Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rove's Troubles Put Bush in Tight Spot

Wall Street Journal

Rove's Troubles Put Bush in Tight Spot

If President's 'Architect' Stays, Second-Term Blueprint Could Be Harder to Realize

Staff Reporter
July 15, 2005; Page A4

Fourteen years ago, it fell to George W. Bush to inform a top White House aide that he had to go. Now, the question is, could he eventually have to do it again?

Then, the aide in question was John Sununu, chief of staff to the current president's father, under fire for his brusque style and questionable use of government-paid transportation.

Today, it is Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, a lightning rod for his brass-knuckled effectiveness and for a discussion with a reporter about a Central Intelligence Agency operative's identity.

What would make a repeat performance even tougher for Mr. Bush is that his reliance on Mr. Rove far exceeds that of his father's on Mr. Sununu. As a result, only extreme political jeopardy is likely to force Mr. Bush to dismiss the longtime adviser he calls "the Architect" of his success.

A decision by prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald to charge Mr. Rove, either with illegally leaking Valerie Plame's name or with perjury over his grand-jury testimony, would force the president's hand. Mr. Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, says Mr. Rove "has done nothing wrong.

"We're confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence," the lawyer says. If Mr. Luskin is right, Mr. Bush's calculations would turn on the extent to which Mr. Rove was a distraction from administration goals, and how much the strategist's effectiveness has been damaged.

Some longtime Bush watchers think the outlines of serious damage are clear in the contradiction between Mr. Rove's conversation with Time reporter Matt Cooper about Ms. Plame's employment and earlier White House assurances that he wasn't involved. What is more, Mr. Bush has previously pledged to fire anyone culpable in the leak.

If Mr. Fitzgerald concludes the leak wasn't a crime, "technically this may get him off the hook," says George Edwards, a political scientist at Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service, named for the current president's father. "But everyone will know that W is playing with the truth if he keeps Rove on the staff."

For Mr. Bush and his party, the furor comes at an especially vulnerable time. Battling predictions of lame-duck status, the second-term president has seen his poll ratings decline amid difficulties in the Iraq war and his drive to overhaul Social Security.

In that environment, sustained media attention to the integrity and discretion of Bush aides on a national-security matter represents an unwelcome distraction at minimum. The longer the probe drags on -- the grand jury is empaneled until October -- the harder it gets for Mr. Bush to accomplish items on his agenda, with the media and Democrats focusing so much attention on Mr. Rove. Last evening in the Senate, they pressed -- unsuccessfully -- for an amendment that would remove security clearances from any federal employee who discloses classified information, including the identity of a covert CIA agent.

In effect, Mr. Rove, who has been largely responsible for Mr. Bush's triumphs, now could become the undoing of Mr. Bush's second-term agenda, unless he can find a way to put the story to rest. "The architect of this historic two-term presidency...may now be the only one that can get the White House out of this political free fall," observes Scott Reed, once Bob Dole's presidential campaign manager.

Others say the story remains an inside-the-Beltway tempest that hasn't broken into the consciousness of average voters -- and isn't likely to. "Most Americans are far more concerned about their summer vacations," says Republican pollster Greg Strimple.

The Republican National Committee has moved aggressively in recent days to cast Mr. Rove's problems as a function of Democratic attacks, hoping that Americans' rising disdain for partisan infighting will cause them to tune out the controversy. Still, the increased visibility Mr. Rove has enjoyed in Mr. Bush's second term makes it harder for the White House to divert the spotlight.
[political peril]

Mr. Rove's elevation to deputy chief of staff after November's election formalized his role in policy as well as politics -- and this made him a higher-profile target. Not bashful on center stage, Mr. Rove in recent weeks charged that liberals sought to offer "therapy and understanding" to terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks, while conservatives prepared for war. Enraged by such jibes, Democrats say they sense in Mr. Rove's troubles a way to magnify public doubts about the administration stemming from the unsubstantiated prewar statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The administration has settled into a strategy of not commenting on questions relating to Mr. Rove or the Plame affair, citing the continuing grand-jury investigation. That has led to brutal probing of White House press secretary Scott McClellan in his daily news briefings, and incessant coverage of the matter in newspapers, on cable TV networks and on the Internet.

So far, congressional Republicans accustomed to taking direction from Mr. Rove have refrained from public complaints about Mr. Rove's situation. But as they cope with their own plummeting poll ratings after months of infighting with Democrats, some have refrained from offering strong defenses of the White House strategist, either.

The political storm presents a very personal test for President Bush. He displays loyalty to friends, just like his father, who endured Mr. Sununu's troubles for weeks before finally cashiering the chief of staff with his son's help.

Unlike his father, the younger Mr. Bush is known for acute political instincts. Those twin characteristics have produced shifting public displays this week.

With Mr. Rove sitting behind him at a White House photo opportunity on Wednesday, the president declined to utter words of support in the middle of what he called "a serious investigation." Yesterday, however, Mr. Bush sent a different, silent signal. With television cameras trained on both men, the president ambled across the White House lawn with his longtime adviser at his side.

Write to John D. McKinnon at


Rove leak is just part of larger scandal

The Christian Science Monitor -

Rove leak is just part of larger scandal
By Daniel Schorr

WASHINGTON - Let me remind you that the underlying issue in the Karl Rove controversy is not a leak, but a war and how America was misled into that war.

In 2002 President Bush, having decided to invade Iraq, was casting about for a casus belli. The weapons of mass destruction theme was not yielding very much until a dubious Italian intelligence report, based partly on forged documents (it later turned out), provided reason to speculate that Iraq might be trying to buy so-called yellowcake uranium from the African country of Niger. It did not seem to matter that the CIA advised that the Italian information was "fragmentary and lacked detail."

Prodded by Vice President Dick Cheney and in the hope of getting more conclusive information, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson, an old Africa hand, to Niger to investigate. Mr. Wilson spent eight days talking to everyone in Niger possibly involved and came back to report no sign of an Iraqi bid for uranium and, anyway, Niger's uranium was committed to other countries for many years to come.

No news is bad news for an administration gearing up for war. Ignoring Wilson's report, Cheney talked on TV about Iraq's nuclear potential. And the president himself, in his 2003 State of the Union address no less, pronounced: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Wilson declined to maintain a discreet silence. He told various people that the president was at least mistaken, at most telling an untruth. Finally Wilson directly challenged the administration with a July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed headlined, "What I didn't find in Africa," and making clear his belief that the president deliberately manipulated intelligence in order to justify an invasion.

One can imagine the fury in the White House. We now know from the e-mail traffic of Time's correspondent Matt Cooper that five days after the op-ed appeared, he advised his bureau chief of a supersecret conversation with Karl Rove who alerted him to the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and may have recommended him for the Niger assignment. Three days later, Bob Novak's column appeared giving Wilson's wife's name, Valerie Plame, and the fact she was an undercover CIA officer. Mr. Novak has yet to say, in public, whether Mr. Rove was his source. Enough is known to surmise that the leaks of Rove, or others deputized by him, amounted to retaliation against someone who had the temerity to challenge the president of the United States when he was striving to find some plausible reason for invading Iraq.

The role of Rove and associates added up to a small incident in a very large scandal - the effort to delude America into thinking it faced a threat dire enough to justify a war.

• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.


11 U.S. Troops Charged With Abuse in Iraq

Yahoo! News
11 U.S. Troops Charged With Abuse in Iraq

By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Writer

Eleven U.S. soldiers have been charged with assaulting detainees in Iraq, the military said Saturday, while three British soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in a rare attack in the relatively stable southern part of the country.

Also Saturday, suicide attackers killed at least nine Iraqi forces in separate attacks in Baghdad and just south of Mosul as insurgents kept up their campaign against the nation's U.S.-trained security force.

Iraqi police also arrested a would-be suicide bomber in the capital before he could detonate an explosive belt among a crowd mourning the victims of an attack earlier this week that killed 27 people, mostly children, an official said. It was the second thwarted attack this week.

The U.S. military said in a statement that the charges against the 11 troops, who served in the Baghdad area but were not otherwise identified, were filed Wednesday after another soldier complained about the alleged assaults.

"None of the insurgents required medical treatment for injuries related to the alleged assault," the statement added. "Only one of the suspected terrorists remains in custody of coalition forces at this time."

The soldiers had been assigned to the Army's Task Force Baghdad but were taken off-duty pending the investigation, the military said, adding that the Army's Criminal Investigation Division would determine whether they should face trial by court-martial.

"Allegations of illegal activities will always be thoroughly investigated," said Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a Task Force Baghdad spokesman.

U.S. commanders have been especially sensitive about alleged mistreatment of detainees since the abuse of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison resulted in a major scandal involving America's handling of prisoners both here and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The attack against the British occurred as the troops were on patrol about 2:30 a.m. in the city of Amarah in Maysan province, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad. Three British troops were killed and two wounded, according to Britain's Ministry of Defense.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch U.S. ally, expressed his condolences for the dead soldiers.

"The bravery of our armed forces was yet again underlined as they help Iraq and its people towards the democracy they so desperately want," Blair said Saturday.

The fatalities brought to 92 the number of British servicemen who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003. Britain has about 8,500-troops in the country, mostly based in the largely Shiite south, where support for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad is stronger.

British losses have been far fewer than those suffered by the larger U.S. force, which is bearing the brunt of the fight against Sunni Arab insurgents in northern, western and central Iraq. At least 1,763 members of the U.S. military have died since the war started.

In other violence Saturday, a suicide attacker detonated an explosive belt inside a police station 10 miles south of the northern city of Mosul, killing six policemen and wounding 20 others, Brig. Gen. Saeed Ahmed said.

A suicide car bomber also struck an Iraqi police patrol in the Baghdad subdivision of Dora, killing three commandos and wounding five civilians, hospital and police officials said.

Elsewhere in the capital, a suicide car bomber struck near a U.S. military convoy in the southeast of the city, setting a Humvee ablaze, police Lt. Col. Hassan Salloub said. No U.S. casualties were reported.

The attacks came a day after a wave of suicide car bombs and explosions targeting U.S. and Iraqi security forces rocked the capital, killing at least 33 people and wounding at least 111, including seven American soldiers.

One of the bombings hit after sundown on a bridge over the Tigris River near the home of President Jalal Talabani. Four security guards were killed and nine people were wounded in that attack. Talabani was at home at the time, aides said, but the target may have been a U.S. convoy.

Al-Qaida's wing in Iraq claimed responsibility in Internet statements for several of the attacks, but the authenticity could not be confirmed.

The would-be bomber arrested Saturday in Baghdad said he was Libyan, according to police Lt. Mohammed Jassim.

Jassim said police grew suspicious of the man, stopped him and discovered the explosives belt.

On Thursday, Iraqi and U.S. forces captured another suicide bomber before he could detonate his explosives belt as part of coordinated assaults just 150 feet from the Green Zone, the site of the U.S. Embassy and major Iraqi government offices.

A car bomb exploded successfully. But one pedestrian bomber was killed after an Iraqi policeman shot him, setting off his explosive vest. Five policemen and four civilians were wounded by the blasts and gunfire.


State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on C.I.A. Officer

The New York Times

State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on C.I.A. Officer

This article was reported by Douglas Jehl, David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson and was written by Mr. Stevenson.

WASHINGTON, July 15 - Prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case have shown intense interest in a 2003 State Department memorandum that explained how a former diplomat came to be dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission and the role of his wife, a C.I.A. officer, in the trip, people who have been officially briefed on the case said.

Investigators in the case have been trying to learn whether officials at the White House and elsewhere in the administration learned of the C.I.A. officer's identity from the memorandum. They are seeking to determine if any officials then passed the name along to journalists and if officials were truthful in testifying about whether they had read the memo, the people who have been briefed said, asking not to be named because the special prosecutor heading the investigation had requested that no one discuss the case.

The memorandum was sent to Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, just before or as he traveled with President Bush and other senior officials to Africa starting on July 7, 2003, when the White House was scrambling to defend itself from a blast of criticism a few days earlier from the former diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, current and former government officials said.

Mr. Powell was seen walking around Air Force One during the trip with the memorandum in hand, said a person involved in the case who also requested anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about talking about the investigation.

Investigators are also trying to determine whether the gist of the information in the document, including the name of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, Mr. Wilson's wife, had been provided to the White House even earlier, said another person who has been involved in the case. Investigators have been looking at whether the State Department provided the information to the White House before July 6, 2003, when Mr. Wilson publicly criticized the way the administration used intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, the person said.

The prosecutors have shown the memorandum to witnesses at the grand jury investigating how the C.I.A. officer's name was disclosed to journalists, blowing her cover as a covert operative and possibly violating federal law, people briefed on the case said. The prosecutors appear to be investigating how widely the document circulated within the administration, and whether it might have been the original source of information for whoever provided the identity of Ms. Wilson to Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who first disclosed it in print.

On Thursday, a person who has been officially briefed on the matter said that Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, had spoken about Ms. Wilson with Mr. Novak before Mr. Novak published a column on July 14, 2003, identifying the C.I.A. officer by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Rove, the person said, told Mr. Novak he had heard much the same information, making him one of two sources Mr. Novak cited for his information.

But the person said Mr. Rove first heard from Mr. Novak the name of Mr. Wilson's wife and her precise role in the C.I.A.'s decision to send her husband to Africa to investigate a report, later discredited, that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear material there.

It is not clear who Mr. Novak's original source was, or whether Mr. Novak has revealed the source's identity to the grand jury.

Mr. Rove also held a conversation about Mr. Wilson's mission to Africa with Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, on July 11, 2003, two days after he discussed the case with Mr. Novak. In an e-mail message to his bureau chief provided to the grand jury by Time Inc., Mr. Cooper said Mr. Rove had alluded to Mr. Wilson's wife as a C.I.A. employee, though, in Mr. Cooper's account, Mr. Rove did not use her name or mention her status as a covert operative.

After his conversation with Mr. Cooper, The Associated Press reported Friday, Mr. Rove sent an e-mail message to Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, saying he "didn't take the bait" when Mr. Cooper suggested that Mr. Wilson's criticisms had been damaging to the administration.

Mr. Rove told the grand jury in the case that the e-mail message was consistent with his assertion that he had not intended to divulge Ms. Wilson's identity but instead intended to rebut Mr. Wilson's criticisms of the administration's use of intelligence about Iraq, The A.P. reported, citing legal professionals familiar with Mr. Rove's testimony. Dozens of White House and administration officials have testified to the grand jury, and several officials have been called back for further questioning.

The special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has sought to determine how much Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman at the time of the leak, knew about the memorandum. Lawyers involved in the case said Mr. Fitzgerald asked questions about Mr. Fleischer's role. Mr. Fleischer was with Mr. Bush and much of the senior White House staff in Africa when Mr. Powell, who was also with them, received the memorandum. A spokeswoman for Mr. Powell said he was out of the country and could not comment on the document. Mr. Fleischer said in an e-mail message this week that he would not comment on the case.

Mr. Fitzgerald has also looked into any role that I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, may have played. Lawyers in the case have said their clients have been asked about Mr. Libby's conversations in the days after Mr. Wilson's article - in part based on Mr. Libby's hand-written notes, which he turned over to the prosecutor.

In addition, several journalists have been asked about their conversations with Mr. Libby. At least one, Tim Russert of NBC News, has suggested that prosecutors wanted to know whether he had told Mr. Libby of Ms. Wilson's identity. After Mr. Russert met with Mr. Fitzgerald, NBC said that he did not provide the information to Mr. Libby.

The existence of the State Department memorandum has been previously reported by news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and The Daily News. But new details of how it came about and how it circulated within the administration could offer clues into who knew what and when.

The memorandum was dated June 10, 2003, nearly four weeks before Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed article for The New York Times in which he recounted his mission and accused the administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq. The memorandum was written for Marc Grossman, then the under secretary of state for political affairs, and it referred explicitly to Valerie Wilson as Mr. Wilson's wife, according to a government official who reread the document on Friday.

When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

It is not clear who asked for the memorandum, but in the weeks before it was written, there were several accounts in newspapers about an unnamed former diplomat's trip to Africa seeking intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program. On May 6, 2003, Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The Times, wrote of a "former U.S. ambassador to Africa" who had reported to the C.I.A. and the State Department that reports of Iraq seeking to acquire uranium in Niger were "unequivocally wrong."

The memorandum was prepared at the State Department, relying on notes by an analyst who was involved in meetings in early 2002 to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate allegations that Iraq was pursuing uranium purchases. The C.I.A. was asked by Mr. Cheney's office and the State and Defense Departments to look into the reports.

According to a July 9, 2004, Senate Intelligence Committee report, the notes described a Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at C.I.A. headquarters on whether Mr. Wilson should go to Niger.

The notes, which did not identify Ms. Wilson or her husband by name, said the meeting was "apparently convened by" the wife of a former ambassador "who had the idea to dispatch" him to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Mr. Wilson had been ambassador to Gabon.

The Intelligence Committee report said the former ambassador's wife had a different account of her role, saying she introduced him and left after about three minutes.

The information in the State Department memorandum generally tracked the information Mr. Novak laid out for Mr. Rove in their conversation, according to the account of their exchange provided by the person briefed on what Mr. Rove has told investigators.

But it appears to differ in at least one way, raising questions about whether it was the original source of the material that ultimately made its way to Mr. Novak. In his July 14, 2003, column, Mr. Novak referred to Ms. Wilson as Valerie Plame. The State Department memorandum referred to her as Valerie Wilson, according to the government official who reread it on Friday.

David E. Sanger and Scott Shane contributed reporting for this article.


Pentagon faulted on U.S. industrial security


Pentagon faulted on U.S. industrial security

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should do more to prevent unauthorized foreign access to secret information through defense contractors, congressional investigators said in a report issued on Friday.

The Defense Security Service (DSS) "does not systematically ask for, collect or analyze data in a manner that helps it properly oversee contractors entrusted with U.S. classified information," the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said.

The DSS is meant to keep tabs on contractors for the Defense Department and 23 other federal departments. It was set up to make sure that contractors safeguard classified information in their possession while doing work for the U.S. government.

It oversees more than 11,000 facilities run by U.S. contractors and cleared for classified information to develop and produce military technologies such as those used in warplanes and spy satellites.

Among these are a growing number of contractors under foreign ownership, control or influence.

In such cases, a foreign interest has the potential to sway operations in a way that could compromise U.S. secrets or affect performance on classified contracts, said the GAO report, which was requested by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon, in a response to the report, brushed off the criticism of the DSS.

"The report demonstrates a lack of understanding of the national policy governing access to classified information by our contractor population and the evaluation process used by DSS," Carol Haave, deputy undersecretary of defense for counterintelligence and security, wrote.

U.S. policy is to allow foreign investments in U.S. contractors as long as they are not known to threaten U.S. national-security interests. Such programs as Lockheed Martin Corp.'s next-generation $200 billion-plus F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the biggest warplane project ever, hinge on complex multi-nation cooperation and co-financing.

The GAO said DSS does not know if contractors are reporting foreign business transactions as they occur.

Unless DSS improves its collection, analysis and other skills, it "will continue to operate without knowing how effective its oversight is at reducing the risk of foreign interests gaining unauthorized access," GAO said.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Senate moving to protect gun industry


Senate moving to protect gun industry

By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The gun industry is likely to win sweeping protection against civil liability lawsuits in the U.S. Senate this month, reflecting a more firearm-friendly Senate after the 2004 elections, lawmakers said on Thursday.

Last year the Republicans killed their own bill, meant to shield gunmakers, gun distributors and gun sellers against many liability suits, after gun opponents attached amendments to it, including an extension of the 1994 ban on assault rifles.

But the November elections left a bigger Republican majority and the Senate is now a more conservative and more pro-gun rights body. Several Democrats, particularly from rural states, also back the immunity measure.

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, lead backer of the legal protections bill, said he was confident it would win Senate approval with few if any unpalatable amendments. A vote is likely in the next two weeks.

Even if mostly Democratic gun control advocates do manage to attach some amendments, Craig said the strategy this time would not be to dump the bill but remove anything objectionable in conference with the House (of Representatives).

"We hope we can defeat amendments and keep the bill clean," Craig said in a brief interview.

The liability bill is anathema to gun control groups. They said it wipes out legal rights of victims of gun violence, including police injured in the line of duty or families harmed by attacks like those of the Washington-area sniper in 2002.

The bill is a top priority for the National Rifle Association, the main U.S. gun rights lobby, which says it is needed to protect firearms manufacturers, distributors and sellers from politically motivated and frivolous lawsuits.


"Unfortunately, as long as gun-ban advocates are able to burden firearm manufacturers with the costs of defending themselves in court, the entire gun industry is at risk of being eradicated," the NRA said on its Web site.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said claims that the bill weakens law enforcement is a "red herring." He called it a "narrowly worded" bill to protect law-abiding businesses.

But the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says this year's bill goes even further than last year's by making it harder for regulators to move against rogue dealers.

Brady center president Michael Barnes said that even in a "tougher political environment" the group hopes to rally opposition to the liability bill and attach amendments, including one to require background checks at gun shows.

"We'd like to close loopholes that would allow criminals and terrorists to buy weapons without background checks," Barnes said, adding, "It's hard to believe that we wouldn't be able to muster a majority now" given the fears of terrorism.

California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a co-author of the 1994 assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire last year, said she would still try to amend the liability bill, but in more modest ways than last year.

For instance, instead of trying to reinstate the assault weapons ban, she said she would try to limit sales of powerful 50 caliber weapons so that they could only be sold through federally licensed dealers, not at gun shows.

Feinstein said she was realistic about what she could hope to achieve in the current Senate. The Senate Republican majority gained four seats, and some of the new Democrats are also opposed to tightening gun controls.


Senators say legislation needed for Guantanamo


Senators say legislation needed for Guantanamo

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress should pass legislation defining the legal status of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay to avoid more damage to the United States' image abroad and reprisals against U.S. soldiers, senators said on Thursday.

But the Pentagon said existing laws allow the indefinite detention of people the United States has deemed enemies in the war on terrorism, and that legislation could be too restrictive and was not needed.

"The truth is due to no one's fault Guantanamo Bay is a legal mess," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing.

With the Pentagon under fire for the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, Graham is working on legislation with fellow Republicans John Warner of Virginia, the Armed Services Committee chairman, and John McCain of Arizona to clarify the legal standing of people the administration calls "enemy combatants" who can be held indefinitely.

Human rights groups and a number of European countries have said that term has no standing under international law, and the detainees should have the rights of prisoners of war.

Guantanamo, opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, has become a lightening rod for criticism with accusation that the mostly Muslim detainees from the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan have been tortured and humiliated.

The Pentagon contends detainees have not been tortured, although it found a key prisoner was subjected to "abusive and degrading" treatment when U.S. interrogators told him he was a homosexual, forced him to wear a bra, made him wear a leash and perform dog tricks, and subjected him to interrogations up to 20 hours a day for about two months.

There are about 520 detainees at Guantanamo from more than 40 countries being held because they are deemed dangerous or to extract information from them on the al Qaeda network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks. Many have been held for more than three years. Only four have been charged and none prosecuted.

Senators said harsh interrogation practices and the refusal to grant prisoner of war status to detainees could backfire when U.S. soldiers are captured.

"Our troops are looking at us to see whether we're going to adopt a standard that if they were captured would be acceptable," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat.

Warner defended Guantanamo's current operations "as the best they can do under a framework of laws that is either not clear or needs to be refined."

Graham pressed a panel of Pentagon legal officials on whether a law passed by Congress clarifying the status of enemy combatants would speed up the legal dispute that has blocked prosecutions of detainees.

Daniel Dell'Orto, the Pentagon's principal deputy general counsel, said the litigation would continue with or without legislation. "I don't know that that's a panacea for any problem we have right now," he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2004 ruled that detainees had the right to go to federal courts to seek their release from Guantanamo, but there have been sometimes contradictory lower court rulings since then.


Senate defeats more mass transit security funds

Senate defeats more mass transit security funds

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved $31 billion for airport, border and other domestic security next year after defeating efforts to significantly increase protection for American mass transit systems in the wake of last week's London bombings.

The Senate voted 96-1 for the bill that will fund the Department of Homeland Security, the agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks, for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The Bush administration has expressed concern that the legislation would cut $257 million from President Bush's request for airport security, resulting in the layoff of about 6,000 screeners.

But Senate appropriators said the United States needs to increase funds for screening and checkpoint technologies while reducing the number of human screeners.

Also, senators from small and rural states defeated a move backed by the White House that would have targeted more security funds on high-risk states, such as New York and California.

The Senate must now reconcile its bill with a House-passed version before sending it to Bush for his signature.

While 53 of the Senate's 100 members backed the move to spend an additional $1.2 billion next year to shore up security for the nation's subways and buses, supporters needed 60 votes to prevail because the additional money would have exceeded the Senate's self-imposed spending caps.

The Senate legislation in its current form would spend $100 million for mass transit security next year.

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire questioned the effectiveness of such a huge spending increase, saying it "would probably not impact dramatically the security situation." As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Gregg has been working closely with the White House to keep a lid on domestic spending.

The debate over protecting mass transit came during a four-day Senate debate on $30.8 billion for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 for the Department of Homeland Security.

A week ago, bombs exploded in London's subway tunnels and on a city bus, killing at least 52 people and injuring around 700.

"In the wake of the tragic attack in London last week, and attacks in Madrid, Moscow and South Korea, we know all too well that transit systems are targets for terrorists," said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who pushed for the added money.

Sarbanes and other supporters complained that American mass transit systems, which move an estimated 14 million commuters every weekday, were being left behind as the federal government rushed to make air travel safe. Sarbanes said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has spent $18 billion on aviation security and only $250 million to protect transit systems, "which carry 16 times more passengers daily."

"We've been spending pennies as far as transit security," said Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who led the fight for more mass transit security.

The $1.2 billion would have been spent to install surveillance cameras in subways, put bomb-sniffing dogs in train stations and on railcars, hire more security personnel for all mass transit and install more bomb detection devices.

Gregg repeatedly argued that senators, in doling out security money for next year, had to focus on what some experts say are the biggest threats to domestic security: the possible detonation of a weapon of mass destruction and attackers infiltrating porous American borders.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he was "aghast" that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently argued that localities mostly had to bear the brunt of protecting their mass transit systems since hijacked airliners have proven to be a much bigger threat to domestic security.

Schumer said that if Chertoff continued to express such views, "I'm not sure he should continue as secretary."

Senators also defeated a move to add security funds for intercity passenger and freight trains. Even a modest amendment by Gregg to add $100 million in mass transit funding failed as it would have taken some funds from local "first responders," such as police and firefighters.


Feith Says Pentagon Overdid WMD Rationale

Yahoo! News
Feith Says Pentagon Overdid WMD Rationale

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

The top policy adviser to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says the Bush administration erred by building its public case for war against Saddam Hussein mainly on the claim that he possessed banned weapons.

The comment by Douglas J. Feith, in an interview with The Associated Press, is a rare admission of error about Iraq by a senior administration official. Feith, who is leaving after four years as the undersecretary of defense for policy, said he remains convinced that President Bush was correct in deciding that war against Iraq was necessary.

"I don't think there is any question that we as an administration, instead of giving proper emphasis to all major elements of the rationale for war, overemphasized the WMD aspect," he said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction.

The administration claimed the now-deposed Iraqi president possessed mass-killing chemical and biological weapons at the time of the March 2003 invasion and cited them most prominently as justification for attacking.

No such weapons have been found. In March, a bipartisan presidential commission said U.S. spy agencies were "dead wrong" in most of their prewar assessments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

One of the architects of the administration's strategy for the war on terror, Feith strongly defended the decision to invade Iraq.

"It would have been better had we done a better job of communicating in all of its breadth the strategic rationale for the war," Feith said in an hour-long interview this week at his home in suburban Washington.

The broader rationale, Feith said, included the danger posed by Iraq's potential to resume building chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons — know-how that the Iraqi regime developed before the 1991 Gulf War.

In his report to Congress on a CIA-led postwar search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer said none could be found and there was no evidence Saddam produced any after 1991. But Duelfer also said it was clear that Saddam hoped to revive his weapons programs if U.N. sanctions were lifted.

"Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error, as to the stockpiles" of weapons it assured President Bush existed in 2003, Feith said. Thus that part of the administration's argument for why war was necessary was overdone, he said, adding, "Anything we said at all about stockpiles was overemphasis, given that we didn't find them."

Feith has been accused by critics of having manipulated intelligence on Iraq to push the case for war, an accusation he vehemently denies. His chief critic in Congress on this point is Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., who is delaying Senate confirmation of Feith's replacement, Eric Edelman, a former ambassador to Turkey, by demanding the Pentagon produce more documents on the intelligence controversy.

Feith said he is irritated by the assertions of administration critics that the absence of WMD stockpiles in Iraq negates the rationale for going to war. They ignore the broader reasoning, he said, which included the dangers posed by Saddam's record of aggression against Kuwait, hostility toward the United States, a "rhetorical and financial support" for terrorism and a weakening of the world's resolve to contain his ambitions.

"One could fault the administration on the presentation of the rationale, but that is different from saying the rationale was actually extremely narrow and invalidated by the disclosure of the error" on WMD stockpiles, he said.

Another element of the administration's reasoning was a belief, still held, that if the tyrannical regime in Baghdad could be replaced with democratic institutions, it could have a beneficial effect in transforming the politics of the Middle East. That alone, however, was not a sufficient reason to go to war, Feith said.

"Had Saddam Hussein not been a supporter of terrorism and a guy who developed and used WMD, I don't think that simply saying he's a tyrant and we have a chance to replace a tyrant would have motivated the war," he said.

Feith, who served in the White House and at the Pentagon during the administration of President Reagan, said one of his most important contributions during his four years working for Rumsfeld was helping break down communication and cultural barriers between Pentagon civilian and military officials.

By working closely with Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and exposing scores of staff members to their example of cooperation and collegiality, the "great divide" between the civilian and military policy organizations and their "clash of memoranda" has been largely overcome, Feith said.


On the Net:

Feith official biography at

The Duelfer report on Iraq's WMD at


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Republicans agree to slight limits on Patriot Act


Republicans agree to limits on Patriot Act

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans beat a slight retreat on Wednesday on the USA Patriot Act, agreeing that some controversial provisions in the terrorism-fighting law should be authorized for a limited period rather than being made permanent.

Sixteen provisions of the 2001 law, hastily enacted in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, are due to expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress. President Bush has repeatedly called on lawmakers to make the entire law permanent.

The act allowed expanded surveillance of terror suspects and gave the government the ability to go to a secret court to seize the personal records of suspects from bookstores, libraries, businesses, hospitals and other organizations -- the so-called "library clause."

Bills renewing the clauses due to expire were considered Wednesday by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter and California Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein produced their own bipartisan version. The three bills differed in key respects and will need to be reconciled before passage.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner introduced a bill to make the entire law permanent. He said last week's bomb attacks in London made it even more urgent to reauthorize the legislation.

"The security of the American people should not be subject to arbitrary expiration dates," said Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican.

However, during Judiciary Committee debate on Wednesday, California Rep. Dan Lungren suggested including 10-year "sunset provisions" to two key clauses, meaning they would need to be reauthorized by Congress once again in 2015.

That amendment was eventually adopted 26-2, with all but one Republican and all but one Democrat supporting it.

Sensenbrenner hopes to bring the bill to the full House for approval some time next week.


Democrats had pushed for even shorter time limits on the key clauses. Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott offered an amendment calling for reauthorization in 2009. When that was defeated along party lines, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler offered another for reauthorization in 2011. That too was defeated.

"Ten years is too long. Lots of things can happen in 10 years," Nadler said. "The liberties of Americans are worth focusing on a lot more than every 10 years."

Under the Lungren amendment, the two clauses that would not be permanent were the library clause and another dealing with so-called roving wiretaps, which allows the government to eavesdrop on suspects as they switch from phone to phone. Previously, law enforcement agents had to get a judge's permission for each phone number they wanted to monitor.

The House Intelligence Committee, which also has jurisdiction over the bill, approved it on Wednesday after agreeing to a five-year sunset provision on a clause that makes it easier for the government to monitor "lone wolf" suspects unaffiliated with a terrorist group or country.

The Specter-Feinstein bill in the Senate would extend all three of these sections only until the end of 2009 and add several new restrictions on their use. For example, the director or deputy director of the FBI would need to approve any orders concerning library records, book sales, firearms sales or medical records.

"This is a balanced bill. The times call for this bill," Feinstein said.

American Civil Liberties Union senior counsel Lisa Graves said she was encouraged by the day's developments but the bill still needed work.

"The fact that there was a bipartisan vote not to make some key provisions permanent was a small step forward but there still need to be important fixes to protect civil liberties," she said.


U.S. Officials Worry About Sleeper Cells

Yahoo! News
U.S. Officials Worry About Sleeper Cells

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 51 minutes ago

The possibility that terrorist "sleeper cells" are working undetected in America is near the top of worries for counterterrorism officials. This concern is brought home by evidence that seemingly ordinary young men carried out the London bombings.

Particularly unnerving is that last week's bombings and those in Madrid last year suggest extremists already in place — in some cases, native-born citizens — can plan and execute an attack without attracting police attention.

The government raised the terror alert to high for mass transit systems after the London attacks. But officials said they have no credible, specific threats of an attack on America.

Even before the attacks on the London mass transit system, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the Madrid bombings "have heightened our concern regarding the possible role that indigenous Islamic extremists, already in the U.S., may play in future terrorist plots."

Some experts caution that there are vast differences between Muslim communities in Europe and the United States. Still, Mueller told Congress in February, "I remain very concerned about what we are not seeing."

The would-be attackers might al-Qaida operatives — sleeper agents who have been here for some time and are awaiting an order — or homegrown terrorists who are influenced, if not directed, by al-Qaida, Mueller said.

British investigators appear to be pursuing leads that suggest the suspected London bombers — at least three of whom are British citizens of Pakistani descent — fall into the latter category.

In his annual assessment of the terror threat, Mueller also said that some converts to Islam could be motivated to undertake attacks.

The Bush administration has moved aggressively against people suspected of training for and plotting attacks, Critics have said the charges have been overblown and unrelated to terrorism in many cases.

The administration has pointed to the convictions of six Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., who were recruited to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks as a model in pursuing and prosecuting terrorism suspects. Prosecutors never charged the men with planning terrorist attacks.

In a pending case in Lodi, Calif., a U.S.-born Muslim and his father have been charged with lying to federal agents about his attendance at a terrorist camp in Pakistan in 2003 and 2004. The FBI alleged in an affidavit that Hamid Hayat returned to the U.S. in May intending to wage attacks, but said its agents had found no immediate threat or terrorist activity.

Steven Simon, a national security aide in the Clinton administration, said previously unknown groups of attackers "are coming out of the woodwork" in Europe, where Muslim communities tend to be less prosperous and integrated than they are in the U.S.

"It doesn't look like the kind of infrastructure that exists in Europe has been discovered here," said Simon, a senior Rand Corp. analyst who is co-author of the upcoming book, "The Next Attack."

He said he considers such attacks here unlikely in the near term, but said that could change if the Muslim population becomes as alienated as it is in Europe.

Still, Simon echoed Mueller when said, "It's often said that you don't know what you don't know. Things may be escaping our notice."


Bush Passes on Public Endorsement of Rove

Yahoo! News
Bush Passes on Public Endorsement of Rove

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

President Bush passed up a chance Wednesday to express confidence in senior aide Karl Rove in a political fight over a news leak that exposed a CIA officer's identity. The lack of endorsement surprised some White House officials who had been told Bush would back his embattled friend.

Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, later asserted that Rove had "cooperated fully" in the federal investigation, had done nothing wrong and was prepared to provide additional information to a special prosecutor if needed.

"This is a serious investigation," Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting, with Rove sitting just behind him. "And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports."

Later in the day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that Rove did have Bush's support. "As I indicated yesterday, every person who works here at the White House, including Karl Rove, has the confidence of the president," McClellan said.

Bush said he would not discuss the matter further until a criminal investigation is finished.

Across town, a federal grand jury heard more testimony in its probe into whether anyone in the administration illegally leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame in July 2003. Her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration's rationale for invading Iraq, has said the leak was an attempt to discredit him.

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who wrote an article that identified Plame, appeared before the grand jury for 2 1/2 hours.

"I testified openly and honestly," Cooper said outside the courthouse, without divulging details. "I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not. That's something the special counsel's going to have to determine."

Wednesday evening, Luskin, Rove's attorney, issued a statement saying that Cooper's testimony would "not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or the grand jury."

"Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation," said Luskin. "Rove has done nothing wrong. We're confident he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence."

If special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald "seeks additional information from Rove in light of Cooper's testimony, Rove will promptly provide it," the lawyer's statement said.

The dispute has taken a toll on the White House and its allies, threatening to jeopardize the president's domestic agenda and leading to an aggressive GOP campaign to blunt Democratic calls for Rove's firing or resignation. With urging from the White House, Republican congressmen lined up in support of Rove and most GOP politicians outside Washington followed suit.

"It's a tempest in a teapot," said Denzil Garrison, former state GOP leader in Oklahoma. But some Republicans said Rove may need to go. "I think he should resign," said Jim Holt, a Republican state senator in Arkansas who is running for lieutenant governor. "I hope Karl Rove doesn't come gunning for me."

Bush previously had suggested he'd fire anyone found to have been a leaker in the case.

Bombarded with Rove questions for a third straight day, McClellan said, "I think we've exhausted the discussion on this the last couple of days." Joking about the toll of the controversy, he said, "It may not look like it, but there's a little flesh that's been taken out of me the past few days."

McClellan said Bush had not expressed confidence in Rove in the Cabinet session because no one had asked him that directly. The question put to Bush was whether he had spoken with Rove about the Plame matter, whether he believed Rove had acted improperly, and whether it was appropriate for the White House to say in 2003 that Rove was not involved in the leak.

McClellan said Bush agreed with Laura Bush, who earlier Wednesday told reporters traveling with her in Africa that Rove was a good family friend.

"I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation," Bush said. "We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed."

The failure by Bush to publicly back Rove left some White House advisers privately wondering whether the president was distancing himself from his longtime adviser.

The White House has previously said Rove was not involved in the leak. But an internal Time magazine e-mail disclosed over the weekend suggested Rove mentioned to Time reporter Cooper that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.

She was first publicly identified by name as an operative in a July 2003 opinion piece by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak. Rove, through his lawyer, has confirmed that he talked to Cooper but has denied providing Plame's name or leaking classified information.

Each political side intensified its attempts to discredit the other on Wednesday, producing a flurry of press releases and news conferences.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and three other Senate Democratic leaders — Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — sent a letter to Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, asking him to release results of an initial internal investigation into the leak and to begin a new probe "to explain public inconsistencies."

MoveOn, a liberal advocacy group, announced its members would stage a protest in front of the White House on Thursday to demand Rove's firing.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Democratic attacks on Rove "out of control and entirely inappropriate ... accusations based on rumor and innuendo."


On the Net:

White House:


Report cites 'degrading' Guantanamo treatment

Yahoo! News
Report cites 'degrading' Guantanamo treatment

Guantanamo Bay interrogators degraded and abused a key prisoner but did not torture him when they told him he was gay, forced him to dance with another man and made him wear a bra and perform dog tricks, military investigators said on Wednesday.

The general who heads Southern Command, responsible for the jail for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also said he rejected his investigators' recommendation to punish a former commander of the prison.

A military report presented before the Senate Armed Services Committee stated a Saudi man, described as the "20th hijacker" slated to have participated in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, was forced by interrogators in late 2002 to wear a bra and had women's thong underwear placed on his head.

U.S. interrogators also told him he was a homosexual, forced him to dance with a male interrogator, told him his mother and sister were whores, forced him to wear a leash and perform dog tricks, menaced him with a dog and regularly subjected him to interrogations up to 20 hours a day for about two months, the report said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who headed the probe into FBI accounts of abuse of Guantanamo prisoners by Defense Department personnel, concluded that the man was subjected to "abusive and degrading treatment" due to "the cumulative effect of creative, persistent and lengthy interrogations." The techniques used were authorized by the Pentagon, he said.

"As the bottom line, though, we found no torture. Detention and interrogation operations were safe, secure and humane," Schmidt said.

The Pentagon identified the man as Mohamed al-Qahtani and said he ultimately provided "extremely valuable intelligence."

Schmidt said, "He admitted to being the 20th hijacker, and he expected to fly on United Airlines Flight 93," which crashed in Pennsylvania.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), himself abused by the North Vietnamese as a Vietnam War POW, noted, "Humane treatment might be in the eye of the beholder."

Sen. James Inhofe (news, bio, voting record), an Oklahoma Republican, said terrorism suspects "are not to be coddled."

"What damage are we doing to our war effort by parading these relatively minor infractions before the press and the world again and again and again while our soldiers risk their lives daily and are given no mercy by the enemy?" Inhofe said.


Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, head of Southern Command, rejected the recommendation by Schmidt and fellow investigator Army Brig. Gen. John Furlow that Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, jail commander at the time, be admonished for failing to monitor and limit that prisoner's interrogation.

Craddock said the interrogation "did not result in any violation of a U.S. law or policy," and thus "there's nothing for which to hold him accountable," but asked the Army inspector general's office to look into it.

Miller, who helped introduce Guantanamo-style questioning methods in Iraq ahead of the 2003 abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, would have been the highest-ranking officer punished in connection with the detainee abuse.

The report urged punishment of a Navy lieutenant commander, who wore a mask and was dubbed "Mr. X," for breaking military law by making death threats to another "high-value" detainee and telling him he would die on "Christian ... sovereign American soil."

The report faulted a female interrogator who smeared fake menstrual blood on a prisoner who had spit in her face, but said it part of an authorized interrogation technique. It also faulted interrogators over two unauthorized techniques -- wrapping duct tape around the mouth and head of a chanting detainee and chaining detainees to the floor.

McCain said, "I hold no brief for the prisoners. I do hold a brief for the reputation of the United States of America as to adhering to certain standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they might be."

The investigation, announced in January, followed the release by the American Civil Liberties Union of FBI documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents described prisoners shackled hand and foot in a fetal position on a floor for 18 to 24 hours, and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. Others said military interrogators had used "torture techniques."

About 520 men are held at the prison. Many were detained in Afghanistan and have been held for more than three years. Only four have been charged. The United States has classified them as "enemy combatants" and denied them rights accorded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. (Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Deep Gloat

Deep Gloat


Bill Clinton plans private summit on global woes


Bill Clinton plans private summit on global woes

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton says he is intent on finding ways the private sector can solve some of the world's most pressing problems from poverty to terrorism.

As host of a meeting in New York later this year of private and public sector leaders, Clinton said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday there are plenty of problems governments simply cannot address.

"What I'm trying to do is figure out what private sector people can do," said Clinton, 58, who left office in 2001 after eight years in the White House which saw the longest-ever U.S. economic expansion but were dogged by personal scandal.

"It's unrealistic to think all the world's problems will be solved only by government actions," he said at his home in suburban New York.

"If I were president and I had a Congress that was two-thirds Democrat and we were starting with a budget surplus of prosperity, there would still be needs in the world I would like to see met that the American government could not meet entirely," he said.

"If you're a nongovernmental organization or a corporation, you can say, 'I'm going to do this and do it now."'

The Clinton Global Initiative, to be held Sept. 15-17 in New York to coincide with the United Nations' General Assembly, eyes four topics -- poverty, corruption, climate change and religious and ethnic reconciliation.

Everyone who participates must make a specific commitment to be fulfilled by the next annual meeting, he said. For example, a corporation might commit to building schoolrooms in Kenya or sending educational materials to Mexico.

Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people might attend, he said.

People expected to attend run the gamut from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch. Clinton also invited Arnold Schwarzenegger but the California governor's office said he would not be able to attend because of legislative business.

Clinton has said he got the idea for the meeting from Davos, where the World Economic Forum meets each year in Switzerland. That meeting has come under fire by critics who complain it is all talk and no action.

"If you come to my meeting, at the end I want you to make a commitment," Clinton said. "If we did one of these every year at the opening of the UN ... and these commitments were made and kept for a decade, I think it would change the world."

One of the youngest former U.S. presidents when he left office, Clinton has established the William J. Clinton Foundation, opened his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was governor, written his autobiography and most recently served as a U.N. envoy for tsunami relief.

Discussions of ethnic and religious reconciliation will naturally include the issue of terrorism, as will discussions of governments' ability to operate effectively, he said.

"When governments don't have the capacity to deliver the goods, to operate efficiently, to generate economic opportunities, to bring in investment, to give people something to look forward to when they get up in the morning, then that makes them more vulnerable to terror," he said.

But he stressed that security remains a government issue.

Clinton travels next week to Africa for former South African President Nelson Mandela's 87th birthday celebration, then to Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Lesotho and Kenya.

While Clinton said his health was good after heart surgery last year and follow-up surgery this year, his plans to start jogging again have been postponed until after the Africa trip.

"When I was jogging, I didn't feel like maybe it was quite settled inside so I decided I'd walk another couple of months and then start, but I feel good," he said.

He was mum on any political plans by his wife, Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton who faces reelection in New York next year. She is considered a strong contender among the Democrats who want to retake the White House in 2008.

"The honest answer, which no one believes, is I don't know, and I don't want to know because I want her to focus only on getting reelected," he said. "I want her service to be ratified by the people of New York and, until that happens, I don't think she can afford to think about anything else."

Certain rules apply in the Clinton household, he added. "One of them is you never look past the next election because if you do, you might not get past the next election," he said.


The Growing Rove Problem


White House expresses confidence in top Bush aide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House broke its silence and said on Tuesday that President Bush continued to have confidence in his top political adviser, Karl Rove, despite his involvement in a scandal over the leak of the identity of a CIA agent.

But Bush and White House spokesman Scott McClellan balked at answering key questions about the case, as some Democrats stepped up calls for Rove to be fired.

McClellan said the White House was asked to remain silent by prosecutors investigating who leaked the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, an act Plame's husband said was meant to discredit him for criticizing Bush's Iraq policy in 2003.

"Any individual who works here at the White House has the president's confidence. They wouldn't be working here if they didn't have the president's confidence," McClellan told reporters in answer to a question.

McClellan had previously refused to say whether Bush still had confidence in Rove.

The adviser, the architect of Bush's two presidential election wins, was reported earlier this week to have talked to at least one reporter about Plame's role at the CIA before she was identified in a newspaper column in July 2003.

In September that year McClellan rejected as "ridiculous" any suggestion that Rove was involved in the Plame leak.

The key questions went unanswered by the White House for a second straight day. So far this week, McClellan has told reporters 23 times that he would not comment because of the "ongoing investigation."

The president also remained silent. In an Oval Office meeting with the prime minister of Singapore, Bush did not respond to a reporter's shouted question about whether he intended to dismiss Rove.

Bush had pledged to dismiss any leakers in the case, which is being investigated by a special prosecutor.

Plame's name was given to reporters and published in the media after her husband, U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, publicly questioned assertions by the Bush administration about Iraq's weapons programs, cited as a reason for the 2003 invasion.


Several prominent Republicans rallied around Rove after some Democrats in Congress called for him to be fired. Democrats have also urged Bush to sideline Rove by suspending his access to classified information.

McClellan brushed aside the suggestion, saying: "There are a number of people at the White House that have various levels of security clearance and I'm confident that those individuals have the appropriate security clearance."

McClellan refused to discuss the issue in detail. "I don't want to do anything to jeopardize the investigation," he said. He added: "And just because I'm not commenting on a continuing investigation doesn't mean you should read anything into it beyond that."

The White House came under increasing pressure this week to explain Rove's role in the case after reports that Rove was one of the secret sources who spoke to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame and her husband. Rove's lawyer was quoted as saying his client did not mention Plame by name.

Faced with jail if he did not discuss his sources, Cooper agreed last week to testify in the investigation. New York Times reporter Judith Miller refused to testify about sources she spoke to on the story and was jailed.

"The White House's credibility is at issue here, and I believe very clearly that Karl Rove ought to be fired," said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, Bush's rival in the 2004 presidential election.

Joe Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "He should be fired first and prosecuted if he in fact leaked the name."

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Rove was a victim of a "political smear" by Kerry and other Democrats. "You're seeing a partisan smear by the other side," he said.

A top Senate Republican aide said, "I expect Rove to stay -- unless the special prosecutor steps forward and says he did violate the law."


Democrats suggest Hispanics for Supreme Court


Democrats suggest Hispanics for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Democrats recommended to President Bush on Tuesday three Hispanic judges among potential Supreme Court nominees they view as able to win Senate confirmation without a partisan battle.

They include Judge Edward Prado of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of Texas, according to sources familiar with talks about a nominee between Bush and Democratic and Republican senators.

Their White House meeting was aimed at averting a drawn-out fight over a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a key swing vote between the court's liberal and conservative wings.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who participated in the talks, declined to confirm the names offered at the meeting, but told reporters those mentioned could easily win Senate confirmation.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, without naming names floated at the meeting, said he planned to get back to the White House to recommend still another, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

"He's very, very smart," Reid told reporters.

Last month, Reid suggested that Bush consider four other Republicans senators -- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Mike Crapo of Idaho.

Bush, who Reid said "didn't give us any names" of candidates he is considering, got suggestions from a number of people on Tuesday, even his wife.

First lady Laura Bush, on a trip to Africa, told NBC's "Today Show" that "I would really like for him to name another woman," a statement that caught the president a bit off guard.

"Listen, I get her advice all the time. I didn't realize she had put this advice in the press," Bush said.


Bush is seen as interested in appointing the first Hispanic to the high court and is believed to be considering a personal friend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Yet some conservatives have complained that Gonzales may not be conservative enough. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said he has requested an interview to "hear his overarching view of the Constitution."

Bush met at the White House with Reid and Leahy, along with Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican. Leahy is the top Democrat on that panel.

Bush heard out the lawmakers amid his review of the backgrounds and legal opinions of more than half a dozen potential candidates to the Supreme Court. He appears unlikely to make an announcement on his choice until the end of the month.

Criticized in the past for not consulting sufficiently with Congress, Bush said he asked the senators their opinions on who would be suitable for the high court, and how fast they could hold confirmation hearings so the new justice could start work when the court reconvenes in October.


Democrats want Bush to appoint a moderate like O'Connor, who often cast the decisive vote on abortion and other contentious issues. Conservatives want Bush to use the opportunity to shift the court's majority firmly to the right.

"I feel comfortable and good that we're going to be able to have someone that is a consensus candidate," Reid said. But he added, "We have a long way to go."

Frist said he was concerned that "no amount of consultation will be sufficient for a few of our colleagues in this body," an apparent reference to Democrats.

"Co-nomination rather than consultation may be their ultimate goal," Frist said. "But that is not the way the system works, that is not the way the Constitution works."

Many of those mentioned as potential nominees are appeals court judges. Specter, Reid and Leahy said Bush should also consider some non-judges.


US opposes UN Council reform plan

US opposes UN Council reform plan

The US has rejected a draft resolution by four countries asking for radical changes to the UN Security Council.

Brazil, Germany, Japan and India want to add 10 more seats to the 15-member Council, six of them permanent. These would go to the four states and Africa.

But Washington said 191 members of the UN General Assembly were too divided on the issue to vote for such a move.

"We urge you to oppose this resolution," top US State Department adviser Shirin Tahir-Kheli said.

"We will work with you to achieve enlargement of the Security Council, but only in the right way and at the right time," she said.

A vote on the proposal by the so-called Group of Four (G4) has not yet been scheduled.

The debate, which began on Monday, shows a majority in the General Assembly in favour of the resolution although not the required two-thirds majority needed for it to be passed.

Rival proposals

To come into effect, the G4's proposal also needs to be ratified by all existing permanent Council members.

At present, the US, the UK, France, Russia and China are the only permanent members of the UN body, with the power to veto. Ten other nations rotate in two-year terms.

Brazilian ambassador to the UN, Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, said earlier the Council needed to become more balanced.

He said the realities of power had changed since 1945, when the UN was founded.

But critics argued that the G4 plan was a bid for power.

"The seekers of special privileges and power masquerade as the champions of the weak and disadvantaged," Pakistani UN ambassador Munir Akram said.

Pakistan backs a different plan from a group known as Uniting for Consensus, which proposes adding 10 new non-permanent members who would face re-election.

For its part, the African Union would like to see six new permanent seats - but the organisation wants them to have the veto, whereas the G4 has dropped this demand.

Washington is calling for two new permanent seats with no veto power, including one for Japan.

Sweeping reform

The BBC's Susannah Price at the UN says the debate has overshadowed other discussions on reform.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says he would like a decision on Council expansion before the UN summit of world leaders in September.

In March, he set out proposals for a number of sweeping reforms to the organisation, which he said were needed to meet "today's realities".

Other ideas include an agreed definition of terrorism, new guidelines for authorising military action and the streamlining of the General Assembly agenda.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Monday, July 11, 2005

News of the Week
Richard Valeriani: News of the Week

At the Olympics site vote in Singapore, France was represented by President Chirac, Great Britain by Tony Blair and the United States by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. This was the political equivalent of premature ejaculation. Hillary won't be head of government until 2009.

Chirac ridicules Brittish and Finnish food, says Britain's only contribution to the continent is mad cow disease. With Britain and Finland participating in the vote, favored Paris is not selected. Can you say foot-in-mouth disease in French?

New York Times reporter Judy Miller is in jail for refusing to reveal sources for a story she never wrote. Somewhere, Franz Kafka must be smiling.

Karl Rove appears to be the leaker in the case of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. Reminds me of why I wanted to cover the Pope--so I could one day quote "an infallible source."

Arch conservatives rally to prevent AG Alberto Gonzalez from being named to the Supreme Court. Worried they won't be able to pronounce his name correctly?

At the G-8 Summit, the United States got everybody to agree not to take concrete steps against global warming. President Bush wants no reduction in the hot air emissions coming from his Administration.

Also at the Summit, Bush runs into a policeman while riding a bike. Bush unhurt. Policeman sent to hospital. Sounds like Bush's Iraq policy.

Chrysler is bringing back former company president Lee Iacocca to be a pitchman again, using the same slogan--"If you can find a better car, buy it!" Is this a good idea? Encouraging Chrysler customers to do more of what they obviously are already doing?

Fox anchorman Brit Hume reportedly reacted to the London bombings by thinking about buying stock market futures since the market had tanked. That's why he's on Fox.

ABC cancels reality show where offbeat couples compete to win a house by being judged by their would-be neighbors. The replacement show is rumored to be "Desperate TV Executives."

Roger Federer wins at Wimbledon. I thought you said this was news.


No Surprise, New Terror Attack Quickly Is Grist of Politics

The New York Times

No Surprise, New Terror Attack Quickly Is Grist of Politics

WASHINGTON — Just hours after last week's terrorist bombings in London, David Sirota, a liberal blogger, issued a missive titled "Iraq, London and America's Homeland Insecurity" - a pointed critique of President Bush's assertion that the United States is fighting terrorists overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan so that it does not have to face them at home.

"The awful bombing in London today," Mr. Sirota wrote, "shows just how silly, dangerous, short-sighted and truly dishonest this line of reasoning really is."

While Mr. Sirota was arguing that Mr. Bush had neglected homeland security at the expense of the war in Iraq, Representative Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader, issued a statement with an entirely different take on the London attacks. "Today, we stand together in solidarity against terror," he said. "One day soon we will stand together in victory over it."

Terrorist attacks, as these divergent responses suggest, do not occur in a political vacuum. With recent polls showing a dip in public support for the way Mr. Bush is handling the war in Iraq - and to a lesser extent, the war on terror - and Congress returning Monday from a weeklong recess, the bombings in London are sure to have ripple effects for politicians on this side of the Atlantic.

Those effects may be felt in the Capitol as soon as Monday, when the Senate takes up a homeland security spending bill. Democrats are already arguing that the London bombings suggest a need for more spending on transit security.

The bombings are also altering the debate over American treatment of foreign detainees, and the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the broad anti-terrorism law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The House has already voted to strip the Patriot Act of a provision making it easier for investigators to obtain records from libraries and bookstores. The London bombings could force a rethinking of that move, as conservatives argue that it is essential to have strong laws protecting against terrorism.

"The London attacks, like the train bombings last year in Madrid, required a high degree of coordination and detail, suggesting a plot planned well in advance," wrote the editorial page of The Washington Times, the capital's conservative newspaper. "And yet here we are arguing whether to dismantle key provisions in the Patriot Act. Our hope is that July 7 will return Washington to the focus it had following September 11. If they can hit them there, they can hit us here."

If any politician benefits from the attacks, in the short term, Democrats and Republicans agree, it will be President Bush, who won election partly because Americans felt he would do a better job of protecting them against terrorism than his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Despite Mr. Sirota's critique, elected Democrats are unlikely to cite the London bombings to fault the White House right now, for fear of seeming craven in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Republicans, meanwhile, say the bombings will only serve to remind Americans why they returned the president to the White House. "From the standpoint of who do you trust to keep you safe and secure, I think the American people, by and large, know that this president doesn't cow to terrorists," said Scott Howell, a Republican media consultant, adding, "Safety and security jumps right back up in people's minds when an event like this occurs."

Polls show that Mr. Bush's posture against terrorism remains his primary strength. A CNN/Gallup poll, released late last month, found that while Mr. Bush's approval rating on the war in Iraq was 40 percent, his approval rating on handling terrorism was 55 percent.

Still, Mr. Bush's numbers appear to have slipped over time. A survey in May by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found 57 percent approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling the war on terror, down from 62 percent in January. On Iraq, 37 percent approved, down from 45 percent in January.

Doug Schoen, a Democratic pollster, said the numbers suggest a growing sense of unease that will increase over the long term. "Rather than being made to feel more safe and secure," Mr. Schoen said, "what I suspect will happen is that people will come to believe that we are facing a grave challenge that, however well meaning, the president has not successfully confronted."

Democrats will try to make that point in the context of the rail security debate this week.

"This shows that we have to fight a two-front war on terror," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. "One is a war overseas - whatever people's opinion is on that - but the other is a war on terror here at home. I think there is a general feeling and consensus that the administration is not paying attention to the second front."

That consensus, though, does not extend to Republicans, and certainly not the White House. In the prepared text of his radio address for Saturday, Mr. Bush said federal, state and local officials "are doing everything possible" to prevent another attack. As to the criticism raised by Mr. Sirota, Mr. Bush was not backing down. "We will stay on the offense," the president's text read, "fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them at home."


Why Dems Must Find the Guts to Ask the Big National Sercurity Questions
David Sirota
Why Dems Must Find the Guts to Ask the Big National Sercurity Questions

When I got back from Flathead Lake this Sunday and fired up my computer, a friend had emailed me this piece from the New York Times' Week in Review section [see above] that discusses the political/security implications of the horrible terrorist bombing in London. There are two particularly troubling dynamics laid out in the story: First, Democrats seem as yet unwilling to give voice to the very serious concerns these attacks raise about America's current national security policy. Second, Republicans seem willing to brazenly use this awful tragedy in an effort to pump up President Bush's poll numbers. The result will leave America far less safe than we should be.

The story leads off by quoting a blog entry I did about how the attacks call into question President Bush's whole argument that the war in Iraq means that there is a smaller terrorist threat on America's homeland. The blog post also questioned why, in the wake of 9/11, the President opted to spend more than $300 billion on a war in Iraq, while underfunding homeland security?

These are, of course, legitimate and important questions, especially as our country and England move forward in trying to prevent future attacks. Unfortunately, the Times piece says "elected Democrats are unlikely to cite the London bombings to fault the White House" right now on its national security policy, for fear of seeming too political. That is sad, and frightening.

It should be obvious that questions about misguided national security decisions after a tragic attack aren't political at all - they are substantive and absolutely necessary to securing this country and our allies. If, after an attack, there is no opposition party willing to ask very relevant questions about whether our country is making the right security decisions, how can we ever expect any changes in policy that might make us more safe and might prevent future attacks?

This Democratic cowering, which I wrote about on Friday, is coming at the very same time Republicans are doing everything they can to once again politicize national security, just as they did before the 2002 and 2004 elections. As the Times notes, GOP operatives are out there saying "the bombings will only serve to remind Americans why they returned the president to the White House." This willingness to exploit a tragedy is being legitimated by the likes of Brit Hume and others on Fox News. The right-wing knows that in the absence of Democrats asking serious substantive questions, they can try to turn the horrible tragedy in London into a brazen political opportunity for President Bush, without so much of a peep of criticism, and without anyone asking the substantive national security questions that these attacks raise.

It is true that the Times piece mentions that Democrats are going to raise questions about the Bush administration's negligent underfunding of transit security here in America - and those questions will be a positive step.

But in light of this attack and the Bush administration's CIA director admitting the Iraq War is helping the terrorists, Democrats need to start fundamentally challenging this administration on its entire national security strategy - not just nipping around the edges, and not retreating in fear as they have recently.

This is important not because of any political ramifications for Democrats, but because it is good policy. An America without an opposition party challenging those in power to re-evaluate a clearly dangerous and failing national security strategy is an America that is not doing its best to secure its homefront. And that should be unacceptable to all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.


Russert Watch: You Can Lead Tim to the Truth, but You Can't Make Him Drink It
Arianna Huffington
Russert Watch: You Can Lead Tim to the Truth, but You Can't Make Him Drink It

Coming in the wake of the London bombings, today’s Meet the Press was a lot about resource allocation. Specifically, given the resources at our disposal, are we using them in the best way so as to maximize our safety?

The answer is clearly no. And part of the reason this looks unlikely to change is because of the resource allocation decisions of shows like Meet the Press.

Tim’s first guest today was Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Good guest to have on if you want to talk seriously about, say, our homeland security. But that’s not what Tim wanted. Instead, he decided to allocate a lot of his scarce 60 minutes' worth of resources to parlor game questions.

Chertoff came armed with the latest Bush-approved talking points, all designed to evade the obvious contradictions in how the administration is allocating our resources in the name of national security. And each time a pre-approved talking point came up, Tim was relentless -- in completely ignoring it and moving onto the parlor game question. The one he most favored today was: Do you think there will be another major attack on the United States?

He asked it three times.

And, of course, everybody basically said yes. But what’s the point of this question? Is anybody going to say no?

How about devoting more time to asking more questions about how to prevent a possible attack and holding Chertoff accountable for the huge holes and contradictions in the administration's homeland security strategy.

The biggest contradiction involves resource allocation. The president loves to conflate the war in Iraq with the war on terror. But when it comes to resources, there is a Chinese wall between the two wars.

Russert asked Chertoff about a passage from America the Vulnerable (by Stephen Flynn, who was the show's next guest): "The president's 2006 budget request asked for just $600 million for safeguarding all of the nation's seaports, mass transit systems, railways, bridges, tunnels and energy facilities. This is roughly what U.S. taxpayers are spending every three days on the war in Iraq."

Chertoff's response focused on the need "to be risk-based in our funding. We have got to move away from the idea of earmarking money for predetermined categories. And we've got to be able to use the money in a way that is nimble and responsive to the actual threats out there."

But shouldn't the next question have been: Why isn't Iraq part of the 'risk-based' pie -- except when Bush cynically refers to it as the latest battleground in the war on terror to justify why we're there?

Instead, Russert completely bought Chertoff's conveniently narrow definition and followed up with: "Risk-based, meaning locations like New York and Washington, which are higher risk than states like Utah or other places?"

Thanks, Tim. I’m sure Chertoff breathed a sigh of relief. But that wasn't Tim’s last chance to call Chertoff on this dangerous distortion. A few minutes later, Secretary Chertoff was at it again:

CHERTOFF: And as I say, we're going to welcome additional resources, but I want to just remind people, you know, everything's a tradeoff. We don't want to move money, for example, from ports into rail because then we're going to have an issue with ports.

Yes, exactly! It’s a tradeoff. One of the reasons we don’t have enough money to protect our ports and our railways is because of the tens of billions of dollars we are spending in Iraq. That’s the massive trade-off Russert failed to bring up.

Chertoff effectively claimed that the national security budget is a zero-sum game -- but only domestically. The use of the term "tradeoff" offered Russert the perfect opening to challenge this. But instead, he took it as the perfect time to get back to the parlor game:

RUSSERT: Here's another Gallup question: "Would you favor or oppose metal detectors in American public transportation?" Sixty-nine percent of Americans say metal detectors. Twenty-nine percent oppose. Is it workable to have a metal detector for buses and subways and railway cars?

Opinion polls and metal detectors -- what a perfect way to let Chertoff off the hook!

On to Stephen Flynn, who has referred to the state of the Coast Guard as a "Third World Navy." Flynn gave Russert yet another chance to raise the obvious point about resource allocation:

FLYNN: These are young men and women who are risking their lives . . . to safeguard our lives given the inevitability of these attacks. . . . The cost of basically upgrading the Coast Guard's ability -- and we're talking ships that are 30-plus years old that are breaking down routinely on patrol -- is about the cost of a new DDX Destroyer. . . . In terms of not getting a balance between national security and homeland security, we're not even close yet.

Flynn has just led Russert 90 percent of the way there. But Tim is stubborn. You’re not gonna trick this guy into the truth. He escapes at the last second, asking Flynn: "Based on everything you have learned and know, do you believe that there will be another major catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States?"

So you can lead Tim to the truth, but you can’t make him drink it. And where was he a few seconds earlier, when Flynn referred to "the inevitability of these attacks"?

In the second half of the show, the guests were Senators Orrin Hatch and Chuck Schumer. Schumer mouthed the conventional wisdom about reaching a proper ratio of funding for Utah, Wyoming and New York. And of course Russert completely missed the opportunity to ask him and Hatch: How about a proper ratio of funding between Iraq and the homeland? How about the right ratio between combatting Al Qaeda at home and combatting Sunni insurgents in Iraq?

And when Hatch said of Chertoff that "we'll follow whatever he says," Russert failed to ask whether Sen. Hatch's understanding of the constitutional oversight that the Senate is charged with is to follow whatever the executive branch is saying. If that’s the case, why not just fold the Senate committees charged with oversight of Chertoff and give the money to our underfunded homeland security instead?

But instead of catching Hatch's surrender of authority to the executive branch -- after all, Tim surrendered his journalistic oversight long ago -- there he was, right back to the parlor game: "Justice William Rehnquist, the chief justice -- do you expect him to resign?"

After Hatch hemmed and hawed, lest the conversation go onto something meaningful, Russert came back with: "But your sense is this year he will retire."

With all due respect to Senator Hatch: who cares what his “sense” about this is? Why not just ask what the Senator’s “sense” is about when Hurricane Dennis will hit? Or his “sense” of who will win the American League East this year?

But that wasn’t even Tim’s silliest use of his airtime today. That came when he played up Tony Perkins's (the head of the Family Research Council) statement that Schumer "should recuse himself from the confirmation process" because he was overheard on his cell phone talking about "going to war" over the Supreme Court nomination. "I'm sort of flattered that Tony Perkins and others would say I should recuse myself," said Schumer, "but it's sort of silly."

RUSSERT: But you won't.

SCHUMER: I will not.

So Russert really thought that this was a question worth asking? If he did, I have a question for him: Tim, given that Russert Watch has shown you to be a complete suck-up to power and the conventional wisdom, again and again failing to ask questions and follow-ups that hold our politicians accountable, will you recuse yourself from hosting Meet the Press?

Looking forward to your answer.


What a Difference a Year Makes
Harry Shearer
What a Difference a Year Makes

John Tierney's Saturday NYT column was a brave attempt to deflate the hysteria that surrounds US terrorism coverage. What caught my eye was this section, near the bottom, natch:

"I think that we'd be better off reconsidering our definition of victory in the war on terror. Calling it a war makes it sound like a national fight against a mighty enemy threatening our society.

But right now the terrorists look more like a small group of loosely organized killers who are less like an army than like lightning bolts -- scary but rarely fatal."

The lyrics are new, but the melody is faintly familiar. Wasn't that the gist of what John Kerry was saying in the very same newspaper's Magazine last October?

Don't get me wrong, Kerry was a horrible candidate whose explanation for his tardy response to the Swift Boat attacks -- basically, "I wanted to respond right away, but my staff wouldn't let me" -- tells you everything you need to know about his campaign, and his character.

But if "nuisance" is such a horrible way to want to regard terrorism, how come the conservatives aren't sharpening the knives for John "lightning bolt" Tierney?


The column referred to in the above article:

The New York Times
July 9, 2005
When Fear Stalks, Tune Out

Tony Blair was as eloquent as ever when he faced the press at the G-8 summit meeting yesterday, but what was most impressive was what he didn't say. After uttering three sentences of gratitude to the other leaders for their support after the London attacks, he dropped the subject of terror.

Instead of giving murderers publicity on worldwide television, he talked about poverty in Africa and global warming. When a reporter tried to distract him by asking what "went wrong" in London, he said it was the terrorists' fault and went right back to the business of the G-8.

The prime minister was a blessed relief after the talking heads in America the past two days. As politicians vowed to win the war on terror and get more money for their districts in the process, security officials sent SWAT teams to protect commuters and divined that the terrorist threat was now orange instead of yellow (whatever that means).

Television and print editors rushed to assign what is known in the business as the "Fear Stalks" story, as in, "We need a 'Fear Stalks Suburban Bus Riders.' " The commuters' alarm was shared by local experts. South Dakota's homeland security officials were reported to be "monitoring the situation closely."

I don't mean to minimize the bloodshed in London. I lived in New York in 2001 and later in Baghdad during months of car bombings. But I got the most useful lessons about terrorism when I moved to suburban Maryland just in time for the snipers to begin their famous spree near my home in 2002.

I could have written a "Fear Stalks" story about myself as I walked home from the subway the evening after the spree began. I was more tense than I had ever been in New York or Baghdad.

The assurances that the police were on the case meant nothing because there was obviously no way to stop one guy with a rifle from shooting me that evening.

That's the same situation we're in after the London attacks: it's clear that no one can stop terrorists from killing. Spending billions on airport security has simply diverted them to transit systems, and spending billions on transit systems could at best divert them somewhere else: stores, restaurants, sidewalks. Terrorists don't even need bombs. They could simply adopt the snipers' technique for spreading fear.

President Bush briefly admitted last summer to Matt Lauer that the war on terror couldn't ever be won, but he got so much criticism that he promptly backtracked. It was a textbook Washington gaffe: perfectly true but terribly inconvenient.

It was inconvenient because politicians like to promise a cure for any problem in the news, especially if the cure means dispensing money to constituents and campaign contributors.

Promises to halt terror have turned homeland security spending into the biggest porkfest in Washington, and the London attacks have inspired calls for still more spending.

Washington obviously has a role in hunting terrorists and protecting the borders, but it can't stop small-scale attacks like the ones in London, no matter how much money it gives to each Congressional district.

If subway riders like me in Washington and New York want to pay for better security in the hope that terrorists will attack someone else instead, we should pay for it ourselves.

But I think that we'd be better off reconsidering our definition of victory in the war on terror. Calling it a war makes it sound like a national fight against a mighty enemy threatening our society.

But right now the terrorists look more like a small group of loosely organized killers who are less like an army than like lightning bolts - scary but rarely fatal. Except that the risk of being struck by lightning is much higher than the risk of being killed by a terrorist.

It may seem coldblooded to think in probabilities after a tragedy, but contemplating those odds made my walks home a lot easier during the snipers' spree. The other strategy that helped was turning off the television whenever the police and the politicians held press conferences detailing everything they were doing to protect the public.

Occasionally one of those officials urged people to keep their perspective and go on with life, but there was no one quite like Tony Blair. Instead of promising security at home, he discussed problems overseas that he could do something about. Instead of talking about the need for Britons to move on, he moved on.