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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, April 25, 2009

So is he stupid, or is it a stunt?

Former Klan leader David Duke has been detained by police in the Czech Republic on suspicion of denying the Holocaust....

The denial is a crime that is punishable by up to three years in Czech prisons.

Picture of the Day

(A man, wearing a surgical mask as a precaution against infection, talks by phone at the airport of Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, April 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias))

Torture case closed.

The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials....

Bill Maher:The GOP is Milhouse's father (Simpsons reference)

Bill Maher has a readable editorial in the LATimes. His main gist: Everyone recognizes that the Republicans are crazy mad, but the things they're mad about seem so detached from America's problems that their emotion is even less appealing.

Oh, and this,
Look, I get it, "real America." After an eight-year run of controlling the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, this latest election has you feeling like a rejected husband. You've come home to find your things out on the front lawn -- or at least more things than you usually keep out on the front lawn. You're not ready to let go, but the country you love is moving on. And now you want to call it a whore and key its car.

That's what you are, the bitter divorced guy whose country has left him -- obsessing over it, haranguing it, blubbering one minute about how much you love it and vowing the next that if you cannot have it, nobody will.

But it's been almost 100 days, and your country is not coming back to you. She's found somebody new.

A very complicated read on Harman, the wiretap, and Goss and Pelosi

Laura Rozen posts a kind of interesting collection of facts, quotes, and political bits surrounding Jane Harman, Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, and the wiretaps. Apparently, it was Porter Goss who was embroiled with Duke Cunningham and had a history with Pelosi and Harman who promoted the investigation.

No clear resolution or discovery, but a bunch of interesting connections if you're tracking this story closely.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bybee regrets....

What am I supposed to make of this WaPo story that tells me that Bybee regrets his torture memos? Am I supposed to feel more kindly towards him? Find further justification that I was/am right?

Does later regret make his crimes less?

(Later: Expressing regret privately is very different from expressing regret publicly and doing something about it.)

Political bits

(Politico) Hillary Clinton is selling her Presidential donors list to everybody to try and pay down the remaining debt. ($3.6 million!)

(Politico) Palin's looking less likely to realistically run in 2012.

(TheHill) Cornyn admits that the Repubs will very probably lose still more Senate seats next year.

(CQ) Eric Cantor is raising big money ($1 mil,) matching the top three GOP House members combined. (I think somebody's fantasizing about trying to take over.)

(AP/Gallup) The center and left broadly approve of Obama on all fronts.

(Rasmussen) Arlen Specter is in all kinds of primary trouble (-21%!)

And, (CNN) A brave John McCain tries to distance himself from his own daughter. (You'll love it under the bus, honey...)


Does anyone else think it's viciously ironic that Alberto Gonzales used his political position to kill an investigation on Harman because she was going to support a wiretap program that critics said might be used precisely for that type of political purpose?

Picture of the Day

(President Barack Obama looks out from Marine One helicopter as it lands on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington as he returns from a trip to Iowa, Wednesday, April 22, 2009. (AP/Charles Dharapak))

Stray thought

Let's not forget the GOP had a "first 100 days," too.

I accept that they're kind of blocked on action in the minority, but they also haven't found a single effective attack line on the Obama Presidency. "Socialist/fascist," "weak overseas," "not serious enough to wear ties in the Oval Office(!!!)," have all failed in definition. They're resonating with the shrunken Republican base, but falling flat in the center. Obama is "approved of" both overall and on the issues.

The Republicans have a "first 100 days" job, too, and thus far, it's not getting done. They have elections in 18 months.


"Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere... I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture."

-- George W. Bush, June 2003


....at least 73 people were killed in bombings on the deadliest day in Iraq in 14 months....

(And, no, I'm not headlining with the report that Al Qaeda in Iraq no. 1, Omar al-Baghdadi, was supposedly captured because, if you'll remember, Baghdadi "has been reported captured or killed several times in the past...")

Related: (AP) The Iraqi government has a "secret tally" which estimates 87,000 Iraqis killed since 2005, 110,000 overall.

An overthrow with regime coordination

How bizarre is this Taleban/Pakistan situation at this point? While the Taleban are trying to take over the country, they're more or less coordinating with the government to find the acceptable rate of revolution that will stay below the threshold of serious violence or serious US intervention.

What kind of civil war is that?

(AP) Pakistani Taliban pull back to Swat stronghold.

(I need a better read of where the Pak military is on all this.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bizarre fact

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt both attended the University of Delaware and both left the university for campaigns and have never completed their degrees.

Fox anchor Shepard Smith: "We are AMERICA! I don't give a rat's ass if it helps, We do not fucking torture!!"


There's an interesting NYTimes editorial by Ali Soufan, an FBI interrogator who objected to the mistreatment of Zubaydah and was pulled out by the FBI. He claims that all useful information was gained using traditional means, not torture.

But what caught me was this little bit buried at the end.
It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.

I think we need to hear more about that.

Backstory on the Harman NSA tapes

Apparently, Rep Jane Harman had "grown weary of Congress" since Pelosi beat her in the Committee power play and "has been eyeing a post in the Obama administration, perhaps as an ambassador."

Whoever gave that incendiary version of the NSA intercept story to CQ pretty much killed any chance at an ambassadorship.

The GOP head explodes

Hillary Clinton mounts an eloquent explanation on reinstating family planning into US foreign aid.

Condi Rice is dragged down by Senate torture report

The CIA's use of waterboarding to interrogate terrorism suspects was approved by Condoleezza Rice as early as 2002, a senate report reveals....

(Of all the Bush figures, she has disappeared the farthest, hasn't she? One of the few who served a full eight years at Bush's side, and we haven't heard a peep out of her since she praised Obama for winning the election.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

National Enquirer blurb.

Levi Johnston shopping tell-all to finance custody battle for son!

Taleban creep towards Islamabad.

A couple weeks after the Pakistani government recognized Taleban control of Swat, the Taleban have crept forward more or less claiming Buner. Armed Taleban are patrolling the villages.

Later: (AP) "Pakistani paramilitary troops rushed to protect government buildings and bridges..." Also BBC.

Picture of the Day

(An armed Pakistani Taliban stands beside the body of one of two policemen killed in the Buner district on April 7. (Reuters))


If the torture we're discussing ever came to a trial, I don't think you could impanel a jury of 12 and get a unanimous guilty verdict against anyone.

Thought for the Day

From an interesting reader comment at TPM,
Cheney could not have been Cheney if Bush had not been Bush.

The biggest torture story

The NYTimes has the story that the torture tactics were developed from the SERE training and were used by enemies to produce false confessions.

But nobody, nobody has asked the biggest question, although McClatchy hints around it.
The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.....

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.....

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

So the torture took place because Cheney and Rumsfeld kept insisting on an Iraq/Al Qaeda connection.

How do you think they would have treated a false confession?

Going back a couple justifications

Has anyone else noticed that in all the attempts to justify torture, we still haven't heard of a single credible attack that was prevented?

For so long, torture defenders cited "the ticking bomb," and yet all public evidence seems to indicate that all the "interrogation efforts" yielded were, at most, more names., however their relative value is debatable.

Even Cheney's comments don't seem to cite actual plots averted.

Picture of the Day

Not exactly a "brush clearer," but, then again, "constitutional lawyer" maybe ain't such a bad idea, eh?

(AP) "President Barack Obama on Tuesday rolled up his sleeves and got his shoes muddy as he, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton planted trees at a national park site along the Anacostia River in northeast Washington."


....and now we know why the Bush administration fought so hard to stay out of the International Criminal Court....

(WaPo) Several European nations are looking at investigating Bush officials over torture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The torture rollout

The Senate report on detainee treatment shows a clear line from the techniques Rumsfeld approved for Guantanamo straight through to Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib.

Now, let's be very clear. Rumsfeld only officially authorized for Guantanamo and others took that authorization as policy elsewhere, but his language is directly traceable, and while he was Sec Def, he made no move to stop it.

Also, two stories on the genesis of the techniques. The WaPo notes that the Bush administration began developing techniques before they had declared them legal (and before they had any prisoners,) and the NYTimes notes that the techniques were developed from SERE without anyone noting that the techniques were developed by past American enemies to generate false public confessions in US personnel.

(It appears that "someone" is managing this torture release very hard. The Obama campaign was famous for the disciplined, long arc, slow rollout which caught out many who responded in the first or second day.)

Change you can believe in

If Al Qaeda has to pass out this message, it would seem to indicate that our new President and national stance are having an impact large enough to land on the No. 2's desk.
Al Qaeda's second-in-command told Muslims not to be fooled by U.S. President Barack Obama's policies which, he said on an Islamist website on Monday, are no different to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Still no Ambassador to Iraq

Three months since inauguration, and Senate Republicans, primarily McCain and Graham, are still holding up the appointment of Chris Hill to the critical ambassador to Iraq post.

Can you imagine the hue and cry if Democrats had held up a key Bush appointment to Iraq?

The other version of the Harman/AIPAC story

Here's the other (friendlier) version of the Harman/AIPAC story, not surprisingly in the NYTimes.

The truth is probably between the two versions, and it's certainly not pretty in any case, but it does reopen the who, where, and why questions on the first version.

Who wanted to tell the very most damaging version about Harman? To what degree was CQ played in this? (They got the big story, but, as a smaller publication, appear to have been somewhat used.) And, why now?

(I kinda like the theory that this is someone trying to take attention away from the torture releases.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dick Cheney promoted on Drudge

How dare they not promote our internally generated memos justifying torture? We spent alot of time making those up.

Political bits

(Politico) At a Virginia political debate/dinner, Terry McAuliffe throws a jab at Joe Trippi saying the best way he could help McAuliffe is to work for his opponent. McAuliffe then sharply jibes, "Ask President Dean or President Edwards." Someone in the crowd fires back, "What about President Hillary Clinton," and the crowd reacts. It's a sharp exchange. (About 5:00 minutes in.)

(Politico) Giuliani runs away from the suggestion that he would use anti-gay marriage in the Governor's race. (We're winning on this issue.)

(RollCall) Pa. Republicans are significantly sitting out Arlen Specter's primary against Toomey.

(NYTimes) The Alaska legislature rejected Palin's very dubious pick for AG.

And, (FirstRead) Franken begins hiring Senate staffers.

Rep Jane Harman was the potential wiretap target?

This is so, so ugly. Remember a couple days ago the story on NSA "overcollecting" that included the mention that a member of Congress had been a potential wiretap target after she had been incidentally picked up on a legitimate tap "with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance"

Well, that Rep appears to be Rep Jane Harman.

Supposedly, Rep Jane Harman was caught on an NSA wiretap offering an Israeli agent a deal, to help make the AIPAC case go away in exchange for their pressuring Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman the head of the House Intelligence Committee.
Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a “completed crime,” a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it, three former officials said.

It appears Porter Goss signed off on the investigation and notified the House leadership. The investigation was going to go forward until Alberto Gonzales scotched it because he wanted Harman to help pitch warrantless wiretapping to Congress. (I'm sure she was quite helpful after Gonzales' favor.)

All kinds of questions in all kinds of directions. Why was she preparing illegal acts to stay at the head of the Intel Committee? (That has to be more than ambition.) What further evidence of favors do we have between Gonzales and Harman? What else are we going to find going back to the Pelosi/Harman fight in 2006?

How did such a secret, which so many knew, stay a secret for two full years? Are the recordings still out there? Who has them?

There's an alternate version of the story that reads much less damaging, so who wanted this version of this story in public, and why now?

Then, of course, there's Rep. Harman's response,
“These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” Harman said in a prepared statement. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.”

This thing is explosive and it's going to keep going. Read the CQ piece. It's going to be the foundation for alot going forward.

(PS. Also the question of Gonzales' conduct. Killing an investigation in exchange for a Congressional action...?)

Later: Softer interpretations are coming out which makes the leak all the more intentional and interesting.

And, why was this given to CQ? More gossipy and slightly lower publishing standards. Likely to publish quicker with less vetting through outside established sources, so less warning. Read avidly inside the beltway, but not so much outside.

I think the choice of CQ as outlet tells us something, too.

And this comes right as Congress returns to town. What was Harman expected to oppose/support this week?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A bit more frequently than portrayed.... at the White House level.

On Abu Zubaydah, let's remember the article from the other day, that he was waterboarded after local interrogators said thay'd gotten all he had, that they were overridden by Washington, and that "the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs."

Now we get some detail on that non-producing "harsher handling."
But the May 30, 2005 memo, quoting a 2004 investigation by the C.I.A. inspector general, says that C.I.A. officers used the waterboard at least 83 times during August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah. During March 2003, the memo says, the waterboard was used 183 times against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the admitted planner of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Also, if you go way back to the year ago ABC article, we have a clear link saying that Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, and Ashcroft all signed on this treatment of Zubaydah.

Remember, "History will not judge this kindly"?

Picture of the Day

Got his first foreign speaking gig, in China for the Boao Form. (Photo: REUTERS/Alfred Cheng Jin)

Can't do better?

Because it's kind of a slow morning, I thought I'd go back and reference George Will's hilariously serious editorial against denim.

(He must have been upset by someone at his golf club, "Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts....." (How dare they!))

Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas....

The WaPo has a frontpager on how the Supreme Court will soon be revisiting much of the nation's civil rights laws. (The most conservative Supreme Court in the last 100 years.)


Keep in mind in the coverage of the US reporter having been convicted in Iran that she's a pawn in the much larger power game. There are forces inside Iran who want to torpedo any possible thaw between Iran and the US, and the sense I'm getting is that they are responsible for her conviction.

Now we get this from Ahmadinejad, "Iranian president acts to ensure reporter's rights." Genuine part of a power struggle, or just his bit in the play?

The BBC has a nice piece looking at this, too.