Highlights of This Page
Murtha resolution galvanizes anti-war debate; Murtha characterized as a coward and Democrats as advocates of "cut and run".
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
"Wow! Brazil is big." -- George W. Bush, after being shown a map of Brazil by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, November 6, 2005
- November 9: Republican congressman Don Sherwood and his former mistress Cynthia Ore agree on a settlement of Ore's $5.5 million lawsuit accusing Sherwood of systematic physical abuse.
The terms of the settlement require that the details of the settlement remain private. In June, Ore sued Sherwood, alleging that he "repeatedly and violently physically assaulted and abused" her during a five-year affair that ended in September 2004. In the only alleged abuse incident they apparently investigated, Washington, DC police decided against charging the congressman after a September 15, 2004 call by Ore to 911 claiming he tried to choke her. Police said neither was cooperative. A month after the suit, Sherwood admitted to the affair and apologized for "the pain and hurt" he caused his family, but called the lawsuit "malicious and baseless." In September 2006 Sherwood will admit to physically beating and abusing Ore. (Citizens Voice)
Murtha resolution galvanizes anti-war debate; Murtha characterized as a coward and Democrats as advocates of "cut and run"
- November 17: House Democrat John Murtha introduces a resolution calling for American troops in Iraq to be "redeployed," the military term for returning troops overseas to their home bases, "at the earliest practicable date."
Iraq war and occupation
Murtha, one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, has a great deal of credibility as a spokesman for the military. He is a former Marine drill instructor, the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, and has strong and deep ties in the armed forces. He had voted for the October 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to use military force in Iraq, and has personally visited Iraq four times. And Murtha makes weekly visits to wounded soldiers in Walter Reed Hospital. Now Murtha, considered the voice of the military in Congress, says it's time to leave. "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised," Murtha thunders on the House floor. "It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." The military is suffering in Iraq, Murtha says. Choking back tears, the hardbitten veteran continues, "Our military has asked everything that has been asked of them. It is time to bring them home." Many troops are demoralized and poorly equipped, Murtha says. Two years after the invasion, their very presence in Iraq is now impeding progress toward stability and self-governance.
- Murtha's resolution causes a firestorm of controversy. Many -- but not all -- Democrats come out strongly in support of Murtha, feeling that he has finally articulated what many of them, and many of their constituents, feel about the war. The anti-war left adopts Murtha as an unlikely hero of their cause. The response from the right is very different. House Republicans know Murtha has to be met head-on. The next day, during a raucous and emotional debate, House Speaker Dennis Hastert accuses Murtha and other Democrats of adopting "a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans." Murtha's Republican colleague, Jean Schmidt, calls Murtha a coward, prompting such an outcry from Murtha's fellow Democrats that Schmidt is forced to ask that her remarks be stricken from the record (see below item). House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, a Republican and a Vietnam veteran, introduces a cynically crafted resolution that twists Murtha's proposal into a demand that all US troops return home immediately. The resolution is a trap, but Murtha and his fellow House Democrats do not fall for it. Neither Hunter nor Murtha vote for the proposal, and it is defeated 403-2. White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that "it is baffling that [Murtha] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party." McClellan, repeating Hastert's talking point, accuses Murtha of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists."
- Reporter Bob Woodward writes succinctly, "Murtha's was a voice from deep inside the soul and conscience of the American military. Informed military officers knew he was speaking for many more than himself." (Bob Woodward)
- November 17: An intensive Associated Press investigation reveals that almost three dozen members of Congress, primarily Republicans, pressured the government to reject a Louisiana Indian casino while collecting large donations from rival tribes.
Jack Abramoff scandal
The tribes are represented by lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Congressmen inundated Interior Secretary Gale Norton with letters within days of receiving money from Abramoff, or after using Abramoff's restaurant for fundraising purposes. Lawmakers deny that their intervention had anything to do with Abramoff, and maintain the timing of the donations was nothing more than a coincidence. They claim they wrote letters because they opposed the expansion of tribal gaming, even though they continued to accept donations from casino-running tribes. Most live outside of Louisiana and have no constituent interest in the casino dispute. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, held a fundraiser at Abramoff's "Signatures" restaurant in Washington on June 3, 2003, that collected at least $21,500 for his Keep Our Majority political action committee from the lobbyist's firm and tribal clients. Seven days later, Hastert wrote Norton urging her to reject the Jena tribe of Choctaw Indians' request for a new casino. Hastert's three top House deputies also signed the letter. Approving the Jena application or others like it would "run counter to congressional intent," Hastert wrote. It was exactly what Abramoff's tribal clients wanted. The tribes, including the Louisiana Coushattas and Mississippi Choctaw, were trying to block the Jena's gambling hall for fear it would undercut business at their own casinos. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Norton on March 5, 2002, also signed by his Republican colleague from Nevada, John Ensign. The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid's group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004. The Bush administration eventually rejected the Jena casino on technical grounds, though Interior later approved the application. The casino is now tied up in a court dispute.
- Congressional ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in performing their official duties and accepting political money. That requirement was made famous a decade ago during the Keating Five scandal when five lawmakers were criticized for intervening with federal regulators on behalf of Charles Keating while receiving money from the failed savings and loan operator. The Abramoff donations dwarf those made by Keating. At least 33 lawmakers wrote letters to Norton and got more than $830,000 in Abramoff-related donations as the lobbying unfolded between 2001 and 2004. "This is one of the largest examples we've had to date where congressional action was predicated on money being given for the action," says Kent Cooper, who reviewed lawmakers' campaign reports for two decades as the Federal Election Commission's chief of public disclosure. Cooper, who now runs the Political Money Line Web site that tracks fundraising, says "the speed in which this money was turned around" after the letters makes the Abramoff matter more serious than previous controversies that tarnished Congress.
- Lawmakers insist their intervention had nothing to do with Abramoff's fundraising, and instead reflected their long-held concerns about tribal gaming expansion. Hastert ultimately collected more than $100,000 in donations from Abramoff's firm and tribal clients between 2001 and 2004. His office said he never discussed the matter with Abramoff, but long opposed expanding Indian gambling off reservations and was asked to send the letter by Republican representative Jim McCrery. McCrery sent his own letter as well, and collected more than $36,000 in Abramoff-connected donations. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Abramoff's fundraising influenced members of Congress or the Bush administration, and whether anyone tried to conceal their dealings with Abramoff. Some examples being looked into include:
More on the Abramoff scandal can be found throughout these pages. (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune)
- Hastert failed for two years to disclose his use of Abramoff's restaurant the week before his letter or to reimburse for it as legally required. Hastert blames a paperwork oversight and recently corrected it.
- Louisiana Sen. David Vitter received $6,000 from Abramoff tribes from 1999 to 2001 and refunded it the day before he sent one of his letters to Norton in February 2002. He also used Abramoff's restaurant for a September 2003 fund-raiser but failed to reimburse for it until this year.
- The Coushattas wrote two checks to Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's groups in 2001 and 2002, shortly before the GOP leader wrote Norton. But the tribe was asked by Abramoff to take back the checks and route the money to other GOP groups. In all, DeLay received at least $57,000 in Abramoff and tribal donations between 2001 and 2004.
- In one letter obtained by AP, 27 lawmakers told Norton she should reject the Jena casino because gambling was a societal blight. But within weeks, several of the authors had accepted donations from Abramoff's casino-operating tribes. All but eight eventually got Abramoff-related donations or used his restaurant for political events.
- Republican congressman Pete Sessions received four donations totaling $5,500 from casino-operating tribes represented by Abramoff exactly one month and a day after he signed the Feb. 27, 2002, group letter. "If they want to give a contribution to support Republican candidates more power to them," says a Sessions spokesman. "That doesn't mean we have to support what they are doing."
- November 18: During a contentious debate over a GOP-sponsored "stunt bill" designed to trap Democrats into voting for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, Republican House member Jean Schmidt accuses Democratic House member John Murtha of cowardice over Murtha's advocacy of a phased redeployment of US troops.
Iraq war and occupation
Murtha is a decorated 38-year veteran of the Marine Corps who won the Bronze Star for valor during Vietnam; Schmidt has never served in the military. On the floor of the House, Schmidt says, "Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young Marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th District in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body -- that we will see this through." Schmidt's smear of Murtha as a "coward" draws heavy criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike (Schmidt is roundly booed by Democrats present in the chamber during her speech; one Democrat, Harold Ford Jr, actually charges onto the chamber floor, shouting that he and the party would not tolerate such personal attacks on one of its members). Minutes later, she is forced to ask that her words be withdrawn -- stricken from the record -- because, in part, she is in violation of House rules that prohibit one member from disparaging another on the floor of the chamber.
- Shortly thereafter, Bubp reveals that he never mentioned Murtha during his conversation with Schmidt, and says that he would never question the courage of a fellow Marine. He later says, "I don't want to be interjected into this. I wish [Congresswoman Schmidt] never used my name." So not only was Schmidt slandering Murtha with her accusations of cowardice, she was lying about Bubp's statement, and attempting to put her own words into Bubp's mouth to avoid responsibility. So Schmidt does what so many of her colleagues do -- tries to blame others, first by blaming the media for "misinterpreting" her remarks, then by denying that she ever knew Murtha had been a Marine, even though it had been mentioned numerous times during the debate, and though she herself used the example of a Marine in her statement. (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Wikipedia, Think Progress [link to video], Cincinnati Enquirer/Democratic Underground)
- November 21: GOP senator John McCain, himself tortured as a POW during Vietnam, writes an almost visceral op-ed for Newsweek coming out foursquare against US torture as practiced at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
US torture allegations
Understanding just how corrosive government-sponsored torture is to the standing of the US both at home and abroad, McCain writes, "What I do mourn is, what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength -- that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights."
- McCain has introduced one bill after another to prohibit torture by the US, and one by one, Dick Cheney has led the fight to squash them, usually before they can come up for a vote. In July, Cheney tried to enlist the help of two powerful GOP senators, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, arguing that if McCain's legislation passes, the bills will encroach on the power of the president and make America more vulnerable to attack by terrorists. But Warner and Graham are more swayed by the "steady, sickening barrage of evidence of abuses."
- McCain succeeded in having an anti-torture amendment added to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill. The amendment prohibited cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners held in detention by the US government. It also decreed that the Army Field Manual would be the uniform standard for the conduct of prisoner interrogations held by any military members. The field manual was at the time being revised, and Defense Department sources said that the revisions would include a section on the importance of following the Geneva Conventions in the treatment of prisoners. After McCain read aloud a letter from former Secretary of State Colin Powell on the floor of the Senate -- "the world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers," Powell wrote -- the Senate passed the bill, with McCain's amendment, 90 to 9.
- Cheney led the White House's threat to veto the bill. He circulated pro-torture points to friendly lawmakers. A few weeks after the Senate vote, Cheney, with the new CIA director Porter Goss trailing behind, pressured McCain to add a rider to his amendment exempting CIA personnel from his anti-torture amendment. McCain refused.
- Editorial writers around the country railed against the US's torture practices. But on November 4, a cowed House leadership postponed a vote on a resolution endorsing McCain's amendment after they realized it would pass overwhelmingly if it were brought to a vote.
- Cheney took one last run at Senate Republicans. Shooing staffers out, he ranted at the senators, insisting that the McCain amendment would impose "unacceptable" limitations on Bush's executive powers -- and by extension, his own. Not allowing the CIA to torture suspects, he said, would result in the loss of "thousands of live." Cheney pointed to the capture and interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, saying that torturing Mohammed had led to the garnering of valuable information. What Cheney didn't tell the senators is that the CIA had kidnapped Mohammed's wife and young children, and threatened to rape and torture them if he didn't talk. But even those threats, and the heavy, harsh torture the CIA subjected him to, didn't break the terrorist. Cheney doesn't mention this to the senators. He also fails to mention the torture of al-Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who both gave false and misleading information to their captors. (Zubaydah, who suffers from severe mental illness, has been tortured regularly since May 2002. Made to think he would be killed, Zubaydah reeled off lists of spurious targets, including supermarkets, banks, shopping malls, and apartment buildings, leading the US government to scurry around safeguarding sites that defied protection and issuing baseless terror alerts. See other pages for more information about Zubaydah and al-Libi.)
- At the meeting, McCain challenged Cheney, telling him, "This is killing us around the world." Finding McCain intractable, Cheney stopped working on him; instead, Bush sent national security advisor Stephen Hadley to try to pressure McCain into backing down.
- On December 15, the House votes 308-122 to support the McCain amendment. The next day, Bush, without Cheney present, meets with McCain and, in a startling reversal, flip-flops to endorse the amendment -- in return for McCain's concession to add language that would allow exceptions for any person to "reasonably" conclude that they were following lawful orders in torturing a prisoner. The media largely portrays Bush's decision as a major setback for Cheney, through many insist rightly enough that McCain's concessions provide a loophole big enough to render the amendment virtually impossible to enforce.
- But apparently the backhanded victory isn't enough for Cheney. On December 19, when asked by ABC News reporter Terry Moran where Bush draws the line on torture, Cheney says the rule is, according to court decisions, "whether or not it shocks the conscience." He continues, "Now you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhuman. And to some extent, I suppose, that's in the eye of the beholder." Dubose and Bernstein write in 2006, "There he was, Dick Cheney, nakedly amoral, and driven by fear." Cheney justifies his position by saying, "We think it's important to remember that we are in a war against a group of inviduals, a terrorist organization that did in fact slaughter 3,000 innocent Americans on 9/11; that it is important to be able to have effective interrogation of these people when we capture them." Several unspoken assumptions underlie Cheney's words: that more and even bloodier attacks are on the way, and that torture is the only method of finding out about these future attacks. This plays directly into what author Ron Suskind calls the "One Percent Doctrine" of Cheney in his book of the same name: "If there was even a 1% chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction, the United States must now act as if it were a certainty." Dubose and Bernstein write, "It was prevention based on suspicion, dealt with by the application of overwhelming blunt force. The end justified any means necessary. It didn't matter how effective torture was as long as it provided even a remote chance that it might save American lives."
- "That one percent drove Cheney and Bush nuts," says Colin Powell's then-chief of staff Larry Wilkerson. "In certain respects, they became paranoids, willing to sacrifice every element of our civil liberties, even our republic, to save the republic."
- Cheney's personal paranoia is rampant. An ambulance trails him wherever he goes, as does an armed team of crack bodyguards. He takes a bioterrorism suit with him in case of attack, and spends mucn of his time in undisclosed locations deep underground, practicing for Armageddon. (During the 1980s, Cheney regularly took part in simulations of post-nuclear attacks carried out once a year under the auspices of the highly classified, blandly titled "National Program Office." The plans for the reconstitution of the US government, as simulated by the NPO, deliberately left Congress out of the equation. "One of the awkward questions we faced," recalls one participant, "was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them." Congress, of course, never knew of the NPO simulations.)
- The post-nuclear attack simulations restarted in earnest after 9/11. Though the details are closely guarded secrets, many high-level officials, including Cheney, regularly take part in the scenarios. Millions of dollars have been spent renovating secure quarters and updating communications capabilities. "For many members of this administration, and particularly for Cheney," Dubose and Bernstein write, "the nightmare scenario is ever present, and it warps their thinking."
- In the end, McCain's amendment proves meaningless. The revised Army Field Manual will be delayed through mid-2006, and torture advocates will press for a classified appendix approving most of the more savage torture tactics McCain opposes, even though Army commanders oppose such an inclusion. Bush signs the bill that includes McCain's amendment on December 28, then promptly issues a cryptically worded signing statment that states his intention to allow torture if he sees fit regardless of what the law states. Former assistant attorney general Bruce Fein later testifies before Congress, "President Bush has nullified a provision of statute that he had signed into law and which he was then obliged to faithfully execute." (The legal mind behind the extreme use of signing statements: Cheney's aide and close confidante, David Addington. The idea of relying on signing statements to such an extent arose in a Reagan-era strategy memo written by a young Justice Department lawyer, Samuel Alito.) Like many other legal experts, Fein believes that Bush's use of signing statements to ignore the law is illegal. Not coincidentally, many of Bush's signing statements mention "the unitary executive," a phrase favored by Addington and Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who consistently argue that there is no check on the executive powers of the president, especially in his capacity as commander-in-chief. (Newsweek/Truthout, Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- Late November: General John Abizaid, the supreme US commander in the Middle East, is visited by some of his old Army buddies at his headquarters in Doha, Qatar. Abizaid's friends are afraid that Iraq is becoming another Vietnam.
Iraq war and occupation
Publicly, Abizaid says, "[W]e've come a long way. I'm optimistic," as he did in October on Meet the Press. But privately, Abizaid has a different opinion. "We've got to get the f*ck out," he says to his pals. They are alarmed, and most worried that a Vietnam-like debacle in Iraq will mean the end of the all-volunteer army. They ask, what is the US strategy for victory? "That's not my job," Abizaid insists. Articulating strategy belongs to others. Who? they ask. Abizaid responds, "The president and Condi Rice because Rumsfeld doesn't have any credibility anymore." (Bob Woodward)