Friday, December 28, 2007

Another Principled JAG Officer Resigns Over Bush Torture Policy

Lieutenant Commander Andrew Williams resigned his commission and ended his service as an officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps because of this Administrations torture policies. In a letter to the Peninsula Gateway explaining his decision, Williams said

There was a time when I served with pride, knowing that by serving with the finest men and women in the country, we were part of an organization whose core values required us to “do the right thing,” and that we were far different from the Soviet Union and its gulags, the Vietcong with their torture camps and a society of surveillance and informers like Nazi Germany.

We were part of the shining light on the hill who didn’t do those things. Sadly, no more.

According to an article in the Peninsula Gateway Williams began his service in 1991 and served aboard the Carrier Nimitz before becoming a reserve officer in 1995. His decision did not come suddenly, but, for him, was finally compelled by the testimony of General Thomas Hartmann, the head of the Military Commissions, who refused to condemn water torture. Specifically, Hartmann refused to say that an enemy who subjected U.S. troops to the practice should be prosecuted for that crimes.

This incredible revelation came out in a Senate Hearing with this exchange between Hartmann and Lindsey Graham,

GRAHAM: You mean you’re not equipped to give a legal opinion as to whether or not Iranian military waterboarding, secret security agents waterboarding downed airmen is a violation of the Geneva Convention?

HARTMANN: I am not prepared to answer that question, Senator.

While the history of this torture and past prosecutions has been detailed before, this is how it was summarized by Commander Williams

Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition.

In the middle ages, the Inquisition called waterboarding “toca” and used it with great success. In colonial times, it was used by the Dutch East India Company during the Amboyna Massacre of 1623.

Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai. In World War II, our grandfathers had the wisdom to convict Japanese Officer Yukio Asano of waterboarding and other torture practices in 1947, giving him 15 years hard labor.

Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Most recently, the U.S. Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.

He concluded by saying,

General Hartmann, following orders was not an excuse for anyone put on trial in Nuremberg, and it will not be an excuse for you or your superiors, either.

We all know why the minions in Bushco cannot admit that waterboarding is torture. They have sanctioned this and other forms of torture and know they can be prosecuted for their actions. That is the only reason why clowns like Hartmann get up and make fools of themselves by denying the obvious. That is why they have invented terms like "harsh" and "enhanced" interrogation techniques. They think this Orwellian speak will change the underlying fact that they have broken the law. Even Lindsey Graham, that on and off torture gadfly, has their number on this issue. Speaking about water boarding,

Sen. Graham, a former military judge advocate, has said before that someone doesn’t “have to have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates Geneva Convention Common Article Three.”

This sorry episode in American history will come to an end, of that I am sure. I suspect we will not see prosecutions and certainly not of the high officials going up to Bush who authorized this criminal activity. But I do think we will get an accounting. Our dirty laundry must be aired and our nation must resolve never to do this again. There is no defense of this country at the expense of the Constitution. The Constitution is who we are. The moment we forget that we have lost our national soul, the one thing that is worth defending.

As we await the hoped for day of reckoning, we should salute courageous JAG officers like Commander Williams who are refusing to accept these abuses on their watch.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Water Torture, Gonzales, And The Japanese Prisoners We Convicted.

At his hearing today Alberto Gonzales once again refused to find anything wrong with water boarding and made clear that it certainly wasn't torture. In addition to knowing precious little about the law, Gonzales is also ignorant of the history of water torture. The Senators should have reminded him of the Japanese soldiers convicted by U.S. and other tribunals for using water torture against allied soldiers during WW II.

During his testimony, Gonzales had this to say when asked why the President's July 20th Executive Order did not include water boarding in the list of prohibited acts,

"[S]ome acts are clearly beyond the pale, and that everyone would agree should be prohibited, . . . There are certain other activities where it is not so clear, Senator."

Well Mr. Esteemed Attorney General, I'd like to introduce you to Mssrs. Yuki, Hata, Asano, Kita and Nakamura, just a few of the many Japanese soldiers who were convicted at the end of WWII of the war crime of water boarding.

There is a very comprehensive article on the history of water torture by Evan Wallach entitled, DROP BY DROP: FORGETTING THE HISTORY OF WATER TORTURE IN U.S. COURTS, which details what the U.S. has learned and forgotten, and learned and forgotten again about this this evil form of torture.

But first to the basics. Though it goes by many names such as "water cure," "water boarding," "water torture," and "water rag," the

technique has long been prized by extreme interrogators for its unique combination of severe mental trauma and physical pain with, unlike other methods, a lack of perceivable physical trauma short of autopsy

How do the victims of it feel? From the testimony of CPT Chase Jay Neilson, one of the Dolittle raiders who was captured by the Japanese,

Q: Did the questioners threaten you with any other treatment while you were being questioned?

A: Yes, I was given several types of torture.... I was given what they call the water cure.* * *

Q: What was your sensation when they were pouring water..., what did you physically feel?

A: Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death.

And how did his torturers achieve this effect, this feeling of drowning?

Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I’d get my breath, then they’d start over again.

This is the testimony of Ramon Lavarro, a Philippine lawyer subjected to torture, at the war crimes trial of Sergeant Major Yuki,

Q: And then did he take you back to your room?

A: When Yuki could not get anything out of me he wanted the interpreter to place me down below and I was told by Yuki to take off all my clothes so what I did was to take off my clothes as ordered. I was ordered to lay on a bench and Yuki tied my feet, hands and neck to that bench lying with my face upward. After I was tied to the bench Yuki placed some cloth on my face and then with water from the faucet they poured on me until I became unconscious. He repeated that four or five times.

COL KEELEY: You mean he brought water and poured water down your throat?

A: No sir, on my face, until I became unconscious. We were lying that way with some cloth on my face and then Yuki poured water on my face continuously.

COL KEELEY: And you couldn’t breath?

A: No, I could not and so I for a time lost consciousness. I found my consciousness came back again and found Yuki was sitting on my stomach and then I vomited the water from my stomach and the consciousness came back again for me.

Q: Where did the water come out when he sat on your stomach?

A” From my mouth and all openings of my face...and then Yuki would repeat the same treatment and the same procedure to me until I became unconscious again.

Q: How many times did that happen?

A: Around four or five times from two o’clock up to four o’clock in the afternoon. When I was not able to endure his punishment which I received I told a lie to Yuki....I could not really show anything to Yuki because I was really lying just to stop the torture...

The defendant in this case, Chinsaku Yuki, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Here is a summary of the testimony of American POWs Burton, Armitage, Cash, and Woodall at the trial of their Japanese captors.

The witnesses’ descriptions painted a grim portrait of the treatment meted out to POWs, and of the use of water torture as a primary means of interrogation.

He was turned upside down and water poured up his nose and beaten into unconsciousness.62

...they would lash me to a stretcher then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness...63

...they laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air.... They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breath without sucking in water.64

[We] were strapped to stretchers and warm water poured down our nostrils until we were about ready to pass out.65

[They] strapped him to a stretcher and elevated his feet and then poured on his face so
that it was almost impossible for him to get his breath.66

[The victim] was then taken into the corridor, strapped to a stretcher, which was tilted so that his head was toward the floor and feet resting on a nearby sink. Water was then poured down his nose and mouth for about twenty minutes...67

...they stood them on their heads until they almost choked.

There were four japanese defendants in these cases. Hata was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Nakamura received twenty years and Asano and Kita each received fifteen year sentences.

The use of water torture was not unique to the Japanese in WWII. It has a long and sordid history over the centuries and the United States has participated in this gruesome history. But there is a different between our use of this torture in the past versus our use of it under Bush. In the past it was never sanctioned as government policy and americans were prosecuted for using it. Now, under Bush, it is a sanctioned technique that is used without shame or conscience.

During the Philippine Insurrection, the war following the Spanish American War, Americans were awakened to the brutality of the conduct of some our troops against the Philippinos who were called guerillas, or patriots, depending on which side you were on.

The Spanish-American war was remarkably similar to the Iraq war in several key respects. Both wars were sold to the public on the basis of jingoistic propaganda and lies, instigated and/or promoted by the Administration and the press. Both wars were advertised as short military adventures that would be victorious in short order. Both wars metamorphosed from the conflict initially advertised into guerilla campaigns fought by people who viewed the Americans as occupiers. And in both wars, the United States used water torture against its enemy. There is one difference. In the Philippine war there was general, though not universal, public and congressional revulsion against the tactics used and senior officers were held accountable, including a General. In Iraq, the administration sanctioned the use of torture, without naming it so, and specifically embraced the use of water boarding.

As summarized by Evan Wallach

The United States has largely forgotten its adventure in the Philippines, but at the time the U.S. occupation was highly controversial at home, not least, because of allegations of misconduct by American troops. Eventually, courts-martial reached as high as a general officer, left the93 administration facing congressional inquiries, and the public with a sour after taste from its “splendid little war.” One highly publicized aspect of that misconduct was the “water cure.”94

Testifying before Congress, the U.S. Administrator in the Philippines, William Howard Taft (later President and Supreme Court Justice) conceded that the “water cure” had been used as a questioning technique. The testimony coincided with publication of a soldier’s letter home95 boasting of use of the water cure on Filipino insurgents.96

There was ample testimony presented to the Senate Committee regarding the abuses in the Philippines.

Another witness, former Private Edward Norton “...described in one instance where he had assisted in ‘water-curing a native. The man’s mouth, he said, was forced open with a stick and the water poured down his throat. The effect of the treatment was temporary strangulation. In this particular case, he said, the native after receiving the cure delivered up a number of rifles and pistols.104

Another former soldier, First Lieutenant Grover Flint testified he has been a witness to at least twenty applications of the water cure. Flint sated he had never seen anyone die as a result although he had seen a prisoner rendered unconscious, and that “ some cases where it was given to old men he had seen their teeth fall out.105

Still another ex-enlisted man, L.E. Hallock “...told of the infliction of the cure upon a dozen natives...He said they were captured and tortured in order to secure information of the murder of [an American soldier who was tortured before his death]. When asked the effect of the treatment, he testified that “The stomach would swell up, and in some cases I witnessed blood come from the mouth.”106

Initially, Secretary of War Elihu Root had denied all the allegations of abuse. However, less than two months later, Secretary Root had substantially changed his position. In light of the testimony that had been presented to the Senate Committee, he directed the Judge Advocate General of the Army to take proper steps, and he directed the Army commander in the Philippines that ”... nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army. "

Root issued the following directive to the commander of U.S. troops in the Philippines on behalf of president Roosevelt.

The President desires to know in the fullest and most circumstantial manner, all the facts, nothing being concealed and no man being for any reason favored or shielded. For the very reason that the President intends to back up the army in the heartiest fashion in every lawful and legitimate method of doing its work he also intends to see that the most rigorous care is exercised to detect and prevent any cruelty or brutality, and that the men who are guilty thereof are punished. Great as the provocation has been in dealing with foes who habitually resort to treachery, murder and torture against our men, nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army.

From that point on water torture was prohibited as a matter of U.S. policy. Yes, there were instances when it was subsequently used by U.S. troops, particularly in Viet Nam, but not with the sanction of the President. That is of course until now. We have a President, Vice President, Attorney General and their many enablers, not the least of which being torture man John Yoo who embrace water torture.

In todays hearing Gonzales was asked a question about the Executive Order, specifically paragraph (E), which enumerates certain prohibited practices.

(E) willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield; or

When asked why the order could enumerate these odious practices and leave water boarding unmentioned, he made clear it was not an oversight. According to him, water torture, a practice that the United States has condemned, a practice that we have tried and convicted enemy soldiers for and sentenced them to up to life in prison, is not "clearly beyond the pale." It is not something that "everybody would agree should be prohibited."

With all due respect, Mssrs. Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and Yoo, your opinions are beyond the pale. You lack the decency of ordinary human beings and deserve to be reviled now and for all time.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cheney Ignored The Constitution, Again

Dick Cheney addressed the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, West Point, Friday and delivered a speech that was was largely forgettable but had some odious passages thrown in. The speech was front paged by BarbinMD on DailyKos Friday and received considerable attention. There was one thing that was not mentioned in the article but that picked up by several commenters that continues to churn inside me. Cheney forgot to mention the Constitution.

The Vice President's speech concluded with this passage.

On your first day of Army life, each one of you raised your right hand and took an oath. And you will swear again today to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is your vow, that is the business you're in.

There is one huge problem with what he said. No member of the military or, for that matter, no civilian Federal employee swears an oath to protect the United States. Not Dick, not Bush, and certainly not these new Army officers. All military personnel take the following oath contained in 5 USC 3331.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter.”

"Support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution. The critical word in the oath of office, the word that gives meaning to the oath, the entire focus of the oath was nowhere to be found in Cheney's speech. It is unlikely Cheney's omission was a mere oversight. However, before discussing that, the following background information regarding the oath will make clear why every Federal office holder swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and not the "Nation", the 'People" or the "President."

There are two provisions in the Constitution relating to the oath of office. Article II, which establishes the Office of the President, requires each President to swear an oath to -

"preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Article VI contains the oath requirement that applies to all other government officials, whether in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches or the military. That provision states simply that each Federal official "shall be bound by oath of affirmation to support the Constitution." That Article VI requirement was implemented in the first law passed by the first Congress which contained the following simple oath: "I do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States." While that initial language has been amended over the years the language adopted in 1884 is the same as we have today.

It has been written on more than one occasion, including here, that Bush does not remember or maybe never knew that he swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. But most of his statements were off the cuff remarks or answers to questions, where his inarticulateness is legend. Such was not the case with Cheney. His misstatement was deliberate. We know that because it is contained in the written text of his remarks that are posted on the White House web site. It is possible that he is the victim of incompetent staff work or his own incompetence in failing to recognize the mistake in his text, but there is ample reason to believe otherwise.

Cheney's words seems to be another affirmation of his disdain for the Constitution. We have seen that disdain in his disregard for the basic liberties enshrined in the Constitution. Provisions such as the guarantees of due process, habeas corpus, freedom of speech and assembly, and prohibitions against warrantless searches and seizures are alien to him. Similarly the checks and balances in the Constitution, particularly those that subject the powers of the President to the will of the people as expressed through their Congressional representatives carry no weight in his mind, a mind that sees all power consolidated in a unitary executive.

His vision would be anathema to the Founders and is repugnant to any patriot today. The founders rebelled literally and figuratively from a country where we would owe allegiance to a ruler, or his party, or to the administration in power. Their feelings on this score were clear and unambiguous. They required that those who swear the oath, owe their allegiance to only one thing, the Constitution. That allegiance requires them to ensure that the rights of the people enshrined in the Constitution and the duties and responsibilities of the governmental institutions created by that document are protected from any person who would seek to deny those rights or subvert those institutions. It is a simple oath, but its significance cannot be overstated.

We do not serve the government or this Administration, we serve the Constitution. And only by doing so can we ever hope that the government will be true not only to the letter of the document, but also to the principles embodied in the Preamble.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

All of those principles are important. But in this era, three stand out - Establish Justice, Promote the General Welfare, and Ensure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity.

Dick doesn't agree with that and by deleting the Constitution from his speech he is hoping we will forget.

Crossposted at Never In Our Names.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Please Support Senator Harkin's Bill To Close Guantanamo In 120 Days

The ACLU just sent an advisory that Senator Tom Harkin has introduced a bill that would require the Guantanamo prison/torture center, also known as America's Shame, to be closed within 120 days after enactment.

Now is a more critical time than ever to have our voices heard on the question of torture and America's Shame. At the last Republican Candidates Presidential debate only one candidate, McCain, spoke out against torture and he was greeted with thunderous silence. Those who spoke in favor of torture were greeted with deafening applause accompanied whoops and hollers. These sniveling traitors to the Constitution included Guiliani who said he would do "anything" to get information, Romney who would  "double the size of Guantanamo, and Tancredo who pleaded for help from Jack Bauer.

Here’s a summary of what the bill does:

• It requires the President to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within 120 days of enactment.
• Within 120 days of enactment, the detainees will be either sent to the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth to await trial or serve their sentences or transferred to another country that will not torture, abuse, or otherwise persecute the detainee.
• For each detainee being held at Guantanamo Bay, the government will have 120 days to either charge the detainee with a federal crime or transfer him to his home country or another country, provided they will not engage in tortured, abused, or persecuted. The government may have an additional renewal period of 120 days to hold the detainee if it is preparing charges and has a logistical need for additional time.
• The bill ends the practice of indefinite detention without charge of hundreds of detainees--most who have been held more than four years, and many who have been held more than five years without charge and without even knowing the reason that they are being held.
• The detainees who are charged will be detained in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth while awaiting trial, during trial, and during their sentences.  This is the military's prison specifically designated, designed, and built by the Defense Department to hold national security prisioners.

The bill will provide additional funds to prosecute and defend cases brought against the detainees, and for costs incurred by the government or the region in transferring or detaining prisoners.

Please go to the ACLU website above, or any other place, to urge your Senators to support this bill.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush's Bodacious Band Of Buffoons

Ever wonder why Muqtada al-Sadr doesn't seem to care much for our Iraq policy or our occupation? An article in the Independent gives us a pretty good hint. In 2004, we tried to asasinate him.

It all started back in August 2004 when Mr Sadr and his Mehdi Army militiamen were besieged by US Marines in Najaf, south of Baghdad. The story is told by the current Iraqi National Security Adviser, Dr Mowaffaq Rubai'e

Dr Rubai'e had gone to Najaf in August 2004 to try to mediate an end to the fighting. He met Mr Sadr who agreed to a set of conditions to end the crisis. "He actually signed the agreement with his own handwriting," said Dr Rubai'e. "He wanted the inner Najaf, the old city, around the shrine to be treated like the Vatican."

But when Dr. Rubai'e returned to Bahgdad, Prime Minister Alawi instructed him to return to Najaf to get a final document signed and the signing was to occur in a particular house.

As told by Rubai'e,

It was agreed that the last meeting would take place in the house in Najaf of Muqtada's father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr who had been murdered by Saddam's gunmen with two of his sons five years before. Dr Rubai'e and other mediators started for the house. As they did so they saw the US Marines open up an intense bombardment of the house and US Special Forces also heading for it. But the attack was a few minutes premature. Mr Sadr was not yet in the house and managed to escape.

Although Dr Rubai'e, as Iraqi National Security Adviser since 2004 and earlier a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is closely associated with the American authorities in Baghdad, he has no doubt about what happened.

He sees the negotiations as part of a charade to lure Mr Sadr, who is normally very careful about his own security, to a house where he could be eliminated.

Every time we hear of Bush's incompetence in beginning and prosecuting this Fiasco we think we've heard the last of it. But as of today, this may take the cake. Anyone who knew his butt from first base knew that al Sadr had taken on the mantle of his father, a powerful Shiite cleric, who, along with two of his sons, had been assassinated by Saddam in 1999. Those murders by Saddam had provoked widespread civil unrest in Iraq. And small wonder. The Sadrist movement was a powerful force that was a blend of "nationalism, religion and populism proved highly attractive to Iraqi Shia, particularly to the very poor." That movement surfaced out into the open after Saddam's overthrow.

Unfortunately, Bush and his bodacious band of buffoons didn't know any of this. So, like Saddam before him, Bush decided the Sadr organization had to be crushed, either by defeating it militarily or killing it's leader. To our great leader this would have sounded like an easy task. After all, we had overthrown Saddam a year earlier in a "cake walk" and only had a few "dead enders" to deal with before we could complete the building of Iowa on the Euphrates. Clearly the Iraqis loved us, and all this silly talk of inter-sectarian rivalries and animosity was the talk of people who were far two negative. And the idea of intra-sectarian rivalries, for instance between different Shia factions, was too preposterous to contemplate. The leader of Iraq was our guy Alawi, who was a Shia just like Sadr. That was good enough for us. Sadr or anyone else who opposed him was obviously a marginal figure and traitor who had to be dealt with forcibly. If he died, all the better. His coterie of hangers on would soon disappear.

It is possible that the plan to kill Sadr did not originate with the Americans but rather with Alawi. But that is almost a distinction without a difference since Alawi was our hand picked interim President. What is undeniable, given the role of the U.S. military in this botched episode, is that we actively tried to kill him. Some suggest we may have wanted to capture him, but the weaponry we used doesn't suggest that.) In any event, we failed and Sadr laid the blame at our doorstep.

And the consequence of this botched assassination attempt are still with us.

Dr Rubai'e said: "I know him very well and I think his suspicion and distrust of the coalition and any foreigner is really deep-rooted," and dates from what happened in Najaf. He notes that after it had happened Mr Sadr occupied the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf as a place of refuge.

There is little doubt that if the U.S. had succeeded in killing Sadr in 2004, the civil war would have begun in earnest much sooner than it did. But since Bush was too dumb to see what he had set in motion when he unleashed the dogs of war in March, 2003, he could not possibly understand the consequence of killing a major Shia leader right after overthrowing the Sunni leader, Hussein. Might as well have the whole country hate us.

When, oh when, will we be rid of these morons?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Federal Taxes And Spending-We are Losing The Class War

Few people in this country have much of a clue about the Federal Government. Where does it get it's money? How does it spend that money? How big is it? How many people work for it? And many other questions.

Readers of this site are smarter than the average bear, for sure. Even so, the subject is pretty dense and maybe all of us are in need of a little refresher. So here are a few questions. If you answer them correctly, you are awarded a gold star. But if not, you might want to read further.

I) In 1962, the Federal civilian Executive Branch workforce contained 1.8 million employees. What was the size of this workforce in 2006? a) 1.1 million, b) 1.8 million, c) 2.5 million, d) 3.4 million. In answering that question remember that the population of the country grew from about 180 million to 300 in that time period. (The Executive Branch does not include the Post Office, Congress or Courts.)

II) In 2006, what percentage of Federal expenditures came from income taxes paid by individuals? a) 39%, b) 45%, c) 68%, d) 81%

The answer to the first question is b) 1.8 million employees. Yes, even though the population has grown by 40% since 1962 the Federal workforce has stayed the same. This number does not include contract employees, whether working individually or for large companies. I hope to get to that later or in another article.

The answer to the second question is a) 39%. Less than two fifths of what we spent last year came from your and my income taxes. The rest came from other sources which are discussed below.

The source materials for this article are the 2008 Budget of the United States from the web site of OMB. This is an invaluable document which you can download or read on line. Ignore all the propaganda about how Bush is making life better and go to the charts and tables in the Analytical Perspectives. The Congressional Budget Office historical tables provide forty-five years of comparative data. The Office of Personnel Management has a treasure trove of employment data. Lastly, the Congressional Budget Office is a great resource that also cuts through some of the bloviating coming from the Administration.


The government gets income from hundreds of sources. They are grouped in seven major categories - Individual Income Taxes; Corporate Income Taxes; Social insurance Taxes, which are largely social security and medicare; Excise taxes, like the gas tax; Estate and Gift taxes; Customs Duties; and Miscellaneous. In addition to knowing how we collect money now it is really interesting to see how the burden of these taxes has changed over the years. This chart tracks changes in those numbers starting in 1962, to the height of the Viet Nam War, the last years of the Carter, Reagan, GHWB, and Clinton administrations, and 2006, which is the last year for which we have data.

Revenues by Major Source, 1962 to 2006 (Billions of dollars)
Sources: Congressional Budget Office; Office of Management and Budget.

Ind. Corp. Soc.Ins. Excise Est. & Gift Customs Misc. Tot. Tot.

1962 45.6 20.5 17.0 12.5 2.0 1.1 0.8 99.7

1970 90.4 32.8 44.4 15.7 3.6 2.4 3.4 192.8

1980 244.1 64.6 157.8 24.3 6.4 7.2 12.7 517.1

1988 401.2 94.5 334.3 35.2 7.6 16.2 20.3 909.3

1992 476.0 100.3 413.7 45.6 11.1 17.4 27.3 1,091.3

2000 1,004.5 207.3 652.9 68.9 29.0 19.9 43.1 2,025.5

2006 1,043.9 353.9 837.8 74.0 27.9 24.8 45.0 2,407.3

Many things jump out of that data, but there are two really noteworthy thing for me. In 1962 corporate income taxes represented 20% of Federal income, by 2006 they had dropped to 14%. Social insurance taxes increased from 17% of income to 34.8% of income in 2006. Keep in mind, those are the taxes paid largely by working people because they only apply to wages below $97,500 this year and don't apply to dividends or capital gains.

Deficits and Debt

This is one of the most confusing parts of the budget. Not only are they two different things but there are two kinds of debt and two types of deficits.

As of the end of 2006 the federal government had accumulated a debt of $8.42 Trillion. That is what is referred to as the National Debt. It is a monster number but also a misleading one because there are two different national debts. The Government owes $4.829 Trillion to the public, which is people who bought government bonds. But it also owes $3.622 Trillion to itself. How can that be one might ask?

The complexity stems from the fact that the government collects general revenues, such as income taxes, which can be spent on anything. But it also collects money that can only be used for specified purposes. The most familiar of those sources are Social Security and Medicare taxes, but they also include gas taxes and airport taxes. Those revenues go into "trust funds" and must be used for designated purposes. Every year that less money is spent on Social Security benefits than is collected in taxes, the surplus amount is added to the fund. That has been the case with Social Security for all but a handful of years, which has accumulated $2 Trillion.

A problem arises, though, when the Government doesn't collect enough general revue in a given year to cover it's general expenses. At that point it needs to borrow the difference. It has two choices - issue bonds to the public or borrow from it's own trust funds. It does both. It borrows from the trust funds first, giving them notes with a specified interest rate, and then borrows from the public for the rest. It makes sense for the government to do this, otherwise it would have to increase public borrowing which would drive up rates. But because this is not well understood, the public does not get a clear picture each year of our revenue shortfalls.

That gets us to the deficit. The deficit is the difference between what the Government takes in each year from all sources and what it spends in that year. But in reality, here are two deficits. There is the one the public sees each year and then the real deficit. In 2006 we were told that the deficit was $284 Billion But in truth, it was $434 Billion The difference was $185 Billion that was borrowed from excess Social Security taxes. It is important to remember those taxes came only from wage earners making less than $97 thousand. They did not come from people earning millions of dollars or whose income is from dividends and capital gains.

This also means that every time we cut income taxes for the wealthy or eliminate the estate tax, we are shifting that tax burden onto the shoulders of wage earners who pay Social Security taxes.

Federal Spending

The Federal Budget is comprised of thousands of programs. For an overview those expenditures are aggregated into the following "functions', as described by the Center on Budget And Policy Priorities. Here is the percentage of the total 2006 budget that was spent on each of these categories.

Defense and security - 21%: The largest component of the “defense and security” category is the national defense function. This category also includes expenditures for activities that OMB has designated as homeland security activities but that fall outside of the defense function.[4] In addition, this category includes the international security assistance subfunction of the international affairs function.

Social Security - 21%: This category consists of all expenditures in the Social Security function.

Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP - 19%: This category consists of the Medicare function, as well as the “Grants to States for Medicaid” account and the “State children’s health insurance fund” account.

Safety net programs - 9% : This category of programs includes all programs in the income security function except those that fall in the following two subfunctions: the federal employee retirement and disability subfunction; and the general retirement and disability insurance subfunction. The latter contains the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and also covers programs that provide pension and disability benefits to certain small groups of private sector workers.

Interest on the national debt - 9%: This category contains the net interest function.

Everything else - 21%: This category includes all federal expenditures not included in one of the five categories defined above. The subcomponents of this category that are displayed in Figure 2 are defined as follows:

Benefits for civilian retirees and veterans - 5%: This subcategory combines the veterans benefits and services function and the federal employee retirement and disability subfunction (which is part of the income security function).

Education - 4%: The education subcategory combines three subfunctions of the education, training, employment, and social services function: elementary, secondary, and vocational education; higher education; and research and general educational aids.

Scientific and medical research - 3%: This subcategory consists of the general science, space, and technology function and the health research and training subfunction of the health function.

Transportation - 2%: The transportation subcategory consists of the entirety of the transportation function.

Non-security international - 1%: This subcategory consists of the international affairs function with the international security assistance subfunction removed.

All other -5%: This subcategory consists of all expenditures that fall in the “everything else” category and are not included in one of the five subcategories described above.

This "all other" category, which spends only 5% of the budget is much of what most people think of as the Government. It includes the Federal Courts and prosecutors; FBI and ATF; USDA, which includes the Forest Service, farm programs, rural development programs like the Rural Utility Service which used to be the REA, and meat inspectors; Department of interior, which includes the National Park and BLM; all the regulatory agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, FDIC, and Federal Reserve Board; the Congress whose largest expenditures are for the Library of Congress, Government Accountability Office and other research arms, and the list goes on and on.


The Wealthy are Winning the Class War. Income taxes are supposed to be progressive. The principle is that a wealthy person can afford to pay a larger percentage of his income in taxes than a poor person. The system is supposed to require the wealthy to pay a higher tax rate and provide deductions and exemptions to benefit the middle class. In contrast Social Security/Medicare taxes are designed to be regressive. You pay a flat rate up to the income limit, with no exemptions or deductions. As a consequence, most families earning less than $70,000 pay more in Social security/Medicare taxes than income taxes. And they actually pay more than they think. They pay 7.65% from their wages, but their employer also pays 7.65%. Since the employer could have increased the employees salary by that amount, each of us is effectively paying 15.3%.

So how has this played out in the last forty four years? From 1962 to 2006 individual income taxes slipped from 45% to 43% of revenue and social insurance taxes jumped from 17% to 35% of revenue. And as an added benefit to the wealthy, during that same time period Corporate income taxes dropped from 20% to 14% of revenue. While the stocks of those companies has increased in value 140 fold, their contribution the government and citizens that enable them to prosper has dropped by 30%.

Middle Class is Subsidizing the Wealthy. In 2006 22% of the Social Security and Medicare taxes ($185 Billion), which were collected only from poor and middle income wage earners, were used to fund the military and other expenses of the Federal Government. Expenses that should have been payed with corporate and individual income taxes. That robbing of Social security has been going on for virtually every year since the program's inception and really picked up the pace after 1984. In that year the last major "reform" was made to the program that raised contribution rates and delayed retirement dates. As of right now income tax payers and corporations have "borrowed" almost $3.6 Trillion from Social Security and other trust accounts.

There would be nothing wrong with that in principle except that people like Bush threaten to never pay it back. Remember our President saying that all those Government notes in the Social Security Trust Fund were just a bunch of pieces of paper. Whenever you hear someone advocating "Social Security reform," look close at what they are saying. They are not advocating that the wealthy pay more income taxes so that the trust funds can be repaid. Remember Gore and his "lock box.' He wanted to end the raiding of the trust funds. But the Republican right made that into a joke.

Return to the Reagan Era. We just finished watching the Reagan Love Fest, AKA Republican Presidential candidates debate. Remember those glory days of yesteryear when there were four cars in every garage, prime rib in every oven and an economy humming to perfection. I think we should go back to something from that era, which would go a long way towards making our tax structure more progressive and solving our fiscal problem. Today, the top tax rate is 35%, applied to income over $338,000, and the capital gains rate is 15%. In the heyday of Reaganomics, between 1982 and 1986, the top tax rate was 50%, it applied to income over $215,000, and the capital gains rate was 20%. If it worked miracles then imagine what it could do for us now.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

One, Two, Three, What Are We Fighting For?

Country Joe & The Fish asked that question back during the Viet Nam War

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

It was easy to ask that question back then because the Viet Nam War was so clearly pointless. But that is hardly the case today with Iraq. Now, our reasons for sending soldiers to die are clear.

At this point our soldier are fighting and dying for whatever reason anyone wants to put forth. Saddam revenge, kill the 9/11 attackers, free the Iraqis, bring democracy to the middle east, oh yes, and my favorite, to prevent the chaos in the region from becomming more chaotic.

But there's more. Here's a glimpse of what we are really fighting for. We are fighting so that a group of men belonging to the Yakidi religion can stone to death a 17 year old girl who converted to Islam, the religion of her boyfriend.
But we also want to be sure it doesn't end there, so our fighting in Iraq insured that

On April 23, gunmen stopped a bus carrying workers to her community, the village of Beshika 10 kilometres (six miles) outside Mosul, dragged out 23 Yazidis and shot them dead.

We all know that it is absolutely imperative that we allow religious bigotry to flower in Iraq and that the victims of such bigotry have ample opportunity to exact their revenge.

That's not all, though. Our troops are also fighting, bleeding and dying to insure that the Iraqi government can mimic Saddam, Bush's favorite nemesis, by preventing Iraqi doctors from leaving the country. That's right. What was good enough for Saddam is good enough for al Maliki and is certainly something worth our troops dying for. As reported by the Post

Iraq is hemorrhaging doctors as violence racks the nation. To stem the flow, the Iraqi government has recently taken a cue from Saddam Hussein: Medical schools are once again forbidden to issue diplomas and transcripts to new graduates.

Hussein built a fine medical system in part by withholding doctors' passports and diplomas. Although physicians can work in Iraq with a letter from a medical school verifying their graduation, they say they need certificates and transcripts to work abroad.

It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Electricity in Baghdad was more reliable; sectarian hostility was rare; Iraq was safe -- except for the many victims of Hussein's tyranny. But rarely has the government embraced a policy that so harshly evokes the era of dictatorship. To some students and doctors, the diploma decision, like Iraq's crumbling medical system, provides clear proof of the government's helplessness and the nation's decline.

But that isn't all we are fighting for . No, we also want to make our troops die for a country that thinks reporters should be killed and press offices destroyed if the press has the audacity to criticize religious leaders.

Hundreds of angry Shiites poured onto the streets of two cities south of the Iraqi capital Friday to protest what they considered insults by Al-Jazeera television against Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The protesters were angered by an Al-Jazeera talk show this week in which the presenter questioned al-Sistani's leadership credentials.

* * * *

"Yes, yes to al-Sistani," read banners carried by some of the 1,000 protesters in Basra, Iraq's second largest city. They gathered outside the local offices of Iraq's largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, which has close links to al-Sistani.

In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where al-Sistani lives, several hundred protesters marched in the city's old quarter in solidarity.

"Today, we burn down Al-Jazeera," chanted the protesters who carried portraits of al-Sistani. Others demanded that the channel as well as Qatar be sued. One Najaf protester carried several pictures of Qatar's emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, with a shoe hoisted on the images to show contempt for him.

Now that's certainly worth fighting and dying for. I bet we could increase recruiting if we put that on a poster.

Uncle Sam Needs You To Protect Imams By Killing The Press

That would sure go over big in the Bible belt. Of course everyone knows that these are only some of the reasons we are fighting. These are important but not nearly as important as what this war does for our economy. If we we weren't fighting and dying over there we couldn't sell nearly as much ammunition as we need to to keep the economy humming.

The Bush administration told Congress on Friday of plans to sell Iraq about 400 million rounds of small arms ammunition, 170,000 grenades, demolition explosives and other military gear and services valued at up to $508 million.

Now that's a cause everyone can embrace. You can't sell bullets if you don't shoot bullets. Sure some of those bullets are going to wound maim or kill our soldiers, but everyone has to do their part to keep the economy humming.

Besides that, if we didn't keep fighting we wouldn't see the kind of progress we are seeing in Iraq. How could things be going any better? Friday: 6 GIs, 71 Iraqis Killed; 89 Iraqis Wounded Six American soldiers killed is proof positive that we are winning and everyone knows that winning is the ultimate goal. If you stop fighting, you lose.

So that must be it. The administration has finally arrived at the seminal reason for the war. We Fight So That We Can Win.

This conflict is so utterly pointless and tragic that it has become a bloody parody of itself.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Saudis Try To De-Guantanamoize Their Citizens

Guantanamo, the supposed home of the worst of the worst, is largely populated by people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as discussed here, and here, and here, But how are these people being de-Guantanomoized when they get home? How is their hatred being quieted and the bleeding agony of their experience being staunched? The Saudis may have an answer. As reported by McClatchy they are re-educated and shown a better way of life.

To keep the former detainees from deep-pocketed militant recruiters, Saudi officials have treated them to perks that have included new cars, resort stays, job placement and help in finding brides. They've also exposed them to moderate clerics and reminded them of Islam's restrictive rules for waging holy war, or jihad.

Saudi officials said the goal is to stop the proliferation of radical ideology that they said is bred in prisons and on the Internet. The ideology has flourished at Guantanamo and is evident among the returning Saudi detainees - even those who were moderates before they were imprisoned, Saudi officials said.

Heaven knows the Saudi society is one of the most closed and restricted in the world. Their tolerance for Wahibism has not done the world any favors. And the monarchy may be hanging on by a thread. But on this, they seem to be getting it right.

The multimillion-dollar rehabilitation program is available to most Saudis who've been accused of terrorism-related crimes, and officials estimate that as many as 2,000 have participated in the program since its inception in 2004.

The program pays special attention to those released from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nearly every Saudi returning from American captivity undergoes up to 10 weeks of intense psychological tests, starting with an evaluation on the private plane that whisks him home from the American prison, Turki said.

Only 60-65 of that 2,000 have been Guantanamo prisoners. But it should be remembered that we have released approximately 390 prisoners from guantanamo and continue to hold about 390 more. How many of those fit this profile

Abu Suleiman said that when he was 20 years old and impressionable, he was recruited into a militant cell in the Philippines. With dreams of fighting alongside Chechen rebels, he received training in Afghanistan, where he met bin Laden "a few times" and where he was captured in late 2001 by U.S.-led forces in the mountains of Tora Bora.

In his four years at Guantanamo, one of them in isolation, Abu Suleiman said, he underwent severe U.S. interrogations "from the first day to the last day." When he was finally released last year, he expected even harsher treatment from the Saudi prison system.

. . . .

I was shocked by the good treatment," Abu Suleiman said. "They make it easy for me to forget what happened in Guantanamo."

All is not well in Saudi Arabia. They are in fact reaping the harvest of seeds they have sown over many years and, to a certain extent, continue to sow. And the fruits of their labors are present today. Their anti-terrorism counsellors have some big problems to overcome, as explained in the article.

That's why the program enlists counselors such as Sheik Mohamed al Nejeimi. He's one of 100 state-backed clerics who counter radical teachings with moderate passages from the Quran, Islam's holy book. The detainees pepper Nejeimi with easy questions such as when jihad is valid or how to fight tyranny within the framework of Islam.

But he said there's one frequently asked question that always stumps him: "Why did you let us go to Afghanistan to fight the Russians then, but won't let us go there now to fight the Americans in similar conditions?" The government's reply is that jihad should be in the interest of one's homeland. Fighting the secular Soviets in the 1980s was permissible; fighting Kabul's Muslim-led government today is not.

But regardless of the past, they understand something that seems to elude our government. This is a conflict of ideas. Sure you go after the really bad guys. But you don't create hatred in the process. We can only win this if we convince people of the rightness of our ways. They don't have to agree with our beliefs. But they need to understand we are just and mean them no ill will.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Outraged Yet? This Is Being Done In Our Names

The Center For Constitutional Right released new testimony regarding the torture, rendition and other outrages inflicted on Majid Khan. The problem with these stories is that they all start to blend together and we become numbed to their horror and what they say about our country. But this one is a little different because Najib was raised in Baltimore, MD and attended high school there. Also, his brother, Mohammed, with his wife and infant were imprisoned with Najib. Najib's father and his other siblings are legal residents who were granted assylum in the U.S. ten years ago and still live in Baltimore.

Najib's father, Ali, filed a statement in his son's Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) proceeding which details the sorry history of his son's abuse.

[T]he Americans tortured him for eight hours at a time, tying him tightly in stressful positions in a small chair until his hands, feet and mind went numb. They retied him in the chair every hour, tightening the bonds on his hands and feet each time so that it was more painful. He was often hooded and had difficulty breathing. They also beat him repeatedly, slapping him in the face, and deprived him of sleep. When he was not being interrogated, the Americans put Majid in a small cell that was totally dark and too small for him to lie down in or sit in with his legs stretched out. He had to crouch.

Yes, we've heard this all before. We have also heard things like this -

This torture only stopped when Majid agreed to sign a statement that he was not even allowed to read. But then it continued again...

It all started on March 5, 2003.

What I can tell you is that Majid was kidnapped from my son Mohammed’s house in Karachi, along with Mohammed, his wife and my infant granddaughter. They were captured by Pakistani police and soldiers, and taken to a detention center 15 minutes from Mohammed’s house. The center had walls that seemed to be 80 feet high. My sons were hooded, handcuffed and interrogated. After eight days of interrogation by U.S. and Pakistani agents, including FBI agents, Mohammed was allowed to see Majid. Majid looked terrible and very, very tired.

But as outrageous as this four year ordeal has been it is made even worse by by the total sham justice that is the CSRT. Majid tried to have his family in Maryland testify on his behalf, but those efforts were thwarted.

Majid sent questions to his family in preparation for his CSRT and hoped to call them as witnesses in his defense. In a series of exchanges between CCR attorneys and the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC) over the last two weeks, the Defense Department explicitly refused to provide his family - asylees living legally in the United States for over a decade - with a guarantee that they would be able to safely re-enter the U.S. after their appearance as witnesses at the tribunal.

Can't guarantee their safe return? You have to be kidding. They aren't even willing to pretend this proceeding has even a patina of fairness.

Mohammed Khan, Majid's brother expressed the outrage we should all be feeling.

"Our imprisonment in Karachi and interrogation by Americans was a terrifying experience," said Majid's brother Mohammed Khan, by phone from Pakistan. Mohammed, along with his wife and one-month-old daughter, was abducted with Majid from the family's apartment in Karachi, Pakistan, in March 2003. "I still cannot believe that for the last four years the U.S. government has held my brother in secret detention and now won't even let him see our family or his lawyer. When I think about the detention of my newborn daughter, Majid's torture that made him sign a confession without reading it, and his disappearance into a secret prison, I feel our family is caught in a nightmare. No human being should have to go through what my brother endured - and is still enduring."

Lest anyone have any doubt as to the thoroughness of our government, rest assured that Ali was not spared his own version of American justice. From his statement to the CSRT he details how we treat people living right here in the "homeland" (How I hate that word)

At the time Majid was kidnapped and these events were happening in Pakistan, our family’s home in Maryland was also raided by government agents. Our whole house was searched from top to bottom, and our life was so disrupted that we eventually had to move out of our neighborhood. I was also interrogated by FBI agents for several days, as was each of my sons and daughters. We were threatened, and when we asked about lawyers we were told that they could not help us. The FBI pressured us to talk and to speculate about Majid. They followed us everywhere we went for a long time, requiring us to tell them in advance where we were going and what we were going to do there. They followed us so closely that we even asked them for directions sometimes when we got lost driving.

Despite all that we have endured, we have always cooperated and continue to cooperate with the government. At this point, the FBI has probably questioned us for hundreds of hours. I think they have opened our mail. And they seem to have placed
listening devices in our house, our phones and probably our computers. They have also tried to recruit my sons to spy on other Muslims by bribing them with money. I am also not allowed to leave the country. But the government still refuses to show us any evidence against Majid. This is not right. We expected much more in America, particularly because Majid has political asylum here and grew up and went to high school here in Maryland. He has legal status in the United States.

And what of the evidence against Majid. Well, we don't know much, but his father's statement suggests that it may not qualify for "slender reed" status.

I have not seen my son in more than four years, since before he was kidnapped from his brother’s home in Karachi on March 5, 2003. Now I am told by the military that my son wants to know whether I said in March 2003 that he became very religious and developed anti-American feelings, and whether one of my other sons said that Majid might be involved with Al Qaeda. Where and when did we make these statements that you claim we made? Who did we make these statements to, exactly? The government has refused to give us this information. Anything we may have said about Majid was simply out of shock because we only knew that Majid had disappeared, and was pure speculation based on what FBI agents in the United States told us and pressured us to say.

Maybe Khan actually did something for which he deserves punishment. Or maybe he's just another in a long list of hapless guys who have become pawns in the Bush campaign to terrorize America. I would guess that if he had really done something we would have witnessed a news conference from Moscow or Katmandu telling the world about it. Which leaves us with the second choice. Four years and counting in America's Shame for who knows what, if anything.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bush Terrorizes Padilla Jury

Just how effective has Bush been in terrorizing our nation? How completely has he caused our citizens to conflate 9/11 with every enemy, real or imagined? The jury selection in the Jose Padilla case gives us a glimpse.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times the judge in the Padilla case is having a difficult time impanelling a jury. Of the first 550 questioned by mail a third were disqualified. Of the first 36 questioned in person by the judge more than half have been excused. The numbers though, are not as alarming as what they have told the judge.

Fist, there is the businessman who said

"It would pose some difficulty to me to be open-minded when the subject is terrorism,"

This is not just some abstract view of terrorism. As reported by the L A Times

Prospective jurors, including a Latino highway surveyor, an African American nurse, a Jewish advertising accountant and a divorced white electrician, have repeatedly invoked the images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as the basis for their inability to judge Muslims fairly.

And, from another,

"Being very honest, in my heart, I don't know that I can" set aside memories of the terrorist attacks, she told Cooke. She was excused after being asked whether she would want someone like her on her own jury. "No," she answered vehemently.

Isn't that frightening. This man is not charged with anything even remotely connected with 9/11 and yet Bush has so effectively constructed an edifice of fear around 9/11 that people view anything involving the mere mention of terrorism as somehow raising the specter of the 9/11 tragedy.

These jurors also illustrate how difficult it is to get people to realize that we have a Constitution for a reason. That just because someone has been charged with something does not make it so.

A department store sales clerk also of Latin American descent was dismissed after repeatedly insisting that the defendants must have done something wrong to have landed in federal court.

That was followed by these prospective jurors,

Two women whom Cooke questioned Tuesday were among the most impassioned in expressing their views that the defendants weren't entitled to the rights they have in U.S. federal court.

We know there are people like this. But to actually here people stand up in court and tear up the Constitution in the interests of some illusory concept of personal safety is truly chilling.

Also in evidence in the trial is how effectively Bush and his cohort have managed to play the Muslin equals terrorist card.

A single mother who works at a medical office was asked whether she considered Muslims disproportionately prone to violence. She replied: "Before Sept. 11, I would have said no. But from what I've heard since then on the news, I'd say yes."

What is so tragic about this sentiment is that we as a nation never learn. We went through this with the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WW II, later to realize it was a blight on our country, a shameful episode that should never be repeated. (When I say "all" I exclude Michelle Malkin, of course). Yet here we are, sixty years later doing the same thing.

And of course it isn't just memories of 9/11 driving these feelings. From all those moronic color code episodes where we were all advised to stay especially vigilant through the parade of highly questionable "terrorism" apprehensions we have been encouraged to see plots all around us.

"From the terrorism here in this country and what I know about the background in this case, I would not be a fair and impartial juror," an advertising accountant said. "It's hard to admit that you're prejudiced and biased, but in this situation I am."

She was dismissed, as was a self-employed Miami Beach businesswoman who said that she regarded the defendants as "radical people" and believed "that they want to destroy us."

That juror mentioned the "background" of this case. Well lest any of us have forgotten, what is that background? Jose Padilla's arrest first hit the National news in June 2002 when Ashcroft announced to the world that a man who planned to attack the U.S. with a dirty bomb had been aprehended. The lies started that day. In reality, padilla had been arrested a month earlier, in May 2002, and held as a material witness. Originally jailed in New York, he was transfered to a Navy Brig in Charleston, S.C in June after Bush declared him to be an enemy combatant. He rotted there for three and a half years without charges. Then, in November 2005, in order to avoid a likely Habeas Corpus hearing by the Supreme Court, Padilla was transferred to Florida and his name was added to a pending indictment against other "alleged" terrorist. No dirty bombs, no activities in this country. Another loser who did some misguided and maybe even criminal things. But certainly not the threat that so many jurors in Florida have been conditioned to fear.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bush Vows Veto Of Intelligence Bill - Not Enough Secrets

The Congress has not passed an Intelligence Authorization Bill since 2005, and Jay Rockefeller is determined to change that. In January, the Intelligence Committee reported out S. 372, the 2007 Intelligence Authorization Bill and it is up for consideration by the Senate. ( Yes, we are already half way through the fiscal year but Rockefeller only became Chairman in January.) You'd think the White House would be applauding the Senate for its diligence. On the contrary. The President thinks this bill is a threat to national security and has promised to veto it. How could that possibly be? Well, it turns out that the bill would require Bush to tell us what he is doing in our names in those secret prisons and would require him to tell us how much money he is spending on his outrages. Also, he would have to keep Congress informed. That kind of sunshine is beyond the pale for our President and must be squashed.

Bloomberg and Boston Globe are both reporting the President's veto threat which is spelled out in detail in the OMB statement objecting to the bill.

So what is it about this bill that is so objectionable. Well, as summarized by the Boston Globe, the bill would require,

--Yearly disclosure of the total amount spent on intelligence. The administration has long argued that releasing the figures would be a threat to national security.

--When lawmakers with jurisdiction ask for intelligence assessments and other information, the bill requires spy chiefs to turn the materials over within 15 days. The measure "would foster political gamesmanship and elevate routine disagreements to the level of constitutional crises," the administration says.

--A mandate that the White House brief all members of the intelligence committees on extraordinarily sensitive matters -- not just congressional and intelligence committee leaders, as is often the practice now.

--Required reports on interrogation activities and secret prisons, which the administration says would raise "grave constitutional issues" and jeopardize sensitive information that should not be widely distributed.

--Creation of a statutory inspector general for Office of the Director of National Intelligence who would have the power to direct watchdogs in any of the 16 spy agencies. The administration says the existing watchdogs are best suited to do the job without "dysfunctional interference" from the proposed new inspector general.

--A requirement that the heads of the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office be subject to Senate confirmation, as well as the CIA's deputy director. The administration calls that unnecessary.

Before getting into those provisions in more detail it is worth noting that this is not a case of only those nasty unpatriotic Democrats gumming up the works. It seems that Senator Bond, the ranking Republican, supports the bill and isn't too keen on Bush's veto threat. As reported by Bloomberg,

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Senator Christopher Bond, the panel's senior Republican, earlier today said Bush needed to be more forthcoming to Congress about intelligence operations.

``There may be some officials of the executive branch that prefer a lack of oversight,'' Bond, a Missouri lawmaker, said in a speech today in the Senate chamber. ``That's not how the system works.''

Now Kit is coming to this party a little late, inasmuch as he was the Chairman of the Committee up until this year, but he is still welcome.

Now lets go to the particulars. The OMB statement lays out all of Bush's its principle objections.  First, document disclosure.

Mandatory Provision of Requested Documents in 15 Days Unless the President Claims Constitutional Privilege.

Section 108 provides that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the head of any intelligence agency shall furnish "any intelligence assessment, report, estimate, legal opinion, or other intelligence information" within 15 days upon a request by:  (1) a Congressional intelligence committee, (2) any other congressional committee of jurisdiction, (3) the Chairman of a congressional intelligence committee, or (4) the Vice Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of a congressional intelligence committee.  This section also provides that the DNI or the agency head cannot withhold the requested item "unless the President certifies that such document or information is not being provided because the President is asserting a privilege pursuant to the Constitution of the United States." Such provisions are highly objectionable, because rather than facilitating effective and cooperative interaction between the legislative and executive branches, they would foster political gamesmanship and elevate routine disagreements to the level of constitutional crises. Section 108 also is impractical and would require IC agencies to
direct resources from critical missions to comply with broad information requests within
an artificial deadline.

"Political gamesmanship?" Are you kidding? The most political administration in memory, one that got a free ride from the Congress for six years is now saying that when Congress does its job that is political gamesmanship. And as far as the argument that responding to these requests would be impractical and divert resources from critical missions, if those other critical missions happen to be the running of secret detention facilities, then I would suggest, the more diversion the better.

Next, Bush objects to provisions that would force the Administration to keep all members of the Intelligence Committees informed of critical matters, not just the top two guys. And in the event,

the DNI or the head of an intelligence agency fails to give the full notification to each member of an intelligence activity, the DNI or agency head must notify each member that a determination has been made not to provide information in full to all members of the committees; provide a classified statement of the reasons for such a

This new requirement for notification of all members would also now apply to disclosure regarding covert actions. No more cozy meetings with a few who are then threatened to keep it all secret.

But what may be most objectionable about these new provisions are the teeth that come with them. Again, back to Bush's veto statement

Section 307 makes such notification to each member a condition on use of funds for intelligence activities. These provisions establish an all-or-nothing approach to executive branch notification to the intelligence committees that could delay actions needed to meet urgent national security requirements and would discourage, rather than encourage, the
sharing of extraordinarily sensitive information needed for effective legislative-executive relations with respect to the most sensitive intelligence matters.  This provision, in practice, would seek to compel the disclosure to multiple additional persons of sensitive national security information as to which the President has determined that special protection must be provided.

Congress is saying "no play, no pay." Now that kind of provision truly is a threat to national security.

Now we get to what could be the most critical provisions of the bill that have earned Bush's ire. First, those nasty clandestine torture camps.

Detailed Reports to Congress on Any Detention and Interrogation Activities and on Any Clandestine Detention Facilities.

Section 313 requires the DNI to submit a report (by May 1, 2007) to the congressional Intelligence Committees on the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. The reports are required to include, among other things, "all legal opinions" provided by the Department of Justice regarding the "meaning or application of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 with respect to the detention and interrogation activities" undertaken by any element of the intelligence community. Section 313 includes no exception for applicable legal privileges. Section 314 imposes similarly far-reaching disclosure requirements, obligating the DNI to submit within 60 days a detailed report on any current or former clandestine detention facility. In addition to raising grave constitutional issues, such matters are appropriately left to sensitive handling in the normal course between the intelligence committees and the executive branch and should not be the subject of detailed statutory reporting requirements.

Wow. Bush will have to report the who, what, where, and why for all those clandestine detention facilities. My guess is that they object to this one so strongly because the know that having to report this information effectively means that those facilities will have to be shut down. But I sure do want to read those legal opinions. It might even be possible that the lawyers writing them, knowing they will be scrutinized by outside parties, will be less inclined to write the the type of blank checks we have seen from Yoo and Gonzales.

The last major objection has to do with money. To paraphrase the White House, "if people knew how much we were spending on this they would revolt." Here's Bush's actual language.

Public Disclosure of Amounts Annually Requested, Authorized, and Appropriated for the NIP.

Section 107 would require the President annually to disclose publicly the total amount requested for the NIP and would require Congress annually to disclose publicly the total amounts authorized to be appropriated, and appropriated, for the NIP. The Congress thoroughly examined this issue during its consideration of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), when Congress rejected publication of the NIP funding total. The funding information should continue to be kept classified, because disclosure of changes in funding totals over time could compromise intelligence sources, methods, and activities.

Compromise sources, methods and activities. Balderdash. That is the last refuge on an intelligence scoundrel and this super secret White House. I'm glad that the Committee finally blew the whistle on this issue.

There you have it. A very important bill that, if enacted, will bring some much needed sunshine to our intelligence activities. And, it's even supported by Kit Bond.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mitt Romney Gives Us A Peek Into His Mind

Every once in a while I like to read the Washington Times. Not because I want to find out whether the Moon is truly made of green cheese, but rather to get some real news, unfiltered by that left wing media bias. Today was precious. I was treated to a lengthy article about Romney firing the "opening shots" in the "defense week" of his presidential campaign.

For all of you who get tired of beating up on our candidates, here is an alternative. Romney's speech provides us with all the ammunition we need to let loose on the Republican Financial Front Runner.

To start out, Mitt gives Bush a full embrace with what has to be one of the most inane comments ever uttered. With metaphorical tears in his eyes Mitt said
We are fortunate today to have a president who loves America

In Mitt's world this is one of the unique qualities of Bush - something that distinguishes him from past Presidents. He is not only different from that Philistine Clinton, but also the likes of Bush 42 and maybe even Saint Ronald.

Mitt goes on to explain that Bush's deep love of the United States is in clear evidence because Bush is a person

who acts solely out of a desire to protect her and to promote liberty around the world

Bush wants to protect the United States so much that he passed up the opportunity to capture the terrorists the caused 9/11 so that he could start an aggressive war in Iraq against a country that did not pose a meaningful threat to us. And while he was at it, he decided to spread liberty by destabilizing the entire region and ridding Iran of its arch enemy, Iraq. Yes, certainly sounds like Bush has our interests at heart.

Mitt then continued to cozy up to Bush by adopting the silly and totally discredited Republican attack on Speaker Pelosi. Reaching heights of absurd hyperboly he declared with grave solemnity that the Speaker's trip to Syria was

one of the most partisan, divisive and ill-considered of any national leader in this decade

Not to be outdone by his own rhetoric he graced the audience with his overarching philosophy of national defense. The audience was undoubtedly spellbound in rapturous awe when he declared that

his own defense philosophy follows from former President Ronald Reagan, who said, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong."

What in the world does that mean? Does anyone seriously believe we became involved in WWI, WWII, Korea, or Viet Nam because we were too weak? That can't possibly be the explanation, especially not with regard to the first three wars. Our strength relative to our adversaries didn't get us into, nor would it have kept us out of, those wars. As far as Viet Nam is concerned, an argument can be made that if we had not been so militarily dominant and fearful of dominos falling on every corner of the world we might have decided not to engage in that tragic conflict.

Not only was Mitt's statement inane, the history of the lead up to the Iraq war suggests it was wrong. Does anyone think we would have commenced the needless and tragic war in Iraq if we had not been the dominant military power in the world? A power which believed it could reshape the world through military force of arms. A power that could use its military to rewrite thousands of years of history.

So there you have it. Mitt Romney - certified Bush lover, diplomatic guru and military historian. Just think, he could be our next President. If ever there was a time for prayer it is now.

So whenever we debate the merits of our own candidates we should always remember to keep our observations and criticisms in perspective. If we do too good a job of cutting our guys down we could end up with Mitt.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bamboozlement Hits A Wall - Americans Know Their Security Is Not Tied To Iraq

By almost a two to one margin, 61% to 34%, Americans do not believe that U.S. security is tied to "success" in Iraq. The Public Agenda Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index released by Foreign Affairs shows that the worm has turned. Americans have stopped believing Bush, Cheney and all their dissembling flunkies who try to govern by fear. Yes there still are a few dead enders, those pitiful few who would follow Bush off the nearest cliff. But their numbers are dwindling. More and more people are coming to their senses.

And this poll has more good news. Seventy percent believe we should pull out of Iraq within twelve months. Moreover, nineteen of those seventy percent think we should withdraw immediately. Only 27% think we should "stay for as long as it takes to stabilize the country."

Isn't that interesting. Even though 34% say they believe our security is tied to success in Iraq only 27% think we should stay as long as it takes. Could it be that the 34% number is really pretty soft and that it is going to slip further as the Iraq fustercluck continues to degenerate.

This data seems to clearly indicate that Americans are shedding their sheep's clothing. They are refusing to be bamboozled by nonsensical assertions of the need to fight them there so that we don't have to fight them here. They also are understanding something more basic.

The only Iraq war we could have won was finished in April 2003. From that point on there was nothing for us to win. All we could do was become an occupying force, sow the seeds of discontent, and feed the fires of sectarian strife. And boy have we succeeded at that. Of course, everything that transpired after April 2003 was a direct consequence of our having started this boneheaded and illegal war. So a victory of any stripe was never a possibility.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Air Force Won't Protect Its Own Against Blackwater Employees

You know that outsourcing of the government, AKA "privatization," has gone too far when the military can't even stand up to the contractors who seek retribution against military personnel. As reported by the Virginia-Pilot two Air Force Colonels were reprimanded for ruffling the feathers of Jimmy Bergeron, a Blackwater employee, following a traffic accident involving the Colonels and Bergeron in Kabul, Afghanistan. The two Colonels, Christopher Hall and Gary Brown, were reprimanded even though the officer that investigated the incident and took testimony from the witnesses, ruled that the Colonels followed all the rules of engagement. The investigating officer recommended that all charges be dropped.

How could that be? Well, could it be that Blackwater had something to do with it? The reprimands were issued by Lt Gen. Gary North, Commander of the 9th Air Force. When the Colonels received word of the reprimands,

Brown's civilian attorney has fired back with an angry letter, calling the sanctions a "laugh-out-loud joke" and suggesting that the general bowed to pressure from Blackwater, a private military company based in Moyock, N.C.

There is no doubt that a confrontation occurred. But,

At a hearing in February, Brown and Hall testified that Bergeron behaved aggressively and that they feared he was a suicide bomber.

The investigating officer who heard their testimony concluded that they properly followed the rules of engagement and recommended that the charges be dropped.

In a letter to North on Wednesday, Charles Gittins, Brown's civilian attorney, wrote that the reprimand flies in the face of the investigating officer's findings and "demonstrates your lack of moral courage to admit error and do the right thing:... apologize to two officers who were needlessly and without reason subjected to personal humiliation and torment...."

When an officer receives a reprimand of this sort it can be death to his career. Has the contracting community become so powerful that the military will not even protect its own? It would seem so. But it is also clear that this is not the end of the story. According to one of the Colonels' lawyers

"attempts were made to frame my client." He referred to the investigating officer's report that Afghan security guards who witnessed the confrontation said they were offered bribes to give false testimony about it.

The Air Force is investigating the allegations.

It's bad enough that the taxpayers get robbed when we outsource essential government functions. It is bad enough that the people who work for private contractors are often shortchanged on benefits and basic employee protections. And it is disgusting to see these private contractors pay obscene sums to their senior management. But have they gotten so powerful that even the United States military doesn't have the ability or will to stand up to them? If so, this does not portend well for the future.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Global War On Terror Is Dead - Neocons Weep

The Neocon dreams for a never ending global conflict to replace the Cold War is dying, and in some places it is already dead. The House Armed Services Committee has banished the term "Global War on Terror" from the 2008 Defense Budget, and while they are at it they also banned Mr. GWOT's kissing cousin, the "Long War." As reported by the Army Times
A memo for the committee staff, circulated March 27, says the 2008 bill and its accompanying explanatory report that will set defense policy should be specific about military operations and “avoid using colloquialisms.”

. . . . . . . . . .

Committee staff members are told in the memo to use specific references to specific operations instead of the Bush administration’s catch phrases. The memo, written by Staff Director Erin Conaton, provides examples of acceptable phrases, such as “the war in Iraq,” the “war in Afghanistan, “operations in the Horn of Africa” or “ongoing military operations throughout the world.”
Now we all know there is much more to this than a few innocent words. Sure, Committee staff said that there was no political motive behind the move but the Republicans aren't buying it. Duncan Hunter, the ranking Republican and ex-Chairman of the Committee, said he was not consulted and Republican staff see the issue in starkly political terms

“This is a philosophical and political question,” said a Republican aide. “Republicans generally believe that by fighting the war on terror in Iraq, we are preventing terrorists from spreading elsewhere and are keeping them engaged so they are not attacking us at home.”

Of course, as the Army Times points out

. . . . U.S. intelligence officials have been telling Congress that most of the violence in Iraq is the result of sectarian strife and not directly linked to terrorists, although some foreign insurgents with ties to terrorist groups have been helping to fuel the fighting.

This is one more step toward returning sanity to our country. But the Neocons won't let go without a fight. During the nineties, the Neocons really missed the Cold war. Every great country needs an enemy and the bigger the enemy the better. Heck, if you don't have a big threatening enemy how is anyone going to know how great you are. And more importantly, if you don't have a big enemy to keep the voters in constant fear how can you hope to stay in power and enrich your friends with a continuous feeding frenzy at the public trough.

Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote an excellent article in the Washington Post which is a must read on this topic. He speaks about how Bush's War on Terror has been deliberately used to create a culture of fear. While many of us have ridiculed the entire concept of waging war on a tactic, or even worse, a noun, Zbig points out why the phrase is cherished by the Neocons

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

The House Armed Services Committee, Chaired by a wonderful man from Missouri, Ike Skelton, has taken a step toward returning our country to normalcy. A country where we don't manufacture threats or exaggerate dangers. A country whose leader does not terrorize its citizens but rather comforts and assures them. Removing these four words from our lexicon is a good step toward that goal.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Another Worst Of The Worst Is Freed Without Charges

The Independent reports that Bisher al-Rawi will be released from Guantanamo and returned to England, where he had lived for sixteen years before being interned in America's Shame, also known as Guantanamo.

So why is this man who fled Iraq with his family in the early eighties to escape Saddam's regime finally being released without any charges having been brought against him? Well it appears the British government has finally stopped their foot dragging on his case because they are embarrassed that Mr al-Rawi used to do work for MI-5, the British Intelligence Service, and that MI-5 was responsible for his arrest.
For many years the British Government had refused to help Mr Rawi and the eight other British residents still held by the Americans at the US naval base in Cuba because they did not have the same legal status as UK nationals.
. . . . . . . .

He said he thought the decision to help Mr Rawi was only taken because the Government did not want an embarrassing court case in which Britain's involvement in his capture would have been made public.

The High Court in London has already permitted the disclosure of classified documents linking MI5 to Mr Rawl's arrest.

Mr Katznelson said: "Mr Rawi helped MI5 as an interpreter and acted as a go-between with Abu Qatada [a terror suspect later arrested and detained by the British authorities]. All this would have... been very embarrassing for the government and... MI5."

Isn't that interesting? The British government sits on the sidelines for five years while Mr. al-Rawi rots in Guantanamo and only engineers his release after a court rules that information will be disclosed regarding the involvement of MI-5 in both his capture and in his prior work for the agency. And while the British shame is bad enough, it pales compared to ours. After all, we are the jailers, the torturers and the premier human rights hypocrites in the world.

Now we all know that the Guantanamo detainees are the worst of the worst. We know that with certainty because the President said so. Lets see just how bad Mr. al-Rawi is. We pick up his life after escaping Iraq -

Mr Rawi's lived with his mother, brother and sister in south London for 16 years. He was arrested in the Gambia, along with his brother, Wahab, and business partners, Jamil el-Banna and Abdullah el-Ganudi. Wahab and Mr Ganudi were both released because they were British citizens. Bisher and Mr Banna, who could only claim British residency, were taken by the Americans to Bagram airbase and then Guantanamo Bay.

Bisher and Wahab, 41, moved to Britain in the 1980s after their father fell under the suspicion of Saddam Hussein. They first lived in Cambridge, where they took their O-levels, before continuing their schooling at Millfield School, Somerset, and Concord College, Shropshire. They later attended separate universities.

In 1992 Wahab took British nationality while his brother decided to retain his Iraqi citizenship as he did not want to damage his ties with his home country.

But it was Wahab's business interests that took the two brothers to the Gambia in November 2002.

He told The Independent last year: "I had this business idea for a mobile peanut-oil processing factory. I had done the feasibility study; it was all ready to go. I had my team and we brought Bisher in on the deal towards the end."

Four days after his arrival in Gambia, Wahab went to Banjul airport to meet his brother and the other two men.

As Wahab approached his brother he became aware of a problem with immigration. Gambian officials had confiscated their passports and they were being taken to an interview room.

For the next three to four days the four men were moved around the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA), alternately questioned by Americans and Gambians.

Four days after Wahab had met Bisher at the airport, they were taken from the NIA headquarters to a secret location in the Banjul suburbs. It was here that Bisher begged his brother to co-operate with the Americans because "we have nothing to hide".

Mr Ganudi and Wahab were separated from the other two and taken back to interrogation suites in the NIA building where the Americans began repeating the questions. A few days later they were told they could fly back to Britain. The other two were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Their lawyers allege that they have been tortured by guards and deprived of basic necessities during their five-year ordeal.

So here you have a guy who fled Saddam's persecution and started a new life with his family in England. His brother became a British citizen but he decided to keep his Iraqi nationality. He goes on a business trip with his brother to that hotbed of terrorism, Gambia, and ends up spending five years in prison in Guantanamo.

This man is so dangerous that he could not be given the minimal requirements of due process. He was such a threat that if he had been granted rights such as, seeing the charges against him, having a trial before an impartial judge and jury, and being able to confront witnesses, all within, say, three months of his capture, our way of life would have been put at risk.

As time passes it has become indisputable this case is the rule rather than the exception for America's Shame. The only unusual aspect of Mr. al-Rawi's case is that also reveals a stain on the British government.