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.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Still Trying to House Katrina’s Victims - New York Times

Still Trying to House Katrina’s Victims - New York Times

The Bush administration’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina housing crisis has often looked like an attempt to discourage survivors from applying for help. The House has taken an important step toward reversing this policy with a bill that would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue tens of thousands of new housing vouchers under the Section 8 program, which allows low-income families to seek homes in the private real estate market.

Many of these families would have long since found permanent homes and settled into new lives had the Bush administration brought HUD — which was created to deal with these kinds of situations — into the picture at the very start. But Hurricane Katrina arrived just as the administration had made up its mind to cripple HUD and the successful Section 8 program, partly as a way of offsetting tax cuts for the wealthy.

The administration instead rigged up a confusing and inflexible housing program and put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge. FEMA frustrated landlords and Katrina’s victims alike. Last year, one federal judge likened the convoluted application process — which too often led vulnerable families to lose aid without knowing why or having reasonable recourse to appeal — to something out of a horror story by Kafka.

With thousands of families scheduled to lose their temporary aid by September, the Senate should move quickly to pass this much-needed legislation. Hurricane Katrina’s victims should not have to keep paying the price for the administration’s misplaced animosity toward low-income housing.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ignore the Pundits and Bark Louder

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ignore the Pundits and Bark Louder

Ignore the Pundits and Bark Louder

By Joe Conason

Someday the Democrats may learn an important lesson about the collective wisdom of the media in the nation's capital: On important questions of policy and politics, the Washington press corps is almost always wrong. They are full of firm opinions about everything from clothing, haircuts and marital problems to political tactics, but the safest course is to ignore their advice.

At the moment, the most popular line among the certified pundits is that the congressional Democrats are too zealous in probing Bush administration corruption -- and specifically the apparent politicization of the federal law-enforcement system by the White House and the Justice Department.

On television and in print, Washington's wise folk warn that if the Democrats insist on dragging Bush deputy Karl Rove up to Capitol Hill to testify about the purging of eight United States attorneys, the public will turn on them. These finger-wagging journalists insist that Democrats must "legislate" rather than "investigate."

On "The Chris Matthews Show" of March 25, for instance, host and guests agreed that the Democrats were demanding Rove's testimony only to punish him. Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel dismissed the unfolding scandal as "small-bore politics" and declared himself annoyed: "I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove, because it is so bad for them. Because it shows business as usual, tit-for-tat vengeance. . . . That's not what voters want to see." MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell chimed in: "The Democrats have to be very careful that they look like they're not the party of investigation rather than legislation in trying to change things."

None of those insights were original, as nearly identical warnings were issued by the likes of David Broder of The Washington Post and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal. According to Broder -- the "dean" of the Washington press corps, whose magnificently consistent wrongness dates back to the Nixon era -- Democrats should beware of "tearing down an already discredited Republican administration with more investigations, such as the current attack on the Justice Department and White House over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys." Adam Nagourney informed New York Times readers that "the biggest question is, how far can Democrats go in opposing this president? The biggest risk is going so far that they feel the sting of a backlash -- of being transformed from the fresh new face of change to the latest cast of Washington players enmeshed in partisan wrangling."

How far the Democrats can go in opposing President Bush is assuredly not the "biggest question" in the U.S. attorneys scandal. The biggest questions at the moment revolve around the Fifth Amendment claim of Monica Goodling, a top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served as the liaison between him and his masters in the White House. Her fear of incriminating herself before the Senate Judiciary Committee should be embarrassing news for the pundits and editors who have dismissed this burgeoning crisis.

But then the Washington punditry has been reliably wrong about everything of consequence for many years, from Whitewater to weapons of mass destruction. For any sane politician, the "biggest risk" is listening to these people.

Since the substantive issues raised by the U.S. attorney purge -- such as the political abuse of law enforcement by the White House and the false testimony of Attorney General Gonzales, among others -- are of such scant interest to so many commentators, let's focus instead on public opinion.

Every poll shows that American voters want Congress to fulfill its constitutional mandate to oversee the executive branch, which ran amok under the flaccid reign of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Most Americans are sick of this unaccountable presidency and show no signs of impatience with Democratic efforts to rein in the White House.

While the cable sages were castigating the Democrats for trying to "flog" Mr. Rove, the pollsters at CNN-USA Today were questioning voters. Their answers were decisive: By a margin of three to one, the respondents supported the issuance of those supposedly controversial subpoenas. Polls taken by other media organizations show that support for the president, Gonzales and, indeed, the Republican Party as an institution are very, very low.

The Washington press corps is just as remote from American views and values as when it was howling for President Clinton's head. By now, the Democrats should know that when these soothsayers warn against your present course, it is best to keep going straight ahead. And when they complain that you're barking up the wrong tree, it is time to bark louder.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

David Hicks bullied into guilty plea at Guantánamo kangaroo court

By Richard Phillips
28 March 2007

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After more than five years of imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay where he endured torture and protracted periods of solitary confinement, Australian citizen David Hicks finally pleaded guilty to one charge of “providing material support for terrorism” as part of a plea bargain to get out of the US hell-hole.

Hicks is the first prisoner illegally incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay to be brought before a military commission. The vague charge, the commission itself, and Hicks’s guilty plea are all legal travesties, which not only violate the Geneva Conventions but centuries-old basic legal principles.

The real guilty parties are the Bush administration and its political accomplice, the Australian government. Prime Minister John Howard and his ministers have violated the legal rights of one of their citizens and endorsed the Guantánamo regime where fear and intimidation, sensory deprivation and other torture techniques are routine.

Both Washington and Canberra immediately seized on Hicks’s guilty plea as a vindication of their actions. US defence spokeswoman Major Beth Kubala claimed Monday’s hearing demonstrated that the “process is transparent, legitimate and moving forward.”

In the Australian federal parliament, Howard read the charge sheet, while Justice Minister David Johnston gloated, “When you plead guilty you put yourself in the dock and you don’t go home that night.” In line with its failure to defend Hicks’s basic rights throughout his ordeal, the Labor opposition has refused to make any statement until the proceedings are finished.

So obvious is the legal farce that conservative National Party MP Barnaby Joyce felt compelled to comment: “One of the many reasons why the law disapproves of prolonged incarceration without charge or trial is because of the intolerable pressure it places on the accused to plead guilty just to escape detention... The only thing that is guilty here is the judicial process under which he was being tried.”

Joyce was expressing the sentiments of broad layers of Australians who are appalled at Hicks’s treatment.

The military commission hearings are neither “transparent” nor “legitimate” but kangaroo courts established to produce guilty verdicts that will justify the entire Guantánamo operation and the so-called “war on terror”. The process allows unlimited detention without trial, the use of evidence extracted under torture, severe restrictions on prisoners’ defence lawyers and many other reversals of long-established legal rights.

The very conduct of Monday’s hearing, which was designed to intimidate and threaten Hicks and his defence lawyers, further exposed the legal norms being established under the “war on terror”. Presiding Judge Marine Colonel Ralph Kohlman made no pretence of impartiality as he bullied Hicks and his defence lawyers during the three-and-a-half-hour arraignment.

Early in the proceedings, Hicks was asked by Kohlman whether he was satisfied with his legal defence team. Hicks said he was, but wanted “equality with the prosecution” and that he would ask at a later date for more lawyers and paralegals. Kohlman’s response was to evict from the court two of the three members of Hicks’s legal team.

Kohlman told assistant defence counsel lawyer, Rebecca Snyder, that she would have to step aside because she was a Defence Department employee and could not act for Hicks until she changed her reserve status in the military. Stunned by the decision, Hicks declared: “I’m shocked, because I just lost another lawyer”, only to be sharply reprimanded for “interrupting”.

Kohlmann then declared that Hicks’s American civilian lawyer Josh Dratel could not act as a defence lawyer until he signed a legal document agreeing in advance to the commission’s guidelines for defence counsels. The rules had not even been formulated.

Dratel immediately refused, protesting that the military commissions were an “ad hoc” system that was making up the rules as it went along. He told the judge that his obligation was to his client, not the military process, and he would not sign any document that provided “a blank cheque that draws on my ethical obligations as a lawyer.”

A series of heated exchanges followed between Hicks’s remaining lawyer, Major Michael Mori and Kohlmann. Mori challenged the judge’s impartiality because Kohlmann had been involved in the 2004 military trials that were ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. Mori also cited the judge’s attempts to start the arraignment last week, when he knew that Dratel could not attend. Kohlman rejected these arguments and then closed the hearing.

The blatantly biased nature of the proceedings undoubtedly had its impact. A short while later, an unexpected special night session of the military commission was hurriedly convened, at which Major Mori told the judge that his client had agreed to plead guilty.

The charge of “providing material support to terrorism” is another legal fraud cooked up by the Pentagon after the US Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s previous military commissions and the initial charges against Hicks were unconstitutional. “Providing material support to terrorism” is not a war crime under the Geneva Conventions or the laws of war. Moreover, it is being imposed retrospectively. It therefore constitutes an open violation of the US Constitution and the Australian Criminal Code and would be unacceptable in any genuine court of law.

Journalists attending the Guantánamo kangaroo court reported that Hicks was in a dishevelled state, with dark lines around his eyes and more than 13 kilos heavier than in 2004, when he last appeared in public. He has grown his hair to chest-length to block out the prison lights that remain on his cell 24 hours a day. According to his family and lawyers, Hicks is in bad health with stomach and back complaints and is deeply depressed and disoriented.

Hicks’s father Terry spent three hours with his son before the arraignment. He told the media that David, who was chained to the floor, was so distressed that he was prepared to do anything to get out of Guantánamo. He appeared to have little understanding of mass popular demands in Australia for his release and did not trust the US military commissions to honour any plea-bargaining deal or allow him to serve out any sentence in Australia.

Terry Hicks directly blamed the Howard government for his son’s guilty plea, saying: “The Australian government, I believe, are the ones that put the pressure on David. They demonised him, they pre-judged him for five years. I suppose Mr Howard would be throwing his hands up with glee at the moment...”

The Murdoch media in Australia immediately went into overdrive with a blazing “Guilty” headline on the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. The Australian had no fewer than three comments and an editorial all attacking those who criticised Hicks’s treatment, and claiming that Hicks’s plea justified his systematic vilification as “a terrorist” who had now received his just desserts.

The only thing proven by the guilty plea is that most people, if sufficiently brutalised, can be made to say whatever their torturers want. The lengthy columns in the Australian demonstrate the complete contempt, not only within the newspaper’s editorial board but more generally in Australian ruling circles, for basic democratic rights and due legal process.

Howard is no doubt hoping that he will be able to bury the issue. But for many ordinary working people, it is blindingly obvious that Hicks has been battered into submission and treated unjustly. The illegal detention and prosecution of Hicks in a US kangaroo court is the real crime—for which both the US and Australian governments should be held accountable.

See Also:
SEP demands immediate release of Australian citizen David Hicks from Guantánamo
[20 March 2007]
Senior lawyers accuse Australian government of war crimes over Guantánamo
[27 February 2007]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Democrats pass “anti-war” bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Barry Grey
24 March 2007

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After weeks of public posturing and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Democrats in the House of Representatives secured passage Friday of an emergency spending bill that grants the Bush administration’s request for over $100 billion in additional funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In what amounts to a colossal political fraud, they presented their “Troop Readiness, Veterans Health and Iraq Accountability Act” as a measure to force an end to the war in Iraq by September 1, 2008.

It does nothing of the kind. Even if a similar Democratic measure were to be passed in the Senate—and it will not—and the final bill were to survive a presidential veto—a political impossibility—the resulting law would do nothing to halt the current military escalation in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and would allow upwards of 75,000 US troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely.

The bill is a labored attempt by the Democratic leadership to pose as opponents of the Iraq war, while in practice ensuring its continuation. The vote to authorize war funding flies in the face of the will of the electorate, which expressed its desire to end the war and its opposition to the policies of the Bush administration in last November’s congressional elections, overturning Republican control in both houses of Congress.

In remarks following the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went out of her way to declare her party’s support for the US military and the so-called “war on terror,” calling the bill “a giant step to end the war and responsibly redeploy our troops out of Iraq” so they could concentrate on Afghanistan, “where the war on terrorism is.”

The Bush administration has denounced the bill and promised to veto it, in line with the White House’s blanket opposition to any conditions, no matter how toothless, being placed on its war-making powers.

The bill passed by the narrowest possible margin, with 218 votes in favor and 212 opposed. Only two Republicans voted for the bill and 14 Democrats voted against it.

The conditions attached to US troop deployments by the bill are themselves so conditional as to be meaningless. Under the measure, Bush would be obliged to certify to Congress on July 1, 2007 and again on October 1, 2007 that the Iraqi government has made progress in meeting certain benchmarks, such as containing sectarian violence, reining in militias, and reforming the constitution. Should Bush fail to go through the motions of making such a certification, withdrawal of US combat troops would begin. Even if the government certified progress, US combat troops would be withdrawn by September 1, 2008.

But this “final deadline” could be extended if the administration obtained approval from Congress. In any event, less than half of the 140,000 US troops currently in Iraq are designated as combat forces, meaning that 75,000 or more troops would remain after the “deadline” to conduct counterinsurgency operations, train Iraqi forces, police borders and protect US assets.

As New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, made clear in an interview with the New York Times last week, if elected she would keep a large force of American troops in Iraq indefinitely to secure “remaining vital national security interests” there. She elaborated on these “national security interests” by noting that Iraq is “right in the heart of the oil region.”

Similarly, the House Democrats’ bill upholds the war aims of US imperialism by listing as one of the benchmarks the passage of an oil law that will open up Iraq’s vast reserves to exploitation by US energy conglomerates.

The bill also requires the Pentagon to observe standards for training, equipping and resting troops before their deployment and limits the duration of Army tours of duty to 365 days. With the military already stretched to the limit, these provisions could actually create obstacles to the further escalation of the war under Bush’s so-called troop “surge” in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Consequently, the bill allows Bush to waive these requirements in the name of “national security,” giving him a free hand to send as many additional troops as he desires.

In the weeks leading up to Friday’s vote on the floor of the House, the White House and congressional Republicans continually called the Democrats’ bluff, exposing their antiwar pretenses by challenging them to cut off war funding. This culminated last week in the passage, with overwhelming Democratic support, of a Republican-sponsored nonbinding Senate resolution vowing to never cut funds for “troops in the field.”

For their part, Pelsoi and the rest of the Democratic leadership continually tacked to the right, readjusting their war spending bill to placate Blue Dog Democrats and other war supporters within the Democratic caucus by further watering down its nominal restrictions on Bush’s war powers. They secured the support of the party’s right wing by dropping language that would have required Bush to obtain congressional support before launching an attack on Iran.

They loaded the bill with allocations for special projects targeted to win over specific congressmen. Thus the final result includes $25 million for spinach farmers in California, $75 million for peanut storage in Georgia, $15 million for Louisiana rice fields and $120 million for shrimp fishermen.

As Pelosi and her subordinates scrambled to assemble the necessary 218 votes to secure passage, groups on the so-called liberal wing of the party declared their support, including the Congressional Black Caucus and

The critical role was played by the misnamed “Out of Iraq Caucus” of House Democrats. This group of some 70 congressmen has postured as the most militant critics of the war. Their key leaders, such as Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters, both of California, have been paraded before antiwar demonstrators by protest organizers as living proof that the Democratic Party can be pressured to end the war.

Pelosi dealt with them through a combination of threats and inducements. The house speaker reportedly warned California Rep. Barbara Lee, another leader of the Out of Iraq Caucus, that she would be stripped of her post on the powerful House Appropriations Committee if she sought to block passage of the bill.

On Thursday, Lee, Woolsey, Waters and company insured passage of the bill at a closed-door session with Pelosi. The Washington Post reported on Friday:

“As debate began on the bill yesterday, members of the antiwar caucus and party leaders held a backroom meeting in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a final plea to the group, asking it to deliver at least four votes when the roll is called. The members promised ten.”

Lee, the author of a bill that would supposedly withdraw US troops from Iraq by the end of 2007, said, “While I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war.”

Waters said the leaders of the caucus had told their members, “We don’t want them to be in a position of undermining Nancy’s speakership.”

In the debate on the floor of the House, supposedly antiwar liberals denounced the war, and proceeded to call for a vote to fund it. Typical were the remarks of Jim McDermott of Washington State, who declared, “The Iraq war is a fraud... Perpetuating it is a tragedy,” and then announced he would vote for the war funding measure.

Virtually all of the Democratic speakers wrapped themselves in the flag and declared their unconditional “support for the troops.” According to one press report: “In the closing round of the debate, most Democrats focused on elements of the bill that they said would protect American troops by requiring better training and longer periods of rest between deployments.”

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, who heads the Armed Services Committee, said the bill would strengthen the US military, which has been strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’m deeply concerned about the readiness of our forces,” he said.

The legislative charade mounted by the Democratic Party has nothing to do with ending the war in Iraq. There are, in fact, no principled differences between the Democrats and Bush when it comes to the imperialist aims of the war. Both parties, the Democrats no less than the Republicans, serve the corporate interests—the oil conglomerates, the Wall Street banks, and the American financial oligarchy as a whole—that seek through military violence to establish US control of the resources and markets of the world.

The differences between those within the political establishment who favor continued escalation of the war and those who seek to continue the colonial occupation with reduced US troops are purely tactical. They have to do with the best means of salvaging the US debacle in Iraq by killing and brutalizing more Iraqis, in order to secure US control of the Middle East.

The real political purpose of the Democrats’ bill was indicated in an interview this week on the “Democracy Now” radio program with Robert Borosage, a long-time Democratic Party operative and contributing editor at the Nation magazine. Arguing in support of the war spending bill, he said, “The question is about, can you create a symbolic vote—because the president has vowed to veto it if it passes—a symbolic vote that unites the opponents of the war and shows that there’s a majority in the Congress now united about a date certain to get the troops out.”

In other words, a measure that will have no effect on the war, but will promote the fiction that the Democratic Party is in some way a vehicle for the antiwar sentiments of the people, and thereby keep social opposition within the bounds of the two-party system.

In this critical task for the American ruling elite, forces like the Out of Iraq Caucus and their “left” allies in the protest movement play a crucial role. They serve not to end the war, but to provide a right-wing, pro-war party with a left-wing, antiwar gloss, the better to block the emergence of an independent movement of working people against war, repression and social inequality.

Four-and-a-half months after the election, in which the people expressed their opposition to the war, the result is the opposite of their wishes. Tens of thousands more troops are being deployed, the carnage and death are increasing, and US military spokesmen like Gen. David Petraeus are speaking of an escalation unlimited in both size and duration.

Ending the catastrophe inflicted by American imperialism on Iraq, and preventing new wars in Iran and elsewhere, requires a complete political break with the Democratic Party and the two-party system. It requires the independent political mobilization of working people, both in the US and internationally, in a class-conscious socialist movement.

We urge all those who agree with this perspective to make preparations to attend the Emergency Conference Against War sponsored by the World Socialist Web Site, the Socialist Equality Party and the International Students for Social Equality on the weekend of March 31-April 1.

See Also:
If elected, Hillary Clinton vows to keep US troops in Iraq
[17 March 2007]
Democrats drop demand that Bush seek approval for war on Iran
[14 March 2007]

Friday, March 23, 2007

The US attorneys “showdown”—Democrats seek to evade a confrontation

By Bill Van Auken
23 March 2007

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The supposed constitutional “showdown” between the Democratic-led Congress and George Bush’s White House over the firing of eight federal prosecutors has served primarily to shift the focus of media attention and official public debate away from the war in Iraq.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday followed the lead given by a House Judiciary subcommittee the day before, voting to authorize the issuance of subpoenas to compel Bush’s chief political advisor Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and other officials to testify under oath on the firing of the US attorneys.

The votes followed a televised statement by President Bush on Tuesday preemptively rejecting any such testimony and accusing the Democrats in Congress of “demanding show trials” and engaging in a “partisan witch-hunt.” Bush said that he would “oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials.” Instead of sworn testimony, Bush said he would make officials available for “interviews.”

In a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, White House counsel Fred Fielding, a veteran of the Nixon White House during the Watergate crisis, spelled out the restrictive terms offered by the administration. “Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony, or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas,” Fielding wrote.

White House spokesman Tony Snow clarified on Wednesday that if subpoenas are issued, the offer of closed-door interviews, without oaths or transcripts, will be “withdrawn.”

The actions by the two Congressional panels, combined with the intransigence of the White House, have led to widespread media reports of a “confrontation” and “impasse” between the legislative and executive branches of the government, with increasing comparisons between the present controversy and the Watergate battle over White House tapes 33 years ago.

The present controversy does involve significant substantive issues related to the general criminality and corruption that pervades the Bush administration, which carried out an unprecedented mass firing of US attorneys in the middle of a presidency.

First, there is the concern that such an action serves to diminish any independence on the part of officials who are supposedly entrusted with the impartial enforcement of the law, turning them into direct political pawns of the White House.

Second, there is substantial evidence that those fired were singled out for failing to toe the Republican administration’s political line, and, at least in some cases, in ways that could be illegal.

There are suspicions, for example, that Carol Lam was fired from her job as US attorney for California’s southern district because she had successfully prosecuted Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham for taking millions in bribes from military contractors, and was expanding her investigation to cover another Republican congressman.

In the case of New Mexico US attorney David Iglesias, there is evidence that the firing came in retaliation for his refusal to “play ball” with the state’s Republican senator, Peter Domenici, and other local party officials by expediting a politically motivated prosecution of local Democrats in advance of the 2006 election.

Finally, there is ample evidence suggesting that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others deliberately misled Congress about the firings, apparently in an attempt to cover up the role of the president and his advisors.

Despite these issues, and notwithstanding the heated rhetoric of both the president and some Capitol Hill Democrats, there is little indication that the vote to authorize the House and Senate judiciary panel chairmen to issue subpoenas will lead to some kind of historic constitutional clash.

Both White House spokesmen and leading congressional Democrats stressed the difference between authorizing and issuing subpoenas, the former viewed largely as a negotiating ploy.

“We’re authorizing that ability but we’re not issuing them,” Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in relation to the subpoenas. “It’ll only strengthen our hand in getting to the bottom of this.”

“Trust me. We are not going to move in a reckless or angry or temperamental way at all,” Michigan Democratic Representative John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, declared Wednesday.

On the same day, Snow stressed at a White House press briefing, “There is an important distinction between authorizing subpoenas and issuing them.”

If the House and Senate panels were to go forward and issue the subpoenas, and the White House were to carry through with its vow to ignore them, the only means of pursuing the matter would be for the Congress as a whole to issue citations finding the White House officials in contempt.

Enforcement would then fall to another US attorney—one of those deemed loyal to Bush. In this particular case, it would go to the US attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, a former counselor to Gonzales and to his predecessor as attorney general, John Ashcroft. Before joining the Justice Department, Taylor worked as an aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, (Republican of Utah), where he participated in the writing of the Patriot Act.

The likelihood that such a figure would expedite the convening of a grand jury and the indictment of top administration officials is nil. Most legal experts caution that the matter would be tied up in procedural questions until well after Bush left the White House.

Given the Democrats’ track record, it is safe to predict that a compromise will be reached largely on the terms dictated by the White House. Despite the appearance of misconduct and cover-up surrounding the case, the president enjoys the courage of his criminal convictions.

In this, as with every political question, the overriding characteristic of the Democratic response is an extraordinary level of political cowardice. One only has to ask, what would the Republicans be doing under analogous circumstances?

To answer the question, one only has to look back less than a decade to the ferocious drive for what amounted to a political coup against the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton. Not only administration officials, but the president’s lawyers, his personal Secret Service bodyguards, friends and associates were subpoenaed to appear before the grand inquisition convened by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, and Clinton’s claims of executive privilege were simply tossed aside. Those who refused to testify against the president—like Susan McDougal—were paraded before the television cameras in chains and thrown into prison. All of this in connection with an investigation into a second-rate real estate deal that morphed into a witch-hunt over a sexual act in the White House, culminating in the impeachment of the president.

The Democrats are incapable of proceeding with anything approaching the ruthlessness of their Republican opponents. They stand in awe of the president and are terrified that their actions could set in motion social forces that cannot be controlled and that could cut across the corporate and financial interests which they defend, no less than the Republicans.

However this controversy is ultimately resolved, the question remains: why have the Congressional Democrats chosen the firing of eight federal prosecutors—all of them political appointees of the Republican administration—as the issue upon which to launch their rebellion, even if it is a rebellion on their knees?

These same Democratic leaders, in their overwhelming majority, supported the USA Patriot Act, granting the administration quasi-police state powers to carry out domestic spying and repression.

Since then, it has emerged that the FBI has exceeded even the sweeping powers granted the agency under the Patriot Act, issuing so-called national security letters—instant administrative subpoenas—to collect detailed personal information on thousands of people in the US, without any indication that they are even connected to an ongoing terror investigation.

Yet, not only did the Democratic leadership fail to mount the kind of challenge to the White House over these ominous abuses as it has in the attorneys case, it explicitly ruled out any attempt to repeal the relevant sections of the Patriot Act. Moreover, it accepted the FBI’s incredible claim that the problem was largely a matter of sloppy bookkeeping.

Similarly, Congressional Democrats have not sought to hold Gonzales, White House officials or top officials in the National Security Agency (NSA) to account for the decision to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and carry out massive secret spying on Americans. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly confirm the NSA chief who oversaw the illegal program as the new director of the CIA.

Nor have they subpoenaed White House, Pentagon or CIA officials to testify on the “extraordinary rendition” of innocent individuals to be tortured in overseas secret prisons. Nor have they challenged the kangaroo military courts that are being used to railroad alleged terrorist “enemy combatants.” Rather, the Democrats have made themselves junior partners in these loathsome practices.

The Democratic leadership in Congress has mounted no such challenge to the White House over how it lied to the American people and the world in order to drag the country into the Iraq war.

The focus on the eight fired prosecutors serves one essential function. The story of the war of words between Capitol Hill and the White House has largely supplanted media coverage of the real war in Iraq, which both the administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership continue to support, despite the overwhelming opposition of the American people.

There is ample motive for changing the subject. The House Democrats are badly divided over their proposed supplemental funding bill to authorize another $100 billion to pay for the slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, while tacking on toothless language suggesting a deadline for withdrawing “combat troops”—a carefully-selected term that refers to barely half the number of US military personnel currently occupying Iraq.

In the end, taking a stand over the fired prosecutors has the advantage of committing the Democratic Party to nothing in terms of a challenge to the domestic and foreign policies being pursued by the Bush administration.

See Also:
Congressional hearings detail political tampering in US climate research
[22 March 2007]

The human costs of four years of war

The US invasion has caused nearly three-quarter million Iraqi deaths

By the Editorial Board
20 March 2007

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On the fourth anniversary of Washington’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq, President Bush delivered a five-minute midday televised speech pleading with the American people to give his latest escalation of the war more time to suppress Iraq resistance to the US occupation.

In a subdued and defensive tone, Bush recycled the same lies used to promote and justify the war since well before the launching of the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad in March of 2003. He claimed once again that the US had intervened because of the “threat” Iraq posed to the world, without mentioning the supposed substance of that threat, weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist groups, both of which were fabricated by the White House.

He made the absurd claim that the US-backed Iraqi regime is “working to build a free society that upholds the rule of law, that respects the rights of its people, that provides them security . . .” This is under conditions in which death squads and terrorist attacks claim scores if not hundreds of lives daily, and disappearances and torture are rampant.

Finally, he once again invoked September 11, echoing the innumerable attempts of his administration to perform the political sleight of hand of blaming Iraq for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and selling the war of aggression as vengeance for those killed in the Twin Towers and at the Pentagon.

The “consequences for American security would be devastating,” if US troops were withdrawn from Iraq, Bush declared. He continued, “The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September 11, 2001. For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen.”

The reality is that Iraq had nothing to do with September 11, which was utilized as a pretext for launching a long-planned war to conquer Iraq and its oil wealth. And the US invasion is the cause of, not the solution to, the chaos in Iraq. The claim that the US troops must remain in the country because otherwise terrorists could set up training camps there could be used to justify the invasion and occupation of any country in the world that Washington perceives as insufficiently stable or repressive.

Bush’s speech provoked predictable rebuttals from his ostensible political opposition, the Democratic leadership in Congress. Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada charged that the last four years have amounted to “a series of failures by the Bush administration: failure to plan for the occupation, failure to anticipate an insurgency, failure to provide for our troops, and a failure to level with the American people.”

Others condemned Bush for allowing Iraq to divert military resources from the “real” war on terror.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Bush’s handling of the war, referring, like many others, to the more than 3,200 soldiers killed in Iraq and the tens of thousands wounded, while adding that the invasion and occupation had brought “our military’s readiness to the lowest levels since the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the House Democrats are moving ahead with plans to approve over $100 billion in “emergency” funding to pay for the war and its escalation, while attaching non-enforceable language suggesting a timeline for the withdrawal of some—though by no means all—US troops from Iraq.

What is ignored entirely in this phony debate and largely obscured by the mass media is the staggering level of death and destruction that the four-year-old US war has inflicted upon the Iraqi people.

Press reports marking the fourth anniversary of the war largely glossed over this question, or presented figures that wildly underestimated the death toll.

Thus, for example, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday, “an estimated 60,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US-led invasion on March 20, 2003.”

CNN similarly stated, “Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000, possibly much higher.”

The figure of 60,000 Iraqi deaths was given by both NBC and ABC in their early morning newscasts.

For its part, the cable news network MSNBC declared simply that the number of Iraqis killed was “almost impossible to estimate.”

The source of these estimates—or why any estimate is next to impossible—is not explained by these media organizations. It is as if the fate of the Iraqi people—whose “freedom” is constantly invoked as the supposed purpose of the war—is a minor question, of no real interest to anyone.

Even if the unattributed estimates of 60,000 dead were true, it would represent a horrifying slaughter, representing 20 dead Iraqis for every US soldier killed. The reality, however, is that the ratio is at least 200 to 1.

In October of last year, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published the results of a meticulous epidemiological study finding that an estimated 655,000 Iraqis had lost their lives as a result of the US war and occupation between March of 2003 and June of 2006. The public health experts who directed the study—the only scientific investigation of Iraqi casualties—cautioned that the real death toll could be significantly higher and attributed nearly one third of it directly to US military operations.

Given the marked escalation of the violence in the past several months, it is entirely likely that three-quarters of a million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion and occupation of their country.

In addition to those who have lost their lives, one must assume that more than a million Iraqis have suffered some form of physical injury as a consequence of the bloodshed unleashed by the US invasion.

This still does not encompass the full scale of the human tragedy for which the United States is responsible. An estimated two million refugees have fled Iraq, creating one of the most severe refugee crises anywhere on the planet. At least another 1.7 million are internal refugees, driven from their homes by the war and the uncontrolled and savage ethnic cleansing operations taking place throughout the country.

Given these figures, it is likely that a quarter of the Iraqi population has been killed, wounded or turned into refugees.

This is the real context in which the working class in the US and around the world must view Bush’s calls for “more time” to implement his “new strategy” of escalation, Condoleezza Rice’s statement Monday that the Iraq war is “worth the sacrifice,” or the Democrats claims that the only way to end the war is to give the White House another $100 billion to wage it.

What has taken place in Iraq and what is continuing and escalating is a crime of blood-curdling proportions. The so-called “surge” of some 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad and Anbar province will only mean an escalation of this mass killing, maiming and uprooting of Iraqis.

In the end, the US intervention in Iraq has amounted to an exercise in sociocide, the unleashing of violence, death and destruction on such as a scale as to traumatize, deform and even destroy Iraqi society.

Mass unemployment, hunger and death

This finds its expression in every area of life in occupied Iraq. The country’s economy remains devastated, with between 50 and 75 percent of the population unemployed. Poverty has soared, and with it child malnutrition and infant mortality. According to the Catholic relief agency Caritas, nearly one third of Iraqi children are going hungry. Press reports from Iraq indicate that legions of war orphans and impoverished children have taken to the streets of Baghdad and other cities to beg for food.

Essential services such as clean water and electricity are less available to the average Iraqi now than they were before the US invaded the country four years ago, when conditions were already vastly deteriorated as a result of a decade of international sanctions and the widespread destruction inflicted during the first Persian Gulf War and subsequent US missile attacks.

Meanwhile, the national health care system, once considered one of the best in the region, has largely collapsed, leading to countless more unnecessary deaths. In an open letter published earlier this year, Iraqi doctors and foreign aid professionals wrote: “. . . children are dying in Iraq for want of medical treatment . . . Sick or injured children, who could otherwise be treated by simple means, are left to die in their hundreds because they do not have access to basic medicines or other resources. Children who have lost hands, feet, and limbs are left without prostheses. Children with grave psychological distress are left untreated.”

The desperate conditions created by the US intervention in Iraq found fresh expression in a poll released Monday by a group of major US and European news organizations, showing that fully 53 percent of Iraqis report having had family member or close friends killed or wounded. Close to 90 percent say that they live in fear of someone in their own family becoming a victim.

Moreover, in virtually every area of life, the poll pointed to a dramatic deterioration in the past two years. Thus, while in a poll taken in 2005, 54 percent said that their electricity supply was inadequate or non-existent, now the figure is 88 percent. Similar changes were recorded in relation to jobs, water supply and hopes for the future. Not surprisingly, the attitude towards US occupation forces also registered a sharp shift, with 51 percent expressing the view that it was “acceptable” to attack them, triple the rate recorded three years ago. Nearly 80 percent opposed their presence on Iraqi soil.

The desperate social and economic conditions prevailing in Iraq, as well as the killing and maiming of Iraqi civilians, constitute war crimes committed by Washington. They are a blatant violation of the Geneva Accords, which imposes upon an occupying power the “duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population,” and a special responsibility to ensure the maintenance, care and education of its children.

Far from reconstructing Iraq, the US occupation has unleashed upon the ravaged country all that is corrupt, sick and criminal within American society itself. This has included the sadism and perversity of Abu Ghraib, the psychotic massacres and rapes for which some lower-ranking enlisted personnel are now being tried and, on a far more massive scale, the outright theft and embezzlement carried out by a host of politically connected contractors, foremost among them Halliburton, whose former bagman is now vice president of the United States.

These are the crimes not just of an administration in the White House, but of the entire political establishment and the social order as a whole.

Every significant institution in American society bears responsibility for this criminal enterprise, from the right-wing leadership that conspired to launch the war, to the Democratic Party, which voted the administration unlimited war powers and hundreds of billions of dollars in war funding, to the mass media, which transformed itself into a conduit for lies and war propaganda, both before the invasion and after.

Behind these political institutions stand the major economic forces within US society—the banks, corporations and, most immediately, the giant energy conglomerates—all of which saw in the Iraq war a means of reversing the relative decline of US capitalism on the world market by means of military aggression and plunder.

As both the Bush administration and leading Democratic politicians like Senator Hillary Clinton of New York issue demands and threats to compel the Iraqi regime to speedily enact a new petroleum law opening up the country’s vast reserves to exploitation by ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips,, etc, the already transparent motives underlying the US invasion four years ago are becoming ever more explicit.

These companies are just as guilty in relation to the pillaging and mass slaughter in Iraq as the German firms IG Farben, Krupp and Flick were in the atrocities of Hitler’s Third Reich, crimes for which their directors were convicted—if less than adequately punished—at Nuremberg.

These are the real issues confronting American society on this fourth anniversary of a war characterized by unspeakable criminality and filth.

The so-called debate between the Bush White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress over how best to salvage US interests from the debacle in Iraq does not begin to confront these questions. Both Bush’s escalation and Democratic proposals for reducing US forces, while continuing the occupation, are based on a continued strategy of conquest and on the conception that, eventually, the mass killing and repression will force the Iraqi people to submit. Both parties express the interests and methods of an American capitalist class that has enriched itself through parasitism and methods of violence and criminality, employed both at home and abroad to effect the transfer of vast amounts of wealth from the working population of the world to a tiny financial aristocracy.

An end to the immense and tragic crisis that now exists in Iraq is unthinkable outside of the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US troops. Moreover, no real settlement can be contemplated outside of those who conspired to carry out this illegal war being held politically and legally responsible, including through prosecution for war crimes.

Such a solution cannot be achieved through the existing political institutions and the two major parties in the US, all of which have Iraq blood on their hands. It requires the independent political mobilization of working people, both in the US and internationally, in a class-conscious socialist movement.

On this, the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site pledges to intensify the struggle to build such a movement to put an end to war and the profit system that creates it.

We call on all those who agree with this perspective to make preparations to attend the Emergency Conference Against War sponsored by the World Socialist Web Site, the Socialist Equality Party and the International Students for Social Equality on the weekend of March 31-April 1, 2007.

See Also:
US antiwar demonstrations mark four years since Iraq invasion
[19 March 2007]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bush loyalists: Blame firings on Clinton
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2007

If it achieves nothing else, the Bush administration’s solitary
contribution to the art of governance may be its creative use of what TV
comic Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness.” Mostly, Colbert remains in
character as a blowhard FOX News-style pundit. But he once gave a
serious interview.. “Truthiness,” Colbert said, “is tearing apart our
country.... It used to be everyone was entitled to their own opinion,
but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter
not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the
president because he’s certain of his choices as a leader; even if the
facts that back him up don’t seem to exist.... What is important? What
you want to be true or what is true?” The dude must be reading my
e-mail. Scarcely a day passes without “conservative” screeds accusing me
of irrational hatred for our peerless leader, most couched in sheer
truthiness: half-truths, pseudo-facts and downright buncombe. It’s the
sameness that’s striking. Most repeat the same bogus arguments in near
identical order.

Consider the Bush White House’s purge of U.S. attorneys. Without
exception, loyalists identify the real culprit: Bill Clinton. It’s an
alibi familiar to the parents of small children. Catch little Johnny in
the cookie jar? “What about Suzy?” he’ll whine.

“In March of 1993,” an editorialist rationalizes, “Bill Clinton’s newly
sworn in attorney general—Janet Reno—fired every single U.S. attorney in
the country, all 93 of them, in the opening salvo of the Clinton
years... the most comprehensive, unmistakable, unprecedented and
politically motivated dismissal of federal prosecutors in American

Except for all the others, that is. Fact is, incoming administrations
routinely replace all U.S. attorneys; Ronald Reagan, Clinton and the
current President Bush did so.

Even the first President Bush replaced Reagan’s prosecutors, although
they were both Republicans. Nominating U.S. attorneys is as much a
perquisite of winning the White House as naming the treasury secretary.

The GOP “Culture of Bamboozlement,” as my pal Bob Somerby of “The Daily
Howler” calls it, functions very efficiently. Whether a given bit of
truthiness originates with the Republican National Committee, FOX News,
The Washington Times or Rush Limbaugh matters little. They repeat it
until True Believers can recite it in their sleep.

So here are the differences. First, Clinton’s choices were nominated at
the beginning of his term, pending approval by each state’s senators and
confirmation by the full Senate. The Bush firings came six years after
his election. They followed a little-noticed clause in the revamped
Patriot Act allowing the president to circumvent Senate confirmation in
an “emergency.” (Funny, I don’t hear sirens.) That clause is being
repealed as I write.

Consulting the Senate tended to prevent overtly partisan actions like
replacing Little Rock U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins with one Timothy
Griffin, a Karl Rove apparatchik with scant qualifications. Arkansas’
relatively conservative Democratic senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche
Lincoln, have made it clear that they wouldn’t go along.

A Republican, Cummins has testified that he was warned not to complain,
lest the bamboozlement machine be turned against him.

Former Clinton Attorney General Reno also never testified falsely to
Congress, unlike Alberto Gonzales, who told the Senate, “I would never,
ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political
reasons or if it would, in any way, jeopardize an ongoing serious

Gonzales stands contradicted by his email exchanges with subordinates,
who’d given similarly disingenuous assurances. Lying to Congress can
sometimes be a crime. It’s always politically debilitating.

San Diego U. S. Attorney Carol Lam, who had convicted one Republican
congressman in a bribery scandal, subpoenaed another and indicted one
Dusty Foggo, the Bush-appointed third-in command at the CIA, was one of
those fired. E-mails passed between the Justice Department and the White
House about “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam” —on the
same day she filed search warrants. Now we learn that Chicago U.S.
Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, recipient of Attorney General John
Ashcroft’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2002, got rated “not
distinguished” in 2005 when he had Scooter Libby and Karl Rove under
scrutiny in the Valerie Plame investigation. After Fitzgerald convicted
Libby, another example of GOP truthiness got exposed. How many times
have you heard somebody alibi that Plame was not a covert CIA agent, so
exposing her identity was no crime? Last week she testified to Congress
that she was a covert agent. Plame did, however, admit to being a

Friday, March 16, 2007

Washington exploits Guantánamo “confession” to justify its crimes

By Bill Van Auken
16 March 2007

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

The American public was inundated Thursday with non-stop coverage of the confession allegedly given by the man accused by the Bush administration of orchestrating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington.

The 26-page transcript supplied by the Pentagon has Khalid Sheikh Mohammed taking responsibility for literally dozens of attacks, plots and threats carried out on at least five continents over the course of 15 years.

This transcript was purportedly the record of a closed-door military hearing conducted at the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It is replete with multiple redactions, including the blacking out of sections of the detainee’s testimony dealing with torture as well as of the names of every US officer and enlisted men taking part in these proceedings.

Media coverage of these events has exhibited a definite breathless quality, with a focus on the most sensationalist aspects of Mohammed’s alleged testimony, taking responsibility for everything from “A to Z” in the 9/11 attacks, to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing, the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl as well as alleged plots to blow up other skyscrapers and landmark buildings, including New York’s Stock Exchange and Empire State Building, Chicago’s Sears Tower and London’s Big Ben, and to assassinate world figures ranging from ex-US President Jimmy Carter to Pope John Paul II.

Curiously, the confession to the savage murder of Pearl was redacted from the original version of the transcript released by the Pentagon. It was added only later, with the Defense Department explaining that it had blacked it out until authorities were able to inform the journalist’s family of what Mohammed had said.

The obvious question is: why such haste to release the transcript—which was from a hearing conducted last Saturday. The most likely answer is that the release was timed for the political benefit of the Bush White House.

After barring the press from the secret hearing, the Pentagon released the Mohammed transcript as part of a deliberate effort by the Bush administration to divert public attention away from the crimes of the administration and the deepening debacle confronting the US occupation in Iraq. The confession had the added advantage of removing the deepening political crisis surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the politically motivated firing of eight federal prosecutors from the top of the news.

The reality is that there is little new in terms of these revelations. Much of what was included in the transcript had already appeared in reports leaked to the media as well as in an account of Mohammed’s interrogation that was included in the September 11 commission report. What is largely obscured by the media’s approach is that Mohammed’s confession was extracted over the course of four years of detention and torture in secret CIA prisons, and that thousands of others subjected to similar treatment have yet to be accused of, much less tried for, a single crime.

The unstated purpose of the confession being waved in front of the public is to justify more than five years of international lawlessness on the part of US imperialism: unprovoked wars, targeted assassinations, extraordinary renditions, secret prisons, torture and illegal spying.

Mohammed is one of 14 so-called high value detainees whom Bush ordered moved from secret CIA prisons to Guantánamo in September after the existence of the CIA “black sites” became widely publicized. The military court that he and others are being called before is known as a combatant status review tribunal, whose sole purpose is to rubber stamp the Bush administration’s definition of these detainees as “enemy combatants,” who, by definition, are denied rights under both the US Constitution and the Geneva Convention.

Once their status is confirmed, they can be held indefinitely before being brought before another military tribunal with the power to condemn them to death.

The nature of the proceeding emerges clearly from the Mohammed transcript. He was not provided with a lawyer, but rather a “personal representative,” i.e., another military officer. He was not allowed to call two witnesses that he requested, both fellow detainees at Guantánamo. Nor was he allowed to see classified evidence that was assembled against him.

According to the transcript presented by the Pentagon, Mohammed accepted his designation as an enemy combatant, while rejecting the legitimacy of the US tribunal. He insisted, however, that most of the 385 other men being held in Guantánamo—many of whom are now on hunger strike—had nothing to do with terrorism or attacks on the US and were innocent people swept up by US forces in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan.

This assessment was supported by Mark Denbeaux, a Seton Hall law professor acting as an attorney for two Tunisians held at the Guantánamo prison camp. “The government has finally brought someone into Gitmo who apparently admits to being someone who could be called an enemy combatant,” he said. “None of the others rise to this level. The government has now got one.”

Mohammed was the only one of the 14 thus far who agreed to participate in the hearing. Another detainee called before a tribunal last week, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, issued a statement saying he would refuse to appear before any body except a court of law in the US. He pointed out that he had been denied a lawyer and could not call witnesses in his defense.

“If I am classified as an enemy combatant,” he said in the statement, “it is possible that the United States will deem my witnesses are enemy combatants and judicial or administration action may be taken against them. It is my opinion the detainee is in a lose-lose situation.”

With its focus on the details of the myriad attacks and plots to which Mohammed supposedly confessed, the mass media failed to raise any number of questions posed by the highly peculiar transcript made public by the Pentagon.

The first and most obvious is: why should anyone take either the Pentagon’s account at face value, or for that matter, the account—if it is indeed genuine—given by Mohammed himself?

No independent observers were allowed into the secret hearing held in Guantánamo last weekend. All anyone has are the 26 pages issued by Defense Department. The cable and network news filled in the blanks with images of buildings and individuals supposedly targeted in the listed plots and by interviewing “terrorism experts.”

As for Mohammed, his confession would be ruled inadmissible in any genuine court. There is no question that he was subjected to forms of extreme torture. He was further intimidated by the CIA’s seizure of his wife and two young children, who were threatened with similar treatment unless he told his interrogators what they wanted to hear.

The 9/11 Commission, meanwhile, basing itself on evidence given by the CIA, described him as someone prone to “inflating his own role,” who saw himself as a “self-cast star, the superterrorist.” According to some media accounts, cynical US intelligence officials referred to Mohammed as the “Forrest Gump of Islamic terrorism,” for his tendency to place himself at the center of every single event over the course of decades.

Why are the military tribunals secret?

Another question largely glossed over by the media is why the hearings to determine the status of Mohammed and 13 other former prisoners of the CIA are being held in secret. Clearly, the main purpose of this secrecy is not to protect “national security,” but to prevent the American public and indeed the world at large from hearing any detailed testimony as to the torture the detainees have undergone at the hands of US intelligence.

The secrecy surrounding the hearings is also designed to shield a number of countries—reportedly including Jordan, Egypt, Poland, Thailand and Morocco—which provided the US with sites for its clandestine prisons and, in some cases, assisted in the torture.

Finally, and most importantly, the secrecy is meant to protect high-ranking US officials, including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, who undoubtedly issued orders to torture prisoners, acts that are crimes of war that could bring them before an international tribunal for prosecution.

There is another question left unanswered in the media frenzy surrounding the Guantánamo “confession”. Who is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed really, and what were his relations with the intelligence services of the United States and its allies? Supposedly he is the hardest and most ruthless of terrorists, yet he is the only detainee who agreed to participate in the kangaroo courts in Guantánamo, offering a detailed confession.

His capture, it should be recalled, took place four years ago in March 2003. It was the result not of some covert US operation, but rather of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s secret service, going and picking him up at the house where he had been living in Rawalpindi, the city where both the ISI and the Pakistani military are headquartered.

It has been widely reported that Mohammed, who was born in Kuwait and educated as an engineer at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the US, had functioned as either an agent or asset of the ISI in the 1980s and 1990s, and freely traveled on a Pakistani passport.

As noted in the transcript released by the Pentagon, Mohammed participated in the US-financed mujahideen guerrilla war against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, when he and others, including Osama bin Laden, received funding, support and training from the CIA.

In 1992, he went to Bosnia, working to mobilize Muslim fighters in support of the US-backed government that had seceded from Yugoslavia that year. Later, he took a special interest in the war between Russia and Muslim forces in Chechnya. Throughout his career, Mohammed is said to have lived a lavish and decidedly secular life-style.

In short, this is an individual who was not an Islamist and whose activities over the course of more than a decade appear to have dovetailed neatly with those of the CIA, directly serving the interests of American foreign policy.

That such an individual is identified as the “mastermind of September 11” only raises once again the essential question surrounding the still unexplained and tragic events of that day: was the US government informed in advance of the 9/11 plot and did it deliberately allow it to take place in order to provide the Bush administration with the pretext that it required to launch its already planned campaign of military aggression and conquest in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf?

It is not only Mohammed’s history as an apparent “asset” of both the CIA and Pakistani intelligence that raises this question. Any serious examination of the information that has emerged about how these attacks were prepared strongly suggests that intelligence officials in the US actively intervened to prevent the plot from being exposed and to protect those who ultimately carried it out.

Those quickly identified as the hijackers after 9/11—Mohammed Atta, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi and others—were well known to US intelligence and had been under surveillance, in some cases for years, by the CIA. Nonetheless, they were allowed to enter and reenter the US, living openly and flying on transcontinental airplanes under their own names. The latter two individuals were even given housing by the FBI’s chief informant on Islamic radicalism in southern California.

Such questions, however, are raised neither by the media nor by the Bush administration’s ostensible political opposition, the Democratic Party. On the contrary, both rallied in support of the essential aim of the administration in releasing the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed transcript: terrorizing the American people and diverting public opinion.

Particularly revealing was the response of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barak Obama of Illinois.

“Obviously, just from the confession, we see the scope of the planning that was done by al-Qaeda,” he declared on the morning television news program “Today” Thursday. “I think it just redoubles our need to make sure that we are securing the homeland...and that we are aggressive in terms of human intelligence, and really snuffing out these terrorist networks.”

To talk of the need to be “aggressive in terms of human intelligence” in relation to a case in which US intelligence officials acknowledge the use of the most extreme forms of torture, to the extent that the suspect cannot even be presented publicly, has unmistakable significance. Indeed, the entire subtext of the public discussion of Mohammed’s confession—obviously embraced by Obama—was that torture is both legitimate and necessary.

Obama went on to make the case that the Democrats demand for a withdrawal of combat troops—though by no means all troops—from Iraq was predicated on their redeployment... to Afghanistan.

“We have not followed through on the good starts we made in Afghanistan, partly because we took so many resources out and put them in Iraq,” he said. “I think it is very important for us to begin a planned redeployment from Iraq, including targeting Afghanistan.”

What emerges from this reaction to the Mohammed transcript is the bipartisan support for militarism abroad and sweeping attacks on democratic rights at home. Both major big business parties are agreed that the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan must continue and that the open-ended “war on terror” should be used to justify military aggression internationally. They also both support the use of police state powers and stepped-up spying at home to defend the interests of America’s ruling financial aristocracy. To the extent that there are differences, they are only over how well these methods have been employed and over what constitute the best tactics for accomplishing their shared goals.

See Also:
Press barred from Guantánamo hearings
[9 March 2007]
US appeals court upholds denial of habeas corpus rights to Guantánamo detainees
[21 February 2007]

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Demands mount for Gonzales’s resignation over US attorneys purge

By Bill Van Auken
15 March 2007

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

Mounting revelations concerning the political purge of eight US attorneys have led to demands by Democratic politicians and the editorial boards of a number of major American dailies to demand the resignation of US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

And on Wednesday, the first leading Republican politician, Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, joined in the call for Gonzales’s ouster, declaring, “I think the attorney general should be fired.”

Speaking to the media Wednesday, Gonzales and President George W. Bush both acknowledged “mistakes were made” in the unprecedented mass firing of federal prosecutors, and that the presentation of the matter to the US Congress “was mishandled.” Both denied, however, that the purge was politically motivated and insisted that the decisions were justified.

The passive voice used in all of these acknowledgements echo, virtually word-for-word, statements made by past presidents and top officials in previous crises, ranging from Watergate to Iran-contra.

Documents that have emerged in the case, however, indicate that this second line of defense is as false as the claims made earlier by the administration that the White House and Bush’s top political adviser Karl Rove had had nothing to do with the dismissals.

They also make it clear that Gonzales and other top Justice Department officials have repeatedly perjured themselves over the course of several months in their testimony to Congress on the firings.

Speaking at a press conference in Mexico, where his weeklong “goodwill” tour of Latin America has become bogged down in the Washington scandal, Bush implausibly presented the controversy as merely a matter of “miscommunication” between his administration and Congress.

Equally implausibly, Bush claimed that, while he discussed the matter of replacing federal prosecutors with Gonzales, “I never brought up a specific case or gave him specific instructions.”

In reality, the firing of the federal prosecutors and the subsequent attempt at covering up the political motives involved are part and parcel of the Bush administration’s attempt to erect the structure of a presidential dictatorship, subordinating all legal and constitutional matters to its own political aims and assuming ever more sweeping police state powers.

It is also worth noting that precisely such a “miscommunication” about White House political interference at the Justice Department has led in the past to the criminal prosecution and conviction of an attorney general. Richard Kleindienst, who took the helm at the Justice Department in 1972, just days before the Watergate break-in that led to the unraveling of the Nixon administration, was convicted two years later on charges that he had failed to tell the Senate that Nixon had ordered him to drop an antitrust suit against International Telephone and Telegraph Co., a case subsequently settled out of court.

E-mails document plan to purge prosecutors

The documents that the administration was compelled to turn over to the Senate and House Judiciary committees Tuesday included 150 pages of e-mails documenting a detailed discussion between the White House and the US attorney general’s office in the period following the inauguration of Bush’s second term.

As these e-mails make clear, it was Bush’s White House counsel—and abortive nominee for Supreme Court justice—Harriet Miers who in February 2005 initially came up with a plan for a clean sweep of all 93 US attorneys, to be replaced with new political appointees, including loyalists who had worked in the 2004 election campaign.

This startling proposal was rejected by Rove and others as too disruptive, and plans were hatched for a more selective purge.

As part of this effort, Gonzales’s chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson (who like the attorney general had worked previously in the White House counsel’s office), prepared a list, dividing federal prosecutors nationwide between “strong US attorneys who have...exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general” and “weak” ones, who had “chafed against administration initiatives.”

Sampson was forced to resign his position on Monday—but reportedly remains employed by the Justice Department.

In some cases, the e-mails indicated that the fired prosecutors were targeted for failing to pursue cases promoted by the administration with the aim of currying favor with its right-wing and Christian fundamentalist base by going after “hot-button” issues.

An e-mail sent by a White House deputy counsel to Sampson, for example, criticized two US attorneys, Paul Charleston in Arizona and Daniel Bogden in Nevada, for being “unwilling to take good cases we have presented them” on pornography.

In another case, as the e-mails revealed, White House deputy political director J. Scott Jennings contacted the Justice Department about having Tim Griffin, a former associate of Rove, appointed as US attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas, replacing one of the prosecutors to be ousted.

David Iglesias, the former Navy lawyer who was a role model for the relentless military defense attorney played by Tom Cruise in the film A Few Good Men, was apparently fired for failing to pursue a politically motivated vendetta against Democratic politicians.

Iglesias, who had been a top-rated prosecutor and was initially included among Sampson’s “strong” US attorneys, was targeted after New Mexico’s Republican Senator Peter Domenici and other New Mexico Republican Party leaders complained bitterly to the White House.

Domenici had pressured the prosecutor to expedite an investigation of alleged corruption involving state Democrats in order to provide political ammunition for the November 2004 election. When Iglesias failed to carry out the proposed political hatchet job, Domenici went to the White House.

Among the most incriminating cases is that involving federal prosecutor Carol Lam in San Diego, who like the other seven had been given excellent performance rating before being targeted for the purge. Among the documents turned over to the Senate committee was a May 11, 2006, e-mail to the White House from Sampson referring to the “real problem we have now with Carol Lam,” which he said should be countered by getting “someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

The “real problem” that the administration had with Lam was her successful prosecution of Republican Congressman Randy Cunningham of California, who was convicted and jailed for accepting $2.4 million in bribes, and the expansion of her investigation to cover a second Republican congressman—which the Los Angeles Times reported on the same day as Sampson’s e-mail.

A subsequent email suggested that Lam should be “woodsheded” for failing to pursue aggressive “immigration enforcement.”

In the end, one of the US attorneys was forced out last summer, and seven more were purged on December 7.

Apologists for the administration have attempted to deflect the mounting uproar over the firings by claiming that such replacements are normal, pointing to the Clinton administration’s removal of all 93 US attorneys when he came into office.

While such wholesale replacements at the outset of a new administration are indeed normal, the selective firing of a group of US attorneys in the middle of a presidency is without precedent, and calls into question the independence of these prosecutors and their ability to carry out the impartial enforcement of the law.

Indeed, according to a study released recently by the Congressional Research Service, only eight US attorneys had been fired for cause since 1981. Some of these cases involved criminal activity, including perjury, a prosecutor who throttled a TV reporter and another who bit a topless dancer.

Whether Gonzales will be forced out is now an open question that is clearly being debated within the Bush administration itself.

The New York Times on Wednesday cited two unnamed Republicans close to the administration as reporting that top Bush aides, including White House counsel Fred Fielding—a veteran of the Watergate crisis—are “concerned that the controversy had so damaged Mr. Gonzales’s credibility that he would be unable to advance the White House agenda on national security matters, including terrorism prosecutions.”

In addition, Bush’s top political aides, Karl Rove and Joshua Bolten, were described as “increasingly concerned that the controversy could damage Bush.”

Undoubtedly, the debate within the White House is whether gains from jettisoning Gonzales would be offset by the perception that a president forced to dismiss one of his closest confidantes has been seriously weakened. Appointed attorney general at the outset of Bush’s second term, Gonzales had served as his counsel both in the first four years of his administration and, before that, when he was governor of Texas.

There must also be a concern that casting aside someone who has been so intimately involved in the criminal activities of the administration—from torture to illegal detentions—could present serious dangers.

Of course, the bigger question in the purge of US attorneys is, why only eight? Presumably, if this relative handful of prosecutors was selected for firing, it is because the other 85 were doing the job that the Bush administration demanded—using the Justice Department as a kind of political police, dedicated to punishing the perceived enemies of the White House and protecting its friends.

Of equal significance is the administration’s invocation of a provision in the USA Patriot Act, passed and reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan support, granting it power to fire and replace US attorneys with “interim” prosecutors for an indefinite period, without Senate approval. The provision, supposedly designed as part of the “war on terror,” was introduced entirely as a means of arrogating unfettered power by the administration.

Among the e-mails released to the Senate panel was another from Gonzales’s chief of staff to then-White House counsel Miers “strongly recommend[ing]” use of the Patriot Act provision. “If we don’t ever exercise it, then what’s the point of having it?” he wrote.

Leading Senate Democrats have seized on the revelations over the firings and Gonzales’s role to issue demands for his resignation and to denounce the administration. These same politicians, it should be recalled, took the deliberate decision two years ago to not block his nomination as attorney general with a filibuster. This was despite the fact that, as White House counsel, Gonzales had directed the issuance of legal memos justifying the use of torture and the tossing out of the Geneva Convention in dealing with prisoners taken in the US “global war on terror.”

To some extent, congressional Democrats have welcomed the chance to pillory Gonzales now as a means of diverting attention from the party’s open complicity with the Bush administration on the Iraq war.

What Gonzales’s Democratic critics fail to explain, however, is that the criminality exposed in the purge at the Justice Department and the criminality of the war itself are of a piece. They are both manifestations of an administration and a political establishment committed to the use of extra-constitutional powers, government secrecy and outright political repression and violence to defend the interests of America’s ruling financial aristocracy both at home and abroad.

See Also:
Gonzales confirmed: war criminal to head US Justice Department
[5 February 2005]
Gonzales nomination hearing: US Senate welcomes a war criminal
[8 January 2005]

Demands additional 8,200 troops, $3.2 billion

Bush calls Democrats bluff on war funding resolution

By Bill Van Auken
13 March 2007

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In a provocative challenge to the Democratic leadership of Congress, President George W. Bush announced while still on his Latin American tour that he is sending another 8,200 troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and is demanding another $3.2 billion to fund the escalation of the US wars in both countries.

“My hope, of course, is that Congress provides the funding necessary for the combat troops to be able to do their job—without any strings attached,” Bush said Sunday at a press conference in Bogota, Colombia. White House officials have indicated that the administration is prepared to veto any version of the $100 billion supplemental funding bill if it includes language put forward by the Democrats proposing dates for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq.

Bush’s announcement confirmed earlier reports that the administration had decided to send 4,700 more troops to Iraq, in addition to the 21,500-troop buildup he ordered in January as part of the so-called surge, a repressive crackdown focused on Baghdad and the restive Anbar province.

The troops being added to this escalation include support units as well as more than 2,200 military police officers requested by US commanders to act as jailers for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians that are to be rounded up in the crackdown by the occupation force.

The surprise in the announcement was the 3,500 additional troops proposed for the intervention in Afghanistan, where the US-led occupation has faced mounting attacks. Bush claimed that these troops would be part of a “training” and “embedding” mission, dedicated to making additional units of the Afghan military and police ready to counter the growing national resistance movement. The buildup in Afghanistan will bring the number of US troops in that country—invaded five-and-a-half years ago—to an all-time high. Part of the increased funding is meant to pay to extend a supposedly temporary escalation of 3,200 troops there “for the foreseeable future.”

In a letter to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting the additional funding, Bush wrote, “This revised request would better align resources based on the assessment of military commanders to achieve the goal of establishing Iraq and Afghanistan as democratic and secure nations that are free of terrorism.”

Meanwhile, Vice President Richard Cheney backed up Bush’s remarks with a right-wing, witch-hunting attack on the Democratic Congressional leaders, charging them with failing to “support our troops,” and playing into the hands of “the enemy.”

“When members of Congress pursue an antiwar strategy that’s been called ‘slow bleeding,’ they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them,” Cheney declared in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading Israeli lobbying organization and a fervent supporter of the Iraq war.

“When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures,” Cheney added, “they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out.”

Despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress and the overwhelming popular sentiment in favor of ending the Iraq war, there is every reason to believe that Bush’s demands and Cheney’s intimidation will be crowned with success.

The Democratic Congressional caucus is engaged in its own internal debate, with the House leadership seeking, apparently with considerable success, to quash attempts by a minority to push for de-funding the war and legislation mandating a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Weisman reported Sunday on a three-and-a-half-hour meeting held last week between House Speaker Pelosi and between 35 and 40 House Democratic “liberals” to discuss the leadership’s proposal to pass a bill for as much as $123 billion that will continue funding the Iraq war as well as the escalations both there and in Afghanistan.

Referring to Rep. George Miller, like Pelosi a California Democrat, as the speaker’s “consigliere,” Weissman writes: “Miller’s pitch was blunt: If the liberals team up with Republicans to bring down the Iraq bill, Democratic leaders would have no choice but to come back with a spending bill that simply funds the war without any policy restrictions. It would easily pass with Republican votes and the support of many Democrats.”

This threat, which essentially amounts to depriving House Democrats of any political cover for supporting the war, is apparently having the desired effect.

Representative Maurice Hinchey (Democrat, New York) is quoted as telling fellow members of the “Out of Iraq Caucus” at a subsequent meeting, “If we cannot pass a bill like this [Pelosi’s proposal], the alternative is far worse, a straightforward ‘Here’s the money, Mr. President, spend it any way you want.’ This resolution is not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than anything else we can get.”

Similarly, the Associated Press quoted Representative Jerrold Nadler, also an “antiwar” Democrat from New York, as saying, “If you push too far you may get nothing. I’ll be attacked by people at home saying it’s not perfect. It’s not. We don’t have the votes to pass something that’s perfect. It’s the best we can get.”

The “best” the Democrats can get—just four months after midterm elections in which massive popular antiwar sentiment handed them a stunning victory over the Republicans—is legislation that provides more than $100 billion to continue and escalate the war.

The claims that this measure will somehow compel Bush to end the war are entirely spurious. None of the conditions that are being attached to the supplemental bill would tie the administration’s hands in the slightest. Supposed withdrawal “deadlines” contained in the draft being circulated in Congress are as nonbinding as the symbolic resolution “disapproving” of Bush’s 21,500-troop “surge” passed by the House last month, the same surge that the Democratic leadership now proposes to fully fund.

While the media regularly refers to the legislation as a measure that would “force the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq by 2008,” it does nothing of the kind. The reality is that the “emergency” spending bill expires in September, long before any of the supposed withdrawal “deadlines.”

Another measure that would supposedly bar the administration and the Pentagon from deploying combat units that have not received sufficient training, equipment and recuperation after previous deployment comes with a guarantee that the White House can issue waivers whenever its sees fit, overriding these requirements.

Similarly, in the Senate, where the Democratic leadership has talked of rescinding the 2002 bill authorizing the use of force in Iraq and setting a March 31, 2008 date for withdrawing US combat troops from the country, leading Democrats have rushed to clarify that this is really merely a suggestion rather than a genuine deadline.

“It’s a goal; it’s not a hard deadline, it’s a goal,” New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton, a frontrunner in the contest for the party’s 2008 presidential nomination, told the New York Times. “We’re just trying to create some pressure on the president. That’s the whole point here,” she added.

The Times went on to cite Senator Evan Bayh (Democrat, Indiana) as asserting that the Senate Democrats’ proposed withdrawal date was “a goal with some flexibility.”

This immense flexibility in the spines of the Democratic leaders stands in sharp contrast to the aggressive political offensive being waged by the Bush administration. One would hardly guess from the character of this political relationship that it was the Democrats who won the election last November and the Republicans who lost it, with Bush’s popular support plumbing near-record depths for a US president.

In the end, all of the attempts to explain away the Democrats’ position as a matter of pragmatic politics or an incremental strategy aimed at pressuring the White House begs the real explanation: the Democratic Party, like the Republicans, represents a ruling aristocracy in America that continues to support the original aims of the Iraq war—seizing control of the oil wealth of the Persian Gulf.

Whatever criticism it has of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war or tactical differences over how to extricate US imperialism from the deepening debacle in Iraq, the Democratic leadership remains committed to “success” in Iraq, which means suppressing Iraqi resistance and achieving the objective of establishing US hegemony over the region.

Despite the attempts by the Democrats, abetted by the media, to cast themselves as opponents of the Iraq war, none of the proposals being floated by the party’s leaders in Congress contemplate a complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

As Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, told the Washington Post Saturday, the proposal that is being drafted by the Senate Democratic leadership “has the goal, without a fixed date, for the departure of all of the troops that are not needed for the limited, specified purposes that remain.”

The “limited ... purposes that remain” were described by the Post as “security, training and counterterrorism operations.” This would mean that tens of thousands of American soldiers would remain in Iraq, continuing the murderous attacks that have already claimed the lives of several hundred thousand Iraqis and seeking to “secure” US control over the country’s oilfields.

The Democratic-controlled Congress is going to grant the administration well over $100 billion to finance the escalation of the war in Iraq, all of its hollow antiwar rhetoric notwithstanding. A debate and vote on the funding could come in the House as early as next week.

What this money will pay for is a savage intensification of the repression of the Iraqi people. This was made clear by a chilling article in the Wall Street Journal Monday, which detailed a raid conducted by elements of the 82nd Airborne Division against an Iraqi village near the city of Tikrit last week.

The account given by the Journal indicates that the raid, which involved three helicopters and more than a dozen Humvees, amounted to an exercise in targeted assassination, designed to “capture or kill four midlevel” members of the resistance whom an informer had identified as living in the village.

It describes US troops having “broken into the houses and subdued the men they found inside.” It adds, “In the targeted houses, the Iraqis had been separated by age and gender.” The men were forced to their knees, blindfolded and bound with plastic handcuffs. An officer wrote numbers on their foreheads to make it easier to process them as prisoners.

In the end, the Journal reports, the US unit came to the realization that it had raided the wrong village. Significantly, the botched raid was part of something the military has dubbed “Operation Phoenix,” the same name given to the assassination program conducted by the US military and the CIA during the Vietnam War in which between 20,000 and 40,000 Vietnamese were murdered.

See Also:
A revealing encounter in the halls of Congress
Leading Democrat denounces “idiot liberals” for demanding cutoff of war funds

[12 March 2007]