Highlights of This Page
Secret intelligence report shows Iraq situation worsening; Rumsfeld dismisses the idea with a "fruit bowl" comparison.
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
- May 4: On a trip to Lithuania for a conference of former Soviet republics and allies -- to which Russia was not invited -- Dick Cheney blasts Russia for using its energy reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail," and for cracking down on religious and political rights, enraging Russian premier Vladimir Putin even as the United States seeks Russia's cooperation against Iran. Cheney warns that Russia's backsliding could harm Moscow's relations with the United States and Europe. "Russia has a choice to make," he says. "And there is no question that a return to democratic reform in Russia will generate future success for its people and greater respect among fellow nations." Russia reacts strongly. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev retorts, "Cheney's speech looks like a provocation and interference in Russia's internal affairs in terms of its content, form and place." The next day, Cheney, in Kazakhstan, which has a horrendous record of human rights violations but also has large oilfields, Cheney says nothing about Kazakhstan's human rights records, but lauds the nation as "one of the few places where we're going to see an increase in oil production from a non-OPEC state over the next few years." Putin later says in response to Cheney's hypocrisy, "I think your vice president's expression there is like his bad shot on his hunting trip. I believe that his concerns do not look sincere and therefore they are not convincing." (USA Today, ABC News, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- May 11: CNN talk show host Glenn Beck, an avowed conservative, has a simple method of dealing with nations such as Iran who oppose the US: "I say we nuke the b*stards. In fact, it doesn't have to be Iran, it can be everywhere, anyplace that disagrees with me." (MediaMatters)
- May 11: Fox News host John Gibson says it is the duty of white Americans to ensure that Hispanics do not outnumber whites in the US by having more children: "Do your duty. Make more babies. That's a lesson drawn out of two interesting stories over the last couple of days. First, a story yesterday that half of the kids in this country under five years old are minorities. By far, the greatest number are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic. Why is that? Well, Hispanics are having more kids than others. Notably, the ones Hispanics call 'gabachos' -- white people -- are having fewer." (MediaMatters)
- May 12: Bush invites ten former secretaries of state and defense, including Colin Powell and Madeline Albright, to the White House to discuss Iraq. Five months before, he had invited essentially the same group for the same discussion, but in that meeting he was bored, uninvolved, and defensive. Powell takes the chance to speak out about his concerns. He worries that the US knows too little about the new Iraqi prime minister, Jawad al-Maliki -- though al-Maliki says all the right things, and Bush officials have been effusive in their praise of him, no one really knows what al-Maliki stands for or what he will do once in office. Bush emphasizes al-Maliki's centrality. The conversation turns to Iran, but Powell redirects, restating his concerns about al-Maliki, a Shi'ite who spent 20 years in exile in Syria and Iran. "The significant difference between the January meeting we had with you and this meeting," says Powell, "is that in January we had a raging insurgency and terrorism. I think things have gotten worse. We have a raging insurgency still. We still have terrorism. But the new element which came out from the bombing of the religious site at Samarra [where a Shi'ite mosque was virtually destroyed] is that we now have sect-on-sect violence and it's serious. And it's a new war. And it's a war that American troops have less and less to do with. I understand that the [CIA] chiefs of station have a somewhat more negative view." Powell had Bush's attention in a way he never had during his tenure as Bush's secretary of state, and, though he doesn't want to start the argument of whether or not Iraq is in a civil war, he wants to make his point as plainly as possible. "Your strategy is correct in terms of building up the military and police forces and the government, because if you don't have a government that you can connect these forces to, then, Mr. President, you're not building up forces, you're building up militias." Bush's only response is a nod of his head. (Bob Woodward)
- May 19: The Los Angeles Times reports on a number of tactics the Bush administration is using to escalate its confrontation with Iran and undercut that nation's ruling clerics. It has recently created new offices in the State Department and Pentagon specifically to bolster opposition to the Tehran government. In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for $75 million to promote democracy and aid Iranian dissidents, mostly for the Voice of America's Persian-language broadcasts. "We are more out of sync now with Iran than at any time since 1979," says a State Department official. "I don't think the time is right now for a dialogue. We seem to be moving closer toward a confrontational stance, versus a compromise stance."
- Many observers have drawn parallels between the Bush administration's actions towards Iran and its actions preceding the Iraq invasion of March 2003, but officials emphasize that this time, State Department diplomats rather than Pentagon war planners are in charge. Middle East specialist Trita Parsi of Johns Hopkins University says, "The administration is trying to make regime change through democratization the policy, instead of making confrontation by military means the policy." Parsi advocates open diplomacy with Tehran.
- Bush fellow travellers are manning the new State and Defense Department bureaus. State's Office of Iranian Affairs is headed by David Denehy, a longtime democracy specialist at the International Republican Institute. Denehy will work under Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Cheney, the hardline daughter of the vice president. As for the Pentagon office, the military will not name the director, but three veterans of the now-infamous Office of Special Plans are on board: Abram Shulsky, its former director; John Trigilio, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst; and Ladan Archin, an Iran specialist. (Los Angeles Times/Information Clearinghouse)
- May 20: Nouri Jawad al-Maliki takes the office of prime minister in a ceremony in Baghdad, in a high-security hall inside the Green Zone. He lays out a 33-point program for his government, focusing on the three central ideas of improving security, improving services, and fighting corruption. Bush and his officials continue to be effusive in their praise of al-Maliki. Two days later, Bush tells an audience in Chicago that while progress in Iraq has been incremental and the forces of democracy have suffered setbacks, "Yet we have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror. [Iraqis have] demonstrated that democracy is the hope of the Middle East and the destiny of all mankind. ...Years from now, people will look back on the formation of a unity government in Iraq as a decisive moment in the story of liberty, a moment when freedom gained a firm foothold in the Middle East and the forces of terror began their long retreat." (Bob Woodward)
- May 21: Republican senator John Ensign accuses Democratic Congressional leaders who criticize the Iraq war of aiding the terrorists and deliberately interfering with the war effort. "Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy -- let me tell you, I say this without reservation -- they have hurt our military, they have emboldened the enemy," Ensign tells the Nevada Republican Party convention. "They're fighting for the freedom of speech, they're fighting for the right to protest, they're fighting for all those things. But when we are at war, especially the leaders in this country need to be very, very careful of what they say and what they do." When asked specifically which comments from either Pelosi or Kennedy are inappropriate, he says Pelosi had called evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "lies." "You don't think that doesn't embolden the enemy?" he asks. Ensign says that war critics should lie about their opposition, quoting what he says is a line from conservative comedian Dennis Miller: "I happened to believe in what we're doing over there. But if I didn't, I'd lie."
- Nevada Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer says Ensign's remarks are an attempt to compensate for "a war that has had one failure after another. They would have fewer questions about the war if they were doing a better job of running it." (NewsMax)
- May 22: Headline during a Fox News broadcast discussing some Democrats' opposition to the Iraq war: "Dems Helping the Enemy?" (MediaMatters)
- May 23: Concerned about the influence Donald Rumsfeld has over the generals, to the point where the generals are constrained in offering their own opinions, NATO commander James Jones persuades Peter Pace, the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to hold a meeting with the combatant commanders and services chiefs without Rumsfeld or any Defense Department personnel in attendance. In the meeting, Jones says he wants to focus on the issue of "forward basing," keeping US troops in bases around the world to move against trouble when it breaks out. But Rumsfeld wants to bring as many of the troops back to the United States. Most in the meeting agree, but no one seems willing to challenge Rumsfeld over the idea. (Bob Woodward)
Secret intelligence report shows Iraq situation worsening; Rumsfeld dismisses the idea with a "fruit bowl" comparison
- May 24: The intelligence staff of the Joint Chiefs, J-2, circulates a secret intelligence assessment that shows the insurgency in Iraq is not retreating, but are making serious inroads. The assessment shatters Bush's assertions that the US is defeating the Iraqi insurgency. "Attacks in May will likely surpass April levels," the assessment declares, "which were the highest ever recorded. The Sunni Arab insurgency is gaining strength and increasing capacity despite political progress and Iraqi security forces development." An accompanying graph [reprinted in Bob Woodward's State of Denial on page 472] shows the number of daily attacks increasing, on average, from 72 in January, to 87 in February, to 95 in March, 110 in April, and 113 in May. That means attacks average between 600 and 700 per week, a shocking figure. Attacks are peaking at aroudn 3,500 a month, and the report says that number will only increase: "Insurgents and terrorists retain the resources and capabilities to sustain and even increase current level of violence through the nest year." The picture is grim. The US has maintained a troop level of around 130,000, but the Iraqis are now fielding some 263,000 of their own military and police forces, but even with those numbers, the insurgent attacks are increasing. The report goes on to paint a somber picture of expected crude oil production, with Iraq unable to produce anywhere near its target of 2.5 million barrels a day. Reconstruction funds are going to repair one after another instance of sabotage and attacks on the oil infrastructure; far more troops and funding will be needed to contain the damage. Electricity generation in Iraq is still below prewar levels, with little hope of improvement. And the various governmental ministries are political battlegrounds, with Shi'ites and Sunnis fighting for control, and the Shi'ites becoming increasingly hardline and militant. Sunnis are angry at the "extrajudicial killings" performed on their people by Shi'ite death squads, operating with near-impunity throughout the center of the country.
- Other intelligence adds to the grim picture. The improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, used by the insurgents have become far more sophisticated and effective, now able to penetrate the armor of personnel carriers and even tanks. Most analysts believe the design and materials are coming from Iran. And the radical Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has asked the Shi'ite terrorist organization, Hezbollah, to help train Iraqi insurgents in the use of the new IEDs.
- Administration officials realize that if any of this becomes public, the shock could be too much for the administration to handle. Questions would be raised: Is the intelligence reliable, is this another WMD fiasco, and if it is true, and Iranians are helping kill American soldiers, then that is an act of war, and what will Bush do about it? Bush has built his foreign policy on the concept of toughness -- to let something like this go unaddressed would crumble the credibility he has left. And what if Iran increases the number of sophisticated IEDs being delivered to Iraq's Shi'ite militias? What if the same technology becomes available to the Sunni insurgents in large numbers?
- In a July 2006 interview with Bob Woodward, Rumsfeld is amazingly insouciant about the concept of the increase in attacks. "That's probably true," he says of the increase. "It is also probably true that our data's better, and we're categorizing more things as attacks. A random round can be an attack and all the way up to killing 50 people someplace. So you've got a whole fruit bowl of different things -- banana and an apple and an orange." Woodward writes that he is rendered speechless by Rumsfeld's comparison. "I did not understand how the secretary of defense would compare insurgent attacks to a 'fruit bowl,' a metaphor that stripped them of all urgency and emotion. The official categories in the classified reports that Rumsfeld regularly received were the lethal IEDs, standoff attacks with mortars, and close engagements such as ambushes -- as far from bananas, apples, and oranges as possible."
- Two days later, the Pentagon releases a public report to Congress about the situation in Iraq. The report is fundamentally different from the grim assessment released internally. It paints a rosy picture of progress and happy Iraqis, and claims that the insurgents "continue to fail in their campaign to derail the political process...and to foment civil war." The report claims that 80% of the insurgent attacks take place in only 4 of Iraq's 18 provinces, making it sound as if violence in Iraq is a localized phenomenon. In reality, 37% of Iraq's population lives in these four provinces. The report predicts that the influence of the insurgents, labeled "Iraqi Rejectionists" by the Pentagon, "will begin to wane in early 2007." One of the two reports -- the prediction of potential disaster released in secret, or the peppy, happy-talk report given to Congress -- is a farrago of lies. (Bob Woodward)
- May 25: A probe by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility into whether department officials, including current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his predecessor John Ashcroft, acted properly in approving and overseeing the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program is stonewalled because investigators were denied security clearances to do their work. The investigators, however, were only seeking information and documents relating to the National Security Agency's surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department's possession. Initially it is not clear who made the decision to block the OPR investigators from receiving the security clearances, which are usually granted as a matter of course, but it is later determined that George W. Bush was the one who decided to block the OPR inquiry by denying the clearances. (See the July 18, 2006 item for more information.
- OPR, a small ethics watchdog group set up in 1975 after DOJ officials were implicated in the Watergate scandal, began its investigation in January 2006, after being named by the DOJ's inspector general as the appropriate office to investigate the professional actions of a sitting and former attorney general. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking about the NSA's eavesdropping program was what had already been given to Ashcroft, Gonzales and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program. OPR's request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn't extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies.
- While Bush will not be named until July 2006 as the person responsible for derailing the OPR investigation, Gonzales has claimed that the clearances may have been denied because the Bush administration is leery about diminishing the usefulness of the surveillance program by sharing too many details about its function. Gonzales also says that DOJ attorneys examined and approved the surveillance, and that decisions on whether to share information about it are weighed in light of national security needs: "We don't want to be talking so much about the program that we compromise [its] effectiveness." The program to electronically spy on American citizens as part of the administration's "war on terror" was secretly begun in 2001.
- The afore-linked July 18 item gives more details about the opening of the OPR investigation, at the request of Democratic House members Maurice Hinchey, John Conyers, Henry Waxman, and Lynn Woolsey, and how OPR investigators were denied clearances, thereby derailing the investigation. Gonzales, with his usual combination of bland affect and convenient ignorance, says it would have been improper for him to have assisted the OPR in getting the security clearances, and refuses to comment further. Hinchey disagrees, arguing that that Gonzales and other Bush administration officials have an obligation to cooperate in every manner possible with any OPR investigation: "The Justice Department has an Office of Professional Responsibility to assure that the highest ethical standards are met by those who enforce our laws. ....The idea that they are not going to give [the OPR investigators] the necessary security clearances to do his job and the proper oversight is absurd. ...The attorney general has said that he does not have to allow an investigation to go forward because he has talked about the legal underpinnings of the NSA program. He has not done that because it does not have any. It is devoid of any legal underpinnings." Hinchey intends to attempt to open a Congressional inquiry, but it is doubtful that Republican leaders in Congress will allow any such inquiry to take place.
- Liberal blogger "Kagro X," who writes with considerable knowledge of the law, observes that the crux of the issue is not merely Bush's blocking of the investigation: "It wasn't that Bush blocked an investigation into the program's propriety. It was that he blocked an investigation into whether or not the Justice Deparment acted properly in advising him that it was legal." If Bush deliberately took action to block an investigation into the legality of his actions, which further evidence shows that he did, then Bush is most likely guilty of a criminal act. Again. (National Journal, The Next Hurrah)
- May 28: Cheney senior aide David Addington, the legal advisor and chief of staff in that large and secretive office, routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach Bush's desk,
searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power. This practice is confirmed by both former White House and Justice Department officials. Addington is the prime legal mind behind Bush's use of "signing statements" to ignore and flaunt laws he has signed into existence when he -- or rather Addington and other Bush/Cheney lawyers and ideologues -- believe the laws conflict with their interpretation of the Constitution. (See related items throughout this site for more information.) Naturally, the practice horrifies and outrages Constitutional advocates on all sides of the political continuum.
- While previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation, Cheney has used his power over the administration's legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority that violates the basic tenets of the three co-equal branches of government. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined. "Addington could look at whatever he wanted," recalls one former White House lawyer who helped prepare signing statements. "He had a roving commission to get involved in whatever interested him." Knowing that Addington was likely to review the bills, other White House and Justice Department lawyers began vetting legislation with Addington's and Cheney's views in mind, according to another former lawyer in the Bush White House. All these lawyers, he says, were extremely careful to flag any provision that placed limits on presidential power. "You didn't want to miss something," says the former White House lawyer.
- Cheney and Addington have been close friends and colleagues for decades. In the mid-1980s, Addington was a Republican staff member on the congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal while Cheney was the ranking GOP House member. When Cheney became defense secretary under the elder Bush , he hired Addington as Pentagon counsel. After Cheney became vice president in 2001, he again hired Addington as counsel. Addington played a major role in shaping the administration's legal policies in the war on terrorism, including a 2002 memo arguing that Bush could authorize interrogators to bypass anti-torture laws. In October, when Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was indicted for perjury and resigned, Cheney replaced Libby with Addington.
- Martin Lederman, who worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under Clinton and the younger Bush, said that Addington is simply doing the day-to-day legwork for Cheney, and that he is influential within the administration because of Cheney's desire to enhance executive power and Bush's willingness to endorse Cheney's views. "In every administration, Democratic and Republican, there are officials with strongly held Constitutional views, including somewhat idiosyncratic views," says Lederman, now a law professor at Georgetown University. "What is new is that the extremely idiosyncratic and aggressive constitutional views are being adopted by the vice president and, therefore, by the administration." Until this one, previous administrations left the reviewing of legislation to the White House counsel's office and the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. "What's happening now is unprecedented on almost every level," said Ron Klain, who was chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore from 1995 to 1999. "Gore was a very active policy maker in the Clinton administration, but that didn't include picking through bills of Congress to find things to disagree with."
- While the administration insists that Bush is not doing anything unusual or outside the scope of his powers -- "President Bush's signing statements are lawful and indistinguishable from those issued on hundreds of occasions by past presidents," says Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse -- the truth is far more alarming. All previous presidents combined challenged fewer than 600 laws, Kelley's data show, compared with the more than 750 Bush has challenged in five years. Bush is also the first president since the 1800s who has yet to veto a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Douglas Kmiec , who as head of the Office of Legal Counsel helped develop the Reagan administration's strategy of issuing signing statements more frequently, says he disapproves of the "provocative" and sometimes "disingenuous" manner in which the Bush administration is using them. Kmiec says the Reagan team's goal was to leave a record of the president's understanding of new laws only in cases where an important statute was ambiguous. He rejects the idea of using signing statements to contradict the clear intent of Congress, as Bush has done. Presidents should either tolerate provisions of bills they don't like, or they should veto the bill, he says. "Following a model of restraint, [the Reagan-era Office of Legal Counsel] took it seriously that we were to construe statutes to avoid constitutional problems, not to invent them," said Kmiec, who teaches law at Pepperdine University.
- But Bush has used the signing statements to duck his obligation to follow the new laws. In addition to the torture ban and oversight provisions of the Patriot Act, the laws Bush has claimed the authority to disobey include restrictions against US troops engaging in combat in Colombia, whistle-blower protections for government employees, and safeguards against political interference in taxpayer-funded research. Cheney's office has taken the lead in challenging many of these laws, because they run counter to an expansive view of executive power that Cheney has cultivated for the past 30 years. Under the theory of the "unified executive," Congress cannot pass laws that place restrictions or requirements on how the president runs the military and spy agencies. Nor can it pass laws giving government officials the power or responsibility to act independently of the president. But almost no one outside of Cheney's hard-right coterie of ideological purists agrees with this theory. The reality is that the Constitution gives Congress the power to make all rules and regulations for the military and the executive branch, and the Supreme Court has consistently upheld laws giving bureaucrats and certain prosecutors the power to act independently of the president.
- Conservative Constitutional scholar Richard Epstein says it is "scandalous" for the administration to argue that the commander in chief can bypass statutes in national security matters. "It's just wrong," Epstein says. "It is just crazy as a matter of constitutional interpretation. There are some pretty clear issues, and this is one of them." Laurence Tribe, a prominent liberal at Harvard Law School, adds, "Nothing in the text and structure of the Constitution, or Supreme Court precedents, supports the Bush-Cheney assertion that Congress cannot limit or direct what government officials may or must do." Cheney, however, has asserted that the president has the authority to interpret the Constitution pretty much how he pleases, especially in the wide, diffuse area of national security. In December 2005, Cheney said, "A lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both, in the '70s served to erode the authority, I think, the president needs to be effective, especially in a national security area." Laws enacted at that time that sought to restrain the unfettered powers that Richard Nixon asserted went too far, in Cheney's opinion. At that December 2005 press conference, Cheney told reporters to read a 1987 report whose production he oversaw when he was a leading Republican in the House of Representatives. The report offered a dissenting view about the Iran-Contra scandal. "If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-Contra Committee," he said. "Nobody has ever read them, but...I think [they] are very good in laying out a robust view of the president's prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters."
- While the Congressional investigative committee found that a "cabal of zealots" in the Reagan administration displayed an absolute "disdain for the law" in violating a number of statutes, Cheney and some of the hardline Republicans on the committee dissented, instead asserting the real problem was Congress passing laws that intruded into a president's authority to run foreign policy and national security. "Judgments about the Iran-Contra affair ultimately must rest upon one's views about the proper roles of Congress and the president in foreign policy," Cheney's report said. "The fundamental law of the land is the Constitution. Unconstitutional statutes violate the rule of law every bit as much as do willful violations of constitutional statutes." Cheney's report argues that the Constitution gives the president absolute and unchallengable authority in the area of national security, and especially beyond the oversight of either Congress or the federal courts. 18 years later, the Bush Justice Department would repeat these same arguments in a 42-page memo arguing that Bush's warrantless wiretapping program is a lawful exercise of presidential power. Kmiec has his own thoughts about the legal advice emanating from the Bush/Cheney legal offices: "The president is not well served by the lawyers who have been advising him." (Boston Globe)
- May 30: Police are testing a "weapon of mass destruction" that was found pumping a caustic, potentially toxic substance into a sex shop in Waldo, Florida. The device is made up of plastic jugs, hoses, and duct tape. Local conservative activists have organized prayer vigils and protests to keep the shop from opening; authorities believe that someone decided to escalate with an act of "clear terrorism" after the shop recently opened. The mixture, which has not yet been identified, was pumped into the shop by a hose shoved in through an air-conditioning duct. Alachua County police have a good idea who is responsible for the attacks, but won't yet say. "They're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and...30 years in jail," says Sergeant Keith Faulk. "You're trying to hurt people. You're trying to change their ideas or instill fear. And that's exactly what the terrorists do. So this person is a local terrorist." (First Coast News)