Conditions for military in Kuwait, Iraq far worse than being reported; 700+ US dead go unreported after dying of incurable bacterial infections
- March 22: Information obtained from a first-hand source currently stationed in Kuwait and awaiting transfer to a Baghdad post indicates that the problems faced by, and in some cases caused by, the American presence in the two countries are far more severe than are being admitted by the administration.
- By far, the worst problem faced by US soldiers not being reported is medical in nature. According to my sources, it is common knowledge that over 700 military personnel have died of a mysterious, virtually incurable bacterial infection apparently being spread through some microbe in the sand. Soldiers are generally lacking in protective gear, which means that many are inhaling the microbe and coming down with the infection. If not caught and treated within 24 hours, the victim almost always dies. Such victims are routinely transported to Germany to die in US military hospitals. Their deaths are not reported as battlefield casualties, and are treated as secret. These deaths are all but unknown inside the United States.
- Along with the microbial infection, an apparent viral infection transmitted by sand fleas is causing serious and sometimes fatal afflictions among the troops. The infection, likened to the infamous "flesh-eating virus," is causing major disfigurement and crippling injuries, and sometimes results in death. Like the above microbial infection, deaths from this virus are not being reported.
- US soldiers stationed in Kuwait are being milked as "cash cows" by Halliburton, which provides almost all of the "concessions" and other services. Recently in one Kuwaiti camp, a bank of 40 phones was installed for the use of the soldiers, furnished by AT&T and managed by Halliburton. Unfortunately, the soldiers must purchase phone cards from AT&T and Halliburton to make phone calls. Currently phone cards cost $25 for two hours of calling time. Both AT&T and Halliburton profit from the phone services.
- Along with the above, a small number of fast-food services -- McDonalds, Dairy Freeze, Burger King -- are available to serve soldiers who have the money to avail themselves of the services. At the camp McDonalds, a Big Mac costs $9, while a "value meal" costs $17. Halliburton is tied into the fast-food concessions, and takes a profit from each item sold.
- Every concession is on a cash-only basis. Since ATMs and the like are not available, the only way for the average soldier to get cash is to take an advance on his pay. Such advances are given out by Halliburton, which takes a 2% cut of each transaction.
- Soldiers routinely sleep in huge, barracks-like tents with little protection from the elements. The average bed for a soldier is a metal cot frame with a length of plywood, a thin foam "mattress," and a rough coverlet glued to the foam and the frame. As uncomfortable as the beds are, soldiers rarely get to sleep in them, usually getting three hours of sleep or less a night, and usually not all at once, instead being forced to "catnap" an hour here and an hour there for weeks on end.
- Though many American soldiers are conducting themselves honorably with the Kuwaiti and Iraqi citizenry, others are not. Kuwaiti women who haunt the camps looking for odd jobs are routinely pressed into informal, and often unwilling, prostitution. Oral sex costs a soldier as little as $2 per performance. One soldier, a barracksmate of my source, routinely procures three different oral sex sessions per evening; upon the completion of each, he brags that he "kicks [the Kuwaiti woman] in the head and goes out for more." Rapes and sexual molestation are rampant and often ignored or allowed to occur; as one soldier says, when someone [i.e. a human rights worker or a journalist] "makes a stink, then someone is made an example of. Otherwise, it's overlooked." Other Kuwaiti and Iraqi civilians are pressed into servitude; some soldiers refer to these unfortunates as "house nig*ers." The hatred and distrust among both US soldiers and local citizens is, in the words of one major who served in Southeast Asia during the 1970s, "worse than Vietnam." He says, "In Vietnam, it was disorganized chaos. Here, the chaos is organized. Halliburton, the military and the government know exactly what's going on here. They all just look the other way." (my own sources)
- March 22: Testifying before the 9/11 commission, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke says that the Bush administration essentially ignored the threat from al-Qaeda before 9/11, and after the attacks, immediately sought to hold Iraq responsible, despite being told by intelligence advisers that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. Clarke describes a meeting with Bush the day after the attacks at which Bush pressured him to find an Iraqi connection: "I want you to find out whether Iraq did this," he said to Clarke. When Clarke, then the White House policy co-ordinator on anti-terrorism, told him US intelligence had concluded that Iraq had no links with al-Qa'ida terrorism, Bush was insistent. "He came back at me and said, 'Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way...I mean that we should come back with that answer." Clarke's claims are dismissed by administration officials, who accuse Clark of wanting to "audition for a job" with the Kerry campaign; deputy security advisor Stephen Hadley says that there is no independent confirmation that any such conversation between Clarke and Bush took place, but 60 Minutes, who broadcast the interview with Clarke, has confirmed the conversation with two separate sources. Four days after Bush's inauguration, Clarke says he wrote to Condoleezza Rice, the President's national security adviser, seeking a cabinet-level meeting on al-Qaeda and international terrorism, but was ignored. The meeting he sought was not held until a week before the attacks, in September. Clarke recounts how on January 24, 2001, he recommended that Rice convene the president's top advisers to discuss the al-Qaeda threat. One week later, Bush did convene a meeting, but bin Laden was not discussed at all. Instead, the topic was how to get rid of Saddam Hussein. "What does that tell you?" Clarke asks. "They thought there was something more urgent. It was Iraq. They came in there with their agenda, and [al-Qaeda] was not on it."
- According to Clarke, Bush "failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al-Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks." The rapid shift of focus to Saddam Hussein, Clarke writes in his book, Against All Odds,, "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide." Among the motives for the war, Clarke argues, were the politics of the 2002 midterm election. "The crisis was manufactured, and Bush political adviser Karl Rove was telling Republicans to 'run on the war,'" Clarke writes. Clarke says it is outrageous for Bush to run for re-election "on the grounds he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11." Instead, the incoming Bush team focused on the same Cold War issues that pre-occupied his father's administration, notably the "star Wars" missile defense shield, and Iraq. "It was as if they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier," he says. At a meeting in April 2001 attended by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and a decade-long advocate of toppling Saddam, Clarke again warned of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. But Wolfowitz, he says, would have none of it. "No, no, no, we don't have to deal with al-Qaeda," Wolfowitz told him. "Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States." Wolfowitz is known to have called for an attack on Iraq at a Camp David meeting on September 15, just four days after the attacks. According to Clarke, however, the focus at the White House was on Iraq even sooner, on September 12 and possibly before. When Clarke told Wolfowitz that no foe but al-Qaeda "poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States," Wolfowitz replied that Iraqi terrorism posed "at least as much" of a danger. FBI and CIA representatives backed Clarke in saying they had no such evidence. "I could hardly believe," Clarke writes, that Wolfowitz pressed the "totally discredited" theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, "a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue."
- In the meeting, Wolfowitz cited the writings of Laurie Mylroie, a controversial academic who had written a book advancing an elaborate, and thoroughly debunked, conspiracy theory that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Clarke says he tried to refute Wolfowitz: "We've investigated that five ways to Friday, and nobody [in the government] believes that," Clarke recalls saying. "It was al-Qaeda. It wasn't Saddam." (A spokesman for Wolfowitz accuses Clarke of lying about the meeting, and says that Wolfowitz always saw al-Qaeda as "a major threat.") (Independent/Independent Media, Washington Post, Newsweek/Yahoo! Finance)
- March 22: The United Nations' top two weapons experts say that the invasion of Iraq a year ago was not justified by the evidence in hand at the time. Both Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector in Iraq before the invasion, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, agree that the evidence did not warrant military intervention. Blix says, "I think it's clear that in March , when the invasion took place, the evidence that had been brought forward was rapidly falling apart." He describes the evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the UN Security Council in February 2003 as "shaky," and said he related his opinion to US officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. "I think they chose to ignore us," he says. ElBaradei says he had been "pretty convinced" that Iraq had not resumed its nuclear weapons program, which the IAEA dismantled in 1997. Yet, days before the invasion, Vice President Cheney disputed ElBaradei's views and criticized the IAEA itself: "We believe [Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons," said Cheney. "I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this kind of issue, especially where Iraq's concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what Saddam Hussein was doing." ElBaradei says more than a year later, "I haven't seen anything on the ground at that time that supported Mr. Cheney's conclusion or statement, so -- and I thought to myself, well, history is going to be the judge." No evidence of a nuclear weapons program has been found so far.
- Blix, who recounts his search for weapons of mass destruction in his book Disarming Iraq, said the Bush administration tended "to say that anything that was unaccounted for existed, whether it was sarin or mustard gas or anthrax." Blix specifically faulted Powell, who told the UN Security Council about what he said was a site that held chemical weapons and decontamination trucks. "Our inspectors had been there, and they had taken a lot of samples, and there was no trace of any chemicals or biological things," says Blix. "And the trucks that we had seen were water trucks." The most spectacular intelligence failure concerned a report by ElBaradei, who revealed that an alleged contract by Iraq with Niger to import uranium oxide was a forgery, Blix says. "The document had been sitting with the CIA and their UK counterparts for a long while, and they had not discovered it," Blix says. "And I think it took the IAEA a day to discover that it was a forgery." Blix said that during a meeting before the war with the President Bush, Bush told him that "the U.S. genuinely wanted peace," and that "he was no wild, gung-ho Texan, bent on dragging the U.S. into war." Blix said Bush gave the inspectors support and information at first, but he said the help didn't last long enough. "I think they lost their patience much too early," Blix says. "I can see that they wanted to have a picture that was either black or white, and we presented a picture that had, you know, gray in it, as well."
- Iraq had been shown to have biological and chemical weapons before, "and there was no record of either destruction or production; there was this nagging question: Do they still have them?" notes ElBaradei. Blix says he had not been able to say definitively that Iraq had no such weapons, but added that he felt history has shown he was not wrong. "At least we didn't fall into the trap that the US and the UK did in asserting that they existed," he says. ElBaradei faulted Iraq for "the opaque nature of that Saddam Hussein regime." "We should not forget that," he says. "For a couple of months, their cooperation was not by any way transparent, for whatever reason." ElBaradei said he hoped the past year's events have taught world leaders a valuable lesson. We learned from Iraq that an inspection takes time, that we should be patient, that an inspection can, in fact, work." (CNN)
- March 22: Veteran advocates say soldiers returning from war aren't getting the help they need, resulting in more military suicides. Military officials say that all soldiers receive at least seven hours of counseling as a part of their redeployment. Some veteran advocates don't believe it. "I would challenge you to go out and ask those [returning] soldiers if they have gotten their seven hours of counseling. They're not," says Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, an advocacy group for veterans. "Right now, it's a paper drill. They hand soldiers a paper and ask them to write down if they saw something that bothered them. When you come back from war, the last thing you want to do is write down your problems. They're focused on returning to their families." Robinson says the lack of counseling has resulted in an increasing number of suicides. At least 23 service members have committed suicide during the past year in Iraq, Robinson says, and at least six service members have killed themselves since returning home. The Army has reported an increasing rate of suicides among soldiers —- an annual rate of 15.8 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, an increase over the 9.1 to 14.8 annual rate between 1995 and 2002. "Why is the military acting as if there isn't a problem?" Robinson asks. "Why aren't they actively, aggressively getting with every single person and letting them know there is care and counseling and it won't reflect on their service records?" Others have suggested a connection between the antimalaria drug, Lariam, and the rising suicide rate. Critics of the drug blame it for a cluster of homicides at Fort Bragg involving soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan. The Army has said no connection exists between the drug and the rising suicide rate or the Fort Bragg homicides. (Colorado Springs Gazette)
Israel assassinates Hamas founder, sparking a wave of retaliatory attacks
- March 22: Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is slain by an Israeli air strike. His funeral is attended by hundreds of thousands of angry Palestinians marching through the streets of Gaza City. The demonstrations mark the beginning of what some are calling a "third intifada" against Israel. Several Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas' armed wing, the Izeldine Al Qassam Brigades, Saraya Al Quds, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, and Fatah, have called for revenge attacks against Israel. Yassin, a 68-year old religious leader who has been wheelchair-bound for years, was slain outside his mosque by missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter, along with several bodyguards. Abdel Aziz Ranteesi, a senior Hamas leader, says that Israel "had opened the gates of hell," by assassinating Yassin. "The Hamas reaction to the assassination of Sheikh Yassin will be as rough as a heavy earthquake," he adds. The Palestinian Authority and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat condemns the assassination and calls it "an awful crime that would ignite the whole region and renew violence in the region." President Bush deplores the strike, but refuses to condemn Israel for the attack. British foreign minister Jack Straw says the assassination "is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemns the killing as "contrary to international law," and urges all sides to remain calm. Batsheva Genut, spokeswoman for Israel's foreign ministry, says that the absence of a Palestinian Authority effort to fulfill the Mideast peace roadmap is to blame. "Israel doesn't relish the role it's being forced to play today," she says. "The United States did not have any advance warning and did not approve of the strike," says national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but Hamas insists that Israel would not have carried out such an attack without US approval. And White House spokesman Scott McClellan gives what appears to be the administration's tacit approval of the strike by saying, "Hamas is a terrorist organization. We believe that all ideas need to remain focused...to help resume progress toward peace and toward a two state vision." He adds, the "Palestinian Authority needs to do everything it can to confront and dismantle terrorist organizations...we've always said that Israel has the right to defend itself."
- When asked if the White House gave the go ahead for the attack, McClellan responds: "We don't give a red light or green light. I have often said we are not a traffic cop." Hamas warns: "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime. ...All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime." The militant group Islamic Jihad also promised revenge," Hamas continued. All of this ongoing violence...is happening actually within the context of the Israeli illegal belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories, says Palestinian labor minister Ghassas Khatib: "As long as this occupation continues, there is definitely going to be Israeli occupation violence...and Palestinian violence to try to resist this occupation. The approach of trying to solve the problem by force and killing is proving to be backfiring, always. ...Only by...recognizing each other's legitimate rights...and only through peace negotiations the two sides can move nearer to realizing the legitimate objectives."
- Several members of Israel's cabinet believe Yassin's assassination will provoke revenge attacks by Palestinian militants. Joseph Paritzky, Israel's minister of energy, says although Yassin "wasn't worth living," his assassination may bring more attacks on Israel, especially since history shows that after such killings, "we pay a very high price." "We are expecting a big retaliation from a terrorist movement and I do care about the lives of my citizens," Paritzky says. "I think it raises the morale of the people of Israel...but I think that we will not gain enough benefits from his killing." The Israeli defense minister calls Yassin the "Palestinian bin Laden;" Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meir says Yassin was directly responsible for the scores of homicide attacks Hamas unleashed since 2000. "He's not a spiritual leader -- Mother Theresa was a spiritual leader. This is a thug who killed hundreds of people," says Ambassador Alon Pinkas, New York Israeli consul general. "We've done, morally, the right thing." (UPI, Fox News)
- March 22: The assassination of Hamas's Sheikh Ahmed Yassin may well turn out to be a blow, not to Hamas, but to the Palestinian Authority, according to Israeli daily Ha'aretz. It observes, "In the power struggle waged for the past several years in Gaza between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, it was Yassin's organization that enjoyed an ever-increasing advantage in the sphere of public opinion. Hamas is perceived as an organization whose leaders are free of corruption and ready to make sacrifices. In the eyes of the Palestinian street, Hamas' diplomatic tactics have proven themselves to be effective, while PA chairman Yasser Arafat's strategy has led to a dead end. The assassination of Yassin puts paid once and for all to the possibility that the PA will take measures to restrain Hamas and curb its members. The more Israel hits Hamas leaders and rank-and-file members, the more their popularity climbs. In tandem, they become increasingly immune to operations by the PA's security force, since any such operation would only be interpreted as treacherous collaboration with Israel. Recently, there have been a few cases in which the PA's security forces tried to arrest Hamas activists, but hundreds of the organization's activists physically blocked their path and prevented the arrests. There are some 20,000 armed Palestinian Authority police officers in the Gaza Strip, compared to barely 2,000 armed Hamas members. Nonetheless, the balance of power between them is not based solely on number, but on the public standing that each group enjoys. The assassination of Yassin could, therefore, merely contribute to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and, by creating chaos in the Gaza Strip, turn Hamas into the only side to profit from Yassin's death." (Ha'aretz)
Bush smear campaign against Richard Clarke
- March 22: Bush administration officials hit the media in an orchestrated attempt to discredit and smear Richard Clarke. Vice President Cheney, apparently leading the charge, appears on Rush Limbaugh's radio show and says, "He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff. It was as though he clearly missed a lot of what was going on." The charge that Clarke was "out of the loop" will be used by several other Bush officials, but is disputed by Condoleezza Rice, who asserts that Clarke was very much involved in the administration's war on terror. "I would not use the word 'out of the loop,' she says in response to a reporter's question about whether she considered it a problem that the administration's counterterrorism chief was not deeply involved "in a lot of what was going on," as Cheney said in an interview on Rush Limbaugh's radio program. Rice paints a distinctly different picture of the involvement of Clarke. "He was in every meeting that was held on terrorism," says Rice. "All the deputies' meetings, the principals' meeting that was held and so forth, the early meetings after Sept. 11." She does acknowledge that Clarke did not regularly meet with Rumsfeld, Powell and Tenet. "Perhaps Dick felt that he had, you know, less -- he didn't sit with Powell and Rumsfeld and so forth," she says. "It's just not the way we operate. I did sit with Powell and Rumsfeld and Tenet."
- The White House releases a memo titled "setting the Record Straight," which says in part, "The president recognized the threat posed by al-Qaeda, and immediately after taking office the White House began work on a comprehensive new strategy to eliminate al-Qaeda." Administration officials visit numerous TV shows and give press interviews that all portray Clarke as a partisan with connections to the campaign of Bush's presumptive Democratic opponent, John Kerry. Clarke, who was first appointed by President Ronald Reagan, has worked for three Republican presidents, including Bush's father, and one Democrat. The officials suggest that Clarke, who left his White House job a year ago, is a bitter individual seeking revenge because Bush had downgraded his position and refused to give him a job he sought at the Homeland Security Department. "This is Dick Clarke's American grandstand," says White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "This has more to do with politics and book promotions than it does about policy." In a series of television interviews, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said it was Clarke who had failed over the last two decades to help the US produce an effective strategy for combating al-Qaeda. Rice notes that Clarke was the "counterterrorism czar" at the White House in the 1990s, when al-Qaeda was growing in strength, as well as when the group attacked two US embassies in East Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000 and the World Trade Center in 2001. "This was in fact Dick Clarke's area of responsibility," she says, contradicting Cheney's and her own assertions that Clarke was "out of the loop." Rice says she asked Clarke to develop a strategy to destroy al-Qaeda, but he provided only "a laundry list of ideas, many of which had been rejected in the Clinton administration since 1998."
- Clarke has said he had tried to share the information he had on al-Qaeda with the Bush administration but senior officials expressed no interest until just days before the Sept. 11 attacks. In his book Against All Enemies, Clarke accuses Bush of failing to act "prior to Sept. 11 on the threat from al-Qaeda despite repeated warnings." He said Bush "harvested a political windfall" of public sympathy and support after 9/11 even though the president had taken only "obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks." Clarke called the invasion of Iraq "an unnecessary and costly war" that only "strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide." At the heart of Clarke's charges is a meeting he had with Bush on Sept. 12, 2001, in the White House Situation Room. Clarke said Bush pulled him and a few others into a side office and demanded that Clarke determine what role Iraq played in the attacks. Bush pushed Clarke to find links between the attacks and Iraq, "because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office," he says. Though Bush claims to have no recollection of the meeting, and Rice said she also does not remember it occurring, CBS has verified that the meeting did indeed take place. Rice writes an op-ed for the Washington Post that defends Bush's interest in Iraq as a possible suspect. "It would have been irresponsible not to ask a question about all possible links, including to Iraq, a nation that had supported terrorism and had tried to kill a former president," she notes.
- In his book, Clarke recounts the morning of Sept. 11, when he coordinated much of the nation's response to the attacks, and the following day when, he wrote, the agenda of Bush's top aides became clear. "I expected," he wrote, "to go back to a round of meetings examining what the next attacks could be, what our vulnerabilities were, what we could do about them in the short term. Instead, I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq." Clarke said he was incredulous. "I realized with almost a sharp pain," he wrote, that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, "were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq." By the afternoon of Sept. 12, Clarke wrote, Rumsfeld was urging attacks against Iraq. But Clarke said Secretary of State Colin Powell joined him in "urging a focus on al-Qaeda." Clarke said he vented to Powell, telling him that attacking Iraq, which had no connection to the deadly attacks, "would have been like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor." According to Clarke, Powell shook his head and replied, "It's not over yet." Rumsfeld complained that there weren't enough good bombing targets in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda had refuge. Instead, according to Clarke, Rumsfeld said there were better targets in Iraq. "At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking," Clarke wrote. Later that night, Clarke said, Bush repeated three times in the same conversation that he wanted Clarke to "see if Saddam was involved" in the attacks. "Now, he never said, 'Make it up,'" Clarke says. "But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, 'Iraq did this.'" (Chicago Tribune, New York Times)
- March 22: While Bush administration officials such as Condoleezza Rice hit the media outlets to denigrate and downplay Richard Clarke's testimony to the 9/11 commission, saying among other things that while Clarke had been in office for a number of years and when their administration entered office they found no real strategy for fighting al-Qaeda, their attempts to smear Clarke are rebuffed by former intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham, who affirms that the Clinton administration had a solid plan for countering terror and that the Bush administration paid it little mind: "The facts are that within six months of the first bombs falling on Afghanistan, this administration was diverting military and intelligence resources to its planned war in Iraq, which allowed al-Qaeda to regenerate," says Graham, who was one of the first lawmakers to label the war with Iraq a distraction from the fight against terror. "As the people of Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and most recently Spain have learned painfully well, this president failed to execute the real war on terrorism." Clarke's new book was also a topic on the Sunday talk shows as lawmakers and analysts tried to interpret the implications of such critical views coming from a White House insider with access to the highest levels of the administration. "I am much more concerned about the safety of my granddaughter in school here in Washington because of al-Qaeda than I am with 10 Saddam Husseins," Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, tells ABC. "And we took our eye off the ball because of a preoccupation with Iraq." (New York Times)
- March 22: Former presidential candidate and retired Army general Wesley Clark debunks Condoleezza Rice's claim that Richard Clarke was "out of the loop" on the Bush administration's terror policies: "[Y]ou can't have it both ways. I mean he either was the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on or the administration gave him a title and didn't put any emphasis on terrorism and that's why he wasn't in the loop and the administration is criticizing him from both sides on this. I think that you have to accept each of the incidents and allegations at face value and then listen to the comments and take the facts and sort them through. ...[Clarke] spoke up loud and long during the previous administration because I used to hear colleagues talking about him. When I was in Europe and I wasn't in those White House meetings, they'd say boy that guy Clarke he just, he just won't be quiet on this stuff. And yet what he asked for in the Bush administration was he asked for a platform and an opportunity to brief the principals and that opportunity wasn't provided and I think that Dr. Rice knows very well that in order to really put together a broad comprehensive counterterrorism policy you must have the leadership of the president of the United States. He simply has to call cabinet officers together and say this is my priority. The president has done those things after 9/11. He should have done them before. After 9/11, also Judy, according to what Dick Clarke is telling us, even though we did go after the Taliban in Afghanistan the administration was holding back and planning and preparing all along to go after Iraq. That's really what their preoccupation was. I saw this. I heard this from military colleagues. I saw it in the actions that were underway. I used to talk about it on CNN when I was a military analyst here." (CNN/Daily Kos)
- March 22: Democratic senator Edward Kennedy offers a deal to the Bush administration regarding the investigations into Dick Cheney's secret energy task force and the CIA leak: he offers to let the administration save face by itself naming members of the vice president's energy task force and the Bush administration officials who revealed the identity of a CIA employee whose husband has criticized the administration's Iraq policy, before the names are outed by the investigations. "When is the vice president going to give us the names of those people on his task force in energy that jacked up the price for consumers and provided windfall profits for the energy industry?" Kennedy asks. "When is the White House going to give us the name of the person that leaked the name to the newspapers, endangering the life of Valerie Plame, who was a CIA agent?" (AP/Dallas Morning News)
- March 22: Houston-based Reliant Resources, an energy firm with ties to Vice President Cheney's secretive energy task force of 2001, faces criminal charges from allegations that it "gamed" the California energy market, taking in vast profits at the expense of California's energy consumers. Cheney's task force, which was made up primarily of corporate energy representatives, proposed an energy policy for the Bush administration that heavily favored the interests of the energy industries, but ignored the needs of consumers and the environment. During May 2001, when Cheney was appearing on a number of news programs to promote his policy, he was asked more than once if any of the energy companies that were selling electricity in California were behaving like a "cartel" and manipulating prices in the state's deregulated electricity market. "No," Cheney told PBS' Frontline on May 17, 2001, a day after the final energy policy report was released. "The problem you had in California was caused by a combination of things -- an unwise regulatory scheme, because they didn't really deregulate. Now they're trapped from unwise regulatory schemes, plus not having addressed the supply side of the issue. They've obviously created major problems for themselves..."
- California's electricity crisis wreaked havoc on millions of people in the state between 2000 and 2001, resulted in four days of rolling blackouts and forced the state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, into bankruptcy. California was the first state in the nation to deregulate its power market in an effort to provide consumers with cheaper electricity and the opportunity to choose their own power company. The results have since proved disastrous. The experiment has cost the state more than $30 billion. For three years, California officials pleaded with federal energy regulators, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, to provide the state with some relief from soaring wholesale electricity prices and to investigate many of the energy companies that sold power to California for allegedly manipulating the market. Former Governor Gray Davis met with Bush a couple of weeks before Cheney's Frontline interview and asked for federal assistance, such as price caps, but Bush refused, saying the free-market would sort out the mess. (It is now widely speculated that the Bush administration was using the California energy crisis as a means to destabilize Davis's position and make it easier for a Republican to oust him from office; they were overjoyed when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated Davis in a recall election that hinged on Davis's inability to control the energy crisis.) Cheney's denials that his friends in the energy sector weren't to blame for the power crisis may come back to haunt both him and Bush; later this month, the United States Attorney's office in the Northern District of California is expected to issue its first criminal indictment against an energy company for manipulating wholesale energy prices in California that could boost the state's claims that it's owed billions in refunds for overcharges. The company at the center of the probe is Houston-based Reliant Resources, Inc. The evidence the US Attorney's office will use against Reliant is a recorded transcript of a conversation between a Reliant electricity trader and a power plant operator that first emerged publicly a year ago. The conversation between the two employees seemed to settle the three-year long debate about the nature of California's energy crisis: "[We] started out Monday losing $3 million.... So, then we decided as a group that we were going to make it back up, so we turned like about almost every power plant off. It worked. Prices went back up. Made back about $4 million, actually more than that, $5 million," the Reliant trader says in a tape-recorded conversation on June 23, 2000.
- The scheme worked. It caused power prices to reach "unjust" and "unreasonable" levels in California, which, under the Federal Power Act, is illegal. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for keeping the country's wholesale electricity and natural gas markets in check, released the transcript in February 2003 after announcing that Reliant agreed to refund California $13.8 million, without admitting guilt. Reliant is directly connected to Cheney's energy task force. Reliant, along with Entergy and TXU, two other major electricity corporations based in Texas, hired Diane Allbaugh as a lobbyist. Allbaugh is the wife of Joe Allbaugh, "the only member of Bush's so-called iron triangle of trusted Texas cohorts to have served on the energy task force" and a director of the Federal Energy Management Agency, according to an Aug. 2001 report in the Los Angeles Times. Reliant, TXU and Entergy each paid Diane Allbaugh $20,000 for consulting work during the last three months of 2000, according to her January 2001 financial disclosure report. It's unclear whether she lobbied the energy task force on behalf of Reliant, TXU and Entergy, which would have certainly been a conflict of interest, but her husband, Joe Allbaugh, "has participated in task force talks with a direct bearing on the energy companies' interests generally, such as environmental rules for power plants and electricity deregulation -- a specialty of his wife's," reported the Times reported. "At least twice, Joe Allbaugh was privy to updates from [Bush] economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey [a former member of Enron's advisory board] on California's malfunctioning market, where Reliant stands accused by the state of overcharging," said the Times.
- According to evidence obtained by Democratic congressman Henry Waxman last year, the energy task force "considered and abandoned plans to address California's energy problems in its report." Whether Joe Allbaugh or his wife Diane urged Cheney to abandon the issues related to California's energy crisis is unknown. Cheney has continually refused to give up the names of the energy executives and lobbyists he met with. The US Supreme Court is expected to take up that issue later this year. However, it's not the first time, Diane Allbaugh has been questioned about corporate cronyism. In 1996, the Dallas Morning News reported that Diane Allbaugh represented clients with interests in pending Texas state deregulation of telecommunications and utilities markets, while her husband served as then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff. At the time, Bush said he was troubled "if it creates a public perception that something unfair is taking place." She eventually withdrew from the contracts she represented at the time. Another recorded conversation between two employees of Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Cos. showed that the two men conspired to shut down a power plant in Southern California for two weeks to boost electricity prices and create an artificial shortage in the state. The scheme is identical to the one Reliant engaged in and took place during the same time, in June 2000. But FERC, the nation's top energy watchdogs, kept the evidence under wraps and cut a deal with Williams in May 2001 -- the same month Cheney released the energy policy -- agreeing to refund California $8 million it obtained through the scam, without admitting any guilt. (Alternative Press Review)
Jimmy Carter criticizes both Bush and Blair
- March 22: Former US president Jimmy Carter harshly criticizes both the Bush and Blair administrations, saying there was no reason to attack Saddam Hussein. "That was a war based on lies and misinterpretation from London and from Washington, claiming falsely that Saddam Hussein was responsible for [the] 9/11 attacks, claiming falsely that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," Carter says. "And I think that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair probably knew that many of the allegations were based on uncertain intelligence," he adds. "...[A] decision was made to go to war [then people said] 'Let's find a reason to do so'." Carter says he believes the momentum for the invasion came from Washington and that many of Bush's senior advisers had long ago signaled their desire to remove Hussein by force. Once a decision had been taken to go to war, every effort was made to find a reason for doing do, he continues. "I think the basic reason was made not in London but in Washington. I think that Bush Junior was inclined to finish a war that his father had precipitated against Iraq. I think it was that commitment of Bush that prevailed over, I think, the better judgment of Tony Blair and Tony Blair became an enthusiastic supporter of the Bush policy." (Chicago Tribune, Independent/CommonDreams)
- March 22: The Center for American Progress dissects the Bush administration's vicious attack on the credibility of Richard Clarke, showing that in each attempt to smear Clarke's character, they themselves prove the lie to their own assertions. Condoleezza Rice's statement, "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to." is belied by the fact that Clarke sent a memo to Rice's staff marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending al-Qaeda attack. The White House refused to have any such meeting until a week before 9/11. Rice also says, "The president returned to the White House and called me in and said, 'I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.'" If this is true, then it begs the question as to why Bush and his Vice President continue to claim there is evidence linking Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. Bush sent a letter to Congress on March 19, 2003 saying that the Iraq war was permitted specifically under legislation that authorized force against "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11." Similarly, Vice President Cheney said on September 14, 2003 that "It is not surprising that people make that connection" between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and said "we don't know" if there is a connection. Vice President Dick Cheney says earlier today on a Rush Limbaugh broadcast that "[Clarke] was moved out of the counterterrorism business over to the cybersecurity side of things." According to a White House statement made the day before, "Dick Clarke continued, in the Bush Administration, to be the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the President's principle counterterrorism expert. He was expected to organize and attend all meetings of Principals and Deputies on terrorism. And he did." Rice goes on to say, "In June and July when the threat spikes were so high...we were at battle stations. ...The fact of the matter is [that] the administration focused on this before 9/11."
- According to the Washington Post, "Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's 'Strategic Plan' from August 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs. By contrast, in April 2000, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, called terrorism 'the most challenging threat in the criminal justice area.'" Rice claims that "The president launched an aggressive response after 9/11." But instead, a Post report shows that "In the early days after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks." Cheney makes the ludicrous claim that "Well, [Clarke] wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff...." But according to a press release from the White House made the day before Cheney appears on Limbaugh's program, "The Government's interagency counterterrorism crisis management forum [the Counterterrorism Security Group, or CSG] chaired by Dick Clarke met regularly, often daily, during the high threat period." Cheney tells Limbaugh, "[Bush] wanted a far more effective policy for trying to deal with [terrorism], and that process was in motion throughout the spring." But according to the General Accounting Office, "Bush said [in May of 2001] that Cheney would direct a government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and 'I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.' Neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." By comparison, Cheney in 2001 formally convened his Energy Task Force at least 10 separate times, meeting at least 6 times with Enron energy executives.
- Deputy security advisor Stephen Hadley says, "All the chatter [before 9/11] was of an attack, a potential al Qaeda attack overseas." That statement is belied by Page 204 of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, which notes that "In May 2001, the intelligence community obtained a report that Bin Laden supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States" to "carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives." The report "was included in an intelligence report for senior government officials in August ." In the same month, the Pentagon "acquired and shared with other elements of the Intelligence Community information suggesting that seven persons associated with Bin Laden had departed various locations for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States." (Center for American Progress)
- March 22: Another analysis of the Bush administration's responses to Richard Clarke's devastating assertions in his book and media interviews proves just how riddled with lies and misdirection they are.
More information about Clarke's book can be found throughout these pages. (American Family Voices)
- White House press secretary Scott McClellan claims that Clarke is fabricating an account of a meeting between Clarke, Bush, and other officials on September 12 in the Situation Room; Clarke says the discussion focused more on attacking Iraq than finding and eradicating the terrorists who attacked the US. McClellan says, "There's no record of the president being in the Situation Room on that day that it was alleged to have happened, on the day of September the 12th. When the president is in the Situation Room, we keep track of that." However, Clarke claims he has no fewer than four eyewitnesses to that discussion, including his former deputy, Roger Cressey. 60 Minutes has confirmed from two other sources that the conversation did happen. Cressey contends that Condoleezza Rice was also present during the exchange. Neither Rice nor Bush claim to recall the meeting.
- According to Rice, "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to." In fact, Clarke sent an urgent memo calling for a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss the possibilities of an al-Qaeda attack back on January 24, 2001. The meeting was delayed for three months, and was held without the presence of Cabinet-level officials. Clarke's colleague Thomas Maertens, former National Security Council director for nuclear nonproliferation under both Clinton and Bush, remembers that Clarke "was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen," but that Bush officials weren't responsive to the advice of a Clinton administration holdover.
- Vice President Cheney tells Rush Limbaugh, "Well, he [Clarke] wasn't – he wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff." While this is supposed to be an attack on Clarke, it reads more like an indictment of the Bush administration's method for doing business. Clarke was chief of counter-terrorism operations under Bush I and Clinton both, and had served as far back as Ronald Reagan's administration. Under Bush II, he was shifted to heading the nation's cybersecurity response. Why wouldn't Clarke be "in the loop?" AFV observes, "That simply doesn't make any sense at all, and actually buttresses Clarke's assertion that the president and his handlers prefer to read and hear material that is favorable to their agenda."
- Cheney also tells Limbaugh that "Ramzi Yousef [convicted of the attempted WTC bombings in 1993] turned out to be Khalid Shaykh Muhammad's nephew. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad is the guy who came up with the idea of using airliners to strike the World Trade Center in about 1996, we believe, when he first suggested that, and who later supervised the attacks of 9/11." Rather than a direct attack on Clarke, this gambit from Cheney attempts to pin the blame for 9/11 on the Clinton administration. The gambit fails in light of this statement from Condoleezza Rice on May 16, 2002: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people...would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." Cheney's comments directly implied that Clinton officials should have predicted that al-Qaeda would use a plane as a missile, because Muhammad's plans stretched back to 1996. In an attempt to free the Bush administration from blame, Rice similarly overstated her case as well. In fact, a 1999 report by the National Intelligence Council did issue an alert about this type of hijacking plan. The Bush administration chose to ignore the report.
- Rice says, "The president returned to the White House and called me in and said, I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11." McClellan says, "But just days later, the President met with his National Security Council; the Director of Central Intelligence informed him that there was no link between the September 11th attacks and Iraq." This only works if one forgets the relentless attempts from the Bush administration to use 9/11 as a justification for invading Iraq. Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union address: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own." Cheney told reporters on September 14, 2003, "We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s." And, in a letter to Congress, Bush argued that an attack on Iraq was justified because force was authorized against "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11."