- March 3: Former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix says flatly that no matter what UN sanctions Iraq may or may not have broken, the US and British invasion of Iraq was illegal. "I don't buy the argument the war was legalized by the Iraqi violation of earlier resolutions," Blix says. Blix says it would have required a second United Nations resolution explicitly authorising the use of force for the invasion of Iraq to have been legal. (Nettavisen)
- March 3: Major General Antonio Taguba presents his secret report on prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib to Pentagon officials, a damning indictment of conditions at that facility. (Guardian)
- March 3: A close look at the White House's behavior shows that the administration actively took the side of an armed band of "death-squad veterans and convicted murderers" to oust the president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a president democratically elected to office three times. While Secretary of State Colin Powell initially rebuked the rebels and rejected "a proposition that says the elected president [of Haiti] must be forced out of office by thugs," the administration soon said a solution in Haiti "could indeed involve changes in Aristide's position." Then the White House issued a statement that blamed Aristide for the crisis, and refused to help defend the presidential palace, effectively forcing Aristide out. Militarily, the administration's complicity in the coup was even more obvious. As armed gangs surrounded the Haitian capital, Powell made clear that "there is frankly no enthusiasm" for "sending in military or police forces to put down the violence" -- a signal to the rebels to continue their insurgency. This alone might not have been proof of complicity considering it was a reiteration of the president's clear position that intervention in Haiti was not a "worthwhile" mission because it was "a nation-building mission" that "cost us billions." But then, at almost the moment Aristide was deposed, the President reversed his hands-off Haiti policy and ordered 2,000 U.S. Marines to secure the island. Now, with exiled Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier planning a return to the island, the administration is facing questions about why it supported the overthrow of the Aristide government. Though Aristide certainly had a problematic record, the administration's policies could result in the restoration of an exiled dictator "accused of human rights violations, mass killings and stealing at least $120 million from Haiti's national treasury." (UPI/Council for Foreign Relations/Washington Post/Miami Herald/Sun Sentinel/Daily Misleader)
- March 3: Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was outed as a CIA deep-cover agent by a White House leak published by conservative columnist Robert Novak, is writing a book in which he will reveal the name of the leaker, along with more information about Novak. "There's some damning stuff in the book about Novak that no one knows about, including a story that pulls the whole picture together," says Philip Turner, editor-in-chief of the publisher, Carroll &Graf. Turner says Wilson acts as both a memoirist and reporter in the book. "He has many sources among journalists who have been covering the story," Turner says. "Many of them would seem to be more comfortable talking to Joe than reporting on the story" directly. The book, The Politics of Truth, to be published in May, is subtitled "A Diplomat's Memoir: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Exposed My Wife's Secret CIA Identity." The leaker, whom Wilson has not publicly identified, could be charged with a felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. (Editor and Publisher)
- March 3: On the floor of the Senate, Democrat Robert Byrd calls for a "truly independent" commission to investigate intelligence lapses leading to the war in Iraq. "If Congress is serious about getting to the bottom of this apparent intelligence failure and the Administration's rush to war," Byrd says, "we must realize that, once stripped of its dazzling plumage, the White House proposal for its own so-called independent commission is a real turkey. ...The President has described the panel he created as being an 'independent commission.' Nothing could be further from the truth. This commission is one hundred percent under the thumb of the White House. Who created the panel's charter? The President. Who chooses the panel members? The President. Whom does the panel report to? The President. Whom shall the panel advise and assist? The President. Who is in charge of determining what classified reports the panel may see? The President. Who gets to decide whether the Congress may see the panel's report? The President. To describe this commission as 'independent' is to turn that word's definition on its head. In fact, the deeper one delves into the text of the Executive Order that creates the President's so-called independent commission, the more one finds that the commission is ill-equipped to discover just what went wrong with the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. ...The President has carefully drafted this Executive Order to allow himself to serve as the gatekeeper on what information the so-called independent commission might have access to. While the President directs Federal agencies to cooperate with this commission, he also has created a giant loophole that would prevent the most important intelligence products from being read by his commission. The Executive Order reads, 'The President may at any time modify the security rules or procedures of the commission to provide the necessary protection' to classified information. I was born at night, but not last night. All of America knows that the White House is in a dispute with the September 11 Commission over intelligence reports that were read by the President: the Commission wants them, and the White House won't give them up. The Executive Order drafted by the President to create an intelligence commission makes sure that his own commission will never see documents that the President does not want them to see. At least the 9-11 Commission has the power to issue subpoenas for critical information; the President's intelligence commission does not even have that power. The deck is being stacked against a full and open inquiry on the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. Congress is not even assured of having access to the commission's report. The President has required that the commission send its report to him in March 2005, and then, within 90 days, the President 'will consult with the Congress concerning the commission's report and recommendations.'
- "Mr. President, why can't the Congress simply read the commission's report? Why should the White House be given the opportunity to reword, reshape, redact, or even flat-out censor the so-called independent commission's report before Congress can get their hands on it? It is quite possible that, if this so-called independent commission is allowed to proceed as the President has directed, that Congress will never have the chance to review the commission's work. Tucked away in the President's Executive Order is a provision that intends to exempt this commission from judicial review. Let us not forget that the Office of the Vice President fought tooth and nail in Federal courts to keep the General Accounting Office, an arm of the Congress, from learning about the meetings of his energy task force. Could this provision be an attempt to hide the work of the President's intelligence commission from Congress? I would not put such a scheme beyond this White House, which has already demonstrated its zeal for secrecy. ...The American people deserve answers on why the Administration relied on faulty intelligence to take this country to war without the presence of an imminent threat. A commission that is designed to keep the inquiry under the thumb of the same White House that misled Congress and the public about the nature of the threat from Saddam Hussein will never be able to operate independently. Congress should not allow the President to get away with posting a fox at the door to the henhouse. ...Enough with the stone-walling. Enough with the foot-dragging. Enough with the election-year politics. The Senate acted correctly last week to extend the life of the 9-11 commission so that it can get its work done, and the House should promptly follow suit. Now Congress should act quickly to create an independent Iraq intelligence commission. The confidence of the American people in their government -- the people's government -- hangs in the balance." (Robert Byrd)
- March 3: On the heels of charges by 60 scientists that the Bush administration is misusing and distorting science to serve political ends, two members of Bush's Council on Bioethics, including a highly regarded scientist and a moral philosopher both known for advocating research on human embryo cells, were fired and replaced with three cherry-picked scientists more ideologically aligned with the administration's conservative anti-stem-cell-research constituency. One of those scientists, biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, confirms that she was fired for political reasons, particularly because her opinions challenge those of the president and the council's director, University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass, who has directly criticized her views in meetings. "Clearly Bush is stacking the council with more like-minded and consonant members," Blackburn says. "It dramatically changes the balance of viewpoints in the council to have three more people who, based on their track records, are very much more socially conservative." Kurt Gottfried, chair of the UCS board and a Cornell University professor emeritus of physics, says that the report by the scientists was itself based on the principles of scientific study: "In science, if you examine a lot of events, you can infer a pattern connecting them that has meaning -- even if you don't have a clear formula or equation explaining them. In this case we examined a large set of incidences -- not a small set -- and there is a certain commonality to them [revealing] that the Bush administration consistently [censors] scientific evidence and opinions that run contrary to its goals."
- Gottfried adds that the report is just a start: "It's a good effort but certainly not as comprehensive and authoritative as it could be. We can't subpoena all the witnesses or documents [necessary] to investigate the breadth and depth of the problem -- that's a job for Congress." Senator John McCain, a Republican, has agreed to schedule an oversight hearing in mid-March in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which he chairs, to investigate concerns about the Bush administration's misuse of science. "The hearing may not resolve anything, but it will bring more air time to the UCS report and raise public awareness about our concerns," says David Michaels, one of the signers of the scientists' statement and former assistant secretary for environment, safety, and health at the Department of Energy under Clinton. Blackburn is heartened to hear of the upcoming congressional hearing. "[My dismissal] fits into a larger pattern of which the media, the public, and now Congress are growing ever more critical." (Grist/Working for Change)
- March 3: Marc Racicot, director of the Bush/Cheney reelection drive, sends a fund-raising letter tht once again uses the term "crusade," a word historically offensive to Muslims, to characterize Bush's war on terror. When asked about the term, Racicot says it doesn't have to denote a holy war, but then goes on to say that Bush's goal is "to protect the cause of freedom -- not just for a moment, not for a day, not for ten years, but for a hundred years" -- a characterization which most holy warriors of any faith would be quite comfortable embracing as a rationale for their own deeds. (Mark Crispin Miller)
- March 3: Howard Stern believes that his career as a broadcaster is coming to an end, and he believes that his newfound distaste for the Bush administration is the reason why he was suspended (and later fired) by broadcasting network giant ClearChannel. "If you don' t think me going after Bush got me thrown off those stations, you got another thing coming," he says. "My days here are numbered because I dared to speak out against the Bush administration and say that the religious agenda of George W. Bush concerning stem cell research and gay marriage is wrong. And that what he is doing with the FCC is pushing this religious agenda. And also the fact that the guy takes more vacation than any President ever. It's time for him to leave. Having said that pushed me off the air in six markets." He compares his suspension with the concurrent hiring of Michael Savage at ClearChannel's KPRC in Houston. Savage was fired from MSNBC for saying a caller was a sodomite who should "get AIDS and die." "Clear Channel had no problem hiring him after comments like that, because he's pro-Bush," Stern says. He laughs off the ClearChannel explanation of his suspension, which is that he became "too raunchy" during a discussion of a clip from the Sharon Osbourne show. Stern's co-host Robin Quivers characterizes the discussion as "[n]othing that hasn't happened here every day for the last ten years."
Furor over Bush campaign's use of 9/11 images in its campaign ads
- March 4: Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that he would not use the attacks for political gain. He has reneged on that promise when his campaign releases the first of a blizzard of campaign ads which feature commentary and images from the attacks. Victims' families and others are outraged. "It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people. It is unconscionable," says Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin towers. "I would be less offended if he showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty," says Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on Flight 11. "But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that's just some advertising agency's attempt to grab people by the throat." "Using my dead friends and my dead brother for political expediency is dead wrong," says Chris Burke, whose brother, Tom, died in the North Tower. "It's wrong, it's bad taste and an insult to the 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11." "I find it hypocritical that he would use 9/11 images and then not cooperate with the commission," says Stephen Push, co-founder of Families of September 11, a support group. Push's wife, Lisa Raines, was aboard the jetliner that crashed into the Pentagon. "I hope this leads him to pull the ads. I voted for George W. Bush, as did a lot of 9/11 families," Push says. "He's alienating people who supported him."
- Similarly, firefighter Tommy Fee of Queens Rescue Squad 270 said, "It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place. The image of firefighters at ground zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics." (Firefighters are further offended when they learn that the campaign used actors to portray the 9/11 firefighters, saying it was "cheaper and quicker" to use actors than to use the real thing.) Andrew Rice, another family member of a 9/11 victim, adds, "Taking images, sensitive images, like those firefighters carrying that coffin -- that's a dead body in that coffin, it's not Gettysburg 100 years after a battle. They are real firefighters carrying a dead body. That should be hands-off." Bush advisor Karen Hughes passes off criticism of the ads, saying that anyone who complains must be disgruntled Democrats pushing a political agenda: "I can understand why some Democrats might not want the American people to remember the great leadership and strength the president and first lady Laura Bush brought to our country in the aftermath of that," Hughes says. Hughes's comments strike sparks among victims' family members, including Wright Salisbury, whose son-in-law Ted Hennessey was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11. Salisbury calls Hughes' comments that it's Democrats opposing the ads "a load of baloney. ...I have no idea what the political affiliation is of people I've been talking to," he continues. "I was a Republican up until I voted for Bush. I will still vote for a good Republican, but not for Bush. To say this is Democrats doing this is another damn lie." "If Kerry were doing this or any other politician, we would feel the same way," said Kelly Campbell, a co-director of the family group Peaceful Tomorrows, whose brother-in-law Craig Amundson was killed on 9/11 at the Pentagon. "This is not about partisan politics. We have people in our group who vote for President Bush, we have people in our group who are Green Party and Democrats. Frankly, we don't want to have to deal with this as a partisan political issue. Unfortunately, the president has decided to run these ads and Republicans have decided to implicate Sept. 11 in their campaign and convention."
- The International Association of Fire Fighters has passed a resolution calling on the president to pull the ads. "since the attacks, Bush has been using images of himself putting his arm around a retired FDNY firefighter on the pile of rubble at ground zero. But for two and a half years he has basically shortchanged firefighters and the safety of our homeland by not providing firefighters the resources needed to do the job that America deserves," says the group's general president, Harold Schaitberger, a Kerry supporter. "The fact is Bush's actions have resulted in fire stations closing in communities around the country. Two-thirds of America's fire departments remain understaffed because Bush is failing to enforce a new law that was passed with bipartisan support in Congress that would put more firefighters in our communities." Schaitberger adds that the IAFF will " loudly and aggressively" make their objections known to any further ads featuring firefighters. Schaitberger says that a delegation of local firefighters submitted a resolution passed on the issue to Bush's campaign headquarters, but was left waiting for 45 minutes and departed without meeting any campaign officials. Retired New York firefighter Tom Ryan also feels betrayed by the president. Ryan was off duty on 9/11, but he watched the planes hit the World Trade Center on television at home and was at the scene by 11 a.m. Like so many firefighters, he worked 24 hours at a time for weeks after the attacks. And like so many firefighters and others who spent too much time near ground zero when it was still a burning pile, the heroic work has left him with breathing problems. Ryan is outraged that Bush and his Environmental Protection Agency said the air was safe at ground zero. "They lied to us," he said. "They told us it wasn't that bad down there. We lost 3,000 that day but thousands and tens of thousands will be affected by the air quality. No one could have protected us from that, but you could also have not lied about it." That's why it's especially galling for so many to see Bush making 9/11 the centerpiece of his campaign. When they needed him, he wasn't there. Now he needs them, or at least the image of their tragedy, to win. And it's painful."
- "It's hard to explain this burning in my pit that goes on," says Ryan, trying to describe how he felt when he saw the use of the firefighters' image in the Bush-Cheney ad. "It's hard to put that into words sometimes. You'd have to be stupid to say this wasn't going to go on. This is probably going to be the ugliest campaign we've ever had in this country. It's going to be coming from both sides, Republican and Democrat, and I guess if you don't have both sides questioning from different angles we'll never get to the truth. It's like going through a divorce: A woman tells her side of the story, a man tells his side of the story and the judge has to decide. We have to be the judges."
- Madison's Capital Times says that "President Bush took American political discourse to a new low last week when his re-election campaign began airing television commercials that exploit the horror and misery of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The president's willingness to pick at the still open wounds of that tragedy in a crass appeal for political support illustrates the desperation of the man and his political team to cling to power. But this time Bush has gone too far." "sept. 11 and the images thereof are going to cause controversy for whatever usage," says Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "It's a highly contested bit of cultural territory. You're taking a huge national tragedy, and you're taking it to try to sell something." The Daily Misleader reports, "Of course, this is only the latest chapter in the president's efforts to politicize 9/11 for his own personal political gain. Less than 19 weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove urged Republicans to 'go to the country' on national security issues, claiming Americans 'trust the Republicans to do a better job' of 'protecting America' against another 9/11-like attack. AP soon reported that the 'White House is advising GOP candidates to focus on the War on Terror.' Then, nine months after the attacks, CNN reported that 'the White House approved of the Republican congressional campaign committee's plan to use a photograph of President Bush taken on September 11 as part of a GOP fundraising effort. The photograph shows Bush aboard Air Force One, talking to Vice President Dick Cheney hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon' and was given to 'donors who contributed at least $150 and attend a fund-raising dinner with Bush and the first lady next month.' To top it off, the president took the extraordinary step of making the 2004 Republican National Convention the latest in party history in order to have it come three days before the 9/11 anniversary. Even White House advisers admit 'they are wary of being portrayed as exploiting the trauma of Sept. 11, a perception that might be particularly difficult to rebut as Mr. Bush shuttles between political events at Madison Square Garden and memorial services at ground zero.' (ABC News/CNN/Charlotte Observer/Daily Misleader, Salon, New York Daily News/CommonDreams, Capital Times, The Hill, Guardian)
- March 4: Insurgent groups in the Middle East release a leaflet claiming that terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in the Sulaimaniyah mountains of northern Iraq "during the American bombing there." The leaflet was released in Fallujah, the western Iraqi city that is currently a hotbed of anti-US insurgency activity. The leaflet proves impossible to verify, and is later determined to be in error -- al-Zarqawi was not killed in the bombings. A senior US official immediately denounces the claim as false. In February, the US-led coalition in Iraq made public an intercepted letter it said was written by al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leaders, detailing a strategy of spectacular attacks to derail the planned June 30 handover of power to the Iraqis. US officials say al-Zarqawi may have been involved in some of the series of suicide bombings this year in Iraq. The leaflet in Fallujah said the "fabricated al-Zarqawi memo" has been used by the US-run coalition "to back up their theory of a civil war" in Iraq. "The truth is, al-Qaeda is not present in Iraq," the leaflet claims. Though many Arabs entered the country to fight US troops, only a small number remain, the leaflet says. According to the leaflet, "We had to help hundreds of them leave for their own protection because they were only a burden on the resistance. It was difficult to hide them" from Iraqi informers cooperating with US forces. (AP/Washington Post)
- March 4: The watchdog group Public Citizen releases a report detailing the huge corporate donations that are paying for the Bush campaign's television advertisements. In the report, "Bush Campaign Ads...Brought to You by Special Interests," Public Citizen details how much money representatives from key industries, including finance, real estate, communications, energy, health care, and insurance, have helped raise and lists the tax breaks, regulatory changes, legislative favors and plum appointments Bush has given his backers. Many of the beneficiaries of his policies are Rangers and Pioneers, terms Bush gives donors who bundle contributions that total at least $200,000 and $100,000 respectively. The ads will run on cable networks and will target voters in 17 battleground states. Bush had spent at least $41 million of his campaign money by the end of January; his war chest holds another $110 million. He is expected to raise another $50 million before September's nominating convention and accept $75 million in public financing for the two months before Election Day. Public Citizen's report finds that the 416 Bush Rangers and Pioneers have bundled together at least $58.1 million for the 2004 campaign and that 90 percent of them (374) represent the special interests of America's corporations. The report details how Bush has given tax breaks that benefit the finance industry, made it easier for real estate developers to build on wetlands and in the Florida Everglades, reneged on a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions (pleasing the electric utility and mining industries), increased the amount of public land available for oil and gas exploration and coal mining, filled top Interior Department positions with executives from the mining industry, and aided the pharmaceutical industry by pushing pro-industry Medicare drug legislation. The report itself is linked below. (Public Citizen/Daily Misleader, Public Citizen)
Only person convicted of 9/11 crimes wins retrial in German court
- March 4: Mounir el Motassadeq, a Moroccan who is the only person in the world to have been convicted on charges relating to the 9/11 attacks, has had his conviction overturned by a German high court because the US refused to allow Motassadeq's defense to present testimony from another al-Qaeda operative in American custody. Motassadeq remains in jail pending a retrial on his conviction for more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization. "I believe he is guilty," says Stephen Push, founder of the New York-based Families of Sept. 11 group, whose wife was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. "It's unfortunate that the conviction wasn't upheld." Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni believed to have been the Hamburg terrorist cell's contact with al-Qaeda, was the key to Thursday's ruling. Motassedeq is believed to have been a member of the Hamburg cell. al-Shibh has been in secret US custody since his Sept. 11, 2002, capture in Pakistan; the US Justice Department turned down court requests in two separate Hamburg trials to let him testify, saying he is "not available." The US refusal to allow al-Shibh appear in the trial of Abdelghani Mzoudi resulted in Mzoudi's acquittal. Motassedeq is being tried on similar charges to the ones brought against Mzoudi. Motassadeq acknowledges knowing the terror plotters, but maintains al-Shibh would be able to confirm he wasn't involved in the plot to attack the United States. The New York Times writes, "Until and unless the Bush administration starts making their prosecution a priority, those implicated in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks can rest assured that they will not be held accountable by the law. That was the message delivered by a German appeals court...when it threw out the year-old conviction of a suspect who had been denied access to an important witness held in American custody. ...The Bush administration needs to rethink its reluctance to share evidence and offer witnesses to aid in the prosecution of Sept. 11 suspects. It was understandable that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the administration was wary of giving too much emphasis to judicial process. But it now stretches credulity to maintain that keeping captives isolated for so long may be necessary to prevent attacks. What it may prevent is credible criminal prosecutions of those implicated in the most heinous crime in American history." (AP/Guardian, New York Times)
McCain fights Bush for subpoena power for intelligence commission
- March 4: Maverick Republican John McCain is battling the Bush administration for subpoena power to the independent commission Bush created last month to investigate intelligence operations. So far the administration has refused, but McCain is not giving up. McCain is one of the commission's most prominent members and says it will be ineffective without the power to subpoena the administration. "I just think you need to have the threat of subpoena power," McCain says. He told Dick Cheney that on the phone recently but the vice president refused. McCain plans to take the issue to the commission's chairmen, former senator Chuck Robb and Laurence Silberman, a federal appeals-court judge who served as deputy attorney general in the Nixon and Ford administrations. McCain also wants to extend the inquiry's scope beyond the limits set down by the president. Bush prescribed an examination of the quality of intelligence gathered on Iraq, but he withheld a mandate to scrutinize how the administration used the information. McCain wants to examine how that intelligence was used by policymakers to justify the Iraq invasion. One congressional source says giving the independent commission subpoena power would be "huge." "If you don't have it, you have no leverage," he says. "If you do have it, you have all types of leverage. ...It's the sign of a seriously empowered investigative commission." William Odom, who headed the National Security Agency under President Reagan, says that the Bush administration doesn't want to give the commission subpoena power because of fear the commission will use it to "find a way into embarrassing material." Another congressional observer is interested that McCain, not Robb or Silberman, is pressing for subpoena. "It's interesting that McCain is initiating this because he's not the chairman," he says. McCain has appeared more active than Robb, the top-ranking Democrat, in seeking wide authority. In a conversation with Bush prior to his appointment, Robb assured the president he would not support examining the administration's use of intelligence, says a Senate source familiar with the meeting. "Robb bent over backward [to say] he did not support looking at the users," says the source. Bush has made it clear to Robb that he must keep his distance from Senate Democrats. Robb was warned that if he consulted with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle before the announcement, he would be stripped of his appointment. It is unclear why Robb has accepted such stringent limitations on his functions as co-chairman. It is also unclear what, if any, such limitations have been imposed on Silberman, a longtime friend and ally of the Bush administration. (The Hill)
- March 4: The Federal Election Commission, responding to pressure from the Bush campaign, proposes strict new requirements limiting the use of monies raised by non-profit groups to further a candidate's campaign. The requirements would cripple the efforts by many Democratically aligned groups to work in behalf of John Kerry, but would leave untouched the efforts by corporate groups and organizations working for Bush. The draft rule "could effectively shut down the progressive movement and shut down criticism of the Bush administration and its policies," says Ralph Neas, president of the civil rights group People for the American Way. Republican commissioner Michael Toner says what the groups are doing may not be legal: "There are vast amounts of soft money being spent right now to influence this presidential election, and we need to take a formal position on the legality of that." Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who dissented in the 5-1 vote to propose the rules, said Republicans are behind the push to curb the groups: "It is an attempt to box the commission in and force us to respond to their agenda." The FEC is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. It takes four votes for the commission to take any action. A decision on whether to regulate the outside groups is expected in May. If the ruling goes against the groups, a court challenge is likely. (USA Today)
- March 4: The Bush-Cheney campaign announces the official beginning of its presidential television ad campaign. It promises an "upbeat, yet realistic feel-good depiction of the president," in what the New York Times predicts will be "the most expensive and sustained but also the most precisely focused advertising campaign in presidential history, one that could cost as much as $60 million by late August." For an "upbeat...feel-good" campaign, the ads initially broadcast are relentlessly negative in their attempts to instill fear and anger in viewers over the 9/11 tragedy. A firefighters' union has complained that the first ads are designed to manipulate the 9/11 attacks for political purposes: "Bush is calling on the biggest disaster in our country's history, and indeed in the history of the fire service, to win sympathy for his campaign," says union president Harold Schaitberger. Campaign chief Ken Mehlman says the ads are designed to portray Bush as a resolute commander-in-chief whose adminstration protects Americans from terrorism. As the campaign progresses, it quickly devolves into perhaps the most negative campaign in modern presidential campaign history, portraying Democratic frontrunner and eventual nominee John Kerry as an appeaser to terrorists. Bush campaign managers have publicly stated that they intend to use 9/11 as a centerpiece for their campaign strategy, while focusing less on the debacle in Iraq. (New York Times, Frances Fox Piven)
Edwards concedes Democratic race to Kerry
- March 4: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards drops out of the race, effectively conceding the Democratic nomination to fellow senator John Kerry. Like other candidates, he pledges to do everything in his power to help Kerry win against George W. Bush in November. Momentum is already building for a Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket, but Edwards says he has no plans to accept the vice presidential slot if Kerry asks. (AP/Hartford Courant)
- March 4: Republican Mike Murphy, a longshot candidate for the US House of Representatives in Texas's 4th District, is told by the Bush administration to get out of the race or risk making himself a lifelong enemy of Karl Rove and the national Republican Party. Murphy was told to drop out of the race in favor of Ralph Hall, the Democrat-turned Republican incumbent, who is a close friend of Rove and other Texas Republicans. In mid-January, after refusing several requests from state and national GOP operatives to leave the race, Murphy received a phone call from Larry Telford, whom the National Republican Congressional Committee calls its "incumbent retention director." Murphy said Telford told him that running would make Murphy an enemy of the White House and ruin his political career. "The party is always very hardball," says Harvey Kronberg, editor of Quorum Report, a respected nonpartisan political Web site and subscription newsletter based in Austin. "They really only have two switches, on and off. They don't think it's overkill. That's not the way they view things from the Potomac when they start drinking that water. They think everyone has desires to move up the food chain, and since they don't know this fellow, they probably figured they'd better come out guns blazing. Intimidation works in so many other parts of their world that they're probably mystified that it didn't work this time."
- Carl Forti, the NRCC's communication director, denied that the party tried to squash District 4's grassroots challenger with bluster. Forti confirmed that Reynolds and Telford had been in contact with Murphy, but said that Karl Rove's name had not been dropped in either conversation. He also denied that either caller had in any way suggested that running might ruin Murphy's political career and make him an enemy of the White House. Unfortunately for Forti, Murphy owns a tape recorder. He taped his conversations with Telford and NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds, and he shared them with the Dallas Observer. On the tapes, Reynolds can be heard clearly: "Normally with a party switcher, I'd deal with it myself or take it to the speaker, but I took this one directly to Karl Rove because of the unique relationship the White House has with Ralph. That's what started this whole thing." Reynolds also acknowledged that the Republicans don't want "party switchers" in the South getting beat up too badly, because they'd like more to follow Hall's example. Telford was recorded saying that the relationship between Hall and the president "goes back a long way -- they've helped each other for forever and a day, and the White House won't rest until he wins." Then, later: "Just consider what you're doing now. You don't want to have the freakin' president of the United States mad at you for the rest of your life." And, finally: "It will help you immensely to not do something that won't take you anywhere in a practical manner and that will really screw up your chances down the road... If you step off this cliff, gravity never goes up, it goes down." Forti claimed after the tapes were made public that the talks between Murphy and the party honchos had been incorrectly "characterized," which led to a "misunderstanding." "Look, that's the reality of the race," Forti said. "That's the bottom line. The NRCC needs to help as many Republicans as possible." According to the NRCC, which says it often contacts challengers on behalf of vulnerable incumbents, no other calls of that kind were made to any challenger in Texas. The NRCC also failed to contact Mike Mosher, the other Republican candidate in District 4. Mosher could be seen as a bigger threat to Hall than Murphy because he's been running radio ads and plans to continue doing so until the March 9 primary, not to mention that he was recently endorsed by the Dallas Morning News. (Forti said that the NRCC was unaware of Mosher's candidacy until after the filing deadline.) "I just want to run a strong race, you know, fight the fight, and if I lose, at least I tried," Murphy says. "Texas would be the Republic of Mexico if we'd just given up at the Alamo. I thought it was a little odd that they'd called me. And when they were going on about the White House and ruining my career, all I could think was, 'I don't have a career.'"
- "You know, I've heard of a lot of ways to handle situations in politics, but that's one of the best -- it's like a Saturday Night Live skit," says Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant for HillCo Partners. "On the NRCC's part, that's what you call ham-handed amateur hour. Do people have bad days? Yeah. Are people stupid? Absolutely. And I think this is more of latter than the former. The fact that people get threatened in politics is nothing new. But using Karl Rove's name and saying that he would be an enemy of the president for life if he didn't get out -- that's a different situation because of the context. I mean, here's a kid, Murphy, who is an amateur, but he acts like a pro. And the party, they're pros, but they act like amateurs. It speaks to how capable, or incapable, they are. We should all tip our hat to him because he caught them on tape and let them talk themselves into a disaster." (Dallas Observer)
- March 4: GOP political consultant Dick Morris succinctly outlines the strategy the Bush campaign will use to attempt to defeat John Kerry. The strategy has three prongs: paint Kerry as an "ultraliberal," comparing him with failed presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis in a barrage of negative ads ("There are likely those in the White House who are urging Bush to run positive ads. That won't work." writes Morris); emphasize the war on Iraq ("elevate the sense of threat so that his advantage as a war president begins to count," he writes), de-emphasizing the economy in favor of a steady stream of elevated threat assessments and other tactics designed to frighten the American electorate into "staying the course" with Bush; and begin a calculated withdrawal of troops from Iraq after the June turnover of power in Iraq in order to minimize the casualty lists as the election comes up. On the whole, an effective, if quite Machiavellian, assessment. (The Hill)
- March 4: Oklahoma state representative Tom Cole tells a group of Oklahoma Republicans that a vote for John Kerry in 2004 is the political and moral equivalent of voting for Adolf Hitler. Cole goes on to say that a victory for Kerry will be a victory for terrorist Osama bin Laden. The Web site of radio station KTOK-AM originally publishes the story, then pulls it from its site within 24 hours with no explanation. After the story is pulled, Cole denies making the comment, and accuses the Yukon Review, which originally reported the statements, of "mischaracterizing" his quotes. Cole acknowledges that the news report accurately quoted him in everything else he said, and goes on to acknowledge Kerry's patriotism. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Robert Matsui is unforgiving: "Congressman Cole's comments are disgraceful and must be repudiated by Republican candidates from President Bush on down the ticket," he says. "Congressman Cole should apologize to Senator Kerry and the millions of Americans whose patriotism he has impugned." It is worth noting that KTOK is owned by Clear Channel, who has deep and intricate connections with the Republican Party. (KTOK-AM [original story, deleted from Web], KTOK-AM, Cox.net [original Yukon Review newspaper article], Tom Cole)
- March 4: Fiery editorial cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall has had his cartoons pulled from the New York Times' Web edition. When asked why the decision was made, Times spokesperson Christine Mohan says, "After two years of monitoring cartoons by Ted Rall we decided that, while he often does good work, we found some of his humor was not in keeping with the tone we try to set for NYTimes.com.... While NYTimes.com and its parent company support the right of free expression, we also recognize an obligation to assure our users that what we publish, no matter what its origin, does not offend the reasonable sensibilities of our audience." Rall, however, believes the Times Web site stopped running his editorial cartoons this week because it was tired of dealing with e-mail campaigns from conservatives who don't like his work. "I've been canceled from a lot of newspapers," Rall says. "It comes with the territory. But this [the reluctance of some papers to deal with reader complaints] is nothing short of appalling. It needs to change." If newspapers don't have the personnel to handle hate mail, says Rall, "just delete it." Mohan said reader feedback to the dropping of Rall has been "minimal" so far, but Rall said about 150 people have e-mailed him since Monday wondering why his cartoons were no longer on NYTimes.com. The site was running his cartoons for free, he said, while also using cartoons by nine other Universal Press Syndicate artists. (Editor and Publisher)
- March 5: The signing of Iraq's interim constitution is delayed indefinitely after five Shiite members of the Governing Council at the last minute reject the makeup of the presidency and concessions to Kurds. The council had agreed to the accord unanimously Monday, but Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, rejected provisions put into the text at the Kurds' request, according to one council source. "The marja'iya [al-Sistani's office] will not accept it," the source says. The Shiites' move threw the planned signing ceremony into disarray. Officials were left waiting in front of a stage set up in Baghdad's convention center, 25 fountain pens laid out on an antique desk. It was not immediately known when the signing would take place. Although US officials have tried to paint the delay in signing as a single 'technical issue', in reality it represents one of the most fraught issues facing a future Iraqi state. "There are some reservations. We are trying to sort the problems out now," says Hamed al-Bayati, an adviser in the Shiite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the parties that refused to sign the charter. Al-Bayati said the Shiites' concerns focused on clauses in the deal that the Kurds wanted to ensure that the eventual permanent constitution, to be put to a national referendum, does not encroach on their self-rule zone in the north. The clauses say that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the permanent charter, it will not got into effect. The Kurd self-rule region includes three provinces in the north. "some of these provinces have only 400,000 or 500,000 people. We cannot have that number of people rejecting a constitution for 25 million people," al-Bayati says.
- Another cause of dispute was the makeup of the presidency. The draft that the Governing Council, including the Shiite parties, agreed to set up a single president with two deputies. The council members that refused to sign were Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa party and the current council president Shiite cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulloom. The ceremony had been delayed for nearly a week, first by tough negotiations among the Governing Council that went beyond a Feb. 28 deadline, then by a three-day mourning period following two suicide attacks Tuesday that killed scores of Shiite pilgrims on the holy day of Ashoura. Top US administrator Paul Bremer and chief British representative Jeremy Greenstock mediated with council members in a marathon session that sealed the deal around dawn Monday. Compromises were struck on some of the toughest issues, particularly the role of Islam and federalism. The draft recognizes Islam as a source of legislation. In a concession to religious conservatives who wanted Islam to be the main source, it also states that no law will be passed that violates the tenets of the Muslim religion. It also accepts the principle of federalism but leaves it to a future elected national assembly to decide on self-rule for Iraq's Kurdish minority. Delegates hammered out a system that would allow any of Iraq's 18 provinces to form federal regions, a provision opening the door for Shiites to form a region of self-rule in the south, similar to the Kurds' region in the north. The US-based rights group Human Rights Watch criticized the document, saying it does not do enough to protect women's rights, particularly in the area of family law. The charter also came under fire from Shiite clergy at Baghdad's Kazimiya shrine, one of the targets hit by suicide bombers in Tuesday's attacks. The shrine's top imam, Sheik Jawad al-Khalisi, dismissed the charter, saying it was created by an unelected body under US domination. "It lacks legitimacy," he says. "I call upon the honest people in the Governing Council to demand that the constitution should be written on the basis of Islam 100 percent," another cleric, Sheik Hazim al-Aaraji, told worshippers at his Friday prayer service at Kazimiya. Many of the clergy at Kazimiya are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical anti-US cleric.
- In a sermon in Najaf, however, an imam linked to a Shiite party on the council praised the document as "a success." It "has positive items such as considering Islam as the state religion and a source for legislation and...provides a fair solution for the Kurdish people," Sheik Sadr-Aldin al-Qubanji said. The United States will transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30, though it has yet to be decided how to pick the government that will take power. US troops, however, will only gradually transfer security duties to Iraqi police and civil defense.
- Former Wasit governor Mark Etherington notes that it was always a fantasy that exile groups such as Chalabi's INC would ever gain any significant popular support. The largest and most popular political parties are those such as Dawa and SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), which combine opposition to Hussein with adherence to strict Islamic precepts and well-armed militias. Etherington observes that the Communists, at least in Wasit, were "workmanlike and well organized," while the Kurds, a formidable power in other parts of the country, were not major players in central-southern Iraq. One thing that almost all parties agree on is that Iraq must be governed under some form of Islamic law, an idea anathema to many in the CPA. (AP/Guardian, Guardian, Mark Etherington)
Iraqi defector discredited; his tales of Iraqi mobile bioweapons labs used extensively by Bush officials
- March 5: The Bush administration's prewar assertion that Saddam Hussein had a fleet of mobile labs that could produce bioweapons rested largely on information from an Iraqi defector working with another government who was never interviewed by US intelligence officers, according to current and former senior intelligence officials and congressional experts who have studied classified documents. In his presentation before the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell said "firsthand descriptions" of the mobile bioweapons fleet had come from an Iraqi chemical engineer who had defected and is "currently hiding in another country with the certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein will kill him if he finds him." The claims remain unverified, and the US is now trying to get access to the Iraqi engineer, who turns out to be a relative of a senior official in Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles who actively encouraged the United States to invade Iraq. Powell also cited another defector in his speech, an Iraqi major who was made available to US officials by the INC, as supporting the engineer's story. The major, however, had already been "red-flagged" by the Defense Intelligence Agency as having provided questionable information about Iraq's mobile biological program. The administration's handling of intelligence alleging the existence of mobile bioweapons facilities has become part of several broad investigations now underway into the intelligence community's faulty prewar conclusions that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The Senate and House intelligence committees are conducting probes, as are the CIA and a commission appointed by President Bush.
- The investigation of claims about mobile weapons labs, however, does not just cover prewar intelligence, but also includes the performance of the intelligence community well after the invasion. US intelligence officials now describe as hasty and premature the May 28 public claim by the CIA and the DIA that two semitrailers discovered in Iraq in April were most likely part of the bioweapons fleet. The highly publicized claim, one official said, was triggered by a May 11 NBC News broadcast featuring David Kay, then a network analyst in Iraq, who would later become the chief US weapons inspector there. Kay was shown next to one of the found vehicles with a chemical officer from the Army's 101st Airborne Division who, on camera, agreed that the semitrailer was equipped to make biological weapons. Days later in Washington, the CIA and the DIA put out an unclassified white paper that said the production of biological agents "is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles." The next day, Bush said the trailers showed that the United States had found former Iraqi president Hussein's prohibited weapons. "For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong," Bush said. "We found them."
- Since then, intelligence analysts and Kay, a nuclear-weapons expert with little experience with biological weapons, have said the trailers were not used in a bioweapons program. Kay has said he believes the trailers were likely used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons. The Senate committee has drafted a highly critical report on the prewar intelligence of the CIA and other agencies. The problems uncovered in the mobile-bioweapons area illustrate what the panel has found in the collection and analysis of information about Iraq's chemical and nuclear programs. CIA officials reviewing the bioweapons intelligence say that the engineer who provided the original tip never dealt directly with US intelligence agencies, and that he passed along the information through a foreign intelligence service, which they refuse to name. US intelligence analysts did not know his name before the war, relying entirely on foreign officials to vouch for his credibility. US officials are trying to interview him, but the foreign intelligence service that originally forwarded his information has declined to produce him for questioning. The May 28 white paper on the semitrailers is also under scrutiny. A retired senior intelligence official said recently that the unclassified paper was hastily put together before a full, classified analysis was written and circulated within the intelligence community. The paper was produced so quickly, one senior administration official said, because of Kay's May appearance on NBC, in which he pointed to one semitrailer and said: "This is where the biological process took place...literally, there's nothing else you would do this way in a mobile facility."
- Kay said he returned to Iraq as a US weapons inspector a month after his television appearances and found that the DIA analysts who had inspected the trailers disagreed that they were part of mobile biological-agent production plants. By January, Kay had reassessed the matter, saying publicly that the "intelligence consensus" was that the semitrailers probably were for making hydrogen, not biological agents. Administration officials continued to describe the threat posed by Hussein's mobile biological-weapons facilities. On January 22, Vice President Cheney claimed that Hussein had "spent time and effort acquiring biological weapons labs" and that the semitrailers "were, in fact, part of that program." He called the trailers "conclusive evidence, if you will, that he [Hussein] did in fact have programs of mass destruction." On February 24, Tenet told the Senate intelligence committee that there was "a big debate" about the trailers among CIA analysts "who still believe that they were for" bioweapons, and CIA and DIA analysts "who have posited another theory...and we haven't wrestled it to the ground yet."
- In their August 2006 book Hubris, David Corn and Michael Isikoff reveal that a group of CIA analysts, over the objections of other agency analysts, actually rigged a post-invasion report to falsely claim that a trailer found in Iraq was a mobile bioweapons lab. (Washington Post, Booman Tribune)
- March 5: The Bush campaign's use of 9/11 images and themes in its recently released campaign advertisements is causing a firestorm of controversy, with many from all sides of the political debate calling for the ads to be terminated, and many contrasting the ads with Bush's unwillingness to tell the truth about 9/11. Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post writes, "At issue is the contrast between Bush's willingness to use the still raw feelings about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a central theme of his reelection campaign -- and his refusal to give the commission investigating the attacks more than an hour of his time, in private, with only two members allowed to attend." "Families are enraged," says Bill Doyle, who is active in several Sept. 11 family groups. Doyle lost his son in the WTC attacks. "What I think is distasteful is that the president is trying to use 9/11 as a springboard for his re-election. It's entirely wrong. He's had 3,500 deaths on his watch, including Iraq." Ron Willett, who also lost his son in the same attacks, says he is "disgusted" with the ads. "I would vote for Saddam Hussein before I would vote for Bush," he says. His wife Lucy agrees: "I think it is an atrocity. He should not be allowed to use those images at all." Chris Burke, whose brother Tom died in the WTC attack, is outraged by the ads. "Using my dead friends and my dead brother for political expediency is dead wrong," says Burke. He says tears welled in his eyes when he first watched the ad. Burke wouldn't have minded the ad, he says, if Bush hadn't obstructed an independent commission that's investigating the attacks. "I find it hypocritical that he would use 9-11 images and then not cooperate with the commission," says Stephen Push, co-founder of Families of September 11, a support group. Push's wife, Lisa Raines, was aboard the jetliner that crashed into the Pentagon. Patty Casazza, whose husband died in the attacks, tells CNN: "When I look at the ads and I see Bush speaking over the pictures of Ground Zero, I know in my heart that President Bush failed the 3,000 Americans that died there on that day."
- Officials in both the Bush administration and his reelection campaign are standing by the ads, saying the Sept. 11 images are justified by the president's record. "sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy," White House spokesman Scott McClellan says. "The president's steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism." The Bush campaign has sponsored TV appearances by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, Deena Burnett, the widow of United Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett, former Bush communications director Karen Hughes, and Representative Vito Fossella, a Republican from Staten Island, all who support the ad campaign. Bush's aides say the campaign will not pull the commercials and that the battle over them could even work to their advantage by focusing new attention on what they say was the president's forceful response to the attacks and the continued threat from terrorists. David Gergen, a former advisor to both Democratic and Republican presidents, says the campaign has to be careful in how it uses images from the attacks. "They have to salute, but not exploit it. It's a fine line," Gergen says. NBC reports: "The White House has made no secret of the fact that the 9/11 attacks and the president's response to them provide the political framework for Mr. Bush's reelection drive, and officials defend the ads, saying 9/11 shapes the entire debate over the war on terror, and can not be separated from politics." Editorial responses in the New York press is mixed. The New York Times writes: "When we think of 9/11, we think of loss, and of the heroism of average people who reached out in ways great and small to help their fellow men and women. Any political candidate who attempts to piggyback onto those emotions deserves to be shunned by the electorate." But the New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, says, "Is it fair for President Bush to use images from Ground Zero in his reelection campaign? Damned right it is. The more, the merrier." The campaign is spending over $10 million to air the ads in markets across the United States. In 2002, Bush stated flatly, "I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue." Doyle warns Bush against appearing at Ground Zero during the Republican convention: "If he does, there will be a protest and it could get ugly." (Washington Post, Reuters/My Way News)
- March 5: Despite his own administration's ban on the media showing images of the caskets of slain soldiers returning from Iraq, Bush's campaign has included footage of flag-draped bodies being carried out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center on September 11. Previously Bush had promised not to use footage from the 9/11 attacks "for political purposes." (Star-Telegram/Daily Misleader)
- March 5: Governments from around the world are asking for particulars regarding the Bush administration's suspected ouster of democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide; US Democrats are vilifying the administration for its actions. South Africa's Foreign Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, says that if Aristide had been forced from power against his will, it would have "serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over." The 15-nation Caribbean Community, Caricom, has refused to contribute troops to the peace-keeping force taking up positions in Haiti. It is calling for an investigation into Aristide's removal from power to be conducted by the United Nations or other international body. Zuma stands behind the Caricom position. In a statement, she says, "south Africa stands ready to support all efforts by Caricom to help bring stability and security to Haiti." The Haitian consul general in New York has said that he still believes Aristide is the legitimate president of Haiti.
- Democratic senator Christopher Dodd sharply questions the administration's position that Aristide's resignation was voluntary. "It is indisputable based on everything we know," he says, "that the US played a very direct and public role in pressuring him to leave office by making it clear that the united States would do nothing to protect him from the armed thugs who (were) threatening to kill him. His choice was simple: Stay in Haiti with no protection from the international community, including the US, and be killed or you can leave the country. That is hardly what I would call a voluntary decision to leave." Democratic representative Robert Menendez angrily states that people throughout the Americas were "watching this government turn its back on democracy." He tells Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega: "The message is clear: this government will not stand up for a democratically elected head of state they do not like." Dodd, the Democrat's ranking expert on Western Hemisphere affairs, charges that US actions may also have violated the three-year-old Inter-American Charter on Democracy, a US-backed document that requires its signatories to come to the aid of any democratically elected government in the region that is threatened with being removed by unconstitutional methods. "President Aristide, a democratically elected president, made that request and, of course, not only did we not provide assistance," says Dodd, "In fact, we sat back and watched as he left the country, offering assistance for him to depart. When governments are challenged by violent thugs, people with records of violent human rights violations, engaged in death squad activity...then I think it is worthy of note that we have walked away from these international documents, signed only three years ago...", he says. Meanwhile, deposed dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who oversaw the torture and murder of thousands of Haitians during his reign (which ended in 1986), is putting himself forward as a potential successor to Aristide. (Independent/Indenpendent Media, Dissident Voice, The Gully)
Bush administration attempting to destabilize Venezuelan government
- March 5: US neoconservatives are pressuring the Bush administration to oust Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in the aftermath of the toppling of Haiti's Aristide regime. Columnist and radio talk show host Lowell Ponte calls Chavez the "third domino in the axis of red evil;" Douglas MacKinnon, former press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole, and a former White House and Pentagon official, calls Chavez a "madman" and "an evil just as unpalatable, just as real and potentially just as lethal as Osama bin Laden." Most alarmingly, the Bush administration is using tax dollars to fund a number of organizations in Venezuela working to unseat Chavez. One organization, Sumate, is a company that has provided much of the logistical support for the signature collection process underway to force a recall referendum. Between September 2003 and September 2004, Sumate received more than $50,000 from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy. The "NED Report to the U.S. Dept. of State on Special Venezuela Funds" documents that the organization received a million dollars in April 2002, and since June of that year it awarded more than $800,000 to organizations working in Venezuela, according to VenezuelaFOIA.info. Other organizations receiving US funds are the Center for International Private Enterprise, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The NED is no stranger to Venezuelan politics. According to the New York Times, the organization "funneled more than $877,000 into Venezuela opposition groups in the weeks and months before the recently aborted coup attempt [of 2002]." More than $150,000 went to "a Venezuelan labor union that led the opposition work stoppages and worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who led the coup."
- Over the years the NED has actively destabilized governments in Central America and Eastern Europe. According to William Blum's book Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, the NED "played an important role in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, funding key components of Oliver North's shadowy...Project Democracy' network, which privatized US foreign policy, waged war, ran arms and drugs, and engaged in other equally charming activities." For years the NED supported the Cuban exile community in South Florida, contributing $250,000 between 1990 and 1992 to the right wing Cuban-American National Foundation. The NED functions as a full-service infrastructure-building clearinghouse. It provides money, technical support, supplies, training programs, media know-how, public relations assistance, and state-of-the-art equipment to select political groups, civic organizations, labor unions, dissident movements, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, and other media. The organization's aim is to destabilize progressive movements, particularly those with a socialist or democratic socialist bent. Chavez's well-funded opposition also appears to be receiving the tacit stamp of approval from Henry Kissinger and his international consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates. In late-January, while the national elections council was preparing to evaluate the authenticity of the two-plus million petition signatures handed in by the opposition, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was presenting an award to Venezuelan billionaire, Gustavo Cisneros, Chairman and CEO of the Cisneros Group of Companies. According to the Green Left Weekly, Cisneros has been "identified by Newsweek and Venezuelan publications as one of the protagonists and financiers of the April 11, 2002, coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez." In a December 2003 press release announcing the upcoming awards ceremony, the IAEC described Cisneros as someone who "consistently sought to create an environment where business and government can work together in meaningful ways for the betterment of society." It went on: "The council seeks to create a forum in which effective policy making is made by the public and private sectors working together. Cisneros' life's work parallels the council's mission."
- According to the Green Left Weekly, however, Cisneros is "credited with being a driving force behind the December 2002 nationwide lock-out and sabotage of the oil industry, which drove the Venezuelan economy into the ground by causing a historical drop of 27% in the country's GDP in the first trimester of 2003." And the US-based NGO Global Strike for Women condemned the IAEC's decision to give Cisneros the award, charging that he was a leader of the Dec 2002-Feb 2003 nationwide lock out "aimed at forcing President Chavez from office" and that "he played a similar role in the more recent oil lock out orchestrated by the CIA and aimed at paralyzing the whole country." Cisneros owns one of the largest privately held media, entertainment, technology, and consumer products organizations in the world. His holdings include Univision Communications, Inc., AOL Latin America, DIRECTV Latin America, Claxson Interactive Group, Venevision, Venezuela's largest television network, Los Leones del Caracas, Regional Brewing Company, Backus & Johnston Brewing Company, and Pueblo International, LLC. Two days after the aborted coup, Kissinger partner Thomas "Mack" McLarty, the Vice Chairman of Kissinger McLarty Associates, and former President Bill Clinton's top adviser on Latin America, penned an op-ed piece that issued a stern warning to Brazilian leftist Luiz Igacio Lula da Silva: "[W]hat happened in Venezuela could be perceived as a sign that messianic solutions, as opposed to genuine reform measures, lead to disaster. It bodes well for those in the region who advocate for open markets in the region. I don't think this is a net positive for Lula's candidacy." Despite the warning, six months later Lula was overwhelmingly elected president of Brazil. In President Bush's State of the Union address, he pledged to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy. When former Minnesota Republican congressman Vin Weber, a close ally of then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, took over as chairman of the NED's board in July 2001, he made it clear that the organization was interested in once again playing a more muscular role shaping and supporting U.S. foreign policy objectives. That's exactly what it appears to be doing in Venezuela. (Working for Change)
Proof that Republicans illegally spied on Democrats for years
- March 5: For 18 months, at least two Republican Senate staff aides engaged in unauthorized and possibly illegal spying by reading Democratic strategy memorandums on a Senate computer system on an almost-daily basis, according to a report by the Senate sergeant-at-arms. The 65-page report concludes that the two Republican staff aides, both of whom have since departed, improperly read, downloaded and printed as many as 4,670 files concerning the Democrats' tactics in opposing many of President Bush's judicial nominees. The report, the result of an investigation undertaken at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested that many other Republican staff aides may have been involved in trafficking in the stolen documents. "I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred," Repubican Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, says. "There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions." The committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy, says, "This report indisputably shows that this secret surveillance was calculated, systematic and sweeping in its scope." He adds, "It is not difficult to conclude that this was criminal behavior." The report was supposed to be released with the names of the individuals involved redacted, but a copy was mistakenly released with the names included. The report identified the two former Republican staff aides as Manuel Miranda, who had already been named as a central figure in the investigation, and Jason Lundell, whose name had not previously been known. Investigators said an inexperienced computer coordinator did not make files properly inaccessible; Lundell observed the coordinator opening files with a few key strokes, the report said, and then copied what he had done. For the next 18 months, according to the report, Lundell supplied documents to Miranda after gaining access to the files of staff aides for Senators Edward Kennedy, Richard Durbin, Joseph Biden, Dianne Feinstein, Russell Feingold, and Leahy. The largest number of files came from Durbin's office. Some information sought by Miranda and provided by Lundell, according to the report, was about how Democrats would question some nominees. Leahy wrote to Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, asking if his office received any of the stolen information. In response, Gonzales offered a denial that was less than categorical, saying: "I am not aware of any credible allegation of White House involvement in this matter. Consequently, there has been no White House investigation or effort to determine whether anyone at the White House was aware of or involved in these activities."
- Miranda, who had been a senior counsel to Hatch and to Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, denies the charges, saying, "The report draws conclusions or observations that are ludicrous and easily placed into context." He says that it was fundamentally wrong to consider the Democratic strategy documents as confidential, because they were easily accessible. Miranda says that the report confirms his contention that there was no "hacking," by which he meant that no security walls that needed passwords had been breached. Lundell was described in the report as a young and curious clerk who was eager to impress his superiors. The report said that he freely admitted to Senator Hatch and investigators his role in the matter and had left Washington to attend graduate school in accounting in Texas. His whereabouts could not be determined. The report named four other Republican staff aides who might have read the documents but did not fully cooperate with investigators. Senator Charles Schumer says he believes that an independent counsel with subpoena power should be named by the Justice Department to investigate whether any crimes were committed. (New York Times)