Photos of abused prisoners in Al-Ghraib enrage Arabs, prompt worldwide outcry
- April 28: Graphic photographs of numerous Iraqi prisoners tortured and abused by US soldiers in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison are aired by CBS's 60 Minutes II and subsequently displayed by Arab television station al-Jazeera. The photos prompt a worldwide outcry for an investigation, and enrage Arabs around the world. The photos, originally taken late in 2003, include a picture of a "human pyramid" of naked and bound prisoners, and other photos show prisoners forced to simulate sexual acts. Another picture shows a bound and hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his body; the prisoner was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted, though prison guards insist the wires were not actually hooked up to a power source. Many of the photos feature smiling, laughing, and pointing US soldiers. Currently about 4,400 prisoners are being held at the prison, many without formal charges ever being filed. "I was disgusted and angered by those humiliating pictures," Egyptian insurance agent Omar Boghdady says. "The scenes were really ugly." "This will increase the sense of dissatisfaction among Iraqis toward the Americans," says Mahmoud Othman, a member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. "The resistance people will try to make use of such painful incidents." Former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cowan warns, "We'll be paid back for this after these people are let out."
- President Bush condemns the maltreatment of the Iraqi prisoners, saying: "I share a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were. Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. I didn't like it one bit." In Baghdad, military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt says the commander of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, is being sent to Iraq to take over the coalition detention facilities. Kimmitt says the Army is taking "very aggressive steps" to minimize the chances of such acts happening again. "We are taking a hard look at the chain of command," Kimmitt says. "We are also taking a hard look at interrogation practices." "I can't make excuses for this," says Kimmitt. "We're appalled. These photos are dismaying. ...These pictures may reflect the actions of individuals. But, by God, it doesn't reflect my army. If we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect, we can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "was deeply disturbed by the pictures of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated and humiliated by their guards,", a UN spokesman says. Annan welcomes "what appears to be a clear determination on the part of the US military to bring those responsible to justice." he says, and adds that Annan stressed that "all detainees should be fully protected in accordance with the provisions of international human rights law."
- Both the 60 Minutes II report and Arab reports ask how many more abuses have yet to be revealed. Amnesty International issues a statement from its London headquarters today saying its research indicates that the abuse "is not an isolated incident." Yemeni human rights activist Mustafa Rageh agrees. "I believe lots of similar scenes are still hidden, and what we have seen today is just a sample," Rageh says. "such hideous scenes are severely violating human rights' basic principles." Amnesty warns that the evidence of torture "will exacerbate an already fragile situation." In March 2004, the Army announced that six members of the 800th Military Police Brigade faced court martial for allegedly abusing about 20 prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The charges included dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another person. One soldier facing charges, Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, boasted in an e-mail to his family, "We had a very high rate with our styles of getting them to talk. They ended up breaking within hours." He is accused of, among other things, forcing prisoners to beat each other. Frederick says he will defend himself by claiming he was merely following orders, and that he and his colleagues had received no training on how to deal with prisoners: "We had no support, no training whatsoever," he says. "I kept asking my chain of command for things like rules and regulations. It just wasn't happening." He says he was never told what kind of actions did and did not comply with the Geneva Conventions.
- In addition to those criminal charges, the military has recommended disciplinary action against seven US officers who helped run the prison, including Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Brigade. Abu Ghraib prison was the most notorious of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's detention centers. Its jailers are alleged to have tortured and killed thousands of Iraqis, and a cemetery outside has dozens of unmarked graves. "The Saddam era was full of executions and torture, and we want the new Iraq to be clean of such images," Othman says. Amnesty agrees, saying, "The prison was notorious under Saddam Hussein. It should not be allowed to become so again." (AP/Houston Chronicle, Daily Mirror [includes several photos])
- April 28: The Israeli paper Ha'aretz accuses the US military of committing "war crimes...on a scale unprecedented for this war" in Fallujah. The writer, Orit Shohat, says that at least 600 Iraqi civilians were killed in the fighting, 450 of those old people, women, and children. Shohat writes, "The sight of decapitated children, the rows of dead women and the shocking pictures of the soccer stadium that was turned into a temporary grave for hundreds of the slain -- all were broadcast to the world only by the al-Jazeera network. During the operation in Falluja, according to the organization Doctors Without Borders, US Marines even occupied the hospitals and prevented hundreds of the wounded from receiving medical treatment. Snipers fired from the rooftops at anyone who tried to approach." The tremendous military offensive in Fallujah was carried out in retaliation for the four private contractors killed in that city and hung from a bridge, but, Shohat notes, while the US media carried intensive coverage of the four dead Americans, "the hundreds of victims of the American retaliation were practically a military secret." Shohat accuses the US of trying to manipulate coverage of the Fallujah offensive by expelling al-Jazeera from the city. Shohat writes, "Is the occupation of Iraq hindering terrorism, or inflaming it? Will the number of dead soldiers -- in contrast to the number of Iraqi victims -- prompt a reassessment? It is clear that the American war crimes will not reach the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Today, America sets the world's moral standards. It alone decides who will be judged, who is a terrorist, what is legitimate resistance to occupation, who is a religious fanatic, and who is a legitimate target for assassination. That is how four Iraqi children, who laughed at the sight of a dead American soldier, merited being killed on the spot." (Ha'aretz/Veterans for Peace)
New Iraqi flag outrages Iraqis, who say it looks like the flag of Israel
- April 28: Iraqis are outraged over the new flag chosen for them, which they say too closely resembled the hated Israeli flag and was not chosen by the Iraqi people. The flag replaces the "Saddamist" flag, which has flown over Iraq for years before Saddam Hussein ever took power, and is now being adopted by those who resist the new regime. The new flag was the result of a "competition" announced by the US-chosen Iraqi Governing Council; of all the entries, the winning selection was "won"by Rifat Chadirij, an Iraqi artist living in London who is the brother of Nassir al-Chaderchi, the chairman of the IGC committee charged with choosing a new flag for Iraq. The design, white with two parallel blue strips along the bottom representing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with a yellow strip in between symbolizing the Kurds, and a blue crescent to represent Islam, looks remarkably like a combination of the flags of Israel and Turkey, two hereditary enemies of Iraq. "What gives these people the right to throw away our flag, to change the symbol of Iraq?" asks one Iraqi with moderate political views. "It makes me very angry because these people were appointed by the Americans. I will not regard the new flag as representing me but only traitors and collaborators." The outburst of fury over the flag highlights the extraordinary ability of US leaders and the Iraqi Governing Council to alienate ordinary Iraqis, already angered by the bloody sieges of Fallujah and Karbala. The new flag has already been publicly burned. So far, the new flag flies only inside the US-held Green Zone in Baghdad. Other Iraqi cities, and the UN, will continue to use the original red, black, and green flag. "so far, we haven't received anything about this from Baghdad," says Igor Novichenko, who is in charge of such matters in the UN's protocol unit. For now, he added, the old Iraqi flag of green and black, with "God is Great" in Arabic script across it, will retain its place outside UN headquarters.
- Already anti-US guerrillas are adopting the old red, white and black banner as their battle flag, tying it to their trucks and sticking it in the ground where they have their positions. This blend of nationalism and religion has proved highly successful in spreading resistance to the occupation. A grocery shop owner says, "That flag is not Saddam's flag. It was there before Saddam and it represents Iraq as a country. The whole world knows Iraq by its flag." Iraqis say the blue stripes are suspiciously like those on the Israeli flag. They also ask why the Kurds have a stripe in the new flag but not the 80 per cent of Iraqis who are Arabs. Could it be because the Kurds are the only Iraqi community fully supporting the US? The old Iraqi flag was modified but was otherwise unchanged by Saddam Hussein. It had red and black bands across the top and bottom and three green stars on the white stripe separating them. Just before the 1990-91 Gulf War the words "Allahu Akbar" were added to boost the religious credentials of Saddam Hussein's secular regime. The flag won the loyalty of many Iraqis who did not support the old regime. An Iraqi student says, "We cheered Iraqi footballers under that flag for a long time. I feel it represents me as an Iraqi. I don't like this new flag. It does not look Iraqi. It is more like the Turkish or Israeli flags. The main reason I don't like it is that it comes from the Americans." When the idea of getting a new flag was first talked about last year, it stirred up strong feelings against change. But the Iraqi Governing Council, made up of former opponents of Saddam Hussein and Iraqis in exile during his rule, has a well-established reputation for being wholly out of touch with Iraqi opinion. The council approved the new flag, only asking the artist to make the crescent a deeper blue. "This is a new era," says Hamid al-Kafaei, the spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council. "We cannot continue with Saddam's flag."
- Rifat Chadirji, whose design was chosen by the committee, says, "I had no idea about a competition to design the flag. My brother [the head of the committee] just called me and asked me to design a flag on behalf of the IGC. Nobody told me about a competition." A cogent reason for changing the flag was that the old one is said to be unacceptable to Kurds who saw it as a symbol of oppression. But Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of the governing council, says that the leadership should have waited until a parliament was elected before a decision on the flag was made. (Independent/CommonDreams)
- April 28: John Kerry takes the lead in criticizing Dick Cheney's five deferments during the Vietnam War, after Cheney and other Republicans have taken turns hammering Kerry's own war record. Kerry says it is "inappropriate" for Cheney to criticize his military service when he "got every deferment in the world and decided he had better things to do." He says, "I think a lot of veterans are going to be very angry at a president who can't account for his own service in the National Guard, and a vice president who got every deferment in the world and decided he had better things to do, criticizing somebody who fought for their country and served. I think it's inappropriate. I think it shows how desperate the Republicans are. They don't have a record to run on. They have a record to run away from." From 1963 to 1966, Cheney received five deferments: four student deferments while attending the University of Wyoming and one for having a child. "I had other priorities in the '60s other than military service," Cheney told a reporter in 1989. "They want you to believe that John Kerry, who put the uniform of his country on voluntarily, who felt an obligation to go to Vietnam when so many others didn't, who stood up and fought for our country, they want you to believe that somehow I'm not strong for the defense of our nation," Kerry adds.
- The White House denies that the Bush campaign is attacking Kerry's war record. "No one is questioning his military service," says White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "senator Kerry's service in the military is commendable. No one is questioning his service in the military. Let's be clear on this." McClellan fails to comment on the barrage of attacks on Kerry's war record from the Republican National Committee and from fellow Republicans, including accusations of treason, accusations that Kerry was responsible for committing war crimes, the nickname "Hanoi Jane," and orchestrated attacks questioning the validity of his medals, particularly his Purple Hearts. McClellan also refuses to comment on Karen Hughes' attack on Kerry's antiwar activities in the early 1970s, including the question of whether Kerry threw his medals or his ribbons over a fence in 1971 as part of an antiwar protest. Instead, McClellan dismisses it all: "I think a spirited discussion about how a president leads in the war on terrorism and how a president acts to protect the American people should be at the forefront of the debate in this election," he says. The Bush campaign continues to insist, regardless of the evidence to the contrary, that Kerry cast over 80 votes against "the very weapons systems that are helping our troops fight and win the war on terror," according to spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish. "These are loathsome attacks," says Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade. "Cheney had five deferments for the Vietnam War and he's going to question John Kerry's commitment and ability to keeping American troops safe?"
- Though Kerry once said he did not want to make Bush's National Guard service an issue, Wade says the attacks on Kerry's patriotism had forced him to fight back. Cheney received his first student deferment after leaving Yale University in 1962 and enrolling in Wyoming's Caspar College. He received two more deferments while completing his bachelor's degree at the University of Wyoming in May 1965. He received a fourth deferment after entering graduate school in the fall of 1965. After the US military changed the deferment rules to allow husbands with pregnant wives to receive deferments, he received a fifth deferment in June 1966 during his wife Lynne's first pregnancy. In January 1967, Cheney turned 26, and was no longer eligible for the draft. In contrast, Kerry interrupted his college career to volunteer for the Navy, and requested an assignment in Vietnam. (Chicago Tribune)
- April 28: Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg takes to the Senate floor to lambast Republicans attacking John Kerry's war record, calling Vice President Cheney "the lead chickenhawk" in the assault. Lautenberg says that he does not think politicians should be judged by whether they had military service but added that "when those who didn't serve attack the heroism of those who did, I find it particularly offensive." He adds, "We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersions on others. When it was their turn to serve where were they? AWOL, that's where they were." Lautenberg points to a poster with a drawing of a chicken in a military uniform defining a chickenhawk as "a person enthusiastic about war, provided someone else fights it." "They shriek like a hawk, but they have the backbone of the chicken," he says. "The lead chickenhawk against Senator Kerry [is] the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney," Lautenberg says. "He was in Missouri this week claiming that Senator Kerry was not up to the job of protecting this nation. What nerve. Where was Dick Cheney when that war was going on?" Lautenberg chastises members of the Bush administration for being overly eager to go to war when they had not been willing to fight themselves, and quotes Cheney saying he has "other priorities" in the '60s than military service. Lautenberg compares Cheney's recent attacks on Kerry with the GOP campaign against former Senator Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat whose defeat in 2002 has been a sore spot to many in his party. "Max Cleland lost three limbs in Vietnam and they shamed him so, that he was pushed out of office because he was portrayed as weak on defense. Where do they come off with that kind of stuff?" he says.
- He also criticizes President Bush for declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, 2003. He shows a picture of Bush giving a speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln with the banner "Mission Accomplished" in the background. "The mission accomplished was to get a picture that could be used in an election campaign," Lautenberg says. Since that speech, 587 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, including 415 from hostile fire. Lautenberg also criticizes Bush for saying "bring 'em on" to Iraqi insurgents. "I served in Europe in World War II," he says. "The last thing I wanted to hear from my commander in chief, or my local commander, is dare the enemy to launch attacks against us." Senator John McCain, a Republican, chides Lautenberg for attacking the Bush administration during the Iraq conflict and says it is time to "declare that the Vietnam War is over:" "What are we doing on the floor of the Senate? We're attacking the president's credentials because of his service that ended...more than 30 years ago. I think that's wrong. I wish we'd stop it. I wish we'd just stop, at least until the fighting in Iraq is over with." He calls for a bipartisan approach to "seeing this thing through because we cannot afford to fail. ...At least could we declare that the Vietnam War is over and have a cease-fire and agree that both candidates -- the president of the United States and Senator Kerry served honorably -- end of story? Now let's focus our attention on the conflict that's taking place in Iraq, that is taking American lives as I speak on this floor." McCain does not mention the furor going on over Bush's military records, which indicate he failed to complete his term of service and may well have deserted his post.
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says the president should explain what he was doing while in the National Guard. "As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam and President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama," Pelosi says. Democratic representative Jim McDermott characterizes Bush's military service as "missing without action." "We know that Senator John Kerry fought with courage and valor on behalf of his country,"McDermott says. "We know that George W. Bush flew under the radar, because that's the only explanation for how a pilot suspended from flying parachuted into a Republican political campaign in Alabama." (CNN, USA Today)
Chalabi says he will oppose any UN-created transitional government
- April 29: IGC member and former darling of the US neoconservatives Ahmad Chalabi says Iraq will not accept any government created for it by the UN. "Iraqis have fought and died for this day, and it is not acceptable that we replace [US] occupation with UN supervision," says a Chalabi spokesperson. "They are not ready to receive cooked deals behind closed doors, or even semicooked deals." Chalabi's opposition seems to be sparked by UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's idea of dissolving the Iraq Governing Council and appointing a "technocratic" transition government. "Either Brahimi does what the Iraqi people want or he will fail," says Chalabi's spokesperson, Entifadh Qanbar, who is also a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, a party led by Chalabi. Qanbar says a national conference or ballot should be held before June 30 to select the transitional government, which is to remain in power until elections scheduled for January. He insists that Chalabi, who would be sidelined from the new government along with the other 24 members of the Governing Council under the UN plan, would continue to play a key role in the country. The UN plan "seems to me almost like a coup, something the Iraqi people will not accept," Qanbar says. "Brahimi cannot exclude people or appoint people. It is impossible to exclude not only Chalabi, but those who participated in the liberation of Iraq. We will have Iraqis choose their own government. That's the only way to go, and that's what's going to happen." (Washington Times)
- April 29: The State Department issues a report claiming that worldwide terrorist incidents were lower in 2003 than anytime in the last 30 years. The report, which does not include attacks inside Iraq, claims a 45% drop in terrorist attacks from 2002, and is quickly seized upon and touted by the administration as proof that its war on terror is having positive results. Unfortunately, within weeks, the State Department is forced to admit that the report is completely wrong and had its data and conclusions manipulated by White House officials: as the Los Angeles Times reports in June, "The State Department is scrambling to revise its annual report on global terrorism to acknowledge that it understated the number of deadly attacks in 2003, amid charges that the document is inaccurate and was politically manipulated by the Bush administration. When the most recent 'Patterns of Global Terrorism' report was issued April 29, senior Bush administration officials immediately hailed it as objective proof that they were winning the war on terrorism. The report is considered the authoritative yardstick of the prevalence of terrorist activity around the world. 'Indeed, you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight' against global terrorism, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said during a celebratory rollout of the report. [In early June,] State Department officials said they underreported the number of terrorist attacks in the tally for 2003, and added that they expected to release an updated version soon." The corrected report will show that instead of making unprecedented progress fighting terrorism in 2003, 2003 will go down as one of, if not the single worst year for terrorist incidents on record, with a 36% increase in terrorist incidents since 2001. Though the report will be completely revised, Bush officials refuse to admit that any "manipulation" took place, and will refuse requests for an investigation by Congressman Henry Waxman and other lawmakers. "[T]he State Department report listed 190 terrorist attacks in 2003, including 169 'significant' ones," reports the Times.. "But Waxman said a review showed the report stopped counting terrorist incidents on Nov. 11, leaving out several major attacks, including bombings of two synagogues, a bank and the British Consulate in Turkey that killed 62 and injured more than 700. Waxman said a State Department official blamed the Nov. 11 cutoff on a printing deadline," an excuse that no one believes. (CNN, Los Angeles Times/Carpetbagger, Salon)
- April 29: The deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who oversaw the planning of the Iraqi invasion, tells the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that he believes "approximately 500" US soldiers have been killed so far in Iraq, "of which approximately 350 are combat deaths." The actual number is 722 deaths, of which 521 are combat-related. Unsurprisingly, Wolfowitz's lowball estimate is off by a third, and why doesn't he know the exact figures? "[T]he only explanation I can come up with," writes political satirist Al Franken, "is that he does not care."
- In the same testimony, Wolfowitz casually insults the honor, and the deaths, of the many print and television reporters who have reported the news from Iraq. "Frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors." 34 of these so-called terrified rumor-mongers have already died in Iraq while covering the war, including national figures such as NBC's David Bloom and the Atlantic Monthly's Michael Kelly. Though Wolfowitz will later apologize for his offhand, spiteful disrespect of journalism's war dead, the attack on the media will continue. (Al Franken. Frank Rich p.127)
- April 29: As US casualties in Iraq soar, the military is rushing more armored vehicles and tanks to Iraq. The deployment of more armored vehicles is widely considered to post a public relations nightmare for the Bush administration, as it signals a return to the "major combat operations" Bush declared ended a year ago. More than 120 US soldiers and marines have died in Iraq so far this month and more than 90 have been wounded, the worst figures of the occupation so far. "They've got a real problem right now in trying to understand if the last few weeks is just a temporary flare-up or the new normal," says John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity, a military think-tank in Washington. "If it's a new norm they may want to start thinking about some different things." Abrams tanks and Bradley armoured cars are being shipped from bases in Europe and the US to bolster forces in Fallujah, Najaf and other hot spots. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, insists the reinforcements represent only a "modest" increase in armor and not "a major change in philosophy." But Daniel Goure, a Pentagon adviser at the Lexington Institute, says the reinforcements were a "knee-jerk reaction." "If the problem is urban insurgency, more tanks don't help. Heavy armor cannot conduct stability operations. You don't patrol in a tank," Goure says. He acknowledges that the Pentagon may not have much choice. "Pretending we're not in a war isn't going to get us out of the war," Pike says. (Guardian)
- April 29: Army Sergeant Seth Cole gives elementary school students at Banyan Elementary in Delray Beach, Florida, more than they might have expected during a day-long visit to the school. Cole recently returned from an extended tour of duty in Iraq, and visited the school in return for the school making him their "pen pal" during his time in Iraq. Cole is frank with the students, and shed tears as he discussed his experiences in Iraq with the children. "You'll never see me in this uniform again," he tells one class of 4th and 5th-grade children. Beside him, his mother weeps. "There is no glory in war. Seven hundred people are not coming back. A lot more don't have eyes, arms or legs." Allyne Cole says that she knew little about the horror and danger of her son's service in Baghdad, Fallujah and Balad until he spoke to the students at the school where she has taught for 20 years. "This was not easy to hear," she says. "He tried to protect me. He knew I was worried." Cole's visit begins with a patriotic celebration. More than 900 students, many wearing red, white and blue, cheered when Cole arrived, and mobbed him for autographs. The school cheerleaders were there, a flag-decorated cake was rolled out and a fourth-grade student sang The Star-Spangled Banner. But it was only when he begins to talk to the students that he reveals how troubled he is over his experiences in Iraq. "In the beginning, I was keen to go. I couldn't wait to do my part," he says. "But then my philosophy changed. I thought what we were doing was just, but I didn't like the way the military was treating its soldiers." He says he and his fellow soldiers couldn't get enough drinkable water. Their weapons didn't work properly. He says he took part in 550 combat missions, including raiding Iraqis' houses and snatching suspects for interrogation. After he was told he could go home, he received an order to direct traffic in downtown Kuwait City, a three-week assignment he describes as "a kick in the teeth." Cole attempts to temper students' enthusiasm for guns and bombs by detailing his struggle to do what he believed was right for the United States. Describing Iraq as "a weird country that's difficult to understand," he says he had served four years on active duty, then volunteered for the Rhode Island National Guard, in part to follow the example of his father, a Vietnam veteran.
- But Cole is sharply critical of the way the military manages its fighters, and he complained of poor equipment and inadequate training. Sergeant Scott Keegan, a reservist who returned from Iraq with Cole just two weeks ago, agrees with his longtime buddy's assessment. "They sent us on some crazy missions, night patrols without night-vision goggles, in old Humvees that were always breaking down," says Keegan. "We were told to wear bullet-proof vests, even though there were no bullet-proof ceramic plates to put in them." Keegan says three members of their unit were killed in Iraq and several more were wounded. Cole says he felt little support for his fellow soldiers' personal traumas on the battlefield from the Army, and numerous acquaintances went home because their mental health deteriorated. Students said they were surprised the people who served had become psychologically scarred by their experiences. "I had never thought of that before," says one fourth-grader. Even though recounting his wartime experiences was painful, Cole says he owed it to the children who sent him hundreds of cards and letters in a campaign his mother organized. "I read every single letter," he says. "I'm proud of what I've done," he adds. "It was a pleasure to serve my country. But it's not like I want to go down to a bar and talk about it more." Cole will not re-up with the National Guard when his enlistment ends in three months. "He put everything into context, the reality of violence," his mother says. "And I said to him later, this is one of those things from elementary school they will probably remember forever." Cole asks the students not to be impressed with his stories about guns and bombs but to go home and give their parents a hug. "Life is short and life is very precious," he tells the children. "If you remember anything I've told you, please remember that." (South Florida Sun-Sentinel/Kansas City Star)
Cheney cut many of the defense programs he says Kerry opposed
- April 29: As Dick Cheney continues to falsely assert that John Kerry tried to gut the US military while a senator, analysis of Cheney's actions as Secretary of Defense from 1989-93 show that Cheney himself terminated or drastically cut a number of programs that Cheney has accused Kerry of voting against. As Defense Secretary under the first Bush presidency, Cheney canceled or cut back many of the same weapons programs -– bombers, fighter planes, battle tanks – that he says Kerry voted against. Many of the Cheney-era cuts were made at the end of the Cold War, when the Bush administration was seeking to reduce the size of the military. But many of these downsizing efforts have affected the military of today. Cheney proposed, for instance, disbanding part of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division, the unit that captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein last December, according to Congressional Quarterly. The latest Bush-Cheney campaign ad depicts weapons such as the B-2 stealth bomber flying over a battlefield and then disappearing into thin air, attempting to convince voters that if Kerry prevailed back then, US military forces would be underequipped. Yet Cheney canceled the B-2 bomber program after 20 planes, even though the Air Force insisted it needed 132. He opposed upgrading the M1 Abrams tank, recommended killing the latest model of the F-14 fighter jet and opposed buying more F-15s. (Boston Globe/San Diego Union Tribune)
Amway-like Bush campaign local structures
- April 29: An article by the New York Times Magazine gives a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the Bush campaign through the lens of the Clark County, Ohio Republican organization. (Ohio is considered one of the critical "swing states" that will likely decide the election.) Writer Matt Bai compares the campaign structure to an "Amway-style organizationsl pyramid." Many county chairpersons were surprised with the early start and the intensity of the campaign; the Clark County chair, 66-year old Betty Kitchen, notes, "...I thought it would start in August or September, like it usually does. Not in February!" GOP state representative Kevin DeWine says, "I think it's because the president could lose, and they're nervous. And they should be." Bai writes, "Up close, what Bush is assembling on the local level looks less like a political campaign than what is known in business as a multilevel marketing scheme." An MLM requires each independent entrepeneur who joins the sales force to be responsible for recruiting other new entrepeneur to work underneath him or her. "The result is a pyramid-like sales structure that broadens to include more and more recruits with each descending level." Bai calls the idea of translating the MLM concept into politics both "visionary" and "disquieting." "Pyramid-based companies," he writes, "have proved amazingly successful at raising up armies of enterprising Americans. Amway, the world's most successful MLM, has more than 3.6 million distributors. But some MLM's thrive by imposing their own strange and insular cultures on their recruits, and while they offer the illusion of self-employment, those at the top of the pyramid often demand a rigid kind of uniformity and loyalty. Amway has often been compared to a cult.... When I met with Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager and a direct subordinate to Karl Rove, and suggested that the Bush campaign could fairly be compared to Amway in its approach, he agreed without hesitation. 'Amway, no question,' he said."
- Bai describes Mehlman, who will later succeed Ed Gillespie as head of the Republican National Committee, as a quintessential Bush campaign loyalist: "efficient, aggressive, and literal to the point of being programmed." One of the campaign's chief methodologies is to train each volunteer in the "7 Steps to 72-Hour Success." The "7-Step" program shows volunteers how to create their own "magic chart," a color-coded time line for every activity in the campaign; it also gives specific rewards for accomplishment of specific tasks, such as a signed thank-you note from Bush when a volunteer recruits five others, or a presidential screen saver when a volunteer successfully gets through on a talk-radio broadcast. Signing up new voters earns points, which can be redeemed on the Bush web site for hats, mugs, and the like. "Train volunteers in each of the 7 Steps," says a brochure. "They will be the implementers." Bai writes, "The more time I spent with these volunteer leaders, the more apparent it became that, despite Mehlman's 'Free to Be...You and Me' rhetoric, they were not, in fact, empowered to make even miniscule adjustments to the Plan." National campaign aides in Virginia direct every facet of campaign activities all the way down the line. "Each chairman was given his 'confidential' manual containing diagrams of precisely how his flow chart and his steering committee would work, and any changes had to be submitted to the campaign for approval." The Republicans of Ohio have a time-honored method of persuading rural swing voters, a critical voting bloc, to vote Republican in 2004: "focus on divisive cultural issues." Ohio Republicans hope that topics like gay marriage and abortion will overcome the qualms of these voters, who will question their support for Bush due to the economic depression haunting their communities.
- But the real strategy targets the "exurbs," the "ring counties" around the big cities of Cincinnati, Toledo, and Cleveland. The Ohio GOP intends to balance the expected double-digit losses in the cities with victories in "exurb" counties. The upscale community of Times Square Apartments epitomizes the neighborhoods that GOP volunteer Jim Ashenhurst calls a "target-rich environment." The homes are surrounded by false-front "country stores with charming names like "Old Stuff Antiques" and "Casual Gourmet" that don't really exist, but were "designed to create for residents the warm aura of a bustling town center." Bai was floored when he realized that in Ashenhurst's own neighborhood, "the horses peering out over white picket fences were in fact not horses at all, but rusted recreations." Bai explains it thusly: "There was an inescapable political undertone to this new townhouse culture. The developers had designed communities of white nostalgia -- theme parks for the conservative middle class." These neighborhoods are rich with potential Republican voters. Ashenhurst, like so many other volunteers, has learned to tell where his potential voters, and volunteers, might lurk. "Golf clubs in the hallway, American flags out front -- these were indicators that he should ask a voter if he had any interest in volunteering for the campaign. 'A BMW?' he said, eyeing the car outside one unit. 'Always a good sign.'" He also knows where to keep his expectations low. "If you drive past a union hall," he tells his fellows, "keep on driving." After giving a new neighbor a registration form, he scowls after her, "A black woman from California? Oh yeah, there's a Republican. Well, you never know."
- Although Ohio Democrats are far behind the Bush campaign in organizing a Kerry campaign in their state, the state chairman, Dennis White, seems unconcerned: "I don't care how many people they register," he says. "They're still in trouble." But Betty Kitchen is confident: "I probably, myself, put in an hour of worry every day," she says. "But I'm a little more comfortable than I was before, now that I've got people to really commit to the steering committee. We just have to get some people to get more people. We just have to get this pyramid underway." (New York Times/Fort Report)
- April 29: Some Democrats call on John Kerry to fight harder and more aggressively against smear tactics used by the Bush campaign. Several liberal Democrats ask Kerry's national chairwoman, former governor Jeanne Shaheen, who was appearing at a House Democratic Caucus meeting, why the party's presumptive presidential nominee has not responded more forcefully to Republican broadsides on his patriotism and service in Vietnam. Other House Democratic lawmakers and aides note that the Bush campaign criticisms were without merit and could potentially alienate the Kerry campaign by inundating it with gratuitous advice and dire warnings from congressional Cassandras. In the open floor period, House members Jim McDermott, Earl Pomeroy, Jan Schakowsky, Jerrold Nadler, and Lynn Woolsey ask the Kerry surrogates why they were allowing Bush to define him, according to lawmakers and aides in the room. They also express their disgust with what they regard as the Bush campaign's blatant "McCarthyism" in questioning Kerry's protesting of the Vietnam War upon returning from active duty with three Purple Hearts. Schakowsky tells Shaheen, "Bring it on; that's the John Kerry we want to see." Schakowsky later confirms her comment, explaining that the brunt of her anger was directed at the Bush campaign. Woolsey confirms her own criticism. "In my district, he can hit back harder, that's for sure," she says. "Now, I understand that my district is not like the rest of the country, but the Republicans have no right to question his patriotism," says Woolsey, who represents a San Francisco-area district. Nadler says his intention was not to lob blind criticism but to offer helpful advice. "I wouldn't call it criticism. And I don't want to criticize the Kerry campaign. You can always improve something," says Nadler. "We should attack them harder for not doing enough for improving national security. We ought to be attacking the Bush administration for a whole lot of things."
- A Democratic leadership aide notes, "Constructive criticism is always helpful, but a lot of what people were suggesting I think the Kerry campaign was already aware of and doing." Chris Bell adds, "she [Shaheen] reminded people just how far down he was in New Hampshire and how she's never seen anything like that before in her 30 years of politics. The Kerry campaign understands there's some frustration, and they made it clear that's going to change." Democrats say that it's too early to tell if Bush's attacks on Kerry are working. Some even suggested that their biographical nature might play to Kerry's strength as a Vietnam veteran, blunting the traditional GOP advantage on national security issues. A Democratic strategist agrees that the attacks on Kerry could backfire on the Bush campaign: "We all have to realize that we are hitting back very, very hard. They may have kicked over a beehive." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has strong words about Bush's own service during the Vietnam War era. She told reporters the day before, "As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam, and President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama." Other senior Democrats said that Vice President Dick Cheney's questioning of Kerry's activities in opposing the war upon his return from combat was worse than "McCarthyism." "I've never seen anything like that in American politics, of course, I wasn't around during the McCarthy period," says Bob Matsui, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "I think it was worse than McCarthy. McCarthy was mentally ill. This guy [Cheney] is sane, but the smirk on his face really bothered me." Matsui acknowledges that there was some concern in his caucus over how the Kerry campaign is responding to the Bush attacks, though he declined to discuss what happened behind the closed-door meeting. "I will say, the Kerry campaign is on track. Obviously, the nominating process ended very abruptly, and it's two months to the convention, and it's a strange period we are going through right now," he says. (The Hill)
- April 29: Former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal says that the people who still support Bush's reasons for the war against Iraq have abandoned fact in favor of fiction. These people refuse to let go of their beliefs, still articulated by such White House officials as Vice President Cheney, that Iraq did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction and did indeed maintain ties with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, even though an overwhelming amount of information disproves both claims. These misperceptions are pillars of Bush's support, according to a study by the University of Maryland: 57% of those surveyed "believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda," and 45% "believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda has been found." Moreover, 65% believe that "experts" have confirmed that Iraq had WMD. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had WMD, 72% said they would vote for Bush and 23% for Kerry. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had supported al-Qaeda, 62% said they would vote for Bush and 36% for Kerry. The reason given by respondents for their views was that they had heard these claims from the Bush administration. Blumenthal calls this an example of a "will to believe" no matter what the facts are. "The greater insecurity would be not to believe Bush," he writes. "It would mean the president had lied on issues of national security. And how could the Iraq war be seen as a pure, moral choice once good had been shown to be false? The idea of proof has shifted from fact to fervor." The attack on John Kerry for "looking French" is a direct example of the Bush campaign's attempt to play to the xenophobia of some conservative voters. Blumenthal concludes, "The brazen smears about Kerry's wounds and medals, his voting record on military programmes as a senator, and his loyalty, have been communicated by the Bush-Cheney campaign through an estimated $50 million in TV and radio advertising in less than 60 days in 17 swing states. This storm of unremitting negativity has bolstered the faith of his supporters, tested by recent events, and has managed to maintain the contest at a draw. The attacks against Kerry are a bodyguard of lies to protect the original ones who are the praetorian guard of Bush's presidency." (Guardian)
- April 29: Buzzflash interviews John Bonifaz, the author of Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush. Bonifaz is the founder and general counsel of the National Voting Rights Institute, a prominent legal center in the campaign finance reform field. In February and March 2003, Bonifaz served as lead counsel for a coalition of US soldiers, parents of US soldiers, and Members of Congress (led by Representatives Conyers and Kucinich) in a federal lawsuit challenging the authority of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld to launch a war against Iraq absent a congressional declaration of war or equivalent action. Bonifaz says, "A President is not a king. He does not have the power to launch a first-strike invasion against another nation without a congressional declaration of war or equivalent congressional action. And this President has sent this nation into a war without any congressional authorization -- a war that we now know is based on lies -- and Bush ought to be scrutinized for the impeachable offenses that he's committed. So the question of whether or not the President has committed an impeachable offense is, in fact, a legitimate question to raise, and must be raised from the grassroots. ...The October 2002 Congressional resolution sought to unlawfully transfer to the President the power to declare war, a power held by the United States Congress. When the framers drafted the war powers clause of the United States Constitution, they did so to ensure that this country would not be like the European monarchs of the past -- the European monarchs of the past who could send their subjects off into battle on their own personal whim. In this country, the President would not have that kind of power. Only the people, through the United States Congress, would have the power to make that awesome decision of sending our soldiers into battle. ...The President is the Commander in Chief. He has the power to determine how to prosecute a war, but it is not his power to determine whether to prosecute a war. That's solely a power of the US Congress. So while it is true that there's been erosion of the war powers clause since World War II, it is also true that in these other wars [Vietnam and Korea, also undeclared wars], there had been other instances in which Congress had expressed its view. Congress had appropriated money for some of these military operations. Congress had passed a mandatory draft. At the start of this war against Iraq, there was nothing except the resolution in October 2002, which sought to cede the power of declaring war to the President. There had been no appropriations for this military invasion. There had been no military draft implemented. And so this President had no authority to send this nation into war. And we now know that he tried to gain that alleged authority based on lies and deception, which is a separate impeachable offense."
- Bonifaz says that impeachment proceedings ought to begin immediately: "This process ought to begin now. There ought to be scrutiny engaged by the US Congress today on whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. The Constitution lays out a specific process for addressing unlawful conduct committed by the President of the United States, and that's called the impeachment process. These are high crimes that the President has committed, and he ought to be impeached for that reason. And this investigation ought to deal with the question of those high crimes. Elections are for questioning whether or not there's popular support for the person in office or the person seeking office. But the impeachment process is for addressing the matter of high crimes. And it's critical now for this nation and for the integrity of the Constitution that we engage in that process." Of his book, he says, "[T]he book is really sounding an alarm for our future, for the Constitution, and for the nation. We now have a new preemptive war doctrine articulated by this Bush Administration and if combined with what's happened with the Iraq war, will impact the future of our country. We now have a precedent that any future Administration can effectively tell us that whenever they see a threat that perhaps the rest of the country doesn't see, the rest of the Congress doesn't see, the President alone can make the decision to wage war. These are powers held only by monarchs and tyrants, and it cannot be allowed that these powers should be held by the president of a democratic nation. ... This President has sought to exercise the powers of a king in sending this nation into illegal war, and he ought to be held accountable for it."
- On the charge that impeaching Bush would be merely "payback" for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Bonifaz says, "I think it's clear that if a President can be impeached for alleged charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, then a President surely should be impeached for sending this nation into an illegal war based on lies. No one died in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Here we have over 700 U.S. soldiers dead, thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, thousands more injured on both sides. And yet this President has yet to be held accountable for sending this nation into an illegal war based on lies. You know, the questions of falsehoods and lies and deception that have been emanating from this Administration regarding this war, and the reasons for going into this war, are directly tied to the issue of whether the process of sending the nation into war was followed. Because if Congress had properly done its job to vet the information, to challenge the Administration to come forward with the evidence it claimed it had, then, in fact, we may not have gone off into war. But beyond that, it shows how dangerous it is to rely upon one individual to tell us that we are in need of sending the nation to war based on some threat that that one individual sees. This is an awesome power held by this country, with the strongest and most forceful military in the world, and we cannot send this nation into war based on one individual's perception, no matter how right or wrong he may be. And now that this has happened, we need to stand up for the Constitution and demand accountability for all the soldiers who have died, and those who have been injured, for all those on the Iraqi side who've died and been injured. We need accountability here. We cannot let this question of high crimes be unanswered." (Buzzflash)
Sinclair Broadcasting refuses to air Nightline segment honoring US war dead
- April 30: ABC's Nightline airs a segment honoring US war dead in Iraq by reading a list of their names and airing their photographs, a moving and sympathetic broadcast inspired by the 1969 Life magazine cover story, "The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week's Toll." The conservatively owned Sinclair Broadcasting Group, responding to Republican criticism of the broadcast, instructs its eight ABC affiliates not to air the show, calling it unpatriotic and motivated by a leftist political agenda. "Someone who died thirteen months ago -- why is this news?" asks Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman. Republican senator John McCain lambasts Sinclair for its decision. "Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces," McCain writes in a letter to David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group. "It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves." In a statement online, the Sinclair group said the program "appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq." "We believe ['Nightline' anchor Ted Koppel's] motivation is to focus attention solely on people who have died in the war in order to push public opinion toward the United States getting out of Iraq," Barry Faber, Sinclair vice president and general counsel, says. "If they wanted to do a program on, is the cost of this war in human life worth it, and discuss that issue and explain the benefit of what [the US] is doing and what the cost has been and allow people to comment on it, that public debate we would welcome. But without any context and any discussion of why we're there and why these lives are being sacrificed, it will unduly influence people," Faber says.
- Sinclair's decision, announced the day before, drew angry calls from the public and a sharp response from ABC News. "We respectfully disagree with Sinclair's decision to pre-empt 'Nightline's' tribute to America's fallen soldiers," ABC News said in a statement. "The 'Nightline' broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country." Some of the stations have received many calls and e-mails in response to Sinclair's decision. "I have not gotten one positive response," says an assignment desk editor at WSYX, the ABC station in Columbus, Ohio. WEAR in Pensacola, Florida, has been inundated with phone calls and e-mails. A man who answered the phone in the station's newsroom said people mostly wanted to know why the decision was made. On the Web site for WLOS in Asheville, North Carolina, the station published the Sinclair statement and invited viewers to e-mail the station, saying it would forward the messages to Sinclair, the largest single owner of TV stations in the US. The company's other ABC stations are in St. Louis, Missouri; Charleston, West Virginia; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Springfield, Massachusetts. As of Thursday, 533 U.S. troops have been killed in action in the Iraq war; another 204 troops have died from nonhostile incidents. Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber confirms the company told its ABC affiliates not to air Friday's Nightline. "We find it to be contrary to public interest," he says.
- ABC said that on the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it aired the names and pictures of all those who died on that day. "ABC News will continue to report on all facets of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism in a manner consistent with the standards which ABC News has set for decades," it says. Sinclair's statement said ABC is politicizing the war. "Mr. Koppel and 'Nightline' are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq," the statement said. According to campaign finance records, four of Sinclair's top executives each have given the maximum campaign contribution of $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. The executives have not given any donations to the campaign of John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, the records show. Sinclair owns and operates, programs, or provides sales services to 62 stations in 39 markets, according to its Web site. In addition its ABC outlets, Sinclair's television group includes 20 Fox, 19 WB, six UPN, three CBS and four NBC affiliates, and two independent stations. It reaches approximately 24 percent of all US television households, according to the Web site.
- Sinclair has a history of supporting the Bush administration even if its actions violate journalistic integrity. It has been doing its own reporting on Iraq for its 62 stations. In February 2004, when the company sent Washington bureau chief Jon Leiberman and its "editorialist" Mark Hyman to Iraq, the Baltimore Sun reported that the men described their job as to cover "the positive 'untold stories' that the 'liberal media' don't recount during constant coverage of the attacks against U.S.-led forces and simmering political unease during the occupation of Iraq." Faber says that our view was that the mainstream media focuses such a large percentage of their coverage of the US efforts in Iraq on two things: one, the deaths of US military members, and two, on Iraqis who are opposed to our presence in Iraq. We don't believe they're telling the whole story, so we sent people over there. We found, according to our reports, that the overwhelming majority are thrilled the US is there after suffering years of oppression, and they are worried about what some radicals would do if we left." In September 2001, Sinclair required its affiliates to air messages "conveying full support" for the administration; at Baltimore's WBFF, officials required news and sports anchors, even a weather forecaster, to read the messages, "which included statements such as '[the station] wants you to know that we stand 100% behind our President.'" Several WBFF staffers objected on the grounds that reading the statements would "erode their reputations as objective journalists" because it made them appear to be "endorsing specific government actions." In July 2003, Sinclair Broadcasting refused to allow WMSN TV, its Fox affiliate in Madison, Wisconsin, to air a DNC advertisement that featured a clip of Bush making the false claim "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" in his 2003 State of the Union Address. Three other Madison stations, including ABC, NBC and CBS, agreed to air the ad. The Madison CBS affiliate, WISC, said the advertisement was "no worse than any other political ad."
- In a decision patently political, Sinclair Broadcasting fired much of the staff for the local affiliates it owns, and instead produces content for its local stations from a central facility outside Baltimore which it then airs on "local" news broadcasts. The centralized content features nightly commentary by Sinclair corporate communications chief Mark Hyman. Hyman regularly refers to the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," the so-called liberal media as the "hate-America crowd," and progressives as "the lonely left." On one recent commentary, Hyman called members of Congress who voted against a recent resolution affirming the righteousness of the Iraq war "unpatriotic politicians who hate our military." In March 2004, it was discovered that the Bush Administration was producing "television news stories, written and paid for by the government, which have the appearance of legitimate news segments delivered by independent reporters," and distributing them to local newscasts as a way of promoting administration policies, including its Medicare prescription drug law. On the broadcasts, a public relations professional named Karen Ryan pretended to be a reporter. Among the stations which aired the administration propaganda as news: WPGH in Pittsburgh, "the Sinclair Broadcasting station that fired much of its news staff in favor of feeds from a centralized newsroom in Baltimore."
- Sinclair executives have contributed more than $16,500 to President Bush since 2000. This year, Sinclair CEO David Smith gave President Bush the maximum $2000 contribution. Before soft money contributions became illegal, Sinclair Broadcasting gave more than $130,000 to Republicans but no money to Democrats. One Democratic congressman attacks Sinclair's decision, saying it was motivated by its own political agenda: "The decision by Sinclair...to keep this program off its stations is being made by a corporation with a political agenda without regard to the wants or needs of its viewers. This move may be providing a chilling look into the future if we allow media ownership to be consolidated into fewer and fewer hands." Koppel insists the motivation for the show was not political. "I have always felt, and I said it when I was in Iraq last year, that the most important thing a journalist can do is remind people of the cost of war," he says. "If the motivation to go to war is good, is justifiable, then the cost, whether it is 500, or 5,000, or 50,000, is something people will accept. Should the motivation not be good, then five is too many."
- The mother of a soldier stationed in Iraq writes Sinclair, saying: "Your station's cowardly and biased censorship of the truth of what is really going on in Iraq is a perfect example of neo-con socialism. In your rhetoric-strewn 'open letter' on your homepage, you claim to love this country and our soldiers. Well, a basic tenet of this country is free speech -- and you can't just love it when it suits your own political interests. Our soldiers have fought and died for this foolish President's redneck foreign policies, and no amount of censorship (or as you euphemistically like to call it - 'preemption') on your part can change that. This kind of partisan censorship is shameful from a major broadcaster. No matter how much you may be fooled by George Bush's Iraqi war rhetoric, that does not mean that the rest of the country must suffer your same uninformed viewpoints. Since when does the American public only get to view what your company deems 'appropriate' for us? Do you think so little of the American public's capabilities to form educated opinions? ...[T]his is eerily reminiscent of the book burnings in Nazi Germany. ...[T]he fact that your corporation has donated a great deal of money to the Bush campaign only further reinforces this very obvious political maneuvering. ...Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, it is not your company's place to water down the truth. As a broadcasting corporation, you have an inherent fiduciary responsibility to present the truth and let the public decide its own opinion regarding the Iraqi war. ...Yes, our soldiers are dying and, like it or not, hiding it from the public will not change that. Now if only partisan broadcasters like yourself would stop playing God and allow the American values of free speech and free thinking to occur...after all, those are the very things these poor soldiers died to protect."
- New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes in his 2006 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, "If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of his selfless soldiers, either of their faces or of their flag-draped coffins, undermine public opinion?"
- Interestingly, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly criticizes Nightline for attempting, perhaps inadvertently, to undermine morale and "exploit casualties in a time of war." Just days before, O'Reilly had exploited the death of NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman as an excuse to wave the flag and cheerlead for the war. (CNN, Center for American Progress, Washington Post, Guardian, Buzzflash, Frank Rich p.129-30)
- April 30: Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, who faces a court-martial for his role in the abuse of Iraqi war prisoners, says his commanders ignored his requests to set out rules for treating POWs and scolded him for questioning the inmates' harsh treatment. In a journal he began after being questioned by military investigators in January 2004, Frederick wrote that Abu Ghraib prison lacked the humane standards of the Virginia state prison where he worked in civilian life. The Iraqi prisoners were sometimes confined naked for three consecutive days without toilets in damp, unventilated cells with floors 3 feet by 3 feet, Frederick wrote. "When I brought this up with the acting BN [battalion] commander," Frederick writes, "he stated, 'I don't care if he has to sleep standing up.' That's when he told my company commander that he was the BN commander and for me to do as he says." He went on to write, "I have had training dealing with convicted felons of the US. I have never had any training dealing with POWs, civilian internees or detained persons. The prisoners here are of a complete different culture." He wrote that prisoners were abused: "A prisoner with a clearly visible mental condition was shot with non-lethal rounds for standing near the fence singing, when a lesser means of force could have been used," he wrote as one example.
- Frederick's journal was provided to the press by his uncle, William Lawson, who says Frederick wanted to document what was happening to him. Lawson and Martha Frederick, the sergeant's wife, say Frederick is being made a scapegoat for commanders who gave him no guidance on managing hundreds of POWs with just a handful of ill-trained, poorly equipped troops. Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Balice, spokesman for the Central Command in charge of US forces in the Persian Gulf, says he can't comment on Frederick's writings, but that the allegations against him were appropriately investigated. Frederick is one of six members of the 800th Military Police Brigade facing courts-martial for allegedly humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Charges include dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another person. Names of the six were not released, but family members have publicly identified four of them. Lawson says his nephew was being portrayed "as a monster." "He's just the guy they put in charge of the prison," he says. Martha Frederick says her husband, who has been in Iraq since April 2003, told her his unit wasn't given proper training and equipment. "I feel like things are being covered up. What has come to light has fallen on the burden of my husband," she says. Frederick's father, Ivan, says, "I don't think he did those things unless he was ordered to do so."
- Fourteen members of the 372nd Military Police Company were temporarily suspended from their posts after the investigation at the prison, according to military spokeswoman Colonel Jill Morgenthaler. Military officials said Frederick is among the people under investigation from the unit of the 800th Military Police unit. Daniel Sivits, whose son, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, is also facing court-martial, says his son "was just doing what he was told to do." Sivits says, "Apparently, he was told to take a picture and he did what he was told." Britain's Sun published a photo of one of the nude prisoner scenes, and Terrie England recognized her daughter, reservist Lynndie England, standing in the foreground with her boyfriend. "Oh, my God," she told a Sun reporter. "I can't get over this." The abuses of prisoners were "stupid, kid things -- pranks," Terrie England says. "And what the [Iraqi]) do to our men and women are just? The rules of the Geneva Convention, does that apply to everybody or just us?" Lynndie England is being detained on a US base. Frederick's civilian lawyer, Gary Myers, says he has urged the commanding general in Iraq to treat the case as an administrative matter, like those of the seven officers. "I can assure you Chip Frederick had no idea how to humiliate an Arab until he met up" with higher-ranking people who told him how, Myers says. Myers says Frederick has had his Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding. Myers says he will next request a change of venue because "you can't try a case of this magnitude in a hostile war zone environment." Frederick, who in civilian life is a correctional officer at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Virginia, wrote that he questioned the inmates' treatment and asked for standard operating procedures when his unit relieved the 72nd Military Police Company at the prison last fall. His requests were ignored until Jan. 19, five days after his first visit from investigators, when he found the Geneva Convention rules for handling prisoners of war on the Internet. (AP/USA Today, Baltimore Sun)
One of the most infamous pictures from Abu Ghraib, showing US soldier Lynndie England mocking the nudity of Iraqi prisoners.
- April 30: British PM Tony Blair expresses his shock and anger over the photos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison, though in carefully couched diplomatic terms: "The US army spokesperson has said this morning that he is appalled, that those responsible have let their fellow soldiers down, and those are views that we would associate the UK government with," says a Blair spokesperson; "The government view is the same as that of the US army." He adds that the photographs are in "direct contravention of all policy under which the coalition operates," but the photographs are "not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are in Iraq. ...We fully accept that these things should not happen. But the important point is to underline that actions of this kind are in no way condoned by the coalition and this is in contrast with what went before." Newspapers across Britain condemned the actions of the US military police and soldiers; many, even the most right-wing news outlets, showed the photos prominently on their front pages. "We are losing their hearts and minds," was the headline of the conservative Daily Mail's main editorial comment. Blair's human rights envoy to Iraq said she was "shocked" at the pictures. "I think they are absolutely terrible. I am shocked," says Ann Clwyd, a lawmaker from Blair's Labor Party who for many years campaigned over human rights under Saddam Hussein and backed the US-led war to remove him, told BBC radio. However, she says there was no comparison with how prisoners were treated under the former Iraqi regime. "A small number of cases, horrible though they are -- you cannot compare that with the tens of thousands of people Saddam Hussein was responsible for executing and torturing," she says. The interior minister in Iraq's interim government, Samir al-Sumaydai, makes a similar point: "Iraqis are very sensitive to such treatment, they suffered from this for far too long, but there has to be a distinction between these practices and the previous practices under Saddam's regime." London-based human rights group Amnesty International says it was shocked at the pictures "but, sadly, not surprised. ...Amnesty International has taken numerous testimonies from Iraqis who allege torture at Abu Gharib and other prisons, where they are held incommunicado and without charge," says Kate Allen, British director for Amnesty. (Agence France-Press/iAfrica)
- April 30: Considering the magnitude of the revelations of abuse and torture alleged to have happened at the hands of US soldiers at Abu Ghraib, the relative lack of attention from the US media is astonishing to journalists and civilians from other countries, according to the Guardian's Michael Hann. CBS has already admitted it has succumbed at least somewhat to what it describes as heavy pressure from the Pentagon to downplay the story, and many media outlets in the US have focused less on the photos and the allegations and more on the denials and qualifications from US officials. Hann notes the unwarranted outrage from the White House in regards to a photo of flag-draped coffins from Iraq, and the amazing lack of in-depth coverage of Bush and Cheney's recent testimony before the 9/11 commission, where most reporters simply reprint the statements from White House and 9/11 officials without bothering to dig deeper. (Guardian)
Marines leave Fallujah to Iraqi army unit control
- April 30: US Marines pull out of Fallujah, leaving it in the control of Iraqi army units commanded by a former general in the army of Saddam Hussein. As marines roll out of the town in tanks and trucks, Major General Jassem Mohammed Salah was met by a cheering and flag-waving crowd. Saleh, chosen by the Americans to head a new security force in Fallujah, tours its war-torn streets, which in the past three weeks have witnessed the worst fighting in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March last year. "We will work together for the sake of Fallujah," Salah tells a crowd of 400 onlookers, dressed in his combat fatigues and a black beret, as people reach out to touch him in the town's Hadra al-Mohammadiyah mosque. Locals describe Salah as a respected town elder who had been stationed in the main northern city of Mosul before the coalition toppled Saddam a year ago. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment, accompanied by tanks, leave frontline bases in abandoned factories and garages in Fallujah's southern industrial zone, taking down barbed wire and berms. The area was the furthest the marines had penetrated into the city, with the rest of their troops positioned on its outskirts. A gradual withdrawal is expected from other areas around the city. Salah arrives with 200 followers, and takes part in closed-door talks with the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, General James Conway, at Camp Fallujah, a few kilometers outside town. "They look like they are ready to do business," says Conway's chief of staff, Colonel John Coleman. Coleman also confirms that a 600- to 1,000-strong battalion of the newly created Fallujah Brigade had taken over marine positions in the city. "We had a transition of forces, as their forces came in line they supplanted ours," Coleman says. He says he is optimistic about the end of the siege. "Day by day they'll judge us and we'll judge them... We're working ourselves out of a job." The Marines said they would stay inside the city until the battalion, which is mainly locally recruited, was judged capable of standing alone. The US warns it will not budge on its demands that the city be cleared of insurgents, the pretext for their April 5th assault. The Marines' "objectives remain unchanged to eliminate armed groups, to collect and ... control all heavy weapons and turn over foreign fighters and disarm anti-Iraqi insurgents," says a Marine statement. When the Fallujah Brigade's 1st Battalion has restored calm, it will work alongside police in "identifying the murderers and mutilators of the four American contractors on March 31 and the criminals responsible for the February 14 attack on the Fallujah police station," the Marine statement continues. The second reference is to a combined attack by dozens of insurgents on Iraqi police and paramilitary bases in the town that claimed dozens of lives and resulted in the escape of at least 70 prisoners. The statement also said Marines would allow the return of 200 families a day to the city when the situation had stabilized. The pullback follows a three-week push for a political settlement. General John Abizaid, the head of the US Central Command, says that the new Fallujah Brigade would "be mentored and work next to coalition forces." But he downplays expectations. "I think we must be very careful in thinking that this effort to build an Iraqi capacity will necessarily calm down the situation in Fallujah tonight or over the next several days," he warns. (Agence France-Press/Channel News Asia)
Bush administration has five times more agents tracking Fidel Castro than Osama bin Laden
- April 30: In a stunning revelation that shows just how lax the Bush administration's efforts are in finding Osama bin Laden, the Treasury Department agency entrusted with blocking the financial resources of terrorists has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money. In addition, the Office of Foreign Assets Control says that between 1990 and 2003 it opened just 93 enforcement investigations related to terrorism. Since 1994 it has collected just $9,425 in fines for terrorism financing violations. In contrast, OFAC opened 10,683 enforcement investigations since 1990 for possible violations of the long-standing economic embargo against Fidel Castro's regime, and collected more than $8 million in fines since 1994, mostly from people who sent money to, did business with or traveled to Cuba without permission. The figures, included in a lengthy letter OFAC sent to Congress late last year and released this week, prompt Republicans and Democrats alike to question whether OFAC has failed to adjust from the Cold War to the war on terrorism. Democratic senator Byron Dorgan says he will start a Congressional effort eliminate some funding for OFAC if more resources weren't put toward the bin Laden and Saddam efforts. "This is really astounding," Dorgan says. "I hope somebody in the administration will soon come to his or her senses and start directing our resources where they are needed. Politics is clearly diverting precious time, money and manpower away from the war on terrorism here." Senator Max Baucus, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, requested the figures, which showed that at the end of 2003, OFAC had 21 full-time agents working Cuba violations and just four full-time workers hunting bin Laden's and Saddam's riches. "Rather than spending precious resources to prevent Americans from exercising their right to travel, OFAC must realign its priorities and instead work harder to keep very real terrorist threats out of our country," says Baucus. Republican senator Charles Grassley, the chairman of the tax-writing Senate panel, agrees. "OFAC obviously needs to enforce the law with regard to US policy on Cuba, but the United States is at war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda is the biggest threat to our national security," Grassley says. "Cutting off the blood money that has financed Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden must be a priority when it comes to resources."
- The Treasury Department, which oversees OFAC, says its workers "fully utilize the resources and tools available to us to protect our nation and the good-willing people around the world from those who seek to harm us, be they terrorist thugs or fascist dictators." In a statement, Treasury said the Bush administration is "steadfast in fighting the financial war on terror and honoring our commitment to the United States and the United Nations to uphold our economic sanctions against rogue nations." But the department last month signaled it wasn't completely satisfied with its terror-fighting effort, announcing a reorganization that placed four historically autonomous offices -- OFAC, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Office of Asset Forfeiture and the Office of Intelligence Support -- under the control of a new undersecretary for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Treasury Secretary John Snow wrote Grassley that the initiative will, by 2005, double the resources OFAC had just four years ago if President Bush's budget is approved. Still, Snow acknowledged change was needed. "In a post-Sept. 11 world it was crucial that we took a good, hard look at the capabilities we had available as well as question what changes needed to be made in light of that attack," Snow wrote. In its letter late last year to the Senate committee, OFAC said it "has no information that any foreign government is knowingly sheltering Saddam's personal wealth." The agency added that the deposed Iraqi dictator "almost certainly used front companies and trusted associates outside Iraq to hold and manage assets."
- As for bin Laden, OFAC wrote that its dealings with Saudi officials and bin Laden's family since 1999 have led it to conclude that the al-Qaeda leader does not have a fortune of $300 million or more, as some media reports have suggested. "He may have had some wealth, but not in this range," OFAC wrote. Instead, OFAC said bin Laden used his status as a "trusted person" from a wealthy Saudi family to collect and distribute charitable funds in the name of radical Islam, essentially underwriting a recruiting and training network that became al-Qaeda. OFAC is charged with freezing the bank accounts and other financial assets of countries, companies and individuals who are US enemies. Though obscure to most Americans, the office has encountered significant controversy. Last Christmas, Grassley and Baucus accused the agency of failing on at least two occasions to freeze the money of people identified by US allies as terrorist financiers. Richard Newcomb, the career official who has run OFAC for years under both Republican and Democratic presidents, was the subject of an internal investigation in the mid-1990s that concluded he improperly met outside the office with representatives of companies under investigation by his agency and took uncoordinated enforcement actions that potentially compromised criminal investigations. (Guardian)
- April 30: Bush tells the press, "A year ago, I did give the speech from the carrier, saying that we had achieved an important objective, that we'd accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein. And as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq." He fails to acknowledge the stories blazing across the world of systematic torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers, CIA operatives, and private contractors/mercenaries. The same day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, "There are those who seek to derail the transition to democracy because they want to return to the days of mass graves and torture chambers and rape rooms. But that's not going to happen." (White House/Slate)
- April 30: Iraq's intellectuals and scholars are being assassinated in record rates, frightening many of the survivors into leaving the country. No one is sure who is doing the killings, but speculation ranges from Islamic terrorists to Iraqi insurgents to American agents. By some counts, as many as 40 of Iraq's leading scientists and university professors have been killed since last April. The Iraqi police say 1,000 of the country's intellectuals may have been executed in the past year, but such a high figure seems doubtful, especially as rumors abound that turn out not to be true. The effect on freedom of speech has been chilling. "It is limiting our freedom of speech, and that's why you find people from London and Paris, and the Gulf countries, speaking out on Iraqi politics more readily than people in Iraq," says political science professor Saad Jawad. "We don't know why, but there is a deliberate effort to kill scientists," says Salah Aliwi, deputy dean of the college of sciences at Mustansiriya. "As a teacher and as a scientist here, I think that they want to stop us from learning." A deliberate targeting of nuclear scientists and professors leads some to believe that an outside country -- the US, perhaps, or Israel, or even another Arab country -- is trying to drain Iraq's nuclear expertise. Dr. Riyadh Aziz Hadi, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Baghdad University, says that targeting of those who speak out in public is clear. Like many others, Hadi now refuses to give interviews on Arabic-language television channels. When asked why, he's afraid even to say. "Now we have freedom of speech," he says, "but no security." (Christian Science Monitor)
- April 30: In an extemporaneous comment that sends White House officials scrambling to "restate" the president's words, Bush says during an appearance with Canada's prime minister, "There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern." While not overtly racist, the underlying assumption of white superiority is unmistakable to many, and causes an outcry that Bush evidently fails to understand. Even conservative columnist George Will takes issue with Bush's comment: "What does such careless talk say about the mind of this administration? Note that the clearly implied antecedent of the pronoun "ours" is 'Americans.' So the president seemed to be saying that white is, and brown is not, the color of Americans' skin. He does not mean that. But that is the sort of swamp one wanders into when trying to deflect doubts about policy by caricaturing and discrediting the doubters." White House spokesman Scott McClellan later tries to scrub Bush's comments of any sting by saying Bush meant only that "there are some in the world that think that some people can't be free" or "can't live in freedom." The president meant that "some Middle Eastern countries -- that the people in those Middle Eastern countries cannot be free."
- Will picks up on the underlying accusation: "[W]hat he suggested was: Some persons -- perhaps many persons; no names being named, the smear remained tantalizingly vague -- doubt his nation-building project because they are racists. That is one way to respond to questions about the wisdom of thinking America can transform the entire Middle East by constructing a liberal democracy in Iraq. But if any Americans want to be governed by politicians who short-circuit complex discussions by recklessly imputing racism to those who differ with them, such Americans do not usually turn to the Republican choice in our two-party system. This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how 'all people yearn to live in freedom' (McClellan). And about how it is 'cultural condescension' to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a 'myth' that 'our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture' because 'ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit' (Tony Blair). ...Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice." (Washington Post)
- April 30: Suicides and other severe mental disturbances are manifesting themselves in extraordinarily high numbers among US military personnel. Hundreds of affected troops have been evacuated from Iraq. The recent announcement that tours of Iraqi duty would be extended is adding to the already incredible burden of stress placed upon military personnel stationed in Iraq. In response, the US has increased the use of combat stress control teams, established a toll-free crisis hotline for service members having problems dealing with stress, and set up recuperation centers where soldiers can relax for a few days before returning to the front lines. Questions about whether these actions are too little too late, and how the soldiers will be treated when they return home remain to be answered. Twenty-four soldiers -- 20 army personnel, two Marines and two sailors -- have taken their lives during the past year in Iraq and Kuwait. In addition, there have been seven suicides among "newly States-sided troops," including two soldiers who killed themselves while patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital On April 21, a recently returned soldier killed his wife and turned himself in. The suicide rate for army troops in Iraq has been 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, compared to the overall Army rate of 11.9 per 100,000 between 1995 and 2002. This rate is higher than the rate for all branches of the military during the Vietnam War, which was 15.6, and higher than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War which had a 3.6 rate for all branches. "The higher suicide rate in Iraq can be attributed to the higher percentage of married and reserve troops, and the lower amount of stress training and screening in basic training for non-combat troops," says military analyst James Dunnigan, author of The Next War Zone: Confronting the Global Threat of Cyberterrorism. Dr. David Tornberg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, says that the suicide deaths are a "primary concern" for his office. "It's very important for anyone who is feeling stressed to come forward, to speak to their chaplain, to speak to a mental health practitioner or physician, to speak to someone in your line of authority," he says.
- But soldiers have learned that coming forward is dangerous. Staff Sergeant Georg-Andreas Pogany, an interrogator for the 10th Special Forces Group, was charged with cowardice after suffering a panic attack in Iraq. Although the cowardice charge was dropped, Pogany's case at Fort Carson is still unresolved. Rumsfeld's tour extensions came a few weeks after the Army issued a report on the mental health conditions of the troops serving in Iraq. A previous "after-action" report written in October 2003 indicated the Pentagon had "'inappropriately' deployed soldiers to Iraq who already were diagnosed with mental problems." "Variability in pre-deployment screening guidelines for mental health issues may have resulted in some soldiers with mental health diagnoses being inappropriately deployed," the earlier report stated. That could "create the impression that some soldiers develop problems in theater, when, in some cases, they actually have pre-existing conditions." "That's mostly about reservists who did not keep their medical profiles up to date (lest they be forced out of the National Guard or reserves)," Dunnigan says. "The Army did not screen closely because the reserves were supposed to keep the records current on all their people," and "things do get a bit lax in the National Guard, but that's another story."
- The larger Army study -- based on a six-week visit to Iraq in late August, and short stopovers in mid-October at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Fort Stewart, Georgia, where soldiers who had been to Iraq and Kuwait were interviewed -- was released in late March. It aimed to evaluate and offer "recommendations on Operation Iraqi Freedom-related mental health services, soldier access to those services in theater and after evacuation, and effective suicide prevention measures for Soldiers in active combat." Steve Robinson, executive director of the veterans' National Gulf War Resource Center, says he has tried to get the Pentagon to use more thorough screening methods. Robinson, a former Army Ranger, said that the recently revealed "information indicates that pre-deployment, during-deployment and post-deployment screening is critical. If done properly, it will rule in -- or rule out -- the deployability of service members. It is time to stop having congressional hearings on what needs to be done and have the Department of Defense step up to the plate and perform the screenings as required by law." Cognizant of the difficult conditions US troops deployed in Iraq are facing, the military has developed regimental recuperation centers in the field to help Marines and Navy personnel with observed combat stress symptoms. Individuals who are not able to perform their jobs adequately are sent to the centers, and for up to three days they receive counseling, warm meals, a shower and clean clothes, before being sent back to the front. According to reporter Patrick Peterson, "Combat stress ... might reveal itself in...inattention to routine duties to mutilation of enemy dead and even deadly attacks on fellow soldiers, which were reported in Vietnam."
- Ironically, "soldiers and Marines on the attack feel more in control, which reduces stress, even when casualties are high. As combat proceeds, stress cases actually decline for a time, because troops become more competent and experienced in battle." "It's nothing like a clinic. Individuals are not patients," says Captain Robert Koffman, a Navy psychiatrist and division medical officer. "We don't take the warrior out of the war and send them to a hospital. The whole premise is not to stigmatize." According to medical officials, "Between 8 and 10 percent of all soldiers returning from Iraq will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or will need some counseling once stateside." Taking care of the wounded and the sick after they arrive home has not been the Pentagon's strong suit. Last October, UPI's Mark Benjamin wrote an award-winning series of groundbreaking stories exposing the horrendous treatment soldiers wounded in Iraq were receiving at overcrowded and understaffed facilities in the US. At a time when the Bush Administration seems intent on shutting down veterans centers and closing down VA hospitals, what will happen to traumatized soldiers when they return to the states? The National Gulf War Resource Center's (NGWRC) Steve Robinson told the audience at the Boulder symposium that all too often soldiers and their families are not adequately cared for after they complete their tours of duty. "We fall short on getting them the proper care, compensation, and readjustment services that they need to recover from the wartime experience," Robinson said. "so if we're going to commit them to fighting for the nation, we need to commit to providing every resource for them when they come home. It's a covenant." (AlterNet)
California decertifies hundreds of electronic voting machines and charges Diebold with fraud
- April 30: California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley calls for a criminal investigation of Diebold Election Systems, and bans the use of the company's newest touch-screen voting machines in California's elections. Shelley says the company's machines are unreliable and have gaping security flaws which would easily allow hackers to manipulate votes. The ban will force up to 2 million voters in four counties, including San Diego, to use paper ballots in November, marking their choices in ovals read by optical scanners. Shelley also asks the attorney general's office to investigate allegations of fraud, saying Diebold had lied to state officials. "We will not tolerate deceitful tactics as engaged in by Diebold," Shelley says. Diebold issues a statement saying it was confident in its systems and planned to work with election officials in California and throughout the nation to run a smooth election this fall. The ban immediately affects more than 14,000 AccuVote-TSx machines made by Diebold, the leading touchscreen provider. Many were used for the first time in the March primaries and suffered failures. In 10 other counties, Shelley decertified touchscreen machines but set 23 conditions under which they still could be used. That order involved 4,000 older machines from Diebold and 24,000 from its three rivals. The decision follows the recommendations of a state advisory panel, which conducted hearings earlier this month. Made just six months before a presidential election, the decision reflects growing concern about paperless electronic voting. A number of failures involving touchscreen machines in Georgia, Maryland and California have spurred serious questioning of the technology. As currently configured, the machines lack paper records, making recounts impossible. "I anticipate his decision will have an immediate and widespread impact," says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation and a frequent critic of the machines. "California is turning away from e-voting equipment, and other states are sure to follow." Activists have been demanding paper printouts -- required in California by 2006 -- to guard against fraud, hacking and malfunction. Diebold has been a frequent target of such groups, though some California county election officials say that problems have been overstated and that voters like the touchscreen systems first installed four years ago. At least 50 million voters nationally were expected to use the ATM-like machines from Diebold and other companies in November. California counties with 6.5 million registered voters have been at the forefront of touchscreen voting, installing more than 40 percent of the more than 100,000 machines believed to be in use nationally. A state investigation released earlier this month said Diebold jeopardized the outcome of the March election in California with computer glitches, last-minute changes to its systems and installations of uncertified software in its machines in 17 counties. It specifically cited San Diego County, where 573 of 1,611 polling places failed to open on time because low battery power caused machines to malfunction. Registrars in counties that made the switch to paperless voting said Shelley's decision to return to paper ballots would result in chaos. "There just isn't time to bring this system up before November," Kern County Registrar Ann Barnett says. "It's absurd." Diebold officials, in a 28-page report rebutting many of the accusations about its performance, says the company had been singled out unfairly for problems with electronic voting and maintained its machines are safe, secure and demonstrated 100 percent accuracy in the March election. The company acknowledges it has "alienated" the secretary of state's office and promises to redouble efforts to improve relations with counties and the state. (AP/MSNBC, Sacramento Bee)
- April 30: Vice President Cheney lauds Fox News during a conference call last night with tens of thousands of Republicans who were gathered across the country to celebrate a National Party for the President Day organized by the Bush-Cheney campaign. Most observers know that while Fox News bills itself as "fair and balanced," it heavily slants its coverage towards favoring conservative views and the Bush administration. "It's easy to complain about the press -- I've been doing it for a good part of my career," Cheney says. "It's part of what goes with a free society. What I do is try to focus upon those elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events. For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets." Cheney is asked about "the inconsistencies that we see in the media" and asked to "clarify some of the things that are happening in Iraq that really are good but just never get through the media." He responds that he had "experienced the same kind of frustration you have. ...The fact is that we spend a lot of time talking to a broad range of people out there to make sure we've got a good fix on what's going on. You can't simply rely just upon the press coverage. The situation today is clearly -- we've made enormous progress when you think about where we came from a little over a year ago. Saddam Hussein was in power. Tonight, he's in jail. His sons are dead. The government is gone. It's been taken down. The extent to which you had a regime there that hosted terrorists over the years and also pursued and used weapons of mass destruction -- that's all been dramatically changed." Campaign manager Ken Mehlman opened the call by saying, "Our opponent, John Kerry, has a very different approach than going after the terrorists and continuing forward on economic recovery." Mehlman said the participants can "set up future parties for the president at any time, for any day of your choosing" and said the campaign will organize another nationwide party in mid-July. Hosts were sent packets that included volunteer signup sheets, bumper stickers, and a video message and letter from Bush. Some organizers served refreshments in their homes, and others hosted events in restaurants, churches and community centers. The roster included 420 parties in Florida, 286 in Pennsylvania, 199 in Missouri, 197 in Wisconsin and 157 in Iowa. Kerry has announced a National House Party Day for May 22. (Washington Post)
- April 30: Buzzflash interviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was outed by the White House as a CIA agent after Wilson debunked claims that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger. Wilson has published a book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity. In his book, Wilson writes, "I did my civic duty and held my government to account for statements it had made. The government acknowledged that the sixteen words about Iraq purchasing uranium from Niger did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union Address. And then the Administration went out to savage my family and myself.... Somebody close to the President of the United States decided that in order to defend Bush's political agenda, that individual or individuals would violate the national security of the country and expose my wife's name and her profession. That was absolutely unexpected. That this government would take a national security asset off the table, working in an area that is of primordial importance to the national security of the United States -- the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction into the hands of rogue states and non-state actors."
- Of his exposure of the Bush administration's lies about the uranium from Niger, Wilson says, "It was important that the government correct the report that Iraq obtained uranium from Niger. And it was important that if, in fact, the government was going to come after me, which I fully understood they would, that the story was fully understood by the American people before they in fact destroyed the messenger. In urging the government to come clean on this Niger business, I was doing nothing more and nothing less than any American has been taught from social studies in seventh grade -- it is the responsibility of any American citizen in our democracy. We have checks and balances, and we have rights, and we have protections to ensure that we hold our government accountable for its actions. And that's exactly what I was doing. Now understanding that they would come after me, I didn't feel that I had anything personally to worry about. After all, as you correctly pointed out, the former President Bush had called me an American hero and had written me any number of laudatory handwritten letters. What did shock me and I think shocks most Americans was what this Administration decided when they couldn't discredit me to their satisfaction. Somebody close to the President of the United States decided that in order to defend Bush's political agenda, that individual or individuals would violate the national security of the country and expose my wife's name and her profession. That was absolutely unexpected, that this government would take a national security asset off the table, working in an area that is of primordial importance to the national security of the United States -– the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction into the hands of rogue states and non-state actors. Yet for some reason, either because they wanted to discourage other people from stepping forward and telling the truth, or out of simple revenge, as was reported in the Washington Post, this government decided that it would go ahead and take that national security asset off the table. It was truly un-American. It was a betrayal of the country, irrespective of whether they can prosecute this through conviction. It was treasonous and clearly the act and the subsequent pushing of the story, and trying to sort of promote this lie, was un-American in every sense of the word."
- Wilson is confident that the ongoing investigation into who provided Plame's name to the press will bear fruit. "Let me just say that the investigation is in the hands of the professionals. The prosecutor is a career prosecutor whom I hold in the highest esteem, and the FBI people who are looking into this are also professionals. So long as they're handling it, I know for a fact that they're doing everything they can to get to the bottom of it. Now the fact that they haven't yet been able to get to the bottom of it suggests that there is a fair amount of covering up and stonewalling going on over at the White House, despite the President's claim that he wanted his senior government officials to cooperate. Either he has no control over them, or they're just simply not doing it. We're not talking about hundreds of senior government officials in this case. We're talking about a few who have both the means -- i.e., a national security clearance that gives them access to the sorts of conversations, and the building, where they might find these secrets -- and the motive and political agenda to carry this out. And finally that they have sufficient seniority that a senior reporter in Washington would actually listen to what they had to say."
- Buzzflash asks, "You are a member of a club of individuals that include Richard Clarke, John O'Neill, John DiIulio -- people who have come forward to tell the truth about the Bush Administration, and then are smeared as liars. It seems that there's something Orwellian about this practice. And the Bush Administration's strategy is clearly to attack the messenger and not refute the message. What's your advice to other individuals who are thinking of coming forward with information that they think would be vital for the American public to know about the Administration?" Wilson responds, "I'll tell you the ones that I'm most proud of, as I look out at this, are the Jersey girls -- the widows of those Americans who gave their lives in the World Trade Center. These brave women have insisted since 9/11 that the U.S. government come clean on what it knew before the attacks and what it might have done to prevent this from happening. I think that they have been profiles in American courage. And it sickened me when I saw them savaged by Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard in a television appearance, and then subsequently in a Wall Street Journal editorial by Dorothy Rabinowitz. But what I have to say to people who might come forward is that one of the great things about our democracy is freedom of the press. And if we don't exercise that, we run the risk of losing it. One must always keep one's government under control. The government serves the people -- not vice-versa." (Buzzflash)
- April 30: In his new book, Joseph Wilson lambasts Robert Novak, who printed the leaked information that Wilson's wife Valerie Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent. Wilson calls Novak "not so much a scrupulous journalist as he is a confirmed purveyor of the right-wing party line, whether it's touting the truth or -- as it all too often is, unfortunately -- promoting the big lie." In naming Plame, Wilson writes, Novak "was slavishly doing the bidding of the cowards in the administration who had decided that the only way to discredit me was to betray national security. I will defend his First Amendment rights as a journalist, but I don't have to like what he did." Ironically, Wilson reveals that Novak, in a 1990 column, declared that Wilson "shows the stuff of heroism" after he had helped wives and children of US diplomats in Kuwait flee that country during the tensions around the first Gulf War. Wilson also criticizes the press for not reporting more aggressively about the alleged White House campaign against him and his wife. He says that when he has probed reporters who have followed this story closely he has received "disturbing" responses related to being afraid to "cross the administration." In chapter 17, Wilson traces the Novak/Plame affair to Tuesday afternoon, July 8, 2003. On that day, he writes, an unnamed friend of his showed up at Wilson's office in Washington and told him he had just bumped into Novak on the street. When Wilson's name came up, Novak allegedly told this man that his wife "works for the CIA." Feeling it was "the height of irresponsibility for Novak to share such information with an absolute stranger on a Washington street," Wilson reached the columnist by phone the following day to protest. He says that Novak apologized, but then asked Wilson to confirm the tip. Wilson says he refused. Wilson writes that Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus called a day or two later to alert him that "they are coming after you," apparently referring to the administration. On July 14, 2003, Novak's column, naming Plame, appeared. "It was nothing but a hatchet job," Wilson writes, adding: "The publication of the article marked a turning point in our lives. There was no possibility of Valerie recovering her former life. ...While Novak has since downplayed the request of the CIA that he not publish her name, I wondered which part of 'NO' he didn't understand." (Editor and Publisher)
- April 30: CBS News editorial director Dick Meyer writes of his outrage at the Bush campaign's attempt to besmirch John Kerry's war record. "What kind of absurd political twilight zone is it where George Bush and Dick Cheney can make John Kerry look like an unpatriotic chicken by focusing attention on his combat duty in Vietnam?" he asks. "It's a doublethink world of issues-ephemera, spin, and manipulated perceptions that Bush's technicians have mastered and that we the media and we the people aid and abet: Campaign 2004, a truth odyssey. What is the word that has more gall than gall? Nerve? Cheek, chutzpah conceit, arrogance, condescension? You name it -- the squadron of chickenhawks that steers both the campaign and government of President Bush's have pots of it. Where do these people come off impugning John Kerry's Vietnam era guts and patriotism? John McCain, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge or Chuck Hagel might have some moral standing, but not these chickenhawks." Meyer addresses the concept of attacking GOP "chickenhawks," a label used for Bush administration war supporters who dodged service themselves. "This whole chickenhawk issue has become sort of politically incorrect, in a Republican sort of way. It's considered a rude charge. I don't buy that. ...So it is hardly irrelevant that John Kerry fought in Vietnam and George Bush didn't. The list of Bush supporter's in government, in the campaign and in the ideas industry who also had no military service at all, not just no combat, is also relevant: Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Lewis Libby, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and Tom Delay. Oh yeah, and Dick Cheney."
- He says the attack on Kerry is well-orchestrated and well-planned: "Make no mistake: the hubbub about Kerry's national security identity was a precision strike. First, Republican House members go to the floor attacking both Kerry's voting record and his anti-war activities after he returned from his tour in Vietnam. One Republican called him 'Hanoi John' on the House floor. Then, according to the Washington Post, Republican operatives gave a newspaper and a network tape they had dug up of Kerry talking to a local D.C. television station in 1971 where he gave an account of what he did with his medals that is different than his current account. Then the Bush-Cheney campaign released an attack ad about Kerry's national security record in the Senate using the tried and true technique of taking old votes completely out of context. Next, Karen Hughes went on CNN and said that Kerry is a phony for 'pretending' to throw away his medals. She also managed to sleazily imply both that Kerry may have committed atrocities in Vietnam AND that he accused good, honest, innocent American boys of committing atrocities. And then the Stealth Warrior, Mr. Vice President, went to Iron Curtain University in Missouri to make a high profile attack speech.
- "For the record, I don't think the biographical questions about Kerry -- or Bush -- are irrelevant sideshows that obscure the great debates of the day. I think they're important to voters. They're important to me. I want to know if Kerry lied a little about throwing away his medals, or why he wouldn't 'fess up to a youthful exaggeration if he did. I want to know if Bush really did blow off months of his National Guard stint. I don't think John Kerry should be exempted from scrutiny or explanation because he got shot in war. I don't think Kerry did a particularly good job of meeting the attack, but his tactics and even his character are not my current concern. I am just -- forgive me -- galled at the gall of the chickenhawks. President Bush should not have sanctioned it. [T]hese chickenhawks had a great influence in the decision to wage war on Iraq. After the Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman noted, 'It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry for blood, more vengeance. More desolation.' The most forceful advocates for war in the administration had seen the least of it. The rationales for war were cerebral, and I bought some of them, probably to my discredit. Most wars, like the first Iraq war, have pretty clear causes, an invasion, for example. The case for this war was intellectual. There was the Hobbesian case: the world needed a super-power policeman in the [chaotic] and America-hating Muslim lands. There was the Americanism case: peace will only come if America exports our democracy and prosperity to the [chaotic] and America-hating Muslim lands. There was the Evil Man case: history is made by men, not invisible forces, and Saddam, who used horrible weapons on his people and his neighbors, was an evil man who had to be stopped. There was the Intelligence case; Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda and had to be stopped.
- "Conservatives are usually wary of ideas and intellectualism in statecraft and politics. Not these conservatives. And for most of them, unlike for many generations of government leaders charged with national defense, their experience didn't include military experience. But these people are, to my bewilderment, skilled at tearing down people who have made that sacrifice. They did it to Max Cleland, an ousted senator from Georgia who suffered awful wounds in Vietnam. They did it to John McCain in 2000. They're trying to do it to Kerry. What gall." (CBS)