Friday, August 18, 2006
There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. … We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.
Iraq has doubled the money allocated for importing oil products in August and September to tackle the country’s worst fuel shortage since Saddam Hussein’s 2003 ouster, a senior Iraqi official said Thursday. Even though Iraq has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, it is forced to depend on imports because of an acute shortage of refined products such as gasoline, kerosene and cooking gas. Sabotage of pipelines by insurgents, corruption and aging refineries have been blamed.
The top story on TV news last night was not the Iraq war or tentative Lebanon peace, or major court rulings on tobacco and warrantless wiretapping, or oil prices or pension "reform" or any of a dozen stories that affect millions of citizens.
TV's top story -- a new suspect in the decade-old murder of 6-year-old beauty princess JonBenet Ramsey -- affects very few people.
But it has the potential of grabbing millions of us, as spectators. That's the beauty of the story to the owners and managers of TV news - my former bosses. They couldn't be more thrilled to see new life in the tabloid story of the death of Little Miss Colorado, a story they'd grudgingly given up on years ago.
In a media system dominated by entertainment conglomerates, it's no accident that we're served up a steady stream of "top" stories saturated by sex, violence and celebrity: OJ, Princess Di, JonBenet, JFK Jr., Condit/Levy, child abductions (especially upper-middle class blonde girls), Laci Peterson, the runaway bride, the missing teen in Aruba, etc.
Let's face it: The Murdochs and Disneys and Time Warners and GEs that own our media system much prefer a nation of mindless consumers and spectators over a nation of informed, active citizens. They like the fact that avid TV viewers know all the intimate details about the JonBenet or OJ murder cases - and almost nothing about how big corporations lobby against middle-class interests in Washington.
Best of all to TV news managers, tabloid stories are cheap to cover, especially when pundits or legal experts can fill up hours of time with their (often ridiculously wrong) speculation. And these are stories that can't possibly offend powerful forces in Washington, or advertisers.
In my new book "Cable News Confidential," I describe my years as a pundit at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Their instinct toward tabloidism is like a junkie's impulse toward crack. I know what it's like to have to fill up airtime with speculation on a tabloid story when there's no news to report. And I've seen my share of innocent people accused of murder by on-air analysts who suffered no repercussions for the evidence-free accusations. (In the JonBenet case, her parents were repeatedly found guilty of murder on TV.)
In the summer of 2001, as terrorists went about plotting the 9/11 attacks, cable news was obsessed with one and only one huge story: the disappearance of D.C. intern Chandra Levy. She'd had an affair with Congressman Gary Condit, who was wrongly accused over and over on cable news of involvement in the murder. Levy was the apparent victim of random street crime.
In 2002, I spent hours on-air at MSNBC as the "Beltway sniper" terrorized the D.C. area with long-range rifle attacks. The one thing most experts were sure about in the weeks of speculation is that the culprit was white, and he was a loner. Wrong and wrong. There were two culprits, both black.
It was the O.J. Simpson trial of 1995 that had changed TV news forever. That's when management saw that "news," turned into soap opera, could actually compete with entertainment programming for ratings . . . and was much cheaper to produce.
The next year, after MSNBC and Fox News had launched to compete with CNN, JonBenet was murdered. TV news thought it had its next O.J.-type story, and the kiddie beauty pageant footage -- looking creepily like kiddie-porn -- began to run in an endless, exploitative loop. But the JonBenet case lost steam when no one was charged. The circus-trial never materialized. Thankfully, Monica Lewinsky burst on the scene and cable news went virtually all-Monica-all-the-time until Clinton's impeachment acquittal in 1999.
The Clinton acquittal left cable news in the doldrums again. But wait, a JonBenet grand jury was now stirring in Boulder. By October 1999, indictments were expected. For cable news, the long-coveted trial and ratings bonanza were finally at hand. All eyes were on Boulder. The prosecutor stepped to the mike and announced the grand jury's conclusion: There was insufficient evidence to charge anyone.
It was a crushing setback for TV news. I went on the air on Fox News and joked that we could expect "mass suicides" among cable news executives. My prediction was unfortunately wrong.
With the new arrest of a murder suspect in Thailand, the tortured soul of JonBenet Ramsey is once again prey for TV news. She lived six sparkling years. And corporatized media have been able to feast on her death for many years since.
For the first time since exposing the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Joe Darby speaks out
Everybody thinks there was a conspiracy at Abu Ghraib.
Everybody thinks there was an order from high up, or that somebody in command must have known. Everybody is wrong. Nobody in command knew about the abuse, because nobody in command cared enough to ﬁnd out. That was the real problem. The entire command structure was oblivious, living in their own little worlds. So it wasn’t a conspiracy—it was negligence, plain and simple. They were all fucking clueless.
The general in charge of the prison was Janis Karpinski, but that didn’t mean she was ever there. To actually lay eyes on Karpinski took an act of God. She spent all her time in Kuwait or in the Green Zone Palace. She kept her happy ass in the nice, safe places. The only time she’d come by was when a dignitary was visiting. She’d ﬂy in a half hour before they got there, get briefed, lead the tour, and then ﬂy back out. Other than that, she had no idea what was going on. She did nothing but suck dignitary ass. I guess she didn’t like being in an overcrowded, violent prison with constant mortar ﬁre coming in. In the ﬁve months I was at Abu Ghraib, I only saw her twice.
You have to understand, we were the most heavily mortared compound in Iraq. From the day we got there until the day I left, nobody took more mortars than we did. Nobody. We were taking them morning and night. It was just something you got used to. It became normal. After a while, we started having these surreal conversations while the mortars were ﬂying. We’d hear the boom of the launch, and then we’d argue about what size it was while the shit was still coming in.
“What do you think that was? A sixty or an eighty?”
“Might have been a 120.”
“No, it wasn’t big enough to be a 120.”
Other times, we’d hear the launch and start counting, just to see how far away it was. If you got to thirty before it blew, you knew they were 700 to a thousand meters away. But that’s really all you could do—try to ﬁgure out where they were and what they were shooting at you. That, and get pissed off that nobody was shooting back.
The compound had a main prison, which was two stories high, a series of smaller prisons, an administrative building, and a small building called the Death Chamber. That’s where Saddam used to torture his prisoners. There was a room with ceramic tile on the walls, ﬂoor, and ceiling so the blood would come off easily. Outside, there was a tent camp. That’s where we housed the prisoners who’d committed normal crimes. Some of them were really minor offenses that would only get a two-month sentence, but they might be housed for three years while they waited for trial. The system was that backed up.
As long as the mortars landed on a building, it wasn’t a big deal—they weren’t powerful enough to pierce the roof. But if one landed in the yard or in the tent camp, it could do a lot of damage. Like, one night they got lucky and split our fuel tanker in half. Dropped a mortar right through it. It caused a ﬁre you could see for miles, probably 4,000 gallons of burning fuel. Another time, they dropped one in the middle of a prisoner prayer group. That was pretty bad. These guys had just been sitting in rows, facing Mecca and praying, when the mortar came in. We had ﬁfteen to sixteen dead and a bunch more wounded. We had to dig through the bodies, put them in body bags, and take them to the processing area to check them out of the prison. Whenever a prisoner was brought in, we would ID them with a retina scan and ﬁngerprints, so when they died, we had to process them out the same way. Which meant that, for the rest of the day, we were digging through body bags looking for eyeballs. Sometimes there wasn’t an eyeball we could use, so we’d look for a ﬁnger. You just had to tune it out. You couldn’t let it get to you. You got numb.
But it catches up to you later, when you get home. Like, I slept ﬁne while I was there, but now I have nightmares. And a few days before my unit left Abu Ghraib, all of a sudden people started worrying about mortar attacks for the ﬁrst time. It was weird. They’d be huddling against the wall together. I found myself crouched in a corner, praying. The numbness was wearing off. That’s one of the things you have to keep in mind when you look at the pictures. We all got numb in different ways.
I’ll say this, too: The abuse started earlier than anybody realizes. Nobody has ever said that publicly, but there were things going on before our unit even got there. The day we arrived, back in October of 2003, we were getting a tour of the compound and we saw like ﬁfteen prisoners sitting in their cells in women’s underwear. This was day one; nobody from our unit had ever set foot in the prison. We asked the MPs in charge—the Seventy-second, out of Las Vegas—why the prisoners were wearing panties. They told us that it was a corrective action, that these guys had been mortaring the compound. So probably the MPs decided to mess with these guys. This stuff was going on before we arrived. After we took over, it basically just escalated.
The other thing was, there were other government agencies who would come into the prison and handle prisoners. I can’t say which agencies, but you can probably guess. Sometimes we didn’t know exactly who they were. We’d get a call at like three in the morning from the battalion commander, saying, “You have a bird coming in. You need to take prisoner such and such from cell whatever to the landing zone in ﬁfteen minutes.” So I’d put my gear on, cuff the prisoner, bag him, go to the LZ, wait for the helicopter to land, and then hand the prisoner off to the guys inside. I didn’t know who they were. Didn’t ask. When they tell you not to ask any questions, you don’t ask questions. They might bring the prisoner back in a few hours, or the next morning, or two days later. You didn’t ask. Other times, they would bring a new prisoner into the compound. You didn’t know who they were, or who the prisoner was, or what he had done, or what they were going to do to him. You just handed over the cellblock. One night, this Black Hawk landed at about 4 a.m., and a couple guys came in with a prisoner and took him to tier 1, put sheets up so that nobody could see, and spent the rest of the night in there. They told us to stay away, so we did. Then a couple hours later, they came back out. They were like, “The prisoner is dead.” They asked for ice to pack him, and then they said, “You guys clean this up. We weren’t here. Have a good day.” Got back on the bird and took off, left the dead body right there. Those guys can come in and kill a guy, and there’s nothing you can do. There’s no record of them. They were never there. They don’t exist.
You’ve probably seen pictures of that prisoner with Graner and Harman crouching next to his dead body, giving the thumbs-up. Well, that’s the guy. Everybody takes that picture at face value, but the truth is, Graner and Harman didn’t kill him. And when something like that happens, it stretches the limits. Maybe Graner and Harman came away thinking, Okay, let’s take it further.
The earliest pictures were from October of 2003, but I didn’t discover them until January of 2004. I found the pictures on a CD that Graner had given me. To this day, I’m not sure why he gave me that CD. He probably just forgot which pictures were on it, or he might have assumed that I wouldn’t care. I was ﬂipping through them, checking out pictures he had taken in Hilla, where we were stationed before Abu Ghraib, when all of a sudden these other pictures came up. And to be honest, at ﬁrst I thought they were pretty funny. I’m sorry, people can get mad at me if they want, but I’m not a Boy Scout. To me, that pyramid of naked Iraqis, when you ﬁrst see it, is hilarious. When it came up out of nowhere like that, I just laughed. I was like, “What the fuck?! I’m looking at a pyramid of asses!” But some of the other pictures didn’t sit right with me. The ones of prisoners being beaten, or the one with a naked Iraqi sitting on his knees in front of another naked Iraqi, some of the more sexually-explicit-type stuff to humiliate the prisoners—it just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out. I’ve kept a lot of secrets for soldiers. In the heat of the moment, in a war, things happen. You do things you regret. I have exceeded the proper use of force myself a couple times. But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.
I think the decision would have been harder if they had been different soldiers. But most of these soldiers I had doubts about already. Like Sabrina Harman. She was a piece of shit from the day I met her. Before we ever got to Abu Ghraib, when we were still in Hilla, she had this kitten for three days when a dog came and killed it. So Harman decided to dissect it. She said there were no marks on the outside, so she dissected it and found some ruptured organs or something. And then she decided to mummify it. She tried different methods, but all she ended up with was the head. A damned mummiﬁed cat’s head, for Christ’s sake. This rotted-out head with pebbles for eyes. She stuck it on top of a soda can and carried it around with her everywhere. I didn’t give a rat’s ass what happened to her. I just tried to avoid her. Or Ivan Frederick, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the night shift. He and I avoided each other, too. We didn’t get along. Or Charles Graner. He and I got along, but we weren’t friends. Graner is one of those guys, he’s got an overpowering aura about him. People just like him. But if you see the other side, you understand that he’s not someone you want to get too close to. He’s manipulative. He has multiple personalities. He can be this religious guy, talking about God and the way things are supposed to be done, but he’s also got this very, very dark, evil side. We were talking in Hilla one time, before we got to Abu Ghraib. I’d been walking around smoking a cigarette, and he was working the gate to our compound, so I was talking to him for like ten minutes, and he was telling me about when he thought his wife was cheating on him. He said that he found himself across the street from their house, up on a hill, with a loaded riﬂe trained on the door, just waiting for them to come out. I said, “What happened?” and he said, “They never came out.”
When I turned the pictures in, that’s the story that stuck with me. Because I knew what this guy was capable of.
I always wanted to stay anonymous. At ﬁrst, I didn’t even give my name to the Criminal Investigation Division. I just burned a copy of the pictures onto a CD, typed an anonymous letter, put them in a manila envelope, and handed them to an agent at CID. I said, “This was left in my office,” and walked out. But about an hour later, this little short guy named Special Agent Pieron came to my office and started grilling me about where the pictures came from. It took him about half an hour before I gave it up. I said, “Fine, I had the pictures. I’m the one who put them in there.” I said, “I’ll talk to you after work.”
I still didn’t think it would be as big a deal as it turned out to be. I thought they would be taken off duty and tried, but I didn’t think the world would ever hear about it. I never thought it would explode the way it did.
So after work, I went to Agent Pieron’s office, scrolled through the pictures with him, and gave a sworn statement. A few of the soldiers in the pictures he knew, but I identiﬁed the rest and told him where the pictures were taken, that kind of thing. But while I was doing it, another CID agent was actually going out and rounding these people up. They worked too fast. They were picking them up while I was still there! So I’m in the back room, and I start to hear voices and people’s gear coming off out front. I knew right away whose voices they were. It was Graner, Ambuhl, and England. I looked at Agent Pieron, and I didn’t have to say anything. He grabbed the other agent and said, “He’s still in here. He is still here.”
There was only one way out of the room, so there was basically no way to sneak by. One of the agents went and grabbed all of these blankets and rugs and covered me up with them, made me look like a really tall woman in some kind of ridiculous outﬁt. Then he told everyone in the room to turn around and face the wall, and they led me out the door and down the corridor and outside. I couldn’t see anything; they had to guide me. I was scared as hell.
The next two days, there was a lot of tension and anger in the unit. My ﬁrst sergeant and my company commander knew what I’d done, and they had a big problem with it. They were pissed that I hadn’t come to them ﬁrst. But the problem was, in the past, every time something came to them, it got covered up. The track record left me no choice. We had a drug addict in the unit getting prescription drugs. He actually walked out of a military hospital and jumped into an Iraqi cab and took a hundred-mile trek to Hilla. They did nothing. There were other things, too, that I’m not going to mention. But things happened, and nothing was done about it. Plus, Frederick was involved—he was in charge of the night shift for the prison, and he was in the damned photos.
For about three days, Graner and England and the rest of them were being questioned. Then it got even worse. Someone decided to keep them on the compound. I had expected them to be charged and taken away, but no, they were going to get new jobs. They’d be walking around with their weapons all day long, knowing that somebody had turned them in and trying to ﬁnd out who.
That was one of the most nervous periods of my life. I was constantly scared. I started getting paranoid. I kept my gun with me at all times. I took it to sleep with me. All the other platoons in my company slept in one of the old prison buildings on the compound, in cells, but I slept in a closet in an old administration building, so I was one of the only soldiers who didn’t have a big metal door that I could close. In fact, there wasn’t any door at all. I was totally exposed. I hung a poncho in the doorway, like an army raincoat, and I would lie there in bed with both arms behind my head and my left hand inside the pillowcase, gripping my nine-millimeter with the safety off. I would just listen. And about four days into it, I’m lying there, and I hear the poncho go swish. I was like, Holy shit—somebody is coming into my goddamn room. And then it was quiet again. I’m thinking, Oh fuck. I tighten my grip around my weapon, and then I feel a hand on my foot. So I swing up with the nine as fast as I can and grab the guy by the shoulder, and he goes, “Jesus Christ!” It was my friend Layton, completely blasted. He just wanted some help with his computer. Thank God he didn’t remember in the morning that I had pulled a gun on him. I don’t think he would’ve realized why I had the gun, but Layton was the type of guy that wouldn’t have let me forget it. He would’ve teased me about it, and somebody else might have heard the story and put it together.
The day after that, I was working at my office in the Operations building when Graner came in. You could tell he hadn’t slept, he’s all unshaven and everything, and he’s still got his weapon—an M16 with a grenade launcher. Takes it off and sets it on the desk. He just looks exhausted, and he’s acting funny. He’s talking to my boss, Sergeant Coville, but he keeps looking at me. At one point, he says to Coville, “You don’t know who your friends are.” And then he looks at me and says, “Do you, Darb?” I froze. But then he just laughed and started talking again, and I realized then that he didn’t know. He trusted me enough to believe it wasn’t me.
Eventually, after about a month, somebody ﬁnally had the sense to take them off the compound. That was a huge relief, but I still wanted to make sure nobody found out what I’d done. One of the things you have to understand is the mentality of where I grew up, in western Maryland. It’s a small town, and there’s not a lot of work. So most people are either in the military, in the Reserves, or they’re related to somebody who is. They’re good people, but I knew they weren’t going to look at the fact that these guys were beating up prisoners. They were going to look at the fact that an American soldier put other American soldiers in prison. For Iraqis. And to those people—who basically are patriotic, socially programmed people who believe whatever they’re told—the Iraqis are the enemy, and screw whatever happens to them. So I knew if I wanted to go back to my civilian life, if I wanted to integrate back home, nobody could know what I’d done. They’d never forgive me. And I was assured by the army that nobody would know. I would remain anonymous.
Well, it didn’t work out that way. About a month after Graner and the rest of them left Abu Ghraib, we were up in Camp Anaconda, and I was sitting with ten other guys from my platoon in the dining facility. It’s a big facility, packed with like 400 other soldiers, and I’m sitting there eating when Donald Rumsfeld comes on during the damned congressional hearings. It was like something out of a movie. I’m sitting there, and right next to me there’s a TV, and Rumsfeld is on it when he drops my damned name. Almost nobody in my unit knew what I’d done until he dropped my damned name. On national TV. I was sitting midbite when he said it, and I was like, Oh, my God. And the guys at the table just stopped eating and looked at me. I was like, Fuuuuuck. And I got up and got the hell out of there.
After my name got out, I knew I had to get home. The media was swarming all over the house like vultures. They were taking pictures every time my wife came in and out, the phone was ringing nonstop, and they were coming to the door one after the other with presents and ﬂowers, even after she told them to go away. Most of the neighbors didn’t support her, either. Some did, like the postmaster—he’s a Vietnam vet, and he told my wife that he understood. But as soon as somebody else walked in, even he stopped talking to her. Because a lot of people up there view me as a traitor. Even some of my family members think I’m a traitor. One of my uncles does, and he convinced my brother not to talk to me anymore. So my wife had to hide in a relative’s house, and when the media tracked her there, she had to be taken into military custody. I still have a lot of bad feelings toward the press.
I was stuck in Iraq, powerless to help her. I needed to get home. I asked for emergency leave, and at one o’clock in the morning they came to my room with a two-hour warning. They said, “Get out of bed, get what you need, turn in your ﬂak vest. You’re getting out of the country.” So I grabbed everything I could ﬁt into two duffel bags, gave my weapons to a friend, and went down to wait for the plane. It’s a long ﬂight, and I managed to sleep for most of it. Finally, we land in Dover, Delaware. We’re taxiing on the runway when all of a sudden, the plane stops. You can hear the hissing of the hydraulics, and the plane door is opening up. But we’re still on the runway. The loadmaster of the plane looks at me and says, “What the hell are we doing?” And then these three guys in suits come on, and they point at me and they’re like, “Let’s go.”
There was a van sitting there on the runway, and I was saluted by a colonel, who said, “Your family’s waiting. We’ll take you to them.” I couldn’t believe it when I walked through the doors and saw my wife. I had no idea she was actually going to be in the airport. I was just hugging her and crying. Then they took us to a house on the post for the night, and after a while, I went outside to talk to Major Chung, the provost marshal for my unit based in Cumberland. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, “I just want to go home.” And he said, “You can’t go home. You can probably never go home.”
He was right. I never went back to my home. I’ve only been back to my town twice: for my mother’s funeral and for a wedding. Even then, I was only in town as long as I needed to be. I’m not welcome there. People there don’t look at the fact that I knew right from wrong. They look at the fact that I put an Iraqi before an American. So we’ve relocated, and I’ve been working as a military mechanic for the past two years. My orders were extended through the trials, so I have now served ten years on an eight-year contract. My last day in the military is August 31. I’m done. I have a job lined up, working for a medical-equipment company. It’s a nice job, a lucrative job. At ﬁrst it might be hard for me to adapt to civilian life. You hear this from everybody who’s out of the military—if you’re a supervisor over a civilian, you can’t bark at them like you do in the military, so you have to learn to do things different. I always treated my soldiers well, but if I wanted something done, it better be done now. It’ll be different in civilian life.
But I don’t regret any of it. I made my peace with my decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out it was me, I wouldn’t be liked. That’s why I wanted to be anonymous. I knew what the mentality is up there. But the only time I have ever regretted it was when I was in Iraq and my family was going through a lot. Other than that, I never doubted that it was the right thing. It forced a big change in my life, but the change has been good and bad. I liked my little quiet town, but now I have a new place, with a new job and new opportunities. And I’m going to live my life like anyone else, and raise my family.
Published: 18 August 2006
Ian Davidson Glasgow South West MP
"I think that John Prescott is to be commended for the quality of his political analysis. His comment on American policy is brief and accurate. Britain has got to ensure that it is no longer seen as simply being the glove puppet of the United States."
Glenda Jackson Hampstead and Highgate MP
"I entirely endorse his view. This is why Parliament should be recalled. This government is failing miserably as far as our approach towards the Middle East is concerned. We are simply... bag carriers for Bush and all his policies have been a disaster."
David Crausby Bolton North East MP
"One of the most disappointing aspects of the Iraq resolution is that we stuck our neck out and supported the Americans... on the understanding that the road map would be there but it's not been delivered at all. It's virtually been forgotten."
Ann Cryer Keighley MP
"I have no doubt that there is a very large number of Labour MPs who will be agreeing with what John Prescott is alleged to have said. I agree with it. There is huge concern and this goes right across the Labour back bench."
Jim Sheridan Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP
"I think he is right. I don't think the Americans have given the road map the priority it deserves and until you solve the problem of Palestine, other problems are going to appear. Every time Palestine comes up the agenda it gets... put on the back-burner."
Peter Kilfoyle Liverpool Walton MP
"What he is reported to have said reflects the views of many people in the Labour Party. It may not go down well in international diplomacy... but in the Labour Party it will be welcomed as a rare flash of honesty from a senior member of the Government."
Ken Livingstone Mayor of London
"I have no idea what John Prescott did or did not say since it was a private conversation, but... the current US administration has been a disaster for the American people and has done untold damage not only to international relations but to the environment."
Jon Trickett Hemsworth MP
"The actions and language of the British Government are actively hindering the prospects for peace in the Middle East; simultaneously enhancing the threat from terrorism... Our historic influence with Arab countries has been squandered."
John Austin Erith and Thamesmead MP
"If John Prescott did say it, then it touches a chord with many of us... American foreign policy is a major contributor to the crisis in the Middle East... and its failure to ensure adherence to UN resolutions regarding Palestine, and its failure to progress the road map."
Martin Salter Reading West MP
"It is abundantly clear that the Bush administration has been less than enthusiastic in pursuing the Middle East road map, and indeed many of its policies have actually inflamed the situation rather than sought to resolve this long-standing conflict."
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who continuously decries the bitter partisanship in Washington, implied this week that Democratic success in November's election could result in terrorist attacks on America.
Hatch was quoted in Tuesday's Tooele Transcript Bulletin as saying Middle East terrorists are "waiting for the Democrats here to take control, let things cool off and then strike again."
Democrats are criticizing Hatch for what they see as "ridiculous" partisan hyperbole.
"There they go again trying to use smear and fear to win in November," said Stacie Paxton, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.
While Hatch now says he does not recall making the reported statement to the Tooele newspaper, it would not be the first time he tied terrorist action to Democrats seeking office.
During the 2004 presidential election, Hatch suggested al-Qaida members wanted Democratic challenger John Kerry to defeat President Bush.
Terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry," Hatch said in a Washington Post story printed in September 2004.
Welcome to the politics of fear.
"Fear is a very powerful emotion," said Brigham Young University political scientist Kelly Patterson. "It is a powerful motivator. It is something that people understand and therefore politicians use it."
Earlier this week, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont's primary victory over pro-Iraq War Sen. Joe Lieberman may encourage "the al-Qaida types."
Patterson said Republicans like Hatch and Cheney know they have an advantage when elections hinge on national security and defense issues. And despite polls showing a growing frustration with the Iraq war, Republicans appear to be sticking to the same methods that secured their power in the past election.
Patterson said Democrats would use similar tactics if the country were suffering from widespread disease or environmental disasters.
Hatch's challenger Democrat Pete Ashdown said the senator continuously goes too far.
The comment "is a further example of the demonization and the divisiveness Senator Hatch uses to win campaigns."
But Hatch said Wednesday he was only trying to reiterate a long-held position about Iraq. He clarified the statement through a spokesman, although he does not recall saying it.
"I don't believe terrorists favor Democrats or Republicans," Hatch said. "What they are waiting for is the United States to prematurely pull out of Iraq. There are appeasers in both parties but most are leading liberal Democrats."
While some Democrats, like Lamont, have called for a withdrawal, Ashdown said he wants the Iraqi people to decide if U.S. troops are still needed through a countrywide referendum.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy regularly jousts with Hatch on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Leahy's spokesman, David Carle, combated the perception that Republicans have kept America safe through their actions in Iraq.
"The gross mismanagement of the war in Iraq has handed the terrorists the biggest recruiting and training ground they have ever had, making us less secure than before," he said.
Cheney Declares War
There are 146,587 terrorist supporters living in the state of Connecticut according to Vice President Dick Cheney -- the number of Ned Lamont voters.
He claims they're encouraging "the Al Qaida" types who want to "break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task" in Iraq.
Cheney's gone too far. His disgraceful declaration of war on Ned Lamont supporters is an attack not just on Democrats, but on democracy itself.
We can't stand by while Republicans like Cheney slander the people of Connecticut and millions of other Americans nationwide who are showing up at the polls to reject the failed record of the Bush Administration.
I thought you might like the opportunity to send your own message to the Vice President. You can send it here:
Cheney wants people to believe that anyone who questions the Bush Administration's misguided policies is in cahoots with the terrorists.
But the facts are clear.
The Administration's extremist agenda has drained our resources and stretched our troops. This made the war on terrorism hard to win and made America more hated in the world.
The American people want more than vicious fear-mongering from our leaders. They want realistic policies, accountability for failures, and -- most of all -- a new direction for America.
It's time for Dick Cheney to admit he went too far. Demand that the vice president apologize for his offensive remarks:
Let's recognize a few truths: Lamont voters did not allow Osama bin Laden to escape in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Lamont voters did not mislead the American people into war with Iraq.
Lamont voters did not refuse to admit their mistakes. They did not vow to "stay the course" while more and more Americans die and Iraq descends into civil war.
Dick Cheney and Republicans of his ilk disrespect the very nature of our democracy when the results are inconvenient for them. But despite this unprecedented grab for executive power, they don't have the ability to decide elections.
The vote in Connecticut proves that free and open elections still exist -- and millions of Democrats around the country are ready to go to the ballot box in the coming months and put America back on track.
Thank you for you support.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy
DETROIT - A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government’s warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy.
“Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution,” Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.
The government argued that the program is well within the president's authority, but said proving that would require revealing state secrets.
The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush administration already had publicly revealed enough information about the program for Taylor to rule.
“By holding that even the president is not above the law, the court has done its duty,” said Ann Beeson, the ACLU’s associate legal director and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
The NSA had no immediate comment on the ruling.
Taylor dismissed a separate claim by the ACLU over data-mining of phone records by the NSA. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about that program to support the claim and further litigation could jeopardize state secrets.
A quick review of Judge Diggs Taylor's decision [pdf] demonstrates that she has categorically and unequivocally rejected the dangerous Bush administration theories of unitary executive and President as King as well as the several specious arguments that the Bush administration has forwarded to defend its behavior.
First, Judge Taylor finds that the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program violates the Fourth Amendment. From the decision:
Accordingly, the fourth amendment . . . requires reasonableness in all searches. It also requires prior warrants for any reasonable search based upon prior existing probable cause . . . and the interposition of a mutual magistrate between executive branch enforcement officers and citizens.
Hmmmm.... I wonder if General Hayden has figured out yet that the Fourth Amendment requires warrants.
In addition, Judge Diggs Taylor finds that the administration has been in violation of FISA for the last five years.
In enacting FISA, Congress made numerous concessions to stated executive needs. They include delaying the applications for warrants . . . for several types of exigencies, reducing the probable cause requirement . . . and extension of . . . approved wiretaps from thirty days to a ninety day term. All of the above Congressional concessions to Executive need and to the exigencies of our present situation . . . have been futile. The wiretapping program here in litigation has undisputably been continued for at least five years, it has undisputably been implemented without regard to FISA . . . and obviously in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The President of the United States is himself created by that Constitution.
One by one, Judge Diggs Taylor takes on each of the administration's specious arguments that the Bush administration forwarded to support its unconstitutional behavior and demolishes them. Readers of Glenn Greenwald and Armando at this site will be familiar with the arguments the judge adopts. For example, Judge Diggs Taylor wrote:
In this case, if the teachings of Youngstown are law, the separation of powers doctrine has been violated. The president undisputably has violated the provisions of FISA for a five-year period. Justice Black wrote, in Youngstown:Nor can the seizure order be sustained because of the several constitutional provisions that grant executive power to the President. In the framework of our Constitution, the President's power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker. The Constitution limits his functions in the lawmaking process to the recommending of laws he thinks wise and the vetoing of laws he thinks bad. And the Constitution is neither silent nor equivocal about who make laws which the President is to execute. The first section of the first article says that `All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States * * *'
The President's order does not direct that a congressional policy be executed in a manner prescribed by Congress - it directs that a presidential policy be executed in a manner prescribed by the President. . . . The Constitution did not subject this law-making power of Congress to presidential or military supervision or control. Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 587-588.
These secret authorization orders must, like the executive order in that case, fall. They violate the Separation of Powers ordained by the very Constitution of which this President is a creature.
Judge Diggs Taylor simularly dispatched the Bush administration's absurd arguments that the AUMF authorized the President to violate FISA and Bush's dangerous argument that Article II of the Constitution provides the President the power to become a King during wartime. In sum, it is a devastating and categorical rejection of the Bush administration's attempt to overturn our Constitution. Of course this is a district court opinion, which the administration is already in the process of appealing, so it's not the final word. Nonetheless, it is a very encouraging first word on the BUsh adminstration's outrageous, unconstitutional behavior.
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
John Prescott has given vent to his private feelings about the Bush presidency, summing up George Bush's administration in a single word: crap.
The Deputy Prime Minister's condemnation of President Bush and his approach to the Middle East could cause a diplomatic row but it will please Labour MPs who are furious about Tony Blair's backing of the United States over the bombing of Lebanon.
The remark is said to have been made at a private meeting in Mr Prescott's Whitehall office on Tuesday with Muslim MPs and other Labour MPs with constituencies representing large Muslim communities. Muslim MPs wanted to press home their objections to British foreign policy and discuss ways of improving relations with the Muslim communities.
Some of the MPs present said yesterday they could not remember Mr Prescott making the remark. He has been at pains to avoid breaking ranks with Mr Blair in public although he is believed to have raised concern about the bombing of Lebanon at a private meeting of the Cabinet. But Harry Cohen, the MP whose constituency includes Walthamstow, scene of some of the police raids in the alleged "terror plot" investigation, said Mr Prescott had definitely used the word "crap" about the Bush administration.
"He was talking in the context of the 'road map' in the Middle East. He said he only gave support to the war on Iraq because they were promised the road map. But he said the Bush administration had been crap on that. We all laughed and he said to an official, 'Don't minute that'." Mr Cohen added: "We also had a laugh when he said old Bush is just a cowboy with his Stetson on. But then he said, 'I can hardly talk about that can I?'
Last night, an official from the Deputy Prime Minister's office said: " These discussions are intended to be private and remain within the four walls. They are private so that there may be frank discussions."
And today Mr Prescott issued a statement in which he said: "This is an inaccurate report of a private conversation and it is not my view. "
Told that others at the meeting could not recall the words, Mr Cohen said: " He did. I stand by that."
Many Labour MPs have been infuriated by the spectacle of Mr Bush and Mr Blair jointly supporting the Israeli action. The Labour MPs went to see Mr Prescott to lodge their criticism of the Government's foreign policy and some said last night that they would be delighted if he did break ranks over the Bush administration following the outcry at the bombing of the Lebanon.
In the private discussions with Mr Prescott, the Labour MPs representing large Muslim communities pulled no punches in their criticism of Mr Blair for giving his backing to Mr Bush. Another of those who was contacted about the conversations did not deny Mr Prescott's words, but laughed and said: " I can't discuss that." When asked whether he had heard Mr Prescott use the "C-word", he said: "I don't remember that."
The Deputy Prime Minister is said to have made it clear he strongly backed the efforts by Mr Blair to persuade the Bush administration to revive the road map for Palestine and Israel. Mr Blair has given a commitment that he will give the peace process his priority when he returns from his holiday in the Caribbean.
"There was a very robust exchange of views," said the MP. " We had a row about community relations. The Deputy Prime Minister was told in no uncertain terms that the Government was relying too much on the elders in the Muslim community who didn't have the credibility that was needed."
Muslim Labour MPs also told Mr Prescott that they needed to retain their own credibility in their communities, which was one of the reasons why they had signed a controversial letter calling for a change in British foreign policy. They said it was not helpful for the Government to have attacked their letter.
Mr Prescott has been accused in the past of making his feelings known about the Republican administration in the White House. He became friendly with Al Gore, the unsuccessful Democrat presidential candidate in 2000, during the negotiations on the Kyoto treaty and allegedly told Mr Gore after his defeat that he was sorry he lost the race to Mr Bush.
Mr Prescott is also known to have used the word "crap" in relation to political events before. Earlier this month, he angrily rejected claims that he could resign over the row about his links to the bid by the tycoon Philip Anschutz for a super-casino at the Millennium Dome as "a load of crap".
Mr Prescott was left in charge by Mr Blair when the Prime Minister went on his delayed holiday but has largely taken a back seat while John Reid, the Home Secretary, has led for the Government on security and the alleged terror plot to blow up planes across the Atlantic.
Behind the scenes, Mr Prescott had to contend with growing backbench demands for Parliament to be recalled to debate the crisis in the Middle East. It remains an option, in spite of the ceasefire in the Lebanon. Campaigners claimed they had the signatures of more than 150 MPs from all parties for a recall. Significantly, they included Ann Keen, the parliamentary private secretary to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who is on paternity leave following the birth of his second child. Jim Sheridan, the Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, resigned as the parliamentary private secretary to the defence ministers over the bombing of Lebanon.
Mr Prescott has been keen to show Labour MPs that he is prepared to listen to their grievances but has insisted on party discipline to avoid splits. He will be furious at his alleged remarks being repeated, but the signs of dissent within the Cabinet are becoming greater.
Straight-talker's way with words
* Posing with a crab in a jar at the Millennium Dome, while Peter Mandelson was standing for election to Labour's ruling national executive committee, he said to cameramen: "You know what his name is? He's called Peter. Do you think you will get on the executive, Peter?"
* When asked why a car was transporting him and his wife 200 yards to the Labour Party Conference in 1999:
"Because of the security reasons for one thing and second, my wife doesn't like to have her hair blown about. Have you got another silly question?"
* On the Millennium Dome: "If we can't make this work, we're not much of a government."
* "The green belt is a Labour achievement, and we mean to build on it." (Radio interview, January 1998)
* On the Tories at the 1996 Labour conference: "They are up to their necks in sleaze. The best slogan for their conference next week is " Life's better under the Tories" - sounds like one of Steven Norris's chat-up lines."
* When asked by a journalist about Peter Law's decision to quit the Labour Party after 35 years: "Why are you asking me about this? I don't care, it's a Welsh situation, I'm a national politician."
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
By Peter Spiegel, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Seeking to counter the White House's depiction of its Middle East policies as crucial to the prevention of terrorist attacks at home, 21 former generals, diplomats and national security officials will release an open letter tomorrow arguing that the administration's "hard line" has actually undermined U.S. security.
The letter comes as President Bush has made a series of appearances and statements, including a visit Tuesday to the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., seeking to promote the administration's record on security issues in advance of November's midterm congressional elections.
The rhetoric has increased since last week's Democratic primary in Connecticut, in which antiwar political newcomer Ned Lamont defeated three-term Sen. Joe Lieberman to become the party's Senate candidate — a victory that senior administration officials are describing as a sign that Democrats are embracing their party's extreme left.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, one of the letter's signers and a former military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in the 1960s, said the group was particularly concerned about administration policies toward Iran, believing them to be a possible prelude to a military attack on suspected nuclear sites in that country.
Gard said the signatories — who included retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, head of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994, and Morton H. Halperin, a senior State Department and National Security Council official during the Clinton administration — did not believe that Iran had the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon in the immediate future and would push the administration to open negotiations with Tehran on the issue.
"It's not a crisis," Gard said in a telephone interview. "To call the Iranian situation a 'crisis' connotes you have to do something right now, like bomb them."
He noted that Iran had sought to open negotiations with the U.S. through Swiss intermediaries, efforts that the letter-signers said were worth exploring as a means of defusing tensions in the region.
But Gard said the administration appeared to be going in the opposite direction, adding that he was particularly concerned by recent warnings from former Israeli military officials that a strike against Iran may be needed to disable that country's nuclear program.
He noted that the Bush administration's unabashedly pro-Israel stance during the recent conflict with Hezbollah was an indication that the White House may accede to such assessments.
"This administration is clearly so beholden to Israel that it raises the concern we might go along" with a military strike, Gard said.
Organizers of the letter said the White House's recent efforts to belittle Democrats for seeking a timetable for withdrawing troops in Iraq may lead the signers to include criticism of the administration's Iraq policy.
The letter is expected to call for a complete overhaul of U.S. policy toward both Iran and Iraq.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
TORONTO (Aug. 13) - The date was Sept. 12, 2001, but Benemar "Ben" Benatta was clueless about the death and destruction one day earlier.
About a week before, Canadian officials had stopped Benatta as he entered the country from Buffalo to seek political asylum. On that Sept. 11, he was quietly transferred to a U.S. immigration lockup where a day passed before sullen FBI agents told him what the rest of the world already knew: terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
It slowly dawned on Benatta that his pedigree - a Muslim man with a military background - made him a target in the frenzied national dragnet that soon followed. The FBI didn't accuse him of being a terrorist, at least not outright. But agents kept asking if he could fly an airplane.
He told them he couldn't. It made no difference.
"They gave me a feeling that I was Suspect No. 1," he said in a recent interview.
The veiled accusations and vehement denials would continue for nearly five years - despite official findings in 2001 that he had no terrorist links and in 2003 that authorities had violated his rights by colluding to keep him in custody.
Of the estimated 1,200 mostly Arab and Muslim men detained nationwide as potential suspects or witnesses in the Sept. 11 investigation, Benatta would earn a dubious distinction: Human rights groups say the former Algerian air force lieutenant was locked up the longest.
His Kafkaesque journey through the American justice system concluded July 20 when a deal was finalized for his return to Canada. In the words of his lawyer, the idea was to "turn back the clock" to when he first crossed the border.
But time did not stand still for Benatta: The clock ran for 1,780 days. The man detained at 27 was now 32.
"I say to myself from time to time, maybe what happened ... it was some kind of dream," he said. "I never believed things like that could happen in the United States."
In a nation reeling from unthinkable horrors inflicted by an unconventional enemy, it could. And did.
Sporting a gray T-shirt and cargo shorts on a sizzling summer day, Benatta eased his muscular frame into a white plastic chair in the backyard of a Toronto halfway house for immigrant asylum-seekers. He sipped lemonade, then paused to taste freedom.
"You start to look around and take in everything - the wind in your face, the breeze - everything," he said.
The youngest of 10 children in a middle-class family, Benatta recalled always wanting to be military man like his father. But after he joined the air force, he grew disillusioned. Algerian soldiers, he said, were abusive toward civilians. And militant Muslims were out for blood.
"I was in harm's way in my country," he said.
Benatta entered a six-month training program for foreign air force engineers in Virginia in December 2000, plotting from the start to desert and flee to Canada. In June 2001, he stole out of a hotel the night before his scheduled flight back to Algeria. He lived briefly in New York before arriving Sept. 5 on Canada's doorstep.
A week later, Canadian authorities were escorting him back over the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, where they turned him over to U.S. immigration officers. On Sept. 16, U.S. marshals took him into custody, put him on a small jet and flew him to a federal jail in Brooklyn that became a clearing house for detainees who were labeled "of interest" to the FBI following the Sept. 11 attacks.
One remark by a marshal stuck in his head: "Where you're going, you won't need shoes anymore."
In Brooklyn, he was locked down - minus his shoes - 24 hours a day between FBI interrogations. When he continued to deny any involvement in the attacks, agents threatened to send him back to Algeria. As a deserter, he was certain he would be tortured.
"That was all my thinking all of the time - they were signing my execution warrant," he said.
Prison guards, he said, dispensed humiliation in steady doses - rapping on his cell door every half hour to interrupt his sleep, stepping on his leg shackles hard enough to scar his ankles, locking him in an outdoor exercise cage despite freezing temperatures, conducting arbitrary strip searches.
The alleged abuses would have been bad enough.
But as a judge eventually pointed out, something else was amiss: Benatta was never charged with a crime.
The FBI grillings stopped sometime in November 2001, when an internal report was prepared saying he was cleared. On paper, he was no longer a terror suspect.
No one bothered to tell him.
December turned to March with Benatta still under lockdown in Brooklyn, without any contact with the outside world. "Each day, with that kind of conditions, is like a year," he said.
Finally, in April, he received word that he would be transferred to Buffalo to face federal charges of carrying a phony ID when first detained. Benatta was denied bail while he fought the case. But for the first time he was allowed into the general population of federal defendants housed at an immigration detention center.
He also had access to the news, and was shocked by the images accompanying anniversary stories about the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It was the first time I'd really seen what happened," he said.
It wasn't until the second anniversary of the attacks that U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr., in a bluntly worded ruling, found that Benatta's detainment for a deportation hearing was "a charade."
Though terrible, the Sept. 11 attacks "do not constitute an acceptable basis for abandoning our constitutional principles and rule of law by adopting an 'end justifies the means' philosophy," Schroeder wrote. Based on that decision, another judge tossed out the case on Oct. 3, 2003.
"That gave me so much hope," Benatta said. "For me, it's like (the judge) had so much nerves. He gave me some kind of hope in the judicial system all over again."
His hopes were dashed by an ensuing standoff: Benatta demanded asylum. Immigration authorities wanted him deported for overstaying his visa.
An immigration court first set bail at $25,000, then ruled he should stay behind bars indefinitely - a situation a United Nations human rights group decried as a "de facto prison sentence." Most asylum seekers are released pending the outcome of their cases.
It took another two years before a Manhattan attorney, Catherine M. Amirfar, found a solution: She convinced Canadian authorities to let her client apply for asylum there without jailing him.
"Canada was willing to take him back and turn back the clock five years," she said. "Of course, Benemar will never get those five years back."
The last detainee was deported in his prison smock without an apology. He remembers cold stares when he ate his first meal at Wendy's and went to a mall to buy clothes.
Today, there's no more soul-numbing confinement. But he's still caught in waiting game, this time to see whether Canada will grant him asylum - a decision at least six months away. He also wonders if he can regain enough spirit to start a new life.
"Now I'm not the same person," he said. "When I came to the United States, I was optimistic. I had so much energy. That's not the case now."
Is the United States winning the war on terror? Not according to more than 100 of America’s top foreign-policy hands. They see a national security apparatus in disrepair and a government that is failing to protect the public from the next attack.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans understandably rallied around the flag. Having just suffered the deadliest attack ever on U.S. soil, huge percentages believed another attack was imminent. But Americans also had enormous faith that the Global War on Terror would help keep them safe. Just one month after 9/11, for instance, 94 percent of Americans told an ABC News/Washington Post poll that they approved of how the fight against terrorism was being handled. The United States then quickly went to war in Afghanistan, closing down a terrorist sanctuary and capturing or killing a number of high-level al Qaeda operatives in the process.
Since 2001, terrorists have found their targets on almost every continent, with bombings in Bali, London, Madrid, and elsewhere. Five years on, however, America has yet to experience another attack. But Americans appear less convinced that their country is winning the war on terror. In the face of persisting threats, including a growing number of terrorist attacks around the world, numerous reports show that Americans are losing faith in their government’s ability to wage the war successfully and to protect them from the terrorists’ next volley. Barely half of Americans today approve of the way in which the war on terror is being handled, and more than one third believe the United States is less safe today than it was before 9/11.
These pessimistic public perceptions could easily be attributed to the high cost, in both treasure and lives, of counterterrorism efforts. After all, Americans are constantly being told by their elected leaders that their pessimism is wrong, that the war is being won. But they’re also told that another attack is inevitable. Which is it? To find out, FOREIGN POLICY and the Center for American Progress teamed up to survey more than 100 of America’s top foreign-policy experts—Republicans and Democrats alike. The FOREIGN POLICY/Center for American Progress Terrorism Index is the first comprehensive effort to mine the highest echelons of America’s foreign-policy establishment for their assessment of how the United States is fighting the Global War on Terror. Our aim was to draw some definitive conclusions about the war’s priorities, policies, and progress from the very people who have run America’s national security apparatus over the past half century. Participants include people who have served as secretary of state, national security advisor, retired top commanders from the U.S. military, seasoned members of the intelligence community, and distinguished academics and journalists. Nearly 80 percent of the index participants have worked in the U.S. government—of these more than half were in the executive branch, one third in the military, and 17 percent in the intelligence community.
Despite today’s highly politicized national security environment, the index results show striking consensus across political party lines. A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index’s experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans. Overall, they agree that the U.S. government is falling short in its homeland security efforts. More than 8 in 10 expect an attack on the scale of 9/11 within a decade. These dark conclusions appear to stem from the experts’ belief that the U.S. national security apparatus is in serious disrepair. “Foreign-policy experts have never been in so much agreement about an administration’s performance abroad,” says Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and an index participant. “The reason is that it’s clear to nearly all that Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force.”
Respondents sharply criticized U.S. efforts in a number of key areas of national security, including public diplomacy, intelligence, and homeland security. Nearly all of the departments and agencies responsible for fighting the war on terror received poor marks. The experts also said that recent reforms of the national security apparatus have done little to make Americans safer. Asked about recent efforts to reform America’s intelligence community, for instance, more than half of the index’s experts said that creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has had no positive impact in the war against terror. “Intelligence reform so far has been largely limited to structural reorganization that in most cases produced new levels of bureaucracy in an already overly bureaucratic system,” says index participant Bill Gertz, a journalist who has covered the intelligence community for more than 20 years.
The index’s experts were similarly critical of most of the policy initiatives put forward by the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush since September 11. Eighty-one percent, for instance, believe the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, negatively affects the war on terror. The index’s experts also disapprove of how America is handling its relations with European allies, how it is confronting threatening regimes in North Korea and Iran, how it is controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and its dealings with failing states, to name just a few. “We are losing the war on terror because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” says index participant Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “[O]ur insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time ... feeds al Qaeda’s vision of the world.”
These conclusions about the United States’ performance in the war thus far are all the more troubling considering that, although Americans appear to be growing tired of the war on terror, the index’s experts appear to believe that the battle has just begun. Accordingly, a majority agrees that the war requires more emphasis on a victory of ideas, not just guns. That is hardly surprising, considering that nearly 80 percent believe a widespread rejection of radical ideologies in the Islamic world is a critical element to victory. To win the battle of ideas, the experts say, America must place a much higher emphasis on its nonmilitary tools. More than two thirds say that U.S. policymakers must strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. At the same time, the experts indicate that the U.S. government must think more creatively about threats. Asked what presents the single greatest danger to U.S. national security, nearly half said loose nukes and other weapons of mass destruction, while just one third said al Qaeda and terrorism, and a mere 4 percent said Iran. Five years after the attacks of September 11, it’s a reminder that the greatest challenges may still lie ahead.
There was Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Here are the six states where vote suppression could cost voters their voice -- and Democrats the election -- in 2006.
By Art Levine
Eva Steele has a son in the military who is supposed to be fighting for freedom in Iraq, but sitting in a wheelchair in her room in a Mesa, Ariz., assisted-living facility, she wonders why it's so hard for her to realize a basic freedom back here in America: the right to vote.
Arriving in Arizona in January from Kansas City, weakened by four heart attacks and degenerative disk disease, Steele, 57, discovered that without a birth certificate she can't register to vote. Under a draconian new Arizona law that supposedly targets illegal immigrants, she needs proof of citizenship and a state-issued driver's license or photo I.D. to register. But her van and purse were stolen in the first few weeks after she moved to Mesa, and with her disability checks going to rent and medicine, she can't afford the $15 needed to get her birth certificate from Missouri. Her wheelchair makes it hard for her to navigate the bus routes or the bureaucratic maze required to argue with state bureaucrats. She's unable to overcome the hurdles thrown in her way -- and in the way of as many as 500,000 other Arizona residents -- by the state's Republican politicians.
"I think everybody should have the right to vote, no matter if you've got two nickels or you're a millionaire," Steele says. "I think it's a shame you have to jump through so many hoops to prove that you're the person who you say you are."
But Steele's plight has gotten relatively little notice from pundits and progressive activists confidently predicting a sweeping Democratic victory in November. Opinion polls show that a majority of the public wants a Democratic Congress, but whether potential voters -- black and Latino voters in particular -- will be able to make their voices heard on Election Day is not assured. Across the country, they will have to contend with Republican-sponsored schemes to limit voting. In a series of laws passed since the 2004 elections, Republican legislators and officials have come up with measures to suppress the turnout of traditional Democratic voting blocs. This fall the favored GOP techniques are new photo I.D. laws, the criminalizing of voter registration drives, and database purges that have disqualified up to 40 percent of newly registered voters from voting in such jurisdictions as Los Angeles County.
"States that are hostile to voting rights have -- intentionally or unintentionally -- created laws or regulations that prevent people from registering, staying on the rolls, or casting a ballot that counts," observes Michael Slater, the election administration specialist for Project Vote, a leading voter registration and voting rights group. And with roughly a quarter of the country's election districts having adopted new voting equipment in the past two years alone, there's a growing prospect that ill-informed election officials, balky machines and restrictive new voting rules could produce a "perfect storm" of fiascos in states such as Ohio, Florida, Arizona and others that have a legacy of voting rights restrictions or chaotic elections. "People with malicious intent can gum up the works and cause an Election Day meltdown," Steele says.
There is rarely hard proof of the Republicans' real agenda. One of the few public declarations of their intent came in 2004, when then state Rep. John Pappageorge of Michigan, who's now running for a state Senate seat, was quoted by the Detroit Free Press: "If we do not suppress the Detroit [read: black ] vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election cycle."
For the 2006 elections, with the control of the House and the Senate in the balance, Salon has selected six states with the most serious potential for vote suppression and the greatest potential for affecting the outcome of key races. In nearly every case, the voter-suppression techniques have been implemented since 2004 by Republican legislators or officials; only one state has a Democratic secretary of state, and only one has a Democratic-controlled legislature. The shameful six are:
Thanks to a legacy that includes denying Native Americans the right to vote until 1948 and decades more of scheming to block minority voters (the state still has to submit its voting regulations to the Justice Department for approval), there's a good reason that voting reformers view the state's latest "voting integrity" weapon with skepticism. The sweeping, Republican-backed Proposition 200, passed by voters in 2004 and enacted last year, was designed to bar illegal immigrants from accessing state services and voting. It makes Arizona the only state in the country to require proof of citizenship for voter registration.
Despite right-wing fear-mongering, hordes of unwashed illegal immigrants aren't lining up at polling places to vote. In Arizona, out of 2.6 million registered voters, a handful of legal resident noncitizens who responded to voting registration drives have been charged with crimes in the last year or so. But, according to the Arizona ACLU, there hasn't been a single case in state history of an illegal immigrant charged with falsely voting.
Yet spokesmen for Arizona secretary of state Janice Brewer, a Republican, praise her for minimizing fraud while "single-handedly" working to increase voter registration. Privately, though, she may hold more disturbing views. A former Republican candidate for the state Legislature, Thom Von Hapsburg of Phoenix, told Salon that he was shocked at a fundraiser when Brewer told him she doesn't want "the wrong kind of people voting." Deputy secretary of state Kevin Tyne flatly denies she holds such views, contending, "I think her record in this area speaks for itself."
"I don't care what they say to deny it, the function of this statute is to discourage people from voting," says Joe Sparks, the veteran voting rights attorney who serves as counsel to the Intertribal Council of Arizona. "It's not about protecting our borders; it's about keeping minorities from voting," including Hispanics as well as Indians born without state-certified birth certificates. In fact, the law asks Native Americans who lack other I.D. to produce a Bureau of Indian Affairs card number or a "tribal treaty card number" -- cards and numbers that don't exist. No tribe in Arizona has them, says Sparks.
But, as Eva Steele's experience shows, you don't have to be a Native American to be denied the vote in Arizona: More than 500,000 registered voters and eligible but unregistered voters lack state-issued photo I.D.s. In the first weeks of the new law, about 70 percent of new voter-registration applicants were rejected in Maricopa County, site of Phoenix, although the rejection rate has been reduced to a still sizable 17 percent this year. Linda Brown of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a statewide progressive coalition, says, "With these I.D. and citizenship proof requirements, we've sealed the fate of the least among us: the elderly, the poor and the disabled, people who are already disenfranchised."
Key races: Republican Sen. Jon Kyl is vulnerable, as are two incumbent GOP representatives.
In the movie "Hoosiers," a plucky team of Indiana underdogs overcomes long odds to achieve victory on the basketball court. But in the real world of politics, Indiana citizens face even more daunting obstacles to win the right to vote, and too often, they fail. Whether it's thousands of voters purged from county registration rolls this year without due process or new and arcane photo I.D. rules that can trip up even the most dedicated voter, state and county GOP election officials are seemingly seeking to discourage voter participation -- perhaps because three of the most competitive U.S. House races this year are in Indiana.
"I think this is all part of a nationwide effort of the Republican Party to suppress votes, because that's the only way for them to stay in power," says William Groth, an attorney filing a lawsuit challenging the voter I.D. law on behalf of the Indiana Democratic Party, a case now on appeal. Between 8 percent and 23 percent of all registered voters in the state may lack the proper photo I.D., so the added costs -- comparable to a poll tax -- and obstacles of the I.D. law are going to make low-income and minority voters far less likely to vote, according to research by political science professor Margie Hershey of Indiana University.
But some determined Hoosiers won't give up trying to vote. Take the never-ending bureaucratic maze Theresa Clemente, a 79-year-old Fort Wayne resident born in Massachusetts, has been forced to navigate. An Indiana resident for 15 years, she'd never had a driver's license when she moved to the state to live near her son. So when she learned that the state required a state-issued photo I.D. to vote, her husband drove her down to the delay-plagued Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get a photo I.D. On her first visit, she brought her Social Security card, her voter registration card, two bills and a credit card, but that wasn't good enough. She had to return three more times, with BMV drones telling her successively she needed a copy of her birth certificate, then a $28 state-certified birth certificate from Massachusetts, and finally a marriage certificate because her birth certificate listed only her maiden name -- although all her various I.D.s carried the married name she has used for 53 years. "I was so angry, it worsened my blood pressure," she recalls.
"My experiences in attempting to obtain a photo I.D. card from the BMV have been humiliating, time-consuming and extremely frustrating," she concludes. In truth, that's the whole point of the law, but how many other Indiana citizens will be willing to jump through so many hoops? Yet Paul Okeson, Indiana's Republican deputy secretary of state, insists, "This law strikes the right balance between voting integrity and access."
The May primary provided a foretaste of what millions of Indiana voters can expect in November who don't have the exact photo I.D. Even a Republican election official, Jackie Rowan of DeKalb County, was upset because she had to turn away veterans whose Veterans Administration photo medical cards didn't qualify as photo I.D. "They all accused us of not wanting them to vote," she said, and they declined to use provisional ballots instead. Only 15 percent of such ballots were counted in the last major election.
Key races: Incumbent Republican representatives Chris Chocola, John Hostetler and Mike Sodrel are all within striking distance of their Democratic challengers.
The secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, now the Republican candidate for governor, is using some new vote-suppressing tricks and, this time, he's got a sweeping if confusing law, HB 3, to back him up. A coalition of voting-rights groups filed suit last month to overturn the law as unconstitutional.
Infamous for such schemes as initially demanding that all voter registration applications be submitted on 80 lb. stock paper, Blackwell also presided over what most investigators regard as the worst election meltdown of 2004. While the allegation that Blackwell helped "steal" the election from John Kerry is debatable, the view that he intentionally suppressed voting by Democratic-leaning groups is less controversial. That the Ohio election was a mess is almost universally acknowledged, although not by Blackwell's office. His spokesman, James Lee, says, "The critics were wrong then, and they're wrong now."
This time around, the law that took effect in May allows the state to pursue felony prosecutions of workers for voter registration groups who turn in registration cards past a 10-day deadline. They face up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine; late returns on less than 50 forms merit a misdemeanor prosecution. At first, Blackwell implied that the workers couldn't even send in the forms by mail. Each registration worker also has to return the forms personally to the local elections board, which prevents voter registration groups from combining and checking large numbers of forms. "It's made registration far more difficult," says Teresa James, Project Vote's election administration coordinator. In fact, Ohio ACORN, the Project Vote-allied group that focuses on low-income neighborhoods, suspended virtually all voter registration activities for two months. Now it's gathering less than 20 percent of the 7,000 registration applicants it signed up monthly before the law was implemented.
Even if people do manage to register, most Ohio election boards don't know that voters are entitled to vote using regular ballots even if their driver's licenses list old addresses. It's a confusion created by a series of misleading or opaque directives from Blackwell.
"I think we could very well have a meltdown in November because of these confusing election rules and poll workers not knowing what to do with the new electronic machines," observes Peg Rosenfield, the Ohio League of Women Voters election specialist. That's already been shown by the voting crack-up in Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, where the sudden switch to electronic machines in May led workers to lose 70 memory cards from touch-screen terminals and a six-day delay in counting 15,000 absentee ballots.
Key races: Democrats could take the governor's mansion and unseat Sen. Mike DeWine and four House incumbents.
Back in 2002, the federal government mandated that states create consolidated statewide voter registration lists, a mandate that became effective Jan. 1, 2006. The law required that states attempt to match the applicant's Social Security or driver's license info with the database, but spelled no consequences for the would-be voter if the data didn't match. California is among a handful of states that have been using those comparisons to bar voters from the rolls.
Earlier this year Conny McCormack, the Los Angeles County registrar (and a Democrat), went public with her concerns that 43 percent of all new registered voters in her huge county were being disqualified -- but only after Republican secretary of state Bruce McPherson didn’t respond to her private complaints. "Why does anybody need to be dumped over files that don't match?" she asks -- a view shared by a federal court in Washington state that last week blocked that state from enforcing a similar policy. Following negative publicity and pressure from advocacy groups, McPherson has loosened the matching requirements and may eventually drop them, but 11 percent of L.A. County's newly registered voters have been disqualified so far in 2006 -- and it will get worse in November. A spokesperson for McPherson denies any implication of voter suppression. "We're always looking for ways to improve the process and ensure voter accessibility."
In addition, despite its reputation as a progressive, well-run state, some of California's election officials have been remarkably negligent in providing fair opportunities to register or ensuring secure elections with the new electronic machines. "I'm concerned that we're turning away one generation of potential voters after another," says Kathay Feng, the executive director of California Common Cause.
Perhaps the best-known controversy involves allegations of shoddy security for voting machines in the June 6 San Diego special election to replace convicted Rep. Duke Cunningham, an election run by Republican county officials and won by Republican Brian Bilbray. A lawsuit seeking to invalidate the results and demand a recount was filed last month on behalf of voters.
A main target is the legal but questionable practice of allowing poll workers to take home the voting machines for weeks before an election in what critics deride as "sleepovers." You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to be troubled by authoritative reports by researchers about how easily these machines can be hacked -- and the lack of even minimal security precautions in the training provided to San Diego's poll workers. Patty Newton, an assistant precinct inspector in charge of equipment, told Salon how she had just four hours of training with no security instructions -- and then was surprised by the news that she'd be taking two machines home with her. "I left them in the car overnight and took them out of the Jeep onto the floor of the garage," she recalls. "We live in a semirural area and we never lock doors." She also apparently wasn't subjected to a background check: "All you need is a pulse to be a poll worker."
Mikel Haas, the Republican San Diego County registrar of voters, insists he fully follows all state security procedures. "We're not giving the machines out like lollipops," he says. "It would be ridiculous not to address security as part of the training."
Key races: Despite his recent tack to the center, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger remains vulnerable in his reelection bid, as do three Republican House incumbents.
Will the fiasco-prone Sunshine State be the next ... Florida? That's the question that has haunted observers of Florida's election system since the debacle of 2000. Six years later, Florida is still Florida, only more so. Florida still has a Republican governor, Legislature, and secretary of state, and still doesn't have voter-verified paper trails for its vulnerable voting machines. Hundreds of thousands of voters remain at serious risk of being robbed of the vote.
This year, however, it also has a package of new voting rules, like restrictions on voter registration campaigns. The fines for violations are now so stiff that they forced the League of Women Voters to suspend its voter drives in the state for the first time in nearly 70 years. Each misplaced blank registration form means a potential penalty of $5,000. Just 16 misplaced blank forms, even if destroyed by a hurricane, could cost the Florida League $80,000 -- its entire annual state budget.
Another codicil in the new state voting law essentially endorses the thuggery of 2000. It permits roving bands of political partisans -- the same sort of goons who banged on the glass doors at the Miami election board six years ago to halt the recount -- to descend on inner-city precincts to challenge any voter's right to cast a vote on Election Day. The challenged voter will then be forced to use what reformers call a "placebo ballot" -- a provisional ballot that makes the voter feel like he voted, except the vote will count only if he comes back later to offer written proof that he was entitled to vote. "The use of challenges is likely to disenfranchise a lot of people," observes Lida Rodriquez-Taseff, the chair of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition.
Key races: Five Republican House seats are in play.
The Show Me state has an unsavory and very recent history of suppressing black votes. As governor 20 years ago, John Ashcroft tolerated different standards for voter registration in white Republican St. Louis County and the black and Democratic city of St. Louis. Last week, progressive groups mounted a legal challenge to the Republican Legislature's latest attempt to thwart black voters, a rigid voter I.D. law that takes effect Aug. 28.
Missouri secretary of state Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, has expressed public disapproval of the law but will enforce it. She reports that 200,000 voters lack the necessary photo I.D. and could be disenfranchised. Recent elections have been close, and the black urban voters most likely to be purged are crucial to Democratic hopes. John Hickey, the executive director of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, says that Republicans are promoting "mass disenfranchisement" because African-American voters turned out in large numbers in 2004 and are expected to turn out again this fall because Republican Gov. Matt Blunt cut 100,000 people from Medicaid. "Let's say an 83-year-old woman in a wheelchair is kicked off Medicaid," he says. "Guess what, you don't have a driver's license and can't vote: Tough luck, Grandma."
Hickey says the law is also known as the Jim Talent Protection Act, because the Republican U.S. senator is in a close election battle and last time won by only 20,000 votes. As Hickey explains, "If you knock off 200,000 people who wouldn't vote for you anyway, you can win."
Key races: His opposition to stem-cell research has made Sen. Jim Talent one of the GOP's more endangered incumbents.
What is anybody doing about all of this?
The Democratic National Committee and nonpartisan voting rights organizations, including Common Cause, have launched an assortment of initiatives to increase voter participation and challenge onerous laws in court. When the Democratic National Committee announced its expanded voter protection program last week, chairman Howard Dean said, "For Republicans, nothing is more important than their partisan interests, not even the American people's most cherished right to vote and have that vote counted."
True enough, perhaps, but outside of filing lawsuits and telling some voters about their rights, it's not at all clear whether progressives are going to offer enough practical help so that the victims of legalized Republican vote-robbing, people like Eva Steele stuck in her room in Mesa, Ariz., can actually have their votes count.
According to the White House, their most important job is to protect Americans from terrorism and that:
You can't go overboard when you're trying to protect lives.
But time and again this administration has proven that there is something much more important to them...protecting themselves. And if that means whipping up a little terror of their own in the form of phony alerts and fearmongering, well, their motto seems to be, "bring 'em on."
Tonight on Countdown, in a segment titled, "The Nexus Of Politics and Terror," Keith Olbermann laid out how the timing of these heightened terror alerts always seem to occur when things are going badly for them or well for their opponents. Ian Fleming said that:
Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.What is eleven times?
Last week, in the wake of Ned Lamont's victory in the Connecticut Democratic primary, there was a concerted effort from the administration and the GOP to paint the results as proof that Democrats were soft on terrorism...from Dick Cheney we got "the al Qaeda types", Tony Snow talked about "a white flag in the war on terror" and RNC Chairman Mehlman said it showed that Democrats were embracing"defeatism". And the next day? As a raid by British authorties that broke up a terrorist plot was announced, our toothpaste was confiscated and the terror alert level was raised to "red." Just another coincidence? As Keith outlined, it wasn't the first time there was an apparent nexus between politics and terror.
May 18, 2002
Details of the infamous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing titled:
Bin Ladin Determined To Strike In U.S.
...is revealed. And on that same day a memo is released that reveals the F.B.I. knew of men with links to al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school.
Two days later, then F.B.I. Director Mueller says that another terrorist attack in America is "inevitable." And the day after that the Department of Homeland Security warns of possible attacks on railroads nationwide and against New York City landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.
June 6, 2002
Colleen Rowley, the F.B.I. agent who tried to alert her superiors about the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, testified before Congress.
Four days later, John Ashcroft announces that:
We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot...
The plot of Jose Padilla to unleash a dirty bomb in this country. At that time, Padilla had been in custody for over a month.
February 7, 2003
While worldwide demonstrations against potential action by the United States against Iraq are going on, Tom Ridge cites "credible threats by al Qaeda" and raises the alert level to high. Americans are advised to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves from radiological or biological attacks.
July 23, 2003
The White House admits that the CIA had expressed, prior to the State of the Union Address, "strong doubts" about the claims of Iraq seeking uranium from Niger. The next day the Congressional Report on the 9/11 attacks is released, which is critical of the administration at all levels. Two days after that, the first prisoner abuse story in Iraq broke. And three days after that banner week?
Homeland Security issues warnings of further attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks
December 17, 2003
The 9/11 Commission Co-Chair, Thomas Kean, says that:
...the attacks were preventable.
The next day the federal government said Jose Padilla could not be held indefinitely without charges and the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, announces that there are no WMD's in Iraq and that he is resigning his post.
Four days later? Tom Ridge annouces that the United States government raised the national threat level citing "credible threats" (again) of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. It was based on matches with travelers with names on government no-fly lists. They were later identified as:
...an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five year old boy.
March 30, 2004
Charles Duelfer tells Congress that there still has been no WMD found in Iraq. That same day, Condoleezza Rice finally agrees to testify before the 9/11 Commission. On March 31st, the four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah are killed, their mutilated bodies burned and hung from bridges. Two days later?
Homeland Security issues a warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains using fertilizer and fuel, like the kind used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
May 16, 2004
Colin Powell appears on Meet The Press and is asked about his personal credibility given the claims he had made at the U.N. the year before. Powell says the information he was given was:
...inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading.
Four days later, more photos from Abu Ghraib were released, and four days after that it is learned that U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party, killing more than 40 people.
And on May 26th, John Ashcroft warned that intelligence from "multiple sources" says that it is:
al Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard.
Oddly, they don't raise the terror alert level and Tom Ridge was not present for the briefing.
July 6, 2004
John Kerry announces that his running mate will be John Edwards.
Two days later, Ridge announces that:
Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plan to carry out a large scale attack in the United States.
And btw, it was also at this time that the idea of "postponing" the Presidential election was bandied about by an administration official.
July 29, 2004
John Kerry is formally nominated by his Party.
The following Monday, three days later, Ridge announces that:
It is as reliable source, group of sources that we've ever seen before.
...and raises the alert level for financials centers in New York, New Jersey and Washington. The evidence, that reliable evidence, was later revealed to be four years old.
October 6, 2005
Bush claims that his adminstration had broken up 10 terrorist plots since 9/11. Five hours later it is announced that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA leak Grand Jury and that an indictment is possible. And two hours later? A bomb threat to the New York City subway system is announced based on information from the federal government. The source of the information was later called "doubtful," but more importantly, New York City officials had known of the threat three days earlier and had already stepped up security. A local news station had the story but was asked by "high ranking federal officials...to hold off on its story."
Treason doth never prosper. For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.You make the call.