- February 27: A report commissioned by General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shows that the US military, crushed by the demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will not be able to quickly and fully respond to yet another crisis.
Iraq war and occupation
The assessment represents a decline in the military's readiness from the assessment last year. The report is classified, but senior defense officials confirm its conclusions. Pace's own report, accompanying the review, says that while the Pentagon is working to improve its warfighting abilities, it "may take several years to reduce risk to acceptable levels." The report does not take into account the recent escalation of 21,500 combat troops into Baghdad and Anbar province.
- Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives Pace's assessment to Congress, along with a six-page report on steps the Pentagon is taking to address the problem including new efforts to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and requests for more money to repair and replace equipment. On February 26, the Pentagon released most of Gates's own report, except for a few sections that were classified as secret.
- Gates's own report (referred to above) concluded that "world events and regional trends add up to increased challenges to our nation's security." It added that the decline in readiness is also affected by whether other federal agencies and other nations are fulfilling their commitments. There have been long-standing complaints that the State Department has not met its responsibilities in Iraq, particularly in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts, as well as buttressing the political development of the Iraqi government. (AP/ABC News)
- February 27: US government officials agree to meet with Iranian officials as part of a set of international meetings on Iraq over the next two months.
Iraq war and occupation
The highest-ranking officials at the meetings are likely to be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts. Officials from Britain, Russia, a number of Middle Eastern nations, and world organizations will also be present. There will be two sets of meetings between Iraq and its neighbors, including Syria and Iran. It represents a shift in Bush's avoidance of high-level contacts with the governments in Damascus and, especially, tehran. Critics of the administration have long said that it should do more to engage its Middle Eastern rivals on a host of issues, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and Lebanon. That was the position of the Iraq Study Group, the high-level commission that last year urged direct, unconditional talks that would include Iran and Syria.
- Iraqi officials have been pushing for such a meeting for several months, but Bush officials refused until the Iraqi government reached agreement on pressing domestic matters, including guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenues and foreign investment in the country's immense oil industry, administration officials said. The new government of Iraq maintains regular ties with Iran.
- "I would note that the Iraqi government has invited Syria and Iran to attend both of these regional meetings," Rice tells a Senate panel. "We hope that all governments seize this opportunity to improve their relations with Iraq -- and to work for peace and stability in the region." The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, calls Washington's anticipated face-to-face contact with Iran and Syria -- two countries which the Bush administration has accused of destabilizing Iraq -- "very significant." Zebari adds, "Iraq is becoming a divisive issue in the region. [But] Iraq can be helpful to its neighbors also. It can provide a platform for them to work out their differences."
- The Bush administration parallels its announcement of the upcoming negotiations with new allegations of Iran's involvement in stirring up trouble in the Middle East. The new US intelligence chief, Michael McConnell, tells a Senate committee that Iran is training anti-American Iraqi Shi'ites at sites inside Lebanon and Iran to use armor-piercing weapons against American troops. McConnell says that it is "probable" that top Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are aware that the weapons have been supplied by Iran. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the Iranian-made weapons would be "certainly at the top of our list" in the coming meetings.
- Administration officials characterize the conflicting signals as part of a larger diplomatic strategy for dealing with Iran "that verges on a high-level game of chicken," according to the Times. One senior administration official says that while some Bush officials, particularly at the State Department, have advocated looking for ways to talk to Iran and Syria, the officials at the same time did not want to appear to be talking to either country from a position of weakness. By ratcheting up the confrontational rhetoric in recent weeks, the administration official says, the United States appears to be more in control. (New York Times)
- February 27: Fired US attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico calls his firing a "political fragging," according to a recent e-mail excerpted on the blog of New Mexico political consultant Joe Monohon.
US Attorney firings
Iglesias wrote in the e-mail, "This is a political fragging, pure and simple. I'm OK with being asked to move on for political reasons, I'm NOT OK with the Department of Justice wrongfully testifying under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that I had performance issues." Iglesias said in the e-mail that "reams of performance stats" show that, despite Justice Department accusations that Iglesias and the others had "performance issues," Iglesias performed his job very well. (Joe Monohon/TPM Muckraker)
- February 27: Lester Crawford, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration convicted for lying about stocks he owned in companies regulated by the FDA, may be facing stiffer penalties than he once hoped.
The federal prosecutors and Crawford's defense attorneys worked out a deal that would have Crawford avoid jail time, and instead penalize him with a small fine and probation. But the judge, Deborah Robinson, wants an explanation of why the agreed-upon penalties are so small. Crawford's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, wrote in court filings earlier this month that her client should avoid jail time and stiffer fines because he "has agreed to take responsibility for his actions." Prosecutors have acknowledged that there was no evidence Crawford had schemed to defraud or misuse his office for personal gain. "The stigma of his conviction will follow him the rest of his life," Van Gelder wrote. In October 2006, Crawford pleaded guilty to charges of having a conflict of interest and false reporting of information about stocks that he and his wife owned. Beginning in 2002, Crawford filed seven incorrect financial reports with a government ethics office and Congress. The two charges -- conflict of interest and false reporting -- are misdemeanors and each carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Instead, Crawford is getting probation and a $50,000 fine. Prosecutors say the fine is appropriate because it will exceed the roughly $39,000 that Crawford and his wife, Cathy, made from exercising options and in dividends from illegally held stocks in food, beverage and medical companies, which included Embrex Inc. and Pepsico Inc. Crawford, a veterinarian and food-safety expert, abruptly resigned from the FDA in September 2005 but gave no reason for leaving. He had held the job for two months, following his confirmation by the Senate. (AP/Kansas City Star)
- February 27: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers the nomination of Sam Fox to the post of US ambassador to Belgium.
Partisan Bush appointees
Fox's nomination would not ordinarily be considered worth coverage for this site, but Fox's contributions to the Republican Party and affiliated organizations make him worth scrutiny. Like many Bush nominees, Fox -- who does not speak Belgian and apparently knows little or nothing about the country -- is a Bush "Ranger," responsible for steering millions of dollars in donations to both the Bush/Cheney campaigns and the Republican Party. He's also a charter member of the Libby Defense Fund (Bush's nickname for Fox is, unsurprisingly, "Foxy."), as is former US ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler (who had a hand in channeling the Iraq-Niger forgeries to Washington), former GOP presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp, former GOP senators Fred Thompson and Alan Simpson, and former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Most controversially, in late 2004, Fox gave $50,000 to the 527 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the organization that led an unprecedentedly ugly smear campaign against Bush presidential opponent John Kerry. Worse, Fox made his contributions long after the SBVT had been debunked. Crooks and Liars blogger John Amato observes, "Now if that won't buy you an ambassador's post from George W. Bush, nothing will."
- Unfortunately for Fox, Kerry is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry takes the opportunity to grill the wriggling, obviously discomfited Fox about his contributions to the SBVT, asking Fox, "Might I ask you what your opinion is with respect to the state of American politics as regards the politics of personal destruction?" Fox responds that he worries about American political campaigning becoming "mean and destructive," and says he doesn't remember who asked him to contribute to the SBVT. When Fox defends his contributions by saying that both Democrats and Republicans used 527 organizations, Kerry asks, "So is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship, that two wrongs make a right?" Fox retorts, "I did it because politically it's necessary if the other side's doing it." Fox says that Congress should either ban or more closely regulate 527s.
- In what can only be characterized as complete sucking up, Fox says, "Senator Kerry, I very much respect your dedicated service to this country. I know that you were not drafted -- you volunteered. You went to Vietnam. You were wounded. Highly decorated. Senator, you're a hero. And there isn't anybody or anything that's going to take that away from you. But yet 527s tried to." The following exchange is illuminating. Kerry says, "I certainly appreciate the comments you just made, Mr. Fox, and I'm not looking for anyone to call me a hero. I think that most heroes died, and do die, and those of us who are lucky enough to get out of there are lucky. But notwithstanding the comments you made, you did see fit to contribute a very significant amount of money in October to a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, correct? ...Why would you do that given what you just said about how bad they are?" Fox rambles on about his "living the American dream," his contributions to many different charities and the constant stream of requests for donations he receives, but says he can't recall who asked him to contribute to the SBVT. "You have no recollection of why you gave away $50,000?" Kerry asks, and follows with, "Well, you don't think that's it's important as a citizen, who doesn't like 527s to know where your money is going and how it's going to be spent?" Fox thrashes: "Well, I think with most contributors and if you go to the other side of the political campaigns and we give to individual candidates, we don't know how they're going to use that money and what...." but Kerry retorts, "Well at least it's accountable to an individual candidate for whom people have to vote or not vote. 527s as you said are mean, ugly and not accountable." Fox capitulates: "I agree with that. I absolutely agree with that." None of which explains why Fox would contribute such a large sum to such a reprehensible organization -- which he says he personally opposes.
- Kerry is unforgiving. "My question to you is why?" he asks. "When you say you couldn't have known -- these were people very publicly condemning it. How could you not have known?" Fox responds, "I guess, Mr. Senator, when I'm asked I just generally give." Kerry continues to press by saying, "So, again, I ask you the question, do you think now that you and others bear responsibility for thinking about where we put money in American politics? What we're saying, what we present to the American people — is truth important or isn't it?" An obviously dismayed Fox answers, "Senator, if I had reason to believe and if I were convinced that the money was going to be used to, in any untruthful or false way, knowingly, I would not give." The lies and slanders of the SBVT were, by the time he donated, well documented, and Kerry knows that better than anyone. "Well, sir, let me ask you this question," he continues. "Did you or did you not in any of the public comments being made at the time, which I assume you were following, hear or read of any of the public statements at that point in time, with respect to the legitimacy of these charges and these smears? ...Did you miss this: In September of 2004, Vice Admiral Ruth, with the Navy Inspector General, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy that was made public -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, every major newspaper in the country carried, saying their examination found that the existing documentation regarding my medals was legitimate. Did you miss that too?" All Fox can say is, "I don't remember those, but I'm certain at the time I must have read them."
- Another Democratic committee member, presidential candidate Barack Obama, pounds away at Fox as well, saying, "The Swift Boat ads were of a different degree, even in the ugly arena of politics. They were extraordinarily well publicized, that there was essentially a fraud being perpetrated on the American people. It had a profound impact on the election." Obama then, in essence, calls Fox a liar: "To say that you gave because it's ugly out there and somebody asked you to give. I mean, it sounds to me like you were aware of it -- that this was not the best of political practices -- and you thought it was okay to go ahead and contribute to that. By the time you contributed, it was pretty widely noted -- it would have been hard for you to miss the fact that there was something particularly nasty and insidious about these ads. It had been well publicized at this point. I don't think you necessarily crafted the message but you certainly knew at that point what the message was."
- Obama later says he finds Fox's responses "unsatisfying," and that Fox should have admitted it was a mistake to contribute to the Swift Boat group. Kerry himself says that Fox's support for such an extremist organization raises questions about his fitness to serve as an ambassador, noting that Fox's apparent lack of ethics and judgment should disqualify Fox from representing our country with an important ally abroad. Bush will later duck the oversight process by naming Fox as a "recess appointment," further angering Congressional Democrats. (Crooks and Liars, AP/Bradenton Herald, AP/Fox News, Daily Kos [multiple sources and links to video], Atlantic Free Press [link to video], Bob Geiger, James Moore and Wayne Slater)
- February 27: Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a veteran of the Iraq war planning in the Pentagin and a frequent, outspoken critic of the administration she once served, discusses the situation in Iraq and the Middle East with two interviewers from the liberal news and opinion site Truthdig.
War with Iran
Kwiatkowski says that she is "alarmed at the daily signs that indeed this country is getting ready to instigate an attack on Iran. All the signs are there, the suggestions that Iranian bombs are killing American soldiers, that's not true, but it's certainly been made in, I think every American newspaper, the suggestion that Iran is somehow killing Americans. The suggestion that Iran has nuclear weapons, is imminently close to nuclear weapons. That is not true but that's been, those claims are made, even by this administration. The idea that we have two carrier battle groups currently in the region and in fact I just saw today, Admiral Walsh, one of the big guys in the Navy said that we're very concerned about what Iran is doing even more so than al-Qaeda. So there, all the signs are there that we are being, we're going to wake up one morning soon, very soon, and we will be at war with Iran. We will have bombed them in some sort of shock and awe campaign destroying many lives and setting back US relations even further than we've already done it with Iraq."
- Like many others, Kwiatkowski believes that one of the driving forces behind the push to strike Iran is the combined pressure from the Air Force and the Navy, the two arms of the US military which have been largely left out of what Kwiatkowski sarcastically calls "the glory of Iraq." She says, "[T]hose guys want a piece of the action, and so they're advertising to the administration and...the Air Force and the Navy have targets they believe they can overwhelmingly hit their targets, deep penetration, possibly nuclear weapons, I mean, nothing is off the table.... And the delivery of these weapons, whether they're conventional or nuclear, will be naval and Air Force. They'll be Navy from the sea and Air Force form long range bombers and some of the bases that we have around the [region]. ...I don't think the Army could support any type of invasion of Iran and they wouldn't' want to. I'm sure that they've, they've had enough with Iraq and our reserves are in terrible condition. We've got huge problems in the Army and in the Reserve system. So I don't think there's any intention to go into Iran, but simply to destroy it and to create havoc and disruption and humanitarian crisis and topple perhaps the government of Ahmadinejad. We want to topple that government. Yeah, we'll do it with bombs from a distance. I don't know if you call that shock and awe, we've been advertising it for a long, long time. It will not be a surprise to the Iranians if we do it."
- Kwiatkowski agrees with interviewer James Harris, who says, "The things that are going on in and around Iran sound a lot like the things that went on in 2002...." She briefly discusses her term at the Pentagon, after leaving the staff of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to go to work in the Pentagon's Near East South Asia office, which harbored Donald Feith's now-infamous Office of Special Plans. The OSP was "our sister office," Kwiatkowski recalls. Most of the 23,000 or so people working in the Pentagon "were as in the dark as any of the Americans" over the plans to invade Iraq. "They believed what they read in the papers, and what they read in the papers, particularly the New York Times and the Washington Post had been, for the most part, planted by the administration. We know this now, the whole Congress knows this now, they've had a number of hearings.... Doug Feith and his whole organization for planting and providing misleading stories, many of which were later leaked on purpose to the press. A friendly press, of course, [Times reporter] Judith Miller was not hostile to the intentions of this administration. They wanted to go into Iraq, and they intended to go into Iraq. We did go into Iraq, and all that was really needed was to bring on board the American people, and to bring on board the Congress. But not necessarily to declare war. Congress has never been asked to declare war on Iraq. And they won't be asked to declare war on Iran even though we will conduct that war. These guys had an agenda. In fact, one of the things that I did learn as a result of having my eyes opened in that final tour in the Pentagon is that neo-conservatives, their foreign policy is very activist, you could say that's a nice way to say it, very activist, it's very oriented towards the Untied States as a benevolent dictator[ship], a benevolent guiding hand for the world, particularly the Middle East. And it's very much a pro-Israel policy, and it's a policy that says, we should be able to do whatever we want to do, if we see it in our interest."
- She continues, "Now, Americans don't see any value, most Americans, 75 % of Americans want the troops home now. They don't see any value to having our troops in Iraq. They didn't see any value in that in 2002. But, they had a story sold to them, which was of course that Saddam Hussein somehow was involved with 9/11, had WMDs, and was a serious threat, an imminent threat, a grave threat to the United States.
- Harris asks a probing question: "[A]s a worker there, you were doing what you thought was right at the time. Is that a safe thing to say?" Kwiatkowski replies, "[T]here's two parts of how the story is sold, how the propaganda was put forth on the American people, and how it's been put forth on them today in terms of Iran. You have political appointees in every government agency, and they switch out every time you get a new president, and that's totally normal. Usually those, the numbers increase after every president, they always get a few more. So Bush was no different. He brought in a number of political appointees: Doug Feith, certainly Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. But also a number of political appointees at what you would call a lower level, like my level -- Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel level. And they're not military officers, they're civilians. And they're brought in, and this is where the propaganda was kind of put together, this is where the so-called alternative intelligence assessments were put together by the civilian appointees of the Bush administration. Most of which, in fact, probably all of the Pentagon shared a neo-conservative world vision, which has a particular role for us, and that included the topping of Saddam Hussein, and it includes the toppling of the leadership in Tehran. These guys are the ones doing it, they're doing it. They're putting all the propaganda, they're spreading stories, planting stuff in the media. They're doing that to people in the Pentagon, the Civil Service core in the Pentagon, which is about half of them, and the other half which are uniformed military officers serving anywhere from three to four, five years, sometimes tours in the Pentagon. We're looking at regular intel, we're looking at the stuff the CIA and the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency produces. And that stuff never said, that stuff never said Saddam Hussein had WMDs, had a delivery system, was a threat to the United States. It never said that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11 or that Saddam Hussein worked with al-Qaeda. That intelligence never said that."
- Following up, Harris asks Kwiatkowski if she was ever asked to "shut up." "Absolutely!" she laughs. "Once the Office of Special Plans was set up formally, now they were informally set up prior to the fall of 2002, but formally they became an office with office space and that whole bit. And the first act to follow that setup of the Office of Special Plans, we had a staff meeting, and our boss, Bill Luti, who was the boss of Special Plans technically, not in reality but on paper. And he announced to us that from now on, action officers, staff officers such as myself and all my peers, at least in that office, and I presume this went all the way through the rest of policy, but we were told that when we needed to fill in data, putting it in papers that we would send up, doing our job, as we did our daily job, we were no longer to look at CIA and DIA intelligence, we were simply to call the Office of Special Plans and they would send down to us talking points, which we would incorporate verbatim no deletions, no additions, no modifications into every paper that we did. And of course, that was very unusual and all the action officers are looking at each other like, well that's interesting. We're not to look at the intelligence any more, we're simply to go to this group of political appointees and they will provide to us word for word what we should say about Iraq, about WMD and about terrorism. And this is exactly what our orders were. And there were people...I was not one of these people who said, 'you know, I'm not gonna do that, I'm not gonna do that because there's something I don't like about it, it's incorrect in some way.' And they experimented with sending up papers that did not follow those instructions, and those papers were 100% of the time returned back for correction. So we weren't allowed to put out anything except what Office of Special Plans was producing for us. And that was only partially based on intelligence, and partially based on a political agenda. So this is how they did it. And I'll tell you what, civil servants and military people, we follow orders, okay. And we buy into it. And we don't suspect that our leaders are nefarious, we don't suspect that. They, they quite frankly have to go a long way to prove to us that they are nefarious. That's how it worked, and I imagine it's working much the same way there in terms of Iran."
- Josh Scheer asks Kwiatkowski about the Bush political appointees pushing for war and then disappearing "into the woodwork" without consequence. Kwiatkowski answers, "Well, a big part of what happens is these guys have top cover, the names of the top cover are Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. These guys like what [Paul] Wolfowitz has done [left the administration to head the World Bank]."
- More importantly, she points out that the Bush administration considers Iraq a "success" because, whether the war is going well or not, the US has now established a large and permanent military presence in Iraq: "[M]any in Congress, and certainly in this administration agree, and this is Democrats and Republicans, like the idea that we have gone into Iraq, we have built four mega bases, they are complete. Most of the money we gave to Halliburton was for construction and completion of these bases. We have probably, of the 150,000, 160,000 troops we have in Iraq probably 110,000 of those folks are associated with one of those four mega bases. Safely ensconced behind acres and acres of concrete. To operate there indefinitely, no matter what happens in Baghdad, no matter who takes over, no matter if the country splits into three pieces or it stays one. No matter what happens, we have those mega bases, and there's many in Congress and certainly in this administration, Republican and Democrat alike that really like that. Part of the reason I think that we went into Iraq was to reestablish a stronger foothold than we had in Saudi Arabia, but also a more economical, a more flexible, in terms of who we want to hit. If you want to hit Syria, can you do it from Iraq? Of course you can. And now you can do it from bases that will support any type of airplane you want, any number of troops in barracks. I mean we can do things from Iraq. And this is what they wanted. So, yeah, we don't like being lied to. But quite frankly, many people in the Congress, and certainly this administration, when they call Iraq a success, they mean it, and this is why. We're in Iraq to stay. And can we strike Iran from Iraq? Well, I don't know if we'll do that next week, but we can."
- She says that regardless of who wins the presidential election in 2008, the US will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future, even though because the US has no "status of force agreements" with the Iraqi government, those bases are illegal. She continues, "And I'll tell you, there are guys that have been with this administration for awhile, people, in fact one of the guys was an Air Force general that was involved with the Kurds ten years ago, he's retired now, but he was actually the guy, his name escapes me for the moment, but he was [Paul] Bremer's predecessor for a short period of time. And he was fired, and Bremer came in and took over in Baghdad as part of the reconstruction phase." (Kwiatkowski is referring to Jay Garner.) "This is in the spring of 2003. And this guy gave an interview in Government Exec magazine, February 2004, he said that the US will be in Iraq, and the American people need to get with this program, we will be in Iraq like we were in the Philippines for anywhere from 20 to 30 more years. That's the time frame that we're looking at. And that is the life span of the bases that we've constructed there. Yeah, we are not leaving these bases, and a Democratic president, I don't care who they are, will keep those bases there. They will justify them and they will use them and we love that. We love it. So it's not about what the American people think is right or wrong, it's not about if we got lied to, what matters is, they did what they wanted to do, and as Bush says, and as Cheney says, 'it's quite the success.'"
- She continues, "And this is very frightening. Because none of this has ever been admitted to the American people, it's only been hinted at by people that know. And of course the facts speak for themselves. The facts are, we are in Iraq, we have the finest military installations in the world, the newest military installations in the world, and we're not leaving them. We're not turning them over to a Shi'ite government, we're not turning them over to a Sunni government, we're not turning them over to a Kurdish government. We're not doing that. They are American bases. We've got our flag there. And this is kind of the way they used to do things, I guess back in the Middle Ages. Maybe the Dark Ages. A king decided he wanted to go do something, he went and did it. And this is George Bush. We call him an elected president. I mean, he's operating much as kings have operated in the past."
- Kwiatkowski observes that, while Bush, Cheney, and their fellow neocons and warhawks see the Iraq occupation as a success, they are dangerously wrong. "The more Iraqis meet us, the more they hate us. ...The problem is, it's immoral, it's illegal, it engenders hatred for Americans, contempt for Americans. It makes every American in the world a target for terrorism. It's just plain wrong, it's unconstitutional. I mean, there's a lot of problems with it. Dead Americans, unfortunately doesn't seem to be the problem for most of us, which is a shame. We don't like looking at ugly people, I will say that. And we're seeing a lot of folks come back pretty deformed, mentally and even more obviously physically, deformed from their experiences in Iraq. And I think that could, that might give, I hate to say give hope, but realize the real moral price that we're paying for this, that that can help. But quite frankly, I have no hope of us leaving Iraq. I think the intention was for us to put bases there, to stay there, operate militarily from there. ...I'm pessimistic that any single American can do much to prevent what seems to be going to happen here, attacking Iran and also this terrible thing we've done to Iraq which I think will continue to go on for many years. It will fester, fester for many years."
- Kwiatkowski says the cost to the Constitutional democracy that is America has been tremendous, and that the damage that has been done may never be repaired. The "Constitution has been hurt by many presidents, but this president has done huge damage to understanding of the Constitution, its idea that it should restrain presidential power, that we should be conservative, small 'c' conservative when we go out and engage in these adventures, the Congress has the right to declare war, we've ignored that for many decades. Just continued down that path. The idea that the Bill of Rights is an option, the Bill of Rights is a set of suggestions has become almost mainstream belief. And this is terrible, this is a terrible thing. But I don't think Osama bin Laden did that. Terrorism is, obviously it has a political intent, but terrorism almost always, in fact I think in every case, when the political solutions are offered, when the politics change, when the people themselves change, terrorism stops. Terrorism to the extent that it is a crime, should've been treated like a crime, but instead we made it a war. Well there is no war with terror, terrorism is a tactic, you don't make war against a tactic. So yeah, a lot of things have happened, I don't think Osama had much to do with it, quite frankly, I think this administration, many of the people in Washington are quite comfortable with reduced freedoms for America and this is a good way to get those reduced freedoms, to basically break down and deconstruct the Bill of Rights and say, 'well we didn't mean that, we didn't mean this.'
- "...Our country has changed, and I think what people have to do now is kind of stand up and separate themselves from a government to the extent that they don't agree with it and prepare themselves for real battle. Because we are gonna need to stand up very, I can use the word 'vociferously,' I think that's what we have to do, cause our own country is at risk, but not from terror, not from buildings being knocked down, that's not what our country is at risk from, it's at risk from our politics, from our abandonment of the Constitution, our devaluing of the Bill of Rights. We've lost our freedom. Osama probably couldn't have dreamed that George Bush would help him out so much. I don't think even that was his intention, I don't think Osama could care less about our freedom, Osama's issues have to do with Islam and the holy land, Saudi Arabia, his issues are much more narrow than anything that he's so called achieved. And I think George Bush has achieved this [along with a] very weak and debased Congress has achieved this for this country. And so, it's a big problem. I'm quite depressed about it. I don't really have a solution or a remedy. I think we just need to wake up and see what's being done, and then we need to decide if we want to be a part of it. It's like that old thing, I'm not a child of the 60s, but you're either working to fix the problem or you are the problem." (Truthdig [link to audio interview])
"In this decade there's been no stronger force for nuclear weapons proliferation than the dynamic duo of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush." -- Josh Marshall
False accusations about North Korea's uranium-enrichment program, going on since 2002, led to North Korea's accelerated plutonium weapons program
- February 28: For almost five years, the Bush administration has accused North Korea of developing a nuclear device from enriched uranium in secret, alongside its well-established plutonium program. Now Bush officials are reluctantly admitting that their accusations are founded on little more than speculation.
- In the fall of 2002, Bush administration officials have used intelligence estimates to accuse North Korea of pursuing a secret plan to develop an enriched-uranium bomb. The accusations ruptured an already-tense and fragile relationship, with the US cutting off oil supplies and the North Koreans throwing out international weapons inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and producing that first plutonium bomb. It seems likely that had the Bush administration not leveled such harsh and groundless accusations, North Korea would not have worked so hard to develop a nuclear weapon. "The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently," says a senior administration official.
- Questions are also rising about the ability of US intelligence agencies to accurately assess the status of foreign weapons programs. The original assessment about North Korea came during the same period that the administration was building its case about Iraq's unconventional weapons programs, which turned out to be based on flawed intelligence. The new North Korea assessment comes amid debate over intelligence about Iran's weapons. It seems likely that the same misrepresentations and lies about Iraq and Iran have also infested intelligence assessments about North Korea.
- The revelation of the intelligence agencies' doubts, which have been going on behind closed doors for some time, came on February 26 when intelligence official Joseph DeTrani, a longtime intelligence official, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and told Democratic senator Jack Reed that "we still have confidence that the program is in existence -- at the mid-confidence level." Under the intelligence agencies' own definitions, that level "means the information is interpreted in various ways, we have alternative views" or it is not fully corroborated. Reed is blunt in his response to DeTrani's bombshell. "The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the nuclear weapons of North Korea," he says. "If that was based in part on mixing up North Korea's ambitions with their accomplishments, it's important." Two anonymous administration officials say that if the Bush administration harbored the same doubts in 2002 that it harbored now, the negotiating strategy for dealing with North Korea might have been different -- and the tit-for-tat actions that led to October's nuclear test could, conceivably, have been avoided.
- The original assessment was based on Pakistan's sale to North Korea of upwards of 20 centrifuges, machines that spin fast to convert uranium gas into highly enriched uranium, a main fuel for atom bombs. Officials feared that the North Koreans would use those centrifuges as models to build a vast enrichment complex. But experts inside and outside the government now say that, since then, little or no evidence of Korean procurements had emerged to back up those fears. The office of the Director of National Intelligence has declassified a selected portion of a recent update to national security officials about the status of North Korea's uranium program; the update says that the intelligence community still had "high confidence that North Korea has pursued a uranium enrichment capability, which we assess is for a weapon." It adds that all the government's intelligence agencies "judge -- most with moderate confidence -- that this effort continues. The degree of progress towards producing enriched uranium remains unknown, however."
- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security advisor Stephen Hadley both refuse to discuss the decisions to confront North Korea in 2002 or the quality of the intelligence behind that decision, though both have noted previously that North Korea purchased equipment from Pakistan that could only have been intended for use in producing weapons fuel. One former official says that it was Rice, in a meeting at the CIA in 2004, who encouraged intelligence officials to soften their assessments of how quickly the North Koreans could produce weapons-usable uranium. "She asked, how did we know about the timing, and they didn't have answers," says the former official. "Did they have Russians and Chinese helping them? No one was sure. It was really a guesstimate about timing." But former UN ambassador John Bolton contradicts the former official, saying "there was no dissent at the time, because in the face of the evidence the disputes evaporated." Bolton is one of the most recalcitrantly hawkish members of the administration, a loud critic of its recent deal with North Korea, and one of the most unreliable of sources as far as facts and assessments go.
- David Kay, a nuclear expert and former official who in 2003 and 2004 led the American hunt for unconventional arms in Iraq, says he always found the administration's claims about the North Korean uranium program unpersuasive. "They were driving it way further than the evidence indicated it should go," he says. The leap of logic, Kay adds, turned evidence of equipment purchases into "a significant production capability." David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, adds, "The evidence doesn't support the extrapolation" to the judgment that North Korea was making crucial strides in its uranium program. "The extrapolation went too far."
- Blogger and commentator Josh Marshall writes, "It's a screw-up that staggers the mind. And you don't even need to know this new information to know that. Even if the claims were and are true, it was always clear that the uranium program was far less advanced than the plutonium one, which would be ready to produce weapons soon after it was reopened. Now we learn the whole thing may have been a phantom. Like I said, it staggers the mind how badly this was bungled. In this decade there's been no stronger force for nuclear weapons proliferation than the dynamic duo of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush." (New York Times/International Herald Tribune, Talking Points Memo)
- February 28: The US has six months to win the war in Iraq, or face a complete collapse rivaling the debacle in Vietnam, according to an elite team of military officers advising US commander General David Petraeus.
Iraq war and occupation
The officers, combat veterans and leading experts in counter-insurgency, have the responsibility of implementing the "new way forward" strategy announced by Bush on January 10. The plan includes an escalation of 21,500 additional American combat troops to establish security in Baghdad and in Anbar province. This group of advisors, nicknamed the "Baghdad brains trust," has a huge range of problems to overcome and very little time to do it. A former senior administration official says, "They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about 'Plan B' by the autumn -- meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it's getting harder every day."
- The short-term goal is to improve security enough for the Iraqi government to somehow bring the battling Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurdish factions together to create some sort of national reconciliation. If this can be brought about, longer-term schemes for rebuilding Iraq under the so-called "go long" strategy will be set in motion. But the next six months are make-or-break for both the US military and the Iraqi government. Among the biggest obstacles: insufficent numbers of troops on the ground; a disintegrating international coalition; an anticipated upsurge in violence in the south as the British leave; morale problems as casualties rise; and what some see as a failure of political will in Washington and Baghdad. And this crisis team is wrestling with the same fundamental problems that earlier iterations of crisis teams faced. "[T]hey're still trying to figure out what's the plan," says the official. "The president is expecting progress. But they're thinking, what does he mean? The plan is changing every minute, as all plans do."
- The team consists of, among others, Colonel Peter Mansoor, Petraeus's executive officer and a former armored division commander who holds a PhD in the history of infantry; Colonel H.R. McMaster, author of a well-known critique of Vietnam and a seasoned counter-insurgency operations chief; Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen, a seconded Australian army officer and expert on Islamism; and Colonel Michael Meese, son of former US attorney general Edwin Meese, who was a member of the ill-fated Iraq Study Group.
- Even with Bush's "surge," the group believes that the US doesn't have nearly the number of boots on the ground needed to get the job done. "We don't have the numbers for the counter-insurgency job even with the surge," says the former senior administration official. "The word 'surge' is a misnomer. Strategically, tactically, it's not a surge," says an American officer. "Additional troops are essential if we are to win," said Lieutenant Colonel John Nagel, another Petraeus confidant and co-author of the Army's counter-insurgency manual, in an address at the US Naval Institute in San Diego last month. One soldier for every 50 civilians in the most intense conflict areas was key to successful counter-insurgency work. Compounding the manpower problems is an apparently insurmountable shortage of civilian volunteers from the Pentagon, state department and treasury. They are needed to staff the additional provincial reconstruction teams and other aid projects promised by Bush.
- The recent British decision to reduce troop levels in southern Iraq, coupled with the actual or anticipated departure of other allies, has heightened the Petraeus team's worries that the international coalition is "disintegrating" even as the US strives to regain the initiative in Iraq, the former official says. Increased violence in the south is now expected, caused in part by the "displacement" of Shi'a militias forced out of Baghdad by the US crackdown. And military officials know that a possibly calamitous confrontation with the Shi'ite Mahdi Army in the streets of Sadr City is almost a certainty.
- Morale is another key concern in the Green Zone headquarters as US forces prepare for a rise in casualties as the security crackdown gathers pace. "It's amazing how well morale has held up so far," the former official says. "But the guys know what's being said back home. There is no question morale is gradually being sapped by political debates in Washington." (Editor's note: this former Bush official, though unusually honest for a member of that group, is still toeing the line and continuing to insist that the troops in Iraq would be just fine if everyone in America would quit debating the war and just support them without question. Evidence in other pages of this site, and more so elsewhere, shows that morale among many US soldiers in Iraq is anything but fine, and the reasons have nothing to do with the "political debates in Washington.")
- Preventing the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki from "politicizing" the surge by using American and Iraqi forces to exclusively attack Sunni strongholds is a difficult thing to prevent. The minority Sunnis are increasingly shut out of the government, and their political and social estrangement is working to make them even more intransigent and likely to escalate their violent resistance to the Shi'ite-led government. The Petraeus team believes the government is failing to work hard enough to meet other national reconciliation "benchmarks" set by Bush. Yet, it is accepted that the US is asking the Iraqi prime minister to do what most politicians in normal circumstances would refuse to contemplate. "What we're doing is asking Maliki to confront his own powerbase," one officer says.
- Stateside, the support for the occupation is withering day by day. Steven Simon, the national security council's senior director for transnational threats during the Clinton administration, says a final meltdown in political and public backing is likely if the new strategy was not quickly seen to be working. "The implosion of domestic support for the war will compel the disengagement of US forces," Simon wrote in a recent paper for the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is now just a matter of time. Better to withdraw as a coherent and at least somewhat volitional act than withdraw later in hectic response to public opposition...or to a series of unexpectedly sharp reverses on the ground." The former administration official concurs. "If it gets really tough in the next few months, it will throw fuel on the fire in Washington," he says. "Congress will be emboldened in direct proportion to the trouble in Iraq." He believes that Bush has until Labor Day, the first Monday in September which marks the start of the new political year. If, by then, the policy in Iraq isn't working, he believes Bush will likely lose control of the policy to Congress and be forced to begin pulling out American forces. (Guardian)
- February 28: The commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center is fired over the scandal swirling around horrific treatment of wounded veterans at the hospital. The Army says it has lost its trust and confidence in the former commander, Major General George Weightman.
Walter Reed scandal
Yet Weightman's temporary replacement, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, is perhaps even more troubling, since many soldiers, family members, and veterans' advocates have spoken about Kiley knowing for years about the conditions at Walter Reed but doing little to alleviate them (see the entries in March 2007 for more information).
- "The care and welfare of our wounded men and women in uniform demand the highest standard of excellence and commitment that we can muster as a government," says Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command." A senior Defense Department official says that Gates had demanded quick action to show that the Pentagon was serious about improvements at Walter Reed, but that Gates was not involved in the appointment of Kiley. Kiley, the Army surgeon general and commander of the US Army Medical Command, will take over temporarily as commander of Walter Reed "until a general officer is selected for this important leadership position," the Army says. Kiley was commander at Walter Reed until 2004. He has called the Post stories a "one-sided representation" of conditions at the facility, and even attempted to blame the soldiers themselves for the dismal living conditions. "While we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed," he recently said.
- Weightman, an easygoing, open Army leader, is well respected in the military medical community and well liked among the staff at Walter Reed. He took command in August and instituted some changes to improve outpatient care. The defense official says his firing and replacement by Kiley are likely to be demoralizing to the staff at the medical center. The Army is already cracking down on some staff members after the reports of poor care. A number of soldiers have been reassigned from their duties at Walter Reed, including a captain and several sergeants, according to an Army official. More than 100 soldiers will arrive at Walter Reed later this month to permanently reinforce the medical brigade responsible for overseeing outpatient care. (Washington Post)
- February 28: Outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Medical Hold Unit say they have been forbidden to speak with the media.
Walter Reed scandal
They also say they have been told they will wake up at 6 AM every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 AM. "Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media," says one soldier at the unit. It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after basic training.
- Soldiers housed in the now-infamous Building 18 have been ordered to move out of that site and into Building 14 within the next two weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It is also located on the Walter Reed campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access. Building 18 was featured in the recent Washington Post expose of horrific living conditions at Walter Reed (see above items).
- The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: "It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place," referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed. (Army Times)
- February 28: The military crackdown on soldiers being forbidden to speak to the press extends far beyond Walter Reed Army Medical center, and is part of a larger scheme to tighten restrictions on journalists' access to many military facilities, says James Crawley, the president of Military Reporters and Editors.
Walter Reed scandal
Crawley says that the recent report by the Army Times that Walter Reed patients had been barred from speaking with reporters is not the first case of tightened restrictions. In recent months, he says several MRE members have reported similar crackdowns. What's worse, many of the denials are apparently in reaction to the potential negativity of a planned story. "It is starting to look like it is becoming a policy in some areas where they are not allowing reporters on the base unless it is an absolutely positively good news story," says Crawley. "The military is making it harder and harder to do stories on bases, as far as doing man on the street interviews."
- Today's Army Times report (see the February 28 item just above) reports that Reed patients have been muzzled since the damning Washington Post series that revealed the horrendous conditions and treatment received by many wounded veterans. The Times reports, "The Pentagon...clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: 'It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while [the Walter Reed] review takes place.'"
- However, MRE members report that the same clampdown is in place at other military facilities, and not just hospitals. Sig Christenson, former MRE president and military writer at the San Antonio Express-News, cites two recent instances of access denials he received. Several weeks ago, Christensen was denied entrance to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a story related to the 3,000th death in Iraq. Just this week, Lackland Air Force Base refused to let him in for a story related to the recent controversy surrounding drill sergeant Michelle Manhart, who was demoted by the Air Force for posing in Playboy. "I wanted to spend some time with the trainers there and show how they instill core values and integrity in these troops," he says. "They refused me access because Michelle Manhart was part of the story. They did not want to support another story that had Michelle Manhart in it." Christenson says the denials are serious because they were apparently in reaction to the subject of the story, not any security issue. "This is the first time in ten years that any installation had denied me access on the basis of the content of my reporting," Christenson, a multiple Iraq embed, says. "It is a really dangerous thing that raises a lot of issues. It raises the question of my credibility." Crawley adds, "This is troublesome because it keeps the average person from learning the real facts here. They are trying to censor the news, in this case it is bad news. The military has gone into a bunker mentality." Crawley says he has heard reports from some reporters that casualty numbers were not being released as freely as in the past. "They are trying to manage the news," he says. "There has to be some middle ground and in the past there has been middle ground." (Editor and Publisher)
- February 28: Congressional leaders will seek testimony from several fired US attorneys, after learning that one of the attorneys, New Mexico's David Iglesias, says he was fired due to political interference from the Department of Justice.
US Attorney firings
The House is also seeking subpoenas from four of the fired prosecutors, but the Senate Judiciary Committee will ask them to testify voluntarily before it decides whether to subpoena them.
- Iglesias says that he believes he was forced out because he refused to speed up an indictment of local Democrats a month before November's congressional elections, which amounts to asking Iglesias to interfere in the election process. Iglesias says that two members of Congress called separately in mid-October to inquire about the timing of a federal probe of a kickback scheme. They appeared eager, he says, for an indictment to be issued before the elections in order to benefit the Republicans. He refused to name the members of Congress because, he says, he feared retaliation. On December 7, after Iglesias refused to issue the indictments, Iglesias was fired for what DOJ officials call "performance-related issues." (Iglesias received a strongly positive performance review shortly before his firing.) The day before, Iglesias called his firing a "political fragging."
- He says he believes he was forced out because he resisted the pressure and didn't indict anyone before the election. "I believe that because I didn't play ball, so to speak, I was asked to resign," he says. A DOJ spokesman says he knows of no congressional interference in the investigation, and says that Iglesias wasn't fired because of the case. "The suggestion that David Iglesias was asked to resign because he failed to bring an indictment over a courthouse construction contract is flatly false," says spokesman Brian Roehrkasse. "This administration has never removed a United States attorney in an effort to retaliate against them or inappropriately interfere with a public integrity investigation." Justice Department officials have defended the firings of the US attorneys as legitimate administrative decisions meant to improve the workings of the attorneys' offices. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told the Senate last month that most of the forced resignations were motivated by "performance-related" reasons. However, as reported in above items, five out of the six attorneys that McNulty mentioned had received positive job evaluations.
- Iglesias acknowledges that he has no proof that the pressure from the members of Congress prompted his forced resignation. But he said the contact violated one of the most important tenets of a US attorney's office: Don't mix politics with prosecutions. "I was appalled by the inappropriateness of those contacts," Iglesias says of the calls. US attorneys are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But as soon as they assume office, they're expected to refrain from being politically active and to resist the urge to allow their political leanings to affect the outcomes of cases. "I think Americans need to have full confidence that their federal prosecutors are above politics," he says.
- Iglesias says the two members of Congress not only contacted him directly, but also tried to wrest details of the case from him. Local New Mexico news outlets have reported on aspects of the investigation, including allegations that a former Democratic state senator took money to ensure that an $82 million courthouse contract would go to a specific company. Congressional questions about ongoing cases are supposed to go through the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Local media had reported that Iglesias' office might issue an indictment before the elections. Iglesias says he refused to tell the lawmakers when any indictment would be issued, although he'd decided that the investigation needed more time. He says he now regrets that he didn't report the calls to the Justice Department, as required by policy. "I thought it would blow over," he says. "But I was wrong."
- "I called this meeting because we pledged to do everything we can to get to the truth of what could be brazen abuse of power by the Bush administration," says representative Linda Sanchez, the Democratic chair of the House judiciary subcommittee that'll vote on the subpoenas. And Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein questions the Bush administration's rationale for the firings: "Clearly, the performance of these US attorneys was not a reason to fire them."
- Iglesias and former US attorneys Carol Lam in San Diego, John McKay in Seattle and Bud Cummins in Arkansas could be subpoenaed to testify before the House subcommittee. Iglesias says he would testify only if he were subpoenaed.
- A number of New Mexico Congressional members say they didn't talk to Iglesias about the investigations, but two Republicans refuse to comment. Jude McCartin, a spokeswoman for Democratic senator Jeff Bingaman, says she hadn't heard of the allegations and couldn't comment on them. "It wasn't us -- that's all I can say," she says. Spokesmen for Republican representative Steve Pearce and Democratic representative Tom Udall both say their bosses didn't contact Iglesias about the courthouse investigation. Republican senator Pete Domenici and Republican representative Heather Wilson have refused to discuss the matter. Wilson was in a particularly precarious election situation; she won re-election by a mere 875 votes out of nearly 211,000 cast.
- At least three of the eight fired attorneys were told by a superior they were being forced to resign to make jobs available for other Bush appointees, according to a former senior Justice Department official. This contradicts administration claims that the firings were related either to job performance or policy differences. A fourth US attorney was told by a top Justice Department official that the dismissal in that attorney's case was not necessarily related to job performance. Iglesias says, "I never received any indication at all of a problem" regarding performance or policy differences. "That only leaves a third option: politics." Nevada's Daniel Bogden adds, "To this day, I've never been told of any deficiencies in my performance or that of my office. I've never been called by anyone suggesting that I should do something differently on policy, or that I was going against their policy."
- Seattle's John McKay has similar questions about his firing. McKay was considered an invaluable asset in the Bush administration's war on terror. After his appointment shortly after the 9/11 attacks, McKay, serving in a district that houses one of the country's major ports and is a border region critical to antiterrorist operations, McKay personally handled several high-profile prosecutions, including Millennium Plot bomber Ahmed Ressam. In 2004, at a time when poor coordination among law enforcement agencies had been judged at least partly to blame for the 9/11 attacks, McKay developed an innovative data-sharing system that continues to be employed today in law enforcement offices nationwide. Just over five months ago, on Sept. 22, 2006, the Justice Department completed a comprehensive evaluation of McKay's office, filled with high marks on both criminal and counterterrorism matters, including McKay's efforts to build greater cooperation among law enforcement agencies in both the United States and Canada. McKay "has been responsible for major advances in a cooperative cross-border effort," the report said. "All involved in these efforts pointed to US Attorney McKay as the individual most responsible for the dramatic increase in cooperation."
- "The report says nothing about me with regard to management or policy differences," McKay said last week. "Counterterrorism was our No. 1 priority, and I put an enormous amount of my personal time into it. ...If there were performance issues of any kind, they didn't tell me about it, and to this day I'm unaware of any." Gil Kerlikowske, Seattle's chief of police, calls McKay's firing "a huge loss." Kerlikowske adds, "I've worked with a lot of US attorneys in my time and John is absolutely at the top of the ladder, not only on issues of terrorism but on law enforcement in general. I can tell you that if they're saying John's dismissal was performance related...I find that almost inconceivable." Kerlikowske notes that McKay had crucial perspective, having served as a White House fellow at the FBI. "He knew how tough the barriers could be between law enforcement agencies, and he really helped break down those walls with information sharing." And ATF veteran Kelvin Crenshaw says of McKay, "He was a champion with all the federal law enforcement agencies, but especially with ATF. He's one of the best US attorneys I've ever worked with."
- Some former Justice Department officials say they believe the administration's moves are a politically driven power grab -- aimed not only at a tighter grip on policy from Washington, but also at creating openings with which to reward their friends and build up a bench of conservative loyalists positioned to serve in powerful posts in future administrations. "It's really remarkable to have a wholesale removal of an administration's own US attorneys, particularly this deep into the term," says John Kroger, a federal prosecutor under Clinton and Bush who now teaches law. "Clearly there was a concerted decision made to ask a bunch of them to leave. It suggests a desire to more tightly control policy. With the Democrats in control of Congress, perhaps it's because this is one of the few levers of government they have left." Many point to the Cummins firing as proof that the administration is lying. "It is simply not believable that these were all performance-based dismissals, and everyone knows it," says a veteran prosecutor who served for a decade in the Justice Department until 2005. He also notes that he found it interesting that half of the posts cleared out are in the Southwest, where immigration is a key issue. Kroger adds that a stint as US attorney is often a springboard to federal judgeships or other prestigious appointments. "Being a US attorney is a huge credential, one a lot of people would like to have. "It certainly looks like they're clearing out spots to reward loyalists in the last two years of the administration."
- While the US attorneys are not entirely divorced from politics, the DOJ firings have smeared the institution with a level of political partisanship never before seen in American history. "No doubt this is a threat to the independent stature that the Justice Department as an institution has enjoyed over the years," says law professor and former Bush prosecutor Sam Buell. "It goes against the 'hands off' tradition, which has insulated US attorneys from criticisms of politics influencing their choices and handling of cases. This doesn't look like a decision that's been made in the best interest of law enforcement."
- It seems apparent that the Bush administration fired at least several of the attorneys in order to make way for their own loyalists. Cummins was fired and replaced by a former aide to Karl Rove, Tim Griffin, who has little prosecutorial experience. California attorney Carol Lam was replaced by Karen Hewitt, who has almost no criminal law experience but is a member of the extremist conservative legal group the Federalist Society. And since January 26, the administration has named at least nine US attorneys who also fit that loyalist profile, most of them hand-picked by Gonzales under the little-noticed provision of the Patriot Act that has since become law. They include Jeff Taylor, previously an aide to both Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft; Alexander Acosta, a protege of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito; and Edward McNally, a former senior associate counsel to Bush. Many critics expect that, despite the recent uproar over Cummins and the other attorneys' firings, the Bush White House will continue to find ways to erode the independence of the Justice Department. "This is an administration that has not hesitated to discard conventional wisdom just because people say it's wrong," says Buell. "This is an administration that looks at the landscape and isn't afraid to rewrite the rules and say, 'We're going to do it our own way.'" (McClatchy News, Salon, Joe Monohon/TPM Muckraker)
- February 28: According to blog entries by New Mexico political consultant Joe Monohon, Republican representative Heather Wilson may have been one of the people behind the firing of US attorney David Iglesias.
US Attorney firings
Rumors of Wilson's involvement have been circulating throughout New Mexico since at least mid-December. It is likely, though not yet proven, that Wilson was displeased with Iglesias's refusal to prosecute local Democrats over suspicious circumstances surrounding the construction of two courthouses in Bernalillo County -- which prosecution would have helped Wilson in her tight race for re-election to Congress.
- A day later, Iglesias tells reporters that two New Mexican members of Congress directly pressured him to indict Democrats before the November 2006 elections. While Iglesias still refuses to name the two lawmakers, it is almost certain that the two are Wilson and Republican senator Pete Domenici. So far, both Wilson and Domenici are ducking the press. (Joe Monohon/Talking Points Memo, McClatchy News/TPM Muckraker, Talking Points Memo)
- February 28: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she believes Bush's judgment on the Iraq war "is a little impaired."
Iraq war and occupation
She adds that his approach to Iraq is based on personal conviction, rather than political judgment. "What I don't think is that it is a political decision on the part of the president," she says to CNN's Larry King. "This is what he firmly believes. ...I just would hope that whatever he thinks about the war that he would also value the fact that the American people have lost confidence in him. I think his judgment is a little impaired on this war, with all due respect to the president and his good intentions." Pelosi also slams Dick Cheney's recent statement that legislative moves by Pelosi and other House Democrats to oppose Bush's war policy would "validate" al-Qaeda's strategy (see above item). "What the vice president said is beneath the dignity of his office and beneath the dignity of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform," she says. "The vice president is in a place that is out of touch with the American people, out of touch with what so many generals are saying and out of touch with even a bipartisan majority in the Congress." Pelosi says she called Bush to complain about Cheney's comments, telling King, "The president had said to me...that he would not tolerate any undermining of anybody's patriotism or our intention to protect the national security. He said, 'Could you let me know if this happens?' So I wanted to let him know that it happened." As yet Pelosi has received no response from Bush nor Cheney about Cheney's accusations. (CNN)