Friday, March 23, 2007


My National Security Letter Gag Order

Washington Post Editorial

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.

The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


How Bush Lost Iraq

Betrayed: The Iraqis who trusted America the most
The New Yorker

by George Packer March 26, 2007

An Iraqi interpreter wears a mask to conceal his identity while he assists a soldier delivering an invitation to an Imam for a meeting with an American colonel. Photograph by James Nachtwey.

An Iraqi interpreter wears a mask to conceal his identity while he assists a soldier delivering an invitation to an Imam for a meeting with an American colonel. Photograph by James Nachtwey.

On a cold, wet night in January, I met two young Iraqi men in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel, in central Baghdad. A few Arabic television studios had rooms on the upper floors of the building, but the hotel was otherwise vacant. In the lobby, a bucket collected drips of rainwater; at the gift shop, which was closed, a shelf displayed film, batteries, and sheathed daggers covered in dust. A sign from another era read, “We have great pleasure in announcing the opening of the Internet café 24 hour a day. At the business center on the first floor. The management.” The management consisted of a desk clerk and a few men in black leather jackets slouched in armchairs and holding two-way radios.

The two Iraqis, Othman and Laith, had asked to meet me at the Palestine because it was the only place left in Baghdad where they were willing to be seen with an American. They lived in violent neighborhoods that were surrounded by militia checkpoints. Entering and leaving the Green Zone, the fortified heart of the American presence, had become too risky. But even the Palestine made them nervous. In October, 2005, a suicide bomber driving a cement mixer had triggered an explosion that nearly brought down the hotel’s eighteen-story tower. An American tank unit that was guarding the hotel eventually pulled out, leaving security in the hands of Iraqi civilians. It would now be relatively easy for insurgents to get inside. The one comforting thought for Othman and Laith was that, four years into the war, the Palestine was no longer worth attacking.

The Iraqis and I went up to a room on the eighth floor. Othman smoked by the window while Laith sat on one of the twin beds. (The names of most of the Iraqis in this story have been changed for their protection.) Othman was a heavyset doctor, twenty-nine years old, with a gentle voice and an unflappable ironic manner. Laith, an engineer with rimless eyeglasses, was younger and taller, and given to bursts of enthusiasm and displeasure. Othman was Sunni, Laith was Shiite.

It had taken Othman three days to get to the hotel from his house, in western Baghdad. On the way, he was trapped for two nights at his sister’s house, which was in an ethnically mixed neighborhood: gun battles had broken out between Sunni and Shiite militiamen. Othman watched the home of his sister’s neighbor, a Sunni, burn to the ground. Shiite militiamen scrawled the words “Leave or else” on the doors of Sunni houses. Othman was able to leave the house only because his sister’s husband—a Shiite, who was known to the local Shia militias—escorted him out. Othman took a taxi to the house of Laith’s grandfather; from there, he and Laith went to the Palestine, where they enjoyed their first hot water in several weeks.

They had a strong friendship, based on a shared desire. Before the war, they had both longed for the arrival of the Americans, expecting them to change their lives. They had told each other that they would try to work with the foreigners. Othman and Laith were both secular, and despised the extremist militias on each side of Iraq’s civil war, but the ethnic conflict had led them increasingly to quarrel, to the point that one of them—usually Laith—would refuse to speak to the other.

Laith began to describe these strains. “It started when the Americans came with Shia leaders and wanted to give the Shia leadership—”

“And kick out the Sunnis,” Othman interrupted. “You admit this? You were not admitting it before.”

“The Americans don’t want to kick out the Sunnis,” Laith said. “They want to give Shia the power because most Iraqis are Shia.”

“And you believe the Sunnis did not want to participate, right?” Othman said. “The Americans didn’t give them the chance to participate.” He turned to me: “You know I’m not just saying this because I’m a Sunni—”

Laith rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

“But I think the Shia made the Sunnis feel that they’re against them.”

“This is not the point, who started it,” Laith said heatedly. “Everybody is getting killed, the Shia and the Sunnis.” He paused. “But if we think who started it, I think the Sunnis started it!”

“I think the Shia,” Othman repeated, with calm knowingness. He said to me, “When I feel that I’m pushing too much and he starts to become so angry, I pull the brake.”

Laith had a job with an American organization, affiliated with the National Endowment for Democracy, that encouraged private enterprise in developing countries. Othman had worked with a German group called Architects for People in Need, and then as a translator for foreign journalists. These were coveted jobs, but over time they had become so dangerous that Othman and Laith could talk candidly about their lives with no one except each other.

“I trust him,” Othman said of his friend. “We’ve shared our experiences with foreigners—the good and the bad. We don’t have a secret life when we are together. But when we go out we have to lie.”

Othman’s cell phone rang: a friend was calling from Jordan. “I had a vision that you’ll be killed by the end of the month,” he told Othman. “Get out now, please. You can stay here with me. We’ll live on pasta.” Othman said something reassuring and hung up, but his phone kept ringing, the friend calling back; his vision had made him hysterical.

A string of bad events had given Othman the sense that time was running out for him in Iraq. In November, members of the Mahdi Army—the Shia militia commanded by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr—rounded up Othman’s older brother and several other Sunnis who worked in a shop in a mixed neighborhood. The Sunnis were taken to a local Shia mosque and shot. Othman’s brother was only grazed in the head, but a Shiite soldier noticed that he was still alive and shot him in the eye. Somehow, he survived this, too. Othman found his brother and took him to a hospital for surgery. The hospital—like the entire Iraqi health system—was under the Mahdi Army’s control, and Othman decided that his brother would be safer at their parents’ house. The brother was now blind, deranged, and vengeful, making life unbearable for Othman’s family. A few days later, Othman’s elderly maternal aunts, who were Shia and lived in a majority-Sunni area, were told by Sunni insurgents that they had three days to leave. Othman’s father, a retired Sunni officer, went to their neighborhood and convinced the insurgents that his wife’s sisters were, in fact, Sunnis. And then, one day in January, Othman’s two teen-age brothers, Muhammad and Salim, on whom he doted, failed to come home from school. Othman called the cell phone of Muhammad, who was fifteen. “Is this Muhammad?” he said.

A stranger’s voice answered: “No, I’m not Muhammad.”

“Where is Muhammad?”

“Muhammad is right here,” the stranger said. “I’m looking at him now. We have both of them.”

“Are you joking?”

“No, I’m not. Are you Sunni or Shia?”

Thinking of what had happened to his older brother, Othman lied: “We’re Shia.” The stranger told him to prove it. The boys had left their identity cards at home, for their own safety.

Othman’s mother took the phone, sobbing and begging the kidnapper not to hurt her boys. “We’re going to behead them,” the kidnapper told her. “Choose where you want us to throw the bodies. Or do you prefer us to cut them to pieces for you? We enjoy cutting young boys to pieces.” The man hung up.

After several more phone conversations, Othman realized his mistake: the kidnappers were Sunnis, with Al Qaeda. Shiites are not Muslims, the kidnappers told him—they deserve to be killed. Then they stopped answering the phone. Othman called a friend who belonged to a Sunni political party with ties to insurgents; over the course of the afternoon, the friend got the kidnappers back on the phone and convinced them that the boys were Sunnis. They were released with apologies, along with their money and their phones.

It was the worst day of Othman’s life. He said he would never forget the sound of the stranger’s voice.

Othman began a campaign of burning. He went into the yard or up on the roof of his parents’ house with a jerrican of kerosene and set fire to papers, identity badges, books in English, photographs—anything that might incriminate him as an Iraqi who worked with foreigners. If Othman had to flee Iraq, he wanted to leave nothing behind that might harm him or his family. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy a few items, though: his diaries, his weekly notes from the hospital where he had once worked. “I have this bad habit of keeping everything like memories,” he said.

Most of the people Othman and Laith knew had left Iraq. House by house, Baghdad was being abandoned. Othman was considering his options: move his parents from their house (in an insurgent stronghold) to his sister’s house (in the midst of civil war); move his parents and brothers to Syria (where there was no work) and live with his friend in Jordan (going crazy with boredom while watching his savings dwindle); go to London and ask for asylum (and probably be sent back); stay in Baghdad for six more months until he could begin a scholarship that he’d won, to study journalism in America (or get killed waiting). Beneath his calm good humor, Othman was paralyzed—he didn’t want to leave Baghdad and his family, but staying had become impossible. Every day, he changed his mind.

From the hotel window, Othman could see the palace domes of the Green Zone directly across the Tigris River. “It’s sad,” he told me. “With all the hopes that we had, and all the dreams, I was totally against the word ‘invasion.’ Wherever I go, I was defending the Americans and strongly saying, ‘America was here to make a change.’ Now I have my doubts.”

Laith was more blunt: “Sometimes, I feel like we’re standing in line for a ticket, waiting to die.”


Millions of Iraqis, spanning the country’s religious and ethnic spectrum, welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the mostly young men and women who embraced America’s project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq’s smallest minority. I came across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica and signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Najaf whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and who offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They had learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly to the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee the country—a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam’s Iraq was, as the Metallica fan in Mosul put it, “a one-way road leading to nothing.” I thought of them as oddballs, like misunderstood high-school students whose isolation ends when they go off to college. In a similar way, the four years of the war created intense friendships, but they were forged through collective disappointment. The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.

An interpreter named Firas—he insisted on using his real name—grew up in a middle-class Shia family in a prosperous Baghdad neighborhood. He is a big man in his mid-thirties with a shaved head, and his fierce, heavily ringed eyes provide a glimpse into the reserves of energy that lie beneath his phlegmatic surface. As a young man, Firas was shut out of a government job by his family’s religious affiliation and by his lack of connections. He wasted his twenties in a series of petty occupations: selling cigarettes wholesale; dealing in spare parts; peddling books on Mutanabi Street, in old Baghdad. Books, more than anything, shaped Firas’s passionately melancholy character. As a young man, he kept a credo on his wall in English and Arabic: “Be honest without the thought of Heaven or Hell.” He was particularly impressed by “The Outsider,” a 1956 philosophical work by the British existentialist Colin Wilson. “He wrote about the ‘non-belonger,’ ” Firas explained. Firas felt like an exile in his own land, but, he recalled, “There was always this sound in the back of my head: the time will come, the change will come, my time will come. And when 2003 came, I couldn’t believe how right I was.”

Overnight, everything was new. Americans, whom he had seen only in movies, rolled through the streets. Men who had been silent all their lives cursed Saddam in front of their neighbors. The fall of the regime revealed traits that Iraqis had kept hidden: the greed that drove some to loot, the courage that made others stay on the job. Firas felt a lifelong depression lift. “The first thing I learned about myself was that I can make things happen,” he said. “When you feel that you are an outcast, you don’t really put an effort in anything. But after the war I would run here and there, I would kill myself, I would focus on one thing and not stop until I do it.”

Thousands of Iraqis converged on the Palestine Hotel and, later, the Green Zone, in search of work with the Americans. In the chaos of the early days, a demonstrable ability to speak English—sometimes in a chance encounter with a street patrol—was enough to get you hired by an enterprising Marine captain. Firas began working in military intelligence. Almost all the Iraqis who were hired became interpreters, and American soldiers called them “terps,” often giving them nicknames for convenience and, later, security (Firas became Phil). But what the Iraqis had to offer went well beyond linguistic ability: each of them was, potentially, a cultural adviser, an intelligence officer, a policy analyst. Firas told the soldiers not to point with their feet, not to ask to be introduced to someone’s sister. Interpreters assumed that their perspective would be valuable to foreigners who knew little or nothing of Iraq.

Whenever I asked Iraqis what kind of government they had wanted to replace Saddam’s regime, I got the same answer: they had never given it any thought. They just assumed that the Americans would bring the right people, and the country would blossom with freedom, prosperity, consumer goods, travel opportunities. In this, they mirrored the wishful thinking of American officials and neoconservative intellectuals who failed to plan for trouble. Almost no Iraqi claimed to have anticipated videos of beheadings, or Moqtada al-Sadr, or the terrifying question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” Least of all did they imagine that America would make so many mistakes, and persist in those mistakes to the point that even fair-minded Iraqis wondered about ulterior motives. In retrospect, the blind faith that many Iraqis displayed in themselves and in America seems naïve. But, now that Iraq’s demise is increasingly regarded as foreordained, it’s worth recalling the optimism among Iraqis four years ago.

Ali, an interpreter in Baghdad, spent his childhood in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, where his father was completing his graduate studies. In 1987, when Ali was eleven and his father was shortly to get his green card, the family returned to Baghdad for a brief visit. But it was during the war with Iran, and the authorities refused to let them leave again. Ali had to learn Arabic from scratch. He grew up in Ghazaliya, a Baathist stronghold in western Baghdad where Shia families like his were rare. Iraq felt like a prison, and Ali considered his American childhood a paradise lost.

In 2003, soon after the arrival of the Americans, soldiers in his neighborhood persuaded him to work as an interpreter with the 82nd Airborne Division. He wore a U.S. Army uniform and a bandanna, and during interrogations he used broken Arabic in order to make prisoners think he was American. Although the work was not yet dangerous, an instinct led him to mask his identity and keep his job to himself around the neighborhood. Ali found that, although many soldiers were friendly, they often ignored information and advice from their Iraqi employees. Interpreters would give them names of insurgents, and nothing would happen. When Ali suggested that soldiers buy up locals’ rocket-propelled grenade launchers so that they would not fall into the hands of insurgents, he was disregarded. When interpreters drove onto the base, their cars were searched, and at the end of their shift they would sometimes find their car doors unlocked or a mirror broken—the cars had been searched again. “People came with true faces to the Americans, with complete loyalty,” Ali said. “But, from the beginning, they didn’t trust us.”

Ali initially worked the night shift at a base in his neighborhood and walked home by himself after midnight. In June, 2003, the Americans mounted a huge floodlight at the front gate of the base, and when Ali left for home the light projected his shadow hundreds of feet down the street. “It’s dangerous,” he told the soldiers at the gate. “Can’t you turn it off when we go out?”

“Don’t be scared,” the soldiers told him. “There’s a sniper protecting you all the way.”

A couple of weeks later, one of Ali’s Iraqi friends was hanging out with the snipers in the tower, and he thanked them. “For what?” the snipers asked. For looking out for us, Ali’s friend said. The snipers didn’t know what he was talking about, and when he told them they started laughing.

“We got freaked out,” Ali said. The message was clear: You Iraqis are on your own.

Read the rest at :

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007


What People Really Need

NYT Editorial

In nasty and bumbling comments made at the White House yesterday, President Bush declared that “people just need to hear the truth” about the firing of eight United States attorneys. That’s right. Unfortunately, the deal Mr. Bush offered Congress to make White House officials available for “interviews” did not come close to meeting that standard.

Mr. Bush’s proposal was a formula for hiding the truth, and for protecting the president and his staff from a legitimate inquiry by Congress. Mr. Bush’s idea of openness involved sending White House officials to Congress to answer questions in private, without taking any oath, making a transcript or allowing any follow-up appearances. The people, in other words, would be kept in the dark.

The Democratic leaders were right to reject the offer, despite Mr. Bush’s threat to turn this dispute into a full-blown constitutional confrontation.

Congress has the right and the duty to fully investigate the firings, which may have been illegal, and Justice Department officials’ statements to Congress, which may have been untrue. It needs to question Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, and other top officials.

It is hard to imagine what, besides evading responsibility, the White House had in mind. Why would anyone refuse to take an oath on a matter like this, unless he were not fully committed to telling the truth? And why would Congress accept that idea, especially in an investigation that has already been marked by repeated false and misleading statements from administration officials?

The White House notes that making misrepresentations to Congress is illegal, even if no oath is taken. But that seems to be where the lack of a transcript comes in. It would be hard to prove what Mr. Rove and others said if no official record existed.

The White House also put an unacceptable condition on the documents it would make available, by excluding e-mail messages within the White House. Mr. Bush’s overall strategy seems clear: to stop Congress from learning what went on within the White House, which may well be where the key decisions to fire the attorneys were made.

The White House argued that presidential advisers rarely testify before Congress, but that is simply not true. Many of President Clinton’s high-ranking advisers, including his White House counsels and deputy chief of staff, testified about Whitewater, allegations of campaign finance abuses and other matters.

The Bush administration is trying to hide behind the doctrine of “executive privilege.” That term does not appear in the Constitution; the best Mr. Bush could do yesterday was a stammering reference to the separate branches of government. When presidents have tried to invoke this privilege, the courts have been skeptical. President Richard Nixon tried to withhold the Watergate tapes, but a unanimous Supreme Court ruled against him.

It is no great surprise that top officials of this administration believe they do not need to testify before Congress. This is an administration that has shown over and over that it does not believe that the laws apply to it, and that it does not respect its co-equal branches of government. Congress should subpoena Mr. Rove and the others, and question them under oath, in public. If Congress has more questions, they should be recalled.

That would not be “partisanship,” as Mr. Bush wants Americans to believe. It would be Congress doing its job by holding the president and his team accountable — a rare thing in the last six years.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Congressional hearing heats up over changes to climate reports

Democrats lay out a paper trail that they say shows how non-scientists edited scientists' work to downplay the impact of global warming.
By Nicole Gaouette
Times Staff Writer

March 20, 2007

WASHINGTON — Government scientists, armed with copies of heavily edited reports, charged Monday that the Bush administration and its political appointees had soft-pedaled their findings on climate change.

The accusations led Democrats and Republicans at the congressional hearing to accuse each other of censorship, smear tactics and McCarthyism.

To underscore their charges of the administration's oil-friendly stance, Democrats grilled an oil lobbyist who was hired by the White House to review government climate change documents and who made hundreds of edits that the lawmakers said minimized the impact of global warming.

"You were a spin doctor," Rep. John A. Yarmuth (D-Ky) told the lobbyist.

Republicans targeted a NASA director who testified about administration pressure, accusing him of political bias, of politicizing his work and of ignoring uncertainties in climate change science.

And they disputed his contention that taxpayer-funded scientists are entitled to free speech. "Free speech is not a simple thing and is subject to and directed by policy," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah).

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing was marked by an open confrontation between Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and the ranking Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) — a rare display of direct debate in otherwise carefully choreographed hearings.

The hearing was the latest effort to challenge what the Democratic congressional majority sees as the Bush administration's unchecked use of power. In the past few weeks, Democrats have held inquiries or announced plans to examine the unmonitored use of national security letters that allow the government to spy on Americans, the dismissal of U.S. attorneys and the identifying of former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, among other issues.

Waxman has been particularly aggressive, pursuing inquiries about intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war and the politics of global warming.

To support their charges Monday, the Democrats produced hundreds of pages of legal depositions, exhibits and e-mail exchanges between administration officials. The paper trail illustrated how officials with no scientific training shaped the administration's climate change message and edited global warming reports, inserting doubt in the place of definitive statements and diminishing the role people play in the planet's rising temperatures.

Waxman's committee received more than eight boxes of papers from the White House Council on Environmental Quality that he said provided disturbing indications of political interference.

"There may have been a concerted effort directed by the White House to mislead the public about the dangers of global climate change," said Waxman, who also cited the administration practice of "controlling what federal scientists could say to the public and the media about their work."

"It would be a serious abuse if senior White House officials deliberately tried to defuse calls for action by ensuring that the public heard a distorted message about the risks of climate change," Waxman said.

One example showed how a report originally said the U.S. National Research Council had concluded that "greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures to rise and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise."


Edits by ex-oil lobbyist

Philip Cooney, the oil lobbyist who became chief of staff at the Council on Environmental Quality, changed that to read: "Some activities emit greenhouse gases that directly or indirectly may affect the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, thereby potentially affecting climate on regional and global scales."

James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the edits confused public understanding of the issue. "If we push our climate system hard enough, it can pass tipping points," he said. "That is not a situation we want to leave for our children."

Hansen decried political interference in climate change science. "Scientists shouldn't be hired to parrot some line."

But he also said the real weapon against scientists was the budget. Last year, he said, the administration slashed climate change budgets retroactively by 20%.

Cooney, now with Exxon Mobil Corp., came to the White House in 2001 after more than 15 years with the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry lobby group. His last post there was leader of the climate team.

Waxman quoted an internal API document that identified climate change as the group's highest priority. He said a key API tactic was to spread doubt about climate change science, exaggerating scientific uncertainty and downplaying the role of humans in climate change.

"What bothers me is that you seem to take the exact same approach in the White House," Waxman told Cooney.

Cooney, soft-spoken but increasingly red-faced as the hours went by, repeatedly stressed that his job was to align reports with administration policy, as reflected by a 2001 National Academy of Sciences report that indicated some doubt about climate change models.

He denied his aim was to sow doubt or that he had any loyalty to the oil industry, even as lawmakers pointed to some 181 changes he made to one document, which Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said "had the effect of emphasizing or exaggerating the level of uncertainty surrounding global warming science."

"How is what you were doing … any different than the work of the so-called scientists during the whole tobacco debate when they were sowing doubt about whether there was any link between tobacco and lung cancer?" Welch asked.


Republican rebuttals

Republicans, in turn, came down hard on Democrats and Hansen, often sparking verbal fisticuffs.

Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) raised Hansen's work on "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary on Al Gore's global-warming efforts, as evidence of Democratic sympathies. Hansen is a registered independent.

Several Republicans criticized Hansen for comparing administration efforts to limit and monitor scientists' speech with similar efforts in Nazi Germany.

Issa said he hoped Hansen wasn't influenced by money tied to a prize named after John Heinz, a former Republican senator and deceased husband of Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Waxman turned to Issa, who sat beside him. "I think the gentleman's smearing Dr. Hansen," Waxman said.

Issa stared, started to speak, but Waxman cut him off, repeating himself.

"Are you recognizing yourself?" Issa asked, using the formal phrase to see if Waxman was allotting himself time to speak.

"Well, I recognize you," Waxman shot back as the crowd laughed. "I think you're smearing him. Do you want to comment on that?"

Issa offered his rebuttal, noting that Hansen "clearly disliked" the Bush administration and the lawmakers moved on.

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Monday, March 19, 2007


Summary of the Gonzales Scandal

The Bush Administration

Fallout from the recent firings of several U.S. attorneys hit the Bush administration like a hurricane last week - and shows no sign of abating any time soon. But why is it such a big deal? Let's take a walk down scandal lane.

Clinton Did It Too?

It's been noted many, many, many times this past week that U.S. attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the president" - and this is true. The president can hire and fire U.S. attorneys whenever he wants. It's also true that "Presidents commonly begin their first term by replacing most, if not all, U.S. attorneys. Presidents Clinton in 1993 and Bush in 2001 replaced nearly all U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department's 93 districts nationwide," according to the Associated Press.

But there's one important thing to know about the president's power to hire and fire U.S. attorneys: aside from the start of his first term, he rarely, if ever, uses it. In fact, the Congressional Research Service reported last month that in the past 25 years, only five U.S. attorneys have been forced to resign mid-term.

All of which makes the Bush administration's recent firing of eight U.S. attorneys - and then claiming that they performed poorly when in fact they'd received positive performance reviews - look more than a tad suspicious. According to the New York Times:

The United States attorney purge appears to have been prompted by an array of improper political motives. Carol Lam, the San Diego attorney, seems to have been fired to stop her from continuing an investigation that put Republican officials and campaign contributors at risk. These charges, like the accusation that Mr. McKay and other United States attorneys were insufficiently aggressive about voter fraud, are a way of saying, without actually saying, that they would not use their offices to help Republicans win elections.

So the attorneys were fired because they either didn't investigate enough Democrats, or because they investigated Republicans - and that's the problem. U.S. attorneys are politically appointed, but they are supposed to remain above politics. These firings appear to be, as John McLaughlin said last week, "a shabby and grave departure from good government."

So that's the why - but what about the who, the how, and the when?

Patriot Acting

Let's recap for a moment. Back in January, Sen. Arlen Specter "confirmed that as Judiciary Committee chairman last year he made a last-minute change to (the Patriot Act) that expanded the administration's power to install U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval," according to TPM Muckraker (and see Idiots 275). Shortly afterwards, Alberto Gonzales defended this provision, telling the Senate Judiciary Commitee - under oath, mind you - that, "I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney."

Fine - except it appears that Gonzo was lying. Last December, his chief-of-staff Kyle Sampson wrote an email about that very same Patriot Act provision which said, "There is some risk that we'll lose the authority, but if we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?"

Sampson also plotted with a White House aide to install "a former GOP operative and protege of presidential adviser Karl Rove," Tim Griffin, as a U.S. attorney. Sampson wrote, "We should gum this to death, ask the senators to give Tim a chance ... then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in 'good faith,' of course."

Good Faith, My Ass

In fact, the Bush administration had been plotting to fire U.S. attorneys for some time. According to Salon:

A letter written by the Department of Justice in late February informed Congress: "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin." Despite this categorical disavowal, a sheaf of internal Justice Department e-mails released this week to Congress under subpoena revealed Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, writing in mid-December 2006, "I know getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc." Harriet, of course, was Harriet Miers, then the White House legal counsel.

The Justice Department's statement on Karl Rove was simply one part of its coverup. The department's three top officials -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and William E. Moschella, principal associate deputy attorney general -- all testified before Congress under oath that the dismissed U.S. attorneys had been removed for "performance" reasons, not because they had been insufficiently partisan in their prosecution of Democrats or because they would be replaced by those who would be. Yet another Sampson e-mail, sent to Miers in March 2005, had ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys on the basis of being "good performers," those who "exhibited loyalty" to the administration, or "low performers," those who "chafed against Administration initiatives, etc."

Meanwhile, according to CNN:

An e-mail from D. Kyle Sampson to former White House counsel Harriet Miers dated January 1, 2006, read, "You have asked whether President Bush should remove and replace U.S. Attorneys whose four-year terms have expired. I recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys."

On September 13, 2006, Sampson e-mailed Miers lists of federal attorneys "In the Process of Being Pushed Out" and those "We Now Should Consider Pushing Out."

And according to the New York Times:

Late in the afternoon on Dec. 4, a deputy to Harriet E. Miers, then the White House counsel and one of President Bush's most trusted aides, sent a two-line e-mail message to a top Justice Department aide. "We're a go," it said, approving a long-brewing plan to remove seven federal prosecutors considered weak or not team players.

The message, from William K. Kelley of the White House counsel's office to D. Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, put in motion a plan to fire United States attorneys that had been hatched 22 months earlier by Ms. Miers. Three days later, the seven prosecutors were summarily dismissed. An eighth had been forced out in the summer.

Ma Mama Weer All Hazee Now

Once the emails were released (more on that in a minute) it became quite clear that despite their denials, the Bush administration was up to their necks in the plot. And suddenly they were having a hard time getting their stories straight. Would you be surprised to learn that the plan wasn't "hatched 22 months earlier by Ms. Miers" after all?

The White House dropped its contention Friday that former Counsel Harriet Miers first raised the idea of firing U.S. attorneys, blaming "hazy memories" as e-mails shed new light on Karl Rove's role. Support eroded further for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Presidential press secretary Tony Snow previously had asserted Miers was the person who came up with the idea, but he said Friday, "I don't want to try to vouch for origination." He said, "At this juncture, people have hazy memories."

Ah, "hazy memories." Isn't it amazing how all these supposedly brilliant people suddenly develop chronic amnesia at the most inconvenient moments?

Mind you, Alberto Gonzales had a different excuse last week, claiming that he was simply too stupid to know what was going on. Gonzales held a press conference to defend himself, and according to the Washington Post:

"I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice," he posited, but "I ... was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."

That's right: the attorney general would have us believe that he had no idea his chief-of-staff was coordinating this effort with the White House. Completely incompetent or lying his butt off? You be the judge.

What The Hell Is

As the emails came to light, astute observers noticed that many of them were sent from "" email addresses. And what is Strangely enough, the domain is owned by the Republican National Committee, which means that White House staffers appear to have been using RNC email addresses to conduct official White House business. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, this is a violation of the Presidential Records Act:

In light of e-mails released by the House Judiciary Committee this week in response to the on-going U.S. Attorney firing scandal, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter today to Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), asking for an investigation into whether the White House has violated its mandatory record-keeping obligation under the Presidential Records Act (PRA).

One email, sent to Justice Department Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson from J. Scott Jennings, White House Deputy Political Director, uses an email account,, on a server owned by the Republican National Committee. This raises serious questions about whether the White House was trying to deliberately evade its responsibilities under the PRA, which directs the president to take all necessary steps to maintain presidential records to provide a full accounting of all activities during his tenure.

The White House may have been trying to deliberately avoid its responsibilities? Why, I find that almost impossible to believe! These are the people who pledged to return honesty and integrity to Washington, remember?

Stale Rove

But it's okay - Karl Rove has got a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this:

White House adviser Karl Rove lashed out today at Democrats' vocal criticism of the administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

Democrats are calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign over the Justice Department's handling of the firings, but Rove accused them of trying to create a scandal where there isn't one.

"Now we are at a point where people want to play politics with it," said Rove, "and that's fine."

Curious. The White House collaborated with the Justice Department to fire U.S. attorneys for purely political purposes, but we're only now at a point where "people want to play politics with it?" Methinks Karl Rove needs a new meme. And to think they used to call him a genius.

Bedtime For Gonzo

So what's next? Well, along with many Democrats, several prominent Republicans have called for Gonzales's resignation, and even Our Great Leader has mumbled something about being "not happy." Considering that Bush's strongest criticism of useless public servants is usually something along the lines of, "Heck of a job," or "Here, have this Presidential Medal of Freedom," being "not happy" must be the kiss of death.

Will Gonzo still be Attorney General when the Top 10 rolls around next week? Don't bet on it.

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BSU student flier angers some Hispanics

College Republicans say promotion for Vasquez speech is ‘all in good fun'; restaurant, others aren't amused

By Sandra Forester - Idaho Statesman

Edition Date: 03/19/07

A Boise State University student group has angered area Hispanic leaders and others by promoting a speech about immigration with a "food stamp drawing" that requires climbing through a hole in a fence and offering fake identification for a shot at winning dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

Owners of Chapala, the restaurant named in a promotional flier for the event, also aren't amused — and say they are considering a lawsuit against BSU's College Republicans.

Faviola Marin, co-owner of the local restaurant chain, said Chapala had nothing to do with the promotion or the student group.

"We're really upset about it," Marin said Sunday night. "We've had a lot of upset customers and phone calls."

Marin said one of their Boise restaurants has been broken into twice in the past week, and she believes the vandalism is connected to the flier.

"We want an apology," Marin said, noting that Chapala has supported BSU's Cinco de Mayo activities and scholarships for Hispanic students. "Nobody has said anything to us."

BSU College Republicans President Jonathan Sawmiller said Chapala's name was taken off the fliers as soon as the restaurant called and complained to a BSU official. He said he believes that quick response should quell a lawsuit.

"There was no intention on our part to defame them in any way," Sawmiller said.

A copy of the flier circulated by e-mail Friday mentions Chapala by name. On Sunday night, the flier on the College Republicans Web site referred to "a local Mexican restaurant" without naming a specific restaurant and added a disclaimer:

"The College Republicans are not racist and do not wish to offend anyone. We simply want to bring attention to the problem of illegal immigration in America, and have chosen a humorous approach to draw interest and student involvement. While the drawing for dinner is all in good fun, the topic is serious."

The flier offers dinner for two to promote a speech by former Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez, a vocal critic of U.S. immigration policy who plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2008.

The speech, "America's Illegal Alien Invasion," is scheduled for Thursday, during the university's Cesar Chavez Week, sponsored by the BSU Cultural Center to honor Chavez, who championed the rights of farmworkers and helped found the United Farm Workers Union.

Sawmiller, who was in the news earlier this year when he and other conservative students said Boise State's slate of speakers was too liberal, said Sunday the fliers were distributed more than a week ago, but negative comments didn't erupt until they were taken to the BSU Cultural Center. He believes the criticism stems from having Vasquez speak and not from the wording on the flier.

"Vasquez is a very controversial speaker on illegal immigration," Sawmiller said. "It's not popular on campus."

The flier on the College Republicans' Web site uses the Mexican flag colors of green, white and red and features a picture of Vasquez plus examples of a resident alien card, a Texas Health and Human Services Medicaid card, Idaho driver's license and Social Security card.

"Win dinner for two at a local Mexican restaurant! Climb through the hole in the fence and enter your false ID documents into the food stamp drawing!" the flier proclaims.

Sawmiller said earlier the flier is "an attention-getting device."

It got a lot of attention from local Hispanic activists and others.

"It certainly singles out a particular segment of students at the college, and I'm pretty sure if you ask Hispanic students, this is beyond the realm of humor," said Ed Keener, board chairman for the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, which plans a silent vigil the evening of Vasquez's speech. "It's trying to hurt somebody."

Graciela Fonseca, president of the Hispanic women's organization Mujeres Unidas de Idaho, said members are "outraged."

"It's kind of mean-spirited," she said, adding it will stir up hatred and racism. She said it also made light of people who have died crossing deserts on the U.S. border.

"It's very anti-immigrant," said Maria Mabbutt of the Idaho Hispanic Caucus. "It's very divisive."

Vasquez said the promotional flier is not racist, and that those who think otherwise "find racism in everything that they disagree with."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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