Published on Friday, January 13, 2006
by the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota)
by Tim Giago
When I turned 17 years old there was a war going on. Like many young men of that era, I didn't wait to be drafted, I volunteered.
The year was 1951 and the war was called a "Police Action," but more than 40,000 Americans gave up their lives while serving as this country's policemen in Korea.
I never really thought about the politics of the war. I was told that the communist North Korea had invaded the free country of South Korea and it was our duty to stop them and drive them back across the 38th Parallel. Not once did I doubt the integrity of our nation's leaders or question their reasons for going to war. Was this a just war? When can a war be called just?
I suppose Korea could be called a just war. After all, we were fighting to keep an invading army from taking away the freedom of another nation. We were young, we were fearless, and above all, we were patriotic. Without a shred of a doubt we trusted and respected our government. Would President Harry Truman lie to us? Never!
And we walked away from Korea with our heads held high. Despite the intervention of communist China, we had driven the enemy back to the 38th Parallel. Perhaps the war was a stalemate, but a stalemate is better than a loss.
But everything seemed to go awry in Vietnam. When we returned from Korea there were no protesters calling us baby killers and worse. But during the Vietnam War it seemed that the entire nation was against the war and in their anger and hate for the war they turned on the troops fighting the war.
A war is personal when one is actively involved, but it is also personal when a close friend or relative loses his life. This week the war in Iraq took a personal turn for me and for many Lakota people.
Cpl. Brett Lee Lundstrum, USMC, was just 22 years old when he was killed by enemy fire at Fallujah, Iraq. He was an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. His mother, Doyla Carol (Underbaggage) Lundstrum was the adopted daughter of Lynn Rapp, my ex-wife. During the years we were together Doyla and her two sons, Brett and Eddy, spent many holidays and many happy hours at our house. They even attended the Christmas parties we held for the staff of my newspaper.
At one Christmas party, my stepdaughter Susie, a very blond young lady, looked around the room at the mixture of children attending the party and asked the band to play "The Brady Bunch" theme song. It was her tribute to her Lakota brothers and sisters in the room.
We watched this awkward teenager grow into a strapping young man. But all of a sudden, his life is over before it has even begun. In his obituary it reads, "Brett was charismatic with a kind and generous soul; always humorous, with a smile, he lit up any room or place he entered." That's Brett. His laugh and smile were contagious. He loved the Marines and he loved serving his country. And just as I when I was 17 years old, he never questioned the reasons he was sent to Iraq. He considered it his duty as a United States Marine to follow the orders of his commanding officer.
When one serves in the military it seems we do not question the reasons we are at war. We only do our duty and try to serve as best we can. It is only when we are older and have witnessed the devastation of war and have seen firsthand the political implications, then war takes on a different light.
Far be it for me to ever question the integrity and courage of those men and women serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are in the military and they obey orders. They also take great pride in the job they are doing. But it seems that President Bush has intertwined honest criticism of the war with disrespect for those serving in combat. From my heart I can tell you that they are not the same.
We are in a war that began with a dark lie that has taken on different hues of dishonesty as the war has dragged on. We are in a war that can end in only one of two ways: either the new Iraqi government will stabilize as a theocracy or the nation of Iraq will dissolve into a civil war that will pit the Shiite and Kurds against the once-controlling Sunni forces.
In either case the end product will not be what the chicken hawks that led us into this war intended. If Iraq becomes another Iran with mullahs as leaders or deteriorates into a civil war costing thousands of lives, who is the winner? It will not be the people of Iraq and certainly not the brave, young men and women that are dying every day in pursuit of a victorious ending. And it will not be the politicians responsible for the war.
I feel the loss of Brett as do all of the people of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He was one of us and he gave his life for a cause in which he truly believed. I honor and respect his courage, but that does not preclude me from questioning the wisdom of those elected leaders who sent him into this unjust war.
May Brett rest in peace and may his Journey to the Spirit World be filled with wonder.
Tim Giago is president of the Native American Journalists Foundation. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Published on Friday, January 13, 2006 by the Huffington Post
Situation in Iraq Is Civil War
by Rep. John P. Murtha
According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, the definition of a civil war is a "war between political factions or regions within the same country." That is exactly what is going on in Iraq, not a global war on terrorism, as the President continues to portray it.
93 percent of those fighting in Iraq are Iraqis. A very small percentage of the fighting is being done by foreign fighters. Our troops are caught in between the fighting. 80 percent of Iraqis want us out of there and 45 percent think it is justified to kill American troops.
Iraqis went to the polls in droves on December 15th and rejected the secular, pro-democracy candidates and those who the Administration in Washington propped up. Preliminary vote results indicate that Iyad Allawi, the pro-American Prime Minister, received about 8 percent of the vote and Ahmad Chalabi, Iraq's current Oil Minister and close associate of the U.S. Iraq war planners, received less than 1 percent. According to General Vines, the top operational commander in Iraq, "the vote is reported to be primarily along sectarian lines, which is not particularly heartening." The new government he said "must be a government by and for Iraqis, not sects."
The ethnic and religious strife in Iraq has been going on, not for decades or centuries, but for millennia. These particular explosive hatreds and tensions will be there if our troops leave in six months, six years or six decades. It is time to re-deploy our troops and to re-focus our attention on the real threats posed by global terrorism.
U.S. Representative John Murtha has dedicated his life to serving his country both in the military and in the halls of Congress. He had a long and distinguished 37-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring from the Marine Corps Reserve as a colonel in 1990; and he has been serving the people of the 12th Congressional District since 1974, one of only 131 people in the nation's history to have served more than 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and one of only 224 Members of Congress who have served 30 or more years.
© 2006 The Huffington Post
Published on Friday, January 13, 2006 by the Baltimore Sun (Maryland)
NSA Used City Police as Trackers
Activists monitored on way to Fort Meade war protest, agency memos show
by Douglas Birch
The National Security Agency used law enforcement agencies, including the Baltimore Police Department, to track members of a city anti-war group as they prepared for protests outside the sprawling Fort Meade facility, internal NSA documents show.
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun
If we dont stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then were going to have a serious problem coming down the road.
-George Bush, October 3, 2000
Junior was right, for once in his miserably failed life.
To bad he does not hear his own speeches.
He should, since someone else writes all of them, at least listen, or even read the damn things beforehand.
We wont be proven wrong [ ] I believe that we will find the truth. And the truth is, he was developing a program for weapons of mass destruction.
-George Bush responding to a question about the importance of finding WMD in Iraq, The Cross Hall, Jul. 17, 2003
This is, of course, after the administration had talked about mushroom clouds over American cities, bio and chemical weapons, 45 minutes to doomsday....blah, blah, blah..
A program? A freakin' program?
I made it very plain: We will not have an all-volunteer army. [Crowd boos] Let me restate that. We will not have a draft. [Crowd Cheers]
-Bush speaking at the Daytona International Speedway with his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, October 16, 2004 
By Sean Gonsalves, AlterNet
Posted on January 10, 2006, Printed on January 14, 2006
Thankfully, there's this little book that was recently published by renowned Princeton philosophy professor Harry G. Frankfurt, titled On Bullshit.
And I do mean little -- 67 pages and small enough to fit in your back pocket. Frankfurt sets out to develop a ''theoretical understanding of BS,'' acknowledging at the outset that BS is often ''employed quite loosely -- simply as a generic term for abuse.''
Without any real body of literature from which to draw, Frankfurt relies heavily on the Oxford English Dictionary and Max Black's essay ''The Prevalence of Humbug.''
Humbug, he argues, is a ''more polite'' and ''less intense'' synonym for BS. Reflecting on Black's analysis, Frankfurt makes an important discovery about the meaning of BS; namely that while BS, or humbug, is essentially untruthful, it is still ''short of a lie.''
Take, for example, an orator on the Fourth of July going on about how this is the greatest country on earth and how the Founding Fathers were guided by God to create a new beginning for humankind.
''It is clear that what makes Fourth of July oration humbug is not fundamentally that the speaker regards his statements as false,'' he said. ''Rather, the orator intends these statements to convey a certain impression of himself.
''He is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history. What he cares about is what people think of him. He wants them to think of him as a patriot, as someone who has deep thoughts and feelings about the origins and mission of our country,'' Frankfurt explains.
With the help of Wittegenstein (the famed logician ''who devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combating nonsense''), Frankfurt manages to shine a light on the essence of BS and why it shouldn't be confused with lying.
A BS ''statement,'' he argues, ''is grounded neither in a belief that (the statement) is true, nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth -- this indifference to how things really are -- that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.''
To show what he means, he refers to several dictionary terms that are variations on BS terminology. A bull session, for example, which is essentially an informal chat among acquaintances with the main point being: ''to make possible a high level of candor.
''Each of the contributors to a bull session relies upon a general recognition that what he expresses or says is not to be understood as being what he means wholeheartedly, or believes unequivocally to be true.''
Bull sessions are like BS ''by virtue of the fact that they are in some degree unconstrained by a concern for the truth.''
Frankfurt also notes how we generally have more tolerance for BS than we do for outright lying. He suggests this is because the BSer ''may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts, or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise what he is up to.''
And therein lies the danger of BS. ''Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of truth, while the other defies that authority.''
The BS artist ''ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than lies are.''
Now, let's apply this to Bush critics who say he lied about Iraq's WMD. Bush supporters disagree, arguing (against the available evidence) that he didn't lie but was mistaken. In any case, we can all now retrospectively agree that the WMD ''intelligence'' was BS.
Taking Frankfurt's analysis one step further, in a democracy where transparency is the only way ''the people'' can govern, it's better to have a liar in office than a BS artist who is indifferent to ''how things really are.'' Puts the phrase ''the lesser of two evils'' in a whole new light.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/30636/
By Rory O'Connor, AlterNet
Posted on January 13, 2006, Printed on January 14, 2006
How can an open society best balance demands for security with democracy?
That question is at the heart of a stunning new documentary appropriately entitled "State of Fear." The film chronicles awful events that took place in late-20th-century Peru, where nearly 70,000 civilians perished in a crossfire between a crazed revolutionary-turned-terrorist group known as the Shining Path and a Peruvian military that didn't differentiate between enemies of the state and ordinary citizens.
In focusing on the human and societal costs Peruvian democracy faced when it embarked on a war against terror, however, the film also implies much about our own. In the wake of America's ongoing struggle against terror -- and what is looking more and more like a creeping constitutional crisis -- this cautionary tale could not be more relevant to the 21st-century United States and its citizenry.
Filmmakers Pamela Yates, Paco de Ons and Peter Kinoy tell a story of escalating violence in the Andean nation and show how fear of terrorism was used to undermine democracy and exploited by unscrupulous leaders seeking personal political gain. The result -- in addition to the literal piles of bodies -- was the creation of a virtual dictatorship where official corruption replaced the rule of law, military justice replaced civil authority, widespread abuses by the army went unpunished and terrorism continued to spread.
The film interweaves archival footage with personal testimony of participants on all sides of the conflict and from all walks of Peruvian life, thus dramatizing the price their democracy paid when it acquiesced in a no-holds-barred battle against terror. Although the specifics of Peru's cycle of violence and corruption are of course unique, they generally parallel and ominously foreshadow the current conflict between the West and Al Quaida.
In particular, the acceptance by Peru's middle class and elite of the "necessity" of trading civil and political rights for greater (if chimerical) security, and a concomitant reluctance to look too closely at the implications of that acceptance, resonate in our own modern context. So does the lack of outrage in many sectors of society over such abuses as domestic spying and manipulation of the media. In closely examining the incremental effect of Peruvian society's decisions to trade democracy for security, "State of Fear" shows how little the fragility of freedom and democracy is really understood by Americans as well.
The road that Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori went down is of course familiar to anyone who has ever followed the behavior of totalitarian regimes. Dictators often declare war and then suspend civil liberties in the name of it. But of late, democrats as well as dictators have begun to engage in such behavior. President Fujimori was elected, just as President Bush was -- once at least -- and the diabolically named, profoundly anti-democratic USA PATRIOT Act became law with the backing, lest we forget, of a huge majority of the duly elected representatives of the American people.
Consider as well the question of whether our own president has authority to order the National Security Agency to monitor communications in the United States without warrants. Just last week, the president defended his decision to order the surveillance by noting, "I did so because the enemy still wants to hurt us. And it seems like to me that if somebody is talking to Al Quaida, we want to know why."
Tough talk like that inevitably sways at least a portion of a frightened populace, and some of Bush's political aides told the New York Times they believed the decision would ultimately help rebuild his approval ratings by demonstrating the lengths to which he would go to prevent another terrorist attack inside the United States.
Singling out Americans in the United States for such surveillance would normally require a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), passed after revelations of massive illegal and unconstitutional spying on American citizens during the Nixon era. Among his many abuses of power, Tricky Dick ordered the warrantless wiretaps of 17 journalists and White House staffers. Although he claimed the wiretaps were done for national security purposes, they were actually undertaken for political purposes, as evidenced by the fact that his first illegal wiretap was of a reporter who revealed the secret unconstitutional bombing of Cambodia.
Casting history aside can be perilous: Nixon's illegal wiretaps eventually came back to haunt him as one of the many grounds for the articles of impeachment voted against him by a bipartisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee. Nonetheless, our current leaders continue to claim that the present threat to democracy is so great that the Constitution allows the president simply to ignore the law. Shades of Santayana! No wonder, as Elizabeth Holtzman recently noted in the Nation: "People have begun to speak of impeaching President George W. Bush -- not in hushed whispers but openly, in newspapers, on the Internet, in ordinary conversations and even in Congress."
"Now, I ... look, I understand people's concerns about government eavesdropping," Mr. Bush said. "And I share those concerns, as well. So obviously I had to make the difficult decision between balancing civil liberties and, on a limited basis -- and I mean limited basis -- try to find out the intention of the enemy."
Support for those who disagree with the president's actions came recently from an unlikely source -- former C.I.A. general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith -- in the form of a legal analysis requested by the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Jane Harman of California.
Although recognizing the president's assertion that his power as commander in chief justifies warrantless surveillance, Smith called that case "weak" in light of FISA. Smith also wrote that the congressional resolution authorizing military force against those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "does not, in my view, justify warrantless electronic surveillance of United States persons in the United States," as the Bush administration has also claimed.
"The president was correct in concluding that many of our laws were not adequate to deal with this new threat," the onetime CIA lawyer added. "He was wrong, however, to conclude that he is therefore free to follow the laws he agrees with and ignore those with which he disagrees."
Nonetheless, the president remains undeterred, as evidenced by his recent assertion that he has the right, as commander in chief, to violate the McCain amendment to legislation he had just signed, which banned torture and degrading treatment of detainees. But if the president is permitted to break laws on torture or wiretapping, then there is nothing to prevent him from breaking any law he wishes -- in the name of security, of course. He effectively is placed above the rule of law entirely. And as "State of Fear" chillingly details, such sovereign immunity is nothing less than a recipe for dictatorship.
Is this then to be our life during wartime -- a war that might never end? Is the threat to our security becoming so great that we need to suspend the democratic rule of law? And if so, where will it end? If the lessons of Peru's "State of Fear" continue to go unheeded, we may all soon be living in the "United States of Fear."
This and other articles by Rory O'Connor are available on his blog.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/30801/
By Alex Alper and Laura Barcella, AlterNet
Posted on January 14, 2006, Printed on January 14, 2006
Described by Reporters Sans Frontieres as "the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East" -- where, in the last six years, 41 daily newspapers have been banned -- Iran has long lacked a public forum for independent voices.
But it hasn't been immune to the user-driven web revolution. In April 2003, Iran became the first government to imprison a blogger: Sina Motallebi of the popular weblog RoozNegar.com. (Despite anti-censorship public outcry, the Iranian government still uses extensive filtering to block out Internet content deemed inappropriate.) It seems that as the regime has tried to crack down on "immorality," dissent and secularity, Iranians have become more polarized against the government, creating a fast-growing community of political and personal bloggers.
Nasrin Alavi, an Iranian NGO worker who lives in London, has collected the best of the Iranian blogosphere in an acclaimed new book, We Are Iran (Soft Skull Press). This compilation of postings from the vibrant Farsi blog community gives readers an unprecedented glimpse into Iranian citizens' lives, and what emerges is a picture of an educated, youthful population with passionate opinions on Israel, the U.S., political Islam, and other far-reaching issues.
Alavi created the book to help outsiders understand the "monumental social changes" currently under way in her home country. "These blogs offer a unique glimpse of the changing consciousness of Iran's younger generation," she explains. "[They] see themselves as citizens with rights, struggling for a civil society. They greatly outnumber the soldiers of the ideological state."
Born in September 2001 when young Iranian journalist Hossein Derachshan posted how-to-blog instructions on his website, the country's weblog community has blossomed into a 75,000-member network. Farsi is now the fourth most common blogging language, far surpassing other countries in the region (such as Iraq, which only has 50 bloggers). Keeping a web journal is now common there; not just for everyday people, but for student organizers, censored journalists, ex-pats and even Muslim clerics, as a forum to discuss topics from the Oscars ceremony to the separation of church and state, and to plan protests under a militant regime that regularly jails (and tortures) dissidents.
While other Muslim countries are working to curtail this sort of extremism, Iran has experienced militant Islamic rule for a quarter century, making Iranians even more acutely aware of its failings. As one blogger, dubbed "Our Voice," writes: "Twenty-five years of religious rule has had one long-term benefit for generations to come, no Iranian will ever want to mix matters of state with religion."
And blogger Safsari notes: "At a time when our society is deprived of its rightful free means of communication, and our newspapers are being closed down one by one -- with writers and journalists crowding the corners of our jails, the only realm that can safeguard and shoulder the responsibility of free speech is the blogosphere."
Ironically, Iran's blog community owes its existence partly to the Islamic militant regime's premium on education. Because education and universal literacy were ideals of the 1979 Revolution, the Iranian literacy rate stands at 90 percent, higher than many European countries. Women account for 65 percent of university enrollment and computer access is the highest in the Middle East. Most Iranians -- over two-thirds of whom are under 30 -- have an acute awareness of Iranian history, including their democratic legacy extending back to the turn of the 19th century.
The blogs featured in We Are Iran shed light on a broad confluence of cultural influences, and an ambivalence about both Western and Persian traditions. Female bloggers intensely debate the role of the veil, which women are required by law to wear in public spaces. Is covering up a symbol of non-Western pride, a means to enter the public sphere without being objectified -- or is it just another outdated manifestation of state control? Blogger Neda writes:
Our Inheritance from our ancestors is this thing we call "honor": a reverence for the chastity of women. Yet this is the thing that separates us from the First World nations, but we still kill ourselves preserving it. Gentlemen, leave women's honor to them. Get on with your work, as this is holding our society back
And another female blogger ponders what would happen if women were no longer legally required to wear the veil:
Would this be culturally tolerable to Iranians? You, a woman who lives in Iran, are you prepared to go public in full view of our men, who get so worked up by just glimpsing an inch of ankle underneath your robes that they need to wank? Would you honestly feel secure walking past a man who for 20-something years is used to seeing your one eye, and his fantasy is just to see the rest of your face? People have to change gradually, as our culture cannot change overnight.
The excerpts Alavi has included in We Are Iran are consistently engaging and insightful, and her accompanying text helps to contextualize them with historical and cultural information (though the book's sections aren't very well organized). Alavi also provides Westerners with a sense of Iran's political realities, whose burgeoning pro-democracy forces would only be silenced by U.S. aggression. "I wanted to show that this is not a society that should be precision-bombed into democracy," she says. "I believe that the worst thing that could possibly happen to Iran would be a U.S. attack. Any possible conflict with the West will only strengthen the power base of Iranian radicals. Even those Iranians who oppose them are tempted to move to their camp in the face of foreign aggression."
And though it's still a bit early to gauge, Alavi reports positive responses to her mission, both from readers across the world ("a German reader wrote to say, 'I am ashamed to admit that for many years I have been unable to see Iranians as anything but hostage takers,"' Alavi reports) and from critics. The book was recommended by English PEN and has been selected as one of the books of the year by both the Independent and the New Statesman.
Still, it remains to be seen what kind of an impact the blogosphere will have on Iran's political future. "Only time will tell if Iranian blogs are merely a place for the beleaguered to blow off steam, or a modern day Gutenberg press that would usher in the age of democracy," says Alavi.
At least for now, We Are Iran helps shed some needed light on majority views in Iran, and its people will continue to find some respite in the freedom of expression (albeit threatened) that cyberspace allows. As lolivashe writes, "In a society where one is taken to history's abattoir for the mere crime of thinking, I write so as not to be lost in my despair. I write a weblog so that I can shout, cry and laugh, and do the things that they have taken away from me in Iran today."
Laura Barcella is an associate editor at AlterNet. Alex Alper is a former editorial intern at AlterNet.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/30702/
By Stephen Zunes, AlterNet
Posted on January 14, 2006, Printed on January 14, 2006
The official rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq are now widely acknowledged to have been fabricated: that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction threatening the national security of the United States and that the Iraqi government had operational ties to al Quaida. As the backup rationalization -- bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq -- loses credibility, increasing attention is being given as to why the U.S. government, with broad bipartisan support, made such a fateful decision.
There are a number of plausible explanations, ranging from control of the country's oil resources to strategic interests to ideological motivations. One explanation that should not be taken seriously, however, is the assertion that the right-wing government of Israel and its American supporters played a major role in leading the United States to invade Iraq.
The government of Israel and its supporters here in the United States deserve blame for many tragic policies in recent years that have led to needless human suffering, increased extremism in the Islamic world, decreased security and rampant violations of the U.N. Charter, international humanitarian law and other international legal principles. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, is not one of them.
Claims of a Major Israeli Role
There are four major arguments made by those who allege a key role by Israel and its American supporters in leading the United States to war in Iraq:
1. Despite propaganda by the Bush administration and its bipartisan supporters on Capitol Hill, Iraq was not a military threat to the United States. As a result, the invasion had to have been done to protect Israel from an Iraqi attack.
To begin with, Iraq, during the final years of Saddam Hussein's rule, was no more of a threat to Israel than it was to the United States. Virtually all Iraqi missiles capable of reaching Israel had been accounted for and destroyed by UNSCOM. The International Atomic Energy Agency had determined that Iraq no longer had a nuclear program, and virtually all the country's chemical weapons had similarly been accounted for and destroyed, or otherwise rendered inoperable. All this was presumably known to the Israelis, who actively monitored United Nations disarmament efforts in Iraq and had the best military intelligence capabilities in the region.
Though observers were less confident regarding the absence of biological weapons, the Israelis recognized that there was no realistic threat from that source either. Respected Israeli military analyst Meir Stieglitz, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, stated categorically that "there is no such thing as a long-range Iraqi missile with an effective biological warhead. No one has found an Iraqi biological warhead. The chances of Iraq having succeeded in developing operative warheads without tests are zero." Similarly, it is highly doubtful that Iraq would have been able to attack Israel with biological weapons or by other means. For example, it is hard to imagine that an Iraqi aircraft carrying biological weapons, presumably some kind of subsonic drone, could somehow make the 600-mile trip to Israel without being detected and shot down. Israel -- as well as Iraq's immediate neighbors -- have long had sophisticated anti-aircraft capability.
More fundamentally, if the United States was really concerned with Israel's safety from Iraqi attack, why did the U.S. government provide Iraq with key elements of its WMD programs during the 1980s, including the seed stock for its anthrax and many of the components for its chemical weaponry, when Iraq clearly did have the capability of striking Israel? How could the pro-Israel lobby -- which was no more influential in 2002 than it was 15 years earlier -- have the power to push the United States to invade Iraq while Saddam was no longer a threat to Israel, when the lobby was unable to stop U.S. technology transfers to Iraq at a time that it really could have potentially harmed Israel?
2. Though Iraq had no connection with al-Qaeda, it was supporting other terrorist groups that were attacking Israel. A U.S. invasion was seen as a means to stopping the terrorist threat targeted at the Jewish state.
Saddam Hussein did support the Abu Nidal group, a radical secular Palestinian movement, during the mid-1980s, though it tended to target moderate leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization as much as it did Israelis. Ironically, the Reagan administration dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring terrorism at that time in order to be able to transfer arms and technology to Saddam Hussein's regime that would have otherwise been illegal. Iraq was put back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism immediately following its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, despite evidence that Iraq's support for international terrorism had actually declined. Abu Nidal himself became chronically ill not long afterward, and his group had been largely moribund for more than a decade when Saddam Hussein had him killed in his Baghdad apartment in 2002.
Iraq did support a tiny pro-Iraqi Palestinian group known as the Arab Liberation Front, which was known to pass on much of these funds to families of Palestinians who died in the struggle against Israel. These recipients included families of Palestine Authority police and families of nonviolent protesters, though some recipients were families of suicide bombers. Such Iraqi support was significantly less than the support many of these same families had received from Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed Arab monarchies, which -- unlike Iraq -- also provided direct funding for Hamas and other radical Palestinian Islamists.
In any case, given that Israeli occupation forces routinely destroyed the homes of families of suicide bombers and the Iraqi money fell way short of making up for their losses, it was hardly an incentive for someone to commit an act of terrorism, which tends to be driven by the anger, hopelessness, and desperation of living under an oppressive military occupation, not by financial incentives.
3. Individuals and organizations sympathetic to Israel strongly supported the invasion. Sizable numbers of otherwise dovish Jewish members of Congress voted in support of the war resolution and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), long considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, pushed Congress to authorize an invasion on behalf of Israel.
While AIPAC undeniably has influenced congressional votes regarding Israeli-Palestinian concerns and related issues, it did not play a major role in lobbying members of Congress to vote in favor of the resolution authorizing a U.S. invasion of Iraq, in large part because they knew there was already such overwhelming bipartisan support for taking over that oil-rich country that they did not need to.
More fundamentally, there are far more powerful interests that have a stake in what happens in the Persian Gulf region than does AIPAC, such as the oil companies, the arms industry and other special interests whose lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races.
It is noteworthy that in the authorization of the use of force for the 1991 Gulf War, the majority of Jewish members of Congress voted against the war resolution, which is more than can be said for its non-Jewish members. In the more lopsided vote authorizing the use of force in October 2002, a majority of Jewish members of Congress did vote in the affirmative, though proportionately less so than did non-Jewish members.
Today, the American Jewish community, like most Americans, is turning against the war. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, along with its chairman of the board, Robert Heller, recently sent a letter to President Bush stating, "We call not only for a clear exit strategy but also for specific goals for troop withdrawal to commence after the completion of parliamentary elections."
4. Pro-Israel Jewish neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and others were among the key architects of the policy of "preventative war" and strongest advocates for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
While it is true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among the policy makers in Washington who pushed for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is also true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among liberal Democrats in Congress and leftist intellectuals in universities who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, while a number of prominent neoconservative intellectuals are of Jewish background and some of them even advised Benyamin Netanyahu's right-wing government during the 1990s, they have tended not to be religious nor have they strongly identified as Zionists in an ideological sense.
It should also be noted that these same neoconservatives, while in the Reagan administration during the 1980s, were advocates of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua and Cuba as well as a nuclear first strike -- in a so-called "limited nuclear war" -- against the Soviet Union. In short, they are hawks across the board, not just in regard to the Middle East. Support for Israel has always been seen as part of a broader strategic design to advance perceived U.S. interests in the region.
Furthermore, the most prominent and influential proponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney -- are neither Jewish nor prone to put the perceived interests of Israel ahead of that of the United States. Indeed, strong U.S. strategic interests in the Persian Gulf region, home of most of the world's known oil reserves, have existed for many decades and even pre-date the establishment of modern Israel.
Has the War Really Helped Israel?
To argue that support for Israel and/or pressure by supporters of Israel was a crucial variable in prompting the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq assumes that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been good for Israel.
While Israel had little to worry about regarding Iraq during Saddam Hussein's final years in power, they certainly do now: Key leaders of Iraq's current government and likely future government are part of fundamentalist Shiite political movements heavily influenced by Iran. These movements are strongly anti-Zionist in orientation and some have maintained close ties to other radical Arab Shiite groups, such as the Lebanese Hizbullah, whose militia has battled Israel for more than 20 years.
The most powerful of the dominant parties of the U.S.-backed governing coalition has been the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose 15,000-strong paramilitary unit, known as the Badr Brigade, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which also helped train the Hizbullah.
Meanwhile, the anti-government and anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq are dominated by Sunni Salafists and radical Arab nationalists, both of whom tend to be anti-Israel extremists. Thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, these insurgents are becoming stronger and increasingly sophisticated fighters gaining valuable new experiences in urban guerrilla warfare as well as terrorist tactics. These Iraqi insurgents have developed close ties with radical Jordanian and Palestinian groups with the means and motivation to harm Israeli civilians and Israel will undoubtedly feel their impact.
As a result, rather than goading the United States into taking military action against Syria, the Israeli government has been cautioning the United States to back off from its pressure against the Assad regime, fearing that if the Baathist leader was overthrown, more radical elements could come to power or that the country could be thrown into a destabilizing civil war. Similarly, public opinion polls show that a sizable majority of Israelis oppose pre-emptive military action against Iran for fear that an attack on that large Islamic country could have serious negative consequences to Israeli security interests.
As part of its desperate strategy to defend its disastrous policies in Iraq, the Bush administration and its supporters are now using the defense of Israel as an excuse. While such claims have no more validity than claims that Saddam Hussein had operational ties to al Qaida or still possessed WMDs, it carries the additional danger that Israel and its American Jewish supporters will end up getting blamed for the whole Iraqi debacle.
The American Jewish newspaper The Forward noted how a number of pro-Israel American activists and prominent Israelis had criticized recent comments by President George W. Bush and other prominent Republicans who have recently played the Israel card to justify the increasingly unpopular war. For example, Dani Rothschild, a retired Israeli major general who had served as the Israeli army's top administrator in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, noted how "it could put Israel in a very awkward situation with the American public, if Israel would be the excuse for losing more American soldiers every day."
Using Israel as an excuse for unpopular U.S. policies in the Middle East is nothing new. Over the past decade, I have had the opportunity to meet with a half-dozen Arab foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers and have asked each of them why their government was still so friendly with the United States, given U.S. policy toward the Palestinians, the Iraqis and other Arabs. Every one has answered to the effect that U.S. officials had explained to them that the anti-Arab bias in U.S. foreign policy was not the fault of the U.S. government itself, but was the result of wealthy Jews essentially running U.S. foreign policy.
In short, American officials are utilizing classic anti-Semitic scapegoating by blaming an alleged cabal of rich Jews behind the scenes for being responsible for a widely perceived injustice as a means of deflecting attention away from those who actually are responsible.
This does not mean that everyone who overstates the role of Israel in propelling the United States to war with Iraq is guilty of anti-Semitism. They just happen to be wrong. Because this particular argument parallels dangerous anti-Semitic stereotypes that exaggerate Jewish power and influence, however, it is a particularly grievous misinterpretation, not just because it reinforces longstanding oppressive attitudes against a minority group, but because it diverts attention away from those who really are responsible for the continuing tragedy in Iraq.
Indeed, that has largely been the functional purpose of anti-Semitism throughout Western history: to misdirect popular anger at economic injustice, disastrous military campaigns or other failures by political and economic elites onto a convenient and expendable target. It is critical, therefore -- particularly for those who identify with the peace movement -- to resist buying into the myth that it was Israel and its supporters who were responsible for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and Middle East editor of Foreign Policy In Focus. He is the author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism" (Common Courage Press, 2003). A longer version of this article was originally posted on the FPIF website.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/30797/
By John Perkins, AlterNet
Posted on January 13, 2006, Printed on January 14, 2006
Most people in the United States know that a transit strike crippled New York City. Fewer are aware that seven South American countries, representing over 80 percent of the continent's population, recently elected presidents with anti-American sentiments. The former has an immediate effect. The latter will impact our children for decades to come.
In December 2005, Evo Morales buried seven challengers -- taking 54 percent of the vote -- in what the New York Times referred to as "the most important election since Bolivia's transition from dictatorship to democracy a generation ago." His platform appealed to the poor, including farmers whose main source of income, coca plants, caused them to suffer brutal treatment at the hands of U.S. drug agents. Although U.S. politicians and the media have denounced coca because it is used to produce cocaine, the fact is that it is extremely important in the Andes as a legal remedy for altitude sickness, digestive problems and other illnesses.
Evo Morales is the latest in a long list of democratically elected Latin American presidents whose primary appeal is their opposition to U.S., IMF and World Bank policies that favor foreign corporations with reputations for exploiting natural resources and local labor. Bolivia joins the ranks of previously pro-American countries that have recently turned against Washington and Wall Street, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Argentina's President Kirchner recently announced what has been hailed as an "anti-IMF rebellion." He paid off nearly $10 billion in IMF debt in order to get out from under a burden that, he said, "caused poverty and pain among the Argentine people."
Venezuela's President Chavez has become a popular spokesman for anti-U.S. sentiments around the world.
Ecuador's President Gutierrez was thrown out of office by a popular grass-roots uprising when he capitulated to economic hitman threats and bribes, and went against his campaign promises to force U.S. oil companies to pay more to the Ecuadorian people for Ecuadorian oil. An Ecuadorian friend told me, "If a democratically elected official does not honor his campaign promises, democracy demands that we replace him."
In the past year, a rising tide of people throughout the world has been rebelling against policies they see as unjust. This has occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as in the United States, where New York transit workers fought to defend their economic well-being. As one transit worker told me, "We're sick of being told that our families must sacrifice while huge corporations and their executives receive tax breaks."
This rebellion is facilitated by the internet, cell phones and satellite dishes. People in places once considered remote are increasingly aware of statistics such as these:
- Transnational corporations have taken control of much of the production and trade in developing countries: For example, 40 percent of the world's coffee is traded by just four companies; the top 30 supermarket chains control almost one-third of worldwide grocery sales.
- A trade surplus of $1 billion for developing countries in the 1970s turned into an $11 billion deficit by 2001.
- The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995.
- Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; of those, 47 are U.S.-based.
- The overall share of federal taxes paid by U.S. corporations is now less than 10 percent, down from 21 percent in 2001 and over 50 percent during World War II; one-third of America's largest and most profitable corporations paid zero taxes -- or actually received credits -- in at least one of the last three years (according to Forbes magazine).
- Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned 40 times as much as the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, in addition to income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.
- Pre-Civil War slaves received room and board; wages paid by the sweatshops that today serve many U.S. industries will not cover the most basic needs.
Unrest in New York and Latin America, as well as in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East are harbingers of the difficulties that will haunt future generations -- unless we take heed. They serve notice that if we want a peaceful and prosperous future for our children, we must recognize basic human needs; we must insist that all people -- not just those at the top -- have the right to justice and dignity. Bolivian voters, NYC transit workers and democratically elected presidents of other countries are warning us that the bottom line of the corporate balance sheet is not the final statement upon which our society will ultimately be graded.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/30681/
WASHINGTON - Arizona conservative Rep. John Shadegg (news, bio, voting record) jumped into the contest to become the No. 2 Republican in the House on Friday, shaking up a touchy contest about the party's direction in what could be a difficult election year.
Shadegg joins Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt (news, bio, voting record) and Ohio Rep. John Boehner (news, bio, voting record) in the race to replace former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who announced a week ago that he would not try to regain the post under pressure from Republicans concerned about his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Time | MIKE ALLEN AND MATTHEW COOPER | Posted January 8, 2006 02:04 PM
But with the possibility that DeLay's could be indicted in the Abramoff case, the Administration fears that the scandal could tarnish all Republicans and even hand the House to the Democrats.
"They're worried about the Congress," an adviser said after talking to White House aides, "and they're worried about themselves." Although DeLay's forfeiture of his leadership post makes things easier for the White House, the Abramoff saga will continue to be a problem. Bracing for the worst, Administration officials obtained from the Secret Service a list of all the times Abramoff entered the White House complex, and they scrambled to determine the reason for each visit. Bush aides are also trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together. Abramoff attended Hanukkah and holiday events at the White House, according to an aide who has seen the list. Press secretary Scott McClellan said Abramoff might have attended large gatherings with Bush but added, "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him." Republican officials say they are so worried about the Abramoff problem that they are now inclined to stoke a fight with Democrats over the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court in an effort to turn the page from the lobbying investigation. Outside groups plan to spend heavily, and the White House will engage in some tit for tat with Democrats as the hearings heat up.
In the end, Bush may be saved by the textured relationship he has long had with well-heeled donors, who raised $300 million for his 2004 campaign, the most expensive one in the nation's history. When the President is traveling, he does not like to have contributors or local officials in his cars, planes or holding rooms unless they are there for a good reason, and he sometimes questions his underlings sharply if someone he considers extraneous is admitted. To make sure that doesn't happen, chief of staff Andrew Card has set up an elaborate vetting system that keeps people from sidling up to the President to suggest or hand anything to him. "They learned a lot from the previous Administration," says a Bush friend intimately familiar with the staff protocols.
Who can say, without mental reservation, that George W. Bush was only interested in eavesdropping on al Qaedas conversations with their sleeper cells in Wyoming and Alaska, those hotbeds of terrorism where Homeland Security has been lavishing taxpayer money? Or could it be that our President, whose entire political career has been propelled by what is known euphemistically in the trade as opposition research, was also listening in on the private conversations of his political opponents in the United States?Read On
This afternoon, CNSNEWS.com published an article entitled "Murtha's War Hero Status Called Into Question" on its website. The article questions the validity of my purple hearts. This is my response:
"Questions about my record are clearly an attempt to distract attention from the real issue, which is that our brave men and women in uniform are dying and being injured every day in the middle of a civil war that can be resolved only by the Iraqis themselves."
By expanding the battle against Alito even though a filibuster is unlikely, Democrats hope to make the GOP pay in November.
Times Staff Writer
January 13, 2006
WASHINGTON Liberal groups pledged Thursday to expand their uphill campaign against Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr., saying this week's hearings provided fuel for a sustained lobbying effort against his confirmation.
Although opposition to John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's choice as chief justice, had largely fizzled by the end of his testimony in September, the reverse appears to have happened with Alito, who completed his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
"There is going to be a significant effort to defeat this nomination inside Washington but more importantly, outside Washington," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group leading the opposition to Alito.
Democratic senators, however, appear unlikely to enlist in an all-out effort by party activists to thwart the nomination.
Although Alito is expected to draw significantly more opposition than Roberts, party leaders seem unwilling to pursue a filibuster against him, which probably represents their sole option for blocking the nomination.
"Based on everything I've seen so far, while [a filibuster] is not out of the question, the more likely scenario is we try to maximize the 'no' votes and we try to build a case designed to highlight the differences between the two parties on key issues such as privacy and civil rights and women's rights," said a senior Senate Democratic congressional aide who requested anonymity when discussing the party's strategy on Alito.
With Alito needing more than 50 votes for confirmation and Republicans holding 55 Senate seats, political analysts in both parties agree Alito is almost certain to attract majority support. That means the only way opponents could stop him would be to mount a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to stop.
Several Democratic strategists said even if the party did not attempt a filibuster, Democrats and their allies had strong incentives to oppose Alito more strenuously than they did Roberts.
One reason would be to discourage Bush from selecting a polarizing conservative if another vacancy opens on the court. Also, highlighting liberal concerns about Alito's views on issues such as abortion rights and the reach of presidential powers could cause difficulty in November's elections for some moderate Republican senators, such as Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, if they vote to confirm Alito.
"The question is how best to make some of these [moderate Republicans] pay a political price at election time," said the senior Democratic aide.
But Republicans are dubious that support for Alito will be a political liability in November. Jim Dyke, a GOP consultant advising Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said Democrats were opening themselves to counterattack by resting much of their case against Alito on the charge that he would favor law enforcement over civil liberties, especially in the war on terrorism.
"I hope they continue to believe it," Dyke said.
Some liberal activists said they thought Alito provided them their best opportunity for attack by refusing to describe Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide, as "settled law."
It remains uncertain how extensive a campaign Alito's opponents can mount. Through the hearings, their advertising effort against him wasn't as large as expected.
But the main coalition opposing Alito, IndependentCourt.org, scheduled a news conference for today to unveil a new television ad that sources said would use comments made by the judge at the hearings. It will run on national cable channels.
Anything short of a filibuster against Alito could provoke tension between Senate Democrats and the groups allied with them.
Neas said the principal groups opposing Alito had not determined whether to recommend that Democrats try to filibuster his nomination.
But Ben Brandzel, advocacy director for the political action committee associated with MoveOn.org, said his organization would urge Democrats to do "what it takes" to block Alito, including a filibuster.
"Alito's record merits a filibuster," Brandzel said.
Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative group that supports Bush's judicial nominees, said that he expected the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Alito to break along party lines 10 to 8 and that he also anticipated "very close to a party-line vote on the floor."
"We expect it will be a tough fight all the way to the end, but we also expect that he'll come out on top," Rushton said.
Alito's nomination already has sparked debate in several Senate races most prominently in Rhode Island, where Chafee is being squeezed on both sides of the issue.
Chafee has yet to decide whether to support Alito, expressing doubts about the nominee's views on abortion and civil liberties.
Stephen Hourahan, Chafee's press secretary, said the senator was concerned that Alito "wasn't willing to go as far as Roberts" in describing the Roe vs. Wade decision as "settled law."
The two leading candidates in the Democratic primary who hope to take on Chafee have said they would oppose Alito.
A Chafee vote for Alito would open him to attack from the Democrats in a generally liberal state.
But on Thursday, pressure mounted on Chafee to stand by his party when Stephen P. Laffey, a conservative challenging him in the GOP primary, announced his support for Alito. A Chafee vote against Alito, while potentially aiding him in the general election, could help derail Chafee's renomination bid.
In Ohio, Democrats are hoping the Alito vote will provide fodder for their efforts to unseat Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in what is expected to be a close race.
DeWine has praised Alito; the two Democrats vying to oppose him Iraq veteran Paul Hackett and Rep. Sherrod Brown have criticized the nomination.
Brown said that although DeWine's support for Alito might not become a central issue in the campaign, it would fit into a larger indictment that the incumbent, "while a decent guy, has been a foot soldier for Bush on every major issue."
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 13 January 2006
The National Security Agency advised President Bush in early 2001 that it had been eavesdropping on Americans during the course of its work monitoring suspected terrorists and foreigners believed to have ties to terrorist groups, according to a declassified document.
The NSA's vast data-mining activities began shortly after Bush was sworn in as president and the document contradicts his assertion that the 9/11 attacks prompted him to take the unprecedented step of signing a secret executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor a select number of American citizens thought to have ties to terrorist groups.
In its "Transition 2001" report, the NSA said that the ever-changing world of global communication means that "American communication and targeted adversary communication will coexist."
"Make no mistake, NSA can and will perform its missions consistent with the Fourth Amendment and all applicable laws," the document says.
However, it adds that "senior leadership must understand that the NSA's mission will demand a 'powerful, permanent presence' on global telecommunications networks that host both 'protected' communications of Americans and the communications of adversaries the agency wants to target."
What had long been understood to be protocol in the event that the NSA spied on average Americans was that the agency would black out the identities of those individuals or immediately destroy the information.
But according to people who worked at the NSA as encryption specialists during this time, that's not what happened. On orders from Defense Department officials and President Bush, the agency kept a running list of the names of Americans in its system and made it readily available to a number of senior officials in the Bush administration, these sources said, which in essence meant the NSA was conducting a covert domestic surveillance operation in violation of the law.
James Risen, author of the book State of War and credited with first breaking the story about the NSA's domestic surveillance operations, said President Bush personally authorized a change in the agency's long-standing policies shortly after he was sworn in in 2001.
"The president personally and directly authorized new operations, like the NSA's domestic surveillance program, that almost certainly would never have been approved under normal circumstances and that raised serious legal or political questions," Risen wrote in the book. "Because of the fevered climate created throughout the government by the president and his senior advisers, Bush sent signals of what he wanted done, without explicit presidential orders" and "the most ambitious got the message."
The NSA's domestic surveillance activities that began in early 2001 reached a boiling point shortly after 9/11, when senior administration officials and top intelligence officials asked the NSA to share that data with other intelligence officials who worked for the FBI and the CIA to hunt down terrorists that might be in the United States. However the NSA, on advice from its lawyers, destroyed the records, fearing the agency could be subjected to lawsuits by American citizens identified in the agency's raw intelligence reports.
The declassified report says that the "Director of the National Security Agency is obligated by law to keep Congress fully and currently formed of intelligence activities." But that didn't happen. When news of the NSA's clandestine domestic spying operation, which President Bush said he had authorized in 2002, was uncovered last month by the New York Times, Democratic and Republican members of Congress appeared outraged, claiming that they were never informed of the covert surveillance operation. It's unclear whether the executive order signed by Bush removes the NSA Director from his duty to brief members of Congress about the agency's intelligence gathering programs.
Eavesdropping on Americans required intelligence officials to obtain a surveillance warrant from a special court and show probable cause that the person they wanted to monitor was communicating with suspected terrorists overseas. But Bush said that the process for obtaining such warrants under the 1978 Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act was, at times, "cumbersome."
In a December 22, letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella wrote that the "President determined it was necessary following September 11 to create an early warning detection system. FISA could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early warning detection system."
However, what remains murky about that line of reasoning is that after 9/11, former Attorney General John Ashcroft undertook a full-fledged lobbying campaign to loosen the rules and the laws governing FISA to make it easier for the intelligence community to obtain warrants for wiretaps to spy on Americans who might have ties to terrorists. Since the legislative change, more than 4,000 surveillance warrants have been approved by the FISA court, leading many to wonder why Bush selectively chose to bypass the court for what he said were a select number of individuals.
More than a dozen legal scholars dispute Moschella's legal analysis, saying in a letter just sent to Congress that the White House failed to identify "any plausible legal authority for such surveillance."
"The program appears on its face to violate existing law," wrote the scholars of constitutional law, some of whom worked in various senior capacities in Republican and Democratic administrations, in an extraordinary letter to Congress that laid out, point by point, why the president is unauthorized to permit the NSA to spy on Americans and how he broke the law by approving it.
"Even conceding that the President in his role as Commander in Chief may generally collect 'signals intelligence' on the enemy abroad, Congress indisputably has authority to regulate electronic surveillance within the United States, as it has done in FISA," the letter states. "Where Congress has so regulated, the President can act in contravention of statute only if his authority is exclusive, that is, not subject to the check of statutory regulation. The DOJ letter pointedly does not make that extraordinary claim. The Supreme Court has never upheld warrantless wiretapping within the United States."
Additionally, "if the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA," the letter continues. "One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the President - or anyone else - to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."
Jeffrey Smith, the former General Counsel for the CIA under the Clinton administration, also weighed in on the controversy Wednesday. Smith said he wants to testify at hearings that Bush overstepped his authority and broke the law. His own legal opinion on the spy program was included in a 14-page letter to the House Select Committee on Intelligence that said that President Bush does not have the legal authority to order the NSA to spy on American citizens, aides to Congressman John Conyers said Wednesday evening.
"It is not credible that the 2001 authorization to use force provides authority for the president to ignore the requirements of FISA," Smith wrote, adding that if President Bush's executive order authorizing a covert domestic surveillance operation is upheld as legal "it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks and balances of our system, which lie at the very heart of the Constitution."
Still, one thing that appears to be indisputable is that the NSA surveillance began well before 9/11 and months before President Bush claims Congress gave him the power to use military force against terrorist threats, which Bush says is why he believed he had the legal right to bypass the judicial process.
According to the online magazine Slate, an unnamed official in the telecom industry said NSA's "efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails."
Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributor to t r u t h o u t.
Fri Jan 13, 2006
The Nation -- It sounds as if Al Gore is about to deliver what could be not just one of the more significant speeches of his political career but an essential challenge to the embattled presidency of George W. Bush.
In a major address slated for delivery Monday in Washington, the former Vice President is expected to argue that the Bush administration has created a "Constitutional crisis" by acting without the authorization of the Congress and the courts to spy on Americans and otherwise abuse basic liberties.
Aides who are familiar with the preparations for the address say that Gore will frame his remarks in Constitutional language. The Democrat who beat Bush by more than 500,000 votes in the 2000 presidential election has agreed to deliver his remarks in a symbolically powerful location: the historic Constitution Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But this will not be the sort of cautious, bureacratic speech for which Gore was frequently criticized during his years in the Senate and the White House.
Indeed, his aides and allies are framing it as a "call to arms" in defense of the Bill of Rights and the rule of law in a time of executive excess.
The vice president will, according to the groups that have arranged for his appearance -- the bipartisan Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy -- address "the threat posed by policies of the Bush Administration to the Constitution and the checks and balances it created. The speech will specifically point to domestic wiretapping and torture as examples of the administration's efforts to extend executive power beyond Congressional direction and judicial review."
Coming only a few weeks after U.S. Representative John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and to explore the issue of impeachment, Gore in expected to "make the case that the country -- including the legislative and judicial branches and all Americans -- must act now to defend the systems put into place by the country's founders to curb executive power or risk permanent and irreversible damage to the Constitution."
Don't expect a direct call for impeachment from the former vice president. But do expect Gore to make reference to Richard Nixon, whose abuses of executive authority led to calls for his impeachment -- a fate the 37th president avoided by resigning in 1974.
Gore's speech will add fuel to the fire that was ignited when it was revealed that Bush had secretly authorized National Security Agency to monitor communications in the United States without warrants. Gore will argue that the domestic wiretapping policy is only the latest example of the administration exceeding its authority under the Constitution.
With a Congressional inquiry into Bush's repeated violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act scheduled to begin in February -- and with Bush already preparing to pitch an Nixon-style defense that suggests it is appropriate for the executive branch to violate the law when national security matters are involved -- Gore will articulate the more traditional view that reasonable checks and balances are required even in a time of war. And he will do so in a bipartisan context that will make it tougher for Republican critics to dismiss the former vice president's assertion that the Constitution is still the law of the land.
Former U.S. Representative Bob Barr, the Georgia Republican who served as one of the most conservative members of the House, plans to introduce Gore. Barr, an outspoken critic of the abuses of civil liberties contained in the USA Patriot Act critic who has devoted his post-Congressional years to defending the Bill of Rights, refers to the president's secret authorization of domestic wiretapping as "an egregious violation of the electronic surveillance laws."
Count on Gore, who has pulled few punches in the speeches he has delivered in recent months, to be at least as caustic.LINK