Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Peggy Noonan, Shep Smith, and Jane Harman

Posted in Barack Obama, BTR, Bush, Citizen Radio, politics, war crimes by allisonkilkenny on April 29, 2009

Listen here: http://www.breakthruradio.com/index.php?show=6753

Citizen Radio discusses the human disaster known as Peggy Noonan, and her comments about not investigating Bush administration war crimes because life needs to remain “mysterious.” Wow.

Jamie talks about getting screamed at by a New Yorker at one of his Australia shows, and why Americans think they’re exceptional.

Jane Harman got busted trying to do AIPAC spies a solid, and she got caught by the very same wiretapping program she championed. Irony with a capital “I.”

Shepard Smith went crazy on FOX again, and Citizen Radio thinks that’s super!

Citizen Radio airs every Wednesday over on BTR, and episodes play 24/7 all week. Archived episodes here. Join us on Facebook!

Obama’s Efforts to Block a Judicial Ruling on Bush’s Illegal Eavesdropping

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 28, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

wiretaps3(updated below)

The Obama DOJ’s embrace of Bush’s state secrets privilege in the Jeppesen(torture/rendition) case generated substantial outrage, and rightly so.  But it’s now safe to say that far worse is the Obama DOJ’s conduct in the Al-Haramaincase — the only remaining case against the Government with any real chance of resulting in a judicial ruling on the legality of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.  Here’s the first paragraph from the Wired report on Friday’s appellate ruling, which refused the Obama DOJ’s request to block a federal court from considering key evidence when deciding whether Bush broke the law in how he spied on Americans:

A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the Obama administration Friday when it refused to block a judge from admitting top secret evidence in a lawsuit weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress, as President George W. Bush did, and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.

And here are the two paragraphs from the AP report:

The Obama administration has lost its argument that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. . . .

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, claimed national security would be compromised if a lawsuit brought by the Oregon chapter of the charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, was allowed to proceed.

Let’s just pause for a moment to consider how remarkable those statements are.  One of the worst abuses of the Bush administration was its endless reliance on vast claims of secrecy to ensure that no court could ever rule on the legality of the President’s actions.  They would insist that “secrecy” prevented a judicial ruling even when the President’s actions were (a) already publicly disclosed in detail and (b) were blatantly criminal — as is the case with the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, which The New York Times described on its front page more than three years ago and which a federal statute explicitly criminalized.  Secrecy claims of that sort — to block judicial review of the President’s conduct, i.e., to immunize the President from the rule of law — provoked endless howls of outrage from Bush critics.

Yet now, the Obama administration is doing exactly the same thing.  Hence, it is accurately deemed “a blow to the Obama administration” that a court might rule on whether George Bush broke the law when eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.  Why is the Obama administration so vested in preventing that from happening, and — worse still — in ensuring that Presidents continue to have the power to invoke extremely broad secrecy claims in order to block courts from ruling on allegations that a President has violated the law?

Obama defenders take note:   this is not a case where the Obama DOJ claims more time is needed to decide what to do, nor is it even a case where the Obama DOJ merely passively adopted the Bush DOJ’s already filed arguments.  Here, they have done much, much more than that.  Obama lawyers have been running around for weeks attempting one desperate, extreme measure after the next to prevent this case from proceeding — emergency appealsrequests for stays, and every time they lose, threats of still further appeals, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

During the controversy in the Jeppesen/rendition case, there were actually “defend-Obama-at-all-costs” advocates in the comment section offering the painfully ludicrous excuse that Obama only embraced Bush’s State Secrets theory because Obama secretly hoped and expected to lose the case and thus create good judicial precedent.  But in the Al-Haramin case, the Obama DOJ has now lost — twice — in their attempts to invoke secrecy to stop this case from proceeding, but they just keep searching for a court to accept their claims:

Yet government lawyers signaled they would continue fighting to keep the information secret, setting up a new showdown between the courts and the White House over national security. . . .

[H]ours after the appeals court made its decision, government lawyers filed new papers insisting they still did not have to turn over any sensitive information.

”The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” said the filing, suggesting the Obama administration may appeal the matter again to keep the information secret and block the case from going forward.

Manifestly, the Obama DOJ has one goal and one goal only here:  to prevent any judicial ruling as to whether the Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was illegal.  And they’re engaging in extraordinary efforts to ensure that occurs.

To explain why this behavior is so pernicious, so lawless and so dangerous, I’m going to turn the floor over to a long-time, eloquent critic of Bush’s secrecy theories — who just so happens also to be Obama’s soon-to-be-confirmedappointee for Chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.  In March of 2008 — less than a year ago — this is what she said about the Bush administration’s efforts to conceal its FISA-violating eavesdropping activities:

NYT? What’s Bush’s Excuse for Keeping Law Violations Secret?

But I think we do have to name the even more fundamental question: whether the Bush administration itself acted responsibly in keeping secret that same story. What was its legitimate justification in the first place for misleading the NYT into keeping that information secret for more than a year?

I’m afraid we are growing immune to just how outrageous and destructive it is, in a democracy, for the President to violate federal statutes in secret.Remember that much of what we know about the Bush administration’s violations of statutes (and yes, I realize they claim not to be violating statutes) came first only because of leaks and news coverage. Incredibly, we still don’t know the full extent of our government’s illegal surveillanceor illegal interrogations (and who knows what else) — despite Congress’s failed efforts to get to the bottom of it. Congress instead resorted to enacting new legislation on both issues largely in the dark.

Yet here we have the Obama DOJ doing exactly this — not merely trying desperately to keep the Bush administration’s spying activities secret, and not merely devoting itself with full force to preventing disclosure of relevant documents concerning this illegal program, but far worse, doing everything in its power even to prevent any judicial adjudication as to whether the Bush administration broke the law by spying on Americans without warrants.  As Obama’s hand-picked OLC chief put it:  “I’m afraid we are growing immune to just how outrageous and destructive it is, in a democracy, for the President to violate federal statutes in secret.”

The details of this case (which I’ve recounted in full here) highlight even further how indefensible is the Obama DOJ’s conduct.  The Bush administration succeeded in blocking all other judicial challenges to its illegal NSA eavesdropping with the Kafkaesque argument that because (a) nobody knows on whom the Bush administration spied without warrants (precisely because eavesdropping without warrants ensures that the targets are concealed from everyone, including even a court) and (b) that information cannot be disclosed to anyone (including courts) because it’s a “State Secret,” no individual party has “standing” to sue because nobody can prove that they were actually subjected to the illegal eavesdropping (because it was done in the dark). 

But this case, from the start, was different.  As part of a criminal investigation against the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, an Oregon-based charity, the Bush DOJ accidentally turned over to the charity’s lawyers a documentshowing that the Bush NSA eavesdropped without warrants on conversations between the charity and its two lawyers, both U.S. citizens.  The charity and its lawyers then sued the Bush administration for illegally eavesdropping on their communications.  That document is what distinguished this case from all other NSA cases, because it enables the plaintiffs (the charity and its lawyers) to prove that they were subjected to Bush’s illegal spying program and they therefore have standing to sue. 

It is that document — which has been described publicly and which the plaintiffs’ lawyers have already seen — which the Obama DOJ is now desperately attempting to block the court from considering on the grounds that allowing the case to proceed will — somehow — harm America’s national security.  Everyone knows the Bush administration spied on Americans without warrants and in violation of the law.  Everyone knows that this document reflects that these plaintiffs were among those who were illegally spied on.  

Still, there’s the Obama administration — just like the Bush administration — claiming that we’ll all be slaughtered if a court rules on whether the President broke the law.  And, as Marcy Wheeler astutely notes, the lawbreaking here is particularly egregious (and certainly criminal) since some of the warrantless eavesdropping here appears to have occurred in March, 2004 — during the exact period when even the Bush DOJ expressly concluded that the NSA program was so illegal that it refused to certify its legality and top DOJ officials (including John Ashcroft) threatened to resign in protest of its continuation (here’s more from Marcy on some key details in this case, andfrom EFF as well).

Our nation’s most transparent administration in history won’t bother to explainwhy they’re doing any of this: “A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.”  We’ll probably have to wait for one of them to gather up enough courage to anonymously whisper their alleged reasons into Marc Ambinder’s faithful ear.  In the meantime, while we wait for that, what is clear is that the Obama DOJ has undertaken exactly the same mission as the Bush DOJ for years so successfully carried out:  namely, ensuring that Presidents remain above the law by invoking patently absurd claims of secrecy to argue that our National Security cannot withstand judicial rulings on whether the President’s actions were, in fact, illegal.

* * * * * 

On a related note:  last week, I interviewed the ACLU’s Jonathan Hafetz about the Obama administration’s March 23 deadline to file a Supreme Court brief in the Al-Marri case, brought by the last person still being held on U.S. soil as an “enemy combatant.”  In 2003, Al-Marri (Hafetz’s client), who was in the U.S. legally on a student visa, was about to be tried on various criminal charges when, at the last minute, Bush declared him an “enemy combatant” and ordered him transferred to a military brig, where he has remained ever since with no charges and no trial.  In his case, the Fourth Circuit’s Court of Appeals last year largely upheld the power of the President to imprison legal residents (and even U.S. citizens) on U.S. soil in military prison with no criminal charges, and the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to review that decision.

This week, the Obama DOJ filed criminal charges against Al-Marri, so he will now be transferred back to the civilian court system and have what the U.S. Constitution clearly mandates:  a full trial and due process.  For Al-Marri, that is a positive step:  now, he’ll only remain in prison if he’s convicted of a crime in a real court and (presumably) will be freed if he’s acquitted.  That’s how our system is supposed to work.

But whether this is a positive step in a general sense is a different question.  In the Jose Padilla case, the Bush administration kept a U.S. citizen in a cage for many years without charges of any kind, and then suddenly filed criminal charges against him right as the Supreme Court was set to rule on the constitutionality of imprisoning U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants” with no trial.  Once they finally indicted Padilla, the Bush administration ran and argued that the indictment rendered the questions before the Court moot.  The Supreme Court, in essence, agreed and refused to hear the appeal, thus leaving in place the Fourth Circuit’s affirmation that the President has this power. 

If that is what the Obama DOJ does here — namely, if it succeeds in its efforts to convince the Supreme Court not to rule on this critical matter because, yet again, the individual who has been encaged for years without charges was, at the last minute, transferred to a civilian court (thus leaving standing the Fourth Circuit’s horrendous ruling) — that will be destructive for all the reasons that Bush critics cited when the same thing was done in the Padilla case.

The Obama DOJ deserves some limited credit for indicting Al-Marri and thus refusing to continue to imprison him with no charges.  It’s certainly not Obama’s fault that Al-Marri was imprisoned for years with no charges, and the only fair option was to do what they did:  give him a real trial.  But if this indictment results in the preservation of the President’s power in the future to similarly detain people without charges — because of the Obama DOJ’s efforts to block the Supreme Court from ruling on this question — then it is worthy of criticisms for the same reasons it was in the Padilla case.  

Ultimately, the real question is not whether you think Obama will use these powers the same way Bush did (nobody can know that), but rather:   do you want the secrecy and detention architecture built by George Bush, Dick Cheney and David Addington to remain in place so that — even if it remains dormant now — Obama or some future President can decide at any time to revitalize and use it at will?  Thus far, Obama’s answer to that question seems to be a resounding “yes.”

UPDATE:   I spoke to the annual conference of the ACLU of Massachusetts last month regarding impediments to the restoration of civil liberties under the Obama administration.  I posted the link at the end of yesterday’s post, but since that was at the end of the day, and since the speech relates directly to the topic here, I’ll post it again for those interested:  the 30-minute speech can be heard on MP3 here and is also available on ITunes here (the video of the speech may or may not be posted at some point in the future).

Court Rejects Obama Bid to Stop Wiretapping Suit

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 27, 2009

Yahoo

wiretaps3WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has lost its argument that a potential threat to national security is a good enough reason to stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Justice Department’s request for an emergency stay. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, cited the so-called state secrets privilege as its defense. The government claimed national security would be compromised if a lawsuit brought by the U.S. chapter of an Islamic charity was allowed to proceed.

The case was brought by the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a defunct charity with a chapter in Oregon.

The decision by the three-judge appeals panel is a setback for the new Obama administration as it adopts some of the same positions on national security and secrecy as the Bush administration.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of all state secrets claims that have been used to protect Bush administration anti-terrorism programs from lawsuits.

Yet even as that review continues, the administration has invoked the privilege in several different cases, including Al-Haramain.
The case began when the Bush administration accidentally turned over documents to Al-Haramain attorneys. Lawyers for the defunct charity said the papers showed illegal wiretapping by the National Security Agency.

The documents were returned to the government, which quickly locked them away, claiming they were state secrets that could threaten national security if released.

Lawyers for Al-Haramain argued that they needed the documents to prove the wiretapping.

The U.S. Treasury Department in 2004 designated the charity as an organization that supports terrorism before the Saudi government closed it. The Bush administration redesignated it in 2008, citing attempts to keep it operating.

The 9th Circuit eventually agreed that the disputed documents were protected as state secrets. But the court ruled that the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain could try to find another way to show it had standing to sue the government over domestic wiretapping.

A number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, tried to sue the government over warrantless wiretapping but were denied standing because they could not show they were targeted.

To Investigate or Not: Four Ways to Look Back at Bush

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, torture, war crimes by allisonkilkenny on February 22, 2009

New York Times

POISON DARTS Senator Frank Church, whose committee looked into intelligence abuses, shows a dart gun from a C.I.A. lab in 1975. (Henry Griffin/AP)

POISON DARTS Senator Frank Church, whose committee looked into intelligence abuses, shows a dart gun from a C.I.A. lab in 1975. (Henry Griffin/AP)

WASHINGTON — Two days after his re-election in 1864, with Union victory in the Civil War assured, Abraham Lincoln stood at a White House window to address a boisterous crowd of supporters. He spoke of the lessons of the nation’s calamitous recent history.

“In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and as good,” Lincoln said. “Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.”

Today there are new calls for such study, not universal but certainly loud enough, directed this time at the Bush administration’s campaign against terrorism. Interrogation techniques that the United States had long condemned as torture, secret prisons beyond the reach of American law and eavesdropping on American soil without court warrants are at the top of a lot of lists.

But as Lincoln knew, one man’s wisdom is another’s vengeance. Repeatedly in American history, and in “truth commissions” in some two dozen countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe since the 1980s, it has turned out to be a tricky business to turn the ferocious politics of recent events into the dispassionate stuff of justice and the rule of law.

A USA Today/Gallup poll this month found that 62 percent of Americans favor either a criminal investigation or an independent panel to look into allegations of torture. Still, many people, primarily Republicans, insist the Bush policies were vital to protect the country, and the Obama administration is treading gingerly. When Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, proposed a commission to investigate torture and eavesdropping, President Obama didn’t embrace the idea.

Already grappling with two wars and an economic meltdown, Mr. Obama said he was “more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.” But the door was ajar; he also declared that “nobody is above the law.”

Mr. Leahy is undeterred. In an interview, he laughed and described the president’s remarks as “an enthusiastic endorsement.” He said he would work to build support for the idea in Congress.

As a senator under seven presidents, Mr. Leahy said, he has learned that the temptation to abuse powers in a crisis is bipartisan, and the commission’s review should include the role of Democrats in Congress in approving the Bush policies. The work should be done in one year, he added, to avert accusations that it was being dragged out for political gain.

Mr. Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters remain passionate about “looking backwards,” arguing that the Bush policies darkened the United States’ reputation, to Al Qaeda’s benefit. They include Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the House Judiciary chairman, who has sponsored a bill to set up an investigative panel.

Many Republicans, however, say the lofty appeals to justice and history mask an unseemly and dangerous drive to pillory the Bush administration and hamstring the intelligence agencies.

That was precisely the view of an aide in Gerald Ford’s White House named Dick Cheney when a Senate committee led by Frank Church of Idaho looked into intelligence abuses in the mid-1970s. A quarter-century later, as vice president, Mr. Cheney would effectively wreak vengeance on that committee’s legacy, encouraging the National Security Agency to bypass the warrant requirement the committee had proposed and unleashing the Central Intelligence Agency he felt the committee had shackled.

If advocates of looking back have their way, what are the options? Some past inquiries offer models, each with different potential winners and losers.

A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION (IRAN-CONTRA)

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at his confirmation hearing that he, like Mr. Obama, did not want to “criminalize policy differences” by punishing officials for acts they believed were legal. The same language was used in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush when he pardoned six officials charged in the Iran-contra investigation. Mr. Bush called the charges “a profoundly troubling development in the history of our country: the criminalization of policy differences.”

The Iran-contra case illustrates the obstacles to any prosecution that unfolds in a polarized political atmosphere. An independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, worked for six years to untangle shady arms deals, defiance of Congress and a cover-up. But because of the pardons and court rulings, the key figures escaped all punishment except large legal fees and damaged reputations.

The sharpest critics of the Bush programs insist that only prosecution can restore the law to its proper place. They note that some 100 terrorism suspects have died in American custody and say a prosecution for conspiracy to torture could target both the high-level officials who approved the likes of waterboarding and lawyers who justified it.

But many legal experts believe that the Justice Department would be hard pressed to prosecute as torture methods that the department itself declared in 2002 not to be torture. And if an important goal is to determine who devised the policies, a push to prosecute might only persuade past officials to lawyer up and clam up.

A CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION (CHURCH)

If there is a close precedent for the investigation now being debated, it is the inquiry led by Senator Church in 1975-76, which recorded in stunning detail some of the darkest chapters in American history. Its reports chronicled the C.I.A.’s bumbling attempts to assassinate foreign leaders; the N.S.A.’s watchlisting of civil rights and antiwar activists; and the F.B.I.’s campaign to drive the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide.

The reports led directly to a series of reforms, including President Ford’s ban on assassinations, the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve national-security eavesdropping and the establishment of Congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies.

But some Republicans saw Mr. Church as a showboat and his committee as overreaching. To Mr. Cheney, the Church legacy was a regrettable pruning of the president’s powers to protect the country — powers he and Bush administration lawyers reasserted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A BLUE-RIBBON PANEL (9/11 COMMISSION)

Though Mr. Leahy praised the Church Committee, his own proposal would take the investigation away from Congress in favor of “a group of people universally recommended as fair minded.” He also suggested subpoena power and, perhaps most important, a South Africa-style trade-off: immunity for officials who testify truthfully.

Investigative commissions date at least to 1794, when George Washington used one to negotiate a settlement of the Whiskey Rebellion. The 9/11 commission, a recent example, largely overcame partisanship and drew generally positive reviews.

A commission would free Congress to focus on current problems, including the economic crisis. And promises of immunity might answer concerns expressed last month by the departing C.I.A. director, Michael V. Hayden — that any investigation would discourage intelligence officers from acting boldly for fear of later second-guessing.

DOING NOTHING

Or more accurately, finishing up and rolling out the inquiries already under way. Even if the push for a broad investigation loses momentum, the Bush programs will not soon be forgotten. Among major inquiries expected to conclude soon: a report from the Justice Department’s ethics office on legal opinions justifying harsh interrogations; the criminal investigation of the C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes; and a report by the Justice Department inspector general on the N.S.A.’s warrantless eavesdropping.

Meanwhile, thousands of documents relating to secrets of the Bush years are being sought by journalists and advocates. Mr. Obama has directed agencies to lean strongly toward disclosure.

Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., who served as chief counsel for the Church Committee and has called for a new commission, said there is no telling what a thorough investigation may turn up. He recalled his shock as he sat in a secure room at the C.I.A. in 1975 and read that the agency had recruited the Mafia in a scheme to kill Fidel Castro.

“It may seem that we already know a lot,” Mr. Schwarz said. “But based on my experience, I’m certain there’s a lot that went on the last eight years that we still don’t know.”

Do We Still Pretend That We Abide By Treaties?

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, torture, war crimes by allisonkilkenny on February 16, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

hypocrisy1On Friday in SalonJoe Conason argued that there should be no criminal investigations of any kind for Bush officials “who authorized torture or other outrages in the ‘war on terror’.”  Instead, Conason suggests that there be a presidential commission created that is “purely investigative,” and Obama should “promis[e] a complete pardon to anyone who testifies fully, honestly and publicly.”  So, under this proposal, not only would we adopt an absolute bar against prosecuting war criminals and other Bush administration felons, we would go in the other direction and pardon them from any criminal liability of any kind.

I’ve already written volumes about why immunizing political officials from the consequences for their lawbreaking is both destructive and unjust — principally:  the obvious incentives which such immunity creates (and, for decades, has been creating) for high-level executive branch officials to break the law and, even worse, the grotesque two-tiered system of justice we’ve implemented in this country (i.e., the creation of an incomparably harsh prison state for ordinary Americans who commit even low-level offenses as contrasted with what Conason calls, approvingly, “the institutional reluctance in Washington to punish political offenders”).  Rather than repeat those arguments, I want to focus on an issue that pro-immunity advocates such as Conason simply never address.

The U.S. really has bound itself to a treaty called the Convention Against Torture, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994.  When there are credible allegations that government officials have participated or been complicit in torture, that Convention really does compelall signatories — in language as clear as can be devised — to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution” (Art. 7(1)).  And the treaty explicitly bars the standard excuses that America’s political class is currently offering for refusing to investigate and prosecute:  “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture” and “an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture” (Art. 2 (2-3)).  By definition, then, the far less compelling excuses cited by Conason (a criminal probe would undermine bipartisanship and distract us from more important matters) are plainly barred as grounds for evading the Convention’s obligations.

There is reasonable dispute about the scope of prosecutorial discretion permitted by the Convention, and there is also some lack of clarity about how many of these provisions were incorporated into domestic law when the Senate ratified the Convention with reservations.  But what is absolutely clear beyond any doubt is that — just as is true for any advance promises by the Obama DOJ not to investigate or prosecute — issuing preemptive pardons to government torturers would be an unambiguous and blatant violation of our obligations under the Convention.  There can’t be any doubt about that.  It just goes without saying that if the U.S. issued pardons or other forms of immunity to accused torturers (as the Military Commissions Act purported to do), that would be a clear violation of our obligation to “submit the [torture] case to [our] competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.”  Those two acts — the granting of immunity and submission for prosecution — are opposites.

And yet those who advocate that we refrain from criminal investigations rarely even mention our obligations under the Convention.  There isn’t even a pretense of an effort to reconcile what they’re advocating with the treaty obligations to which Ronald Reagan bound the U.S. in 1988.  Do we now just explicitly consider ourselves immune from the treaties we signed?  Does our political class now officially (rather than through its actions) consider treaties to be mere suggestions that we can violate at will without even pretending to have any justifications for doing so?  Most of the time, our binding treaty obligations under the Convention — as valid and binding as every other treaty — don’t even make it into the discussion about criminal investigations of Bush officials, let alone impose any limits on what we believe we can do.

What was all the sturm und drang about in 2003 over Bush’s invasion of Iraq without U.N. approval, in violation of the U.N. charter?  Wasn’t it supposed to be a bad thing for the U.S. to violate its own treaties?  What happened to that?  Conason himself was actually one of the clearest and most emphatic voices presciently highlighting the deceit on which the pro-war case was based, stridently warning of “ruined alliances and damaged institutions.”  Why, then, is it acceptable now to ignore and violate our treaty obligations with regard to torture and other war crimes committed by high-level Bush officials?  What’s the argument for simply pretending that these obligations under the Convention don’t exist?

* * * * *

On a related note, Conason, in the very first paragraph of Friday’s article, plainly misstated the  results of a new Gallup poll on the question of whether Bush officials should be prosecuted and/or investigated.  I have no doubt it was unintentional, but his error highlights a very important point about how this debate has proceeded.  Here’s what Conason wrote in his first paragraph (emphasis added):

More than 60 percent of Americans believe that alleged abuses and atrocities ordered by the Bush administration should be investigated either by an independent commission or by federal prosecutors, according to a poll released yesterday by the Gallup Organization. A significant minority favors criminal sanctions against officials who authorized torture or other outrages in the “war on terror” — yet a considerably larger minority of nearly 40 percent prefers that the Obama administration leave its wayward predecessors be.

That last assertion (the one I bolded) is simply untrue.  As Jim White notes here, the Gallup poll asked about three different acts of Bush lawbreaking:  (1) politicization of DOJ prosecutions, (2) warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, and (3) torture.  For each crime, it asked which of three options respondents favored:  (1) a criminal investigation by the DOJ; (2) a non-criminal, fact-finding investigation by an independent panel; or (3) neither.  The full results are here.

For all three separate acts of alleged crimes, the option that receives the most support from Americans is criminal investigations (i.e., the exact opposite of what Conason wrote).  And the percentage that favor that nothing be done is in every case less than the percentage that want criminal investigations, and the “do-nothing” percentage never reaches 40% or close to it (the highest it gets is 34% — roughly the same minority of pro-Bush dead-enders that continue to support most of what was done).

As White notes, the breakdowns are even more revealing.  For all three areas of lawbreaking, majorities of Democrats (which, by the way, is now the majority party) favor criminal investigations.  For each of the three areas, more independents favor criminal prosecutions than favor doing nothing, and large majorities of independents — ranging from 59% to 71%  — want either a criminal investigation or an independent fact-finding investigation.  A Washington Post poll from a couple weeks ago found very similar results:  majorities of Americans (and large majorities of Democrats) favor investigations into whether Bush officials broke the law and, by a wide margin, oppose the issuance of pardons to Bush officials.

Imagine what those numbers would be in a world where virtually every establishment political pundit — literally:  whether Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative — weren’t uniting together to oppose prosecutions for torture and war crimes.  Even with that unified anti-prosecution stance from a trans-partisan rainbow of Beltway opinion-makers, criminal investigations remain the leading position among Americans generally and among majorities of Democrats specifically.  Those are just facts.

As is always the case, the mere fact that majorities of Americans believe X does not mean that X is right or true.  But pundits, journalists and politicians should stop claiming that they’re speaking for most Americans when they argue that we should just “move on”  — or that the belief in investigations is the province of the leftist fringe — because that claim is demonstrably false.

Recall when opposition to the Iraq War and a demand for a withdrawal timetable was routinely depicted by the Beltway class as a “liberal” or even Far Left position — even though large majorities of Americans held exactly those views.  Apparently, the Far Left encompassed more than 60% of the country.  Or recall when Time‘s Managing Editor, Rick Stengel, went on national TV andclaimed that Americans don’t want Bush officials and Karl Rove investigated for the U.S. Attorney scandal even when polls showed that large majorities of Americans favored exactly those investigations (a false claim which, to this day, Stengel refuses to retract).

That is the same flagrant distortion of public opinion that one finds here in the debate over investigations.  The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius claims that a desire for investigations of Bush crimes is confined to “liberal score-settlers.”  Lindsey Graham asserts that only the “hard Left” wants criminal investigations.  Newsweek‘s Jon Barry is certain that the desire for investigations is only about “vengeance, pure and simple.”

Apparently, huge numbers of Americans — majorities, actually — are now liberal, vengeance-seeking, score-settlers from the Hard Left.  What we actually have is what one finds again and again:  establishment journalists who will resort to outright distortions about American public opinion in order to render it irrelevant, by claiming that “most Americans” believe as they believe even where, as here, that claim is categorically false.  It’s hardly surprising (except to an insular Beltway maven) that Americans, who know that they will be subjected to one of the world’s harshest and most merciless criminal justice systems if they break the law, don’t want political elites exempted from the rule of law.  Imagine that.

* * * * *

Finally, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff — echoing a report from John Yoo’s Berkeley colleague, Brad DeLong — reports that an internal DOJ probe (initiated during the Bush administration) has preliminarily concluded that Bush DOJ lawyers who authorized torture (John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury) violated their professional duties as lawyers by issuing legal conclusions that had no good faith basis, and that this behavior will be referred to their state bar associations for possible disciplinary action.  Those conclusions so infuriated the allegedly honorable Michael Mukasey that he refused to accept the report until changes were made.  Now it is up to Eric Holder to accept and then release that report.

The implications of this event can’t be overstated.  One of the primary excuses offered by Bush apologists and those who oppose investigations is that Bush DOJ lawyers authorized the torture and opined that it was legal.  But a finding that those lawyers breached their ethical obligations would mean, by definition, that the opinions they issued were not legitimate legal opinions — i.e., that they were not merely wrong in their conclusions, but so blatantly and self-evidently wrong that they were issued in bad faith (with the intent to justify what they knew the President wanted to do, rather than to offer their good faith views of what the law permitted).

The Convention Against Torture explicitly prohibits the domestic legalization of torture, and specifically states that it shall not be a defense that government officials authorized it. So whether or not these legal opinions were issued in good faith is irrelevant to our obligations under that treaty to investigate and prosecute.  But a finding that these legal opinions were issued in bad faith — with the deliberate intent to knowingly legalize what was plainly criminal behavior — will gut the primary political excuse for treating Bush officials differently than common criminals.

UPDATE:  Citing numerous leading international law authorities, Valtin has an excellent discussion of the obligations the U.S. has to criminally investigate Bush crimes, not only under the Convention Against Torture but also under the Geneva Conventions.   If we don’t consider ourselves bound by the treaties we sign, we should just say so and abrogate them.  Those demanding criminal immunity for Bush officials are advocating that we can and should violate our treaty obligations; they really ought to be honest about it.

UPDATE II:  On June 28, 2004, George Bush commemorated the U.N. Day to Support Torture Victims and vowed that the U.S. “will investigate and prosecute all acts of torture and undertake to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment in all territory under our jurisdiction.”  In doing so, he specifically cited the U.S.’s binding obligation under the Convention to do so (h/t leftydem):

To help fulfill this commitment, the United States has joined 135 other nations in ratifying the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. America stands against and will not tolerate torture. We will investigate and prosecute all acts of torture and undertake to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment in all territory under our jurisdiction. American personnel are required to comply with all U.S. laws, including the United States Constitution, Federal statutes, including statutes prohibiting torture, and our treaty obligations with respect to the treatment of all detainees. . . .

The United States also remains steadfastly committed to upholding the Geneva Conventions, which have been the bedrock of protection in armed conflict for more than 50 years. . . . [W]e will not compromise the rule of law or the values and principles that make us strong. Torture is wrong no matter where it occurs, and the United States will continue to lead the fight to eliminate it everywhere.

If George Bush, citing our obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, can publicly vow that “we will investigate and prosecute all acts of torture,” why can’t Democratic politicians and liberal pundits simply cite the same treaty obligations and make the same commitment?

NSA Offering ‘Billions’ for Skype Eavesdrop Solution

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on February 15, 2009

The Register

wiretapCounter Terror Expo News of a possible viable business model for P2P VoIP network Skype emerged today, at the Counter Terror Expo in London. An industry source disclosed that America’s supersecret National Security Agency (NSA) is offering “billions” to any firm which can offer reliable eavesdropping on Skype IM and voice traffic.

The spybiz exec, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that Skype continues to be a major problem for government listening agencies, spooks and police. This was already thought to be the case, following requests from German authorities for special intercept/bugging powers to help them deal with Skype-loving malefactors. Britain’s GCHQ has also stated that it has severe problems intercepting VoIP and internet communication in general.

Skype in particular is a serious problem for spooks and cops. Being P2P, the network can’t be accessed by the company providing it and the authorities can’t gain access by that route. The company won’t disclose details of its encryption, either, and isn’t required to as it is Europe based. This lack of openness prompts many security pros to rubbish Skype on “security through obscurity” grounds: but nonetheless it remains a popular choice with those who think they might find themselves under surveillance. Rumour suggests that America’s NSA may be able to break Skype encryption – assuming they have access to a given call or message – but nobody else.

The NSA may be able to do that: but it seems that if so, this uses up too much of the agency’s resources at present.

“They are saying to the industry, you get us into Skype and we will make you a very rich company,” said the industry source, adding that the obscure encryption used by the P2Pware is believed to change frequently as part of software updates.

The spyware kingpin suggested that Skype is deliberately seeking to frustrate national listening agencies, which seems an odd thing to do – Skype has difficulties enough getting revenues out of its vast user base at any time, and a paid secure-voice system for subversives doesn’t seem like a money-spinner.

But corporate parent eBay, having had to write down $1.4bn already following its $2.6bn purchase of Skype back in the bubble-2.0 days of 2005, might see an opportunity here. A billion or two from the NSA for a backdoor into Skype might make the acquisition seem like a sensible idea.

We asked the NSA for comment, particularly on the idea of simply buying a way into Skype, but hadn’t yet received a response as of publication.

In Final Legal Act, Bush Appeals Spy Ruling

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 21, 2009

Wired

spyWith a mere 64 minutes left in its last full day in office, the Bush administration asked a federal judge to stay enforcement of a  ruling that would keep alive a lawsuit which tests whether the president can bypass the Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.

The request was lodged with U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco at 10:56 p.m. EST on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — about 13 hours before the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The filing was among now former President George W. Bush’s final legal acts in office.

The Bush administration asked Walker’s permission to appeal his Jan. 5 decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Walker had ruled that “sufficient facts” exist that two U.S.-based lawyers for an Islamic charity might have been spied upon for the case to proceed to the next stage.

The case seeks the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program the president approved in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Congress authorized the spy program last year as part of legislation immunizing participating telecommunication companies from lawsuits accusing them of violating their customers’ civil liberties, but the spying in this case allegedly happened in 2004. Eric Holder, the incoming U.S. attorney, said the Obama administration supported the spy legislation and would defend it in a separate challenge.

On Monday, the Bush administration sought to prevent the disclosure of a Top Secret document at the center of a closely watched spy case, a document Walker ruled could be admitted.

The suit involves two American lawyers who the Treasury Department accidentally gave a Top Secret document in 2004 showing they were illegally eavesdropped on by the government when working for a now-defunct Islamic charity that year.

Their suit looked all but dead in July when they were initially blocked from using the document to prove they were spied on. They were forced to return it to the government.

But two weeks ago, Walker said the document could be used in the case because there was sufficient, anecdotal evidence unrelated to the document that suggests the lawyers for the Al-Haramain charity were spied upon. Without the document, the lawyers — Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo — don’t likely have a case.

In its Monday filling, (.pdf) the government repeated its assertion that the use of the document in the case would jeopardize national security. The administration said the document was protected by the so-called state secrets privilege and objected to even Walker reviewing it — yet alone the lawyers for Belew and Ghafoo — who Walker said could see it in private.

“If the court were to find … that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege — namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration wrote.

By the same token, the administration argued, if Walker allowed the case to proceed after reviewing the document, it “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance.”

The government continued: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.”

A hearing is scheduled in Walker’s courtroom on Friday.

“We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security,” said Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo. “Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.”

Forgive And Forget?

Posted in Barack Obama, Bush, environment, politics, torture, war crimes by allisonkilkenny on January 16, 2009

Paul Krugman

war-crimes1Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

At the Justice Department, for example, political appointees illegally reserved nonpolitical positions for “right-thinking Americans” — their term, not mine — and there’s strong evidence that officials used their positions both to undermine the protection of minority voting rights and to persecute Democratic politicians.

The hiring process at Justice echoed the hiring process during the occupation of Iraq — an occupation whose success was supposedly essential to national security — in which applicants were judged by their politics, their personal loyalty to President Bush and, according to some reports, by their views on Roe v. Wade, rather than by their ability to do the job.

Speaking of Iraq, let’s also not forget that country’s failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed.

There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?

Alternatively, we’re told that we don’t have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration’s political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won’t do it all over again, given the chance?

In fact, we’ve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.

Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.

Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

A President Forgotten but Not Gone

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on January 4, 2009

Frank Rich

george-bush-sourWe like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.

The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.

The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.

He tried to spin the ruckus as another victory for his administration’s program of democracy promotion. “That’s what people do in a free society,” he said. He had made the same claim three years ago after the Palestinian elections, championed by his “freedom agenda” (and almost $500 million of American aid), led to a landslide victory for Hamas. “There is something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush observed at the time, as he congratulated Palestinian voters for rejecting “the old guard.”

The ruins of his administration’s top policy priority can be found not only in Gaza but in the new “democratic” Iraq, where the local journalist who tossed the shoes was jailed without formal charges and may have been tortured. Almost simultaneously, opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused him of making politically motivated arrests of rival-party government officials in anticipation of this month’s much-postponed provincial elections.

Condi Rice blamed the press for the image that sullied Bush’s Iraq swan song: “That someone chose to throw a shoe at the president is what gets reported over and over.” We are back where we came in. This was the same line Donald Rumsfeld used to deny the significance of the looting in Baghdad during his famous “Stuff happens!” press conference of April 2003. “Images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over,” he said then, referring to the much-recycled video of a man stealing a vase from the Baghdad museum. “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” he asked, playing for laughs.

The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement — as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.

Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.

To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”

Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”

This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).

If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.

But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.

The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The president who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.

He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked (by Charles Gibson) if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says, “People will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says “it was a repudiation of Republicans.”

“The attacks of September the 11th came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of a Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure,” not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds,” that sped us into Iraq. Did he take too long to change course in Iraq? “What seems like an eternity today,” he says, “may seem like a moment tomorrow.” Try telling that to the families of the thousands killed and maimed during that multiyear “moment” as Bush stubbornly stayed his disastrous course.

The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul,” he told Gibson. And so when he visits military hospitals, “it’s always been a healing experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But, incredibly enough, it’s his own healing he is concerned about, not that of the grievously wounded men and women he sent to war on false pretenses. It’s “the comforter in chief” who “gets comforted,” he explained, by “the character of the American people.” The American people are surely relieved to hear it.

With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. The smugness is reinforced not just by his history as the entitled scion of one of America’s aristocratic dynasties but also by his conviction that his every action is blessed from on high. Asked last month by an interviewer what he has learned from his time in office, he replied: “I’ve learned that God is good. All the time.”

Once again he is shifting the blame. This presidency was not about Him. Bush failed because in the end it was all about him.

Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today. (Thank God.)
The public editor’s column will return next week. (Booooo.)

Add Up The Damage

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 30, 2008

Bob Herbert

15_bush_shoes_3Does anyone know where George W. Bush is?

You don’t hear much from him anymore. The last image most of us remember is of the president ducking a pair of size 10s that were hurled at him in Baghdad.

We’re still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel is thrashing the Palestinians in Gaza. And the U.S. economy is about as vibrant as the 0-16 Detroit Lions.

But hardly a peep have we heard from George, the 43rd.

When Mr. Bush officially takes his leave in three weeks (in reality, he checked out long ago), most Americans will be content to sigh good riddance. I disagree. I don’t think he should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a great hue and cry — a loud, collective angry howl, demonstrations with signs and bullhorns and fiery speeches — over the damage he’s done to this country.

This is the man who gave us the war in Iraq and Guantánamo and torture and rendition; who turned the Clinton economy and the budget surplus into fool’s gold; who dithered while New Orleans drowned; who trampled our civil liberties at home and ruined our reputation abroad; who let Dick Cheney run hog wild and thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job.

The Bush administration specialized in deceit. How else could you get the public (and a feckless Congress) to go along with an invasion of Iraq as an absolutely essential response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when Iraq had had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks?

Exploiting the public’s understandable fears, Mr. Bush made it sound as if Iraq was about to nuke us: “We cannot wait,” he said, “for the final proof — the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

He then set the blaze that has continued to rage for nearly six years, consuming more than 4,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. (A car bomb over the weekend killed two dozen more Iraqis, many of them religious pilgrims.) The financial cost to the U.S. will eventually reach $3 trillion or more, according to the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.

A year into the war Mr. Bush was cracking jokes about it at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association. He displayed a series of photos that showed him searching the Oval Office, peering behind curtains and looking under the furniture. A mock caption had Mr. Bush saying: “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.”

And then there’s the Bush economy, another disaster, a trapdoor through which middle-class Americans can plunge toward the bracing experiences normally reserved for the poor and the destitute.

Mr. Bush traveled the country in the early days of his presidency, promoting his tax cut plans as hugely beneficial to small-business people and families of modest means. This was more deceit. The tax cuts would go overwhelmingly to the very rich.

The president would give the wealthy and the powerful virtually everything they wanted. He would throw sand into the regulatory apparatus and help foster the most extreme income disparities since the years leading up to the Great Depression. Once again he was lighting a fire. This time the flames would engulf the economy and, as with Iraq, bring catastrophe.

If the U.S. were a product line, it would be seen now as deeply damaged goods, subject to recall.

There seemed to be no end to Mr. Bush’s talent for destruction. He tried to hand the piggy bank known as Social Security over to the marauders of the financial sector, but saner heads prevailed.

In New Orleans, the president failed to intervene swiftly and decisively to aid the tens of thousands of poor people who were very publicly suffering and, in many cases, dying. He then compounded this colossal failure of leadership by traveling to New Orleans and promising, in a dramatic, floodlit appearance, to spare no effort in rebuilding the flood-torn region and the wrecked lives of the victims.

He went further, vowing to confront the issue of poverty in America “with bold action.”

It was all nonsense, of course. He did nothing of the kind.

The catalog of his transgressions against the nation’s interests — sins of commission and omission — would keep Mr. Bush in a confessional for the rest of his life. Don’t hold your breath. He’s hardly the contrite sort.

He told ABC’s Charlie Gibson: “I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it.”

The president chuckled, thinking — as he did when he made his jokes about the missing weapons of mass destruction — that there was something funny going on.