Highlights of This Page
Republicans hijack the Terri Schiavo case for their own political purposes. Iraq Intelligence Commission releases report.
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
- March 1:
The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is opposing a request by the panel's top Democrat to investigate possible misconduct by the C.I.A. in the treatment of terrorism suspects, Congressional officials said Tuesday.
The chairman, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, is insisting that any review be conducted only as part of the committee's standard oversight role, not a broader inquiry, an aide to Mr. Roberts said.
By contrast, the proposal by the Democratic vice chairman, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, outlined by his staff for the first time on Tuesday, calls for "an investigation into all matters that have any tendency to reveal the full facts about the detention, interrogation and rendition authority and practices" used by government agencies for intelligence purposes.
Mr. Rockefeller said in a recent interview that he believed that the committee should begin an inquiry even before the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general completes at least a half-dozen reviews now under way.
The C.I.A. has said it will provide its reports to the committee, but in Congressional testimony last month, Porter J. Goss, the intelligence chief, said he did not know when the reviews would be completed.
Among other things, Mr. Rockefeller is asking the committee to conduct an inquiry into "all presidential and other authorities for detention, interrogation and rendition for intelligence purposes" since the Sept. 11 attacks. The word rendition refers to the transfer of suspects to another country's custody, an extrajudicial practice that the C.I.A. has used widely since the attacks.
Mr. Rockefeller also wants the panel to review "the full facts" concerning the detention, interrogation and rendition practices by American government agencies, said his spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi. In addition, a one-page draft proposal that Mr. Rockefeller gave to Mr. Roberts last month calls for a review of "the full facts" of what American agencies know about the detention and interrogation practices of the governments to which detainees are sent. Mr. Roberts said in an interview last month that he and his staff were reviewing a proposal by Mr. Rockefeller. The Republican senator said at the time that he was not sure that a formal investigation was warranted, but he suggested that the two sides could agree on a review, saying, "'I don't anticipate any difference of opinion regarding the subject."
But on Tuesday, an aide to Mr. Roberts said the senator did not believe that a formal inquiry was warranted. The subject of interrogation and detention "will continue to be a focus of oversight for us," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity about the internal discussions among the committee's senior members.
Within the C.I.A., there has been growing concern over the possibility that career officers could be prosecuted or otherwise punished for their conduct during interrogations and detentions of terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks. Government officials say that the episodes being reviewed by the agency's inspector general date from 2002, and that at least three involve the deaths of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is not clear whether the episodes under review include those involving an estimated three dozen senior leaders of Al Qaeda being held by the C.I.A. in secret prisons around the world, about which virtually all details have remained secret.
To date, only one C.I.A. employee, a contract worker from North Carolina, has been charged with a crime in connection with the treatment of prisoners, stemming from a death in Afghanistan in June 2003. But the officials have confirmed that the agency had asked the Justice Department to review at least one other case, from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in November 2003, to determine if a C.I.A. officer and interpreter should face prosecution.
(New York Times/Peninsula Peace and Justice Center)
- March 3: Radical Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is acquitted of five of the six charges he faced in connection with the Bali nighclub bombings and the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, by an Indonesian court. Convicted of one charge of conspiracy, he will serve less than a year in prison. Bashir is the spiritual leader of the Islamic terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah. US and Australian officials are disappointed in the verdict, but Indonesian prosecutors say they would have had a better chance of bringing further convictions against Bashir had the US allowed two suspected al-Qaeda members, Riudan Isamuddin (also known as "Hambali") and Omar al-Faruq, to be interrogated by Indonesian law enforcement officials. Both are Indonesians, but are in US custody. "We need Hambali very much," says Ansyaad Mbai, the head of counter-terrorism in Indonesia's Ministry for Political and Security Affairs. "We fight to get access to him, but we have failed." (New York Times)
"I like the idea of people running for office. There's a positive effect when you run for office. Maybe some will run for office and say, vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America. I don't know, I don't know if that will be their platform or not. But it's -- I don't think so. I think people who generally run for office say, vote for me, I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes, or making sure you got bread on the table." -- George W. Bush, on elections in the Middle East, March 16, 2005
"[I'm] occasionally reading, I want you to know, in the second term." -- George W. Bush, March 16, 2005
- March 19: Supporters of the military, including Democrats, are livid about the Bush administration's new proposals to slash funding for veterans' benefits. "During this time of war, it is absolutely the wrong time for our federal government to step back from any of its commitments to our veterans," says Democratic governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. "To do so would be penny wise but pound foolish. In today's parlance, the cost of health care for these vets may be half a billion dollars but their sacrifice for our nation, priceless." Rendell calls the proposed cuts "unconscionable."
- The cuts are indeed Draconian: a $350 million reduction in veterans' home funding, which, according to Rendell, will "wipe...out out at least 5,000 veterans' nursing home beds." 60% of the 1600 veterans who rely on the government to pay for their nursing home care will be "forc[ed] out into the cold." Veterans co-payments for prescription drugs were tripled in the 2002 budget, and Bush's new proposal mandates those co-pays be doubled again. Rendell says, "In the midst of a war, when many new men and women will join the legion of veterans, does it really make sense for the president to increase the cost of vets' prescriptions by 100 percent?" he asks. And the administration's proposed $250 fee "to be paid by every vet wishing to participate in the Veterans Administration health care program" really infuriates Rendell. "There may well be some veterans who can afford to do so, but can all vets come up with an extra $250 a year to pay for health care? I doubt it," he says. (CNN)
- March 19: RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, a closeted homosexual who helped promote the succesful anti-gay agenda that helped propel the Republican victories in November 2004, is confronted at a fund-raising banquet in Akron, Ohio by gay reporter Eric Resnick of the Cleveland Gay People's Chronicle. Resnick believes that "Issue One," the state amendment known as the "pro-marriage amendment, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act are nothing more than undercover attacks on the rights of gay citizens. Resnick is astonished that virtually no one in the mainstream media has asked Mehlman about his work to pass such laws when he himself is gay. And Resnick resents being used as a political device to motivate a "hate vote" against gays. "For our community, it was absolutely incredible," he recalls. "Every single debate and discussion had something gay in it, and we've never seen anything like that before. At that point, it is part of the public policy discussion, and those guys revved up their based and used our community as an issue to win votes in that election, and at that point, it does become a public matter." If Mehlman is indeed gay, as most believe, then his participation in such an ugly and vicious organized attack on gays to win the elections outs him, not only as a homosexual, but as a hypocrite whose personal integrity is deeply flawed.
- The fundraiser is a thank-you dinner for Summit County Republicans, and, true to the agenda of Mehlman and his mentor Karl Rove, is also designed to raise thousands of dollars for Republican campaign coffers. It is hosted by Alex Arshinkoff, a married father and closeted homosexual who was one of the driving forces behind Issue One. The hypocrisy and irony are thick, and Resnick intends to slice through it. "I knew Ken Mehlman would be there," Resnick later recalls. "And I knew I'd have access to him afterwards just because of the way people are when they line up to talk to the head table. I knew what I was doing when I went in, and I knew the question I wanted to ask him." He buys a ticket from the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, the small and politically impotent chapter of gay Republicans, and deliberately does not seek reporter's credentials, knowing that he will most likely be exiled to a corner in an impromptu but strictly enforced "free speech zone" which will deny him access to anyone except a bland press spokesperson or two.
- Arshinkoff is another interesting figure. The longest-serving GOP county chair currently holding office, the 50-year old Arshinkoff is weathering revelations about him picking up a 21-year old male college student. soliciting sex, and subsequently being questioned by police. The officers became involved when they saw the student leap from Arshinkoff's car and run away; when they stopped him, the student said Arshinkoff rubbed his thigh, asked if he were gay or bisexual, and asked him if he wanted to make some money. Though solicitation is a crime, the student declined to press charges, and the Akron police did not arrest the influential Republican figure. But the story doesn't surprise many in Ohio's political circles. "Most people are aware of it," said a former Republican official, Chris Bleuenstein. "Stupid him; he just keeps getting caught." A male Democratic official, Michael Curry, recalled being propositioned by Arshinkoff in 2000 when both of them were in a Cleveland gay bar called the Leather Stallion; if the official would have sex with him, Arshinkoff would make sure that two Democratic judges wouldn't have Republican opposition in the upcoming election. "I've just decided he's a hypocrite about it," Curry said in 2001. "He's gone out and recruited candidates who are homophobic and anti-gay. If he ever openly admitted he was gay, I think a lot of money would dry up."
- During the dinner, Resnick ignores Arshinkoff; he wants to speak with Mehlman. Mehlman thanked the Summit County Republican bigwigs for helping to "increas[e] its votes for George W. Bush from 2000 to 2004 more than any other county." After his speech, the usual line forms to meet and greet Mehlman. Resnick finally approaches Mehlman, and introduces himself as a reporter for the Gay People's Chronicle. "I began asking him innocuous questions about things he had said in his speech. But I prefaced each one by saying, 'Since the bloggers have outed you,' or, 'Since you were outed on national radio, is that going to change how the party treats gay people?'" Unsurprisingly, Mehlman ignores Resnick's questions and gives the reporter "canned, standard answers." Finally, Mehlman responds to Resnick's questions by saying that the reports that he is gay are "inaccurate...[w]hat they are saying in the blogs." Mehlman finally snaps, "You have asked a question people shouldn't have to answer" and retreats.
- Though inconclusive, Resnick's questioning of Mehlman marks the first time a reporter -- any reporter -- has asked the RNC chair about his sexual orientation. Resnick's March 25 story, entitled "GOP National Chair Avoids Questions," causes a brief stir in the gay and lesbian community, but most journalists agree that Resnick's questioning and Mehlman's non-answers don't meet the standards of reporting, and none of the mainstream media outlets picks up on Resnick's story. Resnick believes that his questioning had its desired effect: "I just went in there believing if reporters started asking the question multiple times, it would start to have an effect on him." And he is still upset about Mehlman's hypocrisy and the GOP's targeting of gays. "I am extremely angry about it all," he recalls. "I still am. And sometimes it's hard for me to do this job as a reporter and put that all aside effectively and appropriately and truly get the story. And I am not sure I will ever get over the anger. 62% of the people who voted in Ohio basically told us to go to hell. And that is not an easily reconcilable thing." (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
Republicans hijack the Terri Schiavo case for their own political purposes
- March 20: Terri Schiavo, a victim of an apparent brain embolism in 1989 and ever since a brain-dead patient in a persistent vegetative state, becomes a conservative cause celebre when her husband Michael Schiavo wins a court petition to end his wife's 16-year ordeal by removing her feeding tube and allowing her to die. Schiavo first petitioned the Florida courts to allow him to end her life in 1998; in March, a Florida circuit court rules that he has the right to decide to have her feeding tube removed. No other Florida court would hear any further appeals, mounted by Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler. But on March 20, the US Senate passes an unprecedented piece of legislation turning the Schiavo case over to the federal courts. The bill passes by a unanimous voice vote, 3-0, with only Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Florida senator Mel Martinez, and anti-abortion activist Rick Santorum casting their votes, in an unusual piece of parliamentary legerdemain. Later that night, with 174 House members either absent or abstaining, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay rams the same bill through the House.
- Bush cuts his vacation short to fly to Washington to sign the bill into law in a blaze of publicity. The same president who will not bother to leave his ranch for August 2005's Hurricane Katrina, or December 2005's Indonesian tsunami, can't wait to run in front of the cameras to force the federal government to interfere in the case of a single vegetative patient. "Look, this is a symbolic move, for sure," says Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. "It's his willingness to interrupt his vacation to make a statement." It "would have been acceptable" for Bush to sign the bill into law in Texas, "but this president seizes opportunities when they come his way. That's what makes him a good politician."
- An unsigned memo written by Martinez staffer Brian Darling, circulated the week before among Republican senators, may give a more realistic explanation for the intervention. "This is a great political issue," the memo reads. "This is a tough issue for Democrats. ...The pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue." In other words, the Schiavo intervention is nothing more than cold, calculated politics designed to mobilize the anti-abortion members of the Republican party.
- While the extreme conservative base may be excited, most Americans are appalled. According to a CBS News poll of March 21/22, 82% of Americans believe that the federal government "should stay out of" the Schiavo case. 74% believe that Bush and the Republicans in Congress passed the bill merely "to advance a political agenda." Even 50% of self-described evangelicals don't believe the Republicans are sincere.
- The memo, and allegations that the Republicans are using the issue for political purposes, creates a firestorm of controversy, answered by a Republican-managed counterattack through a number of Internet blogs that avers the memo is a crude forgery released by liberals to undermine Bush and congressional Republicans. John Hinderaker of the conservative Internet blog Powerline says the memo is an "obvious fake" because it wasn't signed, it wasn't on official letterhead, it mixed talking points with strategy points, and "sounds like a liberal fantasy of how conservatives talk.... What conservative would write that the case of a woman condemned to death by starvation is 'a great political issue?'" The memo's author, Darling, keeps quiet during the hooraw raised by right-wing pundits about the memo's supposed fraudulence. Rush Limbaugh shouts over the radio, "It was forged!" The mainstream media begins reporting the "doubts" about the memo's provenence, though more cautiously than Limbaugh and his colleagues. On April 7, Martinez admits Darling is the memo's author, and Darling is forced to resign from Martinez's staff. None of the Republican lawmakers who enthusiastically adopted the tactics suggested by Darling's memo resigned, and the pundits like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who for weeks had shouted of nothing else except the memo's fraudulence, respond to the revelation that the memo is indeed real by becoming silent about the memo and instead casting about for new accusations to level against Democrats and liberals. (Martinez cannot resist adding a new lie to his admission of Darling's authorship. He says that he had no prior knowledge of the document: "Until this afternoon, I had never seen it and had no idea a copy of it had ever been in my possession."
- Tom DeLay, in deep trouble over the exposure of his career of brazen ethical and criminal violations, leaps on the Schiavo case as a political life preserver, in the process making the wildest of false claims about Terri's level of consciousness and mental acuity. He tells the Family Research Council, "[O]ne thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America that Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks. I mean, in America, that's going to happen if we don't win that fight. So it's bigger than any one of us, and we have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position. And let me just finish with this. This is exactly the issue that's going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others. The point is, the other side has figured out how to win and defeat the conservative movement." Political pundit Al Franken observes, "so, to Tom DeLay, the Schiavo case wasn't so much about Terri Schiavo as about Tom DeLay. And he was determind to make the most of it. Where other Republicans confined themselves to vague generalities about the possibility that Terri was aware of her surroundings, DeLay felt no compunctions about making a case that was both laughably and tragically false on its face." According to DeLay, "she talks and she laughs and she expresses likes and dislikes. It won't take a miracle to help Terri Schiavo. It will only take the medical care and therapy that patients require."
- The callousness of DeLay's claims is beyond belief, but perhaps he can be excused somewhat because he is by trade an exterminator and not a medical professional. Not so for Dr. Bill Frist, a veteran heart transplant surgeon who has a good bit more credibility when making pronouncements about medical issues. Frist, coming off his election-year criticisms of Kerry/Edwards for giving "false hopes" to patients over their advocacy of stem-cell research, Frist violates every ethical and moral standard of the medical profession by making a "diagnosis" of Terri after viewing a brief video supplied to him by her parents. On March 17, he stood on the floor of the Senate and told his listeners, "From my standpoint as a physician, I would be very careful before I would come to the floor and say this, that the facts upon which this case was based are inadequate. To be able to make a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state -- which is not brain dead; it is not coma; it is a specific diagnosis and typically takes multiple examinations over a period of time because you are looking for responsiveness -- I have looked at the video footage. Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond." Of course, months later, after Terri's death, she will be autopsied and confirmed to have indeed been in a "persistent vegetative state, with massive and permanent brain damage." Frist will respond by lying about his statements; on June 16, he will tell Today's Matt Lauer that he never said, "she does respond," never made any statements about her condition, but merely questioned if her diagnosis was correct.
- As the American public responds more and more negatively to the entire shameful, shameless Schiavo debacle, the right responds by mounting a vicious attack on Michael Schiavo and liberals in general. Former Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan pens a March 24 editorial for the Wall Street Journal titled "In Love With Death: The Bizarre Passion of the Pull-the-Tube People," where she says liberals are "red-fanged and ravenous" over their desire to kill Terri Schiavo. Of course, no liberal has ever claimed a desire to kill Terri; the issue is not whether she lives or dies, but who makes the decision and whether the federal government has a role in such a decision. Of course, this isn't an argument the right can win, so instead they accuse Democrats of wanting to kill the woman. Noonan compares the Democrats to prison guards at Auschwitz. Rush Limbaugh says Democrats want Terri to die "simply because some Christian conservatives want her to live." Bay Buchanan tells CNN listeners that Democrats want Terri to die because she "is the property of her husband," and demands, "[W]here are the feminists?"
- The attack on Michael Schiavo is equally ferocious. On the one hand, he has cared for Terri for sixteen years, even getting his nursing degree to better provide for her. On the other hand, he has, with his in-laws' blessing, begun dating again, and has moved in with another woman and fathered two children with her, though technically still remaining married to Terri. Republicans leap to attack what they call his "alternative lifestyle" (harkening to the entire gay marriage issue), and a guest on MSNBC's Joe Scarborough show goes so far as to accuse Michael of "pulling a huge hoax simply to kill his wife."
- Congress's bill to transfer the Schiavo case to federal court isn't having the desired effect, as one federal court after another refuses to hear the case. In total, over three dozen state and federal courts have refused to hear the case over the seven-year tenure of the case, but Republican ire focuses on two judges: Clinton appointee James Whittemore, who is the first federal court to decline to hear the case, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who finally puts an end to the whole sorry mess.
- The damage done to Congressional Republicans is heavy, with only 17% of Americans saying that Congress "shares their priorities" in light of the Schiavo case.
- As a side note, Tom DeLay's vociferous attempts to preserve Terri's life can be viewed in a different light after his own family history is revealed. The Los Angeles Times reports on March 27 that in 1988, DeLay's father, Charles, was critically and permanently injured in an accident involving a home-built backyard tram which derailed and crashed into a tree. Echoing Michael Schiavo, DeLay's mother Maxine says, "Tom knew -- we all knew -- his father wouldn't have wanted to live that way." The DeLay family decided not to connect Charles to a dialysis machine, and he died in December 1988. Tom DeLay did not accuse his family of "an act of barbarism," "medical terrorism," "murder," or "homicide," as he did Michael Schiavo, but he did, however, join in the family's lawsuit against the tram manufacturer. As a codicil to this enormous act of hypocrisy, DeLay cosponsored a House bill to negate state liability laws in favor of corporations such as the one he sued. (Then-President Clinton vetoed the bill.)
- I summation, Al Franken asks of the Republicans, "Did they actually care about anything other than staying in power? Were they sincere about their commitment to a culture of life even when the cameras weren't rolling? Or were they, for all their bluster about the sanctity of the unborn and the unconscious, just hypocrites -- big, fat hypocrites who, if the price were right, wouldn't hesitate to sell out every principle they claimed to be fighting for?" The answer seems transparently clear. (ABC News [contains transcript of the Darling memo], Washington Post/CBS/St. Petersburg Times/Los Angeles Times/Al Franken)
Iraq Intelligence Commission releases report
- March 31: The Iraq Intelligence Commission, led by Republican judge Laurence Silberman, releases its report on the intelligence failures leading up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The commission was established in February 2004 (see the entry for the commission on that page), and is widely considered little more than a group designed to cover up the crimes and mistakes of the Bush administration. It was never authorized, for example, to investigate any of the uses White House officials, particularly Bush or Cheney, made of the intelligence they selected for their use, and never interviewed either Bush or Cheney. Still, the commission reports that concluded that the intelligence community was "dead wrong" in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and that this constitutes a major intelligence failure. The report describes in some detail the systemic analytical, collection, and dissemination flaws that led to the erroneous assessments about Iraq's alleged WMD programs. Chief among these flaws are failures by certain agencies to gather all relevant information and analyze fully information on purported centrifuge tubes, insufficient vetting of key sources, particularly the source "Curveball," and somewhat overstated presentation of data to policymakers. On the other hand, the commission found "no indication" that political pressure had been applied to distort the intelligence community's assessments on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, even though there is much evidence suggesting just such political pressures existed. The report makes 74 recommendations, mostly structural and organizational -- read bureaucratic -- reforms; Bush will adopt 69 of them in a public statement released at the end of June 2005. Ultimately, the commission's report sheds little real light on the intelligence failures surrounding the Iraq debacle; what it does do is provide a few months of political cover for the administration.
- The commission warns that the "harm done to American credibility by our all too public intelligence failings in Iraq will take years to undo." While it doesn't find that intelligence analysts had been directly pressured to "skew or alter any of their analytical judgments," it adds, "it is hard to deny that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."
- Reporter Bob Woodward makes some interesting discoveries about the commission's investigations, in later interviews with the commission's chairman, Laurence Silberman. Silberman says that the commission had to threaten to subpoena Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, even though the commission had no subpoena power; the threat worked, and Rumsfeld reluctantly testified, showing particular sensitivity about charges that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had not done a good job in dealing with Iraqi intelligence. Woodward tells Silberman that many of the senior generals in the field have always harbored serious doubts about the existence of Iraqi WMDs, particularly John Abizaid, David McKiernan, and James Marks. "I'm sorry we didn't talk to them," Silberman says. Then-CIA director George Tenet testified willingly several times, and Silberman believes that Tenet had relied too heavily on a few pieces of intelligence from foreign services. "Poor George," Silberman recalls, "I mean, it took him a long time in this process to try and figure out what the hell went wrong, why they were so wrong, and how incredibly stupid some of their decisions were." Silberman is impatient with Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin's, claims that the failure of the intelligence community on WMDs was because of what he termed a "perfect storm" of errors and miscommunications that ultimately were no one's fault. "We thought that was garbage," Silberman recalls. "There were some fundamental flaws. The very worst thing was the chemical stuff." In one instance, analysts had looked at satellite photos of tanker trucks and, without further evidence, concluded that the tankers must contain chemical weapons. To make things worse, the analysts concluded that the Iraqis must be accelerating the program because they were seeing so many more trucks. "Nobody bothered to tell the analysts that they saw many more trucks because we were running the satellite more over them. That was almost like Saturday Night Live."
- Silberman felt that the 9/11 commission, which issued its report in June 2004, had stolen his committee's thunder and rendered its work almost irrelevant. But he was called by White House chief of staff Andrew Card with the reassurance that Bush, who wanted the political cover the committee's report would provide, wanted the Silberman committee to continue its work. In fact, Card suggested, it would be helpful for Silberman's staff to put together a structural analysis of the 9/11 commission's recommendations. Silberman and Robb write a memo to their fellow committee members on the 9/11 commission's recommendations, and forward it to Card. Soon after, on a stopover in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to dine with Cheney, the vice president tells Silberman that he found the memo "enormously helpful." (Wikipedia, Bob Woodward, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)