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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Weekend Madman

Monday, March 12, 2007

 

Under GOP Pressure

 

Dont'cha just love it when our elected representatives decide that shutting up and not cooperating with a federal investigation is in their best interests? Well that's exactly REPUBLICAN Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico has decided to do. Too bad that he didn't do it before admitting to pressuring the US Department of Justice to fire its state's top federal prosecutor.

It seems that Domenici, along with another lawmaker, Rep. Heather Wilson, also a New Mexico REPUBLICAN, wanted the prosecutor, David C. Iglesias, to do their bidding and file charges against a former state official, who just by coincidence just happens to be a DEMOCRAT, before the elections of 2006 to poison sentiment against all New Mexico Democrats before their vote was cast.

Wilson, in the form that GOP lawmakers have been perfecting since losing their own stated moral high ground, has also declined comment.

“I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way,”
-Domenici

With all of his complaining done by Domenici to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Iglesias' boss, one has to wonder.

The DoJ says they fired Iglesias based on his job performance. For his part, Iglesias says he was fired due to his failure to not put politics ahead of the law. He will appear in front of Congress to testify, along with four other fired federal prosecutors, tomorrow (Tuesday).

Domenici has apologized for his appearing to pressure Iglesias stating that he wasn't attempting to "intimidate" the federal prosecutor.

Why... that would be illegal... wouldn't it?

“I still feel loyalty to the Republican Party, but I feel a greater sense of loyalty to the truth,”
-Iglesias, a Hispanic Republican who was doing his best to be a good prosecutor before being a good Republican

One has to wonder how many calls Domenici and Wilson had made to federal prosecutor Fitzgerald regarding the Valerie Plame affair to get that ball rolling. I'm thinking zero.

New Mexico Republicans have been salivating over possible prosecutions of state Democrats since 2004. With many Republican voters crossing party lines to elect a Hispanic Democrat, Bill Richardson, to the State House, they have been trying to get Igelsias to move ahead with anything that would damage Dems faster than possible, regardless of whether he was ready or not.

I wonder if Texas Republicans pressured Travis County's (Austin, Texas) District Attorney Ronnie Earle to move ahead full steam on his prosecution of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (REPUBLICAN-TX)? somehow I doubt that, too.

“I asked him, ‘Do you understand that everyone in this community is talking about why there hasn’t been any follow-up?’"
-GOP lawyer Pat Rogers, who has represented (and maybe still is) Heather Wilson

Sounds like Mr. Rogers has left his neighborhood to influence a federal prosecutor, doesn't it? One would think that an attorney would know the law.

“I heard some general grumblings. There was always a certain level of white noise, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I tried to stay out of circumstances where I might have felt direct political pressure.”
-Iglesias

Maybe Iglesias should think about changing parties.

-Noah Greenberg



Spy-Guys

In his recent New Yorker piece on the Bush Administration's "redirection" in the Middle East, Sy Hersh recalled the Iran-contra scandal as he reported on clandestine activities being conducted by the Department of Defense deliberately outside of the purview of the congressional intelligence committees:

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. [Elliott] Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.
. . .
“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”

The issue of oversight is beginning to get more attention from Congress. Last November, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for Congress on what it depicted as the Administration’s blurring of the line between C.I.A. activities and strictly military ones, which do not have the same reporting requirements.

So here's my question: if an administration can avoid the congressional oversight mechanism put in place after the CIA abuses of the 1970s by shifting the covert activity to the Pentagon, cutting out the CIA, and running the operations out of the Office of the Vice President, is serious legislation pending to close this loophole?

I don't mean to concede the argument that in fact the intelligence oversight mechanism cannot legally be circumvented so easily. But set that aside. If there's a purported loophole that top level Bush Administration officials believe is big enough to run a black-bag squad through, is Congress taking steps to close that loophole?

-Submitted by Victoria Brownworth with thanks to David Kurtz



BAD WEEK FOR THE BUSH TEAM
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Thus far March has been the cruelest month for President Bush and his agenda. The war on Iraq is going very badly, it was revealed that wounded soldiers are being forced to live in squalid and life-threatening conditions in the nation’s top military medical facility, FBI abuses of the Patriot Act were revealed and the Vice President’s top aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was found guilty of a series of felonies by a federal jury which could mean up to 30 years in prison.

As the U.S. prepares to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on March 20th, the news from Iraq--the country that the President and Vice President both asserted would welcome the U.S. invasion with “open arms and flowers”–is more grim than ever. Last month, Bush announced his new plan for “winning” the war that now even Pentagon officials, the commanding general in Iraq and a host of politicians on both sides say is unwinnable. The President’s “new”plan was to send in more troops and “secure” Baghdad–a job Bush claimed had been achieved in May 2003, when he gave his now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech.

In February 2007, the so-called troop surge (or escalation of the war, depending on how one wants to parse the language of a losing battle) began. Redeployment of troops that have already seen far more of their share of Iraq than they should have done, were martialed for yet another round of duty.

Critics of the President–and there are many, his approval rating is now the lowest of any sitting president since polls began–note that the number of troops deployed in the original invasion in March 2003 was woefully inadequate, but that four years into the war, it is simply too late to rally new forces for a different outcome.

Some Democrats as well as voters are demanding that Congress withdraw all new funding for the war and rescind the President’s power to send more troops due to the fact that the reasons for the war were, from the outset, false.

This is where Scooter Libby comes in. Libby, who even the jury that convicted him viewed as the fall guy for the Bush Administration, was accused of being the person who leaked the name of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to reporters.

Plame’s husband, former Ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, had revealed in an Op-Ed piece that President Bush’s assertion that Saddam Hussein had bought nuclear materials from Niger was false. The Bush Administration set out to discredit Wilson, and used his wife as a means to do so. Libby was engaged in that process.

Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. He’s the highest level official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran Contra scandal during the Reagan-Bush Administration 20 years ago. He faces up to 30 years in prison, but is expected to be pardoned by the President, despite demands from Democrats that he serve his prison sentence.

Libby was not convicted of outing Plame. Those who testified at Libby’s trial did not accuse him of having given the information. It is roundly considered to have been Vice President Cheney who actually revealed that information, although others assert it was President Bush’s closest aide, Karl Rove, who was responsible.

Regardless of who actually outed of Plame, the basic facts of the case remain: False information was deliberately promulgated by the Bush Administration to build a case for war on Iraq. There was never a sale of nuclear materials to Saddam Hussein by Niger. It never happened. What’s more, when the President asserted that such a sale had been made, the information from Wilson was already on the books.

The costs of the war--a war waged on lies--have been staggering. Not only has the U.S. lost all credibility with even its closest allies in the world because of the ill-fated invasion, but thus far the war has cost–at $500 billion–more than Vietnam cost (accounting for inflation) over the full 16 years the U.S. was involved in that conflict.

While the death toll has been incredibly low for American soldiers given the length of the war–at press time 3,326 soldiers had been killed–the number of injuries is extreme. Due to improved field medicine, soldiers who would have died in previous wars are now being saved. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of those soldiers suffer from what physicians are calling “polytrauma”–compounded injuries that are severely disabling, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and amputations, or blindness and third- and fourth-degree burns and so forth.

The number and severity of veteran’s injuries has apparently reached a level of critical mass: The Pentagon has not released the numbers of injured soldiers since October 2005, when the war on Iraq began to escalate into outright civil war. Since that time the Pentagon has released only monthly injury “averages” based on previous months of the war.

There is far more to say about the injured in this war, but one casualty that is almost never mentioned is the damage to America’s national security because of the number of soldiers permanently taken out of service by the war on Iraq and because fewer men and women are enlisting because the war on Iraq has seemed, in the words of Republican presidential contender and Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain (R-AR), a “waste of lives.”

Since the war began, the U.S. military has deployed close to one million troops to Iraq and Afghanistan (commonly referred to as “the forgotten war”). There are currently 150,000 troops in Iraq, with an average of 10,000 more being sent each month to build up the surge which is scheduled to be complete by August.

In the past four years, more than 35,000 troops have been withdrawn from action–3,300 have been killed and over 30,000 have been injured severely enough to be permanently removed from duty. According to the Pentagon, 400,000 troops have served two or more tours of duty. With the troop surge, the Pentagon announced that previous tours of duty would simply be discounted with regard to redeployment, because there are not enough soldiers to sustain this war otherwise.

Army recruitment has been consistently low: in 2006, it was almost 15 percent below its annual recruitment goal, despite the revelation that the military is using inappropriate tactics to recruit new soldiers and that the military overall has changed age requirements and is also allowing former felons and drug addicts into the military, when they were previously banned. In addition to the military being below its recruiting levels, the Army Reserve is a full 20 percent behind its goals and the National Guard is nearly 25 percent short. More reservists and National Guard have fought in the war on Iraq than in any previous war; they currently comprise nearly 40 percent of the U.S. forces in Iraq.

What happens if the U.S. is actually attacked by an outside force?

At present there are not enough available troops to protect another front, according to the Pentagon, even were it to be here, in the U.S. Due to the ongoing discourse on the war and the problems that have been generated by its worldwide unpopularity, enemies of the U.S. are fully aware of our lack of preparedness.

Because of these circumstances, re-institution of the draft is essential, but middle-class Americans baulk at the idea of their children being sent to fight. Currently, the overwhelming majority of U.S. military forces are comprised of the poor and working poor. Many Democrats in Congress believe that re-instating the draft would end the war on Iraq immediately.

Amidst these concerns, the Libby trial revived many issues regarding how the war started. While Americans were generally disinterested in the trial, the outcome was shocking to many, including, given their statements on the matter, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom asserted that they were “saddened” by the verdict.

Not saddened by Libby’s involvement in felonious activities, which even the jury foreman acknowledged that the entire jury believed were facilitated at the very least by the President’s top aide, Karl Rove, or more likely by Cheney.

Bush noted, "This was a lengthy trial on a serious matter, and a jury of his peers convicted him. And we've got to respect that conviction. On a personal note, I was sad. I was sad for a man who had worked in my administration, and particularly sad for his family."

The President declined further comment.

On March 8th, the day after the Libby verdict, more bad news was announced regarding Iraq. General David Petraeus, Bush’s new hand-picked leader of the war on Iraq and commander of U.S. forces there, told reporters that “military force alone is not sufficient” to end the war in Iraq. Petraeus acknowledged that diplomacy would have to become a major part of any solution to the war. Petraeus stunned many by insisting that any political talks would have to include militia groups like the Madi army and others who currently oppose the government the U.S. put in place in Iraq.

In his first news conference since taking charge in February, Petraeus claimed that it would be political negotiations, not military intervention, which would "determine in the long run the success of this effort." Since Petraeus took control in February, 17,500 troops have been deployed to Baghdad, according to Pentagon sources. But in his news conference, Petraeus said "it was very likely" that even more troops would be commandeered beyond the capital where insurgents are fighting, including the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. According to Petraeus, Diyala is the new front for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

With the war going so badly, Libby convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and even the conservative-slanted media training its spotlight on the egregious level of mismanagement and corruption in the Bush Administration, the announcement by FBI Director Robert Mueller on March 9th that the FBI has used the Patriot Act to secretly and illegally obtain personal information about people in the U.S. was another unwelcome revelation.

A Justice Department audit revealed the information about the Patriot Act and Mueller immediately took responsibility. According to the Justice Department, the FBI consistently under-reported the number of times it required businesses to turn over their personal files over the past three years. “We believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities,” the audit stipulated.

Security letters, also known as administrative subpoenas, are used in suspected terrorism and spying cases. These subpoenas allow the FBI to require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to hand over any personal records they have on file about their customers or subscribers. The Patriot Act makes it possible to do this without a judge’s approval.

All Mueller had to say about the spying was that he took full responsibility and that he would put safeguards into place in the future. Unsurprisingly, Mueller said that he would not resign.

Where will it all end? The Bush Administration, arguably the most corrupt ever and certainly the most mismanaged in over a century, seems incapable of honesty or forthrightness. Libby may have been held accountable for his actions, but Mueller won’t be held accountable for what he claims is mere incompetence on his part, but which could actually be far more sinister. In either event, should Mueller remain in charge of such sensitive materials and so much power over them?

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates forced several resignations this week after the horrifying conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center were uncovered. But there is every indication that there were people in command within the Bush Administration who were fully aware of these conditions for the past few years and did nothing to improve them.

And what of the many Iraq war veterans being forced to pay to replace their uniforms bloodied or burned when they were injured? Or others forced to live in their cars because they could not receive benefits after their release from hospital–permanently disabled?

War is always representative of failure, but the war on Iraq has disgraced the U.S. here and abroad. The tolls on our nation seem at present to be unrecoverable. All Americans can hope for now, is that someone will set to rights the damage done by Bush and the Republicans and their wanton disregard for our privacy, our soldiers, our military and our reputation.

It’s a tall order and perhaps undoable. But someone in Washington must try. The Republicans have no intention of doing so. That leaves the Democrats. Let’s hope that among them they can find the spine to ignore catcalls from the right that they are “unpatriotic” and start realizing that there is nothing more unpatriotic than waging illegal war, invading the privacy of solid citizens and ignoring the plight of badly wounded soldiers.

Our nation is at a crossroads, brought there by Bush and his cadre. America itself has become the quagmire. The only question now, is how do we wrest ourselves from its clutches?


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-Noah Greenberg