Friday, September 29, 2006

From The Most Recent Senate Vote

The Senate of the United States has spoken. Rape and mutilation are verboten by American interrogators, but it will be to the Administration's best judgement as to what types of harsh treatment fit the Geneva Conventions' Common Article III. From an AP report filed by Anne Plummer Flaherty entitled "Senate backs Bush's terror tribunal plan," it states:

"The bill would eliminate some rights common in military and civilian courts. For example, the commission would be allowed to consider hearsay evidence so long as a judge determined it was reliable. Hearsay is barred from civilian courts.

The legislation also says the president can "interpret the meaning and application" gof international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts."

It should be worth noting that without the Hamdan decision, President Bush would not have asked Congress for any clarity whatsoever with regards to interrogation techniques of United States operatives, much less extraordinary renditions to countries known to torture prisoners. So with a Supreme Court that teeters on 5 to 4 decisions against unlimited executive control, Congress steps in to add insight on what is legal and what will not be legal in terms of trying those captured on and off the field of battle. This is a bill that undoubtedly works in tandem with John McCain's detainee amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill of 2005 that President Bush signed together with a signing statement that read:

"The Executive Branch shall construe [the torture ban] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary Executive Branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power."

It would be unusual for the Administration not to interpret these changes in law as it sees fitting, but at the very least there is now something on the books that says the United States will not rape or mutilate a person for information -- small victories.

This brings up Glenn Greenwald's post. The post title states it clearly, " Beltway Democrats are seriously flawed, but the election is still critically important." The sense of the post is that even with the acceptance in the Senate of this bill, there are still more important cases to come after the 2006 mid-term elections, and a Democratic victory in either chamber would mean that the Bush White House would finally see some sort of brake on its course of the all-powerful-executive branch.

Most who would have wished that the bill not pass the Senate may be tempted to "throw in the towel" so to speak, to give up on Democrats since they could not (or would not) defeat this bill. Greenwald's observations center on why that would be the wrong course to adopt for liberals within this country. The thrust that is most eye-catching is to view a Democratic victory as an instrument to finally enable a check against the President and the secrecy of the executive branch.

Additionally, the very idea to orchestrate this before Congress breaks is in itself a most definitive statement that Beltway Republicans view security on two footings: what can it do for the country, and what can it do for my election hopes. It would appear the first footing really is the lesser of the two concerns, given that since 2001 Congress didn't feel obliged to act on codifying these rules anytime before.

There are only a few weeks left before the collective actions of Congress are accounted for, and the electorate speaks. The Republicans have chosen their path in siding with the President with an almost willful disregard for their very own institutional standing, and the Democrats again appeared to have chosen a duck from the opponents swing.

America truly is going through a chilling time, but most of this is self-inflicted.

Jack Balkin posts the following regarding the Congressional bill just passed with regards to Hamdan as was decided by the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Five Month Old National Intelligence Estimate

The United States government has assessed the threat level within the world. Months ago. The increased terrorist threat level reflected the ongoing situation in an Iraq that has since become more unstable. From the New York Times article that first made the public aware of this NIE report, it was learned that the sixteen agencies dedicated to spying and being aware of threats to America came to a general consesus that the Iraq stalemate has brought more danger, not less, to the country.

When the New York Times first ran the story, it was not a dissection of the full report as much as an assembly of those who knew of the report and their comments. After the story ran on the 23rd, several made calls on the White House to release the full assessment by the 25th.

The Executive branch has decided to release bits and pieces of the report. A curious decision since it was originally classified in its entirety. To the extent that those portions that President Bush deemed not-as-secret, there are some remarks on what the occupation has returned on the billions invested so far (from Reuters):

"We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives," said the declassified segment of the report, titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States."

"The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," it added.

This will mark the return to the fly-paper theory of waging preventative war, yet what it really alludes to is the fact that waging a war against a people and a society at large which does not wish to be occupied only furthers a hatred which will likely boomerang back at the invader.

Sadly, the lesson may not be learned in time.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Condensed History of President George W. Bush

Sidney Blumenthal's upcoming book "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime" dissects the path which staggers from the then-candidate-for-President, Governor George W. Bush stating, "I'm a uniter not a divider," to a Chief Executive who creates secret prisons on foreign soil and launches preventative war on faulty factual premises. excerpted Blumenthal's introduction to the book, "How bad is he?". (without a subscription, the viewer must navigate through various advertisements to view this article)

It is an amazing catalog of where the President has traveled in domestic and international affairs and a sad statement of what the country has received in terms of marginal support for an Amdinistration bent on power and control.

A single paragraph from the first several passages sets the tone:
"Trying to remove the suspicion that falls on conservative Republicans, he pledged that he would protect the solvency of Social Security. On foreign policy, he said he would be "humble": "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us." Here he was criticizing Clinton's peacemaking and nation-building efforts in the Balkans and suggesting he would be far more restrained. The sharpest criticism he made of Clinton's foreign policy was that he would be more mindful of the civil liberties of Arabs accused of terrorism: "Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what's called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that." This statement was not an off-the-cuff remark, but carefully crafted and presented in one of the debates with Vice President Al Gore. Bush's intent was to win an endorsement from the American Muslim Council, which was cued to back him after he delivered his debating point, and it was instrumental in his winning an overwhelming share of Muslims' votes, about 90,000 of which were in Florida."

There are two years and several months to his tenure left. One can hope the country doesn't suffer more damage by even bolder escapades both domestic and worldly by this President.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Cyclical Grieving

Akin to the day that "will live in infamy", the press and popular media use this day (and the preceeding week) to harken back to a tragic event. Prior to this week of course, there was the rumination on what one year of efforts had wrought for Hurricane Katrina survivors along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans. It is doubtful whether any news story will make its way to national attention from that area of the country tonight. That is the nature of the beast that is the popular media.

Of course this day will have special meaning to those who survived the ordeal or who had loved ones parish on planes or in buildings. It is not as though they do not suffer through reminders of the loss on a daily basis, but getting to the actual date means wading through the morass of sentimental stories and broadcasts by the media outlets.

Is this type of remembrance helping those who still grieve or the larger population in America? Is reading the names of all those who died inside and around the Twin Towers aiding someone's recovery? Maybe there are some who find it reassuring, but it has the sound of extending anguish and living with an always-heavy heart.

What happened that day was a crime of epic proportions, the sole intent of which was to inflict massive damage and incite chaos. To revisit this year after year fulfills that damaging cycle. One can hope that survivors affected by the events find a way to accept their losses and begin to find emotional healing in whatever form that may take.

Yearly mourning isn't recovery; it is prolonging.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Countdown To Mid-Term Elections

Another event and another maneuver to restate to the American public how incredibly close we all are to being wiped of the face of the earth with another terrorist attack. The Republicans in Washington D.C. are intensely worried for their jobs and positions within Congress, so again the security issue was polled and it must be the last thing that the American public has yet to cede over to Democrats for guidance. Disaster relief, health care reform, Social Security, foreign occupations, the list goes on and on where the Republicans have lost tremendous ground.

Hence, the Republican strategists are left with their last all-out gamble.

The President leads the pack with this speech on Wednesday. The main thrust of the speech was to finally identify that the CIA has held captive many suspects outside of the normal detention regime in Guantanamo. Recalling the furor over the release of this information in the press of the so-called Black Sites, it seems unusual that the Administration would now find it useful to bring these men into the limelight only two months before the Congressional mid-term elections. Yet there they were, almost three minutes into the speech:

"In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. This group includes individuals believed to be the key architects of the September the 11th attacks, and attacks on the USS Cole, an operative involved in the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and individuals involved in other attacks that have taken the lives of innocent civilians across the world."

After two, three, possibly four-plus years of interrogation they are just now ready to be exiled to Cuba to face military courts. Interesting. It will be interesting to learn in the coming year if there are CIA agents who might shed light on what really was the trigger to expedite these prisoners out of the Black Sites. Political motivations might be on the mind.

One might wonder what happens to an al Qaeda suspect captured tomorrow; three years of being ferried from Poland to Egypt to destinations unknown, only to resurface in 2009 at a U.S. military base? President Bush made no mention that the CIA program was finished, just that those in the current program would be mailed back to a place where a group like the Red Cross could see them and find out if they are being treated humanely. And it was repeated once more that the United States does not torture its prisoners, and lawyers for the CIA and Justice Department found nothing wrong with detainees treatment. It cannot be presumed that the program has been abandoned.

President Bush then places Abu Zubayda in the fray.
"Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden. Our intelligence community believes he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained, and that he helped smuggle al Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan after coalition forces arrived to liberate that country. Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody -- and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA."

Ron Suskind's book One Percent Solution makes several points relating to Abu Zubayda. From his investigation, he was told that Zubayda was treated for his gunshot wounds, but only after being interrogated with the understanding that his treatment would not come until he started to give up information. More importantly, when CIA investigators opened his journal they found it surprising that he wrote in the voice of three separate and distinct people. It is not easy to trust the information of a detainee with split-personality disorder.

Beyond even this, officials disclosed to the administration that the value of Abu Zubayda was that of a lower-level al Qaeda operative who was close to logistics in terms of moving people around (thinking in terms of travel agent) more than planning operations and attacks. "We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden," is how the President referred to him. It seems that even if Abu Zabayda was low-level he should be placed on trial for what he did (driving the car during a bank robbery is just as illegal as going into the bank and pointing a gun) and given justice as best possible. Yet he has been in custody since 2002 and is only now ready to be ushered into military courts.

The President went on to describe further links of interrogation to captures to foiled plots. They may all be true. They are certainly things that we cannot verify as a general public since Americans will not have access to interrogation records, witness accounts, nor can the veracity of these statements be corroborated by an independent actor.
"Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives."

Quite difficult to disprove, yes?

Onto the timing of this release of detainees from CIA custody. These are the people most directly related to the attacks on the Twin Towers and on D.C.. September 11th has played a critical part in the role of Republicans at the national level, enabling candidates and elected officials to couch their dialogue with their consituents in a way which most of the public will agree with them. "We were attacked, and we have to be tough. We're Republicans, and we're tough." This is not so when it comes to the occupation of Iraq where the story is the United States invaded and routed the Iraqi military and won the battles, but has yet to see an advance in terms of successful occupation. Iraq is the swamp, and September 11th the gruesome reminder of stronger times.

So to take this time to remind the American public of September 11th viscerally by bringing out Arab names and linking them directly to those events is critical to get the American public away from thinking about 1.5 billion dollars a week going into Iraq's civil war. It is currently working in that lead stories are going to focus on what the President is saying lately and later provide a cursory report on what is not going well in Iraq (Soldiers and Marines being killed, sectarian-based civil war, bungled projects and little to no oversight of contractors).

Forgive the American sports analogy, but when a football team is losing and little time is left on the clock, the offense needs to execute quickly and depend on the opponent's defense to allow such short-term gains in the hope of keeping the "big play" from occurring. Hence, the Administration and the RNC are going to try and scare the public as quickly as possible with an inflated threat which harkens to the memory of the World Trade Center falling. Their hope must be that Democrats don't respond with a potent retort but keep mentioning the bad side of Iraq with a constant beat which would appear to folks as a sign that Democrats aren't caring enough to protect the country from ne'er-do-wellers.

If repetition of fear is not enough, the second to last play in the playbook is "justice". At the end of his remarks, President Bush introduced this bone for House Republicans (and to a lesser extent, Senate Reupblicans):

"... the Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA program. In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.


So today, I'm asking Congress to pass legislation that will clarify the rules for our personnel fighting the war on terror. First, I'm asking Congress to list the specific, recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes under the War Crimes Act ... . Second, I'm asking that Congress make explicit that by following the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act our personnel are fulfilling America's obligations under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. Third, I'm asking that Congress make it clear that captured terrorists cannot use the Geneva Conventions as a basis to sue our personnel in courts -- in U.S. courts. The men and women who protect us should not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists because they're doing their jobs.

The need for this legislation is urgent. We need to ensure that those questioning terrorists can continue to do everything within the limits of the law to get information that can save American lives. My administration will continue to work with the Congress to get this legislation enacted -- but time is of the essence. Congress is in session just for a few more weeks, and passing this legislation ought to be the top priority."(Applause.)

The quote is edited for length, but the context remains unchanged. The President is insisting that in order to have justice against the terrorists of September 11th, he needs Congress to allow him certain things under the law. A rewording of what might constitute a war crime, a gesture to ensure that those who follow the DTA really do comply with Common Article Three of the Geneva Convention, and if an interrogator gets too rough with a suspect that the suspect cannot sue in U.S. courts. This in conjunction with any changes that might be forthcoming to FISA is sure to pin on the Democrats' lapel of "weak". Republicans in both houses can vote for this and then go to their districts and lament the failure of Democrats to mete out justice to our enemies.

So a heretofore secret program is revealed but in the context of bringing to justice the attackers of America so long as Congress with less than 20 working days can create and approve legislation permitting our President to act. It almost sounds lyrically Rovian in nature.

Has this ever been done before? The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was fought by Administration up to the point when the 2002 mid-term elections entered the equation, then suddenly that too was imperative. So imperative in fact that it also required the President to rid the Department of unionized workers which the Democrats were against. Translation: "Democrats won't protect America." That cycle also marked the debut of Iraq as a wedge issue with obvious results. Naturally 2004 faced much the same question, and even at that time there were signs that the country faced instability with the military occupation in full force.

If the Republicans wish to stave off defeat in November by playing the terror card relentlessly, then the Democrats had better come prepared. What might possibly play well is a guarantee by Congressional figures to move funds to finding bin Laden no matter where he is in the world. This reminds the public that the Adminstration left that door ajar before starting the civil war in Iraq, taking valuable time and monies from removing the head of al Qaeda. If they were to take this on with some ferocity, the public might find it much more palatable to give the Republicans a rest.

President Bush enjoys the sense of being the hero, the tough guy who is strong enough to lead Americans through these times. This myth is teetering precariously today.