Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why is this blog so much about Guantanamo and little else today?

The Bush administration is for the first time debating the very real possibility that Guantanamo be shut down entirely. It is the first prolonged and serious debate and review of the issue, according to people who are in the know. That debate and the road to whatever final decision is made by the President (and the decision will be his) is probably not only going to be an important news story, but almost certaintly also decision making process that will be examined again and again by future historians of the Bush presidency.

More... as I know more, if I am able to find out much.

Republican Chairman of House Intelligence Committee: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions..."

The NYT, just moments ago, posted this story on their website disclosing that the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, has questioned the legality of certain Bush administration covert intelligence programs. One reason that this is such an extraoridinary developmnet is that Hoekstra has been considered an administration ally and point man in the past in defending the President's intelligence programs and policies. It's also significant that his comments are much sharper than anything said in the past by the committee's Democratic vice chairwoman, Jane Harmon of California.

To read the full article, click here.

Below are some excerpts fom the article.

WASHINGTON, July 8 — In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

Rep. Hoekstra's Letter to President Bush (pdf)

The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.

But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed.

Recently, after the harsh criticism from Mr. Hoekstra, intelligence officials have appeared at two closed committee briefings to answer questions from the chairman and other members. The briefings appear to have eased but not erased the concerns of Mr. Hoekstra and other lawmakers about whether the administration is sharing information on all of its intelligence operations.

A copy of the four-page letter dated May 18, which has not been previously disclosed, was obtained by The New York Times.

"I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed," Mr. Hoesktra wrote. "If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies."

He added: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."

Frederick Jones, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on the concerns raised by Mr. Hoekstra but said that "we will continue to work closely with the chairman and otherCongressional leaders on important national security issues."

More Guantanamo news: Via Jeralyn, the President said at his press conference on Friday that the Supreme Court was actually backing him in handing down their Guantanamo decision.

And just to reassure six to eight loyal readers to my blog who might think that I am doing less blogging and reporting about the CIA leak case, it is perhaps noteworthy that Bush also said at his Friday press conference that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has done "a very professional job" in his handling of the investigation.

Last Monday, for those who did not see it, I wrote an account for the National Journal disclosing what the President told Fitzgerald during the President's own June 24, 2004 interview with the special prosecutor. Further analysis by Dan Froomkin.

What to look for in the future? Will the President's comments make it more difficult for the President to pardon I. (Scooter) Libby if the former chief of staff to Vice President is found guilty after his trial on obstruction of justice and perjury charges in January?

A recent news story in Newsday by Tom Brune raised the possibility that the White House may be cconsidering such a pardon.

An excerpt from Tom's article:

One attorney familiar with the Plame case said Bush might find that it is in his interest to pardon Libby sooner rather than later.

A pardon before the trial could could cut off [embarrassing] disclosures and spare Vice President Dick Cheney from testifying as Fitzgerald's witness about Libby, his former chief of staff.

But the timing of a pardon, the attorney suggested, likely would depend on the outcome of the midterm elections.If Republicans retain control of Congress, Bush could act swiftly. But if Democrats win control of the House or Senate, Bush might wait, and use Libby's trial as an excuse not to cooperate with anycongressional investigations into the leak.

The counterargument to a pardon this year or next, however, is that it would be a political bombshell and distract from Bush's agenda. DiGenova predicted that Bush, like other presidents, would issue controversial pardons on his last day in office.

Tom also points out in his story that when Democrats wrote Bush asking that he pledge not to pardon Libby, the President did not respond-- news originally broken in this very blog!
Meanwhile, David Ignatius also weighs in on Guantanamo. Ignatius is one of those rare columnists who does original, ground breaking reporting. And on this issue, he is not only far ahead of the beat reporters at his own newspaper, the Washington Post, but also just about everyone else covering this story for that matter. Below are some excerpts from his column:

The post- Hamdan debate involves some long-standing divisions within the administration over anti-terrorism policy. On one side are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her advisers, who believe that Guantanamo has become a dangerous rallying point for anti-Americanism. On the other are conservative administration lawyers, led by Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, who worry that any attempt to involve Congress or international lawyers in writing new rules would produce an unworkable legal mess that would endanger U.S. security. In the middle, seeking to resolve the issue over the next several weeks, are Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and Joshua Bolten, the new White House chief of staff.
Bush's comments about closing Guantanamo suggest that he wants to turn a page. But as sometimes happens with this administration, the debate isn't over until it's over -- and even then it isn't over. That was the case with the McCain amendment banning harsh interrogation. The president signed the law and then appended a signing statement saying that his executive power wasn't bound by such limits, then made a public statement indicating that despite the signing statement, he would follow the law. Confused? So is the CIA, which is said to have stopped interrogating terrorist suspects altogether until the rules are clarified.

The Sept. 11 commission's recommendation noted that stateless terrorists were outside the normal rules of law and suggested, "New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict." Champions of this approach include Rice's counselor, Philip Zelikow, who was previously staff director of the Sept. 11 commission, and State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III...

The Hamdan decision has opened a path toward the kind of global consensus about anti-terrorism policies that the Sept. 11 commission envisioned. This is a rare moment to begin fixing something that has gone dangerously wrong. After Hamdan , Bush has a chance to take a decisive step back toward an international rule of law -- and to solve America's biggest image problem at the same time.
Colin Powell apparently is not the only one who wants to close down Guantanamo. Barry McCaffrey apparently thinks much the very same thing, according to Steve Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists. Below are some excerpts from McCaffrey's report on Aftergood's blog, Secrecy News:

"Arrogance, secrecy, and bad judgment have mired us in a mess in Guantanamo from which we are having great difficulty in extricating ourselves," wrote U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey in a report (pdf) on his recent trip to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

"The JTF Guantanamo Detention Center is the most professional, firm, humane and carefully supervised confinement operation that I have ever personally observed....

"Much of the international community views the Guantanamo Detention Center as a place of shame and routine violation of human rights. This view is not correct. However, there will be no possibility of correcting that view."

"There is now no possible political support for Guantanamo going forward," Gen. McCaffrey wrote.

A PDF version of McCaffrey's entire report can be found here.
Colin Powell says: "Guantanamo ought to be closed immediately." That, according to this blogging post by new Atlantic Monthly editor James Bennet.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Nicholas Kristoff has a great op-ed, fittingly publsihed on July 4, in the New York Times. For those of you, who like me, cannot afford Times Select, in yet another act of civil disobedience, I violate the copyright law with impunity and publish the column in its entirety below.

("What are you in for?", I ask a fifteen year old girl in copyright jail with me. She replies: "Ah, downloading some Pearl Jam and like some Radiohead. What are you in for?" "A Nicholas Kristof column.")

The column also references a National Journal story that I wrote about Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Speaking of NJ, by the way, I had a brand new story out Monday posted on the magazine's website, which can be found here. (What is a blog for, after all, if not for self-promotion?)

Finally, the column is well worth reading for a single line (which I bolded) in this paragraph: "When I was covering the war in Iraq, we reporters would sometimes tune to Fox News and watch, mystified, as it purported to describe how Iraqis loved Americans. Such coverage (backed by delusional editorials baffling anyone who was actually in Iraq) misled conservatives about Iraq from the beginning. In retrospect, the real victims of Fox News weren't the liberals it attacked but the conservatives who believed it."

In any case, here is the column in its entirety:

With President Bush leading a charge against this ''disgraceful'' newspaper, and a conservative talk show host, Melanie Morgan, suggesting that maybe The Times's executive editor should be executed for treason, we face a fundamental dispute about the role of the news media in America.

At stake is the administration's campaign to recast the relationship between government and press.

One mechanism is the threat to prosecute editors or reporters, for the first time, under the 1917 Espionage Act. Perhaps more likely may be an effort to subpoena James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, two reporters for this newspaper, to compel them to disclose confidential sources -- and then to imprison them when they refuse. Granted, many Americans, believing that the press is arrogant and out of control, wouldn't be bothered by that.

Two disclosures by this newspaper have sparked particular outrage: a report about National Security Agency wiretapping without warrants and one about a program to track terror financing by examining bank transfers.

The first scoop strikes me as the best of journalism, for it revealed possibly illegal behavior without any apparent risk to national security. The wiretapping was already well known, and the only new information was that it was conducted without warrants. That's useful information to citizens, but not to terrorists.

The more recent disclosure about bank transfers seems to me a harder call. The program seems both legal and sensible, and it would be a setback in the unlikely event that bankers backed off in the glare of publicity.

So, I might have made that decision differently. But so far there is no evidence that the banking story harmed national security, and I'm sure that editors of this newspaper, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal weighed their responsibilities seriously, for they have repeatedly held back information when necessary. In contrast, the press-bashers have much less credibility.

Take Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Roberts has criticized The Times, but he himself is responsible for an egregious disclosure of classified intelligence. As National Journal reported in April, it was Senator Roberts who stated as the Iraq war began that the U.S. had ''human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein.''

That statement horrified some in our intelligence community by revealing that we had an agent close to Saddam.

No responsible newspaper would risk an agent's life so blithely. And The Times would never have been as cavalier about Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as the White House was. The fact is, journalists regularly hold back information for national security reasons; I recently withheld information at the request of the intelligence community about secret terrorist communications.

More broadly, the one thing worse than a press that is ''out of control'' is one that is under control. Anybody who has lived in a Communist country knows that. Just consider what would happen if the news media as a whole were as docile to the administration as Fox News or The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

When I was covering the war in Iraq, we reporters would sometimes tune to Fox News and watch, mystified, as it purported to describe how Iraqis loved Americans. Such coverage (backed by delusional Journal editorials baffling to anyone who was actually in Iraq) misled conservatives about Iraq from the beginning. In retrospect, the real victims of Fox News weren't the liberals it attacked but the conservatives who believed it.

Historically, we in the press have done more damage to our nation by withholding secret information than by publishing it. One example was this newspaper's withholding details of the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion. President Kennedy himself suggested that the U.S. would have been better served if The Times had published the full story and derailed the invasion.

Then there were the C.I.A. abuses that journalists kept mum about until they spilled over and prompted the Church Committee investigation in the 1970's. And there are secrets we should have found, but didn't: in the run-up to the Iraq war, the press -- particularly this newspaper -- was too credulous about claims that Iraq possessed large amounts of W.M.D.

In each of these cases, we were too compliant. We failed in our watchdog role, and we failed our country.So be very wary of Mr. Bush's effort to tame the press. Watchdogs can be mean, dumb and obnoxious, but it would be even more dangerous to trade them in for lap dogs.