Saturday, November 24, 2007

Taking annual inventory of the war in Iraq

Another year has passed since I last took a tally of the war in Iraq. Back then, the talk was about launching a 'surge.' Since then, Bush launched the surge and is now talking about withdrawing it.

The surge met with moderate success, squelching the sectarian violence in spots in Iraq. Unfortunately, it has not been successful at achieving the one key objective of the surge: creating an environment where political reconciliation can occur in Iraq. Moreover, according to the latest Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Quarterly Report to the United States Congress (12 MB PDF download):
notwithstanding this important progress on the security front facilitated by the surge, the overall security situation in Iraq still hampers recovery and reconstruction efforts. Attacks on infrastructure continue to adversely affect the availability of essential services.
Subsequently, the withdrawal of the surge does not mean success, it means switching to Plan B ... except that the Bush administration does not have a Plan B.

2007 is shaping up to be the deadliest year for American troops in Iraq. We know that 3,874 of them have been killed in Iraq since the war started. However, that count does not include the numerous severely wounded troops who were evacuated from Iraq and subsequently died of the wounds they sustained in Iraq while under medical care in places outside of Iraq like the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

It's not so clear how accurate the number of casualties reported by the military is. While it reports over 30,000 troops injured in Iraq, there are at least 20,000 American troops who sustained brain injuries in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not counted among the wounded. It took Freedom of Information Act filings to force the military to release the information which uncovered this 'oversight.' Does it make a difference that there are actually over 50,000 American casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than 'just' 30,000? While it doesn't to their commander in chief, who stubbornly sticks to his same losing strategy in Iraq, it does to the families and friends of those 20,000 unrecognized wounded veterans.

Meanwhile, the "coalition of the willing" is falling apart. Although their presence in Iraq was never substantial in the first place, nineteen countries have withdrawn from the Coalition. Even America's staunchest ally in the Coalition, England, reported in February that it would be withdrawing 2,100 of its 7,200 troops from Iraq. This will have little impact on America's commitment to the war since US troops have comprised around ninety percent of the Coalition all along.

Probably the most significant impact on the war in Iraq in the past year is what has not happened. President Bush has established no new policies to guide our action in Iraq. He has undertaken no new strategy for fighting the war (the surge was not a new strategy, it was just throwing more troops at the old one). And he hasn't come up with a new justification for the war this year -- Bush still claims it's the "front in the war on terror." This lack of addressing the failures of the war in Iraq means that America will continue to languish in the quagmire for at least another year.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tightening the belt of the Defense Department

Congress finally did something right this week. They failed to appropriate more funding to the war in Iraq without a commitment by the commander in chief to withdraw the troops from there soon. After approving half a trillion dollars of "emergency appropriations" with no strings attached since the invasion, thereby perpetuating the war in Iraq, congress is finally responding to its constituents and leveraging more pressure to redeploy the troops.

Secretary of defense Robert Gates responded to the failure to fund the Iraq war with a threat to furlough as many as 200,000 civil servants and defense contractors this winter. This could potentially force the Defense Department to close dozens of domestic military bases. Gates couched his threat with a claim that the furloughs would be "the least undesirable" alternative to the lack of funding.

But Gates failed to acknowledge one very desirable way to respond to a lack of funding: an immediate and orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq. That would save the Pentagon nearly $2-billion per week. Certainly that must be far more money than it costs to pay the 200,000 civil servants and defense contractors Gates threatened to furlough.

More importantly, this is how the American people want the Pentagon to tighten its belt. In fact, with the redeployment of the troops from Iraq, president Bush would not even need the $189-billion supplemental appropriation he's asking for in the first place. Congress did approve the Pentagon's $470-billion base budget, so no one can claim that it does not support the troops.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Atheists in the army

Freedom of religion in the USA is supposed to include freedom from religion. The Establishment Clause is supposed to apply to all Americans, including the troops. This is a basic right granted by the Constitution.

Ironically, the troops are the people making the greatest sacrifices in the name of freedom. Yet, the army is becoming a place of evangelizing to Jewish and Islamic troops. God forbid one be an atheist!

Last summer, US Army Specialist Jeremy Hall got permission to post fliers at Speicher base in Iraq announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the meeting got underway, Hall's Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against Hall, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army. Earlier, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a prayer.

This intolerance in the military is not restricted to the Army and aimed only at atheists. In the 1990s, the Air Force published a Little Blue Book of core values highlighting religious tolerance. Nonetheless, it was discovered in 2004 that some faculty and staff at the Air Force Academy (AFA) in Colorado Springs, Colo., had significant problems with evangelizing cadets. It was reported that Lt. Gen. William Boykin visited churches in uniform and gave inflammatory speeches. Speaking of a Muslim warlord he had pursued, Boykin said, "I knew my God was a real God and his was an idol," and our enemies "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."

Among those feeling the heat was the son of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's (MRFF) founder, Michael Weinstein, a former Air Force judge advocate and assistant counsel in the Reagan White House. His son, a Jew and a cadet at the AFA, was subjected to Christian evangelizing. Another alumnus of the AFA, Col. David Antoon (ret.), took his son to an orientation at the AFA in 2004. His son, Ryan, experienced an overt evangelistic approach during part of the orientation.

So what's a more tenable situation: to be a Jew or a Muslim in the US military? It seems that neither one is. But when it comes to being an atheist in the Army, you'd best follow the policy for gays: 'don't ask, don't tell.'

Islam in the 21st century

My father used to pose two questions about the Jewish sabbath to me for pondering. The sabbath begins Fridays at sunset and end the next day at sunset. If a Jewish person were to live exactly at the South Pole and use the clock to time when to begin and end observing the sabbath, which time zone would he choose? If he were to instead time the sabbath using the actual setting of the sun, a single sabbath would last for months instead of hours in the winter.

Space travel creates a similar dilemma for Muslim astronauts. With the start of Ramadan, Islamic astronauts must fast from sunrise to sunset. That's only ninety minutes in orbit. And the praying postures -- standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating -- are a challenge in zero gravity.

To address such issues, the Department of Islamic Development in the Malaysian National Space Agency (MNSA) held a two-day conference in 2006. The conference produced A Guideline of Performing Ibadah at the International Space Station (ISS). The solutions they came up with for Ibadah seem quite arbitrary. It's as if religious symbolism is suddenly irrelevant when it's inconvenient.

For example, if the schedule on the ISS conflicts with the daily prayers, Muslim astronauts could perform them "in Jamak (combined) and Qasar (shortened), without the need to Qadha' (compensate) the prayer." It's as if the Department of Islamic Development prioritizes the ISS mission over Islamic duty. "Using the eye lid as an indicator of the changing of postures in prayer" is their solution to prayer in zero gravity. You can't make this up, folks! Insofar as determining the direction of Qibla (facing Mecca during prayer) is concerned, if you don't choose one of their first three options, you can face "wherever."

The timing of the prayers and fasting are both dealt with the same way. The Muslim astronaut calculates it according to a 24-hour cycle based on the time zone of where they launched off the planet. Although a pragmatic approach, what does this say of the validity of the religious symbolism behind the Earth-based rules?

A Muslim must perform ritual washing before worship. They can't get away with it on the ISS because the only thing more precious than water is oxygen. Instead, they perform tayammum (dry ablution) "by striking both palms of hands on a clean surface such as wall or mirror." Again, I'm not making this up!

Pork and alcohol are prohibited in the Muslim diet. If there's any question as to whether or not the food served on the ISS is halal (anything permissible under Islamic law), the Muslim astronaut is permitted to eat on a "basis of not to starve." That's very thoughtful of the MNSA. Visits to the ISS typically last well over forty days.

We also learn from the Department of Islamic Development that, "according to Islam, traveling to space is encouraged." Apparently, Mohammed had foresight centuries ahead of his time. I'm curious to know on which passages of the Q'uran this edict is based.

So the next time you think the Amish have it tough in contemporary American society, try being faithful to Islam in the 21st century.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Insurgent attacks remain high throughout 'surge'

In his weekly radio address yesterday, president Bush spoke about the briefing he received from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker regarding the 'surge.' He said, "They told me about the progress they're seeing across Iraq." The primary purpose for the surge was to quell insurgent attacks so that the Iraqi government could make political progress. Apparently Petraeus and Crocker were not debriefed by the Defense Intelligence Agency regarding the incidence of insurgent attacks the past six months in Iraq. The report evidences that insurgent attacks against Iraqis, Iraqi security forces, and Coalition troops remain high.

Soothsayer Cheney

Just before president Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq, Tim Russert interviewed vice president Dick Cheney on Meet the Press. Russert stated, "The army's top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability." Cheney responded:
I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and we've deployed a large force. To prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don't think is accurate. I think that's an overstatement.
Four and a half years have passed since Bush declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." Bush has 'surged' over 150,000 troops into Iraq, and there's no indication that he'll be withdrawing them any time soon. This is yet another of Cheney's expert prognostications on the war.

With his track record at foretelling the results of invading Iraq, Cheney is a shoo-in as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from Bush.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Governor Mike Huckabee claims knowledge that America has used torture for interrogation

Alan Colmes, with Sean Hannity, was interviewing Governor Mike Huckabee on FOX News following the Presidential Debate. At 8:30, Colmes asked Huckabee if he, as President, would use torture to extract intelligence about an imminent terrorist attack on America. In the process, he made the point that John McCain says that accurate information cannot be extracted by torture. Huckabee countered that point by claiming, "we have received good solid information from individuals from doing things of the nature you're describing, and saved American lives because of it." The nature of things Colmes was talking about was torture. If Huckabee is not lying, he would be able to provide evidence that we have interrogated people using torture. Regardless of who he's referring to as "we," if such evidence exists, I think Huckabee's supporters, not to mention any other voting American, would be very interested in seeing it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bush abolishes Amendment IV of the Constitution

Last week, president Bush issued another Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq. It sounds harmless enough by its title. After all, doesn't everyone want Iraq to be stabilized? When you understand what Bush wants Americans to sacrifice, it doesn't sound so good anymore.

The order unilaterally gives the Bush administration the power to prevent Americans from "transferring, paying, exporting, withdrawing, or otherwise dealing in" their own "property and interests in property." Of course, this does not apply to any American, only those who the administration has determined:
  1. to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of threatening stabilization efforts in Iraq,
  2. to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts, or
  3. to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
No law abiding American would do such a thing. However, it is not a court of law that determines whether or not someone is threatening stabilization efforts in Iraq; the Bush administration arbitrarily does, and their track record for decision-making is abysmal. Furthermore, "there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to ... this order."

The devil is in the details. The administration does not need to determine that someone has committed such acts, only that they "pose a significant risk of committing" them. How could someone objectively determine this? Or the administration can decide that someone has "provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support" for such acts. What if someone were contracted to, for example, provide technical support for computer systems to be used to destabilize Iraq without knowing they would be used that way? Someone could even be subjected to this order if they're "controlled by ... directly or indirectly" someone else subject to it. That means, hypothetically, an employee of someone who the administration determined is threatening stabilization efforts in Iraq could have their property seized, even if they had no knowledge of their employer's activity.

This executive order is very broad reaching and replete with ambiguity. It effectively makes it very easy for the Bush administration to completely block an American's control over all of their own property without a judgment in a court of law. The criteria the administration applies are highly subjective and completely evaluated according to Bush's standards, so they could easily subject someone to this order who has no knowledge whatsoever of any kind of activities intended to destabilize Iraq.

Bush has established yet another executive order which contradicts the Bill of Rights. This one conflicts directly with Amendment IV, which says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Al Qaeda's incredible comeback

Al Qaeda has seemingly managed an overwhelming turnaround. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that its attempts before going to war in Iraq to establish links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were contrary to the findings of the intelligence community. In 2005, a CSIS study found that 90% to 96% of the insurgents in Iraq were Iraqi nationals, not foreign elements. Iraq was the location where al Qaeda was having the greatest difficulty establishing a significant presence, even a couple of years after invading it.

Before deserting Afghanistan to invade Iraq, the Bush administration claimed to have decimated al Qaeda leadership, frozen all of its foreign-held assets, and destroyed its bases of operations. Now the latest news is that, in the heat of America's troop surge into Iraq, there are still too few men hunting al Qaeda. It's widely reported that al Qaeda is entrenched in Pakistan, established a stronghold in Iraq, resurged in Afghanistan, and infiltrated England. Could "al Qaeda" have truly mastered such an amazing comeback?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The coronation of King George

Going unnoticed by the mainstream media, president George W. Bush released a National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive earlier this month. The purpose of this directive is to set up a likely scenario for Bush to make a power grab giving him ultimate authority over all three branches of the Federal government. In effect, he has directed that he can proclaim himself the monarch of the USA in the event of a catastrophic emergency.

How does the directive define a catastrophic emergency? "'Catastrophic Emergency' means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions." That's ambiguous enough to encompass many types of events that one could imagine, even one less catastrophic than 9/11, and certainly one that is highly likely to occur some time during the remainder of Bush's term in office. It doesn't necessarily have to be a terrorist incident; it could simply be a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or Global Warming, or it could be an economic incident like a major recession. In fact, it doesn't even have to occur in the USA -- an incident occurring anywhere on Earth could qualify.

This directive unilaterally grants the President authority to coordinate actions to establish an "Enduring Constitutional Government ... under which the Nation is governed." Considering that each branch of the Federal government is already responsible for its own continuity programs on such occasions, why would America need the President to have ultimate authority for such actions of the legislative and judicial branches? The Constitution only grants him such authority over the executive branch of the government.

The directive proclaims, "The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government." Considering Bush's flagrant disregard for the Constitution, this clause fails to provide the American patriot with the sense of security that was intended. On the contrary, it is perhaps the most disquieting clause in the directive. The clause goes on to designate the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as the National Continuity Coordinator "to advise and assist the President in" ensuring constitutional government. After the Department of Homeland Security's response to Hurricane Katrina, and its performance securing our borders, this section of the directive is even more discomforting.

American patriots need to hope against odds that nothing happens before the end of Bush's term in office that he would declare a "catastrophic emergency." If something does, America will be sure to see him effectively crown himself King George. Then who knows when his term will actually end...

Drama and intrigue in the Executive branch

Let's face it -- it's difficult to think of anything more boring than a Senate hearing. Most Americans would rather watch paint dry. However, last week's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey is an exception to the rule. Responding to a line of questioning by Senator Chuck Schumer, Comey gave some of the most scintillating testimony heard in a Senate hearing (with George Galloway speaking truth to power possibly being the only other recent example of equally intriguing testimony).

The testimony describes Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card and his then chief counsel Alberto Gonzales visiting then attorney general John Ashcroft in the hospital. Ashcroft was critically ill and had accordingly passed the reigns of his position on to Comey pending his recovery. While acting as attorney general, Comey refused to renew one of Bush's classified programs because he and Ashcroft had previously determined that they could not certify its legality. Bush then dispatched Card and Gonzales to Ashcroft's bedside to get him to overrule Comey's decision, even though Ashcroft was still critically ill and seemingly disoriented.

From there, the story gets even more disturbing. It culminates with Bush continuing his classified program in defiance of the DoJ not authorizing it. But rather than relating the story, the testimony speaks most compellingly for itself:
Sen. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.): There have been media reports describing a dramatic visit by Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card to the hospital bed of John Ashcroft in March 2004, after you, as acting attorney general, decided not to authorize a classified program.

First, can you confirm that a night-time hospital visit took place?


SCHUMER: OK. Can you remember the date and the day?

COMEY: Yes, sir, very well. It was Wednesday, March the 10th, 2004.

SCHUMER: And how do you remember that date so well?

COMEY: This was a very memorable period in my life; probably the most difficult time in my entire professional life. And that night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life. So it's not something I'd forget.

SCHUMER: Were you present when Alberto Gonzales visited Attorney General Ashcroft's bedside?


SCHUMER: And am I correct that the conduct of Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card on that evening troubled you greatly?


SCHUMER: OK. Let me go back and take it from the top. You rushed to the hospital that evening. Why?

COMEY: I'm only hesitating because I need to explain why.

SCHUMER: Please. I'll give you all the time you need, sir.

COMEY: I've actually thought quite a bit over the last three years about how I would answer that question if it was ever asked, because I assumed that at some point I would have to testify about it.

The one thing I'm not going to do and be very, very careful about is, because this involved a classified program, I'm not going to get anywhere near classified information. I also am very leery of, and will not, reveal the content of advice I gave as a lawyer, the deliberations I engaged in. I think it's very important for the Department of Justice that someone who held my position not do that.

SCHUMER: In terms of privilege.

COMEY: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: Understood.

COMEY: Subject to that, I -- and I'm uncomfortable talking about this...

SCHUMER: I understand.

COMEY: ... but I'll answer the question. I -- to understand what happened that night, I, kind of, got to back up about a week.

SCHUMER: Please.

COMEY: In the early part of 2004, the Department of Justice was engaged -- the Office of Legal Counsel, under my supervision -- in a reevaluation both factually and legally of a particular classified program. And it was a program that was renewed on a regular basis, and required signature by the attorney general certifying to its legality.

And the -- and I remember the precise date. The program had to be renewed by March the 11th, which was a Thursday, of 2004. And we were engaged in a very intensive reevaluation of the matter.

And a week before that March 11th deadline, I had a private meeting with the attorney general for an hour, just the two of us, and I laid out for him what we had learned and what our analysis was in this particular matter.

And at the end of that hour-long private session, he and I agreed on a course of action. And within hours he was stricken and taken very, very ill...

SCHUMER: (inaudible) You thought something was wrong with how it was being operated or administered or overseen.

COMEY: We had -- yes. We had concerns as to our ability to certify its legality, which was our obligation for the program to be renewed.

The attorney general was taken that very afternoon to George Washington Hospital, where he went into intensive care and remained there for over a week. And I became the acting attorney general.

And over the next week -- particularly the following week, on Tuesday -- we communicated to the relevant parties at the White House and elsewhere our decision that as acting attorney general I would not certify the program as to its legality and explained our reasoning in detail, which I will not go into here. Nor am I confirming it's any particular program. That was Tuesday that we communicated that.

The next day was Wednesday, March the 10th, the night of the hospital incident. And I was headed home at about eight o'clock that evening, my security detail was driving me. And I remember exactly where I was -- on Constitution Avenue -- and got a call from Attorney General Ashcroft's chief of staff telling me that he had gotten a call...

SCHUMER: What's his name?

COMEY: David Ayers. That he had gotten a call from Mrs. Ashcroft from the hospital. She had banned all visitors and all phone calls. So I hadn't seen him or talked to him because he was very ill. And Mrs. Ashcroft reported that a call had come through, and that as a result of that call Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft.

SCHUMER: Do you have any idea who that call was from?

COMEY: I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don't know that for sure. It came from the White House. And it came through and the call was taken in the hospital.

So I hung up the phone, immediately called my chief of staff, told him to get as many of my people as possible to the hospital immediately. I hung up, called Director Mueller and -- with whom I'd been discussing this particular matter and had been a great help to me over that week -- and told him what was happening. He said, "I'll meet you at the hospital right now."

Told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital. I got out of the car and ran up -- literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.

SCHUMER: What was your concern? You were in obviously a huge hurry.

COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.


COMEY: I was worried about him, frankly. And so I raced to the hospital room, entered. And Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed, Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed, the room was darkened. And I immediately began speaking to him, trying to orient him as to time and place, and try to see if he could focus on what was happening, and it wasn't clear to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off.

SCHUMER: At that point it was you, Mrs. Ashcroft and the attorney general and maybe medical personnel in the room. No other Justice Department or government officials.

COMEY: Just the three of us at that point. I tried to see if I could help him get oriented. As I said, it wasn't clear that I had succeeded.

I went out in the hallway. Spoke to Director Mueller by phone. He was on his way. I handed the phone to the head of the security detail and Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances. And I went back in the room.

I was shortly joined by the head of the Office of Legal Counsel assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith, and a senior staffer of mine who had worked on this matter, an associate deputy attorney general. So the three of us Justice Department people went in the room. I sat down...

SCHUMER: Just give us the names of the two other people.

COMEY: Jack Goldsmith, who was the assistant attorney general, and Patrick Philbin, who was associate deputy attorney general.

I sat down in an armchair by the head of the attorney general's bed. The two other Justice Department people stood behind me. And Mrs. Ashcroft stood by the bed holding her husband's arm. And we waited.

And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there -- to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was -- which I will not do.

And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me -- drawn from the hour-long meeting we'd had a week earlier -- and in very strong terms expressed himself, and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, "But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general."

SCHUMER: But he expressed his reluctance or he would not sign the statement that they -- give the authorization that they had asked, is that right?

COMEY: Yes. And as he laid back down, he said, "But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general. There is the attorney general," and he pointed to me, and I was just to his left. The two men did not acknowledge me. They turned and walked from the room. And within just a few moments after that, Director Mueller arrived. I told him quickly what had happened. He had a brief -- a memorable brief exchange with the attorney general and then we went outside in the hallway.

SCHUMER: OK. Now, just a few more points on that meeting. First, am I correct that it was Mr. Gonzales who did just about all of the talking, Mr. Card said very little?

COMEY: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: OK. And they made it clear that there was in this envelope an authorization that they hoped Mr. Ashcroft -- Attorney General Ashcroft would sign.

COMEY: In substance. I don't know exactly the words, but it was clear that's what the envelope was.

SCHUMER: And the attorney general was -- what was his condition? I mean, he had -- as I understand it, he had pancreatitis. He was very, very ill; in critical condition, in fact.

COMEY: He was very ill. I don't know how the doctors graded his condition. This was -- this would have been his sixth day in intensive care. And as I said, I was shocked when I walked in the room and very concerned as I tried to get him to focus.

SCHUMER: Right. OK. Let's continue. What happened after Mr. Gonzales and Card left? Did you have any contact with them in the next little while?

COMEY: While I was talking to Director Mueller, an agent came up to us and said that I had an urgent call in the command center, which was right next door. They had Attorney General Ashcroft in a hallway by himself and there was an empty room next door that was the command center. And he said it was Mr. Card wanting to speak to me.

I took the call. And Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present.

He replied, "What conduct? We were just there to wish him well."

And I said again, "After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States."

SCHUMER: That would be Mr. Olson.

COMEY: Yes, sir. Ted Olson.

"Until I can connect with Mr. Olson, I'm not going to meet with you."

He asked whether I was refusing to come to the White House. I said, "No, sir, I'm not. I'll be there. I need to go back to the Department of Justice first."

And then I reached out through the command center for Mr. Olson, who was at a dinner party. And Mr. Olson and the other leadership of the Department of Justice immediately went to the department, where we sat down together in a conference room and talked about what we were going to do.

And about eleven o'clock that night -- this evening had started at about eight o'clock, when I was on my way home. At eleven o'clock that night, Mr. Olson and I went to the White House together.

SCHUMER: Just before you get there, you told Mr. Card that you were very troubled by the conduct from the White House room (ph), and that's why you wanted Mr. Olson to accompany you.

Without giving any of the details -- which we totally respect in terms of substance -- just tell me why. What did you tell him that so upset you? Or if you didn't tell him just tell us.

COMEY: I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself, and I said to the attorney general, in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before. But still I thought it was improper. And it was for that reason that I thought there ought to be somebody with me if I'm going to meet with Mr. Card.

SCHUMER: Can you tell us a little bit about the discussion at the Justice Department when all of you convened? I guess it was that night.

COMEY: I don't think it's appropriate for me to go into the substance of it. We discussed what to do. I recall the associate attorney general being there, the solicitor general, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, senior staff from the attorney general, senior staff of mine. And we just -- I don't want to reveal the substances of those...

SCHUMER: I don't want you to reveal the substance. They all thought what you did -- what you were doing was the right thing, I presume.

COMEY: I presume. I didn't ask people. But I felt like we were a team, we all understood what was going on, and we were trying to do what was best for the country and the Department of Justice. But it was a very hard night.

SCHUMER: OK. And then did you meet with Mr. Card?

COMEY: I did. I went with Mr. Olson driving -- my security detail drove us to the White House. We went into the West Wing. Mr. Card would not allow Mr. Olson to enter his office. He asked Mr. Olson to please sit outside in his sitting area. I relented and went in to meet with Mr. Card alone. We met, had a discussion, which was much more -- much calmer than the discussion on the telephone.

After -- I don't remember how long, ten or fifteen minutes -- Mr. Gonzales arrived and brought Mr. Olson into the room. And the four of us had a discussion.

SCHUMER: OK. And was Mr. -- were you and Mr. Card still in a state of anger at one another at that meeting, or is it a little calmer, and why?

COMEY: Not that we showed.


COMEY: It was much more civil than our phone conversation, much calmer.

SCHUMER: Why? Why do you think?

COMEY: I don't know. I mean, I had calmed down a little bit. I'd had a chance to talk to the people I respected. Ted Olson I respect enormously.

SCHUMER: Right. OK. Was there any discussion of resignations with Mr. Card?

COMEY: Mr. Card was concerned that he had heard reports that there were to be a large number of resignations at the Department of Justice.

SCHUMER: OK. OK. And the conversations, the issue, whatever it was, was not resolved.

COMEY: Correct. We communicated about it. I communicated again the Department of Justice's view on the matter. And that was it.

SCHUMER: Right. And you stated that the next day, Thursday, was the deadline for reauthorization of the program, is that right?

COMEY: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: OK. Can you tell us what happened the next day?

COMEY: The program was reauthorized without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality. And I prepared a letter of resignation, intending to resign the next day, Friday, March the 12th.

SCHUMER: OK. And that was the day, as I understand it, of the Madrid train bombings.

COMEY: Thursday, March 11th, was the morning of the Madrid train bombings.

SCHUMER: And so, obviously, people were very concerned with all of that.

COMEY: Yes. It was a very busy day in the counterterrorism aspect.

SCHUMER: Yet, even in light of that, you still felt so strongly that you drafted a letter of resignation.


SCHUMER: OK. And why did you decide to resign?

COMEY: I just believed...

SCHUMER: Or to offer your resignation, is a better way to put it?

COMEY: I believed that I couldn't -- I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis. I just simply couldn't stay.

SCHUMER: Right. OK. Now, let me just ask you this. And this obviously is all troubling. As I understand it, you believed that others were also prepared to resign, not just you, is that correct?


SCHUMER: OK. Was one of those Director Mueller?

COMEY: I believe so. You'd have to ask him, but I believe so.

SCHUMER: You had conversations with him about it.


SCHUMER: OK. How about the associate attorney general, Robert McCallum?

COMEY: I don't know. We didn't discuss it.

SCHUMER: How about your chief of staff?

COMEY: Yes. He was certainly going to go when I went.

SCHUMER: Right. How about Mr. Ashcroft's chief of staff?

COMEY: My understanding was that he would go as well.

SCHUMER: And how...

COMEY: I should say...

SCHUMER: Please.

COMEY: ... to make sure I'm accurate, I...

SCHUMER: This is your surmise, not...

COMEY: Yes. I ended up agreeing -- Mr. Ashcroft's chief of staff asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me. He was very concerned that Mr. Ashcroft was not well enough to understand fully what was going on. And he begged me to wait until -- this was Thursday that I was making this decision -- to wait til Monday to give him the weekend to get oriented enough so that I wouldn't leave him behind, was his concern.

SCHUMER: And it was his view that Mr. Ashcroft was likely to resign as well?


SCHUMER: So what did you do when you heard that?

COMEY: I agreed to wait. I said that what I would do is -- that Friday would be last day. And Monday morning I would resign.

SCHUMER: OK. Anything else of significance relevant to this line of questioning occur on Thursday the 11th, that you can recall?

COMEY: No, not that I recall.

SCHUMER: Thank you. Now, let's go to the next day, which was March 12. Can you tell us what happened then?

COMEY: I went to the Oval Office -- as I did every morning as acting attorney general -- with Director Mueller to brief the president and the vice president on what was going on on Justice Department's counterterrorism work.

We had the briefing. And as I was leaving, the president asked to speak to me, took me in his study and we had a one-on-one meeting for about fifteen minutes -- again, which I will not go into the substance of. It was a very full exchange. And at the end of that meeting, at my urging, he met with Director Mueller, who was waiting for me downstairs.

He met with Director Mueller again privately, just the two of them. And then after those two sessions, we had his direction to do the right thing, to do what we...

SCHUMER: Had the president's direction to do the right thing?

COMEY: Right. We had the president's direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify to its legality. And so we then set out to do that. And we did that.

SCHUMER: OK. So let me just (inaudible) -- this is an amazing story, has an amazing pattern of fact that you recall.

Sen. ARLEN SPECTER (R-Pa): Mr. Chairman, could you give us some idea when your first round will conclude?

SCHUMER: As soon as I ask a few questions here. Fairly soon.


SCHUMER: Yes. And, Senator Specter, you will get the same amount of time.

SCHUMER: I thought with Mr. Comey's telling what happened...


SPECTER: Just may the record show that you're now 16 minutes and 35 seconds over the five minutes and...

SCHUMER: I think the record will show it.

SPECTER: Well, it does now.


SCHUMER: OK, thank you. And I think most people would think that those 16:35 minutes were worth hearing.

SPECTER: Well, Mr. Chairman, we do have such a thing as a second round, and there are a lot of senators waiting...

SCHUMER: Yes, OK. Let me ask you these few questions...

SPECTER: ... including a Republican.

SCHUMER: I'm glad you're here, Senator Specter. I know you're concerned with the issue.

SPECTER: Lonely, but here.


SCHUMER: Let me ask you this: So in sum, it was your belief that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card were trying to take advantage of an ill and maybe disoriented man to try and get him to do something that many, at least in the Justice Department, thought was against the law? Was that a correct summation?

COMEY: I was concerned that this was an effort to do an end-run around the acting attorney general and to get a very sick man to approve something that the Department of Justice had already concluded -- the department as a whole -- was unable to be certified as to its legality. And that was my concern.

SCHUMER: OK. And you also believe -- and you had later conversations with Attorney General Ashcroft when he recuperated, and he backed your view?

COMEY: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: Did you ever ask him explicitly if he would have resigned had it come to that?


SCHUMER: OK. But he backed your view over that what was being done, or what was attempting to being done, going around what you had recommended, was wrong, against the law?

COMEY: Yes. And I already knew his view from the hour we had spent together going over it in great detail a week before the hospital incident.

SCHUMER: Yes. And the FBI director, Mueller, backed your view over that of Mr. Gonzales as well -- is that right? -- in terms of whether the program could continue to be implemented the way Counsel Gonzales wanted it to be.

COMEY: The only reason I hesitate is it was never Director Mueller's job or position to be drawing a legal conclusion about the program; that he was very supportive to me personally. He's one of the finest people I've ever met and was a great help to me when I felt a tremendous amount of pressure and felt a bit alone at the Department of Justice. But it was not his role to opine on the legality.

SCHUMER: How about Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel? Did he opine on the legality?

COMEY: Yes. He had done a substantial amount of work on that issue. And it was largely OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel's work, that I was relying upon in drawing my -- in making my decision.

SCHUMER: OK. Just two other questions. Have you ever had the opportunity to recall these events on the record in any other forum?



COMEY: I should...

SCHUMER: Go ahead.

COMEY: I was interviewed by the FBI and discussed these events in connection with a leak investigation the FBI was conducting.

SCHUMER: And you gave them these details then.


SCHUMER: Thank you.

COMEY: But not -- by forum I've never testified about it.

SCHUMER: And after you stood your ground in March of 2004, did you suffer any recriminations or other problems at the department?

COMEY: I didn't. Not that I'm aware of.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Global terrorism reaches new highs

I'm beginning to sound like a broken needle. I've been blogging for two years about how the war in Iraq has actually caused an increase in terrorism. I'm not talking about a slight uptick, I'm talking about exponential increases! To get a sense of the scale to which terrorism has grown around the world since the Iraq invasion, it's worth reading about the war president Bush loses.

Each year, the U.S. Department of State releases a report on the incidence of global terrorism. Under Bush's leadership, the news was consistently so bad that his administration even changed the name of the report. Condi recently released the latest report, now called the Country Reports on Terrorism 2006.

This awkwardly named report has some awkward statistics for those who think we're defeating terrorism in Iraq. After substantial increases in global terrorism year after year since the war there began, it turns out that there were again 25 percent more terrorist attacks in 2006 than in 2005. Those attacks killed 20,494 people -- a forty percent increase over 2005. Ironically, fifty percent of those killed by Islamic terrorists were other Muslims, with more than 1,800 of them children.

So how accurate are these statistics? It should come as no surprise if it turns out they're understated. After all, this is the same administration that claims sectarian violence is down in Baghdad since the 'surge.' However, it turns out that U.S. officials exclude car bombs in touting this drop in Iraq violence. The number of people killed in explosive attacks is actually up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Faced with these facts, Bush would certainly pull out his old line that 'we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here.' This is a fallacy easily dispelled. Just last week, six men described by federal prosecutors as "Islamic militants" were arrested on charges they plotted to attack the Fort Dix Army base and "kill as many soldiers as possible," authorities reported. Let's be clear, Fort Dix is not a base in Iraq, it's in New Jersey. None of the six Islamic militants are from Iraq, and they had been in the U.S. for some time.

No, the war in Iraq is not making us safer from terrorism. With global terrorism at an all-time high, it's leading to much greater danger of us suffering more terrorist attacks here in our homeland.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Let's get the story straight

The Associated Press made its pro-war bias clear today. The headline alone tells the tale. One word is all it takes to make the AP's bias apparent. If they wanted to tell the true story, the AP would have used the word "funding" in place of the word "withdrawal."

The headline reads, "Bush Vetoes Troop Withdrawal Bill," but what he really did was veto a troop funding bill. Bush asked for $124-billion to fund his surge in Iraq. Frankly, congress should not have given Bush a penny for this war because their constituents have made it clear that they don't want the war. Nonetheless, to avoid being branded as not supporting the troops, congress gave Bush his $124-billion appropriation.

Granted, the bill also included a condition that American troop withdrawals begin as early as July 1 and no later than October 1, with the non-binding goal of removing all combat troops by March 31. As well it should -- as stated above, this is what the American people demand of Bush. However, that wasn't the primary purpose of the legislation. It's primary purpose was to support the troops their commander in chief ordered to surge into Iraq. Let's get the story straight, AP.

Friday, April 27, 2007

You call this "compassionate"?

In 2000, George W. Bush ran for president on a platform of being a "compassionate conservative." Yet, this month, W has again demonstrated that he has not a compassionate bone in his body.

The Bush administration has again besmirched the reputation of the USA in the global community. Earlier this month, the US government did not send a single representative to the UN convention for the signing of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities document. After leading the international community regarding civil rights of persons with disabilities by passing Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under previous administrations, the Bush administration has failed to participate in any of the negotiations leading to the historic UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As ashamed as I am with the leadership of our great country, I am a relatively dispassionate person. Therefore, on this matter, I am going to let John Lancaster, the Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), speak to the shame Americans should feel in their executive leadership. The Justice for All newsletter gets credit for providing America with the following note from Lancaster:
Weekly Advocacy Monitor (WhAM)
Vol. 5, No 12, April 2, 2007

Executive Director's Note:

Last Friday, as President of the United States International Council on Disability (USICD) and Executive Director of NCIL, I had the honor to represent both organizations at the United Nations as a witness to the initial signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As I sat in the observers' area on the floor of the UN's General Assembly Hall, delegates from 80 nations and the European Community took their turn at the official signing table to commit their country to the human and civil rights of people with disabilities. At several points, my eyes welled with tears. They should have been tears of joy and pride as an American, as a citizen in the country that had created this world-wide movement for the rights and empowerment of people with disabilities. Instead, they were tears of shame and embarrassment in being an American.

I do not relate these feelings to you, my friends and colleagues in the Independent Living Movement, lightly or as a passive observer. Almost 40 years ago, I acquired my spinal cord injury as a Marine Platoon Commander in combat just east of Hue City, Viet Nam. I had become a Marine out of a Kennedy era inspired desire to defend my country and the principles for which we stand "that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Following law school, I dedicated my career to these principles as they pertain to people with disabilities. I was proud to work with many great Americans, many with disabilities, as part of a great movement for the rights, empowerment and independent living for all. The United States for many years took the world-wide lead with passage of Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and then the Americans with Disabilities Act and many other great laws ensuring the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. From 1995 to 2004, I traveled many times to and then lived for four years in Viet Nam. There, I assisted Vietnamese with disabilities and their Government in establishing similar principles, laws and policies within the context of their political system. I had always been proud of my efforts in this movement and especially of my country's world leadership. For the last six years, that National pride has given way to shame, embarrassment and anger; it culminated for me emotionally last Friday during the Convention Signing Ceremony.

The UN General Assembly Hall was full; the observer galleries were packed with disabled advocates from around the world; and delegations from UN member nations huddled behind their respective desks and country signs. After initial speeches, one-by-one in alphabetical order, the delegations from the various signing nations filed to the ceremonial table to sign the treaty books. In some cases, it was that country's ambassador to the UN. In the case of Ecuador, Vice President Lenin Moreno Garces, a wheelchair user, signed. Even the countries, who were not signing at least had representatives from their UN Mission present and sitting at their country table out of respect for the UN processes and the historic importance of the occasion all but the United States.

For the past several years of UN discussion, debate and negotiations that led to this historic day, the United States had been generally not present. When towards the end we did begin to participate, it was generally contrary and negative in nature. And then, on this truly historic day when we could have resumed continued leadership for rights for people with disabilities, the United States thumbed our noses in insolent arrogance at the United Nations, the signing countries, and the six hundred fifty million disabled people of the world. Our country did not even have the courage to seat a representative from our Mission to the UN at our country table or to make any sort of official comment or explanation as to why the Country of the ADA was not signing on to the Convention. I was not proud to be an American. I was ashamed of my country and of myself for letting it happen.

Please join me in recommitting ourselves as advocates and leaders to human rights, empowerment and independent living for all peoples of the world. Write your Senators and President Bush today urging that the US sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

John A. Lancaster, April 2, 2007.
Source: NCIL

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Defense department disagreement

A recently released Department of Defense report details how the Pentagon linked Saddam Hussein and al Q'aeda. Four months after the 9/11 attacks, the DoD's number three official, the undersecretary of defense, was Douglas J. Feith. He led a year-long Pentagon project intended to convince the most senior levels of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein and al Q'aeda were linked. His group of Pentagon officials and intelligence analysts from other departments deflected reports contradictory to the findings Feith wanted to end up with. They instead focused on whatever intelligence they could find, no matter how weak, which supported the link. The team persuaded top administration officials that they had powerful evidence of connections between Hussein's regime and al Q'aeda.

Yet, contrary to Feith, a different DoD official, the Pentagon's inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, tells a different story. He reported that Feith's intelligence report on Iraq was faulted, with "dubious" intelligence which fueled the push for war. The report said that Feith's team "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Q'aeda," ignoring the conclusions of the intelligence community. The inspector general reported that Feith fabricated a link between al Q'aeda and Iraq "that was much stronger than that assessed by the [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration." This is clear evidence that the Bush administration intentionally shaped intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The militant arm of the GOP

In 2004, the GOP held their national convention in New York City. The actions of the New York police department that week turned out to be another indication that fascism lives in the USA. The NYPD detained 1,760 political protesters, crowding them into a filthy pier. The detainees were exposed to the frigid New York nights common in the autumn, some without needed medical care, and many without ever being charged with a crime. The conditions were so bad, a judge finally ordered the release of those held over 24 hours, although the police department refused to obey the order.

It seemed as if the NYPD were nothing more than a militant band of the Republican party. How did the NYPD manage to detain such a large number of peaceful, law abiding citizens over the few days of the Republican national convention? Police records and interviews are beginning to show that for at least a year before the convention, teams of undercover NYPD officers traveled globally to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention.

The partisan aspect of this activity is that the US District Court has ruled that the NYPD must have "some indication of unlawful activity on the part of the individual or organization to be investigated" before monitoring political activity. However, the NYPD violated this law in its covert surveillance program. Most of the NYPD's reports about their surveillance were regarding people who were not displaying any intent to break the law.

Subjects of the covert surveillance included the likes of antiwar organizations, street theater troupes, environmentalists, church groups, and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Even three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.

One of the reports was on a design student named Joshua Kinberg. There were four pages from the intelligence reports on his master's thesis project, a "wireless bicycle" equipped with cellphone, laptop, and spray tubes that could squirt messages received over the Internet onto the sidewalk or street. If it were to spray paint, it would have been an 'unlawful activity.' However, the report noted that the messages were printed in water-soluble chalk to avoid a criminal mischief charge.

NYPD records on Bands Against Bush reported that the group was planning a concert in New York during which, between musical sets, there would be political speeches and videos. The records said, "activists are showing a well-organized network made up of anti-Bush sentiment; the mixing of music and political rhetoric indicates sophisticated organizing skills with a specific agenda." If this is the NYPD's idea of 'unlawful activity,' the department is clearly partisan.

It appears that the mission of the NYPD is not only to protect and serve the people of New York City. It is also to conduct unlawful covert surveillance of Americans whose politics are in opposition to the Republican party.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

About face in four years

On March 16, 2003, vice president Cheney said, when asked whether the war would be a short one or a long one, that it would be measured in "Weeks rather than months." Fast forward four years (and three days, to be exact) and the USA is still mired in a war that has now lasted longer than World War II. Last week found Bush in the Roosevelt Room of the White House discussing his bloating troop 'surge.' Of the Baghdad security plan, the latest tactic in the war, Bush said "success will take months, not days or weeks." This is a direct contradiction of how the White House was representing the Iraq war to the American people before president Bush invaded Iraq.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

With allies like this, who needs insurgencies?

England is supposed to be the right hand of the "coalition of the willing." One would think that would qualify the Brits as allies. Well, it seems that they're not so willing anymore. Just as Bush is beginning to surge 21,500 additional troops into Baghdad, his key ally in the war, Tony Blair, is pulling out 2,100 of his own troops from Basra.

In total denial of the implications, the Bush administration is painting the withdrawal as a "sign of success." Vice president Dick Cheney said "I look at it and what I see is an affirmation of the fact that in parts of Iraq ... things are going pretty well." What Cheney failed to consider is that Basra is right on the supply line to Baghdad. With reduced security in the south of Iraq, the logistics supporting the surge are compromised, right at the time when they become most crucial.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi security forces are supposed to be the Americans' allies in Baghdad. Iraq's forces are leading American troops into Baghdad for the White House's 'new' Clear, Hold, and Build strategy (which didn't seem to make a dent in the insurgency when American troops tried it a year ago). However, it turns out the reason the mostly Shiite Iraqi forces are leading the American troops into Baghdad is so that they can warn Shiite residents to hide their weapons and other incriminating paraphernalia from the Americans. It seems the Iraqi forces are more like insurgents than national police officers.

The implication of Bush's 'surge' strategy is that, while there will be an initial swelling in forces, it will not be sustained. However, Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency plan, which is setting up hundreds of "mini-forts" all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, will take at least five years to as much as ten years to complete. With 160,000 American troops leveraged all around Iraq for many years to come, and insecure supply lines, they will need more allies, not more insurgents.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bloating surge

The Commander in Chief has ordered a "surge" of 21,500 troops into Baghdad. Considering the failures of past troop increases in Iraq, many question the effectiveness this one will have calming the violence in a metropolitan area of 8-million. With a majority of Americans now wanting their country to withdraw from the war in Iraq, the "surge" is widely considered just more of the same tactics that have only led to increased violence.

Americans could be happy that at least Bush did not go into six figures for the troop increase since many generals have said that's what was needed early on in the war. After all, it's only a little over 20,000 troops, right? Wrong.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that the deployment of of 21,500 troops could require as much as 28,000 additional troops to support the surge. It went on to say that the cost to sustain the surge could be as high as $27-billion if it's sustained for a year. Of course the cost that can't be calculated is the additional deaths that our military will sustain by having an additional 50,000 targets in Iraq.

To prevent Bush from following through on his planned surge, the senate is trying to pass a non-binding resolution opposing it. Of course, Bush's signing statements show his total disregard for binding law, so there's no expectation he'll pay any attention to the non-binding resolution.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

An incomplete title

The New York Times today published an article titled U.S. Says Iran Meddles in Iraq but Is Delaying Release of Data. It actually should've been titled "U.S. Says Iran Meddles in Iraq but Is Delaying Release of Data Until the Bush Administration Gets the Chance to Finish Fabricating It." They're not successful connecting the dots with the data they have now.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The cost of extraordinary rendition

Maher Arar was a victim of extraordinary rendition by the USA. Rendered to Syria, Arar was imprisoned there for ten months and tortured.

Clearly a violation of Arar's human rights, the government made restitution for the harm Arar suffered. It compensated him $8.9-million for its role in the rendition. The restitution was clearly acknowledgement that extraordinary rendition is an unjust act.

Does this mean that the USA will end its practice of extraordinary rendition? Sadly, it doesn't. The USA was not the country who made restitution; Canada did. The USA will go on rendering terror suspects (i.e. people not convicted of terrorism) to countries that have no qualms about torturing people.

Canada was only indirectly involved in the rendition. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police wrongly labeled Arar as an Islamic fundamentalist and passed misleading and inaccurate information to U.S. authorities. Canada considered this role in Arar's rendition worth $9-million.

How much is the USA's role in Arar's rendition worth? After all, the USA is the country that interrogated Arar for eleven days while he was chained and shackled. It was the USA that put Arar on a plane and flew him to Syria (ironic that the USA will not talk to Syria about the mess in Iraq but would use it to outsource torture), leaving him there for almost a year knowing full well that he would be tortured. As long as the torture czar himself, Albert Gonzales, is the attorney general, you can be sure Arar will not see a dime from the USA.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

One plus one equals two

Most people know what adds up and what doesn't from a young age. President Bush still has not worked out how to do this yet. In the State of the Union address, Bush promised to submit "a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years." He also said he "can do so without raising taxes."

However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) does not agree with him. The CBO released their annual report which projects future budgets. The data in the tables make it clear that the budget would either need an additional influx of cash or a substantial reduction in spending to prevent the continuation of budget deficits.

Who should Americans trust: the president who took this country from record surpluses to record deficits in a few short years or the CBO, a non-partisan congressional office? If you have a tendency to believe the CBO, then you should know what its director, Peter R. Orszag, says. He says that even if the president were able to balance the budget by 2012, the large numbers of baby boomers soon to be retiring would just send it right back into deficits.

However, the Senate is even more critical of where Bush is sending the budget. The Senate Budget Committee tells us the CBO is required to base its projections on current spending and tax law. It can't even take into consideration changes that are likely to occur. Currently, most of the funding for the Iraq war is off the budget, paid for through emergency appropriations. That means its cost, which is sure to approach half a trillion dollars, is yet to get in the budget. Furthermore, many of Bush's tax cuts are slated to expire in 2010.

Almost anyone with a grade school education can see things just don't add up. Bush might want to make those tax cuts permanent (and maybe give out some more cuts to the wealthy before he leaves office) and he might want a balanced budget in five years. However, he's about the only one who can't figure out that he can't have both.

Monday, January 01, 2007

One step forward, ten steps back

Slate published The Bill of Wrongs this past weekend. The author, Dahlia Lithwick, bills it as "the ten most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006." It seems unbelievable that some of the items on the list could actually occur in the USA but they really did, and the details about them that Lithwick provides are accurate. Written in reverse order in the article, the list includes:
  1. Hubris
  2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006
  3. Abuse of Jose Padilla
  4. Extraordinary Rendition
  5. Government Snooping
  6. The State-Secrets Doctrine
  7. Slagging the Courts
  8. Slagging the Media
  9. Guantanamo Bay
  10. Attempt to Get Death Penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui
One major loss of civil liberty did not make the list. The USA PATRIOT Act was renewed this year. Perhaps Lithwick did not include it because the Act has been in effect for a few years now. Nonetheless, some of the sections of the Act that constituted the greatest intrusions into our privacy were scheduled to expire at the end of 2006, but congress canceled those expirations. The right to privacy is now lost forever to the American people.

It was a pleasant relief to finally see another civil liberty that has been violated in recent years also not make the list this time. It was beginning to look like Americans were losing their liberty to freely elect their president. After the fiasco of an election in 2000 and the highly questionable activities in many polling locations in the 2004 election, the manufacturers of electronic voting machines and voting officials began deciding the results of our elections. The rule of thumb is that once you lose a civil liberty, you will never get it back. However, the 2006 election showed us that is not always the case, when the American people were again free to decide an election -- and did so in no uncertain terms.