Saturday, January 08, 2005
The New York Times
January 8, 2005
Directors on Notice
The New York State Common Retirement Fund has just done the cause of better corporate governance a service. As part of a broader $54 million settlement largely engineered by the fund, 10 former directors of the telecommunications giant WorldCom have agreed to fork over $18 million of their own money to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by the fund and other angry investors who lost hundreds of millions of dollars when the company collapsed in 2002, the largest bankruptcy in history.
WorldCom is an extreme example of what can happen if a board utterly fails to do its duty. Bernard Ebbers, the swashbuckling founder, was allowed to manage the company as a personal fiefdom. Among other shenanigans, WorldCom failed to deduct billions in expenses and was eventually forced to restate its results for 2000 and 2001, reducing its pretax income by an astonishing $74 billion.
Directors as well as company officers have almost always relied on company insurance to bail them out in situations like this. But the retirement fund and the other plaintiffs appear to have insisted from the start that any negotiated settlement include a penalty that would personally hurt board members in their wallets - the very wallets they sat on while Mr. Ebbers ran the company into the ground. As Gretchen Morgenson's account of the negotiations in The Times made clear, the plaintiffs were just as interested in sending a signal to complacent boards of directors elsewhere as they were in recovering losses, which in the case of the retirement fund amounted to $300 million.
One downside to the settlement is that the effort to frighten away the bad actors that still exist in corporate America could deter talented people from ever getting involved. This would run counter to the interests of investors, Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the stock exchange, all of whom have been asking for a greater role for independent directors.
But this concern is outweighed, in our view, by the benefits. The WorldCom settlement will make boards elsewhere sit up and take notice. Lazy or incompetent board members, who in the past might have happily coasted along forever, enjoying the rewards of their post without doing the work, may decide to steer clear of a role that could expose them to financial penalties.
In strictly financial terms, no settlement is ever going to make bilked investors whole or anywhere near it. What will protect investors are boards that are effective in overseeing the companies they govern - who ask tough questions and do not ignore red flags that could prevent disasters like Enron and WorldCom from happening in the first place.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:13 PM
The New York Times
January 9, 2005
For Unemployed, Wait for New Work Grows Longer
By JOHN LELAND
When Fabiola Quitiaquez lost her job in New York City last May, she moved to the Atlanta area, confident that she would easily find work there.
"I thought maybe it would take two or three months," she said.
But after six months Ms. Quitiaquez was still unable to find a job, even cleaning houses or caring for the elderly. As her unemployment benefits ran out in November, she found herself at odds with news reports of economic recovery. "I realized what all these people like me were going through," she said.
Ms. Quitiaquez, 50, is one of about 3.6 million American workers who ran out of unemployment insurance benefits last year, the most in at least three decades, said Isaac Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group that supports extending unemployment benefits.
Even as overall unemployment dropped last year, the share of unemployed workers who have been jobless for more than six months - the point at which most state benefits run out - has remained historically high. As of November, about 1.8 million, or one in five, unemployed workers were jobless for more than six months, compared with 1.1 million when the recession officially ended in November 2001.
Since the start of the recession in March 2001, the average length of unemployment has risen to 20 weeks from 13.
"Usually at this point in a recovery, job creation is skyrocketing, but so far that hasn't happened," said Kevin A. Hassett, economic director at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative organization. "It's not a partisan issue, it's a fact. The labor market is worse than in the typical recovery."
For Ms. Quitiaquez and many others who run out of unemployment benefits, this has meant a steady stream of difficult choices, as well as emotional and economic stress. She needed emergency dental work. Her daughter's car required expensive repairs.
"When I was working, things like that would happen, but I was getting a check every week, so I just said, 'I'll pay for this now, but next week I'll get another check,' " she said.
At Pfizer, where she processed data for clinical studies, Ms. Quitiaquez said she made as much as $1,002 a week before taxes. Her weekly unemployment check was $405, which she supplemented by drawing on savings and a severance package from Pfizer that she said she could not discuss. She sold her modest apartment in New York and bought a house in Atlanta.
Now she has cut corners on her medical care, and she has put off the car repair, even though her daughter has to use a screwdriver to change gears. "I don't know how much that's going to cost us," she said. "Then I have high blood pressure and cholesterol. But if you go to a doctor, that's a luxury."
Ellie Wegener, executive director of the Employment Support Center, a nonprofit group that works with unemployed job seekers in Washington, D.C., said that compared with past years more of the people coming to her group "are living on thin ice," with higher expenses and lower savings.
"There's a lot of different responses," Ms. Wegener said. "One of the major errors people make when they're suddenly unemployed, whether they're skilled or unskilled, is say, 'O.K., I'll take a vacation.' They feel that they'll get a job easily."
When they do not find work, unemployment begins what Richard H. Price, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, calls a "chain of adversity," which can include marital tension, psychological stress and other problems not immediately tied to the loss of income.
Dr. Price studied 756 people for two years after they lost their jobs. "The first thing that people don't understand about job loss is that it isn't the job loss that gets you," he said. "It's the cascade of negative life events that follow and that reverberate through families. You lose your health benefits, then, if someone in the family has an illness, the family is forced to ration health care. Or you can't send a child to college, or make a car payment - and then you don't have transportation to look for a job. Or you can't sell your house because everyone else in the neighborhood is unemployed, so property values are down."
Cleon Cox, who runs a support group called Job Finders in Portland, Ore., said Internet job boards have added to the stress for some people by creating false expectations and soaking up time and money.
"In the beginning, the Internet is exciting because there are so many listings out there," Mr. Cox said. "People say, 'This is great.' But most of the time they end up very frustrated and depressed. One guy said, 'It's as though my incoming phone line has been cut, because I'm sending stuff out there and getting nothing back.' I had a guy who sent 500 résumés, and what got him is he didn't get one response."
Mark Laska, a computer programmer in Hopkins, Minn., navigates a different pattern of long-term unemployment. For most of the last decade, he has found short periods of well-paid work, sometimes as a computer consultant, alternating with longer stretches without a job. This year he was unemployed until August, except for a one-day-a-week job he found at Walgreens. He does not have health insurance and goes to the emergency room when he needs medical care. He has not exhausted his unemployment benefits, but he has been homeless and once lived in the basement of a laundry.
"They say stress is highest when you don't know what's going to happen next," Mr. Laska said. "That's what I deal with day to day."
Though he would like a permanent job, he said, his résumé and the job market make that difficult.
"If I tell people all the jobs I did, they say, 'You're not steady,' or 'It looks like you don't want a permanent job, because you haven't worked one,' " he said. "But I can't find one. Nowadays in the job market, the type of work available is part-time or contract work, or now they're calling it 'seasonal work.' You don't get benefits."
When Loretta and Eleanor Jones, sisters who live together in Hempstead, N.Y., both were laid off in May, they made a point not to run up credit card debt. They cut down on expenses, and were determined to make the most of their time. They cared for their mother, and both enrolled in training programs for certificates in electrocardiography and phlebotomy.
Loretta Jones, 42, lost her job as a lab assistant at Nassau University Medical Center. Her sister, 43, a senior collector at Chase Manhattan, said her department was moved to Texas and Florida. Their unemployment benefits ran out last month.
"We're both going to be looking for jobs, but we hope school will improve us," Loretta Jones said. "Our mother was already sick, so it gave us a chance to make sure she was being taken care of."
For Ms. Quitiaquez in Atlanta, being out of work and without unemployment benefits holds no such prospects. If she cannot find a job, she said, she will have to move in with her parents in the Bronx. Her lengthy unemployment has made her think differently about work and the self-esteem associated with it.
"When I was working, I was always thinking of getting ahead, and my title was so important," she said. "Now I don't care if I have a title. All I care about is to get a job. And to have health benefits."
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:11 PM
Timeline on Terror Prisoners' Treatment
Thu Jan 6, 2:17 AM ET
By The Associated Press
Developments and Bush administration memos concerning the treatment of prisoners in the fight against terrorism:
_Jan. 9, 2002: Justice Department lawyer John Yoo and special counsel Robert J. Delahunty advise the Pentagon that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Taliban or al-Qaida.
_Jan. 16: The first suspected al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners arrive at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
_Jan. 22: Then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee writes to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales arguing that the conventions do not apply to the Taliban or al-Qaida because one is a failed state and the other is an outlawed terrorist network. European Union officials and human rights groups criticize the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
_Jan. 25: Gonzales writes a memo to President Bush arguing that the terrorism fight "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions," such as requiring that prisoners get advances on their salaries. At an appearance in Cincinnati, Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) says the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners "is probably better than they deserve."
_Jan. 26: Secretary of State Colin Powell writes to Gonzales, arguing that the United States should apply the conventions in full, even if they are not legally binding.
_Jan. 27: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld makes his first visit to Guantanamo Bay and says the prisoners there "will not be determined to be POWs."
_Jan. 29: Bush says prisoners at Guantanamo will not be treated as prisoners of war, though he says their legal status is still being worked out.
_Feb. 1: Attorney General John Ashcroft writes to Bush arguing that the conventions do not apply to the Taliban or al-Qaida.
_Feb. 2: William H. Taft IV, the State Department's top lawyer, writes to Gonzales arguing that the conventions do apply to the war in Afghanistan and any decision otherwise could endanger U.S. troops.
_Feb. 7: Bush signs an order declaring he has the authority to suspend compliance with the conventions and reserving the right to do so "in this or future conflicts." The order also says the conventions on treatment of prisoners of war do not apply to al-Qaida or "unlawful combatants" from the Taliban.
_Feb. 26: Bybee, who later became a federal appeals court judge, writes to the Pentagon's top lawyer, arguing that the constitutional protections against self-incrimination do not apply to detainees at Guantanamo Bay because they are not being tried in U.S. criminal courts.
_Aug. 1: Bybee writes to Gonzales arguing that the president has the power to issue orders that violate the conventions as well as international and U.S. laws prohibiting torture. Bybee's memo also argues that to be defined as torture, conduct must inflict pain severe enough to cause organ failure or death. In addition, the memo lays out several defenses for military members or other U.S. government workers were they to be accused of torture.
_Oct. 11: Officers at the Guantanamo prison camp ask their superiors for permission to use harsher interrogation methods against inmates.
_Oct. 25: Gen. James T. Hill, head of U.S. Southern Command, writes to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, asking for approval to use harsh interrogation techniques against Guantanamo prisoners.
_Nov. 4: Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller takes command of the prison camp with a mandate to get more and better information from prisoners.
_Nov. 27: Rumsfeld issues an order allowing harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. They include forcing prisoners into "stress positions," interrogating them for 20 hours at a time, removing their clothing, intimidating them with dogs, forcing them to wear hoods during transportation and interrogation and forcibly shaving their heads and beards.
_Jan. 15, 2003: Rumsfeld rescinds his order. No explanation is given. Rumsfeld also orders the Pentagon to create a review panel to recommend new rules.
_March 13: U.N. human rights chief Sergio Viera de Mello criticizes the United States for keeping the Guantanamo detainees in a "legal black hole." Viera de Mello later became a special U.N. envoy to Iraq and was killed in a Baghdad car bombing that August.
_April 4: The Pentagon's review panel issues a report to Rumsfeld adopting the arguments of Bybee's August 2002 memo, with a narrow definition of torture.
_April 16: Rumsfeld issues a new list of 24 interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo — 17 of which were taken directly from the U.S. military field manual and four required notice to Rumsfeld when they were used. The four were the use of rewards or removal of privileges from detainees; attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee; alternating the use of friendly and harsh interrogators; and isolation.
_June 22, 2004: The Justice Department announces it is withdrawing 2002 memos giving a narrow definition of torture, providing legal arguments for U.S. personnel to escape prosecution under anti-torture laws and arguing that the president's wartime authority supersedes laws and treaties.
_Dec. 30: A new Justice Department memo provides an expanded definition of torture and omits the legal liability and presidential authority issues.
Sources: Documents released by the White House, Pentagon and Justice Department, news accounts and documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:18 AM
East Boston gang linked to al-Qaida
Boston, MA, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Boston police are "turning up the heat" on a violent East Boston gang recently linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network, the Boston Herald said Wednesday.
The gang, La Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, has roots in El Salvador and been tied to machete attacks, rapes and home invasions. It allegedly has 100 "hard-core members" in East Boston with hundreds more in towns along the North Shore, the Herald reported.
But intelligence officials in Washington have warned in recent weeks that al-Qaida members have been seen in El Salvador with MS-13 members, raising concerns the gang may be smuggling terrorists into the United States.
"The terrorist aspect, especially when you think in terms of 9/11 and how intent these terrorists are, will turn the heat up on our efforts with MS-13," said Boston police Sgt. Detective Joseph Fiandaca.
"MS-13 is the most dangerous gang in the area," he said. "They are big. They are mobile. Now they have a terrorist connection."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:08 AM
Geneva Convention Overhaul Considered
By Peter Wallsten
Times Staff Writer
January 7, 2005
WASHINGTON — White House officials considered trying to rewrite the international treaties signed more than half a century ago protecting certain wartime prisoners from mistreatment, senators were told Thursday.
That revelation came during testimony by Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush's choice as attorney general, whose conclusion as White House counsel that the Geneva Convention did not apply to suspected terrorists has prompted Democrats and human rights advocates to question his suitability as head of the Justice Department.
It marked the first time that an administration official had acknowledged a desire to change the international laws of war following the 2001 terrorist attacks — the same laws that critics accuse the administration of flouting in its pursuit of Al Qaeda.
"We are fighting a new type of enemy and a new type of war," Gonzales said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, responding to questions from Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Geneva was ratified in 1949 … and I think it is appropriate to revisit whether or not Geneva should be revisited.
"Now I'm not suggesting that the principles of Geneva regarding basic treatment — basic decent treatment of human beings — should be revisited," he added. "… That should always be the basis on which we look at this.
"But I am aware there's been some very preliminary discussion as to whether or not — is this something that we ought to look at."
Gonzales' approach to the Geneva treaty has come under fire since he prepared a memo concluding that the prohibitions on torture did not apply to suspected terrorists being questioned by the U.S. military.
He had previously described the Geneva Convention as "quaint" and "obsolete," but under intense questioning Thursday repudiated those remarks.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan later said that Gonzales was referring to "some preliminary staff-level discussions" about recommendations from groups, such as the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, that the government develop a "new legal standard or new rules for detainees in the war on terrorism."
Gonzales did not elaborate on exactly what changes were considered. He said such discussions were not continuing.
To administration critics, Gonzales' remarks provided a glimpse into U.S. government strategy in a post-Sept. 11 environment, suggesting that the administration was initially concerned that the Geneva Convention could interfere with anti-terrorism efforts.
"It offers you an insight into the core of their early thinking, and does explain why they made some of the decisions that they did," said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for the human rights organization Amnesty International. "The debate about whether the Geneva Convention could be revised sprang not out of a desire to improve their protections, but of course to weaken them."
Experts say that global political realities make rewriting the Geneva Convention a near impossibility. Even winning minor changes could take decades.
"It would be mission impossible given how little moral authority the Bush administration has on these questions," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:02 AM
CIA Report Weighs in on Pre-9/11 Lapses
Friday January 7, 2005 1:31 PM
By KATHERINE PFLEGER SHRADER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - A report from the CIA's independent investigator is expected to conclude officials at the highest level of the agency are to blame for pre-Sept. 11 intelligence lapses.
The report by the CIA's inspector general, John Helgerson, which is nearly complete, concludes that senior leaders should be held accountable for failing to provide adequate resources for combating terrorism, the New York Times reports in its Friday editions.
Among those who receive the most pointed criticism in a draft version are former CIA Director George Tenet and former Deputy Director of Operations Jim Pavitt, both of whom resigned last summer, the newspaper said. The report quoted current and former intelligence officials.
The report has been reviewed by select government officials. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.
A former intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Tenet has reviewed a small portion of the report and was given an opportunity to respond. The official said the report discusses accountability for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - primarily based on the inspector general's review of a joint House-Senate inquiry into the attacks.
In a statement, former Tenet spokesman Bill Harlow said no one in the U.S. government was more aggressive dealing with the threat of terrorism before 9/11 than Tenet.
``The vast, vast majority of more than two-thirds of the top al-Qaida leaders that have been killed or captured have been taken out through the efforts of George Tenet's CIA,'' Harlow said.
``Mr. Tenet was correctly characterized by many as 'running around with his hair on fire' prior to 9/11, when others in government - including Congress and the executive branch - were downplaying his concerns.''
Some in Congress have been eager to see the report released since CIA Director Porter Goss, a former Republican congressman from Florida, took over in September.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, wrote Goss in the fall about the report's progress and ``the appearance that the inspector general's independence is being infringed.''
The agency has said the report is not being stalled, and that Goss is carefully considering how to handle it, including what to do about forming an accountability panel.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:00 AM
Friday, January 07, 2005
Reservists May Face Longer Tours of Duty
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2005; Page A01
Army leaders are considering seeking a change in Pentagon policy that would allow for longer and more frequent call-ups of some reservists to meet the demands of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior Army official said yesterday.
Reservists are being used heavily to fill key military support jobs, particularly in specialty areas, but Army authorities are having increasing difficulty limiting the active-duty time of some normally part-time soldiers to a set maximum of two years, the official said. He described the National Guard's 15 main combat units as close to being "tapped out."
To avoid pushing reserve forces to the breaking point, the official also said, a temporary increase of 30,000 troops in active-duty ranks that was authorized last year will probably need to be made permanent, especially if U.S. troop levels in Iraq remain high. He said significant troop levels may be required in Iraq for four or five more years.
The official declined to be named because of the political sensitivity of the troop issue and the lack of decisions. But he said that the Army probably will ask Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the next several months to change the policy on mobilization of reservists. "It's coming," he told a small group of Pentagon reporters. "I think we're going to have this discussion this spring."
The news comes as the Bush administration confronts rising controversy over the shape and size of the U.S. military, particularly whether the active-duty and reserve forces are robust enough to meet the many demands placed upon them. Soldiers and their families are also expressing frustration at repeat deployments to Iraq and tours of duty that have already been extended.
About 40 percent of the 150,000 troops now in Iraq have come from reserve ranks. That number will grow to 50 percent in the fresh group of forces deploying at the moment -- the third rotation of troops since the invasion in the spring of 2003. But with this rotation, the official said, the Army will have used all of the National Guard's main combat brigades.
Plans being drawn now for 2006 anticipate lowering the share of reservists to about 30 percent and relying more on active-duty soldiers. But even so, the Pentagon will continue to depend on reservists for such critical support jobs as civil affairs, engineers, medics and military police.
Under current policy, a reservist is not to serve on active duty for more than 24 months, although those months can be split among multiple deployments that occur over a period of years.
The change under consideration, the Army official said, would essentially make a reservist eligible for an unlimited number of call-ups but stipulate that no single mobilization would last more than 24 consecutive months. The official said the Army would attempt to use such expanded authority sparingly to avoid alienating soldiers.
"We are concerned about the health of this all-volunteer force," the official said.
But any extension in deployments is sure to prompt grumbling -- or worse -- in an Army Reserve community that numbers more than half a million and has begun showing signs of serious stress. Both the Guard and the Army Reserve have reported significant shortfalls in meeting recruitment targets in the past few months. And earlier this week, an internal memo from the chief of the Army Reserve surfaced warning that his forces are nearing a breaking point.
Told yesterday of the Army plan under consideration, several defense experts said longer mobilizations could further erode the ability of the reserve branches to recruit soldiers and retain the ones they have.
"The reserves are already overstretched," said retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University. "To change the rules will almost certainly backfire and accelerate the deterioration of the reserves."
Federal law on the mobilization of reservists already provides for call-ups of as long as 24 consecutive months. But in an effort to spare these part-time soldiers such continuous active duty, the Bush administration adopted a policy making the 24 months a cumulative maximum.
A change in this policy would require Rumsfeld's approval, the senior official said.
Concerns about the Army's ability to sustain operations, particularly in Iraq against a persistent insurgency, have fueled calls by lawmakers and defense specialists to expand active-duty ranks.
So far, Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials have resisted such appeals, questioning the long-term need and noting the considerable expense of adding troops. A permanent increase of 30,000 soldiers would cost about $3 billion a year, the Army official said.
The Army had hoped that an extensive plan announced last year to revamp its decades-old structure of corps and divisions and reshape brigades into more flexible, more uniform combat units would produce enough new efficiencies to avoid the need for a permanent increase in troops. But the senior official said it appears increasingly likely that the Army will need to keep the extra 30,000 troops, raising the total to 512,000.
"We're going to have to address whether we can get back down off the 30K," he said. "I don't think we will be able to."
He added that the issue would be a central focus of a broad review due this year of troop levels and weapons systems that the Pentagon conducts every four years. Financing a permanent increase, he said, would require an overall increase in the Army's budget to avoid deep cuts in weapons systems and other programs and ensure "the quality force that we need."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:59 PM
Mr. Gonzales's Testimony
Friday, January 7, 2005; Page A18
ALBERTO R. GONZALES missed an important opportunity yesterday to rectify his position, and that of President Bush, on the imprisonment and interrogation of foreign detainees. At the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on his nomination to be attorney general, Mr. Gonzales repeatedly was offered the chance to repudiate a legal judgment that the president is empowered to order torture in violation of U.S. law and immunize torturers from punishment. He declined to do so. He was invited to reject a 2002 ruling made under his direction that the infliction of pain short of serious physical injury, organ failure or death did not constitute torture. He answered: "I don't have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached." Nor did he condemn torture techniques, such as simulated drowning, that were discussed and approved during meetings in his office. "It is not my job," he said, to decide if they were proper. He was prompted to reflect on whether departing from the Geneva Conventions had been a mistake, in light of the shocking human rights abuses that have since been reported in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Guantanamo Bay prison and that continue even now. Mr. Gonzales demurred. The error, he answered, was not of administration policy but of "a failure of training and oversight."
The message Mr. Gonzales left with senators was unmistakable: As attorney general, he will seek no change in practices that have led to the torture and killing of scores of detainees and to the blackening of U.S. moral authority around the world. Instead, the Bush administration will continue to issue public declarations such as those Mr. Gonzales repeated yesterday -- "that torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration" -- while in practice sanctioning procedures that the International Red Cross and many lawyers inside the government consider to be illegal and improper.
Mr. Gonzales doesn't have the manner of a stonewaller; in his appearance yesterday he frequently demonstrated the modesty and good nature for which he is known. Senators from both parties rightly celebrated his rise from a childhood in poverty to high national office. The priorities he listed for himself as attorney general sounded like the right ones: "the protection of civil rights, the protection of our voting rights, the protection of our civil liberties." Mr. Gonzales said he is concerned about the spread of pornography and violent crime, as well as "the use of certain kinds of weapons in connection with those crimes." In significant respects, he probably would be a less ideological, less confrontational and less polarizing figure than the outgoing attorney general, John D. Ashcroft.
Yet Mr. Gonzales appeared willfully obtuse about the consequences of his most important judgments as White House counsel. He repeatedly misrepresented the war crimes that have occurred, suggesting they were limited to those shown in the photographs taken by the "night shift" at Abu Ghraib, when it is now documented that abuses occurred throughout Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo and that they continued even after the photos became public. He again derided and mischaracterized the Geneva Conventions, claiming that they "limit our ability to solicit information from detainees" and prevent their prosecution for war crimes -- an interpretation at odds with that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military's legal corps, the Red Cross, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and decades of U.S. experience in war.
He was asked if he believed that other world leaders could legitimately torture U.S. citizens. He replied, "I don't know what laws other world leaders would be bound by." (The Geneva Conventions would be among them.) He was asked whether "U.S. personnel [can] legally engage in torture under any circumstances." He answered, "I don't believe so, but I'd want to get back to you on that." He was asked whether he agreed, at least, with Mr. Ashcroft, who said he didn't believe in torture because it produced nothing of value. "I don't have a way of reaching a conclusion on that," he said. Those senators who are able to reach clear conclusions about torture and whether the United States should engage in it have reason for grave reservations about Mr. Gonzales.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:29 AM
The New York Times
January 7, 2005
The Election's Last Gasp
Congressional Democrats staged an unusual protest yesterday when Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio objected to certifying the results of the 2004 election. Supporters of the defeated (and absent) John Kerry then spent two hours making speeches, most of which began with the declaration that George W. Bush had definitely won.
It could not have been a totally satisfactory afternoon for the president's angry supporters or for the conspiracy theorists who still believe that Bush operatives managed to steal Ohio's electoral votes. The final count showed that Mr. Bush had won the state by more than 100,000 votes, and the Democrats who rose to complain about the process prefaced their remarks by saying things like "the irregularities in Ohio would not have overturned the results."
But the Democrats were right to call attention to the defects in the system. Our elections need to do more than produce a legitimate winner. They need to do it through a process that seems fair to all reasonable citizens. On that count, the United States has a way to go.
Electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper trail that can be rechecked in contested elections create worries that a contest could be stolen by computer hacking or by tampering with the machine software. Those concerns seem to have been unfounded in the last election, but it did not require paranoia to think that such things might happen.
It is not illegal to require voters to stand in lines so long that they wind up being forced to give up or to skip work, but it is unfair - particularly when such delays happen mainly in poor and minority neighborhoods. It is not illegal to leave election operations in the hands of a partisan elected official, but such a situation will make the system seem biased to voters from the other side of the political divide. That is what happened in Ohio, where the secretary of state was also a co-chairman of the Bush campaign in that state.
Democrats were obviously most vocal about the sloppy and highhanded way the election was run in many places, but the Republicans should also object. Mr. Bush won the most votes, but he has been deprived of universal confidence in the way they were counted.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:29 AM
New York Post
January 7, 2004
WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made a grandstand political play yesterday, breaking from most of her fellow Democrats — and her state's senior senator, Chuck Schumer — when she praised an ultimately futile bid to toss out Ohio's electoral votes and prevent George Bush from being officially certified president.
"As we look at our election system, I think it's fair to say that there are many legitimate questions about [the election's] accuracy, about its integrity, and they are not confined to the state of Ohio," Clinton said.
Schumer shot down his colleague's comments saying there was no indication the results were rigged.
"My view is that you don't hold up the election unless there is concrete, real evidence of fraud. I haven't seen that," he said.
Clinton wound up flip-flopping on the issue — voting with the vast majority of senators of both parties to certify the results and abandoning the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to whom she intimated that she would vote to block the certification.
The bizarre day on Capitol Hill came as a handful of Bush critics attempted to do something that hasn't been done in more than 100 years: Block a president-elect from having the Electoral College results officially certified.
On the floor of the Senate, Clinton challenged lawmakers to question the results, even though many believe that doing so would make the Democrats look like sore losers and far-left conspiracy mongers.
Only eight of the Senate's most liberal members, including Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, joined Clinton in speaking in favor of the failed effort.
A possible candidate for president in 2008, Clinton said she spoke in favor of the effort to derail the election because of her concern about "electoral integrity," but voted against it because of the timing well after Election Day.
Clinton's vote came as a surprise to Jackson, who told The Post that he spoke to her to urge her to block certification.
"She told me I was preaching to the choir," Jackson said.
In a separate debate on the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn was also one of the few lawmakers expressing support for contesting the election.
Weiner, who is running for mayor, said he never planned to vote against certifying the election results, despite signing a letter with 22 other congressmen calling the results into question.
He said he favors an investigation into the results and wants to see legislative changes to make voting easier and more accurate.
"I'm not among the people who think John Kerry won Ohio," said Weiner. "But I do think there were problems. This was our only opportunity to register complaints."
Bush beat Kerry in Ohio by 118,000 votes.
Rep. Major Owens (D-Brooklyn) was the only New Yorker to vote in favor of decertifying the results. The measure was defeated, 267-31.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:26 AM
Yesterday was actually election day for the election of the President and Vice President of the United States. That's right, the votes of the electoral college were certified by a joint session of Congress. The last time the vote was challenged was in 1877. The goal this time was not to actually discard or overturn the Ohio electoral votes (or those of other states with many election irregularities). The challenge this time was only a half-hearted one. The democrats took this move to raise the issue that concerns at least half this country -- the serious problems with allowing every voter to vote, and for every vote to be cast as intended and to be counted properly.
There was great hoopla after the 2000 election and it was supposed to result in major reforms to ensure these rights. That sadly did not happen. So the democrats used the opportunity to raise the issue in a public forum.
This was an opportunity for the republicans to take the high ground and to agree that from the reports that have come out, it is clear that the system still needs fixing, and they will make it a priority this year. But of course they did not. They showed their true, repugnant colors. They called the democrats all kinds of names, and many went out of their way to bad mouth Michael Moore as well. He must really scare them.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:57 AM
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Breaking News: Ohio Electoral Votes to Be Challenged in Congress
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has signed a challenge mounted by House Democrats to Ohio's 20 electoral votes. By law, a protest signed by members of the House and Senate requires both chambers to meet separately for up to two hours to consider it.
Boxer stated: "I have concluded that objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate way to bring these issues to light by allowing you to have a two-hour debate to let the American people know the facts surrounding Ohio's election."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:21 PM
Challengers are go
January 5, 2004
Sick Bed, New York— Nothing is in writing and daybreak is a long way away, but it appeared all but certain in early evening Wednesday that House Democrats had secured the support of up to half a dozen Senators to formally challenge the Electoral College slate from Ohio, when the votes are opened before a joint session of Congress tomorrow.
Congressional sources tell this reporter that the house half of the written objection — which has the declared support of more than a dozen Representatives — is expected to be signed by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio. Republican leadership expects the Senate signatory to be Barbara Boxer of California, but this has not yet been formalized. The Majority is also worried about the possible absence of many of its members in both houses, and the prospect that a quorum might not be achieved, leading the process into uncharted, albeit not very threatening, constitutional grounds. There is a mathematical, if not practical, chance that the ratification of the Electoral College vote could be delayed past tomorrow.
As it is, a written challenge would require the joint session to suspend for several hours, during which the Senate and the House would meet separately and debate the merits of the objection.
The ad hoc group formed by Representative John Conyers of Michigan has also today published its staff report, concluding that before, during, and after the election in Ohio, many state laws may have been broken, in every area ranging from the allocation of voting machines, election day "anomalies," and the recount. It recommended a formal Congressional inquiry, and additional legislation to reform voting laws.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:20 PM
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2004; 9:29 AM
The editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times has issued a challenge to the blogosphere.
Which is not so crazy when you consider that the editor is Michael Kinsley, who spent nearly a decade running Slate and is well accustomed to the give-and-take of the online world.
Kinsley has fashioned one of his liberal, economically precise, smarty-pants arguments about how Bush's Social Security plan is destined to flop. He invites all comers -- that is, anyone with a modem -- to take him on. (Of course, some of them were coming whether he wanted it or not). This to me is the essence of what's good about the Web -- a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred debate in which you don't need to work for a big media corporation as a ticket for admission.
But perhaps there's a challenge here as well for the mainstream media, which find it so much easier to go wild over Amber Frey or Bernie Kerik's mistresses or "Desperate Housewives" or Ron Artest punching out fans (that is, when they're not filled with holiday advice about the latest cell phones, digital cameras and other gadgetry that you absolutely must have).
I don't want to slight the economics writers who have done a fine job of unraveling the threads of the Social Security arguments and whether private accounts can be created without huge costs or benefit cuts. But this is dense, complicated stuff based on all kinds of economic assumptions, and I wonder whether the media, particularly television, can muster the patience to cover it in more than a superficial sound-bite way. In other words, having a liberal and conservative come on talk shows and argue that the other side wants to bankrupt the system and leave seniors out in the cold is not what we need right now.
By the way, Bush said at yesterday's economic summit: "It's so much easier in politics to pass problems on to future generations." Isn't that exactly what the whopping deficit does?
More on the president's remarks in a moment, but first here's the Kinsley argument (via Andrew Sullivan) that the Bush plan "can't possibly work, even in theory. The logic is not very complicated.
"1. To 'work,' privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.
"2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities: from greater economic growth, or from other people.
"3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest, or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these. . . .
"4. If the economy doesn't produce more than it otherwise would, the Social Security privatization bonus must come from other investors, in the form of a lower return.
"5. If the privatization bonus cannot come from the existing economy, and cannot come from growth, it cannot exist. And therefore, privatization cannot work."
Before we serve up some other views, let's check in with the president, who's obviously convinced his plan can work and that he can get it passed.
"President Bush said on Thursday that addressing the long-term problems in Social Security would reassure the financial markets, offering a rationale to offset criticism that his plan to add personal investment accounts to the retirement system would require up to $2 trillion in new government borrowing," says the New York Times.
"On the second day of a White House conference on economic issues, Mr. Bush continued to lay the groundwork for a strong effort by the White House and its allies to overhaul Social Security and pursue an economic agenda next year that also includes re-examining the tax code, limiting lawsuit awards and reining in the growth in government spending."
Now comes the key part:
"As he did throughout his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush largely avoided talking about the specific steps to assure the long-term solvency of Social Security. . . . In particular, Mr. Bush never mentioned the near certainty that without raising taxes, which he has ruled out, any plan to add personal investment accounts to Social Security and improve its financial condition would include a reduction in the guaranteed retirement benefit."
The Philadelphia Inquirer strikes a different note:
"Any White House plan to let workers invest Social Security taxes in the stock market would include restrictions to prevent foolhardy investments, President Bush said yesterday.
"Filling in a key detail of his Social Security plan, Bush said workers would be given a narrow range of conservative investment options similar to the thrift savings plan for federal employees, to reduce the risk that they would squander retirement nest eggs."
Restrictions? What about the virtues of the free market?
The opposition is gearing up, notes the Los Angeles Times:
"Bush's partial privatization plan was roundly applauded by the carefully screened participants at the economic conference, but it had the opposite effect on interest groups that announced they were banding together to lobby against Bush's plans.
" 'The fight against privatizing Social Security will be the fight of our lives,' said George Kourpias, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, one of several groups that said they were not invited to present their views at the White House conference. 'Privatization will destroy Social Security.' "
Now for some other online views, starting with Arnold Kling:
"Michael Kinsley is correct to be skeptical that privatization will generate a bonus large enough to eliminate the gap between the promises made to future recipients and the likely revenue to pay for those promises. In that sense, privatization will not 'work.' Neither will the status quo.
"To a first approximation, Social Security's imbalance is not made better or worse by privatization. Instead, economic analysis suggests that the effects of Social Security privatization will be subtle and small relative to the challenges that lie ahead. A much more powerful tool for addressing the problem would be to increase the age of dependency, also known as the Social Security retirement age."
Kevin Drum has this to say: "One of the things that's slowly becoming clear in the Social Security debate is that President Bush's advisors are probably not going to risk what's left of their professional reputations by pretending that private accounts can fix Social Security's future funding shortfall. Instead, they're going to propose benefit cuts in order to balance the books.
"As my readers know, I'm not in favor of making any changes to Social Security at the moment. The 'funding shortfall' has a strong Chicken Little flavor to it, and even if it turns out to be real there's little reason to try fixing it four decades ahead of time.
"Still, the subject is on the table, and it's worth unpacking the specific benefit cut that appears to be everyone's favorite right now: indexing future benefit increases to prices instead of wages."
While not a response to Kinsley, the Nation's Dean Baker says: "The president's main pitch is that these accounts will yield higher returns than Social Security does. The pitch also includes rhetoric about the accounts being 'your money,' and giving every worker a stake in the 'ownership society.' These claims are mostly bad math, faulty logic and deception. Advocates of private accounts assume that the stock market will give the same returns in the future as it has in the past, even though price-to-earnings ratios in the stock market are far higher now than in the past, and the Social Security trustees project that profits will grow at about half the rate they did in the past.
"None of the proponents of privatization have yet passed the 'no economist left behind test,' which asks them to show the set of dividend yields and stock price increases that add up to the stock returns they assume in their analysis."
Did Bernie Kerik have a nanny at all? The New York Times sounds skeptical:
"Mr. Kerik was told that skeptics in city government circles were questioning the very existence of the nanny, and he was pressed to provide any kind of evidence to document that she was real. But after taking time to consider the request, Mr. Kerik again decided to remain silent on the subject.
"Most puzzled about the nanny, perhaps, are former neighbors of the Keriks and their kin. In the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where the family lived in a first-floor apartment for years before moving last year into the Franklin Lakes home they had extensively renovated, neighbors did not recall any household help."
David Frum and Andrew Sullivan have, shall we say, diametrically opposite views of the recent award ceremony at the White House. First, Frum:
"President Bush has just awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to three architects of his Iraq policy: Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks, and George Tenet. These medals have provoked derision from critics who scoff that the president's Iraq policy isn't going very well and that rewards are premature or wholly misplaced.
"But the president is doing something important. He is declaring to the officials and soldiers who are executing this policies that he will stand behind them when things get tough; that he won't go seeking scapegoats; that he fully, strongly, and publicly supports the individuals he himself chose to carry out the tasks he himself assigned. There's a lot of loose talk about President Bush's demands for loyalty. One thing that critics of this president have never grasped is that he has been unprecedentedly successful in claiming loyalty up because he is unprecedentedly committed to loyalty down."
"Memo to David: a 'scapegoat' is someone unfairly singled out for criticism when he isn't the man responsible. Take just on example here. George Tenet was CIA chief when the worst intelligence failure since the Bay of Pigs led to the deaths of thousands of people at the hands of Jihadist murderers. He followed up by assuring the president that the case for Saddam's existing stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction was a 'slam dunk.' Not only is this man not fired; he is given the highest civilian medal possible. Frum's case is that what really matters is not competence or candor or effectiveness -- but loyalty. How is the ethic he praises inapplicable to, say, a successful mob boss?"
HHS secretary, the last time I checked, was a bigger job than head of the EPA. But the New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook says that's not the reason for the latest Cabinet shuffle:
"Michael Leavitt announced that he will leave the Environmental Protection Agency after just 14 months at the EPA's helm and become George W. Bush's secretary of Health and Human Services. Whether the former Utah governor is the right choice for that job will now be debated, but before Leavitt punches out at the EPA, let's contemplate why he is departing after such a short stay. He is departing because he realized that environmental regulatory reform is currently impossible. Neither the left nor the right will allow it.
"Leavitt was a governor, and governors are like little presidents. They issue orders and heels snap; their hometown press is usually good; no one is above them in the organizational chart. Bush has named two governors to run the EPA, Christine Whitman and Leavitt. Both soon discovered to their frustration that an EPA administrator is not a little president. Members of Congress constantly hector the EPA, usually in melodramatic faux-outrage; the actual president does not give the EPA the time of day; the East Coast media methodically and I think deliberately twist EPA reporting in the most negative possible terms, desperately trying to make the agency look bad. This is bipartisan; the East Coast media desperately tried to make Clinton's EPA administrator Carol Browner look bad, and she was a four-star super-competent leader who deserved great press . . .
"The EPA has had five consecutive good administrators: Lee Thomas at the end of the Reagan presidency, Bill Reilly under Bush 41, Browner under Clinton, and Whitman and Leavitt under Bush 43. But why, in the current political environment, would a top person even want this job?"
Washington Monthly's Amy Sullivan has thoughts on abortion:
"Wow. I sat up when I read this in Newsweek: When John Kerry stopped by a meeting of the liberal 527 America Votes two weeks ago, EMILY's List president Ellen Malcolm asked him about the future of the Democratic Party. Kerry 'told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn't like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party, he said.'
"Standing up and saying that to the head of the pro-choice group that holds the biggest purse strings for the party takes some guts. (Not as many guts as it would have taken to say it during the election, but these are baby steps.)
"What's more, Kerry is right. And before you start spamming me with hate mail, listen up. No one is suggesting that the Democratic Party change its platform or abandon the pro-choice cause or become, as one congresswoman mischaracterized Kerry's advice, 'fake Republicans.' That would be stupid and, even worse, wrong.
"But it's long past time for the Democratic Party to realize that they continue to lose voters who aren't one-issue abortion voters but who feel unwelcome in the party because of their beliefs. Rhetoric that verges on being pro-abortion rankles even pro-choice Democrats like me."
I wrote the other day of the suicide of California journalist Gary Webb, he of the discredited "Dark Alliance" series linking the CIA to crack peddling. A colleague, Scott Herhold, reflects:
"I know something about this. I was Webb's editor for a year after he came to the Mercury News in 1989. And I'm convinced that part of what made him great destroyed him.
"He was an immensely talented reporter, a good writer and a sometimes-difficult human being. In many ways, he represented the best of our craft -- its compassion, its obligation to speak truth to power.
"His flaw was the flip side of his virtue. Once convinced he was right, Webb didn't budge. It wasn't that his facts were wrong: It was the lines he drew between them. His lack of doubt demanded a firm editor to challenge him.
"In Dark Alliance, Gary didn't get that from any level. Suffice it to say that he did have a story, if a less ambitious one. The series suffered chiefly from sweeping generalizations.
"When the Mercury News backed away from the series in 1997, Gary's journalistic career was essentially ruined. Gary left the paper not long afterward and took a job as an investigator for the Legislature. More recently, he began writing for an alternative weekly.
"Maybe that's why the knife twists: Dark Alliance was as much an institutional failure as it was a personal one. Yet Webb bore the chief consequences."
First John McCain, then Bill Kristol. Now, the AP reports, it's Trent Lott saying that Rumsfeld can stay as long as he wants, as long as it is not very long.
The next election may be four years away, but the New York Post is already dreaming of an all-New York showdown:
"The stink of Bernard Kerik's rotten bid to become homeland security czar hasn't stuck to his chief cheerleader, Rudy Giuliani, who is a top pick for the presidency among Republicans, a new poll shows.
"A whopping 68 percent of Republican voters want to see Giuliani run for the White House in 2008, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll -- showing little fallout among the party base in the wake of Kerik's embarrassing exit. . . .
"And it shows that if party faithful get their way, Giuliani would face off against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in an Empire State showdown -- which Giuliani would win, 45 percent to 43 percent. Clinton was the presidential pick for 67 percent of the Democrats polled."
And polls, as we all know, are never wrong.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:25 AM
Terror Suspect Alleges Torture
Detainee Says U.S. Sent Him to Egypt Before Guantanamo
By Dana Priest and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page A01
U.S. authorities in late 2001 forcibly transferred an Australian citizen to Egypt, where, he alleges, he was tortured for six months before being flown to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to court papers made public yesterday in a petition seeking to halt U.S. plans to return him to Egypt.
Egyptian-born Mamdouh Habib, who was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 as a suspected al Qaeda trainer, alleges that while under Egyptian detention he was hung by his arms from hooks, repeatedly shocked, nearly drowned and brutally beaten, and he contends that U.S. and international law prohibits sending him back.
Habib's case is only the second to describe a secret practice called "rendition," under which the CIA has sent suspected terrorists to be interrogated in countries where torture has been well documented. It is unclear which U.S. agency transferred Habib to Egypt.
Habib's is the first case to challenge the legality of the practice and could have implications for U.S. plans to send large numbers of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries with poor human rights records.
The CIA has acknowledged that it conducts renditions, but the agency and Bush administration officials who have publicly addressed the matter say they never intend for the captives to be tortured and, in fact, seek pledges from foreign governments that they will treat the captives humanely.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Habib's allegations, which were filed in November but made public only yesterday after a judge ruled that his petition contained no classified information. The department has not addressed the allegation that he was sent to Egypt.
An Egyptian official reached last night said he could not comment on Habib's allegations but added: "Accusations that we are torturing people tend to be mythology."
The authority under which renditions and other forcible transfers may be legally performed is reportedly summarized in a March 13, 2002, memo titled "The President's Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations." Knowledgeable U.S. officials said White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales participated in its production.
The administration has refused a congressional request to make it public. But it is referred to in an August 2002 Justice Department opinion -- which Gonzales asked for and helped draft -- defining torture in a narrow way and concluding that the president could legally permit torture in fighting terrorism.
When the August memo became public, Bush repudiated it, and last week the Justice Department replaced it with a broader interpretation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the practice under all circumstances. The August memo is expected to figure prominently in today's confirmation hearing for Gonzales, Bush's nominee to run the Justice Department as attorney general.
In a statement he planned to read at his hearing, made public yesterday, Gonzales said he would combat terrorism "in a manner consistent with our nation's values and applicable law, including our treaty obligations."
Also yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union released new documents showing that 26 FBI agents reported witnessing mistreatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees, indicating a far broader pattern of alleged abuse there than reported previously.
The records, obtained in an ongoing ACLU lawsuit, also show that the FBI's senior lawyer determined that 17 of the incidents were "DOD-approved interrogation techniques" and did not require further investigation. The FBI did not participate in any of the interviews directly, according to the documents.
The new ACLU documents detail abuses seen by FBI personnel serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, including incidents in which military interrogators grabbed prisoners' genitals, bent back their fingers and, in one case, placed duct tape over a prisoner's mouth for reciting the Koran.
In late 2002, an FBI agent recounted that one detainee at Guantanamo Bay had been subjected to "intense isolation" for more than three months and that his cell was constantly flooded with light. The agent reported that "the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma," including hearing voices, crouching in a corner for hours and talking to imaginary people.
According to the e-mails, military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay tried to hide some of their activities from FBI agents, including having a female interrogator rub lotion on a prisoner during Ramadan -- a highly offensive tactic to an observant Muslim man.
Habib was taken to the Guantanamo Bay prison in May 2002.
Three Britons released from the prison -- Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul -- have said Habib was in "catastrophic shape" when he arrived. Most of his fingernails were missing, and while sleeping he regularly bled from his nose, mouth and ears but U.S. officials denied him treatment, they said.
Habib's attorney, Joseph Margulies, said Habib had moved to Australia in the 1980s but eventually decided to move his family to Pakistan. He was there in late 2001 looking for a house and school for his children, Margulies said. U.S. officials accuse Habib of training and raising money for al Qaeda, and say he had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Australian media have reported that authorities in that country cleared him of having terrorist connections in 2001 and have quoted his Australian attorney as saying he was tortured in Egypt.
On Oct. 5, 2001, Pakistani authorities seized Habib, and over three weeks, he asserts in a memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, three Americans interrogated him.
The petition says he was taken to an airfield where, during a struggle, he was beaten by several people who spoke American-accented English. The men cut off his clothes, one placed a foot on his neck "and posed while another took pictures," the document says.
He was then flown to Egypt, it alleges, and spent six months in custody in a barren, 6-foot-by-8-foot cell, where he slept on the concrete floor with one blanket. During interrogations, Habib was "sometimes suspended from hooks on the wall" and repeatedly kicked, punched, beaten with a stick, rammed with an electric cattle prod and doused with cold water when he fell asleep, the petition says.
He was suspended from hooks, with his is feet resting on the side of a large cylindrical drum attached to wires and a battery, the document says. "When Mr. Habib did not give the answers his interrogators wanted, they threw a switch and a jolt of electricity" went through the drum, it says. "The action of Mr. Habib 'dancing' on the drum forced it to rotate, and his feet constantly slipped, leaving him suspended by only the hooks on the wall . . . This ingenious cruelty lasted until Mr. Habib finally fainted."
At other times, the petition alleges, he was placed in ankle-deep water that his interrogators told him "was wired to an electric current, and that unless Mr. Habib confessed, they would throw the switch and electrocute him."
Habib says he gave false confessions to stop the abuse.
The State Department's annual human rights report has consistently criticized Egypt for practices that include torturing prisoners.
After six months in Egypt, the petition says, Habib was flown to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
U.S. intelligence officials have said renditions -- and the threat of renditions -- are a potent device to induce suspected terrorists to divulge information. Habib's petition says the threat that detainees at Bagram would be sent to Egypt prompted many of them to offer confessions.
His petition argues that his "removal to Egypt would be unquestionably unlawful" in part because he "faces almost certain torture."
The U.N. Convention Against Torture says no party to the treaty "shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
"The fact that the United States would contemplate sending him to Egypt again is astonishing to me," said Margulies, the attorney.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:25 AM
General Says Army Reserve Is Becoming a 'Broken' Force
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page A01
The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing "deepening concern" about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warning that his branch of 200,000 soldiers "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."
In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.
The three-star general, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, said the situation has reached a point at which the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet" its operational requirements if other national emergencies arise. Insistence on restrictive policies, he continued, "threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse."
His pointed remarks represent the latest in a chorus of warnings from military officers and civilian defense specialists that the strains of overseas missions are badly fraying the U.S. Army. The distress has appeared most evident in reservist ranks. Both the Army Reserve and the National Guard last month disclosed significant recruiting slumps.
Helmly's memo was addressed to Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, and was sent up the command chain through the office of Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who oversees the Army Forces Command. It surfaced yesterday in the Baltimore Sun.
A senior Army spokesman, Col. Joseph Curtin, said Helmly's concerns are "not new" and are being taken seriously. "The Army is moving to resolve them," he said, citing a task force that is looking at ways to improve benefits for reservists and streamline procedures for activating them.
On Capitol Hill, Helmly's memo drew expressions of surprise and alarm. Several lawmakers predicted that the general's blunt comments would fuel an already charged debate over whether the United States has enough forces in Iraq and enough in the Army generally.
"By consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the successful occupation of Iraq, the administration has placed a tremendous burden on the Army Reserve and created this crisis," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
"The memo presents more questions than answers," said Rep. Victor F. Snyder (D-Ark.), who deals with reservist issues in the House. "I think he's really making a plea to the Pentagon to change some of their practices or let him do some things he wants to do."
Helmly declined through a spokesman yesterday to discuss his memo, but he told the Sun on Tuesday that he had intended it to promote a frank exchange among Army leaders in advance of congressional hearings.
"The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of the Army Reserve's inability . . . to meet mission requirements" associated with Iraq and Afghanistan "and to reset and regenerate its forces for follow-on and future missions," he wrote.
"I do not wish to sound alarmist," he added. "I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern."
Designed to fill key support roles during wartime, the Army Reserve has been heavily taxed by the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan. About 50,000 Reserve members are now on active duty, the majority of them in the United States freeing up other forces for overseas assignments. But many Reserve troops are abroad -- 17,000 total in Iraq and Kuwait, 2,000 in Afghanistan -- serving as military police, truck drivers, engineers, medics and civil affairs specialists.
In many instances, the Reserve soldiers were plucked individually from their normal units and sent to round out active-duty ones. This practice, Helmly said, has "broken" some Army Reserve units.
He also faulted a number of "peacetime" personnel policies that he said needed to change -- among them, one that delays training of Reserve members who have returned from overseas duty, and another that sets mandatory retirement dates for Reserve officers.
He complained as well that the Army has refused to exercise all its authority to compel certain Reserve soldiers to go on active duty.
For instance, in the Army Reserve, members can choose between the Selected Reserve, which has specific units and requires at least one weekend a month of training, and the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), which has no training obligation and a reduced chance of being called to duty. Although the Pentagon started dipping into the IRR last summer, calling about 4,600 soldiers for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, Helmly said regulations that allow the shifting of soldiers from the IRR to Reserve units are not being used as much as they could be.
He also said the Army is relying too much on "volunteers" from the Reserve force rather than requiring individuals or units to serve. This threatens "to distort the very nature of service" and tends to draw those who "enjoy lesser responsible positions in civilian life," he wrote. He sounded especially incensed about the current practice of paying volunteers an extra $1,000 a month, saying this sets a precedent and risks blurring the line between "volunteer" and "mercenary."
Highlighting the dwindling number of Reserve troops available for future deployments, Helmly included computations showing that only 37,515 remain out of 200,366 soldiers in the Army Reserve.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:24 AM
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
The New York Times
January 5, 2005
Ethics in the House
Congressional Republicans are actually trying to claim the side of the angels in their forced retreat from defending the ethical lapses of the majority leader Tom DeLay. "I feel like we have just taken a shower," one G.O.P. lawmaker said. Not hardly. While taking a half-step from Mr. DeLay's more embarrassing machinations, the Republican majority made sure to strike a potentially lethal blow to the enfeebled House ethics process.
A rules change engineered by the leadership means that corruption complaints against lawmakers will automatically expire if the evenly divided ethics committee finds itself in a 5-to-5 party-line standoff. As hobbled as the old system was, a standoff at least meant that the complaint went to a subcommittee for investigation. That produced three warnings for Mr. DeLay last year.
Speaker Dennis Hastert is also reported to be intent on purging the current chairman, Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican who shocked his party by suddenly taking the job seriously. Mr. Hefley dared to sign off on the three admonishments of Mr. DeLay for cutting ethical corners by buttering up lobbyists, arm-twisting for floor votes and siccing federal agents on the Democrats who fled his gerrymandering intrusion into the Texas Statehouse. Hardly a career firebrand, Mr. Hefley, if he is to go, should be replaced by someone truly dedicated to rebuilding the House's tattered ethical reputation.
An unbowed Mr. DeLay was able to rally the G.O.P. troops in November for a shameless rules change that would have meant he wouldn't have to step aside as leader should he be indicted in a Texas grand jury inquiry into his fund-raising activities. But even Mr. DeLay had to endorse the scrapping of this shield as he faced growing resistance this week from Republicans concerned that his ethical arrogance had become a defining issue for the Democrats.
Still, the Republicans' belated realization that they needed to put limits on Mr. DeLay's demands for ethical sanctuary would have seemed more sincere if they'd done without the sleight of hand that makes a greater mockery of the ethics process.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:09 PM
The New York Times
January 5, 2005
Rewarding Mr. Gonzales
Last week, the Bush administration put another spin on the twisted legal reasoning behind the brutalization of prisoners at military jails, apparently in hopes of smoothing the promotion of Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel. Mr. Gonzales, who oversaw earlier memos condoning what amounts to torture and scoffed at the Geneva Conventions, is being rewarded with the job of attorney general.
But the document only underscored the poor choice Mr. Bush made when he decided to elevate a man so closely identified with the scandal of Abu Ghraib, the contempt for due process at Guantánamo Bay and the seemingly unending revelations of the abuse of Afghan and Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. Like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the other chief architect of these policies, Mr. Gonzales shamed the nation and endangered American soldiers who may be taken prisoner in the future by condoning the sort of atrocious acts the United States has always condemned.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will question Mr. Gonzales tomorrow, even though the White House has not released documents that are essential to a serious hearing. The committee has an obligation to demand these documents, and to compel Mr. Gonzales to account for administration policies, before giving him the top law-enforcement job.
After Sept. 11, 2001, with Americans intent on punishing those behind the terrorist attacks and preventing another calamity at home, the Bush administration had its lawyers review the legal status of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners, with an eye to getting around the Geneva Conventions, other international accords and United States law on the treatment of prisoners.
Mr. Gonzales was the center of this effort. On Jan. 25, 2002, he sent Mr. Bush a letter assuring him that the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." That August, Mr. Gonzales got a legal opinion from Jay Bybee, then the assistant attorney general, arguing that the president could suspend the Geneva Conventions at will and that some forms of torture "may be justified." Mr. Rumsfeld's lawyers produced documents justifying the abuse of prisoners sent from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay. Mr. Gonzales approved those memos or didn't object. We don't know which because the White House won't release the documents.
On Thursday, more than eight months after the rotten fruits of those legal briefs were shown to the world at Abu Ghraib, the Justice Department issued yet another legal opinion. This time it rejected Mr. Bybee's bizarre notions that the president could be given the legal go-ahead to authorize torture, simply by defining the word so narrowly as to exclude almost anything short of mortal injury. We were glad to see that turnaround, although it was three years too late. Prisoners have already been systematically hurt, degraded, tortured and even killed. The nation's international reputation is deeply scarred.
The new memo said that "torture is abhorrent," but it raised more questions than it answered, like this one: If Mr. Bybee's views were so obviously outlandish, why were they allowed to stand for so long?
And the new memo still goes beyond the limits of American values and international conventions. The administration now recognizes that the anti-torture accord forbids the deliberate use of severe physical or mental pain and suffering to compel a prisoner to divulge information or cooperate in some other way - but it continues to draw fine lines about what that means.
For instance, the Geneva Conventions say that it is torture when a prisoner suffers mentally from the use of mind-altering drugs or the threat of imminent death. But the administration's lawyers have decided that temporary trauma doesn't count, and that mental suffering is real only if it lasts for years. More than once, American soldiers have taken an Iraqi teenager and compelled him to dig his grave, then forced him to kneel, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger in a mock execution. Is that not torture unless he's still upset about it in five years?
Even if the new memo could somehow magically sweep away all these deeply troubling aspects of the Gonzales nomination, there are other big questions about his background. As White House counsel, he recently oversaw the feckless vetting of Bernard Kerik as the nominee for secretary of homeland security. He was a primary agent behind unacceptably restrictive secrecy policies, the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and the excessive authority to abuse civil liberties granted by the Patriot Act. In Texas, as Governor Bush's legal adviser, Mr. Gonzales wrote briefs on condemned prisoners' appeals for clemency that were notoriously sloppy.
Republicans expect an easy confirmation, given their Senate majority. But at the very least, Mr. Gonzales should account for his actions. He should unequivocally renounce torture, without any fine-print haggling, as well as the other illegal treatment of prisoners in military jails. And he should explain how he will use his new job to clean up the mess he helped create.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 PM
The New York Times
January 5, 2005
10 YEARS LATER
Pataki's Promises of Change Yielded to Custom and Delay
By MICHAEL COOPER
ALBANY, Jan. 4 - It was 10 years ago this week that Gov. George E. Pataki, a little-known Republican state lawmaker who had just defeated Mario M. Cuomo, used his first annual address to the Legislature to call for a revolution in state government.
Starting with him, he said, New York's governors should be limited to two terms in office. He insisted that the budget should be passed on time. He called for a new spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship with the Legislature, praising the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, as "a good leader" who "has a proven record of putting principle ahead of politics." And he vowed to end the state's "back-room budget making," telling the assembled lawmakers that "the door to this governor's office is always open to each and every one of you."
A decade later, as Mr. Pataki prepares to deliver his 11th annual address to the Legislature on Wednesday, it is safe to say that the revolution has not exactly proceeded as planned.
The former proponent of term limits is now midway through his third term and is toying with the idea of seeking a fourth. The budget has not been adopted on time since he took office, and the last one was the latest yet. Tensions between the governor and the Legislature have continually erupted into political battles and even lawsuits.
The same three men who controlled the fate of all legislation 10 years ago - Mr. Pataki, Mr. Silver, and Joseph. L Bruno, the Senate majority leader - still have the same strong grip over the state. As for the governor's open door, his whole wing on the second floor of the Capitol has long been blocked off by a glass door guarded by a state trooper. The wing is known as "Fort Pataki."
Full article at:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 PM
The New York Times
January 5, 2005
C.I.A. Chief Names Deputy and Ends Meetings
By DOUGLAS JEHL
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 - In the latest changes at the Central Intelligence Agency, Porter J. Goss, the new chief, has named a new deputy director for intelligence and has abolished a daily 5 p.m. meeting that had been used since the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate counterterrorism operations around the world, intelligence officials said on Tuesday.
The moves reflect the new stamp Mr. Goss has sought to impose on an agency of which he has been sharply critical. The new deputy director, John Kringen, will take charge of the agency's analytical branch, succeeding Jami Miscik, whose departure next month will complete a changing of the guard at the highest ranks of the agency, with the replacement of nearly the entire top-level team that served under George J. Tenet, Mr. Goss's predecessor.
As part of the reorganization, administration officials said, Mr. Goss also plans to install as the agency's new chief spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise, who was a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. Ms. Millerwise also served as a spokeswoman for Mr. Goss when he was a Republican congressman from Florida, and she would be the latest in a series of former Republican aides to be installed by Mr. Goss in senior positions at the C.I.A.
Under Mr. Tenet, the C.I.A.'s most senior officials along with representatives of the F.B.I. and other agencies convened each day at 5 p.m. for a counterterrorism meeting that participants have described as the most important session held each day in Washington. The C.I.A. has played the leading role in the clandestine effort against terrorism, and Mr. Tenet's admirers have said the meeting served a vital coordinating function.
In acknowledging that the meeting was no longer taking place, an intelligence official sought to minimize the significance of the move. The official said Mr. Goss was still presiding over frequent sessions on counterterrorism but had directed that the meetings be smaller, have a more tactical focus and be scheduled earlier in the day. The new meetings are being convened at least three days a week, the official said.
The move appears to reflect what Mr. Goss has publicly said was his concern that the C.I.A. under Mr. Tenet may have devoted too much time and resources to terrorism at the expense of other issues. A report issued last spring by the House Intelligence Committee, at a time when Mr. Goss was the panel's chairman, cautioned that "the Central Intelligence Agency must continue to be much more than just the 'Central Counterterrorism Agency' if America is to be truly secure, prosperous and free."
Mr. Kringen, who will take over in February as the new analytical chief, is a veteran C.I.A. analyst who has spent more than two decades at the agency, most recently as head of its Crime and Narcotics Center, intelligence officials said. Ms. Miscik, who had been in the post since 2002, was told shortly before Christmas that Mr. Goss wanted her to step down, former intelligence officials have said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:56 AM
The New York Times
January 5, 2005
After Retreat, G.O.P. Changes House Ethics Rule
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 - House Republicans pushed through a significant change in the handling of ethics complaints over strong Democratic objections Tuesday as the 109th Congress convened with a burst of pomp and partisanship.
The House, on a vote of 220 to 195, enacted a change that would effectively dismiss a complaint in the event of a deadlock in the ethics committee, which is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Its approval came after a retreat by Republicans on Monday on other proposed ethics revisions.
At the heart of both actions were calculations about how far Republicans should go to protect the House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay. Many party members were unhappy with the ethics committee for the three admonishments it delivered to Mr. DeLay last year.
At the same time, some Republicans were uncomfortable retaining a party rule adopted in November that was intended to shield Mr. DeLay from having to step down from his leadership post if he was indicted in a campaign finance investigation in Texas. Republicans said the new approach to handling a deadlock on the ethics panel would protect lawmakers from purely partisan attacks.
"This change restores the presumption of innocence in our process," said Representative David Dreier of California, chairman of the Rules Committee.
Democrats, who said Republicans backed off on the other rule proposals only under fire, said the change approved would badly hobble a panel already considered weak.
"There should be no misunderstanding," said Representative Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the ethics committee. "These provisions that remain would seriously undermine the ethics process in the House."
Under the system instituted in 1997, if no action is taken on a complaint within 45 days, a preliminary investigation is started. The new approach would require an affirmative vote by the panel to begin an investigation, meaning at least one committee member belonging to the same party as the lawmaker at the center of the complaint would have to join in backing an inquiry or the complaint would die.
"If these changes had been in place in the last Congress, no ethics complaints would have seen the light of day," said Representative Louise M. Slaughter of New York, senior Democrat on the Rules Committee.
The chairman of the ethics panel, Representative Joel Hefley, Republican of Colorado, withdrew his earlier opposition to the changes, saying he believed that the most serious threat to the committee's authority had been dropped. On Monday, Republicans decided not to proceed with a change that would have eliminated a broad standard of conduct used in many previous ethics cases.
But Mr. Hefley continued to express misgivings about the plan that was adopted. "I think that creates a problem in trying to implement a fair and even-handed process," he said.
Republicans expect that Mr. Hefley, who presided over the cases involving Mr. DeLay, will soon be removed as chairman.
In remarks on the floor, Mr. DeLay, who surprised his colleagues Monday by asking that the internal party rule intended to protect him be reversed, backed the ethics rules package. But he said he also expected continuing Democratic attacks.
"It is a new year," Mr. DeLay said, "but an old game and one to which we cannot afford to stoop."
Republican lawmakers and senior aides said rising unease among rank-and-file Republicans over last November's rule change, which would have allowed party leaders to hold their post even if indicted, led Mr. DeLay to ask for its reversal.
The lawmakers and other officials said many House members were struggling with second thoughts after voting to protect Mr. DeLay, spurred by criticism from constituents. Several said they were ready to reject the ethics rules package as a potential major embarrassment.
Mr. DeLay, senior aides said, was not asked or encouraged to call for the party rule to be rescinded. But, calculating that he was unlikely to be charged in the Texas case, he decided to try and ease the tension among his fellow Republicans by taking the initiative. He told them flatly at the closed session that he did not expect to be charged. Top aides and others said that the idea of backtracking was first raised by Mr. DeLay's staff a few weeks ago.
The decision by Mr. DeLay was applauded both by lawmakers who had approved the rules change last year as well as his allies who saw the reversal as a way to deprive Democrats of an avenue of attack.
"I think it takes the politics off the table," said Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, Republican of New York.
Leadership aides said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who met with Mr. DeLay before the majority leader asked for the new party rule to be rescinded, did not pressure Mr. DeLay.
The floor fight over the ethics changes came after both the House and Senate were gaveled into order at noon before throngs of relatives and supporters eager to witness the swearing in of 50 newly elected House members and senators.
In the Senate, Republicans celebrated their enhanced majority as seven Republican freshmen and two Democrats along with the incumbents re-elected in November were sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney. While the Senate was for a day absent of the sharp exchanges that were heard in the House in the first hours of the Congress, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, made it clear that he did not intend to dodge future fights.
As he laid out the Republican agenda, Dr. Frist said he would no longer allow Democrats to filibuster any of President Bush's judicial nominees. He said he chose not to follow recommendations to immediately move to change the rules to bar filibusters, saying he wanted to give Democrats the opportunity to show "self-restraint" on judicial nominations.
Republicans in the House and the Senate said they would be aggressive in working with Mr. Bush, singling out changes in Social Security and the tax code as priorities.
"In this Congress, big plans will stir men's blood," Mr. Hastert said after he was re-elected speaker.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:53 AM
The New York Times
January 5, 2005
Bush's Counsel Sought Ruling About Torture
By DAVID JOHNSTON and NEIL A. LEWIS
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 - Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, intervened directly with Justice Department lawyers in 2002 to obtain a legal ruling on the extent of the president's authority to permit extreme interrogation practices in the name of national security, current and former administration officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Gonzales's role in seeking a legal opinion on the definition of torture and the legal limits on the force that could be used on terrorist suspects in captivity is expected to be a central issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings scheduled to begin on Thursday on Mr. Gonzales's nomination to be attorney general.
The request by Mr. Gonzales produced the much-debated Justice Department memorandum of Aug. 1, 2002, which defined torture narrowly and said that Mr. Bush could circumvent domestic and international prohibitions against torture in the name of national security.
Until now, administration officials have been unwilling to provide details about the role Mr. Gonzales had in the production of the memorandum by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Mr. Gonzales has spoken of the memorandum as a response to questions, without saying that most of the questions were his.
Current and former officials who talked about the memorandum have been provided with firsthand accounts about how it was prepared. Some discussed it in an effort to clear up what they viewed as a murky record in advance of Mr. Gonzales's confirmation hearings. Others spoke of the matter apparently believing that the Justice Department had unfairly taken the blame for the memorandum.
A White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said Tuesday that while Mr. Gonzales personally requested the August opinion, he was only seeking "objective legal advice and did not ask the Office of Legal Counsel to reach any specific conclusion."
As the White House's chief lawyer, Mr. Gonzales supervised the production of a number of legal memorandums that shaped the administration's legal framework for conducting its battle against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Of the documents that have been made public, only one was written by Mr. Gonzales. In that memorandum, dated January 2002, he advised Mr. Bush that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to fighters captured in Afghanistan. The next month the White House decided that the Geneva Conventions would be applied to Taliban captives but not to detainees linked to Al Qaeda.
As a result, a major area of questioning at his confirmation hearing is expected to be the role he played in the production of the other documents, like the August 2002 memorandum. That memorandum concluded that interrogators had great leeway to question detainees using coercive techniques that they could assert were not torture.
The Justice Department formally rescinded the August memorandum last week and in its place issued a legal opinion saying that torture should be more broadly defined and that there was no need to say that Mr. Bush had the authority to sanction torture because he has said unequivocally that it is not permitted.
The revision stated that "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms." It rejected the language in the earlier memorandum, which said that only physical pain "of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure" constituted torture punishable by law.
Administration officials said over the last few days that Mr. Gonzales had played a role in the decision to issue the new legal opinion as well, but they did not offer specifics.
Mr. Gonzales's request resulting in the original August 2002 memorandum was somewhat unusual, the officials said, because he went directly to lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel, bypassing the office of the deputy attorney general, which is often notified of politically delicate requests for legal opinions made by executive-branch agencies, including the White House.
The memorandum has become one of the most hotly debated legal documents in the so-called war on terror. Democrats and human rights groups have complained that it created a permissive atmosphere that led to serious abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The memorandum was addressed to Mr. Gonzales and was signed by Jay S. Bybee, then the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
Officials dispute how much senior Justice Department officials knew of the memorandum as it was being prepared. A former official and a current one said that neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, were aware of the memorandum until it was about to be submitted to the White House.
Another former official said, however, that they were given progress reports as the memorandum took shape.
John Yoo, a senior Justice Department lawyer who wrote much of the memorandum, exchanged draft language with lawyers at the White House, the officials said. Mr. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said in an article published Sunday in The San Jose Mercury News that Mr. Gonzales did not apply any pressure on him to tailor the memorandum to accommodate the White House.
Instead, Mr. Yoo said that Mr. Gonzales was merely seeking to "understand all available options" in a perilous time, when the United States faced unprecedented threats.
But a senior administration official disagreed, saying that the memorandum's conclusions appeared to closely align with the prevailing White House view of interrogation practices. The official said the memorandum raised questions about whether the Office of Legal Counsel had maintained its longstanding tradition of dispensing objective legal advice to its clients in executive-branch agencies.
While the nature of Mr. Gonzales's specific discussions with the Justice Department remains unclear, administration officials said that Mr. Gonzales's customary way of dealing with Justice Department lawyers was to pose questions about issues rather than offer his own conclusions, although one said his preferences could sometimes be inferred easily from his questions.
Justice Department officials said that the timing of the revised memorandum, which was posted on the Justice Department's Internet site without announcement late on Dec. 30, was a result of instructions from James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general.
Mr. Comey, the officials said, told lawyers to complete the revised opinion before the end of the year. At the same time, officials said they were mindful that issuance of the new opinion might help neutralize the issue for Mr. Gonzales even as it served as a sharp critique of the earlier opinion.
Mr. Gonzales talked about the August 2002 memorandum in a meeting with reporters last June, when the White House sought to defend its actions at the height of the uproar over abuses of prisoners in Iraq.
Without discussing his own role in soliciting the document, Mr. Gonzales said that the memorandum was not a policy directive to officials in the field but a response to questions about the scope of the federal law prohibiting torture and the international convention on torture.
"The president has given no order or directive that would immunize from prosecution anyone engaged in conduct that constitutes torture," Mr. Gonzales said. "All interrogation techniques actually authorized have been carefully vetted, are lawful, and do not constitute torture."
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who has signaled an intent to question Mr. Gonzales vigorously about his role in the memorandums, said Tuesday that he has been continually frustrated by the White House in trying to obtain answers and documents.
In a letter to Mr. Gonzales on Tuesday, Mr. Leahy wrote, "I am disappointed that, contrary to your promises to me to engage in an open exchange and answer my questions in connection with your confirmation process, you have not answered my letters" requesting documents.
But Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and the new chairman of the committee, said that Mr. Leahy's complaints appeared unjustified.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:49 AM