Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sampson Agonistes*

Reminiscent of John Dean refusing to be thrown under Nixon's freight train of lies, former DOJ chief of staff Kyle Sampson (shown at left) testified to Congress today that his boss, Attorney General Abu Gone-zales, was “not accurate” in his own statement to Congress two weeks ago.

"I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate. I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."

Sampson will not be the fall guy. He stated in no uncertain terms that Gone-zales fibbed when he claimed ignorance of the firings of US attorneys. If Gone-zales is being truthful, then he is irrelevant to the Justice Department. If Sampson is being truthful, then Gone-zales is lying. Either way, Gone-zales is, well, gone.

In a further moment of unprecedented candor, Sampson gave some insight into the Executive Branch's view of the independence of the activities of US attorneys:

Thus, the distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial. A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district important to effective leadership of the office, is unsuccessful."

Maybe I'm naïve, but my sensibilities dictate that federal prosecutors remain above the petty political peccadilloes and they should be more concerned with enforcement of laws than appealing to some George Costanza look-a-like in Washington.

Related items:

Sharon Eubanks (at right), a 22-year veteran attorney of the Justice Department, claims that the Bush White House interfered with her prosecution of a tobacco case. She said, "The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public."

She charges the political operatives with writing her closing arguments for the prosecution and demanding that she ask for a lesser settlement after she had won a landmark case against tobacco profiteers.

A 35-year veteran attorney in the civil rights division of the Justice Department, Joseph Rich has written an op-ed stating that the Bush administration has attempted to influence elections by subverting the independence of the Justice Department.

He says, “Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.”

Rich goes on to enumerate specific examples of Bush politicos targeting prosecutors who did not adequately play ball with the administration's partisan agenda. Bush's cronies used the Department of Justice as a barracks for their patronage army, rewarding poorly qualified lackeys with plum jobs and strong-arming or firing reputable veterans.

While one could discount these items as isolated cases of disgruntled government employees simply piling on to a White House in turmoil, the more likely scenario is that of a pattern of unchecked power being spewed by an Executive Branch drunk with hubris.

We need more subpoenas, and quickly.

*with apologies to Milton

Monday, March 26, 2007

Friday News Dump-- Pat Tillman Edition

Since this is a late entry, I'll make it brief. Late last Friday the Pentagon, under cover of the night, released the official report on the cover-up of the friendly fire killing of Corporal Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

As we all may remember, Tillman gave up a lucrative NFL career to volunteer for the Special Forces after September 11, 2001. He turned down cushy recruiting duties that the military offered him in order to out himself in harm's way for his country. Tillman trained and deployed and was subsequently killed in action accidentally by his own comrades.

Cpl. Tillman's family was paid back with a series of orchestrated lies by senior Pentagon brass. The cause of death was purposefully obfuscated until after a televised memorial service for Tillman two weeks after his death. Upon learning of the cover-up, his irate mother noted that such abhorrent behavior was done for “patriotic” reasons.

The most recent report notes that three investigations into the friendly fire incident were mishandled and up to half a dozen Army Generals, including John Abizaid, lied about the incident. The truth was known about Tillman's killing within 24 hours of the unfortunate incident, but the Generals made a concerted effort to dissemble and mislead.

Tillman's father said:

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. [T]hey realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."

Tillman's mother said:

"It makes you feel like you're losing your mind in a way. You imagine things. When you don't know the truth, certain details can be blown out of proportion. The truth may be painful, but it's the truth. You start to contrive all these scenarios that could have taken place because they just kept lying. If you feel you're being lied to, you can never put it to rest."

Mistakes happen, especially in war; most people understand that. Family members deserve the respect and humanity to be given the truth about such things at the time of their discovery. Conveniently, the Pentagon found “no criminal negligence” in neither the incident nor the several cover-ups which followed.

I'll throw one more thought out there: George W. Bush, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is famous for watching SportsCenter every night, and the coverage of Pat Tillman's death on that show was ceaseless for months after his death. At some point Bush must have thought for one second, “I wonder how that guy died.” Controversy surrounding Tillman's death was almost immediate because he was a football hero and celebrity. Bush must have had access to reports and the Generals involved. Bush had said that “Pat Tillman was an inspiration both on and off the football field.”.

Did Bush never ask how Tillman died? If this is how we treat a celebrity, heaven help the poor working class folks. Atrocious.

UPDATE 3-27-07:

The Tillman family has issued a statement regarding the Pentagon report and is calling for Congressional hearings.

"The briefing we just received was shamefully unacceptable," the family said in a statement issued from their home in San Jose, where Pat Tillman grew up. "Our family is therefore compelled to continue our (pursuit of) the full truth about the circumstances of Pat Tillman's death and the so-called 'missteps' and 'deficiencies' of Pat's unit, the Army, the Department of Defense, and this administration."

I'm sure that will provide terrific publicity for future military recruitment.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Friday News Dump-- Gone-zales Edition

First in this week's series of the Friday News Dump is the convenient late-night release of records that puts future former Attorney General Abu Gonzales in a meeting that decided the fate of the fired US attorneys. Unfortunately this puts a lie to the previous claim that the AG, AG, was not part of the process.

On March 13th, the Goner had said: “But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.” He went on to whine that there are “110,000 employees” of the Justice Department and he cannot know all the decisions being made, as if he was out of the loop in the firing of the eight US attorneys. Firing US attorneys has the same priority, I suppose, as terminating a DOJ cleaning lady or any of the other “110,000 employees” for sloppy dusting or serving spoiled lunchmeat.

Laughable at the time he said it, now shown to be an outright lie. The recent document dump plainly puts AG at a meeting of Justice Dep't principals as they hashed out the plan to fire the US attorneys for political reasons, and even discussed the rationales conjured for canning them. And they wonder why the Congressional Judiciary Chairmen are insisting on testimony under oath.

The documents surfaced just hours after [Gonzales' “resigned” Chief of Staff D. Kyle] Sampson (pictured at right), through his lawyer, reached an agreement to testify about the firings before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. He resigned from the department last week.

If these US attorneys all serve at the “pleasure of the president” (I'll leave any further imagery of that statement to the Rude Pundit), then why manufacture all this bullshit? Just fire 'em and move on. Remember the noise over Clinton firing a bunch of clerks in the Travel Office? In the end this recent flap is an internal Republican affair since the attorneys themselves, all Bush appointees, are the ones claiming injustice at their firings. By the way, when the movie of this episode is made, Jason Alexander--i.e., George Costanza from Seinfeld-- will of course be cast as Sampson.

The US attorneys' claims are critical because, if true, they put an unhealthy political (nay, criminal) spin to the conduct of the Justice Department. The president is not allowed to selectively terminate attorneys who refuse to attack his cronies' political opponents or attorneys who refuse to participate in other partisan shenanigans. The president gets to appoint them, but we all pay their salaries and they are charged with defending our Constitution.

Rover, Darth Cheney and Dumbya plotting to let this out on Friday night is further evidence of the disdain they have for the public's attention span. By Monday morning this will all be forgotten.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

War Over Subpoenas

A while ago this column noted that the new transfer of power in Congress was all about subpoenas, and 75 days into the new Congress this is now coming true. Instead of coming clean about the US attorney firing flap, the Bush White House has engaged in a obvious cover-up and now has claimed “executive privilege” instead of testifying to the American people, i.e., Congress. On the 34th anniversary of John Dean's famous quote about the Nixon White House having a stain, the Bush White House is showing its own stain.

The rule of law in this country dictates that the truth will come out eventually and President Bush is the decider on whether his cronies do this voluntarily or not. Subpoenas and testimony under oath are the tools we use to achieve justice in this great nation, and this particular issue begs for such justice.

The White House has vowed to be forthcoming with all information, yet the emails they recently furnished have a three-week gap from November to December 2006. Does anyone remember Rosemary Wood? Tony Snow, the White House spokesmodel, has said that the President will fight subpoenas, but does not cite any valid precedent. In fact, 31 of President Clinton's aides testified under oath in response to Congressional subpoenas issued by the Republican Congress, and for issues a lot less germane than a president fiddling with the Justice Department.

In case you missed the Watergate drama, stayed tuned and heat up the popcorn, because this has all the makings of a re-run. Maybe after this one, you'll understand why we should have learned these lessons 35 years ago.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Free Fall

Depressing. Look, nobody had been more vehemently against the election of George W. Bush as President. I knew he was trouble and I still cannot fathom how he could have fooled so many people through two elections. But even I did not see this coming, the rank incompetence, the utter disregard for law or ethics, the damage that will take decades to repair if it can even be fixed. My duty as citizen is being tested to even watch this train wreck anymore. Even Bush doesn't seem to give a damn. Here's the run down:

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted on 4 of 5 counts including obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI and 2 counts of perjury. One juror remarked that the jury wondered why Libby was on trial and not other higher ranking officials, such as Rove and Cheney. This is really a story about the Iraq war and the cherry picked intelligence to justify the war. Libby was the salesman and fall guy. If the war had been a success, US Attorney Fitzgerald, a Republican appointee, most likely would still have pursued this suit because it was not politically motivated and was based on legal facts.

Will Bush pardon Libby? You bet he will. If Poppy Bush could pardon the Iran-Contra criminal Cap Weinberger to protect his own ass, you know Dubya will do the same. Besides, as the Rude Pundit has said, prison would be unduly hard for a man named “Scooter.”

The next story entails the war that was falsely justified by Libby's boss. Nine more soldiers were killed yesterday in explosions. Bombings also killed over 140 civilians attending a Shi'ite pilgrimage. Ho-hum, just another day in our quaint little Occupied Territory. Bush's “surge” is in force-- and fully funded-- yet the security of Baghdad seems unchanged, and we are in the 2nd month of the most recent 6 month Friedman Unit that Bush has given himself. Is it working? Huh, who would have guessed?

The third story is about eight US Attorneys who were fired around the elections in 2006 for apparent political reasons. David Iglesias, the US attorney for the district of New Mexico, and Bush appointee, claims that various Republican congressmen had pressured him about pending indictments against Democrats, and when they these indictments were not filed before the November elections, Iglesias was fired. While it may be difficult to prove a cause and effect relationship in these cases, and the Iglesias case is a classic he said- he said without corroborating circumstantial evidence, the allegations are pretty damning. The fact that these eight attorneys were Bush appointees as well as the timing of the firings adds to the credibility of charges. To fire that many US attorneys is unprecedented in the middle of a presidential term.

Finally, we have Walter Reed and the Veterans' Administration Hospitals being investigated for substandard conditions and an unwieldy bureaucracy. The story is emblematic of the Bush administration's lack of preparation for anything related to the Iraq war. Over 30,000 wounded have been removed from the battlefields of Iraq; where did the president think these men and women would go?

Military hospitals and the VA operate under the venue of the Executive Branch and therefore the president bears responsibility. Bush has ordered yet another bipartisan commission to quantify his mistakes, but judging from how he has completely ignored the recommendations from the 9-11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group, I don't see the value. The Senate has been having hearings on the Walter Reed situation, and while they may be criticized for political grandstanding, what should they do, just ignore it like the president has?

As a consequence of these these issues, Bush's approval rating sits at 30%, his all time low, and he has been below 40% longer than any other president in history. Bush is not a victim of partisan sniping and gotchas, rather he has failed at substantive duties of the President due to his own incompetence and laziness. His presidency is in free fall. My question is, who are these 30%?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

An Object Lesson from a Wingnut

"There is no teacher but the enemy."-- Gen. Mazer Rackham, Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Victor David Hanson is not my enemy, but he is a tool, and like all tools he has some utility. For the uninitiated, Hanson is the Last Bush Apologist and he writes drivel for the National Review. Today, Hanson has lived out his purpose in showing us that the US' mission in Iraq is indeed lost.

I'll accept the criticism that picking on Victor David Hanson (at left) is too easy, a fool's game. It's true that his columns are usually the most senseless compilations of worn out platitudes and irrational tautologies, but his recent piece represents a wonderful summary of everything wrong with Bush's war and he finishes with a clue to the question of whether Iraq can be saved.

According to Hanson's most recent piece, the reasons that Bush's war has become a disaster have, of course, nothing to do with the miscalculation and ineptness of the Commander-in-Chief, but rather, everything to do with everyone else in the world: NATO, Congress, “Sunni-border nations”, the “European Left” and CNN. Poor George, he didn't get to make war in a vacuum, presumably like FDR and Woodrow Wilson had the luxury of doing during the last century's great wars. Because we all know there was no dissension among the ranks at those times.

Some of us who have opposed the war in Iraq since it's inception have done so not because of a blanket condemnation for force, but rather we oppose the war because of the poor rationalization for the war, the inept diplomacy surrounding the war and the incompetence in the conduct of the war. Hanson forgets that Bush had near-record approval ratings after 9-11 with the vast majority inexplicably never questioning how the administration, the branch of government in charge of protecting our borders from attack, could miss all the warnings during the summer of 2001. Bush was given a free pass and allowed to make war or peace at his discretion. How this may have deterred Bush in the handling of his foreign policy is a mystery to me.

Hanson continues that Bush was held to higher standard in Iraq due to “easy victories” in Grenada, Panama, Serbia, the Gulf War, etc., and Bush was hamstrung because of all the military cuts made during the 1990's. The confused unwashed masses, ie, the 70% of Americans who now oppose the Iraq war, are too unsophisticated to understand that war means casualties and nothing of value is gotten easily. Our Dear Leader is presumably the only one adult enough to have this great wisdom.

Predictably, my view is completely different. Bush got a blank check after 9-11 with an overwhelming mandate to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and half the Senate Democrats joining to pass the Iraq UN Force Resolution. If anybody downplayed the difficulties in Iraq, I would point to Cheney's assurances of the US being “greeted as liberators”, Wolfowitz calculating that Iraqi revenues would “pay for rebuilding” and Rumsfeld predicting that the war “might last 6 days or 6 weeks, but certainly not 6 months.”

Hanson bemoans the “Orwellian” outcome that in order to get “one person / one vote” in Iraq, we have to allow “Sadr and his epigones” the freedom to kill us. Never mind that Bush's administration decided to disband the Iraqi Army, under-man our occupying force, allow chaos to reign for years after the invasion and leave a power vacuum which naturally has been filled with profligate demagogues such as Sadr, Zarqawi and others. Of course, any other imperial supervisor from Tiberius to Churchill could have predicted the current Mad Max scenario that has resulted.

Hanson and I disagree with how we got to the current situation in Iraq, but we have some agreement on how the future could turn out differently. Although it's a long shot, some semblance of victory could be achieved in Iraq, and Hanson and I agree that the only avenue at this point is through military victory. I would argue that only military solutions remain because Bush has squandered all the other options. We have no real allies left in Iraq to rely on diplomatic assistance. The regional powers have lost confidence in the US' ability to build anything but a failed state. If you were a Saudi prince, would you sign on to the US' caravan at this point? The political factions in Iraq have gained such a foothold that the people of Iraq live in fear rather than hope. The economy of Iraq continues to falter with joblessness and vast emigration of the educated middle class. I see these miseries as leaving only the US military to bail out Iraq.

Hanson seems to agree that the US military is the trump in this game:

Not arguments, rhetoric, pleading, or money right now can save the democracy in Iraq. The U.S. military alone, in the very little remaining time of this spring and summer, can give Iraqis the necessary window of security and confidence to govern and protect themselves, and thereby to allow the donors, peacekeepers, compromises, and conferences to follow.

Unfortunately, I have to agree. If Iraq is to be saved, and that's a huge "if', the US military is all that remains between some type of order and a failed state. Hanson fails to ask, if Bush agrees with this premise, then why is he asking for a mere 21,500 soldiers? If Iraq is the “central front on terror”, then why hasn't the administration fought the war with more conviction? If the West's “way of life” is truly “in jeopardy”, then why hasn't the President been able to convince the European “non-Left” of the importance of the war?

Republican Senator Gordon Smith said he recently spoke with Gen. David Petraeus, the new top military commander in Iraq, who told him the troop surge, as outlined by Bush, has only a one in four chance of succeeding.

I don't have answers for these questions, and obviously neither does Hanson. His final sentence makes it clear to me that the war has indeed been lost. Hanson as the Last Apologist for Bush goes over the edge of reason and engages in science fiction thinking when he finishes his missive with the quaint plea:

If General Petraeus can bring a quiet to Baghdad, then all the contradictions, mistakes, cheap rhetoric, and politicking of the bleak past will mean nothing in a brighter future.”

Ah, yes, the Indispensible Man Theory of warfare, much like Orson Scott Card's Ender Wiggin, who saved humankind from the Bugger invasion, Gen. Petraeus is the last best hope to save Iraq from itself. IF the good general can “bring quiet to Baghdad”, much like bringing virginity to Anna Nicole; IF only he can do that, THEN all will be good with the world. If only... then, then, then... then "I'll be proven right and all those librul dunderheads will be proven wrong.”

Just as Harry Potter has special wizard powers, Gen Petraeus is somehow uniquely qualified to grasp victory from the jaws of certain defeat. With Hanson invoking the Indispensible Man theory, I'll mark March 2, 2007 as the day we officially lost the Iraq war.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fred Upton Wakes Up

Good morning, Fred. How are you? Would like some coffee with your bagel shmear? Well, well, you had a nice long sleep. I hope you're rested up....because you have a lot of work to do, sir.

After rubber-stamping the Republican Party's War-A-Palooza over the last several years, my Representative in the House, Fred Upton (R-MI), recently broke ranks with his party and joined Democrats and only17 of 246 Republicans to disapprove of President Bush's decision to send more troops into the Iraq War. Upton decided to do the right thing and join the Democratic leadership to oppose President Bush's “surge.”

In his floor speech, Mr. Upton said that “... [Bush's] surge strategy will fail and only prolong the day that the Iraqis will finally pick up the baton and lead their own government. He continues:

Let's face it, this is a civil war, it is real anarchy. And, in fact, the Iraqis don't want us there. Nearly 80 percent of them in Baghdad say that American troops provoke more violence than they prevent. And those same polls show that Iraqis overwhelmingly want U.S. troops gone within a year. In fact, we know that a majority of both sides, Shia and Sunni, believe that it's okay to kill our troops.

Kudos to Mr. Upton for his (albeit delayed) insight.

I'll take Upton's change of heart at face value, although it reeks of political opportunism to back the president without expressing any serious reservation these last few years, then when the war and his party's Congressional majority is lost, he gets a “Hallaleuah” moment of epiphany.

But, Mr Upton, your work is hardly done. The Cheney administration is made up of recalcitrant warmongers who care little about the authority or advice from the Congress. You have been a large part of the disaster in Iraq merely by your blind acquiescence to your Party's policies. Now, you must summon all your creative powers to bring our soldiers home, and that entails much more than signing on to a non-binding resolution that stinks of political cover.

We'll be watching.