, the "National Strategy for Information Sharing," that the Bush administration was redefining the very meaning of personal privacy. To judge by the "National Strategy", the only legitimate privacy concern that citizens may have any longer is that personal information shouldn't be divulged unnecessarily to other parties once the government has collected it.

I have to conclude that for Bush, “protecting” privacy means “controlling” it in the government’s hands.


Today we learn that a top intelligence official, Donald M. Kerr, has said essentially that at a government-sponsored Geospatial Intelligence conference.

His comments probably should be understood in the context of Congressional debate over a bill to revise the FISA statute. It looks increasingly likely that the new bill will grant telecoms retroactive immunity for illegally handing over records for millions of Americans to the Bush administration when no warrants had been granted by the FISA court. Kerr once was in charge of electronic surveillance for the FBI, and he remains dismissive of the public's concerns that their emails are being intercepted. It's a concern he describes as "groupthink".

Pamela Hess of the Associated Press has a report on Kerr's comments.

As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information...

Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are "perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data."


As if that argument weren't sufficiently strained, Kerr also asserted in his speech last month that on-line commerce as well as the Facebook phenomenon—the willingness of some people to make public some curious facts about their private lives—mean that Americans have surrendered anonymity and given up control of what was once closely guarded information.

Kerr's sententiousness is transparent:

"Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it's not for us to inflict one size fits all," said Kerr, 68. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that."

"Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety," Kerr said. "I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn't empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere."


Kerr is pathetically obsessed with terrorist bombings, and he wants Americans to be fearful as well. Notice how bombings are a recurrent feature of his October speech; he even concludes the speech with a gratuitous reference to the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon in 1983.

For Kerr (until recently a top CIA official), the only logical response to terrorist bombings is to learn to "balance" safety and privacy—by handing your privacy over to the government for safe-keeping. But there's no grounds for worry, none at all. The government won't use that power to clean out your bank account.

[Kerr] noted that government employees face up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines if convicted of misusing private information.


Kerr seems incapable of imagining that people might believe the act of collecting personal information is itself an abuse of power.

But, then, this is the man who ten years ago stiff-armed Sen. Charles Grassley's investigation into the reliability of polygraph exams, when the Senate had been presented with evidence that polygraphs are not scientific (I can add, from personal experience, that a polygraph test is slightly less reliable than a ouija board). The fact that Donald Kerr continued to justify the use of polygraphs while ignoring clear proof of their unreliability gives you some measure of the depth of his thinking.

Grassley in any case was so exasperated with Kerr's appointment to head the FBI's Crime Lab that he denounced Kerr as "a government/industry insider, whose instincts are to cooperate with management".

Ten years later, Donald Kerr expects the American public to cooperate with invasions of their privacy, as if we too were government insiders. And I suppose that if we permit the federal government to sweep up vast amounts of personal information, insiders is what we will become by default—like tunny caught up in a net.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

  "Got to find a link with Iran"

Tomorrow's Observer sheds some further light on the rush to war with Iran. American intelligence officials and interrogators in Iraq, interviewed by reporter David Smith, say that they're under "huge pressure" from Washington to find evidence of links between Iran and captured Iraqi insurgents. The pressure is distorting the way interrogations are conducted, with the goal now being not to discover the truth about the insurgents but instead to find some fuel to throw onto the flames of war.

It's impossible to avoid the parallels with the run-up to the attack upon Iraq.

Micah Brose, a privately contracted interrogator working for American forces in Iraq, near the Iranian border, told The Observer that information on Iran is 'gold'...

Brose, 30, who extracts information from detainees in Iraq, said: 'They push a lot for us to establish a link with Iran. They have pre-categories for us to go through, and by the sheer volume of categories there's clearly a lot more for Iran than there is for other stuff. Of all the recent requests I've had, I'd say 60 to 70 per cent are about Iran.

'It feels a lot like, if you get something and Iran's not involved, it's a let down.' He added: 'I've had people say to me, "They're really pushing the Iran thing. It's like, shit, you know." '

Brose said that reports about Washington's increasingly hawkish stance towards Tehran, including possible military action, chimed with his experience. 'My impression is they're just trying to get every little bit of ammunition possible. If we get something here it fits the overall picture. The engine needs impetus and they're looking for us to find the fuel - a particular type of fuel...

He denied ever being asked to fabricate evidence, adding: 'We're not asked to manufacture information, we're asked to find it. But if a detainee wants to tell me what I want to hear so he can get out of jail... you know what I'm saying.'

Other military intelligence officials in Iraq refused to comment, but one said: 'The message is, "Got to find a link with Iran, got to find a link with Iran." It's sickening.'


The Bush administration's desire to find any evidence to link Iran to attacks on US troops is well known. This report suggests that the word has gone down along the chain of command to beat the bushes until something, anything turns up.

Because starting a new war, rather than understanding the current one, has become the primary goal of intelligence gathering in Iraq today.

A fitting tribute on Veteran's Day, a day of reflection. Or, for George Bush and Dick Cheney, yet another occasion for banging the drums of war.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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  If Bush didn't exist, could you invent him?

The President was being himself today in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Right away you just know that this is going to make you cringe:

PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm now going to go feed the Chancellor a hamburger. (Laughter.) Right here, Crawford, Texas. No, well, I mean back over there. Thank you all.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Obviously, for me, as a person who originally came from Hamburg --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: -- it's even more important.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Hamburger.

Thank you.


And to think that some people have actually felt the need to explain what went wrong with Bush's presidency.

Of course nobody has remained more blissfully unaware of the Big Parade than George Bush himself. Lately he has taken to insisting in interviews that the invasion of Iraq was Saddam Hussein's fault.

Q But, Mr. President, is it right to say that you have much more a multilateral approach towards the solutions of the problems of the world than you had maybe two years ago?...

PRESIDENT BUSH: I felt I was pretty multilateral the first four years of my administration. After all, I went to the United Nations on the Iraq issue and on the Afghanistan issue, and said, we got a problem; let's work together to solve it. I would like to remind you that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously approved by 15 nations, and the declaration was, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. And in the case of -- in that case, the tyrant didn't disclose and so he faced serious consequences.


If only Hussein had disclosed that he'd hidden his WMD under Bush's desk, you see, there would not have been any need for war.

And speaking of dictators, Bush revealed that he hasn't bothered to call Pervez Musharraf since he arrested Benazir Bhutto.

Secondly, we share a goal with the Pakistani people, and that is to live in a free society. I haven't spoken to President Musharraf since I did earlier this week, but he knows my position...


A laudable if increasingly remote goal, for both America and for Pakistan.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Friday, November 09, 2007

  Everything I know, and then some

So many neglected stories, so little time to comment. Let me point you toward some links you might want to check out:

For starters, here’s the White House’s “fact sheet” on Michael Mukasey, newly confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General. Half of the “facts” here consist of statements in praise of the man by people or groups whose favorable opinion is scarcely surprising and in any case not worth having.

The remaining facts fall into two categories: (a) summaries of his judicial experience; (b) excerpts from his op-eds. Notice that both categories highlight Mukasey’s views on terrorism and national security, and really nothing else. It’s as if the job of the US Attorney General involved cases only in those areas. What this lopsided “fact sheet” really shows us is that Mukasey was selected by Bush on the basis of his willingness to take the hardest possible (Bush/Cheney) line on any matters of national security. His viewpoint on any other law-enforcement issues? Whatever…

If by chance you never understood why so many have described Mukasey’s national-security views as horrifying, here are his responses to written questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (large PDF). You might start with the fourth question submitted by Sen. Durbin (about two-thirds of the way into the PDF). Durbin asks whether foreign powers might be permitted to abuse American citizens in the ways that captives at Gitmo and elsewhere have been treated (waterboarding; forced nudity; mock executions; etc.). Mukasey, in response, hemms and haws and refuses to rule out the possibility. In that respect, at least, Mukasey is almost indistinguishable from Alberto Gonzales.

No doubt that explains why several Democrats in the Senate voted to confirm Mukasey yesterday. If Gonzales was good enough for the job, then whyever would Democrats object to Mukasey?

First, let’s be crystal clear about how the Democrats threw a vote they would have won on Michael Mukasey and torture -- and let’s be clear why this happened…

At a minimum the filibuster could have forced President Bush to accept a ban on waterboarding and torture as a condition of Mukasey's confirmation.

Democrats had 40 votes against confirmation on Thursday night plus the four presidential candidates who did not vote. In other words, Democrats had 43 or 44 “no” votes, if you add the presidential candidates. If the Democratic senators had the conviction to filibuster, they would have won…

Thursday was a new low for Democrats, who surrendered the fight they would have won and were morally obligated to make, on torture


Ah, but Democrats always have an explanation when they cave in:

Senate Democrats on Friday downplayed their decision not to wage a filibuster to derail the nomination of Michael Mukasey as attorney general, arguing it would have been a fruitless endeavor that would have set a dangerous precedent if a Democrat wins the White House in 2008…

Democrats on Friday argued that votes on a procedural motion, like cutting off a filibuster, should not be equated with a vote on an underlying nomination or bill. A Democratic leadership aide said there likely would have been enough support to cut off a filibuster, making it frivolous to schedule a time-consuming procedural vote to end debate. The aide also said that “filibustering a Cabinet nominee is a bad precedent,” given that there is a possibility a Democrat may occupy the White House in 2009.


More graphically, from Democracy in Action:

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Want to give vent to your frustration by doing something useful? No, don’t commiserate with the cowards of Congress. Donate to Secrecy News. Steve Aftergood is a dynamo and we’d be much more poorly informed as a nation without him.

Speaking of Secrecy News, Steve has posted quite a few new PDFs of Congressional Research Service reports (which CRS declines to make public as a matter of policy). This report in particular caught my eye: "Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture". Unfortunately, it’s going to continue to be relevant. Might as well link to this one too, just in case it should become relevant: National Emergency Powers

Also, this post ought to be mulled over by the actual lawyers among you: AIPAC Court Adopts Silent Witness Rule

Last week, Judge Ellis approved limited use at trial of the so-called "silent witness rule," an unconventional tactic that permits prosecutors to withhold evidence from the public and to disclose it only to the parties, the witnesses and the jury. Because this amounts to closing the trial, it runs the risk of infringing on constitutional guarantees that trials will be public.


The cone of silence slowly descends over our system of justice, all in the name of national security.

This morning WH spokesman Gordon Johndroe held a press conference in which he insinuated that Pervez Musharraf was no more responsible for the political/judicial crisis in Pakistan than were the thousands of people he’s been arresting.

Q Why is your statement not putting the onus on General Musharraf? It seems fairly even-handed, when it's General Musharraf who is the one who is arresting all the lawyers, who's arresting the human rights activists. He's the one who's caused the current crisis, so I'm just kind of curious why the statement does not take some more even-handed, balanced approach to what's causing the problem there.

MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I would say that our position with regards to President Musharraf has been very clear. We've talked to him about having elections soon, ending the state of emergency, removing the -- removing his uniform. So our position is clear to him and to everyone in Pakistan.

But I would also say there are a lot more people involved on the ground than just one person, and the point is that all of these people need to work together. There needs to be a dialogue among all the various political parties, and that is the best way to end this situation.

Q You don't agree then that he is the cause of the current crisis?

MR. JOHNDROE: I believe that there are a lot of factors on the ground.


Just when you thought the Bush administration’s response to Musharraf’s declaration of martial law couldn’t get any more bizarre.

Q Gordon, what does it say about the President's phone call to Musharraf if, the day after, or is it two days after that, Benazir Bhutto is basically in house arrest? I mean, so what impact did President Bush's phone call actually have?

MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I don't think it's for me to be the political scientist or the pundit on what impact the President's phone call had. I read in the papers this morning it had a particular impact that led to an announcement, and now I hear this afternoon that perhaps it's led to another impact.


Peggy Noonan is daffy and makes things up. Cernig at Newshoggers has the goods on her latest nonsense. If you’re a fan of the old British show “Spitting Image”, you’ll want to take a look.

Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark is always worth a read. Today he discusses the triumphalists who are desperate to declare victory in Iraq…but don’t seem to have any workable ideas about how to achieve reconciliation among Iraqis or how to get American troops out of the country. Predictably, the more Nuri al Maliki thinks his position is secure, the more abrasive he becomes to fellow Iraqis.

Those who study colonial empires will recognize the phenomenon.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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  Pentagon is blocking a Congressional investigation again

Since Democrats took control of Congress in January, the Pentagon has been increasingly obstreperous toward the original branch of government. In particular, the military has taken to prohibiting service members from testifying to Congress in high profile investigations. Yesterday the Pentagon did it again, instructing a Marine lawyer that he was not permitted to testify at today’s hearings on enhanced drowning waterboarding before the House Judiciary Committee. This comes in the midst of the battle over the nomination of Michael Mukasey, a man who pretends that he doesn’t know whether enhanced drowning constitutes torture.

From the Associated Press:

A Marine Corps lawyer told a House subcommittee Thursday the Pentagon blocked him from testifying that harsh interrogation methods tripped up his prosecution of a suspected terrorist…

"The Department of Defense has decided I cannot testify," Marine Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich. "Please be advised that I am willing to testify before the subcommittee in the event I am allowed to do so."…

Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., noted Couch had made speeches and his story published in The Wall Street Journal.

"These are not state secrets," Nadler said of Couch's account. "It is disgraceful that the administration would allow Colonel Couch to make after-dinner speeches about the subject matter, to talk at length to the press about the subject matter, but (be) prohibited from testifying before a duly constituted committee of the Congress."…

A Marine Corps pilot and prosecutor, Couch told the Journal that he refused to proceed with the prosecution of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, accused of helping assemble a terrorist cell that included the hijacker who steered United Flight 175 into the World Trade Center.

Couch halted Slahi's prosecution because he concluded that Slahi's incriminating statements had been obtained through beatings and psychological torture.

"In our zeal to get information, we had compromised our ability to prosecute him," Couch told the paper.


Outlandish: Torturing a suspect; destroying any legal case against him in the process; and obstructing a Congressional investigation. The Corps claims that its objections to Couch’s testimony to Congress was merely that it feared he would compromise further cases that he had worked on.

But recently the Pentagon has established a nasty record of obstructing investigations that would tend to embarrass it. For example, in March I was commenting about a House Government Oversight Committee investigation into Walter Reed Army Medical Center:

On Friday the House Committee subpoena'd [the former commander of WRAMC, Maj. Gen.] Weightman after the Army refused to permit him to testify—without offering "a satisfactory explanation for the decision to prevent General Weightman from testifying,” according to the Committee letter issued that day.

Parenthetically, I'd ask you to consider just how brazen the US military has become in stiff-arming investigations into wrong-doing. Earlier this week, it essentially blocked US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke's investigation into the conditions of captivity of Jose Padilla and his deteriorating state of mind. One of Padilla's guards, who'd observed his mental condition in captivity, a guard who had since been moved overseas, was scheduled to testify to the court by phone. However he wasn't on hand, somehow, when the phone call was placed.

And at the end of the week it refused to permit Waxman's Committee to hear testimony from the fired head of Walter Reed. You don't suppose that this kind of arrogant treatment of the other two branches of government is being rewarded by the Executive?


The question appears to become more pressing with every passing week.

The letter sent to Lt. Col. Couch on Wednesday blocking his testimony, incidentally, came from William J. Haynes II. As General Counsel at the DoD, he is one of the government lawyers most closely associated with developing the so-called torture memos (Haynes appointed John Yoo to the task of drawing up a rationale why the president could circumvent the clear meaning of international treaties banning torture). Haynes also was involved in developing and implementing the decision to deny to captives held at Guantanamo the protection of either the Geneva Conventions or of constitutional guarantees of due process.

In other words, Haynes’ letter prevented Couch from testifying to Congress about crimes at Guantanamo that he played a large role in generating. In a normal world, Haynes’ interference with the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing might be construed as obstruction of justice.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

  FBI: Be Very Afraid

Today the FBI declassified super secret intelligence about an alleged al Qaeda plot...allegedly in order to share it with state and local authorities. Just by chance, it immediately found its way into the hands of journalists. The latter duly performed their appointed role: Spread the message of terror far and wide.

Another coincidence is worth mentioning. The alleged plot happens to be the worst nightmare scenario for that small segment of the American public that still backs the Bush administration’s GWOT excesses.

The “plot” involves (a) kiddies, and (b) shopping malls. Oh, the horror.

The unclassified shopping mall threat information was circulated by the FBI on November 7th, based on intelligence received by the FBI in late September. The full text of one version of that report is as follows:

December 2007 Al-Qa’ida Plan to Target US Shopping Malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.


As of August 2007, al-Qa’ida planned to strike US shopping malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California during the 2007 Christmas season. Al-Qa’ida hoped to disrupt the US economy and had been planning the attack for the past two years.

FBI Comment: This information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.


In other words, somebody mentioned seeing a vague threat on line, which the FBI is now pretending to take seriously enough to leak the “information” to reporters. Because, hey, the dupes who still swallow these kinds of warnings from the Bush administration are dumb enough to believe that an attack on a shopping mall would be an existential threat to the American economy.

They might even be persuaded that it’s part of the annual “War on Christmas”.

ABC’s Blotter plays along in a curious, syncopated style. Every second paragraph winks toward those readers who are in on this game.

The alert, like similar FBI and Department of Homeland Security terror alerts issued over the past five years at holiday times, raised questions about the credibility of the information…

The source reportedly had only "indirect access" to al Qaeda and word of the actual threat came to U.S. intelligence officers "through a lengthy chain" of contacts…

For the past few years, jihadist chat rooms have regularly posted comments from anonymous individuals who have suggested or boasted about similar plans to attack such soft targets as shopping malls…

"We have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack," a DHS official said.


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBut the alternate paragraphs promote the government’s grim message as if it were really to be taken seriously. These parts are for the suckers in the audience:

Law enforcement officials at three different agencies told ABCNews.com the FBI alert was based on a source who has proved reliable in the past…

With the shopping season approaching, however, the FBI officials decided it was necessary to share the information…

"Out of abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities -- even when the value of the information is unknown," said Special Agent Richard Kolko.


Actually, no: The FBI doesn't normally release raw intelligence any more than the local dairy sells raw milk to the public.

But, really, fibbing aside, it’s such a virtuoso performance that you can almost feel the pulsating rhythm of the piece: agit – prop, agit – prop, agit – prop. You could dance the foxtrot to this article, if you care to roll back the rug and wind up the Victrola.

Who are the rubes this is supposed to appeal to? The ones whose only concern with the GWOT is that their children need to be protected at any cost from those horrible men the Bush administration is beating up on.

That is to say, this kind of dope, from Yardley PA, whose only response to the Frontline expose on the Bush administration's Extraordinary Rendition program the other day was…

I'm all for anything that stops these fanatics from blowing up my kids at the mall. How else are we to defend ourselves against intolerant people who want nothing more than eliminate us? We should be committed to doing everything possible to eliminate the threat.


crossposted from unbossed.com

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

  Bush’s GWOT depends entirely upon one Dictator

By now it ought to be clear that George Bush doesn’t have a foreign policy; instead he has a GWOT around which everything else is ‘organized’. By the same token, Bush has no Pakistan-policy; he has a Musharraf-policy.

The Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte—who already in the 1980s had a record of cozying up to “friendly” dictators—assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee today that Musharraf is in fact “indispensable” to the United States.

So there it is.

From Negroponte’s opening remarks:

[On November 5] President Bush called for democracy to be restored quickly, for elections to be held as scheduled and for President Musharraf to resign his position as Chief of Army Staff. But the President also pointed out that President Musharraf has been indispensable in the global War on Terror, so indispensable that extremists and radicals have tried to assassinate him multiple times.

…the Government of Pakistan has been an indispensable leader in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.


That’s quite stunning as an admission of foreign policy failure: George Bush’s entire GWOT revolves around one man—a brutal and devious dictator at that. As long as Musharraf pretends to “help” in the GWOT, then he remains “indispensable”. That’s been true for a long time, of course. It’s just that Musharraf’s imposition of martial law has forced the ugly truth out into plain sight.

Here is Bush waxing eloquent last year during a state visit by Musharraf:

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This President is a strong defender of freedom and the people of Pakistan…

He understands that we are in a struggle against extremists who will use terror as a weapon. He understands it just about as good as anybody in the world -- after all, they've tried to take his life. These extremists who can't stand the thought of a moderate leader leading an important country like Pakistan want to kill the President. That should say things to the people of Pakistan and the people of America, that because he has been a strong, forceful leader, he has become a target of those who can't stand the thought of moderation prevailing…

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe first time I ever met President Musharraf, he talked about the need to make sure that school systems in Pakistan worked well. I was impressed then, and I'm impressed now, by your commitment to an education system that prepares students for the -- and gives students the skills necessary to compete in a global economy.

We talked about democracy. The last time I was with the President, he assured me, and assured the people that were listening to the news conference, that there would be free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007. He renewed that commitment, because he understands that the best way to defeat radicalism and extremism is to give people a chance to participate in the political process of a nation.


You’d have thought, given that this one man is indispensable to the GWOT, that George Bush would have checked in immediately with him as soon as it became clear that all the aforementioned sweetness and light was not breaking out in Pakistan. But as I’ve been saying from the first day of martial law, Bush has remained eerily silent and passive.

He was waiting for day five of the crisis before acting (as we now learn):

PRESIDENT BUSH: I spoke to President Musharraf right before I came over here to visit with President Sarkozy. And my message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform. You can't be the President and the head of the military at the same time. So I had a very frank discussion with him.


That’s it. That’s all we learn about the long-awaited day when Bush would spring into action. He told us nothing about what Musharraf said, what he promised to do, or what Bush’s own plans were.

The White House would not disclose details of the call or Musharraf's response.

"President Musharraf listened carefully and heard what President Bush had to say," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked with Musharraf on Monday. "The president felt like he should give him a call today and reiterate his position," Johndroe said.


He just felt he should give him a call today. Why today?

Might it be, perhaps, because Bush had just given a couple of rather awkward television interviews with French and German stations? These foreign journalists don’t always realize that they’re supposed to behave like potted palms.

Q So to a certain extent, you did contribute to giving greater power to Iran, because it no longer is facing its hated enemy on the other side. So now is there a true threat in Iran, and are you ready now to invade Iran as you did with Afghanistan and Iraq? So it is indeed true that Vice President -- is it true that Vice President Cheney has a plan for that?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know where you're getting all these rumors -- there must be some weird things going on in Europe these days -- because I have made it abundantly clear, now is the time to deal with a true threat to world peace -- that's Iran -- and to do it diplomatically and peacefully. And that's what I'm going to spend a lot of time on with President Sarkozy. But of course we want to solve these problems peacefully.

Q But if it doesn't work, if the sanctions and the threats do not work, what happens?

THE PRESIDENT: We are going to -- as I said, all options are on the table. But the objective is to make them work. I'm not so sure I agree with your hypothesis, that "if they don't work." I'm the kind of guy that says, let's make sure they do work. And that's what I intend to talk to President Sarkozy about, and Angela Merkel about, and that is to keep the international pressure and to keep the focus on the ambitions of an Iranian regime that has publicly declared its intention to destroy Israel, for example, and have defied the demands of the IAEA. And so they're not trusted -- to be trusted with a enrichment program. We made that abundantly clear to them. And I believe we can solve this problem diplomatically.

But to say that to enhance a free society on Iran's border strengthens the Iranians is just not true. I simply don't buy into that logic -- or illogic, in this case. I think a free society on Iran's border is going to be -- make their life more difficult. I think that, ultimately, they're going to feel pressure about the type of government they have when their people look across the border and see a flourishing, free society.


You can’t have the next day’s headlines saying “Bush calls Iraq a flourishing society”, now can you?

crossposted from unbossed.com

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

  Frontline documents Extraordinary Rendition tonight

This evening at 9 PM Frontline will talk to several experts about the CIA's secretive world-wide spiderweb for kidnapping and torturing suspected terrorists. The documentary is primarily the work of Stephen Grey, an investigative reporter and author of Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Rendition and Torture Program.

If you haven't been following this scandal as closely as we have over the years at unbossed, then I'd strongly urge you to watch the documentary tonight or view it online at PBS after tomorrow.

Among those interviewed by Grey is Bisher al-Rawi, whom I've written about before (some background here). Al-Rawi, an Iraqi-born permanent resident of the UK, was handed over to the CIA in Africa in 2002 with the collusion of Britain's MI5. From there he was flown to a "black site" in Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and later to Guantanamo where he was held virtually incommunicado until this spring.

What terrible crime did al-Rawi stand accused of? Apparently his 'crime' was in refusing to continue any longer to work for MI5. Here is how I summarized the case when the US finally agreed to release Bisher al-Rawi:

It seems that he once cooperated with MI5 as it investigated a Muslim cleric living in London, Abu Qatada. After Bisher al-Rawi refused to cooperate further with MI5, the British government encouraged the CIA to pick him up while he was abroad, in Gambia, on a business trip. The CIA threatened to abuse him if he did not agree to resume cooperation, and when he again refused, he was dragged off to be tortured first in Baghram, and then in Guantanamo.


Al-Rawi's release this year, as his mental state was on the verge of collapse, came after a multi-year international campaign to gain his freedom. The fact that the British government finally joined calls for his release is due mainly to a court decision in Britain that would have forced the UK government to acknowledge its involvement in al-Rawi's imprisonment by the CIA. In other words even to the bitter end, both the UK and US governments were perfectly prepared to continue holding and degrading a man whom they knew had no involvement in terrorism. It was not the facts themselves, but the possible exposure of their own complicity in the criminal detention of the man, that finally meant he needed to be set free.

It is one of the best documented cases from an illegal and virtually unchecked program. The horrific and inhumane treatment meted out to al-Rawi almost perfectly encapsulates the stupefying arrogance behind "Extraordinary Rendition". The program, ultimately, exists to project the image of George W. Bush's power onto the wider world, not (as so often claimed) to obtain useful information from "the worst of the worst":

To give but one example, which I think speaks volumes about the crass manipulation of Mr. al-Rawi. I have a U.S. document from Gitmo, dated August 22, 2006. It is the summary of evidence for a pending administrative review board in Bisher al-Rawi's case, and my copy has his scribbled notes in the margin. It lists several categories of reasons why Bisher should be kept in detention: (a) commitment [to the cause of al Qaida]; (b) connections/associations; and (c) other relevant data.

Under (c), there is this remarkable statement.

"The detainee considered Saddam Hussein an enemy of the Iraqi people. The detainee also considered all enemies of Iraq as his enemies too. The detainee said that, theoretically, the United States would fall into the latter category."


Bisher's scribbled comment asks, reasonably:

"What does Saddam got to do with me and Gitmo. The statement is true, but what relevance does it have here except causing me problems in the outside world. This is part of a conversation in Gambia before the invasion of Iraq, and I was making a clear statement that I was an Iraqi and not ashamed of it."


Here we have one example, of many I could point to, where interrogators clearly are twisting every statement of personal opinion, every admission of a point of view (which Bisher seems to be very free and candid with, in my judgment), into some kind of basis for suspicion. I'm sure that the irony is not lost on you, the reader, that in this case it is Bisher's condemnation of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, George Bush's bete noir, which is being used as a weapon against him.

The simple truth seems to be that Bisher al-Rawi was a pawn when MI5 was using him in London, and to this day he remains a pawn on the international stage.

It's past time that should stop. I believe it's time for the US government to hear that its own citizens are fed up with detainees being mistreated. There's no excuse to pretend that it is not our concern that our own government treats detainees as something less than human.


If you still doubt that "extraordinary rendition" is any of your business--even as we witness the Senate fall all over itself to confirm a nominee who will not admit that waterboarding constitutes torture, and even as a top lawyer for the Bush administration admits that You too may be waterboarded--then please do watch Frontline tonight.

This obscenity is not going to go away because the government wills it.

Now, as the fate of many rendered men remains uncertain at Guantanamo Bay, and many others remain unaccounted for, President Bush has reportedly signed a new executive order. Its secret contents, many believe, have reauthorized the CIA to once again render terror suspects to black sites where “enhanced” interrogation techniques are applied.

“The program is back on,” Stephen Grey says. “The people in the CIA are pretty reluctant about it, but they’ve got their orders...


crossposted from unbossed.com

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Monday, November 05, 2007

  Bush still dodging questions about martial law

More than two days after the coup in Pakistan, George Bush finally speaks about it. Trouble is, he’s still saying nothing.

At a photo-op/press-availability this afternoon with Turkish PM Erdogan, Bush barely acknowledged the crisis. All he would say is that Musharraf needs to hold elections as soon as possible, and ought to take his uniform off (meaning presumably that the dictator should not parade around quite so openly as a military dictator).

No word from Bush about the major issues at stake: Whether Musharraf should be permitted to hold onto power; whether he should release political prisoners; whether he should respect the Pakistani supreme court; whether he should end martial law. He didn’t even use the expression “martial law”. Nor was Bush willing to discuss whether the US should withhold any aid from Musharraf or impose any sanctions at all.

In fact, Bush still hasn't spoken yet to Musharraf!

Here in this short compass is just about everything Bush has said to date about the imposition of martial law in Pakistan:

I briefed the Prime Minister on Secretary Rice's recent phone call with President Musharraf. I asked the Secretary to call him to convey this message: that we expect there to be elections as soon as possible, and that the President should remove his military uniform. Previous to his decision we made it clear that these emergency measures were -- would undermine democracy. Having said that, I did remind the Prime Minister that President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals, that he understands the dangers posed by radicals and extremists. After all, they tried to kill him three or four times.

...

As I said earlier in my statement, that we made it clear to the President that we would hope he wouldn't have declared the emergency powers he declared. Now that he's made that decision, I hope now that he hurry back to elections. And at the same time, we want to continue working with him to fight these terrorists and extremists, who not only have tried to kill him, but have used parts of his country from which to launch attacks into Afghanistan, and/or are plotting attacks on America.


And consider the series of questions Bush just doesn't answer in this brief press availability:

What will be the consequences if [Musharraf] doesn't take your advice, and how seriously are you weighing a cut in U.S. aid? ...

Q Do you have any leverage, though? ...

Q Mr. President, did you misjudge President Musharraf?


Meanwhile, this afternoon Dana Perino's opening remarks at the daily press briefing omitted any mention of Pakistan! When reporters began asking questions, she tried to convince them to wait until later in the day when Bush would have his little press-availability with the Turkish PM. Pathetic...

Q Why hasn't the President called Musharraf, who is, after all, a key ally, personally? Is he reserving that, is there a lack --

MS. PERINO: The President has directed his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to have that direct contact. And if there's more to update later today we will.

Matt.

Q But, Dana, the President does take great pride in his personal diplomacy. He's met numerous times with General Musharraf. He stood shoulder to shoulder with him here and in other places. Why doesn't he just get on the phone and say, back down from this?

MS. PERINO: I'll just repeat what I just said, which is he has directed Secretary Rice to deliver the message on his behalf, and if there's more to update you on later we will....

Q Has the President, indeed, already spoken with Musharraf today?

MS. PERINO: No.

Ken.

Q Dana, should we take it as significant that he has not spoken directly to --

MS. PERINO: No, no. Obviously the President got briefings over the weekend; he had Secretary Rice in touch with him last week. Our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been in contact with Musharraf and the -- Musharraf's officials in his government. And we've been getting regular updates from the Director of National Intelligence, as well as our national security team, and of course from Secretary Rice, who has been in the region.

Q But it does seem a departure from the way he deals with other world leaders that he claims to have good relationships with.

MS. PERINO: If there's a phone call, we'll let you know.

Q Did Musharraf decline calls? Have you attempted a call?

MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe so. ...

Q Was the Pakistani ambassador called in?

MS. PERINO: Not that I know of, but we can check. ...

Q Dana, in addition to this situation, the President has delegated authority for the management of the Middle East summit to the Secretary of State. And here, two days into this crisis, he hasn't picked up the phone and called the guy who he stood here and called his "good friend." Is it fair to assume that the President is reluctant to personally invest himself in a situation that possesses a high risk of failure?

MS. PERINO: No, Mark, I think -- look, that's apples and oranges. The President has asked Secretary Rice to work on the Middle East peace summit. She's the Secretary of State, that is what she does. And she is the person that the President entrusts to carry his messages for him. That's not unusual. We are working towards a summit on Middle East peace which the President would attend. So I just -- I don't think that follows.

Q We have a couple of situations which hold in them a high risk of failure. Is it fair to consider -- is it fair to perceive him as not being interested in personally investing himself in the situation?

MS. PERINO: I resent that, because the President is personally engaged, and it is because of his engagement and his desire to see this succeed that he has Secretary Rice, one of his closest and most trusted advisors, carrying out this action for him.


Amidst all the haziness and confusion, there was this one moment of lucidity from Perino--rather ironic, given that she represents an administration that has eroded personal liberty to an unprecedented extent in the name of a "Global War on Terror".

Q But what he says what he's doing is against the terrorists, that is necessary to preserve stability there against terrorist organizations?

MS. PERINO: We do not believe that any extra-constitutional means were necessary in order to help prevent terrorism in the region. And that's why we are deeply disappointed with the actions, and we asked them to not do it.

Q Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?

MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.

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  You too may be waterboarded

So says John Bellinger, Senior Associate Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the NSC, and a close aide to Condoleezza Rice. When asked whether foreign governments could be permitted to waterboard American citizens, Bellinger declared that he couldn’t rule it out.

The logic of permitting George Bush to do whatever he wishes to suspected terrorists, regardless of the law, also means that you have lost your legal rights too. It requires that you’re no longer a citizen, but instead a subject. The American government can’t be counted on to defend your human rights because you don’t have them any longer.

Terrifying, sure, but Bellinger’s position is nothing if not rigorously logical.

The logic follows from Bellinger’s first principle, that George Bush can do no wrong. We can deduce that Bellinger takes that view from his long, ugly record of justifying and promoting Bush’s every wish. For example in 2003 he was instrumental in bending the British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to Bush’s desire for war against Iraq.

On February 11, 2003, as war approached, and with Mr Blair close to panic over the legal fiasco, Goldsmith flew to the White House to meet US National Security Council legal chief, John Bellinger.

His message was clear: the US had no legal worries because Congress had already given Mr Bush the power to rule the war legal. In addition it believed there was no need for a second UN resolution.

Mr Bellinger later boasted: "We had a problem with your Attorney General who was telling us it was legally doubtful under international law. We straightened him out."


So, a State Department lawyer who cares little for international law, is Mr. Bellinger.

Mr Bellinger said the US did practice rendition, by which some terror suspects were sent to a third country to be questioned. But he added that even transferring a prisoner to a country which had been criticised over its human rights record was not a violation of international law.

"We as a state department have got problems with the human rights records of some countries... but this does not mean per se that you may not transfer a person to those countries," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Bellinger insisted that if there were such questions, the US would seek reassurances that a prisoner would not be subjected to torture. But he said some practises had been wildly exaggerated.

"Some of the allegations more broadly about all sorts of things are ludicrous, [like one] about hundreds of flights from European cities taking people to be tortured," he said.

He repeated that Washington did not condone or practise torture but would not comment on whether some prisoners had been subjected to interrogation techniques such as waterboarding - when a suspect is made to feel that they are drowning - to extract information. The lawyer said he could not comment on speculation about so-called enhanced interrogation techniques or the existence of secret prisons.


The reason Bellinger would not discuss waterboarding with the BBC is quite obviously that the BBC believes, rightly as it turns out, that waterboarding is torture.

It’s not permissible, you see, to acknowledge that the President has authorized illegal acts. Thus even when the Army banned waterboarding in its new manual, Bellinger insisted that it was not an admission that the banned practice had ever been actually practiced.

It’s worth recalling that Bellinger has threatened European leaders that they should shut up about the CIA’s spiderweb of secret prisons.

A senior U.S. administration official on Wednesday warned that ongoing inquiries into secret CIA activities in the European Union may undermine intelligence cooperation between the United States and European nations…

John Bellinger, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called the European Parliament report ''unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair'' and called on the EU governments to challenge the suggestion that Europeans need to be concerned about secret CIA flights.

''I can understand concerns about specific incidents but we should not somehow suggest that all intelligence activity is something illegal or suspicious,'' he said.

Germany, Italy and several other EU countries have been carrying out their own inquiries into secret CIA activities in Europe, probes Bellinger said ''have not been helpful with respect to necessary cooperation between the United States and Europe.''

''I do think these continuing investigations can harm intelligence cooperation, that's simply a fact of life,'' Bellinger told reporters after meeting legal advisers to EU governments in Brussels…

“We have seen many statements from European governments saying Guantanamo must be closed immediately. It's not clear how Guantanamo would be immediately closed. Europe has been prepared to criticize ... but has not been prepared to offer a constructive suggestion,'' Bellinger said.


In other words, according to Bellinger, any of Bush’s policies that come in for criticism have to become everybody’s policies…if not our allies, then at least Congress must take responsibility for his lawlessness. That’s because George W. Bush cannot be in the wrong.

In particular, Bush cannot be wrong in authorizing waterboarding. If Bush does it, then it must be legal.

Therefore since it’s permissible for Americans to waterboard foreigners, then there is no obvious basis on which to object to the waterboarding of Americans by foreign governments.

Here is Bellinger’s admission that Americans too must be subject to waterboarding, in a debate with Philippe Sands as published today by Guardian America. Before this exchange Bellinger has been playing cute, saying that he would not discuss any specific interrogation techniques and denouncing reporters for exaggerating the tendency of the US to extradite and torture people.

Philippe Sands: Are there any circumstances in which you could imagine the use of water boarding to be consistent with international law?

John Bellinger: Again, we've decided that we just don't want to get engaged in hypotheticals and applying the law to the facts of these particular cases.

Philippe Sands: Let me put it in yet another way. Could you imagine any circumstances in which the use of water boarding on an American national by a foreign intelligence service could be justified?

John Bellinger: One would have to apply the facts to the law, the law to the facts, to determine whether any technique, whatever it happened to be, would cause severe physical pain or suffering.

Philippe Sands: So you're willing to exclude any American going to the international criminal court under any circumstances, but you're not able to exclude the possibility of water boarding being used on a United States national by foreign intelligence service? I mean, that just strikes me as very curious.

John Bellinger: Well, I'm not willing to include it or exclude it, I mean, these are issues that our justice department as a matter of interpreting both the domestic law on torture and international law, has concluded that just don't want to get involved in abstract discussions of applying the law to any set of facts.

I can certainly tell you as a State Department official that it makes it very difficult to explain to the world and to provide the important assurance of what we're doing or not doing if we can't talk about intelligence activities or we can't even talk about hypotheticals.

But the decision has been made at least so far and maybe Judge Mukasey, if he's confirmed as attorney general, will make a different decision, that he would talk more about techniques. But at least, so far, the conclusion that we should not talk about specific techniques even in terms of hypotheticals.


Bellinger tries to pull a veil across his brutal admission by quibbling in the margins: He would have to know the circumstances of the waterboarding before judging whether it was acceptable; US policy has changed during Bush’s presidency and maybe it will change again to outlaw waterboarding; and gosh darn it, it’s hard to discuss waterboarding without being permitted to discuss it.

But the simple fact is that one of the government’s top lawyers is willing to permit American citizens to be waterboarded.

Of course, if foreign governments may waterboard American citizens abroad then there’s little to stop the US government from the doing the same here at home. It isn’t any longer considered torture, we’re told, and how can it be “unusual” if the entire world may practice waterboarding against any of us?

As for “cruel”, the Bush administration is never cruel.

In the case of the Convention Against Torture, our Constitution already prohibited cruel and unusual punishment, which we interpret as encompassing torture. The United States directly enforces our obligations under Article 15 of the CAT by prohibiting the use of statements obtained through torture in legal proceedings, including military commission proceedings. Congress also adopted a statute imposing criminal sanctions on persons who commit torture, consistent with our obligations under the Convention. I should add that contrary to what you might hear from some critics, no one in the United States government has sought to disregard or avoid these obligations.


Nobody, indeed. Therefore you may be waterboarded.

crossposted from unbossed.com

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