Thursday, December 30, 2004

Legal Breach: The Government's Attorneys and Abu Ghraib

The New York Times
December 30, 2004

Legal Breach: The Government's Attorneys and Abu Ghraib

The most obvious victims of the brutal treatment of prisoners at American military jails are the men, women and children who have been humiliated, sexually assaulted, beaten, tortured and even killed. But, as in all wars, the Bush administration's assault on the Geneva Conventions has caused collateral damage - in this case, to the legal offices of the executive branch and the military.

To get around the inconvenience of the Geneva Conventions, the administration twisted the roles of the legal counsels of the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department beyond recognition. Once charged with giving unvarnished advice about whether political policies remained within the law, the Bush administration's legal counsels have been turned into the sort of cynical corporate lawyers who figure out how to make something illegal seem kosher - or at least how to minimize the danger of being held to account.

This upheaval has been particularly vivid at the Pentagon, where the usual balance between civilian and military authority has been stood on its head. The American system of civilian control of the military recognizes that soldiers' attention must be fixed on winning battles and staying alive, and that the fog of war can sometimes obscure the rule of law. The civilian bosses are supposed to provide coolheaded restraint.

Now America has to count on the military to step up when the civilians get out of control.

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the initial list of interrogation methods for Guantánamo Bay in late 2002 - methods that clearly violated the Geneva Conventions and anti-torture statutes - there were no protests from the legal counsels for the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the president, the Central Intelligence Agency or any of the civilian secretaries of the armed services. That's not surprising, because some of those very officials were instrumental in devising the Strangelovian logic that lay behind Mr. Rumsfeld's order. Their legal briefs dutifully argued that the president could suspend the Geneva Conventions when he chose, that he could even sanction torture and that torture could be redefined so narrowly that it could seem legal.

It took an internal protest by uniformed lawyers from the Navy to force the Pentagon to review the Guantánamo rules and restrict them a bit. But the military lawyers' concerns were largely shoved aside by a team of civilian lawyers, led by Mary Walker, the Air Force general counsel. The group reaffirmed the notion that Mr. Bush could choose when to apply the Geneva Conventions.

That principle was originally aimed at the supposed members of Al Qaeda held at Guantánamo Bay, but it was quickly exported to Iraq and led, inexorably, to the horrors at Abu Ghraib and other recently disclosed crimes by American soldiers against Iraqi and Afghan prisoners.

If it had not been for a group of uniformed lawyers, the nation might never have learned of the torture and detention memos. In May 2003, soon after Ms. Walker's group produced its rationalization for prisoner abuse, a half-dozen military lawyers went to Scott Horton, who was chairman of the human rights committee of the City Bar Association in New York.

That led to a bar report on the administration's policies, a report that was published around the same time the Abu Ghraib atrocities came into public view. Those lawyers had to do their duty anonymously to avoid having their careers savaged. Meanwhile, the Justice Department official who signed the memo on torturing prisoners, Jay Bybee, was elevated by Mr. Bush to the federal bench.

This month, several former high-ranking military lawyers came out publicly against the nomination of the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to be attorney general. They noted that it was Mr. Gonzales who had supervised the legal assault on the Geneva Conventions.

Jeh Johnson, a New York lawyer who was general counsel for the secretary of the Air Force under President Clinton, calls this shift "a revolution."

"One view of the law and government," Mr. Johnson said, "is that good things can actually come out of the legal system and that there is broad benefit in the rule of law. The other is a more cynical approach that says that lawyers are simply an instrument of policy - get me a legal opinion that permits me to do X. Sometimes a lawyer has to say, 'You just can't do this.' "

Normally, the civilian policy makers would have asked the military lawyers to draft the rules for a military prison in wartime. The lawyers for the service secretaries are supposed to focus on issues like contracts, environmental impact statements and base closings. They're not supposed to meddle in rules of engagement or military justice.

But the civilian policy makers knew that the military lawyers would never sanction tossing the Geneva Conventions aside in the war against terrorists. Military lawyers, Mr. Johnson said, "tend to see things through the prism of how it will affect their people if one gets captured or prosecuted."

Some Senate Democrats have said they plan to question Mr. Gonzales about this mess during his Senate confirmation hearings. But given the feckless state of Congressional oversight on this issue, there's not a lot of hope in that news.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the civilian and the military lawyers has gotten so bad that Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, pushed through legislation that elevated the military services' top lawyers to a three-star general's rank. That at least put them on a more equal footing with the civilian lawyers.


War on Terror: A Battle for Hearts and Minds at Home

Arab News
The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily

Thursday, 30, December, 2004 (19, Dhul Qa`dah, 1425)

War on Terror: A Battle for Hearts and Minds at Home
Adrian Hamilton, The Independent —

LONDON, 30 December 2004 — If the West is fighting a “war on terror”, as President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair would have us believe, it is a war that we still don’t seem to know whether we’re winning or losing. Three years after Sept. 11, we don’t even seem to know the nature or strength of the enemy and what threat he poses. This year has taught us at least that there is a threat, and that it is aimed as much at Europe as at the United States. The Madrid bombings in March, which killed more than 190 civilians in a coordinated attack on commuter trains in the Spanish capital, was brutal, well-planned and effective. The investigations since have shown that the perpetrators were connected with extremist groups in North Africa, Germany and Britain.

The evidence from numerous bombings shows that terrorist cells, willing and able to launch assaults on civilians as well as Western targets (such as the December assault on the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), exist across the Muslim world. But, beyond that, all remains uncertain. Does the re-emergence of Bin Laden suggest that Al-Qaeda is back in the saddle of international terrorism, if indeed it ever was quite the driving force of Western myth? Does the failure of terrorists to launch a major assault on either the US or its closest ally, Britain, indicate that it is a broken organization or, as the British authorities suggest, merely that it is biding its time? Is Islamic fundamentalism at the center of the threat or merely an excuse for local organizations, with quite separate agendas and histories, to take action under the banner of religious righteousness? Much of the problem lies with the extreme politicization of the subject.

To justify the invasion to their deeply divided countries, Bush and Blair have resorted to a Manichaean language of a final struggle between good and evil, in which good is represented by peace-loving democracies and evil by repressive regimes, particularly in the Middle East. In this vision, terror has become a weapon of the forces of evil who wish to “destroy” democracies, and the fear is that the terrorists may be able to get hold of horrendous weapons from unstable or dictatorial regimes. Not only is the scale of threat new, but so is the shape of the terrorist: better organized, religiously driven, middle class and educated in its leadership, sophisticated in its methods and international in its reach.

Against this, there is a school of thought, especially among Arabists and domestic intelligence officers, that there is nothing fundamentally new in the threat, other than some of the methods used. A number of experts argue that the threat from Al-Qaeda is greatly exaggerated. The group, goes this argument, was never more than a relatively small, although well-financed, organization that burgeoned in the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, tried desperately to find a raison d’etre when that ended by ramping up its rhetoric and actions against the US and the West, and has been pretty well broken by the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. What we are seeing now, goes this line of reasoning, is not a single threat but a host of local organizations able to use the Internet and the relations between radical mosques around the world, but which are largely self-organized and self-financed. Publicity apart, the actual threat they pose is not hugely different in kind or extent than the threat that has always been posed by separatist organizations such as the IRA, ETA and the Muslims of Southeast Asia.

These two views lead governments and security forces to very different conclusions as to how to respond. On the “new era, new terror” theory, governments have to take actions quite different in scale and approach than the anti-terrorism of the past. At home, civil rights have to be tempered against the new threat, as has liberal immigration policy. Abroad, the West has to be prepared to take “pre-emptive” action — as it has in Iraq and may yet have to do in Iran, North Korea or the Sudan. On the “more of the same, only more deadly” theory, these are the worst responses. What is needed is a better-coordinated and multinational police operation, concentrating on intelligence and expertise to prevent attacks. The responses proposed by Bush and Blair could divert attention from the hard police work, dividing the West in its response and encouraging the myth of the terrorist as a religious superman. Depriving citizens of their civil rights, clamping down on immigration, singling out Islam as a root cause of extremism and taking unilateral action against Islamic nations could all help to bring about the conditions that the terrorist craves.

On the whole, the evidence of the last year would seem to support the latter argument. There have been bombings, hostage taking and killings through much of the Islamic world. But most of these can be explained largely in regional terms and, interestingly, almost all the terrorists killed or caught have been locals, not imported zealots. True, there has been consistent evidence that such groups have been in communication with each other. But there is little sign that even the Madrid bombings were coordinated at an international rather than local level. Even in Iraq, which has undoubtedly proved a magnet to young Muslims ready to give their lives for the cause, the number of foreigners seems to have been grossly exaggerated in London and Washington.

No one can rule out another major attack on the West. It would be irresponsible to deny the possibility. Even a weakened Al-Qaeda seems to have the money and the capacity for it. But the more important point may be less its continued threat than its failure in its prime aim of rousing Muslims to take up arms against the stranger. It hasn’t happened and, outside Iraq, does not seem likely to. For the US it is possible, although in some ways shortsighted, to see the “war” in terms of self-defense and a fortress America. For Europe and most of the rest of the world, with large Muslim populations within their boundaries and alongside them, the challenge has to be to isolate potential terrorist cells from the mainstream population.

It is no easy task but it’s one that, looking at the words and behavior of politicians, they are happy to ignore. It’s not the war against terror abroad that we need to worry about, but the battle for hearts and minds at home.


Bush Takes Rare Step of Debating bin Laden

The New York Times
December 30, 2004
Bush Takes Rare Step of Debating bin Laden

CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 29 - President Bush took the unusual step on Wednesday of responding to one of Osama bin Laden's taunting tape recordings, declaring that Mr. bin Laden's recent call for Iraqis to boycott the elections in January "make the stakes of this pretty clear to me."

"His vision of the world is where people don't participate in democracy," Mr. Bush said of Mr. bin Laden, Al Qaeda's leader, who has eluded capture for more than three years. "His vision of the world is one in which there is no freedom of expression, freedom of religion and/or freedom of conscience. And that vision stands in stark contrast to the vision of, by far, the vast majority of Iraqis."

Mr. Bush's comments were unusual because, after having declared soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that he wanted Mr. bin Laden "dead or alive," the president has usually avoided mentioning him.

His aides have said it would be a strategic error to respond to every one of Mr. bin Laden's tape-recorded threats, or to seem to elevate his status by putting him in a long-distance debate with the president.

But Mr. bin Laden clearly hit a nerve with his latest message, an audiotape heard over Al Jazeera, the satellite channel, on Monday that appeared to be an effort to further undermine the chances that the outcome of the Jan. 30 election would be considered legitimate.

Mr. Bush and his aides have said they think Iraqis have a deep desire to vote - and that the mere act of voting, regardless of the outcome, will make them feel both empowered and invested in the new government.

"So the stakes are clear in this upcoming election," Mr. Bush said in a helicopter hangar on his ranch here, where he held a short news conference to express his sympathies to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. "It's the difference between the ability for individuals to express themselves and the willingness of an individual to try and impose his dark vision on the world, on the people of Iraq and elsewhere. And it's very important that these elections proceed."

The comments were among the most extensive Mr. Bush has made about Mr. bin Laden in some time. He has periodically referred to him, as he did just days before the presidential election last month, when a bin Laden videotape was released.

But Mr. Bush used that tape to make the case that the world was still a dangerous place and that his strategy for pursuing Al Qaeda's leader should remain unchanged.

It also served another purpose for Mr. Bush, distracting attention from a week that had seen discussions of the administration's responsibility for allowing the looting of a large store of the explosive HMX from Iraqi warehouses.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Bush was responding to a question about a Sunni party backing out of the elections. He began by insisting that "the task at hand is to provide as much security as possible for the election officials, as well as for the people inside cities like Mosul, to encourage them to express their will."


U.S. Border Fingerprint Data Faulted

U.S. Border Fingerprint Data Faulted
From Associated Press

December 30, 2004

WASHINGTON — More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has failed to create a unified U.S. fingerprint database because of agency infighting, meaning most visitors to the country still aren't fully screened for terrorist or criminal ties, the Justice Department's watchdog warned Wednesday.

The continued bureaucratic clashing, which the Bush administration pledged to end after the attacks, is causing serious delays in solving the problem. In his fourth report about the situation, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said it "creates a risk that a terrorist could enter the country undetected."

Despite some improvement, the Justice, State and Homeland Security departments are at an impasse over such basic issues as whether two or 10 fingers should be printed at U.S. borders and which law enforcement agencies should have access to immigration information.

"Progress toward the longer-term goal of making all biometric fingerprint systems fully inter-operable has stalled," Fine's report concluded.

Without an integrated system, the review found, watch lists used to check certain visitors at the borders contain only a small portion of the 47 million records in FBI fingerprint files.

Current Homeland Security plans call for fingerprint checking against FBI files of fewer than 1% of the estimated 118,000 daily visitors whose prints should be checked.

"The likelihood of missing a criminal alien or terrorist is increased" without expanded use of the FBI files, Fine said.


FBI Probing Laser Beam Aimed at Plane's Cockpit

FBI Probing Laser Beam Aimed at Plane's Cockpit
From Associated Press

December 30, 2004

CLEVELAND — Authorities said Wednesday they were investigating a mysterious laser beam that was directed into the cockpit of a commercial jet traveling at more than 8,500 feet.

The beam appeared Monday when the plane was about 15 miles from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the FBI said.

"It was in there for several seconds like [the plane] was being tracked," FBI agent Robert Hawk said.

The pilot was able to land the plane, and air traffic controllers used radar to determine the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.

Hawk said the laser had to be fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude. Authorities had no other leads, and were investigating whether the incident was a prank or if there was a more sinister motive.

Federal officials have expressed concern about terrorists using laser beams, which can distract or temporarily blind a pilot.

A memo sent to law enforcement agencies recently by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department says there is evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons. Authorities said there was no specific intelligence indicating Al Qaeda or other groups might use lasers in the United States.

In September a pilot for Delta Air Lines reported an eye injury from a laser beam shone into the cockpit during a landing approach in Salt Lake City. The incident occurred about 5 miles from the airport. The plane landed safely.

Lasers are commonly used in a number of industries and are featured in outdoor light shows.

The FAA mandates that laser light shows must register their locations and the lights cannot be directed above 3,000 feet. Lasers are also often used by construction companies to line up foundations.

Interfering with a commercial flight is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I am involved in mankind
I am involved in mankind
-Keith Olbermann
Dec 29, 2004

New York —

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.”

John Donne's 17th Century work, "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions" is, again, all too pertinent, and doubly meaningful. The Christmas Tsunami death toll figures appear this morning like some wild, unimaginable inflation.

The Associated Press counts 67,000 dead in the eleven nations of the Indian Ocean. Reuters News Services calculates 69,900. A United Nations spokesman believes the toll just in Aceh Province, Indonesia, will be between 50,000 and 80,000. The International Red Cross currently confirms 68,000 deaths, and predicts the number will cross 100,000.

More terrifying still is the growing realization— reported sporadically in South Asia and Europe but almost unmentioned here— that some percentage of these deaths could have been prevented by timely warnings, but were not, out of fear of damaging tourism.

Bangkok's newspaper The Nation reported that Thailand's Meteorological Department, which supervises the country’s Seismological Department, was conducting a seminar at the hour the earthquake struck, Sunday morning, prevailing local time. Told the initial Richter Scale measurement was 8.2, a leading member of that department reportedly concluded there would be no tsunami, because another 2002 earthquake in the same Sumatra region that had measured 7.6 had produced no tsunami. The meeting devolved into the pros and cons of hurting the nation’s huge tourist economy in the event a warning proved unnecessary.

Thailand had faced the identical dilemma in the recent past. The United Kingdom newspaper The Scotsman quoted Thailand's Seismological Bureau Director Sulamee Prachuab as saying, "Five years ago, the Meteorological Department issued a warning of a possible tidal wave after an earthquake occurred in Papua, New Guinea. But the tourism authority complained that such a warning would hurt tourism,” especially when no tsunami materialized.

None had hit the Indonesian coast since 1883, after the eruption of the volcano at Krakatoa Island.

According to today’s The Asian Wall Street Journal, a seismologist in Canberra, Australia, recognized the tsunami threat, but says he was warned against sending out an alert as to the likely impact to the Indian Ocean nations, because an Australian official reminded him of ‘international diplomatic protocol.’

In West Sumatra, Indonesia, a local seismologist’s equipment went off so loudly Sunday morning that he thought workmen had begun repairs in an adjoining garage. He spent an hour trying to contact local authorities - and found no one in their offices.

While Thai officials continued to insist the impact on tourism was never a factor in whether or not to issue a tsunami warning, one of the unnamed sources of the Bangkok paper disagreed. The individual, whom The Nation reported attended Sunday’s conference, was quoted as saying, "The very important factor in making the decision was that it's high (tourist) season and hotel rooms were nearly 100 percent full. If we issued a warning, which would have led to evacuation, (and if nothing happened), what would happen then?… We could go under, if (the tsunami) didn't come."

Thailand's Information and Technology Minister says an investigation of the Meteorological Conference will be conducted.

By the latest Reuters account this morning, 1,657 are confirmed dead in Thailand, and another 8,954 injured.

More than 1,500 Swedish tourists are still reported missing.

At the time the Thai experts reportedly concluded they would threaten the nation’s economic health by alerting the public, the tsunami was still more than an hour away from hitting Thailand’s coast. It appears that most of the fatalities there could have been averted had the victims merely been told to walk about a mile inland, which they could have done, leisurely, in 45 minutes or less.


Conspiracies theorized, or conspiracies invoked?
Conspiracies theorized, or conspiracies invoked?
-Keith Olbermann

SECAUCUS, N.J. — A theory advanced by John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal goes, more or less, that certain politicians are endeavoring to take advantage of the 20 percent of the population that the last Gallup Poll says is not fully convinced of the legitimacy of the last presidential election.

It seems fair to suggest that Sen. John Kerry just might be one of the politicians Harwood means.

Last Thursday night, his lead attorney on the ground in Ohio, Daniel J. Hoffheimer, issued a statement that constituted the third or fourth eyebrow-raiser from the Kerry camp in the post-election period.

In announcing that the Kerry-Edwards group would join the bid in Federal District Court in Ohio to preserve all "evidence" from the election and recount there, Mr. Hoffheimer said, on behalf of the senators, that such preservation was necessary because, "Only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust."

This evening, after several Web columnists and bloggers joined me in questioning the bluntness of the phrase (one even wildly claiming this was a precursor to a Kerry "un-concession"), Hoffheimer changed his tone.

"I would caution the media not to read more into what the Kerry-Edwards campaign has said," Mr. Hoffheimer advised us by e-mail, "than what you hear in the plain meaning of our comments. There are many conspiracy theorists opining these days. There are many allegations of fraud. But this presidential election is over. The Bush-Cheney ticket has won. The Kerry-Edwards campaign has found no conspiracy and no fraud in Ohio, though there have been many irregularities that cry out to be fixed for future elections. Senator Kerry and we in Ohio intend to fix them. When all of the problems in Ohio are added together, however bad they are, they do not add up to a victory for Kerry-Edwards. Senator Kerry's fully-informed and extremely careful assessment the day after the election and before he conceded remains accurate today, notwithstanding all the details we have since learned."

The problem is, of course, that it was not some great, conspiracy-based, tin-foil-hat, piece of linguistic gymnastics, to infer from the conclusion to Mr. Hoffheimer's Thursday statement, that the Kerry-Edwards campaign did not believe that "the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney" warranted the public trust. It is, in fact, to use Mr. Hoffheimer's phrase, "the plain meaning" of the first statement.

How do I know that? To borrow Chairman Sam Ervin's answer to that same question, as posed by John Ehrlichmann at the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973: "Because I can understand the English language. It's my mother's tongue."

The Kerry campaign spent much of 2004 being accused by its critics of trying to be all things to all people. It seems poised to continue to wear the bull's eye well into the New Year.

Originally published Dec 27, 2004


Kerry lawyer: does the re-election warrant the public trust?
Kerry lawyer: does the re-election warrant the public trust?
-Keith Olbermann

NEW YORK— I spent the weekend holding the latest statement from John Kerry’s Ohio attorney up to the light, to see if I could read the secret treasure map written in invisible ink on the other side.

In signing on to the Glibs’ court bid to preserve all the evidence of what has been a severely compromised recount, Daniel Hoffheimer told us at Countdown: “Only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust.”

Surely, I’m not going out on a limb here to infer that at the moment, Mr. Hoffheimer and the Kerry-Edwards campaign don’t think the entire electoral process and the election of President Bush warrant the public trust.

I mean, the infamous “regardless of the outcome of the election,” phrase in Kerry’s only post-concession comment on the mangled vote was so subtle in both temporality and meaning that it could have been inserted in a statement dealing with any eventuality ranging from a clearly determined vote that was in the past, to a still undecided result.

But not Hoffheimer’s. Them’s (to borrow the language of the noted political pundit Yosemite Sam) fightin’ words. Fightin’ words issued last Thursday evening, as America got out of town for a holiday weekend. Fightin’ words that came just eight working days before the Electoral College votes are opened before Congress, and Maxine Waters or John Conyers or anybody else in the House can crawl all the way out on the limb of formal challenge, and it won’t matter a jot if there isn’t one Senator to crawl out there with them.

It’s unfathomable that Kerry would sign the requisite written challenge. Given his incredibly nuanced response to the entire voting irregularities story, and his evident aspiration to become the Adlai Stevenson or even William Jennings Bryan of the 21st Century, becoming the Senate sponsor of the challenge would seem about as likely and about as consistent as a motorist doing 20 in the right hand lane, suddenly accelerating to 110 and doing the full Bill Murray Groundhog Day bit into the quarry.

Kerry’s signature might not even be sought. There has been “very serious” contact among the staffs of leading Democrats in both houses about the implications of the challenge, according to a congressional figure privy to that contact. He estimates for us that the chance of a Senator actually signing on has — in the last week — risen from almost nothing, to upwards of one third.

And there is still that coda from Hoffheimer’s statement. By itself, it is the thrown gauntlet, and yet it is produced at a time when gauntlets are pretty much symbolic protests. Unless, perhaps, that is the strategy here. The Ohio election was undeniably full of holes, but barring developments unforeseen, the collective verified hole is not likely to be big enough to drive a truck carrying 10,000 uncounted votes through it.

However, the recount has been butchered, badly enough that even an editorial in Sunday’s Toledo Blade noted “the miserable performance of much of the American electoral system.” The Green Party says that 86 of the 88 counties violated Ohio voting law and pre-selected what were to be randomly chosen precincts for hand recounts. It claims that only one county (Coshocton) ran a full hand recount of all of its votes, and, oopsie, its certified total number of votes rose from 16,000 on election night, to 17,000 after the recount (evenly split, we might add, between Bush and Kerry, but indicating 6% of all votes disappeared). The official recount in Fairfield County found added 1,130 votes to the first count of 66,378. Representative Conyers last week wrote again to Triad Systems asking them to refute charges that they had “remote access” to their voting equipment in Fulton and Henry Counties (read as: they could change computer stuff over the internet). In the kindest of all possible lights, a Triad employee tried to save the elections officials of Hocking County the ‘trouble’ of a full hand recount at Christmas time by helping them find a precinct whose second tally would match the first one.

Is the political premise here to redirect attention from the hazy confusion of election day voter suppression or unexplained lockdowns or troubled equipment, to the simpler-to-digest black-and-white issues of the recount? “Law says A. You did Z.” The full Hoffheimer statement includes this: “Senators Kerry and Edwards… want to be sure that all circumstances involved in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the Court and disclosed to the American people.” For the record, Hoffheimer’s full statement to Countdown is included at the bottom of this entry.

Excepting the possibility that the Greens/Libertarians/Kerry-Edwards suit will be immediately dismissed, this court action in Ohio is not going to be processed quickly enough to affect the inauguration. It could, instead, become a kind of institutionalized protest, the exact kind of lingering, evolving post-post game show that Al Gore swore the Democrats off of in 2000. It could become, in effect, the slow-moving symbol of the final line Hoffheimer’s statement, questioning public trust in “the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney…”

Voters and politicians will have to determine if that is an appropriate playing field for political discourse for the next two or four years.

Speaking of discourse, I’ve received a handful of e-mails since I mentioned in passing in last Tuesday’s post, the claims of a Florida computer software worker that he was asked to write a ‘vote-switching program’ in 2000. There have been several points raised that can, I think, be pretty easily cleared up here:

* Several e-mails noted that the programmer, Clint Curtis, testified before the Conyers Voting Forum in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month. Well, yes and no. He did tell his story there, but it’s instructive to note that he was not asked to do so until after Representative Conyers left the forum, and had turned the chairing of the meeting over to a local politician. This wasn’t a case of Conyers rushing to catch a bus, nor a problem with too many witnesses, nor a coincidence.
* For weeks, say sources at various levels of the formal investigations into the voting irregularities, Mr. Curtis has promised them corroboration of his accusations — even if it was just the statement of someone to whom he said, in 2000, ‘hey, this guy just asked me to write a vote-switching program.’ These sources say they’ve received no such corroboration, and certainly none has been presented publicly.
* One e-mailer complained that the denial by the politician accused by Mr. Curtis of soliciting the program seemed pretty tepid, and confined itself largely to his comment “I don’t remember meeting Mr. Curtis.” Well, the ambiguity of the denial is partially my fault. Much of the remarks were boilerplate and repetitive, but I did leave out a fairly salient one, in which he said these were: “some of the most ridiculous, fictional charges you could ever imagine.” I wouldn’t classify that as a ‘non-denial denial.’
* Two readers asked why we didn’t simply put Mr. Curtis on 'Countdown' or otherwise interview him. Unfortunately, there is a question of the size of the platform here. If the details of his charges can be found on an innocuous website with limited readership, it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things if the possibility that they are partially or totally untrue, turns out to be the correct one. But if that’s the case — if this is actually the story of a guy out to hurt a politician — and we put him on national television, I will have effectively recreated the Swift Boat Veterans fiasco. Under those circumstances, especially in the absence of corroboration, the truth becomes secondary, and the damage is the only verifiable thing.
* Lastly (and, for my money, most entertainingly): I noted that an attorney for Curtis’s former employers, for whom he was working when he claims to have been asked to develop the nefarious program, described him to MSNBC as a ‘disgruntled former employee.’ However, an e-mailer writes, at the time of his departure from the firm, the company gave him a going-away card. I had to smile at this evidence. When I left ESPN in 1997, the company gave me a tape of my oddest moments on the air, a huge farewell banner, and a going-away party that lasted until sunrise and was so joyous that the authorities were summoned. Still, I have to be the first one to say it: if anybody has the right to call me a ‘disgruntled former employee,’ it’s ESPN.

As promised, the full text of the statement to Countdown from the evening of December 23 of Daniel J. Hoffheimer, State Legal Counsel, Ohio, Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc., (and, yes, he’s referring to himself in the third person here):

“Daniel Hoffheimer, State Legal Counsel for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, told MSNBC today that Kerry-Edwards will support the third-party candidates in asking the Federal Court in the Ohio recount lawsuit to order the preservation of the evidence obtained during the recount and to expedite discovery of the facts. Hoffheimer said that various problems and errors have occurred in a number of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections during the recount, which will conclude next week. Hoffheimer acknowledged that the most publicized of these problems was the machine manipulation in Hocking County but said that the developing evidence will reveal other problems as well. He said that Senators Kerry and Edwards are very concerned that the law for conducting the recount should be uniformly followed. They want to be sure that all circumstances involved in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the Court and disclosed to the American people. Only then, Hoffheimer said, can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust."

Originally published Dec 27, 2004


Senior CIA analyst stands down


Senior CIA analyst stands down

A senior intelligence officer at the CIA has resigned, the sixth high-ranking official to leave since the appointment of a new spy chief.

Deputy director of intelligence Jami Miscik is the most senior official to quit since Porter Goss took over the CIA with a mandate for reform.

Ms Miscik has headed the CIA's analysis branch since 2002, overseeing regular reports to the US president.

She described her departure as a "natural evolution", reports said.

She told staff of her decision in an email on Tuesday, the New York Times reported.

Ms Miscik's departure had been expected since Mr Goss was appointed CIA director in September.

Intelligence shake-up

Her tenure as head of the analytical branch was dogged by controversy over intelligence provided in the run up to the war in Iraq that was later discredited.

According to reports in the New York Times, Ms Miscik was told before Christmas that Mr Goss wanted to make a change and the decision to depart "was not hers".

Mr Goss' reforms have already seen a number of the former congressman's political allies appointed to the CIA.

At least five other officers have already resigned, including senior figures in the CIA's clandestine operations directorate.

Mr Goss succeeded George Tenet as CIA chief with a mandate to reform the agency, which was heavily criticised by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission report.

In addition to changes at the CIA, new legislation will create a new post of national intelligence director and a national intelligence centre.


Arab World Debates Iraqi Elections
Arab World Debates Iraqi Elections

Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden is just one of many voices in the debate on democracy in Iraq. For weeks, politicians, commentators and clerics both inside and outside the country have been furiously holding forth on whether Arabs should embrace the elections scheduled Jan. 30, and whether the polls would set Iraq on the path to democracy or dismemberment.

In a new audiotape, a man the CIA believes is bin Laden called for a boycott of the vote, saying it was being held under unIslamic, U.S.-imposed rules.

Ahmed Bishara, a Kuwaiti civil rights activist, was not surprised to hear bin Laden had weighed in, saying the impending vote had unsettled democracy's enemies - whether they are extremists who believe only sharia, Islamic law, should prevail, or despots who do not want to see a model for reform emerge in their midst.

"These people are not used to the (democratic) process," Bishara said Tuesday, a day after Al-Jazeera broadcast the tape. "To add to their worries, the whole process has been driven by the United States by force of arms. If the United States succeeds, then you have not only regime change, but a system of government change."

The tape surfaced the same day the largest Sunni Muslim political party that had planned to take part announced its withdrawal, saying security was worsening and Iraqis did not understand the political process well enough to vote.

Clerics from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, which fears losing the political dominance it enjoyed under Saddam to the Shiite Muslim majority, have called for a boycott, citing the continued presence of American forces.

Meanwhile, the Sunni-dominated governments of Iraq's Arab neighbors have expressed deep unease at elections expected to usher in the first Arab Shiite government. In an editorial Tuesday, the pro-government Egyptian daily Al Ahram echoed concerns Sunni Arab Iraqis would be disenfranchised, which it said would lead to more sectarian violence.

Hossam Zeki, spokesman for the Cairo-based Arab League, has spoken of the potential for a "melting down of the Arab identity in Iraq."

Jordan's King Abdullah II, in an interview earlier this month with The Washington Post, accused Shiite and Persian Iran of trying to influence the elections, saying Iranians were pouring into Iraq to vote. But Iran also has concerns. Iran's supreme leader has said the elections will be a sham meant to cement U.S. and British control of Iraq's resources.

Iraqi and U.S. officials insist the vote will be held on time, despite calls for a delay to address at least some of the security and political concerns.

A CIA analysis of the purported bin Laden tape indicates the voice is that of the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a U.S. official said Tuesday, adding the tape is further evidence of a shift in bin Laden's rhetoric.

Instead of outright calls to violence, bin Laden's latest messages appear to be relying on political argument against U.S. policy toward Muslims and the Middle East, the official said.

The voice says the Iraqi vote - for a national assembly to write a constitution - is being held under an interim constitution "imposed by the American occupation" and "infidel" because it did not rely solely on Islamic law.

"Therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels," the speaker says.

Radwan Masmoudi, director of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, said bin Laden's rhetoric on Iraq was typical of extremists who "think democracy is not compatible with Islam: It's God who rules, not the majority that rules."

But "clearly, the majority of Muslims all over the world are against bin Laden, are against extremism," Masmoudi said, asserting that the idea of democracy as the fairest form of society was gaining ground even among conservative Muslims.

Take for example Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which says it renounced violence in the 1970s and now pursues its goal of remaking Egypt into an Islamic state through the ballot box.

"We want to have elections, not only in Iraq - in Egypt, in Tunisia, everywhere. But not under occupation," said Essam el-Erian, a prominent member of the Brotherhood.

He is among those who have called for postponing Iraq's elections, saying the vote should be held under U.N. auspices and delayed until the United States has announced firm plans to withdraw.

"It would be better to postpone to have more meaningful elections and more meaningful campaigning," said Masmoudi, of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

"But we don't live in a perfect world," Masmoudi added, saying the vote is an important first step toward sweeping reforms in a country that has known little but foreign rule and dictatorship for nearly a century.

"If Iraq becomes a stable democracy, it obviously becomes an attractive model for the Arab world to follow," he said.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Ex-official tells of Homeland Security failures

Ex-official tells of Homeland Security failures

Tue Dec 28, 7:11 AM ET

By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

The government agency responsible for protecting the nation against terrorist attack is a dysfunctional, poorly managed bureaucracy that has failed to plug serious holes in the nation's safety net, the Department of Homeland Security's former internal watchdog warns.

Clark Kent Ervin, who served as the department's inspector general until earlier this month, said in an interview last week that airport security isn't tight enough and that little has been done to safeguard other forms of mass transit. Ervin said ports remain vulnerable to terrorists trying to smuggle weapons into the country. He added that immigration and customs investigators are hampered in their efforts to track down illegal immigrants because they often lack gas money for their cars.

"There are still all these security gaps in the country that have yet to be closed," Ervin said. Meanwhile, he added, Homeland Security officials have wasted millions of dollars because of "chaotic and disorganized" accounting practices, lavish spending on social occasions and employee bonuses and a failure to require competitive bidding for some projects.

Asked what's wrong with the department, he said, "It's difficult to figure out where to start."

Ervin lost his job this month in mysterious fashion. Appointed by President Bush in December 2003 when Congress was out of session, Ervin was never confirmed by the Senate. Nor was he renominated by the White House this month when his "recess appointment" - which lasted until the congressional session ended - expired Dec. 8.

A key senator won't say why. Elissa Davidson, spokeswoman for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wouldn't comment on why Chairman Susan Collins, R-Maine, never held confirmation hearings for Ervin. "The decision not to renominate Clark Kent Ervin was purely a White House decision," she said.

Asked whether Ervin might be renominated, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Dec. 17, "I don't get into speculating about who might be nominated." He noted that Ervin's term had expired and said, "We appreciate the job he has done."

Government watchdog groups complained when Ervin had to go. "Homeland Security Superman Canned," read the headline on a press release from the non-profit Project on Government Oversight. (Ervin got his name from his older brother, who urged their parents to name him after the superhero's cover, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.)

Danielle Brian, the group's director, said Ervin was a standout among inspectors general, who operate inside every government department to investigate waste, fraud and mismanagement. Brian called Ervin an "aggressive overseer" of the new department and said it was crucial to have someone like him in the job because "Congress is absolutely asleep at the wheel when it comes to oversight."

In response to Ervin's criticism, Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "The department acknowledges the efforts and good intentions of the former inspector general to put forth recommendations to improve the nation's security."

While in office, Ervin made some scathing findings. He reported that:

• Undercover investigators were able to sneak explosives and weapons past security screeners at 15 airports during tests in 2003.

• Federal air marshals, hired to provide a last line of defense against terrorists on airlines, slept on the job, tested positive for alcohol or drugs while on duty, lost their weapons and falsified information in 2002.

• Department leaders should have taken a more aggressive role in efforts to combine the government's myriad terrorist watch lists since the department was created in 2003.

• The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) gave executive bonuses of $16,477 to 88 of its 116 senior managers in 2003, an amount one-third higher than the bonuses given to executives at any other federal agency.

• The TSA spent nearly $500,000 on an awards banquet for employees in November 2003. The cost included $1,500 for three cheese displays and $3.75 for each soft drink.

The department complained that many of Ervin's reports were based on outdated information. After the report on air marshals, border and transportation chief Asa Hutchinson said the problems had long since been fixed.

Ervin, a Harvard-trained lawyer who worked for Bush when he was governor of Texas and for Bush's father in the White House before that, couldn't explain why he didn't get the nod to continue his work. It "will be an enduring mystery to me," he said.

Ervin added that he plans to work as a Homeland Security consultant next year and write a book while keeping tabs on what happens at the department, which will have a major turnover in senior management.

For the person Bush selects to replace outgoing Secretary Tom Ridge, "the biggest challenge will be getting his or her arms around a huge, dysfunctional bureaucracy," Ervin said.

On that subject, he had a final word of advice for Bush: "There hasn't been the management expertise and experience needed to integrate and effectively organize a huge bureaucratic challenge. Ideally, you need someone who's got corporate experience."


Pentagon: Rumsfeld misspoke on Flight 93 crash

Pentagon: Rumsfeld misspoke on Flight 93 crash
Defense secretary's remark to troops fuels conspiracy theories

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A comment Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made during a Christmas Eve address to U.S. troops in Baghdad has sparked new conspiracy theories about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In the speech, Rumsfeld made a passing reference to United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to stop al Qaeda hijackers.

But in his remarks, Rumsfeld referred to the "the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania."

A Pentagon spokesman insisted that Rumsfeld simply misspoke, but Internet conspiracy theorists seized on the reference to the plane having been shot down.

"Was it a slip of the tongue? Was it an error? Or was it the truth, finally being dropped on the public more than three years after the tragedy" asked a posting on the Web site

Some people remain skeptical of U.S. government statements that, despite a presidential authorization, no planes were shot down September 11, and rumors still circulate that a U.S. military plane shot the airliner down over Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

A Pentagon spokesman insists Rumsfeld has not changed his opinion that the plane crashed as the result of an onboard struggle between passengers and terrorists.

The independent panel charged with investigating the terrorist attacks concluded that the hijackers intentionally crashed Flight 93, apparently because they feared the passengers would overwhelm them.


Islamic Group Banned by Many Is Not on U.S. Terrorist List
Islamic Group Banned by Many Is Not on U.S. Terrorist List

By David B. Ottaway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A04

The militant Islamic group exhorts Muslims to suicide bombings, martyrdom against American "infidels" and the killing of Jews. It openly advocates replacing all Middle East governments with an Islamic caliphate and rails against "the American campaign to suppress Islam."

The group has been outlawed in all Arab countries, as well as in Turkey, Pakistan, Russia and throughout Central Asia, where hundreds of its members have been jailed. Germany, too, has banned the group because it "supports the use of violence as a means to realize political interests," according to the German Interior Ministry.

But the Bush administration, which has designated more than 390 groups and individuals as "global terrorists," has declined to add this particular one to the list.

How to handle Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami -- the Islamic Liberation Party or HT -- has become the focus of a debate inside and outside the Bush administration that weighs the president's promise to promote democracy in the greater Middle East against the new imperatives of the fight against terrorism.

Two conservative think tanks, the Nixon Center and the Heritage Foundation, are pressing the administration to designate the Islamic Liberation Party as a terrorist group. Human Rights Watch, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, and experts at the liberal Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution contend that such a step would fan the fires of Islamic extremism.

Zeyno Baran, the Nixon Center's international security program director, has held a series of workshops this year in Ankara, Turkey, and Washington to highlight the party's revolutionary goals and tactics. She argues it should not be protected on grounds of freedom of religion or speech. "It's not a religious organization, it's a political party that uses religion as a tool" and is drifting toward violence, she said.

Both Baran and the Heritage Foundation's Central Asian specialist, Ariel Cohen, have testified in Congress urging designation. But others argue that would incite Central Asian governments to crack down on all Muslim groups, making the situation worse.

"It doesn't serve anybody's interest to go after peaceful Muslim believers," said Acacia Shields, senior Central Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "There has to be a distinction made between Muslims we have disagreements with and Muslims actively involved in violence."

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric on its Web site and in pamphlets, the Islamic Liberation Party does not explicitly espouse violence as a means of coming to power itself. Nor has the party been found engaging in terrorism, according to State Department officials.

The party is gaining followers throughout Central Asia, and some U.S. officials say that a decision to brand it a terrorist entity could turn it into another al Qaeda and undermine U.S. efforts to encourage the emergence of moderate Islamic groups throughout the region.

The matter could be further complicated by the U.S. relationship with Uzbekistan, which has permitted the United States to use an air base for its operations against al Qaeda inside neighboring Afghanistan. The Islamic Liberation Party -- though outlawed -- is becoming the main political opposition to Uzbekistan's repressive secular government. To some U.S. human rights groups, the party has become a symbol of the struggle for religious and political freedoms against such repressive governments.

Although it has branches in many European countries, there have been no reports of Islamic Liberation being active in the United States, though its literature has appeared in some mosques.

Under a 2001 presidential order, a foreign entity can be designated a global terrorist if it either engaged in an act of terrorism, provides material support to another designated group or poses "a significant risk" to U.S. foreign policy. A designation results in U.S. and U.N. sanctions that make the group an international pariah.

Under another provision of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, the U.S. government can also designate an organization if it "incites to commit" a terrorist act. Seldom used to justify designations, the State Department did so on Dec. 17 in the case of a television network -- al-Manar -- that belongs to Lebanon's Shiite political group Hezbollah.

"Our law says that the organization [al-Manar] can be put on the list if it commits or incites to commit any terrorist activity," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"The United States is having a very hard time dealing with this," said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Freedom House, a nonprofit that monitors political and religious persecution worldwide. "It's a very fine line between inciting and training for terrorism. Everybody's trying to figure out where to draw the line."

One senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Islamic radicalism in Central Asia is "a serious and growing danger not fully appreciated by people in this town." He called Islamic Liberation "a factory" for producing radical Islamic ideas but said on balance he still believes it should not be designated as a terrorist group.

"They say they want to overthrow secular governments, that it's okay to fly planes into buildings," he said. "But they claim to be nonviolent. They are using our language against us. . . . It's hard to nail them."

Part of the administration's anti-terrorism strategy has been to try to persuade Central Asian leaders to allow independent and moderate Islamic groups to operate legally. Uzbek leaders, however, say they see nothing moderate in Islamic Liberation's announced goals.

The party's aim "is gaining political power through religion," Zukhriddin Khusnidinov, an adviser to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, said at a conference at the Nixon Center in Washington in October. "It is crucial to outlaw all radical religious groups whose ideology generates international terrorism," added Abdulaziz Kamilov, the Uzbek ambassador to Washington.

"It's kind of a conundrum for the U.S. government," said the senior Bush administration official. "The rhetoric is really vile. The question is: Do they have the right to freedom of expression?"

Arab and other Muslim governments have been pondering that question for 52 years. The party was founded in 1952 by a Palestinian judge, Taqiuddin Nabhani, who lived in East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian rule. He broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egypt-based militant Islamic group, rejecting its willingness to even consider cooperation with Egypt's secular authorities in seeking power.

Jordanian authorities refused to recognize the party and arrested some of its leaders, forcing it underground, where it continued to spread slowly throughout the Muslim world. Today, it has branches in 30 to 40 counties from Indonesia to Denmark, recruiting particularly on college campuses and at mosques.

Still, little is known about this international organization that has attracted tens of thousands of followers worldwide. Its Web site,, says it is "a political party whose ideology is Islam." Yet, it has shown no interest in participating in elections and none in sharing power with other parties.

Although its spokesmen renounce violence, the party's Web site describes a three-stage plan aimed at "seizing the reins of power" across the Muslim world. "It is forbidden to seize partial power," the Web site states, and "the implementation of Islam must be comprehensive."

Its tactics for achieving these goals seem inspired by those of communist parties. The first stage of its plan calls for indoctrinating recruits in small "study groups" that subsequently morph into secret cells of five to six people operating independently of each other, according to a report from the International Crisis Group, which has issued several reports on the party.

Islamic Liberation was involved in failed coup attempts in both Jordan and Egypt before renouncing violence in the mid-1970s. When Nabhani died in 1978, another Palestinian, Abdul Kaddim Zalloum, a religious scholar educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, became party leader and remained so until his death in April 2003.

The current leader is Sheik Ata Abu Rashta, a Palestinian Jordanian Islamic scholar about whom little is known, including his whereabouts.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Uncivil liberties and the other victims of Sept. 11, 2001
Monday, December 27, 2004
Uncivil liberties and the other victims of Sept. 11, 2001
By William Fisher
Special to The Daily Star

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, millions of words have been written about the "terrorists in our midst" and what law enforcement agencies are doing to fight it. However, few questioned whether an overzealous American government was compromising American civil liberties.

In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, the FBI rounded up and imprisoned thousands of immigrants and visitors to the United States.

Now, in a new report titled "Worlds Apart," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented what happened to 13 of these "other victims" of the Sept. 11 attacks, and to their families.

The story of how the U.S. government responded to Sept. 11 remains relatively little known. The short version, from the ACLU report, is that the United States: "incarcerated petitioners in degrading and inhumane conditions. Although the immigrants generally were detained on non-criminal immigration charges, many were kept in cells for 23 hours a day and were made to wear hand and leg shackles when leaving their cells.

"Some were kept in solitary confinement for extended periods with no explanation. Lights were left on 24 hours a day, immigrants were denied the use of blankets, and many were denied telephone calls and visits with family members."

For many, says the ACLU, "the nightmare began with their arrest. FBI and immigration officials dragged some people out of their houses in the middle of the night in front of frightened wives and children. Others were picked up for being in the wrong place [like the man] arrested by agents who had come looking for his roommate but took him instead. Still others were arrested after routine traffic stops. For many, it would be days before they could contact their families with their whereabouts and weeks before they could access legal help. The government refused to release the names of people it had detained. Behind bars, many suffered from harassment and even physical abuse."

None of the thousands of people detained by what was then still the Immigration and Naturalization Service were found guilty of any terrorism-related offenses or connected in any way with the Sept. 11 attacks. The ACLU added: "Yet the Justice Department website still boasts that hundreds of immigrants 'linked to the Sept. 11 investigation have been deported'."

The report charges that "the government's unlawful policies had profound effects not only on the people who were unlawfully imprisoned but also on their families and communities. Families were torn apart. Communities were shattered." And the stories told in this report are just a small sample. There are hundreds of similar ones that haven't been recounted.

The stories of the 13 deportees vary widely, as they all come from different backgrounds. However, the report also observed that "the stories of these men are similar in important ways.

"All came to the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their families. All were Muslim, from South Asia or the Middle East. After Sept. 11, all were caught in a government dragnet that swept up hundreds of Muslims indiscriminately.

"And all were denied basic rights normally afforded to those detained in the United States and other democratic countries." Many were "deported to countries where they haven't lived in years, and where unemployment rates are high and salaries are low."

The ACLU report concluded: "In the weeks and months after Sept. 11, the people whose stories are told in this report did not count. The United States government arrested them without suspicion, imprisoned them without charge, and abused them without consequence. All of this took place in secret. To this day, the government still refuses to release the names of the people who were imprisoned."

The architect of this Bush administration policy of mass deportations, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is on his way out. In his recent farewell speech, he congratulated Justice Department staffers for safeguarding American civil liberties. But Ashcroft's abysmal record shows a different picture. More worrying is that the man nominated to be his successor is White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. He is the author of the now infamous memo justifying torture of prisoners of war and calling the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and obsolete. It is unlikely that Gonzales will be paying much attention to due process where immigrants and foreign visitors are concerned.

After Sept. 11, the U.S. government acted out of perhaps understandable fear. It enacted legislation that placed traditional civil liberties protections on the backburner. Security was - and remains - paramount. As in other periods of crisis in America, the government went too far. While the U.S. constitution has always managed to get the pendulum to swing back, this time may be more difficult. America has never before confronted an open-ended threat from Islamist terrorists, which has made the government especially willing to continue favoring security over civil liberties.

The restoration of that balance will require proactive public policies that, among other things, recognize that it was immigrants who built America, and that civil liberties have always belonged to citizens and non-citizens alike.

Sadly, this is unlikely to happen on George W. Bush's watch.

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.


Further Detainee Abuse Alleged
Further Detainee Abuse Alleged
Guantanamo Prison Cited in FBI Memos

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page A01

At least 10 current and former detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have lodged allegations of abuse similar to the incidents described by FBI agents in newly released documents, claims that were denied by the government but gained credibility with the reports from the agents, their attorneys say.

In public statements after their release and in documents filed with federal courts, the detainees have said they were beaten before and during interrogations, "short-shackled" to the floor and otherwise mistreated as part of the effort to get them to confess to being members of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Even some of the detainees' attorneys acknowledged that they were initially skeptical, mainly because there has been little evidence that captors at Guantanamo Bay engaged in the kind of abuse discovered at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. But last Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union released FBI memos, which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, in which agents described witnessing or learning of serious mistreatment of detainees.

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water," an unidentified agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004, for example. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."

Brent Mickum, a Washington attorney for one of the detainees, said that "now there's no question these guys have been tortured. When we first got involved in this case, I wondered whether this could all be true. But every allegation that I've heard has now come to pass and been confirmed by the government's own papers."

A Pentagon spokesman has said the military has an ongoing investigation of torture claims and takes credible allegations seriously. Pentagon officials and lawyers say the military has been careful not to abuse detainees and has complied with treaties on the handling of enemy prisoners "to the extent possible" in the middle of a war.

The detainees who made public claims of torture at Guantanamo Bay describe a prison camp in which abuse is employed as a coordinated tool to aid interrogators and as punishment for minor offenses that irked prison guards. They say military personnel beat and kicked them while they had hoods on their heads and tight shackles on their legs, left them in freezing temperatures and stifling heat, subjected them to repeated, prolonged rectal exams and paraded them naked around the prison as military police snapped pictures.

In some allegations, the detainees say they have been threatened with sexual abuse. British detainee Martin Mubanga, one of Mickum's clients, wrote his sister that the American military police were treating him like a "rent boy," British slang for a male prostitute.

A group of released British detainees said that several young prisoners told them they were raped and sexually violated after guards took them to isolated sections of the prison. They said an Algerian man was "forced to watch a video supposedly showing two detainees dressed in orange, one sodomizing the other, and was told that it would happen to him if he didn't cooperate."

Another detainee, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan, an alleged paymaster for al Qaeda, has claimed in court documents that Guantanamo Bay interrogators wrapped prisoners in an Israeli flag. In an Aug. 16 e-mail, an FBI agent reported observing a detainee sitting in an interview room "with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."

Many of the claims were filed in federal courts as a result of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that gave the Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment in court. More than 60 of the 550 men who are detained have filed claims. Some have been held at the U.S. Navy base for nearly three years.

Moazzam Begg, a British detainee first imprisoned in Egypt and kept since February 2003 in solitary confinement in Guantanamo Bay, said in a recently declassified letter to the court that he has been repeatedly beaten and has heard "the terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods." He said he witnessed two detainees die after U.S. military personnel had beaten them.

Feroz Abbasi, a British man captured in Afghanistan, has been kept in solitary confinement for more than a year. He said that on the same day U.S. officials say he "confessed" to training as a suicide bomber for al Qaeda, his captors tortured him so badly that he had to be treated for injuries at the prison hospital.

Government officials say they do not know what detainees Begg was referring to. A military tribunal concluded that Abbasi's medical treatment was not related to his confession.

In other cases, the U.S. military has declined to declassify detailed allegations of abuse, so it is not possible to know what the detainees claim happened. In recent months, the government has said Begg, Abbasi and hundreds of other detainees confessed to being Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to interrogators, but their lawyers say the statements were coerced.

Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, Abbasi's lawyer and one of the first attorneys to receive clearance to visit Guantanamo Bay, said she was convinced he and others were in grave danger in the U.S. military's hands as soon as she saw them.

"I left my first visit with them thinking the longer they are in Guantanamo, the more psychological and physical damage they are going to suffer at that place," she said.

The first public claims of U.S. torture at Guantanamo Bay were made by three Britons from Tipton, England. Shafiq Rasul, 27, and Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, both 22, were released without charge in March under pressure from the British government. In August, they and their lawyers presented a 115-page report on their treatment, likening it to the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The Britons said they were beaten, shackled in painful positions, left in extreme temperatures and forcibly injected with unknown drugs while held for more than two years. At that time, the U.S. military denied the Tipton men's allegations.

"The claim that detainees have been physically abused, beaten or tortured is simply not true," said Army Col. David McWilliams, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, which is in charge of the prison. "From the beginning, we have taken extra steps to treat prisoners not only humanely but extra cautiously. We do not use any kind of coercive or physically harmful techniques."

Some detainees who have retained lawyers have refused to participate in military reviews of their cases at Guantanamo Bay, and have instead asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate their claims of abuse.

That's the case for Mamdouh Habib, an Australian at Guantanamo Bay. Lawyers familiar with his case, and British detainees, said Habib was in "catastrophic shape" when he arrived in Cuba. Most of his fingernails were missing, and while sleeping at the prison he regularly bled from his nose, mouth and ears, but U.S. officials there denied him treatment, released British detainees said in a report. Fellow detainees said Habib asked medics for help, but they said "if you cooperate with your interrogators, then we can do something."

Habib's lawyer, Joseph Margulies, said he cannot elaborate because the records are classified. He said he will press Habib's claims in court.

"Now it's not just my allegations of torture, not just my client's -- but now it's the FBI's," Margulies said. "President Bush should make a public statement: It now appears torture is going on at Guantanamo and we won't rely on these coerced confessions."

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


'Bin Laden' Backs Al Zarqawi
'Bin Laden' Backs Al Zarqawi

Dec. 27 2004
A new audio statement, purportedly by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, supports Iraq's most wanted militant Abu Musaab al Zarqawi and calls him the leader of al Qaeda organization in Iraq. The man purported to be Bin Laden also calls on boycotting the upcoming elections in Iraq. This is bin Laden's second audio statement in less than two weeks.

This comes as the violence in Iraq continues. Top Shiite political leader Abdul Aziz al Hakim escaped a deadly suicide bombing in Baghdad Monday, which killed 15 people. Al Zarqawi had claimed responsibility for the assassination of al Hakim's elder brother top Shiite cleric Mohammed Bakr Al Hakim last year. In an Internet statement last week, al Zarqawi's group purportedly denied carrying out operations against Shiites, but attacks on Shiites are consistent with al Zarqawi's stated aim of fostering sectarian warfare in Iraq.


Investigate the vote rally @ Noon 12/27 White Plains, NY

As posted on

Monday, 12/27 Investigate the Vote Rally 12:00-1:00 PM
FBI Office, 222 Bloomingdale Road at Mamaroneck

Monday's FBI Rally Is Extremely Important

Please do your utmost to attend the rally planned for next Monday,
Dec. 27 at noon at the White Plains office of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, located at 222 Bloomingdale Road. This is an extremely
important rally for at least two reasons:

1. The rally will focus on the evidence of a widespread conspiracy in
Ohio and Florida to disenfranchise black voters. This was done in
Florida in the 2000 election, and the scheme spread to Ohio in this
election. A central part of the scheme was to deprive polling places in black
communities of adequate numbers of voting machines. The press has not
given adequate coverage to the whole issue of vote rigging, as we know,
but the black vote disenfranchisement has been even less a story.
This, inspite of Michael Moore's dramatic sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 in
which black Congresspeople sought objection to the 2000 election, and not
one senator could be found to join them.

Lois Bronz, the first woman and first African-American to chair the
Westchester County Legislature, plans to attend Monday's rally, as does
Charles Coca, president of the Ossining National Associationn for the
Advancement of Colored People and Sundiata Sadiq, former president of
that organization. Joanne Robinson, a long-time worker for civil rights
and economic justice, will also attend. Other political leaders have
been invited.

2. A strong turnout at this rally is critical not only to gaining press
attention but to building political pressure on Hillary Clinton and
Charles Schumer to stand to join the Congresspeople on Jan. 6 who will
object to the 2004 election.

We recognize that this rally comes in at a time when many people will
be away for the holidays, but we felt that it is absolutely critical to
make a showing now because of the approaching elections deadlines,
notably Jan. 6. Many of us have sent email petitions and in other ways
have been using the internet to assist in getting vote justice. However,
there is no substitute for getting out into the street. That is how
civil rights were won, and that is how they are going to have to be

As noted earlier, so far the FBI has not answered the letters and
email that we have sent to them, imploring the agency to investigate the
evidence of 2004 vote rigging.

We will gather on the Mamaroneck Avenue side of 222 Bloomingdale
Road, where the sidewalk is widest and there is plenty of sunshine. Coffee
will be available. There will be a permit for the rally.

If you need more information, please call (914) 806-6179. Wishing you
very happy holidays, Nick Mottern

Please circulate this as widely as possible.


Lawsuit Before the Ohio Supreme Court
Lawsuit Before the Ohio Supreme Court
Summarized by Mary Anne Saucier, Columbus, Ohio

NATURE OF THE ACTION On December 13, 2004, numerous Ohio citizens contested “the certification of the election of the electors pledged to George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney for the offices, respectively, of President of the United States and Vice President of the United Sates for the terms commencing January 20, 2005…” and “…the certification of the election of Thomas Moyer for the office of Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court for the term commencing in 2005.”

LAWSUIT REFILED On December 16, 2004, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer threw out the complaint because it had two election challenges. The following day, on December 17, thirty-seven voters and their lawyers refiled the election challenge for President and Vice President of the United States. The other case for the office of Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court was refiled on December 20, 2004.

DEFENDANT-CONTESTEES are George W. Bush (candidate for the office of President of the United States of America), Richard B. Cheney (candidate for the office of Vice President of the United States of America), Karl Rove (chief election strategist and tactician for the Bush-Cheney campaign), the Bush-Cheney 2004 Committee, Thomas J. Moyer (Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate), J. Kenneth Blackwell (Ohio Secretary of State), and the 20 Ohio Bush electors.

ATTORNEYS filing the suits are Clifford O. Arnebeck Jr. (Chairman, “Ohio Honest Election Campaign” of The Alliance for Democracy, and Chair of Legal Affairs Committee for Common Cause-Ohio); Robert Fitrakis, PhD (Director/Editor, Columbus Free Press, and Professor of Political Science at Columbus State Community College); Susan Truitt (Co-founder of Citizen’s Alliance for Secure Elections-Ohio); Peter Peckarsky, Technology Lawyer, based in Washington, D. C.; and such other attorneys retained by them for the litigation.

ELECTION CONTEST The defendants are accused of being part of “the pattern of vote fraud and discrimination… which operated to deprive numerous Ohio citizens of their constitutional and statutory rights.


· INITIAL STATE ELECTION EXIT POLLS INDICATE KERRY-EDWARDS WON The 2004 National and State Election exit polls (interviewing voters immediately after they voted), directed by “the respected and world-renowned Warren Mitofsky,” showed dramatic differences between initial (“uncalibrated”) exit polls and the corrected exit poll (adjusted later to conform to the voting) for Ohio and a number of other states. The initial poll results were only available for a very short period of time when Andrew Card (White House Chief of Staff) claimed victory for Bush in Ohio, and “called for a concession and an end to any inquiry into the results.” But, “…when these uncorrected results are compared to the ‘official’ state-by-state results, it is clear that election fraud (or other irregularity) occurred in the counting of the vote in Ohio and a number of other states.”

· NATIONAL EXIT POLLS INDICATE KERRY-EDWARDS WON “The vote fraud in connection with the national vote may also mean that the national exit poll is the most accurate representation of the votes actually cast. This means that candidate Bush probably did not win a ‘mandate’ of 3.5 million votes but actually lost the national vote by a significant margin to John Kerry. The chance of Kerry receiving a greater percentage of the popular vote than Bush in an honest election was 98.7%.”

EXHIBIT A contains a paper by Steven F. Freeman, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, entitled “Was the 2004 Presidential Election Honest? An Examination of Uncorrected Exit Poll Data. Part I: The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy.” It presents “clear and convincing evidence of election fraud” in ten of the “battleground” states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania).

· LAWFUL BALLOTS DESTROYED OR ALTERED; UNLAWFUL BALLOTS ADDED “On information and belief, plaintiffs-contestors allege that traditional means of vote fraud were used…that unlawful ballots were added to those cast by lawful voters and that lawfully cast ballots were either destroyed or altered.” In Ohio, it is believed that at least 130,656 votes were deducted from Kerry-Edwards and added to Bush-Cheney.

· ABSENTEE VOTES NOT LISTED Dr. Werner Lange studied poll books in Trumbull County and found “580 absentee votes were cast for which there was no notation of absentee voting in the poll books.”

· UNLAWFUL DENIAL OF ACCESS TO POLL BOOKS Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, also co-chair of the Ohio Bush-Cheney campaign, “ordered all 88 boards of election to prevent public inspection of poll books until after certification of the vote on December 6, 2004.” This “apparently caused violations of R.C. 3599.161(B) and (C) and may have caused such violations by every board of elections in the state…Each violation “of any provision of Title XXXv (35) is a separate instance of criminal election fraud pursuant to R.C. 3599.42” and could be a basis for removing Blackwell from office, if convicted.

· THERE WAS NON-TRADITIONAL TAMPERING WITH VOTES AND THEIR TABULATION Physical or electronic access can easily be gained to the voting and vote tabulating systems.

Exhibit B, written by Chuck Herrin, CISSP, CISA, MCSE, CEH, entitled “How to Hack the Vote: the Short Version,” ( shows how this can be done by “changing the votes actually received by one or more candidates in a race, leaving the total votes cast in the race unchanged, and erasing or falsifying the electronic audit trail which could show the access to the computer and the spreadsheet.” Or unauthorized operating instructions could have been “inserted into the software used to operate either the vote tabulating machines or the voting machines.”


· It is believed “that due to error, fraud, or mistake…” that at least 130,656 votes “were deducted from the total number of votes actually cast for the Kerry-Edwards ticket and added to the number of votes actually cast for the Bush-Cheney ticket.” Kerry-Edwards won Ohio by at least 142,537 votes. It is thereby requested that at least 130,656 votes be added to the Kerry-Edwards ticket and the Kerry-Edwards Electoral College electors be issued certificates of election.

· At the same time, it is believed “that due to error, fraud, or mistake…” that 216,779 votes were deducted from Ellen Connally and added to those cast for Thomas J. Moyer. This means that “Ellen Connally won the election for Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court by at least 149,326 votes.”


· AUGLAIZE COUNTY - voting machine errors. A former employee of ES&S, “the company that provides the voting systems in Auglaize County, had access to and used the main computer that is used to create the ballot and compile election results…a violation of county board of election protocol…Mr. Nuss was suspended and then resigned.”

· CUYAHOGA COUNTY - (1) “more than 10,000 voters” were kept from voting; (2) in a mostly black precinct, confused results for Kerry and third party candidates indicated “fraud, error, or mistake”; (3)“there was an effective denial of the right to cast a provisional ballot and have that provisional ballot counted. 8,099 were “ruled invalid,” about 1/3 of those cast; (4) “voters were misled when they received phone calls incorrectly informing them that their polling place had been changed”; and (5) in some cases, “arrows on the absentee ballots did not align with the correct punch hole” which “led to voters casting a vote for a candidate other than the candidate they intended to support.”

· FRANKLIN COUNTY - (1) In some absentee ballots, there was lack of alignment in the punch card hole, such as occurred in Cuyahoga County; (2) about a dozen voters were told that their voting location had been changed by someone “claiming to be from the County Board of Elections..”; (3) “there was a discriminatory assignment of more voting machines per registered voter to precincts with more white voters than African-American voters..”; and (4) there were “numerous reported instances of vote hopping (in which a voter selecting Kerry for President saw the choice displayed on the machine ‘hop’ to Bush for President).”

· KNOX COUNTY – (1) Mostly white precincts received more voting machines than precincts with a majority of African-American voters; and (2) certain precincts lacked enough voting machines.

· HAMILTON COUNTY – (1) Mostly white precincts received more voting machines than predominantly African-American precincts; (2) there were some voting machine errors keeping voters from inserting ballots “all the way into certain machines…”; (3) candidates Kerry-Edwards names were omitted from some absentee ballots; and (4) a Republican precinct judge was asking every voter for their address and “being a jerk about it.”

· JEFFERSON COUNTY – “some challenged voters were not notified that their registration was challenged and their right to vote was in question. Their names were merely published in a nearly unreadable list in the local newspaper.”

· LAKE COUNTY – “some voters received a memo on bogus Board of Elections letterhead informing voters who registered through Democratic and NAACP drives that they could not vote.”

· LUCAS COUNTY – (1) there was “discriminatory assignment of voting machines to precincts; and (2) machine errors “snarled the process throughout the day. Jammed or inoperable voting machines were reported throughout the city. Lucas County Election Director Paula Hicks-Hudson said the Diebold optical scan machines jammed during testing in the weeks before the election.”

· MAHONING COUNTY – (1) voting machine errors included one precinct “recorded a negative 25 million votes”; (2) twenty to thirty “ES&S iVotronic machines needed to be recalibrated during the voting process because some votes for a candidate were being counted for that candidate’s opponent”; (3) about a dozen of these machines had to be reset because they “essentially froze.” And, (4) “there were numerous reported instances of vote hopping (in which a voter selecting Kerry for President saw the choice displayed on the machine ‘hop’ to Bush for President).”

· MERCER COUNTY – Voting machine errors showed “289 people cast (punch card) ballots, but only 51 votes were recorded for president. The county’s Web site appeared to show a similar conflict… It would appear that about 4,000 votes (nearly 7%) were not counted for a candidate.”

· MIAMI COUNTY - (1) In Concord Southwest precinct “voter turnout was a highly suspect and improbable 98.55%. In Concord South precinct, there was a highly improbable 94.27% voter turnout.” (2) After all precincts had reported, “18,615 votes came in” and are “statistically suspicious..”

· MONTGOMERY COUNTY - Voting machine errors showed two precincts with “25% presidential undervotes. This means no presidential vote was recorded on ? of the ballots. The overall undervote rate for the county was 2%. The undercount amounted to 2.8 percent of the ballots in the 231 precincts that supported candidate Kerry, but only 1.6 percent of those cast in the 354 precincts that supported candidate Bush.”

· SANDUSKY COUNTY - (1) There was an overcount “when a computer disk containing votes was accidentally inserted into the vote tabulating machines twice by an election worker.” (2) Also, it was “discovered some ballots in nine precincts were counted twice.”

· STARK COUNTY - “The Election Board rejected provisional ballots cast at the wrong precinct in the right polling place.” This had been allowed in other elections.

· TRUMBULL COUNTY - a voter forged a registered voter’s name and gave a different address. When the registered voter arrived, she was allowed to vote.

· WARREN COUNTY - “there were irregularities in the county on election night when officials locked down the county administration building and blocked anyone from observing the vote count.”

· IN SEVERAL COUNTIES, besides Franklin and Mahoning, “there were numerous reported instances of vote hopping..” Kerry voters saw their votes go to Bush.

The attorneys are basing their arguments on Ohio’s Revised Code 3515.16, entitled “Testimony in Supreme Court.” All testimony will be given in the form of depositions.

The contestors may have 20 days to take and file testimony and the contestees 20 more days, but “the court may render such judgments and make such orders as the law and facts warrant.”

Michael I. Shamos from the Institute for Software Research International, at Carnegie Mellon University, believes “it is possible to overturn the Elector’s vote to match the will of the people if the irregularities are enough to overcome the margin of victory.”


Default settings on Voting Machines

Default settings in Mahoning County
by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.

A disturbing story has been widely circulated that a vote for Bush was the default choice in the software of electronic voting machines in a number of states. By definition, “default” settings are built-in by the manufacturer to make sure their programs work properly, and can be changed by the user. Some examples of default settings on a home computer are screen savers, type face, and screen resolution.

According an article by Ann Harrison, posted at

in certain counties in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and New Mexico where touch screen voting machines were used, there have been complaints from voters who selected Kerry on the touch screen and saw their votes change to Bush on a summary screen. In addition, there was a specific problem with the Sequoia AVC Edge machine (not used in Ohio) where voters actually saw preselected default choices presented to them.

With touch screen machines, it is possible to set up a default choice for Bush that would not be seen by the voters. Their votes would be automatically cast for Bush unless they successfully overrode the default choice of the computer. Likewise, if they deliberately chose not to vote for president, their votes would be counted for Bush.

Mahoning County was by far the largest county in Ohio where touch screen voting machines were utilized. According to a report by the Youngstown Vindicator at

Mark Munroe, Chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, said there were 20 to 30 machines that needed to be recalibrated during the voting process because some votes for a candidate were being counted for that candidate’s opponent. In addition, about a dozen machines needed to be reset because they “essentially froze.” Later on election night, problems arose in 16 precincts (11 in Youngstown, 2 in Boardman, and one each in Jackson Township, Craig Beach, and Washingtonville), causing election results to be delayed for three hours as Board of Elections employees checked the vote tallies of the touch screen machines.

Mahoning County utilized ES&S Ivotronic touch screen machines. The administrative password for these machines was reported on the ES&S website itself.

By default, the password is 1111. According to this password cannot be modified easily, which would mean that anyone who knows the password could change other default settings on the machines.

Lists of Election Day incident reports are posted at Click on Research/Maps to find the state, and then the county, in which you are interested.

For Mahoning County there are 116 incident reports, 28 of them involving machine problems. Most of these are complaints consistent with the voting machine having a preselected default setting. There are several reports of machines miscasting votes, always away from Kerry, that do not specify a polling site. Most, however, do specify a polling place, and for these I have ascertained the precinct by calling the Board of Elections or referring to their website at

In addition, we have the specific ID number for three machines (noted below):


Youngstown 1F, Mill Creek Community Center, 496 Glenwood Avenue, Youngstown (2 reports). Machine not working; “arrow moves to other candidates repeatedly.”

Youngstown 2A, Spanish Evangelical Church, 1408 Rigby Street, Youngstown (6 reports). Two of three machines not working properly, or vote for presidential candidate is “reversed.”

Youngstown 2B, Mary Haddow School, 2800 Oak Street Extension, Youngstown (1 report). Two machines down.

Youngstown 2C, Elizabeth Baptist Church, 7 South Garland Avenue, Youngstown (1 report). Machine # V0112442-C “not properly recording votes.” Brought to attention of presiding judge at 7:40 AM, recalibrated by Board of Elections employee at 9:35 AM, machine not shut down during that time.

Youngstown 2E, Price Memorial Zion Church, 920 Dryden Avenue, Youngstown (6 reports). Two voters “selected Kerry and Bush’s name came up.” They succeeded in voting for Kerry on their second attempts. One voter “had to scroll through and vote five times before his votes were finally recorded.” Two voters said the “presidential vote option never appeared while they were going through trying to vote,” it happened to a third voter at the same time, and on two different machines.

Youngstown 3C, Tabernacle Baptist Church, 707 Arlington Street, Youngstown (1 report). Machine # V0107749-C “malfunctioning, screen flashes and scrolls, shows different results or no results.”

Youngstown 5F, Martin Luther Lutheran Church, 420 Clearmount Drive, Youngstown (1 report). One touch screen machine broken, second one erased votes.

Youngstown 5G, Hillman Elementary School, 164 West Myrtle, Youngstown (1 report). When voter pressed Kerry, the screen “went blank” four times. Five attempts were required.

Boardman 20, St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church, 4955 Glenwood Avenue, Boardman (2 reports). Vote for Kerry goes to Bush. On third attempt, screen shows vote correctly. Poll worker dismisses complaint, saying machine is “temperamental.” Another voter needed two attempts to cast vote for Kerry.

Poland Village 1, North Elementary School, 361 Johnston Place, Youngstown (1 report). Pressed Kerry button, third party candidate appeared on screen. On the second attempt it worked.

Struthers IC, St. Nicholas Byzantine Church, 1898 Wilson Avenue, Youngstown (1 report). Machine # V0114343-C repeatedly marks Democratic vote as Republican. Many voters complained of this problem. Election worker had to restart and recalibrate the machine.

These are only some of the broken or improperly functioning machines. The Chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections reported many more than these. Most of the incident reports are precinct-specific, and they cry out for scrutiny of the 2004 and 2000 election results at the precinct level. However, the precinct boundaries in Youngstown have been completely redrawn since the 2000 election, making a meaningful comparison possible only at the ward level, not the precinct level.

In the table below, the 2004 results are listed on the top lines, and the 2000 results on the bottom lines. Percentages for candidates are derived from votes counted for president. Percentages for “undervotes,” ballots with no candidate selected or otherwise not counted, are derived from total ballots cast.

Cast Valid Republican Democratic Undervotes
WARD 1 2629 2596 209 8.05% 2339 90.10% 33 1.26%
2140 1977 131 6.62% 1796 90.84% 163 7.62%
WARD 2 3823 3781 295 7.80% 3434 90.82% 42 1.10%
3537 3315 205 6.18% 3018 91.04% 222 6.28%
WARD 3 3539 3488 450 12.90% 2981 85.46% 51 1.44%
3200 3038 386 12.70% 2545 83.77% 162 5.06%
WARD 4 5422 5372 1353 25.19% 3967 73.85% 50 0.92%
5023 4919 1222 24.84% 3419 69.51% 104 2.07%
WARD 5 5456 5371 1204 22.42% 4107 76.47% 85 1.56%
4946 4783 1064 22.25% 3542 74.05% 163 3.30%
WARD 6 3206 3178 420 13.22% 2723 85.68% 28 0.87%
2790 2619 432 16.49% 2105 80.37% 171 6.13%
WARD 7 4941 4890 1183 24.19% 3657 74.79% 51 1.03%
4587 4452 1107 24.80% 3117 70.01% 135 2.94%

As shown in the table above, the Republican percentage of the vote increased significantly in Wards 1 and 2, increased slightly in Wards 3, 4, and 5, and actually decreased in Wards 6 and 7. In fact, the actual number of Republican votes decreased in Ward 6. This trend can be studied more closely by comparing the changes for both parties in each ward, as shown in the table below:

Republican Democratic
WARD 1 78 12.60% 541 87.40%
WARD 2 90 17.79% 416 82.21%
WARD 3 64 12.80% 436 87.20%
WARD 4 131 19.29% 548 80.71%
WARD 5 140 19.86% 565 80.14%
WARD 6 -12 -1.98% 618 101.98%
WARD 7 76 12.34% 540 87.66%

Note that the Republican share of the increased vote was 17.79% in Ward 2, which is 11.61% more than what Bush received in the 2000 election. This is also the ward where half the complaints (14 of 28) about touch screen voting machines were filed. In Ward 1, the Republican share of the increased vote was 12.60%, which is 5.98% more than what Bush received in the 2000 election. There were complaints filed here as well, in Precinct 1F, where the touch screen machine recorded “other candidates repeatedly.” In Ward 3, where a complaint was filed in Precinct 3C, Bush’s share of the increased vote was 12.80%, which is 0.10% more than he received in the 2000 election. This might seem insignificant were it not for the complaint that the touch screen “flashes and scrolls, shows different results or no results,” and for voting patterns in the other wards of Youngstown.

In Ward 4, Bush’s share of the increased vote was 19.29%, which is 5.55% less than he received in the 2000 election. In Ward 5, Bush’s share of the increased vote was 19.86%, which is 2.39% less than he received in the 2000 election. In Ward 6, Bush actually had a net loss of 12 votes, or -1.98%, which is 18.47% less than he received in the 2000 election. In Ward 7, Bush’s share of the increased vote was 12.34%, which is 12.46% less than he received in the 2000 election.

It is entirely possible that the increases in Bush’s percentage of the vote in Wards 1, 2, and 3 of Youngstown were due to default settings for Bush on the touch screen voting machines. Both the statistical evidence and the anecdotal evidence are entirely consistent with this conclusion. Even in the wards where Bush lost ground to his Democratic opponent, default settings for Bush may have served to cut his losses. The lack of posted complaints specific to these wards should not be construed to mean that all the touch screen machines in these wards were operating properly.

Touch screen machines are touted as a technological advance because they prevent all “overvotes,” ballots with two or more candidates selected for the same office, and because they prevent “undervotes,” ballots with no candidate selected, unless by deliberate choice of the voter.

“Undervotes” have long been a real problem, undermining the ability of election results to reflect the will of the electorate. Undervotes are especially common with punch cards. If the machines are not emptied frequently they become filled with chads, which can prevent the voter from punching fully through the card, or prevent the voter from fully inserting the punch card into the machine, in which case the punches will not be aligned properly. The machine will then fail to record a vote.

It is an affront to voting rights for election officials to refuse to examine by hand the punch cards that the machines failed to identify as valid votes. There are always people who go to the polls and choose not to vote for a presidential candidate, but not many.

Undervotes are less common with optical scanners, which are machines that scan paper ballots for marks made by voters in spaces next to candidates’ names. There are always some ballots with marks that are not detected by the scanner, and these must be examined by hand if the will of the voter is to be determined. Again, it is an affront to voting rights for election officials to fail to do so. Machines should be utilized to minimize the number of ballots that must be read manually, but should not be assumed to eliminate this task altogether.

In Mahoning County, optical scanners were used for all voting in the 2000 election, and for absentee ballots in the 2004 election. Again, the 2004 data are listed on the top lines, and the 2000 data on the bottom lines.

Cast Counted Uncounted
YOUNGSTOWN 29,016 28,676 340 1.17%
26,223 25,103 1120 4.27%
SUBURBS 86,919 86,233 686 0.79%
78,347 77,128 1219 1.56%
ABSENTEE 18,354 17,966 388 2.11%
12,319 12,011 308 2.50%
COUNTY WIDE 134,289 132,875 1414 1.05%
116,889 114,242 2647 2.26%

The percentage of uncounted votes in 2004 was twice as high for absentee ballots with optical scanners as for Election Day ballots with touch screens. The problem with touch screens lies not in the number of undervotes, but in the reason why the number is so low.

One way to examine the Mahoning County election results is to look for the precincts with the most undervotes.

Precinct Reg Cast Turnout Bush Kerry Undervotes
YOUNGSTOWN 5G 687 316 46.00% 19 247 44 13.92%
YOUNGSTOWN 3G 684 306 44.74% 26 263 13 4.25%
YOUNGSTOWN 3D 686 225 32.80% 16 192 8 3.56%
STRUTHERS 1B 460 237 51.52% 50 178 7 2.95%
CAMPBELL 4B 542 288 52.77% 53 225 8 2.78%
LOWELLVILLE 1 517 329 63.64% 88 230 9 2.74%
YOUNGSTOWN 1F 595 265 44.54% 16 235 7 2.64%
YOUNGSTOWN 3C 813 266 32.72% 34 218 7 2.63%

There are 312 precincts in Mahoning County. In only 8 precincts was the percentage of undervotes 2.5% or more, and 5 of these precincts were in Youngstown.

Youngstown 3C, Tabernacle Baptist Church, 707 Arlington Street, Youngstown, was the one where the touch screen “flashes and scrolls, shows different results or no results.” As a result, 7 undervotes were cast.

But without question, the most interesting of these precincts is Youngstown 5G, Hillman Elementary School, 164 West Myrtle, Youngstown. There were 9 complaints about long lines, slow pace, and “planned confusion,” despite having 6 voting machines. More importantly, this is the precinct where a voter pressed Kerry and the screen “went blank” four times. Five attempts were required to cast a vote. Apparently other voters had this problem also, as there were 44 undervotes, 13.92% of the ballots cast, three times the rate of any other precinct in Mahoning County. It is obvious that nearly all of these were Kerry voters, as he won the precinct with 247 votes to 19 for Bush. It is also obvious that the default setting on the defective machine was for no vote at all. The complaint was not that Bush’s name appeared on the screen when voters pressed Kerry, but that the screen “went blank.” This precinct serves to illustrate how many votes could default to an opposing candidate with one machine programmed in this manner.

Another way to examine the Mahoning County election results is to look for precincts with zero undervotes. In the 2000 election, when optical scanners were used, there were 11 precincts out of 416, or 2.6%, where every ballot cast was counted for president. In the 2004 election there were 21 precincts out of 312, or 6.7%, where every ballot cast was counted for president.

Without question, the most interesting of these precincts is Youngstown 2E, Price Memorial Zion Church, 920 Dryden Avenue, Youngstown. There were many reports of voter suppression and intimidation here.

Since the 2000 election, the 19 precincts of Ward 2 have been consolidated into 12. Price Memorial Zion Church was the polling place for more than one precinct, and voters were not told which side of the room to go to. One voter had to go home, check her registration card, and return again to vote. An 88-year-old woman who had voted at the same polling place for 40 years learned only on Election Day that her precinct had been changed and that her new polling place was farther away.

Another voter who had recently changed her address to this precinct was told by the Republican challenger that her name did not appear on the rolls. When she stated her intention to vote at the precinct for her old address, the Republican challenger took her name and called ahead, so she felt she would be challenged again if she went there. She was so upset by the challenge that she was afraid to vote even by provisional ballot, fearing that it would not count. There were complaints at 7:00 AM, 9:57 AM, 10:26 AM, and 11:45 AM that the Republican challenger was intimidating voters, standing too close, leaning and looking over their shoulders.

But the most damning evidence about Youngstown Precinct 2E is the fact that no undervotes were reported. This is the precinct where two voters selected Kerry and Bush’s name came up, where one voter had to scroll through five times before his votes were finally recorded, and where three voters said that the presidential option never appeared at all while they were trying to vote, and that this happened on two different machines. How could a presidential option fail to appear on the screen, even on one occasion, let alone three times with three different voters, and no undervotes be cast? By setting up a touch screen machine with an unseen default candidate, the one whose name sometimes appears against the will of the voters.

If touch screen machines are to be used, against the better judgment of this writer, it is essential to allow inadvertent undervotes by having a default setting for no vote at all, and that the machines function properly so that the number of undervotes is small. To steer undervotes into the column of a candidate chosen by a computer hacker is nothing short of fraud. The number of votes stolen in this manner may seem small in any given precinct, but it can happen almost everywhere at once, automatically, undetected, without a paper trail.