- February 18: Senior leaders of al-Qaeda operating from Pakistan are reestablishing significant control over their global terrorist network, and have, over the past year, set up a number of training camps in the near-lawless region near the Afghan border, say American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
These officials say there is mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, have been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration has described bin Laden and al-Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of al-Qaeda. Recent US intelligence shows that the compounds operate under a loose command structure, and are operated by Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with al-Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and al-Zawahri, though bin Laden appears to have little direct involvement. "The chain of command has been re-established," says one American government official, who adds that the al-Qaeda "leadership command and control is robust."
- The new warnings not only contradict the rosy assessments offered by Bush and his senior officials, but point to the prospect that al-Qaeda, despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it, is gaining in strength and organization. But the officials who agree to speak with New York Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and David Rhode refuse to identify themselves or provide evidence of their assertions.
- Bush officials now wonder how to address Pakistan's role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Pervez Musharraf. As of yet, no consensus has been reached in the administration on how best to deal with the resurgent terror network. Some administration officials are advocating military strikes against the camps, but others warn that such strikes might result in high civilian casualties, and would destabilize Musharraf's rule.
- In the days before the November 2006 elections, Bush said confidently, "Absolutely, we're winning. Al-Qaeda is on the run." But in mid-February, Bush admitted, "Taliban and al-Qaeda figures do hide in remote regions of Pakistan. This is wild country; this is wilder than the Wild West. And these folks hide and recruit and launch attacks." Officials say that the US has little idea where to find bin Laden or al-Zawahri, but they don't believe either leader frequent the North Waziristan camps. (New York Times)
Wounded US soldiers forced to live in filth at Walter Reed hospital complex
- February 18: Wounded soldiers in the Army's Walter Reed Memorial Hospital are forced to stay in mold-encrusted, roach- and rat-infested living quarters, according to a Washington Post special report by reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull.
Walter Reed scandal
While Priest and Hull report primarily on Reed's Building 18, the problems are endemic to the entire Reed hospital and living complex. Priest and Hull spent four months on the report, and interviewed hundreds of patients, doctors, and others, without the permission or knowledge of Walter Reed officials, whom they knew would block and stymie their access.
- In one room, occupied by Specialist Jeremy Duncan, according to the report, "part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses." Duncan returned from Iraq with a broken neck, a severely lacerated ear, and severe blood loss.
- Priest and Hull acknowledge that the initial medical care the wounded soldiers receive at Reed is generally above reproach. But once the soldiers are given that initial care, they are shuttled off into a horrific limbo of neglect, contemptuous treatment, bureaucracy, and living conditions that would shame the keepers of medieval dungeons.
- The hospital has been transformed by the overwhelming number of physically, mentally, and emotionally traumatized soldiers -- both Army and Marine Corps troops -- from the crown jewel of the military's medical institutions into what Priest and Hull call "a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients." The "outpatients" who are stuck in Reed's limbo number over 700, and suffer from an array of injuries: TBIs, or traumatic brain injuries; severed limbs; organ and back damage; and a variety of post-traumatic stress disorders, among others. They currently outnumber hospital patients at Reed by 17 to 1. Their average stay in limbo is ten months, but some have been ensconsced in the system for up to two years. Their numbers are so great that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. Some soldiers say they are caught in a modern version of "Catch-22." Priest and Hull report, "The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide. Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment."
- Marine Sergeant Ryan Groves, an amputee who lived at Reed for 16 months, says bitterly, "We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it. We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling." "It creates resentment and disenfranchisement," says Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. "These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful." Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, says soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."
- Until this report, the outside world knew little of the conditions in Walter Reed. The hospital is occasionally used to showcase the heroism of the wounded, emphasize that everything is going well, and give the Bush administration much-needed public relations boosts to bolster its plummeting popularity with the American citizenry. Bush, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and members of Congress have promised the best care during their regular visits to the hospital's spit-polished amputee unit, Ward 57. "We owe them all we can give them," Bush said during his last visit, a few days before Christmas. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service." Bush then was driven back to the White House, leaving the hundreds of veterans again to suffer in silence.
- While the soldiers have received an outpouring of gifts and support from citizens around the country, they still say they feel alone and frustrated. 75% of the troops polled by Walter Reed last March said their experience was "stressful." Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are a daily part of life. One mother, Vera Heron, spent 15 frustrating months living on post to help care for her son. "It just absolutely took forever to get anything done," she recalls. "They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don't put any priority on it." Family members who speak only Spanish have had to rely on Salvadoran housekeepers, a Cuban bus driver, the Panamanian bartender and a Mexican floor cleaner for help. Walter Reed maintains a list of bilingual staffers, but they are rarely used. Evis Morales's severely wounded son was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for surgery shortly after she arrived at Walter Reed. She had checked into her government-paid room on post, but she slept in the lobby of the Bethesda hospital for two weeks because no one told her there is a free shuttle between the two facilities. "They just let me off the bus and said 'Bye-bye,'" she recalls. Morales found help after she ran out of money, when she called a hotline number and a Spanish-speaking operator happened to answer. "If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can't they have Spanish-speaking translators when he's injured?" she asks. "It's so confusing, so disorienting."
- The Army seems bent on hindering rather than helping soldiers receive the treatment they need. The pamphlet issued by Reed to all soldiers and family members that supposedly guides them through the process is derisively known as "The Handbook No One Gets." Most soldiers polled in the March survey said they got their information from friends. Only 12% said any Army literature had been helpful. "They've been behind from Day One," says Republican representative Thomas Davis, the former head of the House Government Reform Committee, which investigated problems at Walter Reed and other Army facilities. "Even the stuff they've fixed has only been patched. ...It's awful." Davis does not explain why his committee never issued a meaningful report or demanded that the problems at Reed be addressed.
- Why does the Army hold on to its outpatients for so long, as opposed to earlier days when the Army released injured soldiers as quickly as possible? Major General George Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can. "[T]his is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution," he said.
- Weightman insists, with bureaucratic blandness, that Reed has taken steps over the past year to improve conditions for the outpatient army, which at its peak in summer 2005 numbered nearly 900, not to mention the hundreds of family members who come to care for them. One platoon sergeant used to be in charge of 125 patients; now each one manages 30. Platoon sergeants with psychological problems are more carefully screened. And officials have increased the numbers of case managers and patient advocates to help with the complex disability benefit process, which Weightman called "one of the biggest sources of delay." Reed officials have also begun holding twice-weekly informational meetings to help get the information out to the patients and families. But, he warns, the military expects "potentially a lot more" casualties.
- Reed was slated by the Pentagon to be closed entirely by 2011, but now it operates well beyond full capacity. And the excruciatingly poor treatment of its clients extends well beyond the slovenly residences. Staff Sergeant John Daniel Shannon, who reported to Reed in November 2003 with a shattered eye and skull from a rifle round and has spent over two years in Reed's bureaucratic limbo, recalls that when he got off the bus in the Reed parking lot, someone gave him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post. Shannon is a sniper, and a reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, but, just having gone through extensive surgery, he was so disoriented that he quickly got lost. Priest and Hull write, "Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions." Shannon says he didn't expect to be abandoned by the military after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. After two weeks of appointments, he was forgotten. "I thought, 'Shouldn't they contact me?'" he recalls. "I didn't understand the paperwork. I'd start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: 'I'm your case manager. Where have you been?'" He shouted, "Well, I've been here! Jeez Louise, people, I'm your hospital patient!"
- Many others with impaired memory and mental functions from brain injuries simply sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from staff to arrange them. Some disappeared even longer. Some just got up and left. One outpatient, Staff Sergeant Mike McCauley, who had a heart attack in Afghanistan, was given 200 rooms to supervise at the end of 2005. He quickly discovered that some outpatients had left the post months earlier and would check in by phone. "We called them 'call-in patients,'" says McCauley, whose dormant PTSD from Vietnam was triggered by what he saw on the job: so many young and wounded, and three bodies being carried from the hospital.
- Priest and Hull write, "Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands -- most of them off-post -- to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases. The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service." Shannon himself had to prove he served in Iraq after he tried to get another uniform to replace the bloodied one he left behind on a medic's stretcher. He finally found out why: his name had been left off of the "GWOT" list -- the list of "Global War on Terrorism" patients with priority funding from the Defense Department. Shannon had to bring his Purple Heart to the supply clerk to prove he was in Iraq. Lost paperwork for new uniforms has forced some soldiers to attend their own Purple Heart ceremonies and the official birthday party for the Army in gym clothes, only to be chewed out by superiors.
- Priest and Hull report, "The Army has tried to re-create the organization of a typical military unit at Walter Reed. Soldiers are assigned to one of two companies while they are outpatients: the Medical Holding Company (Medhold) for active-duty soldiers and the Medical Holdover Company for Reserve and National Guard soldiers. The companies are broken into platoons that are led by platoon sergeants, the Army equivalent of a parent. Under normal circumstances, good sergeants know everything about the soldiers under their charge: vices and talents, moods and bad habits, even family stresses. At Walter Reed, however, outpatients have been drafted to serve as platoon sergeants and have struggled with their responsibilities." One patient, Sergeant David Thomas, a National Guard amputee, says his platoon sergeant couldn't remember his name. "We wondered if he had mental problems," Thomas recalls. "Sometimes I'd wear my leg, other times I'd take my wheelchair. He would think I was a different person. We thought, 'My God, has this man lost it?'" The civilian care coordinators and case managers who are supposed to track injured soldiers and help them with their appointments are, according to government investigators and soldiers, poorly trained and often don't understand the system they purportedly represent.
- One senior enlisted man who is now back on active duty remembers receiving orders orders to report to a base in Germany as he sat drooling in his wheelchair in a haze of medication. "I went to Medhold many times in my wheelchair to fix it, but no one there could help me," he says. His wife finally ran into an aide to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who got the erroneous paperwork corrected with one phone call. When the aide called with the news, he told the soldier, "They don't even know you exist." The soldier recalls, "They didn't know who I was or where I was. And I was in contact with my platoon sergeant every day."
- Shannon was horrified by the isolation suffered by the younger troops, and the Army's systematic failure to account for them each day. When he found that one 19-year old soldier down the hall died, Shannon determined to take action. The soldier, Corporal Jeremy Harper, returned from Iraq with PTSD, traumatized by witnessing the bloody deaths of three of his buddies. Those who knew him remember that he sat in the dark, refused his combat medals, and always seemed heavily medicated. According to his mother, Victoria Harper, her son was drunkenly wandering the lobby of another Reed housing facility, the Mologne House, on New Year's Eve 2004, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his room. An autopsy showed alcohol poisoning, she says. "I can't understand how they could have let kids under the age of 21 have liquor," she recalls through her tears. "He was supposed to be right there at Walter Reed hospital.... I feel that they didn't take care of him or watch him as close as they should have." After his death, the Army awarded Harper a Bronze Star for bravery in action.
- Shannon saw Harper's death as emblematic of the Army's breaking of its covenant to care for its wounded. "Somebody didn't take care of him," he says. "It makes me want to cry." On their own, Shannon and another soldier decided to watch over the brain injury ward after Harper's death. "I'm a staff sergeant in the US Army, and I take care of people," he says. The two soldiers walked the ward every day with a list of names. If a name dropped off the large white board at the nurses' station, Shannon would hound the nurses to check their files and figure out where the soldier had gone. Sometimes the patients had been transferred to another hospital. If they had been released to one of the residences on post, Shannon and his buddy would pester the front desk managers to make sure the new charges were indeed there. "But two out of 10, when I asked where they were, they'd just say, 'They're gone,'" he recalls.
- The experiences of outpatient Archie Benware, a National Guard sergeant, are telling. One morning in the winter of 2006, Benware, whose head had been crushed between two 2,100-pound concrete barriers and whose legs were stiff and painful from knee surgery, roamed the halls, trying to keep up with his charges. That morning, he saw that, according to the daily listing in the platoon sergeant's office, that six soldiers were AWOL. The platoon sergeant was nowhere to be found. Soldiers were waiting for their requests and appointments to be addressed, but no one was in the office. Benware then tried to get a dental appointment -- he had lost teeth in the head-crushing accident -- but a case manager told him that another case manager, and not his doctor, would have to approve the procedure. And that case manager was not available. "G*ddamn it, that's unbelievable!" snapped his wife, Barb, who accompanied him because he can no longer remember all of his appointments. (Almost as unbelievable as the time he was sent an envelope, bearing his name, but containing gynecological report of a young female soldier.)
- One commander decided that it was the troops' fault that their lodgings in Building 18 were mold-encrusted and infested with rats. "Building 18! There is a rodent infestation issue!" he screamed at his formation one morning. "It doesn't help when you live like a rodent! I can't believe people live like that! I was appalled by some of your rooms!" The soldiers are often forced to live on microwave food and carry-out because they live so far from the hospital cafeteria and cannot make the walk; as a result, some of the rooms have scraps of food and dirty hot plates and microwaves, which attract even more roaches and rodents. Army officials say they "started an aggressive campaign to deal with the mice [not rat] infestation" last October and that the problem is now at a "manageable level." They also say they will "review all outstanding work orders" in the next 30 days. Meanwhile, the rats and roaches reign unchecked. Priest and Hull write, "Soldiers discharged from the psychiatric ward are often assigned to Building 18. Buses and ambulances blare all night. While injured soldiers pull guard duty in the foyer, a broken garage door allows unmonitored entry from the rear. Struggling with schizophrenia, PTSD, paranoid delusional disorder and traumatic brain injury, soldiers feel especially vulnerable in that setting, just outside the post gates, on a street where drug dealers work the corner at night." Specialist George Romero, suffering from psychological trauma, says, "I've been close to mortars. I've held my own pretty good. But here...I think it has affected my ability to get over it...dealing with potential threats every day."
- If the rat and roach infestation problem is going unchecked, it would seem too much to ask that the soldiers have access to decent recreation equipment. And, apparently, it is. Wilson, the clinical social worker at Walter Reed, was part of a staff team that recognized Building 18's toll on the wounded. He mapped out a plan and, in September, was given a $30,000 grant from the Commander's Initiative Account for improvements. He ordered some equipment, including a pool table and air hockey table, which have not yet arrived. A Psychiatry Department functionary held up the rest of the money because she feared that buying a lot of recreational equipment close to Christmas would trigger an audit, according to Wilson. In January 2007, Wilson was told that the funds had disappeared and he would have to submit another request. "It's absurd," he says. "Seven months of work down the drain. I have nothing to show for this project. It's a great example of what we're up against." Eventually Wilson's soldiers received a pool table and two televisions, donated from private citizens. But in early February, Wilson had had enough. He resigned. "It's too difficult to get anything done with this broken-down bureaucracy," he says. "I hate it," says Romero, who stays in his room all day. "There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water.... I told my platoon sergeant I want to leave. I told the town hall meeting. I talked to the doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of got to get used to the outside world.... My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up!'" (Washington Post [links to video, graphics])
- February 18: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls the Iraq war the worst foreign policy mistake in American history.
Iraq war and occupation
"This war is a serious situation," says Reid, the Senate's top Democrat. "It involves the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country. So we should take everything seriously. We find ourselves in a very deep hole and we need to find a way to dig out of it." Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether he considers it a worse blunder than Vietnam, Reid responds, "Yes." The CNN article on Reid's comments notes, "Comparisons to Vietnam are nothing new, but a 'worse than' designation from a top lawmaker is."
- White House spokesman Tony Snow says he disagrees with Reid's characterization: "In point of fact, it was important to get Saddam Hussein out of power," Snow tells Blitzer. "Yeah, the war is tough. But the solution is not to get out. It is to provide the kinds of resources and reinforcements our forces need to get the job done, and at the same time say to the Iraqis, 'You guys gotta step up.'"
- But many Democrats share Reid's view, though some are more cautious with their own statements. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a longshot presidential candidate, says, "I believe it's one of the worst blunders, certainly is. And the focus now should be on how we can get our troops out and leave Iraq with a chance for sustainability in the future. ...I do agree with that because our obsession with Iraq has cost us enormous amounts of prestige...around the world. But also the fact that we haven't focused on the real challenges facing this country: international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, North Korea, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian issue." (CNN)
- February 18: Six of the seven US attorneys recently fired by the Justice Department had positive job reviews before they were dismissed.
US Attorney firings
(An eighth was also fired in December with the others, but is negotiating with the DOJ to keep his post.) According to prosecutors, congressional aides, and others familiar with the cases, the problems the attorneys had were political -- disagreeing with the White House on issues ranging from voter fraud to immigration to the death penalty. Worse, four of the eight fired US attorneys were, before their dismissal, investigating Republican politicians or their supporters for corruption and fraud -- charges that, apparently, the White House does not want investigated.
- Justice Department officials have backed off from previous statements that the attorneys were fired due to poor job performance. Only one of those fired, Kevin Ryan in San Francisco, has documented problems with management and morale. The rest of the group of fired attorneys were outraged when DOJ officials slandered their careers for the White House's political purposes. While the attorneys originally chose to remain quiet, they are no longer.
- Bud Cummins, the former US attorney in Little Rock who was asked to resign earlier than the others to make way for a former aide to Karl Rove, says Justice Department officials crossed a line by publicly criticizing the performance of his well-regarded colleagues. "They're entitled to make these changes for any reason or no reason or even for an idiotic reason," he says. "But if they are trying to suggest that people have inferior performance to hide whatever their true agenda is, that is wrong. They should retract those statements."
- Ever since the story broke in January 2007, White House and DOJ officials have sought to obscure the firings from Congressional scrutiny, and have issued confusing and contradictory statements about the entire debacle. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats, joined by some Republicans, are moving to strip Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of his power to name replacement US attorneys for an indefinite period, though Senate Republicans blocked debate on that issue last week. The House Judiciary Committee is planning hearings on similar legislation in March. "I don't know how they could have mishandled this any worse," says one of the fired attorneys. "There always have traditionally been tensions between main Justice and US attorneys in the districts," says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "But it does seem like there's an effort to centralize authority in Washington more than there has been in the past and in prior administrations."
- On December 7, senior Justice Department official Michael Battle -- a former U.S. attorney himself -- called at least six prosecutors to inform them that they were being asked to resign. Battle was apologetic but offered little in the way of explanations, telling some that the order had come from "on high." Battle called Ryan, San Diego's Carol Lam, Seattle's John McKay, New Mexico's David Iglesias, Nevada's Daniel Bogden, and Arizona's Paul Charlton. All are Republicans nominated to their posts by Bush in 2001. As noted above, the attorneys remained publicly silent about the reasons for their firings until this month, when Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told the Senate Judiciary Committee that they had been dismissed for "performance-related" reasons (see related item above). McNulty also said that Cummins had been pushed out to make room for Griffin. That testimony "was the moment the gloves came off," says one fired prosecutor.
- Five of the dismissed prosecutors -- Bogden, Charlton, Cummins, Iglesias and McKay -- say that they were not given any reason for their firings and had not been told of any performance problems. Only Ryan faced substantive complaints about turnover or other management-related issues. Justice Department officials are now complaining that the issue of whether or not the attorneys were fired for performance reasons has become mired in "semantics," saying that McNulty's slanderous comments were merely referring to policy differences between the Bush administration and some of its employees. A Justice Department official tries to place the blame for the controversy onto the fired attorneys themselves: "When you are setting national policy, you cannot have US attorneys setting their own policies." It is doubtful that such inflammatory comments will temper the controversy.
- The heart of the controversy seems to stem from the unwillingness of the fired attorneys to promote the White House's political agenda. For example, McKay was the target of complaints from Washington State Republicans after refusing to intervene in the disputed 2006 gubernatorial election. Democrat Chris Gregoire won the election with only 129 votes. Republicans threw allegations of voter fraud, but no evidence of any such fraud was ever presented to McKay. As for Lam, California Republicans were not only unhappy with her pursuit of the Randy Cunningham corruption investigation, but for not more actively enforcing immigration laws. Under Lam, firearms cases filed by her office also dropped. Arizona's Charlton refused twice to seek the death penalty in murder cases, and was twice overruled by the Justice Department. "There was no public controversy about any of these; any controversy was within the Justice Department," says Grant Woods, a Republican and former Arizona attorney general.
- Naturally, the cases that have gotten most of the attention among Democrats in Congress involve public-corruption investigations. In San Diego, Lam oversaw the probe that resulted in the guilty plea of Cunningham, a former Republican House member (see related items). Two others connected to that case, including a former senior CIA official, were indicted two days before Lam left the job. Bogden in Nevada and Charlton in Arizona were also in the midst of investigations targeting current or former Republican members of Congress when they were fired. And in New Mexico, Iglesias's office had been examining alleged wrongdoing involving state Democrats -- allegations that Iglesias found no evidence to support. Apparently, Iglesias's findings were not acceptable to his Justice Department bosses. However, DOJ spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos says, "The department's commitment to pursuing prosecuting public-corruption cases is clear. Any suggestion that removal of these particular US attorneys was political or in any way would harm ongoing investigations is 100 percent false." Believe Scolinos as you will. (Washington Post)
"It's like a new Watergate every day with these people." -- Bob Harris, quoted by David Swanson
- February 18: Iraqi national Laith al-Ani tells of his two years and three months in American custody, where he was beaten and abused by his American captors at Camp Bucca, near Kuwait.
US torture allegations
He was released on January 6 and now lives as a refugee in Damascus, Syria. He was never charged with a crime, and says he was only questioned once during his entire time in custody. US officials refuse to say why al-Ani was detained in the first place, or why he was released. "He was released because the board that reviewed his case didn't believe he any longer posed a threat," says Lieutenant Lea Ann Fracasso, a spokeswoman for detention operations, in a written answer to questions. "He was originally detained as a security threat. I don't have anything more."
- On the morning of his release, al-Ani recalls, his last step before his release was at a table where he was given a form to fill out. He was asked to check one of two boxes, with Arabic notations. One said, "I didn't go through any abuse during detention." The other said, "I have gone through abuse during detention." Al-Ani was very aware of three American guards standing nearby, holding the type of electric stun devices -- Taser guns -- that al-Ani and other detainees say had been used on them for infractions as minor as speaking out of turn. "Even the translator told me to sign the first answer," says al-Ani, who provided a copy of the form to the New York Times. "I asked him what happens if I sign the second one, and he raised his hands," as if to say, Who knows? "I thought if I don't sign the first one I am not going to get out of this place." He checked the first box and was released. "My heart was beating so hard," he says, recalling his reunion with his waiting parents. "You can't believe how I cried."
- One reason al-Ani may have been released was the publication, three weeks before, of his last letter home in the Times described as filled with "poetic yearnings and a sketch of a caged pink heart." The letter was part of one of a series of articles on Iraq's troubled detention and justice system. Al-Ani describes the sprawling complex of barracks at Camp Bucca, in the bleak southern deserts north of Kuwait: guards casually stunning prisoners with painful electric shocks, prisoners casually exposed to long periods of heat and cold, prisoners fighting among themselves, extremist prisoners attempting to radicalize their more moderate fellows, and numerous hunger strikes and violent protests over the harsh conditions. (American officials deny many of the claims by al-Ani and other prisoners.)
- Currently the US military holds around 15,500 prisoners in Iraq, more than at any time since the March 2003 invasion. Most are being held without charge and without any access to any sort of legal representation or proceedings. Al-Ani says he was taken into custody after US soldiers searching for weapons in his six-family apartment building found an old Iraqi military uniform in his basement. Al-Ani, a Sunni, was forced to flee Iraq days after his release, after Shi'ite militiamen ransacked his apartment and threatened his live and those of his family. Al-Ani has no interest in joining any Sunni insurgency himself, but he regularly watches an Iraqi Sunni television station in Syria called Al Zawri, which frequently airs videotapes of attacks on American troops. The station has become an information center for the Sunni insurgency and in the process has exasperated American and Iraqi forces.
- Al-Ani said his questioning, which took place on October 14, 2004, was desultory, mostly questions about his family and his religious practices. Al-Ani says he is a Sunni, but does not regularly practice his religion. "They never asked me about terrorism," he says. "I'm a normal person, just a usual man, and don't have anything to do with anyone who was fighting against the Americans." He was questioned two more times, each after being transferred to different detention facilities. 44 days after his capture, he was transferred to Camp Bucca, where he would remain for over two years. He says he was first hit with electric prods on the way to Camp Bucca, as punishment for talking to another prisoner. He says the prods were commonly used on him and other detainees as punishment. "The whole body starts to shake and hurt," he recalls. "And you lose consciousness for a couple of seconds. One time they used it on my tongue. One guard held me from the left and another on my back and another used it against my tongue and for four or five days I couldn't eat." Other prisoners have described similar treatment at the hands of their American captors. Tragically, when al-Ani discussed his shock treatments with the Times reporter who interviewed him, he demonstrated how he had been held for the electric prod; his 4-year-old daughter mimicked his actions.
- Lieutenant Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry, a detention system spokesman, says, "Every use of less than lethal force, to include use of Tasers, is formally reported by facility leadership, ensuring soldiers are in accordance with proper use. Touching a Taser to someone's tongue is not one of the approved uses."
- In the beginning, al-Ani says, his guards treated him kindly, giving him soap, hand lotion when his skin cracked from the cold, and socks. But a new rotation of guards had a different approach. "They were not allowing us to talk. They cut off the salt, gave us food that was not fit for dogs. One guard named David sometimes brought us outside to stay in the sun, or when it was cold. He also didn't respect our faith, telling us not to pray here, and when we moved not to pray there." After guards found a needle that al-Ani was using to sew up ripped clothing (he sells women's clothing in his civilian life), he was placed in solitary confinement for 24 days. "You cannot see the difference between day and night," he recalls. "There was no opening, not even in the door."
- The detainees sometimes fought among themselves, and those who spoke to the American guards were often ostracized. Al-Ani remembers one day when guards searched their makeshift prayer area, and the guards began to trample the Korans. "A fight started," he remembers. "There was a huge demonstration. The prisoners started to throw their shoes at the guards, and we started to beat them with empty plastic bottles. The guards shot at us with rubber bullets, but then prisoners were killed and others were injured." Al-Ani's recollection jibes with a Pentagon report of such an incident in January 2005, where four detainees were killed when guards were "compelled" to use deadly force to quell the riot. The search was set off by a search for contraband, the Pentagon said at the time. Curry says an investigation concluded that a detainee leader had fabricated the Koran allegations to instigate violence.
- Al-Ani says he had decided that the only way to be free was to die. "I was hoping to die," he says, eyes filling with tears. Now that he is out, he has been forced to flee to Syria to stay alive, and has no idea how he and his family will survive in Damascus. Work is scarce, and he has to compete with other refugees for the attention of another host country. And he suffers from the recollection of his time in American custody. "Until now, I can't sleep, really," he says. "Whenever I hear something noisy I stand up. I'm in a very bad psychological situation. I can't stop thinking of what we should do. I don't have a future here. How should we live?" Of the Americans, he says simply, "The United States through its actions made people hate the Americans much more than before." (New York Times/International Herald Tribune)
- February 18: Former Reagan Justice Department counsel Victoria Toensing writes an op-ed for the Washington Post about the Libby trial that is so blatantly misrepresentatial and just plain wrong that some, including former CIA agent Larry Johnson, believe it might be construed as jury tampering.
Lewis Libby perjury trial
(The Post is the hometown newspaper for the jury, and Toensing's column is almost guaranteed to be morning reading for at least some jurors.) Investigative journalist Robert Parry calls the column "bizarre," and blasts Toensing's "absurdity and dishonesty." In her column, Toensing makes two misrepresentations that have long been proven wrong even as they continued to be echoed by Republican and conservative commentators: that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert CIA agent when she was outed by Robert Novak, and that her husband, Joseph Wilson, misrepresented his findings after his return from Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country for the purposes of building a nuclear weapon. The Post goes along with Toensing, printing a fabricated "photo illustration of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Joseph Wilson as "mug shots" to accompany her column, which it chose to publish on the front page.
- Toensing is anything but an impartial observer. Along with her DOJ tenure under Reagan, Toensing and her husband, attorney Joe diGenova, were the legal authorities who fought relentlessly in 1997 and 1998 to push Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton for perjury relating to a sex act.
- Toensing, writing as if she is filing a legal brief and herself a "grand jury," "charges" Fitzgerald with failing to meet the standard of proof for bringing a prosecution against Libby, and in the same breath excoriates Fitzgerald for not charging other White House officials with crimes related to the Plame leak. She says that the proof against Libby is mere "he-said she-said" evidence, not enough to warrant a charge. As events have long demonstrated, Toensing is flat wrong: Libby's lies about his conduct throughout the Wilson smear campaign have been contradicted by every single witness, both from the government and from the media, who has testified in the trial. In the process, she flings mud in every direction, pointing out that Libby once represented financier Marc Rich, who was pardoned for an array of crimes by then-president Bill Clinton, in an apparent attempt to drag Clinton into the sorry mess, and that Fitzgerald jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to testify against Libby while Fitzgerald was involved with Miller in another case for which he desired phone logs from Miller. She also accuses Fitzgerald of prosecutorial misconduct by saying that Libby was the first official to reveal Plame's name to the public. The Rich and Miller citations have no bearing on the case whatsoever. As for the "misconduct" charge, it has been well documented (see related items throughout this site, beginning with June and July 2003) that Fitzgerald was indeed wrong about Libby being the first White House official to reveal Plame's identity. There is a good reason for this: other "outers" such as Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer either failed to reveal their own leaks to Fitzgerald before Fitzgerald made his statement, or, as in Rove's case, lied to the FBI about his participation. Fitzgerald was wrong, but being wrong is not prosecutorial misconduct, as Toensing well knows. And when Fitzgerald made the announcement, in October 2005, he was correct as far as he knew.
- Toensing then "charges" the CIA with making what she calls "a boilerplate criminal referral to cover its derriere." What Toensing does not bother to mention, and what has long been documented, is that the CIA makes, on average, one referral a week to the Justice Department asking for an investigation into the possible leaking of classified information. Well over 90% of these referrals are either found without merit or merely tossed off. The CIA has a standard leak referral process that it follows in every leak referral, what Toensing dismissively calls "boilerplate." Her objection is apparently that the CIA followed its own procedure.
- Toensing then goes after Wilson for "misrepresenting" his findings in Niger. Toensing should be aware that, although these accusations are favorite conservative talking points echoed ad infinitum on talk radio and cable news outlets, the accusations have long been debunked. Wilson did accuse Dick Cheney of leading the scheme to smear his character and out his wife, but Cheney has denied his involvement -- another instance of the "he-said she-said" elements of the case that Toensing derides on Libby's behalf, and in any case, Wilson did not have the sources in the highest reaches of the White House to verify, or disprove, his claims. (Most importantly, testimony from Libby and others has confirmed that Cheney was indeed the head of the smear campaign, with Bush's knowledge and complicity. See items above.) He has long stated that his assertions were based on information he received from his own contacts within the Bush administration, and has long since withdrawn his direct accusations against Cheney. Toensing also repeats the long-disproven claim that Plame was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. While Plame did indeed mention her husband's name when her CIA bosses asked her for a recommendation of someone who might undertake such a trek, she had nothing to do with his selection. Wilson's claim that he was chosen because of his "specific skill set" -- his extensive contacts in Niger and his expertise with the intricacies of African politics -- has long been verified by the CIA supervisors who asked him to go to Niger.
- Former CIA officer Larry Johnson writes, "Joe was a natural choice for the job. He had headed up the Africa desk at the National Security Council, he had served as an ambassador in West Africa, and had saved American lives from Saddam during the first Gulf War. He was not chosen by his wife, Valerie Plame. She only wrote a memo, at the behest of her boss in the Counter Proliferation Division of the Directorate of Operations, identifying Joe's qualifications. And she was asked to inform her husband about the CIA's interest in him going to Niger to help answer a request from Vice President Cheney, who wanted to know if there was any truth to reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger. We now know, thanks to the INR memo, that Joe did not want to go to Niger and supported the position of INR analysts who thought the US ambassador in Niger was quite capable of investigating the matter. Ultimately the CIA prevailed and Joe was sent. Valerie was not in the room when the decision was made nor was she in an administrative position with the clout to send her husband on such a mission. The INR memo introduced in the Libby trial confirms Joe's account as well about what he told the CIA debriefing team. Too bad Ms. Toensing did not take time to read the CIA report produced from Mr. Wilson's trip. He made it very clear in that report that Iraq had not purchased or negotiated the purchase of uranium."
- Toensing then takes Wilson to task for telling reporter David Corn, two days after Plame was outed by Robert Novak, that although he would not verify his wife worked for the CIA, "Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career." Toensing is being beyond ingenuous -- while she accuses Wilson of implicitly confirming his wife's status as a covert agent, the fact is that Novak blew her cover two days before. Nothing Wilson could say would further damage her career, and the network of CIA assets she had recruited.
- Perhaps most erroneous is Toensing's claim that Plame was not a covert CIA agent at the time. "Plame was not covert," Toensing writes. "She worked at CIA headquarters and had not been stationed abroad within five years of the date of Novak's column." Toensing is lying. Johnson writes, "Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak's column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class -- which was comprised of Case Officers, Analysts, Scientists, and Admin folks -- was undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under 'official cover' -- i.e., she declared she worked for the US Government but in something innocuous, like the State Department -- she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing's limited intellectual abilities. ...You do not have to take my word alone that Valerie was under cover. Other members of our training class also came forward in 2003 and vouched for Valerie's covert status -- Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, and Mike Grimaldi. We appeared on Nightline three years ago, accompanied by another classmate who remains anonymous, and testified about our personal knowledge of Valerie's status as a covert CIA officer."
- Parry adds, "Toensing leaves out, however, that it has been Libby's defense lawyers who have fought to exclude evidence of Plame's covert CIA status because they regard the fact as likely to prejudice the jury against their client. Plus, Plame's covert status has been judged mostly irrelevant to a trial about whether Libby lied to investigators and the grand jury. So, in muddying up the issue of Plame's classified identity, Toensing is exploiting the limitations on evidence introduced at the Libby trial -- and the unwillingness of the CIA to unnecessarily expose additional secrets relating to Plame's sensitive assignments."
- Johnson also reminds Toensing that Libby directly informed Fleischer of Plame's covert status. Armitage told Novak, who confirmed Plame's CIA status with Rove, and then outed Plame. In doing so, Johnson writes, "Novak ultimately exposed not just Valerie but her NOC cover company, Brewster Jennings. That leak by the Bush administration ruined Valerie's ability to continue working as a case officer and destroyed an international intelligence network."
- There are some tidbits of interest among the offal. Toensing asks why Fitzgerald didn't bring indictments against other White House officials -- Rove, Fleischer, Armitage, and perhaps others. As documented elsewhere in this site, Fitzgerald made a prosecutorial decision that he didn't have a strong case for criminal charges against any of these leakers. Certainly Rove's conduct -- lying to the FBI, lying to Fitzgerald's grand jury -- could merit criminal charges, but Fitzgerald decided that his case against Rove, either by bringing charges under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or under the Espionage Act, would not stand up well in court. One can argue with his decision, but it was a valid decision for a prosecutor with Fitzgerald's courtroom and political expertise to make. Armitage is an admitted leaker who waited three long years to publicly step forward to confess his own actions, but his willing and voluntary cooperation with Fitzgerald almost immediately upon Fitzgerald's opening of the investigation, and his denial that he was aware of Plame's status as a covert CIA agent (a cornerstone element of any prosecution under the IIPA) makes it tough to bring him into the dock. And the decision to grant Fleischer immunity from prosecution can also be questioned, especially in light of the fact that Fleischer's testimony differs in content from some of the reporters' -- but since Fleischer doesn't have to reveal the depth of his own possible perfidy, it is difficult to know whether a solid case could be made against him. Again, Toensing is aware of all of this. She just chooses to ignore it. And why doesn't Toensing specifically call for Rove's prosecution?
- Toensing deliberately misrepresents the actions of the Justice Department in naming Fitzgerald to investigate the case. She writes, "Both then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General James Comey not only had access to the law books but also the clout and clearances to demand that the CIA tell them whether Plame was covert. In the fall of 2003, Ashcroft, having learned that he would probably be replaced after the 2004 elections, had grown weary of taking flak for the president and threw the Libby investigation hot potato to Comey. In the fall of 2003, Comey, who hoped to replace Ashcroft as attorney general, in turn passed the hot potato to Fitzgerald, a former colleague and one of his best friends." She is misrepresenting Ashcroft's own actions -- Ashcroft, a close colleague and friend of Karl Rove's, did his best to stonewall and obfuscate the in-house Justice Department investigation until, under increasing criticism and even potential mutiny from officials in the DOJ, he recused himself and turned the investigation over to Comey, who named Fitzgerald, one of the most prestigious and well-qualified prosecutors in the DOJ, to handle the case. Far from "grow[ing] weary" of the case, Ashcroft only recused himself after his own blatant and multi-layered conflicts of interests grew too obvious for even him to justify and ignore.
- Toensing also launches a meaningless attack on the media outlets that called for an investigation of the Plame leak -- in essence, attacking them for doing their job. She cites the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's call for the appointment of a special independent counsel "absolutely necessary" because the allegations "come perilously close to treason," and derides the editorial by saying, "treason is a constitutional crime requiring two witnesses and the levying of war against the United States." What part of "perilously close" does Toensing not understand? And she accuses the Post of "contribut[ing] to the fray by reporting on Sept. 28, 2003, that 'two White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife...to undercut Wilson's credibility.' This article was the likely impetus for the other papers' editorials." Again, what problem does Toensing have with the Post and other newspapers from doing their job and expressing their opinion?
- Toensing, a Washington lawyer, knows full well that her accusations against Fitzgerald are baseless on their face. But she also knows that her accusations, written in such a legalistic manner, might well sway at least one juror into voting for Libby's innocence, and thusly hang the jury. In a different legal and political climate, or in a society which puts a higher and more stringent standard on justice, Toensing could, and probably should, be charged with jury tampering and face disbarment. Johnson writes, "Fair-minded, reasonable people now understand that Vice President Cheney and his bag carriers embarked on a deliberate, organized campaign to smear and discredit Joe Wilson. In the process they ignored their obligation to protect our nation's secrets and told reporters about Valerie's ties to the CIA. It is time for all thinking Americans to ask why the Washington Post editorial page has decided to give a partisan hack like Toensing a platform for jury tampering? Just days before the Libby jury retires to consider a verdict, why was Toensing allowed to publish an article rife with lies and misstated facts? Why does the paper that played a key role in exposing the tyranny of Richard Nixon now allow this shallow woman to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?"
- In an open letter to the Post, former Democratic senate aide Brent Budowsky, who helped write legislation protecting the identities of CIA agents, calls Toensing's piece "the most egregious attempt at jury tampering that I have ever seen in this or any other town. ...It was a clear attempt to influence the jury, after the defense rested and before the jury is given the case. [T]he piece was a shameless attempt to present a nullification defense to the jury, by an officer of the court who has worked for the Department of Justice. It is attempt to bypass the judge and jury and present arguments to the jury, through the Post, that would not be admissable for law or fact, which also included factual inaccuracy. This is the functional equivalent of the Post editorial board and the Libby defense team standing outside the jury room, handing the jurors leaflets, ignoring the judges instructions, and handing the jurors inadmissable evidence and telling them to vote not guilty. ...I am astonished that someone of your stature would approve what is an aggressive and obvious attempt at jury tampering, that your fact checkers would permit factual inaccuracy, and that anyone at the Post would use tones of ridicule and derision more akin to an internet blog post than the Washington Post."
- Parry agrees that Toensing and the Post are attempting jury nullification. He writes, "Given the Post's prominence in the nation's capital and Toensing's former position in the Justice Department, the article has the look and feel of an attempt to influence the jury that will be judging whether Libby committed perjury and obstruction of justice. Though the Post's Outlook editors are sure to argue that the 'mug shots' were tongue in cheek, the Post has editorially supported the Iraq War and disparaged American critics, especially Wilson who stepped forward in summer 2003 as one of the first establishment figures to accuse the Bush administration of 'twisting' intelligence. The Post also has bashed Fitzgerald for prosecuting Libby. So, there is a pattern and a motive to the Post's behavior. ...While the Post's behavior may be surprising to some, it actually fits with a long campaign by Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt to undermine Fitzgerald's investigation and tear down Wilson. ...Yet, regardless of the Post's editorial biases, there's no justification for a newspaper publishing information that it knows to be false or intentionally misleading, even if the deceptions are in its opinion section. ...Indeed, the Post editors never would have countenanced a similar 'indictment' article that actually made sense -- one that presented the criminal case against Bush, Cheney, Rove and, say, Fred Hiatt for participating in a conspiracy that involved exposing a covert CIA officer and then trying to cover up the disgraceful action."
- A week later, Post ombudsman Deborah Howell pens an unctuous defense of the Toensing article. She dismisses the controversy sparked by the Toensing article as merely "send[ing] many liberal readers up the wall," but does note a few instances from the massive outpouring -- from liberals and conservatives who put the law before ideology -- in her column. "The Washington Post should do its own investigative report in order to bury once and for all the doubts existing against Valerie Plame's status in the CIA before her identity was disclosed," one reader wrote. "You have op-ed writers contradicting themselves.... Your own David Ignatius called Plame covert in [a] February 2 op-ed. Now...you have Republican Victoria Toensing saying that Plame was not covert." Another reader said, "Publishing her partisan version of history and parsed interpretation of the law the weekend before jury deliberations could be considered jury tampering." Howell retorts, "This wasn't tampering. The judge has instructed jurors to stay away from news reports. There have been hundreds of news stories, editorials and opinion pieces from many points of view in the Post. Reporters and editors here disagree about the case. And Plame's status with the CIA is not an issue in the trial; whether Libby committed perjury is."
- Howell's defense is weak at best. There have been hundreds of instances where juries have disregarded a judge's instructions not to read news stories about the trials they are working, and the results have manifested themselves in "jury nullification" verdicts. But in and of itself, that is not the main problem. The problem is that Howell, like Toensing, knows that Toensing's arguments -- that Plame was not considered covert, that Wilson lied about his visit to Niger, etc. -- were dead wrong. She notes that while Ignatius is not a partisan, Toensing indeed is; in fact, Toensing filed a friend-of-the-court brief during the leak investigation with media lawyer Bruce Sanford on behalf of 36 news organizations, including the Post. The two argued that journalists shouldn't have to testify because no crime was committed if Plame wasn't a covert operative. Howell then says blandly, "Editors should have mentioned the court filing in the Outlook piece." Indeed they should have. Indeed, they shouldn't have even printed the Toensing article, any more than they would have printed an op-ed from Fitzgerald or Libby's lawyers. As for the provocative and possibly slanderous "mug shots" of Fitzgerald and Wilson, Howell dismisses complaints about the graphics as "fun." Outlook editor Robert Kaiser says the Toensing piece was a "huge success" because "It made people consider Fitzgerald's methods and his case in a fresh light."
- Interestingly, Howell stands the Toensing article against the recent coverage of the horrific mistreatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, also covered by the Post as well as in this site. Howell writes, "The [Toensing] brouhaha does not begin to compare with the scandal of the mistreatment of wounded soldiers at the 'other' Walter Reed, laid bare last week by National Desk reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull. The reporting was direct and verified. It did not rely on anonymous sources and backroom agreements and favors. Their reporting was journalism at its best." What is Howell saying? That Toensing's op-ed was not "direct and verified?" Did it "rely on anonymous sources and backroom agreements and favors?" Was it not "journalism at its best?" (Washington Post, No Quarter/Daily Kos, No Quarter, Consortium News, Washington Post, Buzzflash)
- February 18: FireDogLake blogger Christy Hardin Smith, one of the bloggers relentlessly covering the Lewis Libby trial, asks the simple question:
Lewis Libby perjury trial
in light of Robert Novak's testimony that he faxed his July 14 column outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to his friend and lobbyist Richard Hohlt on July 11, and the fact, not revealed by Novak, that Hohlt promptly faxed the column to Karl Rove, then what exactly did Rove know and when did he know it? Smith writes, "Wonder if Karl was forthcoming with the Special Prosecutor, the FBI and the grand jury about this? If [Rove's lawyer Robert] Luskin is confirming it to the press, one would hope so. I'll ask this question again: why does Karl Rove still have a high level security clearance?" (FireDogLake)
- February 18: Fox News senior anchor Brit Hume launches a scurrilous attack on Democratic representative John Murtha, who is spearheading the House Democrats' efforts to scale back the Bush escalation into Iraq.
Conservative smear campaigns
Hume says, "Look, this man has tremendous cache among House Democrats, but he is not -- this guy is long past the day when he had anything but the foggiest awareness of what the heck is going on in the world. ...[T]he fact that he has ascended to the position he has in the eyes of the Democrats in the House and perhaps Democrats around the country tells you a lot about how much they know or care about what's really going on over there." Murtha, an ex-Marine who fought in Vietnam, has a long record of supporting American troops, and since he began jump-starting Democratic opposition to the war, has been a frequent target of right-wing smear tactics. In 2005, GOP senator John McCain insulted Murtha's intelligence, saying that Murtha had "never been a big thinker," and, inexplicably, that Murtha had "become too emotional" because he "goes to funerals." Murtha is a fixture at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital, visiting wounded Iraq veterans there on a weekly basis, and regularly attends funerals of the fallen -- something neither Bush, Hume, nor McCain bother to do. But to this editor's knowledge, no media figure of Hume's supposed stature has actually come out and, in essence, called Murtha senile. (Fox News/Think Progress)
- February 18: Joining Fox News's Hume in smearing opponents of Bush's Middle East policies (see item directly above) is White House press secretary and former Fox News anchor Tony Snow.
Conservative smear campaigns
Snow responds to a question from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who asks if the administration is preparing for a war with Iran, by denying any such preparations, then making the following bizarre accusation: "...I am at a total loss to find any place where this administration has been trying to, quote, 'create a run-up with a war on Iran.' It is interesting to me that it seems that some politicians maybe are trying to protect Iran." Why anyone of any integrity or patriotism towards America would be "trying to protect Iran" is beyond conception. (CNN/Think Progress [link to video])