Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An Omen?

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania (1759)

It was reported that around 9:30 am on Monday Nov 28, a basketball sided chunk of marble fell from the façade over the entrance to the Supreme Court. Thankfully no one was injured in the incident.

Could this be a sign? That broken piece of façade is an omen. It is the embodiment of the damage being wrought by daily assaults on our liberties. Democracy as we know it is crumbling. The Supreme Court is slowly becoming a broken shell of its former self. This place once stood for justice. It was the last line of defense of our liberties, a place were our rights and privileges as citizens of this great land were upheld.

Now, it is slowly becoming little more then a blank check issuer for an unrestrained executive branch. We have given up so much in the name of security and safety but at what cost?

Democracy is crumbling. Let us hope it is not too late to save it.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Padilla Indictment

Well “Dirty Bomber” suspect, Jose Padilla, has finally been indicted by a grand jury. Only we can no longer refer to him as “dirty bomber”. See that’s because the government didn’t indict him for allegedly plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” or plotting to blow up apartment buildings. No, they indicted him for conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people OVERSEAS!!!

Now how can this be you ask? Weren’t we told that the reason that Padilla posed such a dangerous threat was because he was plotting attacks in the US? Weren’t those the reasons the government said they had the authority to strip Padilla of his constitutional rights and hold him indefinitely as an “enemy combatant”?

The only reason I can see for this reversal is that the government knows they had no case. They knew that as long as they didn’t have to prove their case in court, they could make whatever public allegations they could to make Padilla seem like such a threat that they could subvert the Constitution. That’s why the government kept appealing to avoid bringing the case before the courts. (It’s recently come out that another reason Padilla wasn’t charged with the “dirty bomb” plot is because the allegations came from two top Al-Qaeda leaders. Both men may have been subjected to harsh questioning, which could open up claims by defense lawyers that the testimonies were the result of torture. Their testimony might also reveal classified information about the secret CIA detention facilities where the men are thought to be held.) When finally faced with a showdown, the government chose to avoid the confrontation.

The indictments were handed down just two days before the deadline for the government to file legal briefs with the Supreme Court as to why they should be allowed to continue to keep Padilla in indefinite detention without his constitutional rights. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the case before the court is now "moot." Unresolved is more like it.

Padilla’s lawyers do not intend to drop their request that the case be heard by the Supreme Court. They want Padilla’s status clarified. The government has only said he is no longer being held in custody as an “enemy combatant”. But his lawyers claim that that answer, in essence, gives them authority to continue to hold Padilla regardless of the outcome of his trial. The essential question has yet to be answered: Does the President have the authority to detain American citizens indefinitely without charge or trial?

By avoiding having that answer clearly defined by the Supreme Court, the Bush administration has retained the power to repeat what it has done to Padilla to any American citizen.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Bush and Al-Jazeera

Bush philosophy: “If you don’t like what others have to say about you…bomb them!”

The Daily Mirror, a British newspaper reported the other day that it had come into possession of a “Top Secret” memo from Downing Street. The memo is said to be a five-page transcript of an April 16, 2004 meeting between President Bush and PM Tony Blair. In it, it claims that President Bush seriously considered bombing the headquarters of Qatar-based Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera. Mr. Blair apparently was able to talk Bush out of that dangerously unwise course of action.

Realize this should come as no surprise given that at the time, US forces were conducting the now famous assault on Falluja. Al-Jazeera correspondents were broadcasting from inside the city. It was blatantly obvious that the Bush administration was upset with the Arab station for focusing on the deaths of hundreds of people, some of them civilians. VP Cheney and Sec Def Rumsfeld viciously criticized the station’s reporting and accused it of aiding the insurgency.

A source cited in the Mirror article said that Bush was only joking about bombing Al-Jazeera while another source claims that Bush was deadly serious. The article also states that the memo seems to cast new doubts on whether previous attacks on Al-Jazeera in both Afghanistan and Iraq by US forces were indeed accidental. This memo, if true, would seem to illustrate a pattern of suppression of the media, or at least those that do not show the Bush administration in a favorable light.

Makes you wonder when Dubya will decide to start bombing TV stations in this country for no longer presenting the Bush version of reality in Iraq and elsewhere.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Withdrawal Symptoms

The issue of withdrawal has been major news lately. It got a surprising boost when normally hawkish Rep. John Murtha said at a press conference that the US military had done all it can in Iraq and should be redeployed. He even had drawn up a resolution calling for the redeployment of US troops “at the earliest practicable time”.

The GOP, in an attempt to make it seem that the Democrats were in favor of the “cut and run” approach to the Iraq war, brought their own version of the ‘Murtha amendment’ before the House. This was obviously a political stunt. It in no way reflected the careful and well thought out wording of the Murtha proposal. It didn’t even look like a typical resolution. It stated that it was the sense of the House that the deployment of US forces in Iraq be terminated immediately, completely different from the “earliest practicable time” stated in the Murtha version. Of course this was done on purpose. The wording of the resolution was designed to put Democrats in an awkward position. Either they support a war that has lost support among Americans or support “cut and run”, making them seem like a defeatist party for advocating that stance. There was a heated debate on the House floor, at which point junior member Rep. Jean Schmidt even referred to Rep. Murtha as a coward for calling for withdrawal. The Democrats were not fooled. Almost all voted to reject the measure.

Now the GOP might think they are legitimate in calling the Dems cowards for advocating withdrawal but realize the Dems are merely reflecting the majority. Recent polls show that more and more Americans are in favor of full or partial withdrawal. And yet the majority of the GOP still favors Bush’s “stay the course”, though even that base is beginning to crumble as well.

I think one reason that Bush and the GOP are lashing out at Democrats is because they have been called to account. By bringing up the withdrawal issue, the Democrats are presenting a strategy for Iraq. This is something that Bush has failed to do other then providing nice sound bites like “stay the course”, “continue the fight”, and “accept nothing else then total victory”. The Democrats have shown that the Bush administration seems to lack a clear strategy for winning in Iraq.

And now it’s not just the Democrats and Americans who are in favor of withdrawal. Iraqi leaders are now calling for a timely withdrawal of US troops from the country (of course this isn’t the first time they have made calls for our departure, and I doubt our government will listen to them this time either). The leaders also said that Iraqi’s have a “legitimate right” to resistance, though they condemned acts of terrorism committed against civilians.

Now some of you might be saying, “Wait a minute, are they condoning the killing of our soldiers? Aren’t these the people we liberated??” But realize, no matter how you try to sugar coat it, at this point our forces in Iraq are an occupation force. There should be a clear distinction drawn between insurgents and terrorists, something Bush and company fail to do on a daily basis. The Iraqi’s have a right to resist occupation, even through armed combat. But Bush keeps implying that resistance is terrorism. The Iraqi leaders were obviously trying to appease the Sunni’s who make up the bulk of the insurgency by saying their right to resist is legitimate.

Iraqi’s are afraid that are seeing a permanent occupation of their country, and this is not without merit. Although Bush has said the US does not plan to stay in Iraq indefinitely, the construction of four permanent mega-bases seems to belie those claims.

Bush has said that even talking about withdrawal emboldens the insurgency. It makes them think they can just wait us out. But what Bush doesn’t realize is that of course they can wait us out, THEY LIVE THERE. It’s not like we are expelling a foreign invader, for the most part we are fighting Iraqi’s in their own backyard.

It’s dangerously circular logic. They fight us because they want us to leave, because they think we are permanently occupying their country. We say we can only leave when they stop fighting us. The only thing that will get them to stop fighting us to leave is to leave but we won’t leave until they stop fighting us to leave. My head hurts.

And what does Bush mean by “total victory”? That is something the Bush administration has never clearly defined. A possible reason for this: the administration doesn’t know what it is doing. Staying the course only matters when you know what the course is.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Torture, Black Sites, and Bush Oh My!

Well it would seem we have picked up some nasty habits from that disposed dictator Saddam Hussein…


The issue of torture has dominated the national debate as of late. It was rekindled when Sen. John McCain (a Vietnam veteran who was tortured as a POW) proposed an amendment to a Defense Appropriations Bill that would prohibit the “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of anyone held in US custody". The amendment passed in the Senate with a vote of 90-9. McCain said that the amendment was a response from the Congress to the scandal at Abu Ghraib and reports of torture elsewhere by US forces.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it includes the provision in its current form. Strange that Bush has threatened to use his veto authority for this first time in his presidency to nix a bill that bans torture of detainees. Spokesmen for Bush has said that the amendment would tie the President’s hands in the war on terror. Vice President Cheney has been lobbying for an exemption for the CIA to the McCain amendment.

“Black Sites”

A Washington Post story has reported that the CIA has been running secret detention and interrogation facilities, called “black sites”, throughout Eastern Europe and other unnamed countries. The revelation of these sites puts the issue of torture in a whole new context. Because these sites are classified, it puts them beyond the scrutiny of international organizations such as the Red Cross or Human Rights Watch. These sites also seem to explain why Cheney has been pressing for exemption of CIA to the torture ban (this might also be an indicator of what is actually going on at these sites).

Senator Bill Frist has called for an investigation...of who leaked the information. He isn’t worried about what may be going on at these “black sites”.

We Do Not Torture

President Bush, while visiting Panama this week, spoke about the torture issue:
Q. Mr. President, there has been a bit of an international outcry over the reports of secret US prisons in Europe for terrorism suspects. Will you let the Red Cross have access to them? And do you agree with Vice President Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture?

Bush: Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. The executive branch has the obligation to protect the American people: the legislative branch has the obligation to protect the American people. And we are aggressively doing that. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture. [emphasis added]

Notice that Bush first had to remind us that we are at war (as if we somehow forget since the last time the Bush administration reminded us). Also notice that he never actually answered the question of whether he agreed with VP Cheney on a CIA exemption. He spoke about a shadowy enemy that is out to get us, trying to invoke fear. This is Bush’s mainstay; scare the crap out of people so they are less likely to object to the fact that the US does indeed commit torture.

One of the approved "enhanced interrogation techniques" is called “waterboarding”. Apparently this involves strapping the subject to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is then wrapped over the subject's face and water poured over him. All this is done to simulate drowning and make the subject believe his death is imminent. But while this technique often gives immediate results, there is a downside.

Torture. Doesn't. Work.

The whole point of torture is to inflict pain or anguish, whether mental or physical. Inflict enough pain and the subject will tell you anything just to stop the pain. And this of course leads to unreliable intelligence. So as far as intelligence gathering, torture isn’t a very affective tool.

President Bush cited for the first time a memo that was written in 2002 by his lawyer at the time, Alberto Gonzales. The memo sets out to do two things: a) to define torture in the narrowest of terms, and b) to say that during times of war the President may do whatever he wishes to protect the American people.

By the way, Gonzales is now the Attorney General. Interesting that Bush would appoint the man whose legal strategy attempted make the President immune to prosecution for torture is now the man in charge of the prosecution. Can anyone say "conflict of interest"?

Update: National Security Advisor Steven Hadley had to clarify President Bush’s comment about how the US does not commit torture. He refused to rule out torture to thwart a major terrorist attack, arguing that in the war on terror could present a ‘difficult dilemma’ and the administration was duty bound to protect the American people. So really Bush should have said "We do no torture but if we did, it would be for your own good.”

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bush's Veterans Day Speech

Just who is rewriting history here?

At a Veterans Day speech on Nov. 11th, President Bush blasted Democrats for their scathing criticism of the Iraq war and their attempt to rewrite history. Below is a breakdown of some of the more misleading statements Bush made during the speech.
Bush: When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support.

Well this isn’t actually true. Congress never authorized the removal of Saddam. The resolution approved by the House and Senate in Oct 2002 only gave Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq if he deemed it necessary. The point of the resolution was disarmament, not regime change, as event by the condition that military action would only be used if diplomatic efforts through the UN failed. So is Bush saying he had already made up his mind for regime change by Oct 2002, despite his administration’s continued claims of willingness to work with the UN to disarm Iraq? At no time before the March 2003 invasion did Bush seek approval from Congress to remove Saddam.
Bush: While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.

When was the last time we heard Bush discuss the issue of how this war began, let alone the fact that the rationales for the war have changed more often then a teenager changes outfits in preparation for a big date?

Realize too that Bush is wagging a finger at the Democrats for supposedly doing the same thing he is guilty of doing: rewriting history. Several months after the invasion in 2003, Bush began making claims that Saddam forced his hand by not allowing UN inspectors into Iraq. It is a documented fact that inspectors entered the country in Nov 2002 and remained there until they were forced out by the Bush administration in advance of US troops.

Later in the speech, Bush seemed to contradict the legitimacy of criticism.
Bush: These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough.

This is a key strategy the Bush administration has long used to attack his critics. He accuses them of not supporting the troops by criticizing his policies. It's the "you're either us, or with the terrorists" mentality. Anyone to disagrees with is policies is giving aid to the enemy. Though I would say launching a war based on false pretenses has given more aid to the enemy then mere words of criticism ever could.
Bush: Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.

Now it might be true that there was no pressure (which I seriously doubt is entirely true) placed on the intelligence community to come up with intelligence that made the case for war. But Bush also fails to point out that the investigation doesn’t completely exonerate him of any wrongdoing. The following is from a Washington Post article about that Senate investigation:
… the only committee investigating the matter in Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not yet done its inquiry into whether officials mischaracterized intelligence by omitting caveats and dissenting opinions. And Judge Laurence H. Silberman, chairman of Bush's commission on weapons of mass destruction, said in releasing his report on March 31, 2005: 'Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.

This may also be an issue of semantics. While Bush and company might not be guilty of ‘manipulating’ intelligence, they may be guilty of ‘mischaracterizing’ that intelligence. More on this later.
Bush: ...And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security." That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate--who had access to the same intelligence--voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.

This portion has more of a campaign speech feel to it doesn’t it? Bush even mentions when quoting John Kerry that the point of the resolution was disarmament. He also talked about Congress having access to the same intelligence he did. Why do I doubt that?

First, it is ridiculous to even suggest that Congress has the same access to the raw intelligence data that the President has, simply from a security clearance standpoint. And any intelligence that is presented to Congress is usually complied by the CIA in what is known as a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). I am assuming that Bush was referring to the Oct 2002 NIE. But there are several reasons why I think this intelligence is at the very least “flawed”.

For one thing, while most NIE’s take some six months to complete, the 2002 NIE was completed in just two weeks. The previous NIE of December 2001 concluded that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programs. This assessment had remained unchanged for three years. But of course that assessment didn’t sit well with the agenda Bush and company had for Iraq, so they began making claims as early as Jan 2002 and then compiled a quickie NIE to back up their claims. And because the intelligence community was aware that the administration didn't like the views expressed in the previous NIE, this lead to a so called "group think" mentality, everyone assuming that Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program.

The 90 page, classified NIE was presented to Congress at 10 pm the night before Senate hearings were to begin. But the classified document was under tight, on site security. No Senators were allowed to take a copy for review nor were they allowed to take notes on what they read in the classified version. I can imagine the scene: the lone document is placed on a podium, surrounded by blurry Secret Service agents. It is not to be touched, except by an official page turner. Senators pockets would searched in ensure no notes could be taken.

But of course Senators were allowed to take for review what was claimed to be an unclassified summary of the full report, a so called “white paper” version. This 25 page document was little more then a Pro-War propaganda brochure. It was completely misleading. All dissentions, included in the full version, were removed as were qualifiers. It even added language that “hyped” the threat. When Senators began calling for the full version to be declassified, their calls were rebuffed. And because the document was classified, they could not use specifics to support their opposition to the war without revealing classified information. (A good example of this was the dissention over the intended use of aluminum tubes. The State and Energy departments were questionable of the assertions that Iraq was buying aluminum tubes that were only suitable for centrifuges to enrich uranium. The “white paper” version did not include this disagreement.)

In addition, much of the intelligence was not verified by a reliable source on the ground. The administration relied heavily on assertions made by Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had good reason to see Saddam removed from power.

There is also the possibility that Bush willfully made statements that weren’t supported by the intelligence. The Oct 2002 NIE stated that Saddam had an active biological research and development program. But Bush publicly claimed that Iraq possessed “stockpiles” of biological weapons. There is a big difference between an R&D program and stockpiles of weapons, neither of which it turned out existed. This may be why Bush can claim they did not manipulate the intelligence; they merely mischaracterized the threat posed by Saddam.

This speech was yet another disrespectful misuse of our military by President Bush as a political backdrop. Rather then use the speech to honor our nation’s veterans; he used it as a political soapbox from which to cry foul. Don’t believe me that this was just a political stunt? Bush shared the stage with a Humvee and a banner behind him read “Strategy for Victory”. Can we say photo op? Speakers blared “Hail to the Chief” to announce Bush’s arrival, a rarity for this president.

Still not convinced? Here is another sign this was a political event: Karl Rove crawled out from under his rock to attend.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)