Friday, September 22, 2006



by PastorDan

Yesterday, as part of a conversation with National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar about what he likes to call "Middle Church," I raised a question: how is it possible to speak plainly in today's political climate? The netroots have tried to do so, only to be criticized for "obscenity" and incivil discourse.

That drew this comment from Street Prophets poster Karmakin:

...I understand no[t] wanting to drop the F-bomb. Hey, sensibilities and all that. What I don't get, is why the Middle Church, as they put it, don't want to drop the E-bomb. Another 4-letter word.


Today, I am going to meet that challenge.

What is happening on Capitol Hill today is plainly evil. As defined by Walt Lowe in the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, evil is

that which causes harm, depriving a being of some good which is proper to that being. Moral evil (in religious terms, sin) is the result of a deliberate choice.

Sen. McCain tells us "there are no losers in this deal," which is patently false. The losers are those who suffer from coercive techniques - whose definition is still left up to a cold and reckless White House - those who are charged with carrying out the policy, despite their objections, and anyone who gives a damn about life, liberty, and the rule of law. The administration has chosen its path, and the Republican Congress has wickedly chosen to follow its lead.

The new interrogation policy, if ratified, will cause harm. Obviously, it will harm prisoners lost in some black hole in the second or third world, subject to tactics that haven't quite been made public for what should again be obvious reasons. It will deprive them of goods which are proper to them, namely liberty, dignity, due process, and the fundamental right not to have to have the shit kicked out of them on the authority of an unaccountable regime.

Less obviously, this policy harms us all. Aside from the damage it does to US moral authority abroad, and the danger to which it exposes captured American troops, it degrades our shared humanity. I am less of a person because of this shocking and disgraceful policy, and so are you.

What our elected officials intend to carry out is, in a word, evil. It is time for our leaders to say so.

They won't, of course, unless one of them has a sudden attack of conscience.

More likely, they will have to be dragged into finding their consciences, kicking and screaming. It is our responsibility to do the dragging. If necessary, we will need to raise the stakes to such a point that they cannot resist the pressure. Anyone - anyone - who accomodates torture takes part in evil. That might not make us all equally responsible, but it does make us all guilty. May God have mercy on me for what is being done in my name. I do not want to be safe at that price.

Many people are asking what can be done now. I have to say, I don't know. We can try shaming our representatives into doing the right thing. Some have called for civil disobedience. We'll see what shakes out in the next few days.

I can say this much, however. Should some US Senator step forward to filibuster this awful bill, he or she will have my full support, and the support of millions. Screw political calculation: we are fighting for our nation's soul. I would rather have every last Democrat voted out of office than that they should be complicit in evil. Some will no doubt deride that as politically naive. I don't care. It is faithful.

In my faith, we often speak of the necessity of maintaining love for one another despite the consequences. I worship a God who would rather have gone to the cross than abandon his people in their suffering. Which makes another point raised by Walt Lowe all the more profound:

One repeatedly encounters testimony to the deep and almost inexplicable comfort which individuals have found in the simple fact that another person was present, sharing in some miniscule way in the pain the experience.

Jesus died alone because good people could not find the courage to overcome evil. But his sacrifice is being re-presented in secret jails across the world owned and operated by another imperial power, our own. There is no reason for the prisoners of those facilities to suffer and possibly die alone. Whether we are religious or not, we have a fundamental human responsibility not just to speak out against the abuses perpetrated upon them, but to stand in solidarity with them. They may be our enemies, but have we not been taught to pray for our enemies? Have we not been taught never to return evil for evil?

The religious among us can take comfort in God's steadfast and transformative presence. I expect the non-religious have their own sources of strength. Whatever the case, I believe we are obligated to reach inside ourselves and find what it takes not to resist evil, but to overcome it by good. I don't much care how that is accomplished, but I do know that it begins by finding a way to be present with those who suffer at the hands of our government, if only through our prayers, and by pulling our leaders into naming what has happened to our nation for it is: evil.


WaPo: No to Legalizing Torture

by mcjoan

You know something is out of whack with the Republican Senate and Maverick McCain when they've lost Fred Hiatt.

The bad news is that Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to U.S. courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated U.S. law against war crimes.

And things are particularly interesting for David Broder when his boy McCain is labelled a Rubber Stamp for the worst of this administration on the very opnion pages from which he broadcasts his love letters:

In short, it's hard to credit the statement by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday that "there's no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved." In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent. If they do, America's standing in the world will continue to suffer, as will the fight against terrorism.

But the senators who have fought to rein in the administration's excesses -- led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) -- failed to break Mr. Bush's commitment to "alternative" methods that virtually every senior officer of the U.S. military regards as unreliable, counterproductive and dangerous for Americans who may be captured by hostile governments.

Mr. Bush wanted Congress to formally approve these practices and to declare them consistent with the Geneva Conventions. It will not. But it will not stop him either, if the legislation is passed in the form agreed on yesterday. Mr. Bush will go down in history for his embrace of torture and bear responsibility for the enormous damage that has caused.

The New York Times and the Washington Post have now both laid bare the truth about the would-be maverick GOP rebels. It comes down to this: the only way the Bush administration will be held accountable is with a Democratic Congress. The only opposition this administration will ever have is from Democrats.

That has to start now. The Democrats have been absent from this debate for too long. Going to the mattresses on this legislation is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. The American people, the media, the Democratic base have to know that finally, there is a line over which this administration and it's enablers like McCain and all his Rubberstamp colleagues can't go. That's the line that further diminishes our moral standing in the world, that endangers our own men and women in uniform, that is one more step toward the coronation of the worst president in our history as king.


A Bad Bargain

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

This is a critical point. As Senator Graham keeps noting, the United States would never stand for any other country’s convicting an American citizen with undisclosed, secret evidence. So it seemed like a significant concession — until Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, briefed reporters yesterday evening. He said that while the White House wants to honor this deal, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, still wants to permit secret evidence and should certainly have his say. To accept this spin requires believing that Mr. Hunter, who railroaded Mr. Bush’s original bill through his committee, is going to take any action not blessed by the White House.

On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House’s original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an “illegal enemy combatant” using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It’s time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation’s severely damaged reputation.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Well beyond satire

by Glenn Greenwald

Michelle Malkin is extremely upset because three convicted Christian terrorists in Indonesia are going to be executed despite -- in Michelle's words -- "grave doubts raised over the fairness of the trial." The title of her post is "Muslims will execute Christians" -- by which she means that the Government of a predominantly Muslim country will execute three defendants who happen to be Christian, because they also happen to have been convicted in a trial in an Indonesian court of law "of masterminding a massacre of 200 Muslims in Poso."

Michelle favorably links to this article from Asia News which reports -- and I'm not making this up -- that the lawyers for the three convicted Terrorists:

will take their case before the International Criminal Court in Geneva, as per a human rights convention ratified by Jakarta, to safeguard the three men’s right to life and to denounce irregularities of Indonesian trials.

Michelle, and an equally outraged Gateway Pundit (to whom she links), both provide contact information to protest on behalf of the Terrorists and to help those organizations trying to secure them a stay of execution and a new trial.

According to the article to which Michelle linked, the complaint is that the Terrorists "were convicted by a trial riddled with illegalities, like witnesses who were not listened to and evidence that was rejected by the court." Wow -- a trial where the witnesses are not listened to and improper evidence was used. What kind of country would convict someone of terrorism using procedures like that? And what kind of disgusting barbarians would be opposed to having "the International Criminal Court in Geneva," pursuant to an international "human rights convention," demand greater legal protections for terrorists?

This post writes itself. For instance, I thought (from having read Michelle's blog) that people who were concerned about due process for Terrorists are themselves pro-terrorists. I wonder what it is about this case that makes Michelle and Gateway Pundit so concerned for the Rights of Terrorists when normally they mock those who express such concern? What's different here? Do Malkin and her comrades want to protect terrorists more than innocent people? Sure seems that way. And just look at how brutal and inhumane Muslims are -- convicting people of terrorism despite evidentiary irregularities in their trial. That is the Evil we are battling in our War of Civilizations.

Maybe the U.S. Government could intervene on behalf of the convicted Terrorists and insist that even accused terrorists have the right to a fair trial and due process, and that it is inhumane and barbaric to impose the death penalty after convicting them of terrorism without first giving them a trial free of any irregularities. A fair trial prior to execution is, after all, a universal value -- even for Terrorists.

We have great moral authority in the world to make that point and I'm sure our protest would go over really well and Indonesia would do what it could to ensure that it was meeting our high standards of justice before proceeding with the execution of these Terrorists. Or maybe we could use our influence with the International Criminal Court in Geneva to advocate for greater protections and a fair trial for these convicted Terrorists.

UPDATE: Of course, if Indonesia would only do what the Bush administration does -- which is imprison people without giving them any trial or process at all, as Michelle gleefully celebrates -- then they wouldn't have to worry about all this hand-wringing from the terrorist rights crowd over "trial irregularities."


Will The Next Election Be Hacked?

Fresh disasters at the polls -- and new evidence from an industry insider -- prove that electronic voting machines can't be trusted


>>Post your thoughts about the threats to fair voting, in the National Affairs blog. Plus, read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" -- his report on Republican methods for keeping more than 350,000 Ohio voters from casting ballots or having their votes counted.

The debacle of the 2000 presidential election made it all too apparent to most Americans that our electoral system is broken. And private-sector entrepreneurs were quick to offer a fix: Touch-screen voting machines, promised the industry and its lobbyists, would make voting as easy and reliable as withdrawing cash from an ATM. Congress, always ready with funds for needy industries, swiftly authorized $3.9 billion to upgrade the nation's election systems - with much of the money devoted to installing electronic voting machines in each of America's 180,000 precincts. But as midterm elections approach this November, electronic voting machines are making things worse instead of better. Studies have demonstrated that hackers can easily rig the technology to fix an election - and across the country this year, faulty equipment and lax security have repeatedly undermined election primaries. In Tarrant County, Texas, electronic machines counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were actually cast. In San Diego, poll workers took machines home for unsupervised "sleepovers" before the vote, leaving the equipment vulnerable to tampering. And in Ohio - where, as I recently reported in "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002], dirty tricks may have cost John Kerry the presidency - a government report uncovered large and unexplained discrepancies in vote totals recorded by machines in Cuyahoga County.

Even worse, many electronic machines don't produce a paper record that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions - an omission that practically invites malicious tampering. "Every board of election has staff members with the technological ability to fix an election," Ion Sancho, an election supervisor in Leon County, Florida, told me. "Even one corrupt staffer can throw an election. Without paper records, it could happen under my nose and there is no way I'd ever find out about it. With a few key people in the right places, it would be possible to throw a presidential election."

Chris Hood remembers the day in August 2002 that he began to question what was really going on in Georgia. An African-American whose parents fought for voting rights in the South during the 1960s, Hood was proud to be working as a consultant for Diebold Election Systems, helping the company promote its new electronic voting machines. During the presidential election two years earlier, more than 94,000 paper ballots had gone uncounted in Georgia - almost double the national average - and Secretary of State Cathy Cox was under pressure to make sure every vote was recorded properly.

Hood had been present in May 2002, when officials with Cox's office signed a contract with Diebold - paying the company a record $54 million to install 19,000 electronic voting machines across the state. At a restaurant inside Atlanta's Marriott Hotel, he noticed the firm's CEO, Walden O'Dell, checking Diebold's stock price on a laptop computer every five minutes, waiting for a bounce from the announcement.

Hood wondered why Diebold, the world's third-largest seller of ATMs, had been awarded the contract. The company had barely completed its acquisition of Global Election Systems, a voting-machine firm that owned the technology Diebold was promising to sell Georgia. And its bid was the highest among nine competing vendors. Whispers within the company hinted that a fix was in.

"The Diebold executives had a news conference planned on the day of the award," Hood recalls, "and we were instructed to stay in our hotel rooms until just hours before the announcement. They didn't want the competitors to know and possibly file a protest" about the lack of a fair bidding process. It certainly didn't hurt that Diebold had political clout: Cox's predecessor as secretary of state, Lewis Massey, was now a lobbyist for the company.

The problem was, Diebold had only five months to install the new machines - a "very narrow window of time to do such a big deployment," Hood notes. The old systems stored in warehouses had to be replaced with new equipment; dozens of state officials and poll workers had to be trained in how to use the touch-screen machines. "It was pretty much an impossible task," Hood recalls. There was only one way, he adds, that the job could be done in time - if "the vendor had control over the entire environment." That is precisely what happened. In late July, to speed deployment of the new machines, Cox quietly signed an agreement with Diebold that effectively privatized Georgia's entire electoral system. The company was authorized to put together ballots, program machines and train poll workers across the state - all without any official supervision. "We ran the election," says Hood. "We had 356 people that Diebold brought into the state. Diebold opened and closed the polls and tabulated the votes. Diebold convinced Cox that it would be best if the company ran everything due to the time constraints, and in the interest of a trouble-free election, she let us do it."

Then, one muggy day in mid-August, Hood was surprised to see the president of Diebold's election unit, Bob Urosevich, arrive in Georgia from his headquarters in Texas. With the primaries looming, Urosevich was personally distributing a "patch," a little piece of software designed to correct glitches in the computer program. "We were told that it was intended to fix the clock in the system, which it didn't do," Hood says. "The curious thing is the very swift, covert way this was done."

Georgia law mandates that any change made in voting machines be certified by the state. But thanks to Cox's agreement with Diebold, the company was essentially allowed to certify itself. "It was an unauthorized patch, and they were trying to keep it secret from the state," Hood told me. "We were told not to talk to county personnel about it. I received instructions directly from Urosevich. It was very unusual that a president of the company would give an order like that and be involved at that level."

According to Hood, Diebold employees altered software in some 5,000 machines in DeKalb and Fulton counties - the state's largest Democratic strongholds. To avoid detection, Hood and others on his team entered warehouses early in the morning. "We went in at 7:30 a.m. and were out by 11," Hood says. "There was a universal key to unlock the machines, and it's easy to get access. The machines in the warehouses were unlocked. We had control of everything. The state gave us the keys to the castle, so to speak, and they stayed out of our way." Hood personally patched fifty-six machines and witnessed the patch being applied to more than 1,200 others.

The patch comes on a memory card that is inserted into a machine. Eventually, all the memory cards end up on a server that tabulates the votes - where the patch can be programmed to alter the outcome of an election. "There could be a hidden program on a memory card that adjusts everything to the preferred election results," Hood says. "Your program says, 'I want my candidate to stay ahead by three or four percent or whatever.' Those programs can include a built-in delete that erases itself after it's done."

It is impossible to know whether the machines were rigged to alter the election in Georgia: Diebold's machines provided no paper trail, making a recount impossible. But the tally in Georgia that November surprised even the most seasoned political observers. Six days before the vote, polls showed Sen. Max Cleland, a decorated war veteran and Democratic incumbent, leading his Republican opponent Saxby Chambliss - darling of the Christian Coalition - by five percentage points. In the governor's race, Democrat Roy Barnes was running a decisive eleven points ahead of Republican Sonny Perdue. But on Election Day, Chambliss won with fifty-three percent of the vote, and Perdue won with fifty-one percent.

Diebold insists that the patch was installed "with the approval and oversight of the state." But after the election, the Georgia secretary of state's office submitted a "punch list" to Bob Urosevich of "issues and concerns related to the statewide voting system that we would like Diebold to address." One of the items referenced was" Application/Implication of '0808' Patch." The state was seeking confirmation that the patch did not require that the system "be recertified at national and state level" as well as "verifiable analysis of overall impact of patch to the voting system." In a separate letter, Secretary Cox asked Urosevich about Diebold's use of substitute memory cards and defective equipment as well as widespread problems that caused machines to freeze up and improperly record votes. The state threatened to delay further payments to Diebold until "these punch list items will be corrected and completed."

Diebold's response has not been made public - but its machines remain in place for Georgia's election this fall. Hood says it was "common knowledge" within the company that Diebold also illegally installed uncertified software in machines used in the 2004 presidential primaries - a charge the company denies. Disturbed to see the promise of electronic machines subverted by private companies, Hood left the election consulting business and became a whistle-blower. "What I saw," he says, "was basically a corporate takeover of our voting system."

The United States is one of only a handful of major democracies that allow private, partisan companies to secretly count and tabulate votes using their own proprietary software. Today, eighty percent of all the ballots in America are tallied by four companies - Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic. In 2004, 36 million votes were cast on their touch-screen systems, and millions more were recorded by optical-scan machines owned by the same companies that use electronic technology to tabulate paper ballots. The simple fact is, these machines not only break down with regularity, they are easily compromised - by people inside, and outside, the companies.

Three of the four companies have close ties to the Republican Party. ES&S, in an earlier corporate incarnation, was chaired by Chuck Hagel, who in 1996 became the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Nebraska in twenty-four years - winning a close race in which eighty-five percent of the votes were tallied by his former company. Hart InterCivic ranks among its investors GOP loyalist Tom Hicks, who bought the Texas Rangers from George W. Bush in 1998, making Bush a millionaire fifteen times over. And according to campaign-finance records, Diebold, along with its employees and their families, has contributed at least $300,000 to GOP candidates and party funds since 1998 - including more than $200,000 to the Republican National Committee. In a 2003 fund-raising e-mail, the company's then-CEO Walden O'Dell promised to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to Bush in 2004. That year, Diebold would count the votes in half of Ohio's counties.

The voting-machine companies bear heavy blame for the 2000 presidential-election disaster. Fox News' fateful decision to call Florida for Bush - followed minutes later by CBS and NBC - came after electronic machines in Volusia County erroneously subtracted more than 16,000 votes from Al Gore's total. Later, after an internal investigation, CBS described the mistake as "critical" in the network's decision. Seeing what was an apparent spike for Bush, Gore conceded the election - then reversed his decision after a campaign staffer investigated and discovered that Gore was actually ahead in Volusia by 13,000 votes.

Investigators traced the mistake to Global Election Systems, the firm later acquired by Diebold. Two months after the election, an internal memo from Talbot Iredale, the company's master programmer, blamed the problem on a memory card that had been improperly - and unnecessarily - uploaded. "There is always the possibility," Iredale conceded, "that the 'second memory card' or 'second upload' came from an unauthorized source."

Amid the furor over hanging chads and butterfly ballots in Florida, however, the "faulty memory card" was all but forgotten. Instead of sharing culpability for the Florida catastrophe, voting-machine companies used their political clout to present their product as the solution. In October 2002, President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act, requiring states and counties to upgrade their voting systems with electronic machines and giving vast sums of money to state officials to distribute to the tightknit cabal of largely Republican vendors.

But according to recent e-mails obtained by Rolling Stone, Diebold not only failed to follow up on most of the recommendations, it worked to cover them up. Michael Wertheimer, who led the RABA study, now serves as an assistant deputy director in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "We made numerous recommendations that would have required Diebold to fix these issues," he writes in one e-mail, "but were rebuffed by the argument that the machines were physically protected and could not be altered by someone outside the established chain of custody."

In another e-mail, Wertheimer says that Diebold and state officials worked to downplay his team's dim assessment. "We spent hours dealing with Diebold lobbyists and election officials who sought to minimize our impact," he recalls. "The results were risk-managed in favor of expediency and potential catastrophe."

During the 2004 presidential election, with Diebold machines in place across the state, things began to go wrong from the very start. A month before the vote, an abandoned Diebold machine was discovered in a bar in Baltimore. "What's really worrisome," says Hood, "is that someone could get hold of all the technology - for manipulation - if they knew the inner workings of just one machine."

Election Day was a complete disaster. "Countless numbers of machines were down because of what appeared to be flaws in Diebold's system," says Hood, who was part of a crew of roving technicians charged with making sure that the polls were up and running. "Memory cards overloading, machines freezing up, poll workers afraid to turn them on or off for fear of losing votes."

Then, after the polls closed, Diebold technicians who showed up to collect the memory cards containing the votes found that many were missing. "The machines are gone," one janitor told Hood - picked up, apparently, by the vendor who had delivered them in the first place. "There was major chaos because there were so many cards missing," Hood says. Even before the 2004 election, experts warned that electronic voting machines would undermine the integrity of the vote. "The system we have for testing and certifying voting equipment in this country is not only broken but is virtually nonexistent," Michael Shamos, a distinguished professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, testified before Congress that June. "It must be re-created from scratch."

Two months later, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team - a division of the Department of Homeland Security - issued a little-noticed "cyber-security bulletin." The alert dealt specifically with a database that Diebold uses in tabulating votes. "A vulnerability exists due to an undocumented backdoor account," the alert warned, citing the same kind of weakness identified by the RABA scientists. The security flaw, it added, could allow "a malicious user [to] modify votes."

Such warnings, however, didn't stop states across the country from installing electronic voting machines for the 2004 election. In Ohio, jammed and inoperable machines were reported throughout Toledo. In heavily Democratic areas of Youngstown, nearly 100 voters pushed "Kerry" and watched "Bush" light up. At least twenty machines had to be recalibrated in the middle of the voting process for flipping Kerry votes to Bush. Similar "vote hopping" was reported by voters in other states.

The widespread glitches didn't deter Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell - who also chaired Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio - from cutting a deal in 2005 that would have guaranteed Diebold a virtual monopoly on vote counting in the state. Local election officials alleged that the deal, which came only a few months after Blackwell bought nearly $10,000 in Diebold stock, was a violation of state rules requiring a fair and competitive bidding process. Facing a lawsuit, Blackwell agreed to allow other companies to provide machines as well. This November, voters in forty-seven counties will cast their ballots on Diebold machines - in a pivotal election in which Blackwell is running as the Republican candidate for governor.

Electronic voting machines also caused widespread problems in Florida, where Bush bested Kerry by 381,000 votes. When statistical experts from the University of California examined the state's official tally, they discovered a disturbing pattern: "The data show with 99.0 percent certainty that a county's use of electronic voting is associated with a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush. Compared to counties with paper ballots, counties with electronic voting machines were significantly more likely to show increases in support for President Bush between 2000 and 2004." The three counties with the most discrepancies - Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade - were also the most heavily Democratic. Electronic voting machines, the report concluded, may have improperly awarded as many as 260,000 votes to Bush. "No matter how many factors and variables we took into consideration, the significant correlation in the votes for President Bush and electronic voting cannot be explained," said Michael Hout, a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Charles Stewart III, an MIT professor who specializes in voter behavior and methodology, was initially skeptical of the study - but was unable to find any flaw in the results. "You can't break it - I've tried," he told The Washington Post. "There's something funky in the results from the electronic-machine Democratic counties."

Questions also arose in Texas in 2004. William Singer, an election programmer in Tarrant County, wrote the secretary of state's office after the vote to report that ES&S pressured officials to install unapproved software during the presidential primaries. "What I was expected to do in order to 'pull off' an election," Singer wrote, "was far beyond the kind of practices that I believe should be standard and accepted in the election industry." The company denies the charge, but in an e-mail this month, Singer elaborated that ES&S employees had pushed local election officials to pressure the secretary of state to accept "a software change at such a last minute there would be no choice, and effectively avoid certification."

Despite such reports, Texas continues to rely on ES&S. In primaries held in Jefferson County earlier this year, electronic votes had to be recounted after error messages prevented workers from completing their tabulations. In April, with early voting in local elections only a week away, officials across the state were still waiting to receive the programming from ES&S needed to test the machines for accuracy. Calling the situation "completely unacceptable and disturbing," Texas director of elections Ann McGeehan authorized local officials to create "emergency paper ballots" as a backup. "We regret the unacceptable position that many political subdivisions are in due to poor performance by their contracted vendor," McGeehan added.

In October 2005, the government Accountability Office issued a damning report on electronic voting machines. Citing widespread irregularities and malfunctions, the government's top watchdog agency concluded that a host of weaknesses with touch-screen and optical-scan technology "could damage the integrity of ballots, votes and voting-system software by allowing unauthorized modifications." Some electronic systems used passwords that were "easily guessed" or employed identical passwords for numerous systems. Software could be handled and transported with no clear chain of custody, and locks protecting computer hardware were easy to pick. Unsecured memory cards could enable individuals to "vote multiple times, change vote totals and produce false election reports."

An even more comprehensive report released in June by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank at the New York University School of Law, echoed the GAO's findings. The report - conducted by a task force of computer scientists and security experts from the government, universities and the private sector - was peer-reviewed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Electronic voting machines widely adopted since 2000, the report concluded, "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections." While no instances of hacking have yet been documented, the report identified 120 security threats to three widely used machines - the easiest method of attack being to utilize corrupt software that shifts votes from one candidate to another. Computer experts have demonstrated that a successful attack would be relatively simple. In a study released on September 13th, computer scientists at Princeton University created vote-stealing software that can be injected into a Diebold machine in as little as a minute, obscuring all evidence of its presence. They also created a virus that can "infect" other units in a voting system, committing "widespread fraud" from a single machine. Within sixty seconds, a lone hacker can own an election.

And touch-screen technology continues to create chaos at the polls. On September 12th, in Maryland's first all-electronic election, voters were turned away from the polls because election officials had failed to distribute the electronic access cards needed to operate Diebold machines. By the time the cards were found on a warehouse shelf and delivered to every precinct, untold numbers of voters had lost the chance to cast ballots. It seems insane that such clear threats to our election system have not stopped the proliferation of touch-screen technology. In 2004, twenty-three percent of Americans cast their votes on electronic ballots - an increase of twelve percent over 2000. This year, more than one-third of the nation's 8,000 voting jurisdictions are expected to use electronic voting technology for the first time.

The heartening news is, citizens are starting to fight back. Voting-rights activists with the Brad Blog and Black Box Voting are getting the word out. Voter Action, a nonprofit group, has helped file lawsuits in Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Mexico to stop the proliferation of touch-screen systems. In California, voters filed suit last March to challenge the use of a Diebold touch-screen system - a move that has already prompted eight counties to sign affidavits saying they won't use the machines in November.

It's not surprising that the widespread problems with electronic voting machines have sparked such outrage and mistrust among voters. Last November, comedian Bill Maher stood in a Las Vegas casino and looked out over thousands of slot machines. "They never make a mistake," he remarked to me. "Can't we get a voting machine that can't be fixed?" Indeed, there is a remarkably simple solution: equip every touch-screen machine to provide paper receipts that can be verified by voters and recounted in the event of malfunction or tampering. "The paper is the insurance against the cheating machine," says Rubin, the computer expert.

In Florida, an astonishing new law actually makes it illegal to count paper ballots by hand after they've already been tallied by machine. But twenty-seven states now require a paper trail, and others are considering similar requirements. In New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson has instituted what many consider an even better solution: Voters use paper ballots, which are then scanned and counted electronically. "We became one of the laughingstock states in 2004 because the machines were defective, slow and unreliable," says Richardson. "I said to myself, 'I'm not going to go through this again.' The paper-ballot system, as untechnical as it seems, is the most verifiable way we can assure Americans that their vote is counting."

Paper ballots will not completely eliminate the threat of tampering, of course - after all, election fraud and miscounts have occurred throughout our history. As long as there has been a paper trail, however, our elections have been conducted with some measure of public scrutiny. But electronic voting machines are a hacker's dream. And today, for-profit companies are being given unprecedented and frightening power not only to provide these machines but to store and count our votes in secret, without any real oversight.

You do not have to believe in conspiracy theories to fear for the integrity of our electoral system: The right to vote is simply too important - and too hard won - to be surrendered without a fight. It is time for Americans to reclaim our democracy from private interests.

>>This article is from the October 5th, 2006 issue of "Rolling Stone" magazine.


This Week in Corporate Malfeasance: Hewlett Packard Gives us an example of why Big Business is always better than Big Government.

HP CEO Allowed 'Sting' of Reporter
Chairman's E-Mails Detail Operation

By Ellen Nakashima and Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 21, 2006; A01

Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Mark V. Hurd approved an elaborate "sting" operation on a reporter in February in an attempt to plug leaks to the media, according to an e-mail message sent by HP Chairman Patricia C. Dunn.

The document, one of more than two dozen e-mails obtained by The Washington Post, for the first time links Hurd to an internal investigation of media leaks that has led to criminal probes and will be the subject of a congressional hearing next week.

Internal e-mails show senior HP employees who were given the task of identifying anonymous news sources concocted a fictitious, high-level HP tipster who sent bogus information to a San Francisco reporter in an attempt to trick her into revealing her sources.

The e-mail sting operation, which was part of a wide-ranging two-part HP investigation that began in March 2005 and ended in May 2006, is the latest in a series of deceptive and possibly illegal tactics that reveal the lengths to which HP went to spy on people inside and outside the company to protect its image and secrets.

HP's leak investigation involved planting false documents, following HP board members and journalists, watching their homes, and obtaining calling records for hundreds of phone numbers belonging to HP directors, journalists and their spouses, according to a consultant's report and the e-mails.

The e-mail operation demonstrated an intense degree of attention by Dunn, who often sent messages via a BlackBerry device, and by senior HP executives attempting to cultivate and trick a news reporter to find the identity of her source. A Hewlett-Packard spokesman declined to comment on the revelations or make Hurd or Dunn available for an interview.

None of the e-mails reviewed by The Post were to or from Hurd, nor do they detail what information Hurd had when he approved the sting operation.

A corporate spying effort this broad and orchestrated has never before been exposed, experts said.

"If you'd laid this out as a science fiction story, it'd be hard to believe it's true," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a District-based privacy watchdog group.

It was unclear whether the e-mail sting operation involved illegal tactics, experts said, but federal and state authorities have launched probes into the legality of HP's methods.

On Sept. 28, Dunn and several other HP executives are scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee about their roles in the spy probe. The hearing is part of an inquiry led by committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) into the techniques Hewlett-Packard used.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said last week that he had enough evidence to issue indictments against people inside and outside HP. The spying scandal erupted into public view this month after it was revealed that board member Thomas J. Perkins had resigned in protest months ago after learning that his personal phone records had been obtained under false pretenses.

The Hewlett-Packard board of directors is scheduled to meet today, and Hurd is to brief board members about developments in the internal review. Hurd is expected to hold a press conference Friday.

After an emergency board meeting last week, Dunn agreed to resign as the board's chairman in January but she is to remain on the board, handing the top job to Hurd. George "Jay" Keyworth, a board member who said he talked to a reporter, resigned last week.

Though nine journalists were apparently targeted in HP's leak investigation, one in particular drew the scrutiny of Dunn and Hurd, according to a series of internal e-mails. Dawn Kawamoto, a reporter for, wrote a fairly straightforward article on Jan. 23 outlining the firm's long-term strategy after a board retreat.

Determined to ferret out the source's identity, HP senior counsel Kevin Hunsaker, who led the HP investigation ordered by Dunn, and an HP colleague in Boston created a fictitious persona, "Jacob," who would pose as a disgruntled HP "senior level executive" and cultivate Kawamoto by saying he was "an avid reader of your columns."

The idea, evidently, was to induce Kawamoto to open an e-mail attachment with a "tracer" in it that would allow them to see who she forwarded it to. They hoped it would pinpoint board member Keyworth as her source, according to the documents.

On Feb. 2, Hunsaker made a PowerPoint presentation to Dunn, called Project Kona II, in which she was shown the "covert" e-mail sent to Kawamoto on Jan. 26. In it, "Jacob" wrote that "tired of broken promises, misguided initiatives and generally bad treatment," he had information to pass on to her.

The computer-generated presentation included a proposed " 'next step' covert e-mail" in which "Jacob" would establish his insider bona fides with Kawamoto by telling her that, contrary to an article she wrote, a potential HP deal with "CSC," or Computer Sciences Corp. was "definitely on HP's radar . . . I know because I was involved in preparing the briefing documents."

After the presentation, Hunsaker sent Dunn an e-mail thanking her for "taking such a big chunk of time" to meet with his team. Dunn replied with an e-mail to Hunsaker, saying that she was "encouraged that this effort is on the right track."

As the project evolved, Hunsaker and Anthony Gentilucci, an HP global investigations manager in Boston, began to refine Jacob's character. "I think we have to figure out who Jacob is, weak, strong, vindictive, a Bill and Dave fan, possibly lower level employee . . . will dictate the tone of the e-mail," Gentilucci wrote on Jan. 28.

Over the next week, HP investigators designed a plan to give Kawamoto a "[small] accurate piece of advance information" about a new handheld product, before they would "spring the false one," referring to a fabricated news tip about HP opening a computer data farm. That first tip, about the handheld device, would be sent in an e-mail that would include the tracking software.

On Feb. 5, Dunn sent an e-mail to Hunsaker: "This sounds promising. I will be in contact with Mark and come back to you with an indication of joint approval as soon as we connect."

Sending someone an e-mail file, even under false pretenses, and then tracking whether it was forwarded may violate confidentiality policies, but is probably not illegal, said Robert Seiden, chief executive of Fortress Global Investigations Corp. If the company used its program to try to access other information from Kawamoto's computer, however, that would be a violation of federal law, he said.

A Feb. 8 e-mail from Ronald DeLia, a Boston security contractor hired to work on the HP leak investigation as part of Hunsaker's team, suggested "a more elaborate sting" involving "electronic bugs" that would allow the tracking of calls between Keyworth and Kawamoto.

If the team wiretapped the calls of Keyworth and Kawamoto, that too would be illegal, Seiden said.

On Feb. 9, in an e-mail to Hunsaker and general counsel Ann O. Baskins, Dunn wrote: "I spoke with Mark and he is on board with the plan to use the info on new handheld" devices and that "he also agrees that we should consider doing something with" the data-farm tip.

On Feb. 16, Kawamoto sent an e-mail to "Jacob" that she would be on vacation the next week. DeLia forwarded her e-mail to his colleagues, saying: "Team, We're alive and kicking." He also noted that, based on her cellphone call records, she was going to Disneyland. "She has made numerous calls to a hotel in Disneyland," he wrote.

On Feb. 22, Hunsaker e-mailed Dunn and Baskins with a copy of a slide showing the bogus handheld product to be launched. "I made up everything in the slide, trying to make it at least somewhat feasible," Hunsaker wrote to Dunn and Baskins. "I won't quit my day job, but hopefully neither will the name nor the information on the slide are terribly off-base."

Dunn replied: "Kevin, I think this is very clever. As a matter of course anything that is going to potentially be seen outside HP should have Mark's approval as well."

On Feb. 23, Hunsaker sent an e-mail to Dunn. "FYI, I spoke to Mark a few minutes ago and he is fine with both the concept and the content."

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.


CIA ‘refused to operate’ secret jails

By Guy Dinmore in Washington

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

When Mr Bush announced the suspension of the secret prison programme in a speech before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, some analysts thought he was trying to gain political momentum before the November midterm congressional elections.

The administration publicly explained its decision in light of the legal uncertainty surrounding permissible interrogation techniques following the June Supreme Court ruling that all terrorist suspects in detention were entitled to protection under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions.

But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush’s hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques. One intelligence source also said the CIA had refused to keep the secret prisons going.

Senior officials and Mr Bush himself have come close to admitting this by saying CIA interrogators sought legal clarity. But no official has confirmed on the record how and when the secret programme actually came to an end.

John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, who was interviewed by Fox News on Sunday, said in response to a question of whether CIA interrogators had refused to work: “I think the way I would answer you in regard to that question is that there’s been precious little activity of that kind for a number of months now, and certainly since the Supreme Court decision.”

In an interview with the Financial Times, John Bellinger, legal adviser to the state department, went further, saying there had been “very little operational activity” on CIA interrogations since the passage last December of a bill proposed by Senator John McCain outlawing torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Mr Bellinger said the secret prisons remained empty for the moment. But he defended the US position that use of such prisons did not contravene international conventions as some in Europe have argued. He also said that, theoretically, the Pentagon as well as the CIA had the legal right to run such facilities. The CIA declined to comment.

Key figures among the 14 prisoners transferred to Guantánamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had been held in secret centres for three years or more.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Bill Frist (R-Tenn) Blames Democrats for Failures; Apparently Republican Control of 3 Branches of Government: Not Enough

Bob Geiger
Posted by Bob Geiger in General Discussion: Politics
Wed Sep 20th 2006, 10:55 AM

How did Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) commemorate Constitution and Citizenship Day, when he returned to the Senate floor on Monday? In an odd twist of logic, he blamed the minority party for how little work has been done in the 109th Congress.

September 17, which fell on Sunday, celebrated the ratification of the United States Constitution and Frist used that occasion to announce that Senate Democrats are actually the reason that the last 20 legislative months have been proclaimed the "Do-Nothing Congress."

"Too often my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have inhibited the fulfillment of our duty," said Frist, after a stirring reading of the preamble of the Constitution. "They have relied on obstruction and thrown up roadblocks at every opportunity. They have let politics get in the way of sound policy and purpose. That is unacceptable."

Frist read a laundry list of issues he believes are important and that will be left on the back burner after the Senate's scheduled October 6 adjournment and urged Democrats to "…review our Constitution's Preamble, to consider anew our purpose here in the Senate, and to let that purpose guide our debate and action here on the Senate floor."

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has endured this Congress with control of no committees, an inability to pass any meaningful legislation and no say over the Senate's legislative agenda, was on Frist faster than Halliburton snaps up a no-bid contract.

"For more than 3 years, this Congress, which has been given the name of the "do-nothing Congress,'' has turned a blind eye to the intractable war in Iraq, ignoring the administration's many mistakes and allowing it to stay on a failed course," said Reid. "Here we are, with 6 days left in the 109th Congress, and the Republicans, who control the House and Senate and the White House, have not held one hearing -- not one -- into the President's wartime failures."

Given how little attention the White House and Congressional Republicans have actually paid to the Constitution in the last few years, I'm sure Frist was blindsided by Reid actually invoking that old checks and balances thing that schoolchildren all over America were probably learning about last week.

Reid went on to give the Senate leadership a quick history lesson on how Congress is suppose to work and how it indeed operated before the current crop of Bush rubber-stampers took over:
"During the Civil War, President Lincoln was faced continually with oversight hearings by his Congress. Of course, we know during World War II, there were a number of commissions. The most famous was that conducted by Senator Harry Truman of Missouri, which led to his becoming Vice President. Some say, but for that he would not have been chosen as Vice President.

"What was the Truman Commission? It was to determine what was going on with World War II. Was money being wasted? Were troop levels right? Korean war hearings were also held, and the same for the Vietnam war. But for this war, none--even though this war has taken longer than it took to settle the differences in the European theater in World War II. Soon it will be the same amount of time that we were able to beat Japan."
Reid then let loose the frustration that's no doubt been building after watching Republicans shoot down three attempts by Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage in this Congress and killing many pieces of legislation designed to bolster homeland security -- including the 528-page, Democratic-sponsored Real Security Act of 2006, which was snuffed by Republicans just last week.

"This Republican Congress has wasted 20 months on horse slaughtering; the Schiavo case, dealing with someone's personal relationship, which should not even have been before this body; gay marriage; the nuclear option; flag burning; repealing the estate tax," said Reid. "But they could not find a day for some time to look at the President's mistakes, missteps, and misconduct, which have hurt American security and plunged Iraq into a civil war -- not a day."

I guess you just have to call Reid an old-school kind of guy, hanging in there, against such great Republican opposition, with his insistence that the Senate maintain its mandated oversight of the executive branch.

But the real show-stopper came when Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Il) stepped up to the microphone to engage Reid is a dialog that must have had Republican teeth gnashing all the way to the White House. Here it is, straight from the Congressional Record:
Mr. Durbin: Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. Reid: I will be happy to yield for a question.

Mr. Durbin: Can the Senator refresh my memory? Was Mr. Bremmer the recipient of a gold medal or something from the President? Didn't he receive some high decoration or medal for his performance in Iraq?

Mr. Reid: The answer is, yes, he received that. I assume one would expect that from somebody who had a throne while he was over there.

Mr. Durbin: Isn't it also true that George Tenet, who was responsible for the intelligence that was so bad that led us into the war in Iraq, got a medal from the President the same day?

Mr. Reid: That is true.

Mr. Durbin: Did Michael Brown with FEMA receive a gold medal from the White House before he was dismissed?

Mr. Reid: I don't think he did. Even though he was doing a heck of a job, I don't think he obtained a medal from the White House.

Mr. Durbin: Apparently, these gold medals were being awarded for incompetence. They missed Mr. Brown, but they did give one to Mr. Bremmer. Will the Senator yield for another question?

Mr. Reid: I will be happy to.

Mr. Durbin: I am trying to recall the exact number -- it was in the billions of dollars -- that we gave to the President for the reconstruction of Iraq; is that not true?

Mr. Reid: It started out at $18 billion. But as the Senator from Illinois will remember, part of that money, stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills, was used by some of the contractors who were sent over there to play football games -- some of these same people.

Mr. Durbin: It is also true, is it not, that the Democratic policy conference has been holding hearings -- in fact, I think it is the only agency on the Hill holding hearings -- on this waste and abuse, this profiteering and corruption at the expense of American taxpayers and even, equally important -- more importantly -- at the expense of our troops?

Mr. Reid: I say to my friend, this war is approaching 3 1/2 years, and there has not been a single congressional oversight hearing on the conduct of the war. This war has now cost us, the American taxpayers, about $325 billion. There has not been a single congressional oversight hearing on the war.

Mr. Durbin: I ask the Senator from Nevada if he might comment on this as well: Are we not in a situation where the President has told us that he wants to "stay the course'' in Iraq, and Vice President Cheney, when asked a week ago, said he wouldn't change a thing in the way they have done this war in Iraq? Is it very clear that unless there is a change in leadership in this town soon, we are going to continue down this disastrous course, exposing our soldiers to danger every single day, their families to the anxiety of separation, and the taxpayers of this country to billions and billions of dollars more being spent that don't make us any safer?

Mr. Reid: I say to my friend, I spent the weekend reading a book. I did other things. I spent a lot of time on an airplane. The book is called "Fiasco,'' written by a man named Thomas Ricks who has spent his life covering the military. He has written books on the military. I don't know his political persuasion. This book is on the best seller's list of the New York Times.

In this book, he talks in such detail about what has happened as a result of the incompetence of this administration to our valiant fighting men and women over there. I recommend the book to anyone. It is a searing indictment of this administration.
Reid then thrust the final dagger on his own saying, "The war in Iraq has been a diversion from the real war on terror. But this administration and this do-nothing Congress are content to stay the course, even as it makes America less safe and Iraq less stable. We need a new direction. This Congress has failed."

At this point, I'm sure Bill Frist was sitting at his desk writing something along the lines of "Note to self: do not ... bring ...toothpick ... to a knife fight."

You can read more from Bob at

Update: AlterNet has the video of the Reid-Durbin show from the Senate floor -- go take a look. It's even better than reading it.


Bush Tells Americans "It Is Unacceptable To Think..."

Sept. 18, 2006 | 8:24 p.m. ET

Bush owes us an apology - Keith Olbermann

The President of the United States owes this country an apology.

It will not be offered, of course.

He does not realize its necessity.

There are now none around him who would tell him or could.

The last of them, it appears, was the very man whose letter provoked the President into the conduct, for which the apology is essential.

An apology is this President's only hope of regaining the slightest measure of confidence, of what has been, for nearly two years, a clear majority of his people.

Not "confidence" in his policies nor in his designs nor even in something as narrowly focused as which vision of torture shall prevail -- his, or that of the man who has sent him into apoplexy, Colin Powell.

In a larger sense, the President needs to regain our confidence, that he has some basic understanding of what this country represents -- of what it must maintain if we are to defeat not only terrorists, but if we are also to defeat what is ever more increasingly apparent, as an attempt to re-define the way we live here, and what we mean, when we say the word "freedom."

Because it is evident now that, if not its architect, this President intends to be the contractor, for this narrowing of the definition of freedom.

The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics.

The former Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger, that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but within it contained one particularly chilling phrase.

"Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," he was asked by a reporter. "If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?"

“If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic,” Bush said. “It's just -- I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

Of course it's acceptable to think that there's "any kind of comparison."

And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary, even if Mr. Powell never made the comparison in his letter.

Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or in Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists.

Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.

What all of us will agree on, is that we have the right -- we have the duty -- to think about the comparison.

And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think -- and say -- what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right.

All of us agree about that.

Except, it seems, this President.

With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right, that Colin Powell cannot be right.

And then there was that one, most awful phrase.

In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

It's unacceptable to think," he said.

It is never unacceptable to think.

And when a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path -- one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.

That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think.

Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth.

It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he alone has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights.

This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President.

If Mr. Powell's letter -- cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive -- can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague?

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.”

Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Bush.

They were the words of Thomas Jefferson.

He put them in the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Bush, what would you say to something that anti-thetical to the status quo just now?

Would you call it "unacceptable" for Jefferson to think such things, or to write them?

Between your confidence in your infallibility, sir, and your demonizing of dissent, and now these rages better suited to a thwarted three-year old, you have left the unnerving sense of a White House coming unglued - a chilling suspicion that perhaps we have not seen the peak of the anger; that we can no longer forecast what next will be said to, or about, anyone who disagrees.

Or what will next be done to them.

On this newscast last Friday night, Constitiutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the "detainees" transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured.

Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions, might not be about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them.

That, certainly, could explain Mr. Bush's fury.

That, at this point, is speculative.

But at least it provides an alternative possibility as to why the President's words were at such variance from the entire history of this country.

For, there needs to be some other explanation, Mr. Bush, than that you truly believe we should live in a United States of America in which a thought is unacceptable.

There needs to be a delegation of responsible leaders -- Republicans or otherwise -- who can sit you down as Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott once sat Richard Nixon down - and explain the reality of the situation you have created.

There needs to be an apology from the President of the United States.

And more than one.

But, Mr. Bush, the others -- for warnings unheeded five years ago, for war unjustified four years ago, for battle unprepared three years ago -- they are not weighted with the urgency and necessity of this one.

We must know that, to you, thought with which you disagree -- and even voice with which you disagree and even action with which you disagree -- are still sacrosanct to you.

The philosopher Voltaire once insisted to another author, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Since the nation's birth, Mr. Bush, we have misquoted and even embellished that statement, but we have served ourselves well, by subscribing to its essence.

Oddly, there are other words of Voltaire's that are more pertinent still, just now.

"Think for yourselves," he wrote, "and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too."

Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.

Anything else, Mr. Bush, is truly unacceptable.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Mr. President, are you THREATENING me?

by Occams Hatchet

The only thing we have to fear is -

- morons in the White House who think we're too stupid to figure things out for ourselves.

Let's play a little game. Use your imagination: See if you can picture Abraham Lincoln standing in front of the gathering at Gettysburg and uttering the following:

And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you -

Our Fearless Leader,

once again demonstrating a dogged relentlessness in seeking an answer to the question,

Just how stupid do you think the American people are?

President Bush has been frantic in his crazed attempt to escape prosecution under the Geneva Conventions - which, by the way, are not just some obscure, frou-frou Frenchified foreign law that applies only to dowdy, monocled European field marshals. Oh, no, no, no, no, no.

Tut, tut. No, unfortunately for Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and various others in the chain of command of the War on Terror!®, the Geneva Conventions are The Supreme Law Of The Land. Uh, that would be this land, by the way. The U.S. of A.


Land of the free.

Home of the chickenhawk.

See, according to that goddamned piece of paper, the outdated document - nearly 200 years older than the antiquated FISA law - known as the U.S. Constitution,

Article VI. - Debts, Supremacy, Oaths

. . . This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land

Huh. Whaddaya know. What were those crazy mofos in those wack powdered wigs thinking?

So, here we are. If Gee Dubya (and anyone else in the chain of command) is in violation of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions - which the United States ratified in 1955 - they are in violation of U.S. law.

Which would explain why George W. Bush, realizing his precarious predicament, particularly should a Democratic majority take control of Congress as a result of November's elections, has been acting like a cornered animal.

To the point that he is now threatening the American people:

And I will resist any bill that does not enable this program to go forward with legal clarity. . . This is an important program for the security of this country. . . If there's not clarity, if there's ambiguity, if there's any doubt in our professionals' minds that they can conduct their operations in a legal way, with support of the Congress, the program won't go forward and the American people will be in danger.

Excuse me?

Are you threatening me?

Are you saying that you will discontinue interrogating dangerous terrorist detainees if you don't get a law passed that allows you to torture them, even if that would mean endangering the safety of the American people?

Do you mean to tell me that your administration is so inept that - unlike administrations dating back at least through Eisenhower's - you can't get information out of prisoners without torturing them? And that you'll stop interrogating them if you're not allowed to torture them?

Wow. That's quite a threat. I'm not quite sure what to make of that. I guess it means this:

Your concern for your legal hide (and the hides of your co-conspirators in the torture conspiracy) outweighs your concern for the safety of the American people.

Mr. President -

How dare you threaten me?

How dare you threaten the American people?

This cannot stand.


Bush's Thought Police.....

Posted by CrisisPapers in Editorials & Other Articles
Tue Sep 19th 2006, 09:36 AM
| Bernard Weiner |

Clinton tried to fudge the truth when he claimed he'd "never had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," but he felt he could get away with that language because, in his mind, he defined "sexual relations" as referring to vaginal intercourse.

Bush, with a straight face, tells us that he has never authorized torture, and he thinks he can get away with that lie because the public is mostly unaware that his administration has totally altered the definition of "torture."

According to the infamous 2002 torture memos, which were then used to set policy, torture no longer means what we all understand that term to mean (physical beatings, shoving suspects under water to "drown" them unless they give up secrets, electric shocks to the genitals, unbearable stress, sexual abuse and humiliation, etc.). No, those internationally-understood definitions have become, under Bush&Co., "quaint" remnants from an earlier era.

Under the leadership of Alberto Gonzales and other lawyers -- mainly from the White House, Rumsfeld's office, and Cheney's office -- the Bush Administration went through all sorts of moral gyrations and emerged with new definitions of what constituted torture. Basically, it's not torture if it doesn't kill you or if the injuries don't lead to organ failure.

You think I'm exaggerating? Check it out for yourself. The Justice Department's August 1, 2002, legal memo concluded that "the ban on torture is limited to only the most extreme forms of physical and mental harm," which the memo defined as akin to "death or organ failure." (See also "Bush's Torture Deceit: What 'Is' Is," and "Gonzales Grilled on Role in Torture at Confirmation Hearing").

So when Bush says the U.S. doesn't torture and he would never authorize torture, in a sense he believes himself to be telling the truth, since he totally transformed the meaning of "torture" to give it a totally different, exceedingly narrow, interpretation. Bush apparently believes that only if the detainees die or are the victims of organ failure as a result of what the Administration calls its "alternative set of procedures" could he be rightfully accused of authorizing torture. (Actually, it's estimated that perhaps as many as 100 detainees have died while in U.S. custody, scores of them directly from torture.)


Furthermore, Bush is asserting that U.S. law against torture, and Congressional oversight of such activity, applies only on American soil. If the CIA uses the "alternative procedures" in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Guantanamo, or in the secret CIA prisons abroad, those don't count. Plus, the Administration has moved to shield the interrogators, and those who authorized their "alternative procedures" (what Rumsfeld referred to as "harsh" interrogations) from national and international laws against mistreatment of prisoners. Meanwhile, of course, a few lower-level, enlisted "bad apples" have been tried, convicted, and sent to prison.

Likewise, according to the Bush Administration, the "extraordinary rendition" of especially recalcitrant prisoners to friendly countries abroad that are notorious for extreme physical torture does not count as the U.S. cooperating in the administration of torture. "They were tortured there? We are shocked, shocked! We don't approve of torture and had no idea it was used on a prisoner entrusted to their care."

But recently, in making the case to Congress that it should pass the Administration's draconian laws permitting such "alternative procedures," Bush let the cat out of the bag and admitted that several al-Qaida suspects gave up a good deal of valuable information while being interrogated in those secret CIA prisons abroad. But he still denies that his administration carried out "torture" there. Does he think we're stupid?

Do you see how it works? And the ramifications of how it works? In short, Bush&Co. have simply rewritten the dictionary to remove their legal liability for such crimes, and in the process have re-written the rules under which they, and their subordinates, act. When reality doesn't meet their needs, they don't consider making alterations to their policies; they just change the definition of what's "real."


In a sign of how desperate Bush is to maintain complete control of the torture definition -- and thus keep himself and other top U.S. officials out of the war-crimes court in The Hague -- Bush took a rare visit to Congress last week to try to forestall defeat of his torture/military tribunals bill. It was a definition struggle again.

The Geneva Convention on the treatment of captured prisoners is quite clear and specific; no country is permitted to use "cruel and degrading" treatment on prisoners in its care. Too "vague," says Bush. Instead, he suggests, CIA interrogators need "latitude" (what Bush calls "clarity") in questioning and torturing suspects so that they won't be nervously looking over their shoulders at war-crimes charges.

The Pentagon's senior lawyers disagreed with the hardline Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. Even Colin Powell bestirred his calcified conscience to point out that by trying to do an end-around the Geneva Convention, the U.S. risked losing the moral high ground internationally. Also, as Sen. John McCain (who was tortured as a POW in Hanoi) and others have pointed out, the U.S. would put its captured troops in great jeopardy of "cruel and degrading" treatment -- in other words, torture -- similar to what the CIA was meting out in its secret prisons abroad.

Republican "moderate" senators -- McCain, Graham, Snowe, Warner and others -- are demanding that the U.S. remain consistent with the Geneva Convention protections and also provide some legal safeguards to suspects on trial in military tribunals. But time and time again, these so-called "moderates," under extreme Roveian pressure, have caved and given Bush what he wants. Will they have the backbone and courage to stick to their guns this time? We shall see. In the meantime, get this: Bush is threatening to close down the CIA's questioning of terrorist suspects unless Congress approves his bill. Talk about cutting off your nation's nose to spite your personal face! Blackmail as a pre-emptive veto.


Let's move to another definition, at another level. Bush's National Security Strategy of the United States of America asserts that the U.S. can "pre-emptively" attack another country when it determines that country might possible be thinking of attacking America or grossly harming our interests. In the "old (pre-Bush) days," the definition of "pre-emption" meant that a country, in some circumstances, was permitted under international law to act first when faced with an imminent threat of attack.

In Bushspeak, it doesn't matter that the countries in question might be 10 or 15 years out from being a viable threat, or that while they might be antagonistic to U.S. policies they have no intent of ever actually attacking America. No, according to the Bush Doctrine, you attack possible or potential enemies first, long before they have the chance to even think of doing the U.S. harm.

That's one of the Administration's ex-post-facto justifications for having invaded and occupied Iraq. Once the early rationales for attacking were shown to be false -- those big lies including that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD, and was allied with al-Qaida in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks -- then the Administration went back to its "pre-emption" rationalization, in effect asserting: "We had to attack before Saddam got close to reconstituting his weapons programs; even though U.S./U.K. intel was confirming that Iraq was well-contained and that it could be 10 years before they would be a believable threat to anybody, we had to act now, to abort that development in its blastocyst stage before that potentially dangerous fetus could grow and do us harm as an adult."

Transfer that rationalization theory to a trial for murder: "Your honor, I cannot be convicted of murdering the victim by shooting him six times. I fully believed he was thinking of doing me harm, maybe next year or the year after that, and so I took him out pre-emptively. It was a clear case of early self-defense." Makes sense to me.


Perhaps the most reprehensible aspect of the Administration's desperation to avoid indictment for war-crimes is a tactic they've tried in other areas as well: Trying to eliminate judicial review of their actions. In taking this tack, they are making an open assault on the Constitution and 200-plus years of governmental precedent.

Despite the fact that Bush&Co. have packed the Supreme Court and the various appellate courts with their ideological brethren, they still don't have total control of the legal system, and therefore want to avoid judicial review whenever possible. They know how weak their Constitutional cases are. So they have had their flunkies in Congress introduce a variety bills to prohibit court review of certain Administration policies and laws.

In the Administration's military-tribunals bill currently before Congress, they also have inserted an in-your-face clause that would prevent civilian courts from intervening in, or reviewing the legality of, the proposed military tribunals. This would totally violate America's historic checks-and-balances system of governance, and would amount to the Executive Branch effectively controlling the Legislative and Judicial branches of government. In short, a budding dictatorship.

As noted previously, the Administration has created what they consider to be an airtight legal justification for Bush to act outside the law whenever he claims to be doing so as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime." Since his "war on terrorism," by definition, is a never-ending war, this means his actions "in defense of the homeland" permanently cannot be challenged. Sounds like the ingredients for dictatorship.


No wonder Bush is leery of courts ever getting near the justifications for his imperial presidency. The two times when the Supreme Court did review his behavior toward detainees in U.S. care, he was slapped down mightily, in no uncertain language.

In the 2004 case of Mr. Hamdi, a U.S. citizen, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the Court: "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens. ... Even the war power does not remove constitutional limitations safeguarding essential liberties."

In the recent case of Mr. Hamdan, a foreign suspect, the court slapped down Bush's I-am-the-Law approach again. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority: "(I)n undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction."


The power to nominate new Supreme Court justices is just one of many reasons why the momentum of this outlaw administration must be broken as quickly as possible. Which brings us to the midterm elections in November.

The imminence of that election explains why Bush is trying to create a rushed, "crisis" atmosphere to get his bill passed; after all, his Administration could have brought these suspects to trial anytime within the past five years. "We're running out of time," Bush says, by which he really means: "We've got to get this issue neutralized now, before the election, or else we can't smear the Democrats as pro-terrorist for blocking my bill, since it will be Republicans who also are doing the obstructing."

Even if the GOP rebels hold their ground this one time, but especially if they don't, the American people -- left, right and center -- must speak with one enormous groundswell of revulsion against the ruling Republican Party in the Congress that has rubber-stamped virtually everything Bush&Co. have asked for. A convincing GOP defeat in the House would do great damage to Bush&Co.'s momentum of lawlessness.

The current fracturing of the Republican Party in Congress is a testament to the revolt of the moderate middle in America against the Bush Administration's catastrophic bungling in Iraq, its demonstrated incompetence in the Katrina debacle, its lies and deceits, its slimy denunciations of those who oppose CheneyBush Iraq policy (which means about two-thirds of the American people) as terrorist-supporting traitors, etc., etc.

If the GOP can be roundly defeated two months from now at the polls, its defeat will be due in no small part to those honest, traditional conservatives who, appalled by the hijacking of their once-great party by extremists from the Far Right, are thoroughly fed up and have had enough of misrule on a grand scale. (Note: This election, given Rove's previous history, will require extreme vigilance, and probably court suits, to keep the voting honest and honestly-counted.)

Let us all -- Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, progressives -- join with these moderate Republicans, and start the process of moving our country back to common decency, earned respect, and a sane foreign and domestic policy based on reality and the true needs of the American people. Can I hear an Amen?

-- BW


Canadian Was Falsely Accused, Panel Says

After Tip From Ally, U.S. Sent Muslim to Syria for Questioning

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; A01

TORONTO, Sept. 18 -- Canadian intelligence officials passed false warnings and bad information to American agents about a Muslim Canadian citizen, after which U.S. authorities secretly whisked him to Syria, where he was tortured, a judicial report found Monday.

The report, released in Ottawa, was the result of a 2 1/2-year inquiry that represented one of the first public investigations into mistakes made as part of the United States' "extraordinary rendition" program, which has secretly spirited suspects to foreign countries for interrogation by often brutal methods.

The inquiry, which focused on the Canadian intelligence services, found that agents who were under pressure to find terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, falsely labeled an Ottawa computer consultant, Maher Arar, as a dangerous radical. They asked U.S. authorities to put him and his wife, a university economist, on the al-Qaeda "watchlist," without justification, the report said.

Arar was also listed as "an Islamic extremist individual" who was in the Washington area on Sept. 11. The report concluded that he had no involvement in Islamic extremism and was on business in San Diego that day, said the head of the inquiry commission, Ontario Justice Dennis O'Connor.

Arar, now 36, was detained by U.S. authorities as he changed planes in New York on Sept. 26, 2002. He was held for questioning for 12 days, then flown by jet to Jordan and driven to Syria. He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.

O'Connor concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security threat.

Although the report centered on Canadian actions, the counsel for the commission, Paul Cavalluzzo, said the results show that the U.S. practice of renditions "ought to be reviewed."

"This is really the first report in the Western world that has had access to all of the government documents we wanted and saw the practice of extraordinary rendition in full color," he said in an interview from Ottawa. "The ramifications were that an innocent Canadian was tortured, his life was put upside down, and it set him back years and years."

Arar, who came to Canada from Syria when he was 17, said in Ottawa that he was thankful that he had been vindicated. He expressed surprise and anger at learning Monday that Canadian authorities also had asked U.S. authorities to put his wife on the al-Qaeda watchlist.

"Today Justice O'Connor has cleared my name and restored my reputation," he said at a news conference. He said the individual Canadian officials should be held accountable: "Justice requires no less."

O'Connor said it was beyond his mandate to recommend discipline for any individual.

"He really is a victim of authorities in three governments, as well as being an innocent man," Irwin Cotler, a member of parliament from the Liberal Party, said after the report was issued.

Stockwell Day, the federal government's public safety minister, said the treatment of Arar was "regrettable. We hope, with any future situations, never to see this happen again."

Since Sept. 11, the CIA, working with other intelligence agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people in its effort to dismantle terrorist networks. Many of them have been secretly taken by "extraordinary rendition" to other countries, hidden from U.S. legal requirements and often subject to torture.

Those renditions are often carried out by CIA agents dressed head to toe in black, wearing masks, who blindfold their subjects and dress them in black. The practice is generating increased opposition by other countries; Italy is seeking to prosecute CIA officers who allegedly abducted a Muslim cleric in Milan in February 2003, and German prosecutors are investigating the CIA's activities in their country.

Although details of the renditions and the destinations of those held are secret, President Bush has confirmed the existence of CIA-run prisons throughout the world. Some of the subjects of renditions have been held in those prisons.

O'Connor also recommended that the government review the case of three other Muslim Canadian citizens, who were detained when they traveled through Syria, to determine what role Canadian authorities played in their imprisonment.

But it was the case of Arar, a reserved, soft-spoken father of two, that created outrage in Canada after he returned in 2003 and said he wanted the public to know what had happened to him.

The report said agents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police "overstated" Arar's importance in the broad investigation they began of potential Canadian suspects after Sept. 11.

Canadian police opened a file on Arar after seeing him talking to two other Muslim Canadians they were watching, authorities have acknowledged. Arar insisted the men were casual acquaintances in the small Muslim community in Montreal, where he lived before moving to British Columbia.

O'Connor said Monday that police agents told the Americans that Arar was "suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda movement." The judge concluded: "The RCMP had no basis for this description."

The Mounties also falsely claimed Arar had refused to be interviewed and had "suddenly" left for Tunisia. It listed him as a business associate of another man they called a "Bin Laden associate." Those descriptions were "either completely inaccurate" or overstated his casual connections, O'Connor said in an 822-page, three-volume report.

That information "very likely" led to his rendition, the report said. U.S. officials refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry.

Cavalluzzo said the Canadian agents apparently operated without proper training. "The best one can say is that it was sheer incompetence. They did not appreciate the fact that the branding of someone as a 'target' or 'suspect' or 'Islamic extremist' to Americans in 2002 could lead to disastrous consequences."

After Arar was detained in New York, Canadian authorities apparently were unaware the Americans were preparing to send him to Syria, according to the commission finding.

The RCMP contact, Inspector Michel Cabana, "was under the impression that Mr. Arar would only be detained for a short time," O'Connor's report said. "In his view, Mr. Arar was being held in a country with many of the same values as Canada."

Arar filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, but the case was dismissed by a judge citing "national security" issues. Arar is also seeking compensation from the Canadian government.

Some crucial questions about the incident remain unanswered, at least publicly. Over the repeated objections of O'Connor, the federal government censored much of the testimony given during the proceedings as well as some of the final report. O'Connor's report said a federal court should be asked to decide whether to disclose some of the censored items.

Arar was not permitted to testify; the judge ruled it would be unfair to subject him to questioning based on secret information. He has testified before a European Parliament committee in Brussels.

Special correspondent Natalia Alexandrova contributed to this report.

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