Choice One: Empty Gestures
As the day opened Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator John Warner were pushing a proposal that would call on the president to lay out a plan for ending the war in Iraq, but not really. They basically took the proposal from the Democrats - set a timetable for getting out, to force the Iraqis to develop the ability to keep their own country stable - and edited it. Their special version doesn't have anything to do with setting dates for the gradual withdrawal of troops. It demands paperwork.
And they passed that. The Democrats' version just wasn't going to fly.
As the New York Times explains here -
Well, it's something. Is it progress? The demand is non-binding, as they say. They may get the reports, and they may not.
The Senate signaled its growing unease with the war in Iraq today, voting overwhelmingly to demand regular reports from the White House on the course of the conflict and on the progress that Iraqi forces are making in securing their own country.
The vote, 79 to 19, came on an amendment to a spending bill that ultimately passed without opposition. The bipartisan support for the amendment sponsored by Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee, reflected anxiety among Republicans as well as Democrats.
Mr. Warner said afterward that he was "very grateful" for the wide backing of his amendment, which he called "forward looking" and distinctly different from a Democratic alternative that many Republicans said would signal that the United States was ready to "cut and run" from the battlefield.
The message that Iraqis should take from the Senate action, Mr. Warner said, is that "we have stood with you, we have done our part," and now it is time for them to do theirs. He said 2006 would be a pivotal year for the campaign in Iraq.
Minutes before endorsing Mr. Warner's amendment, the Senate voted, 58 to 40, against a measure offered by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, to demand that President Bush set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
So while the president was in Japan, the first stop on the Asia tour that ends in Mongolia, his own party, out of "anxiety" or something, suddenly demands they be let in on what's going on. Scan the general reaction on the right - these backstabbers in his own party are saying they don't trust the guy, who really shouldn't have to explain anything to anybody. Faithless cowards! Scan the reaction on the left - even the man's own supporters know enough is enough and we all deserve to know what's going on.
And the most obvious thing everyone knows, and many say - with sixty percent of the public now saying this war hasn't been worth the cost, and with a clear majority now saying the president obviously misled us into this war, these guys were trapped. They, unlike the president, will be up for reelection. They had do something that looked like the were players in this game, something that gave the appearance they had some control, that they were doing the "oversight" part of their actual job.
So they said they'd like a status report now and then. Are we making progress? Are any more Iraqi battalions anywhere near ready to do anything at all this quarter? What's up?
You can imagine each "regular report," should they get one now and then, will be a highly structured set of variations on the familiar theme: "Things are fine; trust me on that."
That will do for the president's party. And so it goes. It's cover. They're losing control of the situation and now playing defense. Very odd for the majority here.
But there's a bit more.
As you recall, last week there was this: Senate Approves Limiting Rights of U.S. Detainees - "The Senate voted Thursday to strip captured 'enemy combatants' at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, of the principal legal tool given to them last year by the Supreme Court when it allowed them to challenge their detentions in United States courts."
This was covered in these pages in some detail here last weekend.
There was no end to the controversy this created - see this for links to Monday's editorials suggesting habeas corpus is a good thing, and giving one man the power to lock up anyone he decided was bad, without proof, and with specific charges, without communication, forever, with no way to appeal what was happening to him or to explain to anyone - no trial at all - was maybe something we ought not to grant this president, or anyone. here three hundred fifty of the top law professors in America say this is madness, but carefully. My high-powered Wall Street attorney friend forwarded me the letter from Michael Greco, the president of the American Bar Association, saying much the same:
Such comments seem endless, and on the other side you hear stuff like this, defending unlimited detention and even torture:
The U.S. Senate last week adopted with no hearings and with little debate Senator Lindsey Graham's proposal to eliminate habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees, denying them access to federal courts. The American Bar Association urges the senators to reconsider and defeat that enormous change to our fundamental legal system.
Throughout our nation's history, starting with the defense by lawyer, later president, John Adams of Massachusetts, of the British soldiers who fired on patriots in the Boston Massacre, it has been our commitment to basic principles of justice, even for the most unpopular among us, that has allowed us to maintain the high moral ground in the world, the most strategically important territory for us to occupy as we struggle with the enemies of freedom.
Our influence in the world is directly affected by our actions with respect to those we detain. The prisoners in Guantánamo have been held there, largely incommunicado, for four years. That fact alone offends our heritage of due process and fairness. The writ of habeas corpus was developed precisely to prevent the prolonged detention of individuals without charge, by allowing those held to petition the federal courts. To eliminate the right of habeas corpus would be shocking to our nation.
As Senator Graham himself has stated repeatedly, in the battle against terrorism we cannot allow ourselves to become like the enemy. Adoption of his amendment would undermine the very principles that distinguish us from our enemies.
That's the core counterargument - "it is an affront to morality and decency" to treat such people with "humanity."
The enemy being fought is undeserving of humane treatment, and the Arabs and Muslims must be made to understand this. Indeed, it is an affront to morality and decency to so treat people with humanity. All war is nasty, and this war is particularly nasty and cannot be made pretty. It is the reluctance of the Americans and the British to use the appropriate level of force that is a cogent reason why Iraq should never have been fought.
Choose your side of the argument. A web search will give you thousands folks agreeing with you, with supporting documentary stuff, whichever way you choose.
The senate had to vote on this, and came up with a compromise, seriously detailed here and here. Basically Senator Graham proposed an amendment to his own amendment, co-sponsored by Carl Levin and John Kyl (text here) - this still denies habeas corpus to these folks but allows a bit more judicial review than the version that Graham attached the appropriations bill last week. Senator Bingaman proposed a different amendment (text here) - and that allowed habeas, but it cut off lawsuits challenging the conditions of confinement. The Bingaman version got voted sown 44-54, and the Graham-Levin thing passed 84-14, so in short, this would, like the original, eliminate habeas for Guantánamo detainees, overturn the previous ruling these guys had rights (Rasul), and more than likely prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the merits of the Hamdan case now under review.
So? Half a loaf is better than none? The bottom line is you get to have your say if you're in for ten years or set to be executed. Otherwise you're shit out of luck.
As in this in the Washington Post, some comments from an attorney representing a curious detainee at Guantánamo. As noted here, "When senators complain that 'terrorists' shouldn't be entitled to habeas corpus review of their detentions, they're missing the point. It isn't enough for the administration to claim someone is a terrorist."
This "terrorist" named Adel, and his attorney notes this -
No problem? Not exactly. -
Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.
Oh well. To treat such people with "humanity" is "an affront to morality and decency," after all.
The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.
Yes, the military admits many of those held at Guantánamo are guilty of nothing, and have little or no useful "intelligence' for us, to match their admission that perhaps ninety percent of those held at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad were just caught up in sweeps and were just unlucky. But it's war. You just can let people go. It looks bad.
Everyone is posturing. The unlucky disappear or die.
Oh yeah, the McCain amendment, saying we will follow our own rules and not torture folks, is still alive, attached to the bill in question.
Will Bush veto the bill, as he says he will, to block the McCain "restrictions" on his rights as president? To get this restriction on detainee appeals that the administration wants, he may have to sign the anti-torture provision Vice President Cheney opposes and has been trying to stop, or modify to allow the CIA to torture at will. Sending a silly report every few months is not a problem. This McCain stuff is.
We'll see what happens after Mongolia.
Choice Two: Bad Polls
Late Monday the 14th -' from a CNN and US Today and Gallup poll here - Americans say they trust George W. Bush less than they trusted Bill Clinton, by a pretty big margin. About fifty percent of people polled said they disliked Bush, and six percent claimed to hate him. Overall approval - thirty-seven percent. Do folks trust Bush more than they did Clinton? Forty-eight percent said they trusted Bush less, while only thirty-six percent said they trusted him more. Yipes! Fifteen percent called it a tie - a pox on both their houses.
Also of note, approval rating exactly four years ago of eighty-seven percent, and now thirty-seven, percent, with now majority disapproval how things are handled on all issues - the economy, immigration, federal spending, Iraq, terrorism in general. Doesn't matter. Take your pick. For the first time in these Gallup polls, a majority of Americans - 52 to 46 percent - say the guy is neither honest nor trustworthy.
And that Clinton thing just has to hurt.
So now what?
If you watch Fox News and such you hear, endlessly, the story of how Reagan recovered from low numbers after Iran-Contra and all that, and "ended the cold war" (single-handedly, we're told), so Bush will do the same. He'll do something spectacular that will make him a universally loved and respected leader like Reagan (yes, yes, some disagree on that).
But what rabbit will he pull out of his hat? He cannot go to Berlin and say, "Pull Down this wall!" No wall now. No one to say it to - no Soviet Union or anything like it.
Trapped by a lack of a good opportunity!
And he may not have the personality for such gestures.
The Washington Times notes this -
Matt Drudge reports this -
President Bush feels betrayed by several of his most senior aides and advisors and has severely restricted access to the Oval Office, administration sources say. The president's reclusiveness in the face of relentless public scrutiny of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and White House leaks regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame has become so extreme that Mr. Bush has also reduced contact with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, administration sources said on the condition of anonymity.
Comment here -
The sources said Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. The sources also say that Mr. Bush has stopped talking with his father, except on family occasions.
They shouldn't have asked that poll question about Clinton.
This man is running our country. And he won't speak to anyone - ANYONE - other than Condi Rice, his mom, and Karen Hughes? That leaves out the entire Department of Defense - kind of important during wartime - the CIA, every other agency and the entire White House staff.
It honestly sounds like he's losing control.
And he's in charge of our country.
Not just worst president ever. But quickly becoming scariest president ever.
Choice Three: Uppity Foreigners
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has been sending email on this.
Spain announced it will "probe allegations" that our CIA used one of their airports, somewhere near Mallorca, to transfer our "ghost detainees" we send to our overseas "interrogation facilities" where there are no rules. Reuters here:
Ric in Paris -
The Spanish government had no knowledge of the alleged flights but a judge was investigating them, [Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio] Alonso told Spanish television channel Telecinco.
"If it were confirmed that this is true, we would be looking at very serious, intolerable deeds because they break the basic rules of treating people in a democratic legal and political system," he said.
Oh my. This is not good.
First heard of this Tuesday, 15 November, on radio France-Info. No mention found on French Google or Yahoo news, nor AP on the NYT.
Radio France-Info said airports in the Canaries might have been used too.
The German guy, Khaled el-Masri, has had his story batted around a bit. If I remember correctly, he was tortured in Egypt, Syria, and stuck in a hole in the ground someplace. Then he was let go, and now he's thinking of suing the United States.
But later, Tuesday, November 15, by 7:30 in the evening out here in Hollywood, Google News showed 175 stories - the New York Times here, ABC News here, and Associated Press here. Of course the story hit Europe first.
Oh heck, a number of probes are underway in Europe over covert CIA operations there. The Italian and German governments are both investigating allegations that the CIA has kidnapped individuals within their borders. Italy is now working on the extradition of twenty-two CIA agents for their involvement in one of these kidnappings.
This is all over the European press, but doesn't get much coverage here.
Are these "intolerable deeds because they break the basic rules of treating people in a democratic legal and political system?"
Maybe, but we don't care. See "Choice One" above.
Rules are for the other guys.
Choice Four: Why Bother?
Monday the Washington Post reported something curious over at the Department of Justice, in the Civil Rights Division - career attorneys are leaving at a rate nearly double that of prior administrations. Why? It seems the agenda has changed a bit. The Post reports this -
What to make of this?
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which has enforced the nation's anti-discrimination laws for nearly half a century, is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current career employees.
Nearly 20 percent of the division's lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration's conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.
... At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.
The division has also come under criticism from the courts and some Democrats for its decision in August to approve a Georgia program requiring voters to present government-issued identification cards at the polls. The program was halted by an appellate court panel and a district court judge, who likened it to a poll tax from the Jim Crow era.
One attorney here - "I'd be embarrassed to work there, too. A Civil Rights Division working against civil rights follows the Administration's plan. If War=Peace and Clean Air Initiative=No Clean Air, then Civil Rights=Less Civil Rights. It must keep minorities from voting because they likely will vote Democratic. It all follows."
Choice Five: The Big Debate
The New York Times publishes a startling editorial, Tuesday, November 15, that opens with this -
There a big section in the middle with proof of what was bit true, and they end with this -
To avoid having to account for his administration's misleading statements before the war with Iraq, President Bush has tried denial, saying he did not skew the intelligence. He's tried to share the blame, claiming that Congress had the same intelligence he had, as well as President Bill Clinton. He's tried to pass the buck and blame the CIA. Lately, he's gone on the attack, accusing Democrats in Congress of aiding the terrorists.
Yesterday in Alaska, Mr. Bush trotted out the same tedious deflection on Iraq that he usually attempts when his back is against the wall: he claims that questioning his actions three years ago is a betrayal of the troops in battle today.
It all amounts to one energetic effort at avoidance. But like the WMD reports that started the whole thing, the only problem is that none of it has been true.
Well, some of it happened because the Times printed story after story from Judy Miller, planting there what the administration wanted her to plant, and the Times was unwilling to question her or her sources. But she's gone now. This is the new Times, it seems.
The president and his top advisers may very well have sincerely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But they did not allow the American people, or even Congress, to have the information necessary to make reasoned judgments of their own. It's obvious that the Bush administration misled Americans about Mr. Hussein's weapons and his terrorist connections. We need to know how that happened and why.
Mr. Bush said last Friday that he welcomed debate, even in a time of war, but that "it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began." We agree, but it is Mr. Bush and his team who are rewriting history.
And by the way, the president is not only saying that asking questions is irresponsible, he is saying asking questions undermines our troops and gives aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war. You know those words. They're from the statute that defines treason. That's punishable by death.
These guys need to be careful.
Anyway, the White House has issued a point-by-point response here. They didn't used to do such things. They were believed. Times have changed. Like the Nixon, "I am not a crook" business, the new line is, "We did not mislead." (And there's a corollary many point out - the full argument they're making is "We did not mislead, you misfollowed.")
But here's something cool, Matthew Yglesias saying the whole argument is on the wrong topic, with this (emphases added) -
Ah yes, true, but the bigger is sort of... what were they thinking?
As the country debates the genuine intelligence failures along with the various deceptions that led us into the Iraq War, it's worth recalling that this has first and foremost been a failure of strategy. Specifically, the Bush administration concluded that the thing to do in the world was wage preventive war in order to secure "a balance of power that favors freedom." Preventive war is rightly condemned by international law and the counsels of prudence alike, the administration, in its typical matter, decided to dress this up as something else, namely "preemption" of a terrorist surprise attack. That dressing-up led the administration into a thicket of deceptions regarding the possibility of Iraqi co-operation with al-Qaeda.
That notwithstanding, in order to appease Colin Powell and/or Tony Blair, the administration eventually found itself at the UN, sponsoring resolutions and offering ultimata. Thus, the ready-made preemption/prevention morass got dragged into yet another idea - coercive diplomacy, where threats of war are intended to produce not war, but compliance with demands. Unfortunately for Bush, Saddam unexpectedly wound up substantially complying with his demands and inspectors entered the country. It was here that we got the very most egregious dissembling about weapons of mass destruction. Inspectors were on the ground, not finding weapons, debunking certain specific administration claims, and asking the US for the rest of the evidence to substantiate all the big talk.
The hawks chose to portray this situation as proof that inspections "weren't working" because the (obviously incompetent) inspectors were failing to find the WMD facilities that "everyone knew" were there.
There's a lesson or two in here about honesty, but first and foremost it should be a lesson about strategy. The war has not, shall we say, gone swimmingly, which is always a risk when you go to war. Nor did the intelligence - even the parts of it the administration wasn't spinning, twisting, or otherwise sexing up - hold up to scrutiny, which is also always a risk in the intel game. The result has been something of a fiasco across the entire spectrum of American power.