- January 4: With critical questions still unaddressed, the complicated process of transferring power to an Iraqi government begins this week. "We're open to refinement, and we're waiting to hear what people have suggested or will suggest," says Secretary of State Colin Powell. "What Ambassador Bremer and all of us have been doing in our conversations is listening and hearing and [saying], 'Are there better ideas that would make the plan more refined, better and more acceptable to a broader group of individuals and leaders within Iraq?'" Besides figuring out who will rule in Saddam Hussein's wake, Iraqis over the next two months will have to answer a host of deferred and potentially divisive questions: What kind of government will Iraq have? What will be the role of Islam? How much local rule will ethnic, tribal or religious groups have? The deadline for resolving these and other basic questions is February 28, due to be codified in the recently renamed Transitional Administration Law, the precursor to a constitution; the deadline for final transfer is June 30. US officials say Washington plans to resolve many of these remaining questions in negotiation with the Iraqi Governing Council, whose initial incompetence precipitated the delays that forced the United States to design the November 15 agreement. The accord outlines the multiphase process, centered on provincial caucuses, to select a provisional government. Seven weeks after the accord, however, the council has been unable to close the wide differences of opinion among rival Iraqi leaders, ranging from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to the Sunni community once protected by Hussein. Sistani, a Shi'ite Muslim cleric who has a larger public following than any other Iraqi, has demanded elections to pick Baghdad's post-occupation government. But no compromise has been reached, despite a stream of communications among Sistani, Bremer and the Governing Council, leaving the legitimacy of the process in doubt, US and Iraqi officials say. (Washington Post)
- January 4: The proposed administration budget for 2005 attempts to trim costs by slashing veterans' medical benefits, a proposal that outrages soldiers and veterans. Under the proposal, the charge for a generic drug would rise to $10, from $3, while the charge for a brand-name medicine would rise to $20, from $9. The Military Officers Association of America criticizes this as "a grossly insensitive and wrong-headed proposal." In e-mail messages to the White House, members of the association have asked Mr. Bush, "Why do your budget officials persist in trying to cut military benefits?" "You're tampering with a benefit that was earned by people putting their lives on the line," says James Lokovic, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and deputy director of the Air Force Sergeants Association. The Pentagon may now decide to study the issue for a year and renew the proposal, as part of a systematic effort to "reduce military health care costs." (New York Times, Virginian-Pilot/APFN)
Army to prevent soldiers from leaving
- January 4: The US Army intends to implement another "stop-loss" initiative, which would prohibit thousands of soldiers coming to the end of their terms from leaving the Army. It will affect thousands of soldiers stationed in Iraq and other overseas posts, as well as stateside. The announcement of a further expansion of the program comes amid evidence that the Army is straining to meet its growing commitments around the world. Since the 9/11 attacks, the Army has repeatedly blocked certain soldiers from retiring or leaving. Most of the previous stop-loss orders came in the period directly after the terrorist attacks, and then again as the Pentagon prepared for war in Iraq early last year. The Pentagon views these steps as a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel at a time when more than half its combat troops are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The practice is deeply controversial within the military. Some soldiers have complained it amounts to a reinstitution of the draft. (Newsday)
- January 4: An audiotape of Osama bin Laden airs on al-Jazeera television. He urges the world's Muslims to "continue the jihad to check the conspiracies that are hatched against the Islamic nation." He says the US-led war against Iraq is the beginning of the "occupation" of Gulf states for their oil. "My message is to incite you against the conspiracies, especially those uncovered by the occupation of the crusaders in Baghdad under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, and also the situation in [Jerusalem] under the deceptions of the road map and the Geneva initiative," he says. Though the speaker's identity has not yet been confirmed, most authorities believe is is, indeed, bin Laden. The tape also refers to the capture of Saddam Hussein, indicating it was made within the last three weeks. (AP/Toronto Globe and Mail)
- January 4: The Iraqi National Accord, an Iraqi exile group in competition with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, is responsible for providing the recent, questionable stories about Iraq's putative links to 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and alleged prewar WMD deployments. Both sets of stories originated in Britain's Daily Telegraph. The INA, which is favored by American and British intelligence over Chalabi's corruption-riddled INC, provided the information through a former Iraqi air-defense officer named Lt. Col. al-Dabbagh. INA representative Nick Theros admits that while al-Dabbagh is a member of the group, he never saw the evidence that he alleges exists, and believes al-Dabbagh's claim "looks like it could have been a crock of s—t." Theros confirms that the INA was the source of a purported secret document claiming that Atta visited Baghdad, apparently in 2001, for a three-day training course with now deceased terrorist Abu Nidal. The same document also made a cryptic reference to Al Qaeda's involvement in an alleged shipment of an unidentified commodity to Iraq from Niger, an attempt to link Osama bin Laden to alleged efforts by Saddam to get nuclear material. Both stories are dubious at best. Journalist Con Coughlin, who broke the stories, admits he had no way of verifying the documents. In a fascinating demonstration of Coughlin's failure to understand the basic role of a journalist, he says in his defense, "It's our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens." Theros says the INA will not vouch for the authenticity of any of the documents. (Newsweek/MSNBC)
US corporations pay less taxes than at any time since Hoover
- January 4: Federal tax receipts from US corporations have dropped to Depression-era levels. In other words, corporations are paying less in taxes than at any time since the Hoover presidency. The IRS blames the Bush administration's corporate tax cuts, a sluggish economy, and a spike in corporate cheating. The IRS, whose oversight was weakened by a Republican congress in 1998, can't keep up with the rise and sophistication of the tax fraud perpetuated by many American corporations. The General Accounting Office estimates that at least $40 billion a year is lost in offshore tax shelters alone -- enough to pay for much of federal homeland security spending. Mid-sized companies are audited, on average, only once every 20 years. The IRS is also hampered by former top officials quitting to advise industry on tax policy. Senate Finance Committee leaders Charles Grassley and Max Baucus are investigating a case in which high-level IRS attorney Sean Foley went from director of IRS negotiations with multinational companies to principal at accounting firm KPMG last January, advising companies how to deal with IRS regulation he had drafted a few weeks earlier. The IRS lacks staff and equipment. Its computer system is thirty years out of date. As a result, corporations are getting away with tax fraud like never before. (Los Angeles Times)
- January 4: Mauritainian president Muawiya Ould Sidi Ahmad Taya is cracking down on Muslim dissidents in his country in an effort to curry favor with the US. He has jailed Muslim clerics for speaking against the war in Iraq, banned political sermons, outlawed anti-U.S. rallies, cracked down on mosques allegedly recruiting fighters for Iraq, shuttered some foreign-funded Koran schools, and expelled some foreign Islamic aid workers. All this is running an ever-growing risk of political upheaval and chaos in Mauritania, which is dominated by an "elite" Arab minority. Says one Mauritanian, "sept. 11 hurt us so much - we don't want that kind of thing. But this fight in Iraq -- the Americans have hit right at the heart of Islam. If I find a bomb, I'll put it in my heart and explode next to an American soldier. I haven't yet lived my life, but I'll die to kill one American soldier." "Personally, I'm for the war in Iraq," says a student. "Saddam was a dictator, a tyrant. But there are people here who support Saddam Hussein, and these arrests will only worsen the situation.... If they continue, it will be bad for peace. The country is unstable right now." A Mauritanian market vendor observes, Iraqis and Mauritanians were both Arab, "so we'll always support them against the Americans." (Philadelphia Inquirer)
- January 4: Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter writes in the Independent of the misrepresentation of the WMD threat from Iraq: "The misrepresentation and distortion of fact carried out by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair is no joke, but rather represent an assault on the very fabric of the concept of a free and democratic society which they espouse to serve. The people of the United States are still waiting for a heavily divided Congress to break free of partisan politics and launch a genuine investigation. This should certainly look at the massive intelligence failure surrounding the gross distortion of the Iraqi WMD threat put forward by the US intelligence community. But perhaps more importantly, the investigation should focus on the actions of the White House in shaping the intelligence estimates so that they dovetailed nicely with the political goals and objectives of the Bush administration's Iraq policy-makers. Many in Great Britain might take some pride in knowing that their democracy, at least, has had an airing of the pre-war Iraq intelligence which has been denied their American cousins. The Hutton inquiry has been viewed by many as an investigation into the politicisation, or 'sexing up,' of intelligence information by the British government to help strengthen its case for war. It stopped far short of any real investigation into the abysmal abuse of power that occurred when Blair's government lied to Parliament, and the electorate, about the threat posed by Iraq's WMD. There was no effort to dig deep into the systematic politicization of the British intelligence system, to untangle the web of deceit and misinformation concerning Iraq peddled over the years by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and British intelligence. The damage done goes well beyond the borders of the US and Britain. One must also calculate the irreparable harm done to the precepts of international law, the viability of multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, and the concepts of diplomacy and arms control which kept the world from destroying itself during the last century. Iran, faced with 130,000 American soldiers on its border, has opened its nuclear facilities to inspection. North Korea has done the same. Libya, in a surprise move, has traded in its own overblown WMD aspirations in exchange for diplomatic recognition and economic interaction with the West. But none of these moves, as welcome as they are, have the depth and reach to compare with the decision by South Africa or the former republics of the Soviet Union to get rid of their respective nuclear weapons. The latter represented actions taken freely, wrapped in the principles of international law. The former are merely coerced concessions, given more as a means of buying time than through any spirit of true co-operation. Sold by George Bush and Tony Blair as diplomatic triumphs derived from the Iraq experience, the sad reality is that these steps towards disarmament are every bit as illusory as Saddam's WMD arsenal. They are all the more dangerous, too, because the safety net of international law that the world could once have turned to when these compelled concessions inevitably collapse no longer exists." (Independent)
- January 4: Columnist David Pratt is amazed at how quickly the capture of Saddam Hussein disappeared from the media's radar, and speculates that the reason may be that some sort of deal was cut between Hussein and the Bush administration. "For a story that three weeks ago gripped the world's imagination, it has now all but dropped off the radar," he writes. "Peculiar really, for if one thing might have been expected in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's capture, it was the endless political and media mileage that the Bush administration would get out of it." Then the story of a group of Kurds actually making the capture came out, and formerly effusive US military spokespeople suddenly had nothing to say. Even more interestingly, Kurdish spokespeople were suddenly stricken with the same reticence. Now no one wants to talk about the capture. However, details confirming the truth of the Kurdish capture continue to leak out. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports that early on September 14, a Kurdish representative to a conference in Athens halted the meeting by running into the room and announcing, "Saddam Hussein has been captured." He declared that he received the news from Kurdistan, hours before any television reports were aired. The delegate also confirmed that most of the information leading to the deposed dictator's arrest had come from the Kurds and their own intelligence networks. The delegate further claimed that six months earlier the Kurds had discovered that Hussein's wife was in the Tikrit area. This intelligence, most likely obtained by Qusrut Rasul Ali and his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) special forces unit, was transferred to the Americans; however, the Kurds never received any follow-up from the coalition forces on this vital tip-off and were furious. It is unquestionable how much the Kurds, and Ali's PUK in particular, would benefit from having captured Hussein. Aside from the $25 million bounty, their status would have been substantially boosted in Washington, which may in part explain the recent vociferous Kurdish reassertion of their long-term political ambitions in the "new Iraq," as well as the US agreement to give the Kurds limited political autonomy. The two main Kurdish groups, longtime rivals the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have even agreed to close ranks and set up a joint administration. Pratt concludes, "If the Kurds did indeed capture Saddam first, and a deal was struck about his handover to the US, then it's not inconceivable that the terms might have included strong political and strategic advantages that could ultimately determine the emerging power structure in Iraq." (Sunday Herald)
- January 4: The tabloid New York Post prints an uncorroborated story from the British tabloid Mirror that alleges a woman attempted to blow up a British airliner using explosives hidden inside her reproductive area. "smuggling a bomb onto a plane by this method is one of our worst nightmares," a senior Scotland Yard source is quoted as saying. "If you do not have specific information about the suspect, it would be impossible to carry out an intimate body search of every female passenger." (New York Post)
- January 4: US District Judge Philip Pro dismisses Senator Hillary Clinton from a lawsuit filed by Gennifer Flowers, citing Nevada's four-year statute of limitations. Flowers, who alleges that she had an affair with former president Bill Clinton, accuses Hillary Clinton of conspiring with political advisers to discredit her story. Flowers intends to appeal the ruling. The government watch group Judicial Watch, who is representing Flowers in court, says, "In the meantime, Ms. Flowers looks forward to getting her day in court against Hillary's coconspirators in the smear campaign against her -- George Stephanopoulos and James Carville." In 1992, a supermarket tabloid wrote that Bill Clinton and Flowers had an affair while he was Arkansas governor. When the presidential candidate denied it, Flowers held a news conference to play audio tapes she said were of secretly recorded intimate phone calls between them. It was later proven that Flowers edited and doctored the tapes to prove her allegations. Both Carville and Stephanopoulos told of the tapes' editing in the media. Flowers has also cast doubt on her story by her conflicting and often erroneous testimony regarding particulars of the supposed affair. (AP/Belleville News-Democrat)
- January 4: Eminent columnist Jimmy Breslin castigates some Democratic presidential candidates, along with a number of conservative commentators and the media in general, for criticizing frontrunner Howard Dean's advocacy for a fair and impartial trial of Saddam Hussein. Breslin writes: "They said that this was a perfect illustration of Dean talking without thought. And completely un-American, too. In 1945, they had the Nuremburg trials for Nazis who had killed tens and tens of millions, and had judges, witnesses, evidence and defense counsels. Just the other week, one of the Democratic candidates, Wesley Clark, testified in the Hague at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. Yet Joseph Lieberman, who is a peripheral candidate now and thus a nasty little man, said that because he relies on the Constitution, Dean is a weakling who would melt in the face of George Bush. John Kerry and Dick Gephardt were wildly opposed. Yet all Dean has to do in this big Des Moines debate today is ask each candidate, 'Are you in favor of sentencing bin Laden before you have a trial?' Let them answer in front of a country that is better than they are. My friend, David Greenfield, a top lawyer in Manhattan who takes on murder cases, was reading some of this over the holiday. He was saying, 'This is insanity. I thought everybody knew that no matter how high the crime or the criminal, the punishment phase always must follow the trial. These people, they want off with his head and we'll see if he's fit to stand trial." (Newsday)
Kurds given limited autonomy
- January 5: The Bush administration decides to allow the Kurds in northern Iraq to remain semi-autonomous, despite warnings from Iraq's neighbors and many Iraqis not to divide the country into ethnic enclaves. Administration officials say that the decision was brought about by the rapidly approaching target date of June 30 for Iraqi self-rule. Such a rapid timetable, they say, has left no time to change the autonomy and unity of the Kurdish stronghold of the north, as many had originally wanted. "Once we struck the Nov. 15 agreement, there was a realization that it was best not to touch too heavily on the status quo," says one official. "The big issue of federalism in the Kurdish context will have to wait for the Iraqis to resolve. For us to try to resolve it in a month or two is simply too much to attempt." Many Iraqis, and most of the surrounding countries, fear that such a move will lead to the breakup of Iraq into several ethnically based states, with the turmoil, chaos, and possible warfare that would follow such an event. Although the US intends to encourage Iraq to remain unified, many feel that once a Kurdish government is allowed to form, it will prove difficult to undo. Under the original timetable, Iraq would not be allowed to rule itself until late 2004 or even 2005, after the adoption of a constitution. Under that timetable, American officials say, it would have been easier to influence a future government's makeup, not just on its federal structure but also on such matters as the role of Islamic law. The new, earlier deadline, intended to ease Iraqi hostility to the occupation and to undermine support for continuing attacks on American troops, has forced the United States to scrap many of its other earlier plans for the future of Iraq. Originally, for example, the United States had hoped to proceed with the privatization of state-owned businesses established by Saddam Hussein. That hope is now gone as well, American officials concede, in part because of security dangers and possible future legal challenges to any sell-off carried out by an occupying power. The five Kurds on the Iraqi Governing Council intend to have adopted their own "transitional law," a constitution that would keep the Kurds as part of Iraq and grant Baghdad some authority over their region. Some experts have suggested that Iraq should be divided into a Kurdish enclave in the north, a Sunni one in the center and a Shiite one in the south. But this idea has little support at the Iraqi Governing Council and none with the US. "You know what the largest Kurdish city in Iraq is?" asks American law professor Feisel Istrabadi, who is advising the Kurds. "It's Baghdad. It isn't like you could draw a line in Iraq and say the Kurds live here or the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, or the Turkomans or the Shiites or the Sunnis live there. In the supposedly Shiite south, there are a million Sunnis in Basra." At present, Iraq is divided into 18 states, known as governorates, of which three are Kurdish in the mountainous area of the north. A permanently unified Kurdish state stirs worries especially in Turkey and Iran, where there are large and restive Kurdish minorities. (New York Times)
- January 5: Al-Qaeda is financing itself by tapping into the trade in drugs, weapons, gold and gems to finance their operations. Islamic charities also supply the terrorist organization with funds. Al-Qaeda members use shell companies to hide the identities of their wealthy financiers and rely on couriers to move cash. Several cases in the past month are showing that measures thus far to prevent Osama from mobilizing money have not been effective and that al-Qaeda remains quite financially solvent. One of al-Qaeda's biggest money-makers is its trade in Afghani poppies, which are converted into opium and heroin. Counter-terrorism experts say the groups cashes in on the trade in two ways. First, it regulates the smuggling routes out of Afghanistan into Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and other countries; secondly, it either places a tax on shipments or accepts the drugs as payment and use them to buy arms. Many businessmen who were known al-Qaeda supporters, and were designated terrorist financiers more than two years ago, are still running vast business empires. Two of the most well-known are Yousef Nada and Idris Nasreddin, whose businesses sprawl across Europe and Africa and are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The designations mean that the assets of more than a dozen of their joint enterprises should have been frozen and a travel ban imposed on both of them. Yet they continue to operate their business interests freely, including a luxury hotel in Miami, and both travel freely. Israeli counter-terrorism specialist Yoram Schweitzer believes al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, is unlikely to quit despite all the measures to curb the network's activities. "Osama is very ambitious," says Schweitzer. "He wants a Taliban kind of regime in every country and has intently and purposefully built up a plan to realize that. And he won't accept any compromise." Experts believe that strangling the group's ability to mobilize money is key to foiling attacks. "We can arrest operatives and pre-empt attacks, but we have to shut off the terror funding stream, too," says Peter Brookes, a former Bush administration official who is now a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, handling national security affairs. "Terrorism can be done on the cheap, but it is not free. Breaking the bank is a fundamental element to winning this global struggle." Unfortunately, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies are ill prepared to make any of this happen. (Straits imes)
- January 5: A top British military official confirms that British forces are likely to remain in Iraq for several more years. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he can't be precise about when British troops might withdrawal after the planned transfer of power this summer from the coalition to an Iraqi authority. "I can't give you an exact time scale," Straw says. "It's not going to be months for sure. I can't say whether it's going to be 2006, 2007." (AP/Houston Chronicle)
More Bush administration secrecy
- January 5: The Bush administration asks the US Supreme Court to let it keep its arguments secret in a case involving an immigrant's challenge of his treatment after the 9/11 attacks. Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel, an Algerian who worked as a waiter in South Florida, wants the high court to consider whether the government acted improperly by secretly jailing him after the attacks and keeping his court fight private. He is supported by more than 20 journalism organizations and media companies. Bellahouel was arrested because 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi dined where he worked in the weeks before the attacks. The government has provided no evidence that Bellahouel had any involvement with the attacks or any terrorist organizations whatsoever. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, notorious for concocting false allegations about the Clinton administration during the Whitewater investigations, told the Court that "this matter pertains to information that is required to be kept under seal." Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said she was disappointed by the government's request. "The idea that there is nothing that could be filed publicly is really ridiculous," she says. "It just emphasizes our point that we're living in frightening times. People can be arrested, thrown in jail and have secret court proceedings, and we know absolutely nothing about it." The court will decide later whether to consider Bellahouel's appeal and at the same time whether to allow the secret filing. Justices will be able to review the government's private arguments. Bellahouel is among hundreds of foreigners rounded up and detained without charges after the attack. The Bush administration refuses to release names and information about the detentions, arguing that a blanket secrecy policy is needed to protect national security. Lower courts kept private the existence of the case. Bellahouel, who is free on $10,000 bond, is known in court papers only as M.K.B. Because of a mistake at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the M.K.B. records were briefly made public. A Miami legal newspaper reported his identity and said that he was released after five months, and after he had been taken to Alexandria, Va., to testify before a federal grand jury. (ABC News)
Scalia-Cheney vacation brings Scalia's impartiality into question
- January 5 - on: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Vice President Dick Cheney leave on a four-day duck hunting trip in Morgan City, Louisiana. The trip, planned since November 2003, includes a flight in a US government jet, a ride in a police motorcade, and lodging in a floating hunting camp owned by an oil-services tycoon who is a longtime Scalia friend. Cheney and Scalia were accompanied from Washington by a second, backup Air Force jet that carried staff and security aides to the vice president; two military Black Hawk helicopters provided security while Cheney and Scalia were whisked away in a heavily guarded motorcade which took them to the hunting camp, a luxury resort floating on a huge barge in a Louisiana bayou. A plethora of Secret Service and local law enforcement guard the hunting party, along with the Black Hawk helicopters and a ring of armored SUVs; though the weather is bad and subsequently the hunting is poor, the "strictly social" occasion, as Scalia's longtime hunting companion Louis Prejean describes it, is enjoyable.
- Three weeks before, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether or not to compel Cheney to release long-hidden documents regarding Cheney's energy task force, as part of a case by environmental groups and government watchdog organizations trying to determine if corporate interests (such as Scalia's oil-tycoon friend and hunting host Wallace Carline) had undue influence on the task force's recommendations. Now Scalia's own integrity is in question. Federal law says a judge or justice "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might be questioned," but Scalia will refuse to recuse himself from the case, saying his hunting trip should not disqualify him from deciding the Cheney case. "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned," he will say in a written response to an inquiry; he compares the trip to a White House dinner, or to attending Cheney's annual Christmas party. Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet disagrees, saying that a vacation trip with the vice president is not the same as attending a Christmas party: "This is certainly a level of hospitality that most litigants are not able to extend to Supreme Court justices," he says. "It also reinforces the perception this was an exceptional event, not a run-of-the-mill social event or a White House dinner." Lubet adds, "It is not merely a case about, say, the interpretation of a statute or the allocation of funds. It is a case about the candor and forthrightness of the vice president, who also happens to be Justice Scalia's hunting partner. ...Scalia's vacation raises far more serious issues, especially if he insists on sitting in Cheney's case (which, ironically, is all about cronyism)."
- Chief Justice William Rehnquist says that it is up to each justice to decide for him- or herself whether recusal is necessary in a particular instance. "There is no formal procedure for court review of the decision of a justice in an individual case," Rehnquist says in response to a a letter to Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Joseph Lieberman. "That is so because it has long been settled that each justice must decide such a question for himself." Leahy and Lieberman take issue with that view: " When a sitting judge, poised to hear a case involving a particular litigant, goes on vacation with that litigant, reasonable people will question whether that judge can be a fair and impartial adjudicator of that man's case," they write. In his reply, Rehnquist says the senators' advice is not especially welcome. " Anyone at all is free to criticize the action of a justice -- as to recusal or as to the merits -- after the case has been decided. But I think that any suggestion by you or Senator Lieberman as to why a justice should recuse himself in a pending case is ill-considered," he wrote to Leahy. Lieberman received an identical letter. Leahy, in a response to Rehnquist's letter, said it would be better if this issue were aired by the justices before the case is heard. " Because Supreme Court decisions cannot be reviewed, waiting until after a case is decided needlessly risks an irreversible, tainted result and a loss of public confidence in our nation's highest court," Leahy says.
- Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, says it would be "an easy call" for Scalia to disqualify himself because Cheney apparently paid at least some of the justice's expenses: "He has to set an example of what conduct is acceptable. Taking a gift from a litigant in a case before you and taking a trip with that litigant in a small group" is not acceptable, Gillers says. "The fact is that the vice president is not a nominal party to this litigation. He has a strong personal and political interest in the result. That's the long and the short of it for me." Gillers says he found Rehnquist's response troubling as well: "This has exposed a gap in the ethics rules. This is a federal law that applies to the justices, but in this instance, Scalia is the judge of his own case. I would think the full court has an interest in its institutional reputation and would want to review a decision like this." "scalia has been hopelessly compromised," writes Newsday. Scalia reassures the Los Angeles Times that the ducks "tasted swell." Scalia has faced previous criticism for failing to recuse himself from the Bush v. Gore case in December 2000, the case that awarded Bush the presidency; Scalia's son was in line to receive a plum job in the Bush administration if Bush indeed won the case. Scalia not only voted for Bush (and indirectly, for his son to get the position), but wrote the majority opinion. It is ironic that the Cheney task force case is about a public official who refuses to be impartial in his decision-making; this official will be judged by a close friend who refuses to admit that he may not be impartial in his judgment. (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune)
- January 5: In an unusual decision, the Bush campaign has decided to handle the candidate's questionable policies on Iraq, the economy, the environment, and so on by essentially ignoring them. As Britain's Guardian notes, "Bush is drawing up a positive, soft-focus and upbeat campaigning platform portraying him as the candidate of national unity." They intend to contrast Bush against a "caustic, pessimistic" Howard Dean. "Voters don't normally vote for an angry, pessimistic person to be president of the country," says Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush campaign aide. "They want someone, even if times are not great, to be forward looking and optimistic." Senior campaign figures have spent months examining previous presidential campaigns in an effort to shape a winning strategy against a potentially tricky electoral backdrop. They have settled on an approach echoing Ronald Reagan's dreamlike "morning in America" re-election campaign of 1984, which successfully portrayed another divisive Republican President as a moderate "father of the nation" in a series of television adverts which were light on actual politics but heavy on soft-focus camera work. More surprisingly, Bush's team has also drawn lessons from Bill Clinton's successful 1996 campaign, which depicted the then incumbent as someone who was focused on doing his job, passing laws and making decisions, rather than taking part in a political campaign, an approach known as the "Rose Garden strategy." "Americans don't really like politics, so the longer a president can put that off, the longer he can look like he's governing instead of politicking, and the better off he will be," says Bruce Reed, a domestic policy adviser to Clinton for the 1996 campaign. Democrats are, for the moment, giving Bush some critical assistance by lambasting one another. Candidate Joe Lieberman, who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000, said recently that Dean "would melt in a minute once the Republicans start going after him." Fellow candidate John Kerry claims Dean was leading Democrats "towards retreat from our responsibility in the world." The Democrats' in-fighting is viewed gleefully from the White House, where Rove has made no secret of the fact damaging testimonials from Dean's party rivals will be used as campaign material. "They're doing a great job for us," one Bush aide said. Dean's team claims to be unworried by his rivals' sniping. "We got to where we are because the Democratic field underestimated us, and the longer the Bush team underestimates us, the better. Where have we gone? From zero to 31 per cent in the polls," says Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. (Guardian)
- January 5: Many foreigners are angry over the US's policy of interrogating, photographing, and fingerprinting all foreign visitors to the US. Brazil has retaliated by starting to fingerprint and photograph all American visitors. "As far as reciprocity, Brazil has every right to do this," says sociologist Claire Fallender, who had to wait for hours before entering Rio de Janiero. "The only problem is without the technology to process people, it's causing frustration and losing the point of protesting American policy." The US embassy in Brazil issued a statement expressing regret that American citizens were being singled out at Brazilian airports: "While we acknowledge Brazil's sovereign right to determine the requirements for entry into Brazil, we regret the way in which new procedures have suddenly been put in place that single out US citizens for exceptional treatment that has meant lengthy delays in processing, such as the case today with a more than nine hour delay for some U.S. citizens." Apparently the irony of such a statement was lost on its signer, press attache Wesley Carrington. Idris Mohammed, a Nigerian computer analyst, says traveling to the United States would "never again be the pleasure it used to be. ...Though I bear a Muslim-sounding name, I'm actually a Christian," he says. "But you can visualize me visiting the US and waiting with trepidation to be fingerprinted and photographed, afraid the computer may raise an alarm on finding a like name on the terror suspects' list." (CBS News)
- January 5: Former senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley announces his official endorsement of Democratic front-runner Howard Dean. The rest of the Democratic candidates have, with some exceptions, have begun to run campaigns as much against Dean as against Bush. Fellow candidate Richard Gephardt has mobilized the membership of over 200 unions, the core of his support, to counter Dean's frontrunner status, and John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman have mounted full-throttle attacks on Dean's ability to defeat Bush as well as to lead the country. Kerry is dismissive of Bradley's endorsement, saying, "He doesn't vote in Iowa, and he doesn't vote in New Hampshire." Senator Edward Kennedy is expected to endorse Kerry next week. (Washington Post)
- January 5: Melvin Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, calls the US failure to corroborate its claims about Iraqi WMDs "the worst intelligence scandal in US history," and notes that it "has shaken the Bush administration's credibility and promises to complicate US foreign policy." He continues, "Evidence of further corruption within the policy and intelligence communities that marked the run-up to war against Iraq is mounting. The White House campaign to compromise a CIA operative's work and credentials to punish her husband, a war critic, and to intimidate others, reflects the desperation within the administration. The only institutions chartered to investigate these matters -- the Senate and House intelligence committees -- need to get to the bottom of the intelligence failures that allowed the 9/11 attacks, led the country into war with Iraq, and the compromised the CIA agent. The president's case to go to war was based in part upon a forged document, but the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Pat Roberts and former CIA agent Porter Goss haven't demanded a counter-intelligence investigation of the forgery and oppose an investigation of the White House's misuse of sensitive intelligence information. The committees also haven't explored the dubious intelligence that the Pentagon produced for the White House to make the case for war. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created an undersecretary of defense for intelligence and used this position to shape intelligence to support the case for war. The secretary also established an Office of Special Plans that collected its own intelligence from Iraqi exiles in order to bolster the case, and distributed this intelligence to the policy community. This office was quietly disbanded in August, but the committees have not sought testimony from its senior members. The Pentagon continues to circulate specious intelligence on Iraq. The Office of Special Plans' former director supplied the Senate intelligence committee with a memorandum describing so-called contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida. The memorandum, which was immediately leaked, compromised sensitive sources of the National Security Agency, a violation of Federal law, and contained no new authoritative intelligence. Meanwhile, the independent Kean Commission, which the Bush administration initially opposed, has had no more success in getting sensitive intelligence from the White House. The only member challenging the White House, former Senator Max Cleland, suddenly resigned to take a position with the Export-Import Bank. These events have serious consequences for U.S. interests. ...At the very least, the policy and intelligence communities are facing a situation comparable to that of 55 years ago, before President Harry S Truman created the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and the CIA. As in the late 1940s, the international environment has been recast, the threats have been altered, and the role of credible intelligence has never been more important. If steps are not taken to redesign the institutions for national security, particularly within the intelligence community, we will face more 'preemptive' war and even more terrorist operations within the United States. At the very worst, we may be confronting a subversion of the constitutional limits on executive power and a campaign of deceit aimed at the Congress and the American people." (Topeka Capital-Journal)
- January 5: Author Nat Parry writes a comprehensive review of how the Bush administration managed its war against Iraq on the home front. While many thought that the invasion of Iraq was a matter worthy of debate and consideration, for the Bush administration, the invasion was always a "done deal." Its response to any dissent was marked with fury and repression. Celebrities who dared to speak out, such as Sean Penn and the musical group Dixie Chicks, were boycotted by Bush supporters with the tacit support of the administration itself. When the French government urged that more time be given for UN inspectors to search Iraq for WMDs, Bush supporters railed against the French, pouring French wine into gutters and ridiculing both the French government and the French people. Bush's Air Force One joined the fun by renaming French toast "freedom toast." When former Vice President Al Gore challenged Bush's rush to war in a carefully argued speech, Gore's sanity and integrity were questioned across the TV pundit spectrum. Writer Nat Perry observes, "Throughout this period, Bush was aided and abetted by a national news media in which big-name journalists were more concerned about wrapping themselves in the flag and protecting their paychecks than in performing the deeper patriotic duty of arming the American public with reliable facts and encouraging a healthy debate. The same goofiness that marked the sex-and-crime scandal reporting of the 1990s was there again, though flavored this time with a syrupy concern for 'the troops.' MSNBC, Fox and other TV networks branded themselves in red, white and blue with sentimental features such as 'America's Bravest.' ...Network executives were pleased that the lump-in-the-throat emotionalism brought a bump in the ratings. The US Congress failed to do its job as well. Members of both parties refused to examine the longterm US policy towards Iraq or the US's previously cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein. "While fuller disclosure of the covert US role behind the precursor chemicals reaching Iraq in the 1980s might have given greater depth to the national debate about the alleged WMD,"
- Parry writes, "the US news media politely averted its eyes from those facts during the march toward war in 2002. If the Washington press corps had been looking, it might have discovered what has recently become public, that in 1984, Rumsfeld, then Ronald Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East, carried a reassuring private message to Baghdad. According to a declassified cable from then-Secretary of State George Shultz, Rumsfeld was instructed to tell Hussein that Washington's public criticism of his use of chemical weapons shouldn't disrupt the ongoing efforts to forge warmer relations. In other words, Hussein should take any finger-wagging from Washington with a grain of salt. But, in October 2002 as Bush pressed his case for war, the Iraqgate scandal was treated like an irrelevant, ancient story. Rumsfeld had become the flinty-eyed Secretary of Defense, the tough-guy leader who would never compromise with the likes of Hussein. Meanwhile, Bush's political advisers were exploiting the war fever to win close congressional races, and Democratic leaders were desperate to finesse the war question and refocus the voters on domestic issues. So, Congress handed Bush a blank check for war. Senator Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was one of the few who asked probing questions from the floor, though his eloquent speeches circulated more on the Internet and in the foreign press than through the major U.S. news media. Even direct action by millions of Americans who joined worldwide anti-war marches was of little interest to the Washington press corps and the city's political establishment. Bush dismissed the marches, likening the unprecedented demonstrations against a war that had yet to begin to a 'focus group' that he would not let sway his determination to press forward. The US war debate was further curtailed by the incremental deployment of US troops. Ironically, rather than giving the United States a wider range of options, the presence of American troops in the Middle East limited the politically acceptable US course to a single option: war. US troops were first sent to the Persian Gulf allegedly to put pressure on Iraq to come clean about its supposed WMD, a seemingly reasonable idea. But once there, the argument shifted: the United States would look silly if the troops just turned around and came home without Iraq surrendering its WMD. Then, after Bush ordered the invasion -– and even though the WMD stockpiles never materialized -– the argument changed again: the United States couldn't afford to fail. 'Victory' -– whatever that meant amid the chaos of Iraq -– was the only option." So, on March 19, 2003, without any real national debate, American and British soldiers were put in harm's way. Thousands of Iraqis, both soldiers and civilians, would die. Bush alienated some of the US's oldest allies, not just because of the invasion, but because of the contempt expressed by the administration for the United Nations and for world opinion. Animosities against the US were stirred up around the globe, increasing the threat of terrorist reprisals against US targets.
- Parry writes, "Though offering the spread of democracy as one of the justifications for the invasion, Bush and his followers effectively had neutered the process at home. Their true goal in Iraq -– as well as in the United States -– seemed to be the creation of a 'managed democracy' that would keep some trappings of popular self-government while ensuring that the outcome was always acceptable to the Bush family and its business and political allies. The insiders would make the decisions; the people would acquiesce. Privately -– and sometimes publicly -– Bush insiders would celebrate this transformation of the United States from what Bush used to call a 'humble' nation into a modern-day empire inspired by a quasi-religious certainty in its own righteousness. Not only has it become fashionable in some political quarters to suggest that God chose George W. Bush to be president but that God also selected the United States to carry out His political missions around the world. Vice President Dick Cheney expressed both elements of this new spirit in a Christmas card sent to political friends in late 2003. Cheney took out of its historical context a quote from Benjamin Franklin, who said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, 'And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?' Though Cheney offered no explanation for this peculiar Christmas message, the implication seemed clear enough: God was guiding America's emergence as an empire." More overtly, after the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Justice began rounding up and detaining thousands of Arabs and other Muslims in mass arrests, often for as Attorney General Ashcroft put it, the legal equivalent of "spitting on the sidewalk." While large numbers were swept up, no one taken in was implicated in the attacks; the only person charged in the US in connection with the attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, was already in detention when the attacks occurred. On the other hand, the administration chose to give special permission to the only Arabs in the US who might have actually had any useful information about Osama bin Laden -– members of the bin Laden family -– to fly out of the US in the days after the attacks.
- Parry continues, "While these secret flights were supposedly humanitarian gestures to protect the safety of the bin Ladens, their removal also spared the Bushes the embarrassment of having bin Laden family members explain to the FBI about personal business dealings with former President Bush and his former Secretary of State James Baker through the Carlyle Group, an investment company that ended its relationship with the bin Ladens only after the Sept. 11 attacks. So, as Ashcroft rounded up thousands of 'usual suspect' Arabs, relatives of the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks were spirited out of the United States in flights arranged by Saudi diplomats without the bin Laden family members having to undergo FBI interrogation." Similarly, the Bush administration began hoking up evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 bombings while simultaneously ignoring or downplaying real evidence connecting the country of Bush's colleagues and family friends, Saudi Arabia, to the attacks. "so," writes Parry, "while serious counter-terrorism investigators might have wanted to wring information from the bin Laden family and challenge Saudi Arabia about its terrorist ties, the Bush administration instead rounded up Arabs guilty of minor visa violations and started planning the invasion of Iraq." Ashcroft and his Department of Justice also made it clear that dissent about the upcoming invasion was unwelcome, unAmerican, and possibly illegal. Criticism of the USA Patriot Act, which essentially strips away much of the citizen's constitutional rights to privacy and due process, was termed unpatriotic. Police response to legal, peacefull protests has escalated into full-blown attacks on the citizenry, with the recent police assaults in Miami being viewed admiringly as a "model" for future protest control by other cities. Parry concludes, "Has 'democracy' become just another word that has lost its meaning? Has the Bush administration so altered the concept –- both inside the United States and in Iraq -– that democracy is now just another feel-good expression disconnected from any genuine concept of the people governing? Is this rewriting of democracy's meaning perhaps the greatest of all threats to democracy?" (Consortium News)
- January 5: The NRA Leaders Web site has some interesting information about the leadership of the National Rifle Association, the leading gun lobby in America and a favorite of the Bush administration and the GOP. The site quotes (and sources) various NRA leaders. NRA President Kayne Robinson told a closed meeting of NRA officers just before the 2000 election, "If we [the Bush campaign] win, we'll have a Supreme Court that will back us to the hilt. If we win we'll have a president, with at least one of the people that's running, a president where we work out of their office. Unbelievably friendly relations." NRA Director Jeff Cooper, who advocates the rounding up and enforced drowning of a thousand "street punks" a month, without the benefit of trials or even criminal charges, comments on street violence: "...the consensus is that no more than five to ten people in a hundred who die by gunfire in Los Angeles are any loss to society. These people fight small wars amongst themselves. It would seem a valid social service to keep them well-supplied with ammunition." NRA Director Ted Nugent says of South African blacks: "Apartheid isn't that cut and dr[ied]. All men are not created equal. The preponderance of South Africa is a different breed of man. I mean that with no disrespect. I say that with great respect. I love them because I'm one of them. They are still people of the earth, but they are different. They still put bones in their noses, they still walk around naked, they wipe their butts with their hands.... These are different people. You give 'em toothpaste, they f*cking eat it." Nugent on racism: "I use the word n*gger a lot because I hang around with a lot of n*ggers...." John Lott, a pro-NRA advocate, writer, and lobbyist with an extremely shady work history, advocates arming public school teachers and all Iraqi citizens. He says hiring blacks to work as police officers is a mistake: "Increasing black officers' share of the police force one percentage point as a result of the new hiring policies increases murders by at least 2%, violent crime by almost 5% and property crimes by 4%." And Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre says that any American who advocates any measure of gun control is "an enemy of freedom and a political terrorist." (NRA Leaders)
- January 5: General Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate, says he will absolutely refuse to accept a vice-presidential invitation from any other Democrat who might win the nomination. "I'm running to be the president of the United States, not the vice president, and I will not accept that nomination," Clark says. Clark goes on to accuse President Bush of pushing a "radical, heartless, right-wing agenda" for the United States that the American people neither need nor want. (CNN)
- January 5: Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton laughs off reports that she and her husband were looking for a Democratic nominee that would lose to Bush and clear the way for a Hillary Clinton presidential run in four years: "We think the country's going in the wrong direction so why would we stand by and not do everything we could to elect a Democrat when if we were successful it would make a huge difference in making our country, I think, better off than four more years of George Bush?" (Las Vegas Sun)
- January 5: Iraqis have revived an ancient Arabic insult, "ulooj," to describe the US military. What its exact meaning is, is unclear, though translations include "pigs of the desert," "foreign infidels," "little donkeys," "medieval crusaders," "bloodsuckers" and "horned creatures." While no one can quite pin down the original definition, Iraqis agree on the modern definition: "It's the American military," says one Baghdad college student. "We use this word from the past for our occupiers of the present." The revival of "ulooj," pronounced oo-LOOZH, is the handiwork of Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf, the alternately comical and caustic information minister from the former Iraqi regime. In the first days of the war, Sahaf stumped Iraqis when he used the word in a speech to describe advancing U.S. forces. Today, "ulooj" lingers as the unofficial national nickname for American soldiers, even among many who profess support for the US presence. "The Americans always use fancy words for their operations here -- Desert Storm, Iron Grip -- so we should also have special names for them," says another student. Few soldiers are aware of their new moniker. Iraqi children delight in shouting it as they smile and wave to passing US troops, who happily return what they think is a genuine greeting. Linguistics professor Salah al Qureishi says he consulted four dictionaries when he first noticed his young students casually using a word he last recalled seeing in yellowed texts describing the conquests of a seventh-century Islamic ruler. "I was astonished," he recalls. ""I thought, 'Where on earth did they get this word?'" He believes that Sahaf unearthed "ulooj" because he "wanted to find words not used by common people so he would stand out as superior and intellectual." He said "ulooj" also was a good example of how Saddam Hussein, the ousted dictator with notoriously flowery speeches, enjoyed invoking Islam's golden age to remind his countrymen of Iraq's glorious past. The only problem was, most Iraqis weren't quite sure what their former leaders were talking about. Qureishi laughs when he comes across a rare alternative definition for the word: "strong men" or "good fighters." "I don't think Sahaf ever saw this definition of 'ulooj' when he was looking for names for the Americans," Qureishi says. "Saddam would have beaten him." (Knight Ridder)
- January 5: Liberal talk-show host Ed Schultz is going national, from his base in Fargo, North Dakota. Observers think that Schultz may be the same kind of breakout radio personality for liberals and progressives that Rush Limbaugh was for conservatives, and for much the same reasons: he's an entertainer with a political viewpoint. But unlike Limbaugh, Schultz prides himself on taking cold, unscreened calls instead of pre-screening calls to ensure that only people who parrot his views will appear on his broadcast. Phil Boyce, producer of conservative talk show host Sean Hannity's radio show, says that any liberal radio show or network is doomed to fail because people listen to conservative talk radio as an alternative to the liberal media. Others disagree, including Jones Radio Networks vice president and general manager Amy Bolton. "The fact that talk radio has been so one-sided, I think everybody is ready for something new," says Bolton, whose company is syndicating Schultz. "If Ed Schultz was a conservative, I wouldn't touch him." (Dallas Morning News)
- January 5: Columnist Jay Bookman takes Rush Limbaugh to task for Limbaugh's inability to practice what he has preached. "For years, Limbaugh has preached the importance of personal responsibility: Don't rely on others; don't blame others if you fail," Bookman writes. "His own success he attributes to hard work and unparalleled genius, what he calls 'talent on loan from God.' Limbaugh has been particularly hard -- and often with good reason -- on those who have been caught in crime or corruption yet claim to be victims of discrimination. But if Limbaugh has delighted in swinging the sword at others, he cringes and whimpers when the sharp edge points in his own direction. Now under investigation for possible crimes related to his longtime addiction to prescription drugs, the talk-radio king refuses to accept the consequences of his own behavior. Instead, he claims victimhood at the hands of some vast left-wing conspiracy. 'I'm not whining about it,' he recently told his radio audience, before proceeding to do just that: 'My friends, it is, and has been, obvious to me for the longest time that all these leaks were an attempt to try me in the court of public opinion. The Democrats in this country still cannot defeat me in the arena of political ideas, and so now they are trying to do so in the court of public opinion and the legal system.' ...On his radio show and in court, Limbaugh has complained bitterly that the seizure [of his medical records] violates his right to privacy, in particular regarding medical matters. But Limbaugh seeks a protection that he would deny to others. On April 4, for example, Limbaugh noted that American doctors had performed spinal surgery on Private Jessica Lynch, who had just been rescued. ...To Limbaugh's frustration, the military had refused to release further medical information, citing respect for Lynch's privacy. He wanted to know if Lynch had been raped, he said, not out of voyeurism but because it might shut up those feminists who are always griping about letting women serve alongside men in the military. Some have wondered recently whether Limbaugh's troubles might make him more understanding of his fellow human beings, might help him look beyond himself and his own narrow perspective to the larger, more complex world where the rest of us live. It seems unlikely, though. In the words of a Japanese proverb, a frog stuck in a well cannot know the ocean. And in his smugness, Limbaugh has dug himself a well too deep to ever allow escape. It does make his words ring hollow, though." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/CommonDreams)