- March 9: Conservative Christian evangelist and religious-political leader Jerry Falwell says that former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich admitted to Falwell that he had had an affair even as he pursued the impeachment of Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
But Falwell, who virulently attacked Clinton for his infidelity, now praises Gingrich, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, and has asked Gingrich to deliver the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.
- In a recent interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Gingrich admitted what has been known for years: that he had had an affair with a young Congressional aide, Callista Bisek, while he was married to his second wife Marianne Gingrich. He divorced Marianne and married Bisek in 2000. Falwell says of Gingrich, "He has admitted his moral shortcomings to me, as well, in private conversations. And he has also told me that he has, in recent years, come to grips with his personal failures and sought God's forgiveness." Gingrich, who has long supported so-called "family values" agendas as a candidate for public office, has been proven to have had a string of affairs on both his first and second wives, and was forced out of Congress in 1998 after facing an array of ethics charges over his use of tax-exempt funding to garner campaign contributions.
- Gingrich told Dobson that, though he was having an affair with an intern while pursuing impeachment charges against Clinton for his own affair with an intern, he shouldn't be considered a hypocrite. Falwell says he has usually been able to tell when a man who has experienced "moral collapse" was genuinely seeking forgiveness. "My sense tells me that Mr. Gingrich is such a man," Falwell says, in a newsletter to his supporters. "I well remember the challenge we evangelicals faced in 1980 when our candidate, Ronald Reagan, was the first presidential candidate who had gone through a divorce. We wisely made allowance for God's forgiveness and America was the beneficiary of this historic champion," Falwell says, failing to note that his Moral Majority routinely attacked Democratic candidates who themselves had been divorced.
- It is unclear whether or not Falwell will endorse Gingrich's candidacy, if Gingrich chooses to run. GOP presidential candidate John McCain, who formerly repudiated Falwell, has recently sought to mend fences with the influential evangelist, and spoke at Liberty's commencement last year. (Huffington Post)
Gonzales and Mueller admit the FBI broke the law in spying on citizens
- March 10: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI director Robert Mueller admit that the FBI broke the law to secretly, and illegally, pry out personal information about hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans.
Both apologize and promise to do better.
- The admissions come on the heels of a damning audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine. Fine's report found that FBI agents sometimes demanded personal data on people without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances. The audit also concluded that the FBI for three years underreported to Congress how often it used national security letters to ask businesses to turn over customer data. The letters are administrative subpoenas that do not require a judge's approval. Gonzales calls the information revealed in the audit "upsetting" and "frustrating." He adds, "We have some work to do to reassure members of Congress and the American people that we are serious about being responsible in the exercise of these authorities."
- Under the Patriot Act, the national security letters give the FBI authority to demand that telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses produce personal records about their customers or subscribers. About three-fourths of the letters issued between 2003 and 2005 involved counterterror cases, with the rest for espionage investigations, the audit reported. DOJ investigators blame poor record-keeping and human error, and say that no indication of criminal misconduct has been found. But, the audit concluded, "we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities."
- Mueller says the problems are being addressed. The FBI is constructing a better internal data collection system, training employees on the limits of their authority, and has discarded the use of "exigent letters," which were used to gather information without the signed permission of an authorized official. "But the question should and must be asked: How could this happen? Who is accountable?" he says. "And the answer to that is, I am to be held accountable." Accountable or not, Mueller says no one has asked him to resign, nor has the topic been broached. He says that no FBI official will be fired, nor will anyone face criminal charges.
- Congressional Democrats may have something to say about accountability. They are talking about rolling back the FBI's authority in the area. "It's up to Congress to end these abuses as soon as possible," says Edward Kennedy, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The Patriot Act was never intended to allow the Bush administration to violate fundamental constitutional rights." House Intelligence Committee member Peter Hoekstra, a Republican, says the audit shows "a major failure by Justice to uphold the law. ...If the Justice Department is going to enforce the law, it must follow it as well." The American Civil Liberties Union says the audit proves Congress must amend the Patriot Act to require judicial approval anytime the FBI wants access to sensitive personal information. "The attorney general and the FBI are part of the problem, and they cannot be trusted to be part of the solution," says the ACLU's executive director, Anthony Romero.
- Though Mueller says the national security letters are no longer being used, Mueller's ringing endorsement of them casts doubt on that statement: "They are the bread and butter of our investigations" into terrorism, Mueller says.
- And the ACLU has called the FBI and DOJ claims that the illegal acts were unintentional nothing but deliberate lies. The organization cites evidence that FBI agents contracted with phone companies to obtain customer records and later sought to cover up the illegal requests. The Fine report also shows that the FBI is continuing to issue hundreds of thousands more National Security Letters, and that tracking of the NSLs is sloppy, resulting in thousands of innocent Americans being entered into databases that are shared with numerous US agencies and foreign governments. "It seems that every time the American people entrust the Bush administration with some new power, it not only abuses that power but also seizes additional powers without our knowledge," says the ACLU's Anthony Romero. "It is long past time for Congress to take back the civil liberties of the American people and right these wrongs. The Attorney General and the FBI are part of the problem and cannot be trusted to be the only solution." Romero adds, "It simply is not credible for the FBI to claim that these unauthorized and illegal fishing expeditions were the result of human error or outmoded computer systems." He also does not believe Mueller's claim that no one was harmed by these massive privacy breaches, and says that customers should be alerted that their telephone and e-mail records may now be in US and even foreign government databases. "We call on the FBI to immediately disclose the identity of the telecommunications companies that were involved and to notify the customers whose records were obtained about this unauthorized invasion of their privacy rights."
- The ACLU cites numerous other revelations of abuses of the National Security Letter power and other Patriot Act powers in the Fine audit. The ACLU lists the following as examples:
The ACLU also notes that the Inspector General's report looked at only a tiny sample of the hundreds of thousands of NSLs. That so many violations and abuses were uncovered in such a small sample points to major systemic problems with the FBI's use of NSLs, the ACLU says. "Congress must fix the fundamental flaws with the Patriot Act," says the ACLU's Caroline Fredrickson. "The FBI abused the powers it was given in the Patriot Act to pry in to the private lives of more Americans than ever before in our history."
- The FBI issued NSLs even where no underlying investigation had been approved; obtained more information from recipients than was requested; and obtained information about telephone numbers that did not belong to the target of the NSLs.
- The violations of privacy that resulted from the FBI's abuse of its NSL power go way beyond phone and email records and in some instances included medical records and educational records.
- In one case, the FBI issued an NSL to a North Carolina university that sought several categories of records, including applications for admission, housing information, emergency contacts, and campus health records.
- The FBI has no uniform system for tracking responses to National Security Letters, either manually or electronically, and is sharing information derived from NSL with numerous U.S. intelligence agencies and even foreign governments.
- The number of NSL requests reported to Congress in 2003, 2004, and 2005, were "significantly understated." After the Patriot Act, the number of NSL requests increased from 8,500 in 2000 to approximately 39,000 in 2003, approximately 56,000 in 2004, and approximately 47,000 in 2005 -- but even these numbers are incomplete because the FBI "did not consistently enter" its data.
- Some NSL recipients erroneously provided prohibited content to the FBI, including voice messages, e-mails, and images.
- Fine's annual audit is required by Congress, though the Bush adminstration has pushed to cancel the audits. It concluded that the number of national security letters requested by the FBI skyrocketed in the years after the Patriot Act became law. Each letter issued may contain several requests. In 2000, for example, the FBI issued an estimated 8,500 requests. That number peaked in 2004 with 56,000. Overall, the FBI reported issuing 143,074 requests in national security letters between 2003 and 2005. These figures do not included nearly 9,000 requests never recorded in the FBI's database. Around 22% of the national security requests made by FBI agents were routinely underreported, and it is likely that figure is even higher. The audit also found that the FBI violated scores of regulations surrounding the use of the letters, including failing to get proper authorization, making improper requests under the law and unauthorized collection of telephone or Internet e-mail records. The FBI also used exigent letters to quickly get information -- often in non-emergency situations -- without going through proper channels. In at least 700 cases, these letters were sent to three telephone companies to get billing records and subscriber information, the audit found.
- "This report proves that 'trust us' doesn't cut it when it comes to the government's power to obtain Americans' sensitive business records without a court order and without any suspicion that they are tied to terrorism or espionage," says Democratic senator Russ Feingold. His Republican colleague Arlen Specter says that Congress may have to "change the law to revise the Patriot Act to impose statutory requirements and perhaps take away some of the authority which we've already given to the FBI since they appear not to be able to know how to use it." (AP/Truthout, ACLU, Chicabo Tribune)
Rove assured Republicans that fired US attorney David Iglesias was "gone"
- March 10: White House political advisor Karl Rove and at least one other member of the White House political team were urged by the New Mexico Republican party chairman to fire the state's US attorney, David Iglesias, because of dissatisfaction in part with his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation in the battleground election state.
US Attorney firings
Party chairman Allen Weh says he complained to one of Rove's aides in 2005 about Iglesias and asked that Iglesias be fired. Weh says he spoke to Rove himself in late 2006 during a visit to the White House. "Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" Weh says he asked Rove at a White House holiday event that month. "He's gone," Rove replied. "I probably said something close to 'Hallelujah,'" Weh says.
- Weh's account contradicts statements by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Justice Department, and the White House that all say the decisions to fire Iglesias and seven other US attorneys were made strictly as personnel matters related to job performance, and the White House was not involved in the decisions. Justice Department officials have said the White House's involvement was limited to approving a list of the US attorneys after the Justice Department made the decision to fire them.
- "The facts speak for themselves," Iglesias says when he is told of Weh's account of his conversation with Rove. Weh says that he doesn't know if Rove was personally involved in Iglesias's firing, and insists that his call for Iglesias's firing has nothing to do with politics. "There's nothing we've done that's wrong," Weh says. "It wasn't that Iglesias wasn't looking out for Republicans. He just wasn't doing his job, period." Iglesias received a glowing performance review months before he was summarily fired. Iglesias has testified before Congress that he was pressured by two New Mexico Republican lawmakers, Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson, to fast-track an investigation into possible corruption by local Democrats, possibly to help influence Wilson's re-election chances. Domeneci and Wilson have admitted calling Iglesias about the investigation, but both deny that their calls -- which violate Congressional ethics rules -- were intended to pressure Iglesias. Domenici has also lied about his own efforts to get Iglesias fired, which have now been acknowledged by Justice Department officials. Domenici says he just can't remember if he ever discussed Iglesias with Rove.
- Iglesias says he believes the impatience of state Republicans raises the possibility that the Bush administration might have been more involved than officials have acknowledged. "Part of the controversy behind this is prosecutorial discretion," he says. "What that means is it's up to the sole discretion of the prosecutor in the case of how to handle the indictment and when to issue it."
- Former federal prosecutors and defense lawyers who've represented public officials in corruption cases say the allegations of political inference could undermine the reputation of U.S. attorneys as impartial enforcers of the law. Defense lawyers trying to convince juries to acquit their clients in corruption cases often accuse the government of mounting political vendettas against their clients. But it's virtually unheard of to have the former US attorney in the case to be offering possible evidence of such interference. "Anyone with any experience within the Justice Department is completely shocked and appalled by what has been described," says Stanley Hunterton, a former federal prosecutor of 12 years who investigated organized crime in Detroit and Las Vegas. "One of the things the Department has stood for was being apolitical. Sure, politics does gets involved in the appointment process, but this is just nuts."
- Weh and others were looking forward to Iglesias filing indictments against local Democrats, including the New Mexico state treasurer, over contracts surrounding the construction of a courthouse, before the November 2006 elections -- in time to help Wilson in her tight race against a Democratic opponent. Many state Republicans felt that Wilson might lose the election. Former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Paul Kennedy says he attended a September 30 donor's luncheon with Rove, but says that although he felt that the indictments might help Wilson's chances for re-election, he was merely interested in serving the public interest by pushing for the indictments. Although Kennedy sat next to Rove during the luncheon, he says he never brought up the matter. Pat Rogers, former general counsel to the state Republican Party, says he can't even remember whether he attended the luncheon, but he does remember that he never discussed the matter with Rove or with Bush. Weh, who was also at the luncheon, says neither the subject of Iglesias nor the courthouse probe was discussed. Instead, they just made general comments about their worries over the election.
- Rogers admits to calling Iglesias to pressure him into filing indictments before the elections. He represented Wilson after she won the election by less than 900 votes. Rogers said he asked Iglesias before the election to talk about the case. When they finally met for lunch, Rogers said he told Iglesias, "David, in my mind, the failure to bring appropriate changes and proceed on a corruption case because of the pending election is as bad as ignoring it entirely." Rogers now says, "I don't know whether anyone talked to Rove or President Bush about David at any time, but complaints about David would track way back to before the election of 2004. It was not a secret, the unhappiness with David."
- No indictments over the courthouse controversy have been filed to date. (McClatchy News)
- March 10: Under fire for both the firings of eight US attorneys and his admission that the FBI illegally demanded private information about hundreds of thousands of American citizens, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is taking action -- by meeting with Republican Congressmen to try to garner their support and help orchestrate their opposition to Democratic attempts to investigate the matters.
US Attorney firings
Gonzales has spoken with at least four members of the Republican Senate leadership to discuss the illegal use of "national security letters" used to obtain e-mails, telephone and financial records of private citizens between 2003 and 2005. The call to arms is working: Senator Jon Kyl, who is leading the GOP opposition to Democratic attempts to investigate Gonzales's role in firing the US attorneys, says that though his confidence in the Justice Department is "shaken...when significant and important powers are given to public officials, there's an obligation to use those powers very carefully," he still backs Gonzales.
- Kyl says he accepts Gonzales's expression of "his great disappointment" over the handling of the FBI's invasion of Americans' privacy. Kyl says Gonzales has also spoken with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senate minority whip Trent Lott, and Senator Jon Cornyn, another staunch Bush ally in Congress. Gonzales says, according to Kyl, that he intends to "get to the bottom of what occurred and to ensure that process is used appropriately."
- Republican support for Gonzales in Congress is peeling away. Senator John Ensign of Nevada is reportedly furious over the reasons given for the dismissal of Nevada prosecutor Daniel Bogden, who was originally said to have been fired for performance reasons, but has now been shown to have been fired just to replace him with "new blood" -- and a more politically pliable prosecutor amenable to the Bush administration's political wishes. Gonzales trotted down to Ensign's office on March 8 to listen to Ensign's criticisms, and Gonzales has also sent his deputy, Paul McNulty, to speak with Ensign. Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Nevada media outlets earlier in the week that he could not "tell you how upset I am at the Justice Department." Kyl and fellow GOP senator Arlen Specter have also criticized Gonzales for falsely stating that the eight prosecutors were fired for poor job performance.
- Gonzales has reluctantly agreed to allow five of his top aides to be interviewed by staff members of the Judiciary Committee, though he himself is resisting requests that he testify as well.
- White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says the White House "would have preferred that this had been communicated better from the start, and the Justice Department has said they share that concern. But we are not dwelling -- we're focused on communicating better, providing Congress the information they ask for, and working cooperatively with the Hill." Perino says that Bush has full confidence in both Gonzales, a longtime Bush crony from Texas, and McNulty. "They've worked hard to acknowledge it should have been handled better and are taking appropriate steps to work with the Hill. So they've been accountable and are taking action." Gonzales is still refusing to testify before Congress, and in his last appearance before Congress, McNulty lied about the reasons why the attorneys were fired.
- White House political guru Karl Rove, who will later be proven to have been behind some, if not all, of the firings, says that the Democrats are trying to make political hay over the firings. "This is the right of any president to appoint people to these offices," he says to an audience at, of all places, the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. "They serve at the pleasure of the president. My view is that this is unfortunately a very big attempt by some in Congress to make a political stink about it." (Washington Post)
- March 10: Federal officials with the Department of Labor secretly schemed to limit payouts for sick and dying nuclear weapons workers, including thousands from the Rocky Flats plant outside Denver, according to newly released documents.
US nuclear program
The officials responsible for helping those workers went behind their boss's back, called on White House officials for help and tried to hide their efforts. They also wanted to get the White House to override scientific decisions granting compensation and pack the program's advisory board with members less sympathetic to workers. The information is now in the hands of the Government Accountability Office. Now that the documents have come to light, Labor officials say that they never attempted to hide the plans, and the plans were not carried out anyway.
- The Department of Labor oversees the program to compensate workers whose illnesses can be tied to working with radioactive and other toxic materials at nuclear weapons plants, such as the now-defunct Rocky Flats. More than 60,000 ill atomic bomb makers, including thousands from Rocky Flats, have sought help. About 16,000 workers nationwide have received a total of $2.6 billion. Far more have been denied or still are waiting for help.
- According to statements throughout the documents, the overriding concern for Assistant Deputy Secretary for Labor Shelby Hallmark and other officials is cost -- that the bill for providing $150,000 per ill worker could reach $7 billion over 10 years. The Department of Energy has spent $65 billion over the last 10 years cleaning up 84 of its weapons sites, all contaminated during the Cold War nuclear weapons race. Hallmark says in numerous memos that he worries about compensation costs soaring in "an arms race among members [of Congress] jockeying to demonstrate their ability to bring home 'special' benefits to their constituents." His boss, Assistant Secretary of Labor Victoria Lipnic, bemoans, "There is not a fiscal conservative left anywhere." Democrat Mark Udall, a House member from Colorado, says, "Clearly, the administration put dollars above honoring the nation's promise to the Cold War veterans." This is "almost worse" than the horrifying conditoins at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he says. That was negligence, where "this seems to be a pretty callous plan that the administration knew could harm sick veterans."
- Some lawmakers see the documents as evidence of continued stonewalling in the program, as workers died before they could collect benefits. "Those involved in this back-room manipulation of the program have destroyed the government credibility again," Republican representative John Hostettler said in December. Hostettler held hearings last year to investigate the program, which has been plagued by delays since 2000. "This program was supposed to ensure workers that the deceit was over and the government was finally going to do right by them," he said. "Those tasked with implementing the program have failed that purpose miserably and they need to be exposed for what they have done." Instead of helping workers, the program has spawned a "culture of disdain" toward them.
- In memos and e-mails in October 2005, Labor Department officials expressed concern about approving compensation for whole groups of workers, called "special exposure cohorts." Congress ordered these special cohorts if records on workers' radiation exposure were so incomplete, missing or destroyed that scientists could not reconstruct the radiation doses to link them to workers' illness. Workers at many sites, including Rocky Flats, have requested SEC status. Rocky Flats workers are expecting a decision in May. Each special cohort approved makes more workers eligible for compensation and would add to costs. In a January 31, 2005, memo, Hallmark wrote about Iowa and Missouri sites that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was about to approve for special cohort status. He worried this would make it easier for other sites, such as Rocky Flats, to get the same status. NIOSH had written a notice for the Federal Register granting the status. Hallmark wrote: "We have revised the attached version of the notice...to require that NIOSH DENY [the petition]."
- Labor officials suggested in memos to the White House's Office of Management and Budget that OMB should have final say on future requests for special cohorts. That would mean budget officials would overrule scientific conclusions about exposures. Giving special cohort status to the Iowa and Missouri sites had "the potential to vastly increase the cost of the program and decrease its scientific validity," Labor Department attorney Jeffrey Nesvet said in a memo on October 6, 2005. Costs could approach $7 billion, Nesvet said. "At this point, it is clear that only intervention by the OMB is likely to stem this trend," his memo said. Hallmark, in other memos, notes that it would be unfair to pay claims to "undeserving" workers whose illnesses might not be related to their work. In a late 2005 memo, OMB agreed and said the White House would convene a work group to recommend ways to "contain growth in the costs" of the compensation program. In February 2006, Hallmark told OMB in an e-mail that he was "still smarting" over its memo a few months earlier citing his office as the source of the cost-containment suggestions. "I am uncomfortable with even an unofficial sharing of my briefing piece for today's meeting with my second-floor people [the US Secretary of Labor's office] since I am not at all convinced they will be willing to argue directly for any or all the actions it proposes.... But if you promise not to spread it, and if you don't use the language in your documents such that NIOSH will know where the verbiage came from, I'll share it."
- Hallmark told Hostettler's Congressional hearings in December 2006 that allegations of a covert cost-containment effort "are simply not true." No such effort ever happened, he told the committee. "Cost containment is not part of any strategy or involvement that the Department of Labor has had in this process," Hallmark lied. Hallmark also denied that the Labor Department was trying to prevent approvals of special cohorts. Hallmark now says that the OMB proposals, which he and other Labor Department officials pushed for, "have not been and will not be pursued." When asked about Labor Department efforts to limit costs, Hallmark says he was concerned only with the "overall consistency and fairness of the program." He says sonorously, "Workers at the Rocky Flats facility who suffered some of the highest exposures of the DOE complex deserve no less."
- Hallmark may have meant those words at one time. In February 2004, he wrote that it seemed like "common sense" to give Rocky Flats special cohort status since it is "probably one of, if not THE, dirtiest site." At one point, he wondered in writing if they should just give every nuclear weapons worker the benefit of the doubt. But shortly thereafter, Labor Department officials began to request rewrites in NIOSH documents that mentioned problems with radiation exposure reports. Acknowledging faults with the records would "undermine confidence" in how scientists determine workers' radiation doses, the memos say. In December 2004, Hallmark complained that NIOSH's independent radiation advisory board was successfully pushing NIOSH to approve more claims, the memos show. The next month, Hallmark said he was worried that giving cohort status to the plants in Iowa and Missouri would set a precedent for approving other sites. The draft approval for the Mallinckrodt plant in St. Louis cited missing or corrupted data. "The same allegation has been made for virtually every DOE site, and in most cases, acknowledged to one degree or another," Hallmark wrote on January 31, 2005. Giving this reason for the special cohort status "would essentially signal acceptance of SECs at all DOE sites," he wrote. He wrote further e-mails warning that approval for one site would help other sites get approval, and previously classified data might be made public.
- Part of the reason that Hallmark and others worried about data becoming declassified is that the data was being used to unfairly deny medical benefits to contaminated workers. In one example, the Steelworkers' Union filed a February 2005 petition for cohort status for Rocky Flats. It argued that autopsies have shown more plutonium in Rocky Flats workers' bodies than shown in tests while they were alive. That was proof exposure records are unreliable, the union said. By law, a decision on the petition was supposed to be made within six months of the filing. The decision expected in May is nearly two years late.
- The recently released internal documents have infuriated lawmakers, who say Congress intended to give Cold War veterans the benefit of the doubt and help them as quickly as possible. More than half a billion dollars has been spent on administrative costs and trying to reconstruct workers' dosages of radiation. The compensation program was so problem-plagued that the half run by the Energy Department was transferred in 2004 to the Labor Department. Other concerns about the Labor Department's handling of the program have arisen. Hostettler said during his December hearing that the Labor Department was "selectively culling" worker claims for review. The GAO will now be investigating how the Labor Department has handled the program. Daniel Bertoni, who heads the GAO's workforce investigations, says, "The concern is: What had changed? If they weren't reviewing these cases before, why are they now?" Udall says the documents "confirm what many of us suspected was under way, which was the administration tried to override science to cut costs at the expense of sick workers. And it might have succeeded if the plan hadn't been exposed." (Rocky Mountain News)
"The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore. He's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes. ...Congress abdicated its oversight responsibility. The press abdicated its responsibility, and the American people abdicated their responsibilities. Terror was on the minds of everyone, and nobody questioned anything, quite frankly." -- Republican senator Chuck Hagel, March 11
Army ordering wounded, medically unfit veterans to go back to Iraq
- March 11: The Army is ordering soldiers already wounded in Iraq and certified as medically unfit for combat to return to Iraq anyway, regardless of their fitness for duty.
Iraq war and occupation
"This is not right," says Master Sergeant Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. "This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers. If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight." Jenkins is part of the Army's Third Infantry Division, which is redeploying injured and wounded veterans. Some of those being sent back to Iraq are too injured to wear their body armor, according to their medical records. On February 15, Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon, the officers responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq; the officials deny the claim. Jenkins thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he says.
- "Did they send anybody down range that cannot wear a helmet, that cannot wear body armor?" asks Steve Robinson of Veterans for America. It is a rhetorical question, one to which he already knows the answer. "Well that is wrong. It is a war zone." Robinson thinks that the possibility that physical profiles may have been altered improperly has the makings of a scandal. "My concerns are that this needs serious investigation. You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit. It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield."
- Eight soldiers who were at the February 15 meeting say they were summoned to the troop medical clinic at 6:30 in the morning and lined up to meet with division surgeon Lieutenant Colonel George Appenzeller, who had arrived from Fort Stewart, Captain Aaron Starbuck, brigade surgeon at their own base of Fort Benning. The soldiers describe having a cursory discussion of their profiles, with no physical exam or extensive review of medical files. They say Appenzeller and Starbuck seemed focused on downplaying their physical problems. "This guy was changing people's profiles left and right," says a captain who injured his back during his last tour in Iraq and was ordered to Iraq anyway. Appenzeller denies that he did anything wrong or unethical. Brigade commander Colonel Wayne Grigsby says he doesn't know how many wounded and injured soldiers are returning to Iraq, but "They can be productive and safe in Iraq," he says.
- The soldiers feel differently. They worry that their physical conditions could endanger their lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers. Some were injured on previous combat tours. Some of their ills are painful conditions from training accidents or, among relatively older troops, degenerative problems like back injuries or blown-out knees. Some of the soldiers have been in the Army for decades. Jenkins, 42, has a degenerative spine problem and a long scar down the back of his neck where three of his vertebrae were fused during surgery. He takes an array of potent pain pills. His medical records say he is "at significantly increased risk of re-injury during deployment where he will be wearing Kevlar, body armor and traveling through rough terrain." Late last year, those medical records show, a doctor recommended that Jenkins be referred to an Army board that handles retirements when injuries are permanent and severe. But his newly rewritten medical profile, signed by Starbuck, gives an entirely different and much rosier picture of Jenkins's health. Other soldiers' documents show the same pattern. One soldier says she has a spine injury and psychological problems. "My [health] is deteriorating," she says. "My spine is separating. I can't carry gear." Her medical records include the note "unable to deploy overseas." But, after review by Starbuck and Appenzeller, she, too, is going back to Iraq. Another soldier, a captain who "corkscrewed his spine" in a Humvee accident, says he is fighting his redeployment. "It is a numbers issue with this whole troop surge," he says. "They are just trying to get those numbers."
- Another soldier told Salon reporters that she fears for her life and mobility if she deploys to Iraq. She suffered an accident several years ago during training that forced doctors to remove part of her coccyx, she suffers from degenerative disk disease, and has two ruptured disks and a bulging disk in her back. Before she was reprofiled on February 15, she had been recommended for a medical retirement. She is actually willing to redeploy, but not into combat. The day after she contacted Salon, she was shipped to Iraq -- for combat duty. Her husband, a three-tour veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, is afraid for her. She will be required to wear protective gear that far exceeds the maximum amount she is certified to bear -- 15 pounds, according to her doctors. "I have been over there three times. I know what it is like," he says. By deploying sick and injured troops like his wife, he says, the brigade leaders are "going to get somebody killed over there." He says there is "no way" Grigsby is going to keep all of the injured soldiers in safe jobs. "All of these people that deploy with these profiles, they are scared. [The command is] saying they don't care about your health. This is pathetic. It is bad." In her new profile, she only has one restriction: she should not wear a helment for over an hour.
- Specialist Lincoln Smith has such severe sleep apnea that he now suffers from narcolepsy. The Salon reporter who interviewed him, Mark Benjamin, says that Smith almost nodded off during their conversation. Smith drives trucks for the Army, but because of his sleep disorder, has the notation "No driving of military vehicles" on his physical profile. Smith is fighting his redeployment. Smith is forced to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine pumping air into his mouth and nose for him to sleep, otherwise, he says, "I could die." But based on his last tour, he is not convinced he will be able to be in places with constant electricity or will be able to fix or replace his CPAP machine should it fail. Since he can no longer drive trucks, and because he has no other training, "I would be going basically as a number. They don't have enough people. ...I'm going to go to the airport, and I'm going to tell them I'm not going to go. They are going to give me a weapon. I am going to say, 'It is not a good idea for you to give me a weapon right now.'"
- Other soldiers slated to leave for Iraq with injuries said they wonder whether the same thing is happening in other units in the Army. "You have to ask where else this might be happening and who is dictating it," one soldier says. "How high does it go?" (Salon)
- March 11: A day after New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh says he passed along his request for the firing of US attorney David Iglesias to the White House through Bush's political advisor Karl Rove, the White House acknowledges that Rove indeed served as a conduit for complaints about federal prosecutors.
US Attorney firings
House investigators say they intend to question Rove about any role he may have played in the firing of eight US attorneys.
- According to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, Rove relayed complaints from Republican officials and others to the Justice Department and the White House counsel's office. She says Rove specifically recalls passing along complaints about Iglesias and may have mentioned the complaints about Iglesias to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Iglesias says he lost his job as the top federal prosecutor in New Mexico after rebuffing Republican pressure to speed his investigation of Democratic officials in the state. Perino denies that Rove did anything except pass along the complaints, and had no hand in the actual firings of any attorneys.
- House Democrats would like to hear that for themselves. Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and his colleague Linda Sanchez say, through Sanchez's spokesman James Dau, "Mr. Conyers and Ms. Sanchez intend to talk with Karl Rove about any role he may have had in the firing of the US attorneys. ...From what we've been hearing for weeks it seems he might have relevant information. He's clearly one of the White House officials we've been intending to question. The revelations from Mr. Weh certainly give us something else relevant and salient to talk about." The White House is expected to bitterly resist any requests for Rove to testify. (McClatchy News)
- March 11: Fired US attorney John McKay says that he received a phone call from the Justice Department's Michael Elston in late February, offering McKay a Sopranos-ish deal: keep your mouth shut and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales won't publicly besmirch you.
US Attorney firings
Bud Cummins, the former US attorney for Little Rock, Arkansas, testified before Congress on March 6 (see above item) about a call he received from Elston in late February with the following message: if the prosecutors didn't stop talking, the Justice Department would hit back. McKay now says he received a similar call before the firings had even been reported. McKay says Elston was "clearly nervous," and says, "He was offering me a deal: you stay silent and the attorney general won't say anything bad about you." Elston admits to making the call, but says he "can't imagine" how McKay interpreted the call as any sort of threat or warning. Elston has written that he was "shocked and baffled" by Cummins's interpretation of his call to Cummins, and tells reporters, "By no means did I have any message in mind. I think he misinterpreted what I was saying, and I'm very sorry that occurred." Elston says that "it's really a shame that all this has to come out in the newspaper." (Newsweek/TPM Muckraker, Washington Post)
- March 11: In its editorial page, the New York Times blasts Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as an abject failure.
The Times opens, "During the hearing on his nomination as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said he understood the difference between the job he held -- President Bush's in-house lawyer -- and the job he wanted, which was to represent all Americans as their chief law enforcement officer and a key defender of the Constitution. Two years later, it is obvious Mr. Gonzales does not have a clue about the difference. He has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency."
- The Times cites Gonzales' "lame" defense of the firings of eight US attorneys, where Gonzales called the "obviously politically motivated firing[s]" nothing more than an "overblown personnel matter." Gonzales is now defending the FBI's abuse of power in invading Americans' privacy, "yet another unnecessary new power that Mr. Gonzales helped wring out of the Republican-dominated Congress in the name of fighting terrorism." Like so many of the Bush administration's abrogations of civil liberties, Gonzales and other officials "said that...this radical change was essential to fast and nimble antiterrorism efforts, and it promised to police the use of the letters carefully. But like so many of the administration's promises, this one evaporated before the ink on those letters could dry. ...Mr. Gonzales does not directly run the FBI, but it is part of his department and has clearly gotten the message that promises (and civil rights) are meant to be broken." Gonzales, the Times reminds us, was a vigorous and shrill defender of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping of Americans' phone conversations and e-mails. "He was an eager public champion of the absurd notion that as commander in chief during a time of war, Mr. Bush can ignore laws that he thinks get in his way. Mr. Gonzales was disdainful of any attempt by Congress to examine the spying program, let alone control it. [He] helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture. He has been central to the administration's assault on the courts, which he recently said had no right to judge national security policies, and on the constitutional separation of powers. His Justice Department has abandoned its duties as guardian of election integrity and voting rights."
- The Times notes, "We opposed Mr. Gonzales's nomination as attorney general. His resume was weak, centered around producing legal briefs for Mr. Bush that assured him that the law said what he wanted it to say. More than anyone in the administration, except perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gonzales symbolizes Mr. Bush's disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law. On Thursday, Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hinted very obliquely that perhaps Mr. Gonzales's time was up. We're not going to be oblique. Mr. Bush should dismiss Mr. Gonzales and finally appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution." (New York Times)
White House deeply involved in attorney firings
- March 12: The White House was much more involved in the firings of eight US attorneys than it has admitted.
US Attorney firings
Last October,Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House now admits. Republican senator Pete Domenici was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official.
- Former White House counsel Harriet Miers mulled over the idea of firing all 93 US attorneys at the beginning of Bush's second term, but bowed to resistance from the Justice Department, according to the White House. The DOJ eventually recommended that eight US attorneys be sacked. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says that Miers discussed with an aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales whether to ask all 93 US attorneys to resign at the end of 2004, so the administration could start fresh with an entirely new slate of prosecutors. Perino also admits that complaints about the job performance of prosecutors occasionally came to the White House and were passed on to the Justice Department, perhaps including some from Bush to Gonzales. The US attorneys, the chief federal law enforcement officials in their various districts, typically are appointed to four-year terms by the president on the recommendation of state political leaders, but can be dismissed at any time -- like the attorney general and other Cabinet officers.
- Miers discussed the prospective firings with Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's chief aide, but Sampson objected, saying that such a wholesale firing would be disruptive. Perino adds that Rove "vaguely recalls" agreeing with Sampson's judgment. Sampson resigned today after acknowledging that he did not tell other Justice officials who testified to Congress about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information in their testimony. Perino says the Justice Department was working internally on a short list of firings, and submitted that list to the White House in late 2006. "At no time were names added or subtracted by the White House," she says. "We continue to believe that the decision to remove and replace US attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the president was perfectly appropriate and within administration's discretion. We stand by the Department of Justice's assertion that they were removed for performance and managerial reasons." Those reasons have been disproven, and many in Congress and elsewhere now feel that the eight were fired for political reasons.
- "The president recalls hearing complaints about election fraud not being vigorously prosecuted and believes he may have informally mentioned it to the attorney general during a brief discussion on other Department of Justice matters," Perino says, adding that the conversation would have taken place in October 2006. "At no time did any White House officials, including the president, direct the Department of Justice to take specific action against any individual US attorney," she says.
- On December 4, 2006, three days before the dismissals, Sampson sent an e-mail message to the White House with a copy to Miers outlining plans to carry out the firings. "We would like to execute this on Thursday, Dec. 7," Sampson wrote. Because some United States attorneys were still in Washington attending a conference, he planned to postpone telling them they were being fired. He wrote, "We want to wait until they are back home and dispersed to reduce chatter." He continued, "Prepare to Withstand Political Upheaval. US Attorneys desiring to save their jobs aided by their allies in the political arena as well as the Justice Department community, likely will make efforts to preserve themselves in office. You should expect these efforts to be strenuous."
- The e-mails show that Rove was interested in the appointment of a former aide, Tim Griffin, as an Arkansas prosecutor. Sampson wrote in one that "getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc." Sampson sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 US attorneys. Strong performers "exhibited loyalty" to the administration; low performers were "weak US attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc." At least a dozen prosecutors were on a "target list" to be fired at one time or another, the e-mails show. Three of the eight fired prosecutors had low rankings: California's Carol Lam, Arkansas's Bud Cummins, and Michigan's Margaret Chiara. Two of the fired attorneys were given strong evaluations: New Mexico's David Iglesias and California's Kevin Ryan, whose firing is the only one not to generate any controversy because of widespread management and morale problems in his office. In January 2006, Sampson sent to the White House the first list of seven candidates for dismissal, including four who were fired at year's end: Chiara, Cummins, Lam and Ryan. The list also recommended Griffin and other replacements. In September, Sampson produced another list of firing candidates, telling the White House that Cummins was "in the process of being pushed out" and providing the names of eight others whom "we should consider pushing out." Five on that list were fired in December. Iglesias was not on that list. Justice officials say Sampson added him in October, based in part on complaints from Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans that he was not prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases.
- Sampson also strongly urged bypassing Congress in naming replacements, using the now-infamous provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows the attorney general to name interim replacements without Senate confirmation. "I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed," Sampson wrote in a September 17 memo to Miers. "It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don't have replacements ready to roll immediately. I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments." By avoiding Senate confirmation, Sampson continued, "we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House." Miers replied, "Kyle thanks for this. I have not forgotten I need to follow up on the info. But things have been crazy." Interestingly, Sampson added that he had "one follow up item I would want to do over the phone."
- On the day of the December 7 firings, Miers's deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici's chief of staff "is happy as a clam" about Iglesias. A week later, Sampson wrote: "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias's body to cool)."
- In the case of Cummins and Griffin, the e-mails show that Justice officials discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment, as early as last August. By mid-December, Sampson was suggesting that Gonzales exercise his newfound appointment authority to put Griffin in place until the end of Bush's term. "[I]f we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?" Sampson wrote to a White House aide.
- House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers says he will seek to interview Miers and deputy counsel William Kelly for insight on their roles, if any, in the firings. Conyers also has Rove in his sights, especially after recent press revelations that New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh urged Rove to fire David Iglesias, then the state's US attorney. Conyers says stories about Rove's link to Iglesias' dismissal "raise even more alarm bells for us. As a result, we would want to ensure that Karl Rove was one of the White House staff that we interview in connection with our investigation." Senator Charles Schumer, who is leading his chamber's probe into the firings, says he also wants to question Rove. Schumer calls the attorney purge "almost unheard of," especially in light of seven of the eight having received glowing performance reviews before their firings. "The more we learn, the more it seems that people at high levels in the White House have been involved in the US attorney purge," he says.
- Sampson is another potential witness for Democrats in Congress. Sampson is one of many young, inexperienced administration aides whose ideological correctness fast-tracked them to levels of position and power in the White House. Sampson, formerly a low-level Senate Judiciary Committee aide for then-Republican leaders, has no experience as a federal prosecutor, but after he was promoted to the Justice Department, he played a considerable role in vetting who served in the department. Last year he used his post as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to make a bid for a job as a United States attorney in Utah.
- Sampson arrived in Washington in 1999, when he was 30, with an impeccable ideological resume. Sampson, a Utah native and a Mormon, graduated from Brigham Young University and attended the conservative University of Chicago law school. Sampson began working for Bush as a member of Bush's 2000 transition team, helping screen nominees for judiciary or Justice Department jobs. Sampson had learned about the nomination process from 1999 to 2001, when he worked for Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, while Hatch was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Once Bush was inaugurated, Sampson joined the White House staff, helping interview many of the candidates who were applying for jobs as US attorneys. In 2002 Mr. Sampson told the Brigham Young University news service that he admired Bush because the president recognized that politics and religious beliefs could not be separated. "He really means it when he says he believes that we shouldn't chase religion from the public square," Sampson said. He also helped fellow Mormons and friends win jobs in the administration, according to Sampson's friend Taylor Oldroyd, who himself landed a job at the Agriculture Department in part through Sampson's efforts.
- By 2003, Sampson had moved to the Justice Department, where he became an adviser to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. When Gonzales replaced Ashcroft, Sampson became one of his senior aides, rising in late 2005 to chief of staff. Sampson's legal skills are limited, but he is known, according to Oldroyd, for his loyalty and his long working hours. Sampson became the "gatekeeper" to Gonzales, as well as his traveling companion, which resulted in his speaking with United States attorneys from around the nation.
- Sampson recently decided that, though he had virtually no experience, he wanted to be the US attorney for Utah. Paul Warner, then the US attorney in Utah, says Sampson brought it up at a lunch the two had in Washington. "Washington is full of young ambitious lawyers," Warer says, who stepped down as United States attorney in early 2006 and is now a federal magistrate judge. "Kyle was honest enough, up front enough, to come to me and say, You have the job that I want." White House and Justice officials backed Sampson in his bid to replace Warner, making that clear to the staff of Senator Hatch. But Hatch wanted Bush to nominate Brett Tolman, a one-time Utah federal prosecutor who had spent the previous three years working on antiterrorism issues for the Judiciary Committee staff. This put Sampson in an unusual position. As Gonzales's chief of staff, he was fielding calls and letters from Hatch's office, even though he was vying for the job that Hatch was writing about. That made at least some Senate officials uncomfortable. "It was a little like the fox watching the hen house," says one former Senate staff member. Hatch finally made a personal appeal to Gonzales to drop his bid to nominate Sampson. After a four-month delay, Bush nominated Tolman for the job last June. (AP/Yahoo! News, New York Times, New York Times, Washington Post, TPM Muckraker [link to Sampson e-mail])
- March 12: House Democrat Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is renewing his demands that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answer some eleven inquiries he has made about the Iraq debacle over the last four years.
Previously, Waxman was the ranking minority member of his committee, and Rice, as was consistent with Bush policy, ignored six of his requests; the other five, all co-signed by the then-Republican leader of the committee, were given only general and unsastifying responses. Now Waxman has the committee chairmanship and can issue subpoenas if he feels the need.
- Most of Waxman's unresolved questions surround the fabricated claim in Bush's 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. Rice is on the record saying, "no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery." Such claims, along with many from Bush, have themselves proven to be fabricated. The CIA sent a memo directly to the White House Situation Room months in advance warning them that the information was bogus. Waxman repeatedly demanded answers and accountability but was repeatedly ignored. "As a result of your failure to respond, the Committee still does not know what you knew...and when you knew it," Waxman writes in his letter to Rice sent today. Waxman is also demanding that she finally answer his unresolved questions on such topics as the White House's treatment of classified information, the appointment of an official who was under investigation, and needle exchange programs to battle blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS. "Each of these letters was sent after careful thought and consideration, and they deserve a response," Waxman writes. "The long delay in responding makes it even more important that you provide the Committee a complete response to these legitimate and important inquiries."
- Click here to access Waxman's letter and previous inquiries. (Buzzflash)
- March 12: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has earned the ire of at least one House Republican.
US Attorney firings
Thomas Davis, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, charges Gonzales and the Justice Department with stonewalling his inquiries about the FBI's assertion that it closed several leak investigations because of a lack of cooperation on the part of other government officials. In January, Davis asked the Justice Department about a media report that at least three leak inquiries were shut down after officials at the "victim agency" ignored phone calls and canceled meetings with FBI agents assigned to the probes. The agents said some requests for information were rebuffed for more than a year. Now Davis has sent a sharp letter to Gonzales regarding the failure of the DOJ to handle the inquiries into the aborted investigations.
- Davis writes, in part, "General Gonzales, it would be an understatement to say I am frustrated and disappointed by your department's response." Davis says he would have agreed to procedures for a classified briefing on the matter, but he was rebuffed by DOJ officials telling him that "the concern is not classification." Davis's letter also notes that the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, is conducting an internal review of the bureau's handling of leak cases.
- In a court filing in December, the FBI said 22 investigative files pertaining to leak probes were "missing" with no indication of who had removed them. Late last month, the FBI told the court that 19 of the files have been physically located and that the bureau can account for the three others.
- Democratic senator Charles Schumer is among those lawmakers who think it is time for Gonzales to go. "Attorney General Gonzales is a nice man, but he either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution, even when the president should not want it to be so," Schumer said on CBS's Face the Nation. "This department has been so political that I think, for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down." Republican senator Arlen Specter said on the same broadcast that while it is a matter for the White House and Gonzales to decide whether Gonzales should resign, "I do think there have been lots of problems." Specter says that Congress is likely to rein in the FBI's subpoena power. "It has been very badly abused," he says. On CNN, Democratic senator Joseph Biden said that America would be "better off" if Gonzales quit. He "has lost the confidence of the vast majority of Americans." So far Bush is resisting calls to dismiss Gonzales. Instead, says White House spokesman Alexander Conant, "The attorney general has shown leadership by demanding a new and higher level of accountability of the FBI's use of national security letters in terrorism investigations." (New York Sun)
- March 12: Halliburton, the huge oil services conglomerate once run by Dick Cheney, announces that it is moving its head office from Houston to the wild-and-woolly oil emirate of Dubai.
Dave Lesar, Halliburton's chairman and chief executive, says his decision to relocate reflected the faster growth in oil exploration and production in the eastern hemisphere. "This is a strong market for Halliburton and we are excited to position the company in this key business area," says Lesar. Halliburton, whose Middle East operations have been in Dubai for 15 years, is also considering a share listing in the region. It is just as likely that Halliburton is moving to Dubai to escape US tax burdens and Congressional oversight; currently Congress is investigating whether Halliburton stole billions of taxpayer dollars in Iraq. The move is likely to be seen as a blow to the US oil and gas industry, in which the company has played a prominent role since it was founded in 1919.
- But there seems to be other reasons underlying Halliburton's move to Dubai. Halliburton has a long track record of trading with Middle Eastern countries that the US regards, or regarded at one time, as terrorist supporters and "evil" nations, including Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and Libya. Much of that trading has gone unchecked because Halliburton conducted business through unregulated sheikdoms and emirates like Dubai and the UAE. Halliburton provided materials essential to the construction of nuclear weapons to Iran under Cheney's auspices, Daily Kos blogger "theyrereal," who has compiled large amounts of information about Halliburton's under-the-radar trading with Iran and other countries, writes, "The big question here: Who is really the enemy of the U.S.? And to whom is Bush and Cheney and their conspirators more loyal? The United States, or their UAE friends? With Halliburton/USA threatening to go to war against one of its best customers, Iran, one has to wonder what kind of real arm-twisting is going on behind the scenes." (Financial Times/MSNBC, Daily Kos [multiple sources])
- March 12: The National Association of Evangelicals is endorsing an anti-torture statement saying the United States has crossed "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible" in its treatment of detainees and war prisoners in the fight against terror.
US torture allegations
Human rights violations committed in the name of preventing terrorist attacks have made the country look hypocritical to the Muslim world, the document states. Christians have an obligation rooted in Scripture to help Americans "regain our moral clarity." The document, entitled "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture," was drafted by 17 evangelical scholars, writers, and activists calling themselves Evangelicals for Human Rights. The document says, "Our military and intelligence forces have worked diligently to prevent further [terrorist] attacks. But such efforts must not include measures that violate our own core values. The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9-11."
- Aside from the moral shift in the public stance by the NAE, the shift is potentially devastating for the Bush administration and its Republican supporters, who until now have counted evangelical Christians as one of their strongest, and most unquestioning, groups of supporters. Some of the document's authors have already drawn fire from other evangelicals for their stance against torture and some of their other statements, including their advocacy that evangelicals move beyond the issues of abortion and gay marriage. One, the Reverend Rich Cizik, who serves as the NAE's Washington policy director, has been publicly criticized by Focus on the Family leader James Dobson for his environmental activism.
- Cizik says the statement is not intended as a criticism of the Bush administration. He says the motivation was to send a message to the rest of the country and the world that evangelicals and other US citizens do not support torture. "There is a perception out there in the Middle East that we're willing to accept any action in order to fight this war against terrorism," he says. "We are the conservatives -- let there be no mistake on that -- who wholeheartedly support the war against terror, but that does not mean by any means necessary."
- The document says government and outside researchers have documented "acts of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," against US detainees, "especially in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, in Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, in CIA black sites and at the hands of other nations." The document praises the Army for releasing a revised field manual that bans beating, sexually humiliating and threatening prisoners, among other interrogation procedures. However, the writers the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a Defense Department system for prosecuting terror suspects. The evangelicals condemn provisions of that act that allow indefinite detention for some suspects and does not always hold intelligence officials to the same standards as the military.
- The document quotes a wide range of sources, including the Bible, Pope John Paul II, Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The government has a moral obligation to follow international human rights treaties that the US has endorsed, it states: "As American Christians, we are above all motivated by a desire that our nation's actions would be consistent with foundational Christian moral norms. We believe that a scrupulous commitment to human rights, among which is the right not to be tortured, is one of these Christian moral convictions."
- The NAE says it represents 45,000 evangelical churches. However, it does not include some of the best-known conservative Christian bodies, including the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family. (AP/Salon)
- March 12: Dick Cheney says that Congressional Democrats' efforts to bring the Iraqi war to a close do nothing except undermine the troops and "embolden" Islamic terrorists.
Iraq war and occupation
"When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out," Cheney tells the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that's been called 'slow bleed,' they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responds that Cheney's remarks prove "the administration's answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid adds that America is less safe today because of the war. Bush "must change course, and it's time for the Senate to demand he do it," he says. Both Pelosi and Reid are crafting legislation that will continue to fund the troops in Iraq, but will set a deadline for those troops to begin withdrawing. Meanwhile, Cheney says he wants Congress to begin discussing how to win in Iraq. As is his wont, he predicts "disaster" and "chaos" in the Middle East, with either al-Qaeda or Iran emerging dominant from a bloody sectarian battle and compromising regional security, if US troops withdrew from Iraq.
- Former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland responds tartly to Dick Cheney's veiled accusations that Democrats who want a timetable for ending the Iraq occupation are traitors. Cleland, on CNN, asks Cheney, "Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war. You can't keep troops on the ground forever. You gotta have a mission. You gotta have a purpose. You can't keep sending 'em back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is al-Qaeda, it's al-Qaeda, stupid, it's not in Iraq." (AP/USA Today, Crooks and Liars [link to video])
- March 12: Online media watchdog organization Media Matters issues a huge analysis of the political predilections of the Sunday morning political talk shows, and unsurprisingly, proves that the shows still exhibit a strong slant towards a preference for conservative guests and viewpoints.
Conservative media slant
The title of the report: "If It's Sunday, It's Still Conservative." The analysis examines two years of broadcasts by NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, and Fox's Fox News Sunday. The analysis takes a specific focus on coverage after the November 2006 elections, when Democrats won both houses of Congress and voters clearly showed their dislike and lack of support for Bush's Iraq policies.
- Media Matters opens: "On the Sunday after the midterm elections, in which Democrats took control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years, viewers tuned in to NBC's Meet the Press to hear what the Democratic win meant for the country -- only to discover that host Tim Russert did not have any Democrats on at all. Instead, Russert's guests were Republican Sen. John McCain (AZ) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (CT), who ran in the general election as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary. And after an election in which the public's opposition to the Iraq war was a central issue, Meet the Press hosted two guests who support the war." Unfortunately, that single example is all too emblematic of the conservative bent of Sunday political discussion. The report itself is large, and I will not distill it here, but these are some of the findings of the report, as provided in the Executive Summary:
Media Matters observes, "Now that Congress has switched hands, one would reasonably expect Democrats and progressives to be represented at least as often as Republicans and conservatives on the Sunday shows. Yet our findings for the months since the midterm elections show that the networks have barely changed their practices. Only one show -- ABC's This Week -- has shown significant improvement, having as many Democrats and progressives as Republicans and conservatives on since the election. On the other three programs, Republicans and conservatives continue to get more airtime and exposure."
- Despite previous network claims that a conservative advantage existed on the Sunday shows simply because Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, only one show, ABC's This Week, has been roughly balanced between both sides overall since the congressional majority switched hands in the 2006 midterm elections.
- Since the 2006 midterm elections, NBC's Meet the Press and CBS' Face the Nation have provided less balance between Republican and Democratic officials than Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday despite the fact that Fox News Sunday remains the most unbalanced broadcast overall both before and after the election.
- During the 109th Congress (2005 and 2006), Republicans and conservatives held the advantage on every show, in every category measured. All four shows interviewed more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives overall, interviewed more Republican elected and administration officials than Democratic officials, hosted more conservative journalists than progressive journalists, held more panels that tilted right than tilted left, and gave more solo interviews to Republicans and conservatives.
- You can read the report for yourself at the link accompanying this item. (Media Matters)