Thursday, March 15, 2007
(Jerusalem) Maisa Abu Ghazaleh
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
The wintry weather did not prevent the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality bulldozers from traveling to the Hummos Valley in the village of Sur Baher. They demolished two of the homes in southeastern Jerusalem under the pretext of not being licensed.
Since this morning the bulldozers have been active, demolishing the house belonging to Ali Abu Sarhan where he and his 10 member family have lived since 2002. The home is approximately 100 square meters with a construction cost of approximately 130,000 shekels, in addition to the 50,000 shekels given to the Israelis for the Municipal Court to issue a license.
Abu Sarhan said he was surprised to find a large presence of police and border guards, along with the municipal crews who began removing furniture from the house while the bulldozers got started on the other side.
A residential building not yet inhabited belonging to the Tun family was also destroyed. The house was constructed, but Tun was awaiting a building permit to move in since 2003 from the Jerusalem municipality which refused to grant it.
He said, “When I saw the police and bulldozers I went to the Jerusalem municipality to again postpone, but they would not. I spent half a million shekels building this home.” He noted that he and his children all must rent.
In the meantime, Israeli forces imposed a closed military zone on the Hummos Valley while distributing demolition orders to approximately 50 families under the pretext of licensing. The demolitions are slated for June, although the Israelis generally accept large sums of money to postpone.
Director of the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights, Ziad Al Hamori, said that demolition in Jerusalem for this year has been extensive and brutal, pointing out that during the first three months of 2007, Jerusalem Municipality bulldozers demolished 20 houses.
Al Hamori told PNN, “The continuation of the campaign to demolish homes aims to drive the people from the city, in addition to solving the Israeli concern over demographics.” He pointed out the ease with which Jewish builders are granted permits in settlements or in other parts of Jerusalem. “Israel is distorting and changing the features and history of the Old City and its surroundings.” According to the Israeli plan for 2020, 240,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem must be reduced to 40 or 50 thousand, concluded Al Hamori.
How The Right Went Wrong
A generation ago, fresh off the second biggest electoral landslide in American history, Ronald Reagan surveyed the wreckage that had been the opposition and declared victory. Standing before 1,700 true believers at the 1985 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he proclaimed, "The tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction. Why? Because the other side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate. It has spent its intellectual capital." At this year's conference two weeks ago, Reagan's name was invoked more than anyone else's. But the mood at the most storied annual gathering of conservatives was anything but triumphal. John McCain, the Establishment favorite to win the 2008 Republican nomination, skipped CPAC entirely but did show up on David Letterman the night before, choosing the most aggressively glib venue to semiofficially announce his candidacy. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was there to make his pitch for 2008 but had to compete with a man who was working the crowd in a dolphin costume and a T-shirt identifying him as flip romney: just another flip flopper from massachusetts. Ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani barely mentioned the social issues on which he parts ways with conservatives, except to joke, "I don't agree with myself on everything." And the only memorable sound bite of the whole affair came from right-wing telepundit Ann Coulter, whose idea of an ideological rallying cry was to declare Democratic hopeful John Edwards a "faggot." The condemnation that followed, in which at least seven newspapers banished her column from their opinion pages, became a ragged coda for the state of a movement that had once been justly proud of its ability to win an argument.
These are gloomy and uncertain days for conservatives, who—except for the eight-year Clinton interregnum—have dominated political power and thought in this country since Reagan rode in from the West. Their tradition goes back even further, to Founding Fathers who believed that people should do things for themselves and who shook off a monarchy in their conviction that Big Government is more to be feared than encouraged. The Boston Tea Party, as Reagan used to point out, was an antitax initiative.
But everything that Reagan said in 1985 about "the other side" could easily apply to the conservatives of 2007. They are handcuffed to a political party that looks unsettlingly like the Democrats did in the 1980s, one that is more a collection of interest groups than ideas, recognizable more by its campaign tactics than its philosophy. The principles that propelled the movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan's legatees. Government is not only bigger and more expensive than it was when George W. Bush took office, but its reach is also longer, thanks to the broad new powers it has claimed as necessary to protect the homeland. It's true that Reagan didn't live up to everything he promised: he campaigned on smaller government, fiscal discipline and religious values, while his presidency brought us a larger government and a soaring deficit. But Bush's apostasies are more extravagant by just about any measure you pick.
Set adrift as it is, the right understandably feels anxious as it contemplates who will carry Reagan's mantle into November 2008. "We're in the political equivalent of a world without the law of gravity," says Republican strategist Ralph Reed. "Nothing we have known in the past seems relevant." At the top of the Republican field in the latest Time poll is the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights former mayor of liberal New York City. Giuliani's lead is as much as 19 points over onetime front runner McCain. But neither Republican manages better than a statistical tie in a hypothetical matchup against the two leading Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Giuliani's lead in the early polls doesn't necessarily mean the Republican race is getting any closer to the kind of early coronation the party usually manages to engineer. A New York Times/CBS News poll out this week found that nearly 6 out of 10 Republican primary voters who responded said they were unsatisfied with the choice of candidates running for the party's nomination; by comparison, nearly 6 in 10 Democrats pronounced themselves happy with their field. The Democrats were also far more confident in the future. Whereas 40% of Republicans predicted the other party would win the White House next year, whomever it nominates, only 12% of Democrats felt that pessimistic about their chances. Then there is the real worry that the whole exercise might already be a lost cause. "In this environment, nobody looks good if you have an R by your name. It doesn't matter who you are," says a Republican campaign consultant in the Midwest. "I don't see how that changes between now and Election Day. It's the war; it's huge. It's just huge."
The Iraq war has challenged the conservative movement's custodianship of America's place in the world, as well as its claim to competence. Reagan restored a sense of America's mission as the "city on a hill" that would be a light to the world and helped bring about the defeat of what he very undiplomatically christened "the evil empire." After 9/11 Bush found his own evil empire, in fact a whole axis of evil. But he hasn't produced Reagan's results: North Korea is nuclear, Iran swaggers across the world stage, Iraq is a morass. "Conservatives are divided on the Iraq war, but there is a growing feeling it was a mistake," says longtime conservative activist and fund-raiser Richard Viguerie. "It's not a Ronald Reagan?type of idea to ride on our white horse around the world trying to save it militarily. Ronald Reagan won the cold war by bankrupting the Soviet Union. No planes flew. No tanks rolled. No armies marched."
Then there are the scandals and the corruption. The dismay that voters expressed in last fall's midterm election was aimed not so much at conservatism as at the G.O.P's failure to honor it with a respect for law and order. And now that subpoena power gives the Democrats their first chance to shine a light into the crevices of an Administration and its very unconservative approach to Executive power, the final years of Bush's presidency are likely to be punctuated by one controversy after another. The past weeks alone have produced a parade of revelations: leftover questions about Vice President Dick Cheney's role in the I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby case; the betrayal by neglect of the war wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and veterans hospitals across the country; the connected dots showing that the White House and the Justice Department exploited the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act, of all things, to engineer a purge of U.S. Attorneys across the country.
Conservatives are in many ways victims of their successes, and there have indeed been big ones. At 35%, the top tax rate is about half what it was when Reagan took office; the Soviet Union broke up; inflation is barely a nuisance; crime is down; and welfare is reformed. But if all that's true, what is conservatism's rationale for the next generation? What set of goals is there to hold together a coalition that has always been more fractious than it seemed to be from the outside, with its realists and its neoconservatives, its religious ground troops and its libertarian intelligentsia, its Pat Buchanan populists and its Milton Friedman free traders? That is why the challenge for Republican conservatives goes far deeper than merely trying to figure out how to win the next election. 2008 is a question with a very clear premise: Does the conservative movement still have what it takes to redeem its grand old traditions—or, better, to chart new territory?
There was a time when John McCain would have seemed the most natural heir to Reagan. It was Reagan who first introduced McCain to a conservative audience—ironically enough, given McCain's conspicuous no-show this year, at CPAC's 1974 conference. McCain was one of three former Vietnam POWs in attendance. With their release, Reagan said, "this country had its spirits lifted as they have never been lifted in many years." Twenty-five years later, McCain was a fiscal conservative and security hawk serving his third term in Barry Goldwater's old Senate seat when Nancy Reagan picked him to accept the American Conservative Union's Conservative of the Century Award on behalf of her husband, who was too incapacitated by Alzheimer's to do it himself.
But the right's view of McCain changed when he ran for President in 2000. What bothered conservatives wasn't just the fact that he challenged the Anointed One in a party that treats its primaries like a royal accession. It was also the glee with which he went after all its institutions, from the special interests to the theocrats to Big Business. "Remember that the Establishment is against us," he exulted after winning the New Hampshire primary. "This is an insurgency campaign, and I'm Luke Skywalker." Then again, as both Reagan and Goldwater showed, there is nothing more fundamentally conservative than an insurgency.
On his second try, McCain seems to have become much of what he used to fight against. The deficit hawk who had opposed Bush's tax cuts voted to extend them. The apostate who counted the Rev. Jerry Falwell among the "agents of intolerance" seven years ago delivered the commencement speech at Falwell's Liberty University last May. Ask the candidate what his message is this time around, and he tells Time, "Experience, background, record and vision. Who is best capable to address the challenge of the 21st century, which is the threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism?" But what about reform? These days McCain has to be prompted on that one, which he lumps into "all of those things."
McCain veterans insist their candidate hasn't changed, just his prospects. "The key difference is, hopefully, this is a winning campaign," says his chief strategist John Weaver. Trying to rekindle the old magic, they rearranged his schedule to put him back on the Straight Talk Express bus this month. But that could distract him from another goal in this critical period: building up his campaign coffers so that he has the financial muscle of a front runner when the tallies are released for the first reporting period, which ends March 31.
Certainly, McCain's operation has an institutional feel, for better or worse. Whereas he ran his 2000 campaign from shabby offices with a single toilet, McCain 2.0 is housed on the 13th floor (superstitiously identified by the building as the "M" floor) of a soulless office high-rise in northern Virginia. McCain's 2000 campaign was a free for all, but his 2008 operation is more conventional, with far more hands on the wheel.
Being embraced by the Establishment isn't such a good thing when the Establishment is in disrepute. And on the biggest issue on which McCain has shown backbone and hasn't wavered—his support for the war and Bush's troop buildup—he happens to find himself on the opposite side of the fence from 72% of Americans in the latest Time poll.
If McCain is playing up to the right, it's not working all that well. He is still at odds with the conservative base: flexible on immigration, opposed to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and dedicated to preserving the Senate's right to filibuster judicial nominees. "The problem with McCain, and I don't know how he fixes it," says evangelical leader Richard Lands, "is that he's so unpredictable. What makes him appealing to independents makes him worrisome to social conservatives. They say, 'Yeah, he's pro-life, but will that have anything to do with who he nominates to the Supreme Court?' People don't like unpredictability in candidates."
But then the only person who beats McCain in the polls is even further out of line with conservatives. Just out on YouTube is a 1989 video, which quickly made its way to the Drudge Report, in which Giuliani declares, "There must be public funding for abortions for poor women. We cannot deny any woman the right to make her own decision about abortion because she lacks resources." Also getting fresh play are the unsavory details of his second divorce (familiar to anyone who picked up a New York City tabloid at the time): Giuliani's wife got the news that they were splitting when he announced it at a press conference, and then the couple squabbled over whether she or his mistress would get to stay in Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence. Now there is an additional, painfully raw story line about how his third marriage has left him estranged from his children.
What draws conservatives to Giuliani, though, are his other qualities: the leadership and strength he showed as New York City's mayor on 9/11; his record transformation of a crumbling, crime-ridden city into a safe and clean one; and the need for that kind of toughness in a dangerous world. Giuliani is talking to conservatives now in a language they want to hear. He promises that whatever his personal views, the judges he appoints as President would be "strict constructionists" in the mold of Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, which is generally understood to mean against abortion and gay marriage.
Romney, meanwhile, has taken a whisk broom to his record in liberal Massachusetts, where he twice ran for statewide office as a pro-choice candidate dedicated to "full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens." He now says he opposes Roe v. Wade and describes himself as "a champion of traditional marriage." In Massachusetts, he bucked the National Rifle Association by supporting the Brady Bill and an assault-weapons ban, boasting, "I don't line up with the nra." Lately he brags that he has joined the gun-rights organization as a life member. He did that in August.
Romney registers a meager 9% in TIME's poll of Republicans, but there are plenty of signs that conservatives are trying to overlook his past and fall in love. He won the straw poll at CPAC, and the endorsements are piling up. Romney has also picked up much of the political operation of Jeb Bush, who is the could-have-been candidate most longed for on the right. Money doesn't seem to be a problem either; Romney raised $6.5 million on a single National Call Day in early January. The campaign is flush enough to be on the air at this early date with ads to introduce Romney to voters as a "business legend" who "rescued the Olympics" and "turned around a Democratic state." The Mormon in the race also points out—jokingly, but with an edge—that he is the only leading contender who is still with his first wife.
Some on the right have been keeping a light in the window for the last conservative to have led a revolution. Newt Gingrich recently confessed his past marital infidelity on the Christian radio show of James Dobson, admitting he was carrying on with the House aide who became his third wife even as he was lambasting Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In the upside-down leap of reasoning that this campaign season has wrought in the movement, hanging his dirty sheets from the window was enough to convince everyone that Gingrich is running—and landed him an invitation from Falwell to be this year's Liberty University commencement speaker. "He has admitted his moral shortcomings to me, as well, in private conversations," Falwell wrote in his weekly newsletter. "And he has also told me that he has, in recent years, come to grips with his personal failures and sought God's forgiveness."
It's no wonder that other potential Republican candidates, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and former Senator turned television star Fred Thompson, are deciding that they can afford to wait a while before making up their minds. There is a full lineup of conservatives who are already in the race and looking for lightning to strike: Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and California Congressman Duncan Hunter, to name just a few. Many conservatives say a long election season offers the advantage of letting conservatives work through their doubts about their options for 2008, especially when they turn their attention to November. "When it's Hillary vs. Giuliani," asks antitax activist Grover Norquist, "who's going to vote for Hillary?" But others on the right say they are looking at this election as a write-off. "I'm not focusing on 2008," Viguerie says. "Realistically, it will probably take until the year 2016" before the movement regains anything resembling its former glory.
And where will those new ideas and leaders come from? In this magazine, conservative columnist William Kristol has cited two possible sources, both of which focus on the very middle-class voters that Reagan so successfully peeled away from their Democratic moorings. In a forthcoming book, conservative authors Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam identify these voters as "Sam's Club Republicans," who could benefit from market-friendly health-care and tax policies that are aimed at families and especially at at-home parents. Another conservative thinker, Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, argues along a similar vein with a set of policy proposals that he calls "Putting Parents First." Bush's signature approach to domestic policy fell short in that regard, Levin wrote in the Weekly Standard. "Compassionate conservatism, for all its virtues, does not even try to address itself to parents. A conservative agenda that did so would not only cement a relationship with these voters, it would also appeal to many with similar worries who do not share the strong cultural predilections that have drawn middle- and lower-middle-class parents to vote for Republicans."
The Gipper would probably have had little patience for all the fretting his party is doing over its brand. But he also understood, because he embodied the idea, that progress comes from going up against the status quo. To become "creators of the future," as he called his compatriots, he might have suggested that they look back to their past.
—with reporting by Jay Carney and Michael Duffy/Washington and Nancy Gibbs/New York
James Yee is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 2002 and 2003, he served as the Muslim Chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, with the rank of Captain in the United States Army. After ten months of deployment at Guantanamo, while traveling home for a two week leave, Captain Yee was arrested, and accused of espionage and spying, charges which carried the death penalty. He was then placed in solitary confinement in the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, under conditions resembling those in which Guantanamo detainees were kept, for 76 days. As the case against Yee fell apart, the military instead added criminal charges of adultery and having pornography on his computer, charges that were also eventually dropped. Captain Yee left the Army with an honorable discharge and service commendations. He is the author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire. On March 8, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing James Yee by telephone. What follows are my interview notes corrected as appropriate by Mr. Yee.
The Talking Dog: Because on that day, as on this, I was seated about one City block from the World Trade Center, my first question usually concerns September 11th. We know from your book that on 11 September 2001 you were an Army Chaplain, stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington State. Can you tell me at that time, what you were feeling at that moment about (1) serving as an officer in the United States military, and (2) learning that the perpetrators of the attacks were religious extremists?
James Yee: The attacks occurred right before 9 a.m. on the East Coast. Out in Washington State, it was just before 6 a.m., and I was about to wake up and to go to physical training... as they say about the Army, we do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day. At that time, I received a call from my mother in New Jersey; she saw on television that the first tower had been hit, and told me to turn my t.v. on. I put on the t.v., saw the fire in the first tower, and thought that perhaps an intoxicated pilot had a mishap, or otherwise, an accident. Then the second plane hit, and I continued to watch the coverage until both towers collapsed... which was mind boggling, to see both towers collapse they way they did in minutes after they were hit.
For me, I had no idea who was responsible for this. But I knew that regardless of who was responsible, there would be a backlash against the Muslim community, just like what happened after the Oklahoma City bombing. There was a backlash even though Muslims had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Oklahoma City bombing.
The Talking Dog: I understand that you have been the subject of government surveillance, most notably the subject of so-called "national security letters" seeking financial, telecommunications and other records. Certainly, these were used during the period you were under charge and investigation. Do you know whether or not you and your family are still under some kind of surveillance and monitoring (including this phone call and e-mails arranging it)? Are you engaged in legal activity regarding your surveillance, or in any other kind of legal action concerning your treatment by the government?
James Yee: Regarding the recent news that the government has probed into my financial, banking and credit records, I don’t have any information regarding when this specifically occurred. It’s very possible that I am under this type of government surveillance still... I do not know if it is not happening right now.
Clearly, I am concerned that this blatant invasion of privacy is continuing. I don't know, and I don't know if I will ever find out. This is a problem: national security letters are done in complete secrecy: how they are done, who they are done to, or for what reason and based on what information is a complete secret. There are no court approved warrants, and certainly no judicial oversight of their execution.
And I don’t know exactly how much surveillance I am under right now. But the relevant questions are: Is my telephone tapped? Is my residence entered and searched when my family and I leave it? Is my mail being opened? Are my e-mails monitored? And if so, by whom? All of this raises concern. Perhaps I am still subject to such surveillance, and perhaps I will be until the end of my life – even though I am a patriotic American citizen.
I have engaged respected legal organizations to research these questions, to the extent possible. It’s an obligation for everyone to do what they can to uphold the Constitution and prevent the government from breaking the law.
The Talking Dog: After September 11th, you gave a number of talks at military bases as a Muslim chaplain calling for understanding, and indeed, you became a spokesman for the military in general at various times. Indeed, my understanding is that your visibility as a Muslim chaplain led to the decision to assign you to Guantanamo. Were you in a position to have turned down that assignment, and whether or not you were in such a position, in retrospect, do you wish you could have?
James Yee: I was not in a position to turn it down. I agree that I was probably assigned to GTMO because of my visibility. I was assigned to serve the Joint Task Force- Guantanamo in November of 2002. My orders were actually cut in an expedited fashion because there were personal reasons necessitating the ending of the previous Muslim Chaplain’s assignment early. I had first gotten word perhaps in the Spring of 2002 that they needed a Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo, and I heard that it was possible that I might be one of the first to go down there. I didn't think it was the right time for me, given my own family situation. But eventually, I was tasked with the assignment.
Do I wish I hadn't been assigned there? I don't look at things that way. For that job, as Muslim Chaplain, there was no better Chaplain in the United States Army for that particular task...
The Talking Dog: I take it I am correct that you were certainly the only Muslim Chaplain who graduated from the United States Military Academy?
James Yee: That is certainly true. I achieved things that no other chaplain would have been able to do. I received two awards, and was recommended for a higher award. For the ten months I served at GTMO, I received the highest performance evaluation I had ever received in my military career. And it was dated two days before I was arrested.
I wrote a number of Standard Operating Procedures that are probably still used to this day at GTMO. I wrote the religious support procedures for Camp Delta, including funeral and burial rites, which were, unfortunately, put into action when three prisoners committed suicide last year. The protocols for the handling of the bodies in accordance with Islam were written by me. My contributions also included those associated with the policy for treating the Koran with respect. When the issue of desecration of Korans became public in 2005, what did the Pentagon do? They referred to my policy, and the instructions I drafted concerning this. Of course, the Pentagon never at any time acknowledged that these Standard Operating Procedures were the work of Captain James Yee. But it is clear that only someone with an in-depth knowledge of Islam and Muslim practices would have had to have authored this policy, and that person, indeed, was me... So, I certainly made a substantial contribution.
The Talking Dog: Can you tell me what your expectations were of Guantanamo and the men we were holding there? How did those expectations compare with what you actually encountered? Did you encounter either David Hicks or Moazzam Begg? Can you tell me about the use of 9-11 images at Guantanamo, both for personnel stationed there and for detainees? Can you tell me about the juveniles you encountered at Camp Iguana?
James Yee: The expectations I had, both from the military itself and our political leaders, were that we were holding 700 totally hard core terrorists. Of course, that's not at all what I encountered when I got there. It became clear that none of the individuals we were holding at Guantanamo were connected in any way to the September 11th attacks. It became more clear that if our military and government had captured a legitimate terrorist suspect, they would not have been brought to Guantanamo Bay at all, but to the secret CIA black sites, that the President admitted existed when he transferred 14 so-called "high value" terrorist suspects to Guantanamo in September 2006 in order to get Congressional support for the Military Commissions Act after the Administration lost in its attempt to unilaterally impose military commissions of its own devising after the Hamdan case. Only at that time were any real terrorists possibly connected with September 11th brought to GTMO.
I certainly did interact with David Hicks. I had several personal interactions with him, including holding classes with him on how to properly recite the Holy Koran, both when he was in general population and later when they had him in isolation at Camp Echo. Begg was one of the few prisoners I was never allowed access to. When his group was brought in, he was kept in isolation. I was led to believe that the British prisoner, Begg-- might be "negotiating" some kind of plea, and that that was the reason he was not permitted to see the chaplain.
As for the juveniles, there were at least three boys in Camp Iguana between 12 and 14 years old. There were at least 6 others, by the way, who were 15 or 16, definitely younger than 18, in general population. The three in Camp Iguana I met weekly. We were led to believe they were "hard core terrorists" but this was utterly ridiculous. The guards in charge of them would frequently discipline them with "time-outs" just as many American parents discipline their own children.
I spent a fair amount of time with the youngsters; they learned to throw footballs, and I watched them kick soccer balls- occasionally over the fence and into the ocean. These kids were not the hard-core super-terrorists capable of slitting anyone's throat, as we were led to believe, and as portrayed by our military and governmental officials. Nevertheless, it was no fun and games for these pre-teens boys. They were subjected to harsh interrogations just like the other prisoners. Several of these interrogations were taking place when I would come visit and thereby prevent me from accessing Camp Iguana.
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about your impressions of some of the commanders at Guantanamo, particularly General Geoffrey Miller. Do you have particular impressions of anyone else in the Guantanamo command structure or of particular detainees that you would like to comment on?
James Yee: General Miller was completely overbearing as a general officer. He surrounded himself with “Yes” men. Yes, Sir, was the only thing he wanted; he had no use for anyone who told him anything other than what he wanted to hear. He was also big on usurping authority that was not his.
This was quite evident when he attempted to get the house of Guantanamo’s Base Commander, Navy Captain Les McCoy. The base commander is a military grade 06, or a Navy Captain. General Miller, of course, outranks a Navy Captain, but at Guantanamo Bay, the Joint Task Force prison operation and its personnel are guests on the island’s naval base. General Miller wanted Captain McCoy’s house for his own personal use insisting that his two-star general rank gave him that privilege. Race also may have been a factor, since Captain Les McCoy is also African American. Some of the rumors that swirled down at Guantanamo that circulated among the officers was that he disrespected Captain McCoy and many of the other black officers. Someone would later get Captain McCoy relieved of his command. It doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand why.
Because Miller’s direct links to the Pentagon – Rumsfeld, Cambone, etc. the perception was quite clear that Major General Miller carried himself like he wielded the authority of a four-star general without a chain of command. It would be interesting to know if General James T. Hill, the four star general in command of U.S. Southern Command, and Miller's superior officer, felt the same way.
Let me comment on the Chief of Chaplains in the U.S. Army, coincidentally also named David Hicks. He stayed noticeably silent during my entire incarceration, which I found quite disturbing. (I paid him back a bit, as there is a prominent picture of me shaking hands with him in the book!). I think that might be a reflection of just how much integrity leaders in the US Army Chaplain’s Corps really have. It should go without saying that military chaplains, of all people, should have the courage to speak up for the truth. But that still might be asking too much from the military these days.
There are many other people who made an impression, for better or for worse, but we don't have time to talk about all of them.
The Talking Dog:During your time at Guantanamo, which I understand was about a year, you observed conditions for detainees worsen, particularly their mental states. Did you observe anything in the manner that detainees were treated, whether during interrogations or otherwise, that particularly disturbed you, as still worthy of mention? Is there anything (besides the issue of the charges against you, which we'll discuss shortly) about how you were treated at Guantanamo that particularly disturbed you, as still worthy of mention?
James Yee: The prisoners were subjected to a variety of troubling things during their interrogations. I was assigned to detention operations, working with the guards, rather than with intelligence operations. And I never crossed over that line, refraining from even observing any of the interrogations. That was appropriate because I was technically assigned to the detention operation, not the intelligence operation. However, I did strongly raise concerns about why there was no chaplain assigned to the intelligence operation, not to assist interrogators but to appropriately advise the commander of that intelligence operation on whether that commander’s decisions were morally or ethically sound. This is a specific role of the chaplain as laid out in army doctrine. But the commander of the Joint Interrogation Group had no chaplain assigned.
At Guantanamo, the abuses were predominantly, though not exclusively, happening in the interrogation rooms. There were some abuses by guards, but not anywhere near the extent of Abu Ghraib. I suspect that the abuses at Abu Ghraib in the interrogation rooms by intelligence officials and interrogators were even far worse than the sexual humiliation we’ve seen occur in the prison cell blocks by the guards. I think that has yet to be exposed to the public.
The Guantanamo cell blocks were nowhere near as bad as Abu Ghraib: it was a much more controlled environment, but I don’t think I could say the same for the interrogation rooms. At least down in Guantanamo, my regular walking of the cell blocks prevented some abuse. Soldiers working as guards understood that it was a bad idea to do anything abusive in front of me. While I outranked them, some tested me because I didn't have direct command authority over them, but they eventually understood their position and backed down – especially when the realized that I was not someone willing to cover up cruel, degrading abuse of prisoners.
The Talking Dog: Please tell me about the issue of abuse of the Koran (or, perhaps, perceived abuse) as you observed it? Did you observe other indicia of what I'll call disrespect of the detainees' religious practices, and if so, what? Was there anything you could do about this? Did the command structure react to any of this?
James Yee: Abuse of the Koran was not good for anyone at GTMO. It was humiliating for the prisoners. It was humiliating for American Muslims serving at the base who observed it. They were deeply offended, and many came to me in confidence to complain about it. But it was also bad for the guards: it led to hunger strikes, suicide attempts, and chaos, and the guards lost control.
Interrogators, who thought it was a good idea to abuse Korans, toss and kick them around during interrogation sessions, came to realize it didn't work. Prisoners upset enough to kill themselves because of this were prisoners who
could not be interrogated.
Those concerned eventually turned to me. I implemented a policy regarding how personnel were to handle the Koran, preventing guards from disrespecting it. The policy was implemented helping to calm some of the tensions over this issue.
At this point, the government cannot truthfully say that the Koran was not desecrated and disrespected at Guantanamo. In at least one case, this abuse and desecration led to a suicide attempt in protest by at least one detainee who ended up in a coma; though he eventually emerged from the coma, he now has permanent brain damage.
The Talking Dog: As you left for what you believed to be a two week leave shortly before your assignment at Guantanamo was scheduled to end, the military decided to charge you with a number of offenses, including espionage (carrying the death penalty), mishandling of (unspecified!) classified documents and for good measure, adultery, all of which charges the military dropped completely, after you which you received an honorable discharge and a commendation for your service.
Further, not just yourself, but for a time, virtually every Muslim service member leaving Guantanamo was, if not arrested by the military on extremely serious charges (as was the case of an Airman, I believe Al Halabi) few if any of which ever held up, for a while, every Muslim leaving Guantanamo was at least hassled and harassed on his way back to the United States. Is it fair to say that this was some kind of policy decision, either by General Miller or perhaps higher up in the Pentagon if not the White House, to simply suspect all Moslems as disloyal based on personal resentments and biases rather than actual evidence?
James Yee: I have absolutely no idea whether there was a policy or not. The fact that so many American Muslims were under investigation, or outright arrested, shows that this was systematic, and that we were being targeted for no other reason than for being Muslim.
Now, was this the result of affirmative bigotry? Or was it the result of hyper-vigilance? Or perhaps was it just ignorance? Probably all of the above, but it is clear that we were targeted because of our faith.
There were three Muslims charged with improper handling of classified information: besides myself and Airman al Halabi, there was a civilian translator, Ahmed Mehalba, who was jailed. By contrast, when a non-Muslim, Col. Jack Farr was accused of mishandling classified information, he wasn't even arrested, and indeed, he was permitted to continue on duty at the base, apparently without any consequences at all.
The Talking Dog: In particular, given the treatment you have received and have seen others receive, let me ask if you could comment on the perception by many in the Muslim world that, contrary to our leaders' rhetoric, our war on terror really is, in fact, what amounts to a war against Islam in general (or a "Crusade" as some might call it)? What steps would you suggest the United States government undertake to dispel this view?
James Yee: There are a few things that can be done. One is for our leaders in the government to be educated about Islam, Muslims and the Muslim culture. This is absolutely critical.
We are not winning hearts and minds: we are offending and insulting people. This is why the perception that we are waging a war against Islam itself is widely believed. The perspective in turn creates more terrorists and anti-American sentiment. Right now, we have leaders with absolutely no understanding of Islam or Muslim culture.
In addition, our leaders should, indeed must, listen to the Muslim community and its leaders. For example, Karen Hughes is supposed to be helping to change the perception and improve America's image in the Muslim world. But how can she do that, with any kind of success, without taking the advice of Muslims? Muslims know what it will take to win over the hearts and minds of other Muslims. And yet, the government is absolutely failing to undertake this effort.
Now, one positive step is that I understand that the newly elected Muslim member of the House of Representatives, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is conferring with the State Department in an effort to win friends over. That is certainly a good idea.
But we have to be clear about how we do this. I understand that there is one program that is a people to people initiative: it features “happy, successful American Muslims" trying to talk up their happy experience here and how great America is. That approach will fail.
We must be honest and sincere- we have to talk about negative backlash and discrimination against the American Muslim community and the profiling of us all being terrorists that has been commonplace especially in the post 9-11 era. Certainly, we still benefit from many aspects of the American system... but you presenting a bunch of “happy successful American Muslims" will only be perceived as propaganda.
How the State Department approaches these things will determine whether we are able to win friends.
The Talking Dog: You have given rave reviews to your legal team, especially Eugene Fidell, the attorney who successfully represented you against the charges that were brought by the military, charges that were all, every last one, withdrawn by the government. Of course, the Guantanamo detainees also have legal representation, in many cases from top flight legal counsel. This leads me to at least two questions.
First, do you believe the system "worked" in your case, given that although you were ultimately cleared, you were held in solitary confinement or 2 ½ months in conditions virtually identical to those so-called enemy combatants were held, you and your family were subjected to the notoriety and pressure of your being accused of a spy, not to mention invasive investigations as the government that was most reticent about trying you in a court was very aggressive about trying you in the media?
Second, for the majority of Guantanamo detainees (not to mention virtually all detainees held elsewhere, such as Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, Iraq, the ghost prisons and elsewhere as a result of the rendition program) the system hasn't worked at all... indeed, detainees have won two major Supreme Court cases, and the government simply ignored those rulings (including an express ruling that detainees are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions.) While even you, an exemplary military officer that the military itself had chosen at times for its own spokesperson, could still be subjected to the same chains, orange suit, black out goggles and windowless cell as any of the so-called enemy combatants... what does this say about whether we have a government that still respects the rule of law, or worse, respects it in name only while defying its substance out of expedience?
James Yee: What happened to me was a gross miscarriage of justice. The system failed, and failed miserably. In my case, I was wrongfully accused. I was treated in the worst way any military man can be treated and has been. The system failed completely, in every respect. It was only because of the skill and expertise of my legal team that I was cleared. With lesser counsel, I could well be on death row right now.
My case serves to undermine the current Administration's attempt to use military justice for terror suspects. If American citizens cannot be treated with anything remotely fair, then how can foreign nationals, who are to be treated to a system even less protective than the Uniform Code of Military Justice that I was subjected to. They can’t possibly get a fair trial. This completely undermines the President's claims about the fairness of military tribunals.
Now, the government has a golden opportunity to restore some credibility in this area: it can issue an official apology to Captain James Yee, as a first step to changing the system, and acknowledging that the system can be improved, as it recognizes its own mistakes. As I said, right now, the government has a golden opportunity to restore some credibility with such an official apology.
The Talking Dog : I take it I am correct that all that has transpired has taken a significant toll on you and your family? Has anything you have experienced shaken your faith in (a) your religion, (b) the United States military and (c) American society?
James Yee: The situation I experienced has certainly shaken my faith in the leaders of our government, and the leaders in the United States military. No system will succeed with corrupt leaders.
Why was I treated the way I was? Indeed, why is Guantanamo the way it is? There are corrupt leaders in the military and our government, many of whom harbor tremendous personal biases towards members of religious and ethnic minorities. I cannot stand for these attitudes: they are, in fact, unAmerican. It is up to us as people to get these leaders out of power, to return to our values.
The Talking Dog We'll let that be the last word. I join my readers in thanking Mr. Yee for being so generous with his time, and for that thorough and compelling interview. Interested readers should take a look at For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, and with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo related issues to be of interest.
Ursula K. Le Guin's Parable for Our Grotesque Times
By Alan Williams
Mar 15, 2007
Dragging characters out of books and into unrelated events can prove less illuminating than tiresome — and more for the characters' reputations than readers. While a wealth of conflicted themes are lent by invoking Anna Karenina as she pertains to adulterous situations, I’m content for that patron saint of cheaters to be left beneath the train tracks, dead. Ditto Madame Bovary. Ditto Hester Prynne. A trend is developing here, perhaps more for personal reasons than their frequency of allusion; nonetheless such comparisons are as old and dusty as Mrs. Havisham.
Certain potent figures hold our consciousness in such magnetic thrall that we cannot help but offer analogous real-world examples. George Bush as a modern-day Captain Ahab, hell bent on chasing and destroying the invisible, monstrous Osama bin Laden to the peril of innocent followers, was the metaphor du jour till he got distracted by a detestable but measly squid named Saddam. It’s difficult to name another personality half as pervasive and startlingly recognizable even to those who have not read Moby Dick (except for perhaps Jesus, to whom Bush has also been compared, but that’s for another column).
The same literary pickings on which we have to draw parallels are proportional to literacy in general. Yet journalists and writers bear the burden of making fiction relevant to today’s political sphere, no matter the reader’s bookshelf. Here and there, they are reaching in inspired ways to articulate this grotesque national moment by calling upon relationships in novels that are ultimately far more enduring than we are.
Camille Paglia recently described the Bush/Cheney codependency as “an unsavory, toxic relationship, a vampiric pseudo-marriage like that of the shadowy, Machiavellian Roger Chillingworth and the impressionable, waffling Arthur Dimmesdale in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.” Spinning momentary sympathy for the first lady, James McManus compared Laura Bush to Gretta Conroy from James Joyce’s “The Dead” in a downright frightening profile. McManus wonders if Laura, who at age 16 ran a stop sign and accidentally killed rumored boyfriend Michael Douglas, sometimes looks at her horse’s ass of a husband and pines for her deceased love, just as Gretta Conroy can’t let go of the lovelorn and dead Michael Furey even though she is married to a self-involved paragon of civic virtue. Going out on a limb like that takes imagination, balls, and a gut instinct so weirdly compelling he just may be right.
These and other examples demonstrate, within the lurid three-ring circus of Washington, what Milan Kundera describes in his new book The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. That is, reality is “pre-interpreted” — “a magic curtain, woven of legends…already made-up, masked, reinterpreted” — and it is only the novel that can rip away this skein to reveal the lies and hypocrisy bred by greed and the corrupting pursuit of power. This is the same morally hardcore view of literature that Europeans have traditionally taken, but after seven years of lies and bombastic manipulation the time has come for the U.S. to up its dosage.
Who are the characters, though, that could encompass the Iraq war and its victims? How long will it take for this moment, from 9/11 onward, to gestate in some creative consciousness for a character to emerge capable of reflecting it?
These were the questions simmering when I read a postcard last week on PostSecret, since removed, from a child being held at Guantanamo Bay. My mind raced between its paradoxical rainbow-colored lines to the child in the cellar at the end of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” the 1975 short story by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Told in an ironic, singsong voice fit for reading a fairy tale, Omelas is described in the Festival of Summer as the happiest place imaginable with child-like denizens, subject to no law, whose "victory they celebrate is that of life." So preposterous is their pure happiness — "based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary or destructive, and what is destructive" — that Le Guin engages the reader directly: "I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as good-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy."
Such bliss, as it turns out, is dependent upon the torture of a child, addressed mainly as "it," kept in a cellar: "Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery." Suddenly, with this very American revelation, Omelas becomes quite believable.Who is this child beyond the “it” of the story? It would be too simple to say that he is essentially the child who wrote the postcard. That he is all of the tortured, despite “diplomatic assurances” that prisoners will not be persecuted even as they undergo extraordinary rendition, despite John McCain’s Military Commissions Act that still allows the president to determine in secret what the CIA will define as torture in its prisons. That he is the abandonment of the ancient right to habeas corpus, to challenge one’s imprisonment in court. That he is future generations. That he is what’s slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.
It would be too easy to draw these connections — although they are true — because “Omelas, bright-towered by the sea” is more like the country in Bush’s head than the U.S. at large. Plenty of citizens know about and are outraged by the well-documented practices at Guantanamo and around the world to no effect. As Le Guin puts it, "Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free."
The uneasy release from this condition, which Le Guin based on a scenario created by William James in "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life," are those who visit the child and then do not return home, who "walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness."
So where, folks, do we go from here? For one, take a hard look at the scapegoat in the cellar, in our national soul. Two, ban torture for real. Three, walk away.
It seems a week cannot pass without another Bush administration scandal.
This latest episode represents one more example of the arrogant uses of power that have so typified this administration Why should the American people be surprised that the White House would needlessly politicize a position like the U.S. attorney’s office - people who are charged with enforcing federal law on a nonpartisan basis. After all, this administration has placed partisan political considerations over competence and expertise in every other aspect of government - whether it be the appointment of key agency heads to the awarding of no-bid contracts for Iraqi reconstruction, to politicizing intelligence to justify an unnecessary war, to “doctoring up” scientific studies by government scientists that conflicted with the administration’s ideology. With each new outrage, the case for impeaching George W. Bush grows stronger. In fact, no president more aptly fits the constitutional description of the kind of leader guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” than the current occupant of
Here is a partial list of impeachable offenses committed by this president.
1. Bush and his administration deliberately misled the Congress and the American people in order to make the case for an unnecessary war in
2. To cover up their crime of misleading the nation to war, the administration deliberately blew the cover of a CIA agent in order to discredit a prominent critic of a key aspect of the administration’s defense for going to war with
3. The administration conducted warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens in clear violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The president in 2004 deliberately lied when he denied that his administration was conducting wiretaps without court orders. We now know that he had authorized this secret program more than two years prior to uttering this statement. Once the program was uncovered, not only did the president refuse to apologize for breaking the law, but vowed to continue the program regardless of what Congress says. This has been but one example of the governing rationale of this administration - its belief that a president as Commander in Chief in a time of war should not be held accountable by either Congress or the courts. The administration has made similar extravagant and dangerous arguments in other areas associated with “The War on Terror” such as its treatment of so-called “enemy combatants” and in its interpretation of international treaties that the
4. The administration has encouraged and condoned a level of cronyism, nepotism, rank opportunism and utter incompetence not seen at the national level since the Gilded Age, if then. From
5. The administration has endorsed the use of torture against so-called “enemy combatants.” in violation of our international agreements, American statutory law, and some of our own most cherished values. The scandal of Abu Graib and the secret prison camps in
Keep in mind that this is only a partial list - more charges could easily be added. For example, I have not even mentioned the government’s outrageous response to the Katrina disaster, the stonewalling of congressional investigations, or the fact that if the Bushies had not stolen the 2000 election in Florida,, the nation could have been spared two terms of GOP misrule in the first place. Space will not allow for a full accounting. The issues I have raised bring to mind another important point about the nature of this administration’s conduct: Bush has trashed the Constitution with the acquiescence of a Republican-controlled Congress who for six years did not even try to fulfill its constitutional role as a check on the power of the executive branch. Congressional Republicans acted as if their role was simply to pass the president’s program. That philosophy might be appropriate in a parliamentary system - but in the system our Framers designed, the legislative branch is expected to be a check on the executive to protect the nation from tyranny. Thankfully, the voters finally wised up to them and tossed the Republicans out as majority party in the last election.
Only two presidents -Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton - have ever been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. In both cases, the publicly stated motives for pursuing impeachment were not the real reasons that this remedy was sought. Overheated, exaggerated offenses masked intense personal animus and deep political differences between members of Congress and the President. In 1974, Richard Nixon would have been impeached had he not resigned; the case for Nixon’s impeachment was more clear-cut. Ironically, when we have in office the one president who has most brazenly assaulted the very system of checks of balances that the Framers designed to protect our republic against tyranny, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment off the table. Meanwhile, the same people who only a few years ago voted to impeach a president for lying about an extramarital affair are excusing the actions of one who lied to get us into a war. In other words, the impeachment mechanism has been deployed in a trivial case, but when a textbook case for its appropriate use is presented, most
This galling contradiction does not speak well of a nation that prides itself on its belief in its Constitution and the rule of law. Barring some unforeseen change in the political landscape in the next few months, future generations of Americans may wonder how a president could so flagrantly violate his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” and still be allowed to serve two full terms in office.. Political prudence dictates that discussion of impeaching this president be pushed aside. But one has to wonder what long-term damage we may be doing to our democracy by not even broaching the subject. The actions of one generation (or the failure to act) set precedents for another, leading to unforeseen consequences. Excusing Bush’s crimes against the Constitution may pave the way for an even greater tyrant in the future. History is littered with examples of civilizations fully convinced that the failures and calamities that befell other peoples could never happen to them. With respect to tyranny and fascism, IT CAN HAPPEN HERE. Not only for our sakes but for the sake of generations unborn, the gravity of the offenses of this administration require us to directly confront the issues raised by their unconstitutional conduct
Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S.
With violence across the Middle East fixing Islam smack at the center of the American political debate, an organization partly financed by donors closely identified with wealthy Persian Gulf governments has emerged as the most vocal advocate for American Muslims — and an object of wide suspicion.
The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defines its mission as spreading the understanding of Islam and protecting civil liberties. Its officers appear frequently on television and are often quoted in newspapers, and its director has met with President Bush. Some 500,000 people receive the group’s daily e-mail newsletter.
Yet a debate rages behind the scenes in Washington about the group, commonly known as CAIR, its financing and its motives. A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two.
In the latest confrontation yesterday, CAIR held a panel discussion on Islam and the West in a Capitol meeting room despite demands by House Republicans that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, not allow the event. The Republicans called its members “terrorist apologists.”
By Jonathan E. Kaplan
March 15, 2007
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the Democratic Caucus chairman, has told new Democratic members of Congress to steer clear of Stephen Colbert, or at least his satirical Comedy Central program, “The Colbert Report.”
“He said don’t do it … it’s a risk and it’s probably safer not to do it,” said Rep. Steve Cohen. But the freshman lawmaker from Tennessee taped a segment that last week was featured in the 32nd installment of the “Better Know a District” series. Colbert asked Cohen whether he was a black woman. He isn’t.
Eyes (but thankfully, not heads) roll in Emanuel’s office when other freshmen stumble, such as the time Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) got into a debate about the merits of throwing kittens into a wood-chipper, or when Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) explained that he is not his predecessor, convicted felon Bob Ney (R).
The freshmen respect Emanuel, but they don’t always follow his orders. On the other hand, avoiding the kind of publicity that only “The Colbert Report” can confer on a lawmaker may be the only advice from Emanuel that freshman Democrats are ignoring.
Last year, as the House Democrats’ chief election strategist, Emanuel engineered the party’s takeover of the House by capitalizing on a nationalized midterm election. Now, as the House Democratic spokesman, Emanuel is working to keep freshman Democrats in office. His thoughts on how to manage casework, campaign for reelection, and win favorable press coverage are rooted in former Speaker Tip O’Neill’s (D-Mass.) maxim that “all politics is local.”
“Pay attention to your district, don’t go Washington, go home every weekend,” is a message Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Emanuel has drilled in. “He’s encouraging people to stay local and focus on change, change, change. He and [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi (D-Calif.) both say to renew your commitment to change every day … be local, be practical and maintain that connection to the district.”
Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) said of Emanuel, “He has been helpful and a pain-in-the-you-know-what, to my great benefit … he’s an advocate for making sure folks in the district know what you’re doing … Of course, he keeps a close watch on doing what we need to do to get reelected.”
Emanuel also understands that what works in a traditional Democratic district won’t necessarily work in a more conservative district, Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) said.
If lawmakers are doing their jobs and staying out of trouble, chances are Emanuel won’t say anything. If they stumble, he speaks up. Hodes considers Emanuel a mentor who understands the value of “tough love.”
One freshman who has been on the receiving end of Emanuel’s “tough love” is Rep. Steve Kagen (Wis.), who boasted to a group of anti-war activists that he had dressed down President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, during a White House reception. The administration denied the story.
But Emanuel threw a fit. Kagen’s staff was hauled into the Democratic Caucus’s office for lessons on how to handle the media, Democratic sources said.
Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) said, “It took [Emanuel] three weeks to come down off of the ceiling” after she refused to accept the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) assistance in her bid to win reelection in 2008.
Boyda said Emanuel would “worry until November 4, 2008, but he says it in a very caring, grandmotherly way.”
Emanuel is not the only House leader advising first-term Democrats. Pelosi hosts a weekly breakfast for freshmen and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) guides them through the legislative process. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the DCCC, tells new lawmakers that the first 100 days is the time to cement their relationship with voters by ably handling constituent service requests and pushing a positive legislative agenda.
Victory won’t be easy in 2008. Democrats may have opportunities to defeat GOP incumbents or pick up open seats, but they first must defend 33 new incumbents of their own. In 1994, House GOPers gained 52 seats and had to protect 73 new freshmen. In 1996, Democrats defeated 12 GOP freshmen and picked up nine seats.
Some first-term Democrats can breathe a bit easier because former GOP lawmakers and conceivably strong GOP candidates have demurred, including former Reps. Richard Pombo (Calif.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.). Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) also have had opponents decline to run.
Despite Emanuel’s energetic style of browbeating and worrying, freshman lawmakers esteem him.
“He’s the Al Davis of Congress,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), referring to the legendary owner of the Oakland Raiders who coined the phrase, “Just win, baby.”
By Akiva Eldar
On January 14, 2002, when the top government and military echelon sent the Israel Defense Forces in the midst of a truce to assassinate Raed Karmi, the head of Fatah's military arm in the Tul Karm area, Dr. Mati Steinberg, who was the advisor on Palestinian affairs to the head of the Shin Bet security service, was not a partner to the decision. On this occasion, too, his direct boss, Avi Dichter (now minister of internal security), did not want to know what his in-house expert thought about the political implications of harming another key Palestinian figure.
"Just as I feared," Steinberg recalled this week, "Karmi's assassination led to the scuttling of the truce that had lasted since December 16, 2001. Not only did the assassination push Fatah's people into carrying out suicide attacks and give the signal for competition between them and Hamas as to who could kill more Jews, it also led to Operation Defensive Shield, which pushed the Arab initiative to the margins and eliminated the opportunity to put the diplomatic track with the Palestinians on a route of direct connection with the Arab peace initiative for the first time."
Although the decision-makers tended to ignore his recommendations concerning targets of assassinations, Steinberg did not give up. He remained in the Shin Bet until 2003 and continued to write opinions. Since then he has been teaching at the Hebrew University and at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. One of his desk drawers contains an opinion he wrote in real time about the Arab peace initiative of March 2002.
In it, Steinberg compared the new positions of the Arab League to the traditional positions expressed in previous league resolutions. He pointed out what he defines as "the great change" - the willingness to end the conflict, to establish normal neighborly relations between the Arab states and Israel and to reach an agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem. The knowledge that the Arab states had begun to distribute the initiative's directives in various forums, without any connection to Israel's reaction, dispelled the last of his doubts. Steinberg was convinced that he had before him a document of historic importance. The document went as far as the office of the prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon. "They contacted me on behalf of Sharon's military secretary and clarified the factual side of the League's resolution," recalls Steinberg. "I repeated the explanations I had written in the document and I never heard from them again. To the best of my knowledge there was never any discussion of this matter."
Several days later, an Israeli newspaper published an article by the government secretary at the time, Gideon Sa'ar (now a Likud MK), which "tore apart" the League's resolution. Steinberg believes Sa'ar read the document and tried to negate everything that looked like a change for the better in the Arab stance. "There was a syndrome operating here of 'if you don't want to look, you won't see,'" says Steinberg, bewailing the five lost years that have elapsed since then. "I remembered, despite all the differences, Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini, who was opposed to the White Paper that granted him tremendous political achievements, and played straight into the hands of [David] Ben-Gurion."
A short while later, Yasser Arafat announced that he accepted the Arab initiative and had even sent Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), now Palestinian Authority Chairman, to Washington to inform the Americans of his decision. At the same time, IDF tanks were already tightening the siege on the Muqata PA government compound in Ramallah. "I realized that from the domestic perspective, the government was not able to hold back and refrain from taking action," says the former Shin Bet advisor, "but it is untenable that in the wake of the PA's acceptance of the initiative we would harm Jibril Rajoub's headquarters. What was the message to the Palestinian population? That pragmatism doesn't pay. I said that under no circumstances should the Palestinian government center be destroyed; Iran and Hamas would exploit the chaos and after them would come the global jihad."
Steinberg rejects the arguments made by people like Professor Shlomo Avineri, to the effect that the Arab League is trying to force preconditions for an agreement on Israel. It is hard for him to understand how serious people can argue that anyone is expecting Israel to withdraw from the territories without conducting detailed negations on borders, security arrangements, the holy sites and so on. According to him, the absence of a demand to evacuate the Jewish settlements in the territories, for example, is not by chance. It is clear to the Arabs that the way to an agreement passes through the negotiating table.
Since March 2001, Steinberg has been reading every word written in Arabic about the peace initiative. He has found that the Arab League is not proposing withdrawal first and normalization afterward, but rather arriving at both of them simultaneously. "Anyone who demands that normalization will lead to a withdrawal cannot negate a demand that the withdrawal will be a condition for the normalization."
Steinberg is not proposing that the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert start negotiations with the government of PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the basis of the Arab initiative. "The Mecca agreement gives Abu Mazen the power of attorney to conduct the negotiations," he says. "Olmert meets with Abu Mazen anyway. The question is not with whom to speak but rather about what to talk."
To demonstrate this last argument, Steinberg plucks a quotation from remarks made by Ahmed Yousef, Haniyeh's advisor, in the most recent edition of the London-based A Sharq al Awsat. "Ideological changes can be expected in Hamas' thought, as we are prepared to relate positively to the Arab peace initiative, on condition that Israel sticks to it. Something that hasn't happened thus far," said Yousef. Steinberg believes that the Arab initiative is even more important today than it was five years ago. "Back then it had mainly an internal Palestinian context, whereas today this text is relevant to an external-regional context. It embodies not only a solution to the Palestinian problem but also reinforces the Sunni Arab center. And furthermore, the regional support can make it easier for the Palestinians to come to terms with concessions they cannot digest on their own."
194 = right of return?
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is demanding that the leaders of the 22 Arab states, who will convene at the end of the month in Riyadh in order to re-ratify the Arab League's peace initiative, excise the right of return from it. Unlike the Clinton outline (which proposes realizing the right of return in the Palestinian state), the Arab initiative does not mention this phrase, which frightens Israel. But Livni argues that the problematic term is hidden in the phrase "on the basis of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194," in the final section of the Arab League proposal, which calls for arriving at a "just and agreed upon solution to the refugee problem."
Only a little less than a year ago, when Livni was trying to win people over to the disengagement plan, she gloried in a letter United States President George W. Bush had given to Ariel Sharon on the matter of the refugees, in which he pledged that when the refugee issue comes up in negotiations, the United States will support the realization of the right of return only in the Palestinian state that will be established in the territories and not in the territory of the state of Israel. At the time this letter was considered a great achievement on Sharon's part. The official mustering of the United States on Israel's side on the issue of the right of return in effect renders the discussion of the interpretation of Resolution 194 academic.
Professor Ruth Lapidot, who was the legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years, doesn't understand why Israeli politicians are clinging by their teeth to the right of return. In a position paper she published in 2003 on behalf of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Lapidot argues that there is no basis to the Arab claim that Resolution 194 grants them the right of return. She explains that the option of return is conditioned on the Palestinians who want to return to their homes being interested in living in peace with their neighbors. This condition, notes Lapidot, has not been fulfilled since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000.
Lapidot agrees with Professor Geoffrey R. Watson, who was a member of the legal team at the U.S. State Department, in his interpretation of the sentence in Resolution 194, stating that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest possible date." The two experts agree that the use of the word "should" (as opposed to the word "shall," for example) turns the option of return into a mere recommendation.
In his book "The Oslo Accords: International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreements" (Oxford University Press), Watson notes that even the Palestinian delegation to the General Assembly argued that the phrase "should be permitted" does not concord with the right of return. This is a General Assembly resolution, which unlike Security Council resolutions, is not operative and is not binding.
The greatest critics of Livni's version asserting that the Arab peace initiative ensures the right of return can be found among the Hamas leadership and the heads of Al-Qaida. In an official reaction to the Arab League decision in Beirut, Hamas stated, "It is necessary to condemn outright the transfer of the issue of the right of return to the negotiating table and the demand for its implementation by means of a mutual understanding with Israel." Half a year ago Khaled Meshal's deputy Musa Abu Marzuq explained in a newspaper interview that one of the main reasons for Hamas' decision to reject the diplomatic initiatives that have cropped up in recent years, including the Arab initiative, is that "a solution that does not include the return of all the refugees to their homes and their property is untenable." He argued that the Arab League's decision puts an end to this sacred right.
Dr. Steinberg says that his interpretation of the Arab initiative is identical to that of Hamas. "The difference between us," says the Jerusalem Middle East specialist, "is that a correction they consider as a retreat from traditional positions concerning return and the entire conflict - I see as a unique opportunity to remove the obstacle of the right of return from the road to ending the entire conflict."
Party of Defeat
AEI's weird celebration.
By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 4:09 PM ET
The term neoconservative has many meanings, including "former liberal" and "Jewish conservative." In recent years, however, it has taken on clearer definition as a philosophy of aggressive unilateralism and the effort to impose democratic ideas, especially in the Arab world. The neoconservatives are also a distinct group in and around the Bush administration, which includes Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense, and Scooter Libby, the former aide to the vice president who was convicted last week on multiple counts of perjury. These men pushed for the invasion of Iraq and remain identified with hard-line positions on Iran, Syria, and North Korea.
Outside of the administration, the chief fulcrum of neoconservatism is the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. The day after the Libby verdict, AEI held its annual black-tie gala at the Washington Hilton, and for some reason, they invited me. I did not go expecting contrition, but under the circumstances, it seemed possible that self-examination might be featured on the menu. Once a lazy pasture for moderate Republicans hurtled into the private sector by Gerald Ford's 1976 defeat, AEI took a right turn during the Reagan years and emerged under George W. Bush as a kind of Cheney-family think tank.
It had not been a good week, year, or second term for any of these people, and I thought a few cocktails might provoke them to consider their predicament. This was fantasy on my part. Richard Perle and John Bolton might have looked slightly more saturnine than usual, but the overall mood of self-celebration was unabated. From the stage, one caught no hint that matters were not working out as anticipated. All rose to salute the arrival of Dick and Lynne Cheney, herself a longtime fellow at the institute. The vice president looked on from the head table as his friend Bernard Lewis, perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq, came up to accept the Irving Kristol Award.
In his address, the 90-year-old Lewis did not revisit his argument that regime change in Iraq would provide the jolt needed to modernize the Middle East. Instead, he spoke at length about the millennial struggle between Christianity and Islam. Lewis argues that Muslims have adopted migration, along with terror, as the latest strategy in their "cosmic struggle for world domination." This is a familiar framework from the original author of the phrase "the clash of civilizations"—made more famous by Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington. What did surprise me was Lewis' denunciation of Pope John Paul II's 2000 apology for the Crusades as political correctness run amok. This drew applause. Lewis' view is that the Muslims started it by invading Europe in the eighth century. The Crusades were merely a failed imitation of Muslim jihad in an endless see-saw of conquest and re-conquest.
Were you to start counting the ironies here, where would you stop? Here was a Jewish scholar criticizing the pope for apologizing to Muslims for a holy war against Muslims, which was also a massacre of the Jews. Here were the theorists of the invasion of Iraq, many of them also Jewish, applauding the notion that the Crusades were not so terrible and embracing a time horizon that makes it impossible to judge them wrong. And here was the clubhouse of the neocons throwing itself a lavish 'do, when the biggest question in American politics is how to escape the hole they've dug. Reality seemed to have taken up residence elsewhere for the evening.
But whether or not the neocons are ready to face it, their moment has passed. At the Defense Department, their apostles and allies are largely gone. Donald Rumsfeld has been replaced by Robert M. Gates, a member of the Iraq Study Group and of the realist school associated with the previous President Bush. Paul Wolfowitz, the architect who tried to raise a new Middle East on Saddam's rubble, has moved to the World Bank, where he observes a McNamara-like silence on the failure of his war. Another formerly key official, Douglas Feith, is under investigation from Sen. Carl Levin's armed services committee for misrepresenting intelligence data to make the case for the invasion.
Over at the State Department, where the neocons never were (other than a few moles like Bolton), Condi Rice is returning to her realist roots and taking charge of foreign policy. She has adopted gingerly some of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which the Bush team spurned last fall, embracing shuttle diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and even raising the possibility of conversation with Syria and Iran. She has empowered career diplomats blackballed previously by Cheney and Rumsfeld and even made a nuclear deal with North Korea. These steps signify a broader shift away from what the neocon defector Francis Fukuyama calls "hard Wilsonian" ideas, and back toward the less principled, more effective pragmatism associated with Bush 41, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker.
The most important change may be the fading influence of Cheney, who for six years dominated foreign policy in a way no previous vice president ever has. Those dining on fat steaks and sipping California wine with him at the AEI dinner cannot have failed to notice that Cheney is now discredited, unwell, and facing various congressional inquisitions. He was damaged by the Libby trial, first by seeming to let his flunky take the fall, and second by the exposure of his ruthless mania to justify a war gone wrong.
But the largest factor in Cheney's demise is that his neoconservative hypotheses have been falsified by events. Invading Iraq did not catalyze a new Middle East. Isolating North Korea did not retard but advance its nuclear program. High-handed unilateralism reduced American power and prestige. At the outset of his presidency, Bush thought himself lucky to have a No. 2 who did not aspire to his job. He may now grasp the hazard of lending so much power to someone with no incentive to test his views in the political marketplace.
As disciples of Bernard Lewis, it is unlikely that Cheney and the neocon crusaders will offer apologies for what they've wrought. Like Bush, they are looking to the long span of history for vindication. It will indeed be eons before anyone trusts them again.
Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2161800/
Wednesday, March 14, 2007; A14
"PREPARE TO Withstand Political Upheaval," the attorney general's now-ousted chief of staff wrote in an e-mail to the White House as the administration prepared to fire a number of U.S. attorneys last year. About that, at least, D. Kyle Sampson was right. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure in office has served only to deepen our conviction that he should never have been confirmed, has dismissed the firings as an "overblown personnel matter" and assured lawmakers that "I would never, ever make a change in a U.S. attorney position for political reasons." It's become clear, most recently and pointedly with the release of e-mails between Mr. Sampson and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers, that Mr. Gonzales's assurances can't be trusted. The stench of politics surrounding the firings grows daily: from the original, harebrained idea of the hapless Ms. Miers to can all 93 U.S. attorneys; to the involvement of the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove; to the improper intervention of lawmakers and a senior congressional aide; to the misleading -- at best -- accounts from Mr. Gonzales and other top Justice Department officials.
"I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney," Mr. Gonzales assured the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty has also asserted that the administration, in firing the prosecutors, was not trying to abuse its new authority, slipped into the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, to name interim U.S. attorneys who could serve indefinitely without Senate confirmation. "The attorney general's appointment authority has not and will not be used to circumvent the confirmation process," Mr. McNulty testified. "All accusations in this regard are contrary to the clear factual record."
Mr. Sampson's e-mail messages to the White House belie those assertions. Although later plans envisioned confirmation, he initially urged the White House to use the new interim appointment authority, a move that he said would let the administration "give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get (1) our preferred person appointed and (2) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House." Mr. Sampson has resigned, supposedly because he failed to be forthcoming with his bosses about what happened. But if the top officials at Justice can't get a straight answer from their own aide, what are they doing running the department?
Now that the political costs are higher than the administration could have imagined, now that senior officials have squandered their claim to credibility, it is imperative that the entire story of the firings be uncovered. As we have said previously, the administration is entitled to prosecutors who reflect its policies and carry out its priorities. It is not entitled to treat federal prosecutors like political pawns -- nor is it entitled, any longer, to the benefit of the doubt about the propriety of its conduct.
Mr. Gonzales can make self-serving declarations about his belief in "accountability," as he did at a news conference yesterday; he can proclaim his plans to "ascertain what happened here . . . and take corrective actions." Nothing in his record gives any reason for confidence that anything will change in a department under his leadership.