Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why Rice will fail in the Middle East

UPDATE - April 15, 2007 - Editor's note: I am posting at the secondary blog(also see Friday's articles at the overflow blog).
Published: 09/04/2007 12:00 AM (UAE)

By Adel Safty, Special to Gulf News

By her own recent admission, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East contains no grand ideas and is based on the step by step approach. The step by step strategy is the wrong approach to solving the Palestine conflict. It failed before and is bound to fail again.

Rice's approach is based on the theory that if you achieve enough trust between the belligerent parties you will facilitate substantive negotiations for a final resolution of the conflict.

But the Palestine conflict is no ordinary conflict. From the beginning of the Zionist enterprise to take over Palestine from its inhabitants and turn it into a Jewish country, the Palestine conflict has been an existential one. There was no room in the Zionist project for Palestinian people in the Jewish state.

In fact, the very existence of the Palestinian people was eliminated from Palestine in the imagination of the Zionist propagandists seeking to sell their colonial enterprise to the imperial powers. Their most potent and telling slogan said that the Jewish people wanted to colonise Palestine, "a land without a people for a people without land".

A measure of the audacity of the enterprise is evident when you consider that at the time of this slogan the Arab Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) constituted about 93 per cent of the population of Palestine.

How the Zionist Commission managed, with the help of the occupying British forces, the support of the Western imperial powers, to transform Palestine by force from an Arab country into a Jewish state, is one of the most remarkable stories of the 20th century.

In the process the Palestinian people have been expelled by the hundreds of thousands, dispersed, their homeland lost, their society shattered. Those Palestinians who live under the Israeli occupation are regularly subjected to violence, collective punishment, continued dispersion and dispossession.

The Palestinians have suffered gross injustice and Israel's responsibility for this has been admitted by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, in 1956. Various Israeli historians documented it in the past 20 years or so. And yet it is the Palestinians who are being asked to make concessions.

In 1988 they abandoned their plan for a secular state in Palestine for Jews, Muslims and Christians and agreed to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state on roughly half of Palestine. Under the Oslo Agreement, in 1993, they agreed to accept the irreversible loss of 78 per cent of their country to the Israelis and establish a mini-Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, about 22 per cent of their former country.

In fact, under various "peace" plans, the Palestinians continued to lose land and hope while at the same time being subjected to the violence of occupation and pressured into making concessions to the occupier.

Asymmetry of power

And it is this asymmetry of power that is being used by American mediators including Rice, as the defining context for "solving" the conflict. In effect, the victim is being asked to stop resisting the occupation, to protect the symbols of dispossession - the Jewish colonies - to accept punishment if they democratically elect the wrong government, and to be grateful when the daily restrictions on their lives are somewhat eased.

The step by step strategy employed by Kissinger after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war produced the Sinai I and Sinai II disengagement agreements between Israelis and Egyptians. This was in the interest of both parties. The Egyptians wanted to reopen the Suez Canal as a reward for their honourable military performance in the war. The Israelis did not want to be over-stretched militarily after the sobering lesson they received at the hands of the Egyptians. They also received a commitment from Washington not to deal with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in effect committing Washington to block any peace with the Palestinians.

The dramatic visit by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel in 1977 helped produce the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement known as the Camp David Agreement in 1978. The Egyptian regained their Sinai, the Israelis removed the most powerful Arab country from the Arab-Israeli conflict and prepared to liquidate Palestinian nationalism once and for all.

This became evident when shortly after the Israelis withdrew from the Sinai in 1982, The Menahem Begin-Ariel Sharon team sent their army into Lebanon in what they hoped would be the final coup to settle the Palestine question by force. They miscalculated - with tragic cost for the Palestinians and the Lebanese.

Clearly the balance of power calculations used by Kissinger in the step by step strategy is utterly unsuitable for the Palestine conflict because of the gross asymmetry of power between the parties, one of which is undeniably a victim the other incontrovertibly a wrongdoer.

What is needed is a clear break with the past; a recognition that the Palestinians have suffered gross injustice and are entitled to reparations and a measure of justice, not as an act of charity and generosity from the occupier but as of right.

And this is what is missing from Rice's small ideas: A vision of peace based on law and justice, not force.

Instead she is focusing on power politics and small steps worthy of her small ideas. Why should the Israelis settle for anything less than what they have achieved by force when Washington is allowing them to flout "peace" plans like the roadmap, build a separation wall, and continue dispossession of the Palestinians?

In his reaction to the renewed Arab League offer of peace on the basis of some justice and some rights for the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmet responded confidently that his government rejected the right of return of even one Palestinian.

Prof Adel Safty is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Novosibirsk, Russia. He is author of "From Camp David to the Gulf".

Letter reveals U.S. intent at No Gun Ri: Hundreds, mostly women and children, slaughtered

By CHARLES J. HANLEY and MARTHA MENDOZA, Associated Press Writers April 13, 2007

Six years after declaring the U.S. killing of Korean War refugees at No Gun Ri was "not deliberate," the Army has acknowledged it found but did not divulge that a high-level document said the U.S. military had a policy of shooting approaching civilians in South Korea.

The document, a letter from the U.S. ambassador in South Korea to the State Department in Washington, is dated the day in 1950 when U.S. troops began the No Gun Ri shootings, in which survivors say hundreds, mostly women and children, were killed.

Exclusion of the embassy letter from the Army's 2001 investigative report is the most significant among numerous omissions of documents and testimony pointing to a policy of firing on refugee groups — undisclosed evidence uncovered by Associated Press archival research and Freedom of Information Act requests.

South Korean petitioners say hundreds more refugees died later in 1950 as a result of the U.S. practice. The Seoul government is investigating one such large-scale killing, of refugees stranded on a beach, newly confirmed via U.S. archives.

No Gun Ri survivors, who call the Army's 2001 investigation a "whitewash," are demanding a reopened investigation, compensation and a U.S. apology.

Harvard historian Sahr Conway-Lanz first disclosed the existence of Ambassador John H. Muccio's 1950 letter in a scholarly article and a 2006 book, "Collateral Damage." He uncovered the declassified document at the U.S. National Archives.

When asked last year, the Pentagon didn't address the central question of whether U.S. investigators had seen the document before issuing their No Gun Ri report. Ex-Army Secretary Louis Caldera suggested to The Associated Press that Army researchers may have missed it.

After South Korea asked for more information, however, the Pentagon acknowledged to the Seoul government that it examined Muccio's letter in 2000 but dismissed it. It did so because the letter "outlined a proposed policy," not an approved one, Army spokesman Paul Boyce argues in a recent e-mail to the AP.

But Muccio's message to Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk states unambiguously that "decisions made" at a high-level U.S.-South Korean meeting in Taegu, South Korea, on July 25, 1950, included a policy to shoot approaching refugees. The reason: American commanders feared that disguised North Korean enemy troops were infiltrating their lines via refugee groups.

"If refugees do appear from north of US lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot," the ambassador told Rusk, cautioning that these shootings might cause "repercussions in the United States." Deliberately attacking noncombatants is a war crime.

Told of the Pentagon's rationale for excluding the Muccio letter from its investigative report, No Gun Ri expert Yi Mahn-yol, retired head of Seoul's National Institute of Korean History, suggested the letter was suppressed because it was "disadvantageous" to the Pentagon's case.

"If they set it aside as nothing significant, we can say that it was an intentional exclusion," he said.

Conway-Lanz called the Pentagon's explanation "thoroughly unconvincing."

"The Muccio letter in plain English says, `Decisions were made,'" the historian noted.

No Gun Ri survivors said U.S. soldiers first forced them from nearby villages on July 25, 1950, and then stopped them in front of U.S. lines the next day, when they were attacked without warning by aircraft as hundreds sat atop a railroad embankment near No Gun Ri, a village in central South Korea. Troops of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment followed with ground fire as survivors took shelter in twin underpasses of a concrete railroad bridge.

The killings remained hidden from history until an AP report in 1999 cited a dozen ex-soldiers who corroborated the Korean survivors' accounts, prompting the Pentagon to open its inquiry after years of dismissing the allegations.

The Army veterans' estimates of dead ranged from under 100 to "hundreds." Korean survivors say they believe about 400 were killed. Korean authorities have certified the identities of at least 163 dead or missing.

No Gun Ri, where no evidence emerged of enemy infiltrators, was not the only such incident. As 1950 wore on, U.S. commanders repeatedly ordered refugees shot, according to declassified documents obtained by the AP.

One incident, on Sept. 1, 1950, has been confirmed by the declassified official diary of the USS DeHaven, which says that the Navy destroyer, at Army insistence, fired on a seaside refugee encampment at Pohang, South Korea. Survivors say 100 to 200 people were killed. South Korean officials announced in February they would investigate.

More than a dozen documents — in which high-ranking U.S. officers tell troops that refugees are "fair game," for example, and order them to "shoot all refugees coming across river" — were found by the AP in the investigators' own archived files after the 2001 inquiry. None of those documents was disclosed in the Army's 300-page public report.

South Koreans have filed reports with their government of more than 60 such episodes during the 1950-53 war.

Despite this, the Army's e-mail to the AP maintains, as did the 2001 report, "No policy purporting to authorize soldiers to shoot refugees was ever promulgated to soldiers in the field."

The 2001 official report instead focused on a single document issued the day the No Gun Ri shootings began, a Korea-wide Army order saying refugees should be stopped from crossing U.S. lines. That order did not say how they should be stopped, but retired Army Col. Robert M. Carroll, a lieutenant at No Gun Ri, said the meaning was clear.

"What do you do when you're told nobody comes through?" Carroll said in an AP interview before his death in 2004. If they didn't stop, he said, "we had to shoot them to hold them back."

Other ex-soldier eyewitnesses, including headquarters radiomen, told the AP that orders came down to the 7th Cavalry's 2nd Battalion command post, and were relayed through front-line companies at No Gun Ri, to open fire on the mass of village families, baggage and farm animals.

Such communications would have been recorded in the 7th Cavalry Regiment's journal, but that log is missing without explanation from the National Archives. Without disclosing this crucial gap, the Army's 2001 report asserted there were no such orders. It suggested soldiers shot the refugees in a panic, questioned estimates of hundreds of dead, and absolved the U.S. military of liability.

The Army report didn't disclose that veterans told Army investigators of "kill" orders, of seeing stacks of dead at No Gun Ri, and of earlier documentation of the killings. Such interview transcripts have been obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. Examples:

_Ex-Air Force pilot Clyde Good, 87, of Melbourne, Fla., told investigators his four-plane mission, under orders, attacked 300-400 refugees in mid-1950 on suspicion the group harbored infiltrators. "I didn't like the idea," he said. "They had some young ones, too. ... kids on the road." A South Korean government report in 2001 said five ex-pilots told Pentagon interviewers of such orders. The U.S. report claimed "all pilots interviewed" knew nothing about such orders.

_The U.S. report said the No Gun Ri shootings weren't documented at the time. It didn't disclose that ex-Army clerk Mac W. Hilliard, 78, of Weed, Calif., testified he remembered typing into the now-missing regimental journal an officer's handwritten report that 300 refugees had been fired on. "If you see 'em, kill 'em" was the general attitude toward civilians, Hilliard told the AP in reaffirming his testimony.

_The Army report said ex-GIs estimating large numbers of dead were using "guesswork," that none got a close-up look. But in a transcript obtained by the AP, ex-soldier Homer Garza told a Pentagon interrogator he was sent on patrol through one underpass and saw heaps of bodies.

"There were probably 200 or 300 civilians there — babies, old papa-sans," Garza, 73, of Hurst, Texas, said in a subsequent AP interview. Most may have been dead, but it was hard to tell because "they were stacked on top of one another," said Garza, who retired as a command sergeant major, the Army's highest enlisted rank.

In addition, the 2001 report by the Army inspector-general didn't disclose the existence of July 1950 mission reports from the Air Force's 35th Fighter-Bomber Squadron that said pilots attacked apparent refugee groups and struck at or near No Gun Ri on the dates of the killings.

In describing another critical document, a July 25, 1950, memo from the Air Force operations chief in Korea, the Army report dropped its key passage: a paragraph saying pilots, at the Army's request, were strafing refugee groups approaching U.S. lines. The Army report portrayed the strafing as a proposal, not a fact, as the Army now is doing with the Muccio letter.

The Pentagon has told the South Korean government the ambassador's letter, evidence that senior Washington officials knew of a policy to shoot South Korean refugees, does not warrant a reopening of the No Gun Ri investigation.

Seoul accepts that U.S. position, said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Informed of the Pentagon position, the No Gun Ri survivors issued a statement. "We cannot accept the U.S. Defense Department's false explanation and are indignant over the repeated lies by the U.S. Defense Department," it said.

AP Writer Jae-soon Chang in Seoul and AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.

Justice Department's Independence 'Shattered,' Says Former DOJ Attorney

Tony Mauro

Legal Times

Since the day he arrived at the Department of Justice in February 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has "shattered" the department's tradition of independence and politicized its operation more than any other attorney general in more than 30 years.

So says Daniel Metcalfe, a senior attorney at the department who retired in January, before the current controversy over the firing of U.S. Attorneys erupted. He views the episode as an "awful embarrassment" that has only worsened already-low morale at the department, especially among career attorneys.

Metcalfe, 55, served most recently as director of the Office of Information and Privacy. He co-founded the office in 1981 with Richard Huff. But his career at the department began in 1971. He started as an intern, working at the department full-time while attending law school at George Washington University. Later, he worked as a trial attorney in DOJ's Civil Division before founding OIP.

At that office, Metcalfe oversaw Freedom of Information Act policy throughout the executive branch. He gained a reputation as a principled official who would adhere to the policies of whichever administration he served, but not at the expense of following the letter and spirit of FOIA. "Dan earned great respect for the policies he helped form, even though they sometimes put him at odds with access advocates," says Paul McMasters, the recently retired First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum. Metcalfe plans to begin teaching law in coming months.

In interviews in person and by e-mail with Legal Times Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro, Metcalfe recently detailed his views about Gonzales and the politicization of the department, as well as information policy. The transcript follows.

Q: How do you view the current controversy at the department? Is this a time, as a recent retiree, when you would be missing the "excitement" of being at the department right now?

A: I miss many things about the Justice Department after having been there for so many years, not the least of which are the challenges that came up almost daily. One of the wonderful things about the position I held is that every single day held the prospect of bringing some new issue, or new potentially sensitive record, to be analyzed and addressed. With very limited exception, everything that the federal government does is reduced to a record, and any record can suddenly be "placed on the hook," as it were.

So when I walked in each morning, I knew I could be dealing with a difficult legal issue in virtually any area of governmental activity -- and as much as I'll enjoy teaching law, it'll be hard to ever top that. But if what you mean by "excitement" is the recent U.S. Attorney imbroglio, which is such an awful embarrassment to the department as an institution, I don't miss such things at all.

As a matter of fact, knowing that the office I headed for 25 years has been drawn into that controversy by, among other things, playing so visible a role in political e-mail processing, I'm frankly glad that I avoided any prospect of moral discomfort involved. In short, I never had to decide whether to participate in such a highly questionable, obfuscation-laden enterprise because it belatedly erupted in 2007, not in 2006.

Q: You began in the Justice Department during the Watergate years. How would you rank Alberto Gonzales in terms of politicization of the department in comparison to the other AGs you have worked for?

A: Actually, I began earlier, in the first Nixon administration, as a college intern in 1971. But I was there again in the Watergate era, when I worked in part of the Attorney General's Office during my first year of law school in 1973-1974, and then continuously as a trial attorney and office director for nearly 30 years. That adds up to more than a dozen attorneys general, including Ed Meese as well as John Mitchell, and I used to think that they had politicized the department more than anyone could or should. But nothing compares to the past two years under Alberto Gonzales.

To be sure, he continued a trend of career/noncareer separation that began under John Ashcroft, yet even Ashcroft brought in political aides who in large measure were experienced in government functioning. Ashcroft's Justice Department appointees, with few exceptions, were not the type of people who caused you to wonder what they were doing there. They might not have been firm believers in the importance of government, but generally speaking, there was a very respectable level of competence (in some instances even exceptionally so) and a relatively strong dedication to quality government, as far as I could see.

Under Gonzales, though, almost immediately from the time of his arrival in February 2005, this changed quite noticeably. First, there was extraordinary turnover in the political ranks, including the majority of even Justice's highest-level appointees. It was reminiscent of the turnover from the second Reagan administration to the first Bush administration in 1989, only more so. Second, the atmosphere was palpably different, in ways both large and small. One need not have had to be terribly sophisticated to notice that when Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey left the department in August 2005 his departure was quite abrupt, and that his large farewell party was attended by neither Gonzales nor (as best as could be seen) anyone else on the AG's personal staff.

Third, and most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it.

Having seen this firsthand in a range of different situations for nearly two years before I retired, I found it not at all surprising that the recent U.S. Attorney problems arose in the first place and then were so badly mishandled once they did.

Q: Was the politicization a contributing factor to your decision to retire?

A: Yes it was, but probably not in the way you might think. It certainly is true that before Gonzales arrived I had never planned to retire as soon as I became eligible at age 55 (much to my wife's dismay), but it also is true that I had relatively little difficulty with substantive matters in my areas of responsibility under either Ashcroft or Gonzales. In fact, there were only two such policy conflicts. One was entirely averted through my own type of political maneuvering (to the great dismay of the department's acting assistant attorney general for legal counsel), and the other involved political appointees wanting to make greater disclosure, not less, which ultimately became the result.

But the process of agency functioning, however, became dramatically different almost immediately after Gonzales arrived. No longer was emphasis placed on accomplishing something with the highest-quality product in a timely fashion; rather, it became a matter of making sure that a "consensus" was achieved, regardless of how long that might take and with little or no concern that quality would suffer in such a "lowest common denominator" environment. And heaven help anyone, career or noncareer employee, if that "consensus" did not include whatever someone in the White House might think about something, be it large, small or medium-sized.

In short, the culture markedly shifted to one in which avoiding any possibility of disagreement anywhere was the overriding concern, as if "consensus" were an end unto itself. Undergirding this, what's more, was the sad fact that so many political appointees in 2005 and 2006 were so obviously thinking not much further than their next (i.e., higher-level) position, in some place where they could "max out" by the end of Bush's second term.

The day that I decided to retire, for example, was one on which I was asked to participate in a matter in which a significant part of the department's position was aiming to be -- there's no other word for it -- false. Briefly stated, someone in the White House had determined that it would be a good idea for an op-ed piece on the subject of government secrecy to be prepared, and although its subject matter extended beyond the Justice Department's jurisdiction in multiple respects, it was decided that the Justice Department's Office of Public Affairs would take on that task nevertheless. I was perfectly able to make several corrections and substantive improvements to a last-minute draft that I received but drew a line at even attempting to "improve" a Defense Department-related paragraph within it that was incorrect by a full 180 degrees.

Knowing what the facts of that matter actually were, I flatly refused to aid that part of the enterprise, pointedly observing that the Gonzales-era political appointee who was behind the draft did, in fact, to my own certain knowledge, know them as well. I suppose I can take some small satisfaction that the false part of that "final draft" was then entirely replaced with something that was at least arguably true, but that's hardly the point. (That political appointee, by the way, did indeed receive his promotion, but is no longer in Washington.)

[Editor's Note: The op-ed in question appeared in USA Today on March 13, 2006, and was titled "Committed to Being Open."]

Yes, it became quite clear that under Gonzales, the department placed no more than secondary value on the standards that I and my office had valued so heavily for the preceding 25 years -- accuracy, integrity, responsibility and quality of decision-making being chief among them. Had I stayed as director of OIP, I might have been working for a Monica Goodling protege by now.

Q: Are there any possible benefits to this "decision-making by consensus" approach?

A: Yes, but they accrue only to the participants in the process. Indeed, by operating in this way, they manage to avoid any singular responsibility for the result, or any part of it, which is another way of saying that they see themselves as running no risk of blame if anyone beyond the group has any problem with what they've done at any point.

After all, it was "the group" that did it (whatever that might be), and they achieved presumptively benign "consensus" (at all costs) before moving forward. You can imagine how important this is to someone whose primary interest in most any government action is to make sure that it doesn't somehow get in the way of securing that next (but not necessarily last) position before the end of a presidential administration. And remember that there's little downside to operating in this way if your basic view of government (in line with your inexperience) holds little respect for it in the first place. In other words, if it doesn't really matter so much to you how well or efficiently a government activity is handled, just so long as it eventually is handled, then the thinking is: Why not handle it in the way that most effectively minimizes personal risk? What this breeds, of course, is an utter lack of individual responsibility -- the very antithesis of good government.

Q: Do you see the department's decision-making weaknesses that you've just sketched out here as connected to its current problems with what it did on the U.S. Attorneys?

A: Certainly. You can clearly hear distinct echoes of this in the recent public statements of Kyle Sampson before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He described what to many listeners was an absolutely astonishing process by which he and a small group of others within the Justice Department handled the matter of U.S. Attorney replacement. By all accounts, no one person was in charge (Kyle described himself as merely the "aggregator"), it operated strictly by "consensus" (a word that he wielded as if it were an indisputably favorable one), and the end result was something that even he could not fully explain.

Yet it became the "groupthink" recommendation to the AG, an unprecedented "hit list" to be endorsed uncritically, as if it were something upon which Gonzales could rely without thinking. (And with nary a paper trail, by the way, which, I can tell you is no small consideration.) One might ask: Exactly whose dispositive decision was it to include the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico (let alone the threshold question of why) on that final list? Was there really a good case for including U.S. Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington, whom I personally knew to have made tremendous contributions in the area of law enforcement information-sharing programs?

Conversely, could it really be so that, as Kyle testified, one U.S. Attorney (I won't repeat from where) actually was "saved" from being on the list merely because Monica Goodling happened to know of, and think well of, her work in a particular area? [Editor's Note: According to Sampson's testimony, that U.S. Attorney was Anna Mills Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina.]

Yes, this decision-making "process," if it even deserves to be called that, was no different than what I saw played out time and again, albeit on a different scale, during my last two years at Justice. And as I see it, from the vantage point of someone who has considerable experience in government decision-making in general and at the Justice Department in particular, the greatest and most damning dereliction is on the part of the person who knowingly permits such a "process" to exist on a matter of such public importance within the realm of his ultimate responsibility. Sure, it might induce that official to think (and even defensively say), "I was no more involved than that." But that never used to be good enough (or even minimally defensible) at the Justice Department prior to 2005. And that, as much as anything, should be impossible to defend now.

Q: Are we witnessing a deterioration of the department that can be explained in part by the fact that this is now the second half of a second term? What happens to a bureaucracy in this kind of period?

A: That's a particularly timely question, given that the time period that we've been discussing is the early days of a second presidential term. I'll now say something that might sound partisan, even coming from a purposely nonpartisan registered independent, but it's really not: In my experience over 11 presidential administrations, from Nixon I to what can be called Bush III, there is an unmistakable drop-off in overall appointment quality during a second presidential term -- and this definitely is more so during a Republican administration. Perhaps this is due to there being a lower quality of political appointees in Republican administrations to begin with, given that, by and large, they give up more than Democrats do to enter government service, especially with the post-Watergate ethics restrictions that all government officials face.

This observation is nothing new, by the way; one need only look at the relative ages and experience levels of comparable appointees in successive administrations to see it. So when you enter the second term of a Republican administration, you get the worst of all possible worlds: You actually see some influential political appointees who are, to put it bluntly, too subject-matter ignorant to even realize how ignorant they are. (This is assuming that, if they knew, they'd actually care.)

And compounding this, as mentioned earlier, is the strong drive of political appointees at all levels (perhaps more so if they are attorneys, whose background is amenable to legal positions throughout the executive branch) to obtain that maximum capstone position before the second term ends. What happens to bureaucracy at such a time is that it becomes sluggish to the point of constipation, driven only by expediency as gauged from a political or personal agenda, and it sometimes yields some truly mind-boggling results, such as the current U.S. Attorney nightmare.

Speaking of which, this second-term drop-off, so to speak, has much to do with the U.S. Attorney situation, both as to the replacement decisions themselves and also how they were implemented. It is clear by now that the department -- and, perhaps more than anyone, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty -- was grossly disserved and betrayed by the relatively young aides who participated in that "consensus process" from its very beginning. To those who know the players involved, it's not hard to see how frictions could develop between such high-level Main Justice staffers and the U.S. Attorneys whom they attempted to "oversee."

On one side, you had hard-nosed prosecutors who, for the most part, already had several years' experience under their belts (with little micromanagement from Ashcroft's people) and knew what they were doing already. On the other side, you had political aides who, among other things, had precious little management experience for their positions and were not necessarily adept at playing well with others, even when those others were political appointees like themselves. One need look no further than the extensively disclosed e-mails from Kyle Sampson, Mike Elston [chief of staff to McNulty], Monica Goodling and [Deputy Associate Attorney General] Will Moschella to get a clear picture of this.

Does this mean that at least some of the eight replaced U.S. Attorneys made the list because they failed to get along in a sufficiently deferential fashion with such Main Justice appointees? I'd certainly bet the oldest of my two cars on it, perhaps even the newer one, based upon what I've seen over the years and what I've read in e-mail form more recently. And it surely follows from everything else I've observed that in such a situation, even with the presumed cover of "consensus" decision-making, such appointed aides would scramble mightily, in the most derisive of terms (captured only partially on the disclosed e-mails), to castigate the U.S. Attorney victims of their management inexperience, lest they themselves be held to blame.

And that then, with little sense (of irony or otherwise), they would proceed to publicly tarnish the reputations of several U.S. Attorneys while in the next breath redacting records based on an asserted need to "protect their (i.e., the U.S. Attorneys') privacy." Even putting such callousness and privacy violations aside, and moving swiftly past the image that they "eat their young," it is painfully clear that these political aides got carried away again and again.

This is the type of thing that a second term at its very worst can bring -- though I remember well that even the second Reagan administration, for all its flaws, was never quite as bad. And it cannot help but reflect disastrously on the person sitting at the top of that heap -- who either knew of this and at a minimum tacitly condoned it or else turned a fatally blind eye to it through overdelegation to underlings because he just didn't care (and take care) nearly as much as an attorney general should. Either way, it's hard to see how anyone could ever place trust in such a situation again.

Q: How would you describe the morale in the department when you left, and since you have left (among career people especially)?

A: I won't presume to speak for the noncareer appointees at Justice when it comes to morale (though I have a good basis for doing so), but I certainly can say that morale among the career ranks, especially the more experienced folks, is as low as you would expect it to be.

You have to remember that this is a Cabinet department that, for good reason, prides itself on the high-quality administration of justice, regardless of who is in the White House. Ever since the Watergate era, when Edward Levi came in as attorney general to replace former Sen. William Saxby soon after Nixon resigned, the Justice Department maintained a healthy distance between it and what could be called the raw political concerns that are properly within the White House's domain. Even Reagan's first attorney general, William French Smith, did not depart greatly from the standard that Levi set; as for Meese, I knew him to be more heavily involved in defending himself from multiple ethics investigations than in bringing the department too close to the White House, even though he came from there.

More recently, of course, the DOJ-White House distance hit its all-time high-water mark under Janet Reno, especially during Clinton's second term. And even John Ashcroft made it clear to all department employees that, among other things, he held that traditional distance in proper reverence; he proved that this was no mere lip service when, from his hospital bed, he refused to overrule Deputy AG Comey on what is now called the "terrorist surveillance program." Especially in the wake of 9/11, which strongly spurred the morale and dedication of Justice Department employees, myself included, I saw only a limited morale diminution in general during the first term.

But that strong tradition of independence over the previous 30 years was shattered in 2005 with the arrival of the White House counsel as a second-term AG. All sworn assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, it was as if the White House and Justice Department now were artificially tied at the hip -- through their public affairs, legislative affairs and legal policy offices, for example, as well as where you ordinarily would expect such a connection (i.e., Justice's Office of Legal Counsel). I attended many meetings in which this total lack of distance became quite clear, as if the current crop of political appointees in those offices weren't even aware of the important administration-of-justice principles that they were trampling.

This matters greatly to Justice Department employees of my generation. They are now the senior career cadre there, with the high-grade institutional knowledge that carries the department from one administration to the next, and when they see a new attorney general come from the White House Counsel's Office with a wave of young "Bushies" in tow and find their worst expectations quickly met, they just as quickly lose respect for nearly all of the department's political leadership, not to mention that leadership's "policy concerns." That respect is a vital thing, as fragile as it is essential, and now it's gone.

Q: In your view, what needs to be done to repair the department?

A: Based upon my experience, it's very hard to imagine how the department can viably move forward now without a Watergate-style repair. By that I mean the appointment of a new attorney general, one who by reputation, background and temperament is well-suited to at least begin the process of restoring the department's previous reputation for political independence and the reliably even-handed administration of justice.

With that, and the necessary "woodshedding" of any future political aides who might be inclined to allow their inexperience to overcome their boss' better judgment, the department's external standing would rise, and in time, its internal morale problems would begin to solve themselves. At bottom, the Justice Department is a tremendously satisfying place to work, especially in a post-9/11 world. I'm optimistic that it will bounce back from this in time, just as it did in the mid-1970s. After all, if the past two years have shown anything, it's that much can change in a surprisingly short period of time.

Q: On the secrecy/FOIA front, I think there's a general assumption that the first impulse of all governments is to conceal. Is that true, and how did you deal with that attitude as you sought to oversee implementation of a law such as FOIA?

A: Yes, that is indeed the first impulse of virtually any government -- or large institution, for that matter. Think of it as simply a macrocosm of individual human nature -- would you want "your" information made public if you could easily avoid it? But I think that one has to be very careful with a word such as "conceal," as it suggests some surreptitiousness of a type that might be highly questionable and even wrongful. The overwhelming bulk of government information nondisclosure has nothing even remotely to do with "concealment" or anything improper.

The very fact that a law such as the FOIA has several robust exemptions from disclosure -- for items of personal privacy, business confidentiality and law-enforcement sensitivity, for example -- stands as testament to the fact that many government records, in whole or in part, cannot be publicly disclosed without causing unwarranted harm.

That said, I agree completely that a major part of any FOIA officer's job, or the role of someone like me who works to lead them in the right direction, is to firmly grapple with this problem attitude -- an attitude that can quickly become ingrained within the culture of any part of an agency, sometimes on four-year cycles as a new president (either Republican or Democrat) comes into office.

I think the best approach is to confront this attitude directly -- to explicitly acknowledge it as an immutable aspect of both human and institutional nature and, in so doing, to attack it head-on. Someone who blatantly resists a legal requirement such as the FOIA is not unlike a bully, I've found, and the best response to that can be a verbal two-by-four across the bridge of the nose. This works more often than you might imagine, even with new political employees. My former colleague Dick Huff, who was a colonel in the Army Reserve, sometimes liked nothing more than to explain to a general or an admiral in no uncertain terms that his or her information-withholding inclinations were violative of the law and just could not properly be carried out.

Though I've been dealing with information policy and the FOIA for more than 30 years now, I didn't have the dubious pleasure of trying to "re-culturize" the federal government upon the FOIA's enactment in 1966. But I've given advice to nearly 100 other nations and international governing bodies worldwide as they've considered enacting and then implementing their own versions of our FOIA. The United Kingdom is a good case in point, as it recently implemented its FOIA counterpart (in a radical departure from the tradition of its Official Secrets Act) by broadly applying it to more than 100,000 distinct governmental units, at all levels of its government.

In meetings with the Lord Chancellor's Office over there, and subsequent speeches in London and elsewhere in England, I advised the U.K. (as well as many other nations) to strive to capture the attention of its civil servants (not to mention its political class) by expressly recognizing that implementing its new law would involve a massive "culture change" within all government circles, and that this was exactly what the law was designed to bring about. The one major drawback of this, though, comes into play whenever a civil servant can reasonably conclude that his or her government has failed to provide anything even close to enough funds to meet such new legal requirements. If that happens, then agency employees tend to lose basic respect for the law, and no amount of hortatory admonition can completely overcome that.

Q: In the current administration, there has been a memo that was seen as anti-FOIA, then an executive order that seemed to point in the other direction. How did that seeming contradiction come about?

A: Well, the short answer to that is, first, that there is no real "contradiction," in that the Ashcroft FOIA memorandum and the FOIA executive order address two distinctly separate parts of FOIA administration. The former, which replaced Janet Reno's counterpart memorandum in 2001, sets the current administration's policy emphasis for FOIA-exemption decision-making (i.e., as a matter of substantive policy), whereas Executive Order 13,392, issued in December 2005, speaks to procedural FOIA matters such as timeliness, backlog reduction, request tracking and the proper treatment of FOIA requesters.

If they are seen as pointing in different directions, then that most likely is because the former, as a replacement for Janet Reno's more "liberal" policy memo, is viewed most simplistically as therefore an "anti-requester" document, while the executive order certainly appears on its face to be "pro-requester" in so many respects.

But there is more to the story than that. It's no secret that this first-of-its-kind FOIA executive order was issued in the context of proposed FOIA-amendment legislation -- media-sponsored bills that were introduced on an atypically bipartisan basis -- and that it served as enough of a countermeasure to forestall full action on those potent bills during the last Congress. I surely had no illusions to the contrary as I nonetheless worked very hard to vigorously implement that executive order from the day it was issued until the time of my retirement on Jan. 3. But would it have been issued by this administration in any other situation, or for any other purpose? I know of no one, inside of government or out, who would credibly assert that. So if this helps explain any residual "contradiction" that is perceived here, then there you have it -- at least in its short version.

Q: Did you ever feel you were pressured in the Bush administration (or any previous one) to perform your FOIA work to serve the administration's political agenda?

A: This answer might surprise many people, but in the 25-year history of OIP from 1981 through 2006, there were only three instances in which it was overruled by the political appointees for whom I worked -- and, actually, two of those three situations (one of which was in a Republican administration) resulted in greater disclosure than I thought was appropriate as a matter of law and sound policy. There was only one time in which an attorney general decided to take a matter out of OIP's hands in order to withhold information that otherwise would have been disclosed, and that was during the very early 1980s.

With that said, it is important to note two key parts of this question: the words "pressured" and "political." Together, they connote something nefarious at play, which could give a false impression. There truly is nothing wrong with any administration (or new Justice Department leadership within an administration) determining what that administration's policy agenda will be in an area like the FOIA -- so long as it is within the proper bounds of the law -- and it is not undue "pressure" to expect that career professionals will do their best to craft and implement such policies as strongly as an administration desires. Against this backdrop, I can say that, at least during my quarter-century of leading governmentwide FOIA policy, nothing quite so blatantly nefarious occurred.

Two further caveats are necessary here, however: First, I made a practice of determining, in advance, what I thought was a reasonable policy line for whatever administration was coming into power. Hence, when I conceived the "foreseeable harm" standard of FOIA-exemption decision-making for Janet Reno in 1993, she adopted it, rather than having to push OIP in that direction herself. The same was true even of the much-reviled Ashcroft FOIA memorandum in 2001, which, to my pleasant surprise, was accepted by him exactly along my proposed policy lines, even with the suggested "sound legal basis" standard, going further in the direction of openness than any previous Republican administration had ever gone.

Second, candor compels me to acknowledge that there in fact was a situation in which, rather than being asked to do something for purposes of a political agenda, I surely was asked to refrain from doing something quite ordinary for a reason that I later learned (and earlier had surmised) was indeed very much a "political" type of agenda. That situation does stand apart in my government experience, but I will refrain from saying anything more about it here, other than that it did occur during the early months of 2005.

A top Brazilian rabbi charged with shoplifting says he plans to seek God's forgiveness when he meets next month with the pope

April 14, 2006


Sobel seeks forgiveness in pope's presence

A top Brazilian rabbi charged with shoplifting says he plans to seek God's forgiveness when he meets next month with the pope.

Rabbi Henry Sobel, who has led the Sao Paolo Jewish congregation, told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper that he still plans on joining other Brazilian religious leaders next month in a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Brazil, a predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

"I am not Catholic, so I cannot ask for the pope's forgiveness," Sobel said in remarks translated by the Associated Press in a story Friday. "But I will ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel to forgive me. Perhaps in the pope's presence I could feel his humility and have some of it enter my soul."

Sobel faces shoplifting charges in Palm Beach, Fla., where he was arrested in March. He is well regarded in Brazil for his activism against the dictatorship in that country in the 1960s and for promoting inter-religious harmony.

Every major Democratic presidential candidate will address a National Jewish Democratic Council conference


April 14, 2007

Every major Democratic presidential candidate will address a National Jewish Democratic Council conference.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.); Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.); Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.); former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are all scheduled to address the NJDC Washington conference, taking place from

New data reveal an alarming trend: Vets' disabilities are being downgraded

Insult to Injury

By Linda Robinson

Posted 4/8/07

In the middle of a battle in Fallujah in April 2004, an M80 grenade landed a foot away from Fred Ball. The blast threw the 26-year-old Marine sergeant 10 feet into the air and sent a piece of hot shrapnel into his right temple. Once his wound was patched up, Ball insisted on rejoining his men. For the next three months, he continued to go on raids, then returned to Camp Pendleton, Calif.

But Ball was not all right. Military doctors concluded that Ball was suffering from a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic headaches, and balance problems. Ball, who had a 3.5 grade-point average in high school, was found to have a sixth-grade-level learning capability. In January of last year, the Marine Corps found him unfit for duty but not disabled enough to receive full permanent disability retirement benefits and discharged him.

Ball's situation has taken a dire turn for the worse. The tremors that he experienced after the blast are back, he can hardly walk, and he has trouble using a pencil or a fork. Ball's case is being handled by the Department of Veterans Affairs-he receives $337 a month-but while his case is under appeal, he receives no medical care. He works 16-hour shifts at a packing-crate plant near his home in East Wenatchee, Wash., but he has gone into debt to cover his $1,600 monthly mortgage and support his wife and 2-month-old son. "Life is coming down around me," Ball says. Trained to be strong and self-sufficient, Ball now speaks in tones of audible pain.

Fred Ball's story is just one of a shocking number of cases where the U.S. military appears to have dispensed low disability ratings to wounded service members with serious injuries and thus avoided paying them full military disabled retirement benefits. While most recent attention has been paid to substandard conditions and outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the first stop for many wounded soldiers stateside, veterans' advocates say that a more grievous problem is an arbitrary and dysfunctional disability ratings process that is short-changing the nation's newest crop of veterans. The trouble has existed for years, but now that the country is at war, tens of thousands of Americans are being caught up in it.

Now an extensive investigation by U.S. News and a new Army inspector general's report reveal that the system is beset by ambiguity and riddled with discrepancies. Indeed, Department of Defense data examined by U.S. News and military experts show that the vast majority-nearly 93 percent-of disabled troops are receiving low ratings, and more have been graded similarly in recent years. What's more, ground troops, who suffer the most combat injuries from the ubiquitous roadside bombs, have received the lowest ratings.

One counselor who has helped wounded soldiers navigate the process for over a decade believes that as many as half of them may have received ratings that are too low. Ron Smith, deputy general counsel for the Disabled American Veterans, says: "If it is even 10 percent, it is unconscionable." The DAV is chartered by Congress to represent service members as they go through the evaluation process. Its national service officers are based at each rating location, and there is a countrywide network of counselors. Smith says he recently asked the staff to cull those cases that appeared to have been incorrectly rated. Within six hours, he says, they had forwarded him 30 cases. "So far," Smith says, "the review supports the conclusion that a significant number of soldiers are being fairly dramatically underrated by the U.S. Army."

Magic number. In an effort to learn how extensive the problem is, U.S. News spent six weeks talking to wounded service members, their counselors, and veterans advocacy groups and reviewing Pentagon data. At first glance, the disability ratings process seems straightforward. Each branch of service has its own Physical Evaluation Boards, which can comprise military officers, medical professionals, and civilians. The PEBs determine whether the wounded or ill service members are fit for duty. If they are, it's back to work. Those found unfit are assigned a disability rating for the condition that makes them unable to do their military job. The actual rating is key, and here's why: Service members who have served less than 20 years-the great majority of wounded soldiers-who receive a rating under 30 percent are sent home with a severance check. Those who receive a rating of 30 percent or higher qualify for a host of lifelong, enviable benefits from the DOD, which include full military retirement pay (based on rank and tenure), life insurance, health insurance, and access to military commissaries.

But the system is hideously complicated in practice. The military doctors who prepare the case for the PEBs pick only one condition for the service member's rating, even though many of the current injuries are much more complex. The PEBs use the Department of Veterans Affairs ratings scale, which grades disabilities in increments of 10-a leg amputation, for example, puts a soldier at between 40 and 60 percent disabled. The PEBs claim they have the leeway to rate a soldier 20 percent disabled for pain, say, rather than 30 percent disabled for a back injury. If rated at 20 percent or below and discharged, the soldier enters the VA system as a retiree where he is evaluated again to establish his healthcare benefits. Ball, for example, was found by the VA to be 50 percent disabled for PTSD.

Since 2000, 92.7 percent of the disability ratings handed out by PEBs have been 20 percent or lower, according to Pentagon data analyzed by the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission, which Congress formed in 2004 to look into veterans' complaints (Page 47). Moreover, fewer veterans have received ratings of 30 percent or more since America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Pentagon's annual actuarial reports. As of 2006, for example, 87,000 disabled retirees were on the list of those exceeding the 30 percent threshold; in 2000, there were 102,000 recipients. Last year, only 1,077 of 19,902 service members made it over the 30 percent threshold (chart, Page 49).

The total amount paid out for these benefit awards has remained roughly constant in wartime and peacetime, leading disabled veterans like retired Lt. Col. Mike Parker, who has become an unofficial spokesperson on this issue, to allege that a budgetary ceiling has been imposed to contain war costs. A DOD spokesperson, Maj. Stewart Upton, said that the Pentagon "is committed to improving the Disability Evaluation System across the board and to ... a full and fair due process with regard to disability evaluation and compensation."

Other data reveal glaring discrepancies among the military services. Even though most of those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ground troops, the Army and Marine Corps have granted far fewer members full disabled benefits than the Air Force. The Pentagon records show that 26.7 percent of disabled airmen have been rated 30 percent or more disabled, while only 4.3 percent of soldiers and 2.7 percent of marines made the grade. Services engaged in close combat, experts say, could be expected to find more members unfit for duty and meriting full retirement benefits. Instead, the Air Force decided that 2,497 airmen fall into that category while the much larger Army, with its higher tally of wounded, has accorded those benefits to only 1,763 soldiers since 2000.

How many of these veterans' cases have been decided incorrectly? Nobody knows. These statistics show trends that are clearly at odds with what logic would dictate, but there has been no effort to discover how many of those low ratings were inaccurately conferred or to ascertain why the number receiving full benefits has declined during wartime or why there is such a discrepancy between the Air Force and the other services. But there is abundant anecdotal evidence of a process cloaked in obscurity and riddled with anomalies, and of ratings that are inconsistent and often arbitrarily applied.

DAV lawyer Smith, for example, took on the case of a soldier whose radial nerve of his dominant hand had been destroyed, the same affliction former Sen. Bob Dole has. Like Dole, the soldier was unable to write with a pen or to button his shirt. "There is one and only one rating for that condition, which is 70 percent disability," says Smith. The PEB gave the soldier 30 percent, the lawyer said, "which I found to be fairly outrageous." Upon appeal to the Army Physical Disability Agency, the entity that oversees that service's disability evaluation process, the rating was raised to 60 percent. Smith recently took on another case, that of Sgt. Michael Pinero, a soldier who developed a degenerative eye condition called keratoconus that required him to wear contact lenses. Army regulations prohibit wearing contacts in combat, which should have made him ineligible for deployment and therefore unfit to perform his specific military duties. But the PEB ignored the eye condition, which Smith believes merited a 30 percent rating or more, and rated Pinero 10 percent disabled for shin splints. Smith has asked the Army to clarify whether it considers the regulation on contact lenses binding or, as one board member alleged, merely a guideline. Disputes over such distinctions are common in the Alice in Wonderland world of disability ratings.

Controversy frequently surrounds decisions on which conditions make a soldier unfit for duty. Smith took issue with a recent statement made by the Army Physical Disability Agency's legal adviser, quoted in Army Times newspaper. The official said that short-term memory loss would not necessarily render soldiers unfit for duty since they could compensate by carrying a notepad. "Memory loss is a common sign of TBI," Smith said, using the abbreviation for traumatic brain injury, which has afflicted many soldiers hit by the roadside bombs commonly used in Iraq. "The rules of engagement are a seven-step process.... If a suicide bomber is coming at you, you cannot stop and consult your notepad," he added. "I find this demonstrative of the attitude that pervades the Physical Disability Agency," which is in charge of reviewing evaluations for accuracy and consistency.

Trying to overturn a low rating can be a full-time job-and an exasperating one. Take Staff Sgt. Chris Bain, who lost the use of his arms but not his sense of humor. "They call me T-Rex because I have a big mouth and two hands and I can't do nothing with them," he jokes. He left the Army in February, but he still has plenty of fight in him. During an ambush in Taji, Iraq, in 2004, a mortar round exploded 2 feet away from him, ripping through his left arm and hand. A sniper's bullet passed through his right elbow. His buddies saved his life, throwing Bain on the hood of a humvee and rushing him to a combat hospital. Once transferred to Walter Reed, Bain refused to have his arm amputated and underwent eight surgeries to save it. That choice cost him. While an amputation would have automatically put him over the 30 percent threshold, the injury to his left arm was rated at 20 percent even though he cannot use the limb.

Bain was angry. A noncommissioned officer who had planned on 20 or 30 years in the Army, he knew his career was over, but he wasn't going to go quietly. "I wanted to be an example to all soldiers," he said. "My job was to take care of troops." He went to find Danny Soto, the DAV representative at Walter Reed he'd heard so much about. "Danny is just an awesome guy. He took great care of me, but he should not have had to," Bain says. Soto is a patron saint to many soldiers at Walter Reed. He walks the halls, finding the newly injured and urging them to collect documents for their journey through the tortuous-and, to many, capricious-system. Many soldiers are young, and after they have spent months or years recuperating, they just want to get home and are unwilling to argue for the rating they deserve. Even though he missed his wife and three children, Bain decided: "I've already been here two years, another one ain't going to hurt me. Too many people are getting lowballed."

With Soto's help, Bain gathered detailed medical evidence of his injuries and went to face the board. They gave him a 70 percent rating for injuries related to the blast except for his hearing loss, which was not considered unfitting since he had a hearing aid. Oddly enough, however, the board put him on the temporary disabled retirement list instead of the permanent list. "What do they think, that after three years, my arm is going to come back to life?"

A lifetime of adjusting lies ahead for Bain. "I can't tie my shoes, open bottles of water, or cut my own food," he says. "I have to ask for help." The 35-year-old veteran has found a new sense of purpose. He's decided to run for Congress in 2008, and fixing the veterans' system is his top priority. "I do not want this s--- to happen again to anyone. No one can communicate with each other. The paper trail doesn't catch up." It's a tall order, but the soldier says that he has "100,000 fights" left in him.

A systemic fix doesn't appear to be anywhere in sight. A March 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office found that Pentagon officials were not even trying to get a handle on the problem. "While DOD has issued policies and guidance to promote consistent and timely disability decisions," the report concluded, "[it] is not monitoring compliance." But the GAO report did spur Army Secretary Francis Harvey, who was forced to resign last month in the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, to order the Army's inspector general to conduct an investigation of the disability evaluation system. After almost a year of work, the inspector general's office last month issued a 311-page report that begins to pierce the confusion and opacity surrounding the process. While it does not determine how many erroneous ratings were accorded to the nearly 40,000 soldiers rated 20 percent disabled or less since 2000, it does make three critical points: 1) the ambiguity in applying the ratings schedule should end; 2) wide variance in ratings is indisputable, even among the three Army boards, and 3) the Army's oversight body is not doing its job.

Way overdue. Army officials met with U.S. News to discuss the inspector general's report. "This is something that has been near and dear to our hearts for a long time, and it's probably way overdue as far as having someone go and take a look at it," says a senior Army official. The inspector general's team found that Army policy was not consistent with the policies of either the Pentagon or the Department of Veterans Affairs. It recommended that the Army "align [its] adjudication of disability ratings to more closely reflect those used by the Department of Veterans Affairs." For years, the Army has asserted that it has the right to depart from VA standards on grounds that it is assessing fitness for duty and compensating for loss of military career, not decreased civilian employability.

Veterans' advocates argue that federal law requires the military to use the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities as the standard for assigning the ratings. But over the years, Pentagon directives on applying the schedule have opened up a whole new gray area by saying the schedule is to be used only as a guide. And the services have interpreted them in different ways, engendering further discrepancies. Soto, the DAV national service officer at Walter Reed, says that inconsistencies are especially prevalent in complex cases of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. "There is a saying going around the compound here," Soto says, "that if you are not an amputee, you are going to have to fight for your rating."

The inspector general's report calls for ending the ambiguities. "What we're saying is it shouldn't be left to interpretation; it should be clearly defined," says one Army official. "If there were a way to cut down on that ambiguity, I think that variance would decrease."

Finally, the report bluntly concludes that the system's internal oversight mechanism is not functioning. "The Army Physical Disability Agency's quality assurance program does not conform to DOD and Army policy," it says-the same conclusion the GAO came to a year ago. The inspector general's report adds evidence of just how little the watchdog is doing to ensure that cases are correctly decided. The agency is supposed to send cases to either of two review boards when soldiers rebut their rating evaluations, but from 2002 through 2005, the agency sent only 45 out of 51,000 cases to one of the boards. The other review board has not been used at all.

The inspector general's team made 41 recommendations in all, finding among other things that the Army lacks a formal course for training the liaison officers who are supposed to guide soldiers through the PEB process, that the disposition of cases lags badly, that the computerized information systems are antiquated, and that the two key medical and personnel databases are not integrated and cannot communicate with each other. The report has been forwarded to the action team that Army Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody convened-one of many official groups formed since the revelations of substandard conditions and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed.

Veterans' advocates are skeptical that the administration or the military bureaucracy will make major changes anytime soon. In testimony to Congress last month, Veterans for America director of veterans' affairs Steve Robinson recommended taking the entire ratings process away from the Pentagon and giving it to the Department of Veterans Affairs. "It's hard to ignore the fact that in time of war they are giving out less disability," he says. "Is it policy? I don't know. But it is a fact."

Congress has not responded to this problem. Says Rep. Vic Snyder, the Arkansas Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel: "This whole issue of disability ratings is very complex. It is not well understood by many people, including many in Congress. That is why we set up the [ Veterans' Disability Benefits] Commission in 2004. We are hoping it will help us sort this out."

A lot is riding on the commission. Its chairman is Lt. Gen. Terry Scott, who retired in 1997 and ran Harvard's Kennedy School of Government's National Security Program until 2001. After the Pentagon data on the disability process were presented to the commission last week, Scott said "we still don't understand the whys and wherefores" of the skewed ratings. The core problem, he believes, is that "the military was not designed to look after severely wounded people for a long time." The commission has not yet decided what changes it will recommend, but he said there is a general sense that "one physical exam at the end of service should be enough for both agencies, DOD and VA."

Cash and staff. Any solutions that call for transferring more responsibility to the Department of Veterans Affairs will have to be matched by enormous infusions of cash and staff. Already, the VA is reeling under a backlog of over 600,000 claims from retired veterans, which the agency predicts will grow by an additional 1.6 million in the next two years. Harvard Prof. Linda Bilmes, an economist who has published two studies on the costs of the Iraq war and the associated veterans' costs, projects that as much as $150 billion more will be required to deal with the wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, people like Danny Soto want to know who is going to stop the military boards from giving out ratings like the 10 percent given to one soldier for a skull fracture and traumatic brain injury, when the VA later assigned a 100 percent rating. Soto is also frustrated by a recent case in which a soldier whose legs had been severely injured in a blast in Iraq was given only a 20 percent disability rating for pain and by the treatment of a man who has a bullet hole through his eye and suffers from seizures. As Soto sat with that soldier in front of the board, he asked why he had been placed on the temporary list. "At what point do you think he is going to fall below 30 percent?"

Soto is unsparing in his criticism of the bureaucracy. "This system," he says, " is so broke." Old soldiers say the root of the problem is an Army culture that preaches a "suck it up" attitude. "If you ask for what you are due, you are perceived to be whining or trying to pad your pocket," says a retired command sergeant major. "If you're not bleeding, you're not hurt. That's what we were taught."

With Edward T. Pound

This story appears in the April 16, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.

Dark of Heartness: A Journey Into The (Reputed) Soul of Conservatism

April 13, 2007

By David Michael Green

I spend a lot of hours thinking about what goes on in the hearts and souls of the regressive right.

Probably you’re already thinking, “Boy, what a waste of your time”. Or maybe, “What hearts? What souls?”

Far be it from me to disagree. But I have been haunted this last quarter-century, and especially this last decade, by the darkness that has descended over the American political landscape, a long shadow unlike any I remember from the first half of my life.

That’s a pretty remarkable statement, if you think about it, since among the political lowlights of my first decades were the deepest depths of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, Vietnam, reaction to the civil rights, antiwar, women’s and gay rights movements, three major political assassinations, Watergate, the Nixon/Kissinger/Pinochet coup in Chile, the oil shocks, the Iranian Revolution and the Hostage Crisis. And while much of that I was too young to fully appreciate at the time, you have to admit that’s a helluva of roller-coaster ride for just a few decades.

Just the same - maybe it was my youth, and maybe it was my naiveté - but it sure seemed like things were nevertheless different then, even through the worst of times.

People hated Nixon, for example, and for very good reason. You can even make a pretty compelling empirical argument that his depredations were more lethal abroad and more destructive at home than those of his profoundly stunted present-day successor and sociopath sidekick.

Still, somehow there were limits then that don’t seem to exist today. Somehow there was a fundamental decency - though hardly universal - that has disappeared in our time.

It’s hard to put your finger on, exactly, but there’s a base meanness of spirit and a destructive indifference attached to the likes of Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Antonin Scalia or Karl Rove for which it is hard to find equivalents among the Gerry Fords or Nelson Rockefellers or Harry Blackmuns or even Barry Goldwaters of old (though high marks go to the likes of Spiro Agnew and Joseph McCarthy for representing their generations well in the Most Debauched Neanderthal competition). Something profound changed in the forty years preceding 2007.

Things are different now. Not only is the moderate wing of the GOP no longer dominant within the party, today it represents a nearly vanished species, and may be fully extinct after 2008. And no longer is there a lack of public support for the worst tendencies of the sickest Republican minds (though things have improved marginally in that regard in the last year or so). Nor are there any longer substantial limits on what the party is capable of doing. Nowadays the inmates are in charge of the asylum, and a very scary segment of the public has been applauding their reprobate policies and their noxious tactics. These are not good signs. This is not the mark of a healthy republic.

How did we get here?

You could begin to see it in the 1980s, though that was still a time of transition. The Reagan administration was in so many ways a warm-up act for the current calamity, though it was still qualitatively different. Perhaps that is why Nancy is always at such great pains to disassociate her Ron from the rabid feralites who inherited his party. Usually I find her plaint unconvincing, but too often even the deceitful and rapacious policies of the Reagan administration look downright patriotic compared to the present crew.

By the 1990s, the ugliest tendencies of the regressive movement were on full display, though, of course, not nearly in the magnitude of what was to come. The arrogance and sheer maliciousness of Gingrich and the hounding of the decidedly not-liberal Bill Clinton made clear that a new and destructive vector had been cut loose in American politics, and that everything - including, if not especially, the institutional and philosophical inheritance from America’s Founders - was expendable if it got in the way of the will to power. When we saw a bunch of Republicans impeach a president - for only the second time in American history - for a less egregious version of exactly the same thing they were all doing (”But his lies about philandering were under oath!”, don’t you see), you knew the country was adrift in some dark waters.

But the real emblem of regressive malignancy circa the 1990s was the savaging that was directed toward Hillary Clinton. Again, it is important to note that Hillary, who had grown up Republican and conservative, was never much of a liberal. Unless you think that giving people access to healthcare or a decent childhood is a stealth project of some Trotskyite anarchist sleeper cell attempting to corrode America’s moral fiber from within. It is highly instructive to remember that there were senators and congressfolk (who, by the way, unlike Hillary had a real title and real governing authority) with politics far to the left of hers, who never took anything like the beating that she did. And also that there have been women in leadership positions in the GOP then and now - Elizabeth Dole, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe - some of whose politics are, like Hillary’s, even rather centrist, and obviously none of whom were subjected to any right-wing venom at all, let alone the oceans’ worth dumped on the former Ms. Rodham.

Something about Hillary struck a primal nerve in the psychology of regressives - and not just public ones like Gingrich and Limbaugh, either, but a whole lot of ordinary folk as well. Why? I think, quite clearly, that she posed some kind of profound and essential threat to a certain kind of person, a threat which entirely transcended all rationale calculus.

By the time we came to the era of Caligula himself, the dark heart of contemporary regressivism was on full display. You could see it in the post-election debacle of 2000, as Scalia actually stopped the counting of votes, as the Brooks Brothers Riot brought GOP congressional aides to Florida for some wee brownshirting to the same effect, and as Bush loyalists waved their ugly “Sore Loserman” signs in an attempt to close down a legitimate legal process seeking to determine the winner of the presidency.

Here, along with the prior impeachment, was a bitter anger and destructive vengeance on display rather unlike most of mainstream politics in the prior century. No quarter would be given, and no prisoners taken. Not only ideologically, but also tactically, the radical right of the former fringe had become instead the Republican, and later the national, mainstream. The barbarians had penetrated the gates and were now occupying the very halls of power, while the genteel dinosaurs from a more civilized era stood by watching in stunned silence. Tom Daschle never knew what hit him. This was a different breed altogether.

It would get worse, of course - much worse. Like (the now gone native) John McCain before them, war heroes John Kerry and Max Cleland would be savaged by a smear machine for which conscience was an entirely foreign (and undoubtedly Gallic) concept. It wasn’t that long ago that the wearing of Band-Aids mocking Purple Heart recipients would have been unheard of, even among the Reagan crowd. Next, in an act of what can only be called treason, an undercover CIA agent would be outed in order to destroy her husband, whose crime was to expose one of the myriad lies told to sell a completely fabricated national security crisis. Anyone who disagreed with this most disagreeable of foreign policies had their patriotism publicly questioned, and were accused of abetting the enemy. Historic allies - some dating to the very beginning of America itself, and all only a year earlier fully supporting the Afghan invasion - were ridiculed, mocked and alienated. Longstanding keystone treaties and international laws were shredded. And there is much, much more. What is scary is that this could happen in America, but what is scarier still is that it could receive significant public support.

What happened here? What trauma occurred during these decades, so extensive that it transformed these people and their party into something no longer recognizable even for the likes of former Republican senator Jim Jeffords?

As an upstanding social scientist trained to empirical caution, I’d want to see loads of data before I’d proffer any definitive answers to that question. But as a reckless armchair social theorist, I can’t help but be struck by four highly significant macro trends that have been temporally coterminous with this turn to the mean-spirited right in the United States.

The first of these is economic stagnation. Or, at least, for some of us. The hourly wage of the median American worker has risen only 9 percent from 1979 to 2005. Not too good, eh? Well, more precisely, not too good for the middle class. Certain other folks did just fine, thank you very much. In 1982, CEOs made 42 times more in salary than the average worker at their company. By 2001, that ratio had grown to 525 to 1, meaning that a CEO today makes, over the course of eighteen holes and two beers, what the average worker pulls down in an entire year. Overall, the share of total national income going to the richest ten percent of Americans has returned - after holding steady from the 1930s through the 1960s at about one-third - to pre-New Deal levels of close to one-half, thus bequeathing to our happy country levels of economic inequality only the Third World can match (welcome to Managua, my friends).

The upshot of this stagnation is that people have had to work harder and longer just to tread water. Today’s household typically requires two breadwinners to sustain what a single one could a generation prior. And even that pathetic income is not exactly leaving exhausted workers feeling content. Between globalization, layoffs, outsourcing, and the corporate shedding of healthcare and pension benefits, Americans feel the ground shifting beneath their feet every day. It isn’t inevitable that such conditions would produce a meaner politics, but it certainly provides fertile ground for the purveyors of cheap scapegoats (e.g., welfare queens, ‘the government’, immigrants) and cheaper-still solutions (reckless tax cuts, beating up punky countries, etc.).

Meanwhile, if falling economic standards are a first causal factor, almost certainly a second one driving such politics is the unprecedented rise of social equality America has experienced since the 1960s. In most circles, it is no longer acceptable to be racist, sexist or, increasingly, homophobic. ‘Worse’ yet, for America’s Archie Bunkers, not only can such outgroups no longer be dominated and disparaged, but they have now become officially privileged, winning jobs and other opportunities on the basis of these classifications, the product of a remedial equality program based on reverse discrimination.

Third among these likely explanatory factors, it must be noted that the driving cohort in American politics (and economics) these last decades has been the Baby Boomers. Stereotypes are just that, and generalizations should be understood, by definition, to be riddled with exceptions. That said, groups do sometimes have tendencies, and the tendencies of this group have (well-)earned it sobriquets like the Me Generation. Boomers have done a lot of good in their life span, I’d argue, as well as a lot of bad. What seems to unite it all is a certain pronounced self-absorption, selfishness and self-reverence. What, you disagree? Well, if you’ve got a problem with that, we can gladly toss in a healthy slathering of self-righteousness too, as we disabuse you of your foolish misconceptions.

Finally, all of these factors have arisen against the backdrop of a fourth development, which sets a sometimes subtle, sometimes not, context for the others. That is the crossing of the imperial watershed. Even if Americans, with their short attention spans and their profound ignorance of history, can’t see it, it is nevertheless pretty clear that the ‘American Century’ actually only lasted about twenty-five years, and the empire is today seriously in decline - not only in a relative sense, but now also in an absolute sense. (It is true that this four-to-one projected to actual life span ratio is considerably better than the one percent of Hitler’s thousand-year Reich he actually managed to realize, but then surely there’s no better sign of your empire’s sorry demise than having to take solace in favorable comparisons to Nazi Germany, eh?)

In any case, the signs are all there. The crumbling of Bretton Woods in the early 70s, the vulnerability to oil blackmail that decade, the superpower’s drubbing by an impoverished Third World guerilla army clad in pajamas, and now a latter day repeat of the same disaster, the feel-good beating of collective chests represented by politicians like Ronald Reagan and George H. W. (”By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!”) Bush, and their yellow-ribbon-bedecked wars against such pathetically outgunned ‘enemies’ as Panama, Grenada and Iraq.

The list of such signs of imperial apocalypse is endless. It would certainly include the current insanity of our debt levels, the rapaciousness of our predatory elites that seems to know no bounds, the inability of the richest country in the world to provide basic services for millions of its citizens, and the near-monarchical dynastic tendencies of a polity that has produced the likes of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as its leading political figures. And don’t even get me started on American Idol! You don’t have to be Hamlet to know there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.

Put all these factors together and it’s easy to explain (though not excuse) America’s turn to the ugly right. Opportunities are diminishing, foundations are eroding, empire is fading. All this is happening especially to a generation of walking ids, used as they are to wanting what they want when they want it, and then getting it. And it has been happening most, and longest, to middle- and working-class straight white males.

The pinch is not inconsiderable. And gone are the socially-acceptable psychological safety-valve releases of yore which long provided coping mechanisms to these dispossessed. Back then, you might have been poor white trash, but you could at least feel better about yourself every time you asserted your superiority to blacks. No more. You might have been dealt some crummy cards in life, but at least your woman knew who was boss, especially when you brought home the sole paycheck. No more. And even when elites humiliated you with their power, you could always reassert your tenuous manhood by stomping a few queers here or there while the cops looked away (or assisted). Nowadays you’ll draw thirty years for committing a hate crime.

These people - these discarded and existentially exposed denizens of a dying empire - were walking targets for an angry ideology of greed, selfishness and violence. Like so many wandering San Francisco street kids seduced into attending a Moonie retreat, you could see them walking through the door. Mix in a little 9/11 fear and unfocused hatred at this or that brown-skinned foreign race, and these dudes were fully locked and loaded, ready to rumble. If you had to design a set of circumstances in order to sell tax cuts, war, repression and the permanent rule of Wall Street in America, you could hardly engineer a better program. And, to a certain extent, that is exactly how it went down.

The political figureheads, at the behest of their cynically clever marketing gurus, like to mask it as a cool and efficient resolve. But you don’t exactly need magnetic resonance imaging to pick up on the sheer self-loathing fury raging just below the surface of a guy like Newt Gingrich or George W. Bush. And just below that lies (and lies often) what is really the operative emotion, a deep, essential and defining terror. Without question, these politicians resonate with our bedraggled Boomers not only for their jejune policy prescriptions of belligerence abroad and selfishness at home, but most especially because such voters recognize in them a kindred spirit. One which hates Hillary Clinton profoundly and viscerally, without really being able to explain why. One which thinks blacks and Hispanics have gotten to be more than a little uppity and are stealing ‘our’ jobs. One which thinks that kicking some Arab ass might be a pretty good idea just on general principles.

Maybe you’ve also gathered from personal experience, as I have, that for many such ordinary folk this has become a faith-based politics, in more than one sense of the term. Regressives have nowadays become post- (actually, pre-) empirical. It’s as if the Enlightenment and the Founders and all of the last two centuries never happened (though, somehow, they seem to like their SUVs and their atomic bombs just fine). Rationality, as the primary cognitive system for comprehending our world, has been rejected in favor of unyielding dogmatic belief. For example, there exists today plenty of evidence to clearly prove without question that the administration willfully and purposefully lied about Iraq to sell a war the American public didn’t otherwise want. The Downing Street Memos alone are enough to make that case, but there is also plenty more. (Just imagine if there was this much proof against Bill Clinton how the right would have responded.) But try presenting a regressive you know with this evidence, or with the overwhelming evidence for global warming, and watch how they put up the blinders and start quoting from the Limbaugh gospels or the New Fox Testament. They can’t hear of it, and so they don’t.

Given the prevalence of such attitudes, it is no small miracle that we appear to have survived our era’s toxic cocktail of regressive bile. We are, of course, not out of the woods yet, and it is possible that a new, new Pearl Harbor, or yet another Middle East war would rally the persuadable middle of the American electorate back to the flag of the Boy King. (Don’t forget he had 90 percent job approval ratings right after 9/11 - despite the fact that he had gone off hiding in Nebraska.) But I tend to think that is probably no longer possible. I also tend to think that the fact that they haven’t already done this suggests that they’re probably not going to, though you never know what they’re capable of once the impeachment process kicks in.

Americans have hardly become any more secure in their own skins, however. To the contrary, the loss of a second Vietnam and the economic disaster which continually seems looming right around the personal debt / government debt / trade debt / mortgage meltdown / globalization corner is only going to make things worse on that score.

Ironically, what saved us (if we are saved) in the long-term from a predatory regime of regressive kleptocrats was the short-term experience of living under a predatory regime of regressive kleptocrats. After the utter and complete hash these people have made of everything they’ve touched, who now wants anything to do with this absurdly deluded ideology, apart from the frightened old ladies who still allow their pastors to tell them how to think and vote (oh, and how to donate too)?

There is massive opportunity here. The combination of increasingly insecure Americans and the patent failures of a disastrous turn to the right meant to address those insecurities leaves one obvious prescription on the table - a turn to the left. Already there is overwhelming public support for a national healthcare system (wow, and to think - only sixty years after every other industrialized democracy in the world got theirs!). This would have been unthinkable as little as five years ago. Expect similar attitudinal swings as the trap door continues to open underneath Americans on issues like pensions, global warming, jobs and more. It is not exactly in the American tradition to favor governmental solutions to personal and social problems. It just so happens, though, that in so many of these domains they tend to work (however imperfectly - which imperfections usually having most to do with insufficient funding), and that the alternative of the conservative market deity (Praise the one true lord!) does not.

Americans have been slow to learn this, and have paid the price accordingly. But learn they now appear to be doing (it would sure help if somebody out there from the so-called liberal party would frame the question properly, and vocally), and we should perhaps be thankful that the damage done during this particular life lesson wasn’t greater than what has in fact been visited upon us. As awful as its been, it could have been much worse.

There is hope, especially, in the narcissistic selfishness of the Baby Boomers, whose only consistent attribute has been a tendency to take very good care indeed of Me (and, after all, who else really matters?). In their formative years, that meant playing at socialism. When, during their middle years, the bill for such policies would have come due in the form of higher taxes (and therefore fewer wide screen televisions), that meant playing - much more seriously this time - at capitalism. Now that they are getting ready to retire and will be dependent on external revenue sources to maintain a decent lifestyle, they’ll be back to the government teat again. You can bet, as Boomers usually do, somebody else’s bottom dollar on that one.

John Stuart Mill once said that “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people… it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” Mill was certainly on to something there, though I prefer the term ‘ignorant’ (in its non-pejorative sense, that of simply lacking knowledge) to his use of ‘stupid’.

Regardless, I suspect that what is more significant to the determination of political dispositions than even the absence of education, knowledge or intellect is the question of personal security. We’d understand our current predicament much better by realizing that not all conservatives are insecure, but that most insecure people are conservative.

Fortunately, conservatism is not the only answer to insecurity, and in the end it’s no answer at all. Writing in “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, Hannah Arendt described how such movements “conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never‑ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations”.

It’s great magic, but, of course it never lasts. However powerful your imagination, that empty belly of yours is still going to require food. However potent their propaganda, that medical condition you have is still going to require treatment.

Given a bit more courage, a smart progressive movement could successfully pitch its ideas to an insecure public hungry for protection from a threatening world, especially because the facts are so manifestly in our corner.

Fortunately, this process has already begun. Now it only remains to be seen just how courageous and smart we are, and just how desperate is the reaction of the regressive right to its own implosion.

The moment is ours.

David Michael Green
is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.