Jim Talent and Hillary Clinton are pushing for the creation of a system to collect baseline medical information on troops deployed overseas. Given the myriad health problems the troops are suffering, this seems like an idea whose time came a long time ago.
Brandon Mayfield, who was detained as a material witness of the Spain bombings, was released. It is a "huge embarrassment," reflecting "incompetence," and the federal investigators "put their tails between their legs" and ran. The FBI claims fingerprints found on some of the detonators belong to Mayfield, while Spanish investigators have fingered another man. Mayfield has not left the United States in over a decade.
I have added a Furl column, on the right, of articles on Chalabi, the INC, and their horrible "intelligence." Many of the best articles, going back months, have been put out by the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau. They have kindly compiled their intelligence articles here.
I expect the Chalabi/INC to be a major news story for the next couple of weeks, especially as critical voices within the government are actually given a forum. It has been clear for months now that the INC was hopelessly unreliable; the only question, in my mind, is if we knew it in advance and cynically used the info anyway, or were actually naive rubes.
The Postal Service undoubtedly needs the money, and a program to ensure that medicine and vaccines are available in the event of emergency is obviously good policy. Couldn't we have found a better source for the money, though? States and local governments are struggling as is to meet their basic police and first responder needs, much less their extra investments in expanding a homeland security infrastructure. Unfortunately, the shackles of the administration's reckless fiscal policy are difficult to shake off. At least it shows where their priorities are, as they have no problem passing additional tax cuts.
The Medicare Discount drug cards were an obvious political ploy, an attempt to give the Bush administration an excuse to use public funds for political purposes. The fact that the administration set it up so that seniors could not make an informed decision about which Discount Plan to enter gives the lie to any claim that they were simply trying to give seniors some near term help.
Ironically, Seniors trying to navigate the system now, and seniors screwed on June 1st, when the discount plans have their subscribers locked in, probably won't be voting Bush in November.
I like this move, also covered by the AP. The Republican convention, timed to capitalize on September 11th, takes place five weeks after the Democratic convention. Since presidential campaigns receive a fixed amount of money after accepting the nomination, roughly $75 million, Kerry would have proportionately less money to spend.
The move is crass, and kind of obnoxious, but it at least demonstrates that the Kerry campaign is forward thinking, and willing to play hardball.
It has been clear for three years now that Bush has sacrificed the fiscal flexibility of my generation - of people just now entering the workforce, of everybody under thirty - for his reelection prospects. He shamelessly squandered Bill Clinton's surplus in gifts and graft for those who didn't need it, but would vot Bush if they got it. For the next generation, we will be digging ourselves out of this hole.
Bush clearly didn't believe squandering our fiscal resources was enough. So he went ahead and threw away something more ephemeral, but as valuable and harder to fix: our national moral legitimacy.
Starting with Roosevelt and Truman, we had a solid, but unspectacular record on international human rights. It was good enough to build up a reserve of international good-will in many of the hotspots throughout the world. Moreover, the Scoop Jackson Democrats, supposedly the direct forefathers of modern neo-conservatives, recognized the significance of defending legitimacy. Their support for domestic political reforms - the Civil Rights movement, the New Frontier and the Great Society - was a complement to the ideological battle against Communism. They succeeded, not without exception, but generally, in making America's opinion on something matter in a positive way. Ironically, our legitimacy was never higher than in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, when cries of "we are all American" could be heard around the world.
Obviously, that is no longer the case. Abu Ghraib is the pinnacle of a long progression demonstrating the moral bankruptcy of the current administration, and the international reaction to it has highlighted just how large our legitimacy deficit has become.
It is possible to pull the country out of its ruinous financial situation, through good decisions and good government. Salvaging our ruinous legitimacy situation is more complicated. Its start, though, must be one thing: a resounding rejection of George W. Bush. Our best argument to the world must be that George W. Bush wasn't duly elected, and his government wasn't representing the people of the United States.
I don't want to spend my life cleaning up the wreckage of George W. Bush's America.
Bush to Detail Transition Monday in First of Several Iraq Speeches (washingtonpost.com): "In his first speech, Bush will discuss the transfer of sovereignty -- and what it means -- plus the new U.N. resolution that the United States and Britain will seek next month before the transfer of power, U.S. officials say. 'He also wants to talk about what we're prepared to do for the Iraqis and the importance of staying the course,' the official said. "
Boykin was recommended to his position by his record in the elite Delta forces: he was a commander in the failed effort to rescue US hostages in Iran, had tracked drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, had advised the gas attack on barricaded cultists at Waco, Texas, and had lost 18 men in Somalia trying to capture a warlord in the notorious Black Hawk Down fiasco of 1993.
My suspicion is that Boykin was driven insane by his unfathomable ineptitude.
Meanwhile, traditional conservatives who see American interests in the Middle East as focused on a regular supply of oil are anxious because it has pulled its troops out of one big producer, Saudi Arabia, without establishing a sustainable military presence in another, Iraq.
"Anyway you look at this, outside the most extreme optimistic assessments, we end up weaker," a senior Republican international strategist said.
The conservatives' growing awareness that failure may be imminent has generated a backlash against the more radical "neo-conservatives" such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, who are blamed for persuading President Bush that an invasion would be relatively easy.
Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the most serious problem in US government was "the fact that a small group of neo-conservative ideologues were able to substitute their illusions for an effective planning effort by professionals".
The Australian Government "aided and abetted" the torture of Sydney man Mamdouh Habib after he was sent to Egypt with the complicity of Australian officials and given electric shocks, beaten and interrogated at gunpoint, his lawyer claims.
The new allegations also outline how Mr Habib was later beaten, dragged by chains attached to his feet and humiliated at Guantanamo Bay by US troops.
Accounts of savage, repeated and prolonged beatings of the other Australian held in Guantanamo Bay, Taliban fighter David Hicks, were revealed yesterday.
Troop shortages "contributed to systemic failures at the prison. I think that's clear," Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. force in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Abizaid commented in response to a question from Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, who noted that Abu Ghraib had one-fifth the number of guards called for by Army policy.
The overall strategy of the invasion and occupation - handed down from the top of the Department of Defense - appears to have played a significant part in the abuse of detainees. The Baltimore Sun has "connected the dots," so to speak, between the administration's slap down of Gen. Shinseki and the catastrophic mismanagement of events on the ground.
Waxman and the other 18 members of the Government Reform Committee filed suit in the Central District of California against Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, over the withholding of Medicare costs. Thompson still hasn't released Medicare Actuary Richard Foster's cost estimates for Bush's Medicare program, despite numerous written requests from the Committee. View the press release.
"'A detailed plan is necessary to prove to our allies and to Iraqis that we have a strategy and that we are committed to making it work. If we cannot provide this clarity, we risk the loss of support of the American people, loss of potential contributions from our allies and the disillusionment of Iraqis,' said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the panel."
A run-down of yesterday's Wolfowitz testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Wolfowitz's prepared testimony is available here.
The House Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter (R-Calif), is attacking Republican Sen. John Warner for wasting the time of U.S. Commanders by calling them to testify about Abu Ghraib. "House Republican leaders have argued for doing as little as possible in response to the scandal, complaining that administration critics are exploiting it for political ends."
This reaction, coupled with Tom Delay's reprehensible comments, reinforce the unfitness of these people for government. All criticism of the king is treasonous:
House Republicans responded within minutes. "This morning, in a calculated and craven political stunt, the national Democrat Party declared its surrender in the war on terror," said Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "Out of sheer, brazen partisanship," House Democrats have "undermined our troops." Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) said Democrats "are basically giving aid and comfort to our enemies."
Waxman, Dingell, Dorgan and Wyden have issued a report, made a statement, and sent a letter to Rumsfeld, highlighting conflicts of interest of two different contractors involved in Iraq reconstruction.
These contractors, Parsons and CH2M, have oversight responsibilities in Iraq, what the Dems call "watchdog contracts" over public works, water construction projects, and energy infrastructure projects. Yet they have numerous business partnerships with the firms, including Bechtel, that are actually heading the projects. The contracts were awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority, with no bidding process or oversight by the Pentagon.
A further exploration of the JAG angle on Abu Ghraib, from the NYC bar association's Committee on International Human Rights. Just before the scandal broke, the association released a report detailing the international commitments the administration was ignoring in the interrogation of detainees. The Report is available here, and is titled Human Rights Standards Applicable to the United States' Interrogation of Detainees.
The Times article emphasizes the disdain with which this administration views lawyers and legal rights. JAGs have been left out of the loop on most of the major military-legal issues the administration has created, ranging from military tribunals to the interrogation of detainees. In previous administrations, troops interrogated detainees in front of observation mirrors, which always presented the threat that JAG officers were watching. Bush ignored this practice in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
"Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who yesterday delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said Arab leaders questioned him about the abuse scandal at an economic conference in Jordan over the weekend.
'In their disappointment about America right now, I told them, 'Watch America, watch how we deal with this, watch how America will do the right thing,' ' Powell said. The outrage is not limited to the Arab world. Yesterday, European Union foreign ministers strongly condemned the abuse as 'contrary to international law.' "
The only conceivable way the "right thing" will be done is through electing John Kerry.
A report by pentagon auditors found more Halliburton overbilling for food costs in Iraq - this time, almost $160 million. This is on top of $36 million in returned fees from earlier this year, and $141 million in "voluntarily withdrawn," then resubmitted bills.
Halliburton management will be appearing before some angry investors tomorrow.
The Pentagon thinks it's systemic. I wonder why. Rep. Henry Waxman's Government Reform Committee put out a roundup briefing for colleagues. His main site on contracting provides a wealth of original documentation.
If only "space" was enough to prompt wise government from this crew. This is a solid move by Kerry. It undermines conservative charges of "politicization," lets him stay positive, and lets the firestorm of administration idiocy grow.
Thank God, it's about time we stopped funding Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress ("INC"). The only question is why we are still giving them their $335,000 allowance for June.
The administration's relationship to the INC and its "intelligence gathering" should not go quietly into the night, though. There are still serious questions about this relationship, which 'til now has been characterized as a one-way swindling of the American government by a shifty band of Arabs. Most important, of course, is about what the Times calls the "useless, misleading or even fabricated" "intelligence" information provided to the government by the INC. Even a casual observer should have questioned the information stove-piped from the INC to the DoD/Defense Intelligence Agency ("DIA"); it was unverifiable, poorly or wrongly sourced, and too politically fortuitous to be unskeptically accepted.
So what happens if the DIA knew that the INC "intelligence" it was basing its push for war on was fabricated? Sourcing false intelligence to the INC, and then relaying it to the public, sounds suspiciously like the Office of Strategic Influence plan to "'secretly enlist' a non-government third party 'to spread false or misleading information to the news media'" revealed and nominally discarded in early 2002. That it was Doug Feith and the same band of neocons pushing both the OSI and the INC is an obvious red flag.
So how willing were the DIA "dupes"? Was the politically valuable information accepted with a wink and a nod, then smuggled into more legitimate intelligence anlyses through DoD backchannels and useful idiots like the Weekly Standard? This should be an important part of the ongoing investigations of Iraq Intelligence, though I'm not holding my breath. More information on the intelligence investigations can be found at the preternaturally useful Federation of American Scientists page.
Christopher Lee's Post article adopts an interesting take on the conflict between the Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management over the National Security Personnel System (NSPS). It turns out that the anti-labor ideologues in the OPM think the anti-labor ideologues in the Department of Defense are botching things a bit. They seem to disagree about the best way to screw federal employees.
The Post article begins by discussing this letter, from the head of OPM, Kay Cole James, to Don Rumsfeld. Read the letter. It reaks of anti-labor sentiment, and all of its criticisms are of potential DoD "tactical" mistakes in the effort to undermine unions: "Many of [the issues address in the letter] have profound tactical and strategic implications for the Department of Defense, OPM, and the Administration..."
What "strategy" is the DoD approach threatening? The comments attached to the letter clarify: The strategy to do away with a professional civil service.
"...[T]he proposed structure fails to fully utilize the flexibilities available to 'deconstruct' the GS and bring Federal occupations into better alignment with the 21st century world of work. Grouping professional, scientific, engineering and administrative occupations into th same CG and bands misses an opportunity to cluster occupations to make market sensitive pay decisions. "
You see, the OPM wants to eliminate job security, while the DoD wants to establish a political patronage network; both are antithetical to a professional civil service. From the comments:
"The use of seven predetermined performance factors and assessing benchmarks that have not been validated through any job analysis process and the provision regarding competitive promotion by means of a name request contribute to the overall appearance of an effort to loosen links between merit and staffing decisions wherever possible." 
The Post mentions that George Nesterczuk dismissed any anti-labor bias in the NSPS. Who is Mr. Nesterczuk? He is currently the OPM liaison to the DoD. After reading his Heritage Foundation Backgrounder on establishing "flexibility" in the Department of Homeland Security, one might assume he thinks unions create a "culture of mediocrity."
Finally, the OPM frequently and strongly notes the anti-veteran bias in the DoD's proposed NSPS. It would be ironic that the OPM was reminding DoD to support veterans, if we didn't know that the civilian leadership at DoD was chock full of chicken hawks.
The NYT wades into the morass of the Conservative politicization of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic, I will confess, the Sunday after the election, that I voted for a President that will keep us out of inane wars, work for good jobs, and give a damn about the people of this country. I will confess for Kerry.
"The eight-member panel, which includes former officials with decades of high-level government experience, found that the Defense Department and many other agencies were collecting and using 'personally identifiable information on U.S. persons for national security and law enforcement purposes.' Some of these activities, it said, resemble the Pentagon program initially known as Total Information Awareness, which was intended to catch terrorists before they struck, by monitoring e-mail messages and databases of financial, medical and travel information.
The Pentagon program, later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, was flawed from the start, though its goal was worthwhile, the panel said. 'Our nation should use information technology and the power to search digital data to fight terrorism, but should protect privacy while doing so,' it concluded. 'In developing and using data mining tools, the government can and must protect privacy.'"
The Times previews a report by the Rumsfeld-commissioned Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee. The report usefully highlights the privacy risks in government data-mining, and recommends the novel idea of a system of checks and balances to prevent abuses:
"One of the panel's most important recommendations is to involve the courts in deciding when the government can search electronic databases.
In general, it said, the Defense Department and other federal agencies should be required to obtain approval from a special federal court "before engaging in data mining with personally identifiable information concerning U.S. persons."
To obtain such approval, the government would have to show that it needed the information to prevent or respond to terrorism. In an emergency, the government would not have to get approval in advance, but would need to seek a court order within 48 hours of beginning the search."
The report is going to be released, presumably to the public, in two weeks.
The 229th Military Police Company, one of the military units tainted by the Abu Ghraib scandal, is not uniquely lacking in moral fiber. Its own soldiers reported the abuse by their fellow members, and were quoted at length in the Taguba report. Blaming the troops on the ground gets us nowhere. The fault here must be laid at the feet of those with the power to fix things, the lowest cost avoiders.
In this case, that is the highest echelons of military intelligence, particularly General Boykin, and the civilian leadership. It looks like Rumsfeld has weathered the assault on his Secretaryship, but his resolute failure to learn from, or even acknowledge, his faults (learned from his figurehead?) dooms us to continued ineptitude and worse.
The administration's characterization of its success in the war on terrorism, is of course hopelessly distorted. Krueger and Laitin note the State Department's "rose colored graphs" in its recent report on terrorism, but they give the administration too much leeway, too much benefit of the doubt. If the administration was serious about waging a war on terrorism, it would publish an accurate, verifiable picture of its status.
The Washington Post is apparently uncomfortable with agreeing too whole-heartedly with critics of the Bush administration. Despite acknowledging that the administration is up shit creek without a paddle, it immediately criticizes phantom 'realists' for offering illusory paths from Iraq. Obliquely referring, perhaps, to Peter Galbraith's New York Review article it rejects both a partitioning of Iraq, in the hopes of elections and some form of democracy.
Democracy in Iraq is obviously the ideal, and could we fiat it, we would. Absent omnipotence, though, we need to move beyond hopes. If the Post really thinks elections are the only way to achieve victory, it must brace itself for the ascendance of an anti-American, pro-Iranian regime.
"But there are no reforms indicated in the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. What was done was against (1) regulations, (2) Army convention, and (3) civilized tradition. What do the reformers want? Pre-induction courses for U.S. soldiers in which they are told not to strip and torture captives and photograph them naked? Should there be, also, a course on how they should not fire guns at their own officers? Is there nothing that can be taken for granted?"
Bill Buckley believes that Democrats have launched an "offensive" pushing for reforms in the military's treatment of prisoners. His evidence for this alleged offensive: that critics say Democratic attacks on Rumsfeld will "[blow] opportunities to effect true reforms." The only evidence adduced proves its opposite.
Nonetheless, Buckley claims no reforms are needed. The activities were so heinous, everyone should have known they were illegal, and current procedures should have been adequate to prevent them. Actually, though, at least three reforms are necessary. First, this administration, which has so degraded our ability to detect evil that some of our troops have been blinded, needs to change. Rumsfeld should be fired by Bush in May, and Bush should be fired by the American people in November. Second, the military needs to develop sensible principles for the management of detention facilities, including for detainees that civilian leadership might want submarined. This includes clearly defining the roles of military intelligence, military police, and other troops that interact regularly with detainees, and establishing accountability for their behavior regardless of the legal status of the detainees. Third, if civilian contractors are needed (and they should be allowed only when necessary), they should be inserted into the chain of command and accountability.
USA Today has a solid editorial on the background of the Geneva Conventions and on the importance of revitalizing them.
The same people that laud American exceptionalism, that embrace it as Truth rather than a quixotic characteristic, undermine it with their every action. Fidelity to the Geneva conventions is a broadly held belief in America. Unfortunately, the Bush administration, and its right-wing fellow travellers, have demonstrated that it is not a deeply held belief.
"It was a move that raised red flags for counterterrorism expert Michael Greenberger, a former U.S. Department of Justice official.
'The fact that they are using the material witness statute shows they don't have probable cause to arrest him,' said Greenberger, who now heads the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security. 'They're scrambling to find a way to detain him.'"
Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon resident and convert to Islam, has been detained by the FBI as a material witness. There was a partial match of his fingerprints to a print on a detonator related to the bombing in Spain.
Yahoo! News - U.S. to Use 1872 Law Against Greenpeace
Yahoo! News - U.S. to Use 1872 Law Against Greenpeace: "David Bookbinder, Washington legal director for the Sierra Club, said the prosecution is a political persecution.
'This administration is drunk on power and has gotten to the point where it thinks that it's appropriate to respond to political criticism with criminal prosecution,' he said. "
Today is the start of the administration's federal case against Greenpeace, accusing the environmental organization of "sailor mongering," in violation of an 1872 law against corrupting the morals of sailors.