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Friday, February 29, 2008

For Obama, a Taste of What a Long Battle Would Hold

Barack Obama would face heavy attacks as the Democratic presidential nominee. He spoke Thursday at a rally in Austin, Tex.

WASHINGTON — When Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton goes after Senator Barack Obama these days, she presses him on the details of his health care plan, criticizes the wording of his campaign mailings and likens his promise of change to celestial choirs.

But if Mr. Obama becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, he is sure to face an onslaught from Republicans and their allies that will be very different in tone and intensity from what he has faced so far.

In the last few days alone, Senator John McCain has mocked a statement Mr. Obama made about Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Tennessee Republican Party, identifying him with his middle name as Barack Hussein Obama, suggested that his foreign policy would be shaped by people who are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

The Republican National Committee issued a statement on Wednesday invoking a questionnaire Mr. Obama filled out when running for Senate in 2004 to show that he once opposed cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

Without using Mr. Obama’s name, President Bush, at a White House news conference on Thursday, assailed his willingness to meet Cuba’s new leader, Raúl Castro, without preconditions, saying that to do so would grant “great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.”

For much of this year, Mr. Obama has been handled with relative care by Mrs. Clinton and, before they dropped out, the other Democratic candidates. They generally do not have huge policy differences with him, and they have been wary of making a particularly harsh attack that winds up in a Republican television advertisement this fall.

Yet the shifting tone offers a glimpse of the Republican playbook as the party adapts to the prospect that it will be running against Mr. Obama rather than Mrs. Clinton.

It is a reminder that should Mr. Obama win the nomination, he will be playing on a more treacherous political battleground as his opponents — scouring through his record of votes and statements and his experiences before he entered public life — look for ways to portray him as out of step with the nation’s values, challenge his appeal to independent voters and emphasize his lack of experience in foreign policy and national security.

Some of this will almost certainly take the shape of the Internet rumors and whispering campaigns that have popped up against Mr. Obama since he got into the race, like the false reports that he is Muslim. Others will no doubt come from the types of shadowy independent committees that have played a big role in campaigns in recent years.

But others will simply draw on Mr. Obama’s voting record and speeches, interviews and debate appearances. Mr. McCain’s aides said their first line of attack would be to portray him as a liberal, and they have already begun pointing to a rating in The National Journal, based on his votes, of Mr. Obama as the most liberal member of the Senate.

Though Mr. McCain has vowed repeatedly to wage a tough if respectful campaign — he chastised a conservative talk radio host this week for disparaging Mr. Obama and invoking his middle name — his aides have left no doubt that they will draw sharp distinctions with him on issues that Mrs. Clinton has never been able to use. Foremost among them is Iraq.

“Her fundamental problem is, in a Democratic primary, she can’t make an issue contrast against him,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain. “On the Republican side, we’ll have a very significant issue contrast against him. When you look at issues — taxes, spending, judges, health care and national security — there is a divide as deep and wide on those issues as the Grand Canyon.”

Mr. Obama’s record is not as long as Mrs. Clinton’s, or as potentially rich, for an opponent looking for damaging votes or quotes. But there is still plenty to work with. Some cases are simple let’s-go-to-the-video moments, like Mr. Obama’s statements that he would support giving drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens or would support raising taxes to shore up Social Security, lines of attacks that Republicans are already employing.

Others — like a suggestion that Mr. Obama opposed the USA Patriot Act or supported a ban on handguns — might be subject to dispute by Mr. Obama, who would argue they were yanked out of context or did not take into account the subtleties of shaping legislation. (Nuance is usually a weak defense in political campaigns.)

Should Mr. Obama win the nomination, his candidacy could well be a test of whether these tactics still work or whether, used against a candidate who is trying to cultivate an appeal that transcends policy specifics, would fall flat this time. The fact that Mr. McCain felt compelled to rebuke some critics of Mr. Obama over the past few days suggests he might see a danger in attacking too aggressively.

But Mr. McCain clearly will not control all of the voices that could oppose Mr. Obama, from bloggers and talk radio hosts to other elected officials. Even parts of the Republican Party apparatus can transmit messages that the presidential nominee cannot or will not.

After the Republican National Committee rebuked the Tennessee Republican Party for a news release this week using Mr. Obama’s middle name and a picture showing him in a traditional African outfit — Mr. McCain also expressed his disapproval — the state party removed the middle name and the picture.

But for at least some period of time, it left the text of the release on its Web site, seeking to link Mr. Obama to the views of some of his most controversial supporters, including Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said tactics used effectively against Senator John Kerry in 2004 and Vice President Al Gore in 2000 would not work against Mr. Obama.

“They will try to rerun old races and battles and divide along traditional lines,” Mr. Axelrod said. “I think the country is eager for something else. And I think the country is not going to be so easily distracted. We are prepared to deal with whatever they offer.”

“I understand very, very well how facts can be manipulated,” he said. “I’m not going to get into specifics, but I know his record well, we know his record well, and we understand the areas that they might try to exploit. But I also am very, very confident that we can parry those kind of tactics effectively and show the same appeal with independent voters and some Republican voters that he has in Illinois.”

Mrs. Clinton has been arguing for months that she would be the stronger opponent against the Republicans than Mr. Obama because her record is already well known and his is not. This is part of the case Mrs. Clinton has been making to Democratic superdelegates in the final stand of the campaign.

“He regularly goes out there and says he’s the person who can beat John McCain,” said Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist. “But the truth is, if he is ever in a general election, a lot of positions he took in 2003 and 2004 will come back to haunt him in a big way and a lot of the vetting that didn’t happen will happen. The independent and Republican support that he has had will evaporate really quickly.”

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"The Daily Show" Reports From "Anti-Hillary HQ" To Explain Press Bias

Last night on "The Daily Show," Samantha Bee satirized the media's grand "plan" to destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. "We're at debate 20, and I think everyone here is a bit disappointed that it took Senator Clinton this long to catch on to our plan," Bee said, reporting from "the media's Anti-Hillary War Room in the Paula Jones Conference Center."

Bee explained to Stewart that Clinton is not being paranoid and that the press is, in fact, "out to get her," referring to two moments from Tuesday night's debate — one in which they accidentally cut to video of Clinton when they introduced it as an unflattering clip of Obama, the other when moderator Brian Williams did not let Clinton speak after Obama, insisting the need to go to commercial and explaining, "Television doesn't stop."


The Dean Legacy

On November 7, 2006, all the top Democrats graced the stage of the Hyatt Regency ballroom in Washington for a big election-night victory party. All of them, that is, except Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The party leadership had accused Dean of spending too much money on rebuilding moribund parties in red states and not enough on key Congressional races where Democratic pickups could strengthen their narrow majority. The results that night, as Democrats recaptured Congress, seemed to settle the argument in Dean's favor. But key Democrats, including Representative Rahm Emanuel, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, weren't satisfied, and Dean opted to stay away from the celebration, doing TV interviews instead. A week later, Democratic strategist James Carville, another prominent Clintonite, labeled the DNC leadership "Rumsfeldian in its competence," and called on Dean to resign. He floated the name of Harold Ford Jr., now chair of the right-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, as a replacement. There was rampant speculation inside the Beltway that Carville wasn't offering an unsolicited opinion but rather carrying water for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

A few months earlier, The New Republic had reported that Clinton's camp was "laying the groundwork to circumvent the DNC in the event that Clinton wins the nomination." This shadow DNC had a number of integral parts: adviser Harold Ickes would develop state-of-the-art technology to help Clinton reach prospective voters; EMILY's List and Clinton's allies in organized labor would launch an unprecedented effort to turn out supporters, especially women voters; former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe would raise untold sums from wealthy donors and the business community; and communications honcho Howard Wolfson would direct an unrelenting war room. Ever since 1992 the Clintons had used the DNC as an outpost for raising money from big donors, and funding candidates had taken precedence over nurturing progressive organizers. That model would continue into '08. Dean could remain at the DNC as a figurehead but only if he stayed in line.

And then the effort to marginalize Dean collapsed. Partly it's because the party's Congressional takeover--and a subsequent study by Harvard's Elaine Kamarck documenting Dean's contributions toward that end--eventually silenced the Carville-ites. Partly it's because Barack Obama forced the Clintons to devote all their resources to fending off his insurgent candidacy. But another reason the DNC-in-exile never got off the ground was Dean himself. Dean is no longer a marginalized figure, the butt of "Dean scream" jokes, but a man with a powerful constituency in regions where his fifty-state strategy has energized aging, ailing or previously nonexistent state parties. His support to these parties has not only strengthened them but has created an independent power base for Dean himself.

Dean has remained fastidiously neutral and low-key in this presidential cycle. Yet a number of his top supporters believe the Clinton-Obama contest has become a referendum on the kind of grassroots party building and citizen empowerment Dean pioneered as a presidential candidate and continued as DNC chair. On that issue most Deaniacs, not surprisingly, side with Obama. "Ever since the TV era began in 1960, every single presidential campaign in America has been top-down," says Joe Trippi, Dean's '04 campaign guru and an adviser to John Edwards before he dropped out of the race. "Only two have been bottom-up. One was Dean. The other is Obama."

The race for the Democratic nomination is a window into how the candidates view the future of the party, which is being shaped in large part by Dean's efforts. Are Clinton and Obama similarly committed to Dean's fifty-state strategy? How much faith would each, as the Democratic nominee, put in the party's grassroots? In the Internet era, the party is less about elder statesmen sitting in Washington than millions of people across the country organizing locally around issues and candidates. Dean and Obama have understood how the party is changing--and have embraced it. Clinton, thus far, has not.

Howard Dean and Bill Clinton were both pragmatic, moderate governors of rural states who shared an affinity for balanced budgets and free trade. But ever since Dean became a presidential candidate, his relationship with the Clintons has been rocky. His campaign was a striking repudiation of Clintonian centrism, which had urged Democrats to support the Iraq War and throw piles of money at TV ads in a few key swing states every two to four years rather than systematically invest in long-term party building, from the local level up. The Clintons even urged their old friend Gen. Wesley Clark to run against Dean. When Dean entered the race for DNC chair in January 2005, Bill Clinton asked McAuliffe to consider staying on. When he declined, Governors Bill Richardson and Ed Rendell were floated as possible replacements. In the end, the Clintons remained officially neutral, and Ickes, a key Clinton ambassador to the party's liberal wing, endorsed Dean for chair, giving his candidacy a huge boost. But the brief honeymoon didn't hold.

In his final years as DNC chair, McAuliffe had developed a list of Democratic donors and fundraisers. When Dean came in, state party chairs, who found McAuliffe's list ill suited to their needs, asked Dean to build a national voter database. He hired new consultants and spent $10 million expanding the voter file. The move angered McAuliffe, and Ickes launched his own database, which was widely viewed as a buttress to Clinton's presidential campaign and a challenge to Dean. "It's unclear what the DNC is doing," Ickes told the Washington Post in March 2006. The fight was more technical than ideological, yet it represented a public signal of "no confidence" in the DNC by the party's Beltway establishment, the Post reported.

Tensions have cooled since then, and both Clintons have voiced their support for Dean's fifty-state strategy. Yet in a larger sense, Hillary's candidacy represents the polar opposite of what Dean built as a candidate and party chair: her campaign is dominated by an inner circle of top strategists, with little room for grassroots input; it hasn't adapted well to new Internet tools like Facebook and MySpace; it tends to raise big contributions from a small group of high rollers rather than from large numbers of small donors; and it is less inclined to expand the base of the party.

On a number of occasions during this cycle, the Clinton campaign has questioned the DNC's authority. The first split came during the Nevada caucuses, when Clinton allies challenged the DNC over the validity of caucus sites that they thought favored Obama. The courts ruled in the DNC's favor, but the showdown in Nevada looked like small potatoes compared with the growing debate over whether to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates. The Clinton campaign's PR blitz in favor of seating them was a clear affront to Dean's leadership. "The DNC rule is the rule, and it's not going to change just because Clinton says we're going to change it," says one Dean confidant.

The DNC has played for time, urging the states to hold new contests or appeal to the DNC's credentials committee in June. "I have to be the referee, and my job is to bring people together at the end, because we cannot have a divided convention," Dean told The Nation. In an earlier interview, he'd said that if there's no nominee by April, he's prepared to get the two candidates in a room together and "work out what's best for the country." Dean, like many Democrats, is hoping such an arrangement won't be necessary.

In contrast to Clinton's campaign, Obama's--with its hundreds of thousands of small donors, Internet buzz and red-state appeal--reflects to a great extent the realization of Dean's ideals. Dean's argument for how to rebuild and expand the party base for the long term found its perfect short-term exponent in Obama, whose appeal to independents and liberal Republicans and talk of "unity" is planting Democratic roots in unfamiliar places. "The Obama for President campaign is what all of us hoped Dean for President would become," says Steve McMahon, a former top Dean strategist who's stayed neutral in '08. "Obama is Dean 2.0, dramatically updated to reflect the emergence of the grassroots."

Stylistically and rhetorically, the brash and rumpled Dean and the smooth and graceful Obama couldn't be more different. Yet the link between the two dates back to '04, when the offshoot of Dean's presidential campaign, Democracy for America, supported Obama in the Illinois Senate race. Dean's advisers admit that Obama is a more inspirational and disciplined presidential candidate than was Dean, able to excite the Democratic base while bringing in new voters, energizing a new crop of organizers and expanding the electoral map. This is borne out by Obama's remarkable performance thus far in red states like Idaho, Alaska and Alabama--places where Dean has invested heavily. "From a progressive who wants to see Democrats compete in all fifty states, you'd have to give the nod to Obama," says Trippi.

In his sprint across the country before Super Tuesday, Obama wisely hit places where the party had barely existed years before. "They told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho," Obama told a raucous crowd of 14,000 in Boise. "I didn't believe them." On Super Tuesday Obama won fifteen of Idaho's eighteen delegates and virtually swept the Midwest and Mountain West.

Besides a desire to push the party away from a strictly swing-state mentality, Dean and Obama share a commitment to the nuts-and-bolts of grassroots organizing. On the stump Obama is quick to stress his roots as a community organizer and always thanks his precinct captains, who routinely introduce him at campaign events. "Change doesn't happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up," he now says in his stump speech. Obama's organizing has been greatly enhanced by new technologies like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace (Friendster had just arrived when Dean was running). "We pioneered it and Obama perfected it," Trippi says. Obama embraced elements of the new politics, hiring the co-founder of Facebook, for example; but other efforts came from the grassroots--just as with the Dean campaign--as supporters organized themselves online and on the ground. The net effect is Obama's large base of small donors, who are enthusiastic supporters he can tap again and again. Ninety percent of the $28 million he raised online in January, for example, came in donations of $100 or less. Obama has fused a tightknit group of advisers with a mass of ordinary people, creating what Trippi calls "command and control at the top while empowering the bottom to make a difference."

Trippi's book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is required reading in a class that Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, teaches at Northwestern University. If the Obama campaign naturally understood what Dean was trying to do, even though Dean's candidacy ultimately fizzled, the Clintons did not. "They looked at '04 and said, If Howard Dean lost, those tools must not have worked," Trippi says. He cites Clinton's unwillingness to compete all-out in red-state caucuses as a main reason her campaign is in such a predicament. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos dubbed Clinton's approach--and subsequent discounting of her losses in red America--the "insult 40 states" strategy. While the Obama campaign prepared for the long haul, Clinton poured most of her resources into a few key early states, expecting to have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday. "It's not a very long run," Clinton predicted in late December. "It'll be over by February 5."

Whoever wins the nomination would be well advised to keep Dean around through the general election. More important than the money he can raise is the consistency he represents, among the netroots and state party activists. "If the Clintons or anyone came in after winning the nomination and said, 'Thank you, Howard. You can go now,' it would be a very divisive and fractious fight," says one Dean adviser. "That's the last thing they'll need."

Because of the small number of Congressional battlegrounds in '06, strategists in DC like Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel could at least make a persuasive case against the fifty-state strategy. But this fall, because of the vastly expanded number of competitive races, they'll have a much tougher brief. With contested Senate races and statewide contests (redistricting happens in 2010 and '11) in addition to a presidential election, many more states will be in play, strengthening the logic of the fifty-state strategy. "The tone and temperature of this argument will be diminished compared to '06," says Joe Andrew, 1991-01 chair of the DNC and a Clinton supporter. "There will be enough money to go around."

The way the '08 race has played out has made believers out of past Dean critics, like Clinton war room veteran Paul Begala. "I'm not a big Howard Dean fan," Begala admits. "But a lot of good things that are happening in this campaign have happened because of Dean." Begala credits him with pushing Democrats to oppose the war in Iraq, cultivating young voters and small donors, and urging the party to compete across the map.

Tradition dictates that whoever wins the White House will install his or her own regime in the DNC. Dean says that if a Democrat wins in November, he does not want to hang around the building past 2009. Yet few in the party believe it's possible, or preferable, to go back to targeting a dozen swing states every two or four years. "You cannot lurch from one election to the next with no game plan," Dean says. "I do believe the Democratic President is going to want a permanent political operation, and I think we're going to leave a very strong one here." Dean says the state party chairs have already persuaded Obama and Clinton to commit to funding the fifty-state strategy, which at a cost of $4 million to $5 million a year is a tiny fraction of the $300 million budgeted by the DNC for '08. "The one thing they should not get rid of is the fifty-state strategy," says Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "We need to do more, not less."

Dean had the vision, but others will get or share the credit. It took an Obama to realize the potential of the Internet and grassroots organizing to transform politics. And it will take the commitment of future DNC chairs to the fifty-state strategy to continue building the party from the ground up. "You know the expression, to be a prophet without honor in your own land," says Steve Grossman, Dean's former campaign chair. "That's Howard Dean."

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Obama Says He's Quit Smoking

Barack Obama said he has successfully quit smoking cigarettes despite the pressures of a closely contested and lengthy presidential campaign.

"I've been chewing on this Nicorette, which tastes like you're chewing on ground pepper _ but it does help," the Democratic candidate said in an interview that aired Thursday on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

His wife, Michelle, had used his smoking as leverage when the two were discussing whether he should run for president. She would agree only if Obama agreed to give up smoking.

"I had been sneaking three cigarettes, four cigarettes a day for a while, and she said if you're going to do this you've got to stop _ precisely because the stress was going to increase, and it'll just get worse," Obama said. "So that's an example of my wife making me a better man once again."

The Illinois senator told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that dancing on her show had helped him win voters.

"I just want to say that we were kind of in a slump until I was dancing on the show," he joked, referring to his appearance on her show last fall. "My poll numbers skyrocketed after that. Everybody saw me bust a move on Ellen _ that's all it took."

On Monday, DeGeneres showed up by satellite at a fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton on the campus of George Washington University in the District of Columbia.

DeGeneres told Obama that she and many other voters find the two Democratic candidates appealing.

"I really like you. I really like Hillary. And I think a lot of people feel the same way," she said. "Why vote for you?"

Obama said he can unite the country.

"I think I have a better chance at getting Democrats and independents and Republicans to come together and put aside some partisan bickering that has been going on for a long time now that the Clintons were involved in," he said.

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Anti-marijuana laws need relaxation

The time has come to relax our laws on marijuana use and possession.

Admitting one's past use of marijuana is trendy in modern America. It's even a little presidential.

Barack Obama smoked his fair share of cannabis. John Kennedy, Howard Dean and John Kerry all owned up to the dirty deed as well.

But it's more than just politicians. According to a recent article in The New Yorker, 40 million American adults have used pot. That's 40 percent of adults.

Pot use frequents coming-of-age stories, and it's cute as long as you don't get caught.

But what happens when you do? You might as well run someone over with your car because the penalties are so steep.

A first offense for possession in Louisiana yields a $500 fine and/or up to six months in prison. A third time lands an offender in jail for up to 20 years.

University students also lose their financial aid from the state, just like they do for DWI offenses.

LSU Police Department busted seven people for marijuana this past week, and a pair of Miller Hall residents even got creative with their "weed box."

Four of the seven arrested by LSUPD were University students, and now because of a mistake, they will most likely lose their financial aid.

I don't see a pressing need to legalize marijuana, but I think tailoring the laws to reflect the gravity of the offense is due.

It seems awfully harsh for a mistake and a common one, at that.

Former marijuana users include talented people like Obama. Is someone of his caliber worth punishing with such tough laws?

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Amnesty International

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America Loves Peace? Odd, Since We're Always at War

We've been in conflict for about half the period between World War II and the present but consider ourselves a "peace-loving" nation.

Americans love to think that we're a peaceful people and that we fight wars only when we must.

Unfortunately, you can count in nanoseconds how long those assertions hold up when exposed to such insidious commie dirty tricks as the application of logic or the examination of empirical history.

Sure, any war can be spun as some necessity against some Very Bad Person, preferably of brown skin, slanted eyes and/or differing deity. Not only can any war be so spun, probably every war there ever was has been, at least since the days when governments had to start offering some justification or another for their little foreign adventures.

But pick your barometer -- any one will work -- and you'll quickly see who the militant folks on the planet really are. For America, it turns out -- gulp -- to be that bloated, frightened meth-addict staring back at us in the mirror, not some overseas evil emperor du jour.

For example, suppose you wanted to measure comparative national warlike tendencies by simply counting wars. Since World War II, the United States has messed around, in ways big and small, in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Lebanon, Grenada, Iraq, Panama, Colombia, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Afghanistan again, and Iraq again. No country in the world can begin to match this record in the last half-century. And I'm not even listing here the covert operations (almost everywhere), including the ones that toppled democratically elected governments (Iran, Guatemala, Chile, etc.), the long-term occupations of Latin American countries by the U.S. military, the gunboat diplomacy of the American Navy around the world, the aiding and abetting of other killers (Saddam invading Iran, for example, apartheid South Africa or the Israeli occupation of Palestine), the militarization of the oceans and of space, or the myriad other ways in which the United States leads the planet in aggressive tendencies. (For a whole century's worth of overseas fun -- not even counting the big stuff -- Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow is highly recommended reading.)

Who has China been invading lately? Russia? Fidel? Those perfidious (and perfumed) French? Heck, even Saddam couldn't touch this record for aggression, especially once you account for the fact that the U.S. government assisted his foreign soiree into Iran (complete with the chemical weapons, of course) and likely green-lighted the one into Kuwait as well. And let's even grant that one or two of those American adventures had some measure of altruism associated with them, as perhaps the Balkan or Somalian affairs might have (I'd like to know the full story before making that judgment). Isn't the sheer volume of them -- especially relative to the number of wars other countries have fought -- a bit problematic for maintaining the pretense of America's pacific intent? My conservative (in both senses of the word) list above goes to nearly 20. Isn't that a bit much for a peace-loving country?

But scratch that measure if you must (perhaps it cuts too close to the bone). Maybe we can detect America's dislike for war in another metric, say military spending. Oops. Turns out that's going to be a bit problematic, too. I guess it won't be a huge surprise to anybody that the United States spends more on "defense" than any other country in the world. But here's the truly scary part: The United States not only outspends every other country in the world on military goodies, it outspends ALL other countries of the world. Combined. That's right. Take all 190-plus countries out there and add together their defense budgets and you still won't equal America's alone. What's more, that doesn't even include the $100 billion or so that we're dropping each year in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the additional costs in veterans' (so-called) care, munitions replacement and economic losses we have been hemorrhaging for those wars, which will continue, for decades to come, estimated to run up toward 2 trillion bucks total. (Oh, and did I mention that one-sixth of our population doesn't have healthcare coverage? Never mind. I'm sure those are completely unrelated facts.) Anyhow, does that sound like a peace-loving country to you? And think about this for a second: How absolutely disastrous does your diplomacy have to get so that you need to be able to fight off every other country of the world, all at once?!

OK, OK, so that one didn't work out so well either. The good news is that at least we don't make the world an uglier place by continually inventing new and more vicious weaponry. Not us peace-loving Americans! You know, like atom bombs, napalm, bunker-busters, cluster bombs, neutron bombs, space lasers, phosphorous bombs and stuff like that! Who would build such things? What kind of depraved mind would harness so much of its scientific and industrial establishment to such ends? Who would … er … um … Hey, wait a minute! What do you mean that we invented and manufactured all those things?!?! I thought we were the peace-loving people! Meanwhile, can I interest you in some depleted uranium at a very, very attractive price?

OK, but we must be good neighbors, really, because we're always the ones who are pushing for all sorts of international treaties to limit war, weapons and the worst practices of nasty governments. You know, for example, how we signed on to the United Nations Charter (which we more or less also wrote) and its requirement that states may use militarized aggression only in the case of self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council to do so in a collective security operation. Hey, sometimes we even comply with it! Or maybe you prefer the treaties against land mines, child soldiers or the weaponization of space, which we're pretty much the only folks not signing? The "quaint" and "obsolete" Geneva Conventions against torture and war crimes? How about the International Criminal Court, which John Bolton led the Bush administration into singlehandedly trying to destroy? Hmmm … Wonder why they would have wanted to get rid of that? Gee, I thought genocide and war crimes were bad things! America is the world leader in supporting human rights and seeking peace. So, remember, if you hear someone tell you that we've been abdicating, avoiding, ignoring and destroying all these (and myriad other) treaties that seek to end or prevent war, it's just the liberal America-hating media elites telling lies again, because they want us to lose our wars. (And why would they want that? That's easy! So some other country can march in, take away their enormously profitable media franchises, steal their mansions and yachts, and then hang them for treason and pillaging, of course. Who wouldn't trade their current set-up for that? Trust me, these guys know a good thing when they see it.)

Alright, alright, so it turns out that none of these measures of warlike tendencies turned out so very well. American is winning these contests about as often as is Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. And with about as much grace, too. But at least the rest of the world thinks of us as nice, peaceful neighbors, right? Well, actually, they sometimes do! Just not now. And just not when we're, uh, engaged in most of our wars, which has been about half the time between World War II and the present. Vietnam wasn't exactly appreciated out there in the global community, and that opinion hasn't changed a whole lot, even after we've established a lovely little trading relationship with that same communist country that we once argued would be so dangerous if it went … er, well, communist. You know, like China! That's why we don't trade with them now, or -- perish the thought -- make ourselves vulnerable by allowing them to finance our national binge borrowing. No sense aiding and abetting the enemy, eh?

Sorry -- I digress. Despite ourselves, America is in fact sometimes admired in world opinion. But not when we play our war games. They can't stand America's duplicity, hypocrisy and arrogance when it comes to so many aspects of international diplomacy, including the aforementioned treaties we've avoided when we're not trying to destroy them. Yet nothing has so inflamed world opinion as the gross transgression against international law and human morality that is Iraq. International polls show that even our allies believe that "the United States contributes the most to world instability along with Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and North Korea," and that the U.S. presence in Iraq is considered a greater threat to peace than Iran going nuclear. America's standing in world opinion isn't the only measure of how comparatively warlike we are, but it certainly is a valid one. When everybody else in the neighborhood hates you, or hates something you do, it's a moment for a little reflection and introspection, isn't it? Unless, of course, you're just an asshole. Then, why bother?

I don't want to give the wrong impression. Much as I'd like to be, I'm not a pacifist, because I realize that there are genuinely bad actors out there who can't be tamed by a Dick Cheney charm offensive, or beaten into submission by a Condoleeza Rice piano sonata. I'm glad the U.S. military was there to stomp Hitler. Maybe even Korea, Bosnia and Kosovo could be justified as a response to aggression, though here it gets murkier. But Vietnam? No way. Today's Iraq war? Utterly shameful. The Mexican War? Spanish-American War? Cuba? Nicaragua? Guatemala? Grenada? Be serious. Way too often America's pacific intentions are harder to find than the elusive Higgs Boson particle. Probably you'd need a massive supercollider and a bunch of expensive detection equipment to do it, too.

And god knows I'm not blaming the troops for this. Indeed, too often they're the second victims (the truth being the first) of policymakers like Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, for whom war is a game and people are pawns. When Bush says things like "This generation is rising to the challenge. We're looking at history, we understand our values, and we're laying that foundation of peace for generations to come," smart countries run like hell. Others just laugh and cut mineral rights deals.

Because of these monsters and the record they've created, Americans have to face an ugly and unfortunate fact. Despite what your sixth-grade civics teacher told you, we're not the white hats of the world. Or at least not often enough. We just like to think we are.

But thinking and being are, alas, two different things, as we found out going into Iraq -- thinking we'd be greeted with chocolates and flowers.

We may get them yet, however. Perhaps they'll be handed to us at the exit ramp, as the next president extricates a sobered United States from the disaster of its latest example of bringing love, American-style, to the world.

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Pelosi calls for grand jury to investigate key Bush staffers

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Calls for Grand Jury to Weigh Contempt Charges Against Bush Aides

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the Justice Department on Thursday to open a grand jury investigation into whether President Bush's chief of staff and former counsel should be prosecuted for contempt of Congress.

Pelosi, D-Calif., demanded that the department pursue misdemeanor charges against former White House counsel Harriet Miers for refusing to testify to Congress about the firings of federal prosecutors in 2006 and against chief of staff Josh Bolten for failing to turn over White House documents related to the dismissals.

She gave Attorney General Michael Mukasey one week to respond and said refusal to take the matter to a grand jury will result in the House's filing a civil lawsuit against the Bush administration.

The White House branded the request as "truly contemptible." The Justice Department said it had received Pelosi's request and anticipated providing further guidance after Mukasey's review. It noted "long-standing department precedent" in such cases against letting a U.S. attorney refer a congressional contempt citation to a grand jury or prosecute an executive branch. The top House Republican called it "a partisan political stunt" and "a complete waste of time," according to a spokesman.

The Democratic-controlled House voted two weeks ago to hold Bolten and Miers in contempt for failing to cooperate with committee investigations.

"There is no authority by which persons may wholly ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed because a president unilaterally instructs them to do so," Pelosi wrote Mukasey. She noted that Congress subpoenaed Miers to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the firings.

"Surely, your department would not tolerate that type of action if the witness were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury," Pelosi wrote.

She added: "Short of a formal assertion of executive privilege, which cannot be made in this case, there is no authority that permits a president to advise anyone to ignore a duly issued congressional subpoena for documents."

Pelosi sent an additional letter to U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor, the chief federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, whose office would oversee the grand jury. The letters point to sections of federal law that require the Justice Department to bring the House contempt citations before a grand jury to investigate.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto said House Democrats "have been trying to redefine the notion of contempt and they succeeded."

Both Fratto and House GOP leader John Boehner said the House should focus on passing legislation allowing the government to more easily eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists.

"Rather than passing critical national security legislation, they continue to squander time on partisan hijinx," Fratto said. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said "this sort of pandering to the left-wing fever swamps of loony liberal activists does nothing to make America safer."

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, said he hoped Pelosi's demand would spur the department to "put the partisan manipulation of our system of justice behind it" and take the issue to a grand jury. "To do otherwise would turn on its head the notion that we are all equally accountable under the law," said Conyers, D-Mich.

But the department told the House leadership last July that it generally would not let a U.S. attorney make a grand jury referral or prosecute executive branch officials when they followed a president's instruction and invoked a claim of executive privilege before a congressional committee, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

The letter was the latest chapter in a yearlong saga that began with the firings of nine federal prosecutors and led to Alberto Gonzales' resignation as attorney general last August.

The House voted 223-32 this month to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt for failing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether the prosecutors' firings were politically motivated. Angry Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walkout in an unusually bitter scene even for the fractious House.

At the time, the Bush administration was no less harsh, saying the information sought by the House was off-limits under executive privilege and that Bolten and Miers were immune from prosecution.

It was the first time in 25 years that a full chamber of Congress voted on a contempt of Congress citation. The White House pointed out that it was the first time that such action had been taken against top White House officials who had been instructed by the president to remain silent to preserve executive privilege.

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At the heart of the case of imprisoned former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman are charges that he was railroaded by Karl Rove and the Republican Party. MSNBC host Dan Abrams has become a passionate advocate for Siegelman's cause, and in an extended segment on Wednesday's program, he examined various aspects of this allegation.

Dana Siegelman, the former governor's daughter, joined Abrams Wednesday to discuss attempts to get her father's sentence reviewed. She said her father was "excited" and "reencouraged" by the CBS and MSNBC coverage of his case and that she believes Judge Mark Fuller is deliberately "sitting on" the transcript of Siegelman's 2006 trial that has to be available before any appeal can go forward.

She confirmed that her father "absolutely" believes Rove is responsible for his incarceration. "He knows Karl Rove is behind this. ... My dad was the first governor to endorse Al Gore. ... He spoke at the Democratic national meeting in Boston and said some things that were very controversial and things that scared the Republican Party into thinking that my dad was also looking to run on a national scale."

Earlier in the program, Abrams spoke to legal professor Scott Horton, an expert on the Siegelman case, and asked him about the blackout of last Sunday's 60 Minutes segment on Siegelman by an Alabama television station. Horton dismissed the possibility that there could have been a technical failure as the station claims, although he did acknowledge that "it may not have been a conscious management decision."

"The station is run by an investment group that is headed by one of the Bass brothers," Horton stated. "They're very, very close to Bush. ... In fact, the CBS people in New York told me, this is a station that was known for its hostility to Governor Siegelman."

Alabama whistleblower: Ask Rove to swear before Congress he never met me

Abrams then played part of an interview he did earlier this week with former Republican operative Dana Jill Simpson, who has claimed that Karl Rove orchestrated the attempt to bring down Governor Siegelman and personally directed her to try to get evidence of Siegelman cheating on his wife.

Abrams asked Simpson about Rove's denial that he ever met with her. Simpson responded, "Since Karl Rove has said that, and he feels so good about saying that, what I want him to do is go and swear in front of the United States Congress and swear what he is saying is true. ... Karl Rove has refused to do so. ... I met with Karl Rove probably three times. ... I also talked to him multiple times."

Critics have challenged Simpson's latest revelations about Rove by asking why she never mentioned them prior to the 60 Minutes story, but Simpson told Abrams that she had brought them up several times. "When I talked to those Congressional investigators, I told them that I had followed Don Siegelman and tried to get pictures of him cheating on his wife. However, they suggested to me that that was not relevant because there was nothing illegal about that and they just preferred that it not come out at the hearing."

Simpson also rebutted claims by the Alabama Republican Party that she never worked for them, citing phone records in her possession showing her calls to state party leaders.

Scott Horton reinforced Dana Siegelman's remarks by saying that the Siegelman forces need to push hard for him to be released pending his appeal. "There is no legitimate reason for the Court of Appeals to continue to hold him," Horton stated. "What's going on is a complete travesty."

"We are not dropping the subject," Abrams concluded.


RAW STORY's Larisa Alexandrovna has reported extensively on the Siegelman case in these articles:

How a coterie of Republican heavyweights sent a governor to jail

Daughter of jailed governor sees White House hand in her father's fall

Running elections from the White House

This video is from MSNBC's Live with Dan Abrams, broadcast February 27, 2008.

Original here

BLF improves an AT&T billboard in SF

Scare Tactics?

Michael Isikoff and

Mark Hosenball

Are White House allies playing election-year hardball on eavesdropping?

An aggressive campaign by the White House and its allies to win approval of a new electronic spying bill is escalating partisan tensions on Capitol Hill. The contentious debate over the measure could spill over into this fall's election campaign.

The latest tactic employed by administration supporters involves a $2 million television advertising campaign featuring sinister images of Osama bin Laden that started running this week in the home districts of about 15 Democratic members of Congress who are potentially vulnerable this fall. The ads, funded by a newly formed conservative advocacy group called, charge that House Democrats have allowed "surveillance against terrorists" to be "crippled" because they failed to approve a version of the spying bill supported by the Bush administration.

The group, run by Clifford May, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee, has not disclosed the names of its donors. May told NEWSWEEK that he launched the campaign for the express purpose of ratcheting up pressure on House Democrats. (The ads call on voters to contact specific Democratic members and demand that they vote "to keep us all safe.") "I think it's important for Democrats to hear from their constituents on this issue," May said. "This is a national security issue."

Democrats complain that the administration is trying to politicize the electronic surveillance issue and use it for partisan advantage this fall. "If you look at these ads, they are not too different from the ads they ran against Max Cleland in 2002," said Meredith Salsbery, press secretary to Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, whose district has been targeted in the advertising campaign. (Those notorious ads impugned the patriotism and national security credentials of the Democratic senator from Georgia, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee who wound up losing his re-election bid.) "To a lot of our constituents, these ads look like fear-mongering and scare tactics designed to persuade the public that the Democrats are soft on national security."

May's newly formed advocacy group operates out of the same offices as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit and historically nonpartisan think tank that May also heads. He confirmed Wednesday that partisan antagonisms on the issue have been so heated that a number of prominent Democrats—including Sen. Charles Schumer, Reps. Eliot Engel and Jim Marshall and veteran Democratic strategist Donna Brazile—have quit the foundation's board in protest over the ad campaign. The resignations were first reported by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent. "I'm disappointed that the political pressures have been such that several Democratic members of FDD's board of advisers—including several who I'm pretty sure agree with us on the substance of the issue—have decided to resign. The Senate bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, which persuaded us this was not a partisan issue," May said.

Even some Senate Democrats who tried to arrange a compromise with the White House are now accusing the administration of acting in bad faith. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat, guided an electronic spying bill through the Senate that included a key provision championed by the White House and the telecommunications industry: it would give telecom firms retroactive immunity against private lawsuits filed by civil liberties groups. The lawsuits seek damages from companies that secretly cooperated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The bill championed by Rockefeller and approved by a substantial Senate majority would essentially wipe out those lawsuits. But Democratic leaders in the House, under pressure from liberal activists and civil liberties groups, refused to include a retroactive immunity provision in their version of the bill. Democratic leaders say the administration has boycotted "multiple" meetings intended to find a compromise that would be acceptable to House and Senate leaders and the president. The administration's stand-tough attitude has so angered Rockefeller that he, along with House leaders, recently signed on to an op-ed article accusing the White House of exploiting an intelligence issue for political purposes. (Georgia Rep. Marshall, one of those who resigned from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies's board in protest over the ad campaign, wrote in a letter to May this week that "since the only real dispute involves retroactive immunity, I assume the Foundation's ads are funded by telecommunication companies or others seeking immunity." May, however, insisted that the money had come from individual donors, saying he had not received "one dime" from the telecom companies—though he did not rule out receiving money from them in the future to finance further ads.)

Some supposedly nonpolitical intelligence professionals and law-enforcement officials have also been drawn into the political fray. Late last week Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell sent (and then made public) a letter to senior House and Senate Democrats. In the letter they claimed that because Congress had allowed a temporary electronic spying law to lapse earlier this month, private sector "partners" had “reduced cooperation” with intelligence agencies.

Mukasey and McConnell did not name the "partners." But NEWSWEEK has learned that AT&T and Verizon both conveyed such concerns to the government. According to a knowledgeable industry source (who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive material), AT&T told intelligence officials that because the temporary eavesdropping law, passed by Congress last summer, had expired, it would no longer help government agencies launch eavesdropping measures against new targets for fear the company could be exposed to new lawsuits. Another telephone giant, Verizon, expressed similar "concerns" about eavesdropping on new targets, although the source said that Verizon did not go so far as to refuse to comply with new government surveillance requests. A day after the letter was released, however, administration spokesmen backed away from much of its substance, acknowledging that all private sector partners had now agreed to continue working with U.S. intelligence agencies.

Even so, some administration officials continued to claim this week that intelligence agencies may have missed important terrorist communications during the six days AT&T (and possibly other unidentified firms) balked at initiating electronic surveillance of new targets. A spokesman for AT&T refused to confirm or deny whether the company had balked and later relented, saying only, "AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers' privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security." A spokesman for Verizon declined to comment. Some industry and congressional officials believe the telecoms' threats not to cooperate were part of their own lobbying strategy to win the lawsuit immunity. Sources at both Verizon and AT&T said their companies had nothing to do with the new TV advertising campaign by the pro-administration group.

Terror Watch, written by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, appears online weekly.

Original here

The Gray Zone

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Rumsfeld, during appearances last week before Congress to testify about Abu Ghraib, was precluded by law from explicitly mentioning highly secret matters in an unclassified session. But he conveyed the message that he was telling the public all that he knew about the story. He said, “Any suggestion that there is not a full, deep awareness of what has happened, and the damage it has done, I think, would be a misunderstanding.” The senior C.I.A. official, asked about Rumsfeld’s testimony and that of Stephen Cambone, his Under-Secretary for Intelligence, said, “Some people think you can bullshit anyone.”

The Abu Ghraib story began, in a sense, just weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks, with the American bombing of Afghanistan. Almost from the start, the Administration’s search for Al Qaeda members in the war zone, and its worldwide search for terrorists, came up against major command-and-control problems. For example, combat forces that had Al Qaeda targets in sight had to obtain legal clearance before firing on them. On October 7th, the night the bombing began, an unmanned Predator aircraft tracked an automobile convoy that, American intelligence believed, contained Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader. A lawyer on duty at the United States Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, refused to authorize a strike. By the time an attack was approved, the target was out of reach. Rumsfeld was apoplectic over what he saw as a self-defeating hesitation to attack that was due to political correctness. One officer described him to me that fall as “kicking a lot of glass and breaking doors.” In November, the Washington Post reported that, as many as ten times since early October, Air Force pilots believed they’d had senior Al Qaeda and Taliban members in their sights but had been unable to act in time because of legalistic hurdles. There were similar problems throughout the world, as American Special Forces units seeking to move quickly against suspected terrorist cells were compelled to get prior approval from local American ambassadors and brief their superiors in the chain of command.

Rumsfeld reacted in his usual direct fashion: he authorized the establishment of a highly secret program that was given blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate “high value” targets in the Bush Administration’s war on terror. A special-access program, or sap—subject to the Defense Department’s most stringent level of security—was set up, with an office in a secure area of the Pentagon. The program would recruit operatives and acquire the necessary equipment, including aircraft, and would keep its activities under wraps. America’s most successful intelligence operations during the Cold War had been saps, including the Navy’s submarine penetration of underwater cables used by the Soviet high command and construction of the Air Force’s stealth bomber. All the so-called “black” programs had one element in common: the Secretary of Defense, or his deputy, had to conclude that the normal military classification restraints did not provide enough security.

“Rumsfeld’s goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target—a standup group to hit quickly,” a former high-level intelligence official told me. “He got all the agencies together—the C.I.A. and the N.S.A.—to get pre-approval in place. Just say the code word and go.” The operation had across-the-board approval from Rumsfeld and from Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser. President Bush was informed of the existence of the program, the former intelligence official said.

The people assigned to the program worked by the book, the former intelligence official told me. They created code words, and recruited, after careful screening, highly trained commandos and operatives from America’s élite forces—Navy seals, the Army’s Delta Force, and the C.I.A.’s paramilitary experts. They also asked some basic questions: “Do the people working the problem have to use aliases? Yes. Do we need dead drops for the mail? Yes. No traceability and no budget. And some special-access programs are never fully briefed to Congress.”

In theory, the operation enabled the Bush Administration to respond immediately to time-sensitive intelligence: commandos crossed borders without visas and could interrogate terrorism suspects deemed too important for transfer to the military’s facilities at Guantánamo, Cuba. They carried out instant interrogations—using force if necessary—at secret C.I.A. detention centers scattered around the world. The intelligence would be relayed to the sap command center in the Pentagon in real time, and sifted for those pieces of information critical to the “white,” or overt, world.

Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were “completely read into the program,” the former intelligence official said. The goal was to keep the operation protected. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” he said. “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’ ”

One Pentagon official who was deeply involved in the program was Stephen Cambone, who was named Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence in March, 2003. The office was new; it was created as part of Rumsfeld’s reorganization of the Pentagon. Cambone was unpopular among military and civilian intelligence bureaucrats in the Pentagon, essentially because he had little experience in running intelligence programs, though in 1998 he had served as staff director for a committee, headed by Rumsfeld, that warned of an emerging ballistic-missile threat to the United States. He was known instead for his closeness to Rumsfeld. “Remember Henry II—‘Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ ” the senior C.I.A. official said to me, with a laugh, last week. “Whatever Rumsfeld whimsically says, Cambone will do ten times that much.”

Cambone was a strong advocate for war against Iraq. He shared Rumsfeld’s disdain for the analysis and assessments proffered by the C.I.A., viewing them as too cautious, and chafed, as did Rumsfeld, at the C.I.A.’s inability, before the Iraq war, to state conclusively that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction. Cambone’s military assistant, Army Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, was also controversial. Last fall, he generated unwanted headlines after it was reported that, in a speech at an Oregon church, he equated the Muslim world with Satan.

Early in his tenure, Cambone provoked a bureaucratic battle within the Pentagon by insisting that he be given control of all special-access programs that were relevant to the war on terror. Those programs, which had been viewed by many in the Pentagon as sacrosanct, were monitored by Kenneth deGraffenreid, who had experience in counter-intelligence programs. Cambone got control, and deGraffenreid subsequently left the Pentagon. Asked for comment on this story, a Pentagon spokesman said, “I will not discuss any covert programs; however, Dr. Cambone did not assume his position as the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence until March 7, 2003, and had no involvement in the decision-making process regarding interrogation procedures in Iraq or anywhere else.”

In mid-2003, the special-access program was regarded in the Pentagon as one of the success stories of the war on terror. “It was an active program,” the former intelligence official told me. “It’s been the most important capability we have for dealing with an imminent threat. If we discover where Osama bin Laden is, we can get him. And we can remove an existing threat with a real capability to hit the United States—and do so without visibility.” Some of its methods were troubling and could not bear close scrutiny, however.

By then, the war in Iraq had begun. The sap was involved in some assignments in Iraq, the former official said. C.I.A. and other American Special Forces operatives secretly teamed up to hunt for Saddam Hussein and—without success—for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But they weren’t able to stop the evolving insurgency.

In the first months after the fall of Baghdad, Rumsfeld and his aides still had a limited view of the insurgency, seeing it as little more than the work of Baathist “dead-enders,” criminal gangs, and foreign terrorists who were Al Qaeda followers. The Administration measured its success in the war by how many of those on its list of the fifty-five most wanted members of the old regime—reproduced on playing cards—had been captured. Then, in August, 2003, terror bombings in Baghdad hit the Jordanian Embassy, killing nineteen people, and the United Nations headquarters, killing twenty-three people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the U.N. mission. On August 25th, less than a week after the U.N. bombing, Rumsfeld acknowledged, in a talk before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that “the dead-enders are still with us.” He went on, “There are some today who are surprised that there are still pockets of resistance in Iraq, and they suggest that this represents some sort of failure on the part of the Coalition. But this is not the case.” Rumsfeld compared the insurgents with those true believers who “fought on during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany.” A few weeks later—and five months after the fall of Baghdad—the Defense Secretary declared,“It is, in my view, better to be dealing with terrorists in Iraq than in the United States.”

Inside the Pentagon, there was a growing realization that the war was going badly. The increasingly beleaguered and baffled Army leadership was telling reporters that the insurgents consisted of five thousand Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein. “When you understand that they’re organized in a cellular structure,” General John Abizaid, the head of the Central Command, declared, “that . . . they have access to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition, you’ll understand how dangerous they are.”

The American military and intelligence communities were having little success in penetrating the insurgency. One internal report prepared for the U.S. military, made available to me, concluded that the insurgents’ “strategic and operational intelligence has proven to be quite good.” According to the study:

Their ability to attack convoys, other vulnerable targets and particular individuals has been the result of painstaking surveillance and reconnaissance. Inside information has been passed on to insurgent cells about convoy/troop movements and daily habits of Iraqis working with coalition from within the Iraqi security services, primarily the Iraqi Police force which is rife with sympathy for the insurgents, Iraqi ministries and from within pro-insurgent individuals working with the CPA’s so-called Green Zone.

The study concluded, “Politically, the U.S. has failed to date. Insurgencies can be fixed or ameliorated by dealing with what caused them in the first place. The disaster that is the reconstruction of Iraq has been the key cause of the insurgency. There is no legitimate government, and it behooves the Coalition Provisional Authority to absorb the sad but unvarnished fact that most Iraqis do not see the Governing Council”—the Iraqi body appointed by the C.P.A.—“as the legitimate authority. Indeed, they know that the true power is the CPA.”

By the fall, a military analyst told me, the extent of the Pentagon’s political and military misjudgments was clear. Donald Rumsfeld’s “dead-enders” now included not only Baathists but many marginal figures as well—thugs and criminals who were among the tens of thousands of prisoners freed the previous fall by Saddam as part of a prewar general amnesty. Their desperation was not driving the insurgency; it simply made them easy recruits for those who were. The analyst said, “We’d killed and captured guys who had been given two or three hundred dollars to ‘pray and spray’ ”—that is, shoot randomly and hope for the best. “They weren’t really insurgents but down-and-outers who were paid by wealthy individuals sympathetic to the insurgency.” In many cases, the paymasters were Sunnis who had been members of the Baath Party. The analyst said that the insurgents “spent three or four months figuring out how we operated and developing their own countermeasures. If that meant putting up a hapless guy to go and attack a convoy and see how the American troops responded, they’d do it.” Then, the analyst said, “the clever ones began to get in on the action.”

By contrast, according to the military report, the American and Coalition forces knew little about the insurgency: “Human intelligence is poor or lacking . . . due to the dearth of competence and expertise. . . . The intelligence effort is not coördinated since either too many groups are involved in gathering intelligence or the final product does not get to the troops in the field in a timely manner.” The success of the war was at risk; something had to be done to change the dynamic.

The solution, endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents. A key player was Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the detention and interrogation center at Guantánamo, who had been summoned to Baghdad in late August to review prison interrogation procedures. The internal Army report on the abuse charges, written by Major General Antonio Taguba in February, revealed that Miller urged that the commanders in Baghdad change policy and place military intelligence in charge of the prison. The report quoted Miller as recommending that “detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation.”

Miller’s concept, as it emerged in recent Senate hearings, was to “Gitmoize” the prison system in Iraq—to make it more focussed on interrogation. He also briefed military commanders in Iraq on the interrogation methods used in Cuba—methods that could, with special approval, include sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in “stress positions” for agonizing lengths of time. (The Bush Administration had unilaterally declared Al Qaeda and other captured members of international terrorist networks to be illegal combatants, and not eligible for the protection of the Geneva Conventions.)

Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they expanded the scope of the sap, bringing its unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation.

“They weren’t getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq,” the former intelligence official told me. “No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. Cambone says, I’ve got to crack this thing and I’m tired of working through the normal chain of command. I’ve got this apparatus set up—the black special-access program—and I’m going in hot. So he pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing last summer. And it’s working. We’re getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We’re getting good stuff. But we’ve got more targets”—prisoners in Iraqi jails—“than people who can handle them.”

Cambone then made another crucial decision, the former intelligence official told me: not only would he bring the sap’s rules into the prisons; he would bring some of the Army military-intelligence officers working inside the Iraqi prisons under the sap’s auspices. “So here are fundamentally good soldiers—military-intelligence guys—being told that no rules apply,” the former official, who has extensive knowledge of the special-access programs, added. “And, as far as they’re concerned, this is a covert operation, and it’s to be kept within Defense Department channels.”

The military-police prison guards, the former official said, included “recycled hillbillies from Cumberland, Maryland.” He was referring to members of the 372nd Military Police Company. Seven members of the company are now facing charges for their role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. “How are these guys from Cumberland going to know anything? The Army Reserve doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

Who was in charge of Abu Ghraib—whether military police or military intelligence—was no longer the only question that mattered. Hard-core special operatives, some of them with aliases, were working in the prison. The military police assigned to guard the prisoners wore uniforms, but many others—military intelligence officers, contract interpreters, C.I.A. officers, and the men from the special-access program—wore civilian clothes. It was not clear who was who, even to Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, then the commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, and the officer ostensibly in charge. “I thought most of the civilians there were interpreters, but there were some civilians that I didn’t know,” Karpinski told me. “I called them the disappearing ghosts. I’d seen them once in a while at Abu Ghraib and then I’d see them months later. They were nice—they’d always call out to me and say, ‘Hey, remember me? How are you doing?’ ” The mysterious civilians, she said, were “always bringing in somebody for interrogation or waiting to collect somebody going out.” Karpinski added that she had no idea who was operating in her prison system. (General Taguba found that Karpinski’s leadership failures contributed to the abuses.)

By fall, according to the former intelligence official, the senior leadership of the C.I.A. had had enough. “They said, ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets’ ”—the sort of prisoners who populate the Iraqi jails. “The C.I.A.’s legal people objected,” and the agency ended its sap involvement in Abu Ghraib, the former official said.

The C.I.A.’s complaints were echoed throughout the intelligence community. There was fear that the situation at Abu Ghraib would lead to the exposure of the secret sap, and thereby bring an end to what had been, before Iraq, a valuable cover operation. “This was stupidity,” a government consultant told me. “You’re taking a program that was operating in the chaos of Afghanistan against Al Qaeda, a stateless terror group, and bringing it into a structured, traditional war zone. Sooner or later, the commandos would bump into the legal and moral procedures of a conventional war with an Army of a hundred and thirty-five thousand soldiers.”

The former senior intelligence official blamed hubris for the Abu Ghraib disaster. “There’s nothing more exhilarating for a pissant Pentagon civilian than dealing with an important national security issue without dealing with military planners, who are always worried about risk,” he told me. “What could be more boring than needing the coöperation of logistical planners?” The only difficulty, the former official added, is that, “as soon as you enlarge the secret program beyond the oversight capability of experienced people, you lose control. We’ve never had a case where a special-access program went sour—and this goes back to the Cold War.”

In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who spent much of his career directly involved with special-access programs, spread the blame. “The White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone,” he said. “This is Cambone’s deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program.” When it came to the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the consultant added, “but he’s responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, we’ve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.”

Last week, statements made by one of the seven accused M.P.s, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, who is expected to plead guilty, were released. In them, he claimed that senior commanders in his unit would have stopped the abuse had they witnessed it. One of the questions that will be explored at any trial, however, is why a group of Army Reserve military policemen, most of them from small towns, tormented their prisoners as they did, in a manner that was especially humiliating for Iraqi men.

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was “The Arab Mind,” a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. “The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,” Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, “or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.” The Patai book, an academic told me, was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—“one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.”

The government consultant said that there may have been a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought that some prisoners would do anything—including spying on their associates—to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends. The government consultant said, “I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population.” The idea was that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and gather information about pending insurgency action, the consultant said. If so, it wasn’t effective; the insurgency continued to grow.

“This shit has been brewing for months,” the Pentagon consultant who has dealt with saps told me. “You don’t keep prisoners naked in their cell and then let them get bitten by dogs. This is sick.” The consultant explained that he and his colleagues, all of whom had served for years on active duty in the military, had been appalled by the misuse of Army guard dogs inside Abu Ghraib. “We don’t raise kids to do things like that. When you go after Mullah Omar, that’s one thing. But when you give the authority to kids who don’t know the rules, that’s another.”

In 2003, Rumsfeld’s apparent disregard for the requirements of the Geneva Conventions while carrying out the war on terror had led a group of senior military legal officers from the Judge Advocate General’s (jag) Corps to pay two surprise visits within five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on International Human Rights. “They wanted us to challenge the Bush Administration about its standards for detentions and interrogation,” Horton told me. “They were urging us to get involved and speak in a very loud voice. It came pretty much out of the blue. The message was that conditions are ripe for abuse, and it’s going to occur.” The military officials were most alarmed about the growing use of civilian contractors in the interrogation process, Horton recalled. “They said there was an atmosphere of legal ambiguity being created as a result of a policy decision at the highest levels in the Pentagon. The jag officers were being cut out of the policy formulation process.” They told him that, with the war on terror, a fifty-year history of exemplary application of the Geneva Conventions had come to an end.

The abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed on January 13th, when Joseph Darby, a young military policeman assigned to Abu Ghraib, reported the wrongdoing to the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division. He also turned over a CD full of photographs. Within three days, a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush.

The inquiry presented a dilemma for the Pentagon. The C.I.D. had to be allowed to continue, the former intelligence official said. “You can’t cover it up. You have to prosecute these guys for being off the reservation. But how do you prosecute them when they were covered by the special-access program? So you hope that maybe it’ll go away.” The Pentagon’s attitude last January, he said, was “Somebody got caught with some photos. What’s the big deal? Take care of it.” Rumsfeld’s explanation to the White House, the official added, was reassuring: “ ‘We’ve got a glitch in the program. We’ll prosecute it.’ The cover story was that some kids got out of control.”

In their testimony before Congress last week, Rumsfeld and Cambone struggled to convince the legislators that Miller’s visit to Baghdad in late August had nothing to do with the subsequent abuse. Cambone sought to assure the Senate Armed Services Committee that the interplay between Miller and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had only a casual connection to his office. Miller’s recommendations, Cambone said, were made to Sanchez. His own role, he said, was mainly to insure that the “flow of intelligence back to the commands” was “efficient and effective.” He added that Miller’s goal was “to provide a safe, secure and humane environment that supports the expeditious collection of intelligence.”

It was a hard sell. Senator Hillary Clinton, Democrat of New York, posed the essential question facing the senators:

If, indeed, General Miller was sent from Guantánamo to Iraq for the purpose of acquiring more actionable intelligence from detainees, then it is fair to conclude that the actions that are at point here in your report [on abuses at Abu Ghraib] are in some way connected to General Miller’s arrival and his specific orders, however they were interpreted, by those MPs and the military intelligence that were involved.. . .Therefore, I for one don’t believe I yet have adequate information from Mr. Cambone and the Defense Department as to exactly what General Miller’s orders were . . . how he carried out those orders, and the connection between his arrival in the fall of ’03 and the intensity of the abuses that occurred afterward.

Sometime before the Abu Ghraib abuses became public, the former intelligence official told me, Miller was “read in”—that is, briefed—on the special-access operation. In April, Miller returned to Baghdad to assume control of the Iraqi prisons; once the scandal hit, with its glaring headlines, General Sanchez presented him to the American and international media as the general who would clean up the Iraqi prison system and instill respect for the Geneva Conventions. “His job is to save what he can,” the former official said. “He’s there to protect the program while limiting any loss of core capability.” As for Antonio Taguba, the former intelligence official added, “He goes into it not knowing shit. And then: ‘Holy cow! What’s going on?’ ”

If General Miller had been summoned by Congress to testify, he, like Rumsfeld and Cambone, would not have been able to mention the special-access program. “If you give away the fact that a special-access program exists,”the former intelligence official told me, “you blow the whole quick-reaction program.”

One puzzling aspect of Rumsfeld’s account of his initial reaction to news of the Abu Ghraib investigation was his lack of alarm and lack of curiosity. One factor may have been recent history: there had been many previous complaints of prisoner abuse from organization like Human Rights Watch and the International Red Cross, and the Pentagon had weathered them with ease. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had not been provided with details of alleged abuses until late March, when he read the specific charges. “You read it, as I say, it’s one thing. You see these photographs and it’s just unbelievable. . . . It wasn’t three-dimensional. It wasn’t video. It wasn’t color. It was quite a different thing.” The former intelligence official said that, in his view, Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials had not studied the photographs because “they thought what was in there was permitted under the rules of engagement,” as applied to the sap. “The photos,” he added, “turned out to be the result of the program run amok.”

The former intelligence official made it clear that he was not alleging that Rumsfeld or General Myers knew that atrocities were committed. But, he said, “it was their permission granted to do the sap, generically, and there was enough ambiguity, which permitted the abuses.”

This official went on, “The black guys”—those in the Pentagon’s secret program—“say we’ve got to accept the prosecution. They’re vaccinated from the reality.” The sap is still active, and “the United States is picking up guys for interrogation. The question is, how do they protect the quick-reaction force without blowing its cover?” The program was protected by the fact that no one on the outside was allowed to know of its existence. “If you even give a hint that you’re aware of a black program that you’re not read into, you lose your clearances,” the former official said. “Nobody will talk. So the only people left to prosecute are those who are undefended—the poor kids at the end of the food chain.”

The most vulnerable senior official is Cambone. “The Pentagon is trying now to protect Cambone, and doesn’t know how to do it,” the former intelligence official said.

Last week, the government consultant, who has close ties to many conservatives, defended the Administration’s continued secrecy about the special-access program in Abu Ghraib. “Why keep it black?” the consultant asked. “Because the process is unpleasant. It’s like making sausage—you like the result but you don’t want to know how it was made. Also, you don’t want the Iraqi public, and the Arab world, to know. Remember, we went to Iraq to democratize the Middle East. The last thing you want to do is let the Arab world know how you treat Arab males in prison.”

The former intelligence official told me he feared that one of the disastrous effects of the prison-abuse scandal would be the undermining of legitimate operations in the war on terror, which had already suffered from the draining of resources into Iraq. He portrayed Abu Ghraib as “a tumor” on the war on terror. He said, “As long as it’s benign and contained, the Pentagon can deal with the photo crisis without jeopardizing the secret program. As soon as it begins to grow, with nobody to diagnose it—it becomes a malignant tumor.”

The Pentagon consultant made a similar point. Cambone and his superiors, the consultant said, “created the conditions that allowed transgressions to take place. And now we’re going to end up with another Church Commission”—the 1975 Senate committee on intelligence, headed by Senator Frank Church, of Idaho, which investigated C.I.A. abuses during the previous two decades. Abu Ghraib had sent the message that the Pentagon leadership was unable to handle its discretionary power. “When the shit hits the fan, as it did on 9/11, how do you push the pedal?” the consultant asked. “You do it selectively and with intelligence.”

“Congress is going to get to the bottom of this,” the Pentagon consultant said. “You have to demonstrate that there are checks and balances in the system.” He added, “When you live in a world of gray zones, you have to have very clear red lines.”

Senator John McCain, of Arizona, said, “If this is true, it certainly increases the dimension of this issue and deserves significant scrutiny. I will do all possible to get to the bottom of this, and all other allegations.”

“In an odd way,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, “the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is authorized.” Since September 11th, Roth added, the military has systematically used third-degree techniques around the world on detainees. “Some jags hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next war,” Roth told me. “We’re giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar.”

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