Media ignores another Bush flip-flop: Bush was for 527s -- before he was against them
Conspicuously absent from most major newspapers' coverage of President George W. Bush's recent condemnation of political advertising by 527 groups -- the practice of which Bush deemed to be "bad for the system" on August 23 -- is Bush's dramatic flip-flop on the issue. On the March 5, 2000, edition of CBS's Face the Nation, Bush said of the independent groups that were running ads attacking his Republican primary opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ): "[T]hat's what freedom of speech is all about. ... People have the right to run ads. They have the right to do what they want to do, under the -- under the First Amendment in America."
From the March 5, 2000, edition of CBS's Face the Nation:
BUSH: [T]here are people spending ads that say nice things about me. There are people spending money on ads that say ugly things about me.
PANELIST GLORIA BORGER: Should ...
BUSH: That's part of the American -- let me finish. That's part of the American process. There have been ads, independent expenditures, that are saying bad things about me. I don't particularly care when they do, but that's what freedom of speech is all about. And this allegation somehow that I'm involved with this is just totally ridiculous. It is uncalled for.
BORGER: [D]o you think you should stop these ads?
BUSH: You know, let me -- let me say something to you. People have the right to run ads. They have the right to do what they want to do, under the -- under the First Amendment in America.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Republican Party is mounting a campaign to keep African Americans and other minority voters away from the polls this November
Groups Say GOP Moves to Stifle Vote
By Jo Becker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 26, 2004; Page A05
The NAACP and other civil rights leaders yesterday charged that recent events suggest the Republican Party is mounting a campaign to keep African Americans and other minority voters away from the polls this November.
In a new report, the NAACP and People for the American Way cite incidents from Florida to Detroit. NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said efforts at intimidation and suppression, once a tool of Democrats in the Jim Crow South, "have increasingly become the province of the Republican Party" as it seeks to counter the overwhelming advantage Democrats enjoy among black voters.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said that the two nonpartisan groups are attempting to spin unrelated events into a conspiracy and that their motivation is to help Democrat John F. Kerry defeat President Bush.
RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie wrote a letter last month to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe offering to send bipartisan teams to precincts to ensure fair play, Iverson said. The offer was rejected. Republicans want every eligible vote to count, she said, and "if Democrats are serious about this, they will join us."
DNC spokesman Tony Welch said the GOP's silence on recent events in Florida shows that the offer "isn't worth the paper it's printed on." There, the GOP secretary of state was forced to abandon an effort to remove felons from the state's voting rolls after newspapers discovered that the "purge" list erroneously would have disenfranchised thousands of qualified voters, many of them African Americans. Additionally, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement intimidated black voters in Orlando to scare them away from the polls in November.
Democrats and Republicans have long feuded over whether efforts to protect against ballot fraud constitute voter intimidation. But the debate has taken on more urgency in the wake of the deadlocked 2000 presidential election.
Studies suggest that as many as 4 million to 6 million voters were disenfranchised in 2000, either because registration problems prevented qualified voters from casting ballots or because of errors caused by faulty, outdated technology. In Florida, the Civil Rights Commission found that black voters were 10 times as likely as whites to have their ballots rejected, a trend also found in other parts of the country.
To prevent against a repeat, more than 60 nonprofit groups have banded together to form a "Voter Protection Coalition." The group is planning to have 25,000 volunteers -- including 5,000 lawyers -- staff Election Day hotlines, videotape polls and go to court if necessary. In the meantime, the coalition has been collecting anecdotes that form the basis of yesterday's report.
Among the incidents cited: A Republican state representative in Michigan told the Detroit Free Press that the GOP will have "a tough time" if "we do not suppress the Detroit vote." Detroit is 83 percent black.
In Jefferson County, Ky., the local GOP plans to send poll watchers to Democratic, predominantly black precincts to challenge voters' eligibility. A similar, 2002 plan provoked cries of voter intimidation after a recruitment flier became public. The flier asked for volunteers to protect Ernie Fletcher's gubernatorial campaign against potential fraud by "the black militant division of the AFL-CIO" and the NAACP.
In South Dakota, where Native Americans are a key constituency for Democrats, some said they were turned away from the polls during a special election this summer because they did not have photo-identification The secretary of state has blamed the problems on well-intentioned poll workers who did not understand a new law passed by the GOP-controlled legislature.
In many cases cited it is unclear who is behind the incidents. In Maryland's 2002 gubernatorial election, anonymous fliers were distributed in black neighborhoods in Baltimore gave voters the wrong date for Election Day and told them to be sure to pay parking tickets, overdue rent and outstanding warrants.
"We are reminding voters, election officials, and the media about the kinds of dirty tricks that can be expected," Bond said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:01 AM
According to a new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number one issue for Bush supporters is terrorism, the number one issue for Kerry supporters is health care, and the number one issue for undecided swing voters is the economy.
The full study can be found here:
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:51 AM
The New York Times
August 27, 2004
Where Is The Shame?
By BOB HERBERT
Max Cleland, minus the three limbs he lost in Vietnam, showed up in his wheelchair outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Wednesday to suggest that the president take the simple and decent step of condemning the slime that is being spread by Bush supporters against the war record of John Kerry.
He didn't get very far. The president was busy vacationing and had neither the time nor the inclination to meet with Mr. Cleland, a former U.S. senator who was himself the target of vicious, unconscionable attacks by the G.O.P. slime machine when he ran for re-election in Georgia in 2002.
Later, at a press conference under the hot Crawford sun, Mr. Cleland told reporters: "The question is, where is George Bush's honor? Where is his shame?"
Mr. Cleland reminded reporters of the scurrilous attacks by Bush forces against Senator John McCain in the Republican presidential primary in 2000 and said: "Keep in mind, this president has gone after three Vietnam veterans in four years. That's got to stop."
In what is surely the most important election of the last half-century, we seem trapped in the politics of the madhouse. What is incredible is that these attacks on men who served not just honorably, but heroically, are coming from a hawkish party that is controlled by an astonishing number of men who sprinted as far from the front lines as they could when they were of fighting age and their country was at war.
Mr. Bush himself, the nation's commander in chief and the biggest hawk of all. He revels in the accouterments of combat. The story was somewhat different when he was 22 years old and eligible for combat himself. He managed to get into the cushy confines of the Texas Air National Guard at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968 - a year in which more than a half-million American troops were in the war zone and more than 14,000 were killed.
The story gets murky after that. We know the future president breezed off at some point to work on a political campaign in Alabama, skipped a required flight physical in 1972 and was suspended from flying. He supported the war in Vietnam but was never in any danger of being sent there.
Vice President Dick Cheney, another fierce administration hawk. Mr. Cheney asked for and received five deferments when he was eligible for the draft. He told senators at a confirmation hearing in 1989, "I had other priorities in the 60's than military service." Many draft-age Americans had similar priorities - getting an education, getting married and starting a family.
Attorney General John Ashcroft. He is reported to have said, "I would have served, if asked." But with the war raging in Vietnam, he received six student deferments and an "occupational deferment" based on the essential nature of a civilian job at Southwest Missouri State University - teaching business law to undergraduates.
Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary and a fanatical hawk on Iraq. He was not fanatical about Vietnam and escaped the draft with student deferments.
There are many others.
I would like to see at least some of these men, in keeping with their positions as leaders of a great nation, stand up and say it is wrong - just wrong - to try and reap a cheap political gain by defacing the sacrifices of individuals like John Kerry, John McCain and Max Cleland, who put themselves in mortal danger in the service of their country.
It's one thing to decline to serve. It's quite another to throw mud at those who did serve - or to remain silent as allies hurl the mud.
I've interviewed several soldiers and marines who have suffered grave wounds in Iraq, including the loss of limbs. A permanent place of honor should be reserved for them in the pantheon of American heroes. The idea that someone some years from now may trash their service for political gain is beyond disgusting.
George W. Bush ought to call off his dogs. The one thing we ought to be able to do in this hyperpoliticized era is rally in a bipartisan way behind those who have been willing to fight our wars.
The privileged classes no longer feel an obligation to put their lives - or their children's lives - on the line in defense of the nation. The very least they could do is insist that those who have put themselves in harm's way be treated with respect.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:35 AM
From: Greenspan Urges Pension Benefit Cuts
By Martin Crutsinger
AP Economics Writer
Friday, August 27, 2004
JACKSON, Wyo. -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday that the country will face "abrupt and painful" choices if Congress does not move quickly to trim the Social Security and Medicare benefits that have been promised to the baby boom generation.
Returning to a politically explosive issue that he has addressed a number of times this year, Greenspan said that it was wrong for the government to hold out the promise of more retirement benefits than it is capable of providing.
He said this issue was particularly critical given the impending retirement of 77 million baby boomers born in the two decades after World War II.
"As a nation, we owe it to our retirees to promise only the benefits that can be delivered," Greenspan said in opening remarks to a two-day conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City on the challenges posed by aging populations.
"If we have promised more than our economy has the ability to deliver, as I fear we may have, we must recalibrate our public programs so that pending retirees have time to adjust through other channels," Greenspan said. "If we delay, the adjustments could be abrupt and painful."
Greenspan, as he has done previously, suggested that possible changes would be raising the retirement age to receive full Social Security benefits, which currently is gradually increasing from 65 to 67.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:32 AM
August 27, 2004
America's Failing Health
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Working Americans have two great concerns: the growing difficulty of getting health insurance, and the continuing difficulty they have in finding jobs. These concerns may have a common cause: soaring insurance premiums.
In most advanced countries, the government provides everyone with health insurance. In America, however, the government offers insurance only if you're elderly (Medicare) or poor (Medicaid). Otherwise, you're expected to get private health insurance, usually through your job. But insurance premiums are exploding, and the system of employment-linked insurance is falling apart.
Some employers have dropped their health plans. Others have maintained benefits for current workers, but are finding ways to avoid paying benefits to new hires - for example, by using temporary workers. And some businesses, while continuing to provide health benefits, are refusing to hire more workers.
In other words, rising health care costs aren't just causing a rapid rise in the ranks of the uninsured (confirmed by yesterday's Census Bureau report); they're also, because of their link to employment, a major reason why this economic recovery has generated fewer jobs than any previous economic expansion.
Clearly, health care reform is an urgent social and economic issue. But who has the right answer?
The 2004 Economic Report of the President told us what George Bush's economists think, though we're unlikely to hear anything as blunt at next week's convention. According to the report, health costs are too high because people have too much insurance and purchase too much medical care. What we need, then, are policies, like tax-advantaged health savings accounts tied to plans with high deductibles, that induce people to pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket. (Cynics would say that this is just a rationale for yet another tax shelter for the wealthy, but the economists who wrote the report are probably sincere.)
John Kerry's economic advisers have a very different analysis: they believe that health costs are too high because private insurance companies have excessive overhead, mainly because they are trying to avoid covering high-risk patients. What we need, according to this view, is for the government to assume more of the risk, for example by picking up catastrophic health costs, thereby reducing the incentive for socially wasteful spending, and making employment-based insurance easier to get.
A smart economist can come up with theoretical justifications for either argument. The evidence suggests, however, that the Kerry position is much closer to the truth.
The fact is that the mainly private U.S. health care system spends far more than the mainly public health care systems of other advanced countries, but gets worse results. In 2001, we spent $4,887 on health care per capita, compared with $2,792 in Canada and $2,561 in France. Yet the U.S. does worse than either country by any measure of health care success you care to name - life expectancy, infant mortality, whatever. (At its best, U.S. health care is the best in the world. But the ranks of Americans who can't afford the best, and may have no insurance at all, are large and growing.)
And the U.S. system does have very high overhead: private insurers and H.M.O.'s spend much more on administrative expenses, as opposed to actual medical treatment, than public agencies at home or abroad.
Does this mean that the American way is wrong, and that we should switch to a Canadian-style single-payer system? Well, yes. Put it this way: in Canada, respectable business executives are ardent defenders of "socialized medicine." Two years ago the Conference Board of Canada - a who's who of the nation's corporate elite - issued a report urging fellow Canadians to bear in mind not just the "symbolic value" of universal health care, but its "economic contribution to the competitiveness of Canadian businesses."
My health-economist friends say that it's unrealistic to call for a single-payer system here: the interest groups are too powerful, and the antigovernment propaganda of the right has become too well established in public opinion. All that we can hope for right now is a modest step in the right direction, like the one Mr. Kerry is proposing. I bow to their political wisdom. But let's not ignore the growing evidence that our dysfunctional medical system is bad not just for our health, but for our economy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:19 AM
August 27, 2004
ABU GHRAIB SCANDAL
Army's Report Faults General in Prison Abuse
By DOUGLAS JEHL and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 - Classified parts of the report by three Army generals on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison say Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former top commander in Iraq, approved the use in Iraq of some severe interrogation practices intended to be limited to captives held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan.
Moreover, the report contends, by issuing and revising the rules for interrogations in Iraq three times in 30 days, General Sanchez and his legal staff sowed such confusion that interrogators acted in ways that violated the Geneva Conventions, which they understood poorly anyway.
Military officials and others in the Bush administration have repeatedly said the Geneva Conventions applied to all prisoners in Iraq, even though members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban held in Afghanistan and Guantánamo did not, in their estimation, fall under the conventions.
But classified passages of the Army report say the procedures approved by General Sanchez on Sept. 14, 2003, and the revisions made when the Central Command found fault with the initial policy, exceeded the Geneva guidelines as well as standard Army doctrines.
General Sanchez and his aides have previously described the series of orders he issued, although not in as much detail as the latest report, which was released Wednesday with a few classified sections omitted. They have described his order of Oct. 12 as rescinding his order of Sept. 14.
But the Army's latest review instead finds that the later order "confused doctrine and policy even further,'' a classified part of the report says. It says the memorandum, while not authorizing abuse, effectively opened the way at Abu Ghraib last fall for interrogation techniques that Pentagon investigators have characterized as abusive, in dozens of cases involving dozens of soldiers at the prison in Iraq.
The techniques approved by General Sanchez exceeded those advocated in a standard Army field manual that provided the basic guidelines for interrogation procedures. But they were among those previously approved by the Pentagon for use in Afghanistan and Cuba, and were recommended to General Sanchez and his staff in the summer of 2003 in memorandums sent by a team headed by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a commander at Guantánamo who had been sent to Iraq by senior Pentagon officials, and by a military intelligence unit that had served in Afghanistan and was taking charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib.
The report says the abusive techniques not sufficiently prohibited by General Sanchez included isolation and the use of dogs in interrogation. It says military police and military intelligence soldiers who used those practices believed they had been authorized by senior commanders.
"At Abu Ghraib, isolation conditions sometimes included being kept naked in very hot or very cold, small rooms, and/or completely darkened rooms, clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions,'' a classified part of the report said.
The passages involving General Sanchez's orders were among several deleted from the version of the report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay that was made public by the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Classified parts of the 171-page report were provided to The New York Times by a senior Defense Department official who said fuller disclosure of the findings would help public understanding of the causes of the prisoner abuse scandal.
Army officials said Thursday that some sections of the report had been marked secret because they referred to policy memorandums that were still classified.
But the report's discussion of the September and October orders, while critical of General Sanchez and his staff, do not disclose many new details of the orders and do not appear to contain sensitive material about interrogations or other intelligence-gathering methods.
They do show in much clearer detail than ever before how interrogation practices from Afghanistan and Guantánamo were brought to Abu Ghraib, and how poorly the nuances of what was acceptable in Iraq were understood by military intelligence officials in Iraq.
The classified sections of the Fay report reinforce criticisms made in another report, by the independent panel headed by James R. Schlesinger, the former defense secretary.
That panel argued that General Sanchez's actions effectively amounted to an unauthorized suspension of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq by categorizing prisoners there as unlawful combatants.
The Schlesinger panel described that reasoning as "understandable,'' but said General Sanchez and his staff should have recognized that they were "lacking specific authorization to operate beyond the confines of the Geneva Convention.''
In an interview on Thursday with reporters and editors of The Times, Gen. Paul J. Kern, the senior officer who supervised General Fay's work, said the Fay inquiry had not addressed whether General Sanchez was authorized to designate detainees in Iraq as unlawful combatants, as the administration has treated prisoners in Afghanistan.
A secret passage in the report, though, says that with General Sanchez's first order, on Sept. 14, national policies and those of his command "collided, introducing ambiguities and inconsistencies in policy and practice,'' adding, "Policies and practices developed and approved for use on Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees who were not afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions now applied to detainees who did fall under the Geneva Conventions' protections." It goes on to cite several further problems with the order.
Asked whether General Sanchez's actions opened the door to use of interrogation techniques from Afghanistan, General Kern said, "He didn't close the door, and he should have."
Together, the Schlesinger and Fay reports spell out the sharpest criticism of missteps by American commanders in Iraq involving what they described as a crucial question of making clear to soldiers what was permitted and what was not in interrogation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
General Sanchez and his deputies have always maintained that the only approaches they authorized for use in Iraq were consistent with the Geneva Conventions, which spell out rules for the treatment of prisoners of war and other combatants. They have said the directive issued by General Sanchez in October had made it clear that the use of dogs and isolation could be used in interrogations only with the general's approval.
"Interrogators at Abu Ghraib used both dogs and isolation as interrogation practices," a classified part of the report said. "The manner in which they were used on some occasions clearly violated the Geneva Conventions."
The classified section of the Fay report also sheds new light on the role played by a secretive Special Operations Forces/Central Intelligence Agency task force that operated in Iraq and Afghanistan as a source of interrogation procedures that were put into effect at Abu Ghraib. It says that a July 15, 2003, "Battlefield Interrogation Team and Facility Policy,'' drafted by use by Joint Task Force 121, which was given the task of locating former government members in Iraq, was adopted "almost verbatim'' by the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, which played a leading role in interrogations at Abu Ghraib.
That task force policy endorsed the use of stress positions during harsh interrogation procedures, the use of dogs, yelling, loud music, light control, isolation and other procedures used previously in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Those measures were initially authorized by General Sanchez for use in Iraq in his September memorandum, then revoked in the policy he issued a month later, but not in a way understood by interrogators at Abu Ghraib to have banned those practices, the classified version of the Fay report said.
Among those who believed, incorrectly, that the use of dogs in interrogations could be approved without General Sanchez's approval was Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the report said.
"Dogs as an interrogation tool should have been specifically excluded,'' a classified section of the report said. It criticized General Sanchez for not having fully considered "the implications for interrogation policy,'' and said the manner in which interrogators at Abu Ghraib used both dogs and isolations as interrogation practices "on some occasions clearly violated the Geneva Conventions.''
The role played by members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, from Fort Bragg, N.C., some of whom were identified as having taken part in the abuses, is given particular attention in the classified parts of the report.
Members of the unit had earlier served in Afghanistan, where some were implicated in the deaths of two detainees that are still under investigation, and the report says commanders should have heeded more carefully the danger that members of the unit might again be involved in abusive behavior.
The unit had worked closely with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, and "at same point'' it "came to possess the JTF-121 interrogation policy'' used by the joint Special Operations/C.I.A. teams, the classified section of the report says.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:12 AM
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Wall Street Journal
August 23, 2004
Shame on the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush
By JIM RASSMANN
I came to know Lt. John Kerry during the spring of 1969. He and his swift boat crew assisted in inserting our Special Forces team and our Chinese Nung soldiers into operational sites in the Cau Mau Peninsula of South Vietnam. I worked with him on many operations and saw firsthand his leadership, courage and decision-making ability under fire.
On March 13, 1969, John Kerry’s courage and leadership saved my life.
While returning from a SEA LORDS operation along the Bay Hap River, a mine detonated under another swift boat. Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river, and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John’s swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.
When I surfaced, all the swift boats had left, and I was alone taking fire from both banks. To avoid the incoming fire, I repeatedly swam under water as long as I could hold my breath, attempting to make it to the north bank of the river. I thought I would die right there. The odds were against me avoiding the incoming fire and, even if I made it out of the river, I thought I’d be captured and executed. Kerry must have seen me in the water and directed his driver, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat around. Kerry’s boat ran up to me in the water, bow on, and I was able to climb up a cargo net to the lip of the deck. But, because I was nearly upside down, I couldn’t make it over the edge of the deck. This left me hanging out in the open, a perfect target. John, already wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat, came out onto the bow, exposing himself to the fire directed at us from the jungle, and pulled me aboard.
For his actions that day, I recommended John for the Silver Star, our country’s third highest award for bravery under fire. I learned only this past January that the Navy awarded John the Bronze Star with Combat V for his valor. The citation for this award, signed by the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, read, "Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry’s calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." To this day I am grateful to John Kerry for saving my life. And to this day I still believe that he deserved the Silver Star for his courage.
It has been many years since I served in Vietnam. I returned home, got married, and spent many years as a deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County. I retired in 1989 as a lieutenant. It has been a long time since I left Vietnam, but I think often of the men who did not come home with us.
I am neither a politician nor an organizer. I am a retired police officer with a passion for orchids. Until January of this year, the only public presentations I made were about my orchid hobby. But in this presidential election, I had to speak out; I had to tell the American people about John Kerry, about his wisdom and courage, about his vision and leadership. I would trust John Kerry with my life, and I would entrust John Kerry with the well-being of our country.
Nobody asked me to join John’s campaign. Why would they? I am a Republican, and for more than 30 years I have largely voted for Republicans. I volunteered for his campaign because I have seen John Kerry in the worst of conditions. I know his character. I’ve witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire. And I truly know he will be a great commander in chief.
Now, 35 years after the fact, some Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush are suddenly lying about John Kerry’s service in Vietnam; they are calling him a traitor because he spoke out against the Nixon administration’s failed policies in Vietnam. Some of these Republican-sponsored veterans are the same ones who spoke out against John at the behest of the Nixon administration in 1971. But this time their attacks are more vicious, their lies cut deep and are directed not just at John Kerry, but at me and each of his crewmates as well. This hate-filled ad asserts that I was not under fire; it questions my words and Navy records. This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don’t understand the bond of those who serve in combat.
As John McCain noted, the television ad aired by these veterans is "dishonest and dishonorable." Sen. McCain called on President Bush to condemn the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush ad. Regrettably, the president has ignored Sen. McCain’s advice.
Does this strategy of attacking combat Vietnam veterans sound familiar? In 2000, a similar Republican smear campaign was launched against Sen. McCain. In fact, the very same communications group, Spaeth Communications, that placed ads against John McCain in 2000 is involved in these vicious attacks against John Kerry. Texas Republican donors with close ties to George W. Bush and Karl Rove crafted this "dishonest and dishonorable" ad. Their new charges are false; their stories are fabricated, made up by people who did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam. They insult and defame all of us who served in Vietnam.
But when the noise and fog of their distortions and lies have cleared, a man who volunteered to serve his country, a man who showed up for duty when his country called, a man to whom the United States Navy awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, will stand tall and proud. Ultimately, the American people will judge these Swift Boat Veterans for Bush and their accusations. Americans are tired of smear campaigns against those who volunteered to wear the uniform. Swift Boat Veterans for Bush should hang their heads in shame.
Mr. Rassmann, a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, served with the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam 1968-69.
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:28 PM
Dirty Tricks, Patrician Style
WASHINGTON, August 26, 2004
If you had any thought that the first presidential campaign after 9/11 would be especially sober and responsible, give it up.
There are a million angles to the saga of John Kerry and his swift boat enemies and none of them reveal anything virtuous about politics. But one element that is missing from this story is surprise.
Any student of Bush family campaigns could have seen the swift boat shiv shining a mile away. This old family has traditions – horseshoes, fishing, bad syntax and having the help do the dirty work in campaigns as well as the kitchen. And they are very good at getting jobs done without leaving fingerprints, without compromising their patrician image and their alleged character.
Even the audaciousness of this year’s episode is not surprising. Who would have believed that George Bush, with all the trouble over his National Guard service, could get John Kerry in hot water for his combat duty and medals in Vietnam? Well, anyone who saw what George Bush did to former POW John McCain in the 2000 primaries, which was even more outrageous.
The ancestral origin of Bush family gut fighting came in George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis in the form of the infamous Willie Horton ad. (Historical footnote: Horton actually went by William, not Willie, and is referred as William in all legal documents; the ad makers thought Willie sounded scarier and blacker.)
That ad was produced by an outfit allegedly independent of the official campaign. It wasn’t aired on TV much but got most of its play in the press. Papa Bush and his official staff maintained they knew nothing about such déclassé skullduggery. There was nothing blatantly untrue about the ad, but it was hugely misleading and subtly racist.
The ad also attacked Dukakis right where he was supposed to be strongest. If the Duke had a strength (a big if), it was as a highly competent government CEO who led the Massachusetts Miracle. The ad gave an emotional snapshot of a guy whose incompetence let a killer out of jail so he could commit assault and rape. It worked.
The mantle passed to Bush the Younger in 1994 when he ran for governor of Texas against Ann Richards. She was a salty, strong, unmarried woman. And guess what? A whispering campaign got rolling in East Texas that she was gay and so were some of her staffers. Then one of the Bush campaign's local chairmen told a reporter that Richards' appointment of "avowed homosexuals" might become a campaign issue. In the twisted way the press legitimizes talking about questionable issues, that remark made the whole deal fair game.
In 2000, McCain had George W. on the ropes and South Carolina was the do-or-die state. Flyers appeared from thin air alleging that McCain had a black child (he and his wife had adopted a Bangladeshi daughter from an orphanage there). Other fliers said McCain was the "fag candidate." Rumors swirled that McCain’s time in a North Vietnamese prison camp had left him unstable and downright crazy - again, hitting at the opponent's greatest strength. Other rumors were that his wife was a drug addict. Nice stuff, and none of it had Bush’s inky fingerprints on it.
At an event with Bush, a vet from some fringe group accused McCain of abandoning veterans. That really set McCain off and he demanded an apology from Bush. Bush simply said that he believed McCain "served our country nobly." That’s what he says about Kerry now. Above the fray, clean hands, patrician.
Soon after that, a mysterious group dumped $2 million into ads in more liberal New York attacking McCain’s environmental record and boosting Bush's. Eventually, it turned out the ads were bankrolled by a big Bush donor named Sam Wyly. No Bush fingerprints there either.
You get the picture. The big question is why John Kerry didn't.
When the swift boaters launched their dark craft did he think it would just vanish? That would be like Bill Clinton thinking the Monica Lewinsky story would disappear. Kerry responded indecisively and weakly.
Kerry and his campaign are not innocents in all this. Independent 527 groups opposed to Bush have pumped far more cash into the race than the anti-Kerry groups and they, too, have made irresponsible assertions. And though two Bush campaign officials have now quit because of their ties to the swift boaters, Kerry's operation has all the same kind of ties to the anti-Bush groups.
What Kerry and the Democrats do not have is an explicitly ideological cable network, a dedicated publishing house and a pantheon of sympathetic, wildly popular talk radio shows that essentially function as 527 groups.
The non-Fox networks and major newspapers covered the Kerry charges just as they did the charges about Bush’s National Guard service – they tried to dig out the truth. The Democrats have plenty of rich donors, 527 groups, Air America and, for the sake of argument, reporters infected by liberal bias. They wish they had the media propaganda apparatus the Republicans have, but they don’t.
It is also said that Kerry brought this on himself by making his Vietnam service part of his campaign. But that’s absurd. What was he supposed to do, ignore it? He did volunteer, he did command a boat, he was shot at and did get the medals.
The claims that Kerry lied about his record have been as debunked as any historical claim about a distant combat action can be. And just because someone talks about something in their past in a campaign doesn't mean that it's okay for other people to lie about it.
Kerry's anti-war activities when he got back home will always attract fierce opposition, even loathing, whether or not there are scurrilous 527s beating up on him. And the mixed portrait of him as a war hero and anti-war hero will always ring false for many who see him as a compulsive flip-flopper and have-it-both-ways guy.
But despite Kerry’s own Brahmin lineage, patrician bearing and vast wealth, he's a poor relation when it comes to hiring help to do the dirty work.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, based in Washington.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:46 PM
Ranks of Poverty, Uninsured Rose in 2003
More Americans Were in Poverty and Without Health Insurance in 2003, Census Bureau Reports
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Aug. 26, 2004 — The number of Americans living in poverty increased by 1.3 million last year, while the ranks of the uninsured swelled by 1.4 million, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
It was the third straight annual increase for both categories. While not unexpected, it was a double dose of bad economic news during a tight re-election campaign for President Bush.
Approximately 35.8 million people lived below the poverty line in 2003, or about 12.5 percent of the population, according to the bureau. That was up from 34.5 million, or 12.1 percent in 2002.
The rise was more dramatic for children. There were 12.9 million living in poverty last year, or 17.6 percent of the under-18 population. That was an increase of about 800,000 from 2002, when 16.7 percent of all children were in poverty.
The Census Bureau's definition of poverty varies by the size of the household. For instance, the threshold for a family of four was $18,810, while for two people it was $12,015.
Nearly 45 million people lacked health insurance, or 15.6 percent of the population. That was up from 43.5 million in 2002, or 15.2 percent, but was a smaller increase than in the two previous years.
Meanwhile, the median household income, when adjusted for inflation, remained basically flat last year at $43,318. Whites, blacks and Asians saw no noticeable change, but income fell 2.6 percent for Hispanics to $32,997. Whites had the highest income at $47,777.
Even before release of the data, some Democrats claimed the Bush administration was trying to play down bad news by releasing the reports about a month earlier than usual. They normally are released separately in late September one report on poverty and income, the other on insurance.
Putting out the numbers at the same time and not so close to Election Day "invite charges of spinning the data for political purposes," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
Census Director Louis Kincannon a Bush appointee denied politics played any role in moving up the release date. The move, announced earlier this year, was done to coordinate the numbers with the release of other data.
"There has been no influence or pressure from the (Bush) campaign," Kincannon said Wednesday.
Official national poverty estimates, as well as most government data on income and health insurance, come from the bureau's Current Population Survey.
This year the bureau is simultaneously releasing data from the broader American Community Survey, which also includes income and poverty numbers but cannot be statistically compared with the other survey.
The figures were sure to generate attention regardless of when they were released since they typically serve as a report card of sorts for an administration's socio-economic policies.
Partisan debate figures to be more heated now, when the economy and health care are big issues in the tight presidential election race between Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry.
Since job growth was slow until the second half of 2003 and wages were relatively stagnant, it was likely the report would show an increase in the number of people in poverty, said Sheldon Danzinger, co-director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.
William O'Hare, a researcher with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private children's advocacy group, expected increases in the number of kids in poverty and without health insurance. He called the changes in the way data is being released "bothersome."
"It makes me wonder whether this statistical agency is being politicized in some way," said O'Hare, who has studied the poverty and health insurance data for over two decades.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:25 PM
Huge Clock in NYC Shows Cost of Iraq War
Huge Digital Clock Showing Cost of Iraq War Unveiled in New York Ahead of GOP Convention
The Associated Press
NEW YORK Aug. 26, 2004 — Two groups put up a giant digital clock to tick off the cost of the Iraq war, days before the Republican National Convention gets going less than a mile away.
The clock was unveiled Wednesday by the advocacy group Project Billboard and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank headed by John Podesta, former President Clinton's chief of staff.
Organizers calculated the war's cost as of Wednesday at $134.5 billion and are adding $177 million per day, which comes to $7.4 million per hour or $122,820 per minute.
The two groups said the money could have been spent on projects "to make Americans safer at home and stronger abroad," including adding two new divisions to the Army, hiring 100,000 more police officers and undertaking significant improvements to safeguard ports.
"Iraq was a war of choice, and the United States is bearing virtually all of the cost," Podesta said in a statement.
The clock, on a hotel facade at Broadway and 47th Street, is blocks north of where the convention will begin next week at Madison Square Garden.
For most of the time since 1989, Manhattan passers-by have also been able to ponder a digital clock that shows the national debt, the brainchild of the late real estate developer Seymour Durst.
It went dark in 2000 after government debt levels started to fall but was restarted in 2002, when deficits began to rise again. It stopped again this spring when the building it was on was being town down, but a new version began ticking Aug. 10 not far from Times Square, The Durst Organization said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:23 PM
Olympic Chiefs Ask Bush to Pull Election Ad
Aug. 26, 2004 — By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS (Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic Committee has asked the campaign to re-elect President Bush to pull an ad that refers to the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday.
The ad has angered Olympic officials because they feel it hijacks the Olympic brand -- a registered trademark -- even though it does not display the Games logo.
The U.S. Olympic Committee had asked the Bush election "campaign to withdraw the advertisement they are running," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies told reporters.
The television advertisement, ahead of the presidential elections in November, does not feature the five Olympic rings -- one of the world's most recognizable images -- but an announcer tells viewers that at "this Olympics there will be two more free nations," referring to the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under Bush's presidency.
Afghanistan returned to this year's Games after its Olympic Committee, controlled by the then ruling hard-line Taliban regime, was suspended in 1999 and missed the 2000 Sydney Games.
The IOC reinstated Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The IOC said no official request had been made for the use of the reference to the Games.
"We own the rights to the Olympic name and nobody asked us," Gerhard Heiberg, head of the International Olympic Committee's Marketing Commission had said on Wednesday.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:21 PM
Aug. 24, 2004
Why is Florida's voting system so corrupt?
By Ann Louise Bardach
One indicator of the dire state of electoral affairs in Florida is the fact that Theresa LePore, the election supervisor who designed the infamous butterfly ballot, will once again be on the job. It was Ms. LePore's ballot that awarded the votes of thousands of elderly Jews in Palm Beach County to Pat Buchanan, arguably costing Al Gore the election. Given the multitude of other failures in the state's voting system, that's the good news.
In the wake of the most scandalous election in U.S. history, which led to an unprecedented 36-day recount, most Americans believed that state and federal authorities would take steps to ensure that the country would never again go through such an ordeal. But in truth very few changes have been made, and those that have been implemented have raised new concerns. Yet nearly all of Flordia's current troubles share a common denominator—they were decisions made or endorsed by Florida's secretary of state and chief elections officer, Glenda Hood, who was handpicked by Gov. Jeb Bush in November 2002.
Gov. Bush's own task force on the 2000 election recommended that the Legislature change county election supervisors from elected to nonpartisan positions. But the Legislature did not act on this recommendation, nor on the suggestion of election reform groups that the secretary of state also be selected by a nonpartisan commission, to ensure the necessary firewall between election officials and politicians.
There are excellent reasons for this recommendation. Following the contentious 2000 recount, e-mails on former Sec. of State Katherine Harris' computer revealed that she had been in contact with Jeb Bush during the recount, contrary to both their claims. Miami Herald reporter Meg Laughlin discovered that e-mail messages sent to Jeb Bush from Harris had been deleted after the recount. Harris then had the operating system of her computer changed, a procedure that erased all its data. "What was odd about what she did," said Mark Seibel, an editor at the Herald, "was that they installed an old operating system—not a new one—which makes you wonder why they did it."
According to Gallup polls taken yearly since 2000, roughly 50 percent of Americans believe that the election of George W. Bush was either "won on a technicality" or "stolen." Only 34 percent are "very confident" that the vote will be counted accurately in November.
But rather than allay those doubts by selecting an election supervisor of unimpeachable integrity, Gov. Bush seems to have found an equal to Katherine Harris in Glenda Hood, the former Republican mayor of Orlando. True, Hood is not juggling Harris' other job—state chairman for George W. Bush's campaign—but she has done little to assure Floridians that all the votes will be counted this time around.
For one, Hood and Jeb Bush have strongly endorsed the state's Republican-controlled legislature's new rule that outlaws manual recounts. This means that if any of the new optical-scan or touch-screen machines fail—as they did in the 2002 elections; and the recent March primaries; and just last week, when a backup system failed in a test run in Miami-Dade—there will be no recourse for counting votes. A coalition of election-reform groups has challenged this rule, and Rep. Robert Wexler of Palm Beach sued in federal court after a state appeals court dismissed the matter, ruling that while the right to vote is guaranteed, a perfect voting system is not.
Unlike the recent elections in Venezuela, where the new touch-screen voting machine provided every voter with a receipt, Floridians will have to take the word of Hood and Bush that their vote was counted.
To the embarrassment of Hood and Jeb Bush, even the state's Republican Party has voiced its doubts about the electronic voting system. A flier disseminated last month by the party, featuring a picture of a smiling President Bush striking a thumbs-up sign, urged Republicans living in Miami-Dade County to vote by absentee ballot even if they will be home on Election Day. "Make sure your vote counts," read the flier. "Order your absentee ballot today.'' Now many Democrats also believe that the only safe vote is an absentee ballot vote.
But it is in the "low-tech area" of absentee ballots, as Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede puts it, "that things get really funky." Most critically, Hood and Gov. Bush have championed a new state law that abolishes Florida's longtime requirement that absentee ballots be witnessed. While some other states, like California, do not require witnesses, no state has Florida's history of institutional vote fraud.
Indeed, election fraud in Florida long precedes the 2000 debacle. In some counties it extends all the way back to the early days of Florida's statehood, in 1845. Florida's political culture derives from several different regions—the north, near Georgia, has more in common with the southern part of the United States; the south with Latin America—so election fraud tends to differ in the two regions. In the northern part of the state, for example, sheriffs have been known to let certain boxes of ballots—thought to be unfavorable to a particular politician—fall out of their squad cars and tumble into the Gulf of Mexico. In the south, notably Miami-Dade, a remarkable number of dead people have been known to rise up and make it to the polls. In 1998, Miami's mayoral election of Xavier Suarez was overthrown for a host of irregularities, including the fact that a man named Manuel Yip, who had died four years earlier, had voted for Suarez. (In fact, it was the fourth time he had voted since his death in 1994.)
But most of the fraud that has dogged Florida centers on absentee ballots. In the mayoral election mentioned above, approximately 5,000 absentee ballots were found to be fraudulent. Some folks were unaware they had voted, some did not live in Miami, and (naturally, being Florida) some were dead. In addition, many of the ballots had the same witness. One Miami vegetable peddler had witnessed more than 70 absentee ballots. And some of the city's poorest had been paid $10 to vote for Suarez. Without the state's witness requirement, officials would never have been able to prove that the absentee ballots were bogus. Buying ballots is another current problem. In 1998, an election volunteer was caught selling ballots to undercover agents. And just last week, the Cuban exile columnist Max Lesnik reported that absentee ballots were being sold on Miami's Calle Ocho for $25 apiece.
So, by doing away with the witness requirement, Hood, Gov. Bush, and the Florida Legislature have removed the only existing brake on absentee-voter fraud. It's now open season in the Sunshine State.
There is also the matter of Florida's large elderly population, which can be susceptible to manipulation. For example: For years, until he disappeared in 1982 after a drug-smuggling indictment, a Bay of Pigs veteran named Rafael Villaverde bused hundreds of Cuban exile ancianos in Miami-Dade from old-age homes to the polls so they could deliver the vote for the Republican Party.
Then there is the issue of the felon list. Florida is one of only seven states that does not automatically restore a felon's voting rights after his or her release from prison (another of the ignored recommendations made by the commission Jeb Bush created). More than 52 percent of Florida's felon population happens to be African-American, a demographic that voted Democratic in 2000 in unprecedented numbers. No matter whether one's crime has been marijuana possession, check bouncing, or DUIs, anyone who has been convicted of a felony must endure an arduous obstacle course in order to have their voting rights restored. Most will have to face the state's clemency board chaired by Gov. Bush and two other Republican officials. There is no appeal process. One veteran official with Florida's Corrections Department, who asked for anonymity, noted that, "We have the president's brother deciding whether people get to vote or not vote, which strikes me as a conflict of interest."
How critical is the felon issue? Consider that in Florida in 2003, more than 54,000 felons were released or completed their parole; and the ACLU alleges that more than 600,000 former felons living in Florida had been improperly deprived of their right to vote by Katherine Harris' policies in the 2000 election. (She and Gov. Bush instituted "purge lists" to ensure that no former felon voted without state approval.)
About the only thing that could restore confidence in Florida electoral procedures would be Hood's immediate resignation; her successor should then be chosen by a bipartisan commission. And as Gov. Bush cannot possibly be an impartial observer in his brother's quest for another term, he should recuse himself from every aspect involving the vote count in Florida. He also needs to flex his power with his famously compliant Legislature to repeal the new laws eliminating manual recounts and witnessed absentee ballots. In addition, all felons who have repaid their debt to society, following completion of their sentences, should have their voting rights restored.
If these changes are not made, Florida cannot conduct a credible election come November.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 PM
August 26, 2004
Wounds Opened Anew as Vietnam Resurfaces
By TIMOTHY EGAN
Many of them are bent and broken, grayer and wider. Some carry shrapnel from a step too far, an ambush replayed over and over. All carry memories. And now as the debate over service 35 years ago in a war that will not entirely fade roils the presidential campaign, Vietnam veterans wonder if they are doomed to take the arguments that divided a nation to their graves.
"It really upsets me, pitting one Vietnam veteran against another," said Frank Stephens, 55, of Granite Falls, Wash., who received a Purple Heart after being wounded during his Army tour in Vietnam in 1969. "I feel like the politicians are using us. They just won't let that war go."
For the more than 2.5 million veterans who served in Vietnam from 1965 through 1973, the clash over Senator John Kerry's service on a Navy Swift boat moves them into a new phase of their evolving place in the national consciousness. After being called both baby killers and heroes, they now feel like something else: political footballs.
"I thought Vietnam was over a few years ago, but apparently not," said Bruce Iverson, 58, an Air Force veteran of the war, who drives a bus in Portland, Me.
They profess to be brothers, and in veterans halls around the country the men who fought in Vietnam emphasized their common bonds and a view that most of the country may never understand them. But the advertisements by one group of veterans attacking the war record of Mr. Kerry, advertisements that are closely tied to supporters of President Bush, have reopened wounds about class and service and frayed some of the unifying threads.
"We didn't see any rich boys out there, not any at all, and if they were they had cushy jobs," said Ambrose D'Arpino, a 57-year-old former Air Force medic from Arizona who said Mr. Bush should not be criticizing Mr. Kerry because the president did not serve in Vietnam. Mr. D'Arpino was touring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which has carved on it the names of the 58,245 Americans who died in the war.
The Swift boat advertisements have infuriated Mr. D'Arpino, who said the candidates should focus on the issues of the day. It is a sentiment expressed by many veterans.
"Kerry earned medals,'' said Curtis Hamilton, an Army veteran from Maine who served in the mid-1980's. "Bush didn't. Who cares?"
In Oregon, a group of veterans held a rally on Monday to protest statements made against Mr. Kerry in an affidavit by one veteran, Alfred French, who is a deputy district attorney in Clackamas County, near Portland. Veterans said Mr. French's criticism of Mr. Kerry's war record, which he later told The Oregonian newspaper was based on the accounts of others, had inflamed old divisions.
"This Swift boat stuff is making life very, very difficult for Vietnam veterans, no matter who they support for president," said Colleen Helmstetter, who served with the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam in 1970 and '71. Ms. Helmstetter, of Gresham, Ore., turned out with other veterans for the Monday protest. "Will this wound ever go away?"
The hurt and divisions have always been there, veterans said, but they come and go, often set off by a cultural event or a campaign.
"This new stuff from the Swift boat opponents of Kerry does not surprise me," said Charlie Brown, of Seattle, who was an Air Force medic in Vietnam and 1967 and 1968. "There was a right and a left among guys in Vietnam back in the 60's. And there's a right and a left now."
It is unclear how the advertisements will affect the vote of the nation's 26.5 million veterans. Mr. Kerry had hoped his war record would help him to make significant inroads with a group that tends to vote Republican. A poll by CBS News last week showed a drop in veteran support for Mr. Kerry, but the margin of sampling error in that poll, plus or minus eight percentage points, of the small number of veterans sampled, 144, was too large to give a true picture of veterans' sentiment, other pollsters said. But interviews with veterans across the country found a hard-edged cynicism about both Mr. Kerry's using his Vietnam service to advance his candidacy and Mr. Bush for his ties to a group that has renewed some of the divisions of a long-gone war.
None of the veterans interviewed said the challenge by the anti-Kerry group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, had changed their minds on the election. But a handful said the attacks were making them rethink support for Mr. Bush.
"I'm a Republican - I voted for Bush last time - but I may go to Kerry this year," said Ron Ostrander, who served in the Army from 1966 to 1969 and lives in Vancouver, Wash. "To me, it's irrelevant whether Kerry's boat went into international waters or not, or how he got his medals. The fact that he served and did his duty - don't try to take that away from him."
Ralph Bozella, a 55-year-old veteran who lives in Longmont, Colo., said the more he followed the Swift boat controversy, the more he drifted into Mr. Kerry's camp.
"I feel like what they did to attack his record is an affront to all veterans," said Mr. Bozella, who was an infantry soldier in Vietnam in 1971. "When you honor one veteran, you honor all veterans, so when you disgrace one veteran, you disgrace all veterans, especially a Vietnam veteran."
A Navy veteran and Republican who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000, Mike Weiss of Portland, Me., said Mr. Bush should denounce the attack advertisements.
"It's very sad for me," said Mr. Weiss. "I'm not surprised, but I think Bush is playing a dangerous game, and I think he's turning a lot of people off, myself included."
Whether the candidates saw combat or not, few veterans interviewed said it made much difference.
"We all tried to get into the Air National Guard," said Gary Franklin, a supporter of Mr. Bush who did two tours of duty as an Air Force sergeant from 1969 through 1972. "Bush was smart. Who wants to get shot?"
Mr. Franklin was wounded in the leg while serving on a medical evacuation helicopter, which he said was "like a big metro bus with a blade atop it." He said it did not bother him that Mr. Kerry later protested the war, and he said American soldiers had committed atrocities.
"He earned that right to protest," said Mr. Franklin, who sat chain-smoking outside the veterans hospital in Seattle. "He didn't have to go over there, but he did. And not many of us guys came back and said, 'Hey, let's go to war.' "
But he does not like Mr. Kerry's using his Vietnam service as a central theme of his campaign.
"My biggest beef with Kerry is that he's dragging us Vietnam vets through the political campaign to show that he has a good military background compared to Bush," Mr. Franklin said.
Another Bush supporter, Bill Bentley, who spent 23 months in Vietnam, on two tours, said he could not forgive Mr. Kerry for speaking against the war. A resident of Gulf Breeze, Fla., Mr. Bentley said the recent dust-up over Mr. Kerry's service reignited the anger he felt toward veterans who opposed the war.
"He came back and spoke before the Senate and said we were all baby killers," said Mr. Bentley. "It's only about 10 years ago that we Vietnam vets were able to come out of the closet and realized we didn't need to be ashamed for serving our country."
While closing ranks against outside criticism, some veterans said Mr. Kerry's service record became fair game for attacks by other veterans because he played it up in the campaign. "If Kerry brings it out, then he's got to face the consequences," said Charles E. Nichols, 57, who lives in Matteson, Ill.
A retired Marine Corps veteran with two Purple Hearts, one for getting shot in the knee, the other for taking a bullet in the shoulder, Mr. Nichols would like to see the campaign focus on other issues.
"I truly think it's a big waste of the public's time," said Mr. Nichols. "They're trying to discredit him, taking our minds off the issues."
Mr. Stephens, the former Army specialist from Granite Falls who was wounded with shrapnel from a land mine, described himself as independent. He had never harbored any bitterness toward his fellow baby boomers who did not serve, but the Swift boat controversy has made him rethink his feelings toward people like Vice President Dick Cheney, who avoided the draft by college deferments, he said.
"The vice president said he had 'other priorities,' " said Mr. Stephens, gesturing toward his war wound. "Didn't we all."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:29 AM
August 26, 2004
Lawyer for Bush Quits Over Links to Kerry's Foes
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 25 - The national counsel for President Bush's re-election campaign resigned on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after he acknowledged that he had provided legal advice to a veterans group that has leveled unsubstantiated attacks on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War record in a book and on the air.
Hours later, Senator John McCain, a Republican who is both a friend of Mr. Kerry's and an increasingly vigorous supporter of President Bush's, said in an interview that he was so annoyed over the veterans' television advertisements attacking Mr. Kerry's war record that he intended to personally "express my displeasure'' to the president when they campaign together next week.
Mr. McCain said that he was taking the president at his word that he was not responsible for the ads, which were initially largely financed by Texas Republicans, but that he did not think Mr. Bush had gone far enough in condemning them. He also said he wanted the Kerry campaign to stop using images of his own 2000 primary fight against Mr. Bush in its advertising. [Page A24.]
The resignation of the counsel, Benjamin L. Ginsberg, was announced in the morning by the Bush campaign, which released a letter Mr. Ginsberg had written to the president saying he had done nothing wrong but did not want to hamper the president's re-election effort.
"I cannot begin to express my sadness that my legal representations have become a distraction from the critical issues at hand in this election,'' Mr. Ginsberg said in his letter.
The quick resignation suggests that the Bush campaign, which has repeatedly said it has no ties to the Swift boat veterans group attacking Mr. Kerry, is eager to put the issue behind it as it heads into the Republican National Convention.
Republicans, who only a few days ago were saying that the Swift boat controversy was a problem for Mr. Kerry's campaign because it raised questions about Mr. Kerry's war credentials, began to say Wednesday that the issue was not helpful for Mr. Bush.
The Kerry campaign continued to try to keep the issue alive, using Mr. Ginsberg's resignation to push forward its charges that the president was using the veterans as a front for negative campaigning.
Democrats put up a new 60-second ad on the issue, asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to open a criminal investigation into links between the Bush camp and the anti-Kerry veterans group and dispatched to Texas former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, a triple amputee from wounds received in the Vietnam War.
In the most theatrical event of the president's weeklong Texas vacation, Mr. Cleland turned up at the remote first checkpoint on Prairie Chapel Road outside Mr. Bush's 1,600-acre ranch on Wednesday afternoon, and then tried to deliver a letter asking the president to condemn the television commercials against Mr. Kerry by the Swift boat group. He first approached a Secret Service agent, then a Texas state policeman, but both refused to accept the letter.
Then Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner and a Vietnam veteran who had been asked by the Bush campaign to accept the letter, told Mr. Cleland that he would take it, but Mr. Cleland refused to give it to him.
Later, in a news conference in the hot sun outside the Crawford Middle School gymnasium, Mr. Cleland, a Democrat, said that Mr. Bush was behind the Swift boat group.
"These scurrilous ads are false, and George Bush is behind it,'' he said. "The question is, where is George Bush's honor? Where is his shame?''
Jim Rassmann, a Green Beret in the Vietnam War, accompanied Mr. Cleland. Mr. Kerry had saved Mr. Rassmann's life by pulling him from a river in the Mekong Delta.
The White House fired back that Mr. Cleland's visit to Crawford was nothing more than an effort to grab headlines.
"Senator Kerry says he wants to talk about the issues,'' said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, after Mr. Cleland had left Crawford. "Today's political stunt is an interesting way of showing it.''
Mr. McClellan called again for Mr. Kerry to join Mr. Bush in denouncing all campaign advertising by outside groups, called 527's committees for the section of the tax code that created them. And Mr. McClellan stood by the assessment of Marc Racicot, the Bush campaign chairman, who insisted last week that "there is no connection of any kind whatsoever'' between the campaign and the Swift boat group.
Mr. Ginsberg's work for the veterans group was just the latest Republican tie to emerge, and the most politically significant. Records show that the veterans received most of their initial financing from prominent Texas Republicans close to the Bush family and to Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist. They have received strategic advice from consultants who have worked with national Republican groups.
Bush campaign officials said they had been unaware that Mr. Ginsberg had been playing dual roles as a lawyer for them and for the veterans group.
The Republicans, in an e-mail message to reporters, listed several Democrats who they said showed connections between Democratic 527 groups, Mr. Kerry's campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Among them were Zack Exley, the former organizing director for MoveOn.org's political action committee who now works for Mr. Kerry's campaign; Jim Jordan, the former campaign manager for Mr. Kerry who now works as a consultant for the liberal groups America Coming Together and the Media Fund; and Joe Sandler, who is a lawyer for both the Democratic National Committee and MoveOn.org.
Democrats said all of their activities were legal and that the groups are not leveling similarly personal and unsubstantiated charges against the president.
Kerry campaign officials, who said they now saw the Swift boat controversy working to their advantage, took additional steps on Wednesday to keep it burning.
Their 60-second spot, which the campaign said would run on national cable stations and in closely contested states, shows Mr. McCain confronting the president when he was his rival for the Republican nomination in 2000. In a debate, Mr. McCain is shown scolding the president for standing with a member of a "fringe veterans group" that had accused Mr. McCain of abandoning veterans.
"George Bush is up to his old tricks," reads the caption on the screen. "Four years ago it was John McCain. This year, they're smearing John Kerry. George Bush, denounce the smear. Get back to the issues."
Much of the debate set off by the veterans has been over whether Mr. Kerry earned his three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. The critics have also questioned his occasional statements that he was in Cambodia over Christmas 1968, which he made to argue that Vietnam had been in part a secret war.
The Kerry campaign this week released long-ago recordings of statements that John E. O'Neill, a leader of the anti-Kerry Swift boat group, made to President Richard Nixon, in which he put himself in Cambodia. "I was in Cambodia, sir, I worked along the border on the water," Mr. O'Neill told Nixon.
Asked in an interview about those statements, Mr. O'Neill said: "What I was trying to say is, and I believe he understood me, was that I was on the border." He added that Mr. Kerry was assigned to a different region, which he argued made it less likely that Mr. Kerry could have sailed to the same watery border.
In a rare television interview with the anchor Brit Hume on the Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Mr. Rove said that Mr. Ginsberg, whom he described as "a great friend of this president," resigned "in order to remove any possibility of being a distraction to his friend."
Pressed on his relationship with Bob J. Perry, the Texas house builder who gave the Swift group most of its initial funding, Mr. Rove said: "I've known him for 25 years. When I moved to Texas, you can count the wealthy Republicans who are willing to write checks to support Republican candidates on the hand - on the fingers of one hand. It would be unusual if I didn't know him, having been active for 25 years in Texas."
Describing Mr. Perry as "a good friend," he said he had seen Mr. Perry within the last year but that the two had only exchanged pleasantries and "certainly did not discuss with him or anybody else in the Swift boat leadership what they're doing."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:28 AM
August 26, 2004
Holding the Pentagon Accountable For Abu Ghraib
For anyone with the time to wade through 400-plus pages and the resources to decode them, the two reports issued this week on the Abu Ghraib prison are an indictment of the way the Bush administration set the stage for Iraqi prisoners to be brutalized by American prison guards, military intelligence officers and private contractors.
The Army's internal investigation, released yesterday, showed that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib went far beyond the actions of a few sadistic military police officers - the administration's chosen culprits. It said that 27 military intelligence soldiers and civilian contractors committed criminal offenses, and that military officials hid prisoners from the Red Cross. Another report, from a civilian panel picked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, offers the dedicated reader a dotted line from President Bush's decision to declare Iraq a front in the war against terror, to government lawyers finding ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, to Mr. Rumsfeld's bungled planning of the occupation and understaffing of the ground forces in Iraq, to the hideous events at Abu Ghraib prison.
That was a service to the public, but the civilian panel did an enormous disservice by not connecting those dots and walking away from any real exercise in accountability. Instead, Pentagon officials who are never named get muted criticism for issuing confusing memos and not monitoring things closely enough. This is all cast as "leadership failure" - the 21st-century version of the Nixonian "mistakes were made" evasion - that does not require even the mildest reprimand for Mr. Rumsfeld, who should have resigned over this disaster months ago. Direct condemnation is reserved for the men and women in the field, from the military police officers sent to guard prisoners without training to the three-star general in Iraq.
Still, the dots are there, making it clear that the road to Abu Ghraib began well before the invasion of Iraq, when the administration created the category of "unlawful combatants" for suspected members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban who were captured in Afghanistan and imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Interrogators wanted to force these prisoners to talk in ways that are barred by American law and the Geneva Conventions, and on Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department lawyers produced the infamous treatise on how to construe torture as being legal.
In December 2002, Mr. Rumsfeld authorized things like hooding prisoners, using dogs to terrify them, forcing them into "stress positions" for long periods, stripping them, shaving them and isolating them. All this was prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, but President Bush had already declared on Feb. 7, 2002, that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda.
In January, the general counsel of the Navy objected, and Mr. Rumsfeld rescinded some of the extreme techniques. Then another legal review further narrowed the list, and Mr. Rumsfeld issued yet another memo on April 16, 2003. The Schlesinger panel said the memos confused field commanders, who thought that harsh interrogations were allowed, and that things could have been made clearer if Mr. Rumsfeld had allowed a real legal debate in the first place. Yet the panel places no fault on Mr. Rumsfeld for the cascade of disastrous events that followed.
According to the report, American forces began mistreating prisoners at the outset of the war in Afghanistan. Interrogators and members of military intelligence were sent from Afghanistan to Iraq, and the harsh interrogations "migrated" with them, the report said. But one of the panel's oddest failures is how it deals with this issue. It notes that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had been running the prison in Guantánamo Bay, went to Iraq in August 2003, bringing the harsh interrogation rules with him. The report said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander in Iraq, used his advice to approve a dozen "aggressive interrogation techniques," and that General Sanchez was "using reasoning" from the president's own memo. But in the strange logic of this report, that was not the fault of those who made the policies. The report assigns no responsibility to General Miller, nor does it say that he was sent to Iraq by Mr. Rumsfeld's staff.
All these decisions were happening in a chaotic context. The Schlesinger reports said the military failed to anticipate the insurgency in Iraq or react to it properly and was unprepared for the number of prisoners it had. Insufficient numbers of military police units were sent to Iraq in a disorganized fashion, many of them untrained reservists.
The panel was right in criticizing General Sanchez for not appreciating the scope of the disaster, but it made only the most glancing reference to the bigger problem: the Iraqi occupation force was too small. And that was a policy approved by Mr. Bush and designed by Mr. Rumsfeld, who wanted a lightning invasion by the sparest force possible, based on the ludicrous notion that Iraqis would not resist.
Still, the civilian panel said the politicians had only indirect responsibility for this mess, and Mr. Schlesinger made the absurd argument that firing Mr. Rumsfeld would aid "the enemy." That is reminiscent of the comment Mr. Bush made last spring when he visited the Pentagon to view images of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners and then announced that Mr. Rumsfeld was doing a "superb job." It may not be all that surprising from a commission appointed by the secretary of defense and run by two former secretaries of defense (Mr. Schlesinger and Harold Brown). But it seems less a rational assessment than an attempt to cut off any further criticism of the men at the top.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:27 AM
August 26, 2004
Holding the Pentagon Accountable For Religious Bigotry
The first reports sounded like an over-the-top satire of the Bush Pentagon: the deputy secretary of defense for intelligence - the ranking general charged with the hunt for Osama bin Laden - was parading in uniform to Christian pulpits, preaching that God had put George Bush in the White House and that Islamic terrorists will only be defeated "if we come at them in the name of Jesus." But now a Pentagon inquiry has concluded that Lt. Gen. William Boykin did indeed preach his grossly offensive gospel at 23 churches, pronouncing Satan the mastermind of the terrorists because "he wants to destroy us as a Christian army."
It was stunning last fall, after the general's lapse into brimstone bigotry became public, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, far from disturbed, praised General Boykin for an "outstanding record" and kept him at the highly sensitive intelligence post during the inquiry. Now it is simply mind-boggling that Pentagon reports suggest the general may survive with only a reprimand for having failed to clear his remarks in advance.
General Boykin has to be removed from his current job. He has become a national embarrassment, not to mention a walking contradiction of President Bush's own policy statement that the fight against terror is bias-free and not a crusade against Islam. (General Boykin preached of a 1993 fight against a Muslim warlord in Somalia: "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.")
The sense of offense among Islamic Americans is already deep. Removal of the preacher-general should be a no-brainer, however much the president's campaign generals might fear offending the Christian right voting bloc.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:26 AM
August 26, 2004
No Smoking Gun
By DAHLIA LITHWICK
It has been four months since the photos from Abu Ghraib came to light, and America still can't decide what to make of them. Yes, they're appalling. But who's to blame? With the release of two new reports this week, we still can't quite connect the torture and abuse to the commander in chief or his defense secretary; we still can't quite find that smoking gun.
Because there's never going to be a smoking gun.
If you're waiting around for evidence of the phone call from Donald Rumsfeld to Pfc. Lynndie England - the one where he orders the "code red," instructing her to pile up a bunch of naked, hooded men and strike a queen-of-the-mountain pose - you'll wait forever. That's not how armies function. Armies depend on the realities of the chain of command and the cha-cha of plausible deniability.
This week's report by the James Schlesinger panel offers the closest thing we'll get to a smoking gun. Connect the dots and it's all there: the sadism at Abu Ghraib stemmed from "confusion." Confusion sounds accidental - like maybe it just blew in off the Atlantic - but the report is clear that this confusion resulted from systemic failures at the highest levels. The report faults ambiguous interrogation mandates, an inadequate postwar plan, poor training and a lack of oversight. It notes that much of this confusion stemmed from the Bush administration's posture that the Geneva Conventions applied only where the president saw fit, and that the definition of "interrogation" was up for grabs at Guantánamo Bay, thus possibly at Abu Ghraib.
Or you can put your ear right up to the horse's mouth, where - even before the Schlesinger report - Mr. Rumsfeld owned the blame. "These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee last May. But we live in an era when such words are intended to signify simultaneous culpability and absolution.
Mr. Schlesinger's insistence that Mr. Rumsfeld not leave office - because his departure would "be a boon to all of America's enemies" - is a pragmatic argument. It doesn't even pretend to be a just one.
You can choose to connect these dots, or cast your vote in November based on whether Colonel Mustard was in a Swift boat with a lead pipe. But Abu Ghraib can't be blamed solely on bad apples anymore. It was the direct consequence of an administration ready to bargain away the rule of law. That started with the suspension of basic prisoner protections, because this was a "new kind of war." It led to the creation of a legal sinkhole on Guantánamo Bay. And it reached its zenith when high officials opined that torture isn't torture unless there's some attendant organ failure.
There is a sad, familiar echo behind the Abu Ghraib prosecutions. This is precisely the approach the administration has used throughout the so-called terror trials here at home. Behind virtually every prosecution of an Al Qaeda member since Sept. 11, there has been an overhyped, overcharged foot soldier taking the fall for his invisible superiors. From the losers making up the so-called Portland Seven to the Virginia "jihad network," all we've achieved in our courts is a lot of pretrial chest thumping by the Justice Department, followed by relatively short sentences for a handful of malcontents who watched training videos or played paintball.
The ranking terrorists we do catch? They disappear into yet more law-free zones for further interrogation. The same intelligence-at-any-price culture that led us to Abu Ghraib keeps the real terrorists from ever being held to account.
Such is the beauty of an army: the little guy can always get tagged as a proxy for the big guy. Does any of this suffice as justice? In the terror trials it must: we convict low-level Al Qaeda members as ringleaders because we can't catch (or won't prosecute) their bosses. It's not just, but it's satisfying. Convicting low-level American soldiers as ringleaders to protect their bosses is neither just nor satisfying. It's just easy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:25 AM
August 26, 2004
Hiding the Truth in a Cloud of Black Ink
By TRENT LOTT and RON WYDEN
In September, Congress will reconvene with a common goal at the top of its collective to-do list: reform our intelligence services in order to better protect the country from terrorist threats. Republicans and Democrats bring the best of intentions to their national security responsibilities. But too often, Congress and the American people lack the best information - in the form of declassified intelligence and national security materials - to ensure that the job is done right.
Thomas H. Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, said that three-quarters of the classified material he reviewed for the commission should not have been classified in the first place. His panel's report, presented largely without redactions, was an exception to a long-standing practice of overclassifying national security information. Secrecy has become so pervasive in the federal government that it's often unclear whether facts are classified for legitimate security reasons, or simply for the political protection of agencies and officials.
The ability to make documents secret is one of the most powerful tools in government, and it has been used heavily for decades. The National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office reported 14.2 million classification actions for 2003 - more than double the number recorded 10 years earlier. At its extreme, the culture of classification can impair the information-sharing among intelligence agencies necessary to ensure sound policymaking; it can also deprive the American people of their ability to judge the effectiveness of their government on national security matters. We believe that the only way to address this growing problem - to clear Washington's fog of secrecy - is to direct an independent board to review the standards and procedures for national security classification.
We are not alone in our view that something may be seriously awry in the national security classification system. William Leonard, who directs the information security office, has called the current classification system "a patchwork quilt," the product of "a hodgepodge of laws, regulations and directives," and cites differing rules for making material secret from agency to agency as contributing to the confusion.
To fix this problem and provide necessary checks and balances, we have written legislation to create an independent national security classification board. It is our intent that this body will bring some common sense to bear on the national security classification system. The legislation would establish a three-person board, with the president and the bipartisan leadership in the House of Representatives and Senate each recommending one member, subject to Senate confirmation.
The board would have two tasks: first, to review and make recommendations on the standards and processes used to classify information for national security purposes; and second, to serve as a standing body to act on Congressional and certain executive branch requests to re-examine classification decisions.
Because entities from the traditional intelligence community to the Environmental Protection Agency have the power to classify documents, the board would look at national security classification across the government. And its creation would give Congress, for the first time, an independent body to which it could appeal a classification decision.
President Harry Truman noted that the C.I.A. was created "for the benefit and convenience of the president." But the United States cannot preserve an open and democratic society when one branch of government has a free hand to shut down public access to information. The lack of an independent appeals process for Congress tips the scales too far toward secrecy for any administration, and it is vital that we right this imbalance.
The 1946 Atomic Energy Act established the principle that some information is "born classified." There are certainly important sources and pieces of information that must never be compromised. But over the years, millions upon millions of documents that weren't born classified have inherited or adopted or married into a classification. As we fight the war on terror, it's a legacy we can no longer afford.
Trent Lott, Republican from Mississippi, and Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, are members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:24 AM
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
From the September issue of the Washington Monthly
By looking at a signature event during his career in Congress, this article debunks Bush administration claims that Democratic candidate John Kerry has done nothing to thwart terrorism. It traces the senator's tireless investigation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which at the time was one of the world's foremost terrorist-financing institutions. Because of an investigation spearheaded by Kerry, in the face of opposition from vested interests in both political parties, the bank was brought down in the summer of 1991, marking the end of a major threat to U.S. security. In later years, it has been discovered the bank served, among others, Osama bin Laden and was, in the words of one senior U.S. investigator, "the mother and father of terrorist financing operations."
Follow the Money: How John Kerry busted the terrorists' favorite bank
by David Sirota and Jonathan Baskin
Two decades ago, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was a highly respected financial titan. In 1987, when its subsidiary helped finance a deal involving Texas oilman George W. Bush, the bank appeared to be a reputable institution, with attractive branch offices, a traveler's check business, and a solid reputation for financing international trade. It had high-powered allies in Washington and boasted relationships with respected figures around the world.
All that changed in early 1988, when John Kerry, then a young senator from Massachusetts, decided to probe the finances of Latin American drug cartels. Over the next three years, Kerry fought against intense opposition from vested interests at home and abroad, from senior members of his own party; and from the Reagan and Bush administrations, none of whom were eager to see him succeed.
By the end, Kerry had helped dismantle a massive criminal enterprise and exposed the infrastructure of BCCI and its affiliated institutions, a web that law enforcement officials today acknowledge would become a model for international terrorist financing. As Kerry's investigation revealed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, BCCI was interested in more than just enriching its clients--it had a fundamentally anti-Western mission. Among the stated goals of its Pakistani founder were to "fight the evil influence of the West," and finance Muslim terrorist organizations. In retrospect, Kerry's investigation had uncovered an institution at the fulcrum of America's first great post-Cold War security challenge.
More than a decade later, Kerry is his party's nominee for president, and terrorist financing is anything but a back-burner issue. The Bush campaign has settled on a new strategy for attacking Kerry: Portray him as a do-nothing senator who's weak on fighting terrorism. "After 19 years in the Senate, he's had thousands of votes, but few signature achievements," President Bush charged recently at a campaign rally in
Pittsburgh; spin that's been echoed by Bush's surrogates, conservative pundits, and mainstream reporters alike, and by a steady barrage of campaign ads suggesting that the one thing Kerry did do in Congress was prove he knew nothing about terrorism. Ridiculing the senator for not mentioning al Qaeda in his 1997 book on terrorism, one ad asks: "How can John Kerry win a war [on terror] if he doesn't know the enemy?"
If that line of attack has been effective, it's partly because Kerry does not have a record like the chamber's dealmakers such as Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) or Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Though Kerry has been a key backer of bills on housing reform, immigration, and the environment, there are indeed few pieces of landmark legislation that owe their passage to Kerry.
But legislation is only one facet of a senator's record. As the BCCI investigation shows, Kerry developed a very different record of accomplishment--one often as vital, if not more so, than passage of bills. Kerry's probe didn't create any popular new governmental programs, reform the tax code, or eliminate bureaucratic waste and fraud. Instead, he shrewdly used the Senate's oversight powers to address the threat of terrorism well before it was in vogue, and dismantled a key terrorist weapon. In the process, observers saw a senator with tremendous fortitude, and a willingness to put the public good ahead of his own career. Those qualities might be hard to communicate to voters via one-line sound bites, but they would surely aid Kerry as president in his attempts to battle the threat of terrorism.
From drug lords to lobbyists
Despite having helmed the initial probe which led to the Iran-Contra investigation, Kerry was left off the elite Iran-Contra committee in 1987. As a consolation prize, the Democratic leadership in Congress made Kerry the chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations and told him to dig into the Contra-drug connection. Kerry turned to BCCI early in the second year of the probe when his investigators learned that Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega was laundering drug profits through the bank on behalf of the Medellin cartel.
By March 1988, Kerry's subcommittee had obtained permission from the Foreign Relations Committee to seek subpoenas for both BCCI and individuals at the bank involved in handling Noriega's assets, as well as those handling the accounts of others in Panama and Colombia. Very quickly, though, Kerry faced a roadblock. Citing concerns that the senator's requests would interfere with an ongoing sting operation in Tampa, the Justice Department delayed the subpoenas until the end of the year, at which point the subcommittee's mandate was running out.
BCCI, meanwhile, had its own connections. Prominent figures with ties to the bank included former president Jimmy Carter's budget director, Bert Lance, and a bevy of powerful Washington lobbyists with close ties to President George H.W. Bush, a web of influence that may have helped the bank evade previous investigations. In 1985 and 1986, for instance, the Reagan administration launched no investigation even after the CIA had sent reports to the Treasury, Commerce, and State Departments bluntly describing the bank's role in drug-money laundering and other illegal activities.
In the spring of 1989, Kerry hit another obstacle. Foreign Relations Committee chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), under pressure from both parties, formally asked Kerry to end his probe. Worried the information he had collected would languish, Kerry quickly dispatched investigator Jack Blum to present the information his committee had found about BCCI's money-laundering operations to the Justice Department. But according to Blum, the Justice Department failed to follow up.
The young senator from Massachusetts, thus, faced a difficult choice. Kerry could play ball with the establishment and back away from BCCI, or he could stay focused on the public interest and gamble his political reputation by pushing forward.
BCCI and the bluebloods
Kerry opted in 1989 to take the same information that had been coldly received at the Justice Department and bring it to New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who agreed to begin a criminal investigation of BCCI, based on Kerry's leads. Kerry also continued to keep up the public pressure. In 1990, when the Bush administration gave the bank a minor slap on the wrist for its money laundering practices, Kerry went on
national television to slam the decision. "We send drug people to jail for the rest of their life," he said, "and these guys who are bankers in the corporate world seem to just walk away, and it's business as usual...When banks engage knowingly in the laundering of money, they should be shut down. It's that simple, it really is."
He would soon have a chance to turn his declarations into action. In early 1991, the Justice Department concluded its Tampa probe with a plea deal allowing BCCI officials to stay out of court. At the same time, news reports indicated that Washington elder statesman Clark Clifford might be indicted for defrauding bank regulators and helping BCCI maintain a shell in the United States.
Kerry pounced, demanding (and winning) authorization from the Foreign Relations Committee to open a broad investigation into the bank in May 1991. Almost immediately, the senator faced a new round of pressure to relent. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Democratic doyenne Pamela Harriman personally called Kerry to object, as did his fellow senators. "What are you doing to my friend Clark Clifford?," staffers recalled them asking, according to The Washington Post. BCCI itself hired an army of lawyers, PR specialists, and lobbyists, including former members of Congress, to thwart the investigation.
But Kerry refused to back off, and his hearings began to expose the ways in which international terrorism was financed. As Kerry's subcommittee discovered, BCCI catered to many of the most notorious tyrants and thugs of the late 20th century, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the heads of the Medellin cocaine cartel, and Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist. According to the CIA, it also did business with those who went on to lead al Qaeda.
And BCCI went beyond merely offering financial assistance to dictators and terrorists: According to Time, the operation itself was an elaborate fraud, replete with a "global intelligence operation and a Mafia-like enforcement squad."
By July 1991, Kerry's work paid off. That month, British and U.S. regulators finally responded to the evidence provided by Kerry, Morgenthau, and a concurrent investigation by the Federal Reserve. BCCI was shut down in seven countries, restricted in dozens more, and served indictments for grand larceny, bribery, and money laundering. The actions effectively put it out of business what Morgenthau called, "one of the biggest criminal enterprises in world history."
Bin Laden's bankers
Kerry's record in the BCCI affair, of course, contrasts sharply with Bush's. The current president's career as an oilman was always marked by the kind of insider cronyism that Kerry resisted. Even more startling, as a director of Texas-based Harken Energy, Bush himself did business with BCCI-connected institutions almost at the same time Kerry was fighting the bank. As The Wall Street Journal reported in 1991, there was a "mosaic of BCCI connections surrounding [Harken] since George W. Bush came on board." In 1987, Bush secured a critical $25 million-loan from a bank the Kerry Commission would later reveal to be a BCCI joint venture. Certainly, Bush did not suspect BCCI had such questionable connections at the time. But still, the president's history suggests his attacks on Kerry's national-security credentials come from a position of little authority.
As the presidential campaign enters its final stretch, Kerry's BCCI experience is important for two reasons. First, it reveals Kerry's foresight in fighting terrorism that is critical for any president in this age of asymmetrical threats. As The Washington Post noted, "years before money laundering became a centerpiece of antiterrorist efforts...Kerry crusaded for controls on global money laundering in the name of national security."
Make no mistake about it, BCCI would have been a player. A decade after Kerry helped shut the bank down, the CIA discovered Osama bin Laden was among those with accounts at the bank. A French intelligence report obtained by The Washington Post in 2002 identified dozens of companies and individuals who were involved with BCCI and were found to be dealing with bin Laden after the bank collapsed, and that the financial network operated by bin Laden today "is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI." As one senior U.S. investigator said in 2002, "BCCI was the mother and father of terrorist financing operations."
Second, the BCCI affair showed Kerry to be a politician driven by a sense of mission, rather than expediency--even when it meant ruffling feathers. Perhaps Sen. Hank Brown, the ranking Republican on Kerry's subcommittee, put it best. "John Kerry was willing to spearhead this difficult investigation," Brown said. "Because many important members of his own party were involved in this scandal, it was a distasteful subject for other committee and subcommittee chairmen to investigate. They did not. John Kerry did."
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:23 PM