"I am deeply disturbed by the dangerous and growing influence of people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on our nation's political leaders." -- Walter Cronkite, January 2004, quoted by Maureen Farrell
- The proposed 2004 basic defense budget for the US is twice as much as the combined outlays of potential foes such as Russia, China, Iraq, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Libya, and Cuba. The US spends more than double the money on defense that all the NATO allies spend together. Arms deals have also become a hallmark of US foreign policy. In 2002, over 45% of all global conventional arms deals were American. Historian Kevin Phillips writes, "As weaponry became the most successful US manufactured export, markets became economic drivers. Preparedness itself was not simply a necessary posture but a giant interest group." In addition, the idea of private military enterprises, or PMCs, takes on a new importance under the Bush defense policies. A previously unthinkable concept, the Bush defense policies relies increasingly on PMCs because these cadres of privately contracted mercenaries can move into a touchy overseas situation without officially committing the US or violating US neutrality laws. PMCs can also avoid both public scrutiny and Congressional oversight. The winter 2002-03 issue of Parameters, the official publication of the US Army War College, published "The New Condottieri and US Policy: The Privatization of Conflict and Its Implications." The article's focus is the thesis that in the current climate of instability and failed/failing nations, the increasing importance of what it termed "niche wars," or military operations other than war (MOOTW), demands a wide range of PMCs to support US foreign policy objectives. The downside of PMCs is the quick and bitter hatred of the corporations that sponsored them around the globe. Vinnell Corporation, a corporation that provided PMCs throughout the Balkans and the Middle East, and with its own ties to the CIA, has become particularly hated in the Muslim world over the 25 years of its operations in Saudi Arabia; one product of Islamic resistance to Vinnell's influence was the 1995 car bombing of Vinnell's Riyadh facilities, which killed 5 Americans. A suicide bomber attacked the same facility in May 2003, killing nine. The Carlyle Group, the umbrella corporation with deep and far-reaching ties to the Bush family and other influential American conservative political and business figures, bought out, or bought into, a number of national-security-related companies, including Vinnell, United Defense, BDM, and many more.
- Conflict-of-interest charges focusing on Bush administration figures involved in Carlyle and other corporations were inevitable, with Carlyle being called by the Guardian "the thread which indirectly links American military policy in Afghanistan to the personal financial fortunes of its celebrity employees, not least the President's father" on October 31, 2001. Peter Eisner of the Center for Public Integrity warned in the same article, "It should be a deep cause for concern that a closely held company like Carlyle can simultaneously have directors and advisors that are doing business and making money and also advising the president of the United States. The problem comes when private business and public policy blend together. What hat is former president Bush wearing when he tells Crown Prince Abdullah not to worry about US policy in the Middle East?" Former Bush administration advisor Richard Perle embodied a particularly ripe conflict in his part ownership of Trireme Partners, a venture-capital firm formed in November 2001 that specifically focused on investing in companies that profit from homeland security and defense (Trireme will also negotiate extensively with Iranian arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi, who becomes an investor in the company). Government rules explicitly forbid Perle from participating in any matters in which he has a financial interest. Even a Trireme board member says, "seems to me this is at the edge of, or off, the ethical charts. I think it would stink to high heaven." Defense and national-security companies like Carlyle, Vinnell, and Trireme profited handsomely in the plummeting US stock market during 2001-03, when most companies were taking a beating. These companies also feasted at the $40 billion Homeland Security Department trough, when, shortly after the department was established, hundreds of DHS chief Tom Ridge's former aides and other conservative insiders registered as lobbyists for companies seeking a part of the money. On April 26, 2003, Democracy 21's president Fred Wertheimer said, " Homeland Security appears to be viewed by the lobbying firms as a huge honeypot." Within months of 9/11, Bush family members were already raking in national-security profits. George W. Bush's brother Marvin, through his Winston Partners investment firm, was a large shareholder in Sybase, which marketed a program to assist banks and firms to bring themselves into compliance with the new anti-money-laundering provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Former CIA director James Woolsey, an influential neoconservative, was a principal of the Paladin Capital Group, a firm investing in companies that defended against terrorist attacks. Perle owned stock in the Autonomy Corporation, a supplier of eavesdropping equipment to intelligence agencies. And Paul Bremer, named the US governor of Iraq in May 2003, formed a corporation on October 11, 2001 called Crisis Consulting Practice, which specialized in helping multinational corporations come up with solutions to counter everything from terrorist attacks to terror-related accounting fraud. Dozens of Virginia-based agencies with ties to the CIA belly up for a slice of the billions being funneled into homeland security. (Kevin Phillips, Seymour Hersh)
CIA network inside Iran "blown"
- Sometime during 2004 -- precisely when is unclear -- an officer at CIA headquarters at Langley accidentally sent the wrong secret data flow to an Iranian agent on the CIA payroll. The data flow could be used to identify almost every CIA asset inside Iran. The Iranian CIA agent is a double, working for Iranian intelligence; he turns over the information to Iranian intelligence, who quickly "rolls up" the CIA's entire agent network throughout Iran. A number of CIA assets are arrested and jailed; the fate of some has never been determined. This is a disaster of epic proportions, and one never reported in the press. It cripples the CIA's ability to garner critical intelligence inside Iran and throughout the Middle East, most notably on the capability of Iran to build a nuclear weapon. In the spring of 2005, CIA director Porter Goss has to tell Bush that the CIA really doesn't know how close Iran is to becoming a nuclear power. (James Risen)
- The Pentagon budget for Special Forces has been hugely increased under the Bush administration. The 2004 budget provides over $6.5 billion for their operations, an increase of 34% over the previous year's expenditures. Although much of the information about Special Forces is secret, an August 2003 Congressional study puts their numbers at around 47,000 active and reserve troops. Their role in the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations has been hotly debated behind closed doors in Congress and the Pentagon. (Seymour Hersh)
- January: Without any media fanfare (and with a subsequent lack of clarity as to dates), the US occupation forces in Iraq have released nearly all the Iraqi scientists and technicians who had any connection with Iraq's programs for weapons of mass destruction. According to Middle East expert Melvin Goodman, this move indicates that the US believes that there is nothing to gain from interrogating these individuals, and that there are no WMD programs in Iraq. (Topeka Capital-Journal)
- January: The hundreds of "enemy combatants" detained at Guantanamo Bay remain in legal limbo, in part because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld won't do anything to begin the military tribunal process that will judge the detainees' innocence or guilt. National security advisor Condoleezzar Rice, feeling that Rumsfeld is balking at beginning the tribunals, launches a complex interagency review process designed to prompt Bush to order Rumsfeld to begin the process. Rice has Attorney General John Ashcroft on her side. The detainees would, one way or the other, end up in the federal court system; if the adminstration doesn't have a credible tribunal process up and running, Ashcroft argues, the Justice Department would look bad in court when it tries to defend the system in the federal appeals courts. In an NSC briefing, Rice reads a long, involved paper on the process. Both Rumsfeld and Bush appear bored with the issue. Both are more concerned with convincing the public that the detainees are "bad guys" who need to be kept under wraps than actually seeing that the detainees get any sort of trial. Reporter Bob Woodward writes, "Some of the backbenchers at the NSC meeting were astonished at the deference the president gave Rumsfeld. It was as if Rice and the NSC had one serious, formal process going on while the president and Rumsfeld had another one -- informal, chatty, and dominant." (Bob Woodward)
- January: Privately, General John Abizaid, the new commander of US forces in the Middle East, is chafing at the rosy fantasy in vogue about Iraq throughout the White House. "The world is not as rosy as Cambone and SecDef say," he says, referring to Pentagon intelligence chief Stephen Cambone and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "They need to let me run the war." The insurgency is spreading, and the draconian de-Ba'athification policy is a disaster. "We have got to take the head off the hydra but not the body." As for CPA head Paul Bremer, Abizaid says, "I can't work with him." Defeating the insurgency is not as easy as merely trampling the Sunni minority in Iraq, Abizaid says. "You can't kill every Sunni in the heartland." Yet Bush is still selling the rosy scenario, even to Jordan's King Abdullah, who visits Washington to vent his concerns with the escalating violence in the country that shares a border with his own. "[M]y generals tell me that 85% of the country is completely calm," Bush tells Abdullah. "Only 15% has some problems and those are low-level." Classified reports show that January has experienced some 800 enemy-initiated attacks, roughly the same level as December. (Bob Woodward)
- January: The Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual "big tent" meeting of a variety of Republican power groups including evangelists, antitax groups, pro-business interests, libertarians, antilabor groups, and gun enthusiasts, votes to honor the "fiscal heroes" who voted against the Bush medicare bill. In a speech to the conference, former Republican congressman Bob Barr denounces the administration's expanded executive powers as a dangerous threat to liberty, saying, "We don't want a surveillance society." The president of the National Taxpayers Union tells the audience that Bush's record as president is "abysmal." Vice President Dick Cheney tries to smooth over the anger and frustration expressed in the conference, reminding the listeners of the "cause we all share" and emphasizes the Bush doctrine of holding foreign nationals accountable for harboring terrorists. (Frances Fox Piven)
- January: US soldiers are facing challenges and problems of which the US media is not being informed, or is ignoring. Many of the US's most highly trained soldiers are being used for security around oil fields and oil production plants; these areas are by far the most heavily guarded of any civilian, governmental, or military installations in the country. Many of the soldiers guarding these facilities have been told to shoot to kill anyone who approaches without authorization, be it an Iraqi citizen, an American journalist, or anyone else. Many of these soldiers have been told to expect to remain in Iraq for two years or more. According to military sources, some of the Iraqi oil production facilities are running at better capacity than is generally known, but that oil is not being used in Iraq. In general, Iraqis aren't allowed to get near their own oil facilities. The oil being pumped out of Iraq is being piped out of the country, and is always under US control. Soldiers who are being sent to Iraq are also being ordered to accept at least ten different vaccinations and injections; five of those shots are classified. No soldier knows what he or she is being vaccinated against, or injected with. Soldiers who are waiting stateside to be deployed are, in at least one facility, Fort Bliss, being forced to live in huge tents under conditions that are below the standards set for prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention. (my own sources)
Rothstein report on Afghanistan buried
- January: In early 2003, the Defense Department's office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) asked retired Army colonel Hy Rothstein, a leading expert in unconventional warfare, to examine the planning and execution of the war in Afghanistan. After flying to Afghanistan and interviewing dozens of Special Forces officers and men, he issues a devastating critique of the war that is completed in early 2004. He reports that the bombing campaign is an ineffective way to target Osama bin Laden and the senior al-Qaeda leadership, that there have been repeated and chronic failures to translate early tactical successes into strategic victories, and that all in all, the victory in Afghanistan is no victory at all. His report describes an enormous gap between the reporting of the war by the office of Donald Rumsfeld and the realities on the ground. At the start of the offensive in 2001, he told reporters that "you don't fight terrorists with conventional capabilities. You do it with unconventional capabilities." Nevertheless, Rothstein reports, the US continued to emphasize bombing and conventional warfare while "the war became increasingly unconventional," with Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters "operating in small cells, emerging to lay land mines and launch nighttime rocket attacks before disappearing again." Rothstein says the failure of the American military planners (centering in Rumsfeld's offices) has essentially frittered away the gains won in early battles, given the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces the opportunity to retrench and take control of large areas of Afghanistan, and essentially turned the entire military effort in the country into a counterinsurgency war. Rothstein says that a larger reliance on Special Forces, and less micromanagement from Rumsfeld and his civilian aides, would have resulted in dramatically smaller civilian casualties (routinely dismissed by Rumsfeld as "inevitable collateral damage" and more success. Another drastic error was made early on, with the assumption that all Taliban forces identified with al-Qaeda and vice versa. "There were deep divisions within the Taliban that could have been exploited through a political-military effort, which is the essence of unconventional warfare," Rothstein writes. "A few months of intensive diplomatic, intelligence and military preparations between Special Forces and anti-Taliban forces would have made a significant difference." Instead, the conditions that spawned the post-Taliban government gave "warlordism, banditry, and opium production a new lease on life," and created a power vacuum in Afghanistan. "Defeating an enemy on the battlefield and winning a war are rarely synonymous," he writes. "Winning a war calls for more than defeating one's enemy in battle." Rothstein delivers his report in January; it is returned to him with orders to cut it drastically and soften his conclusions. His report is promptly buried. "It's a threatening paper," says one military consultant. The Pentagon's Joseph Collins dismisses the report as perhaps having "a kernel of truth," but "rambling and not terribly informative" otherwise. In private, however, a number of past and present administration officials have endorsed Rothstein's report. "It wasn't like he made it up," says a former senior intelligence officer. "The reason they're petrified is that it's true, and they didn't want to see it in writing." (Seymour Hersh)
US recreating Iraqi secret police
- January 1: The CIA is planning to recreate Iraq's secret police force, using many of the same thugs and criminals formerly employed by Saddam Hussein along with Kurds and Shi'ite Muslims. The Bush administration will fund the new agency as part of its ongoing attempt to root out Ba'athist regime loyalists behind the continuing insurgency in parts of Iraq. The force will cost up to $3 billion over the next three years in money allocated from the same part of the federal budget that finances the CIA. A knowledgeable intelligence source says, "If successfully set up, the group would work in tandem with American forces but would have its own structure and relative independence. It could be expected to be fairly ruthless in dealing with the remnants of Saddam." Former CIA officials compare the operation to the Phoenix programme in Vietnam, which was launched in 1967. That program sought to destroy the civilian infrastructure supporting the Viet Cong through assassinations and abductions secretly authorized by Washington. Ex-CIA chief of counter-terrorism operations Vincent Cannistraro says, "They're clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam." He says that small units of US special forces would work with their Iraqi counterparts, including former senior Iraqi intelligence agents, on covert operations. The idea for the secret police was heavily backed by Vice President Cheney. John Pike of GlobalSecurity says, "The presence of a powerful secret police, loyal to the Americans, will mean that the new Iraqi political regime will not stray outside the parameters that the US wants to set. ...[T]he new Iraqi government will reign but not rule." (Daily Telegraph)
- January 1: Libya is demanding that the US move quickly to "reward" it for abandoning its nuclear program. Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanim warns that unless the United States lifts sanctions by May 12, Libya will not be bound to pay the remaining $6 million promised to each family of victims killed on Pan Am Flight 103. The prime ministe says that any decision by the Bush administration was strictly an "internal matter" for the United States, but that the deadlines and their consequences, made clear in the settlement with the Lockerbie families, are well known to all parties, including senior administration officials. A quick lifting of American sanctions would allow American oil companies to return here this spring and pave the way for unfreezing $1 billion in assets that Libyan officials say are languishing in American banks. In an apparent reference to Bush's election plans, Ghanim says his country wants to "accelerate to the maximum" the dismantling of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs so that Bush can tell Congress, and presumably the US electorate, in the next few months that Libya has fully and transparently destroyed or surrendered all its illicit weapons. The Libyan pressure comes at a time when the Bush administration is criticizing UN chief weapons inspector Mohammed ElBaradei for being incapable of properly supervising the destruction of Libyan nuclear materials and technology. Libya stands by ElBaradei as the man in charge of overseeing the program's dismantlement.
- Several weeks later, former Bush National Security Council member Flynt Leverett explains that, contrary to the self-congratulatory stories circulated by the Bush administration, Libya did not give up its burgeoning weapons program because of the pressure exerted on it by the war in Iraq. Instead, Libya followed through with negotiations begun in secret during the Clinton administration, and recently completed. Libya responded to the offer of the removal of sanctions and restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, not due to pressure. Leverett says that Libya is an example of why Bush's "all stick, no carrot" approach to foreign policy is a failure. "Until the administration learns the real lessons of the Libyan precedent," Leverett writes, "policy towards other rogue regimes is likely to remain stuck in the mud of ideology." Libya's Qaddafi actually manipulated his image by announcing his country's disarmament just days after the capture of Saddam Hussein -- in satirist Al Franken's words, "all of a sudden, he went from evil rogue dictator to poster boy for the war in Iraq." (New York Times, New York Times/Al Franken)
- January 1: A disproportiate percentage of deaths among US military personnel in Iraq are reservists, according to the Pentagon. While it is too early to know whether the recent proportional increase in deaths among citizen soldiers is the start of a trend, some analysts say the jump is both politically and militarily troublesome, even if it proves temporary. "It's one more strain on the Reserve," says Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. "We are living a gamble to keep the Reserve component intact" at a time when reservists are coping with the double worries of being called to active duty for long periods and facing grave dangers in Iraq. (AP/Miami Herald)
- January 1: The Justice Department investigation into the leak of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson's identity could conclude that administration officials disclosed Plame's name and occupation to the media but still committed no crime because they did not know she was an undercover operative, according to some legal experts. "It could be embarrassing but not illegal," says Victoria Toensing, the chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when Congress passed the law protecting the identities of undercover agents. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 specifies that the revelation is a crime only if the accused leaker knew the person was a covert agent. The July newspaper column by Robert Novak that touched off the investigation did not specify that Plame was working undercover, but said she was "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." That raises the possibility that the senior administration officials he quoted did not know Plame's status. "The fact that she was undercover is a classified fact, so it would not be unusual for people to know that she was agency but not know she was undercover," Toensing says. (Washington Post)
- January 1: Kevin Phillips' exhaustively documented profile of the Bush family, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, is published. Phillips, a Republican historian and author, finds himself dismayed by the audacity and anti-democratic philosophy demonstrated by the Bush and Walker families over the course of four generations of political and financial power. He writes, "Unfortunately, in examining two Bush presidencies and the family's four-generation pursuit of national prominence and power -- and in doing so through a lens that highlighted elite associations, dynastic ambitions, and recurring financial and business practices -- I found a greater basis for dismay and disillusionment than I had imagined. The result is an unusual and unflattering portrait of a great family (great in power, not in morality) that has built a base over the course of the twentieth century in the back corridors of the new military-industrial complex and in close association with the growing intelligence and national security establishments. In doing so, the Bushes have threaded their way through damning political, banking, and armaments scandals and, since the 1980s, controversies like the October Surprise, Iran-Contra, and Iraqgate imbroglios, which in another climate or a different time might have led to impeachment." (Kevin Phillips)
- January 2: President Bush says he is not involved "in any way" in the investigation of the leak from his administration which outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. "I'm not involved with the investigation in any way, shape or form," he claims after returning from a hunting trip. On December 30, Attorney General Ashcroft belatedly recused himself from the investigation. Asked whether Ashcroft had made the right decision in recusing himself from the case, Bush replies: "You're going to have to ask him. I mean, I don't know the details which caused him to recuse himself. ...I've told the members of the White House to totally cooperate," Bush continues. "And the sooner they find out the truth, the better, as far as I'm concerned." (Reuters)
- January 2: FBI investigators looking into the criminal leak of a CIA agent's identity ask Bush administration officials, including senior political adviser Karl Rove, to release reporters from any confidentiality agreements regarding conversations about the agent. If signed, the single-page requests made over the last week would give investigators new ammunition for questioning reporters who have so far, according to those familiar with the case, not disclosed the names of administration officials who divulged that Valerie Plame Wilson, wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA. Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, says asking people who are in the universe of possible suspects to sign such a document is unusual, though not unheard of. "From the prosecutors' point of view, it is likely a precursor to subpoenaing journalists to testify before a grand jury, and then asking a judge to hold them in contempt if they refuse to do so," she says. White House officials are under pressure to sign the documents. "They can't refuse," says one individual familiar with the case. "The worst thing to be accused of here is not cooperating with the investigation." But reporters are not likely to feel the same pressure. Journalists rarely divulge the identities of confidential sources even when threatened with contempt citations so the releases may make little difference. (Time)
- January 2: The US is maintaining an entire "web" of secret detention facilities around the world where prisoners of the administration's "war on terror" are being held without charge, representation, or the protection of law or even the Geneva Conventions. Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta is the most famous, but other facilities are being maintained at Bagram Air Force Base, Afghanistan, a camp at Baghdad International Airport, aboard several Navy aircraft carriers, and in a number of smaller countries, including Thailand. The larger facilities are run by the Pentagon, and the smaller ones by the CIA; in the words of the New York Times, detainees are not tried in courts, but relentlessly questioned and sometimes abused by "interrogators." Reports indicate that torture techniques, including sleep deprivation and physical abuse, are being authorized by Pentagon officials. (Alternet)
Nixon plans to invade Middle East revealed
- January 2: A recently uncovered document from British intelligence reveals that the Nixon administration was drawing up plans to seize Middle Eastern oil fields during the oil embargos of the 1970s. The top-secret document reveals that the US government under President Richard Nixon was prepared to act more aggressively than previously thought to secure America's oil supply, if tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors continued to escalate after the October 1973 Mideast war or the oil embargo did not abate. In fact, the embargo did dwindle, by March 1974. If this "dark scenario" played out, the British memorandum continued, the United States would consider launching airborne troops to seize oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. The use of military force would be a measure of "last resort," the document said. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger delivered the warning to the British ambassador in Washington, Lord Cromer, the documents show. The ambassador quoted Schlesinger as saying "it was no longer obvious to him that the United States could not use force." The seizure of the oil fields was "the possibility uppermost in American thinking when they refer to the use of force," said the memorandum. This "has been reflected, we believe, in their contingency planning." The potential for conflict was taken so seriously by British intelligence that it wrote a report assessing the situation and listing the likeliest scenarios for the use of force and their consequences.
- The report, dated December 12, 1973, was titled "UK Eyes Alpha" and was sent to Prime Minister Edward Heath, a Conservative, by Percy Cradock, head of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee. But a few months later, in March 1974, the embargo petered out. The exchange between Schlesinger and Lord Cromer came on the heels of the three-week war between Israel and Egypt and Syria in October 1973. Arab members of OPEC imposed the oil embargo to try to pressure the United States and other Western nations to force Israel to withdraw from Arab land. The oil embargo lasted almost half a year. It led to sharp increases in the price of fuel and long lines at gasoline stations, and prompted the Nixon administration to question American reliance on Arab oil in a region long known for its instability and insularity. As recounted by Lord Cromer, Schlesinger said the United States was unwilling to abide threats by "under-developed, under-populated" countries. The documents did not rule out the possibility that Washington would consider pre-emptive strikes if Arab governments, "elated by the success of the oil weapon," began issuing greater demands. "The US government might consider that it could not tolerate a situation in which the US and its allies were in effect at the mercy of a small group of unreasonable countries."
- As outlined, military action would be relatively straightforward; two brigades were seen as needed to seize the Saudi oil fields and one each for Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. In the case of Abu Dhabi, the Americans would perhaps ask for British military cooperation. The greatest threat would arise in Kuwait, "where the Iraqis, with Soviet backing, might be tempted to intervene," the document states. The British warned in their assessment that any occupation of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi might have to last as long as 10 years. The use of force would also anger and alienate Arab countries and irritate the Soviet Union, although a military confrontation with the country would be unlikely, the document stipulates. Discontent among Western allies was also cited as a possible consequence of military intervention. "since the United States would probably claim to be acting for the benefit of the West as a whole and would expect the full support of allies, deep U.S.-European rifts could ensue," it says. The oil embargo fizzled in March 1974 and Israel and Egypt later went on to sign a peace agreement. A separate document, also just released, illustrated Heath's profound anger toward Nixon, when Nixon failed to inform him he was putting US forces on a global nuclear alert during the war in the Middle East. Heath went so far as to suggest that Nixon was attempting to deflect attention away from Watergate. "An American president in the Watergate position apparently prepared to go to such lengths at a moment's notice without consultation with his allies," Heath wrote in the document, adding that there was no "military justification" for it at the time. The alert was ordered after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned that he might send forces into the Middle East after Israeli forces crossed the Suez Canal. The Israelis eventually pulled out. (New York Times/San Fransisco Chronicle)
- January 2: Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark condemns the Bush administration's efforts to triple the fees veterans pay for prescription drugs. "I have a three word message for Mr. Bush: Don't do it." Clark says. "It's just wrong. How could Bush consider cutting retiree benefits now while our servicemen and women are risking their necks in Iraq? They deserve a pat-on-the-back not a fee increase. ...Our country and our military deserve a higher standard of leadership," Clark continues. "When I commanded troops, I felt that my most solemn responsibility was to take care of their well-being, including ensuring that they got good health care. As commander in chief, I will make sure no service member and no veteran is ever left behind again." (Wesley Clark)
- January 2: The US is planning on erecting the largest embassy compound ever built by America in Baghdad. The embassy will employ over 3,000 people. "The real challenge for the new embassy, so to speak, or the new presence will be helping the Iraqi people get ready for their full elections and full constitution the following year," says Secretary of State Colin Powell. "That's going to be a major effort on our part." One of the first steps will be resuming diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad. Although the United States is the occupying power in Iraq, the two nations have not formally resumed relations, which were severed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. "Saddam broke off relations in 1991, and it requires a fairly complicated agreement to reestablish ties," says a senior administration official. Also, the terms of the US military presence, expected to exceed 100,000 troops even after the occupation officially ends, remain to be determined. "We have to determine what command American troops will be under: Will it be part of some kind of multinational force, under the United Nations, under NATO? Or will they be relatively independent in an agreement with the Iraqi government? These are huge questions to be answered in a very short amount of time," the official adds. Powell says he will spend the next six months pressing for larger international participation: "As I build up that large embassy, I've got to also generate more international support, U.N. presence -- get the U.N. back in there in force.... I think NATO is more and more willing to play a role in Iraq." Over the next six months, the State Department will increasingly assume responsibility for jobs now carried out by the US-led coalition authority, senior US officials say. Several teams of lawyers are immersed in the complicated legal issues of handing back sovereignty to Iraq and making arrangements for a formal diplomatic relationship. The bulk of the U.S. staff will continue to be headquartered in Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace. But to avert the potential psychological fallout from staying in the headquarters of the previous dictatorship, the new embassy will officially be in a building not far from the "Green Zone" of Baghdad, where the Coalition Provisional Authority operates. The United States is tentatively planning to build a new embassy, although construction could take three to five years, US officials say. Over the next two months, the State Department will be intensively recruiting to staff the US Embassy." (Washington Post)
- January 2: Critics accuse the Bush administration's Education Department of being dominated by a group of right-wing interest groups that bring their own agenda to the department and interfere with the proper functioning of the nation's school systems. Groups such as the Education Leaders Council have received over $77 million in tax monies from the department to further their goal of total privatization of US public schools. A co-founder of the council, former Pennsylvania education secretary Eugene Hickok, is now the second-ranking official at the department. Critics note that while both Republican and Democratic administrations of the past have rewarded their particular allies, they say that the amount of money steered toward conservative educational groups by the Bush administration far exceeds the practices of the past. "It's a farce, says Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country. "On the one hand, we have the Bush administration claiming that its education reforms are all scientifically based, and on the other hand, we see the administration providing a grab bag of Santa gifts to conservative groups." A report by the liberal activist group People for the American Way "exposes a stealth campaign by the administration to reward groups that support its private-school voucher agenda at the expense of strengthening public schools," says Democratic senator Edward Kennedy. Hickok responds to such charges with a dismissive "Balderdash," and claims that if there were any favoritism, it was "favoritism in the sense that we support those organizations that support No Child Left Behind," the dysfunctional educational program pushed into law by the Bush administration. But the ELC's Lisa Graham Keegan, a Bush candidate for secretary of education, laughs, "Welcome to the vast right-wing conspiracy." Other groups that have benefited from Education Department grants include K12, a for-profit company founded by Reagan administration education secretary William Bennett to promote home schooling, and the Black Alliance for Education Options, a right-wing group that promotes vouchers. (Washington Post)
- January 2: Democratic senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings tells a crowd at the annual Renaissance Weekend at Charleston, South Carolina: "Howard Dean is right. Saddam wasn't causing anybody any problem. You have some little smart-aleck announcer on television asking, 'Do you think we're better off with Saddam gone?' What else is gone? We have 456 dead; 11,000 maimed for life, and I don't think it was worth it. I had intended to vote against that resolution [giving Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq], but Rummy and Condi Rice and Cheney said you can't wait until the smoking gun is a mushroom cloud. I thought they had some intelligence, that they knew something." (MSNBC)
- January 2: Evangelical Christian and right-wing commentator Pat Robertson says that God told him in a vision that George W. Bush would run away with the 2004 election. Robertson tells his 700 Club audience that "I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way. ...The Lord has just blessed him. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him." The Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, counters with his own prediction: "Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates. ...Maybe Pat got a message from Karl Rove and thought it was from God." (San Francisco Chronicle)
- January 3: While the administration's rhetoric isn't changing, its actions regarding other countries are definitely tending towards cooperation and accomodation, representing a major shift in US foreign policy. Signs of the new strategy that have emerged in the past few weeks include an agreement with North Korea allowing US inspectors to visit its nuclear complex, a proposal to Iran to send a high-level humanitarian mission after last week's earthquake, negotiations with Libya for that country to give up its WMD programs, the US agreement to allow the UN to become more involved in Iraq, and US efforts to restart peace talks in Palestine. The Bush administration is trying to balance election-year rhetoric with winning some foreign policy battles that it can use in its campaign to win the Presidency for another term. "There is a definite shift in US policy in everything but words," says arms control expert Joseph Cirincione. "The official doctrine has not changed but all our actions have, and the result is a shift away from military action towards diplomatic engagement. First with Iran, then with Libya and now with North Korea, we see a much greater effort to affect changes in regime behavior rather than changes of regime." Analysts in Washington say the Bush administration has little choice if it is to fulfill a highly ambitious election year agenda that seeks to disarm "rogue states" such as North Korea while advancing towards a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, encouraging conflict resolution in Sudan, and achieving credible transformations in Afghanistan and Iraq. "It's just the force of reality, the consequences of Iraq which has made them change," says Anatol Lieven, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Even by their standards it is not rational to think that America can run another war." With elections 11 months away, Bush does not want to be vulnerable to claims that he has presided over a warmongering strategy that has left Americans little safer than before September 11, 2001. His shift follows an established pattern in Washington of politicians moving to the center during an election year. Some observers also believe that the more moderate advice of Britain's Tony Blair is having an effect. (Guardian)
- January 3: US troops ransack and virtually destroy a Sunni mosque in a search for weapons caches of the Iraqi resistance, enraging the Sunni population throughout Iraq. They found a few weapons, which were claimed by the mosque's imam to belong to its guards for self-protection. "This is not the behaviour of liberators but occupiers," says Sabah Al-Kaisey, an official of the mosque, pointing to the metal collection box which had been smashed open by troops. They had taken the money which was supposed to go to the poor and also the mosque's computers, used to produce a bi-weekly newsletter, he says. "Americans might have the latest technology, but they make little effort to understand people's souls." "They blindfolded all the worshippers and took them away," says worshipper Abu Hassan. "You don't see Muslims attacking the holy places of other people." Kaisey acknowledges that most of the resistance is being directed by disgruntled Sunnis but pointed out that Shias were involved as well. The coalition also failed to appreciate that Sunnis had suffered under Saddam, he adds. "All of us on the shura council have spent time in prison," he observes. "We suffered under Saddam. But at the end of the day this is our country. If someone invaded Britain what would you do? You would probably go and fight." (Guardian)
- January 3: Columnist Nat Hentoff writes about the angry response from Judge Robert Doumar, responding to the Bush administration's justification of its detention of "enemy combatant" Yaser Esam Hamdi without charges or even real evidence of wrongdoing. When Hambi's case came before Doumar's court in Norfolk, Virginia, the conservative jurist was, in Hentoff's words, "astonished at the sweep of the government's declaration that the president had the right to personally put Hamdi in the brig and strip him of all his constitutional rights after claiming that he was an 'enemy combatant.' It is also the government's contention that the courts have minimal jurisdiction over the commander-in-chief as he locks up Americans he calls 'enemy combatants' during our war against terrorism." Doumar demanded a justification for the government's position, and was handed a two-page document written by Defense Department official Michael Mobbs which attempted to provide a justification for the indefinite jailing of Hamdi without charges. Doumar found the Mobbs document "lacking in nearly every respect." A visibly angry Doumar responded, "I'm challenging everything in the Mobbs declaration. If you think I don't understand the utilization of words, you are sadly mistaken." Mobbs declared that Hamdi was "affiliated with a Taliban unit and received weapons training." Support for this accusation were photos of Hamdi carrying a weapon. Doumar was unimpressed. The Mobbs document, he said bluntly, "makes no effort to explain what 'affiliated' means nor under what criteria this 'affiliation' justified Hamdi's classification as an enemy combatant. The declaration is silent as to what level of 'affiliation' is necessary to warrant enemy combatant status.... It does not say where or by whom he received weapons training or the nature and content thereof. Indeed, a close inspection of the declaration reveals that [it] never claims that Hamdi was fighting for the Taliban, nor that he was a member of the Taliban. Without access to the screening criteria actually used by the government in its classification decision, this Court is unable to determine whether the government has paid adequate consideration to due process rights to which Hamdi is entitled under his present detention." An additional blow to the government's case was struck in a brief filed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which said in part: "[The government claims] that Mr. Hamdi 'surrendered' not to U.S. forces, but to a group of counter-insurgent Afghanis popularly called the 'Northern Alliance.' However, [the government then proceeds] to repeatedly claim that Hamdi was 'captured' -- an important distinction when evaluating his legal status vis-à-vis the United States and under international law. One who surrenders before engaging in 'combat' can hardly be classified as a 'combatant' logically, much less legally." In addition to Mobbs's dpcument, the government prosecutor also told Doumar that the Defense Department had to hold Hamdi for interrogation. And since the war on terrorism has no defined end in sight, he must be "detained" indefinitely. Doumar asked, "How long does it take to question a man? A year? Two years? Ten years? A lifetime? How long?" The only answer from the prosecutor, Gregory Garre, an assistant to Solicitor General Theodore Olson, was: "The present detention is lawful." As Judge Doumar said after he had denounced the two-page declaration: "so the Constitution doesn't apply to Mr. Hamdi?" The case is still working its way through the courts, and will probably wind up in the lap of the Supreme Court. Hamdi is still in jail. No charges have yet been filed. (Village Voice)
- January 3: Military officials at Guantanamo admit that the impetus of the case brought against Captain James Yee was the fact that Yee twice had dinner with with Airman Ahmad al-Halabi, who is being detained under several charges, including the charge of providing information to Syria, which was later dropped. Al-Halabi, a Syrian-American, also served as a volunteer aide in Yee's chapel. First held on suspicion of being part of an espionage ring, Yee now faces the far less serious crime of mishandling classified information. He also faces charges of adultery and storing pornography on his government computer. Some military officials insist that the prosecution should go forward, even though the charges are merely technical violations of regulations. Others disagree. "This whole thing makes the military prosecutors look ridiculous," says John Fugh, a retired major general and onetime judge advocate general, the highest uniformed legal officer in the Army. Fugh says the case ought to be brought to a speedy end when a preliminary hearing resumes on January 19. "It certainly seems like they couldn't get him on what they first thought they had," Fugh says, "so they said, 'Let's get the son of a gun on something. ...Adding these Mickey Mouse charges just makes them look dumb, in my mind." A senior Justice Department official says that even the FBI never thought much of the evidence against Yee. The military, who once boasted that it had broken up a major espionage ring, has dropped the most serious charges against al-Halabi as well. Yee spent 76 days in solitary confinement, much of that time shackled in manacles and leg irons. Yee's lawyer, Eugene Fidell, says that Yee was treated in a worse fashion than the Guantanamo detainees. Interestingly, one of the officers involved in investigating Yee, Colonel Jack Farr, has been charged with the same offenses that were initially lodged against Yee, specifically "wrongfully transporting classified material without the proper security container." Farr was not arrested or detained like Yee. Farr was also charged with making a false statement about his handling of classified documents when the matter was being investigated. The military says that the charges against Farr are under investigation. As for Yee, if court-martialed and convicted of all six charges, Yee could face up to 13 years in prison. (New York Times)
Texas redistricting funded by illegal monies
- January 3: Illegal funds raised by organizations linked to Texas GOP representative Tom DeLay were used to implement the Republican-backed takeover of the Texas legislature. A criminal investigation of the fundraising and its use in the gerrymandering of Texas's electoral districts is underway. The political action committee "Texans for a Republican Majority" is an offshoot of DeLay's "Americans for a Republican Majority," created in 1994 to elect conservatives to public office. The Texas group was created in 2001, with the 2002 elections in mind, using seed money from "Americans for a Republican Majority." Investigators said they suspected that the Texas group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on telephone banks and other initiatives during the election; projects, they said, that went beyond the administrative costs corporations are allowed to fund in Texas elections. The money, in effect, represented a direct contribution to Republican candidates. Since the money was largely donated by corporations, and since Texas law prohibits direct contributions from corporations, the argument is that the funding was illegal. Texas Republicans deny any wrongdoing, and say that the investigation is politically motivated. "We've never seen this before," says Fred Lewis, director of the Austin-based watchdog group Campaigns for People, which works to reduce the influence of money on state government. "The level and the impact of it were profound." If the Texas financing is upheld as proper and legal, "it would essentially allow very powerful financial entities, corporations being the biggest, to have a tremendous impact on [local] elections," says Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign, a nonprofit campaign finance reform group in Washington that supports public financing of elections. "It means we get a government that isn't serving the interest of the people, but special interests." (Los Angeles Times)
- January 3: Plans drawn up by the US Department of Homeland Security will include the virtually complete closing of the border between the US and Canada. "One additional terrorist attack, that had its origins in Canada or occurred at, or along, the Canada-US border, would likely cause Congress to lift the drawbridge," warns the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. Documents from the Ministry also warn that newly implemented US anti-terrorism legislation could wreak havoc on Ontario manufacturers. The legislation, which took effect December 12, requires trucking firms, air cargo companies and railway shippers to submit electronic data about their deliveries of food and beverage products before they can enter the United States. "If implemented, as Congress probably intended, entry/exit could create monumental delays at the border, with devastating effects on Ontario's export industries," the documents say. The ministry says that the first phase of enforcement of the new law will begin March 12. (Toronto Star)
- January 3: The Associated Press sends out a forceful notice to kill a story about Rush Limbaugh and his abuse of painkillers. The notice reads in full: "Please kill the story Limbaugh-Painkillers, V9991. Rush Limbaugh has not been charged with doctor shopping. A kill is mandatory. Make certain the story is not used." Interestingly enough, the Washington Post chooses to print the notice as a news article. (Washington Post)