Tuesday, July 31, 2007

John Roberts's Health Never Came Up In Confirmation Hearings

There is no record of any discussion of the 1993 seizure or of Roberts's health in general during his confirmation hearings.

The Washington Post reports:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was rushed to a hospital here Monday afternoon after suffering a seizure at his summer island home, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who chaired the hearings, told CNN on Monday night that senators were told about the previous episode but did not find it serious enough to ask Roberts about.

Roberts, 52, fell on a dock after having a "benign idiopathic seizure," said Kathleen Landin Arberg, the court's public information officer. She said that Roberts has "fully recovered from the incident" but that he would remain at Penobscot Bay Medical Center here overnight for observation.

Arberg said that the chief justice, who has presided over the court for two terms, received minor scrapes from the fall but that a "thorough neurological evaluation . . . revealed no cause for concern."

She said he experienced a similar event in 1993 but had no recurrence until Monday.

Seizures are any sudden, abnormal electrical activity in the brain. While some are focused in one part of the brain, others can be generalized. Not all seizures involve convulsions. Arberg's description of a benign idiopathic seizure indicates an episode whose origins are unknown.

Newsweek reported in November 2005 that Roberts suffered a seizure in January 1993 while golfing. "It was stunning and out of the blue and inexplicable," Larry Robbins, a Justice Department colleague, told the magazine. Robbins said Roberts was not allowed to drive for several months after the seizure and took the bus to work. The magazine quoted a senior White House aide as describing the episode as an "isolated, idiosyncratic seizure."

There is no record of any discussion of the 1993 seizure or of Roberts's health in general during his confirmation hearings. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who chaired the hearings, told CNN on Monday night that senators were told about the previous episode but did not find it serious enough to ask Roberts about. Roberts has no known history of major illness.

Roberts, the youngest member of the Supreme Court, took office as chief justice in September 2005 after being nominated by President Bush to replace the late William H. Rehnquist.

Roberts's seizure occurred around 2 p.m., Arberg said, when he was stepping off a boat after doing errands near his home on Hupper Island, which is about halfway up the Maine coast.

Hupper Island is part of the village of Port Clyde, which is contained in the town of St. George, according to Town Manager John M. Falla. He said that the island is not connected to the town by bridge, and that Roberts was brought by private boat to the mainland and taken by ambulance to the hospital, about 20 miles away.

St. George Fire Chief Tim Polky told the Associated Press that Roberts was "conscious and alert when they put him in the rescue [vehicle] and took him to Penobscot Bay Medical Center."

The chief justice was admitted by an emergency room doctor and seen by Judd Jensen, a staff neurologist, said Chris Burke, the hospital's director of marketing and communications.

He said Roberts was "aware and alert" when he arrived at the community medical facility, which is nestled among trees on the edge of Rockport, a picturesque Maine village about 90 miles northeast of Portland. He declined to say what the chief justice's full neurological evaluation entailed.

Burke said some of Roberts's aides had visited the hospital more than a year ago, when the chief justice bought the nearby vacation home. "Folks came by and checked out the facilities. That's a normal precaution for anyone in his position," he said.

Burke said he thinks doctors consulted with Roberts's regular physicians in the Washington area during the chief justice's evaluation.

Roberts was resting in a regular patient room on Monday night and had some friends with him, Burke said.

"Most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes and do not cause lasting harm," according to background information posted online by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. "However, it is a medical emergency if seizures last longer than 5 minutes or if a person has many seizures and does not wake up between them."

While seizures can be the result of a brain disorder such as epilepsy, the institute notes that they can also be a consequence of fevers, head injuries or even medication side effects.

Roberts and his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, bought the Hupper Island house last summer from Steve Thomas, former host of the PBS home-improvement series "This Old House."

The Bangor Daily News reported last year that the house is about 225 feet from shore, with a right of way to the beach and a water view toward Port Clyde General Store on the mainland. The island has 20 to 30 homes and more than a mile of shoreline.

When Roberts was confirmed by the Senate on Sept. 29, 2005, by a vote of 78 to 22, he became the youngest chief justice in more than 200 years and the third-youngest ever to assume the office.

Since the court adjourned in late June, Roberts has taught at a law school summer program in Europe and attended an international judicial conference in Paris. He was back in Washington last week, and on Friday left work early to attend a party celebrating his daughter's seventh birthday. The Robertses have two young children.

Roberts was originally nominated to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced in July 2005 that she was retiring. But upon Rehnquist's death, Bush decided to make Roberts his nominee for chief justice and later nominated Samuel A. Alito Jr. to replace O'Connor.

This is one more example of Democrats' failure, dereliction of duty, in checking the damage that Bush and Republicans have inflicted on the nation. John Roberts's nomination never should have gotten passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Roberts's seizure history would not have, nor should it have, eliminated him from serving on the highest court in the land. But failing to get Roberts on the record about his health history, under oath, demonstrates Democrats' inept efforts to block the Bush administration's agenda. Democrats rolled over for John Roberts' confirmation when there was abundant evidence that he was ideologically unsuited for the court. Patrick Leahy, Russ Feingold, Herb ("I will vote my hopes today and not my fears") Kohl all voted to pass Roberts's name out of committee and on.

For a lifetime seat on the U.S.S.C., Herb, you vote your fears.

As Joe Biden said when he voted against Roberts, "He will have more impact on our lives, in the future of our children's lives, than any of us and all of us combined."

These Democratic Senators voted to confirm Roberts: Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, Ken Salazar, Byron Dorgan, Herb Kohl, Patrick Leahy, Patty Murray, Jeff Bingaman, Jay Rockefeller, Bob Byrd, Tom Carper, Bill Nelson, Ben Johnson, Herb Kohl, Kent Conrad, Mary Landrieu, Ron Wyden, Chris Dodd, Blanche Lincoln, Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin.

Democrats consistently fail to convince Americans because Democrats don't even try.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chief Justice Roberts Is Hospitalized After Seizure

The NYTimes reports:
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was hospitalized on today after suffering a seizure at his summer home in Maine, the Supreme Court announced.

The episode, described as a “benign idiopathic seizure,” was similar to one he suffered 14 years ago, according to the court’s press release. Idiopathic means that the cause of the seizure remains unknown.
He had no lasting effects from the earlier incident and was “fully recovered” from the seizure he suffered about 2 p.m. today, the court said, adding that the chief justice had undergone “a thorough neurological evaluation, which revealed no cause for concern.”

He was to remain overnight “as a precaution” at Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport.

The seizure caused a fall, in which he “experienced minor scrapes,” the court said.

Christopher Burke, a spokesman for Penobscot Bay Medical Center, told The Associated Press, “It’s my understanding he’s fully recovered.”

In an interview this evening, Dr. David J. Langer, the director of cerebrovascular neurosurgery at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, Beth Israel and Long Island College Hospital, said that medical care after such a seizure should include “a good M.R.I., CAT scan and EEG. ” All these tests are available at the Penobscot Bay Medical Center, according to the hospital’s Web site.

“But the chances they’ll find anything and be able to do anything about it are pretty low,” said Dr. Langer, who is also an assistant professor at Albert Einstein Medical College.

“In the majority of seizures you see no anatomical cause,” he said. A cause could be a tumor, bleeding in the brain, a clogged blood vessel or an injury.

Dr. Langer said it could be difficult for doctors to decide whether the chief justice, who, at 52 is the youngest member of the court,, should start taking medication, which Dr. Langer said “have significant side effects.” Chief Justice Roberts appears otherwise healthy and is not known to have any chronic medical problems.

The chief justice’s home, which he bought last year, is on Hupper Island, off Port Clyde. The 400-acre island has only about two dozen houses, offering privacy to his family, which includes two young children. He was taken by boat to the mainland and from there by ambulance to the hospital.

Chief Justice Roberts was “conscious and alert” when he was put in the ambulance, said Tim Polky, the fire chief in the town of St. George, which includes Port Clyde.

He has spent an active month since the court’s summer recess began at the end of June, with a two-week trip to Europe that included teaching at a seminar in Austria and meeting in Paris with European judges in the company of several of his Supreme Court colleagues. Before leaving for Maine a few days ago, he was working in his chambers at the court.

A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said President Bush had been told of the chief justice’s hospitalization during a meeting earlier in the day.

Now the question is, "Will Roberts's driver's license be yanked?"

That's SOP for anyone who has had a seizure and isn't on medication to control them. If he can't be treated with anti-convulsants, then it's the duty of his medical providers (most likely his neurologist) to report him to the DMV of the state that issued him his driver's license.

I don't know what the laws were back in 1993 when Roberts had his first seizure, but that's the way the law is now. At least in California. I would surmise that it's the law in every state.

Our Changing Culture

Money...It isn't even worth counting anymore.

Rheaz Baksh, floor supervisor at Transportation Department collection site, shows pounds of foreign coins taken from city parking meters.

The New York Daily News reports:
Parking cheats have shoved 500 pounds of foreign coins into meters this year - slugs city officials are now trying to hawk.

"We have pretty much every denomination from every continent," said Anthony Alfano, deputy chief of meter collections, rattling off nations from Greece to Ghana. "The most common [are] the Greek drachmas."

The death of the drachma - another hapless victim of the "new world order."
Department of Transportation officials have been collecting bids on the coins and plan to accept the best offer tomorrow.
"We are not expecting a windfall, but it's a way of recouping revenue for the city," Alfano said.

In years past, buyers have paid approximately $2 to $4 a pound - far short of the estimated $8,500 the city lost in revenue because of the foreign impostors, officials said.

The highest bidder must agree to buy all 500 pounds - 8-1/2 bags of coins that are being stored in a secret location for safety reasons.

DOT takes in about $90 million in coins from parking meters annually. It started selling the foreign coins about a decade ago after deciding it was impractical to exchange them to U.S. currency.

"In the scheme of things the money and volume of coins is pretty insignificant," Alfano said.

It's becoming harder to dupe the new high-tech meters with foreign coins, and the annual sale could become obsolete in the next few years. When the coins were sold in 2001, there were 1,402 pounds of foreign slugs - 33 bags. Last year, only 728 pounds were sold.

"The electronic meters are more discriminating," Alfano said.

Last year's batch went to Jim Corliss, a 60-year-old Braintree, Mass., collector who bids under his company name, Sir Speedy Printing. The three-time winner put in a bid again this year.

"Every once in a while I find something of value," he said. One time, he stumbled on a 1835 British shilling. "It sounds exciting, but it was worth $5," he said.

He confessed to collecting "zillions" of coins since he started the hobby as a 12-year-old paperboy sorting through tips. "I have a big house," he said.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

From 9/11/01 to 9/11/07: "We've Come Full Circle"

Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, Saudis make up close to one half of the foreign detainees held in Iraq, Saudi Arabia is funding the Sunni tribal groups in Iraq and opponents of the al-Maliki government, and about half of the foreign fighters who arrive in Iraq each month are Saudis. Bush not only refuses to bring U.S. troops out of the region or redeploy them somewhere else in the region outside of Iraq, he's pushing through a record arms deal with the Saudis.

The NYTimes reports:
During a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest that Iraq’s prime minister could not be trusted.

One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr warning him to lie low during the coming American troop increase, which was aimed in part at Mr. Sadr’s militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Mr. Maliki was an agent of Iran.

The American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, immediately protested to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, contending that the documents were forged. But, said administration officials who provided an account of the exchange, the Saudis remained skeptical, adding to the deep rift between America’s most powerful Sunni Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, and its Shiite-run neighbor, Iraq.

Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.
One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”

Senior Bush administration officials said the American concerns would be raised next week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make a rare joint visit to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.

The accounts of American concerns came from interviews with several senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed that openly criticizing Saudi Arabia would further alienate the Saudi royal family at a time when the United States is still trying to enlist Saudi support for Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi government, and for other American foreign policy goals in the Middle East, including an Arab-Israeli peace plan.

In agreeing to interviews in advance of the joint trip to Saudi Arabia, the officials were nevertheless clearly intent on sending a pointed signal to a top American ally. They expressed deep frustration that more private American appeals to the Saudis had failed to produce a change in course.

The American officials said they had no doubt that the documents shown to Mr. Khalilzad were forgeries, though the Saudis said they had obtained them from sources in Iraq. “Maliki wouldn’t be stupid enough to put that on a piece of paper,” one senior Bush administration official said. He said Mr. Maliki later assured American officials that the documents were forgeries.

The Bush administration’s frustration with the Saudi government has increased in recent months because it appears that Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to undermine the Maliki government and to pursue a different course in Iraq from what the administration has charted. Saudi Arabia has also stymied a number of other American foreign policy initiatives, including a hoped-for Saudi embrace of Israel.

Of course, the Saudi government has hardly masked its intention to prop up Sunni groups in Iraq and has for the past two years explicitly told senior Bush administration officials of the need to counterbalance the influence Iran has there. Last fall, King Abdullah warned Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq, American and Arab diplomats said.

Several officials interviewed for this article said they believed that Saudi Arabia’s direct support to Sunni tribesmen increased this year as the Saudis lost faith in the Maliki government and felt they must bolster Sunni groups in the eventuality of a widespread civil war.

Saudi Arabia months ago made a pitch to enlist other Persian Gulf countries to take a direct role in supporting Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, said one former American ambassador with close ties to officials in the Middle East. The former ambassador, Edward W. Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan, said that during a recent trip to the region he was told that Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq. The Saudis made this effort last December, Mr. Gnehm said.

The closest the administration has come to public criticism was an Op-Ed page article about Iraq in The New York Times last week by Mr. Khalilzad, now the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “Several of Iraq’s neighbors — not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States — are pursuing destabilizing policies,” Mr. Khalilzad wrote. Administration officials said Mr. Khalilzad was referring specifically to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates, as well as Mr. Cheney and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, have in recent months pressed their Arab counterparts to do more to encourage Iraq’s Sunni leaders to support Mr. Maliki, senior administration officials said.

“This message certainly has been made very clear in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” a senior administration official said. “But there is a deep reserve directed both at the person of the Maliki government but more broadly at the concept” that Iraq’s Shiites are “surrogates of Iran.” Saudi Arabia has grown increasingly concerned about the rising influence of Iran in the region.

A spokesman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not return telephone calls on Thursday. But one adviser to the royal family said that Saudi officials were aware of the American accusations. “As you know by now, we in Saudi Arabia have been active in having a united Arab front to, first, avoid further inter-Arab conflict, and at the same time building consensus to move toward a peace settlement between the Arabs and Israel,” he said. “How others judge our motives is their problem.”

Even as American frustration at Saudi Arabia grows, American military officials are still cautious about publicly detailing the extent of the flow of foreign fighters going to Iraq from Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, for instance, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, detailed the odyssey of a foreign fighter recently captured in Ramadi.

In his public account, General Bergner told reporters that the man had arrived in Syria on a chartered bus, was smuggled into Iraq by a Syrian facilitator, and was given instructions to carry out a suicide truck bombing on a bridge in Ramadi. He did not identify the man’s nationality, but American officials in Iraq say he was a Saudi.

The American officials in Iraq also say that the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and that about 40 percent of all foreign fighters are Saudi. Officials said that while most of the foreign fighters came to Iraq to become suicide bombers, others arrived as bomb makers, snipers, logisticians and financiers.

American military and intelligence officials have been critical of Saudi efforts to stanch the flow of fighters into Iraq, although they stress that the Saudi government does not endorse the idea of fighters from Saudi Arabia going to Iraq.

On the contrary, they said, Saudi Arabia is concerned that these young men could acquire insurgency training in Iraq and then return home to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia — similar to the Saudis who turned against their homeland after fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The Bush administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has deteriorated steadily since the United States invasion of Iraq, culminating in April when, bitingly, King Abdullah, during a speech before Arab heads of state in Riyadh, condemned the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation.”

A month before that, King Abdullah effectively torpedoed a high-profile meeting between Israelis and Palestinians, planned by Ms. Rice, by brokering a power-sharing agreement between the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the militant Islamist group Hamas that did not require Hamas to recognize Israel. While that agreement eventually fell apart, the Bush administration, on both occasions, was caught off guard and became infuriated.

But Saudi officials have not been too happy with President Bush, either, and the plummeting of America’s image in the Muslim world has led King Abdullah to strive to set a more independent course.

The administration “thinks the Saudis are no longer behaving the role of the good vassal,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The Saudis, in turn, “see weakness, they see a void, and they’re going to fill the void and call their own shots.”

From the Marine Corps Times:
A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s relations with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington the withdraw the well-regarded U.S. military leader from duty here.

The Iraqi foreign minister calls the relationship “difficult.”

Petraeus says his ties with al-Maliki are “very good” but acknowledges expressing “the full range of emotions” on “a couple of occasions.”

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets together with al-Maliki and Petraeus at least weekly, concedes “sometimes there are sporty exchanges.”

Al-Maliki has spoken sharply — not of Petraeus or Crocker personally — but about their tactic of welcoming Sunni militants into the fight against al-Qaida forces in Anbar and Diyalah provinces.

But the reality of how the three men get along likely lies somewhere between the worst and best reports about their relationship — perhaps one of the most important in the world and unquestionably central to the future of Iraq, the larger Middle East and scores, if not hundreds, of political, diplomatic and military careers in the United States.

A tangle of issues confront the three men, and none of them present clear or easy solutions:

— Al-Maliki, a Shiite who spent years in exile under Saddam Hussein, hotly objects to U.S. tactic of recruiting men with ties to the Sunni insurgency into the ongoing fight against al-Qaida. He has complained loudly but with little effect except a U.S. pledge to let al-Maliki’s security apparatus vet the recruits before they join the force. He also has spoken bitterly, aides say, about delivery delays of promised U.S. weapons and equipment for his forces.

— Petraeus is confronted with an Iraqi military and police force, nominally under al-Maliki’s control, that has in many cases acted on sectarian — namely Shiite — not national Iraqi interests. He has faced a significant challenge in persuading al-Maliki to shed his ties to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mahdi Army militia.

— Crocker’s problems with the Iraqi leader are the appearance of foot-dragging or ineffectiveness on the political front — the need to shepherd critical benchmark legislation through parliament. U.S. opponents of the war will undoubtedly demand from Crocker, when he reports to congress in September, an explanation of why U.S. troops are fighting and dying to give al-Maliki political breathing space that the Iraqi leader will not or cannot capitalize on.

First word of strained relations began leaking out with consistency earlier this month.

Sami al-Askari, an key aide to al-Maliki and a member of the prime minister’s Dawa Party, said the policy of including one-time Sunni insurgents in the security forces shows Petraeus has a “real bias and it bothers the Shiites. It is possible that we may demand his removal.”

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview with Newsweek, that the Petraeus-al-Maliki relationship was “difficult.”

“The prime minister cannot just pick up the phone and have Iraqi army units do what he says. Maliki needs more leverage.”

A lawmaker from the al-Sadr bloc, who refused use of his name fearing the party would expel him over his continued close ties to al-Maliki, said the prime minister has complained to U.S. President George W. Bush about the policy of arming Sunnis.

“He told Bush that if Petraeus continues doing that he would arm Shiite Militias. Bush told al-Maliki to calm down,” according to the lawmaker who said he was told of the exchange by al-Maliki.

The lawmaker said al-Maliki once told Petraeus: “I can’t deal with you any more. I will ask for someone else to replace you.”

In an angry outburst earlier this month, al-Maliki said American forces should leave and turn over security to Iraqi troops. He quickly backpedaled, but the damage was done.

“There is no leader in the world that is under more pressure than Nouri al-Maliki, without question. Sometimes he reflects that frustration. I don’t blame him. I probably would too,” Crocker said.

The ambassador, one of the State Department’s most seasoned Middle East diplomats, appeared to be genuinely fond of al-Maliki and profoundly understanding of the Iraqi leader’s troubles.

“We are dealing with existential issues. There are no second tier problems ... so there is a lot of pressure. And we all feel very deeply about we’re trying to get done. So yeah, sometimes there are sporty exchanges,” he said.

“And believe me I’ve had my share of them. That in no way means, in my view, strained relations. I have great admiration for Prime Minister Maliki, and I know General Petraeus does as well. And I like to think it is reciprocal. Wrestling with the things we’re all wrestling with here, it would almost be strange if you didn’t get a little passionate from time to time.”

Petraeus, a wily, rising star at the Pentagon who is known for holding his cards close to his chest, called his relations with al-Maliki “very good...and that’s the truth,” but acknowledged, “we have not pulled punches with each other.”

Here’s why, he said:

“We have made an enormous investment here — 3,600-plus soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have given their lives. And where we see something that could unhinge the progress that our soldiers and their soldiers are fighting to make ... or jeopardize some of the very hard-fought gains that we have made, I’m going to speak up. And I have on occasion. And on a couple of occasions have demonstrated the full range of emotions.”

All sides spoke with the critical September reports by Crocker and Petraeus to Congress clearly at the front of their minds — the need to make it clear to an increasingly hostile U.S. legislative branch that progress is being made and it would be wrong to start pulling out troops and cutting support now.

It will be a tough sell, but not for lack of getting their views before the public in advance of walking into Congressional committee rooms about seven weeks from now.

King Abdullah has called the U.S. military presence in Iraq an "illegitimate occupation," and according to 'congressional sources,' the Saudis have been either unable or unwilling to stop suicide bombers who have ended up in Iraq.

Members of Congress vowed yesterday to oppose any deal to Saudi Arabia on grounds that the kingdom has been unhelpful in Iraq and unreliable at fighting terrorism.

Better late than never.

U.S. Plans New Arms Sales to Gulf Allies

$20 Billion Deal Includes Weapons For Saudi Arabia

The Washington Post reports:
The Bush administration will announce next week a series of arms deals worth at least $20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other oil-rich Persian Gulf states as well as new 10-year military aid packages to Israel and Egypt, a move to shore up allies in the Middle East and counter Iran's rising influence, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The arms deals, which include the sales of a variety of sophisticated weaponry, would be the largest negotiated by this administration. The military assistance agreements would provide $30 billion in new U.S. aid to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt over 10 years, the officials said. Both figures represent significant increases in military support.
U.S. officials said the arms sales to Saudi Arabia are expected to include air-to-air missiles as well as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which turn standard bombs into "smart" precision-guided bombs. Most, but not all, of the arms sales to the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman -- will be defensive, the officials said.

U.S. officials said the common goal of the military aid packages and arms sales is to strengthen pro-Western countries against Iran at a time when the hard-line regime seeks to extend its power in the region.

"This is a big development, because it's part of a larger regional strategy and the maintenance of a strong U.S. presence in the region. We're paying attention to the needs of our allies and what everyone in the region believes is a flexing of muscles by a more aggressive Iran. One way to deal with that is to make our allies and friends strong," said a senior administration official involved in the negotiations.

The arms deals have quietly been under discussion for months despite U.S. disappointment over Saudi Arabia's failure to support the Iraqi government and to bring that country's Sunni Muslims into the reconciliation process.

The administration's plans will be announced Monday in advance of trips next week to the Middle East by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and are expected to be on their agenda in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The administration has a notional list of arms to sell to the Gulf states, but there are no final agreements on quantities and specific models, U.S. officials said.

State Department and Pentagon officials started briefing key members of Congress about their intentions over the past week, U.S. officials said. The initial reception has been positive, said officials involved in those briefings. They acknowledged, however, that some parts of the deal are supported more than others. Arms sales to Gulf countries have often been controversial.

The administration hopes to provide a full rundown this fall for congressional approval.

"We want to convince Congress to continue our tradition of military sales to all six" states, the senior administration official said. "We've been helping Gulf Arabs for years, and that needs to continue."

Sunni regimes in the Gulf region have felt particularly vulnerable since the election of a pro-Iranian Shiite government in neighboring Iraq last year. "There's a sense here and in the region of the need to build up defenses against Iranian encroachment," said a U.S. official familiar with the deals.

The aid packages to Israel and Egypt are further along. A U.S.-Israel agreement, to replace a 10-year arrangement that expires this year, has been under discussion since February, U.S. officials said. The new U.S. package will include strictly military aid and would expand the U.S. contribution 25 percent over the current $2.4 billion per year; economic assistance has been discontinued now that Israel is considered a developed economy, U.S. officials said.

President Bush said last month, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that he was strongly committed to a new 10-year agreement that would increase U.S. assistance "to meet the new threats and challenges [Israel] faces." Washington has long promised to help Israel sustain a so-called "qualitative military edge" over other major powers in the region.

Rice is expected to announce Monday that, after her Middle East trip, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns will finalize the agreements with Israel and Egypt.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fare-Free Public Transit

It Could Be Headed to a City Near You

Fat cat capitalists (like Steve Forbes) like flat taxes and use taxes because the rich pay disproportionately less of their income than the poor and middle class.

Forbes, a New Yorker, might argue, "Why shouldn't the burden to pay the costs for care and upkeep of the Golden Gate bridge fall on those who use it?", to which I might reply, "Don't trucks cross the Golden Gate to distribute your magazine (Fortune) to your subscribers?" There is some product or service that each of us uses that has crossed the Golden Gate bridge (or gone through the Holland Tunnel) that we ourselves didn't personally have to traverse in order to derive the benefit from.

At Alternet, Dave Olsen writes:
The time has come to stop making people pay to take public transit.

Why do we have any barriers to using buses and urban trains? The threat of global warming is no longer in doubt. The hue and cry of the traffic-jammed driver grows louder every commute. And politicians are getting the message. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered his staff to seriously examine the costs of charging people to ride public transit. And Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, recently voiced to a reporter his top dream: "I would have mass transit be given away for nothing and charge an awful lot for bringing an automobile into the city."
Consider this sampling of communities providing free rides on trolleys, buses, trams and ferries: Staten Island, N.Y.; Island County, Wash.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Vail, Colo.; Logan and Cache Valley, Utah; Clemson, S.C.; Commerce, Calif.; Châteauroux, Vitré, and Compiègne, France; Hasselt, Belgium; Lubben, Germany; Mariehamn, Finland; Nova Gorica, Slovenia; Türi, Estonia; and Övertorneå, Sweden.

Or speak, as I have, with transit officials in parts of Belgium and the state of Washington, where fare-free transit has hummed along smoothly now for years.

Raising fares kills ridership

As even conservatives like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger trumpet a green agenda, more people are taking a hard look at just how many of their tax dollars subsidize the private car versus less polluting buses and trains. You have to figure in roads, parking and other infrastructure, tax breaks for car and fuel companies, as well as subsidies for car-carrying ferries and federal income tax reductions and write-offs for companies that use motor vehicles.

By some estimates, the government subsidy to each private vehicle owner is about $3,700, while a common cost for providing a single trip by transit is about $5.

Yet big or small, most transit systems are scraping by or on the brink of financial collapse, paradoxically because of their reliance on the farebox. Revenue for any system drops when ridership dips or when fares are increased. Yes, when fares are increased. This is so well proven it has a name: the Simpson-Curtain rule. Most often the dip in ridership is caused by a fare hike.

To understand this cycle better, let's imagine that you are in charge of a transit system. You feel pressure to increase service or to maintain service despite increasing costs. You need to raise more money. Politically and practically, for most systems, the easiest way is to raise fares. But soon after, ridership goes down. It drops 3.8 percent for every 10 percent increase in fares, researchers have found. Which means you either haven't gained much new revenue, or worse, you've started spiraling downward.

Just one example is Toronto's transit system, which went into a 12-year downward spiral throughout the 1990s after a series of fare increases and resultant service cutbacks. The authoritative Transit Cooperative Research Program in Washington, D.C., has clearly documented how fare increases always result in lower ridership.

Fare-free success stories

Recently I met the people who run Island Transit in Whidbey Island, Wash., and rode their fare-free bus system. It's a serious operation with 56 buses and 101 vans. Ridership tops a million a year. Its operating budget is $8,392,677 -- none of it from fares, all from a 0.6 percent sales tax collected in Island County.

Despite the pressure to conform, the pressure to make users pay and the pressure from conservative politicians at all levels, Island Transit has been fare-free from day one and is proudly so 20 years later. Not one Island Transit bus, shelter or van has advertising on it. All of Island Transit's buses are bike rack equipped and wheelchair accessible. For folks with disabilities, Island Transit also offers a paratransit service with door-to-door service.

Island Transit has developed a simple policy around dealing with behavior that is unruly or disturbing to others: "The operator is the captain of their own ship." This is backed up by a state law regarding unlawful bus conduct. A bothersome rider first gets a written warning. The next time, his or her riding privileges are revoked. These privileges are only restored after completing a Rider Privilege Agreement. Island Transit has further protected its employees by installing a camera system in every vehicle. The big brotherness of it is acknowledged, but the safety of their operators simply takes priority. "Show me another transit system in Washington state," said Island Transit operator Odis D. Jenkins, "where the teenagers more often than not say 'thank you' when they get off."

Done right, fare-free transit can transform society, says Patrick Condon, an expert on sustainable urban development who knows the system in Amherst, Mass. "Free transit changed the region for the better. Students, teens and the elderly were able to move much more freely through the region. Some ascribed the resurgence of Northampton, Mass, at least in part, to the availability of free transit. Fares in that region would have provided such a small percentage of capital and operating costs that their loss was made up for by contributions by the major institutions to benefit: the five colleges in the region," says Condon, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Another success story, a decade old, can be found in Hasselt, Belgium. This city of 70,000 residents, with 300,000 commuters from the surrounding area, has made traveling by bus easy, affordable and efficient. Now, people in Hasselt often speak of "their" bus system and with good reason. The Boulevard Shuttle leaves you waiting for at most five minutes, the Central Shuttle has a 10-minute frequency, and systemwide you never have to wait more than a half an hour.

A prime lesson offered by Hasselt is the fact that it radically improved the bus system as well as its walking and cycling infrastructure before it removed the fareboxes. In 1996, there were only three bus routes with about 18,000 service hours/year. Today, there are 11 routes with more than 95,000 service hours/year.

The transit system in Hasselt cost taxpayers approximately $1.8 million in 2006. This amounts to 1 percent of its municipal budget and makes up about 26 percent of the total operating cost of the transit system. The Flemish national government covered the rest (approximately $5.25 million) under a long-term agreement.

Hasselt City Council's principal aim in introducing free public transport was to promote the new bus system to such a degree that it would catch on and become the natural option for getting around. And it did -- immediately. On the first day, bus ridership increased 783 percent! The first full year of free-fare transit saw an increase of 900 percent over the previous year; by 2001, the increase was up to 1,223 percent, and ridership continues to go up every day.

Planning essential

So how did Hasselt make it happen?

On Jan. 1, 1991, the Flemish Authority brought together three public transport companies and joined them into one autonomously operating state company. This company's raison d'etre is to provide transport for the whole of Flanders. That was the beginning of the Flemish Transport Co., since then generally known under the name "De Lijn." This structure allows it to buy buses more cheaply, and it can even share buses among the different city and regional systems whenever they're needed.

"To be successful," says Jean Vandeputte, the chief engineer-director for the City of Hasselt, "I think that the public transport system must not be crowded at the start. Our project was originally organized to attract more passengers and to have less cars in the city center. The buses also need separate lanes, because traveling by bus has to be faster than by car, so the infrastructure of intersections and streets has to be adapted. The buses have to be modern, clean ... you need to have more bus stops. And the shelters must be attractive."

By making public transport free of charge, it became possible to guarantee the right to mobility for all residents in Hasselt. Their position was that an improved public transport system simply means a better use of the public space that will not only improve the quality of traffic, but the quality of life in general.

The Hasselt experience before 1997 was not much different than anywhere else in the Western world. Car ownership in Hasselt rose by 25 percent from 1987 to 1999, while the population increased by only 3.3 percent during this same period. Although Hasselt is the fourth largest city in Belgium, it ranked first in car ownership during those years.

After implementing fare-free transit, over 40 percent of the people visiting hospitals switched from a car to the bus. Over 32 percent of the people "going to market" switched from using cars to buses. Overall, in November 1997, 16 percent of all bus riders studied previously drove a car. It is important to understand that this was achieved by the elimination of fares, the expansion of service and the implementation of bus priority measures such as bus lanes.

Karl Storchmann, a researcher at Yale University, has documented that even the 12 percent of bus riders that were previously cyclists, as well as the 9 percent that switched from walking to the bus in Hasselt, will produce a net positive change for society, since pedestrians and cyclists "belong to the most endangered road users, [and] every decrease in these modes will lead to a reduction of automobile-caused costs [i.e., deaths and injuries]."

Because Hasselt's policy makers understand that bikes are the most sustainable form of transport, today in Hasselt one can borrow a bicycle, tandem, scooter or wheelchair bike free of charge. On the Groenplein (behind the town hall) you can also borrow a stroller free of charge for your little one (as its website states, "Handy when your toddler can't make the distance"). And two wheelchairs are available for free loan from the tourism bureau. The city's center is cleared of cars, offering instead a network of pedestrian shopping streets."

This approach has saved the City of Hasselt millions of Euros on transportation infrastructure costs, and clearly the city isn't afraid to innovate. As Hasselt Mayor Steve Stevaert declared, "We don't need any more new roads, but new thought highways!"

The costs of collecting fares

A prime reason to quit charging people to take the bus is that collecting bus fares costs a lot of money. It takes both machines and people to sell, make and distribute tickets and collect, count and deposit cash.

King County's Metro Transit System, which includes the city of Seattle and an estimated population of just under 2 million, concludes, after a comprehensive assessment, that the cost of collecting fares will hit about $8 million this year -- enough to buy 18 new buses.

A major analysis of U.S. public transit systems found that for larger systems, fare collection costs can be as high as 22 percent of the revenue collected. Another study showed that New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority spends roughly $200 million a year just to collect money from transit riders. What about switching to "smart card" technology? Wouldn't that save money? In Toronto, the city's Transit Commission estimates the switch will cost almost $250 million (or about 520 new buses) for card readers, vending machines and retrofits, and over $10 million a year (22 new buses) after that, which has some transit authorities saying the money could be better used in improving service.

For similar reasons, some cities have decided it just doesn't pay to police people who don't pay fares. In 1996, the Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) wanted to figure out how to stop those few riders that cheat; its Central Light Rail Line was "barrier free." MTA wanted to know whether it should start using barriers in order to force people to pay their fares.

The study
found that more people would pay, yes, but the cost of making them pay would be higher than the revenue from extra fares collected. Much higher. The least expensive alternative would cost the MTA $18.54 for each potential fare dollar recovered over a 10-year period. In other words, if $1 million is currently lost to fare evasion, it would cost at least $18.5 million to collect that money.

Spread the burden and benefit

All of which brings us back to the logic of fare-free transit.

Whidbey Island's transit planners did their own studies two decades ago. In 1986 they did an extensive cost-benefit analysis of collecting fares and found that either no significant revenue would be generated for Island Transit, or that the costs of collecting fares would exceed the revenue generated.

Other systems that didn't plan well have had near disastrous experiences, in particular Austin, Texas. As one study from Florida State University concludes, "There has not been a full fare-free policy instituted on a systemwide basis since the experiment in Austin. The negative consequences of these experiments, the Austin experiment in particular, have left lasting impressions on transit operators throughout the country."

But a lot of opposition to the idea is grounded less in practicalities, more in ideology.

It's a matter of faith among most transit officials, for example, that if you remove the fare, the service becomes worthless.

"Be aware that when one moves the price of something to zero, in addition to challenging capacity, one is stating that the product or service is not an economic good -- that is, that it has no value," warned one transit official. "Pricing signals value. I would suggest you keep it nonzero."

Perhaps North America's transit planners need to switch jobs with builders of roads and bridges. Those transportation essentials are, after all, usually paid for through taxes or bonds, and we use them without being charged each time we roll over them.

Imagine if a government tried to put a farebox into every car. Each time drivers took a trip, they would have to dig into their pockets to find a couple dollars -- in exact change.

And yet, we force the poorest among us to live this way. In British Columbia's Lower Mainland, one of the most expensive places to live in North America, a family traveled from a suburb to Vancouver by public transit during spring break. It cost the mother and her three sons $26 in day passes.

For those without well-paying jobs, a bus fare of any amount can be a barrier to finding work, making it to school, visiting friends and relatives or even getting food to eat.

Wouldn't it make more sense to treat public transit the way we treat most road infrastructure and pay for it all by some method of taxation?

Reality check

But before we act, let's make a few important guiding principles clear:

Taking the farebox out of any bus without a plan is just a recipe for disaster. That's the lesson from Island Transit on Whidbey Island and Hasselt, Belgium, which proves beyond doubt that fare-free systems can be safe, clean and very friendly.

Making transit free of charge won't in itself allow huge numbers of people to abandon their cars. We'll need more public transit vehicles, running more frequently, too. The decade-old experience in Hasselt has shown that investing in the service prior to the removal of the fareboxes not only makes the transition smoother, it will get people on the bus and out of their cars.

We need to pay, one way or another. There isn't a transit system on the planet that pays for itself solely through the farebox. If we want a transit system that is adequate, reliable and gets those lonely drivers out of their cars, we need to find funding formulas that are adequate and reliable.

Let us remind ourselves of what really matters. We don't have much time left to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions before catastrophic climatic changes irreversibly occur. It seems absurd, therefore, to continue to make it more difficult than it already is for people to use the bus and train.

Fare-free transit is not only feasible, it may well be critical for us to survive as a species. It can save us money, and it contributes to a much more fair, equitable and mobile society.

The only thing left to do is to let your transit providers and elected officials know how you feel. Speak up now -- for our children and for our planet.

Sixteen reasons to stop charging

Consider the many benefits:

A barrier-free transportation option to every member of the community (no more worries about exact change, expiring transfers or embarrassment about how to pay)

Eliminating a "toll" from a mode of transportation that we as a society want to be used (transit is often the only way of getting around that charges a toll)

Reducing the inequity between the subsidies given to private motorized vehicle users and public transport users

Reducing the need for private motorized vehicle parking

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other air pollutants, noise pollution (especially with electric trolleys), and runoff of toxic chemicals into fresh water supplies and ocean environments

Reducing overall consumption of oil and gasoline

Eliminating the perceived need to spend billions on roads and highways

Contributing significantly to the local economy by keeping our money in our communities

Reducing litter (in some cities transfers and tickets have overtaken fast food packaging as the most common form of street garbage)

Saving trees by eliminating the need to print transfers and tickets

Allowing all bus doors to be used to load passengers, making service faster and more efficient

Allowing operators (drivers) to focus on driving safely

Giving operators more time to answer questions

Providing operators a safer work environment since fare disputes are eliminated

Eliminating fare evasion and the criminalization of transit-using citizens

Fostering more public pride in shared, community resources

Bear in mind that free public transit eliminates the significant costs of fare collection and combating fare evasion. It also cuts costs associated with global warming, air and noise pollution, litter collection and garbage removal.

Dave Olsen is a bicycle and public transit consultant, researcher and advocate who lives in Vancouver. You can reach him via editor@thetyee.ca.

This article is adapted from a five-part series published by The Tyee, Canada's leading independent source of online news and views. The series was reader-funded through charitable donations to the Tyee Fellowship Fund for Solutions-oriented Reporting.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Summer Reading: Working for the Clampdown

For Z Magazine Online, James
Bovard writes
How many pipe bombs might it take to end U.S. democracy? Far fewer than it would have taken a year ago. The Defense Authorization Act of 2006, passed on September 30, empowers President George W. Bush to impose martial law in the event of a terrorist “incident” or if he or other federal officials perceive a shortfall of “public order” or even in response to antiwar protests that get unruly as a result of government provocations.

The media and most of Capitol Hill ignored or cheered on this grant of nearly boundless power. But now that the president’s arsenal of authority is swollen and consecrated, a few voices of complaint are being heard. Even the New York Times recently condemned the new law for “making martial law easier.”
It took a few paragraphs in a $500 billion, 591-page bill to destroy one of the most important limits on federal power. Congress passed the Insurrection Act in 1807 to severely restrict the president’s ability to deploy the military within the United States. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 tightened these restrictions, imposing a two-year prison sentence on anyone who used the military within the U.S. without the permission of Congress. But there was a loophole: Posse Comitatus is waived if the president invokes the Insurrection Act.

Section 1076 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 changed the name of the key provision in the statute book from Insurrection Act to Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order Act. The Insurrection Act of 1807 stated that the president could deploy troops within the United States only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The new law expands the list to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition”—and such “con- dition” is not defined or limited.

These new pretexts are even more expansive than they appear. FEMA proclaims the equivalent of a natural disaster when bad snowstorms occur and Congress routinely proclaims a natural disaster when there is a shortfall of rain in states with upcoming elections. A terrorist “incident” could be something as stupid as the flashing toys scattered around Boston last fall.

The new law also empowers the president to commandeer the National Guard of one state to send to another state for up to 365 days. Bush could send the New York National Guard to disarm the residents of Mississippi if they resisted a federal law that prohibited private ownership of semiautomatic weapons. Governors’ control of the National Guard can be trumped with a simple presidential declaration.

The story of how Section 1076 became law demonstrates how expanding government power is almost always the correct answer in Washington. Some people have claimed the provision was slipped into the bill in the middle of the night. In reality, the Administration signaled its intent and almost no one in the media or Congress tried to stop it.

The Katrina debacle appears to have drowned Washington’s resistance to military rule. Bush declared, “I want there to be a robust discussion about the best way for the federal government, in certain extreme circumstances, to be able to rally assets for the good of the people.”

His initial proposal generated only a smattering of criticism and there was no “robust discussion.” On August 29, 2006, the Administration upped the ante, labeling the breached levees “the equivalent of a weapon of mass effect being used on the city of New Orleans.” Nobody ever defined a “weapon of mass effect,” but the term wasn’t challenged.

Section 1076 was supported by both conservatives and liberals. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, co-wrote the provision, along with committee chair Sen. John Warner (R-VA). Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) openly endorsed it and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), then-chair of the House Armed Services Committee, was an avid proponent.

Every governor in the country opposed the changes and the National Governors Association repeatedly and loudly objected. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned on September 19 that, “We certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law,” but his alarm got no response. Ten days later, he commented in the Congressional Record: “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” Leahy further condemned the process, declaring that it “was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.”

Congressional Quarterly’s Jeff Stein wrote an excellent article in the December issue on how the provision became law with minimal examination or controversy. A Republican Senate aide blamed the governors for failing to raise more fuss: “My understanding is that they sent form letters to offices. If they really want a piece of legislation considered they should have called offices and pushed the matter. No office can handle the amount of form letters that come in each day.”

Thus, the Senate was not guilty by reason of form letters. Plus, the issue was not on the front page of the Washington Post within the 48 hours before the Senate voted on it. Surely no reasonable person can expect senators to know what they were doing when they voted 100 to 0 in favor of the bill? Apparently, they were simply too busy to notice the latest coffin nails they hammered into the Constitution.

This expansion of presidential prerogative illustrates how every federal failure redounds to the benefit of leviathan. FEMA was greatly expanded during the Clinton years for crises like the New Orleans flood. It, along with local and state agencies, floundered. Yet the federal belly flop on the Gulf Coast somehow anointed the president to send in troops where he sees fit.

“Martial law” is a euphemism for military dictatorship. When foreign democracies are overthrown and a junta establishes martial law, Americans usually recognize that a fundamental change has occurred. Perhaps some conservatives believe that the only change when martial law is declared is that people are no longer read their Miranda rights when they are locked away. “Martial law” means obey soldiers’ commands or be shot. The abuses of military rule in southern states during Reconstruction were legendary, but they have been swept under the historical rug.

Section 1076 is Enabling Act-type legislation—something that purports to preserve law-and-order while formally empowering the president to rule by decree. The Bush team is rarely remiss in stretching power beyond reasonable bounds. Bush talks as if any constraint on his war-making prerogative or budget is “aiding and abetting the enemy.” Can such a person be trusted to reasonably define insurrection or disorder?

Bush can commandeer a state’s National Guard any time he declares a “state has refused to enforce applicable laws.” Does this refer to the laws as they are commonly understood—or the laws after Bush fixes them with a signing statement? Some will consider concern about Bush or future presidents exploiting martial law to be alarmist. This is the same reflex many people have had to each administration proposal or power grab, from the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001 to the president’s enemy-combatant decree in November 2001 to setting up Guantanamo prison in early 2002 to the doctrine of preemptive war. The Administration has perennially denied that its new powers pose any threat even after evidence of abuses—illegal wiretapping, torture, a global network of secret prisons, Iraq in ruins—became overwhelming. If the Administration does not hesitate to trample the First Amendment with “free speech zones,” why expect it to be diffident about powers that could stifle protests en masse?

On February 24, the White House conducted a highly publicized drill to test responses to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) going off simultaneously in ten American cities. The White House has not disclosed the details of how the feds responded, but it would be out of character for this president to let new powers he sought to gather dust. There is nothing to prevent presidents from declaring martial law on a pretext than there is to prevent them from launching a war on the basis of manufactured intelligence.

Senators Leahy and Kit Bond (R-MO) are sponsoring a bill to repeal the changes. Leahy urged his colleagues to consider the Section 1076 fix, declaring, “It is difficult to see how any Senator could disagree with the advisability of having a more transparent and thoughtful approach to this sensitive issue.”

He deserves credit for fighting hard on this issue, but there is little reason to expect most members of Congress to give it a second look. The Section 1076 debacle exemplifies how the Washington establishment pretends that new power will not be abused, regardless of how much existing power has been mishandled. Why worry about martial law when there is pork to be harvested and photo ops to attend? It is still unfashionable in Washington to worry about the danger of the open barn door until after the horse is two miles down the road.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Today's Advocate For Impeachment: Jimmy Breslin

Another voice joins the call for regime change in the U.S.

In Newsday, Jimmy Breslin writes:
I am walking in Rosedale on this day early in the week while I wait for the funeral of Army soldier Le Ron Wilson, who died at age 18 in Iraq. He was 17 1/2 when he had his mother sign his enlistment papers at the Jamaica recruiting office. If she didn't, he told her, he would just wait for the months to his 18th birthday and go in anyway. He graduated from Thomas Edison High School at noon one day in May. He left right away for basic training. He came home in a box last weekend. He had a fast war.

The war was there to take his life because George Bush started it with bold-faced lies.

He got this lovely kid killed by lying.

If Bush did this in Queens, he would be in court on Queens Boulevard on a murder charge.
He did it in the White House, and it is appropriate, and mandatory for the good of the nation, that impeachment proceedings be started. You can't live with lies. You can't permit them to be passed on as if it is the thing to do.

Yesterday, Bush didn't run the country for a couple of hours while he had a colonoscopy at the presidential retreat, Camp David. He came out of it all right. He should now take his good health and go home, quit a job he doesn't have a clue as to how to do.

The other day, Bush said he couldn't understand why in the world would some people say that millions of Americans have no health insurance. "Why, all they have to do is go to the emergency room," he said.

Said this with the smirk, the insolent smug, contemptuous way he speaks to citizens.

People, particularly these politicians, these frightened beggars in suits, seem petrified about impeachment. It could wreck the country. Ridiculous. I've been around this business twice and we're all still here and no politician was even injured. Richard Nixon lied during a war and helped get some 58,500 Americans killed and many escaped by hanging onto helicopter skids. Nixon left peacefully. Mike Mansfield of Montana, the Democratic Senate majority leader, said on television that the Senate impeachment trial of Nixon would be televised and there would be no immunity. That meant Nixon would have to face the country under oath and if he lied he would go to prison. He knew he was finished as he heard this. Mansfield said no more. He got up and left. Barbara Walters, on the "Today" show, said, "He doesn't say very much, does he?"

The second time the subject was Bill Clinton for illegal holding in the hallway.

This time, we have dead bodies involved. Consider what is accomplished by the simple power of the word impeachment. If you read these broken-down news writers or terrified politicians claiming that an impeachment would leave the nation in pieces, don't give a moment to them.

It opens with the appointing of an investigator to report to the House on evidence that calls for impeachment. He could bring witnesses forward. That would be all you'd need. Here in the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon came John Dean. His history shows how far down the honesty and honor of this country has gone. Dean was the White House counsel. Richard Nixon, at his worst, never told him not to appear or to remain silent in front of the Congress. Dean went on and did his best to fill prisons. After that came Alexander Butterfield, a nobody. All he had to say was that the White House had a taping system that caught all the conversations in the White House. Any of them not on tape were erased by a participant.

The same is desperately needed now. Curious, following the words, an investigator - the mind here sees George Mitchell and Warren Rudman, and you name me better - can slap a hand on the slitherers and sneaks who have kept us in war for five years and who use failing generals to beg for more time and more lives of our young. A final word in September? Two years more, the generals and Bush people say.

Say impeachment and you'll get your troops home.

As I am walking in Rosedale, on these streets sparkling with sun, I remember the places I have been in the cold rain for the deaths of our young in this war. Rosedale now, Washington Heights before, and the South Bronx, and Bay Shore and Hauppauge and too many other places around here.

And in Washington we had this Bush, and it is implausible to have anyone who is this dumb running anything, smirking at his country. He sure doesn't mind copying those people. On his PBS television show the other night, Bill Moyers said he was amazed at Sara Taylor of the White House staff saying that she didn't have to talk to a congressional committee because George Bush had ordered her not to. "I took an oath to uphold the president," she said.

That president had been in charge of a government that kidnapped, tortured, lied, intercepted mail and calls, all in the name of opposing people who are willing to kill themselves right in front of you. You have to get rid of a government like this. Ask anybody in Rosedale, where Le Ron Wilson wanted to live his young life. His grave speaks out that this is an impeachable offense.

Who Do You Have To Blow To Get Impeached Around Here?

Pelosi promises congressional contempt charge for Harriet Miers; Speaker reiterates impeachment is not on her agenda.

Nancy Pelosi (center) meets volunteers and immigrants at a citizenship workshop in San Francisco. Chronicle photo by Kurt Rogers

SFGate.com reports:

Congress this week will take the next step to force the Bush administration to hand over information about the dismissal of U.S. attorneys and the politicization of the Justice Department, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Saturday.

The House Judiciary Committee will bring contempt of Congress charges against the administration this week, said the San Francisco Democrat. She did not specify who the subject of the action would be, but Pelosi spokesman, Brendan Daly, said later it would be former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who defied a House Judiciary Committee subpoena to appear.

"They have disregarded the call of Congress for information about their politicizing the Department of Justice. We can document that. Those are actual facts and we will bring the contempt of Congress forth," said Pelosi, who spoke with reporters at a San Francisco workshop for people who want to become U.S. citizens.

She also addressed criticism of the farm bill and reiterated her opposition to impeaching President Bush.

Lawmakers have increasingly put pressure on the administration to share documents and records -- and for officials to testify, under oath, in front of Congress -- about why nine U.S. attorneys, including Kevin Ryan in San Francisco, were dismissed from their jobs in December 2006.
Congress has for months been seeking information about which administration officials were involved in the dismissals of the attorneys. The White House, however, has claimed "executive privilege" for many of those requests, meaning the executive branch is free from oversight of the legislative and judiciary branches of the government in those instances. A House judiciary subcommittee has voted to reject such reasoning.

Contempt of Congress is defined by federal law as action that obstructs the work of Congress, including investigations. If both the White House and Congress stick to these positions, the matter could become a constitutional question for the courts to decide.

White House spokesman Rob Saliterman said such an action by the House Judiciary Committee shows an interest in "partisan attacks" above real finding of facts.
"It's unfortunate congressional Democrats are continuing on the course of confrontation," Saliterman said.

Pelosi also reiterated Saturday that she would not engage in what would perhaps be the biggest confrontation possible with the White House -- seeking the impeachment of Bush over the Iraq war.

The speaker said she had "no hesitation" criticizing the president about his handling of the war, but said there were more important priorities for lawmakers -- such as health care and creating jobs -- than the divisive pursuit of impeachment.

"Look, it's hard enough for us to end the war. I don't know how we would be successful in impeaching the president," Pelosi said.

She did note that calls for the president's removal are not coming just from San Francisco.

"I'm not unsympathetic to the concern people have -- I hear it all over the country. People here have said to me, 'Well, people on the left want the president to be impeached.' I hear it across the board across the country. It's not just the left," Pelosi said.

The speaker also addressed criticism that the version of the farm bill moving through the House does not go far enough with reforms. The bill, which Pelosi supports, is expected to be up for a vote by the House this week.

Bay Area food and environmental activists had formed a new coalition to compete with the traditional farm lobby on the bill. They wanted the bill to put more of a focus on diversity of crops, local farming and increasing fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches and the food stamp program.

Activists also wanted lawmakers to move money from subsidizing crops to environmental and nutrition programs.

Pelosi said she is "very proud" of the bill and that reforms were made in it that will shift the country's agricultural policies.

"It is a careful balance that I think says you're never going to see a farm bill that looks like past farm bills again," Pelosi said. "This one takes us into the future."

Director of Intelligence: "The U.S. Does NOT Engage in Torture....

....depending on what your definition of torture is."

On Meet the Press, Tim Russert talks with National Intelligence Director, Mike McConnell:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday -- what is the real terrorist threat to the United States homeland? How good is our intelligence gathering, and nearly six years after September 11th, why is Osama bin Laden still at large? With us -- the director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, in his first television interview.

Then -- briefings, debates, and votes -- the Iraq war front and center. With us, Democratic senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold. And in our roundtable, insight and analysis from New York Times Columnist, David Brooks; The Washington Post, Bob Woodward; and The Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes, author of "Change, The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President."

But, first, this week, this document, the National Intelligence Estimate entitled "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland," was released. How serious is this threat and what can we do about it? Joining us for an exclusive interview is the director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell -- welcome.

McCONNELL: Thank you.

RUSSERT: Let me show you a key judgment from this report, "We judge the U.S. homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years."

In laymen's language, for the American viewers watching today, what is the most serious threat facing our country?

McCONNELL: Tim, the most serious threat is that the plotters that are being observed will be successful in penetrating our defenses and conducting an attack that would result in mass casualties. Their intent is to effect and attack with mass casualties. A secondary attempt would be a political or infrastructure targets to even include economic targets that would have long-lasting impact.

RUSSERT: Is it biological and chemical, or did they achieve nuclear?

McCONNELL: They have not achieved nuclear based on our current understanding. The intent is either chemical, biological, nuclear radiological, or even nuclear to include a nuclear yield. I would add what we see currently is primarily a focus on explosives -- explosives that can generate a large explosion, but they're put together with commercially available material.

RUSSERT: Why aren't we seeing more suicide bombers the way we see in the Middle East?

McCONNELL: In the United States, you mean? The efforts that the United States and our allies have gone through over the past five years have been significant in establishing barriers. So the terrorists perceive us as a much more difficult target, very different from what it was at 9/11.

So barriers have been established, databases have been established, the National Counterterrorism Center, which conducts three times a day a teleconference with all the players -- federal level, state level, international -- to try to coordinate these things, and if someone can be identified, they'll be taken out of the pipeline in their process to come into the United States.

RUSSERT: Let me read another key judgment, "Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al Qaeda's senior leadership since September 11th, we judge that al Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here."

But there are people in the United States, you are saying, who have direct ties to al Qaeda senior leadership?

McCONNELL: The way we describe it is we have strategic warning, we know what al Qaeda and their safe haven in Pakistan intends to do. We're watching them train and recruit, and their effort is to put someone inside the United States.

There have been some clues in some cases where there would be attack, but we do not have tactical warning currently that there are sleeper cells tied directly to al Qaeda inside the United States. So we have the strategic warning not the specific tactical warning, but we know their intent.

RUSSERT: But you say there are handfuls of individuals in the United States with ties to al Qaeda senior leadership.

McCONNELL: That's correct, and that's in the form of raising money or being sympathetic to. But we haven't identified individuals who are actively plotting or planning. But there have been some that have been sympathetic to al Qaeda's cause.

RUSSERT: Do you believe there are sleeper cells in the U.S.?

McCONNELL: I worry that there are sleeper cells in the U.S. I do not know. There is no specific on a sleeper cell. There are some elements under surveillance because we're not sure, so it's warranted -- court-approved, warranted surveillance. We have some ties. This is what I meant when I said we've raised the barriers and made it more difficult.

RUSSERT: This intelligence report that came out this month raised a lot of concern and alarm in the U.S., and it seems to be in stark contrast to the National Intelligence Estimate from last April -- this one. Let me read that key judgment to you, "United States- led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged leadership of al Qaeda and disrupted its operations. We assess the global jihadist movement is decentralized; lacks a coherent global strategy; is becoming more diffuse.

That seems so different than your assessment in July of '07. What a difference a year makes. What changed? We were told that the al Qaeda had been, in many ways, close to being destroyed or dismantled.

McCONNELL: Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, about two-thirds of al Qaeda's not only leadership but their soldiers, the foot soldiers, had been eliminated. And at that point in time, that was an accurate assessment of where we were.

Now, what happened? What's different? What changed? In Pakistan, where they're enjoying a safe haven -- the government of Pakistan chose to try a political solution. A political solution meant a peace treaty with the region that's never been governed -- not governed from the outside, not governed by Pakistan. The opposite occurred. Instead of pushing al Qaeda out, the people who live in these federally administered travel areas, rather than pushing al Qaeda out, they made a safe haven for training and recruiting.

And so in that period of time, al Qaeda has been able to regain some of its momentum. The leadership is intact, they have operational planners, and they have safe haven. The thing they're missing are operatives inside the United States. So that's the difference between last year and this year in our assessment.

RUSSERT: Why haven't we captured Osama bin Laden?

McCONNELL: Think about attempting to capture a single human being whose primary purpose and emphasis is to remain unobserved or hidden. It's a very difficult challenge. From having been in intelligence for most of my professional life, it's not difficult to find something large -- an armored division, ships that are being built or airplanes or whatever, but a single human being that wants to be unobserved, who is being assisted in that process, it just makes it very, very difficult.

RUSSERT: If we captured Osama bin Laden, we might lose General Musharraf and Pakistan because of unrest such apprehension might create in his country. Would it be worth losing Musharraf but apprehending Osama bin Laden?

McCONNELL: Well, first, I wouldn't agree that if we capture or kill Osama bin Laden it would be a particularly increased or direct threat to President Musharraf. President Musharraf is one of our strongest allies. He agrees with capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, and while he tried the political arrangement, the peace agreement, last fall, he has made decisions over the last few weeks -- you are aware of the Red Mosque and cleaning that out -- and he's gone on the offensive to go back into this federally administered travel area, FATA, is the shorthand we use to refer to it.

Now, in doing that, there's been a price. He has lost already, I would say, 100 troops. Broadly, across Pakistan, the number is probably approaching 300 from suicide bombs and roadside attacks. So there is a price to pay, but President Musharraf is a moderate, he has a moderate view, and he is attempting to cause the nation of Pakistan to rally around a moderate's view to eliminate the extremists.

RUSSERT: If his government fell, how detrimental would it be to the U.S.?

McCONNELL: It would have severe impact. It would depend -- if it fell, it depends on who would replace him. It's a democratic nation, if they continue down this current path, so if the process of turnover happens in a democratic way, it may not have severe impact.

One of the things that I would like to highlight, however, is President Musharraf is one of our most valued allies, and let me just highlight this -- Probably, the majority of the senior leadership have been captured or killed or is the direct result of assistance and cooperation and participation by the Pakistanis.

RUSSERT: Are you convinced Osama bin Laden is alive?

McCONNELL: We have not heard from Osama bin Laden for over a year. There's a recent video where he appeared. Many people thought that was current. That was actually old videotape. So it's been a year. There are rumors about his illness. My personal view is that he's alive, but we don't know because we can't confirm it for over a year.

RUSSERT: And living in Pakistan?

McCONNELL: I believe he is in the tribal region of Pakistan, and how he conducts his affairs, only speaking to a courier, staying complete removed from anything we could exploit to find him, I think he's in that region.

RUSSERT: Let me ask you about the executive order the president issued about enhanced interrogation measures. What does that allow a CIA-held target? What kind of measures can you use to get information from them?

McCONNELL: Well, Tim, as you know, I can't discuss specific measures. There's a variety of reasons for that. One, if I announce what the specific measures are, it would aid those who want to resist those measures to train, to understand it, and so on, so I won't be too specific.

Let me go back to a higher calling in this context. The United States does not engage in torture. The president has been very clear about that. The executive order spells it out. There are means and methods to conduct interrogation that will result in information that we need, and what I would highlight -- I was concerned and worried and, quite frankly, appalled by Abu Ghraib. My view is America risked losing the moral high ground, and so I focused on this when I came back.

What I can report to you is that was an aberration. The people who were responsible for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib have been held accountable, and they're serving a sentence for that. That is not the program the CIA was administering. It is not the program that the president approved in the recent executive order.

RUSSERT: But by use of the term "enhanced interrogation measures," there clearly are things that are used to elicit information. Have we eliminated water-boarding? Can you confirm that?

McCONNELL: I would rather not be specific on eliminating exactly what the techniques are with regard to any specific. When I was in a situation where I had to sign off, as a member of the process, my name to this executive order, I sat down with those who have been trained to do it, doctors who monitor it, understanding that no one is subjected to torture. They are treated in a way that they have adequate diet and not exposed to heat or cold, they are not abused in any way, but I did understand when exposed to the techniques how they work and why they work -- all under medical supervision, and one of the things that's very important, I think, for the American public to know -- in the history of this program it's been fewer than 100 people.

And so this is a program where we capture someone known to be a terrorist, we need information that they possess, and it has saved countless lives because they believe these techniques might involve torture, and they don't understand them, they tend to speak to us, talk to us in a very candid way.

RUSSERT: Does this new executive order allow measures that if were used against a U.S. citizen who was apprehended by the enemy would be troubling to the American people?

McCONNELL: I can report to you that it's not torture.

RUSSERT: How do you define torture?

McCONNELL: Well, torture is -- an attempt to define torture in the executive order gives examples of mutilation or murder or rape or physical pain, those kinds of things.

Let me just leave it by saying the techniques work. It's not torture, you're not subjected to heat or cold, but it is effective, and it's a psychological approach to causing someone to have uncertainty and, in a situation where they will feel compelled to talk to you about what you're asking on that.

RUSSERT: Then you would find it acceptable if a U.S. citizen experienced the same kind of enhanced interrogation measures?

McCONNELL: Tim, it's not torture. I would not want a U.S. citizen to go through the process, but it is not torture, and there would be no permanent damage to that citizen.

RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq, another key judgment from the National Intelligence Estimate, "We assess that its association with AQI, al Qaeda in Iraq, helps al Qaeda to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources and recruit and indoctrinate operatives including for homeland attacks."

That seems to suggest that the Iraq War has been a very effective recruiting tool for al Qaeda.

McCONNELL: It has served as a recruiting tool to draw additional terrorists into Iraq, but it's a mutually beneficial situation for both organizations.

Now, the debate often is -- was al Qaeda in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led coalition invasion? Some members of those who associate with al Qaeda were there -- Zarqawi, who had served in Pakistan with Osama bin Laden, was the principal lead. In 2004 he swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden. As you know, he was subsequently killed about a year ago -- June 2006. The person that replaced him as sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

So al Qaeda finds it beneficial in that it's in the press. It draws in recruits, and al Qaeda in Iraq found it beneficial because it unites in a broader context.

There's one thing I think is very important is in the NIE that's often overlooked -- there is an element of extremism in the Middle East that runs from North Africa down into South Africa into the Levant, Syria, into Iraq and over to Afghanistan, even Pakistan. What al Qaeda has done is find a method for uniting those extremist views, and so what we see now is groups who are predisposed to extremism and terrorism are uniting under the al Qaeda banner.

RUSSERT: But al Qaeda is a much more robust and larger presence in Iraq now than it was before the war?

McCONNELL: That's fair to say, that's fair to say. Now, but, let me just highlight one thing that's also important -- At one point in the war, al Qaeda controlled the huge expanse to the west, it's called Anbar Province. What's happened is because of the atrocities in their approach that leadership, tribal sheikhs in that region, collaborated with the coalition and turned on al Qaeda.

So has al Qaeda defeated in Iraq -- no. But in some areas, they're back on their heels for two reasons. The local citizens have turned against -- Iraqi citizens have turned against al Qaeda, and the coalition has been much more effective. As you know, the troops in this surge arrived in about the middle of June, and so the effort has been to take the fight to al Qaeda, and they have a very high level of success in doing that.

RUSSERT: In terms of the balance in Iraq, which creates more of the violence? Which is the greater cause for violence? The sectarian conflict or al Qaeda?

McCONNELL: I think it is both. In some cases, we even have Shi'a on Shi'a sectarian violence. But, for the most part, it is Sunni versus Shi'a, and al Qaeda is the one that takes -- is the organization that attempts purposefully to serve as an accelerant attacking things like the mosque, the Grand Mosque that was destroyed over a year ago, and then revisiting with attacking the two minarets that were still up.

The whole purpose is something massive against the Shi'a or against something Shi'a holds sacred to act as an accelerant to stimulate the violence.

RUSSERT: But there seems to be, Admiral, a coordinated campaign by the administration to elevate al Qaeda is the threat in Iraq, and yet the Pentagon quarterly report, which came out in March, said this, "The conflict in Iraq has changed from a predominantly Sunni-led insurgency against foreign occupation to a struggle for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organized criminal activity," the Pentagon quarterly report on Iraq to Congress.

The Pentagon report also said sectarian violence has become "the greatest impediment to the establishment of security and effective governance in Iraq." Do you agree with that?

McCONNELL: I agree with that, it's true. But what I would highlight is al Qaeda is part of that sectarian violence, al Qaeda is part of that crime. In some neighborhoods, it would be a classic shakedown -- "We will provide security if you give us money and resources." So al Qaeda is a major portion -- not the only. It's had significant impact, but there are other sectarian disagreements and criminal activity going on, as I mentioned, even Shi'a on Shi'a in some cases.

RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes has written his book on Vice President Cheney, and as I was reading it, I found an interview with you about your views of the administration and some of their methods of gathering intelligence, and I want to share that with you and have a chance to talk about it.

It says here, "In November of 2006, Michael McConnell, who had been working on intelligence issues in the private sector since resigning from the NSA in '96 was asked to consider joining the Bush administration as the nation's top intelligence official. McConnell was honored to be asked but had serious reservations. He had been unimpressed with many aspects of the Bush administration and its conduct of the war on terror, particularly what he felt was a politicized use of intelligence and lead-up to the war.

All of these current players, Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and the president,' McConnell said in an interview in late November '06, 'must come through from me as a citizen. I am no longer on active duty, so I can say these things. They had, first and foremost, very strong political convictions. My sense of it is their political faith and convictions influence how they took information and interpreted it, how they picked up and interpreted outside events. As a former intel pro, when you don't like the answer, and you set up your own thing, you tend to get the answer you want. You hire people that think like you do or want to satisfy the boss. I've read much more about the current set of players, and they did set up a whole new interpretation because they didn't like the answers. They got results that, in my view, now have been disastrous.'"

That's pretty harsh.

McCONNELL: We're all influenced by what we see and hear and read. I am a concerned citizen. I read those things and read those accounts. What I was taking greatest exception to was to have a secondary unit established in the Pentagon to reinterpret information.

The problem I have with that is the way you do intelligence is all sources considered. You have to factor one issue against another and balance it. If you start an independent effort with a point of view, it's not infrequent that you would take a single piece of data to make a point as opposed to consider everything.

So what I was referring to and talking about at that time is I was worried that in the Pentagon there had been established this separate unit, and I thought it would have been too influential. Now, you can imagine, I consider myself an intelligence professional, I've been doing this either on active duty or serving this community for 40 years. The first responsibility of an intelligence professional is ground truth, and the second responsibility is to speak truth to power.

So when I was asked to consider this nomination, that was the condition under which I would consider it, and I focused on it very intently once I came back. What I found, or what I discovered, was quite refreshing. As you know, I meet with the president and vice president six days and, on occasion, seven days a week. That dialog is open and frank and direct, and the thing that the president and the vice president frequently will do, whether they're talking to me or one of the analysts that go in with me, is that we're not telling you what to think or how to think or what your conclusion should be. We need your information. We can challenge your assumptions or your assessment, but we want to know what your opinion is.

RUSSERT: But leading up to the war in Iraq, you strongly suggest that many Americans believe that we went to war on Iraq on faulty intelligence, skewed intelligence, or cherry-picked intelligence.

McCONNELL: I would just report what came out of the WMD commission and even the 9/11 commission, to some extent, the assessment that was concluded, I think it was October 2002, determined or made an assessment that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I believed it at the time, and I mostly believed it because of my experience as intelligence officer for General Powell in the first Gulf War. I knew they had them, I knew Saddam had killed 300,000 of his own countrymen. He had engaged in two wars. He had those weapons, so I believed it.

What I believe happened is that the community allowed itself to be lulled into making the call on information, in some cases, from people who thought they had them -- even Saddam's generals thought they had weapons of mass destruction. So those threads took us to a place that turned out to be not valid.

RUSSERT: But did the policymakers hype the intelligence?

McCONNELL: That's a judgment that I think the American people will have to make. I have paid very close attention to hyping of intelligence, and what I can tell you from personal experience is the decision-makers are making every attempt to call it straightforward based on the information that we provide to them, and we are not being asked to cherry-pick or to go down one path or another path but to give them complete information or the best assessments we can.

RUSSERT: Admiral Mike McConnell, we thank you very much for coming here and sharing your views this morning.

McCONNELL: Thank you so much.

I saw Road To Guantanamo on Dishnet (the Sundance channel) last week:
...the terrifying, first-hand account of three British citizens who were held for two years without charges in the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Known as the "Tipton Three," in reference to their home town in Britain, the three were eventually returned to Britain and released, still having had no formal charges ever made against them at any time during their ordeal.

Part documentary, part dramatization, the film chronicles the sequence of events that led from the trio setting out from Tipton in the British Midlands for a wedding in Pakistan, to their crossing the Afghanistan border just as the U.S. began their invasion, to their eventual capture by the Northern Alliance and their imprisonment in Camp X-Ray and later at Camp Delta in Guantanamo.

A clip from Road To Guantanamo
Mixing documentary footage, interviews and dramatic recreations, filmmakers Michael Winterbottom (IN THIS WORLD) and Mat Whitecross reveal the harsh realities of the American detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO tells the story of the "Tipton Three," a trio of young British citizens of Pakistani heritage who naively ventured into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 and were eventually rounded up in a sweep of terrorist suspects. "A wrenching and dismaying account of cruelty and bureaucratic indifference" - New York Times.

The horror and abuse begin long before the three arrive in Guantanamo. If this account is anything close to what actually happened, we are seriously off the path of what the United States is all about, and what most Americans believe our government should be doing in our names.