Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Ashcroft: I Am The Law!

This is sort of old news, but I'm trying to get caught up here. So let me get this straight: The justice department evaluates the powers of the executive branch under the circumstances of the "War on Terror", and determines (what good luck for them) that the powers of the executive are unlimited and unrestricted by any law or convention. They can do whatever they damned well please, hurrah! They write a number of memos outlining this fact and documenting other useful bits of knowledge, including penning a definition of torture that would have exempted most of the Nazi doctors who experimented on concentration camp victims. These are then sent to the President, and, lo and behold, some number of months later egregious prisoner abuses are uncovered. Apparently there is still at least one person in the government in possession of a conscience (or more likely, an axe to grind), and the memos are leaked to the press. In view of events these memos appear to be fairly significant and worthy of some scrutiny, so the Senate decides they ought to take a look and request that they be given copies. Ashcroft declines, and rather than citing executive privilege or any legal basis for this denial, claims some sort of lawyer-client privilege between the president and the entire Justice Department. The Senate Judiciary Committee is apparently too dumbfounded by the absurdity of this claim to take any immediate action. Surely the public ridicule will convince Ashcroft to concede. But wait! Mere weeks later, in considering Vice President Cheney's refusal to turn over documents relating to the energy committee, the US Supreme Court vindicates Ashcroft by stating that rather than have awkward moments in which the various branches of the government have to check one another's power, we should just delegate to the executive whatever power they want so that we can avoid conflict. Long live the King! Am I pretty much on track here?

This is getting beyond absurd. In the immortal words of Barf from Spaceballs, "They've gone to plaid!" Are we generating some outrage yet? At what point do we get to the rioting in the streets? This is where we need a Democratic presidential candidate who can do outrage, and who can raise hell and make some waves. If this isn't a moment to point out just how dangerously far off the track we've gone, what is? And where's our candidate? Making minor campaign stops and lulling crowds to sleep all across the country, staying mostly out of the spotlight under the theory that the less the public sees him, the better he'll do. Thank god for Michael Moore. At least there's one person with the good sense to be royally pissed off by all this.

The Fate of the Middle Class

While I was traveling overseas I had little access to current news and events. I did, however, find a cache of magazines that had been left in the apartment in France when my aunt was last there in January. There were some interesting and relevant articles in them, particularly in the Jan/Feb issue of the Atlantic Monthly. One of them, Are We Still a Middle Class Nation by Michael Lind, is a frank and wide-ranging discussion of the history and current challenges of America's middle class (which as you may know, is a favorite pet topic of mine).

Lind tracks the middle class across three distinct phases: the early land-owning farmers, industrial workers, and the modern professionals. He notes the critical role of government policies in fostering each group. Lind moves on to cover the current challenges faced by the middle class. While he mentions the role of globalization in reducing the bargaining power of middle class workers, he places most of the focus on automation and mechanization. Lind cites economist William J. Baumol who theorized that a disparity between the rate of productivity growth in mechanized sectors and the growth rate in human service jobs will increase the relative cost of labor-intensive services. The problem emerges here, Lind asserts, that while productivity surges in the mechanized sectors, employment drops and the labor market becomes flooded in those sectors, so the large gains in profit created by the increased productivity are reaped by the small class of owners and managers. Labor then is pushed into sectors where long term productivity gains are relatively small, and will suffer as a result.

I'm not entirely sure that I buy this position. I agree with Baumol's thesis regarding the effect of varying rates of productivity between automated and non-automated sectors, and I concus with Lind that a relatively small number of people will benefit from the increased profits generated by the automation. However, if wages generally fall while automation makes many sectors more productive, wouldn't much of the benefit of the automation have to be realized through lower prices of goods and services in order to be able to sell them to our now lower paid middle class? It may become a sort of deflationary cycle where prices drop, but lag behind falling income... I don't really know, this is reaching beyond my meager knowledge of economics, but it seems like a more complicated and dynamic situation than what Lind depicts.

In any case, Lind finds solid numbers to back up his theory that the middle class is losing ground, regardless of what is ultimately the cause. Lind also finds that public policy, which once aided the middle class, now appears to be favoring the upper class at the expense of the middle class. Lind considers the options for restoring the balance of wealth and income and discusses frankly the need for a system of redistribution. He discusses the obvious option of increasing taxes on the wealthy and using the revenue to subsize the rising costs of education, child care, and health care for the middle class. But Lind worries about the potential for increased tax evasion or emmigration by the wealthy.

Instead Lind suggests "universal capitalism". While much more modest in its approach, this "universal capitalism" sounds strikingly like Marxism, in that the basic ideal is to the restore the balance of income between the capitalists and labor by making the labor the owners of the capital. It also sounds strikingly like some of the market-based personal retirement accounts championed by many conservatives as a replacement for the social security program. Lind proposes that child trust funds, invested in the stock market, be established by the government for all children. People would be able to save or spend the money in these accounts without restrictions. These accounts would be funded by tax revenues, but only in small amounts, as Lind puts it, "planting seeds capable of growing along with the economy over time". He suggests a system where the government matches contributions of low income workers to the account.

I have a hard time buying into this idea. The basic idea is sound: If increasing automation results in most of the benefits being delivered to the ownership class, then the public can best benefit by making everyone a part of the ownership class. However, I am not sure this would play out as intended, particularly as Lind proposes it. For example, it would obviously not work if there are no access restrictions on this account, and the government is willing to match contributions (I would assume only up to some limit) into the account. A single dollar could quickly be multiplied (by repeatedly depositing to and withdrawing from the account) into the government matching limit. Clearly there will need to be limits on access to the account. And given our obvious problems with intelligently handling credit, debt, and savings, I'm not sure how successful a program dependent on individuals (particularly individuals who are already strapped for cash) contributing to a saving account can be. Perhaps there are behavioral remedies...

Overall, I was not thrilled with the article, but it did introduce some new ideas to chew on. Baumol's theories on the impact of automation may be worth further investigation. Additionally, Lind mentions that Britain has recently introduced a system of child funds somewhat in line with the universal capitalism concept. I would be curious to learn more about how exactly that works.

Re: Fahrenheit 911

We also caught the film this past weekend. We went on Sunday night, and even then every showing was selling out an hour beforehand. I take that as a good sign.

I thought the film was fairly well done, and was certainly Moore's best effort to date. Bowling For Columbine was a fun film, but I've read much of the criticism of it, and I feel that it was less intellectually honest that I'd like. I've also seen the criticism for F:911, and found it to be relatively toothless (additionally I was familiar with most of the content presented in the film and didn't feel that Moore misrepresented it). F:911, despite occasional cheap shots felt like a more mature film, both in its content and its editing. The humor was used effectively, the emotional content powerful and memorable. I don't know where Moore digs up some of the clips he uses, but I'd love to see what got left on the editing room floor. He gets his hands on some amazing material.

The scenes of the invasion of Iraq (the Fire Water Burn sequence) will definitely be the most polarizing part of the film. I can see a lot of people being very off put by the way he portrays the US military there. I'm not sure it was really necessary, and having done it, I'm not sure he used it as well as he could have. He sort of left it hanging there as a general indictment of the US military. I don't think the US military is any worse in that regard than any other military. But the point is that shit happens when you give a bunch of 18 year olds the most advanced weapons in the world and send them off to another country to kill people. Warfare is not now, and never will be, clean and surgical. It's brutal and ugly and a lot of innocent people get hurt. And we should never allow our leaders to convince us otherwise. This part of the film should have been clearly designated as a counterpoint to the sanitized war porn and rah rah embedded reporter segments that ran 24x7 on the news during the war. In any case, the footage was devastating and was some of the most memorable of the film.

Also, I wasn't thrilled with the sections about the election and the Saudi connection, as I felt he was wasting time there. Both of those have already been hashed out in public quite a bit, and both come off as conspiracy and can be written off by detractors as circumstantial. They also give the film a scattershot feel as he jumps through so many topics. I think he could have made a tighter and more powerful film if he stuck to Iraq. Spend more time on what the administration said about the WMD's before the war, and the reality we found after, more about what they said about the Al Qaeda connection, and what we found after, more about what they said about how the aftermath would unfold, and the reality we found after. Point out how aggressively the administration silenced all of the people in the legislature, the military, the state department, and the intelligence agencies who were trying to blow the whistle on the administration's claims before the war, and how those critics were proven right and the administration proven wrong. There was a lot of material out there that he never touched that could have been far more damning than the election and the Saudi stuff were.

But then, you have to take the good with the bad with Moore. Crafting cogent and cohesive arguments that would hold up in intellectual debate has never been his gig. In fact, it is precisely his pudgy, working-class, unintellectual, average Joe demeanor that allows him to appeal to the vast audience that doesn't want to read the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal or watch c-span. He is able to serve up politics to an audience that tunes out high-brow political discussion. It's an audience that conservatives have learned to communicate effectively with, but that is underserved by liberals. Hopefully this film, fueled by its attendant controversy and press coverage, will make some inroads there. In all, it was enjoyable to sit there and finally see someone punch back. I'm glad Moore made the film, and I'm glad I went to see it. I guess now we'll just have to wait and see if anything comes of it.

Monday, June 28, 2004

More Politics Less Science

As a follow-up to a post I made a few days ago, I note that this edition of the New Republic has a fantastic article on the de-intellectualization of the Executive.

Let Them Eat Yellowcake

This story just does not want to die. Financial Times now reports that the forged documents (that form the background for the Valerie Plame affair [Wikipedia]) "appear to have been part of a 'scam', and the actual intelligence showing discussion of uranium supply has been ignored." FT claims:

Human intelligence gathered in Italy and Africa more than three years before the Iraq war had shown Niger officials referring to possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.

Hmm.

Make what you will of that story, things get far more interesting when you read Josh Marshall's account of things over at Talking Points Memo. I have found Marshall's analysis very insightful and accurate, and he suggests in no uncertain terms that FT's story is wrong and is designed to muddy the waters when the real story comes out. As a hint of what is to come, the FT story suggests that the forger (who "has a record of extortion and deception and had been convicted by a Rome court in 1985 and later arrested at least twice") plans to reveal "selected aspects of his story to a US television channel."

And rumor has it that Patrick Fitzgerald (U.S. attorney in Chicago) may announce indictments in the Valerie Plame affair sometime this summer.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Fahrenheit 911

My wife and I saw Moore's film yesterday and wanted to share a few thoughts. Overall, I enjoyed the movie--although I found that Bowling for Columbine gave me more to think about. Some of the themes that Moore raises are old hat--the circumstances of the 2000 Presidential election, the Saudi connection to the Bush family, and the Patriot Act getting ramrodded through Congress. The one meme I liked the best: the men and women who serve in our military do not come from all walks of life but tend to come from poor neighborhoods and there is something fundamentally unfair about that. The most touching scene in the movie is an interview with a mom whose son was killed in Iraq.

Of course Moore's film is a propaganda piece, but I think it is a side of propaganda many people have not encountered before. That is, the mainstream media tends to give credence and time to the righty wackos but lefty wackos are rarely (if ever) seen or heard.

The only part of the film that I found inaccurate involved the flights of Saudi nationals after 9/11. Moore left the distinct impression that the Bin Laden family hopped a plane when everyone else (including Ricky Martin) was grounded. Moore also suggested that the FBI did not bother to interrogate the Saudi nationals or even run their names through the terrorist database.

This is what the 9/11 Commission concluded, in its Staff Statement No. 10 [PDF], presented at the public hearings on April 13, 2004:

The Saudi Flights
National air space was closed on September 11. Fearing reprisals against Saudi nationals, the Saudi government asked for help in getting some of its citizens out of the country. We have not yet identified who they contacted for help. But we have found that the request came to the attention of Richard Clarke and that each of the flights we have studied was investigated by the FBI and dealt with in a professional manner prior to its departure.

No commercial planes, including chartered flights, were permitted to fly into, out of, or within the United States until September 13, 2001. After the airspace reopened, six chartered flights with 142 people, mostly Saudi Arabian nationals, departed from the United States between September 14 and 24. One flight, the so-called Bin Ladin flight, departed the United States on September 20 with 26 passengers, most of them relatives of Usama Bin Ladin. We have found no credible evidence that any chartered flights of Saudi Arabian nationals departed the United States before the reopening of national airspace.

The Saudi flights were screened by law enforcement officials, primarily the FBI, to ensure that people on these flights did not pose a threat to national security, and that nobody of interest to the FBI with regard to the 9/11 investigation was allowed to leave the country. Thirty of the 142 people on these flights were interviewed by the FBI, including 22 of the 26 people (23 passengers and 3 private security guards) on the Bin Ladin flight. Many were asked detailed questions. None of the passengers stated that they had any recent contact with Usama Bin Ladin or knew anything about terrorist activity.

The FBI checked a variety of databases for information on the Bin Ladin flight passengers and searched the aircraft. It is unclear whether the TIPOFF terrorist watchlist was checked. At our request, the Terrorist Screening Center has rechecked the names of individuals on the flight manifests of these six Saudi flights against the current TIPOFF watchlist. There are no matches.

The FBI has concluded that nobody was allowed to depart on these six flights who the FBI wanted to interview in connection with the 9/11 attacks, or who the FBI later concluded had any involvement in those attacks. To date, we have uncovered no evidence to contradict this conclusion.


Newsweek's Michael Isikoff raised that and other challenges to Fahrenheit 911, to which
Moore responded here (inadequately, in my opinion).

Mustard Gas Attack in Baghdad?

WorldNetDaily--a, well, less-than-reputable news source--reports (if that is an accurate description of what they do) that insurgents/terrorists launched an attack inside the Green Zone using mustard gas, although no information exists about casualties.

"I think it's safe to say our little friends know where the cache is now," said one source sardonically.

Odd that no one else is reporting the "attack." However, on June 24, FoxNews exclusively interviewed Charles Duelfer, current head of the Iraq Survey Group [Wikipedia]. I haven't been able to find a transcript of the interview, but a summary news piece can be found here. Apparently, Duelfer told FoxNews that about 10 or 12 mustard gas shells have been found, all from the pre-Gulf War era (although no one else claims they were used in an attack in the Green Zone).

Yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld had this to say at a DOD briefing:

The so-called Iraqi Survey Group, which is a multi-national group, are pouring over documentation and interviewing former Iraqi scientists. The first head of that group, Mr. David Kay, concluded, as has his successor, Mr. Delfer [sic], that in fact Iraq had filed a fraudulent declaration to the United Nations. The process of uncovering chemical or biological or nuclear program materials is continuing and within the last week a number of weapons containing various types of chemicals have in fact been found and are currently being tested. The last piece that I saw suggested it was mustard gas. And although it's a first report, it appeared to be old and something that had not been declared as the declaration to the United Nations required. Time will tell what else might be found.

I find it puzzling that the mainstream press has not reported anything about these events. At the same time, a dozen old weapons that were made before the first Gulf War do not demonstrate anything--so I am not sure how much there is to report. But I imagine this will make the headlines this week, and I am interested to see how it gets covered.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Biggies

Slate has this coverage of the upcoming Supreme Court decisions. Rumor has it that the big decisions on the detainee cases will be announced on Monday--end of the week the latest.

Science and Politics

The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency.

(Ryan, I hope you are still tuning in to this page every once and awhile.)

That quote is straight from this LAT article. I don't have much commentary to add. What is there to add? Scientists must be vetted before representing the United States in front of the World Health Organization. That is just down right creepy if you ask me. And Linda Rosenstock agrees:

"This is really tampering with a process that has worked very well," said Linda Rosenstock, the dean of the UCLA School of Public Health who directed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health under President Clinton. "To have this micromanaged at the HHS departmental level raises the specter that political considerations rather than scientific considerations will determine who is allowed to go" to the world's most important scientific meetings.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Re: Jack!

Topinka wants to be governor--plus she's the state GOP chairwoman trying to rebuild a party still trying to recover from the scandals of George Ryan and friends and the split over the death penalty. Plus, because the race will be tough for anyone, I currently think all the top-tier GOPers will stay out. If one were to enter, it would be either Jim Thompson or Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. The name I've heard most is Ron Gidwitz.

Lesson: Don't Take Your Wife to Sex Clubs Against Her Will (Take Your Mistress Instead!)

AP reports that Jack Ryan is dropping out. Whoever steps in his place will certainly have an uphill battle against Barrak Obama. Any guesses? DailyKOS has this discussion.

My shot in the dark: Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka.

Re: New CIA Director

I am entirely unfamiliar with Goss but it seems that the Bush administration is forced to nominate a relatively safe replacement for Tenet, and Goss appears to fit the bill. If there is a terrorist attack before the election, and the position remains open, the public might blame the Bush administration for failing to appoint a captain to run the ship.

On the other hand (as Dave observed in our off-line discussion on the topic), the Bush administration could name a controversial replacement and blame Congress if America is attacked. But that is certainly a risky strategy and President Bush isn't in the position to take gambles right now.

Re: New CIA Director

MSNBC is reporting that Porter Goss may be nominated for the post imminently. Score one for Veritas. Mr. Goss is currently a congressman representing Florida's 14th District, based in the southern half of the Gulf coast. The largest city is Fort Myers. The district is heavily Republican, so Bush is not stepping on Hastert's toes by giving him a difficult open seat to defend. Goss is both a CIA veteran and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee since 1997. From Goss's Almanac of American Politics Profile:

Some have been critical of having a CIA veteran head the committee and have charged that Goss is too easy on the agency. "I've got to be harsher than the next guy because I was in the business," is one of Goss's replies. "I think I'm a pretty good watchdog, because I know what to look for." As chairman he led efforts to increase intelligence spending in the October 1998 omnibus budget bill. He wanted more spending to enable intelligence agencies to recapitalize technological intelligence collection, rebuild espionage capabilities, develop the ability to respond with covert action to transnational threats and hostile states and to increase analytic depth and breadth.

Goss's concern for security is balanced by a realization that there can be too much secrecy. In October 1999 he and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan sponsored a bill to create a Public Interest Declassification Board to declassify old documents, especially those relating to historical controversies. When the NSA said it couldn't divulge to Congress details on its Echelon global spying operation, he threatened to cut off funds and the agency changed its stand. Goss has opposed loosening export controls on encryption. After the 2000 election, he urged George W. Bush to keep George Tenet as CIA director, and has generally supported him, despite former Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Shelby's harsh criticism of Tenet. Goss got on much better with Florida Democrat Bob Graham, who replaced Shelby as Senate Intelligence Chairman in June 2001. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Goss and Graham were having breakfast in the Capitol with General Mehmood Ahmed, the chief of Pakistani intelligence, asking him about Osama bin Laden when they were informed of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers. They quickly left the Capitol, but Goss, as Speaker pro tem for the day, hastily convened the House for a one-minute session. Within weeks Goss and Graham got authorization of an 8% increase in intelligence spending.

In February 2002 the House and Senate Intelligence committees began a joint inquiry into intelligence failures before September 11; the two Floridians were co-chairmen. This was a rocky process. The first chief counsel was forced out by Shelby in April 2002. In June he and Graham asked the Justice Department to investigate possible leaks after Dick Cheney called them to complain about a newspaper story about an intercepted phone call in Arabic. In October he and Graham agreed to support an independent commission to go over the same questions; they stressed that their inquiry was only a beginning and not an end. The task, Goss said, was to develop agencies able to assemble and interpret information about terrorist threats. He was critical of the CIA for not having the human intelligence capacity it had in his time. "We are being too namby-pamby about taking risks to get the good penetrations of the hard targets in denied areas." In May 2002 he said the FBI was not prepared to do intelligence work. By December the joint inquiry issued its report. Goss said in March 2002 that the war on terrorism would not be over until the U.S. dealt with Saddam Hussein, but said that we weren't yet prepared militarily; he strongly supported the Iraq war resolution in October 2002.

Goss is the second-ranking Republican on the Rules Committee and has reliably supported the Republican leadership. On most issues he has taken conservative stands. In line with Gulf Coast opinion, he has supported and worked to extend the 1982 moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida shore.


To me, his work with Graham is encouraging; his strong support of the war in Iraq was not.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Re: The Cheney Decision

Gee, the Supreme Court used tortured logic to effect an outcome which happened to be in line with their politics. I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you. Seriously, I'm most annoyed at Stevens and Breyer for going along. I've been looking forward to a 5-4 decision in this case and the inevitable ensuing finger-pointing at Antonin "Ducky" Scalia. Oh well. Now, because of stupid compromises apparently parents with joint custody can't protect their children and executive privelege need not actually be raised. I'm beginning to long for the days of Bush v. Gore--at least that opinion openly said "this opinion has no precedential value." Let's see what they come up with to shoot down the prisoner cases. If there is a silver lining here, it's that there's now a chance that this election may become a referendum not only on Bush but on the Supreme Court that put him in the White House.

In other news, the New York Court of Appeals just torpedoed the state's death penalty on the ground that the mandatory instruction delivered in death penalty cases is unconstitutional.

The Cheney Decision

Today the Supreme Court decided that the DC Circuit wrongly dismissed Vice President Cheney's writ of mandamus challenging discovery orders in the district court (here's the opinion [PDF], or here [HTML or PDF]). The AP provides a brief summary here.

The decision was poorly decided, but in order to explain why I feel that way a couple of facts about the case must be understood. First, Vice President Chaney did not actually raise the executive privilege. Second, none of the defendants argued that the discovery requests were too broad--rather, the defendants argued that plaintiffs were entitled to zero discovery. The defendants argued that they did not need to turn over a freakin' thing, and didn't have to explain themselves either. And the Supreme Court essentially bought it.

The majority was right to note that the executive privilege case involving Nixon was different because it involved criminal and not civil charges. But the majority largely ignored some language in the Nixon opinion, which taught that the Presidnet cannot make some "broad and undifferentiated" assertion of an "absolute, unqualified" privilege. Such an expansive reading of executive power is what the Vice President was looking for--and what it received by this holding. The defendants admitted that their argument was "in the nature of a claim of immunity from discovery." And while the majority did not go that far, it did say that the courts below should have paid more attention to the separation-of-powers concerns and could not in fairness allow broad discovery requests to proceed.

But this case was not about how broad or narrow discovery should be in this case. It was about some over-arching immunity from discovery because of the position of the executive branch in our system--even without raising any executive privilege. The majority argues it would be far too burdensome to require the executive branch to raise objections to discovery in every instance (whether based on executive privilege or other grounds). And this is where things get really strange--the majority argues that the executive privilege should not be required because it is some serious weaponry that should not be used lightly:

Once executive privilege is asserted, coequal branches of the Government are set on a collision course. The Judiciary is forced into the difficult task of balancing the need for information in a judicial proceeding and the Executive's Article II prerogatives. This inquiry places courts in the awkward position of evaluating the Executive's claims of confidentiality and autonomy, and pushes to the fore difficult questions of separation of powers and checks and balances. These "occasions for constitutional confrontation between the two branches" should be avoided whenever possible.

Ok--Let me get this straight: The Executive branch should not have to raise the privilege, because whenever they raise the privilege, some tough questions come about. So we are just going to give them the benefits of the privilege without asking them to raise it. Any questions?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Documents on Interrogation Tactics Available at WP

The WP has scanned the documents that were released yesterday by the Bush administration. They include the 2002 memo by now-judge Bybee (who sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals) and several memos by White House General Counsel Gonzales. I am sure there will be lots of stories cropping up today on these memos (and I plan to make more comments when I have the time to go through those documents), but I found one scanned document particularly interesting right off the bat.

On November 27, 2002, William Haynes II recommended to Secretary Rumsfeld that certain interrogation techniques be available for detainees at Guantanamo--and Rumsfeld approved his recommendations. Among the techniques that were approved in the memo [PDF] include:

a. Category I techniques. During the initial interrogation the detainee should be provided a comfortable chair and the environment should be generally comfortable. The format of the interrogation is the direct approach. The use of rewards like cookies or cigarettes may be helpful. If the detainee is determined by the interrogator to be uncooperative, the interrogator may use the following techniques:

(1) Yelling at the detainee (not directly in his ear or to the level that it would cause physical pain or hearing problems)
(2) Techniques of deception:
(a) Multiple interrogator techniques.
(b) Interrogator identity. The interviewer may identify himself as a citizen of a foreign nation or as an interrogator from a country with a reputation for harsh treatment of detainees.

b. Category II techniques. With the permission of the GIC, Interrogation Section, the interrogator may use the following techniques.

(1) The use of stress positions (like standing), for a maximum of four hours.
(2) The use of falsified documents or reports.
(3) Use of the isolation facility for up to 30 days. Requests must be made to through the OIC, Interrogation Section, to the Director, Joint Interrogation Group (JIG). Extensions beyond 30 days must be approved by the Commanding General. For selected detainees, the OIC, Interrogation Section, will approve all contacts with the detainee, to include medical visits of a non-emergent nature.
(4) Interrogating the detainee in an environment other than the standard interrogation booth.
(5) Deprivation of light and auditory stimuli.
(6) The detainee may also have a hood placed over his head during transportation and questioning. The hood should not restrict breathing in any way and the detainee should be under direct observation when hooded.
(7) The use of 28-hour interrogations.
(8) Removal of all comfort items (including religious items).
(9) Switching the detainee from hot rations to MREs.
(10) Removal of clothing.
(11) Forced grooming (shaving of facial hair etc...)
(12) Using detainees individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress.


The same memo also approved one item from "Category III": "Use of mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger, and light pushing."

When Secretary Rumsfeld signed off on the above techniques, he added a written notation that reads:

However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? DR

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

White House Releasing Interrogation File [AP]

White House General Counsel Alberto Gonzales will reportedly brief the news media later today on the contents of a stack of papers that is being released relating to the deliberations for setting the rules on interrogations. The story says that the administration decided to release the documents to fight "the constant drip on this issue."

The disclosure may have an unintended legal consequence--if the administration has cherry-picked the documents they released and are still withholding others, they may have a hard time raising any executive or other privilege to prevent those documents from being withheld. As a matter of fact, now would be an opportune time for someone to file a "Freedom of Information Act" request with the Whitehouse demanding all documents on that subject that do not fall within some exception (like national security).

Update: On further deliberation (and actually reading over the language of FOIA, especially 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5)) I highly doubt that an ordinary citizen could get at the documents that the government failed to include in its two-inch stack released today. That provision exempts:

inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.

But Congress could still subpoena the Executive for that information (yeah, that'll happen).

Saddam and Osama Sitting In a Tree...

Talking Points Memo has this entry regarding all the recent hub-bub over the Iraq-al Qaeda link.

The 9-11 Commission recently released a staff statement (entitled "Overview of the Enemy" [PDF]--isn't that catchy?) that started all this talk anew when they had this to say:

Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Hussein Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda have also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collabiorative relationship. Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamently denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

Somehow the Bush administration took from that report the idea that "9-11 Commission Staff Report Confirms Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties," according to a Talking Points email that the administration sent out to its supporters (as reported in this WP article). And Vice President Cheney recently confirmed that Saddam "had long established ties with al Qaeda" [Remarks available on Whitehouse.gov].]

One last thing--Stephen Hayes (of Weekly Standard fame) wrote a book called The Connection that highlighted all the purportedly strong evidence for the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, but most of it does not hold much water (if Hayes' article of the same name is at all similar to the book). The one claim worth looking into (and highlighted recently by 9-11 Commissioner John Lehman on Meet the Press) is that a dude named Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was revealed on a roster of Saddam's (as a liuetenant colonel) and a dude by the same name also participated in meetings with sketchy folks in Malaysia in 2000. But I fail to see hwo that constitutes "long established ties." I guess I'm just dense (but then so is this CSMonitor commentator).

For other quotes by the Bush administration, see this New Republic Online post.

Update: Newsday is reporting that the CIA concluded ("a long time ago") that the Shakir fella who showed up on Saddam's list is not the al Qaeda terrorist by the same name. LAT is also reporting that "a U.S. intelligence official" is disputing the connection: Apparently a CIA investigation earlier this year "concluded that the individuals listed in captured Iraqi documents as members of the Fadayeen are not the same as the Iraqi who facilitated the arrival of a September 11 hijacker in Kuala Lumpur." So apparently he's an Iraqi--just not the Iraqi they thought he was? The WP claims that "a senior administration official" explained the name mix-up: the al Qaeda guy is "Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi" and the Iraqi military guy is Lt. Col. "Hakmit Shakir Ahmad." Sorry Iraq--it was just a simple misunderstanding. Here's your country back, just as we found it.

Should Bush Find a Permanent CIA Director Before November?

The NYT writes that the Bush administration is actively pondering that question right now (I know what you're thinking. I didn't think that the Bush administration could actively ponder either. But I guess we were wrong.)

Oh where is David when you need him for his witty and pragmatic political analysis?

On a (somewhat) related note and discussed in that same NYT story (and also at this CSM story), a new book is about to be released by a "senior intelligence official" that was apparently vetted by the CIA. Who is this mystery author?

Monday, June 21, 2004

Bush and McCain Play Nice

Hopefully this story [WP] will put to bed those nagging rumors about McCain serving as Kerry's running mate.

WP Story on Negroponte

Well, it's good to see that not everyone in the mainstream media has forgotten that June 30 ain't too far off. Good coverage on the man taking over the mess (see this earlier BWJ entry on Negroponte). Well, apparently not the whole mess--according to this National Security Presidential Directive obtained by Steve Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. Military retains authority over security and military operations:

When the CPA is terminated, the United States will be represented in Iraq by a Chief of Mission, who on my behalf and under the guidance of the Secretary of State, shall be responsible for the direction, coordination and supervision of all United States government employees, policies, and activities in country, except those under the command of an area military commander, and employees seconded to an International Organization.

Commander, USCENTCOM, under the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of Defense, shall continue to be responsible for U.S. efforts with respect to security and military operations in Iraq. In all activities, the Chief of Mission and Commander, USCENTCOM, shall ensure the closest cooperation and mutual support.


The Presidential Directive also provides that the Secretary of Defense gets to choose the Director for a new temporary office called the "Project and Accounting Office," whose services include "engineering, auditing, and other contract-related services."

And of course, our role is limited anyway seeing that Iraq will get "full sovereignty" on June 30. (I'll believe it when I see it).

Thanks to Talking Points Memo for pointing me to the Presidential Directive.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Getting His 80th Birthday Kicks

NYT ran this story on #41. I can't help but wonder whether it can be seen as a symbollic gesture that President Bush Sr. suddenly feels the need to practice his parachuting skills.

A Novel Approach to Foreign Policy: Help Weak States Before They Devolve To Chaos

CSM ran this article today about a report (full report available here; executive summary here) released by the bipartisan Commission on Weak States and US National Security. The executive summary made many interesting points, and so I am tempted to read the whole thing. Anyone else interested in making this a focus point for discussion?

Saturday, June 12, 2004

And Sanchez is the Winner! (or the Loser, All Depending How You Look At It)

The WP opens this story with the following:

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved letting senior officials at a Baghdad jail use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished, according to newly obtained documents.

I'm sure that the Pentagon's decision to "rotate out" General Sanchez (LAT) had nothing to do with this. President Bush: Sanchez "has done a fabulous job. He's been there for a long time. His service has been exemplary."

A "Senior Defense Official" said "He's been there going on 14 months now. Anybody trying to draw a line between the natural progression of looking for somebody to rotate into that position to the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib would be just wrong. There's absolutely no connection whatever."

From the LAT story: "It was unknown what Sanchez's next assignment would be."

Friday, June 11, 2004

Sanchez or Pappas or Miller in the Doghouse?

From the Senate Hearing on May 19:
REED: General Sanchez, today's USA Today, sir, reported that you ordered or approved the use of sleep deprivation, intimidation by guard dogs, excessive noise and inducing fear as an interrogation method for a prisoner in Abu Ghraib prison. Is that correct?

SANCHEZ: Sir, that may be correct that it's in a news article, but I never approved any of those measures to be used within CJTF-7 at any time in the last year.

REED: Excuse me. Because I want to get back to this. It may be correct that you ordered those methods used against a prisoner. Is that your answer?

SANCHEZ: No, sir, that's not what I said. I said it may be correct...

REED: Well, I didn't hear; that's why I want...

SANCHEZ: ... that it's printed in an article, but I have never approved the use of any of those methods within CJTF-7 in the 12.5 months that I've been in Iraq.


From Today's Washington Post:
Sgts. Michael J. Smith and Santos A. Cardona, Army dog handlers assigned to Abu Ghraib, told investigators that military intelligence personnel requested that they bring their dogs to prison interrogation sites multiple times to assist in questioning detainees in December and January. Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who was in charge of military intelligence at the prison, told both soldiers that the use of dogs in interrogations had been approved, according to the statements.

"I have talked to Col. Papus [sic] and he said it was good to go," Smith told an investigator on Jan. 23.

* * *

In Army memos regarding interrogation techniques at the prison, the use of military working dogs was specifically allowed -- as long as higher-ranking officers approved the measures. According to one military intelligence memo obtained by The Post, the officer in charge of the military intelligence-run interrogation center at the prison had to approve the use of dogs in interrogations. There is no explanation in the memo of what parameters would have to be in place -- for example, whether the dogs would be muzzled or unmuzzled -- or what the dogs would be allowed to do. The Army previously has said that the commanding general of U.S. troops in Iraq -- Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez -- would have had to approve the use of dogs.


This all comes out immediately after Lt. Gen. Sanchez asked that a higher-ranking official take over the investigation so that he could be questioned about his role in the prison abuse (see this CNN article)

In an earlier story, the WP quotes Col. Pappas as saying that Gen. Miller did in fact approve the use of dogs (from Taguba's report--apparently Pappas's statement is in the 2,000 pages that the Pentagon failed to deliver to Congress (see this NYT story)--although this Reuters story claims the Army now certifies that the Senate now has a "true and accurate copy of the report")
"It was a technique I had personally discussed with General Miller, when he was here" visiting the prison, testified Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and the officer placed in charge of the cellblocks at Abu Ghraib prison where abuses occurred in the wake of Miller's visit to Baghdad between Aug. 30 and Sept. 9, 2003.

"He said that they used military working dogs at Gitmo [the nickname for Guantanamo Bay], and that they were effective in setting the atmosphere for which, you know, you could get information" from the prisoners, Pappas told the Army investigator, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, according to a transcript provided to The Washington Post.

* * *

After calling the use of dogs Miller's idea, Pappas explained that "in the execution of interrogation, and the interrogation business in general, we are trying to get info from these people. We have to act in an environment not to permanently damage them, or psychologically abuse them, but we have to assert control and get detainees into a position where they're willing to talk to us."

Pappas added that it "would never be my intent that the dog be allowed to bite or in any way touch a detainee or anybody else." He said he recalled speaking to one dog handler and telling him "they could be used in interrogations" anytime according to terms spelled out in a Sept. 14, 2003, memo signed by Sanchez.

That memo included the use of dogs among techniques that did not require special approval. The policy was changed on Oct. 12 to require Sanchez's approval on a case-by-case basis for certain techniques, including having "military working dogs" present during interrogations.