Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

  Bush has no regrets

In a speech today at the Pentagon, George Bush declared that he has no regrets about an unnecessary and costly invasion of Iraq. Bush might have been drawing his inspiration from Edith Piaf, whose 1960 recording of Je ne regrette rien was dedicated to the Foreign Legion then fighting to subdue Algeria.

No! No regrets
No! I will have no regrets
All the things
That went wrong
For at last I have learned to be strong

No! No regrets
No! I will have no regrets
For the grief doesn't last
It is gone
I've forgotten the past

One thing we can however say with certainty is that Bush was taking little notice of the death toll in Iraq. Exactly as on first anniversary of the invasion, the war dead earned only a single, fleeting mention at the very end of his long speech.

You will always remember the comrades who served with you in combat [but] did not make the journey home. America remembers them as well. More than 4,400 men and women have given their lives in the war on terror. We'll pray for their families. We'll always honor their memory.

The best way we can honor them is by making sure that their sacrifice was not in vain. Five years ago tonight, I promised the American people that in the struggle ahead "we will accept no outcome but victory." Today, standing before men and women who helped liberate a nation, I reaffirm the commitment.

Another anniversary of the invasion, and once again Bush promises to honor the war dead by tossing more lives into the Iraq quagmire. Bush can't see his way to honoring them by attending even one of their funerals.

Indeed, I recall that in 2004 on the first anniversary of the war Bush visited the wounded in Walter Reed. But not today. Nor last year. Nor the year before last. Nor the year before that. Remember it the next time Bush talks of "progress in Iraq". That's what "progress" looks like – hiding from the dead and wounded of your war.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

  Today in False Promises

Five years ago today, Dick Cheney promised that Iraqis would greet invading American troops as liberators.

MR. RUSSERT: During the 2000 campaign you were on the program when we were talking about the Persian Gulf War and looking back and I asked whether you had any regrets about taking Saddam out at that time. And you said no. And then you added this, and I want to talk about it. Let’s watch:

(Videotape, August 27, 2000):

MR. CHENEY: Conversations I had with leaders in the region afterwards, they all supported the decision that was made not to go to Baghdad. They were concerned that we not get into a position where we shifted, instead of being the leader of an international coalition to roll back Iraqi aggression, to one in which we were an imperialist power willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world taking down governments.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: “Imperialist power,” “moving willy-nilly,” “taking down governments.” Is that how we’re going to be perceived this time?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I hope not, Tim. Of course, in ’91, there was a general consensus that we’d gone as far as we should...

We’re now faced with a situation, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, where the threat to the United States is increasing. And over time, given Saddam’s posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons. And in light of that, we have to be prepared, I think, to take the action that is being contemplated. Doesn’t insist that he be disarmed and if the U.N. won’t do it, then the United States and other partners of the coalition will have to do that.

Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators...

MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them, various groups and individuals, people who have devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq. And like Kanan Makiya who’s a professor at Brandeis, but an Iraqi, he’s written great books about the subject, knows the country intimately, and is a part of the democratic opposition and resistance. The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

Dick Cheney promised that the cost of the war would be relatively low, and that hundreds of thousands of troops would not be tied down for years in Iraq.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don’t want to convey to the American people the idea that this is a cost-free operation. Nobody can say that. I do think there’s no doubt about the outcome. There’s no question about who is going to prevail if there is military action. And there’s no question but what it is going to be cheaper and less costly to do it now than it will be to wait a year or two years or three years until he’s developed even more deadly weapons, perhaps nuclear weapons. And the consequences then of having to deal with him would be far more costly than will be the circumstances today. Delay does not help.

MR. RUSSERT: The army’s top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and we’ve deployed a large force. To prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement...

MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t say that, Tim. There are estimates out there. It’s important, though, to recognize that we’ve got a different set of circumstances than we’ve had in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan you’ve got a nation without significant resources. In Iraq you’ve got a nation that’s got the second-largest oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia. It will generate billions of dollars a year in cash flow if they get back to their production of roughly three million barrels of oil a day, in the relatively near future.

Dick Cheney promised that Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds could work together in a liberated Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: And you are convinced the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shiites will come together in a democracy?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: They have so far. One of the things that many people forget is that the Kurds in the north have been operating now for over 10 years under a sort of U.S.-provided umbrella with respect to the no-fly zone, and they have established a very strong, viable society with elements of democracy an important part of it. They’ve had significant successes in that regard and they’re eager to work with the rest of Iraq, that portion of it that still governs Saddam Hussein. And if you look at the opposition, they’ve come together, I think, very effectively, with representatives from Shia, Sunni and Kurdish elements in the population. They understand the importance of preserving and building on an Iraqi national identity.

Dick Cheney promised that America's allies would come to see the wisdom of invading Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: Brent Scowcroft, a man you know well, the national security adviser to former President Bush, when you were secretary of defense, talked to the National Journal and said this, and let me lay it out: “I’m puzzled as to where President Bush stands on the issue of our traditional alliances such as NATO, because during the campaign he made some strong statements about putting more stock in them. Clearly, that hasn’t happened. Part of the Bush administration clearly believes that as a uperpower, we must take advantage of this opportunity to change the world for the better, and we don’t need to go out of our way to accommodate alliances, partnerships or friends in the process, because that would too constraining.

”[This doctrine of continually letting each mission to define the coalition and relying almost solely on ad hoc] coalitions of the willing is fundamentally fatally flawed. As we’ve seen in the debate about Iraq, it’s already given us an image of arrogance and unilateralism, and we’re paying a very high price for that image. If we get to the point where everyone secretly hopes the United States gets a black eye because we’re so obnoxious, then we’ll be totally hamstrung in the war on terror. We’ll be like Gulliver with the Lilliputians.”

Brent Scowcroft, arrogance, black eye. Eighty-five percent of Spain, 86 percent of Germans, 91 percent of Russians, all against this war. What happened? How did we lose a PR battle against Saddam Hussein in the world, and why would Brent Scowcroft say those kinds of things?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I have great affection for Brent. We’ve been friends for a long time. He is occasionally wrong, and this is one of those occasions...

MR. RUSSERT: But a lot of countries, Mr. Vice President, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the neighbors of Saddam, other than Kuwait, are not supportive.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we will find, Tim, that if in fact we have to do this with military force that there will be sighs of relief in many quarters in the Middle East that the United States finally followed through and deal effectively with what they all perceive to be a major threat, but they’re all reluctant to stand up if Saddam’s still in power and if there’s a possibility he will survive once again to threaten them and to threaten their region. So for the United States to follow through here, be determined, be decisive, do exactly what we said we were going to do, I think we’ll find we’ve got far more friends out there than many people think.

But American troops were not greeted as liberators.

Today in Iraq 3, 988 American soldiers and marines, 308 coalition soldiers, and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, are dead as a result of the invasion. There continue to be nearly 160,000 American troops stationed in Iraq. The war has already cost more than $400 billion, and the eventual costs will rise into the trillions of dollars. Iraqi oil production continues to be well below pre-war levels. There is no end in sight to the civil war between Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds. America's allies are even less impressed now with the wisdom of invading Iraq. American politicians, even those who talk of "progress in Iraq", dare to visit the country only under the strictest secrecy.

This has been another Today-in-False-Promises bulletin.

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  The gutting of the Intelligence Oversight Board

George Bush's Feb. 29 Executive Order is quite obviously another important step in his project to dismantle the oversight of intelligence activities, especially the oversight mechanisms instituted as a result of the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s. The Executive Order essentially neutered the Intelligence Oversight Board, which previously had considerable powers to expose illegal intelligence activities.

During the last two weeks I've discussed the EO extensively (see here and here). Other bloggers picked up the story as well. Yet the traditional media has all but ignored it until now. On Monday, for example, Peter Baker referred to it as "a little-noticed executive order" without however taking the trouble to describe what it actually entailed. And that's the only time a Washington Post reporter has so much as mentioned the EO. The near silence of the traditional media has been overwhelming.

So yesterday's report in the Boston Globe by Charlie Savage is welcome. In fact, Savage provides considerable background on the issues, describing the most important ways in which Bush's Executive Order hollows out the IOB; the historical background to the Board's creation under Gerald Ford; and the series of steps George Bush has taken to undermine the intelligence oversight reforms instituted during the 1970s.

Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., the former chief counsel to the Senate committee that undertook the 1975-76 investigation into intelligence abuses, said that by rolling back the post-Watergate reforms, the Bush administration had made intelligence abuses more likely to occur.

"What the Bush administration has systematically done is to try to limit both internal oversight - things like the Intelligence Oversight Board - and effective external oversight by the Congress," Schwarz said, adding, "It's profoundly disappointing if you understand American history, and it's profoundly harmful to the United States."

Savage also provides us, finally, with a White House response to the charge that it has just neutralized the IOB's ability to blow the whistle on illegal intelligence activities. And the WH justification turns out to be a duesie:

But Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, denied that the order reduced the authority and independence of the panel.

Fratto pointed to a federal statute that makes it a general duty of all government officials to report lawbreaking to the Justice Department. Because of this, he said, there is still a "widely understood background presumption" that the board can contact the attorney general even though Bush deleted the authority to make criminal referrals from its list of core responsibilities.

Yes indeed, George Bush eliminated an explicit provision (under the previous EO) requiring the IOB to report violations of the law to the Attorney General because there's nothing in the new Executive Order actually prohibiting the IOB from blowing the whistle. That's really just as good, isn't it? When you think about it, I mean.

crossposted from Daily Kos

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

  About that Pew poll on Iraq

At Politico David Kuhn makes the ridiculous argument that public support for the war in Iraq will boost McCain's presidential campaign and hurt the Democratic nominee this year.

The uptick in public support is a promising sign for Republican candidates who have been bludgeoned over the Bush administration’s war policies. But no candidate stands to gain more than McCain.

“How could Democrats possibly hand McCain a better issue than to let him run on his record of advocating a robust U.S. presence in Iraq with all the positive battlefield news that is filtering out of that country?” asked Michael O’Hanlon, a national security adviser at the Brookings Institution who has been at the center of the Iraq debate since the war’s outset.

Leaving aside the fact that news just isn't "filtering out" of Iraq because the traditional media is essentially ignoring it; and that there is little "positive" news to report except that American troops are being killed at a slower rate than last year. You'd think it would be a clue that something's wrong with your thesis when you find Michael O'Hanlon advocating it.

In any case, the entire proposition depends upon a Pew survey that found "a marked improvement in perceptions of the situation in Iraq over the past year", with an equal number of Americans now saying that the war is going well as think it's going badly. The problem is, that poll is not credible. When it appeared late in February, I decided against commenting on it because the numbers so obviously were outliers.

The Pew numbers simply can't be reconciled with most major surveys. Gallup has been tracking attitudes toward the war regularly, and as the latest poll shows yet again, there's been very little change since last September in perceptions of the effectiveness of the "surge" (now revealed to be a semi-permanent escalation). Also, on the most basic question of policy, 59% of Americans want a timetable for either a rapid or gradual withdrawal - the same as in September.

The very same Pew survey also produced some funky results regarding the popularity of Obama, Clinton, and McCain, results that differed significantly from those of most other polls. For example, in head-to-head matchups against McCain Pew had Clinton doing as well as Obama. The logical conclusion to draw was that the Pew survey was a clunker. All pollsters produce a lemon every once in a while, it's no big deal.

So it's a myth promulgated by hawks that the public is being won over to favor a prolonged occupation. The only reason that the O'Hanlons and Kuhns can give rein to their fantasies is that the American media have all but given up reporting on the quagmire. But unless sweetness and light breaks out between Basra and Kirkuk sometime before October, even while magical ponies prance and whinny in the White House Rose Garden, the situation will remain dismal. The American public made up its mind long ago. In fact, it is more cynical then ever about Iraq.

Cynicism toward the government has swelled. By 53%-42%, the widest margin ever, those polled said the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the prime justification given for going to war.

Cheerleaders for war will need more than hollow rhetoric and cherrypicked statistics to convince us to embrace the quagmire. The issue is going to be toxic to McCain's campaign.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

  Bush guts Advisory Board's oversight of illegal intelligence activities

On Friday afternoon the White House posted without fanfare a new Executive Order that revamps an important though little known intelligence board. There are a few minor changes, but the most radical revision appears to be that the board has now been stripped of nearly all its powers to investigate and check illegal intelligence activities. It's difficult to see what legitimate reasons there could have been for gutting the oversight activities of the board in this way, and the WH has not explained the changes.

And perhaps not coincidentally, the board has been renamed. Under the older Executive Order from 1993, it was called the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). Now it has been renamed the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), suggesting perhaps that the Bush administration had domestic intelligence activities in mind while making these revisions.

PFIAB is tasked with a range of things, but particularly with assessing "the quality, quantity, and adequacy of intelligence collection, of analysis and estimates, and of counterintelligence and other intelligence activities"; and with reviewing the performance of intelligence agencies. Board members are meant to bring an independent point of view to bear on intelligence activities; they cannot be employees of the federal government. This excellent post from 2006 by georgia10 has essential background on the board.

PFIAB members get unprecedented access to our nation's most closely gaurded secrets. They have, according to Salon, "access to intelligence that is unavailable to most members of Congress. They are privy to intelligence from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the military intelligence agencies and others." ...

The historical role of the PFIAB cannot be underscored enough. It has the ability to look into the most controversial aspects of our intelligence. For example, after the flurry of controversy about the 16 words in Bush's SOTU speech, it was the PFIAB that was the first government body to conclude the claim was "questionable"--though it did blame the insertion on the lack of "an organized system at the White House to vet intelligence."

Georgia also highlighted how, over the course of his presidency, Bush had stacked the PFIAB increasingly with cronies and utter hacks - many of whom were in no way capable of assessing intelligence activities or reviewing agencies. In other words, Bush clearly had little interest in using the Board as intended, to serve as an independent check upon the country's intelligence services.

And now Bush has remade PFIAB/PIAB in such a way as to take away the very means the Board used to possess to check out-of-control intelligence activities.

There is a powerful and critical standing committee within PFIAB, the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB). It was created in 1976 after the exposure of widespread intelligence abuses. IOB's purpose was to act as a check upon illegal intelligence activities. The most radical changes in the new Executive Order concern the IOB, which Bush has stripped of important powers and duties.

Here from the 1993 Executive Order are the relevant powers and duties of the IOB, which were in effect until Friday. I have put in bold several notable clauses.

Sec. 2.2. The Iob shall:

(a) prepare for the President reports of intelligence activities that the Iob believes may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive;

(b) forward to the Attorney General reports received concerning intelligence activities that the Iob believes may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive;

(c) review the internal guidelines of each agency within the Intelligence Community that concern the lawfulness of intelligence activities;

(d) review the practices and procedures of the Inspectors General and General Counsel of the Intelligence Community for discovering and reporting intelligence activities that may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive; and

(e) conduct such investigations as the Iob deems necessary to carry out its functions under this order.

Now compare the IOB's powers and duties under Bush's new Executive Order. You'll note that nearly all the foregoing powers and duties are gone, and with them, any real chance of independence of action.

Sec. 6. Functions of the IOB. Consistent with the policy set forth in section 1 of this order, the IOB shall:

(a) issue criteria on the thresholds for reporting matters to the IOB, to the extent consistent with section 1.7(d) of Executive Order 12333 or the corresponding provision of any successor order;

(b) inform the President of intelligence activities that the IOB believes:

(i)(A) may be unlawful or contrary to Executive Order or presidential directive; and

(B) are not being adequately addressed by the Attorney General, the DNI, or the head of the department concerned; or

(ii) should be immediately reported to the President.

(c) review and assess the effectiveness, efficiency, and sufficiency of the processes by which the DNI and the heads of departments concerned perform their respective functions under this order and report thereon as necessary, together with any recommendations, to the President and, as appropriate, the DNI and the head of the department concerned;

(d) receive and review information submitted by the DNI under subsection 7(c) of this order and make recommendations thereon, including for any needed corrective action, with respect to such information, and the intelligence activities to which the information relates, as necessary, but not less than twice each year, to the President, the DNI, and the head of the department concerned; and

(e) conduct, or request that the DNI or the head of the department concerned, as appropriate, carry out and report to the IOB the results of, investigations of intelligence activities that the IOB determines are necessary to enable the IOB to carry out its functions under this order.

The newly revised IOB is much more passive. Gone is the duty to review agency guidelines regarding illegal intelligence activities. Gone is the duty to hold accountable the intelligence watchdog offices, such as inspectors general, who are supposed to serve as a bulwark against illegal activities.

Gone is the duty ("shall...forward") to take illegal activities directly to the Attorney General. That was a core function of the IOB originally. As before, the IOB can still report any illegality to the president - who may however have had a hand in the law-breaking. Indeed the IOB is discouraged from doing even that much if the lawlessness already seems to be getting "addressed" by some agency head or the DNI. The new rules seem to envisage at least in some cases that illegal activities identified by IOB can be remedied with bureaucratic fixes without notifying the Justice Department.

Gone too, for the most part, are independent investigations. What's left is mainly the duty to review and respond to the reports sent back to IOB by the DNI, who now acts as an intermediary for any complaints that IOB may make about illegal intelligence activities. IOB's recommendations have to be laundered through the DNI henceforth. As described in section 7 of the new Executive Order, the DNI may act upon IOB's recommendations to correct illegal activities, or even report the activities to the Attorney General, as appropriate. But the IOB is essentially dependent upon the DNI. It cannot effect any change or expose any crimes against the wishes of the DNI (or President).

As the AP report emphasizes, Bush's Executive Order transfers many of IOB's former powers and responsibilities directly to the DNI.

A new White House executive order splits the watchdog duties of the Intelligence Oversight Board, a five-member panel of private citizens, with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell. Rather than intelligence agencies reporting their activities to the board for review, they will now report them to McConnell...

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, an advocacy group, said the move appears to dilute the independent board's investigatory powers in favor of a member of the president's administration.

"It makes the new board subordinate to the (national intelligence director) in a way that the old board was not subordinate to the director of central intelligence," he said.

In short, the IOB has been hollowed out and lost any real ability to act independently to uncover, thwart, expose, or punish illegal intelligence activities.

To return, then, to the name change. It could be that the hollowing out of the IOB's powers is related to the fact that the PFIAB, now PIAB, has lost the term "Foreign" in its name. The Bush administration is engaged in an epic struggle with Congress to keep its illegal domestic intelligence activities secret. That is what the battle over the FISA bill is all about. The last thing Bush, Cheney, and Addington would wish to do would be to leave the IOB in a position to start investigating or exposing that illegality - now, or in a future administration.

It's worth noting that an anonymous WH official has offered to the Associated Press a preposterous explanation for the new Executive Order. It is, the official claims, all about forcing the intelligence agencies to work with DNI Mike McConnell. And how does that explain the stripping away of IOB's duty to report illegal activities directly to the Attorney General? No, the WH spin is meant to distract from, rather than explain, that very fact.

This is yet another major intelligence reform of the post-Nixon era that the Bush administration has undermined.

crossposted from Daily Kos

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  What our beliefs reveal

My friend Milo told me of a strange thing he heard on le Show. A little digging turned up this news account from Utah about a company named Prosper Inc.:

A supervisor at a motivational coaching business in Provo is accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe...

["Team" leader Joshua] Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told [employee Chad] Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill...Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs.

Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgens' mouth and nostrils - like the interrogation strategy known as "waterboarding" - and told the team members to hold Hudgens down as he struggled...

"At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded"...

This is ironic almost beyond belief. A motivational coaching business using waterboarding to motivate its own employees. Its motto:

"We strive to make the road to personal achievement meaningful, rewarding, and enjoyable."

It turns out that Milo and I weren't the only people interested in this story. Several bloggers had already commented on the report. What's most striking about all the commentary I've seen is that everybody assumes that the waterboarding story is accurate. Think of that.

At almost any time in the past I'd have said that, if somebody gave me a story about a boss waterboarding his employee for any reason, my assumption would have to be that it was a joke. And yet here we are, inhabiting a present in which many of us accept that an employer might well do such a thing. And it's not as if the news report doesn't give us some grounds for skepticism. For one thing, the allegation is the basis for a civil suit by this former employee. And for another, the company claims it investigated the charge.

Prosper president Dave Ellis responded that the allegations amount to "sensationalized" versions of events that have gone uncorroborated by Hudgens' former coworkers. "They just roll their eyes and say, 'This is ridiculous . . ."

So what does our belief in this story of casual waterboarding say about us and about American society under George W. Bush's Torture Inc.?

As for Dave Ellis' Prosper Inc., don't shed any tears for the outfit. You see, they do seem to employ waterboarding after all. It's just that the torture is voluntary, as it turns out.

Ellis said the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. Socrates responds by plunging the student's head underwater and telling him he will learn once his desire for knowledge is as great as his desire to breathe.

However, Ellis said Christopherson explained the exercise before Hudgens volunteered, no one held Hudgens down and Hudgens was free to get up if he was uncomfortable. "It was meant to be a team-building exercise," Ellis said. "Everybody was . . . involved and enthusiastic."

So it's the Socratic method of waterboarding, something every American should be able to get enthusiastic about.

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