The Talking Dog

January 31, 2007, Slow news Wednesday


First, the President decamps around 100 yards or so from where I work, to tell a bunch of Wall Street millionaires about how well the economy is doing... further telling Wall Streeters and CEOs to... wait for it... watch those executive compensation packages!

Meanwhile, one of the most vocal and eloquent of the President's critics, best-selling writer Molly Ivins, lost her battle with cancer, and passed away at 62. She famously called the younger President Bush "Shrub", and quipped that he "was born on third base, and thought he hit a triple."

It appears that the Justice Department will turn over documents pertaining to the President's illegal eavesdropping program (no other description would be accurate) to Congressional intelligence committees. Is there a new sheriff in town, or is this just window dressing? Well, we all KNOW it's window dressing... the question is whether it will lead to a daisy-chain of further document demands, subpoenas, and hopefully, indictments, if not impeachments. Stick around, Scooter... maybe you'll have company (and we don't mean Judith Miller!)

And Germany joins Italy in pressing criminal charges (at least in issuing arrest warrants) against CIA agents engaged in illegal "extraoardinary rendition" kidnapping in its jurisdiction (again, there's no other way to describe it accurately).

And Al Franken unsurprisinigly confirmed that he'll be running for Norm Coleman's Senate seat in Minnesota, a seat once held by the late Paul Wellstone. As Franken himself has quipped, he'll be the only New York Jew in the race who actually grew up in Minnesota. In other Senate news... Joe Biden pretty much self-destructed (and the very same day he announces his Presidential run!) with his... ill-advised remarks in supposed praise of Barack Obama... best say "he's great; I hope he'll consider being my running mate." But nooooooo....... You couldn't plagiarize something INTELLIGENT to say, Joe? As I said above... oy.

This has been... slow news Wednesday.

[And don't forget to stay tuned for more developments on how we will parlay that incredibly successful Iraq thing into... the Persian Incursion... Be there... Aloha.]

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January 30, 2007, The road to environmental hell is paved with good intentions

Such is the conclusion of this piece in the Grey Lady that examines the real effects of Europe's craze for bio-fuels, in particular palm oil grown in Indonesia and Malaysia. The conclusion is that while there may be some modest reduction in greenhouse gases in Europe, these modest reductions come at the expense of humongous carbon releases (third largest in the world) in Indonesia and Malaysia as carbon-trapping peat bogs are drained, and burned, to make way for palm oil plantations!

Remember... burning wood, or corn oil, or sugar cane, is arguably "renewable", but if the problem is the overall total net release of CO2 into the atmosphere... these things, like the palm oil, may prove counter-productive... for this one, gimmicks won't work: the total math has to be correct, or we're all screwed.

The good news is that there are existing technologies that don't emit so much CO2... number one, alas, is improved efficiency, followed by nuclear energy and wind (as Homer Simpson once remarked, "nuclear power-- the best power there is... except for solar, but that's just a pipe dream"... irony is how close he is to correct). As unpopular as it is, the reality is that the climate change conditions (massive extinctions of species, reduction in temperate and colder zones permitting tropical disease carrying insects to have greater range, drought and its friend famine (see "Darfur"), increasingly violent hurricanes) even without the more "controversial" issue of "just how much" the oceans are going to rise... won't be as bad if our use of nuclear energy is increased and emissions thereby reduced. And wind, of course, has got to be a major power source. I'm still perplexed that purported "environmentalists" can be opposed to wind energy... yes, this means you, Teddy and Bobby Kennedy... your wonderful short-sightedness conveniently overlooks the fact that your lovely waterfront estate whose view you hold so sacred will likely soon be underwater if we don't have projects like Cape Wind, and a lot of them, and fast...

Anyway... all of this is simply what we are up against... We have a huge, global problem, requiring a huge global solution... and we are up against entrenched powerful interests of all kinds that, generally, want their own responsibility taken up by someone else. Overcoming this mindset, probably more than technical challenges, will be necessary if we expect to maintain our way of life... or civilization of any kind.

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January 29, 2007, Scwwewy Wolf...

Apparently, as we come up to around a year (I think it was February 11th or 12th) since Dick Cheney accidentally blasted fellow quail-killer Harry Whittington down at the Armstrong place in Nowhere, TX, and as Dick has to come to grips with his good friend I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby probably facing jail time as a result of the Vice President's personal vindictiveness (and the fact that Karl is so gooooodddd....) the rest of Dick's mind seems to be getting as reliable as his aim, at least in this lengthy diatribe by Dan Froomkin writing in the WaPo... hat tip to Bruce the ONE AND ONLY TRUE Veep...

It seems the man who acquired the vice-presidency in a hostile takeover... just continues the hostility... as noted especially in the Vice President's (insane) exchange with Wolf Blitzer on CNN... decrying (as usual) the lack of media coverage of "the vast successes" we have had in Iraq... seamlessly answering questions about the lack of threat presented by Saddam Hussein with how dangerous Al Qaeda is... in short, spreading the kind of ongoing misinformation that we have come to know and love for well over the last five years... even as he talks up The SurgeTM, pointing out that Congress "can't stop it."

Bruce the Veep also sends this as further evidence of the Vice President's charm and... sanity.

Well, the "Pelosi in 2007" tee shirts may end up proving far less presumptuous than once thought... Stick around...

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January 28, 2007, Yesterday's Tomorrow's pandemic today

And so, it seems, that one of the most dangerous pandemics out there is not some new and exotic strain of avian flu from East Asia, or even some virulent germ warfare smallpox launched by our suicidal enemies... but good old tuberculosis, particularly a medication-resistant variety of TB now ravaging South Africa, particularly among its already AIDS ridden population.

TB, of course, is something that is already running around America's vast system of prisons... even TB of the drug-resistant kind.

The thing with disease of this kind is that, like climate change, social class and money cannot guarantee protection from the ill-effects of them. In the realms of disease, and climate change, we may all consider ourselves passengers in a life-boat: any idiot who choses to drill holes in the bottom of the boat risks not merely killing himself if he sinks the boat, but everyone on board. Hence, providing real help in improving public health measures in the world's poorest (and sickest) countries... is a necessary self-defense measure. Will we see it that way?

Until we can establish that this is the appropriate mindset-- that there are some issues where, regardless of how much money and goodies we as individuals may have-- at the end of the day, we're still in this together, and we can either work together to solve our common problems, or we can pretend that they are someone else's problem... at our extreme peril.

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January 27, 2007, Blood money

The Canadian government has come clean (clean enough, anyway) to compensate its own citizen Maher Arar for its role in feeding information to the United States that resulted in his detention and deportation-for-torture from what was supposed to be an in-transit-stopover-at-Kennedy Airport to (current bete-noire) Syria: Canada has apologized to Arar and will pay him over $10 million (Canadian).

Arar's case was the subject of some questions and answers in my interview with Jonathan Hafetz, and also in my interview with Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights which represents Mr. Arar in his civil action against the United States Government.

Mr. Arar is one of very few people to emerge alive from the CIA's vast international network of ghost prisons and torture dungeons operated by our own government and friendly third countries (some of which, like Syria, we don't like to talk about too much)... That network was discussed most recently in my interview with Stephen Grey, immediately below this post.

Note of course, that the Canadian government now apologizing is a Conservative one... yes, we understand the old joke that one can find the Canadian in a crowded elevator by stomping on everyone's feet and seeing who apologizes... and Canada has still done little or nothing for the benefit of its citizen still residing at Gitmo (discussed here in my interview with Rick Wilson)... But Mr. Arar's case (Canada has cleared him of any wrongdoing or connection to terrorism and acknowledged its own mistake in suggesting otherwise to the United States) is simply an outrage at every level. Indeed, it is because it is such an outrage that Senator Leahy recently alluded to Arar's case when questioning Attorney General Gonzales... (BTW... although in my view, torture is sufficiently inhuman as to never be justified-- ever--- were I to make an exception, the smarmy defines-banality-of-evil-anything-goes-to-protect-my-boss's-power A.G. Alberto Gonzales would likely be right up there... probably first in line...)

Mr. Arar's case is an outrage that the United States government refuses to compromise one inch on, let alone apologize for. Because, of course, for Canada, Arar is just one guy. But as Stephen Grey tells us, the CIA itself tells us there are hundreds more men just like him... if not far more than that... kidnapped and now detained in torture dungeons all over the world, at the behest and expense of the American taxpayer... all, supposedly, to keep us safe.

I've said it before, and I'll say it now. If this is the kind of conduct necessary to defend this country, then this country is no longer worth defending.

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January 26, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Stephen Grey

Stephen Grey is an award-winning investigative journalist, based in London, who has contributed to the New York Times, 60 Minutes, CNN, Newsweek, the BBC and many international publications. He is the author of "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program". On January 19, 2006, I had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Grey by telephone. What follows are my interiew notes as corrected by Mr. Grey.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11, 2001, and where were you on July 7, 2005?

Stephen Grey: On September the 11th, I was at Cambridge for a conference on organized crime. I was sitting in the quad at Cambridge College, talking to John Moscow, a New York County Assistant District Attorney, and then saw that I got 5 new messages on my voice mail in rapid succession. It was my office telling me to return to London at once, and then to get to New York as soon as I could. It took 5 days, but I got to New York; at that time I was working for London's Sunday Times. I ran back to John Moscow, told him that planes had struck the World Trade Center, and headed off... he called out "You are joking about this, right?" and I told him that I was afraid I wasn't. After I got to the U.S.A., I stayed for several weeks, seeing the aftermath and response. One felt that this may be the beginning of World War III, perhaps, and most people were just not sure what was going on.

On July 7, 2005, I was at home in South London, and I first heard about the subway and bus bombings on the internet. At that time, I was working for the New York Times. I got on a bicycle and cycled to the scene of the bus bombing in London's Taverstock Square-- there was of course no other way to get around, as the transit system came to a stop. One could see blood everywhere, which indicated to me this was a suicide bombing, as I had seen them in Iraq the previous year.

The Talking Dog: How often have you been to Iraq, and do you speak Arabic?

Stephen Grey: I have been to Iraq about ten times, since the beginning of 2004. And I am at the "still learning" stage in my knowledge of Arabic.

The Talking Dog: Can you tell me your personal impressions of the people you interviewed for "Ghost Plane", and I am particularly interested in your impressions of former detainees and of participants in the rendition program (pilots, interrogators, "snatchers", etc.)? In the course of your travels in researching the book, did any locales make a particular impression on you (and, at any point, did you feel yourself in any kind of personal danger)?

Stephen Grey: You are told that the people who are suspected terrorists are trained to lie and deceive. But I've been struck, at least meeting those who have ben released, about how straight and accurate they have been. Also, some hae an amazing capacity to forgive and separate their anger from those responsible for their detention and treatment and abuse from the United States in general. Some people might want to seek revenge in these circumstances, but others I've talked to seem to have big enough characters not to feel this way.

As to the CIA officers I spoke to, again, I was impressed with their honesty. They had no illusions that the people being sent to Egypt, Syria or Morocco would be tortured-- they were realistic. They made it perfectly clear to the White House and the Justice Department that these people were tortured, but the higher ups in the American government proceeded to continue doing this anyway, and then insisted that the United States did not send people to places that torture.

As to places that made an impression, Egypt in particular is very striking. I was struck by the surreal nature of the detention system-- one can be a tourist on a sailing boat on the Nile at Falluca, and as you sail you see a building with watchtowers, which is one of the most notorious destinations in the war on terror-- the Al Tora prison. But if you don't know what's happening, you might not even take notice of it.

As to personal danger, I certainly felt danger in Iraq, though not much elsewhere. I must say that I worry a great deal about some of the people I've talked to in these countries, and in particular, whether they've made the right decision by speaking publicly.

The Talking Dog: Among the many services performed by your book (and your reporting in the New York Times and elsewhere) is a dissemination of some of the flight logs of CIA aircraft used in the rendition program. This is a similar undertaking as in Trevor Paglen and A.C. Thompson's "Torture Taxi", although Trevor Paglen told me he got interested in this from a starting point of looking at American secret military bases and planespotters and as a geographer; you of course, are a professional journalist. What got you started on this line of inquiry? To what extent did you rely on publicly available sources?

Stephen Grey: There just are not that many public sources. I was in Washington, DC after 9/11, and it was only then that I heard about the rendition program, and from Porter Goss of all people, then the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and later Director of the CIA. When Guantanamo Bay opened up, someone at the CIA told me that Guantanamo was just the tip of the iceberg-- that there was a much larger network of prisons, jails around the world associated with the rendition program.

But the question becomes how to investigate this, given its immense secrecy. An opening occurred when I heard of one plane involved in the rendition from Sweden. Then the trail was picked up. I found my own "Deep Throat" who could provide me with flight plans of the CIA jet, and then I was able to identify a fleet of planes, and could trace their involvement. The story, in fact, became following these planes, because with this data, we could prove (1) that the stories of renditions told by prisoners who were released or got lawyers at Guantanamo were true, as their accounts matched flight plans precisely, (2) by looking at a fleet of aircraft, we could show that it was the CIA itself doing these things, and (3) I spoke to some of the pilots, who confirmed that they in fact worked for the CIA.

The Talking Dog: Do you have an impression of something bigger than even the extraordinary rendition program (and places like Cairo, Bucharest, Amman, Rabat, Guantanamo Bay, Baghdad, Kabul and so forth, as well as Europe and the US) from your viewings of the flight logs (I note, for example, that the planes' destinations included such places as Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Djibouti, Algiers, Nairobi, Mauritania, Libya, Brasilia, Moscow, Fiji, Ethiopia and Sudan). Some are presumably fuel stops, for example, and others involve flights that presumably have nothing to do with the rendition program; but is there anything more solid about any of the others (Libya and Sudan in particular)? Is the extraordinary rendition program bigger than any of us imagine?

Stephen Grey: These locations show us that the movement of these planes is a CIA operation. The planes visit places like Camp Peary, or "the farm", the CIA's training base. They also visit Guantanamo, Kabul, Cairo... even Iran... they fit a pattern. At other times when not involved in renditions, the planes ferried intelligence chiefs around, such as those from Sudan, not to mention taking interrogators TO Guantanamo, such as from Libya. At this point, there are clearly a lot of people who are missing and who have not yet been track down; some of them may well relate to still unknown renditions.

As to the planes visiting Tel Aviv, you will notice that they always go via Cyprus, lest they offend the sensibilities of the Arab governments from countries they have just come from. But certainly, the logs of the planes' movements gives us an overview of current action, and rendition is only a part of this. Many more details are yet to emerge. For example, these planes were observed in Venezuela at the time there was talk of a CIA led coup planned against Hugo Chavez. So we don't necessarily know the full scope. I published the planes' flight logs in the hope that others may dig in and uncover further details of this story.

The Talking Dog: You document how the origins of the extraordinary rendition program-- ostensibly a matter of bureaucratic expedience for a CIA that was untethered from strict rule of law compliance and cooperation with the FBI and the American military in earlier versions of the "extraordinary rendition" program to bring suspects to justice in the United States, or eventually, to their own countries (even if those countries had abysmal human rights records)-- evolved to being a world-wide kidnapping operation to bring suspected terrorists in for questioning under torture (which is, of course, illegal everywhere, except perhaps these days in the United States itself, where these "operations" never take place)... guilt or innocence have no relevance to this, which explains why men like Maher Arar and Al-Masri and others, later determined to be completely innocent of anything, are ensnared by it. This is, of course, a huge matter of public outrage in Europe, which of course, is far more tangentially involved than the United States which drives it. Do you have an impression of why this isn't a bigger deal in the United States? Are we not getting the news, or do we simply not care, insofar as its invariably Moslem males and foreigners (even Padilla, a citizen, converted to Islam)? Any comment or impressions about this?

Stephen Grey: The United States feels that it is at war. And in the case of Iraq, it certainly is. That attitude of war-- that if you question the commander in chief about the conduct of the war or anything else, you may be undermining the operation of soldiers, is certainly a big factor in American attitudes.

The Talking Dog: Let me continue on the last question which concerns your discussion of "the torture lie", to wit, the repeated American assurances that we don't "do torture" (not true, as the CIA uses torture among other methods in its own proprietary prisons) and we don't send prisoners to be tortured elsewhere (again, not true, and indeed, the sobering and troubling basis for making evidence obtained from torture admissible in the recent "Military Commissions Act"). To some extent, I suppose, the American public can comfort itself and take its leaders' statements at face value, even if they know otherwise. For another, though, I repeat my assertion that as long as it's "keeping us safe", the American public believes that the end justifies the means (even gruesome tortures such as that suffered by Binyam Mohammed at the hands of American surrogates in Morocco, the abuses of Abu Ghraib, etc.) in our "post September 11th" worldview, even if the victims are ultimately proved to be "innocent"... do you have a further comment on this?

Stephen Grey: This war on terror has, by now, gone on longer than the United States involement in World War II, and will likely soon exceed the length of World War II. In a so-called "long war", you must be exceedingly careful and think about the effects long term of things that you do as a matter of knee jerk instant responses. Things that, while they may make sense in the short term to some, may damage the ultimate ability to win the war.

As to the guilt or innocence quesiton, I certainly do not believe that the CIA sent anyone they believed to be innocent to be renditioned. However, the United States government has been quite reckless as to the innocence of these people, and they are certainly picking up people with ever more tenuous connections to any kind of terrorism. This is the sort of thing that leads to a backlash that undermines the overall conduct of the war.

The Talking Dog: You devote a chapter (Chapter 8, "The Special Relationship: Our Man in Tashkent") to an unusual British diplomat, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. Murray, of course, was quite public in protesting his government's complicity with the American government in condoning human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, and indeed, in cooperating delivering prisoners to it as part of the "war on terror" and rendition program. Although there are a smattering of diplomatic resignations in protest of the Iraq war and so forth, and certainly Murray was unusually outspoken to the point of jeopardizing his career, do you have an impression of why men like Murray are so unusual in all of this, and for the most part, U.S., U.K. and other officials by and large have not gone public with any misgivings toward these programs?

Stephen Grey: It often takes a maverick to expose uncomfortable truths. More well-balanced individuals think more about their pensions than about exposing to the public the secrets of the agencies that they work for. Whatever you think of Craig Murray, he has exposed a real problem for our foreign policies. How do you work with a govermnent, that boils its dissidents alive-- a regime that is a hangover from the old Soviet Union. And yet, you have a desperate need to use that country for bases and for its intelligence on suspected terrorists. It ends up being a pretty dirty business.

The Talking Dog: You devote another chapter (Chapter 9, "The Italian Job") to another unusual man, Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro (and his team), who has pressed on with the Abu Omar kidnapping case in Milan, and may well take it to trial, with defendants including over two dozen American intelligence operatives and some Italian intelligence operatives for their role in snatching Abu Omar off the streets of Milan and hailing him off to Egypt where he was interrogated and tortured. Like Murray, Spataro seems unusual, although there are, certainly, investigations in Germany and elsewhere, he seems to have taken this the furthest, even in apparent defiance of his own government. I'll ask the same type of question as the previous one: do you have an impression of why men like Spataro are so unusual? Do you get the feeling as to how much public support Spataro has for what he is doing?

Stephen Grey: Italy is a special case because of its relationship with the Mafia. Italy has a judicial system that invests its examining magistrates like Spataro with complete independence from the government. These prosecutors are obligated to investigate regardless of political consequences. I know of no other country that has a system like that. Certainly, Mr. Spataro himself hits with a straight bat. In the case of the Abu Omar kidnapping, the magistrates and police in Milan felt especially betrayed, becayse they were actually investigating Abu Omar as a suspected Islamist themselves, and intended to make a case to prosecute him in a court of law. Instead, CIA officers, including some with whom they themselves were working directly, snatched Abu Omar from right under their noses.

The Talking Dog: You conclude the book with the same kind of warning that Trevor Paglen and Steven Miles told me about torture, i.e. a torture effects the torturer (and by extention, his or her society) just as it effects the victim; you have documented a world-wide, industrial scale torture network run by the American government and paid for by the American taxpayer; do you share their sentiments about what this all says about our society, as it becomes more and more inured to torture?

Stephen Grey: Well, certainly for those who witness it-- the victims and the perpetrators or witnesses in the room-- torture is clearly in no way a banal business. What struck me is the comment of an American military officer: he said that if we need to torture, we should do it ourselves and not hand the dirty work over to others-- that is the coward's way out. It is certainly striking how we can shut our eyes to what is being done in our name, and hide behind legal language and techicalities, indeed, to try to pretend that we are not torturing, when everyone really knows that we are. If you shove someone’s head under water and make them believe they are going to die by drowning-- as a one former CIA officer described it to me-- there is no question that this is real torture.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you that I didn't, or anything else that the public needs to know about the extraordinary rendition program of the other things we talked about?

Stephen Grey: The rendition program does not involve just the CIA-- it involves the American military as well... for example, the "repatriation" of detainees from Afghanistan to their home countries is effectively a rendition program. There is a huge category of missing people. We only know those who have been released or gotten a lawyer at Guantanamo-- a very small group of people. The CIA has talked about figures in the low hundreds. I think the true figure may be much higher.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Stephen Grey for that eye opening interview, and I commend everyone to take a look at "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program".

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainee Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, and with author and geographer Trevor Paglen on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, to be of interest.

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January 24, 2007, Hari Kerry

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee, chose a lengthy speech on the floor of the Senate as the situs of his announcement that in the face of political 800 lb. gorilla Hillary Clinton, Kerry will not seek the Democratic Presidential nomination for 2008.

While what probably finished him off was his own botched joke in California, intending to mock the President but actually ending up mocking troops in mortal danger, Kerry did run an abysmal campaign against as bad a sitting President as we have had in our lifetimes. In short, although I have come to respect John Kerry the man, I say... good riddance to John Kerry the candidate.

Which leaves Hillary Clinton with the ball and apparently, a clear opening to the end zone. Though Barack Obama is a quick and skilled free safety, he's inexperienced and thin, while Hillary is... an 800 lb. gorilla... John Edwards is also a tad inexperienced... Kerry was a seasoned hand with some gravitas... while he probably can't stop Hillary, he might have slowed her down. As to the rest of the announced Dem field... Joe Biden... the plagiarist who voted to f*** working people to benefit MBNA? Just LOL. F***ing LOL. Bill Richardson does have some appeal and seasoning, but, IIRC the man lied about his baseball career. And Dennis Kucinich will be back because... no one is sure, really. But he'll be back. Which leaves Al Gore as the last best hope if anyone will trip up and tackle Mrs. Clinton, though at the moment, he has shown no inclinations toward suiting up and taking the field...

Kerry joins fellow Senators Feingold and Bayh and former Va. Governor Mark Warner in withdrawing in the face of juggernaut Hillary. We'll just have to stay tuned to see just how powerful a force she is... Even her detractors will have to admit that there are obviously worse things than President Hillary Clinton... the last six years have certainly made that painfully clear to all of us.

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January 23, 2007, State of the Yawnion

The President fulfilled his Constitutional obligation to address the Congress once a year, and gave us his long, boring, stupid State of the Union address this evening. While Bill Clinton used to give endless and tedious laundry lists of lame governmental programs, at least, as a Democrat, he believed doctrinally that the government should do good for the public... even in stupid things like school uniforms.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, by contrast, appear to believe that the purpose of government is to enrich themselves and their friends, and basically, otherwise is merely a big gimmick to hold power for their own personal wealth and power maximization. Indeed the only reason for government to "do good" at all is to maintain the pretense necessary to keep getting reelected by a not-very-bright public, a pretense that has finally failed them after 12 years of unbridled Republican Congressional corruption, the last 6 years of which included unbridled Republican Executive incompetence, corruption and dictatorial overreach. And so, since the actual mechanics of the government doing anything much (except, of course, taking away people's right to sue for injuries inflicted upon them by the powerful, for example, or taking away precious liberties for the illusion of security in the very same way a Mafia protection racket does) are so constitutionally (small c) anathema to this man... one could almost see the physical tension as he offered forth his pathetic laundry list of pathetic non-issues, including a meaningless energy policy (though he did perk up about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve), a tax deduction to purchase private health insurance to be given to people who generally don't have enough income to actually benefit from it, and the acknowledgment that there is a global climate change problem while offering precisely nothing by way of means to solve it, except lip service, of course, while refusing to take responsibility for having hired industry propagandists on the government payroll to deny that there even is a problem, let alone that a governmental response is the only solution.

At least the President seemed to perk up a bit in the second half, as he tried to get that old 9-11 fearmongering mojo back... but alas... it's gone now. Five years (and a lost Congressional election) seem all too long... While mentioning the need to attack Syria and Iran... while we stay the course plus in Iraq... his heart didn't seem to be in it. The recognition of the need for "bipartisanship" given that he was addressing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker rather than Dennis Hastert... just seems to have taken the last of his swagger away (and good riddance to it, I for one, say.)

But that still doesn't mean he was the least bit chastened, or that he wasn't totally shameless... no, no, no. Halliburton and Exxon Mobil and Boeing must still get their taxpayer money... so it can be funneled back to Republican campaign coffers and the occasional numbered bank account. The Saudis still need to maintain oil hegemony within OPEC... Iraqi oil needs to remain safely under Iraq. These things will require American troops to continue to risk their lives in Iraq. And that racket, ladies and gentlemen, will go on unabated... the will of the people or their elected representatives or a 28% approval rating be damned.

And thus, the state of the union is found.

Update: Almost poetically, Watergate burglar and organizer E. Howard Hunt passed away at 88, the very same day that his boss's ideological heir (though intellectual inferior) gave a speech at the (thus far) nadir of his Presidency... and the opening remarks in Scooter Libby's trial took place... curiouser and curiouser...

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January 23, 2007, Party Bondage discipline

Now a "bi-partisan" resolution to tell the President "No Surge" is floating through the Senate, this time put forth by Virginia's John Warner, backed by sorta-Republican Susan Collins of Maine and the GOP's Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

This is presumably not what the President wants to hear going into the State of the Union address tonight... but then, the President has made it very clear he doesn't listen to Democrats, polls, the public, reason, our allies... or members of his own party who say things he doesn't want to hear. Someone suggested that a non-binding resolution on "no surge" would have as much effect as the Senate holding its collective breath until senators passed out.

Anyway, don't expect to hear much about The SurgeTM tonight. In fact, other than a potential huge throbbing whopper of a lie that the President may throw in involving a Zarqawi-bin Laden plot to smuggle in 19 terrorists into the U.S. (note the number!), it'll be something else... No, other than possibly that huge throbbing whopper of a lie, expect meaningless drivel on non-proposal proposals for domestic agenda, most of which are industry lobbyist driven non-starters... in short, Bill Clinton very lite, but without the charisma, or charm, or ability to pronounce the English language...

Now... as to YOU, Warner...

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January 20, 2007, Hillary's Got Game

It's official: my fair state's Junior Senator (with whom I share a birthday... us and Leon Trotsky, btw) Hillary Clinton has announced that she is forming an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States. Obviously, she would be the first woman and first former First Lady to be elected to the Presidency, should she prevail. And right now, she immediately steps in as the prohibitive favorite to win her own party's nomination, and given the likely train-wreck the current President Bush will leave where the Republican Party once stood, whomever the Democrat is will be in a strong position against whomever the Republican is.

So... there we have it. Hillary has what I'll call "the Howard Cosell factor"-- i.e., in his day, ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell was one of the most well-known men in America, with almost total name recognition, and everyone having not merely an opinion of him, but a strong opinion of him, and more had a negative opinion than a favorable one. Which pretty much sums up Hillary as well. She already has total name recognition. Which is her principle advantage, and disadvantage. Plus, there won't be very many new "revelations" about her-- she and her husband President Clinton have already been thoroughly through the wash and rinse cycle with the press, that... there's nothin' there.

Activist Dems will have to reconcile her pro-war stance and the fact that she isn't a liberal (not even a little) with the fact that the Rove machine will paint her as the "uber-liberal." As always, the perfect is the enemy of the good. We'll see: Warner, Feingold and Bayh have already bowed out, just at the prospect of her getting in. John Edwards, I'm afraid, has had his shot... I just don't see what he brings to the table now. In 2004, the fact that he was from North Carolina was, IMHO, enough of a reason to support him, which is why I did (and had only the Iowans changed their votes by 5 or 6 thousand caucusgoers and gone for him instead of Kerry, he'd now be the President). But Bush has sea-changed politics: now a Northern perceived-liberal probably can get elected President. While Dixie will hold firm for anyone it feels reflects its traditional (read "crypto-racist") values... the rest of the country has had it with them. And with a Democratic governor there, the odds of a clean and fair election in critical Ohio have skyrocketed.

So... with the field open for a possible win by the Democrats, the Democratic candidate now matters a great deal. Selecting today for her announcement, precisely two years before the inauguration of our next President in 2009, is hardly a coincidence; also-- Obama announced a couple of days ago, and he has been getting a lot of attention with it. So, Hillary had to do something quickly, and she did. Honestly, she, like her husband President Clinton, is a master of positioning and of these kind of tactics; we'll see how this plays out.

The wild-card in the deck right now is Al Gore; so far, though, his current presidential ambitions are enigmatic. (He could do worse than to be this President Clinton's Vice-President, in charge of a broad energy and climate change and domestic restructuring portfolio... just saying...)

Well... game ON.

Update: Bill Richardson, now governor of New Mexico and formerly a member of Congress and Bill Clinton's envoy and U.N. Ambassador... is in, too (hat tip to Barbara of Mahablog.)

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January 18, 2007, Codifying kangaroo courts

The Pentagon has released its long awaited manual on implementing the Military Commissions Act, which will permit evidence against those detained in the war on terror obtained by hearsay (i.e. the confronting evidence comes from a witness not in court and available to be cross-examined), and more troubling still, evidence (i.e. confessions or finger-pointing) obtained under torture coercive circumstances.

Does this comply with our treaty obligations to ostensibly try those captured in a military conflict in the same manner as we would try our own people? Um... no. Nor, of course, does permitting evidence obtained while a detainee was being waterboarded , or, perhaps, while a detainee's private parts were sliced with razor blades , or perhaps, a detainee was just kept isolated from other human contact for years...

We'll forget the fact that Gitmo has now been open for five years, and other than 10 detainees who have been mostly charged with so-called crimes against the laws of the war that probably don't fall into that category, the other 98 or 99% have been charged with nothing, and the government continues to argue, may be held in that state, forever... or at least until it is no longer convenient to hold them.

Leading members of Congress, including the feckless scoundrel Arlen Specter, who permitted this miserable departure from every value this country ever held dear and set jurisprudence back nearly 800 years (his own characterization of a law that he himself voted for) have pledged to ameliorate the worst parts of this codification of the permissibility of torture. Let's hope they do it soon.

Indeed, an outright repeal of the Military Commissions Act, Detainee Treatment Act, and de-funding of detention at Gitmo altogether are all in order. If Congress passes them, I dare the President to veto them, if he wants. We all remember how popular Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush were with their veto-mania, do we not?

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January 16, 2007, TD Blog Interview with H. Candace Gorman

H. Candace Gorman is an attorney based in Chicago specializing in Civil Rights law (among her credits are a successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones v. R.R. Donnelly & Sons, a landmark case on the statute of limitations in employment discrimination cases that has even impacted my own legal practice). Ms. Gorman represents two North African nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the author of the Guantanamo Blog, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. On January 15, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Gorman by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, supplemented extensively by Ms. Gorman's e-mailed comments.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11th" [if you've read enough of my interviews, you will know that I was one block north of the WTC with a south facing view]?

H. Candace Gorman: I was at my office in Chicago, I share office space with my husband (who is not an attorney) my brother and several friends who are attorneys. I was in early that day. My brother was on vacation in Turkey. I checked my email and saw that there was a suicide bomber in Turkey and that several people were dead. I was very nervous and went to look at his itinerary. I determined that he was not near that area and went back to working on whatever I was working on. (This was obviously a few minutes before the first plane hit.) A few minutes later my husband came in the office and asked if I had heard what happened. I told him yes but not to worry because Greg (my brother) wasn’t in that city yet. We then spent several minutes trying to figure out what each of us was talking about. I had a computer that had a t.v. antenna (I got it for the impeachment hearings) and everyone sat in my office in shock watching the events unfold for the next several hours. There was also a time when the fourth plane was still missing and there were concerns it was headed for the Sears Tower. We all talked about what we should do and ultimately decided to do nothing. The Sears Tower is a little less than a mile from my office.

The Talking Dog: How did a nice Chicago-based employment lawyer like you get involved in representing "the worst of the worst"?

H. Candace Gorman: A Chicago area lawyer named Gary Isaacs sent an e-mail around to generate interest in a luncheon and talk on the subject of Guantanamo representations. Although I signed up, I had an illness and missed the meeting, but fortunately, no attendance was taken, and I received a follow-up e-mail thanking me for attending! By October of 2005, I signed up to represent one person who was still not represented-- the purpose of this meeting was, in fact, to find lawyers for the remaining unrepresented detainees so everyone would be represented before the Detainee Treatment Act was passed.
I took on my second client in the spring of 2006. CCR sent out an email asking for help representing the many individuals they filed petitions for at the end of December 2005. They filed on behalf of several hundred detainees, I volunteered to take two clients but the third client turned out to already be represented.

The Talking Dog: Please name your Guantanamo-detained clients and their nationalities and briefly say what (IF ANYTHING) they are alleged to have done and what your impressions are from meeting them.

H. Candace Gorman: Abdul Al-Ghizzawi, Libyan and Razak Ali, Algerian. I will start with the easy one, Razak Ali. He is the client I took on in the spring. I only met with him once and that was this past November. I was given one visit by the judge to determine if he wanted an attorney. He does. I was very concerned with only getting one visit to figure this out as Mr. Ali has been in GTMO for almost five years and wouldn’t know me from an interrogator. I would have liked to have more time for him to get to know me but it worked out ok. I did not use our initial meeting to learn anything about what he is alleged to have done, I wanted him to get to know me. I liked him very much, seems he is a Harry Potter fan. I have read all of the books so we talked a lot about the books. He was lamenting the fact that he has not read book six because the gtmo library didn’t have it in Arabic. A friend of mine found a copy and is sending it to me and I am hoping I can get it to the library at the base. I am going again in a couple of weeks and I hope to learn more about him at this time.

My other client Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is one I have had lots more contact with which is reflected in my many posts at the Huffington Post and on the Guantanamo blog.

I have visited Mr. Al-Ghizzawi three times (and I am planning on returning to Guantanamo in early February). Before I represented him, we exchanged letters, not through the attorney-client privileged system, but just through the mail. He had expressed interest in obtaining counsel, but had no idea who it would be. He had conveyed messages through other detainees to tell their lawyers. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi left Libya in the 1980's ostensibly, he left in the middle of extended military service... He had served a year as part of a mandatory universal conscription in Libya's army, then served another 8 months in the war against Chad, but then the commitment to serve was extended by an additional two years, with no credit given for the 8 months served in the war against Chad... so he left Libya. He went to Pakistan, Yemen, and finally, Afghanistan, where he settled in Jalalabad. Even after all this time at Gitmo, he still has a sense of humor. He speaks English, is now about 45, has a wife and a daughter who will soon turn 6 who he only saw as an infant.
Before going to Afghanistan he tried to get asylum in Britain and the U.S., but was turned down. He recalls seeing a poster at that time in a tourist office inviting lengthy visits to a tropical paradise... which turned out to be Cuba... he didn't apply... but said "Now look where I am?"

The Talking Dog I should note that when Cuba was trying to join the U.N. Human Rights Commission, I pointed out that in that country was a horrible prison where people were kidnapped from all over the world and held without charge or trial... oh wait...

H. Candace Gorman: He ended up in Afghanistan after the Russians left. He, of course, was not allowed to return to Libya because of his military service issue... but he settled in Jalalabad, and opened a spice store and bakery, and married an Afghan woman, before he was picked up for a bounty, and ended up at Guantanamo Bay.

The Talking Dog One of my observations seems to be that in the
arbitrary world of our detention policy, the detainees' nationalities matter a great deal. The Europeans are, of course, out; so are many of the Afghans and Pakistanis... who remain are mostly Saudis, Yemenis and assorted North Africans... and some non-resident nationals of various countries... am I correct that this is a factor for your clients, that their own nations either are not pressuring or are not in a position to pressure the U.S. for their release?

H. Candace Gorman: This is certainly a factor; we have expressed no objections about him being returned to Libya-- and we have made contacts with Libyan authorities who have confirmed that he would not be in trouble in Libya for his military service issues if he were returned. Thus far, however, these have not led to anything approaching his release.

The Talking Dog: How many times you have been to Gitmo, to the "secure documents clean room" in Virginia, and your impressions of those citadels of executive overreach?

H. Candace Gorman: I have been to the base 3 times, and, as noted, I am scheduled to go again the first week in February. I have been to the “secret facility” on one occasion.

Guantanamo is just an amazing place. You fly around Cuba, which is very lush and green. Then Guantanamo is a strip of desert- complete with cactus. The base is divided into two sides. The lawyers are on one side, a ferry ride away from their clients on the other side. The lawyers stay on a side resembling a ghetto-- there is housing for foreign workers, mostly Filipino, who work on the base, including the airfield and the hotel... their housing resembles Chicago area projects. Across the bay is the livelier part of the base, where the military is housed, featuring a McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Starbucks, though despite being a little outpost of the U.S.A., is still depressing in its own right. The base, of course, is huge, and it takes more than an hour to reach one's clients even from the hotel on the base. Since an incident where the military determined I preferred "birdwatching" to seeing my client, I have been given my own personal military escort at the base.

The Talking Dog: Where do your clients' litigations now stand in light of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, in the "Al Odah" constellation of cases?

H. Candace Gorman: I have an appeal pending in Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s case, to try to get his medical records and to get him medical treatment for hepatitis b and tuberculosis. I am planning on filing a motion for summary judgment because of the fact that he was initially found not to be an enemy combatant and was only found to be an enemy after it was sent to Washington for review… I am also planning on filing a petition with the court of appeals under the DTA for the same reasons.

In Mr. Razak Ali’s case I just received an email from the military telling me I can submit info about him by Feb. 23rd for his next ARB (Administrative Review Board). I filed an emergency motion with the judge asking him to order the government to provide a factual return so that I can respond. The government had been refusing to give any part of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) records or charges at all... I hope the judge will grant at least that much relief...

The Talking Dog: Do you intend to withdraw from these representations now that Cully Stimson has urged your corporate CEO clients to boycott you (and Shearman & Sterling, Paul Weiss, Covington & Burling, etc.)?

H. Candace Gorman: First I laughed out loud when I read the question…. But if you can keep a secret from Cully, I don’t have any corporate clients. In fact I am sure corporations would like it if they could boycott me because I sue them and when I win they have to pay me… and yes that is what has allowed me to work on this litigation…

The Talking Dog: Besides your "open letter" to Secretary Stimson, do you have any impressions as to whether this is part of a broader trial balloon strategy by the Bush Administration to intimidate lawyers going into the show trial phase of Guantanamo, i.e., the 14 "high profile" detainees?

H. Candace Gorman: I think this Administration is run by heavy handed people who have and will continue to try everything they can dream up to keep these cases from coming to trial.

The Talking Dog: How much of your practice has been devoted to Gitmo matters, and how are you being compensated for it (if, at all, of course)

H. Candace Gorman: I am not being compensated for any of my GTMO work, and now it has taken over my practice (and my life). At this point, I try to go down every other month... as noted, it is entirely at my expense. Some solace is that Mr. Al-Ghizzami doesn't need a translator, which saves me something... I have tried to work out something with another firm in Chicago to borrow their translator, but it hasn't yet worked out logistically.

The Talking Dog: Has there been any adverse impact on your practice (lost clients, or anything) from your Gitmo representation?

H. Candace Gorman: I have not lost any clients but I have not had time to take on new ones. The impact, which I would not refer to as adverse, is that this is what I spend doing every single day… I try to work my existing cases around this but in truth there is so much on the line in these cases that it overshadows everything else.

The Talking Dog: What brought you to start writing about Gitmo, in the Huffington Post and in the new Guantanamo blog?

H. Candace Gorman: The fact that there are so many people that don’t understand what is going on with Guantanamo. I know I can’t reach everyone but my initial posting, “why I am representing a Guantanamo detainee” was written as an op-ed, I sent it to various papers and no one was interested. I read Huffington regularly and sent it off as a lark… They asked me to write more and I was happy to. I am also doing a monthly column in “In These Times” called diary of a Guantanamo attorney. One Monday I came to work and my law clerk told me he set up a blog. We had never even talked about it but I was ecstatic… probably much to his chagrin… I keep having more and more ideas as to what should be on there.

The Talking Dog: Have journalists expressed interest in your representation and do you have a comment on media coverage?

H. Candace Gorman: What coverage would that be?

The Talking Dog: Do you have an opinion on what will get the public interested enough to get Congress to pressure the Bush Administration to provide some semblance of due process for detainees?

H. Candace Gorman: Education is part of the answer as people learn the truth they are shocked. I did a speech in northern Michigan before the law passed in September. Senator Stabenow ended up voting for the law (I am forgetting the name of the law) I got an email from the local Democratic organization up where I spoke telling me that they cancelled a fund raiser for her because of her vote and they wrote her a scathing letter explaining why. Obviously the people I spoke to learned a lot from my talk and I hope Stabenow learned something too.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any idea of an end game or exit strategy-- i.e., how long will this Gitmo game play out?

H. Candace Gorman: I really thought it would close over the summer, after the Supreme Court ruled and the President said he wanted it closed too. I thought they would move the few to somewhere here and the rest back to wherever… it was the perfect excuse for the President to move them… he said he was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule… But then he didn’t.

The Talking Dog: Any thoughts on where the end game will go as far as the court system?

H. Candace Gorman: I don’t have much confidence in the courts (other than the Supreme Court) doing anything to help these men get their day in court. I think the men will continue to dribble out of Guantanamo. Now there is 395. Next month another 20 or 30 will be gone, and so on….

The Talking Dog: Do you have any thoughts on whether the recent Cindy Sheehan protest will do any good, or if any protests have done any good?

H. Candace Gorman: I am a strong believer in public protests. I am one of the attorneys representing protestors that were arrested in Chicago at the start of the Iraqi war. The case has been dragging on while we wait for the judge to rule on the city’s summary judgment motion, at first I was mad it was taking so long… now I couldn’t be happier. It will be hard to find a jury that will think my clients were wrong in protesting but I couldn’t say the same two years ago. Protests get people thinking and talking, that is always good.

Cindy Sheehan is my hero. She has done more to bring attention to the travesty of the war in Iraq (and now the travesty at Guantanamo) than anyone else.

The Talking Dog: Is there any sense that public attitudes are shifting-- that the public is realizing that with over half of the detainees just summarily released, they are hardly the worst of the worst...

H. Candace Gorman: Those released are presumably "the best of the worst!" Unfortunately, so far, my clients are still in the "middle of the worst". Of course, this isn't really funny... The public attitude is shifting the more it learns... it's not so much a matter of time, as it is about facts slowly accumulating, realizing what is happening.

The Talking Dog: Well at least we're feeding the detainees lemon chicken and rice pilaf...

H. Candace Gorman: Funny you should say that; a couple of detainees have complained that they are gaining weight... they are being fed a high carbohydrate diet of late, which may be a new strategy to fatten them up to make them more complacent prisoners... or at least more lethargic.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else that I should have asked you, or anything else that my readers or the public needs to know about Gitmo, the war on terror, the government's detention policy, or its regard for our Constitution?

H. Candace Gorman: We should all be very concerned about what this Administration is doing. This week the Pentagon announced it is looking at our bank records, not because they think anything criminal is going on but because they can learn stuff…

They are listening to our phone calls and reading our emails… Every day there is something new and illegal that we learn they are doing… it is hard to keep up. Harder still to stop them from breaking the law. But we must.

Finally, the public needs to understand that right now NOTHING is happening with these lawsuits. There is no discovery. Everything is stayed, and has been since before I started in December 2005. For the attorneys (not to mention the detainees), the fact that everything is stayed is frustrating. There has been limited activity- such as the judge ordering the government to produce the CSRT documents for Al Ghizzari... though not medical records that we have been seeking because he is so sick (lung problems, hepatitis B, possible liver cancer)... one of the judges involved, Judge Reggie Walton, has the Scooter Libby trial coming up... so he won't have much time to focus on these cases.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Ms. Gorman for that informative interview and for being so generous with her time.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainee Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, and with author and geographer Trevor Paglen on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, to be of interest.

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January 15, 2007, Damn the torpedoes... and the voters, of course

The President (according to what he said on 60 Minutes) says it's full steam ahead with The Surge TM, no matter what those stupid Democrats in Congress or the vast majority of the American people think.

Here's the thing: this happens to be one of the few areas where the commander in chief power means what he thinks he does (as opposed to permitting a martial law declaration, or acting as if he had). This is a straight troop deployment. This is not a draft: these are troops already mobilized, many of them are already deployed somewhere... many of them will simply have their terms in Iraq extended...others will be shifted from Korea, Okinawa, Europe or Afghanistan. The President's actions of moving troops around is his perogative. Seriously.

At this point, in fact, just the fact that he is drawing attention to this sideshow-- as if an increase in American troop strength from 140,000 to 160,000 (at a time other nations are reducing their deployments or pulling out, btw) will matter a hill of beans in Iraq (answer: not very likely) means that he ostensibly gets a pass on everything else. (We can start, btw, with why our military is so damned degraded that 20,000 troops is all there is.)

The larger question is whether this war should continue to be funded, and funded by deficit spending no less. Or why a President whose focus remains on this pretty hopeless occupation where our troops are more or less acting as hall monitors in a nascent civil war appears to have let victory in Afghanistan fall apart as the Taliban are resurgent... and of course, allows OBL to continue to be out there.

Or, why a President who has used industry shills on the government payroll and funded propaganda to deny the known facts about climate change, not to mention quite literally stealing government money for other propaganda projects shouldn't be impeached for that alone.

As long as the rest of us are obsessed with the surge sideshow... a rather modest escalation under any circumstances, which, if anything just takes us back to last summer's trooop level... we're pretty much where the President wants us. And that is not where we want to be now, is it?

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January 14, 2007, Privacy Schmivacy... warrants, schmarrants

Such seems to be the prevailing attitude of the CIA and Pentagon with respect to their use of "voluntary" letter requests for sensitive financial and credit information from financial institutions; American military and intelligence services have evidently sought and obtained such records by the hundreds in a number of cases of suspected terrorism.
Given a government that can't be bothered complying with FISA or the Fourth (Sixth... Eighth... First... or any other of those stinking amendments)...

The paradigm was the use of this method to spy on former Gitmo Army Moslem Chaplain Captain James Yee in the hope that his records might yield some decent dirt he could be prosecuted for... Instead, Yee was eventually cleared of every single one of the bogus politically motivated charges that were lodged against him... at the same time...

Bruce the Veep sends us a Dahlia Lithwick piece that finally sums up what TD readers have known for a long time. The reason the Bush Administration wants to assert its right to hold poor schmos like Jose Padilla or the hundreds at Gitmo (and God knows how many thousands in other places) has nothing to do with them representing any kind of actual threat or advancement in the war on terror (because even the Bush Administration knows that precisely the opposite is the case). Worse, the Bush Administration is well aware of the public relations and moral authority blowback from doing this, as well as the waste of critical intelligence resources chasing wild geese in service of the fantasy... that there is a point to any of this...

No... the real reason that Bush Administration continues to this day to assert unlimited executive power... is simply because it can. Its view (think Cheney and Rumsfeld still upset that Nixon gave in so easily) is that in their world, executive power should be unlimited: the excuse of national security justifies dictatorship... as we know, true dictatorship can occur only in a foreign language; since we all speak English, this must still be our Constitutional democracy and republic in all respects... even without habeas corpus, or search warrants, or for that matter, the President (as long as he's a Republican, of course) not having to comply with any laws at all that he doesn't want to.

The 2006 election appears to have chastened the Bush Administration... not at all. Speaker Pelosi... Majority Leader Reid... are you going to take that? Are you going to let this jack-jive faux Texan do this IN YOUR HOUSE (and Senate)?

I don't think so... I think it's about time we became a government of laws and not of [mediocre, mentally defective] men, starting right now. Who's with me on that?

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January 14, 2007, More from the "definition of insanity"

In this case, it will be the encouragement by the Brazilian government of uncontrolled logging in the all-important Amazon rain forest, in this case, the very heretofore unexplored center regions, through auctioning off logging rights. Unfortunately for everyone else (and every living thing on the planet) the Amazon just happens to be our most important land-based ecosystem, for one thing, in terms of generating oxygen, as well as regulating those greenhouse gases (especially CO2), as well as the home to innumerable species found nowhere else... and, you get the idea.

What we have is that most dangerous of all animals, the human formerly-leftist-politician who wants to be reelected by garnering "business" support... in this case, the politician being Luis Inacio Lula de Silva, or "Lula" as he is widely known, who ran and won as a hard-left socialist with heavy support from the environmental movement. The rationalizing rationale is that there is a great deal of illegal poaching of Brazil's Amazon and other forests anyway... this will just be an opportunity to regulate it and capture some revenue from it. The problem is that no resources whatsoever are going to be put into regulating it: just paper laws, to be enforced by local peasants without any means whatsoever to do it. [Note to environmentalists with means out there: this is an area where we industrialized First Worlders should make an offer to pay Brazil for the right to protect its forests, by supplying first world enforcement for the right to intervene, in exchange for trading some carbon credits under the Kyoto arrangement... the McCain-Lieberman-Obama bill can include this, for example.]

In short, the central government in Brasilia and some politicians will make some money, while the poachers and clear-cutters in the Amazon get help to move into the heart of the jungle, which heretofore, had at least been logistically off-limits.

I realize that as citizens of one of two nations that refuse to ratify Kyoto (four counting Liechtenstein and Monaco), with our insistence on aggressive war, violating the Geneva Conventions and other international law against torture, detaining children, and so forth, we Americans pretty much have a government that has shot our moral standing on just about anything, including this. But what Lula is going to do in Brazil, unless someone has technical information that Amazon logging has no effect on the ecosystem at all which they don't because it's not true, will put still more stress on the Amazon, possibly almost certainly hastening its failure, which, along with Gulf Stream failure or massive ocean methane release, is one of three catastrophic environmental scenarios which would more or less alter world climate sufficiently to pretty much end civilization this century.

And for what? For one God damned term as Brazil's President? For 5 years of logging revenues? It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for hardwood floors?

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January 13, 2007, Outrageousness

Charles D. "Cully" Stimson of the Pentagon's Detainee Affairs office (he's actually DOD Assistant Deputy Secretary for that function) has called for a boycott of lawyers who have the audacity to represent Guantanamo detainees by corporate America. (Hat tip to Julia.)

Even A.G. Alberto Gonzales and the White House and the Pentagon itself had to rhetorically distance themselves from these remarks, pointing out that yada yada yada we believe in fair trials. Of course, they don't mean it: this statement was the newest trial balloon in their effort to see how the latest form of neo-crypto-racism (going back to generalized A-rab and Muz-lim bashing... they're all terrrrrorrrists...) will play out, as they begin to plan show trials against detainees who have been tortured in CIA ghost prisons.

The attorneys who have represented some of the most unpopular men in the world are fulfilling the highest ethics of the legal profession. You can go over to the sidebar (or to the end of this post) and read the comments of many of them yourself, as our interviews give you a pretty good picture of what they are about. They are defending our Constitution in one of its darkest hours. They are nothing short of heroes. HEROES.

And the mediocre (or worse) ass-kissers, cronies and whores of the Bush Administration hate them for it, as indeed, they hate just about anything honorable and decent in this world. So what else is new?

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January 11, 2007, Promises Shmomises

And now... News from the Escalation

It seems that the Pentagon has overruled the Army on its longstanding policy of not recalling National Guard units that had served in Iraq until they were stateside at least five years... Sorry, guys and gals of the National Guard and Reserves... We know you might prefer to stay here with your families, your homes and your regular jobs... but you'all know that the President's ego and refusal to admit that he has created a hash (and his, or his Saudi clients' insistence on squeezing out the last possible ounce of your blood in service of Saudi oil and oil price hegemony) now dictates that you be called back into action.

It's your patriotic duty. Don't worry: many of us will show you'all our support by buying new magnets that say "Support our troops" (and rooting against those defeatist bastards at the Associated Press.)

So... you have our gratitude.

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January 10, 2007, New and Improved Stay the Course

There's not much to add to the post title when talking about the President's speech this evening. Good blood and treasure after bad, and trusting that nice PM Maliki after his professional handling of the Saddam execution (and cover-up).

This is simply a game to run out the clock. Any possible legitimacy in his pitch (and indeed, any reason not to introduce articles of impeachment) was undermined by his insistence on mentioning September 11th, and fairly early.

The "mission" is about Bush himself, whether that means trying to diss Daddy and Daddy's emissary Jim Baker for trying adult supervision, or whether this is some mad "last throw of the dice"... or, of course, what we all know it is... running out the clock by keeping Iraq a chaotic, insanely violent shithole that won't pump oil competitive with Saudi for years, if not decades (and in any event, to the rest of his term), Bush looked and sounded awful... for those who said he had to pitch a perfect game... let's just say he didn't even pitch anything remotely resembling a good game.

But "pitching" and "a game" are what this all is to this man, despite the unbelievable high stakes and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, with no end in site. And we all know it.

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January 10, 2007, California Uber Alles

We'll let the Dead Kennedy tune referred to in the post heading be our segue to Kennedy in-law and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement that California will, on its own, reduce greenhouse gases emitted from vehicles in the state, by law. While the United States as a whole, the world's largest economy and by far largest emitter of greenhouse gases leading to catastrophic climate change (the three c's, or some variation, will have to become the term of art, as "global warming" has an unfortunate positive connotation that does not befit drought, ecosystem collapse, devastating summer heat, crop failure, increased hurricane and other extreme weather event, and the eventual and certain collapse of civilization) dithers not merely on ratifying Kyoto but on taking any positive (or even non-destructive) action at all... it seems that the world's eighth largest economy, the State of California, is going to take positive action on its own.

Arnold, of course, helped reelect the President with a rousing convention speech and other efforts in 2004 (and he is, of course, a Republican). As such, he will probably spend eternity in hell has much to make amends for... but this initiative, coupled with also taking on universal health care in his state, once and for all, may well go a long way toward making those amends.

The Governator, even after his latest physical mishap, is still kicking ass and taking names, by singlehandedly adopting the agenda that should be the centerpiece of Democratic governance. Let's just say that Democrats are somewhat fortunate that he is Constitutionally (big c) ineligible to run for President in 2008.

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January 9, 2007, The Definition of Insanity

Some time ago, I received an e-mail (or was it so long ago that it was a fax?) suggesting that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Such, of course, is precisely what one gleans from the saga of the President's "big new speech" slated for tomorrow where we will hear his "new and improved Iraq policy". While specifics are undermined by deliberate disinformation from some of the Republican senators that emerged from the White House ("we're not talking about a surge of just 20,000 troops")... that's more or less the discussion, and such a group would be deployed in and around Baghdad, presumably to do battle with the Mahdi Army, whose leader, Moqtada "Baby" Sadr, is a key player in the Iraqi governing coalition in the ersatz government we have set-up in our Green Zone protectorate.

How did Bush react to the ersatz "scepticism" of Republican senators? By demonstrating how much he believes in "the new plan" because Iraqi PM Maliki "is firmly committed" to backing up a "surge" in American troops with Iraqi troops. In short, Noori al-Maliki, one of the few men on Earth whose "trust me" is even more untrustworthy than that George W. Bush himself is telling us... to "trust me". And for this, we are, as a nation, supposed to merrily go along with our President throwing hundreds or thousands of more good lives after bad for his suicidal strategy, for the guy who, just days ago, showed us how well he manages things, by subcontracting the execution of Saddam Hussein to the Mahdi Army!.

The only thing more insane than the Bush "new policy" (i.e., the existing policy, plus thousands more American lives needlessly at risk, along with extending the duration of carnage we are imposing on the Iraqis, of course) would be to believe George W. Bush were constitutionally (small c) capable of anything other than complete and total fuck-ups.

Let's follow his life, at least as we know it: a miserable C-student legacy at Andover and then Yale; couldn't even make the varsity baseball team like his (better endowed... in every way) Dad; after being unable to gain admittance to the University of Texas Law School, getting Dad to get him into Harvard Businss School as "a courtesy"; managing to secure a coveted non-Vietnam place in the Texas Air National Guard, only to mysteriously fail to report for duty right around a time when drug tests were being initiated, only to have Daddy's friends fix the paperwork to avoid what should have been a court-martial and possible imprisonment; a failed "oil bid'ness" venture called Arbusto, which Dad's friends bought out for him at a huge profit; a failed Congressional run, followed by a lengthy period of alcohol and cocaine-fueled vacation; head greeter of a baseball team Dad's friends bought him a piece of, and then bought from him at a humongous profit; Dad's friends managed to get him elected, and reelected, Governor of Texas (in which to be fair, the governor is not even in the top 5 most powerful officials), during which time, education stats were fudged, environmental conditions... suffered, but executions... were solid... indeed, an all-time American record for number-- a veritable death factory, with nary a single pardon or commutation, for any reason; and finally, Daddy's friends and money machine managed to get him elected (the actual voters be damned) President of the United States, where, after inheriting a surplus, he quickly presided over the largest deficits in the history of this or any nation, he has thwarted not just the nation's efforts, but other nation's (and American states' and cities') efforts to combat global warming, presided over miserably inadequate intelligence and security conditions that led to the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, responded to not by capturing the actual perpetrators, but by attacking an unrelated nation, killing hundreds of thousands of its people, thousands of our own, maiming tens of thousands more, and costing hundreds of billions of dollars, undermining the nation's moral standing and threatening the continued viability of our Bill of Rights with arbitrary detentions, kidnappings and torture, and warrantless eavesdropping...

This is the guy who is asking for one more chance in Iraq, even after the voters said, as if as one, ENOUGH... one more chance to squander thousandds more American lives "based on what he has learned."

What he has learned is how to be an unmitigated fuck up at everything he ever touches. One wonders just what will it take before the rest of us learn that?

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January 7, 2007, Of COURSE we need a surge

Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson of New Mexico, a member of the House Intellligence Committee, told a gathering at the National Press Club that she has been advised by military officials that the United States is running what she calls a "catch and release" program for suspected terrorists in Iraq. (It's kind of the flip-side of what happens when you have a policy of capturing and torturing interrogating completely innocent people: even forgetting the illegality, immorality of it and adverse public relations generated by it, you still manage to waste an awful lot of time and energy that could otherwise have gone into capturing and interrogating your supposed targets.) Anyway...

In remarks at the National Press Club, the New Mexico lawmaker said a senior official told her that the U.S. military already has photographs of "fully half of the high-value al Qaeda targets in Iraq" presently being hunted.

"They're wearing orange jumpsuits in the mugshots we took of them when we captured them the first time," Wilson recalled the official telling her.

"We are operating a catch and release program for al Qaeda in Iraq. This is inexcusable and frustrating ... for the young men and women in the military who are in the fight," she added.

Wilson, surprise, surprise, joins the bipartisan consensus against "the surge" or anything resembling escalation of the Iraq adventure... the "surge" is, of course, the insane policy now favored by the White House, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and... come to think of it, that's it.

To the extent that the Iraq campaign has ever really been a component in the "war on terror" (arguably, we have successfully driven Sunni insurgents into their own enclave in Anbar Province, for the most part, where they control little of Iraq's oil, though most of its water)... it has been an unmitigated nightmarish disaster less than fully successful...

Ah, but to the extent the mission in Iraq has been to keep conditions on top stirred up enough so that no one in their right mind would invest in the infrastructure necessary to extract Iraq's humongous oil reserves... let's just say, "mission accomplished." A few more thousand U.S. troops should stretch the current state of things out nicely... say... to January, 2009?

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January 6, 2007, Anything to meet those recruiting goals

That would, in this case, include sending solicitations begging their return to action to over 5,000 Army officers who have already served in Iraq, over 200 of whom were wounded and 75 of whom were killed in action. The Army has duly apologized for its... insensitivity (apparently, an "outdated list" was inadvertently used to send the solicitations).

As long as the President continues to insist on using the military as a human meat grinder to achieve the economic goals of the country club set and the Saudi royal family and in so doing to duly pack the military's leadership with people who are more interested in sucking up to him than to achieving any actual military goals (so that the President can just say "I take my advice from the commanders in the field who are in the best position to kiss my ass know the facts on the ground"), the military, especially the uncool boots-on-the-ground grunt branches like the Army, will continue to suffer... difficulties... in recruiting.

So this sort of thing will happen more frequently. I'm sure at some point we'll all be having a good laugh about it, the way they are in the White House now.

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January 4, 2007, Dem Fem Heads House; Silver Stater Leads Senate

That, of course, would be the first time in the nation's history that a woman has risen to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, in this case, Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who assumes that role as her party finally opened this, the 110th Congress, in the majority. The new Democratic led Senate includes 16 women (and if I'm not mistaken, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is the first Mormon to serve as Senate Majority Leader).

In another first, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison was sworn in as the first Moslem member of Congress, and in a great move, took his oath of office holding a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, besides being widely credited as the founder of what is now the Democratic Party, believed that his three greatest achievements (for purposes of his tombstone, anyway) were, the Declaration of Independence, the founding of the University of Virginia, and Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom (he neglected to mention being President).

It is most satisfying, then, to see Congressman Ellison give that big "in your face" to the Congressman representing that part of Virginia in which resided Jefferson and his University of Virginia, the interestingly named Virgil Goode, who promised to deport the U.S. born Congressman Ellison, first chance he got... lest the swarthy Islamic hordes overrun our shores, or something...

If this is going to be the quality of input from the new Republican minority, maybe it's best if Speaker Pelosi just continue the stifling tactics imposed (over her own objections) by the previous Republican leadership. She won't of course... she's promised to listen to Republican input as the session goes on. But, frankly, the American people did not elect Democrats to majorities in both Houses of Congress so that they would "be nice"... Democrats were elected to get things done, like enact a minimum wage increase, health care reform, tax fairness and deficit control, and get control of a run-amok executive.

If being "nice" gets these things done, great. If it doesn't... screw being nice.

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January 3, 2007, From Russia with Rove

Digby treats us to the latest sickening details of the sickening saga of American citizen, the Brooklyn born Jose Padilla (who, according to an NPR account I heard this morning, told a Miami court he wishes his name pronounced more in accordance with the usual Spanish pronunciation (rhymes with "tortilla") as opposed to how his attorney Andrew Patel told me (rhymes with "Godzilla") in his interview with me here.

Needless to say, after asserting the right (a right it still insist it has, and indeed, under which it still holds legal resident Saleh Al-Marri) to just ignore the Constitution on the say-so of the President ("he's an enemy combatant-- and not an Anglo-Caucasian Protestant-- so lock 'im up without due process and throw away that thar' key"), it appears that the government, beyond merely holding Padilla in indefinite extra-legal limbo, engaged in what amounts to methods used in egregious Soviet style torture (isolating and disorienting Padilla for years, forcing him to stand in stress positions, sleep deprivation, etc.) to the point where psychiatric experts say that he is unfit to stand trial.

Now that Mr. Padilla's mind appears to have been damaged, if not destroyed, of course, by the government's own actions, the government says it can now see clear to incarcerate him in a psychiatric prison-- exactly the way they would in... the Soviet Union! Thus far, not a single charge has been proven, and the original bases to hold Padilla (the "dirty bomb" plot, and later the apartment bombing plot) have fallen apart, leaving only a very vague conspiracy theory that the trial judge assigned has grave doubts about.

And thus, without ever having to prove a thing, the government has taken it upon itself to have the power to incarcerate and torture a citizen (claiming it can do so because it won't use any "evidence" obtained through the torture against Mr. Padilla!) and nthen, having driven him to madness, claim the right to continue incarcerating him, again without trial.

Mr. Padilla is a citizen of this country. Even if he is guilty of everything he is accused of (and throughout the war on terror, when the government has been required to prove its accusations in court once and for all for those for whom it claimed it could evade due process, it has folded every single time, without exception) our Constitution is supposed to prevent this sort of thing. That's, you know, what's supposed to make us "better than the terrorists."

And yet... because Padilla is a Latino ex-gang-banger who converted to Islam... the outrage isn't there. Just galling... not to mention maddening.

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January 3, 2007, Yesterday's news... TODAY

In this case, the WaPo gives us this account of FBI reports on detainee abuse at Gitmo, including abuse of the Koran, wrapping detainees in the Israeli flag, the cold rooms, the short-shacklings to the floor... in one case, wrapping a detainee's head in duct tape after he kept reciting the another, a mock Baptism of the Moslem detainee by a mock Catholic priest...

All in all... the usual. Nothing you all don't know already, if you believe some of our interview subjects... you know... the people who were there.

Of course... why would you do that?

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January 1, 2007, Business as usual: New Year's Day edition

One of the most disconcerting trends in journalism, a trend so troubling that it threatens the continued viability of our republic (and certainly any pretensions it has to being a democratic republic) is the reprinting of Karl Rove's faxed press releases on the front page of the New York Times, and the presentation to us as if this were actually "news". A classic case appears today, and bears the Orwellian title "Rush to Hang Saddam Hussein was Questioned". Well, that's certainly true: I questioned it. Hell, go down our sidebar, and you'll find that most of Left Blogistan (and a good deal of Center Blogistan and some part of Right Blogistan) questioned it... even some of the most (otherwise) bloodthirsty commenters questioned whether it would not have been better, for example, to at least conclude the current genocide trial now proceeding before executing Hussein, just to make him face up to the full scope of his crimes while he was still alive. So yeah... there was questioning of the rush to hangin'...

But the Times piece pretends that it was "American officials" that were seriously questioning it... that somehow that all powerful Iraqi PM Maliki overruled cooler, wiser American heads concerned about executing Saddam on Eid-al-Adha, concerned about perception among Sunni Iraqis, concerned with not completing the current trial and so forth.


Bullshit's not hard to call on this one: Saddam was in American custody until immediately before the hanging (and that hanging took place in the American protected Green Zone.) The United States government was at all times in a position to order its military to simply refuse to hand over Saddam until "its concerns" were addressed. Period. The last word. Hence, even if one is willing to suspend disbelief and pretend that the timing of the execution (along with the timing of the trial, including the announced verdict and sentence immediately before the mid-term elections) were calculated by someone other than Karl Rove for whatever political purposes he deemed appropriate, we could still have pulled rank on Maliki (and not vice versa) and refused to hand him over pending any condition we set; as our ward and protectee, Maliki is hardly in a position to challenge us on that... surely, the Mahdi Army is not yet ready for prime time if that involves taking on the entire United States military. (Indeed, the early part of the article discusses Saddam's body being carried to Tikrit on an American military helicopter... but then we're told to believe that this was all the Iraqis' doing!)

The Grey Lady/Karl Rove then expects us to believe tripe like the following was orchestrated by anyone other than Karl Rove, and that if there was a "conflict", it was between locally based Americans and their Iraqi counterparts as opposed to between they and their 1600-based overlords:

American officials in Iraq have been reluctant to say much publicly about the pell-mell nature of the hanging, apparently fearful of provoking recriminations in Washington, where the Bush administration adopted a hands-off posture, saying the timing of the execution was Iraq’s to decide.

While privately incensed at the dead-of-night rush to the gallows, the Americans here have been caught in the double bind that has ensnared them over much else about the Maliki government — frustrated at what they call the government’s failure to recognize its destructive behavior, but reluctant to speak out, or sometimes to act, for fear of undermining Mr. Maliki and worsening the situation.

But a narrative assembled from accounts by various American officials, and by Iraqis present at some of the crucial meetings between the two sides, shows that it was the Americans who counseled caution in the way the Iraqis carried out the hanging. The issues uppermost in the Americans’ minds, these officials said, were a provision in Iraq’s new Constitution that required the three-man presidency council to approve hangings, and a stipulation in a longstanding Iraqi law that no executions can be carried out during the Id al-Adha holiday, which began for Iraqi Sunnis on Saturday and Shiites on Sunday.

I suppose someone will still believe this; polls show that there are still people who support Bush's handling of Iraq and job performance... they won't be deterred merely by the facts or by reality...

But regular readers here do know better. They know what's coming: the increased violence which will be sold as a reason for "the surge" because of the misguided call by Maliki and the Iraqis over our sounder objections to execute Saddam now.

Just unbelievable. The Times, which the right-wing has not hesitated to call traitorous when the Times does its job and objectively reports things (like the various warrantless search programs, or key aspects of the detentions policy and other things the Government would not tell us on its own), alas, the Times nonetheless falls back to its irritating doctrinal laziness and uncritically accepts the tripe faxed to it from the White House and RNC.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate... you're not getting a seat at the tough guys' table. You're just not. So please give up that fantasy and do your damned jobs.

Update: Iraqi blogger Riverbend (via A Brooklyn Bridge) calls this American-staged grim theater "a lynching", and disabuses us of a good deal of shoddy reporting from other sources.

[Congratulations are in order to the Bush Administration for its overall handling of this. It takes special skill to turn the execution of one of the most brutal tyrants of our time into an occasion for allowing pretensions of his martyrdom.]

Further Update: This from Pakistan's Dawn suggests that the helicopter transport of Saddam Hussein's body was personally approved by President George W. Bush.

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