2006/01/29

Article on NSA spying case

The article from the Times makes very few assertions concerning the Administration's case for allowing the NSA to spy on American citizens. One of those assertionns is that the AUMF, the Authorization to Use Military Force (passed after the September 11 attacks), authorizes the Administration's actions. The study done by the Congressional Research Service (Page 33) and released on January 5th has already “done the smackdown” on this assertion.


In general, I've always distrusted articles that purport to take an objective, even-handed view of anything. I've always found articles that took a clear, straightforward, partisan view to be more trustworthy. That way, I don't have to guess at motivations and agendas, I know that the author is trying his or her best to make a particular case. I feel towards these the way I feel about the downtown Philly vegetarian restaurant that serves courses that are made up to look like meat. The heck with that! Gimme the green beans! Give me something that looks like a vegetable, not something that tries to look like a meat.

(The restaurant makes a very good plate of green beans, btw. They sautee the beans with chopped garlic. Yum!)

2006/01/24

Detained Muslims return seeking justice

There are of course many things we do not, and may never, know about the policy of detaining Muslim men after 9-11 and which continued for far, far too long after that. The United States Justice Department needs to explain especially, why the detainees from New York City were kept imprisoned for such an extended period of time:


At a closed immigration hearing on Nov. 20 [2001], three weeks after their arrest, the brothers agreed to immediate deportation. By Dec. 7, the lawsuit says, F.B.I. memos stated that clearance checks on the Ibrahims had shown no links to terrorism. But they were held six more months - Hany until May 29, 2002, and Yasser until June 6.



After they were detained in the wake of 9-11, they have charged that:



Physical abuse, the lawsuit says, began the moment they arrived, chained and shackled. As Yasser described it, guards supervised by Lieutenant Pray slammed his brother face-first into a wall where an American flag T-shirt had been taped, then did the same to him.

Pain became part of the brothers' daily routine, the lawsuit charges. Escort teams cursing them as Muslims and terrorists slammed them into every available wall when they were taken from their cells, twisted their wrists and fingers, and stepped on their leg chains so that they fell, their ankles bruised and bloody, according to the suit.



None of this sounds as calculated or depraved as the tortures of Abu Ghraib and other locatons discovered later were and:



The Federal Bureau of Prisons has fired two detention officers, suspended two for 30 days and demoted one in connection with the Brooklyn inquiry, said Traci Billingsley, a bureau spokeswoman.



Which appears to justify the oft-stated faith of the returned former detainees that America is a land of justice and fair play. Nevertheless, the lawyer for the men sounds as though she has it right when she claims:



"The kind of torture, interrogation and arbitrary detention that we now associate with Guantánamo and secret C.I.A. facilities really started right here, in Brooklyn."



Back during the good old days, back when Americans could have pride in their country, justice for those who were accused of crimes was taken quite seriously:



Here is the story [of the Boston Masscre] as Paul Revere tells it. "Twenty-one days before, on the night of March 5,1770, five men had been shot to death in Boston by British soldiers participating in the event known as the Boston Massacre. A mob of men and boys taunted a sentry guard standing outside of the city's costume house.When other British soldiers came to the sentry's support, a free for all ensued and shots were fired into the crowd. Four died on the spot and a fifth died 4 days later. Capt. Preston and six of his men were arrested for murder, but later were acquitted through the efforts of attorneys Robert Auchmuty, John Adams, and Josiah Quincy who took their defense to ensure a fair trial. Later two other soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter." [emphasis added]



Sigh! Those were the days.

2006/01/22

Latest on Steven Hayes' claims

David was amazed that I could read a few paragraphs of the Weekly Standard story and conclude that the story was unreliable propaganda, so I've included the heart of my objection here. Can I prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the story is false? Not without someone that we on the left consider trustworthy examining the papers. Until then, we'll have to make do with indirect examinations.

  1. Cui bono? Latin for Who benefits? As the Bush Administration tried very hard to hint that Saddam Hussein was allied with al Qaeda before the Iraq War, then clearly, they do.
  2. What's the source of the information? Again, the Bush Administration. The story is structured in such a way that there is no one outside the Administration who can verify anything.
  3. Are there any odd features about the story, anything that's hard to explain rationally? Yes. My sister worked as a paralegal for about a decade. Dealing with large quantites of written material was one of the things they did. Standard procedure is that the paralegals takes first crack at it. They identify the important papers and passages within the papers. After everything is looked through, highlighted and catalogued, the big, important and expensive lawyers look at it and run through the important sections with a fine-tooth comb.
    As captured papers might have contained hints of where WMD were hidden, the Administration should have seen to it that the papers were surveyed and catalogued right away. America doesn't have a huge supply of people who can read Arabic, but the need was not for people with a detailed, fluent grasp of the language. The need was for folks who knew Arabic well enough to have gotten the gist of what each paper was about. In this way, 2 million documents could have and should have been processed within a couple of weeks or perhaps a few months. By the time the inspectors (I believe Iraq had about a thousand inspectors running about) concluded there were no nukes in Iraq, the captured papers should have been processed.

ThinkProgess' analysis of David's latest claim:

After pointing that Vice-President Cheney is a believer, they point out that

If the documents are so beneficial for the administration’s case for war, why haven’t they been released yet? This is where it gets fishy. The Defense Department says it won’t release the documents because, if it did, the documents would create bad press for the administration:

The main worry, says DiRita, is that the mainstream press might cherry-pick documents and mischaracterize their meaning. “There is always the concern that people would be chasing a lot of information good or bad, and when the Times or the Post splashes a headline about some sensational-sounding document that would seem to ‘prove’ that sanctions were working, or that Saddam was just a misunderstood patriot, or some other nonsense, we’d spend a lot of time chasing around after it.”

It seems more than likely that the documents aren’t beneficial and the only way they can get some good press out of them is to characterize them to a right-wing flak like Steven Hayes.

They then point out that Cheney and Hayes have both been engaged in passing on (as the British term it) "dodgy" information.

MediaMatters' take on the question:

MediaMatters notes the disputes over the source Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi and concludes al-Libi was passing on "spurious" claims. They then point out that:

Hayes has a conspicuous record of misinformation regarding Iraq War intelligence. His book, The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America (HarperCollins, 2004), purported to demonstrate numerous links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. But as Media Matters noted, the leaked Defense Department memo upon which much of Hayes's book is based has been discredited, and the Defense Department distanced itself from the memo in November 2003, describing its contents as "inaccurate." In two recent Weekly Standard articles, Hayes offered a litany of falsehoods and distortions regarding the alleged leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

In short, there is no reason for a non-Bush Administration supporter to take the latest claims from Hayes seriously.




2006/01/21

An ombudsman who doesn't appear to understand her job

Deborah Howell is the ombudsman for the Washington Post. The function of an ombudsman is to keep an eye on reporters, to correct them when they're wrong and to insist on remedies when things go awry. Reporters are human, they make mistakes, they get too close to their sources, they allow their human sympathies to overwhelm their professional judgment, they don't remain detached enough to do their jobs effectively. The ombudsman is supposed to be a counterweight to that tendency. An ombudsman is supposed to correct the inevitable problems that arise.


Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt has been christened "Steno" Sue Schmidt for her slavish devotion to her sources in the Bush Administration. She's known for writing what they tell her, whenever they tell her, using the exact phraseology they use.

In Schmidt's story, "The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff" the connection of Abramoff to the Republican Party is not clear until the 15th paragraph. Before then, she describes Abramoff as dealing with “politicians” and "lawmakers", making everything sound very bipartisan. Schmidt does mention Abramoff's close connections to Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, very important people to the Republican Party, but relatively obscure to the general public. Atrioscaught the passage on Abramoff and Tom DeLay (Former House Majority Leader and premiere Republican Party fundraiser) and reproduced another Schmidt passage:

"DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close, according to associates of both men."

Major problem though. Earlier, on October 18:

"Ney and Abramoff, whom DeLay once described as 'one of my closest and dearest friends,' crossed paths as early as 1996. That year Ney took a trip to Montenegro sponsored by a foundation that had links to Abramoff, who was a lobbyist for Montenegro."
Also:

Dan listed all the quality time Tom spent with Jack and asked:

Dan:...are you concerned?

Dick: There's no question that they are friends and Tom Delay's not the kind of person that's going to turn his back on a friend that's in trouble---Tom Delay is not going to abandon Jack Abramoff just because Abramoff has done some illegal things.

And from Michael Isikoff:
"For years, nobody on Washington's K Street corridor was closer to DeLay than Abramoff. They were an unlikely duo. DeLay, a conservative Christian, and Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, traveled the world together and golfed the finest courses. Abramoff raised hundreds of thousands for DeLay's political causes and hired DeLay's aides, or kicked them business, when they left his employ."


Were one to read Schmidt's article critically and without having heard anything about it beforehand, one would have a very difficult time believing in the legitimacy of telling the story in an "even-handed" manner, i.e. in a manner that showed Democrats and Republicans in an equally bad light. It's quite clear from the evidence presented that it does not in the slightest support the notion that Abramoff worked for or gave a single red cent to the Democrats. People have examined and reproduced the official record and sure enough, every single solitary contribution Abramoff gave throughout his entire life went to politicians with an "R" after their name. Democrats didn't get a dime.

Were your average responsible, diligent manager to come in as ombudsman and note that Schmidt had some problems keeping her story straight and some difficulty with over-applying the concept of balance, i.e., trying too hard to make the Democrats and Republicans look equally guilty, one would think that the ombudsman would issue a truly fair and accurate statement that clearly laid out the issue, wouldn't one? Well, one would be wrong.

Deborah Howell wrote on January 15th that:

"Abramoff was getting 10 to 20 times as much from Indian tribes as they had paid other lobbyists. And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties."

This is simply, purely, flat-out wrong. Howard Dean appeared with Wolf Blitzer and made the following comments on the case:

BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, should the Democrat who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either. There is no evidence...

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

[Author's note: Blitzer was clearly taken aback at this assertion and made a very audible "harrumph" sound.] BLITZER: Unfortunately Mr. Chairman, we got to leave it right there.

Comments poured in to the Washington Post blog The Post responded by getting all huffy and defensive and eventually, by deleting comments. The blog firedoglake wrote: "Li'l Debbie Can't Handle the Truth" and wondered why the Post was now claiming that reader comments were so awful, that deletions were called for.

Ms Howell tried to "clarify" her remarks later:

"I've heard from lots of angry readers about the remark in my column Sunday that lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both parties. A better way to have said it would be that Abramoff "directed" contributions to both parties."

Problem: There's no evidence that Abramoff 'directed' any contributions anywhere. The Indian tribes that gave money to Democratic politicians did so because they felt those particular Democrats would represent them on particular issues. If there's any proof to the contrary, if there's any evidence that Abramoff directed the Indians to give money to Democrats, that evidence has yet to be made public. The blog Wampum has been discussing the issue from the point of view of the Indians.

Lou Dobbs weighs in:

"For the record about a third of the money from Jack Abramoff and his clients did in fact go to Democrats and 2/3 to Republicans. That's the reality. Don't blog me! It's the fact. And poor Washington Post ombudsman not being able to deal with reality on their own blog."

Problem: Jack Abramoff and his clients should be considered two separate groups, not as one group lumped together. They don't have the same goals in giving cash to politicians. Abramoff gave to, and played a substantial role in, the Republican Party. The tribes gave to the politicians they thought would advance their own interests.

See MediaMatters for how to write to media companies concerning their commentators. Click on the desired media company, click on the first story concerning them and the corporation's contact information will be featured on the right side of the column.

2006/01/14

Weekly Standard story

Stephen Hayes claims in The Weekly Standard that Saddam Hussein trained “thousands of radical Islamic terrorists“and that:


Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000. Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis.


A word about military designations: If we were to say that there were not enough soldiers to hold the line and we had to employ sailors, everybody would understand what we meant as “soldier” and “sailor” are pretty much universal military terms. For a country to train “terrorists” would make sense as their use would presumably be to commit acts universally recognized as terrorism, i.e. blowing things up, assassinating people, taking hostages, etc. But when the use of that personnel changes, when one speaks of “some of these terrorists returned to Iraq”, one comes dangerously close to using “terrorist” as a legitimate military term, which it isn't.


The word “terrorist” has essentially meant the same thing as “bandit” did back around the time of World War I (i.e. the “bandit” Pancho Villa), it's a word universally understood to mean “bad guy”, “enemy”, “sneaky, underhanded villain”, etc., etc. What weapon or vehicles do such personnel use? (For instance, a cavalryman uses a horse, a sailor uses a ship, etc.) Well, Pancho Villa used a horse, the villains of the “Munich Massacre” in 1972 used regular infantry weapons, the villains of September 11th in the US used civilian airliners and the insurgents in Iraq use improvised roadside bombs. There's simply no such thing as someone having the military designation of “terrorist”. Once someone goes to Iraq and begins fighting American troops, he by definition becomes an “insurgent”.


As the number of Iraqi insurgents is now estimated to be 13,000 to 17,000, it doesn't seem terribly likely that the people allegedly trained before the Iraq War constitute all or even most of the opposition to the presence of US troops in Iraq, especially as only “some” returned.

The additional fact that the article doesn't identify a single person who can verify any of this is also very powerful evidence that the story is garbage.


The notion that it took until May 2005 to find any evidence of this and the further allegation that the Bush Administration decided to keep it a secret utterly beggars belief. The article itself points out that this information, if indeed it existed, would be of enormous propaganda value to the Bush Administration, as the statement “There was no connection between 9-11 and Iraq” is a favorite phrase used by the anti-war left.


We hear the excuse that our military exploitation group has 2 million documents in various media to examine. There are no Iraqis who can guide Americans through this vast pile? How long would it have taken a group of 50-100 Iraqis to have catalogued all of the items? I can't imagine it would have required more than a few months as 90% would most likely be worthless, i.e., home videos, supply requisitions, transfer paperwork, etc. And why are there no captured/turned insurgents who would know of this group of 8,000?

Sorry, but this story makes no sense at all. I nominate it as “fairy tale of the month”.



UPDATE: The allegation has been made that Jose Padilla had written out an al Qaeda application and that it constitutes some of the evidence being used against him. Al Qaeda is going to ask for paperwork? Huh? A covert, guerrilla/terrorist organization is going to collect paperwork in the first place? No one else has been caught by using any of the other applications? Padilla was the ONLY person who was caught by this method?

Sorry, not credible at ALL.

2006/01/04

And another point...

Just to emphasize a point that I touched on n my last post, Atrios repeats a point made by others:

Wanker of the Day

Jeff Goldstein, as a representative of the rest of the conservatarian blogosphere.

Not a single troll stepped up to the plate last night. So, consider this thread another opportunity to answer this:

Can anyone - anywhere - explain, just a little bit - just one time - how "national security has been damaged" by revelations that the Administration was eavesdropping without FISA-required warrants and judicial oversight rather than with them?
-Atrios 9:25 AM


Darn good question. Let's think about this. If I'm a bad guy who wants to cause harm to America and I've long known that the NSA has the capability to spy on me legally and intercept my electronic communications legally and I then learn that the NSA is doing so illegally, what the heck difference could that possibly make? How does that effect me one way or the other? Is any American going to tolerate my activities under any circumstances?

As I've mentioned to various friends and buddies, this looks a whole heck of a lot like another COINTELPRO operation, an operation that ran from 1956 to 1971 that had the FBI not only monitoring domestic disssident groups, but actively disrupting them. There were a lot of genuinely bad groups that the FBI investigate via COINTELPRO, but there were also a number of antiwar and black liberation groups as well. A modern-day operation would not only be aimed at real bad guys, but would also cast a wide enough net to reel in environmentalists, Quakers, gay and lesbian organizations, pro-choice groups, etc., etc.

2006/01/01

More on NSA spying program

First, let's hear Bush's explanation on the NSA spying program:

"It's seems logical to me that if we know there's a phone number associated with al-Qaida or an al-Qaida affiliate and they're making phone calls, it makes sense to find out why," Bush said. "They attacked us before, they'll attack us again."
--------------

Asked how he responds to Americans worried about violations of their privacy, he said, "If somebody from al-Qaida is calling you, we'd like to know why."

The president said that he is conscious of people's civil liberties.

"This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America and, I repeat, limited," he said. "I think most Americans understand the need to find out what the enemy's thinking."
------------

"The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers called from the outside of the United States of known al-Qaida or affiliated people," he said, adding that he believes that he is acting within the law.


Hmm. So let's get this straight. Gonzales and Card go to Attorney General Ashcroft's bedside after Ashcroft has had an operation because the acting Attorney general won't sign off on the spying program. Check out TBogg's summary of the acting Attorney General Jim Comeys career (Wherein he also relates that Michelle Malkin referred to Comey as "...an underling filling in for his boss..."). Despite Malkin's dismissive tone, Comey is clearly not a newbie. This is not a person fresh off the boat. Keep in mind that the Senate unanimously approved him to serve as Deputy Attorney General. If Comey had problems with the program, and he apparently had very serious problems with it, then I think there's a very serious discrepency between Bush's description of the program and the reality of it.

Another quote from the same interview is also noteworthy:

"The fact that somebody leaked this program causes great harm to the United States," he said. "There's an enemy out there."

There's a bit of a differerence between blowing the whistle on an illegal program that violates the Fourth Amendment and plays hob with the definition of the President's authority as a Commander-in-Chief and between spilling secrets that are of practical use to an enemy. Obviously, the bad guys are going to assume that they're under constant attempts at survelliance. They're not going to presume anything about how American laws protect them.