Archive for the 'george_w_bush' Category

Latest Signing Statement Flouts Reason and Law

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

In signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 into law, President Bush issued a signing statement stating that he would not enforce four sections of the law, citing that they would “inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations”. These sections were:

  • Forbidding use of taxpayer money to build permanent military bases in Iraq
  • Strengthening protections for whistle-blowers within government contractors
  • Requiring intelligence agencies respond to Congressional requests for information within 45 days
  • Establishment of a “Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan” to investigate contractor wrong-doing

All four of these seem to me imminently reasonable — necessary even — things to put into law, and I find it outrageous that the President would refuse to execute them. But setting that aside, I’d like to look at the legality of this signing statement from a couple points of view.

First, some would argue that the division of war-related powers between Congress and the President are unclear, so it is within reason for the President to assert that these would unconstitutionally limit his powers. If you take that point of view however, the correct response would be for the President to either veto the bill, or sign it and challenge the sections he believes unconstitutional in court. Of course he won’t do this because he wants to sign the bill to get the bits he wants, and I suspect he refuses to take his challenge to court because he fears he would lose; I certainly believe he would, as the above provisions seem well within Congress’ funding and oversight powers to me. The President is essentially exercising powers reserved for the Supreme Court by making judgments on constitutionality, and it is this Congress’ responsibility to check him.

Second, some would argue that signing statements are an executive tool with a historical precedent, used when the President’s duty to the Constitution runs afoul of Congress’ wishes, and so it is reasonable for the President to use this tool. If you take this point of view however, then even as the President suspends execution of the law, I believe it is again his responsibility to immediately take his challenge to the courts to ensure he himself is acting constitutionally. Since he is not (again I believe for the same reasons stated above), then it falls to the Congress to check him.

Both arguments lead to one conclusion: when the Executive branch is actively avoiding legal rulings on policies being pursued (as they have repeatedly done — here, as well as in cases such as FISA), the only Constitutional recourse is impeachment, and I mean this is a very concrete legal sense, not an “impeach the bastard!” sense.

So to get back to the topic at hand, can anybody defend Bush refusing to execute sections of law that I believe most people would agree make sense, and supporting this refusal on very questionable legal grounds? I certainly can’t, and Congress should be ashamed for running out the clock rather than doing their job.

The Center for Public Integrity on the Bush Administration’s Iraq Lies

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Nice summing up of the lies Bush and Company told in the run-up to war with Iraq: Iraq: The War Card. Pretty much speaks for itself.

Philosoraptor on McGovern on Impeachment

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

I still like Philosoraptor, even if he’s a bit too rah-rah about blowing things up for my taste sometimes. But I really enjoyed reading his take on the recent McGovern article calling for Bush to be impeached: McGovern: Impeach Bush.

It’s always struck me as peculiar that the very people who have the most pronounced tendency to wave the flag and extol the virtues of America also seem to have the least actual respect for the Constitution and the institutions of our government. That brand of patriotism–if patriotism it even is–is of a tribalistic, sophomoric variety. Actual patriotism, however, requires a commitment to the principles of the Consitution, and an ability to take an objective view of matters of this kind by transcending partisan commitments. There may be legal arguments that show that impeachment is not, in fact, called for, but if those arguments exist they have not been made public. From the perspective of the well-informed layperson, given the available evidence and arguments, impeachment must at least be seriously considered. Podcast 26

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

The newest podcast is available: Podcast 26. This one features the following:

I really like how this one turned out, especially the part where I followed (sort of) listener pelonpelon’s suggestion and played around with mixing in a little Bush at the beginning of “Post-modern Sleaze”. Anyway, check it out.

Greenwald on the Mystery of Gonzales’s and Addington’s Position on Destroying the Torture Tapes

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

A better-than-usual (which is saying a lot) Glenn Greenwald column that touches on what I believe to be a key part of the destroyed-torture-tapes story: The fact that the top legal advisors of the president and vice president were present at a meeting where an act of obstruction of justice was apparently discussed (an act that subsequently came to pass), and the public is being kept in the dark as to what action they advised: Oligarchical decay.

In case after case, our political establishment has adopted the “principle” that our most powerful actors are immune from the rule of law. And they’ve adopted the enabling supplemental “principle” that any information which our political leaders want to keep suppressed is — by definition, for that reason alone — information that is “classified” and should not be disclosed.

I think I’ll be making another one of my periodic calls to the office of my congressional representative, the otherwise-awesome Lois Capps, to encourage her to break with Nancy Pelosi on the subject of impeachment. Because loyalty to one’s party is one thing. But complicity with torture is the sort of thing that tends to look bad when reflects on it later in life.

Larry Johnson: Someone Lied About the Torture Tapes in 2003

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

I think I’m inclined to think that Larry Johnson knows what he’s talking about here: Who Obstructed Justice?

The key question surrounding torture tape gate is not who authorized the destruction of the tapes in 2005. Nope. The real priority is who in the Bush Administration knowingly lied to a Federal Judge in the spring of 2003. Either the CIA told DOJ the truth and DOJ lied or the CIA lied to DOJ or the White House directed DOJ to lie. It is that simple.

And it’s a felony. And it’s grounds for impeachment. Start the hearings already.

Froomkin on Perino on the White House on the Torture Videos

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Dan Froomkin does a good job of summing up the last few days’ hijinks from White House press secretary Dana Perino regarding what the White House did, and didn’t, know and do back in the day regarding the CIA torture videos: The Tell-Tale Stall.

Perino’s currently stuck in trying-to-have-it-both-ways mode: She doesn’t want to talk about the subject (because talking about it threatens to reveal the truth, which is almost certainly that folks like Addington were up to their eyeballs in pushing the CIA to ignore judicial orders and destroy the evidence of the torture they’d been committing). But at the same time, she wants to push back against the New York Times reporting that in the first few days after the story broke, the White House was peddling (via anonymous leaks) that Harriet Miers had been telling the CIA that the agency should not destroy the tapes.

There’s a constitutional provision specifically designed for handling situations like this. It’s called impeachment. And Nancy Pelosi needs to get off her skinny ass and start that process.

In the meantime, here are the highlights of yesterday’s White House press briefing. I know she doesn’t know what the Bay of Pigs was. And she’s defending torturers. But I have to admit: I’ve kinda got a crush on Dana.

Bush the Strict Constitutionalist

Friday, November 16th, 2007

I admit I found reference to this in a Glenn Greenwald post, but rather than link to that, I’ll link directly to the original speech Bush recently gave before the Federalist Society. Go read it in its un-spun, un-commented-on form, as I believe it speaks entirely for itself.

Bergstein on the FBI’s Extraction of False Confessions

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

One (small) comfort while watching our collective descent into being a state sponsor of torture has been the notion that the evil is at least confined to the CIA and the Defense Department. But of course that’s not true; the evil extends throughout the government. And it turns out that you don’t have to actually engage in torture to slide down the slippery moral slope it creates. For example, check out this item from Steve Bergstein: A tale of two decisions (or, how the FBI gets you to confess).

This is a side to the foolishness of the Bush administration’s use of torture that doesn’t get enough attention from those who support it. It’s not just that it’s wrong. It’s stupid — because using coercive techniques simply guarantees that your victims will tell you whatever it is they think you want to hear, even if it’s not remotely close to the truth. And even if you don’t actually torture them directly, but merely threaten to give the names of their family members to the Egyptian police.

I’m with Sean Penn on this: The people engaging in this kind of thing, and writing legal opinions allowing it, and pushing others to use it, belong in fucking jail.

Lessons of the SERE School

Friday, October 12th, 2007

…he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.

His looks shewing him not pained, but pleased with this allusion to his situation, she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right of seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study; and on being requested to particularize, mentioned such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.

Captain Benwick listened attentively, and seemed grateful for the interest implied; and though with a shake of the head, and sighs which declared his little faith in the efficacy of any books on grief like his, noted down the names of those she recommended, and promised to procure and read them.

Persuasion, Chapter 11

The passage is pithier in the Amanda Root movie, but there’s something cool about the original Austen, if you can manage to slow yourself down long enough to understand what she’s saying. Anyway, I bring this up by way of introducing a completely different book, one that Linda says is making me too serious, like Captain Benwick. “You should perhaps include a greater allowance in your reading of something other than these depressing Bush critiques,” she told me the other night, and we both smiled at the reference.

But the book really is amazingly good. It’s Takeover, by Charlie Savage, and I encourage you all to procure and read it.

It’s great because Savage takes his role as a journalist seriously, which I guess makes him something of a dying breed. He offers scrupulously researched detail, never straying into opinion or editorializing, trusting the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. And while much of the information he presents isn’t new, there’s power in the way he ties it into a coherent narrative.

And some of it is is new, at least to me. Like the part about Bush’s use of torture, and the roots of the particular techniques that have been employed in places like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the CIA black sites, and the Navy brig in Virginia where Jose Padilla was held for years before being charged.

The techniques the Bush-Cheney administration approved after 9/11 included a range of disorienting and debilitating ordeals, including stripping prisoners naked; subjecting them to prolonged isolation and sleep disruption and deprivation; bombarding cells for long periods with very loud music and grating sounds; leaving bright lights on in a cell twenty-four hours a day; keeping cells stifling hot or freezing cold; shackling prisoners in painful “stress” positions for many hours; exploiting prisoners’ phobias by such means as menacing them with fierce dogs; and — in the case of the CIA — water-boarding.

As Savage explains, these techniques had a very specific origin. They emerged from a type of US military training called SERE (for “Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion”).

SERE School was a by-product of the Korean War. During the war, Communist forces began producing elaborate propaganda films of American pilots who had been shot down and captured “confessing” to such heinous crimes as deliberately targeting civilians with chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. government knew that the confessions were false and that they had been coerced, but the prisoners of war did not seem to have been physically abused before making the “confessions.” After the war, when the pilots were returned, they all told the same story: Chinese interrogators, working with the North Koreans, had put them through a series of sustained torments — the same list described above — until their minds had bent and they had made false confessions.

The point of SERE training is to help air crews and Special Forces members prepare themselves to better resist that sort of treatment should they be captured by a country that doesn’t respect the Geneva Conventions. But the people who play the role of interrogators in SERE training are not real interrogators. Real interrogators, people trained to obtain useful, actionable intelligence, view the coercive techniques of the SERE curriculum as the worst possible approach, since all it does is manipulate the captive into telling you whatever it is he thinks you want to hear, regardless of the truth. Yet this is the approach the Bush administration has systematically employed in dealing with the threat of terrorism.

Once I saw the situation in that context, it all snapped into focus. Of course the Bush administration is employing illegal techniques to coerce false confessions as part of the War on Terror. They’re not interested in the truth. They’re only interested in getting the answers that they’ve already decided will help them the most. So: Public fears of imminent terror boost your level of public support? Great. Subject a few captured al Qaeda fighters (or even just random guys turned in for the $5,000 bounty you’re paying in Afghanistan) to waterboarding, and presto: You get a constant stream of “information” about scary plots that keep the public on edge and the terror alert level high. You’re taking public heat because you can’t catch the actual people running al Qaeda? Some bright lights, rock music, and smacky-face later, you get a string of “confessions” from the people you actually can catch, all of whom turn out to be key, high-level figures in the organization. (How many #2’s does al Qaeda actually have, anyway?)

It’s exactly the same approach they used in the run-up to the Iraq war, when they twisted the intelligence process to produce conclusions (that Saddam had WMD, was in bed with al Qaeda, and had an active campaign to acquire nuclear weapons) that supported the a priori decision to invade. For that matter, it’s the same approach they used during the Florida recount in 2000, when they didn’t care about finding the truth about who had received the most votes, but only about producing the outcome they wanted. It isn’t about truth. It’s about what they can get away with, what they can get people to believe, once “truth” as a goal has been dispensed with. It’s about politics, a game they’ve learned to win by being more ruthless than the next guy, more willing to run roughshod over any objection — rational, ethical, legal — that stands between them and the thing they want.

At its core, the Bush administration is founded on a lie: That George W. Bush is the sort of person that anyone in his right mind would pick to run a country. From the earliest days of the 2000 campaign they’ve been focused like a laser on maintaining that fiction. Everything that has followed — the incompetent loyalists in positions of authority, the lies, the coverups, the lawbreaking, and yes, the torture — all have their roots in the essential dishonesty that is at the heart of the Bush presidency.

Greenwald on the Latest Torture Revelations

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Glenn Greenwald, summing up quite succinctly why I fear for the future of my country: The latest revelations of lawbreaking, torture and extremism.

It has long been known that we are torturing, holding detainees in secret prisons beyond the reach of law and civilization, sending detainees to the worst human rights abusers to be tortured, and subjecting them ourselves to all sorts of treatment which both our own laws and the treaties to which we are a party plainly prohibit. None of this is new.

And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that.

What Thomas Nephew Did on His Weekend

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Thomas Nephew has a photo of a banner I’d be happy to stand behind. Podcast 24

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Join me in exploring my obsessions in Podcast 24: lying politicians, in-the-moment actors and reporters, and teenage girl pop stars.

I don’t know what people think of this format I’ve been using for the podcasts lately; people are downloading them and presumably listening, but the number is small and I don’t get a lot of feedback.

I mostly make these as audio journals of the more-interesting stuff I’ve been listening to on my commute. When I hear something that makes me think, huh, I could listen to that again, I make a mental note to throw it in a podcast. Then I try to add some music that seems appropriate, either in terms of mood, or in terms of a specific lyrical commentary.

I don’t know that there are many other people doing podcasts like this, which may be trying to tell me something. But I find it interesting, and I enjoy listening to them myself (re-listening to them) during the commute.

Anyway, if you’ve listened to these recent ones and have any comments pro or con, feel free to pass them on. Thanks.

Pinky on the Iraq War’s Legality. Or Lack Thereof. Mostly Lack Thereof.

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

As long as I’m annoying Janus with pinkyshow items, here’s another one that I really like.

Update on the Iran-War Product Rollout

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Craig de-lurked long enough to vote “paranoia” on my earlier item about Barnett Rubin’s report that an anonymous source had told him Cheney was pushing the right-wing press to roll out stories building the case for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day. The substantive part of Rubin’s allegation went like this:

They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects.

So, as promised, I’m here with a report card on how faithfully the listed mouthpieces followed their alleged instructions:

  • the American Enterprise Institute: AEI fellow Michael Ledeen’s latest book, The Iranian Time Bomb, is being pushed by the institute this week. They list an upcoming panel discussion on the book, though technically that discussion won’t be taking place until this coming Monday, so one could argue that the timing is a little off there. The institute’s home page currently lists the same book in its “latest books” section, though that item was posted the week before Labor Day, so again, the timing isn’t very good.
  • Wall Street Journal: The Journal ran an excerpt from Ledeen’s book Friday. Otherwise, a quick check of OpinionJournal doesn’t turn up any obvious smoking guns.
  • Weekly Standard – Bill Kristol chimed in with this item in the Daily Standard blog on Wednesday: Terrorist Training Camps in Iran: Should they be safe havens? (I’ll let you click through for his answer, in case you’re in doubt.)
  • Commentary: The best I could come up with in a quick perusal of the magazine’s site was this item, posted in the magazine’s “contentions” blog on Wednesday, in which Emanuele Ottolenghi criticized Michael Slackman’s article in the Interntional Herald Tribune characterizing Hashemi Rafsanjani as a moderate by quoting from a December, 2001, press release in which Rafsanjani seemed to imply that a nuclear exchange between Israel and a hypothetical nuke-equipped Islamic power would leave the Muslim world damaged but still standing, while Israel would just be gone.
  • Fox: Best I could come up with in a few minutes of clicking around on was an AP wire story on the $2.65B fine over the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing.
  • “Usual suspects”: Not sure who to go with here, but National Review Online has a nice example from Tuesday, with Andrew McCarthy offering up a hagiographic review of Ledeen’s book.

As long as we’re evaluating Rubin’s story, we should also check out Rubin’s own followup posting from Tuesday (in which he points to a Newsweek article from AEI fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht as the beginning of the “war rollout”), and also from Tuesday, Spencer Ackerman’s report of a conversation with Rubin in TPMmuckraker. That item said that “Rubin said he didn’t know specifically that Gerecht was part of the campaign, but he pointed to the argument as fitting neatly within the pattern.” Rubin also cited the AEI panel discussion on Ledeen’s book, and mentioned another event scheduled for that day, in which Newt Gingrich will give a speech on how “it has been almost six years since the attacks of 9/11, and the United States has yet to confront the threat posed by the irreconcilable wing of Islam.”

So, summing it all up, what’s the verdict? Did the predicted onslaught of pro-Iran-war items appear in the echo chamber? Well, sort of. Most of the listed outlets did indeed run something prominent in the course of the week. And to be fair, Rubin said this would just be the opening act, with the big push timed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 next week. Playing devil’s advocate, though, a lot of this week’s activity seems to be coordinated with the rollout of Ledeen’s book, which would have been fairly predictable in advance, even without top seekrit inside information about Darth Cheney having instructed his minions to make a push at this time. But that predictability cuts both ways: knowing that the book was due to come out, Cheney could indeed have put the word out that now was the time to push the story. Or, knowing that a flurry of book-related activity was due to happen, Rubin could have pushed an invented story about Cheney being behind it, knowing that events would bear him out, at least in the eyes of the paranoid.

I guess I’m left pretty much where I started. Which is pretty typical for the real world, which only rarely reveals itself all at once, in dramatic fashion.

Tilghman on the Myth of al Qaeda in Iraq

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Does this surprise anybody? From Andrew Tilghman’s The Myth of AQI:

Having been led astray by flawed prewar intelligence about WMDs, official Washington wants to believe it takes a more skeptical view of the administration’s information now. Yet Beltway insiders seem to be making almost precisely the same mistakes in sizing up al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Packer on Rubin on the Upcoming Iran-Bombing P.R. Campaign

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

In Test Marketing, George Packer quotes Barnett R. Rubin quoting a nameless friend who talked to a member of a neocon think tank (you still with me?) who allegedly conveyed the following:

They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this — they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”

So: paranoia? Or is this really The New Cruelty? At least the test will be short. If we don’t get the barrage of making-the-case-for-war-on-Iran in the coming week, let’s meet back here and discuss the implications. Or if we do get a barrage, let’s all get serious about what we’re facing here.

Christy Harden Smith on the Good Neoconman

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Nice item from Christy Harden Smith of Firedoglake about the lies of the Bush administration and its defenders: The Good Neoconman.

Convenient how those little things called “facts” and “history” can be blithely swept aside, isn’t it? Each and every time there is no public accountability for this fact-free swill and directly contradictory statements, they push the boundaries of idiocy a bit further. Every time the press allows them to get away with it, rather than raising the obvious follow-up questions of factual inaccuracy? They are further emboldened to keep on lying. And until they are publicly and consistently called on the lies? The bulk of the public who do not bother to go fact-checking between carpools and soccer practice drop-offs and such will never, ever know the depth of their craven public farce.

Drum on Petraeus on the Surge

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Kevin Drum spells out how General Petraeus has played US public opinion and the Congress like a harp, setting everyone up for a completely manufactured “reality” that Bush’s troop surge is accomplishing great things in Iraq: General Petraeus’s PR Blitzkrieg.

Greenwald Tracks the Rhetorical Ramp-up to Bombing Iran

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Scariness from Glenn Greenwald: The president’s escalating war rhetoric on Iran.