Saturday, September 09, 2006

Political news of the week take 23

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Bush admits the CIA runs secret prisons:
President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time that the
CIA runs secret prisons overseas and said tough interrogation forced terrorist leaders to reveal plots to attack the United States and its allies.

Bush said 14 suspects — including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and architects of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania — had been turned over to the Defense Department and moved to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for trial.

Bush said the CIA program "has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill." Releasing information declassified just hours earlier, Bush said the capture of one terrorist just months after the Sept. 11 attacks had led to the capture of another and then another, and had revealed planning for attacks using airplanes, car bombs and anthrax.

Nearing the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, Bush pressed Congress to quickly pass administration-drafted legislation authorizing the use of military commissions for trials of terror suspects. Legislation is needed because the Supreme Court in June said the administration's plan for trying detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law.


With the transfer of the 14 men to Guantanamo, there currently are no detainees being held by the CIA, Bush said. A senior administration official said the CIA had detained fewer than 100 suspected terrorists in the history of the program.

Still, Bush said that "having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting lifesaving information."


"I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture," Bush said. "It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it."


The administration had refused until now to acknowledge the existence of CIA prisons. Bush said he was going public because the United States has largely completed questioning the suspects, and also because the CIA program had been jeopardized by the Supreme Court ruling.

Senate: Hussein Wasn't Allied With Al Qaeda:
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday said it had found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda or provided safe harbor to one of its most notorious operatives, Abu Musab Zarqawi — conclusions contradicting claims by the Bush administration before it invaded Iraq.

In a long-awaited report, the committee instead determined that the former Iraqi dictator was wary of Al Qaeda; repeatedly rebuffed requests from its leader, Osama bin Laden, for assistance; and sought to capture Zarqawi when the terrorist turned up in Baghdad.

The findings are the latest in a series of high-profile studies to dispute some of the Bush administration's key arguments for invading Iraq — mainly that the Hussein regime possessed stockpiles of banned weapons and had cultivated ties to terrorist networks. Presenting these since-discredited allegations as fact, President Bush and other high-ranking officials argued that Hussein's government posed an intolerable risk in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.


Bush on Thursday again asserted that the battle in Iraq was inextricably linked to Al Qaeda, and disparaged those who considered it a "diversion" from the war on terrorism.


In one of its main conclusions, the report said that "postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of Al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from Al Qaeda to provide material or operational support."

According to the report, Hussein has told U.S. interrogators that "if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the U.S., he would have allied with North Korea or China." His former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, told U.S. interrogators that "Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about Bin Laden."

The report's disclosures include a classified assessment by the CIA last year that Hussein's regime "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates."

The committee, made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, said U.S. intelligence agencies before Sept. 11 "accurately characterized" Bin Laden's intermittent interest in pursuing assistance from Iraq, but were largely wrong about Hussein's attitudes.

The Iraqi leader, according to the report, was so wary of the terrorist network that he "issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with Al Qaeda."


[T]he most significant new information in the report focuses on Baghdad's alleged ties to Al Qaeda.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies were generally skeptical that Hussein had significant links to the terrorist group. But Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials have persistently highlighted isolated intelligence reports suggesting a relationship between Hussein and Bin Laden. The Senate report contradicts many of those assertions.

The report concludes, for instance, that it is true that Zarqawi was in Baghdad for about seven months in 2002. But Hussein was initially unaware of his presence in the country and later ordered his intelligence services to capture Zarqawi, according to the report.

The attempt was unsuccessful, and Zarqawi escaped to Iran. He also hid in areas of northern Iraq beyond Hussein's reach. After Hussein was overthrown, Zarqawi led the deadly insurgency against U.S. forces before he was killed by a U.S. airstrike in June.


Overall, the document portrays Hussein and his underlings as alarmed by U.S. accusations linking him to Al Qaeda.

At one point, the report said, Hussein was warned by the director of Iraq's intelligence service "that U.S. intelligence was attempting to fabricate connections between the [Iraqi intelligence services] and Al Qaeda" to justify an invasion.

Revised Army Rules to Prohibit Torture:
Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.

The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards — one for traditional prisoners of war and another for "unlawful combatants" captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation's military force. It will ban the use of such controversial methods as forcing prisoners to endure long periods of solitary confinement, using military dogs to threaten prisoners, putting hoods over inmates' heads and strapping detainees to boards and dunking them in water to simulate drowning, defense officials said.


Under the new guidelines, prisoners of war — defined as members of uniformed militaries captured on a battlefield — may receive certain extra considerations as mandated by the Geneva Convention, such as being allowed to retain their personal effects and to refuse to answer detailed questions. But ceding to congressional demands, the manual establishes a single baseline standard of care and treatment for all detainees, regardless of their status.

"All detainees will be treated consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention," said a military official, who was not allowed to discuss the manual before it was made public and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Common Article 3 — found in each of the four Geneva pacts approved in 1949 — prohibits torture and cruel treatment. Unlike other parts of the Geneva agreements, it covers all detainees, whether they are unlawful combatants or traditional prisoners of war.

Interrogation Methods Rejected by Military Win Bush’s Support:
Many of the harsh interrogation techniques repudiated by the Pentagon on Wednesday would be made lawful by legislation put forward the same day by the Bush administration. And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.

The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions.

But legal experts say it adds up to an apparently unique interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, one that could allow C.I.A. operatives and others to use many of the very techniques disavowed by the Pentagon, including stress positions, sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures.


In effect, the administration is proposing to write into law a two-track system that has existed as a practical matter for some time.

So-called high-value detainees held by the C.I.A. have been subjected to tough interrogation in secret prisons around the world.

More run-of-the-mill prisoners held by the Defense Department have, for the most part, faced milder questioning, although human rights groups say there have been widespread abuses.

The new bill would continue to give the C.I.A. the substantial freedom it has long enjoyed, while the revisions to the Army Field Manual announced Wednesday would further restrict military interrogators.


In June, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Geneva Conventions concerning the humane treatment of prisoners applied to all aspects of the conflict with Al Qaeda. The new bill would keep the courts from that kind of meddling, Professor Yoo said.

“There is a rejection of what the court did in Hamdan,” he said, “which is to try to judicially enforce the Geneva Conventions, which no court had ever tried to do before.”

Indeed, the proposed legislation takes pains to try to ensure that the Supreme Court will not have a second bite at the apple. “The act makes clear,” it says in its introductory findings, “that the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights.”


The proposed legislation would provide retroactive immunity from prosecution to government agents who used harsh methods after the Sept. 11 attacks. And, as President Bush suggested on Wednesday, it would ensure that those techniques remain lawful.


The intent of the legislation, they said, is to prevent the prosecution of interrogators under amendments to the War Crimes Act that were passed in the 1990’s.


The bill proposed by the White House would also amend the War Crimes Act, which makes violations of Common Article 3 a felony. Those amendments are needed, the administration said, to provide guidance to American personnel.

The new legislation makes a list of nine “serious violations” of Common Article 3 federal crimes. The prohibited conduct includes torture, murder, rape, and the infliction of severe physical or mental pain. By implication, some legal experts said, the bill endorses the use of those interrogation techniques that are not mentioned.

The proposed legislation in any event represents a further retreat from international legal standards by an administration already hostile to them, some scholars said. “It’s strong evidence that this administration doesn’t accept international legal processes,’’ said Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at Temple University.

Senator leaders back Bush detainees plan despite opposition:
Senate leaders are throwing their weight behind a White House plan to prosecute terrorism detainees despite dissent among some Republicans and the military's top lawyers.

Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, has placed on the Senate calendar the administration's legislation establishing military commissions, a move that would allow debate to begin as early as Tuesday. It also puts pressure on Sen. John Warner and others with serious concerns about the bill to produce by then an alternative that would satisfy leadership and the White House.

Warner, R-Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Thursday night that he hopes to generate consensus by Tuesday so his panel can review the bill and send a bipartisan proposal to the floor.


Also sounding alarms on Bush's legislation were the Pentagon's top uniformed lawyers. Testifying before a House panel, the service's judge advocates general said the plan could violate treaty obligations and make U.S. troops vulnerable.

"While we seek that balance" of fairness and security, "we also must remember the concept of reciprocity," said Brig. Gen. James Walker, staff judge advocate for the Marine Corps. "What we do and how we treat these individuals can, in the future, have a direct impact on our service men and women overseas."

Their objections echoed criticism military lawyers levied in July, when they publicly challenged earlier Bush administration proposals to limit the rights accused terrorists would have during trials. In the past, some military officials have expressed concerns that if the U.S. adopts such standards, captured American troops might be treated the same way.

The president's legislation would authorize the defense secretary to convene military tribunals to prosecute terrorism suspects and omit rights common in military and civil courts, such as the defendant's right to access all evidence and a ban on coerced testimony. Bush has said the plan is both fair and tough enough to ensure dangerous terrorists can be brought to justice.


The hearing came a day after Bush acknowledged for the first time that the CIA had secret prisons overseas and defended the practice of tough interrogations to force terrorists to reveal plots to attack the United States and its allies. Bush said 14 detainees would be transferred out of CIA custody to the military's Guantanamo Bay prison.

The announcement, however, did not signal an end to the controversial program. State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III told reporters Thursday that if additional members of the al Qaeda terror network were captured, "we reserve the right to have those people questioned by the CIA."

Ahmadinejad calls for university purge:
Iran's hard-line president urged students Tuesday to push for a purge of liberal and secular university teachers, another sign of his determination to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

With his call echoing the rhetoric of the nation's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad appears determined to remake Iran by reviving the fundamentalist goals pursued under the republic's late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Ahmadinejad's call was not a surprise -- since taking office a year ago, he also has moved to replace pragmatic veterans in the government and diplomatic corps with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.

Iran still has strong moderate factions but Ahmadinejad's administration also has launched crackdowns on independent journalists, Web sites and bloggers.

Speaking to a group of students Tuesday, Ahmadinejad called on them to pressure his administration to keep driving out moderate instructors, a process that began earlier this year.

Dozens of liberal university professors and teachers were sent into retirement this year after Ahmadinejad's administration named the first cleric to head Tehran University, sparking strong protests from students.

Three From Clinton Administration Urge Disney to Cancel or Revise 9/11 Mini-Series:
Three members of the Clinton administration have written the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, ABC’s parent, to complain that the network’s coming two-part miniseries “The Path to 9/11” is fraught with factual errors and fabrications.

The letters ask that the five-hour movie, scheduled for broadcast Sunday and Monday, be either edited for accuracy or canceled, and ABC gave a small indication yesterday that some changes might be made.


In their letters, dated Tuesday, both Mr. Berger and Ms. Albright object to scenes in which they are shown adding obstacles to efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. In particular, Ms. Albright said a scene in which she refuses to support a cruise missile strike against Mr. bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistani government was untrue. Ms. Albright (played by Shirley Douglas) also said the suggestion that she had alerted the Pakistani military to an imminent strike was “false and defamatory.”

“Sept. 11 is not ‘entertainment,’ it is reality,” Ms. Albright wrote Mr. Iger. “Before you air your broadcast, I trust you will ensure you have the facts right.”

Mr. Berger (played by Kevin Dunn) said a scene in which he is shown refusing to authorize a strike to kill Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan “flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions” and will serve “only to grossly misinform the American people.”

Mr. Berger’s character is also seen abruptly hanging up during a conversation with a C.I.A. officer at a critical moment of a military operation. In an interview yesterday with KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, Cyrus Nowrasteh, the mini-series’ screenwriter and one of its producers, said that moment had been improvised.

“Sandy Berger did not slam down the phone,” Mr. Nowrasteh said. “That is not in the report. That was not scripted. But you know when you’re making a movie, a lot of things happen on set that are unscripted. Accidents occur, spontaneous reactions of actors performing a role take place. It’s the job of the filmmaker to say, ‘You know, maybe we can use that.’ ”

Gov. Vows to Veto Health Care Bill:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that he will veto a universal health care bill that is headed for his desk, claiming the measure would set up a "vast new bureaucracy" that would be too expensive.

The Republican governor said the single-payer system proposed by Sen. Sheila Kuehl would "cost the state billions and lead to significant new taxes on individuals and businesses, without solving the critical issue of affordability.

"I won't jeopardize the economy of our state for such a purpose," the governor said in a statement.

Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said Schwarzenegger's comments indicated he "has not read the bill, doesn't understand the bill or is being completely misdirected by his handlers." She said the measure would save money.

"Where there are no cost controls at all now, and enormous administrative overhead and profit for insurance companies, there would have been a transparent system that actually would succeed in making health care coverage affordable in California," she said in a statement issued today.

The bill would provide every California resident with health insurance through a system controlled by a new entity called the California Health Insurance Agency. It would be under the control of a health insurance commissioner appointed by the governor.

The legislation also would establish a state commission to recommend to the governor and Legislature how much to charge patients and businesses in premiums to help pay for the system.

Kuehl said the premiums would have "taken the place of all premiums, copays and deductibles we now pay, saving every person who now pays for health care significant money."

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