Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

White House report on Katrina: no blame, no accountability for hurricane disaster

By Kate Randall
25 February 2006

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

At a press conference on Thursday, Bush domestic security adviser Frances Townsend unveiled a White House report entitled “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.” It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the Bush administration that the document—billed as a comprehensive review of the government’s response and a list of measures to prevent a similar debacle in the future—is a transparent cover-up.

The 228-page report provides a detailed timeline of the botched response to Katrina at the federal as well as state and local levels. But despite its own documentation of a breakdown of virtually all civilian authority in the hurricane crisis, the report holds no government officials accountable and proposes no sanctions of any kind.

Echoing the self-serving and cynical mantras of the Bush administration about avoiding the “blame game” and adopting a “forward looking” approach, the report states that the goal of uncovering the “key failures during the federal response to Hurricane Katrina” is “not to affix blame.”

As with the official cover-ups of the September 11 attacks and the missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, this latest catastrophe is to be passed over without any serious probe into the government’s responsibility. In the case of Katrina, government negligence and indifference were critical factors both in the lack of planning or preparation for a major hurricane, and the failure to mount serious rescue and relief operations once the storm struck.

Instead, the Bush administration is attempting once again, as it did with 9/11, to use a disaster as the pretext for building up the powers of the military and police. One of the central recommendations of the review is for the Pentagon, rather than elected officials or other civilian authorities, to take the leading role in catastrophes “of extraordinary scope and nature.”

The section of the report titled “Measuring the Immeasurable: The Human Toll” points to the scope of the tragedy in the Gulf Coast. An estimated 1,330 people died, 80 percent of them from the New Orleans metropolitan area. More than 70 percent of the dead were age 60 or older. “Around 770,000 people were displaced—the largest since the Dust Bowl migration from the southern Great Plains region in the 1930s,” the report notes.

As of December 2005, of the 1.1 million people over the age of 16 who were evacuated after August 29, approximately 500,000 had still not returned. These displaced evacuees face an unemployment rate over 20 percent. By January of this year, 85 percent of New Orleans schools had not reopened and half of the city’s major hospitals remained closed.

By the government’s own admission, the potential for such widespread devastation following a hurricane like Katrina had been widely predicted. The report states: “A catastrophic hurricane striking Southeast Louisiana has been considered a worst-case scenario that the region and many experts had known and feared for many years. Much of Southeast Louisiana is at or below sea level, and experience had shown Gulf Coast hurricanes to be deadly.”

What accounts, then, for the failure to adequately prepare by allocating the necessary resources to reinforce New Orleans’ levees to withstand even a slow-moving Category 3 hurricane? Why was there no serious evacuation plan in place? And now, three months before the 2006 hurricane season officially begins, why have the levees still not been rebuilt to withstand a hurricane of even less strength than Katrina?

The report ignores these questions. It lets the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—the agency most criticized for its performance during the hurricane—off the hook. “FEMA is not,” according to the report, “the operational provider of most Federal response support. It is a small organization that primarily manages the operational response, relief, and recovery efforts of the rest of the Federal government.”

On the key issue of identifying when levees in New Orleans had been breached, the White House report claims that confusion over the difference between levee over-toppings and breaches, or breaks, contributed to delays in responding to the flooding. The report admits, however, that on the evening of August 29, the day Katrina hit, the Homeland Security Operation Center reported that the levees had not been breached, despite a bulletin six hours earlier by the National Weather Service that at least one levee had been breached.

No explanation is given for this discrepancy and no individual or agency is held responsible for this “miscommunication”—a euphemism that recalls the famous “failure to connect the dots” that was passed off as the explanation for the intelligence debacle that allowed the 9/11 hijackers to carry out their plot.

In the chapter titled “Lessons Learned,” the report states that in the emergency response to Katrina, the “DOD [Department of Defense]—both National Guard and active duty forces—demonstrated that along with the Coast Guard it was one of the only Federal departments that possessed real operational capabilities to translate Presidential decisions into prompt, effective action on the ground.”

The obvious should be noted: this military response took place within the context of a collapse of civilian agencies and utter incompetence and indifference on the part of the Bush White House.

In the section titled “Transforming National Preparedness,” the report bluntly puts forward the Bush administration’s outlook: “We must expect more catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina—and possibly even worse.” It then goes on to describe the agenda the Bush administration has advanced over the past four-and-a-half years:

“In the aftermath of another American catastrophe—the terrorist attacks of September 11—we transformed our government architecture, policies, and strategies in a comprehensive effort to defeat terrorism and better protect the homeland.... These actions, combined with an array of defensive measures at home and abroad, have enhanced the safety and security of the American people” (emphasis added).

But the response to Hurricane Katrina—and the resulting suffering of hundreds of thousands of people—is the most telling refutation of the claim that Bush administration policy is aimed at protecting the American people, whether from a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

The opening passage of the White House report states: “Terrorists still plot their evil deeds, and nature’s unyielding power will continue. We know with certainty that there will be tragedies in our future. Our obligation is to work to prevent the acts of evil men; reduce America’s vulnerability to both the acts of terrorists and the wrath of nature; and prepare ourselves to respond to and recover from the man-made and natural catastrophes that do occur.”

Such rhetoric is belied by the refusal to hold a single official accountable for his or her negligence and incompetence. A precondition for avoiding similar disasters “going forward” is making it crystal clear that officials will have to answer to the public for their actions.

This grotesque whitewash of the government’s role in the worst natural disaster in US history has evoked virtually no criticism from the Democratic Party or the media.

See Also:
Hurricane Katrina and the “war on terrorism”
[18 February 2006]
Congressional report condemns government response to Hurricane Katrina
[14 February 2006]

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bush election fraud discovered in Florida in 2004

Watchdog Group Questions 2004 Fla. Vote - Yahoo! News: <--Link>

"By BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Press Writer Thu Feb 23, 3:53 PM ET

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - An examination of Palm Beach County's electronic voting machine records from the 2004 election found possible tampering and tens of thousands of malfunctions and errors, a watchdog group said Thursday.

Bev Harris, founder of, said the findings call into question the outcome of the presidential race. But county officials and the maker of the electronic voting machines strongly disputed that and took issue with the findings.

Voting problems would have had to have been widespread across the state to make a difference.
President Bush won Florida — and its 27 electoral votes — by 381,000 votes in 2004. Overall, he defeated
John Kerry by 286 to 252 electoral votes, with 270 needed for victory."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Right-wing posturing from Congress on Arab firm’s role at US ports

By Patrick Martin
22 February 2006

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

Congressional leaders of both parties are engaged in a cynical publicity stunt in their criticism of the Bush administration for approving the takeover of commercial operations at six Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports by a port management company owned by the government of Dubai, a Persian Gulf sheikdom that is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

For Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, New York’s two Democratic senators, as well as a dozen other senators, congressmen and governors of both parties, the campaign against the sale of port operations to Dubai provides a welcome opportunity to combine anti-Arab agitation with an attack on the Bush administration from the right. It gives a glimpse of the campaign the Democrats plan to wage in the 2006 congressional elections, avoiding as much as possible any identification with antiwar sentiment or the mass popular opposition to Bush’s attacks on democratic rights.

The furor began February 10 when the British-owned Peninsula & Orient (P&O) company, the fourth largest port operator in the world, agreed to be acquired by Dubai Ports World (DP World), the port operator owned by Dubai. P&O currently manages most operations at the ports of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans, which account for the majority of the cargo shipped into the eastern half of the United States.

DP World revealed that even before the successful takeover bid, it had consulted with the Bush administration and received approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS), a secretive panel of 12 top US government officials that reviews foreign acquisitions of US properties from the standpoint of their impact on American national security.

There are perfectly legitimate grounds for questioning the unusually swift approval of the Dubai takeover of P&O. US Treasury Secretary John Snow, chairman of the CFIUS, has indirect business ties to the Gulf sheikdom, since his former company, the railroad giant CSX, sold its own port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left the company to join the Bush cabinet.

The revolving door goes the other way too: a top DP World executive, David Sanborn, manager of the company’s European and Latin American operations, was named by Bush last month to head the US Maritime Administration, a major unit of the Department of Transportation.

But the Democrats are not focusing their objections to the deal on allegations of cronyism or Halliburton-like sweetheart arrangements among giant corporations. Their professed concern is that control of US port facilities by a company based in Dubai—even though virtually the entire management and all of the work force will be American—could undermine US security and facilitate ship-borne terrorist attacks against the United States.

At least one stevedoring company filed suit February 10 in federal court to block the takeover, maintaining that if DP World took over the six ports, the deal “may endanger the national security of the United States.” In response, Kim Petersen, the executive director of the Maritime Security Council, which represents 70 percent of ocean shipping worldwide, told CNN that opposition to DP World “comes down to bigotry [against] Arabs.”

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, announced he would introduce legislation to prohibit companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from running port operations in the United States. “We wouldn’t turn the border patrol or the customs service over to a foreign government, and we can’t afford to turn our ports over to one either,” he declared.

At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, Senator Schumer could barely suppress a smirk as he declared that he opposed the takeover not because Dubai is an Arab country, but because it is a country linked to terrorism.

Schumer’s avowals notwithstanding, the obvious subtext of the campaign against DP World is the equation of “Arab” with “terrorist.”

It is true, as countless press accounts have now recalled, that two of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were born in the United Arab Emirates, and that financial support to hijack leader Mohammed Atta was routed through banks in Dubai. But this means next to nothing, since Saudi Arabia, the principal US ally in the region, was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers, and Dubai has become the Persian Gulf’s equivalent of Hong Kong, Geneva or New York—serving as a regional banking center because the sheikdom lacks the oil resources of the Saudis, Kuwaitis or other of the sheikdoms that make up the UAE.

While Democrats like Schumer were the first to take up the anti-Dubai campaign, by Tuesday congressional Republicans and two Republican governors had followed suit. New York Governor George Pataki and Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich (with jurisdiction over Baltimore), said they would seek to block the takeover using their executive authority.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sent a letter to the White House objecting to the sale of P&O to Dubai and asking for a further investigation. He was seconded by Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Republican widely considered to be the most endangered incumbent senator in the 2006 election. Santorum declared that Philadelphia had been designated a “strategic port” for the movement of military material and sent a letter to Bush urging him to block the sale.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Christian fundamentalist, noted that the UAE was one of three countries that had recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. “Handing the keys to US strategic ports to a regime that recognized the Taliban is not a sound next step in our war against terror,” he declared, tactfully refraining from naming the other two countries that had diplomatic relations with the Taliban: US allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Many House Republicans voiced similar protests, including several from the greater New York City area, as well as Thomas Reynolds of upstate New York, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. The most vociferous opposition came from Congressman Peter King of Long Island, a Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. King called for an investigation into the hiring practices of DP World, asking “How are they going to guard against things like infiltration by Al Qaeda or someone else, how are they going to guard against corruption?”

In the face of this uproar from both parties, the Bush administration remained adamant that the transfer of the ports to the control of DP World would go ahead, and that the CFIUS had no power to make a second review of the takeover, as several congressmen have demanded. Bush himself defended the administration’s approval of the deal, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is scheduled to visit the UAE in the coming week, described one of the emirates, Abu Dhabi, as “a very good friend” of the United States.

Presidential communications director Dan Bartlett protested to CNN, “If you start deciding these issues in a guilt-by-association method, you will have a situation which has deep and harmful ramifications to the economic interests of this country.” (This remark is quite extraordinary, given the Bush administration’s penchant for smearing as an ally of the terrorists anyone who opposes the Iraq war and the buildup of state repression and spying at home.)

In part, Bush’s stance reveals a reflexive opposition on the part of the White House to any attempt to impose restrictions on the actions of giant transnational corporations. There are legal concerns as well: The US government made no objection when the British-owned P&O took control the Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, and discriminating against DP World because it is Arab-owned could well put the United States in violation of its obligations under World Trade Organization agreements, risking punitive sanctions against US exports—to say nothing of the possible adverse reaction among Arab investors who have poured billions of petrodollars into the purchase of US Treasury securities.

The Bush administration, however, has routinely brushed off considerations of international law in areas of foreign policy which it considers vital, above all in the illegal invasion of Iraq, but also in its attitude to such agreements as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, nuclear weapons treaties with Russia, anti-torture conventions, and the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

The conclusion that must be drawn is that in the Dubai takeover of the ports, as far as the White House is concerned, nothing very important is at stake. Bush & Co. see no reason to interfere with the everyday commercial motives which underlie the sale.

This posture only underscores the essentially bogus character of the “war on terror,” which has become the touchstone of American politics, embraced uncritically by both parties and by the US media. This slogan is useful as a propaganda device to dupe the American people and justify military aggression in Iraq and elsewhere, as well as police state measures at home. But it means nothing at all in terms of taking actual precautionary measures to protect the American people against new terrorist attacks employing nuclear or other non-conventional weapons that could kill tens of thousands.

Since 9/11, for instance, the Bush administration has spent $18 billion on improvements in aviation security. But over the same period, the federal government spent only $560 million on security improvements at seaports, even though the volume of material flowing through seaports is far larger. Barely five percent of the cargo entering the United States by sea is subject to even the most cursory scanning with devices like radiation detectors.

See Also:
The Abu Ghraib photos and the anti-Muslim "free speech" fraud
[17 February 2006]
In their own words: The politics behind the anti-Muslim cartoons
[15 February 2006]

Vice president shoots

Vice president shoots himself in the foot
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My first inclination upon hearing the news was to give Deadeye Dick Cheney’s hunting accident a pass. It’s not as if there aren’t more important things to think about. Unless a plausible case could be made that the vice president harbored a grudge of some kind against the Texas lawyer he’d mistaken for a quail, everything sounded fairly straightforward. As a one-time hunter, I could readily imagine Cheney’s horror, shame and fear at seeing Harry Whittington go down. Full disclosure: After accidentally blowing a 12-gauge hole in the ground on a long-ago rabbit hunting expedition, I was subjected to years of good-natured teasing by my partners. Even so, the message was clear: Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger or find some other damn fools to hunt with. Assuming ole Deadeye doesn’t give up the dubious sport of killing pen-raised game birds (a bit like hunting in a hen house ), he may have trouble finding companions, because the more
information emerged, the less straightforward things looked. Indeed, the incident grew curiouser and curiouser, until the ultimate “Alice in Wonderland” headline eventually appeared (on the CNN Web site ), “Shooting victim apologizes to vice president.”

And most of it was nobody’s fault but Cheney’s.

Look, everybody hates the press at times like these, or pretends to anyway. But any time a name-brand celebrity—actor, athlete, singer, politician, essentially anybody who shows up regularly on TV—either gets caught doing something stupid with his clothes off or shoots somebody, for heaven’s sake, there’s going to be a media circus. Wasn’t the vice president paying attention during “The Adventures of Big Bill, Little Bill and That Woman, Miss Lewinsky”?

By those standards, Deadeye got off pretty easy, given the incoherence of his actions. To see how, let’s go back to the beginning. “Peppered pretty good” was how Katharine Armstrong, the ranch owner Cheney delegated to leak the story to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, described Whittington’s wounds some 18 hours after the fact. At that point, the man was still in the ICU.

In bird-hunting parlance, “peppered” means sprinkled with spent shot falling from overhead—an uncomfortable, but not life-threatening, sensation. A person shot in the face with a load of No. 7 birdshot, however, might easily have died.

Without doubting Cheney’s sincere concern for his victim, there must have been long minutes, maybe hours, after the 78-year-old man went down when the vice president must have been equally worried about himself. Even in South Texas, with what GOP spinner Mary Matalin called its “culture of rural enforcement” during her remarkable appearance on
“Meet the Press,” gunshot deaths can’t simply be waved off like parking tickets.

As a grown man, much less as vice president of the United States, Cheney must have understood that if Whittington did die, he could have found himself under investigation for reckless endangerment or negligent homicide—whatever they call it in Texas—with all the witnesses, not only those approved by Armstrong and him, questioned under oath.

Cheney’s first action after getting back to the house, according to Armstrong, was to mix himself a cocktail. What on earth for? Every homicide cop I’ve ever known would wonder if the purpose wasn’t to mask evidence of alcohol already in the shooter’s system.

Next, the sheriff’s deputy who showed up at the ranch in response to the ambulance call got turned away by the Secret Service, Matalin later alibied, on “national security” grounds. That’s preposterous.

Wouldn’t Cheney want to clear things up ASAP? Would you or I be given 14 hours to compose ourselves before talking to authorities after shooting somebody in the face? As an Armstrong Ranch guest in Kenedy County, Texas, population 441, maybe so, but almost nowhere else in the U. S., which is more to the point.

Because Cheney’s not you or me. He’s the vice president of the United States, a shrewd, calculating man and a Washington insider for almost 40 years. Badly shaken or not, he knew exactly how his evasiveness would look. And he decided to risk it anyway. Why? Even before Cheney finally appeared on Republican State TV, a. k. a. FOX News, to express remorse and take the blame after four days of allowing surrogates to hint that Whittington’s uncanny resemblance to a bobwhite quail made him somehow to blame, GOP robo-pundits made an elaborate pretense of not understanding what the hubbub was all about—not who first reported the story or even when. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer went so far as to argue that Cheney “did the manly thing. He decided, ‘I’ll take the heat, but I’m going to give my host and my friend, who just got shot, a half a day of reprieve.’” Time subsequently reported that the initial draft of the vice president’s press statement neglected to mention exactly which manly man in the hunting party actually pulled the trigger.

–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Your free view of Gene Lyons’ column is supported by today's sponsor:
Shopping for a new car?
Pay 2-3% below invoice on a new car of your choice.
Save thousands with our free car discount finder service!

Ted Rall: Spreading Democracy

Ted Rall: Spreading Democracy
Originally uploaded by AJ Franklin.
Click on image to see full size. Use your "Back" button to return to NLTCP

The father of our country warns against the Bush trash:

George Washington

George Washington, oil painting by Gilbert Stuart,  1796; in the White House.

Called the “Father of His Country,” George Washington, general and commander in chief of the colonial armies in the American Revolution (1775–83) and first president of the United States (1789–97), was born this day in 1732.

But before he left office, he forsaw something like the Bush cabal that might infect our country. His warning reads like a vision of the apocolypse...describing the criminals in there now:
"In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend...if I may flatter myself that they may...warn against the impostures of pretended patriotism, this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare by which they have been dictated."

George Washington, Farewell Address, September 17, 1796

Monday, February 20, 2006

Why the government spying is illegal: a reply to the US Department of Justice

By Richard Hoffmann
20 February 2006

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

On January 19, 2006 the US Department of Justice released a 42-page memorandum purporting to set out a legal justification for the spying activities of the Bush administration that have been undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Like statements made by the White House and the attorney general since the government’s domestic surveillance operations were revealed, the Justice Department’s legal brief is an aggressive, but spurious, attempt to establish that these operations have a basis in law. Its central plank is the contention that, since the United States is in a state of war with Al Qaeda, the president has unfettered power to conduct military operations against Al Qaeda, including spying on US citizens and legal residents within the United States.

Just as the administration claimed that the “war on terror” gave the president the power to detain prisoners without due process at Guantánamo Bay, so the Justice Department now asserts that the “war on terror” allows the president to spy on US citizens without warrant. The US Supreme Court rejected the president’s claim of unfettered executive authority in relation to Guantánamo and, as will be discussed below, his claims in relation to spying are flawed for the same basic constitutional reasons.

The Memorandum declares:

“The NSA activities are supported by the president’s well recognized inherent constitutional authority as commander in chief and sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs to conduct warrantless surveillance of enemy forces for intelligence purposes to detect and disrupt armed attacks on the United States. The President has the chief responsibility under the Constitution to protect America from attack, and the Constitution gives the President the authority necessary to fulfil that solemn responsibility.”

At the heart of this statement lies a deeply authoritarian conception of government that is entirely alien to America’s legal and constitutional traditions. It is a long time, however, since constitutional arguments concerned the US political elite. This was confirmed by the unprincipled conduct of the Democratic Party in the course of the Senate inquiry into the spying, in which their chief grievance was that they were not consulted. Nevertheless constitutional rights are of momentous significance to ordinary Americans, and this is why it is necessary to carefully establish the true legal position.

The violation of Constitutional rights

Government spying on US citizens and legal residents violates the constitutional right of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment, because it involves the intercept of private communications between people who wish to engage in protected free speech. The spying program authorises the NSA to intercept the private communications of whomever the government decides to spy upon, without first obtaining a warrant or any prior judicial approval. Journalists, scholars, lawyers and cultural and political organisations have all undoubtedly been subject to government surveillance. Furthermore, the operation has clearly been so massive that it has had a chilling effect on people’s right to communicate freely.

The Fourth Amendment to the constitution has also been violated because it expressly stipulates that the privacy of Americans cannot be invaded without the issue of a warrant based upon probable cause.

The Fourth Amendment provides that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.”

Whilst this warrant requirement has never been absolute, those exceptions that have developed in the law have no application to the present spying operation. The president, contrary to the pronouncements made in the Justice Department memorandum, has no “inherent power” to abrogate this constitutional right—including in circumstances of war. While the accepted meaning of “war” in established jurisprudence does not include terrorism, even if the conflict with Al Qaeda were accepted as a war situation, the president would still have no inherent power to violate the constitutional rights of Americans. The use of the term “inherent” to describe the president’s powers is no more than a misleading attempt to extend the executive’s authority across constitutional limits.

The president is bound by the rule of law, a notion increasingly alien to the present administration, the attorney general and the Justice Department. Insofar as he is entitled to conduct military operations as the commander in chief of the armed forces, this does not give him “inherent” power to violate the Constitution or laws passed by Congress.

The United States Supreme Court in the decision of Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967), confirmed in clear terms that the Fourth Amendment protection of privacy, which was established in 1791, included government eavesdropping. Accordingly, all electronic surveillance by the government today is illegal unless it is specifically provided for in the three statutes that permit government spying within the United States. Two of these statutes relate to the criminal law and are not applicable to foreign intelligence surveillance. The relevant statute in the present circumstances is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which regulates the conduct of spying by the government body authorised by the president in 2002—the NSA.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

FISA was enacted by Congress in 1978 in order to regulate and control government eavesdropping on agents acting on behalf of “foreign powers” within the United States. It was promulgated following the exposure of the criminal activities of the Nixon administration and its surveillance of opponents of the Vietnam War. With a couple of exceptions not relevant to the present NSA operation, FISA bans government spying without a warrant issued from the court that it established.

In the present circumstances of spying by the NSA on alleged agents or sympathisers of Al Qaeda in the United States, (of course the magnitude of the operation and the identities of its targets are unknown) the provisions of FISA are clearly applicable. The Justice Department and the attorney general have claimed that they do not apply because of the president’s “inherent powers” to conduct war and because the Congressional Authority to use Military Force (AUMF) granted by the Congress on September 18, 2001 overrides the application of FISA. Both these arguments are completely erroneous.

Let us examine the first.

FISA specifically defines in section 1801 “foreign power” to include “a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor” and includes information “that relates to the ability of the United States to protect against:

a.actual or potential attack or other grave hostile acts of a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;

b. sabotage or international terrorism by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.”

Accordingly, FISA clearly contemplated circumstances such as now pertain to Al Qaeda and sets out provisions for the obtaining of warrants for eavesdropping in the context of international terrorism. Further, section 1829 of the Act specifically provides for “Authorisation during time of war” and permits wiretapping without warrant for a period of 15 days only, after a declaration of war by Congress.

It is plainly disingenuous therefore for the Justice Department and the attorney general to argue that FISA does not apply. Moreover, constant repetition of the mantra of the “war on terror” does not render the situation in relation to Al Qaeda outside FISA’s statutory reach. FISA is, in fact, expressly directed to the circumstances of terrorism.

Section 1803 establishes a system of judicial oversight for the authorising of electronic surveillance in the context of foreign intelligence and foreign powers, including as defined, international terrorist organisations.

It provides for the creation of a court comprised of eleven judges, three of whom are to be in the Washington DC area, to have jurisdiction to hear applications for electronic surveillance anywhere within the United States. It sets out clear procedures requiring submission by a federal officer and the approval of the attorney general for each application for an order approving electronic surveillance.

Under section 1804, a federal officer seeking approval for an order must swear upon oath, or affirmation in writing, as to various matters, including:

1. the identity of the federal officer
2. the approval of the attorney general
3. the identity of the target of surveillance
4. the reasons relied upon to justify the surveillance
5. a detailed description of the nature of the information sought and the type of communication or activities to be the subject of surveillance

In addition, another senior authorised officer of the NSA must provide further extensive certification justifying the issue of a warrant for surveillance, including certification that the purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information; the type of foreign intelligence information being sought; that the information cannot be obtained by normal investigative techniques and the means by which the surveillance will be effected, including whether physical entry is required.

The legislation was clearly drafted to protect the rights of American citizens from government abuse and the provisions require comprehensive compliance by the authorities to justify eavesdropping. Attorney General Gonzales gave as a reason for not adhering to the FISA requirements that it was “cumbersome”. It is becoming clear, however, that the Bush administration finds the entire constitutional framework “cumbersome” and would prefer to dispense with it completely.

The Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of the Armed Forces against those responsible for the terrorist attacks on September 11

The Justice Department’s second argument depends heavily on the claim that the congressional AUMF overrides the necessity to comply with FISA. It asserts that through the approval of military conflict against Al Qaeda it “thereby authorized the president’s use of all traditional and accepted incidents of force in this current military conflict—including warrantless electronic surveillance to intercept enemy communications both at home and abroad.”

The Justice Department claims that this argument finds support in the Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004). But both this claim, and the claim that the AUMF allows the president to spy contrary to the provisions of FISA, are false.

We will examine the latter claim first.

On September 18, 2001 following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Congress passed a joint resolution authorising the use of military force against those responsible. The authorisation is narrower than that sought by the administration, and it makes no reference to domestic spying. The authorisation states:

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

The administration originally sought a broader authorisation—for the use of military force “to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.”

The Justice Department’s interpretation of the final AUMF defies the normal canons of statutory construction as well as legal norms concerning the overriding of prior congressional statutes. To override a prior act of Congress—such as FISA—the resolution would require clear and explicit language to that effect. But the joint resolution contains no such language and the Senate expressly rejected a more ambiguous formulation that may have been interpreted as overriding FISA.

Furthermore, there is no precedent for the Justice Department’s assertion that domestic spying without warrant is a traditional and accepted incident of the use of force in a military conflict.

The real legal position is entirely consistent with a common sense view of the authorisation. Indeed Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader at the time, stated to the Washington Post on December 23, 2005:

“As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against Al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.”

The decisions in Hamdi and Youngstown

The Justice Department memorandum claims that its argument that the AUMF grants the president spying powers is supported in the Supreme Court decision in Hamdi.

In Hamdi, the Executive argued that because of the “war on terror,” the president had power to detain “enemy combatants” indefinitely without due process. The Supreme Court declared “a state of war is not a blank check when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens”.

Hamdi held that the AUMF gave the president power to use military force against Al Qaeda, including the detention of “enemy combatants”. But the court rejected the president’s claim that the AUMF entitled him to detain “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo indefinitely without due process. Whilst the court, in a grossly anti-democratic decision, declared that a military court would satisfy due process requirements, it nevertheless upheld the fundamental principle that the president’s commander in chief powers do not entitle him to act inconsistently with the Constitution—in particular, with the Fifth Amendment right to due process to contest the factual basis for such detention. Accordingly, contrary to the Justice Department’s contention, Hamdi does not stand as authority to support Executive spying or other abrogation of constitutional rights based on the AUMF.

The Supreme Court decision of Youngstown Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) clearly rejected as unconstitutional the Executive’s right of search and seizure within the United States as an exercise of the president’s military power as commander in chief. In that case, President Truman had attempted to seize steel mills, which were required for the Korean War effort and which were the subject of strikes. He purported to exercise that power as part of the conduct of the war in Korea. The Supreme Court ruled his actions illegal, declaring:

“The order cannot properly be sustained as an exercise of the President’s military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces....

“Nor can the seizure order be sustained because of the several constitutional provisions that grant executive power to the President.... The Constitution limits his functions in the lawmaking process to the recommending of laws he thinks wise and the vetoing of laws he thinks bad. And the Constitution is neither silent nor equivocal about who shall make laws which the President is to execute....

“The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.”

The president’s power as commander in chief of the military

In the Youngstown case, Justice Jackson said, referring to the limitations on the powers of the president in war, “The president is not the commander in chief of the country, only of the military”.

The conflict with Al Qaeda cannot properly be described as a “war”, which, in law, has historically been confined to conflicts between sovereign states. The Congress has not declared war against Al Qaeda. Moreover the AUMF contemplates solely action abroad. The purpose of the government’s “war on terror” terminology is to spread fear and confusion in order to enable it to aggregate further powers and undermine constitutional rights. But, in any event, whether the government’s action against international terrorism is characterised as a “war” or not does not fundamentally alter the constitutional position. The Fourth Amendment and FISA would apply to the commander in chief of the armed forces even if the United States were at war with another sovereign nation.

The Justice Department’s memo refers at length to the president’s power as commander in chief of the military, as though in that capacity the president is above the law. There are, however, no precedents to support this authoritarian view, other than acts of the government during wartime, which have since been proscribed by Congress—for example, the detention of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII. According to the government’s rationale, it can do anything it wishes simply by asserting that the president believes it is “an accepted incident of the use of military force” in the “war on terror”. This could well include detaining American Muslims in internment camps.

It has long been settled law in the United States that congressional policy as embodied in statute law, and the Constitution, prevail over inconsistent presidential orders and military actions and restrict the exercise of executive power in wartime. The assertion of a war footing in relation to Al Qaeda does not assist in any way the government’s position. The fact is that the president has no power to spy on American citizens in wartime, except as provided under the law. And the US Supreme Court has never upheld warrantless domestic wiretapping. The government spying operation is, therefore, a breach of the criminal law for which prison sentences are prescribed. United States Code, Title 50, Chapter 36 provides “a person is guilty of an offence if he intentionally engages in electronic surveillance under cover of law except as authorized by statute.” In the case of breaches of the criminal law by the president, the appropriate action is impeachment.

Since George W. Bush stole the 2000 election, his administration has resorted to outright criminality in its conduct of domestic and foreign affairs. Its systematic attack on constitutional government has been aided and abetted by the Democratic Party, which does not oppose the domestic spying operation on any principled ground, indeed, it does not fundamentally oppose the spying at all. The American people need to draw the necessary political conclusions. An alternative mass political party needs to be built to defend democratic rights and halt the emergence of dictatorship in the United States. This can only be achieved on the basis of a socialist program, directed to the complete transformation of the entire economic and social order.

See Also:
US Congress prepares legal sanction for spying program
[20 February 2006]

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Martin Rowson (The Guardian, London)

Originally uploaded by AJ Franklin.
Click on image to see full size. There is no longer any doubt in the collective consciousness of the world: Bush is a war criminal, Guantanimo Bay is a war crime, and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Feith, Libby, Genl's Sanchez, Kimmet, Franks--all need to sit in the dock next to Saddam Hussein and be tried for crimes against humanity.

Arianna Huffington

Happy Valentine's Day, Dick: Why the Press is Acting Like a Jilted Lover

READ MORE: Dick Cheney, 2006, Scooter Libby, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Feb. 14 -- I just finished watching Day Two of Scott McClellan being raked over the coals by the White House press corps about the Cheney shooting story and was struck by the fact that the anger and sense of betrayal haven't subsided one iota. McClellan kept trying to move the discussion to health care, but the press would have none of it.

Talk about your dysfunctional relationship. The air of a love affair gone sour hung over the gaggle like a cheap perfume.

It was actually very appropriate viewing for a Valentine's Day morning. The emotional intensity reminded me of many failed relationships I've witnessed -- and a few I've been part of.

Indeed, yesterday's instant classic exchange between Scottie and David Gregory seemed to be lifted verbatim from a particularly heated lovers' quarrel:

Gregory: Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question.
McClellan: You don't have to yell
Gregory: I will yell. If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong.
McClellan: Calm down, Dave, calm down.
Gregory: I'll calm down when I feel like calming down!

And there was more of the same between the two today:
Gregory: I'm not getting answers here, Scott, and I'm trying to be forthright with you, but don't tell me that you're giving us complete answers when you're not actually answering the question, because everybody knows what is an answer and what is not an answer.
McClellan: David, now you want to make this about you, and it's not about you, it's about what happened...
Gregory: I'm sorry that you feel that way, but that's not what I'm trying to do.

As the Press Room Turns.

Channeling Dr. Phil for a moment, I couldn't help but wonder: is the press really this worked up about being kept out of the shooting loop for 18 hours or are there bigger issues at play? What the relationship gurus call "baggage".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this isn't a big story -- especially now that Cheney's victim has suffered a heart attack. But it was only a few days ago we learned that Cheney might have authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to reporters -- and that story didn't generate a tiny fraction of the coverage.

And Cheney and the Bush White House have been blatantly lying to the press -- and the American people -- for over five years now. Lying about WMD, Saddam's links to 9/11, looming mushroom clouds, being greeted as liberators, the insurgency in its last throes, the war being able to pay for itself, torture, NSA wiretaps, Plamegate, and on and on and on.

But this is the story they are shouting "How could you?!" over.

It's like being involved with a serial philanderer. You find out that he had sex with your sister -- in your bed -- and you live and let live, so as to not rock the boat. Then you find out about the secret love child he had with his secretary, and you take it and hope that your kids will like their new half-sibling. Then he gambles away your life's savings and puts you in debt, and you let him slide with a promise to never do it again.

Than comes Valentine's Day... and he gives you a box of milk chocolate when he knows damn well that you love dark chocolate and can't stand milk chocolate. How dare he! All hell breaks loose: "You don't have to yell." "I will yell!" And you finally kick him and his milk chocolates out of the house.

Like I said: Baggage.

As VP, Dick Cheney has been the political equivalent of a philandering husband, and the press has been the compliant and silently-suffering wife, willing to put up with being lied to and cheated on again and again and again and again.

But they're not going to accept goddamn milk chocolate on Valentine's Day.

The Abu Ghraib photos and the anti-Muslim “free speech” fraud

By David Walsh
Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

The release of more horrifying photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib prison sheds a revealing light on the hypocritical and genuinely sinister character of the supposed “free speech” campaign surrounding the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in the European and international press.

The Australian Special Broadcasting Service’s “Dateline” program broadcast a number of the new images from Abu Ghraib on Wednesday. One video revealed a handcuffed man pounding his head against a metal cell door. In other pictures the same man is shown dangling upside down, smeared with his own feces. The corpse of a man who allegedly died during a CIA interrogation appears in another photograph. Certain images reveal detainees obviously wounded and bleeding. SBS aired a video clip of five men with bags over their heads, masturbating on their guards’ orders.

Independently, has obtained what appears to be a complete set of the Abu Ghraib photos, made between October 18 and December 30, 2003.

Salon’s Mark Benjamin explains that the material includes an investigative report summarizing the contents, which reads in part: “A review of all the computer media... revealed a total of 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse, 93 video files of suspected detainee abuse, 660 images of adult pornography, 546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees, 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts, 20 images of a soldier with a Swastika drawn between his eyes, 37 images of Military Working dogs being used in abuse of detainees and 125 images of questionable acts.”

Benjamin notes that the photographs include: “a naked, handcuffed prisoner in a contorted position; a dead prisoner who had been severely beaten; a prisoner apparently sodomizing himself with an object; and a naked, hooded prisoner standing next to an American officer who is blandly writing a report against a wall. Other photographs depict a bloody cell.”

The images broadcast by SBS represent “a quantum leap in terms of the seriousness of the apparent abuse. It does add a lot to what we know was going on there,” commented Mike Carey, senior producer of “Dateline.” Salon’s Walter Shapiro noted that “the photographs that news organizations have so far published represent only a partial sample of the government’s chilling documentary record from Abu Ghraib.”

These horrific images of systematic torture, abuse and murder serve to remind us in the starkest fashion what the “values” of “Western Civilization”—as proclaimed by those who are now championing the “clash of civilizations” crusade against Muslims—mean in practice in much of the world, certainly the Arab and Muslim world. George W. Bush, his media apologists, and his accomplices in the Democratic Party can chatter all they like about “bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq,” but the US presence in that country is synonymous in the minds of masses of people with pervasive and sadistic forms of oppression and terror.

What was it New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote last week, in response to the protests over the racist Danish cartoons? “We in the West were born into a world that reflects the legacy of Socrates and the agora... We believe in progress and in personal growth. By swimming in this flurry of perspectives, by facing unpleasant facts, we try to come closer and closer to understanding... Our mind-set is progressive and rational. Your mind-set is pre-Enlightenment and mythological.”

Brooks simply put the most unctuous face on the argument, repeated endlessly in the media and the political establishment over the past few weeks, that an insuperable chasm separates “Western values” and the fanatical, barbaric Muslim world. Fred Barnes of the right-wing Weekly Standard was more blunt, informing viewers on the Fox News Channel that the cartoon controversy “tells us that our enemy... is not just Al Qaeda... That Muslims all over Europe and all over the world are certainly enemies of Western civilization... We see the Muslims’ contempt for democracy, for freedom of speech, for freedom of the press, and particularly, for freedom of religion.”

The editors of the San Diego Union-Tribune (and similar predictable, philistine comments could be found in any number of US newspapers) asserted: “For nearly three centuries, the West has been imbued with freedom of expression as a fundamental right of man. But the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, which imparted this core principle to secular societies in Europe and America, passed the Muslim world by.”

The editors could now perhaps tell us: How did the fundamental rights of man make their presence felt amidst the blood and filth of Abu Ghraib’s torture chambers?

No one can seriously pretend that the horrors captured in the thousands of images known to exist represent the work of a few ‘rotten apples.’ What took place at Abu Ghraib was instituted, in defiance of international law, at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Bush administration.

The “chain of command” leading from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld through Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and others has been well traced out. Torture, to extract intelligence, was official policy. To date, no high official has been punished; nine low-ranking military reservists have been sentenced to terms ranging from discharge from the army to imprisonment. And there is no reason to believe that the cruel and perverse practices have been discontinued.

The Abu Ghraib images bring home, again, what has inspired outrage among the Arab and Muslim masses around the world. Contrary to the incomprehension of confused or outright malicious elements over the response to the publication of the Danish cartoons, this popular fury is not irrational, nor is it, in the words of the vicious and stupid editors of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian, a “hysterical over-reaction.”

The racist cartoons were merely the final indignity. For historic and cultural reasons the cartoons became the focal point for all the grievances felt by hundreds of millions over the violence and exploitation perpetrated by the great powers—for the sake of oil, rubber, diamonds and the greater profits of the global corporate giants—against the populations of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. This imperialist criminality has reached a crescendo under the Bush administration.

What do the noble campaigners for ‘free speech’ have to say about the suppression by the US military, the Bush administration, Congress, the Republican and Democratic parties of the Abu Ghraib images? Since the existence of the photos and videos became public knowledge in April 2004, the Pentagon and the Bush administration have fiercely resisted releasing them. First, they argued, against a Freedom of Information suit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that publication of the pictures would only add to the humiliation of the detainees and violate their rights under the Geneva Conventions!

When the court threw out that argument, after the ACLU pointed out that the faces of the detainees could be obscured, the government came up with a last-minute objection in July 2005: the images should not be released because they would endanger US troops and civilians overseas.

Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press observed, “The government has taken the position in this case that the more outrageously the behavior exhibited by American troops, the less the public has a right to know about it. Such a stance turns the Freedom of Information Act inside out.”

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maintained in court documents that publishing the photographs and videos would aid Al Qaeda recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments, and incite violence against US troops. Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command, claimed that releasing the images would hinder his work against terrorism: “When we continue to pick at the wound and show the pictures over and over again it just creates the image—a false image—like this is the sort of stuff that is happening anew, and it’s not.”

The Bush administration and the military suppressed the material not because it created a “false image” of US operations, but because it provided a true and accurate one, revealing the brutal, colonialist essence of the Iraq war and occupation. The images of torture and abuse inflamed the Iraqi and Arab population and undermined support for the war among the American people. As Defense Secretary Rumsfeld noted in 2004 about the remaining Abu Ghraib images: “If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse.”

In September 2005, a federal judge ruled that the images had to be released, over the government’s complaints that they would damage America’s reputation and put American lives at risk. The Bush administration appealed the decision. The exposures by Australian television and Salon have delivered a blow to this concerted effort to suppress the truth.

As opposed to the absence in Europe and the US of state censorship of the Danish anti-Muslim cartoons, notwithstanding the phony hue and cry about press freedom in that case, the suppression of the photos and videos from Abu Ghraib is a case of real censorship. Yet the American media and the official opposition party, the Democrats, have willingly gone along with it, and there has been not a peep from the latter-day advocates of “free speech” in the camp of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim right in Europe.

CBS, NBC and the New York Times belong to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has filed a supporting amicus brief to the ACLU suit, but these news groups have hardly been in the vanguard of a campaign to expose US military practices at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the resources and connections available to the American television networks and major newspapers, it would be absurd to claim that they could not have brought this information to light. According to the Financial Times, the Australian television report “was filed by Olivia Rousset, an award-winning freelance reporter, who is believed to have obtained the pictures through local contacts in Iraq.”

Subservient American media figures, promoters of the invasion of Iraq and accomplices in US crimes, failed to uncover the material because they had no desire to embarrass the Bush administration or further discredit the war.

While the US population was prevented from seeing the torture photos and videos, members of Congress had a special viewing on May 12, 2004. Both Republicans and Democrats expressed indignation at the images they saw. “What we saw is appalling,” Sen. Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, the Senate majority leader, told reporters. “Take our word for it. They’re disgusting,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority whip.

California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein commented, “The whole thing is disgusting and it’s hard to believe that this actually is taking place in a military facility.” Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat told the media, “What I have seen is disgusting and it is disappointing.” He added, “Now, you can’t tell me that all of this was going on with seven or eight Army privates. And so the question is: How far up the chain of command did these orders [go], and where did that failure of the command and control occur?”

While Republican right-wingers and Bush loyalists like Sen. John Warner of Virginia, Frist and McConnell called for the images to be kept from the American public (Warner suggested that releasing the torture material would jeopardize “the cause of freedom”!), other members of Congress, like Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, urged that the images be released to the public and promised “to get to the bottom” of the abuse.

All of this was merely for public consumption. The media and the politicians dropped the Abu Ghraib abuse issue as quickly as possible. ABC News broadcast two new photos May 19, the Washington Post and the New York Times printed a handful more, and that was it. Incident closed.

At the time of the confirmation hearings for torture advocate Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general, rumor reportedly had it that Levin would press for disclosure of more of the Abu Ghraib photos. He did no such thing. According to Matt Welch at, Levin’s spokeswoman Tara Andringa commented, “He and Senator Warner are on the same page.” If it were up to the Democrats in Congress, the images would still be unavailable to the public.

As we can see, these proponents of “Western values” are highly selective about applying the fundamental rights of man, including freedom of speech. In regard to the latter, the formula seems simple: what provokes and demonizes the Muslim peoples, and justifies in advance further wars and occupations, should be published and widely disseminated; what exposes the crimes of American imperialism should be suppressed.

The facts—and the photos—speak for themselves.

See Also:
Australian TV airs more photos of US torture at Abu Ghraib
[16 February 2006]
In their own words: The politics behind the anti-Muslim cartoons
[15 February 2006]



"NEW YORK -- 'When I saw that the neoconservative response to 9/11 was to turn a stateless war against terrorism into military attacks on Muslim states, I realized that the Bush administration was committing a strategic blunder with open-ended disastrous consequences for the United States that, in the end, would destroy Bush, the Republican Party and the conservative movement.'

I agree with that, but I didn't write it. No liberal did.

The author is Paul Craig Roberts, one of the creators and champions of 'supply-side economics,' the great conservative cause of the early 1980s. As a Wall Street Journal editorial writer and then assistant secretary of the treasury under President Reagan, Roberts was a true believer and an effective advocate. His political stance is pretty well summed up in the title of his newest book: 'The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.'"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rise of the Homeland

Rise of the Homeland
Originally uploaded by Why Not Studios.
Click on image to see full size. You will go to the Flickr image website where you can browse hundreds of political cartoons--even when they are not very funny but may be truthful, such as this one. Use your "back" button to return to NLTCP

Unresolved questions in the Cheney shooting incident

By Patrick Martin
16 February 2006

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

Last Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney, an experienced hunter, was hunting quail with several well-heeled Republican acquaintances, including Texas lawyer Harry Whittington. The two men had been drinking throughout the afternoon, and at one point began to quarrel about a business venture of mutual interest which had gone awry. The argument became heated. Whittington sneered at Cheney’s declining public standing and the most recent disclosure, by Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis Libby, that Libby had leaked classified information to the press at Cheney’s direction. When Cheney responded with an obscenity-laced remark, Whittington, a man who knows where many bodies are buried in Texas politics and business, suggested he might arrange for certain facts of a sensitive nature to become public knowledge. Cheney, enraged, stormed away, then turned, lowered his shotgun and discharged it, hitting Whittington’s face and upper body.

Is that what happened on February 14 at the Armstrong Ranch in southern Texas? We have no idea, but it is no less likely than the official explanation. And the “angry drunk” scenario would more plausibly explain both the long delay in reporting the event—which made it conveniently impossible to perform the blood alcohol test that would otherwise be routine in such an incident—and the obvious disarray in the White House for days afterwards.

For all the media attention to the Cheney affair, it is remarkable that with virtual unanimity the official claim that the shooting was accidental has been uncritically accepted and reported as though it were established fact, despite the lack of any serious investigation or public presentation of the actual circumstances in which the vice president of the United States shot and seriously wounded another man.

Until the migration of one of the shotgun pellets lodged in Whittington’s body triggered a heart attack on Tuesday, the incident was largely dismissed with joking references to the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight” or criticism of a poor White House communications strategy. Even after the shift to a more serious tone, the major daily newspapers and the television networks continue to refer to the incident as an “accidental shooting,” without either interviewing eyewitnesses or investigating any alternative theory of what took place.

With Cheney’s interview Wednesday evening on Fox television, two conflicting accounts of the shooting have now been given. Kathleen Armstrong, daughter of multimillionaire ranch owner Anne Armstrong, a former ambassador in the Reagan administration, contacted a Corpus Christi, Texas newspaper Sunday to report Whittington had been shot accidentally. She put the responsibility for the incident on Whittington, indicating that he had wandered off the line maintained by his hunting partners and failed to announce himself when he returned from retrieving a quail.

Three days later, Cheney abandoned the “blame the victim” story and told Fox interviewer Britt Hume that he was the one responsible because he had pulled the trigger.

Cheney also admitted to having a drink earlier that day, although he said it was only a single beer at lunch, five hours before the shooting. He denied that any alcohol was being consumed on the hunt.

Cheney made an even more damaging admission, remarking that he “didn’t know until Sunday morning that Harry was going to be all right.” This throws a different light on the decision not to make public any information about the shooting for nearly a full day.

During that period, when Cheney and his aides could not be sure whether the vice president might be facing involuntary manslaughter charges, there were undoubtedly discussions about how to handle the story—perhaps even consideration of whether someone else might have to take the fall for the shooting. Only after Whittington was out of immediate danger was the press contacted with the news that Cheney had been the shooter.

The police were also kept away during the first critical half-day. Secret Service agents contacted the local sheriff’s department immediately to report a shooting accident, but there is no indication that they supplied any details or identified the shooter.

A captain in the sheriff’s department went to the ranch Saturday evening but was told the victim had been transported to a hospital in Corpus Christi. He left without interviewing any eyewitness.

Two local policemen also arrived at the ranch, after learning of the shooting, but they were denied admission by ranch security guards, and went their way. Finally, at 8 a.m. Sunday—after Cheney had been assured that Whittington would survive—the vice president was interviewed by a sheriff’s deputy and made his first declaration that he had pulled the trigger.

What is known about the circumstances of the shooting cast some doubt on the accident theory, especially given Cheney’s long experience as a hunter and the relative rarity of such incidents—only a handful during the most recent Texas hunting season.

According to the account Cheney gave to Fox, Whittington was partially obscured because he was standing in a gully lower than the ground on which Cheney was standing. This suggests that Cheney, in order to hit Whittington, would have had to fire his blast either level or slightly downwards—a strange angle for shooting at a flushed quail rising into the sky.

Press accounts suggest that Whittington was hit by as many as 150 to 200 pellets, meaning that he received nearly the full charge of birdshot from a single blast. This fact and the nature of the wounds seem to confirm the reports that Whittington was standing about 30 yards from Cheney when the vice president opened fire: any closer, and the wounds would have been far more serious; much further away, and dispersion would have caused many of the shot pellets to miss.

There are other aspects of the incident which appear to undercut the “pure accident” theory. How could such an accident occur when the vice president was accompanied by his normal entourage of Secret Service and medical personnel?

The role of the Secret Service is particularly puzzling: if Whittington was in range of Cheney’s gun, then Cheney was likewise in range of Whittington’s. How could the Secret Service have been unaware that a man armed with a loaded shotgun was approaching the vice president from an unexpected direction? If they were aware of Whittington’s movements, how could they have allowed the vice president to open fire on him?

Whittington’s turn for the worse on Tuesday morning raises the possibility that he could suffer long-term physical consequences from the shooting, or even death. In either event, Cheney could be liable for criminal charges involving at least negligence and recklessness, or even involuntary manslaughter, a felony charge never before brought against so high-ranking a public official. His continuation in office under such circumstances would be in question.

The press, however, has been virtually silent on this possibility. It has focused almost entirely on the subsequent handling of the public relations fallout, not on the underlying event in which a man was nearly killed by the vice president.

In a rare exception, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, in a commentary Wednesday devoted to the exposure of illegal NSA spying, remarked in passing: “Nobody died at Armstrong Ranch, but this incident reminds me a bit of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s delay in informing Massachusetts authorities about his role in the fatal automobile accident at Chappaquiddick in 1969. That story, and dozens of others about the Kennedy family, illustrates how wealthy, powerful people can behave as if they are above the law.”

The comparison is an apt one, not only in its implicit questioning of the credibility of the account given by Cheney, but in its reference to the seeming immunity of the top echelons of American society from all normal legal and social constraints. There is indeed one law for the masses of ordinary people and quite another for the financial and political elite. If anything, this is more the case in the far more socially polarized America of 2006 than it was nearly four decades ago.

Cheney’s four-day silence demonstrated the vice president’s arrogant indifference to public opinion. His eventual decision to give an interview with Fox News expresses both contempt for the public’s right to know and personal cowardice—Cheney is willing to be questioned only by a network which has repeatedly demonstrated a slavish political loyalty to the Bush administration and its ultra-right policies.

The rejection of accountability—for the 9/11 attacks, for the lies which were used to engineer the war with Iraq, for the failures in the response to Hurricane Katrina, for the devastating social and fiscal impact of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy—is the hallmark not only of an administration, but of the ruling elite as a whole.

In that sense, Cheney’s conduct at the Armstrong Ranch and its presentation by the media provide a vivid example of the social relations that prevail in contemporary America, ruled by a financial oligarchy that feels itself as far above the common people as the Russian Tsar or the French aristocracy before 1789. There is one set of laws, one set of prerogatives for the modern equivalent of the ruling estates of the feudal past, and another for the rabble.

See Also:
Cheney's hunting accident: a bizarre and sinister episode
[14 February 2006]

Thursday, February 16, 2006


SBS in Australia broadcasts the real Abu Ghraib footage the US
government will not allow you to see.

*February 16, 2006*

On Wednesday 16 February 2006, Australian public broadcaster SBS current
affairs program DATELINE telecast a segment featring 60 new photos of
the torture inflicted on prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
These photos were secured by court order - the ACLU figures prominently
in the report - but these photos haven't yet been shown in the media
anywhere in the United States. Because of the broadcast on SBS, you now
have access to both Web-downloadable versions and BitTorrent
file-sharing network versions of the broadcast on this site. *THESE
PHOTOS ARE VERY DISTURBING. Please do not view this video if you are
easily disturbed by graphic imagery of torture and death*.

Download the SBS Abu Ghraib video (mp4)

*Server busy? Then download the .torrent file (google bittorrent
tutorial for information on how to do this
.torrent mp4 tiny (13 megs)
.torrent mp4 small (45 megs)
.torrent high res mp4 (90 megs)

Learn about BitTorrent and see all of our torrents
<>SBS in Australia broadcasts the real Abu Ghraib footage the US government will not allow you to see.

Dicks Trophy

Dicks Trophy 21606
Originally uploaded by AJ Franklin.
Click on image to see larger size. You will be taken to the "Flickr" website where you can view my catalog of over 100 other political cartoons as well as millions of other pictures.
Use your "Back" button to return to NLTCP

“Made in the USA” election crisis in Haiti

By Bill Van Auken
15 February 2006

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

The front-runner in Haiti’s election charged Tuesday that the vote count—now entering its second week—was plagued by “gross errors and probably gigantic fraud.” The totals being reported by the country’s electoral council “do not correspond with reality,” he said.

Former Haitian president Rene Preval made the accusations in the wake of mass protests Monday that saw two Haitians gunned down by United Nations “stabilization” troops and the capital of Port-au-Prince paralyzed by demonstrations and burning barricades.

The political crisis ignited by the prolonged delay in announcing the results of the February 7 election has brought the impoverished Caribbean country to the brink of civil war. There are strong indications that this is precisely the intention of the US-backed figures from within Haiti’s right-wing political class who control the ballot tabulation.

The Haitian people are entirely justified in believing that the election is being rigged by Washington to impose US policy on the island nation. In February 2004, the US orchestrated a bloody coup by ex-soldiers, criminals and death squad leaders to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was kidnapped by American operatives and forced into exile. Washington then sent in the US Marines, who have since been replaced by some 9,500 blue-helmeted UN troops. The one party that enjoyed mass support, Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas, has been outlawed since the coup, with its prominent members imprisoned, exiled or forced into hiding.

Having used violence and military force to overthrow an elected government that it opposed, the Bush administration has no compunction about employing fraud and provocation to shape the kind of regime it wants in Port-au-Prince. After all, similar methods for stealing an election were used to install George W. Bush in the White House in the first place.

Seven days after millions of Haitians went to the polls, the ballot count has inexplicably ground to a halt. There is no dispute that Preval was the overwhelming victor in the election, winning at least four times as many votes as his nearest rival. The issue is the attempt by those opposed to Preval to deny him an outright majority and thereby force the election into a second round next month.

While initially vote totals had Preval sweeping the election with over 61 percent of the vote, as the count has dragged on his percentage has precipitously fallen to just below the 49 percent mark—a shift that is widely attributed to the throwing out of tens of thousands of ballots from the impoverished shantytown neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, which voted massively for the ex-president. In addition, some 72,000 blank ballots were reportedly added to the total, thereby diluting Preval’s lead.

Pierre Richard Duchemin, the Catholic Church’s representative on the electoral council, and Patrick Requiere, another council member, both charged Sunday that the results of the election were being manipulated to deny Preval a clear-cut victory.

While the US State Department has signaled that it is willing to work with Preval, who during his 1996-2001 presidency faithfully implemented a draconian structural adjustment program dictated by the International Monetary Fund, his election by a landslide was by no means a welcome development in Washington.

The vote, which saw a powerful turnout by Haiti’s oppressed masses, represented a stinging repudiation of US policy and, above all, the 2004 coup that toppled Aristide, whose populist rhetoric made him anathema, both to the Bush administration and the Haitian oligarchy.

Among Haiti’s privileged classes, Preval’s former ties to Aristide made him suspect, at best. Their favored candidate, sweatshop owner Charles Henri Baker, who garnered barely 5 percent of the vote, has vowed to challenge the election and to prevent Preval from taking office.

US officials have pressed Preval to give them a guarantee that he will not allow Aristide to return from exile in South Africa and that he will bring his political opponents into the government. Forcing a second round would provide Washington and its right-wing Haitian allies with political leverage either to compel Preval to accept their dictates or, failing that, to unleash a campaign of violent destabilization similar to that utilized to oust Aristide two years ago.

There are in all probability differences within the Bush administration over what course to pursue in Haiti. In an article published January 29, the New York Times cited past “ideological wars and partisan rivalries” in Washington over how to deal with the Aristide government. Extreme right-wing elements with ties to the anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, like Otto Reich, who was appointed the State Department’s top official for Latin America, supported Aristide’s overthrow, just as they had sought to overthrow Venezuela’s elected president, Hugo Chavez, two years earlier. Other State Department professionals had warned that such a coup would only throw Haiti into chaos.

The Times report detailed the operations of the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Republican Party-linked body that is a constituent part of the National Endowment for Democracy, the agency created by Congress in the 1980s to carry on the kind of US political operations that were previously conducted by the CIA.

The IRI, working with elements like Baker and fellow sweatshop owner Andy Apaid, organized in the Group 184, poured in money and advisors to destabilize the Aristide government and pave the way to the violent coup of 2004. No doubt, these extreme right-wing Republican ideologues are just as opposed to Preval taking power as their Haitian allies.

While the Bush administration has claimed to be pursuing a global crusade for democracy and, together with the US media, portrayed elections held under US military occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq as major achievements, it has drawn no such attention to the chaotic process in Haiti.

The Haitian developments expose all too clearly what the US ruling elite means by democracy. The gross manipulation of the election is only the latest episode in a long history of oppression dating back to the US invasion of Haiti in 1915, the 20-year occupation that followed, and Washington’s subsequent support for the Duvalier dynasty, which ruled the country through naked terror for three decades.

The “democracy” that Washington is exporting begins and ends with the establishment of regimes that allow the unhindered domination of US-based multinationals over all facets of the economic and political life of their countries.

To the extent that the people seek to express their democratic aspirations by voting against US interests, Washington is prepared to use more violent or coercive methods to achieve its aims. Significantly, even as the vote-rigging drama was unfolding in Port-au-Prince, the New York Times reported Tuesday that the Bush administration and Israel were drafting plans to destabilize and topple the newly elected Palestinian government controlled by Hamas by starving the Palestinian people into submission.

In Haiti, a century of US domination has yielded a social catastrophe, with two thirds of the population of 8 million somehow surviving on less than a dollar a day, 80 percent unemployment, and a life expectancy of barely 51 years. It has also produced extreme social inequality, with a tiny ruling elite that is prepared to utilize the bloodiest forms of terror to defend its privileges.

The fight for genuine democracy in Haiti, as elsewhere in the world, must inevitably take the path of confrontation with US imperialism and its local allies. The bitter lesson of the Aristide presidencies is that such a struggle cannot be waged on a nationalist basis, but rather requires a unified struggle of the workers and oppressed masses of Haiti, the Caribbean and the United States itself against global capitalism.

See Also:
Haiti: mass protests erupt over vote count
[14 February 2006]