Archive for November, 2005
The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHe have an interesting article that looks at Scooter Libby’s testimony, and the argument that he was trying to protect Dick Cheney from the Fitzgerald investigation: Libby may have tried to mask Cheney’s role.
There’s nothing really new here, but it does a good job of explaining the basic facts. Doesn’t come right out and say, “yeah, Libby lied to protect Cheney,” but makes it clear that that’s what Fitzgerald’s probably thinking. Because, you know, it’s pretty obviously the truth.
- 2006: Libby’s lawyers drag out the trial’s start to minimize impact on the 2006 midterm elections.
- 2007: Libby convicted at trial, begins serving sentence. McClellan: “As you know, I’d love nothing more than to answer your questions. But there is an appeal under way, and this administration believes it would be irresponsible to make public comments that might prejudice an ongoing legal proceeding.”
- 2008: Libby loses on appeal.
- January, 2009: On his last day as president, Bush pardons Libby.
One of the best things I’ve seen from Kevin Drum in a while (which is saying a lot): Declaration of war.
It’s been interesting to see all the Bush administration weathercocks turning in unison in response to the ongoing grumbling about the dishonest case for war in Iraq. Or maybe they’re not weathercocks, but actually aspen groves, their leaves turning in unison because their roots connect them; I get confused by fancy metaphors.
Then Bush himself weighed in with his Veterans Day remarks (President commemorates Veterans Day, discusses war on terror). The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus have some insightful observations about that: Asterisks dot White House’s Iraq argument. Or, as helpfully summarized by Philosoraptor in (Epistemic) sins of omission: Bush’s meta-lies:
…Bush is currently engaged in the same types of deception about the historical facts about his use of pre-war intelligence that he engaged in with regard to the intelligence at that time. That is, he’s using carefully-worded half-truths and exaggerations to try to fool people into believing that an equivocal case is crystal clear.
(Update: And Josh Marshall has a great response to Bush’s speech, too: What a sorry, sorry, unfortunate president…)
This kind of lying from Bush is very consistent. There’s an evil cleverness to how the arguments are crafted that’s characteristic of his most notable public statements. I assume (though I don’t know for a fact) that what we’re seeing here is the mind of Karl Rove at work. Having escaped the initial Plame-outing indictments, he’s been free to devote some attention to Bush’s free-falling poll numbers and the growing discontent with the war, and this latest pushback is his response.
The heart of that “evil cleverness” thing I’m talking about is the way the argument incorporates truths that are, in fact, quite damning of Bush himself. But it twists their meaning and misapplies them. I’m not sure, but I suspect that’s consciously done. It’s like a vaccination: by putting those arguments in Bush’s words, they pre-emptively frame critics’ use of the same arguments. “Hey!” Bush’s supporters can say later, “You’re saying the same thing Bush said. And it doesn’t undercut Bush’s argument, it’s part of his argument.” Well, yeah, but only if you’re willing to engage in overtly fallacious reasoning.
Here are a few examples from Bush’s Veterans Day speech:
And our debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war.
…it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges.
If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery while radicals stir the resentment of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, in our generation and for the next.
All of those statements are true. The principles they describe are of vital importance. It’s just that they actually argue quite strongly against, rather than in favor of, Bush’s policies and actions.
It’s kind of a minor issue in the larger scheme of things, but I think this story is significant in terms of the larger pattern it helps to illustrate. From Think Progress: That’s not accurate: White House alters transcript of press briefing.
At issue is a response Scott McClellan made to reporter David Gregory concerning Rove and Libby during an October 31 press conference. Here’s Gregory’s question:
Q Whether there’s a question of legality, we know for a fact that there was involvement. We know that Karl Rove, based on what he and his lawyer have said, did have a conversation about somebody who Patrick Fitzgerald said was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. We know that Scooter Libby also had conversations.
If you watch the White House-supplied video, it’s clear that McClellan responds by saying, “that’s accurate.” Later, when the White House transcript appeared, McClellan’s response was given as “I don’t think that’s accurate.”
The White House has reportedly pressured Congressional Quarterly and Federal News Service, which provide their own, independent transcripts, and which give the McClellan response as “that’s accurate,” to change their transcripts to conform with the White House version; so far the news organizations have refused. From Wonkette: The White House’s war on transcripts. And from Editor & Publisher: White House stands by ‘not accurate’ quote in dispute.
Now, no one’s really going to make a lot of stew from this one oyster of McClellan supposedly confirming the fact that Rove and Libby had conversations with reporters about the Plame matter. I’m perfectly willing to stipulate that McClellan misspoke. I’m sure, given his recent history of statements on Rove and Libby, that McClellan would not have wanted to respond to that question with anything, neither “that’s accurate” nor “I don’t think that’s accurate.” It pretty obviously was just a brain fart on his part, and one that’s completely understandable, given the context of his having to find several hundred different ways to say, “we’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation” while sounding (at least a little bit) like he’s actually responding to reporters’ questions.
But a transcript is supposed to be a transcript. It’s a record of what was actually said, not what participants wish, in hindsight, they’d said. If the White House wanted to amend the transcript with a footnote saying McClellan misspoke, that would be fine.
But that’s not what they’re doing. They’ve seized on what might very well be a more or less innocent mis-transcription by the White House stenographer (who knows as well as anyone that McClellan would never have wanted to respond to that question with “that’s accurate”), and have asked two independent news organizations to go along with their magical thinking.
They really, really want for McClellan to have responded differently, so they just squeeze their eyes shut and wish very, very hard. If only all the little girls and boys in the audience will clap their hands and chant along with them, “I do believe in fairies. I do! I do!” then little Scottie McTinkerbell will come back to life.
From the Editor & Publisher article linked to above:
White House press office spokeswoman Dana Perino confirmed that her office had requested a review of the transcripts, noting, “it was simply to point out that the official transcript by the White House stenographer had it as it was released and that is all it was,” she said, saying the White House transcript was never altered.
When asked about the fact that the White House version contradicts video accounts of the briefing, Perino added, “the White House stenographer was in the room and I was in the room” and they heard McClellan say “I don’t think that’s accurate’.”
I don’t dispute that they heard it. But McClellan clearly didn’t actually say it. And as an example of the kind of magical thinking that pervades the Bush administration, and which ends up having more significant consequences when applied to other questions (like whether or not to go to war), it’s pretty scary.
Here are the updated graphs of US war deaths in Iraq for October. Deaths rose sharply, presumably as a result of increased fighting centered on the constitutional referendum and insurgent strongholds in western Iraq. There were a total of 96 US fatalities in October. As always, I’m comparing the military casualties to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which many have charged is inherently misleading; see disclaimer below).
The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.
The first graph shows the first 32 months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)
Next, the same chart, with the Vietnam numbers extended out to cover the first four years of the war:
Finally, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:
Disclaimer: I’m aware that we have more troops in-theater in Iraq than we had during the corresponding parts of the Vietnam War graph. Vietnam didn’t get numbers of US troops comparable to the number currently in Iraq until some three and a half years after the starting point of the Vietnam graphs above. The starting point for the Vietnam graphs is the death that was identified (years later) by Lyndon Johnson as being the first of the war.
These graphs do not address the relative lethality of the two conflicts on a per-soldier basis. I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. You are free to draw your own conclusions.
I was interested by that recent article from Douglas Jehl at the New York Times (Report warned Bush team about intelligence suspicions). The story describes an intelligence report, recently declassified, that was circulating in early 2002 among top Bush administration officials, and which cast doubt on the allegations of al Qaeda/Iraq cooperation that had been made by captured al Qaeda bigwig Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.
See, after we captured al-Libi we handed him over to the Egyptian authorities so they could properly torture him, and it was that torture, apparently, that produced his “confession” of a high-level connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. And the experts who looked at that evidence thought it wasn’t credible, in part because when you torture somebody they’ll say whatever they think you want them to say so you’ll stop torturing them, and in part because the evidence just didn’t make much sense on its own merits.
And the Bush people basically knew this. But they used the information as part of their case for war anyway.
Much intelligent musing on the story from Kevin Drum: Torture and the vice president and Torture and the vice president, part 2. Also from Philosoraptor: Dick Cheney’s pro-torture crusade. And from the LA Times’ Nicole Gaouette: Prewar claims set off bells, and from the LA Times’ editorial writers: Tortured justifications.
There are a lot of good points to be made about this, and the people linked to above make many of them. There’s something else that struck me about this story, concerning the Bush administration’s “tell” (by which I mean, a characteristic sign that helps you spot that they’re lying).
(Cue the cheap shot: “Their lips move.”)
No, seriously. From the Gaouette article linked to above:
In an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, President Bush said that “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gas.”
This sounds eerily like the infamous “16 words” from Bush’s State of the Union address the following January:
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
In hindsight, knowing what we know now about how both pieces of information had been undercut within the Administration at the time the public statement was made, it’s possible to recognize a certain clever legalistic parsing going on. After all, as any number of Bush supporters are happy to point out to this day, neither statement is completely, hyper-technically untrue. In the same sense that Clinton could assert that he really hadn’t had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky (because the legal definition he was operating under defined sex as touching another person on a list of proscribed body parts, and his claim was that he never actually touched any of her listed parts while she was fellating him), Bush could assert that he (or the British) had indeed “learned” certain things about Saddam, even if Bush had good reason to doubt those things based on information he’d subsequently received.
Just because he said he’d “learned” it, you see, doesn’t mean that he didn’t subsequently “unlearn” it. If the people listening to Bush’s statements chose to add the assumed clause, “…and I actually believe those things to be true today, based on an objective, good-faith analysis of the best evidence I currently possess,” well, that wasn’t Bush’s fault. Caveat emptor.
Note, though, that under this formulation, it would be equally honest if Bush were to stand at the podium during his next State of the Union address and solemnly inform the country, “We have learned that a fat man in a red suit climbs down millions of chimneys leaving presents for children on Christmas eve,” and “British authorities have learned that a magical rabbit hides brightly colored eggs just prior to Easter morning,” and “we’ve learned that a deft fairy replaces children’s lost teeth with money, if those teeth are left under the children’s pillows while they sleep at night.”
All true statements. At some point in our lives all of us (or at least many of us in my part of the world) have learned those things.
So now I’ve learned something else: When Bush says that he (or someone else) has learned something, it’s actually a good bet that it isn’t true.
Interesting analysis from John Dean: A Cheney-Libby conspiracy, or worse? Reading between the lines of the Libby indictment.
Will Libby flip? Unlikely. Neither Cheney nor Libby (I believe) will be so foolish as to crack a deal. And Libby probably (and no doubt correctly) assumes that Cheney — a former boss with whom he has a close relationship — will (at the right time and place) help Libby out, either with a pardon or financially, if necessary. Libby’s goal, meanwhile, will be to stall going to trial as long as possible, so as not to hurt Republicans’ showing in the 2006 elections.
So if Libby can take the heat for a time, he and his former boss (and friend) may get through this. But should Republicans lose control of the Senate (where they are blocking all oversight of this administration), I predict Cheney will resign “for health reasons.”
On that last point, I don’t think it takes a crystal ball to predict a Cheney resignation “for health reasons” after the 2006 elections. Putting the person that the Republican party would like to have replace Bush into the vice presidency after the midterms is the obvious thing to do for political reasons, regardless of whether Cheney has become a political liability because of Plamegate.
But given my own feeling that Libby will stick to his story, secure in the knowledge that a pardon is waiting for him during Bush’s last few days in office, it was interesting to me to see Dean saying essentially the same thing.
In light of the conversation currently going on in the comments between Enkidu and TeacherVet and others, here’s a piece by Kevin Drum that I can pretty much agree with: Marketing the war.
Was there a widespread belief in September 2002 that Iraq had an active WMD program? Yes. Did the Bush administration nonetheless lie, exaggerate, and dissemble repeatedly about that program? Yes. Should conservatives be concerned about that? Yes. After all, the next president to market a war this way might not be a Republican. They should be as interested in learning the truth about this — and preventing it from happening again — as the rest of us.
This was the key fact that, to me at the time, removed any credibility the Bush team might have previously had in calling for the invasion of Iraq: In the early months of 2003, as the case for war was clearly beginning to unravel, they rushed ahead and invaded anyway. In fact, you could argue that they rushed ahead and invaded precisely because the case was unravelling, because they recognized that waiting any longer was going to lose them their chance to go to war.
Excellent item by Elizabeth de la Vega from The Nation: The White House criminal conspiracy. (Also via TomDispatch: De la Vega, Bush’s war, a case of presidential fraud?)
Conspiracies to defraud usually begin with a goal that is not in and of itself illegal. In this instance the goal was to invade Iraq. It is possible that the Bush team thought this goal was laudable and likely to succeed. It’s also possible that they never formally agreed to defraud the public in order to attain it. But when they chose to overcome anticipated or actual opposition to their plan by concealing information and lying, they began a conspiracy to defraud — because, as juries are instructed, “no amount of belief in the ultimate success of a scheme will justify baseless, false or reckless misstatements.”
I’m convinced. Impeach the bastard. Do it now.
Link discovered via Jane Hamsher of my new favorite weblog, firedoglake, at The chickenhawk conspiracy, where they also filed the serial numbers off this really excellent propaganda poster remix:
Good item from Kevin Drum that gets to the heart of the broken policymaking process in Bushland: Lott vs. Rove.
Dana Priest has an excellent front-page article in today’s Washington Post on the network of secret prisons being operated worldwide by the CIA: CIA holds terror suspects in secret prisons.
I consider this story truly horrible. I’ve said before, and will say again, that this is far and away the worst thing done by the Bush administration.
While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.
But the revelations of widespread prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military — which operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress — have increased concern among lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups about the opaque CIA system. Those concerns escalated last month, when Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from legislation already endorsed by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody.
Although the CIA will not acknowledge details of its system, intelligence officials defend the agency’s approach, arguing that the successful defense of the country requires that the agency be empowered to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists for as long as necessary and without restrictions imposed by the U.S. legal system or even by the military tribunals established for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
The secret detention system was conceived in the chaotic and anxious first months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the working assumption was that a second strike was imminent.
Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives. Mid-level and senior CIA officers began arguing two years ago that the system was unsustainable and diverted the agency from its unique espionage mission.
“We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy,” said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons. “Everything was very reactive. That’s how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don’t say, ‘What are we going to do with them afterwards?’ ”
The number of prisoners being held so far is limited, we are led to believe, perhaps about 100. But the size of the program isn’t the point. It could be one prisoner, and it would still be shockingly wrong.
The United States cannot engage in this sort of behavior as a matter of policy and remain the United States. Operating secret facilities where people are detained with no charges, kept indefinitely away from any outside contact, tortured, and occasionally killed is a blatant violation of the most fundamental principles on which this country was founded, and from which our government derives its legitimacy.
By engaging in this sort of behavior, George Bush is doing what neither Osama bin Laden nor Saddam Hussein nor any number of former, current, or future enemies could ever hope to accomplish: he is destroying this country.
I don’t mean that as a metaphor. It is the literal truth.
Hm. Maybe that title is a tad subjective.
Anyway, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate minority leader, invoked seldom-used Rule 21 in the Senate yesterday, placing the body in closed session to discuss intelligence committee chairman Pat Roberts’ (R-KS) failure so far to complete the promised “phase two” of the committee’s investigation into the Iraqi intelligence failures. From the WaPo: GOP angered by closed Senate session.
The usually unflappable majority leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), was searching for words to express his outrage to reporters a few minutes later. The Senate “has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership,” he said. “They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas.” Never before had he been “slapped in the face with such an affront,” he said, adding: “For the next year and a half, I can’t trust Senator Reid.”
Frist seemed much calmer when the closed session ended. He agreed to a six-senator bipartisan task force that will report by Nov. 14 on “the intelligence committee’s progress of the phase two review of the prewar intelligence and its schedule for completion.”
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said the report was nearing completion anyway, but Democrats disputed that.
So, given Roberts’ history, I’m sure the information will only come out with him kicking and screaming, or with any criticism of the Bush administration’s role watered way down, or both. But it’s better than meekly going along with the ongoing whitewash.