- Either late in 2001 or early this year, Bush signs a top-secret finding that authorizes the Defense Department to set up a specially recruited clandestine team of Special Forces operatives authorized to violate international law and kidnap, or assassinate, high-level al-Qaeda officials, most importantly Osama bin Laden. The finding also authorizes the establishment of highly secret interrogation centers in allied countries where suspected terrorists and others can be sent to be abused and tortured without any protection under US law. The program is hidden inside the Defense Department as an "unacknowledged" special-access program, or SAP; only a few Pentagon and White House officials have knowledge of it. The SAP is the brainchild of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has long itched to get US Special Forces personnel involved in what he calls "manhunts;" the program also stems from Rumsfeld's well-known contempt for most of the Pentagon's senior staff, who he thinks are unduly constrained by the rules of law and morality. Rumsfeld and his aides constantly search for ways to persuade, or constrain, the senior Pentagon officials to "take more risks" and stop "over-plan[ing] for every contingency." After September 11, Rumsfeld has repeatedly made his disdain for the Geneva Conventions, and the protocols of international agreements, known, calling concerns about the US's treatment of prisoners "isolated pockets of international hyperventilation."
- According to a recently retired Special Forces colonel who served on the high-level planning staffs at the Pentagon, the civilians in charge -- Rumsfeld and his subordinates -- were no longer trying to "avoid the gray area. ...It is not unlawful, but ethics is about what we ought to do in our position as the most powerful country in human history. Strategic deception plans, global assassinations done by the military -- all will define who we are and what we want to become as a nation. Unintended consequences are huge. ...The perception of a global vigilante force knocking off the enemies of the United States cannot be controlled by any strategic deception plan."
- It is possible that this is the same paramilitary force code-named "Box Top," described in James Risen's State of War, though Risen describes a paramilitary unit created by the CIA, who would turn the unit loose on terrorist targets around the globe. It is unclear whether the unit would have the authority to kill suspected terrorists or merely to capture them for interrogation and "rendition;" either way, according to Risen, the group was never activated, because the top officials at the agency "got cold feet over the prospect of turning the paramilitary unit loose." (Seymour Hersh, James Risen)
- Throughout the year, Bush administration officials lead increasingly strong verbal and diplomatic attacks on Iraq, claiming that they have evidence Iraq is intimately tied into terrorist activities, Iraq is "weeks or months" away from developing nuclear weapons that can strike the continental US, and Iraq has "large, threatening" stores of biological and chemical weapons. None of the claims can be verified; much of the evidence presented by the administration was proven to be false and/or falsified. (Example: the Bush administration alleged that Iraq was attempting to purchase material from Niger that would allow them to build a nuclear weapon. In the words of the New York Times, the documentation provided by Bush officials were "clumsy forgeries." By February, the CIA and State Department are informed by their own investigators that the documents are worthless; nevertheless, Bush officials continue to present the documentation to the world as "proof" that Iraq was building a nuclear weapon.) Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle Eastern affairs in the Defense Intelligence Agency, has said that when experts wrote reports that were skeptical about Iraq's WMD, "they were encouraged to think it over again." Two senators involved in the investigation of the evidence state specifically that "evidence was manipulated" by the administration to give a false impression of Iraq's nonexistent "nuclear weapons program." (Truthout, FactMonster, New York Times/Global Policy Forum)
- Dick Cheney has a heart-to-heart talk with Bush about invading Iraq. Bush is hesitant, but Cheney is relentless. One of Cheney's most successful selling points is that he used to be far more moderate on the Iraq question. "The reason Cheney was able to sell Bush the policy is that he was able to say, 'I've changed,'" says a former Bush administration official. "'I used to have the same positions as [James] Baker, [Brent] Scowcroft, and your father. And here's why it's wrong.'"
- Not only does Cheney convince Bush to attack Iraq, he goes at the British as well. Cheney's point man in the push for war, Paul Wolfowitz, meets with British officials on March 17, 2002. Wolfowitz's argument doesn't focus on the so-called WMDs. Instead, he "thought it was indispensable to spell out in detail Saddam's barbarism," according to a March 18 memo to Blair's political advisor, later released as one of the explosive "Downing Street Memos." Wolfowitz also wants to draw links "between terrorism and Saddam" Hussein, according to the memo. The evidence of the alleged meeting between 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the attacks is weak (and will later be thoroughly disproven), but Hussein is known to have supported terrorists of some stripe -- though never terrorism against Western interests. Wolfowitz's arguments are effective -- soon Blair will visit Bush to privately discuss invading Iraq. "There's no way [Wolfowitz] would have done that without the approval of [Donald] Rumsfeld," says a State Department source disturbed by the Defense Department's clumsy intrusion into diplomacy. "And Rumsfeld would never have approved it without Cheney's okay."
- The push for war by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other administration warhawks meets stiff resistance from more moderate conservatives. The public doesn't support the war. Neither does Colin Powell, who is urging Bush to work diplomatically through the UN to curb Iraq. The August 2000 op-ed by Scowcroft, the former national security advisor to the elder Bush, entitled "Don't Attack Saddam," printed in the conservative Wall Street Journal, makes a passionate argument for diplomacy and challenges Cheney's rationale for war, particularly the baseless charge that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks. Scowcroft's argument seems to carry the imprimateur of the elder Bush, and echoes arguments by other conservatives such as Senator Chuck Hagel. Scowcroft warns that the rationale for invading Iraq is unacceptably thin, and that such an aggressive military move "would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it would be expensive -- with serious consequences for the US economy and the global economy -- and could as well be bloody." The op-ed gives impetus to Powell's moderate push for diplomacy, and infuriates Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.
- But Cheney learned in the Ford administration that, according to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, "speeches shape the policy process." "In reality," Cheney said in 1977, "what happens is oftentimes the speech process ends up driving the policy process." Cheney's future speeches, laden with inflammatory and baseless charges against Iraq, filled with aggressive, confrontational rhetoric, and sometimes not cleared with Bush beforehand, indeed drives the Bush policies. (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- When Bush is first briefed on the failure of US and UN inspectors to find WMDs in Iraq, he seems completely unmoved and unconcerned. "I'm not sure I've spoken to anyone at that level who seemed less inquisitive," the briefer recalls. The story is related in the book Hubris, by David Corn and Michael Isikoff, published in August 2006. (Booman Tribune)
- During the year, the Bush administration will mount an unprecedented offensive to classify information. By year's end, over 23 million individual classification actions will have been taken. Declassification actions, at an all-time high under Clinton, would sag to the lowest point since 1995. Thousands of documents are removed from government Web sites. Researchers from all areas of study are hampered by the new classifications. And the pressure from the White House to continually up the ante on secrecy will continue. (Stephen Pizzo/Daily Misleader)
- January: Iraqi defector Najib Salhi explains why Hussein isn't worried about being removed by US intervention. According to Salhi, Hussein has convinced many in his ruling circle, and possibly himself, that the US really doesn't want him gone. "Don't worry about what you see on TV," Salhi quotes Hussein as saying. "I have a special relationship with the US. I am very strong with them. They want me to stay as leader of Iraq. I am like a buffer zone between the Arabian countries and Iran. I have to contain Iran. Iran is Shi'a and extremist. I have to contain them. I have been told to attack other Arab countries and keep them in their place. Just ignore what you see on TV and in the media." (Washington Monthly)
- January: CIA Director George Tenet's review of global weapons-technology proliferation does not mention a nuclear threat from Iraq, though it does warn of one from North Korea. The review said only, "We believe that Iraq has probably continued at least low-level theoretical R&D [research and development] associated with its nuclear program." Greg Thielmann, the former director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), later says, "During the time that I was office director, 2000 to 2002, we never assessed that there was good evidence that Iraq was reconstituting or getting really serious about its nuclear weapons program." (The New Republic)
- January: Eugene Scalia, the son of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, is appointed the solicitor of the US Department of Labor. Scalia's job is to oversee litigation conducted by the Labor Department and provide legal advice to the Secretary of Labor and other senior officials. Scalia, a junior member of the same law firm that Solicitor General Theodore Olson belongs to, is one of the country's most outspoken opponents of ergonomic legislation and study. Scalia believes that ergonomics -- the science that proves heavy and repetitive motions, such as those performed by manual laborers and factory workers, are destructive to these workers' bodies -- is a threat to American business. Scalia has made his legal reputation battling ergonomic-based lawsuits and legislation in the interest of big business against American labor -- which makes him an interesting choice for his position. The OSHA repetitive motion injury standard, which had been ten years in the making, was scrapped shortly after George W. Bush took office due in part to Scalia's efforts. Senate Democrats, including Paul Wellstone and Edward Kennedy, bitterly opposed Scalia's nomination. Wellstone called said it part of the Bush administration's direct assault on American workers. He said, "the Solicitor of Labor is responsible for enforcing the most fundamental worker protection measures on the books. ...Mr. Scalia's professional record of antipathy toward the laws and principles that it would be his job to carry out make this a mismatch. He has been opposed throughout his career to what I see as the very mission of the Solicitor of Labor, who is not just the Department of Labor's lawyer, but is really the lawyer for workers throughout the entire country."
- Wellstone's denunciation was widely echoed by labor rights supporters from Kennedy to the AFL-CIO. One writer notes: "The fact that Scalia is now the Labor Department's chief lawyer -- the man who, in principle, represents worker interests in court -- is the kind of thing a satirist would never dare invent." Scalia's recess appointment will expire in November 2002; rather than face a bruising Senate confirmation hearing, Scalia will resign his position on January 17, 2003. (Scalia will be replaced by his former deputy, Howard Radzely, whose most notorious ruling so far will be his decision that the Labor Department requires companies to provide employees restroom facilities, but those companies need not allow their employees actual access to those restrooms.) Repeated questions about nepotism and conflict of interest have always surrounded Scalia's appointment, with his father refusing to recuse himself from the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case and Eugene Scalia's own law firm representing Bush in the case. (SourceWatch, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- January: Bush invokes "security concerns" to outlaw union representation at US attorneys' offices and at four other Justice Department agencies. Although federal law prohibits union strikes by federal employees, Bush says he issued the order "out of concern that union contracts could restrict the ability of workers in the Justice Department to protect Americans and national security." During the same month, a federal judge overturns a Bush executive order requiring federal contractors to post notices informing workers that they do not have to join a union. (Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- Early January: Neoconservative Michael Ledeen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a known US and Italian intelligence operative, forms the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI), an organization designed to pressure Congress and the Bush administration to foment regime change in Iran. (See the December 9, 2001 entry for more information about Ledeen and his earlier attempts to influence US foreign policy in regards to Iraq. Ledeen is joined in founding CDI by Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American-Israeli Political Action Committee, and an advisor to the Center for Security Policy (CSP), which boasts among its members the Pentagon's Douglas Feith. AIPAC and CDI helped ensure passage of recent House and Senate resolutions that condemn Iran, call for tighter sanctions and express support for Iranian dissidents. CDI includes many other influential neoconservaties from the AEI and other such think tanks. An advisor to both groups is former CIA director James Woolsey; another member is Rob Sobhani, an Iranian-American who, like Ledeen, is friends with the son of the former Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi. CDI has close ties with other neoconservative policy organizations like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which counted among its members and advisors Woolsey, Feith, and Dick Cheney. Many of the same people were part of the well-known Project for the New American Century.
- CDI espouses the belief that any diplomacy or attempts to negotiate with Iran are ineffectual and counterproductive. Instead, the US should immediately begin to destabilize and perhaps even overthrow the Iranian government, and install a nominally democratic, Western-friendly government, perhaps with Pahlavi at the helm. The CDI is a strong supporter of the Iraq-based Iranian guerrilla group Muhajedeen e-Khalq (MEK), which has been labeled a terrorist group by the State Department, and the radical right-wing element of Israel's Likud Party.
- The organization also has close ties with the Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, who, like Ledeen, was a key player in the arms-for-hostage deal between the US and Iran that devolved into the Iran-Contra scandal.
- The rhetoric from the CDI and its colleagues is often stark. At a May 2003 forum on "The Future of Iran," sponsored by AEI, the Hudson Institute, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, several CDI members speak about their views on Iran. One Hudson member, Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of David Wurmser (himself an official at the State Department), tells the audience, "Our fight against Iraq was only a battle in a long war. It would be ill-conceived to think we can deal with Iraq alone. We must move on, and faster." Ledeen himself tells a neoconservative policy forum in April 2003, "The time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon." Some feel Ledeen has a taste for chaos for chaos's sake, a feeling bolstered by statements from Ledeen such as "Stability gives me the heebee jeebies." (In These Times/Third World Traveler)
- January 1: President Bush appoints Zalmy Khalilzad as a special envoy to Afghanistan. Khalilzad, a former employee of Unocal, also wrote op-eds in the Washington Post in 1997 supporting the Taliban regime. (Pravda/From the Wilderness, CCR)
- January 2: A university study shows that 220 records requests from libraries about US citizens' bookreading habits have been made under the provisions of the USA Patriot Act. The act permits federal agents to secretly obtain information from booksellers and librarians about customers' and patrons' reading, internet and book-buying habits, merely by alleging that the records are relevant to an anti-terrorism investigation. The act prohibits librarians and booksellers from revealing these requests, so they cannot be challenged in court. One of the most unpopular tenets of the act, response to it has been strong. Some libraries have posted signs warning that the government may be monitoring their users' reading habits. Thousands of libraries are destroying records so agents have nothing to seize. Many librarians say they would break the law and deny orders to disclose reading records. (CCR)
- January 2: The media reports that Buddy, Bill Clinton's beloved chocolate Labrador, has been struck by a car and killed. Most media reports use the loss to once again mock and degrade Clinton's character. CNN's Aaron Brown reports that "The former president may have acted like a dog; Buddy was the real thing." Some right-wing "news" sites actually accuse Clinton, without a shred of evidence, of throwing the dog into traffic in order to generate some sympathetic news coverage. (Mark Crispin Miller)
- January 4: Florida drug trafficking explodes after 9-11. In a surge of trafficking reminiscent of the 1980s, the diversion of resources away from drug enforcement opens the floodgates for a new surge of cocaine and heroin from South America. (Christian Science Monitor/From the Wilderness)
- January 5: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle criticizes the Bush tax cuts, correctly pointing out that it failed to prevent a recession as the administration promised it would, and says that the tax cuts probably made the recession worse, as later studies verify. In response, Republicans take the advice of pollster Frank Luntz, who had just circulated a memo telling GOP stalwarts: "It is time for someone, everyone, to start using the phrase 'Daschle Democrats' and the word 'obstructionist' in the same sentence. It's time for Congressional Republican to personalize the individual that is standing directly in the way of economic security, and even national security. Remember what the Democrats did to Gingrich? We need to do the exact same thing to Daschle." Republican officials flock to the talk shows and attack Daschle using Luntz's strategy. Senator Rick Santorum calls the mild-mannered Daschle, who has forged a reputation as a moderate always looking for a way to compromise, a "rabid dog;" the Family Research Center runs billboard ads in South Dakota, Daschle's home state, with Daschle's picture side-by-side with Saddam Hussein. Bush himself accuses Daschle of playing election-year politics, and accuses Democrats who oppose his tax cuts as being anti-American. He screams at a crowd in Ontario, California, "Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes!," failing to note that few Democrats, and certainly not Daschle, are advocating any sort of raise in taxes; most Democrats simply want Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy repealed. Robert Scheer writes on January 8, "Notice that he didn't say 'over my dead body' will the homeless -- many of them actually employed in low-paying jobs -- sleep in the snows of Minneapolis because the 'faith-based' as well as government shelters are low on funds. Nor is it 'over my dead body' that Enron workers will be left holding the bag emptied by the President's good friend, Kenneth Lay. Nor is it 'over my dead body' that the Boeing company will be given a $22 billion Air Force contract as it fires thousands of its workers." Adds Paul Waldman, "No, the one thing for which Bush is willing to lay down his life is the preservation of tax cuts for the wealthy." (New York Times/Los Angeles Times/Paul Waldman)
- January 6: Bush visits the Youth Opportunity Center in Portland, Oregon, for a half-hour visit and photo-op showing him talking with unemployed workers, visiting a class of students working towards their GEDs, and watching prospective workers trying to find jobs in a computer database. He praises the center and its staff. In February he cuts funding for the YOC to zero. Many protestors show up at the event, and Bush is protected by squadrons of heavily armed troopers and a military helicopter flying over the center while Bush is present. (Portland Independent Media Center, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
"No Child Left Behind"
- January 8: Bush signs into law the landmark "No Child Left Behind" educational reform act. Co-sponsored by Democrat Edward Kennedy, the bill promises to fund an array of new educational initiatives designed to shore up and improve America's public schools. However, Bush's 2002 budget does not fund NCLB, and in fact guts federal educational spending far more deeply than anyone, particularly Kennedy, had anticipated. (By comparison, the monies lost to Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy amount to over 50 times the amount requested for new education spending.) The draconian testing standards mandated by NCLB are put in force by the US Department of Education even though the funding for the programs to ensure that these standards are met is denied. (Note that only schools receiving Title I funds are required to meet the testing standards. Investigative journalist Greg Palast writes acidly, "The wealthiest suburban districts are exempt and all schools where students wear designer blazers. It's true that our president took a test to get into Yale. It had one question: 'Is your grandfather, Prescott Bush, a Yale Trustee?' His answer, 'Yes,' gave him a perfect score.") Kennedy reportedly feels that he, and the entire Democratic membership who supported the bill, have been roundly gulled. ("Kennedy got rolled," says one education lobbyist. A White House education spokesman calls Kennedy's anger at the implementation of the legislation dishonorable.) The NCLB structure is based on a similar bill passed under Bush's leadership in Texas, a set of legislation that caused tremendous drops in Texas schoolchildren's performances on standardized tests and mass defections from Texas schools by faculty and staff members who tired of fighting the draconian budget cuts mandated by the Texas laws.
- Linda McNeil, codirector of Rice University's Center for Education, compares the NCLB's testing standards to the accounting practices of Enron. Like Enron, the NCLB mandates that a school's entire performance be measured by a single instrument -- in this case, end-of-term state tests. Schools who find themselves at risk of not performing well on the test have routinely taken desperate measures to avoid failure, and the massive funding cuts and round of arbitrary firings that follow, including revamping their entire curricula to become "test-prep" studies, reporting fraudulent test scores, and forcing less capable students out of the schools. Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose call NCLB "a constant Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the principal of every school that receives Title I aid. It uses standardized tests not for their traditional use in education -- to diagnose student deficits and needs and recommend remediation -- but to punish the school for the students' failure. Through it, the government can reshape curriculums, determine who keeps jobs and who loses jobs, which campuses are funded and which are shut down. ...The most cynical critics of the law see it as a Trojan horse by which public education will be privatized."
- Not coincidentally, educational textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill stand to make handsome profits as a result of the bill. The relationship between the Bush and McGraw families goes back to the 1950s, when the families of Prescott Bush and James McGraw Jr, along with other families such as the Mellons, the Harrimans, and the Meads vacationed together on Jupiter Island, Florida. Harold McGraw Jr. won a literacy award from the first Bush administration; the McGraw Foundation gave future Education Secretary Rod Paige an award while he was superintendent of schools in Houston. Harold McGraw III served on George W. Bush's 2000 transition team; Barbara Bush's former chief of staff left to work with McGraw-Hill before returning to Washington to serve on Laura Bush's staff. And McGraw-Hill's former vice-president for global markets is John Negroponte, currently the Bush administration's ambassador to the UN and notorious for his cooperation with Latin American death squads during his tenure as US ambassador to Honduras.
- One of the major features of the bill is the implementation of "school vouchers," a $3500 certificate that parents can use to put their child through private school or other public schools if dissatisfied with their child's assigned school. The voucher program is a shuck, as demonstrated in Arizona, whose voters decided to put vouchers in place at $1000 per child per year. Arizona spends $7000 per student per year in its public schools; the parent gets a fraction of that for their child's education. 76% of the monies spent for vouchers in Arizona have gone for parents who already have their children in private schools -- in other words, Arizona taxpayers are subsidizing wealthier parents who are already paying for their children to attend private school. "How astonishing," writes investigative journalist Greg Palast, "a program touted as a benefit for working-class kids that turns into a subsidy for rich ones."
- Alex Knox, a Democratic staff member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, later says of the bill, "Part of the issue [is that] we passed the bill for tougher standards with higher funding down the road." With the meager budget proposals for the Department of Education in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 (about $50 billion and $53 billion respectively), Knox says, "[C]learly it's not a priority for the administration." Bush's much-lauded $1 billion increase in Title I funding still falls $6 billion short of the FY 2004 authorization called for in the NCLB legislation, and even this increase is only made after 45 other programs affecting everything from rural education to dropout prevention will be cut. Funding for teacher recruitment and training programs, proven to increase student success, will also be cut -- but $75 million is earmarked for "choice" programs providing school vouchers for Christian and private schools. And after several years under NCLB, results show that not only do teachers and administrators have to spend an inordinate amount of time on test preparation, the tests -- the underpinning of the legislation's "hyperreliance on high-stakes testing to solve our nation's education crisis," in the words of Eric Alterman and Mark Green -- do not correlate with improvement in student performance on high school and college entrance exams. In addition, graduation rates and dropout rates rise dramatically, and the performance of minority students drops. As one Nation commentator quoted by Eric Alterman and Mark Green says, "it is as logical to rely upon diagnostic tests as cures for our nation's ailing schools as it is...to 'rely on thermometers to reduce fevers.'" The former state superintendent of schools in Montana, Nancy Keenen, says, "When this administration underfunds public schools and sets unreasonable bureaucratic requirements that can't be met, they're setting schools up for failure because the real goal is to privatize public education. Instead of getting at the crux of the problem and really funding our schools, the Bush administration offers vouchers. Blaming the schools is like blaming a cemetery for dead people." Noreen Connell of the Educational Priorities Panel argues that No Child Left Behind "was always meant as a vehicle for vouchers.... [I]t's structured that way all the way through." She believes that "there are a lot, a lot of technical implementation issues which I think were intentional." (Joe Conason, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Eric Alterman and Mark Green, History of ESEA and NCLB, Greg Palast)
"The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation." -- Adolf Hitler
Bush decides Geneva Conventions do not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda members
- January 9: The Department of Justice's John Yoo, of the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, coauthors a sweeping 42-page memo that concludes neither the Geneva Conventions nor any of the laws of war apply to the conflict in Afghanistan. When State Department lawyers first see the Yoo memo, "we were horrified," one says later. As State sees it, the Justice position would place the United States outside the orbit of international treaties it had championed for years. Two days after the Yoo memo circulated, the State Department's chief legal adviser, William Howard Taft IV, sends a memo to Yoo calling his analysis "seriously flawed." State's most immediate concern was the unilateral conclusion that all captured Taliban were not covered by the Geneva Conventions. "In previous conflicts, the United States has dealt with tens of thousands of detainees without repudiating its obligations under the Conventions," Taft writes. "I have no doubt we can do so here, where a relative handful of persons is involved." Taft's memo and the State Department concerns carry no weight with the Bush administration; by January 25, Bush will decide that Yoo's memo is the way to go, and that the Geneva Conventions will apply neither to suspected Taliban nor al-Qaeda detainees. Alberto Gonzales, the White House legal counsel, states the position in a January 25 memo accepted by Bush. Gonzales writes that "requested that you reconsider that decision," then lays out startlingly broad arguments that anticipates any objections to the conduct of US soldiers or CIA interrogators in the future. "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales writes. "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." Gonzales concludes starkly, "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." Gonzales also argues that dropping Geneva allows the president to "preserve his flexibility" in the war on terror. He reasons that otherwise, US officials might be subject to war-crimes prosecutions under the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales says he fears "prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges" based on the 1996 US law that bars "war crimes," which were defined to include "any grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. As to arguments that US soldiers might suffer abuses themselves if Washington did not observe the conventions, Gonzales argues wishfully that "your policy of providing humane treatment to enemy detainees gives us the credibility to insist on like treatment for our soldiers."
- Secretary of State Colin Powell will "hit the roof" when he reads the Gonzales memo. The next day, Powell fires off a blistering rejoinder to the Gonzales memo, and requests an immediate meeting with the president. The proposed anti-Geneva Convention declaration, he warns, "will reverse over a century of US policy and practice" and have "a high cost in terms of negative international reaction." Powell will win a partial victory: on Feb. 7, the White House will announce that the United States would indeed apply the Geneva Conventions to the Afghan war -- but that Taliban and Qaeda detainees would still not be afforded prisoner-of-war status. The White House's halfway retreat is, in the eyes of State Department lawyers, a "hollow" victory for Powell that did not fundamentally change the administration's position. It also sets the stage for the new interrogation procedures ungoverned by international law. Bush will soon sign a secret order authorizing the CIA to set up a series of secret detention facilities outside the US and ungoverned by American law; those held there can be interrogated with what Newsweek ingenuously calls "unprecedented harshness." Bush will also negotiate a series of "status of force" agreements with a number of foreign governments for the sites; these agreements give immunity not only to US government personnel, but to private contractors working at the sites. The adminstration also authorizes the "rendering" of terror suspects to foreign governments for interrogation -- governments of countries like Pakistan, Egypt, and Kuwait, who are much more willing to torture and abuse prisoners than the US. Not long after 9/11, CIA director George Tenet told a group of senators that it might be better sometimes for suspects to remain in the hands of foreign authorities, who might be able to use more aggressive interrogation methods. By 2004, the United States will run a covert charter airline moving CIA prisoners from one secret facility to another -- it will be judged too impolitic, and too traceable, to use the Air Force. (MSNBC)
- January 10: Attorney General John Ashcroft recuses himself from the Enron investigation because Enron had been a major campaign donor in his 2000 Senate race. He fails to recuse himself from involvement in two sitting federal grand juries investigating bribery and corruption charges against ExxonMobil and BP Amoco, which have massive oil interests in Central Asia. Both were major Ashcroft donors in 2000.
- The same day, during a meeting of senior White House officials to discuss the Enron debacle and domestic fiscal policies in general, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reveals his own contacts from Enron's CEO, Kenneth Lay, about a possible federal bailout of the bankrupt energy conglomerate. He tells the gathering that both he and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans were contacted by Lay in late October, and listened to Lay's case for the government bailing out the company. He and Evans discussed the matter, and O'Neill says that he bluntly told Evans, "Absolutely, under no circumstances" should they consider intervening on Enron's behalf. Evans affirms O'Neill's account, and Bush says, "We should tell the media that this happened, immediately...get it on the record." O'Neill is so astonished by Bush's sudden and uncharacteristic suggestion of honesty and openness, replies, "I couldn't agree more, Mr. President. Truth is best -- always best. The principle is transparency." A few minutes later, Bush meets with reporters to discuss pension protection and corporate responsibility. He fails to mention anything about Lay's contacts with O'Neill and Evans. Later in the day, press secretary Ari Fleischer mentions the contacts; though reporters are momentarily attentive, O'Neill conducts several interviews with CNN, CNBC, and ABC, and the story fades. O'Neill feels vindicated, believing that it proves, in biographer Ron Suskind's words, "the worth of transparency, of straight talk. Had the calls been covered up, or relegated to the shadows and then revealed, it would have raised a cloud of suspicion not easily dissipated. Instead, the incident showed merely that a major contributor and friend of the administration had asked for help and hadn't gotten it." O'Neill has no idea how deeply entwined other White House officials are with Lay and Enron. (CNN/From the Wilderness, Ron Suskind)
- January 10: While responding to questions about his relationship with the recently bankrupt Enron and its chairman Kenneth Lay, George W. Bush tells what will become one of the most notorious lies of his political career: "I got to know Ken Lay when he was the head of the -- what they call the Governor's Business Council in Texas. He was a supporter of Ann Richards in my run in 1994. And she had named him the head of the Governor's Business Council. And I decided to leave him in place, just for the sake of continuity. And that's when I first got to know Ken and worked with Ken, and he supported my candidacy for -- and -- but this is what -- what anybody's going to find, if -- is that this administration will fully investigate issues such as the Enron bankruptcy." The multiplicity of lies and misrepresentations in this short statement is astonishing. Lay has been a friend of the Bush family for many years, far earlier than 1994. The statement that Lay was an Ann Richards supporter is specious; while Lay contributed some money to Richards' gubernatorial campaign -- $12,500 -- he contributed far more -- $47,500 -- to Bush's own campaign. (Enron's political action committee and executives, including Lay, donated $146,500 to Bush as opposed to $19,500 for Richards.) Lay's first contributions to the younger Bush came as far back as 1978, for Bush's unsuccessful run for Congress. In 1994 the Lays gave Bush $47,500 for his gubernatorial campaign, and in 1998 donated $75,000 towards his bid for reelection. For the two gubernatorial races, Enron and its employees donated a total of $312,500.
- In 1986, Enron Oil and Gas Company completed a well that belonged in part to Bush's Spectrum 7 oil company. (Both EOG and Spectrum 7 claim to have no documents to show any connection between the two companies.) In 1988, according to Argentina's then-foreign minister Rodolfo Terragno, George W. Bush called Terragno and pressured him (unsuccessfully) to award a huge oil pipeline contract to Enron. (In 1992, Enron succeeded in landing a lucrative chunk of Argentina's pipeline system.) After the 1994 campaign, the cash kept coming. Lay and his wife donated $122,500 for both Bush gubernatorial campaigns, $100,000 for his 2000 presidential inauguration, and $250,000 for his father's presidential library. In all, Enron and its executives donated $736,680 to all of George W. Bush's political campaigns, the Florida recount fund, and his inauguration. In Lay's own words from an October 2000 interview, he said then, "I strongly supported him when he ran for governor of Texas -- both times. I supported his father back before that." In March 2001, he tells PBS, "I've been a strong financial and political supporter of, first, President Bush Sr. when he was running for president [unsuccessfully in 1980].... And then certainly when he ran for president and was elected in 1988. [I'm] very close to the family, to Barbara Bush and the kids. When Governor Bush -- now President Bush -- decided to run for the governor's spot, [there was] a little difficult situation. I'd worked very closely with Ann Richards, also, the four years she was governor. But I was very close to George W. and had a lot of respect for him, had watched him over the years, particularly with reference to dealing with his father when his father was in the White House and some of the things he did to work for his father, and so did support him." As Lay himself acknowledges, the relationship between Lay and the Bush family is far deeper and more intimate than the current president Bush will acknowledge. Richards herself says, "It was so silly. Why didn't he just say Ken Lay was a strong supporter and gave him a half-million dollars and is a good friend, and he's really sorry Ken's in these terrible circumstances?" Bush fails to admit that Lay lunched with the newly elected president the day after the January 2001 inauguration, and was a regular dinner guest in the White House of both Bushes. In fact, as Molly Ivins documents, it is fair to say that Governor George W. Bush was a creation of Lay's Enron.
- In 1989, Lay spearheaded the effort to have George H.W. Bush build his presidential library in Houston (to which, as noted above, he donated $250,000). "That's when I probably spent a little more time with George W.," Lay later tells the press. In 1990, Lay was the co-chair for a G-7 economic summit held by then-President Bush, and was a frequent sleepover guest in the first Bush White House. At the 1992 GOP convention, "Lay worked closely with George W. Bush" to coordinate the elder Bush's renomination. In 1996, the Lays joined George W. and Laura in chairing a fundraiser to promote literacy. During the 2000 campaign, Bush campaign staff and Bush's parents flew on Enron corporate aircraft, and Lay was a Bush campaign "Pioneer." During the campaign, Lay donated $275,000 to the GOP, and Enron donated over $1 million, including $250,000 towards the GOP national convention. Both Lay and his wife donated the maximum amount of $5000 for the Florida recount fund, and Enron donated the use of its corporate aircraft for the recount staff (including the mob who was flown from Washington to Miami to disrupt the recount). Lay and Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling donated $100,000 each to the 2001 inaugural ceremonies, and Enron donated another $100,000. And several former Enron executives and senior consultants are now part of Bush's senior administrative staff, including chief economic advisor Lawrence Lindsay and trade representative Robert Zoellick. Attorney General John Ashcroft received over $57,000 in contributions from Enron's PAC. Political consultant Karl Rove recommended Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed to Enron. Top campaign advisor Ed Gillespie, who will become the chairman of the GOP, made over a half-million dollars working for Enron in 2001. Key consultants to then-House majority whip Tom DeLay were hired for $750,000 to work on an Enron-backed electricity deregulation campaign after DeLay suggested to Enron that they be retained. Secretary of the Army Thomas White is a former vice chairman of Enron Energy Services, and presided over that arm of the corporation when accounting irregularities and fraud charges plagued EES. Former GOP chairman Mark Racicot, hand-picked by Bush, is a former lobbyist for Enron. Longtime Bush family friend and consultant James Baker, who spearheaded the 2000 Florida recount efforts, is a former Enron consultant. And Bush's brother Neil has business connections with Enron in Kuwait. (Slate, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, David Corn)
Guantanamo Bay detainees arrive; secret CIA prisons built
- January 11: The first of about 600 suspected al-Qaeda and/or Taliban prisoners from the war in Afghanistan are transferred to Camp X-Ray, a detention facility in US-controlled Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners are hooded, shackled, and possibly drugged during their flight to Cuba. Pictures of prisoners being transferred in conditions clearly in violation of international law are later leaked, prompting an outcry; rather than investigating the inhumane transfer, the Pentagon begins investigating how the pictures were leaked. The prisoners are sent to this base because of a historical quirk: the base is owned by Cuba but controlled by the US, so the prisoners are in a legal limbo outside of any US law. Furthermore, the US argues the prisoners are "enemy combatants" rather than prisoners of war, so they do not have the legal rights assigned to POWs under the Geneva Convention. Senior British officials privately call the treatment of prisoners "scandalous," and one calls the refusal to follow the Geneva Convention "not benchmarks of a civilized society." The commander of the base later suggests that some prisoners could end up staying there for decades. As of mid-2006, most of the detainees still incarcerated have yet to be charged with any kind of crime, and have not been allowed to contact either lawyers or family members.
- Both the Human Rights Commission and the International Red Cross have repeatedly declared that these detainees should be held as prisoners of war, with the Geneva Convention protections that designation entails; the US has refused to do so. The Geneva Conventions also mandate that when any prisoner's status is in doubt, it should be determined by a competent tribunal; the US has refused to do this as well. As the British Court of Appeals has noted, these prisoners are in a "legal black hole." In the case of one Guantanamo detainee, British subject Feroz Abassi, whose mother brought his case to the British courts, the Court of Appeals ruled that his detention was "in apparent contravention of fundamental principles recognized by both English and American jurisdictions and by international law." The Court's ruling was ignored by the US.
- Initial reports of the conditions of the prisoners' incarceration in Guantanamo are appalling. The cells in Camp X-Ray are tiny, wire-mesh cages, open to wind and weather. Prisoners are allowed only two blankets and a prayer mat, and must sleep on the ground. No toilet facilities are available, so prisoners must make do in their cells. They are allowed out once a week, for a one-minute shower, and are immediately returned to their cells. Only after months of complaints and a hunger strike will prisoners be given five minutes to bathe instead of one, and allowed to "exercise" in a slightly larger cage. Prisoners are routinely beaten, shackled in "stress positions" for hours, and denied food, water, and basic medical care. The prisoners are later moved to slightly improved facilities in the newly constructed Camp Delta, where they have limited access to running water and cots. In the first 18 months of the camp's existence, there will be 28 suicide attempts. An execution chamber is available, so that anyone found guilty can be executed without delay; there is no official word as to whether the chamber has ever been used.
- The CIA refused from the outset to use Camp X-Ray, or its later incarnation, Camp Delta. The prisoners there were too available to too many American officials from too many different agencies, many conducting their own overlapping interrogations and trodding upon one another's toes and trying to prove that they would be, in the words of journalist and author James Risen, "the first to obtain a nugget of information from the sorry lot of Afghans and Arabs being held there." CIA officials called the chaotic conditions at the camp a "goat f*ck," and wanted nothing to do with it. They preferred far more secret locations, out of the view of anyone from the world's media, human rights organizations, leaky, gossipy US governmental agencies, and, perhaps most importantly, away from the US judiciary system. The CIA instead begins studying the idea of alternative prison sites around the world. Says one CIA source, they were working on "how to make people disappear."
- Quite a few nations are eager to cooperate with the CIA, including one African nation who offered the use of a large island isolated in the middle of a large lake. All of these countries are third-world nations with dubious human rights records and an eagerness to ingratiate themselves with the US. Eventually, a number of secret CIA prisons are established, including two major ones, code-named "Bright Light" and "Salt Pit." The Salt Pit is confirmed by the CIA to be in Afghanistan, and used to house low-level prisoners. No one will say where Bright Light is located, but it is believed to be the eventual home of captured al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and others. From what is known, the number of prisoners there is small; their conditions are unknown. Other secret prisons exist in Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, and in the Southeast Asian nation of Thailand. The CIA even operated a secret prison in Guantanamo, but quickly shut it down after US court rulings began to cast doubt on whether detainees at that military base could be denied the basic rights of the US judicial system. Even analysts at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center (CTC) aren't aware of where the prisoners are being kept. One thing is known about Bright Light: according to one CTC veteran, "The word is that once you get sent to Bright Light, you never come back."
- Many CIA veterans worry over the new, poisonous culture growing within the agency. While the CIA is guilty of many, many dark deeds, until now it has never run secret detention camps and housed prisoners for the long term. Risen writes, "For many CIA case officers, this was not the job they had signed up for when they enlisted in American espionage. 'I kept wondering, how did we get into the prison business?' said one source who worked in the CTC. 'Why was the CIA doing this? This wasn't what we had been trained for.'" (CCR, Peter Singer, Mark Crispin Miller, James Risen)
- January 11: George W. Bush continues to deny having anything more than a passing acquaintance with Enron chairman Kenneth Lay, repeating his lie that he "first got to know Ken" in 1994, when "he [Lay] was a supporter of Ann Richards...in 1994," the Democratic Texas governor whom Bush ousted. In fact, Bush knew Lay from their work on the 1992 Republican National Convention and the Bush presidential library. The current president received $47,500 from Lay and his wife in 1994, many times what Richards received. (In 1994, Lay contributed $146,500 to the Bush campaign as opposed to $12,500 to Richards.) Lay has said he supported Bush, not Richards, in 1994. Over the years, Lay and Enron interests have contributed more than a half million dollars to Bush campaign funds, according to the Center for Public Integrity, making him Bush's greatest patron. (Lay was one of the first, and most frequent, overnight guests at the White House during the first Bush presidency; GOP witch-hunters will falsely claim that Lay spent those nights at the White House during the Clinton administration. The story originated with right-wing maven Matt Drudge, and spun quickly into the mainstream media; only the Chicago Tribune bothered to acknowledge the falsity of the accusations.)
- The Bush presidential campaign received the use of Enron's corporate jets throughout the election season. Lay, whom Bush nicknamed "Kenny Boy," served on Bush's presidential transition advisory team for the Energy Department and was an integral part of Vice President Cheney's secret energy task force. A huge number of Bush I and II administration officials have been Enron employees, including Secretary of State James Baker, Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, political advisor Karl Rove, economic advisor Larry Lindsey, campaign advisors Ralph Reed and Ed Gillespie, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Commerce Department general counsel Theodore Kassinger, Maritime Administrator William Schubert, Secretary of the Army Thomas White (a former Enron vice-president), and Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Racicot, among others. Lay's handpicked advocade, Patrick Wood, was named to oversee George W. Bush's commission to oversee the electric power industry. Lay met frequently with Dick Cheney's secret energy task force in 2001 and was a key player in forming the administration's energy policies -- policies that directly benefited Enron at the expense of the American consumer and taxpayer. Additionally, Lay and the Bush family have social and business ties going back for years. It's obvious that Bush is lying about his relationship with Kenneth Lay. Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and vociferous critic of the task force, says "it seems clear that there is no company in the country that stood to gain as much from the White House plan as Enron." (Washington Post/CommonDreams, Joe Conason)
- Mid-January: John Poindexter opens the secretive Information Awareness Office, a new agency designed to provide federal officials instant access to vast new surveillance and information-analysis systems. The new office is part of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The office isn't noticed by the media or the citizenry for months, when the Total Information Awareness program comes to light. (CCR)
- January 17: Slate magazine gives George W. Bush its "Whopper of the Week" award for his efforts to distance himself from Kenneth Lay of Enron. A week before, Bush said of Lay, "I got to know Ken Lay when he was the head of the -- what they call the Governor's Business Council in Texas. He was a supporter of Ann Richards in my run in 1994. And she had named him the head of the Governor's Business Council. And I decided to leave him in place, just for the sake of continuity. And that's when I first got to know Ken." It wasn't hard to find out just how big a lie that was. Lay and his wife gave Bush three times the amount of campaign contributions that they gave Richards during the 1994 campaign, and endorsed Bush in the campaign. In 2000, Lay let Bush use his corporate jet to fly around to campaign stops. After the inauguration, Lay was invited to the White House to help decide who would be part of Bush's Energy Department, as well as hand-select Harvey Pitt to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Lay was an integral part of Dick Cheney's secret energy task force, and Enron executives were named to dozens of administration posts. Lay's connections to Bush and the Bush family have been well documented, and go back for years. (Slate, Michael Moore/SkepticTank)
- January 17: Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, lifelong friends and conservative financial pragmatists, decide to jointly propose new federal regulations requiring CEOs of companies to assume far more legal responsibility for their corporations' financial disclosures than the law currently requires. The decision is partly inspired by the unfolding Enron scandal, but as O'Neill, the former CEO of Alcoa, tells Greenspan, he has been thinking along these lines for twenty years. "Tie a high standard of accountability to the man in charge," O'Neill says, "and everyone will fall into line." The proposal goes nowhere. (Ron Suskind)
- January 18: Bush declares that detainees incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay will not receive prisoner-of-war status as mandated under the Geneva Conventions. Instead, they will be called "unlawful combatants," a new legal definition that means anything Bush and his officials want it to mean. Joint Chiefs chairman Richard Myers argues against the redefinition, saying that it will lead to the mistreatment and torture of US soldiers captured in either Afghanistan or Iraq, but has no success getting past Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in presenting his arguments to Bush or the president's senior advisors. Secretary of State Colin Powell also argues against the redefinition. Eventually, Myers is able to air his views in an NSC meeting with Bush and other officials. Bush eventually compromises, deciding that any Taliban members captured would be treated as POWs under the Geneva Conventions, though they would not receive official POW classification and therefore would not receive the highest levels of protection under international law. Al-Qaeda terrorists and others would not receive even that consideration. On February 7, press secretary Ari Fleischer announces the change, telling reporters, "The president has maintained the United States's commitment to the principles of the Geneva Convention, while recognizing that the Convention simply does not cover every situation in which people may be captured or detained by military forces, as we see in Afghanistan today." (Mother Jones, Bob Woodward)
- January 19: A Wall Street Journal editorial lays the blame for the Enron scandal squarely on...Bill Clinton. The tortured logic of the editorial is evidenced in the following: "We'd say it's also impossible to understand Enron outside of the moral climate in which it flourished. Those were the roaring 90's, when all of America reveled in the economic boom. They were also the Clinton years, when we learned that 'everybody does it.'" In a separate editorial, Journal editorial page editor Robert Bartley tries to fix the blame for Enron's criminal malfeasance on "the societal collapse of standards and morality over the last three decades or so." (Wall Street Journal/Paul Waldman)
- January 20: CBS News gives Bush a "report card" that, as Paul Waldman observes, sounds "as if it had been produced in the Republican National Committee studios." The profile quotes historian Alan Lichtman as saying of Bush, "History has found the right man." Lichtman compares Bush to Abraham Lincoln, a comparison echoed by anchor John Roberts. Waldman calls most media coverage of Bush "worshipful." (CBS/Paul Waldman)
- January 22: A Defense Department photo is released showing a Guantanamo Bay prisoner shackled and in blacked-out goggles and a mask; the public outcry engenders an angry, defensive response from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who says in a press conference, "I am telling you what I believe in every inch of my body to be the truth, and I have spent a lot of time on secure video with the people down there. I haven't found a single scrap of any kind of information that suggests that anyone has been treated anything other than humanely." The International Red Cross has said that it believes the US is violating the Geneva Conventions by its harsh treatment of the detainees, and by circulating photos of the detainees around the world. "Keeping prisoners incommunicado, sensory deprivation, the use of unnecessary restraint and the humiliation of people through tactics such as shaving them are all classic techniques employed to break the spirit of individuals ahead of interrogation," the organization said. Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, says that in spite of the 9/11 attacks, "changing our values and our way of life would be terrorism's first victory." A spokesman for the Dutch government asks Washington to recognize the prisoners' rights under Geneva, saying, "In the fight, we need to uphold our norms and values." "They're in legal limbo," says Michael Noone, professor of military law at Catholic University. "The United States has to get moving on screening these people and determining whether or not they're POWs. There is no explanation for the delay." Rumsfeld insults the critics of the Guantanamo detentions, calling them lawyers who have dropped out of law school. (New York Times/HVK, Mother Jones)
Murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan
- January 23: Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan. Pearl is later murdered by his kidnappers, Arab extremists with ties to al-Qaeda. The lead suspect in the case is Ahmad Umar Sheikh, a former colleague of General Ahmad of Pakistan's ISI. Pearl was reportedly investigating the ISI for connections to terrorist organizations. (CNN/From the Wilderness)
- January 23: US forces raid two small compounds north of Kandahar. Up to two dozen Afghanis are killed, and 27 are captured. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld claims that all of the killed and captured Afghanis are Taliban, and touts the raids as evidence that the US is still targeting terrorists. Days later, after journalists arrive to speak with residents, their reports tell a very different story. One of the two compounds in reality wasa weapons depot for a local disarmament drive, and the killed and captured Afghanis are not Taliban sympathizers, but troops and residents loyal to the US-backed government of Kabul. Initially, the Pentagon defends the attacks, but after repeated complaints from Kabul, backtracks, acknowledging that friendly Afghanis might have been killed. Two days later, all 27 detainees are released, and the Pentagon confirms that not one of them are associated with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Rumsfeld still insists that the mission was valid, calling it at worst "untidy." (The CIA quietly acknowledges the error of the 24 dead Afghanis by paying each of their families $1000.) Civilian casualties in Afghanistan will become an increasingly painful issue for the interim Afghani government, heightened by the US's staunch refusal to acknowledge the problem, investigate civilian deaths, or, with the single exception of the CIA payouts, money for the families of the dead. (David Corn)
Bush asks for limits on congressional investigation of 9/11
- January 24: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is called by Vice President Dick Cheney, who asks him to curtail the upcoming Congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks. Cheney tells Daschle that the administration is too busy running the war on terrorism to have to deal with an investigation. Cheney later accuses Daschle of lying about the phone call. Bush also contacts Daschle with the same request; it is later revealed that both threatened to smear Daschle and his fellow Democrats with accusations of actively obstructing the war on terrorism and threats that Democrats would be accused of sympathizing with al-Qaeda if the investigation is not scotched. Bush's private meeting with Daschle leads the Democrats to quell their calls for an investigation for months. As calls for a commission to investigate the bombings intensify, Cheney begins to hide documents that will later be subpoenaed -- many of these documents are never handed over to the commission. (CCR, Paul Waldman, Mark Crispin Miller)
- January 25: The Justice Department issues a memo, later known as the "Absconder Apprehension Initiative," which mandates the apprehension and interrogation of thousands of illegal Middle Eastern immigrants who have failed to comply with deportation orders. Any who can be prosecuted for having terrorist ties will be so prosecuted. The memo instructs federal agents to find methods of detaining some of the immigrants for possible criminal charges, rather than merely expelling them from the United States as previously planned. The tactics are part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's efforts to locate an estimated 314,000 foreign nationals, known as "absconders," who have ignored court orders to leave the country. Justice Department and FBI officials have said that the operation will focus first on about 6,000 immigrants from countries identified as al-Qaeda strongholds, though the vast majority of absconders are Latin American. The "Absconder Apprehension Initiative" is the latest example of the Justice Department's wide-ranging efforts to thwart terrorism by increasing its focus on domestic intelligence gathering. So far this campaign has involved, in part, compiling information on foreign nationals living in the United States both legally and illegally.
- The memo is sent out to anti-terrorism officials by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. The DOJ has already created a large computer database that includes information gathered from recent interviews with thousands of Middle Eastern men who were invited to come forth voluntarily. Results from the new round of interrogations will be added to the database. US officials are forming special "apprehension teams" that include agents from the FBI, the US Marshals Service and the INS. The AAI's initial focus renews complaints from Arab-American and civil liberties groups that the Bush administration is practicing racial profiling in its war on terrorism. Khalil Jahshan, vice president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee here, says that information in the special terrorism database could be used to unfairly smear the reputations of innocent individuals. "This whole path the government is taking is clearly a case of racial profiling," Jahshan says. "It's clearly a case of selective enforcement.... These half-baked methods seem totally isolated from a whole tradition of respect for civil liberties and civil rights in this country."
- Thompson says that those rounded up under the AAI will be granted all the rights and Constitutional protections afforded any citizen charged with a crime, and will be Mirandized before interrogations begin. Those who cooperate will be offered monetary rewards and "S Visa," dubbed "snitch visas" by critics, which are given to immigrants who provide valuable information for criminal or terrorism investigations. Those caught up in the sweep, if not given preferential treatment, will either be deported or, if the FBI deems it appropriate, will be charged with a felony for failing to depart the country as ordered.
- Unfortunately, the program is an absolute bust as far as finding terror suspects. What it does do is "roust" thousands of immigrants --legal as well as illegal -- in Soviet-style roundups, and those detainees will not be given legal protections. David Cole later writes in his book Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism, "All the detainees were presumptively treated as terrorists. They were denied bond even where the government had no evidence that they posed a danger or flight risk, and held for months while the FBI satisfied itself that they were in fact unconnected to terrorism. Many immigrant detainees were initially arrested on no charges at all. The government's policy was to lock up first, ask questions later, and presume that a foreign national was dangerous even when there was no basis for that suspicion." The Justice Department chose to go through the Immigration and Naturalization Service, says Cole, because INS procedures avoid Constitutional safeguards guaranteed to defendants in criminal court. Cases could be heard in secret and detainees could be, and often will be, denied due process. The 9/11 Commission Report finds in 2004 that the AAI did not find one single terror suspect. "Sadly, this program has been a colossal failure at finding terrorists," Cole writes. "Of the more than 5,000 persons subjected to preventative detention as of May 2003, not one had been charged with any involvement in the crimes of September 11." (Washington Post, David Cole/Bill Katovsky)
- January 27: Appearing on a Fox News broadcast with future White House press secretary Tony Snow, Vice President Dick Cheney says the detainees at Guantanamo do not deserve to be treated as prisoners of war: "[T]hey are not lawful combatants. These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans." Four years after hundreds of prisoners are incarcerated at Guantanamo, only ten have ever been charged with any crimes. The rest languish in detention without charge or legal representation. (Mother Jones)
- January 27: Bush tells reporters, "I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war." Of course, Bush's assertion that he has "been to war" is a lie. (AP/Paul Waldman)
Enron scandal reaches White House
- January 28: After weeks of tough questions about the administration's connections with Enron, Bush denies that any of his officials have given Enron any "special treatment" in recent months. "Enron had made contributions to a lot of people around Washington, DC," he says, "and if they came to this administration looking for help, they didn't find any." While this may be true of the last few days, over the course of the entire administration, Enron received plenty of preferential treatment from the Bush White House.
- Enron had hand-selected appointees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (the government oversight commission charged with watching over companies like Enron), had received help from the administration during the California energy crisis, had received help in its billion-dollar contract dispute with India, and had played a key role in crafting the administration's energy plan. Two FERC commissioners, Nora Mead Brownell and Pat Wood, were chosen by Enron to serve on the commission, and a third, chairman Curtis Hebert, was removed after refusing a deal from Ken Lay to support electricity deregulation in return for Lay's support in keeping his job. Hebert refused to deal, and was subsequently fired and replaced by Wood. (In 1995, Wood had been named by then-Governor Bush to the Texas Public Utility Commission after being recommended by Lay.) Lay himself had met personally, one-on-one, with Dick Cheney, the head of the Bush energy task force; other Enron executives had met with the task force six different times. (Bush will defend the meetings by claiming that the Sierra Club, among others, had also met repeatedly with Cheney's task force, a flat lie: Sierra Club representatives were denied access to anyone on the task force until after the energy plan had been finalized and released.) A day after Lay's face-to-face meeting with Cheney, Cheney had come out publicly against price caps on California's electricity, a specific request of Lay's, and actually blamed price caps for California's energy crisis when in reality it was Enron's gaming of California's energy markets that devastated California. By refusing to implement price caps, Enron and other Texas-based oil and energy companies were enjoying profits that were rising by 400% to 600% monthly. (After FERC approved limited price caps in June 2001, the crisis abated, and Enron's illegally swollen profit margins began to tank, sliding the company towards bankruptcy.)
- David Corn writes, "Knowingly or not, Cheney and Bush had abetted this gigantic billion-dollar rip-off." Of the eight areas of energy policy reform made by Enron to the task force, all eight were adopted in the final version of the administration's energy policy. A more elaborate report by the House committee on government reform's minority members (i.e. Democrats) shows that "there are at least 17 policies in the White House energy plan that were advocated by Enron or that benefited Enron financially. ...It is unlikely that any other corporation in America stood to gain as much from the White House energy plan than Enron." (David Corn)
- January 29: President Bush personally asks Tom Daschle to limit the congressional probe into the 9/11 attacks (see above). Bush asks that only the House and Senate Intelligence Committees look into the potential breakdowns among federal agencies that could have allowed the terrorist attacks to occur, rather than a broader inquiry that some lawmakers have proposed. Cheney had already called Daschle days earlier with the same request, at the behest of Enron. Daschle has already been asked by Vice President Dick Cheney to mandate the same limits on the probes. Both said that to conduct too broad an inquiry would, in Daschle's words, "take resources and personnel away from the effort in the war on terrorism." "The vice president expressed the concern that a review of what happened on September 11 would take resources and personnel away from the effort in the war on terrorism," Daschle says.
- Daschle says he has not agreed to limit the investigation. He says, "I acknowledged that concern, and it is for that reason that the Intelligence Committee is going to begin this effort, trying to limit the scope and the overall review of what happened. ...But clearly, I think the American people are entitled to know what happened and why." Cheney has previously agreed to cooperate with such a probe in discussions with the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, informs reporters that the committees will review intelligence matters only. A number of Congressional Democrats have been calling for a broader inquiry into the actions and preparations of various government agencies beyond the intelligence community. Senator Robert Torricelli says, "We do not meet our responsibilities to the American people if we do not take an honest look at the federal government and all of its agencies and let the country know what went wrong. ...The best assurance that there's not another terrorist attack on the United States is not simply to hire more federal agents or spend more money. It's to take an honest look at what went wrong. Who or what failed? There's an explanation owed to the American people." Many Democrats do not accept Bush's and Cheney's arguments that a wide-reaching inquiry would disrupt the government's attempt to fight terrorism; instead, they believe that the White House may fear a broader investigation. Daschle later agrees to the limitations on the investigations, which predicatably turn up little of interest. Attorney John Loftus writes, "In order to give Enron one last desperate chance to complete the Taliban pipeline and save itself from bankruptcy, senior levels of US intelligence were ordered to keep their eyes shut and their subordinates ignorant." (CNN, CNN/Killtown, Scoop)
Bush "axis of evil" speech
- January 29: In his State of the Union address, Bush names Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil," a characterization which will shape the world's foreign policies. It is later revealed that the two countries Bush is most concerned about are Iran and Iraq, and North Korea was added to the list almost as an afterthought by a junior speechwriter. It is also notable that defense advisor Richard Perle warned against those same three countries a month before the 9/11 attacks. A deeply offended North Korea almost immediately begins to ramp up its nuclear weapons program. Bush fails to once mention Osama bin Laden in his speech. Foreign policy experts are aghast at the characterization, being well aware that Iran and Iraq hate each other and worrying that Iran, a burgeoning Western-style Islamic country trying desperately to forge new relations with the US, will retaliate for the sudden change in its status. (Those fears are realized years later when it is discovered that, partly because of the change in status, Iran has ramped up its nuclear weapons development program.) Another explanation may lie in recent assertions that Iranian operatives helped Taliban and al-Qaeda members escape from the battle of Tora Bora in November 2001.
- It is also a matter of confusion that Iraq tops the list, considering Saddam Hussein's active opposition to al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups and Iraq's lack of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Richard Murphy of the Council on Foreign Relations says in the summer of 2002 that Bush "is a believer. This is a man who's on a mission. He is very evangelical about terrorism; he's got to root out evil. I wonder if in his mind there really is a very strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Evil is there, and evil must be uprooted and the fixation on terrorism has now encompassed Saddam Hussein -- who 'tried to kill my father' as a footnote. Bush seems to think the facts are there about the linkage -- if only we could discover them. In his mind they are joined up. He does not speak as a man with any doubts." In September, Bush will say outright that Hussein "tried to kill my dad," which many around the world take to be evidence of a personal vendetta; White House spokespeople will rush to say that Bush does not want to "personalize" the US campaign against Hussein. It is worth noting that the evidence against Hussein in the supposed 1993 assassination plot against the elder Bush may be a fabrication by Kuwaiti intelligence agents. Francis Fiztgerald notes that Bush has no positive goals at all for US foreign policy in his speech, but merely warns of threats, makes threats of his own, and trumpets American autonomy and military might. (CNN, FactMonster, MidEast Web, CCR, Time, Ian Williams, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- The "axis of evil" reference was originally written by junior speechwriter David Frum, a neoconservative disciple of William Kristol with no foreign policy expertise. Frum's original line is "axis of hatred," a line massaged by chief speechwriter Michael Gerson to employ "the theological language that Bush had made his own since September 11." The juxtaposition of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea by Frum is a fantastical attempt to combine those three nations into an anti-American coalition similar to the World War II Axis of Germany, Italy, and Japan, but utterly lacking any basis in history or reality.
- The comparison is dangerous as well as specious. While Iran is a known supporter of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, and has an emergent nuclear program, Iran also denounced the 9/11 attacks, and millions of Iranians marched in support of the US after the attacks. Iran has a strong moderate and secular segment of leadership in the government and among the people, one that could have been reached out to by the US in its struggle against Iran's Islamic fundamentalists. Instead, Bush's saber rattling strengthened Iran's hostile mullahs and gave them new ammunition in opposing US interests.
- The addition of North Korea, almost an afterthought by Frum, is even more destabilizing. The denouncing of North Korea will work to further weaken the position of South Korea's fragile government and its attempts to reach out to the North; it also further escalates the already high tensions between North Korea and the US. North Korea will call the US on its rhetoric and the result, says columnist Richard Cohen, is "a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper.... As appalling a display of diplomacy since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I." (New York Times/Washington Post/Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- Of Bush's speech, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan writes, "The Bush threat of war upon nations that had not attacked us was unprecedented. Truman never threatened war to stop Stalin from building atomic bombs after Russia tested one in 1949. LBJ did not threaten war on China when it exploded a nuclear weapon in 1964. While it had been US policy to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan had all acquired nuclear weapons without serious retribution from the United States. Yet Bush had put Iran, Iraq, and North Korea on notice. Should any of the three seek to enter the circle of nations possessing nuclear weapons, or the larger circle possessing biological or chemical weapons -- some of which date back to World War I -- they risked a preemptive strike and war to disarm them and effect 'regime change' in their countries. Though the president may not have known it when he issued his ultimata, North Korea and Iran already had secret nuclear programs underway. Still, President Bush had no authority to issue those threats. The Constitution does not empower the president to launch preventative wars. To attain Churchillian heights, Bush's speechwriters had taken him over the top. But, as events would demonstrate, Bush fully intended to go where his rhetoric was leading him."(Pat Buchanan)
- In his speech, Bush asks Congress to enact safeguards for private 401(k) and pension plans. The Bush administration's actual plan for "safeguarding" these accounts allows companies to switch from traditional fixed-benefit retirement plans to the much more insecure "cash-balance" plan, putting older workers at risk of losing up to half of their retirement, but saving corporations millions in retirement benefit payouts. The IRS made cash-balance plans illegal in 1999, but Bush will restore this option: in Molly Ivins' words, "It's the perfect Bush plan: they get to screw workers and get a tax break, and nobody can sue." (Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- Bush also asks for an increase in the AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps is a volunteer-based program started by Bill Clinton that encourages young Americans to perform community service. "Americans are doing the work of compassion every day," Bush says, "visiting prisoners, providing shelter for battered women, bringing companionship to lonely seniors. ...These good works deserve our praise; they deserve our personal support; and when appropriate, they deserve the assistance of the federal government." Bush does not tell his audience that his administration is preparing to propose an 80% cut in funding for AmeriCorps, essentially gutting the program. (Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- In response to Bush's State of the Union speech, Britain's Guardian terms it the "Hate of the Union." And Die Zeit's Jorg Law, a German reporter usually sympathetic to the US, observes that the speech is "unanimously unpopular" in Europe. "It was just so stupid," he writes, "they are always talking about good and evil, in quasi-religious terms, and it gives us a strong sense of relief. Bush is always showing himself to be utterly stupid.... And we just sit back and wait for him to do it. It's unhealthy." (Die Zeit/Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- January 29: The Daily Mirror's John Pilger reports a chilling series of quotes from Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle and other powerful Bush administration neoconservatives, advocating that the US wage war against dozens of countries and remain engaged for the next half-century: "[Rumsfeld] says he has told the Pentagon to 'think the unthinkable.' [Cheney] has said the US is considering military or other action against '40 to 50 countries' and warns that the new war may last 50 years or more... [Richard Perle says] 'If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.'" (Intervention Magazine
- January 31: US troops arrive in the Philippines to assist the Filipino government in eliminating Abu Sayyaf, a radical Muslim group with possible ties to al-Qaeda. Many Filipinos suspect the army is operating in collusion with the group, and receiving a cut of the lucrative kidnapping trade. Father Loi Nacordo, a former Abu Sayyaf hostage, says that he saw suspicious contacts between the radicals and the military. "There were many times when we passed close to military camps, and I would wonder: 'Why isn't the military going after us?'," he says. "Many times, we would walk very near the military camps -- about 50 or 100 meters away, and we were never bothered by the army, even though my captors and I could actually see them. It would have been impossible for the army not to spot us, as we were moving in a large group -- there were about 20 of us." Nacorda also says he sometimes overheard Abu Sayyaf commanders discussing arms shipments from government sources. A congressional investigation is turning up evidence of collusion between the Filipino military and the extremist group. (BBC)