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Monday, June 16, 2008

Is America Ready for Another White Male President?

During the Democratic Primaries, when discussing the chances of Obama and Clinton, with some frequency, the person with whom I was talking would lean in towards me and say "Do you really think America is ready for a black/woman president?" Like many people, I found the former question racist and the latter one sexist. As a white man, I also resented the implication that I somehow understood that America wasn't ready, whatever that meant.

Initially, I responded to these questions with anger, but then began to preempt them. Whenever the presidential election came up in discussion, which was about ten times a day, I began the conversation by leaning forward conspiratorially and say "The Republicans have a problem. America is not ready for another white male president." The responses I received were always similar. First a nod of agreement, than a look of confusion that a sputtering response like "you mean Obama I mean black president Clinton woman..."

When I first started doing this, I thought I was just making up a clever response, but as the election approaches, increasingly I believe that I am right in this assessment. During the recently completed primary season, roughly 35 million people voted for somebody who was not a white man. Clinton and Obama's overall vote total far exceeded that of all the white men in the race, for both parties, combined. In the Democratic Party, none of the three highly qualified white men, made it as far as Super Tuesday. Even in the early states when the Republican primary was still competitive and Republican voters could choose from a broad range of conservative white men, the majority of voters eschewed the white male options in both parties and voted for either Clinton or Obama.

I have never been accused of being an optimist, and would never assert that sexism or racism is somehow finished in American politics. Both were evident in full force, overtly and subtly, in the recently completed primary season. The latter will undoubtedly continue to lurk around the edges of the general election between now and November.

Nonetheless, there is increasing reason to believe that these tactics, although sure to be present, will be less effective in 2008. This is partially due to the deep and broad dissatisfaction with the Bush administration as it winds down, and the corresponding profound desire to see change which many Americans feel. It may, however, be due to something beyond that. During the primary season, Obama was able to appeal to an extremely broad swath of the electorate, while maintaining a strong base in several demographic groups as well. His strength in, for example, western states is very unusual for any Democrat, let alone an African American one. His early, and somewhat persistent, support among some Republicans is even more striking. Clinton's strength, in some states, among blue collar white men, was equally impressive.

Attempts to attack Obama through his former pastor, or his church, made far less of an impact than one might have expected, given the racial component to these approaches. Racially tinged criticisms of Michelle Obama have been similarly unsuccessful as have other efforts to portray Obama as the black candidate. Interestingly, the most successful attack on Obama in the primary was probably the attempt to portray him as an elitist. The inaccuracy of that attack notwithstanding, it should be noted that there was no racial component to the one critique that may have hurt him.

The broader political context -- that 2008 is shaping up to be a strongly Democratic year, is not the only factor driving this. Something is changing in American politics. Perhaps all those young people chanting "race doesn't matter" at Obama rallies in the early primary states were telling the truth, at least for many of their generation. While there are certainly still reservoirs of nasty and extreme racism among all age groups, it may be that among young people these views have been relegated to the fringes of political life, and that for many people of that generation race is not an important part of their vote decision.

Another possible explanation is that after a generation of the Democratic Party nominating presidential candidates who are liberal on social issues and who have been consistently attacked by the right as being out of touch with American values and captive of gays, African Americans etc, all of the voters who can be moved by appeals to intolerance have abandoned the Democratic Party years ago. The question of whether or not America is ready for an African American or female president, in addition to being offensive, is also irrelevant. Of course, there are probably many Americans who would not vote for either for president, but that is not how elections are decided. The real question should be are Americans who either voted for, or considered voting for a liberal like John Kerry in 2008 or Al Gore in 2004, ready to vote for an African American or woman candidate. To this question, the answer is an unambiguous yes. Racism is still alive and well in America, it is just effecting fewer vote decisions.

America is not, however, ready to elect another white male president who builds a message of intolerance into his campaign, because there are almost no voters left to pull away from the Democratic Party through appeals of this sort and, more importantly, a substantial number of voters who no longer have the stomach for this kind of campaign. This is particularly true this year. For Senator McCain, this means that he must resist the temptation to go to the well of intolerance, and more importantly, must control the wild cards around his campaign and the myriad independent and semi-independent efforts who might otherwise do this. McCain's campaign is fighting an uphill battle, but they can make it easier for themselves by recognizing just what it is for which America is not ready.

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Colin Powell slams Bush

He was a four-star American general, the secretary of state during President George W. Bush's first term and remains a Republican.

But Colin Powell said Thursday in Vancouver that he is considering voting for Democrat Barack Obama in November -- and he took shots at the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war and the holding of terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Powell told a crowd of about 1,000 people at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre that he hasn't decided whether to support Obama or Republican John McCain for the U.S. presidency.

Colin Powell at a news conference Thursday before delivering speech at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Colin Powell at a news conference Thursday before delivering speech at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun
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Powell said that Obama's life story sums up the "American dream" and he described McCain as the "toughest man I've ever met."

Powell said he told both candidates recently that he has not decided which one will have his coveted endorsement.

The African-American former general said his decision won't be based on the race or military experience of the candidates, but on their passion and policies.

The former secretary of state discussed the controversy that drew a small but loud protest outside the convention centre -- Powell's use of flawed intelligence during his 2003 presentation at the United Nations to sell the world on the invasion of Iraq.

Powell told the audience that he wouldn't have agreed with the decision to go to war had he known that the data about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction was exaggerated.

Powell said that every word of what he called his "infamous" presentation about WMD had been vetted by the intelligence community -- "and I had no reason to disbelieve it."

The former secretary of state has previously described his prewar UN speech as a "blot" on his record.

Powell went on to say that the Bush administration fell into "disarray" over how to govern Iraq after it overthrew Hussein.

"If we had handled the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad differently then we wouldn't be where we are today," said Powell.

He said the new president should "draw down" the number of American troops in Iraq and hand more responsibility to Iraqi forces.

Powell said the use of torture and denial of habeas corpus at the prison for suspected terrorists at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo has diminished America's standing in the world. "It [Guantanamo] is not a seen as a place that is consistent with what America says justice will be."

Powell said the harshness of Guantanamo has also given "cover to a lot of really bad people around the world who say: 'Hey, don't lecture me, look at what you're doing.' "

Powell said that torture, including water-boarding, should stop at Guantanamo and that terrorism suspects should be given lawyers and afforded all the rights of the American criminal justice system.

Powell also said that the American war on terrorism has gone too far in deterring foreigners from entering the U.S., and rules governing entry to the U.S. must be relaxed.

Many well-qualified people from around the world are deciding not to study at American universities or work at medical clinics because of their fear of being hassled by U.S. authorities, he added.

"We will not be terrified into changing our way of life because of some guy [Osama bin Laden] hiding in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan."

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Survey: Record number of Americans following election via Web

Once Barack Obama started Twittering, John McCain created a MySpace page, and Hillary Clinton joined Facebook, it became apparent that the 2008 presidential election was relying heavily on social media. But now, a Pew survey has the numbers to prove it, concluding that 46 percent of Americans have used the Internet for politics so far this election season, with topics like Obama and online videos taking a front seat.

The poll, conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project, was based on information provided by Princeton Survey Research Associates.

Earlier this spring, the surveyors contacted 2,251 Americans to find out how they are using the Web to investigate and communicate about the election. The survey results found that almost half are turning to the Web to get information about the presidential race. That's a significant jump from the spring of the 2004 election, when only one-third of adults said they looked online for election news.

Several of the conclusions show numbers doubling or tripling from the last presidential election season. One of these was in the area of online political videos. In 2004, only 13 percent of adults said they watched online videos concerning the election, but this year, already 35 percent use sites like YouTube for partisan information. And people aren't just watching campaign ads, but seeking out primary sources like recorded speeches.

Young Democrats and Obama supporters reportedly lead the wave of political blogging and researching, with 74 percent of Internet-using Obama supporters logging on to follow the campaign, compared with Clinton's 57 percent and McCain's 56 percent.

And young voters are using the Web in different ways than other generations. The study found that young voters are consuming more political online video than older adults, while creating their own political commentary with posts, e-mails, text messages, and social-networking sites. One-third of all 18- to 29-year-old adults used a social-networking site for political activities like adding candidates as their friends.

Despite the statistics on increasing Internet usage, the Pew study concluded 74 percent of users said they would be just as involved in the campaign without using the Internet, a result that was also highlighted in a Pew report this January.

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Barack Obama's Speech on Father's Day

Democracies Can't Compromise on Core Values


As the American president embarked on his farewell tour of Europe last week, Der Spiegel, echoing the sentiments of a number of leading newspapers on the Continent, pronounced "Europe happy to see the back of Bush." Virtually everyone seems to believe that George W. Bush's tenure has undermined trans-Atlantic ties.

There is also a palpable sense in Europe that America will move closer to Europe in the years ahead, especially if Barack Obama wins the presidential election.

But while Mr. Bush is widely seen by Europeans as a religious cowboy with a Manichean view on the world, Europe's growing rift with America predates the current occupant of the White House. When a French foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, declared that his country "cannot accept a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyper power," President Clinton was in the seventh year of his presidency and Mr. Bush was still governor of Texas.

The trans-Atlantic rift is not the function of one president, but the product of deep ideological forces that for generations have worked to shape the divergent views of Americans and Europeans. Foremost among these are different attitudes toward identity in general, and the relationship between identity and democracy in particular.

To Europeans, identity and democracy are locked in a zero-sum struggle. Strong identities, especially religious or national identities, are seen as a threat to democratic life. This is what Dominique Moisi, a special adviser at the French Institute of International Relations, meant when he said in 2006 that "the combination of religion and nationalism in America is frightening. We feel betrayed by God and by nationalism, which is why we are building the European Union as a barrier to religious warfare."

This attitude can be traced back to the French Revolution, when the forces fighting under a universal banner of "liberty, equality and fraternity" were pitted against the Church.

In contrast, the America to which pilgrims flocked in search of religious freedom, and whose revolution amounted to an assertion of national identity, has been able to reconcile identity and freedom in a way no country has been able to match. That acute observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, long ago noted the "intimate union of the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty" that was pervasive in America and made it so different than his native France.

The idea that strong identities are an inherent threat to democracy and peace became further entrenched in Europe in the wake of World War II. Exponents of what I call postidentity theories – postnationalism, postmodernism and multiculturalism – argued that only by shedding the particular identities that divide us could we build a peaceful world. Supranational institutions such as the EU, the International Court of Justice and the United Nations were supposed to help overcome the prejudices of the past and forge a harmonious world based on universal values and human rights.

While these ideas have penetrated academia and elite thinking in the U.S., they remain at odds with the views of most Americans, who see no inherent contradiction between maintaining strong identities and the demands of democratic life. On the contrary, the right to express one's identity is seen as fundamental. Exercising such a right is regarded as acting in the best American tradition.

The controversy over whether Muslims should be able to wear a veil in public schools underscores the profound difference in attitudes between America and Europe. In Europe, large majorities support a law banning the veil in public schools. In the U.S., students wear the veil in public schools or state colleges largely without controversy.

At the same time severe limits are placed on the harmless expression of identity in the public square, some European governments refuse to insist that Muslim minorities abide by basic democratic norms. They turn a blind eye toward underage marriage, genital mutilation and honor killings.

The reality is that Muslim identity has grown stronger, has become more fundamentalist, and is increasingly contemptuous of a vapid "European" identity that has little vitality. All this may help explain why studies consistently show that efforts to integrate Muslims into society are much less effective in Europe than in America, where identity is much stronger.

Regardless of who wins in November, the attitudes of Americans toward the role of identity in democratic life are unlikely to change much. Relative to Europe, Americans will surely remain deeply patriotic and much more committed to their faiths.

Europeans, meanwhile, may move closer to the Americans in their views. The recent shift to the right in Europe – from the victory of conservative leaders like Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi to the surprise defeat of the leftist mayor of London, Ken Livingston – might partially reflect a belated awareness there that a unique heritage is under assault by a growing Muslim fundamentalism.

The logic of the struggle against this fundamentalist threat will inevitably demand the reassertion of the European national and religious identities that are now threatened.

Europeans are now saying goodbye to Mr. Bush, and hoping for the election of an American president who they believe shares their sophisticated postnational, postmodern and multicultural attitudes. But don't be surprised if, in the years ahead, European leaders, in order to protect freedom and democracy at home, start sounding more and more like the straight-shooting cowboy from abroad they now love to hate.

Mr. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of "Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy" (PublicAffairs).

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Political Affairs: Love, Sex, and Power

I wasn’t alive when John F. Kennedy played the field, so Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was the first time in my life that politics became synonymous with prurience.

I remember reading the riveting details of their escapades: the cigar, the blue dress, and the shocking Oval Office tête-à-têtes.

But there are other juicy, sad, and outrageous examples of politicians misbehaving. They are very human stories—love and sex, hate and redemption, guilt and lust—woven by men and women addicted to power. In some cases, like former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, they are tales of personal journeys. As he wrote some time after he admitted having an affair with a male aide: “I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love.”

Are politics and sex forever doomed to be joined at the hip? If these most notable political affairs in recent history provide any indication, the answer is yes. From Wilbur Mills and his favorite stripper, Fanne Fox, to Larry Craig and his wandering right foot, it’s clear that sex and politics will continue to make interesting bedfellows.

A Tale of Two Families
Life in Washington must be boring for a Catholic politician from New York. What better way to pass the time than to start a second family? Five-term Congressman Vito Fossella, a Republican, lived a Leave It To Beaver existence with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Mary Pat, and their three children, ages four to twelve. But the Staten Island politician’s life took a turn for the trashy when he struck up a relationship with Virginian Laura Fay and fathered a love child.

According to a recent New York Daily News article, Fossella’s double life came tumbling down around him after he was pulled over for drunk driving—his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit—and sprung from prison by his mistress.

Gary Condit couldn’t have been happy when terror struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, but he must have felt some relief to be immediately expunged from cable news shows—for months, television’s talking heads speculated as to whether he had his mistress, young Washington intern Chandra Levy, killed.

Gary Condit, a fifty-three-year-old grandfather and then-Democratic congressman from California, had an illicit relationship with Levy, thirty years his junior. When she went missing, it began one of the biggest “Whodunnit” games in modern history. By the time Levy’s body was found in March of 2002, nobody seemed to notice. The case remains unsolved.

Donna Hearts Hart
Perhaps no presidential campaign collapsed quicker than that of Gary Hart in 1988. Despite rumors of womanizing, the world was his—primary competition included wimpy Michael Dukakis, and it seemed the Democrats were due a win after eight years of Reagan.

Alas, according to the Washington Post (and every other news outlet at the time), the infamous picture of young model Donna Rice cozied on Hart’s lap—and a report by the Miami Herald that the two had spent the night together—catapulted Dukakis into also-ran history.

Poor Hart. He was a trailblazer for Bill Clinton, whose extramarital adventures never seemed to matter when he was running for president.

Mr. Mills, Mr. Mills! Where Are You?
Arkansas congressman Wilbur Daigh Mills, sixty-five, was on top. A veteran politician and Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, his distinguished political career seemed secure.

Until, according to Time magazine reports in 1974, he was pulled over by Washington police late one night. One of his passengers, Annabella Battistella—her stripper name was Fanne Fox—leaped from the car and jumped into an estuary of the Potomac River.

The politician’s fate was sealed when Fanne Fox—thirty years his junior—later called Mills onto the stage at Boston’s burlesque Pilgrim Theater. According to Time, Fox called into the audience: “I’d like you to meet somebody. Mr. Mills, Mr. Mills! Where are you?” He strode onto stage, and “placing a hand on Fanne’s shoulder, Mills began a brief exchange of quips with the audience, then received a kiss on the cheek from his favorite stripper and calmly walked offstage.”

And ended his career.

Brothel Buds
Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts (and one of the first openly gay members of Congress), admitted to paying prostitute and pimp, Stephen L. Gobie, for sex

But, according to a Washington Post article, the buck stopped there: he said he fired Gobie when he found out Gobie was running a prostitution service out of Frank’s Capitol Hill apartment. And Frank wasn’t afraid to go literary: he likened himself to Henry Higgins, a character in Pygmalion who tries to turn a “cockney waif” into a high-class member of English society.

Frank is still in Congress, fighting for the underdogs.

Client 9
New York governor Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat who won a national reputation as crusading against Wall Street immorality, was revealed as Client 9 of a high-priced prostitution ring. His employee, Ashley “Kristen” Dupre, is a twenty-two-year-old call girl who charged at least $1,000 an hour.

Wife Silda (and mother of three teenage daughters) at his side, Spitzer told the world: “I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.”

According to CNN, all told, Spitzer spent more than $15,000 on prostitutes. I wonder how much he spent on his make-up gift to Silda.

McGreevey’s Romance
It’s an utterly American story. Democrat James McGreevey, governor of New Jersey, had an affair with an aide named Golan Cipel. The married man was, in reality, a gay man, and beyond the pictures of his aggrieved wife Dina standing beside him at the news conference simmered a narrative worthy of a best-selling novel.

In a first-person story he wrote for New York magazine, McGreevey explained, as would a Harlequin romance writer: “It was wrong to do. I wasn’t an ordinary citizen anymore. There were state troopers parked outside. My wife was in the hospital. And he was my employee. But I took Golan by the hand and led him upstairs to my bed. He kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean—it sent me through the roof. I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love. When he was gone, I realized that this might all explode on me one day, but I just didn’t care. I felt invincible then.”

Madam Secretary
In 1976, Congressman Wayne Hays, a Democrat from Ohio, was exposed by his call girl-dressed-as-secretary, Elizabeth Ray. According to the Washington Post, Ray, twenty-seven at the time, said Hays paid her $14,000 a year in public money to service his sexual desires.

“I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone,” said Ray in Washington Post news accounts. She simply showed up at the office twice a week for a “few hours” to service the sixty-four-year-old politician.

Hays, in a very 1970s-seeming response, said: “Hell’s fire! I’m a very happily married man.”

Tap Lightly
Larry Craig, a Republican congressman from Idaho, escaped the doldrums of the Potato State for some gay action in the men’s room. Unfortunately for him, when he tap-tapped his right foot to allegedly initiate an amour, the object of the lust-filled entreaty was an undercover policeman.

According to a CNN report, when the police interviewed him later, the senator told the officials he “has a wide stance when going to the bathroom” and that was why his foot may have touched the officer’s foot.

Word to the wise: maintain a narrow footprint in the men’s bathroom.

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White House wins in e-mail controversy

The White House

A federal judge says a White House office that has records about millions of possibly missing e-mails does not have to make them public.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly says the Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, enabling the White House to maintain the secrecy of a lengthy internal paper trail about its problem-plagued e-mail system.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the administration by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a private group that has been trying to find out the extent of the White House's e-mail problems for more than a year.

(Copyright ©2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Spies, Lies and the White House

A previously undisclosed CIA report written in the summer of 2002 questioned the "credibility" and "truthfulness" of an Al Qaeda detainee who became a key source for the Bush administration's claims about links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
The statements of the detainee--a captured terrorist operative named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi--were the principal basis for President Bush's contention in a major pre-Iraq War speech that Saddam's regime had "trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases." The speech was delivered in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just as Congress was taking up the White House-backed resolution authorizing the president to invade Iraq.

But two months before Bush's dramatic assertion, the CIA had raised serious doubts about whether al-Libi might be inventing some of what he was telling his interrogators, according to a 171-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence released last week.
"Questions persist about [al-Libi's] forthrightness and truthfulness," the CIA wrote in the still-classified Aug. 7, 2002, report, which was circulated throughout the U.S. intelligence community. "In some instances, however, he seems to have fabricated information."

The agency found that al-Libi--in an "attempt to exaggerate his importance"--had told interrogators that he was a member of Al Qaeda's "Shura Council," or governing body. But that claim was not corroborated by other intelligence reporting, the CIA analysis concluded in its report, which was titled: "Terrorism: Credibility of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the Information He has Provided While in Custody."

The CIA analysis on al-LIbi was described by intelligence officials as a document known as a SPWR--"Senior, Publish When Ready" report. Although it has more limited distribution than some other CIA reports, SPWRs are routinely provided to senior policymakers throughout the U.S. government, including officials of the National Security Council at the White House.

The CIA's al-Libi report is one of several new--but so far largely overlooked--disclosures to be found deep in the fine print of the Senate's long-awaited "Phase 2" report on pre-war intelligence. The Senate investigation sought to compare the public statements of top administration officials during the run-up to the Iraq War with the underlying intelligence-community reporting within the government that provided the basis for them. After much partisan squabbling within the panel over the issue, the final report (approved by all seven of the panel's seven Democrats and two of its Republicans) reached a largely unremarkable conclusion: that while most of the Bush administration's claims were "substantiated" by some internal intelligence-community reports, the public statements of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others were selective and failed to convey the considerable doubts, dissents and uncertainties within the community about much of the public case for war. (The panel's GOP vice chairman, Sen. Chris (Kit) Bond, and several other Republican members strenously dissented from the report on the grounds that it did not examine the pro-war statements of leading Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Rockefeller, who now chairs the intelligence panel.)

Among the new nuggets in the report: the Defense Intelligence Agency was concerned that a key corroborating source for the claim that Iraq had developed mobile biological weapons labs "was being coached" by Ahmad Chalabi's controversial Iraqi exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, "to further its political agenda." In May 2002, the DIA cut off contact with the source, an Iraqi officer identified only as "Major General al-Assaf," and issued a warning notice about him after determining his information was "assessed as unreliable and, in some instances, [is] pure fabrication."

Even so, al-Assaf was cited by name as one of four corroborating sources for the mobile weapons-lab assertion in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. That report, which assessed Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, was delivered to Congress on the eve of the congressional vote authorizing an Iraq invasion. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his February 2002 Security Council speech, also cited four human sources for his assertion that the mobile labs were capable of producing biological weapons. (The main source for the mobile weapons-lab claim, an Iraqi exile with the code name Curveball, was found to be a fraud who had never worked on any Iraqi weapons program. In addition, investigations by Congress and the intelligence community later disclosed that the DIA's notice on al-Assaf was lost, because it was not properly recorded in the computer systems of other intelligence agencies, including the CIA.)

The new Senate report also discloses that on Sept. 18, 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction facilities could not be eliminated by simple aerial bombing because "a good many are underground and deeply buried" and therefore "not … vulnerable to attack from the air." In fact, the Senate report found, there was no intelligence-community reporting to support Rumsfeld's assertion. An August 2002 DIA report on the subject stated flatly that "no biological weapons (BW)-related underground facilities are currently confirmed to be in use in Iraq."

In a disclosure that one Intelligence Committee member, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, called "stunning," the Senate panel found Rumsfeld commissioned the National Intelligence Council to prepare a secret special assessment on the underground-facilities issue. The council's conclusion in November 2002 ran directly counter to Rumsfeld's testimony to Congress: it found that "all the military and regime associated UGFs [underground facilities] we have identified thus far are vulnerable to conventional, precision-guided penetrating munitions because they are not deeply buried." (The intelligence council report also stated that while it assessed that Iraq "has some large, deeply buried UGFs … we have not been able to locate any of these"--a failure that the council concluded was because of the "Iraqi denial and deception program.") The classified intelligence-council report was shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time it was finished, but its existence was not made public until last week.

But the questions about al-Libi may be the most significant--and embarrassing--new disclosure in the Senate panel's report, both for the White House and the CIA. The Senate report found that al-Libi was "the principal intelligence source" for assertions by Bush, CIA director George Tenet, national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Powell that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda operatives.

It has been previously reported that the Defense Intelligence Agency repeatedly raised doubts about al-Libi prior to the Iraq War. But the existence of the CIA's even sharper and more pointed questions about his credibility--including the possibility that he might be a fabricator--was not previously known.

The CIA's analysis is even more surprising given that, as Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee pointedly noted, the agency itself had vetted and approved the language based on al-Libi's claims in both Bush's Cincinnati speech and Powell's presentation to the United Nations. Without actually using his name, Powell included the most expansive version of al-Libi's claims about chemical- and biological-weapons training--without hinting that there were doubts about the source's credibility. "I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda," Powell said during one dramatic flourish. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story. I will relate to you now as he himself described it."

Powell then went on to recount how Osama bin Laden had been unable to develop chemical or biological agents at Al Qaeda labs in Afghanistan and turned elsewhere for help. "Where did they go? Where did they look?" he asked. "They went to Iraq." Saddam's regime, he added, had provided "help in acquiring poisons and gases."

Asked how the agency could have approved the language in the Powell and Bush speeches given the earlier doubts raised about al-Libi, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano e-mailed this response: "There are better procedures in place within our government now, both to ensure speeches are looked at and to ensure that the right people know of any concerns about an intelligence source and its reliability. Our review of speeches is designed to check for specific errors of fact in draft material that draws on intelligence information. Because CIA is not a policy agency, we would not--and are not asked to--provide blanket approvals or endorsements of policy speeches."

Al-Libi's story unraveled after the invasion of Iraq when, as first reported by NEWSWEEK, he recanted his claims about Iraq's supposed weapons training for Al Qaeda, forcing the agency to withdraw all its reporting based on his interrogations. The case prompted even greater interest by Congress when it was disclosed that al-Libi only made his claims about Saddam's training for Al Qaeda after the CIA rendered him to a foreign intelligence service (later identified by Tenet as Egypt), where he was allegedly subjected to brutal interrogation. According to al-Libi, he was locked in a tiny box less than 20 inches high and held for 17 hours--an interrogation technique known as a "mock burial," which was considered even by some of the most aggressive Bush administration lawyers as illegal under U.S. and international laws banning torture. After being let out, al-Libi claimed, he was thrown to the floor and punched for 15 minutes. According to CIA operational cables, only then did he tell his "fabricated" story about Al Qaeda members being dispatched to Iraq.

A White House spokeswoman today referred NEWSWEEK to general comments made last week by Press Secretary Dana Perino on the day that the Senate report was released. "The administration's statements on Iraq were based on the very same intelligence that was given to Congress, and they came to the same conclusions, as did other countries around the world. The issue about Iraq's WMD ultimately turned out to be false, and we have fully admitted that. We regret it. And we have also taken steps to make sure that we can correct it for--in the future."

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