Highlights of This Page
Bush uses "signing statement" to ignore lawful ban on torture. Former Powell chief of staff Larry Wilkerson calls Iraq war a mistake, and Bush administration "radical."
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
- January: After the International Monetary Fund had approved in December $685 million in loans for Iraq,
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a heartening decision considering that the loans showed the IMF considered Iraq's economic outlook "favorable," the news of Iraq's oil exports dims the bright outlook. Oil exports, the country's economic lifeline, were down 20% from the year before, which will cause a shortfall in revenues of up to $3 billion, jeopardize the IMF loans, and possibly start an economic chain reaction. The economic numbers are so awful that the entire viability of the Iraqi government is suddenly in question. Donald Rumsfeld argues that the Iraqis have to take responsibility for their faltering economy, and to bail them out will only lengthen the US mission. The plan is to turn over more responsibility to the Iraqis, and anyway, how can the US protect thousands of miles of pipeline? Worse, the Oil Ministry is rife with corruption, costing the country billions in stolen revenues. Arguing the point, Condoleezza Rice says stiffly, "You know that country has seen corruption for thousands of years. It'll probably see corruption for thousands of more years. I can't fix corruption, but you can fix security." Finally, Rice is drawing a line between her State Department's responsibilities and Defense's responsibilities for providing security. The tension between Rice and Rumsfeld, always evident, has a sharper edge than ever, according to chief of staff Andrew Card, sitting at the table with the two. He personally agrees with Rice that while they should turn over as much responsibility as possible to the Iraqis, they cannot allow the economic lifeline of the country to be further jeopardized. The oil resources must be protected. Once again, the issue of how much responsibility should belong to the US and how much should be given to the Iraqis, and the core issue of what exactly is, and isn't, the US mission in Iraq, is not decided.
- In a subsequent meeting, Bush, who vacillates between Rice and Rumsfeld and has never come down strongly on one side of the issue or the other, tells US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad that everyone can agree "this is just unacceptable." So, how does Khalilzad plan to fix it? Khalilzad says he and General George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, will come up with a new plan, with new thinking. National security advisor Stephen Hadley, who largely shares Rice's views and often uses the metaphor of Iraq as an "abused child" who needs long-term intervention, tries to bridge the gap between Rice and Rumsfeld, but Card notes that Hadley's efforts are awkward and ineffective.
- After weeks of work, Hadley proposes a plan that calls for the creation of rapid repair elements that can quickly fix any damage inflicted on the oil infrastructure, an idea used successfully in Colombia against FARC insurgents. The repair units will be called Strategic Infrastructure Battalions and composed largely of Iraqi tribal-based forces that live near the pipelines. Since many of the Iraqis who will comprise these battalions have been shown to have been involved in the attacks on the pipelines, they will need to be retrained and revetted. US and Iraqi soldiers will be embedded with the units. In separate briefings, both Rice and Rumsfeld seem to accept the plan. (Bob Woodward)
- January 1: Bush visits wounded US soldiers in a Texas hospital, where he says he was rendered speechless by the sight of a young man whose body was almost completely burned over.
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"I didn't know what possibly, as the most powerful man in the world -- there's not a thing I could say," he later tells aides. Afterward, he spoke to reporters, and his mood has changed. Bush is sporting a minor gash on his forehead from clearing trees on his Crawford ranch, and he pointed out his wound, equating it with the horrific injuries he witnessed at the hospital: "As you can probably see, I have injured myself, not here at the hospital but in combat with a cedar. I eventually won. The cedar gave me a little bit of a scratch." One of the hospital doctors asked Bush if he needed medical attention, but he gamely turned the doctor down. "I was able to avoid any major surgical attention here, but thanks for your compassion, Colonel." Not long after, Bush was notified that the burn victim he had witnessed in the hospital had died. Bush was sometimes visibly moved by his visits to the wounded, but on the advice of White House communications director Dan Bartlett, he never publicly expressed any remorse or sadness because, Bartlett said, it might suggest he had doubts. But in the visits to the wounded, Bush is often confronted by angry, sorrowing parents. "See?" demanded one family member, gesturing to a maimed soldier in a hospital bed. "It's not worth it." "You can stop this," said another. "Only you can stop it," said a third. "I can understand how you feel," Bush replied.
- In a subsequent interview with reporter Bob Woodward, Donald Rumsfeld says that it is part of his job as secretary of defense to visit the wounded, and how inspiring he finds their sacrifices. He is not particularly bothered by them, he says, nor does his visits cause him to question any of the choices he has made surrounding Iraq: "There are things that raise that question in my mind, but not so much that." (AllHatNoCattle, Bob Woodward)
- January 3: New York Times reporter James Risen publishes his controversial book State of War,
which exposes details about the NSA domestic surveillance program (articles written in part by Risen), the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and numerous rogue operations by the CIA, most arising from the Iraq debacle. The CIA claims that the book is riddled with factual errors; the agency quickly mounts an investigation to find the anonymous sources Risen uses for the bulk of the book's content. The editor of this Web site has found the book to be of enormous value, and has excerpted material from it throughout the pages of this site. (Wikipedia)
Bush uses "signing statement" to ignore lawful ban on torture
- January 4: Bush uses another "signing statement" to indicate his refusal to obey the law even as he signs it into effect.
This signing statement concerns Congress's ban on the torture of detainees, a law that Bush signed into effect last week. But with that law, Bush issued another of his now-infamous signing statements, an official document in which a president explains his interpretation of a new law. This time, Bush's statement -- undoubtedly drafted by one or more of the many lawyers on the White House legal staff -- declares that Bush will view the restrictions on torture and interrogation in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, according to the White House and legal specialists, and some of these specialists believe that as a result, Bush does not intend to follow the law. "'The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President...as Commander in Chief," Bush's statement reads, adding that this approach "'will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President...of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."
- Bush reserves the right to allow American interrogators to use torture if he so pleases, says a senior administration official, regardless of what the law says. But the official tries to have it both ways, saying, "We are not going to ignore this law," and notes that Bush often issues signing statements saying that he will construe them consistent with his own constitutional authority. "'We consider it a valid statute. We consider ourselves bound by the prohibition on cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment." But, the official adds, a situation could arise where Bush may be forced to waive the law's restrictions. "Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, [but] he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case," the official adds. "We are not expecting that those two responsibilities will come into conflict, but it's possible that they will."
- David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, says that the signing statement means that Bush believes he can still authorize harsh interrogation tactics when he sees fit. "The signing statement is saying 'I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me,'" says Golove. "They don't want to come out and say it directly because it doesn't sound very nice, but it's unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on."
- Golove and other legal specialists compare this signing statement to Bush's decision of December 2005 where he chose to ignore a 1978 law forbidding domestic wiretapping without a warrant (see related items). Bush, through his legal advisors, argue that the Constitution allows the president to willfully ignore the law in the name of national security, and add that Congress implicitly endorsed that authority when it authorized the use of force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
- Many legal scholars and human rights organizations view Bush's use of signing statements as part of a broader agenda that claims exclusive control of war-related and national-security matters for the executive branch, and insists that Congress's role, and that of the courts', is minimal at best. Dick Cheney, one of the strongest proponents of the idea of the "unitary executive," recently told reporters, "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it.... I would argue that the actions that we've taken are totally appropriate and consistent with the constitutional authority of the president." (See examples throughout this site of Cheney's belief in the pre-eminence of the executive branch over the other two branches of American government.) Since the 2001 attacks, the administration has also asserted the power to bypass domestic and international laws in deciding how to detain prisoners captured in the Afghanistan war. It also has claimed the power to hold any US citizen Bush designates an "enemy combatant" without charges or access to an attorney. And in 2002, the administration drafted a secret legal memo holding that Bush could authorize interrogators to violate antitorture laws when necessary to protect national security. After the memo was leaked to the press, the administration eliminated the language from a subsequent version, but it never repudiated the idea that Bush could authorize officials to ignore a law.
- In January 2005, during his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales disclosed during his confirmation hearing that the administration believed that antitorture laws and treaties did not restrict interrogators at overseas prisons because the Constitution does not apply abroad. In response, Republican senator John McCain filed an amendment to a Defense Department bill explicitly saying that that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody is illegal regardless of where they are held. The White House tried hard to kill the McCain amendment. Cheney lobbied Congress to exempt the CIA from any interrogation limits, and Bush threatened to veto the bill, arguing that the executive branch has exclusive authority over war policy. But after veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress approved it, and Bush won dramatic concessions from McCain over the amendment that severely watered the amendment down, Bush called a press conference with McCain, praised the measure, and said he would accept it. Now, according to legal specialists, Bush's new signing statement indicates that he considered even that level of compromise to be nothing more than hot air. "The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole," says Marty Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor who served in the Justice Department from 1997 to 2002. "The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism."
- Elisa Massimino of Human Rights Watch calls Bush's signing statement an "in-your-face affront" to both McCain and to Congress. "The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch," she says. "Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it's being told through the signing statement that it's impotent. It's quite a radical view."
- Even three Republican senators have spoken out against Bush's use of the signing statement to indicate that he doesn't believe he has to follow the law. McCain is joined by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner issue a carefully worded joint statement rejecting Bush's assertion that he can waive the restrictions on the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment against detainees to protect national security. "We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees," they write. "The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration's implementation of the new law." A third Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, says he agrees with McCain and Warner and would go even further. "I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any...law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified," he says. "If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations' leaders from doing the same."
- Golove and Massimino are pleased that at least some Republicans are speaking out. "The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he's conducting war," Golove says. "The senators are saying: 'Wait a minute, we've gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.'" Massimino adds that the senators' statement should send a clear warning to military and CIA interrogators that they would be subject to criminal prosecution if they abuse a detainee: "That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress. And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel inhuman and degrading treatment is illegal." (Boston Globe, Boston Globe)
- January 4: Gordon England officially replaces Paul Wolfowitz as Deputy Secretary for Defense.
Partisan Bush appointees
England, who avoided a Senate confirmation hearing by being recess-appointed by Bush, and has been serving in an acting capacity since May 2005, is the former Executive Vice President of two powerful defense contractors, General Dynamics and a Lockheed unit. England is one of the ones responsible for deciding to spend billions of defense dollars on new airplanes (the F-22A Raptor) and new submarines (the Virginia class) instead of armoring Humvees and soldiers in Iraq. He is a former member of Bush's Defense Science Board, and in May 2001, was a controversial choice for Secretary of the Navy because of his lack of military experience and his long career in the defense industry. However, England was one of the beneficiaries of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's push to make corporate officials, and not military veterans, the new senior officials at the Pentagon, and named England as well as Enron's Thomas White and Grumman's James Roche to similar posts, as Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Air Force, respectively. Following Rumsfeld's plan to refashion the US military, England supervised the retirement of dozens of Navy ships, threw thousands of naval employees out of work, consolidated Navy and Marine tactical aviation forces, juggled crew deployments to keep ships at sea longer, and devised plans for the faster deployment of warships during a crisis. In January 2003, England became, briefly, the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, but retook the position of Secretary of the Navy on October 1, 2003, after his replacement, Colin McMillan, committed suicide. England is the official responsible for ordering the continued detention of Guantanamo Bay detainees based on his statement, "The question is: Are they still threats to America? It's not guilt or innocence."
(Wikipedia, Greg Palast)
- January 5: During the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito,
three conservative ministers entered the hearing chambers unnoticed and applied oil to all of the seats and loudly prayed that the committee members would confirm Alito. One of the three, Rob Schenck, says, "We did absolutely apply oil to all the seats" to assure God's presence in the process. The next day, when Senate guards prevented the ministers from entering the room to continue their "consecration service," they stood outside the hearing room reading the Bible and chanting the Lord's Prayer. One of them used oil to mark the door to the chambers in the sign of the cross. (Wall Street Journal/Air America Playbook)
"It's a heck of a place to bring your family." -- George W. Bush, on New Orleans, January 12, 2006
"In the history of the nation, there has never been a political party so ridiculous as today's Democrats. It's as if all the brain-damaged people in America got together and formed a voting bloc." -- Ann Coulter, quoted by Joe Maguire, January 12, 2006
- January 19: Dick Cheney tells an audience at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research,
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"some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway." This is contradicted by years of evidence, culminating in the National Intelligence Estimate released in September 2006 which states that the US presence in Iraq has greatly exacerbated the threat of terrorism around the globe and particularly as focused on America. (White House/Democratic Underground, New York Times)
Former Powell chief of staff Larry Wilkerson calls Iraq war a mistake, and Bush administration "radical"
- January 19: Retired Army colonel Larry Wilkerson has come out strongly in recent months against Bush's foreign policy,
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accusing Bush and his officials of carrying out a reckless set of strategies that works against US interests and imperils the future of the US military. In the process, he has all but forfeited the friendship of his former boss, ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson was once Powell's chief of staff, and worked with Powell for 16 years. Wilkerson has also forfeited much of the support of his fellow Republicans, but he does not consider himself a Republican in the modern sense. "This is not a Republican administration, not in my view," he says. "This is a radical administration." Wilkerson calls Bush an unsophisticated leader who has been easily swayed by "messianic" neoconservatives and power-hungry, secretive schemers in the administration. In a landmark speech in October 2005, Wilkerson said: "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made." He is particularly appalled by US treatment of enemy detainees, counting at least 100 deaths in custody during the course of the war on terrorism -- 27 of them ruled homicides. "Murder is torture," he says. "It's not torture lite." The invasion of Iraq was a blunder of historic proportions, he says. "This is really a very inept administration," says Wilkerson, who has credentials not only as an insider in the Bush I, Clinton and Bush II presidencies but also as a former professor at two of the nation's war colleges. "As a teacher who's studied every administration since 1945, I think this is probably the worst ineptitude in governance, decision-making and leadership I've seen in 50-plus years. You've got to go back and think about that. That includes the Bay of Pigs, that includes -- oh my God, Vietnam. That includes Iran-contra, Watergate." He is even less kind to Bush personally: "I see hard-headedness, I see arrogance, I see hubris, I see what I saw in a lot of Texans."
- Powell is publicly supportive, to an extent, of Bush, but agrees somewhat with Wilkerson's assessments. "I wouldn't characterize it the way Larry has, calling it a cabal," Powell said in December. "Now what Larry is suggesting in his comments is that very often maybe Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney would take decisions in to the president that the rest of us weren't aware of. That did happen, on a number of occasions." Rumsfeld has termed the idea of a "cabal" "ridiculous." Wilkerson, who flew over 1,100 combat hours as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, is dismissive of administration warhawks like Cheney, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Paul Wolfowitz: "None of these guys ever heard a bullet go by their ears in combat." He compares Bush's foreign policy to the extremists of the French Revolution, the Jacobins: "Here we are with a failure in Iraq, a massive failure. Not only an intelligence failure, but it looks like it's gonna be a real failure on the ground. How do you suddenly transform that? Well, you suddenly become a Jacobin yourself, you're suddenly for this messianic spread of freedom and democracy around the world. You're suddenly an advocate of all things that John F. Kennedy was an advocate of: 'We will bear any burden, pay any price.' You've discarded John Quincy Adams, who said we're the friends of liberty everywhere, the custodians only of our own. And you've suddenly said, 'I'm the custodian of the whole world's liberty, and by God if you don't realize it I'm going to bring it to you -- and if I have to bring it to you at the point of a gun, that's the way I'm going to bring it to you!'"
- As not only Powell's chief of staff but his confidant, Wilkerson saw almost all of the same intelligence on Iraq that Powell saw, and is even more forthright than his former boss in saying that the case for Iraq's WMDs was specious. Powell, says Wilkerson, "presented a number of alternatives to war. Those alternatives did not entail the use of force, or they did not entail the use of force immediately. And when he was made aware of the decision otherwise, he became the good soldier that he was. I know how he operates and he would have decided, 'Okay, I lost, and now I'll carry out the decision as best I can' -- and make it seem like it was his decision." In November 2002, after the UN had voted to order Iraq to admit weapons inspectors, Powell entered Wilkerson's office. "He walked into my office, and he said to me, musing and looking out across the greenery there toward National Airport -- I wrote it down on my calendar, that's the reason I know what he said -- 'I wonder what will happen if we put half a million troops on the ground, and scour Iraq from one corner to the other, and find no weapons of mass destruction?' And he left that rhetorical question hanging in the air as he went back into his office." But Wilkerson was loyal, as well. He became State's point man for making the case for preemptive war against Hussein. He put together the task force that, during a week at CIA headquarters, vetted all the intelligence reports used for Powell's famous pro-war presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, where he brandished a vial of fake anthrax, played excerpts of intercepted Iraqi military chatter, and warned of mobile bioweapon "factories" and other doomsday machines, none of which actually existed. "Larry thought they had cleaned out the obvious garbage, but it turned out there was more," says James Kelly, a former assistant secretary of state who's known Wilkerson for 20 years. "Larry felt that he let down the secretary, but the job was so big in cleaning out the misinformation." "I kick myself in the *ss," Wilkerson says. "How did we ever get to that place?" Of the "cabal," Wilkerson says, "I am prepared to entertain the idea that they used him."
- By early 2004, it was clear to Wilkerson that the Pentagon's failure to prepare for the war's aftermath -- including dismissal of Army General Eric Shinseki's warnings as well as peacekeeping and nation-building plans -- had led to mounting deaths and injuries for US ground troops. Nor was there, in Wilkerson's view, any thought given to future replenishment of the Army and Marine combat troops as the insurgency continued. "Larry Wilkerson is a man of the Army in the finest sense," says Kelly. "He cares deeply about the US Army...and he hates to see this institution badly damaged, and he believes it has been badly damaged." The stories emanating from Abu Ghraib, and the abandonment of the Geneva Conventions, further angered and disappointed Wilkerson, who was coming to view Powell as the administration's lone voice of reason. But Powell was being shut out. "Combine the detainee abuse issue with the ineptitude of post-invasion planning for Iraq, wrap both in this blanket of secretive decision-making . . . and you get the overall reason for my speaking out," Wilkerson says. "It never became personal for Powell, because he believed in the process," says Robert Charles, a former assistant secretary of state who worked with both men. "I believe it was harder for Larry, because he felt such great empathy for the boss, the most seasoned military officer he had ever served with." He now wonders whether he should have come out guns blazing before the 2004 election. But becoming a vocal political defector in Washington can mean lonely exile, a loss of stature and income. "I know it's very hard to put kids, job security and all that sort of stuff aside," he says. "I think that's the answer to why more people don't speak out." He also did not want to be seen as betraying Powell. But as he recalls, "My wife said to me: 'You have two choices, my man. You can think more about him or you can think more about your country. I suggest you do the latter.'" (Washington Post)
- January 27: Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporting, writes, "We are now learning what President Bush considers to be the limits of his power -- nothing."
In other words, Bush's outlook echoes that of the French monarch Louis XIV, who reputedly said, "L'etat c'etat moi" -- I am the state. Bush continues to defend his unconstitutional domestic spying program, saying the Constitution implies this power for him under the inherent war powers provision and because of the October 2002 Congressional resolution authorizing him to attack Iraq, which authorizes him to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against the terrorists. Bush has no such rights and no such authority, but like a power-mad European king, has simply abrogated that authority to himself. While the Justice Department has issued a lengthy legal analysis that supports his claim of Constitutional backing, and then turns around and says some of his powers are simply "beyond congressional ability to regulate," just because some Justice Department lawyer writes it, doesn't make it so. Congress was more than willing to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which in essence has acted as a rubber stamp for government petitions for "emergency," warrantless wiretaps. And Congress is probably willing to give the president even more authority. As Senator John McCain said, "I know of no member of Congress, frankly, who, if the administration came and said, 'Here's why we need this capability,' that they wouldn't get it." But, writes Thomas, "the Bush administration wanted unfettered freedom to spy on who they want, when they want, with no legal constraints whatsoever. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Arlen Specter, will hold hearings on domestic spying on February 6, but no one expects the Republican-led Congress to perform anything approaching oversight.
- Meanwhile, Bush's stance reminds Thomas of Nixon's old assertion: "If a president does it, it's not illegal." But some Democrats are answering back. Al Gore recently said, "A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government," and has called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Bush's domestic spying. She writes, "The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights speaks of the right of people 'to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches....' I wonder what other secret orders Bush has issued to enhance his powers and diminish ours?" (Boulder Daily Camera/CommonDreams)