- March 27: Israel's state prosecutor has recommended charges against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for allegedly taking bribes from a local businessman. Prosecutor Edna Arbel will present a draft charge sheet to Attorney General Meni Mazuz, who would then decide if prosecution was warranted. Mazuz's decision would probably be released in about a month. The focus of the scandal is the so-called "Greek Island Affair," in which businessman David Appel allegedly paid Sharon's son Gilad large sums of money so Sharon, then foreign minister, would use his influence to help Appel promote a tourism project in Greece in 1999. On Jan. 21, Appel, an activist in Sharon's Likud Party, was charged with bribing the Israeli leader with $690,000 to push the idea and to help rezone urban land near Tel Aviv before and during Sharon's term as prime minister. Neither project came to pass. Appel's lawyer, Moshe Israel, denies the charges. If indicted, legal precedent says Sharon would have to suspend himself from office until the end of proceedings. (AP/RedNova)
- March 27: In an effort to discredit Richard Clarke's damning testimony before the 9/11 commission, the Bush administration is seeking to declassify earlier Congressional testimony from Clarke that it says contradicts Clarke's statements to the commission. "Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories," complained Senate majority leader Bill Frist as he condemned Clarke on the Senate floor for accusing the Bush administration in a new book of largely ignoring the threat of al-Qaeda attacks before 9/11. Clarke repeated his charge in testimony this week before the independent commission investigating the attacks. Frist says that Clarke had been "effusive" in praising the administration's actions during 2001 and 2002 Congressional hearings on the attacks. Frist accuses Clarke of "profiteering" with his book, Against All Enemies: Inside the White House's War on Terror, which has jumped to the top of national bestseller lists, and branded as "theatrical" the apology that Clarke offered this week to relatives of 9/11 victims for failing to prevent the attacks. Frist says that to apologize "on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility." "In my view it was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation," Frist says. "Clarke can and will answer for his own conduct, but that is all." Though Clarke was not under oath during the earlier hearings, Frist seems to think that he was, and comes very close to accusing Clarke of perjury: "It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media," he says. "But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is far more serious matter." Democrats on that earlier panel said they saw no inconsistency between Clarke's two sets of remarks. An unlikely source of support for Clarke is Colin Powell, the Secretary of State. Powell says Clarke had "served his nation very, very well" and was "an expert" in counterterrorism. While saying that Clarke's book is "not the complete story," Powell says he was "not attributing any bad motives" to Clarke. "I'm not aware of a campaign against Mr. Clarke, and I am not a member," Powell says. "The book is the book, and you can read it and make your own judgment as to whether it's accurate." Frist, whose accusations are called "cowardly" by journalist Joe Conason, has to admit within hours that he has absolutely no factual basis for any of his accusations, and says in his defense that Clarke's "tone" was different during the 2002 testimony. The Washington Post will publish a front-page analysis of Clarke's testimony that upholds Clarke's truthfulness: the article says, "a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made."
- Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who served on the joint Congressional committee, does not recall any "substantial contradictions" between what Clarke had told that panel and what he said later to the 9/11 commission. Of Frist's harsh attack on Clarke, Lugar says, "I really wouldn't go there." The White House will decide whether or not to declassify Clarke's testimony after consulting the CIA and the Pentagon about the national security implications. Administration spokesman Sean McCormack says, "to my knowledge there was no coordination between Congressional Republicans and the White House on the request for the declassification of the documents." A move to declassify the testimony would sharply contrast with the administration's insistence that parts of the final report of the Congressional 9/11 investigation remain secret. Hundreds of pages of that report have never been made public. The White House has also refused to allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to answer questions publicly before the independent commission now completing its investigation of the attacks. The White House insists that Rice is willing to again appear before the panel in private and not under oath, but Democrats are pressing for her to testify publicly. Though the administration may not actually be coordinating their request for declassification with Congressional Republicans, unlikely as that is, the White House received the immediate support of House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert, who says, "We need to lean forward in making as much information available to the public as possible, without compromising the national security interests of the nation."
- But congressional Democrats involved in the original hearings say they know of no contradiction between Clarke's statements then and now. Senator Bob Graham, who was a co-chairman of the inquiry, says that "to the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony and what Mr. Clarke has said this week." A senior Democratic Congressional aide says Democratic staff members from both the Senate and House intelligence committees reread Clarke's 2002 testimony on Friday and that they believed he had been "fully consistent" in his views. Graham says that while he supports the administration's desire to declassify Clarke's earlier testimony, he says it should be released in its entirety and that the White House should declassify other documents integral to Clarke's testimony, including his January 2001 plan for action against al-Qaeda. Graham has also sought to release 27 pages of the report examining the involvement of foreign nations in support of the 19 hijackers. The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, who served on the Congressional inquiry, criticizes her Republican counterparts for joining in the attacks on Clarke, who left the White House last year. "Our democracy is not served and freedom of speech is undermined when the White House and its allies engage in character assassination," she says. Senator Jay Rockefeller, who replaced Graham as the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, calls Frist's comments "baseless and irresponsible." Any lawmaker who believed Clarke perjured himself, he said, should call in the Justice Department.
- GOP representative Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence panel, says he initiated the process to declassify Clarke's testimony. Goss says Clarke's new accusations were markedly different from his testimony in 2002. "They are certainly 180 degrees from my general recollection of the information he provided us before," says Goss, who was co-chairman of the panel with Graham. Goss says that if Clarke's views had changed, they should be reflected in the inquiry's findings and recommendations. "If he had all this startling information, it probably would have been useful to share it." Aides to Frist deny that he was encouraged by the White House to attack Clarke; meanwhile congressional Republicans say they do not see the effort to declassify the testimony as a bid to find lies that could lead to perjury charges, but as a way to raise questions about Clarke's integrity. A Democrat on the independent commission, Timothy Roemer, a former House member who also served on the joint Congressional panel, says he supported the effort to make Clarke's testimony public. Roemer added, though, that there should also be given consideration to "carefully, within the bounds of security" declassifying the private interviews that Condoleezza Rice gave last month to the independent commission. (New York Times/CommonDreams, Working for Change)
- March 27: California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has formed a private group to assist him in raising political funds without public accountability. Organizers insist the new corporation, which can raise money, lobby lawmakers and conduct polls, won't be used to hide special-interest donations to Schwarzenegger. But they acknowledged it could legally avoid disclosure under a variety of circumstances. Schwarzenegger is attempting to raise record-breaking amounts of money for his November election challenge. "He's building an infrastructure to have unprecedented leverage over the Legislature," says Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause. "No governor has ever had anything like this before; no one has even thought of this before." Called the California Recovery Team, the new corporation has been organized as a "social welfare" entity exempted from paying taxes under the tax code. Its official mission is to "educate the public about the need for government reform and efficiency," according to bylaws. The board of directors includes several members of the governor's staff, one of his campaign consultants and one of his attorneys. The entity filed one, four-page report with the state showing it spent $135,000 last year but the source of its income was not required to be included. Tom Hiltachk, the governor's attorney who created the corporation, said the new entity is identical to an existing Schwarzenegger political action committee known as "Gov. Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team." Lance Olson, a Sacramento attorney who has set up several ballot committees, says Schwarzenegger's labyrinth of political accounts, of which this organization is merely a part, blurs the line between money spent supporting the governor's ballot measures and what gets spent for his re-election. "Candidates are not supposed to have these slush funds and move money around to pay for any activity they want," Olson says. (AP/NewsMax)
- March 27: Cynthia McKinney, the former Democratic representative from the 4th District of Georgia, announces her bid for re-election. Currently the seat is held by fellow Democrat Denise Majette. McKinney was accused of skirting the edge of treason by, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, her questions about the Bush administration's response to the tragedy and her questioning of so-called facts provided by the administration regarding the attacks. McKinney writes, "Two years ago I asked, 'What did the Bush Administration know, and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th?' Today, the Bush Administration continues its refusal to tell the American people how it was that all fail safe mechanisms and standard operating procedures failed to operate for the four separate hijackings that took place on that single day. Furthermore, the American people only have assurances from the Bush Administration that the measures put in place since September 11th will actually protect us from another such tragedy. But now, we are painfully aware that we cannot trust the assurances coming from the Bush Administration. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, appearing before the 9-11 Commission, in trying to explain how September 11th happened stated, 'I just don't think we had the imagination required to consider a tragedy of this magnitude.' If we accept this as an official explanation from the Bush Administration on how September 11th happened, then it is painfully clear that it is time for the George W. Bush presidency to end. Instead, the Bush-Cheney campaign has already begun its reelection efforts using images of the September 11th tragedy. New York City's firemen have complained; the families of the victims have complained. And incredibly, the American people will have to endure the spectacle of the Republican Party Convention being held in New York City, just minutes from the Sacred Ground of Ground Zero. It is clear that the Bush Administration would rather posture publicly on friendly media than face the American people in public and under oath at the Commission. Furthermore, our children are fighting and dying in Iraq on George Bush's worthless assurances; it's time to bring them home now. ...Since I have been out of office, I have seen more than what was done to me; I have seen what was done to the people. George Bush has given us answers that don't answer, explanations that don't explain, and conclusions that don't conclude." (Cynthia McKinney)
- March 27: The Florida Department of Corrections has suspended its chief of staff, Mike Hanna, for five days for using his government e-mail account for personal and political use, including one exchange with a Pinellas County supporter who criticized Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Hanna will forfeit more than $1,600 of his $85,000 annual salary during the suspension. Hanna served as a deputy personnel director for Republican governor Jeb Bush's transition team in 2002 after working on Bush's gubernatorial campaign in 1998 and 2002. Responding to a March 9 e-mail from Gene Davis that called Kerry "a Roman Catholic Jew sympathetic to Islam," Hanna wrote back: "Gene my man...this is funny...we'll take him out. We need you to help us carry Pinellas!" The original note, asking "Who is Johnnie Kerry," described the Massachusetts senator as "a veteran who thinks the military stinks," and "a billionaire that desires to increases taxes." Corrections spokesman Sterling Ivey said the department used the suspension as an opportunity to remind its employees about properly using their state e-mail accounts. Some of Hanna's e-mails included political business as well, but that's not a violation of law. Bush, however, said he doesn't allow it in his administration. "I don't think it was campaigning per se," Bush said. "He's being punished for it." (AP/Orlando Sentinel)
- March 27: Thomas Mann says of the Bush administration, "This team is tough. You cross them and they go after you and raise questions about you and your credibility rather than what you have to say." AP/Buzzflash
- March 28: It has recently been revealed that in 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for a new assignment in Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures. The CIA, meanwhile, was stretched badly in its capacity to collect, translate and analyze information coming from Afghanistan; however, when the White House raised a new priority, it took specialists away from the Afghanistan effort to ensure Iraq was covered. Those were just two of the tradeoffs required because of what the Pentagon and CIA acknowledge is a shortage of key personnel to fight the war on terrorism. Now the obvious shift of emphasis towards Iraq and away from al-Qaeda is raising questions. "If we catch him (bin Laden) this summer, which I expect, it's two years too late," says Richard Clarke. "Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq...al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously, like the cells that operated in Madrid recently." The Bush administration pooh-poohs such criticisms from Clarke, Democratic senator Bob Graham, and others, but is quietly funneling millions of dollars into crash training programs to get Arabic-speaking troops into Afghanistan, more Predator spy drones in the skies, and to fill shortfalls among key personnel at the CIA. Bob Andrews, former head of a Pentagon office that oversaw special operations, says that removing Saddam Hussein was a good idea but "a distraction." The war in Iraq, Andrews notes, entailed the largest deployment of special operations forces -- about 10,000 -- since the Vietnam War. That's about 25% of all US commandos. It also siphoned spy aircraft and light infantry soldiers. Iraq proved such a drain, one former Pentagon official notes, that there were no AWACS radar jets to track drug-trafficking aircraft in South America. Iraq was not an immediate threat. "This has been a real diversion from the longer struggle against jihadists," especially in the intelligence field, says Andrews. (USA Today)
Afghanistan postpones elections until September
- March 28: Afghan president Hamid Karzai announces that nationwide elections will be postponed again, this time until September, to give more time for the government and the United Nations to register voters and organize the balloting. Officials had warned repeatedly that the country's first post-Taliban elections, originally scheduled for June, would be delayed because of logistical problems and security fears. "We are ready to manage both elections, for the parliament and presidency, in September," Karzai says. So far, only 1.5 million of an estimated 10.5 million eligible voters have been registered for the elections, and it remains unclear how the United Nations intends to carry out a plan to register most of the others. (AP/Guardian)
- March 28: The Bush administration reverses itself and acknowledges what it had previously denied, that in the days following the 9/11 attack Bush demanded that Richard Clarke and other senior officials find links between the attacks and Iraq. During a 60 Minutes interview, security advisor Condoleezza Rice says that Bush did indeed ask for information regarding links between Iraq and 9/11 during a meeting in the Situation Room with Clarke and others, but that the request was "perfectly logical." Until Rice's admission, the White House insisted that it had no record that Bush had even been in the Situation Room that day and said Bush had no recollection of such a conversation. Administration officials have used the denials to cast doubt on Clarke's credibility as they sought to debunk the charge that the administration downplayed the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the months before the 9/11 attacks and worried instead about Iraq. Earlier today, Clarke calls on the administration to declassify the testimony he gave to a Senate commission in 2002, along with other documents. In particular, he urges the administration to make public a memo on counterterrorism initiatives that he wrote just days after Bush took office, as well as a counterterrorism plan that the White House ultimately approved more than seven months later, a week before the attacks. "Let's see if there's any difference between those two, because there isn't," he says. "And what we'll see when we declassify what they were given on January 25th and what they finally agreed to on September 4th is that they are basically the same thing, and they wasted months when we could have had some action." Republican leaders have insisted that Clarke's testimony last week was at odds with the closed testimony he gave before the joint Congressional panel in 2002 and that he may have lied in one or both appearances. But intelligence officials familiar with his classified briefing said they were aware of no obvious contradictions. Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste says he believes Clarke's earlier testimony should be declassified to resolve any dispute, but he adds that "it is not my recollection that there were any notable or substantive differences in testimony." Clarke's Congressional testimony, given while he was still at the White House, put a more "positive spin" on the administration's counterterrorism efforts, just as he did in a 2002 press briefing that was released last week, according to a senior Democratic Congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. But factually, it did not appear to contradict what Clarke told the Sept. 11 commission last week, the aide says. (New York Times/Psychoanalysts Oppose War)
- March 28: The White House is offering to let national security director Condoleezza Rice meet privately for a second time with the 9/11 commission. The White House said in a letter to the independent commission that such a session would allow Rice to clear up "a number of mischaracterizations" of her statements and positions. Rice, who has spoken frequently and written about the administration's pre- and post-Sept. 11 strategy, still would not testify publicly before the panel, as the members and many relatives of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks want. The White House has said that presidential staff advisers, such as Rice, cannot testify publicly before congressional bodies because of the constitutional precept of separation of powers. Rice has been interviewed privately by commission members. The commission says it has no plans to subpoena Rice, though it continues to urge her to testify publicly. "We will accept any testimony" from Rice, who was "very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us," says commission chairman Thomas Kean. "But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there. We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden." He says commissioners "are still going to press" for her public testimony. Asked about issuing a subpoena in an attempt to compel her appearance, Kean said it is not clear that such a legal step is the best way to get the information sought and whether it would be successful given the doctrine of executive privilege. Rice plans on appearing on 60 Minutes later this evening. (CBS/AP/WVLT-TV, CBS News)
- March 28: White House allies and Republicans investigating the 9/11 attacks are calling for the Bush administration to allow open testimony from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, with one commissioner calling her refusal a political blunder of the first order." President Bush, has so far refused. Instead he sent Rice back out for another lengthy news interview to rebut fresh criticism on the way his administration has handled the threat of terrorism against the United States. Sharpening his criticism, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke said President Clinton was more aggressive than Bush in trying to confront al-Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden's organization. "He did something, and President Bush did nothing prior to September 11," Clarke says. "I think they deserve a failing grade for what they did before" Sept. 11, Clarke says of the Bush's administration. "They never got around to doing anything." Clarke says a sweeping declassification of documents would prove that the Bush administration neglected the threat of terrorism in the nine months leading up to the attacks. He says he sought declassification of all six hours of his testimony before a congressional committee two years ago. Some Republicans have said that testimony about Sept. 11 contradicts Clarke's current criticism. Clarke also wants Rice's previous interview before the independent 9/11 commission declassified, along with e-mails between him and Rice, and other documents. The material will prove that Bush was "lackadaisical" about terrorism before the attacks, Clarke says, because "they're basically the same thing. And they wasted months when we could have had some action." Asked about Clarke's request for the declassification, Secretary of State Colin Powell responds, "My bias will be to provide this information in an unclassified manner not only to the commission, but to the American people." Members of the Sept. 11 commissioner made clear they will not relent in their pursuit of public testimony from Rice, but said they were not inclined to subpoena her. "Condi Rice would be a superb witness. She is anxious to testify. The president would dearly love to have her testify," says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "But the lawyers have concluded that to do so would alter the balance if we got into the practice of doing that." Rice was interviewed by the panel behind closed doors on February 7. The administration has offered a second private session with Rice, but the commission has not accepted.
- Rice was "very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us," says commission head Thomas Kean, a Republican. "But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there. We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden." Commissioner John Lehman, another Republican, says Rice "has nothing to hide, and yet this is creating the impression for honest Americans all over the country and people all over the world that the White House has something to hide, that Condi Rice has something to hide. And if they do, we sure haven't found it. There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order." A White House ally, Richard Perle, said, "I think she would be wise to testify." Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commissioner, says that several White House staff in recent years have appeared before legislative bodies, including former national security adviser Sandy Berger when he was in office. Rice's several media appearances also undermine the White House's position, he says. "I fail to see the logic on the one hand relying on the confidentiality of such communications with the president and yet appearing everywhere except the one entity that has been created for the express purpose of investigating and holding public hearings on 9/11," he says. Clarke accuses the Bush administration of waging a "campaign to destroy me professionally and personally," and calls on the White House to "raise the level of discourse." Reacting to charges that his new book represented "profiteering" from the terrorist attacks, Clarke said he planned to donate a large portion of its sales to the attacks' survivors and to the widows and children of military personnel who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Clarke also fired back at the administration by reading Bush's response to his resignation letter. Noting it was in the president's handwriting, Clarke said the letter read that he would "be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor," and had "left a positive mark on our government." (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- March 28: Richard Clarke has a simple reason for why his earlier, private briefing of the 9/11 commission didn't include the criticisms of President Bush included in his book and in his recent public testimony: no one asked him his opinion of Bush. "In the 15 hours of testimony, no one asked me what I thought about the president's invasion of Iraq," says Clarke. "And the reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq...the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism." National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who continues to discuss the issue with the press while continuing to refuse to testify before the commission, says that Clarke did not raise his concerns about the Iraq war in a lunch with her three weeks before the invasion. "He didn't say a word about Iraq being a potential disaster for the war on terrorism," Rice says. Clarke disputes Rice's claim. Clarke's description of the discussions about Iraq's possible involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks jibes with other accounts, such as that in Bush at War by Bob Woodward. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his public testimony before the commission, confirmed that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a forceful advocate of attacking Iraq, "raised the issue of whether or not Iraq should be considered for action during this time." Woodward's book, which is based in large part on classified National Security Council memos, also bolsters Clarke's contention that the Bush administration was determined to attack Iraq within days after 9/11; Rice disputes that claim, too. The criticism of Clarke is part of a determined effort by the Bush administration to discredit Clarke, an effort that in large part has failed. Republican senator John McCain says the Clarke counterattack was "the most vigorous offensive I've ever seen from the administration on any issue. These attacks go to the heart of the strength of the president, and they felt it had to be put down and put down quickly. Whether they'll succeed or not is unclear." (Washington Post, Washington Post)
- March 28: The US orders the forcible shutdown of an Iraqi Shi'ite newspaper, al-Hawza, saying it is a mouthpiece for radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The US-led CPA says that the newspaper was inciting violence against US troops. Ali Yasseri, editor of the weekly newspaper, says dozens of American troops padlocked the newspaper's offices after ordering staff to leave. "They told us they would arrest us if we did not leave," Yasseri says. "They said our articles incite people against America. ...This is a violation of our rights." The shutdown prompts large demonstrations in Baghdad and other areas protesting the closure. In Wasit province, British provincial governor Mark Etherington agrees to meet with a delegation of Sadr clerics. Etherington finds them polite, but outspoken and implacable in their demands and their refusals to compromise with the CPA. He later writes, "Till the conclusion of this heated debate I had not realized that there was no battle to be won, no intellectual redoubt to be stormed by our infantry. I do not know what they thought of me." (Reuters/CommonDreams, Mark Etherington)
- March 28: Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has agreed to meet with John Kerry next month to discuss the effort to defeat President Bush in the November election. Nader stresses that he is still a competitor in the race, and says he views his candidacy as a "second front against Bush, however small." Nader describes Bush as "a giant corporation residing in the White House camouflaging as a human being." Nader says, "George W. Bush's values are corporate values. He says the administration "should spend more time waging peace...than waging a military conflict." Nader also prods Kerry to push traditional Democratic values of helping working families. He said the Democrats in general need to be reminded of that. Nader, who garnered 3 percent of the vote nationally as a Green Party candidate in the 2000 presidential election, is an even longer shot to win in November because of difficulties getting on many state ballots as an independent. Democrats have criticized Nader for his campaign four years ago and have suggested that he siphoned critical votes away from former Vice President Al Gore. Some, including former President Carter, worry the same thing could happen this year and have urged Nader to avoid a candidacy that might ensure Bush's re-election. Nader says he believes if anything he will take away votes that were meant for Bush because more people are fed up with high budget deficits and Bush's economic policies. "Members of the other party usually come back to the fold during the next election year," Nader says of Democrats. (AP/My Way News)
- March 28: French attorney Jacques Verges says he is willing to defend Saddam Hussein before any court. Verges was contacted by Hussein's nephew, Ali Barzan al-Tikriti, asking him to take the case. Eleven other lawyers of various nationalities will work with him, according to Verges. Verges has defended several other notorious figures, including his 1987 defense of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. (CNN)
- March 28: Former deputy chief of counterterrorism Tom Maertens, who like his colleague Richard Clarke served under both Clinton and Bush, defends Clarke's conclusions about the Bush administration and adds his own testimony in an opinion column. Maertens writes, "My experience confirms what Clarke relates in his book. The Bush administration did ignore the threat of terrorism. It was focused on tax cuts, building a ballistic missile system, withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and rejecting the Kyoto Protocol. Administration officials seemed to believe that the terrorist attacks on the United States in East Africa, and on the USS Cole, were due to Clinton's moral failings. Since they didn't share those weaknesses, and because President Bush had the blessing of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Justice Antonin Scalia, we would be spared any serious attack. Moral superiority would triumph. I personally believe that Clarke was one of the most effective government officials I have ever worked with -- most effective, but not the most loved. He has been described as a bureaucratic steamroller, and he no doubt ruffled some feathers, but who better to put in charge of counterterrorism? Unfortunately, he suffered the fate of Cassandra: He was able to foresee the future but not convince his leaders of the threat. Despite its own failings, the Bush administration has conducted a scorched-earth smear campaign against Clarke, because his book threatens Bush's carefully orchestrated image as a war president. The president keeps repeating the mantra that America is safer now that Saddam is gone. But no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been found in Iraq, and Bush now admits that Saddam was not involved in 9/11. The future of a nuclear-armed Pakistan is far more important to our security than was Iraq. We have also learned from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that the president spoke of overthrowing Saddam from the day he arrived in office. Clarke reports that on Sept. 12, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was already advocating bombing Iraq, even though Clarke told him that Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 attack. We also know that some people who became members of the Bush administration had been advocating the overthrow of Saddam since 1996. The president's claim that this was a war of necessity was never supported by the facts. But what better to stir up patriotic fervor in the run-up to an election than a war? Is this too cynical? ...It was [Karl] Rove who in 2002 counseled Republican congressional candidates to 'run on the war.' This is a man who recognizes a potent political prop when he sees one. Is this the real reason for the invasion of Iraq?
- "The Bush administration's other justifications don't hold water. The Bush-Cheney ads don't show the dead or wounded from that war, of course, nor do the cheerleaders on Fox News, despite the nearly 4,000 casualties we have suffered in Iraq to date. They don't like to talk about the $160 billion we have spent to run the war either. That works out to $571 for each man, woman and child, or $2,285 for a family of four. And the cost is sure to go higher. Clarke's gutsy insider recounting of events related to 9/11 is an important public service. From my perspective, the Bush administration has practiced the most cynical, opportunistic form of politics I witnessed in my 28 years in government: hijacking legitimate American outrage and patriotism over 9/11 to conduct a pre-ordained war against Saddam Hussein. That invasion was then misleadingly packaged as a war on terrorism and used to sell more tax cuts, the USA Patriot Act, oil drilling in ANWR, exemptions to environmental laws and other controversial programs. Those who have opposed the misguided invasion have been labeled appeasers and unpatriotic for failing to support 'the troops' -- meaning the president's policies. As Clarke has observed, the real war is against al-Qaeda. Instead, the Bush administration has involved us in a breathtakingly cynical, unprovoked war against Iraq, under false pretenses, which it now uses to justify the reelection of a president who has violated the public trust." (Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune)
Kerry accuses Bush of "character assassination" against Clarke
- March 28: John Kerry says the White House is committing character assassination with its treatment of former counter-terror chief Richard Clarke to avoid responding to questions about national security that Clarke raised. "I don't think people want questions about character; I think they want questions about our security to be answered," Kerry says. "That's what this is about." Kerry also says Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, should testify in public before the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. "If Condoleezza Rice can find time to do 60 Minutes on television before the American people, she ought to find 60 minutes to speak to the commission under oath," Kerry says. "We're talking about the security of our country." Bush campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish said Kerry and other Democrats are trying to politicize the work of the commission. "John Kerry seeks to distract Americans from his own failed ideas for protecting America from future attacks," she says in a statement. "John Kerry's backward-looking approach would return us to the failed policies of treating terror as a law-enforcement matter." Kerry said the constitutional separation of powers could be protected despite the White House's objections. "Certainly we can find a way to respect executive privilege, not to have it be an opening to the door, but nevertheless to accomplish America's needs to protect the security of our country," he says.
- On Clarke, Kerry notes, "Every time somebody comes up and says something that this White House doesn't like, they don't answer the questions about it or show you the truth about it. They go into character assassination mode." Besides Clarke, Kerry cited the examples of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Medicare accountant Richard Foster. O'Neill was fired as Treasury secretary in December 2002 after publicly questioning the need for additional tax cuts, a core campaign issue for Bush. Foster said he was prohibited by his superiors from sharing with Congress a much higher but more accurate cost estimate for the administration's Medicare program. Kerry said until the commission completes its report, he will comment neither on Clarke's testimony nor on whether Mr. Bush did enough to protect Americans before the attacks. Kerry, who spent much of the past week on vacation in Idaho, said he had not heard or read any of the testimony before the commission. He nevertheless criticized the administration for having "stonewalled" the investigation. Bush originally opposed the panel's creation, then opposed its request for a two-month extension of its work, but eventually relented on both counts. Adding new intensity to the flap, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Friday that key Republicans in Congress are seeking to declassify testimony that former terrorism adviser Richard Clarke gave in 2002 about the 9/11 attack. Frist says, "Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath." It was a highly unusual move, and Frist said the aim was to determine whether Clarke lied under oath -— either in 2002 or this week — when he appeared before a bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and sharply criticized Bush's handling of the war on terror. Clarke has said that his testimony in 2002 was given under the aegis of the White House, and was slanted to give the positive aspects of the Bush war on terror. (CBS/AP/WVLT-TV)
- March 28: FBI files detailing the results of surveillance performed on John Kerry during his years as an antiwar activist have been stolen from a private collector in California. Gerald Nicosia, who spent more than a decade collecting the information, said three of 14 boxes of documents plus a number of loose folders containing hundreds of pages were stolen from his home. He says, "It was a very clean burglary. They didn't break any glass. They didn't take anything like cameras sitting by. It was a very professional job." Speculating on the reason for the theft, Nicosia says, "Was it a thrill-seeker who wanted a piece of history? It could be. You'd think there was a very strong political motivation for taking those files. The odds are in favor of that." The documents center on FBI surveillance of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), which Kerry represented as national spokesman. In April 1971, the decorated veteran testified in televised hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and led a large protest of veterans in the capital. Kerry's antiwar efforts drew the attention of President Nixon, as revealed in recordings of White House conversations obtained from the National Archives, and of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. "I hadn't gotten a chance to review them all," says Nicosia. "I am sure there were some things about John Kerry that weren't known. These files would also cast a bad light on the...Republican Party. This surveillance happened under the Nixon White House and Nixon FBI." The FBI followed Kerry as he traveled the country, speaking out against the war and raising money for the cause. Kerry, who obtained his personal FBI files years ago, knew of the surveillance, but the VVAW files obtained by Nicosia detail more extensive surveillance than the senator from Massachusetts might have realized. "It is almost surreal to learn the extent to which I was followed by the FBI," Kerry says. "The experience of having been spied on for the act of engaging in peaceful patriotic protest makes you respect civil rights and the Constitution even more." Kerry was seen as a tactical "conservative" among the antiwar veterans, the FBI documents say. The 27-year-old typically opposed demonstrations that would lead to arrests. "A review of the subject's file reveals nothing whatsoever to link the subject with any violent type activity," said a May 1972 FBI memo about Kerry provided by his campaign. The memo recommended that the surveillance end because Kerry had quit VVAW and was launching a political career. (CNN)
Fox News' Brit Hume tells the families of soldiers killed in Iraq to "just get over it"
- March 28: Brit Hume, a conservative news anchor on the right-wing Fox News Channel, continues his staunch support for the Republican Party when he tells critics of President Bush, including families of American soldiers killed in his Iraq war, to "just get over it" on his show, Fox News Sunday. When asked on-air about the criticism Bush had received, from Democrats and families of American soldiers killed in Iraq, concerning jokes about non-existent WMD during a White House event, Hume defends Bush, calling his harshly-criticized jokes a "good-natured performance." Hume then said of those critical of Bush's WMD jokes, including families of American soldiers killed on the premise that such weapons existed, that "you have to feel like saying to people, 'Just get over it'." (Counterbias)
- March 28: Author Stephen Pizzo compares the Christian fundamentalists running public policy in the Bush administration to their Muslim counterparts in the Taliban. Pizzo writes, "For the first time far right Christian fundamentalists had one of their own in the White House and the opportunity to begin rolling back decades of health and family planning programs they saw as un-Christian, if not downright sinful. Since 2001 dozens of far-right Christian fundamentalists have been quietly installed in key positions within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Drug Administration and on commissions and advisory committees where they have made serious progress. Three years later this administration has established one of the most rigid sexual health agendas in the Western world." Pizzo notes that the policies began almost immediately upon Bush's assumption of power, when he issued an executive memorandum reinstating a global abortion "gag rule." The rule, first implemented under Ronald Reagan but revoked during the two Clinton administrations, prohibits federally funded family planning providers from even discussing abortion with their clients.
- Pizzo writes, "Bush's order reflected the views of those at farthest reaches of the Christian right, zealots who saw any means by which women controlled reproduction as unbiblical: 'I would like to outlaw contraception...contraception is disgusting –- people using each other for pleasure,'" says the Pro-Life Action League's Joseph Scheidler. He notes a statement from Randall Terry, president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue: "I don't think Christians should use birth control. You consummate your marriage as often as you like -– and if you have babies, you have babies." Pizzo continues: "Over the next twelve months the administration moved quickly to install similarly-minded Christian fundamentalists to positions of authority and influence over all matters relating to reproductive and sexual health."
- Bush appointed Dr. Alma Golden as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Population Affairs. Golden, a Texas pediatrician, is a longtime proponent of abstinence as the only acceptable means of birth control. Golden mandated that her department would henceforth stress "abstinence-only" as the solution to unwanted pregnancies, not just for teens, but unmarried adults as well.
- Bush appointed Tom Coburn the co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. Coburn, a former Republican congressman, is a well-known activist against the use of condoms. While in Congress, Coburn tried to force condom manufacturers to label condoms as "ineffective" against the spread of sexually transmitted infections. "I will challenge the national focus on condom use to prevent the spread of HIV," Coburn said upon his appointment. Joining Coburn was Dr. Joseph McIlhaney, Jr, who has a long and well-documented history of disseminating misleading data on condom failure rates. He was appointed in spite of the fact that in 1995 Governor Bush's own Texas Commissioner of Health openly denounced McIhaney's anti-condom propaganda and his professional credibility.
- Bush appointed Dr. W. David Hager to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. Hager served as spokesperson for the Christian Medical Association and wrote, or co-wrote, books recommending scripture readings and prayers to relieve the symptoms of PMS. Hager opposes prescribing contraceptives to unmarried women and spearheaded a petition drive by the Christian Medical Association to revoke the FDA's approval of mifepristone, the so-called "morning after pill." Joining Hager was Dr. Joseph Stanford, who is on records as believing that the only acceptable form of contraception, besides abstinence, is the all-natural "rhythm method." Stanford refuses to prescribe contraceptives, stating that "(modern) medicine is permeated with attitudes toward sexuality and fertility that are incompatible with Christian values of the sanctity of life, marriage, and procreation, attitudes that both reflect and perpetuate the recreational approach to sexuality found in our secular culture." Also joining the same FDA committee is Susan Crockett, another Christian fundamentalist. Crockett served as a board member of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- When the issue of stem-cell research came up, Bush dismissed two members of his Council on Bioethics who had each strongly supported the use of embryonic stem cells in research. They were replaced by three new members who, as the pro-life Family Research Council reported, "fall more in line with the President's pro-life views."
- Early in 2001, the Bush administration began scrubbing federal information sources of what it considered to be offending materials. The censorship campaign prompted Democratic representative Henry Waxman to send a letter to HHS Secretary Thompson demanding an explanation for the removal of information from the HHS Web site of scientific findings by the National Cancer Institute that, contrary to anti-choice propaganda, abortions do not increase the risk of breast cancer. Thompson never responded, and the "cleansing" continued. Scientific data on condom use, long available on government health Web sites, was removed and replaced by sermons on abstinence and alarmist propaganda that exaggerated the risks of condom use. The phrase "reproductive health" was expunged and replaced with the vague terms "related clinical preventive health services" and "related preventive health services." Links to non-governmental family planning resources were deleted. Web sites at the Centers of Disease Control and National Institute of Health were cleared of scientific studies and materials relating to abortion and condom use. At the CDC results from a peer-reviewed study showing that education about condom use did not result in increased sexual activity or sex at younger age, were deleted from the Web site. The NIH's Web site was cleaned of FAQ's on condom effectiveness and a sexuality education curriculum called "Programs that Work." Good science was disappearing from government publications and Web sites at such a pace that the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report in early 2004 documenting and condemning the Bush administration, who wrote, "There is significant evidence that the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented... There is a well-established pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees across numerous federal agencies. These actions have consequences for human health, public safety, and community well-being." The Bush administration has long relied on advice from the Christian Coalition, which strongly supports the administration's opposition to gay marriage.
- Pizzo notes, "Mainstream Christians share secularists' concern over workings of Bush's Christian Taliban. Speaking at the National Press Club last year, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice President Rev. Carlton W. Veazey condemned the 'back-door attempts by the Bush Administration to radically alter policies and practices concerning abortion, family planning, and sexuality education to conform to extreme views.'" (AlterNet)
"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good.... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism." -- Randall Terry, former head of anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, exhorting the troops