Friday, May 4, 2007

Study: One in 10 US soldiers said they mistreated civilians

Update - May 5, 2007 - Editor's note: I am posting at the secondary blog

Yesterday's stories are here below.

See older articles at the overflow blog.



U.S. examines Iraq battlefield ethics
A new Pentagon survey of troops in Iraq found that only 40 percent of Marines and 55 percent of Army soldiers would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

One in three US combat troops would condone torture: survey

2 hours, 33 minutes ago

A survey of US combat troops deployed in Iraq has found that one in 10 said they mistreated civilians and more than a third condoned torture to save the life of a comrade, a report said Friday.

The study by an army mental health advisory team found continuing problems with morale and that acute mental health issues were more prevalent among troops with lengthening tours or on their second and third deployment to Iraq.

"They looked under every rock, and what they found was not always easy to look at," said Ward Casscells, the Pentagon's health affairs chief.

For the first time ever, a sampling of soldiers and marines in combat units were questioned on issues of character, and their answers suggested hardened attitudes toward civilians among front line troops:

-- About 10 percent of soldiers surveyed reported mistreating non-combatants or damaging their property when it was not necessary;

-- Less than half of the soldiers and marines would report a team member for unethical behavior;

-- More than a third of all soldiers and marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a fellow soldier or marine.

Major General Gale Pollock, the army's acting surgeon general, sought to make a distinction between soldiers' thoughts about torture and their actions.

"These men and women have been seeing their friends injured and I think that having that thought is normal," she said at a Pentagon press conference.

"But what it speaks to is the leadership that the military is providing, because they're not acting on those thoughts. They're not torturing the people," she said.

The team surveyed 1,320 soldiers and 447 marines between August and October 2006 in Iraq. Although the report was completed in November, it was only released Friday in censored form after its findings began to leak to the press.

The study found that morale among soldiers was worse than among marines, which it said was explained in part by the marines' shorter six month tours.

The team recommended that the army's yearlong tours in Iraq either be shortened, or that soldiers be given 18 to 36 months between deployment to recover.

Instead, the army is moving in the opposite direction, extending tours to 15 months to keep pace with a surge in forces. The army is struggling to allow units a year at home between deployments.

US Army: Media a threat parallel to al-Qaeda and drug cartels

May. 03, 2007 - 2:17 PM

Is This What the Army Thinks of Us?

It looks like it's official: the United States Army thinks that American reporters are a threat to national security. Thanks to some great sleuthing by Wired's "Danger Room" blogger Noah Shachtman, the Army's new operational security guidelines (OPSEC) hit the Web in a big way yesterday, and the implications they have for reporters -- who are grouped in with drug cartels and Al Qaeda as security threats to be beaten back -- are staggering.

Make no mistake, this is a very big deal, and every American citizen, not just reporters and soldiers, needs to understand the implications of the Army's strict new policy, because it directly affects how citizens receive information about their armed forces: information that it has every right to get.

Shachtman reproduces a slide from the new "OPSEC in the Blogosphere," document, which lists and ranks "Categories of Threat." Under "traditional domestic threats" we find hackers and militia groups, while "non-traditional" threats include drug cartels, and -- yes -- the media. Just to put that into some perspective, the foreign "non-traditional threats" are listed as warlords, and Al Qaeda. In other words, the Army has figuratively and literally put the media in the same box as Al Qaeda, warlords, and drug cartels.

While snake oil salesmen like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh would surely rank the American press up there with Bin Laden and his homicidal ilk, for the Army to do so is shocking, displaying a deep ignorance on the part of at least some segments of the uniformed military over just what the media's role in a democracy is, while sending the unambiguous message to soldiers and DoD employees that reporters are to be treated as enemies.

Under the new rules, all Army personnel and DoD contractors are told to keep an eye on reporters and anyone seen speaking to the press, and that they should "consider handling attempts by unauthorized personnel to solicit critical information or sensitive information as a Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army (SAEDA) incident."

Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists and director of the federation's Project on Government Secrecy, raises some red flags about the new regulations, writing that the "sensitive" information as defined in the manual includes "not just vital details of military operations and technologies but also documents marked "For Official Use Only" (FOUO) that may be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act." In other words, as he says, "it follows that inquisitive members of the press or the public who actively pursue such FOUO records may be deemed enemies of the United States." [Emphasis ours]

Of course, Aftergood is only speculating, but his speculation falls well within the boundaries of what the Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army (SAEDA) manual describes as actionable offenses.

Under these guidelines, reporters digging for information about military projects, funding requests, new acquisition strategies, or other military-related stories could be blown in by an antsy DoD worker or soldier who doesn't like the tone of questioning. That's a pretty dangerous road to begin to travel for any country, and for the U.S. it's simply unacceptable. We have no problem with the Army, or the Pentagon, keeping various things secret. In fact, we expect them to. But a reporter's job is to dig for truth, and when the military begins throwing up roadblocks like these, everyone loses.

As a creepy little addendum to this whole sorry affair, we'll quote what Major Ray Ceralde, the author of the new rules, told Shachtman in an interview yesterday: "A person doesn't have to be in the military or government to support OPSEC...As a Nation, we are in this fight together, and all Americans are encouraged to practice OPSEC."

In other words, it's open season on curious reporters.

New Tape Suggests Kennedy Assassination Inside Job

May 1, 2007 1:27 PM

AUDIO: Tape suggests JFK assassination was inside job

An audio file serving as the final testimony of CIA veteran and convicted Watergate conspirator, E. Howard Hunt on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has surfaced.

It has been distilled down from a 20-minute tape made by Hunt at his home in Miami, according to his oldest son with whom E. Howard Hunt had enjoyed a good relationship in later life.

The unmarked cassette was received in the mail by his oldest son, Saint John Hunt, in Janurary 2004. At the time, the 86-year-old E. Howard Hunt was not well. According to Saint John Hunt, his father's only request was that the information not be released until his death. Shortly thereafter, he recovered from his illness and he would not die until January of 2007. The tape remained in Saint John Hunt's hands the entire time.

According to Saint John Hunt, the existence of the tape was unknown by his extended family until its broadcast on "Coast to Coast Live with Ian Punnett" on April 27, 2007. Many of the details of the tape were included in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine published earlier in the month.

The contents of the tape are consistent with E. Howard Hunt's CIA career. He was a significant team member of many CIA "wet ops," that is, bloody operations such as the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Guatetamalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and the assassination of Che Guevara. The Guatemalan civil war that resulted from the CIA-backed coup would eventually lead to the deaths of 200,000 people.

In his lifetime, E. Howard Hunt often would be glib about his roles in these "wet ops" and saw them as a kind of patriotic duty for which he was uniquely suited. He was urbane, well-connected and well-educated. He published over 85 spy novels and enjoyed the respect and companionship of many of Washington's conservative elite such as William F. Buckley who wrote the forward to Hunt's most recent memoirs.

But despite many allegations over the years, E. Howard Hunt had always denied until any involvement in the assassination of JFK. In 1978, Hunt testified under oath to Congress that neither he nor the CIA had had anything to do with the murder of the president.

According to this tape, he was only half-lying.

The "wet op" that was pulled off in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963 may not have been orchestrated by the CIA proper but rather was put together by several CIA veterans and contract players-for-fire in a "non-sanctioned" hit originally "suggested" by then Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson. One of the many purposes of this tape, according to E. Howard Hunt, was to make clear of LBJ's involvement in the assassination.

Perhaps as a way of justifying the assassination, Hunt seems focused on establishing the "chain of command" to this action that allows him to see himself as following orders toward a greater patriotic goal.

On the tape, the man Hunt refers to as "Frank" is, according to written notes taken by Saint John Hunt, CIA Operative and later Watergate co-conspirator Frank Sturgis sometimes spelled "Sturgess." The mastermind appears to be Cord Meyer.

Dave Phillips was also a CIA Operative in Central and South America.

This tape also confirms the long-held suspicion that David Morales was a key member of the assassination team.

What is not on the tape is "Lucien Sartie," the man that Hunt, according to his son, confirmed earlier as the Corsican-born French contract hitman who was flown in to take the "head shot" at JFK from behind the Grassy Knoll.

What is not on this tape is motive but that is attested in other testimony.

These men allegedly hated Kennedy.

They saw him as soft on Communism, soft on Castro, guilty of sending their friends to their torture and deaths during the Bay of Pigs fisasco and a bad risk for the future of the country. They also did not respect him as a person for his philandering and other behaviors which had yet to become public knowledge but would have been known to them.

They were also resentful of the way that the White House had been treating the CIA through Kennedy's disdainful public posture on intelligence and the firings of many of their former associates.

In sum, with the permission of LBJ, Cord Meyer, David Phillips, David Morales, E. Howard Hunt conspired to create a "non-official" hit "for the good of the country."

And here, finally, is the taped testimony that proves that once and for all.

Photo Copyright Getty Images

Prominent Client Turns The Tables, Will Testify Against D.C. Madam


Meet Dr. Harlan Kenneth Ullman and Madam Palfrey


'D.C. Madam' Client Ready to Testify About Sex

May 04, 2007 2:04 PM

Brian Ross Reports:

Dc_madam_client_mn One of the prominent Washington men named as an escort service customer of the so-called "D.C. Madam" is apparently ready to testify he had sex with a woman or women from the madam's now-infamous Pamela Martin and Associates.

A lawyer for Harlan Ullman, a renowned military analyst and Washington Times columnist, says his client won't back down if he is called to testify by Jeane Palfrey, who prosecutors say ran an illegal prostitution ring for 13 years.

Palfrey maintains her service did nothing illegal and only provided "fantasy, legal sex," which does not include intercourse of any kind or oral sex.

"Any notion that Ms. Palfrey has that Mr. Ullman will help her in any way is incorrect," said Ullman's lawyer, Mark Mukasey, in a statement to the Blotter on

Previously, Ullman had told reporters that the allegation he used Palfrey's service was "beneath the dignity of comment."

Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.

When informed of Ullman's new stance, Palfrey told ABC News the former Rumsfeld colleague could be prosecuted along with her.

"If Mr. Ullman committed illegal acts, he can be charged with racketeering as well, since he would be a part of the overall conspiracy the government is alleging," Palfrey said. "It takes two to tango."

Ullman was named by Palfrey in court papers and in public statements outside the courthouse earlier this week.

Watch the full report on "20/20" tonight at 10 EDT.

Phone records provided to ABC News by Palfrey show Ullman was a repeat customer, who Palfrey says was known by her women as "Mr. U" and is well-remembered.

"He was a disagreeable character," Palfrey says, "and there were some complaints about him." She said some of the women refused to service him a second time "because he was an unpleasant person."

Palfrey has rejected an offer from federal prosecutors to plead guilty to reduced charges in return for a four-month prison term.

"I told them to go to hell with their deal," Palfrey said, "and instead will call my clients to testify in my defense."

To Blotter Homepage

May 4, 2007 in D.C. Madam Affair | Permalink

Hunger in Eden

Rashid, a West Bank villager, explains that an Israeli settler took over his olive grove. "I said to him, 'This tree is fifty years old. Did your grandfather plant it, or did mine?'"

The most surprising part of the West Bank -- to me anyway -- is how beautiful it is. For some reason I though the whole place would be as dry and bleak as the Judean desert between Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. But the suburbs north of the capital quickly give way to panoramic countryside that seems southern Italian, with terraced olive groves, red hills, and flowering fruit trees.

Of course, not all is idyllic in this rural idyll. The first clue that something was amiss in Yanoun -- a Palestinian farming village near Nablus that I visited yesterday with an official from the World Food Program -- was the skittish behavior of the local children. They ran and hid from us, or cried when we tired to say hello. The watchtower on the ridge overlooking the village was another giveaway that this place is a conflict zone. Yanoun is surrounded by three Israeli settlements, the inhabitants of which which have made clear that they want their Palestinian neighbors to clear out. The settlers make armed patrols through Yanoun -- by car or horseback -- destroy farming equipment, and last month they kidnapped, tortured and killed a local shepherd, according to residents. The scared children thought we were settlers.

But that's not all that's happening. Though it's hard to believe that food could be scarce in this land of milk and honey, the 24 families who live in Yanoun are being slowly starved. The settlements now control access to about 96 percent of the village's land making commercial agriculture nearly impossible. And though Yanoun could possibly support itself with some kind of highly cultivated garden in the bowl shaped valley beneath, they don't have enough water to do so because the settlements have taken over their rain catching ground cisterns. And even if they could grow produce, the villagers would have trouble getting it to market. The reliable roads to the region are for Israelis only. The rest are clogged with checkpoints. So the people of Yanoun -- like some 400,000 other people in the West Bank -- scrape by with the help from the WFP.

The WFP brought me here to see an example of what they called "food insecurity" -- a condition not of outright starvation but of scarcity that occurs when people don't have reliable access to enough food to have productive lives. At first I was suspicious of the term -- sounds like a way of justifying NGO operations in places where there isn't famine. And in fact, the inhabitants of Yanoun don't look hungry. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has so dislocated the rural West Bank's population that they have become dependent on foreign aid. And several years of living on the five basic food stuffs given by aid organizations -- wheat, salt, sugar, chickpeas and oil -- has taken a toll on public health, which you can see by the rotting teeth on the kids of Yanoun. Of course, international donors could end this culture of dependence in a second by cutting aid. In which case, Israeli settlers could have these pretty hills pretty much to themselves.

Kirstie Campbell of WFP comforts a scared village girl.

--Andrew Lee Butters/Jerusalem

One Day You’re Gonna Wake Up

May 4, 2007

By David Michael Green

One day you’re gonna wake up, America.

And, like every other one since last you can remember, it’s gonna be an ugly morning.

One day you’re gonna wake up and go to your lousy job with its lousy salary and non-existent benefits. You might even remember the good job you once had. Or that the government you once supported gave tax breaks to companies like the one that exported that good job of yours to the Third World (which is what they’re now starting to call your country). Or that that same government undermined the labor unions which fought to get you your good wages and benefits.

One day you’re gonna wake up and be furious at the monstrous tax burden you are carrying, a tab which accounts for fifty of the seventy hours you must work each week just to eke by. You might even figure out why your tax bill is so high. You might remember that the government you once supported shifted the tax burden from the rich onto people like you, and from the taxpayers of the time onto those of today. And that they borrowed money in astonishing quantities to fund their sleight-of-hand, so that you work thirty hours a week just to pay the interest on a mountain of money borrowed decades ago.

One day you’re gonna wake up in anger at the absurdly poor education your children are receiving. You’re gonna remember that it wasn’t always that way, that even after the military’s voracious appetite was temporarily sated, your country still managed to find a few bucks to at least educate a workforce. No more. And you’re gonna remember how you applauded when your educational system was twisted in to a test taking industry that is careful, above all, not to teach children how to think.

One day you’re gonna wake up literally sick and tired. You’re gonna want treatment for your maladies but you won’t be able to touch the cost. You’re gonna wonder what you were thinking when believed your country had the best healthcare system in the world, even though it was the only advanced democracy in the world that didn’t provide universal care, even though it devoted fifty percent more of its economy than those other countries to pay for a system that left fifty million people uninsured, and even though there were massive layers of unnecessary and harmful private sector bureaucracy skimming hundreds of billions of dollars of profits out of the system in the name of free enterprise.

One day you’re gonna wake up too tired to go to work anymore. You’re gonna want to retire in dignity but will be left instead to laugh bitterly at the cruelty of that joke. And you’re gonna wonder what in the world you had been thinking voting for a president who’s primary goal was to allow Wall Street to raid Social Security, destroying what had once been considered the most successful domestic program in human history.

One day you’re gonna wake up and wish that it wasn’t so bloody hot, and that there weren’t so many diseases and species eradications and violent storms lashing the planet. And maybe you’ll even remember that you once supported a government that lied about the very existence of global warming - back when it might have been curtailed - a government that scuttled the barest remedy for the problem in order to protect oil company profits.

One day you’re gonna wake up and wish you had a government that could simply and competently do the basic things it was designed for. A government that could protect you from foreign attack, that could come to your rescue after a devastating hurricane, that could properly manage a new program or other people’s security. An administration that didn’t pervert the purpose of every agency within the government to its opposite, using civil rights lawyers to fight civil rights, for example, or the EPA to protect polluters.

One day you’re gonna wake up and cry out for simple justice, blindly applied without bias. And perhaps you’ll remember when that principle died. When your country stood by and watched the politicization of its judicial system for purposes of partisanship, and said nothing. When it stood by and watched its highest law enforcement officials in the land lie about their failing memory of events and pretended to believe that was acceptable.

One day you’re gonna wake up and wish that you weren’t being drafted to go fight wars you don’t believe in. You’ll remember how soldiers were sent to their deaths for lies. You’ll remember how badly they were treated when they came home maimed and twisted. You’ll remember how real, patriotic, former soldiers were mocked and humiliated by dress-up, unpatriotic, former non-soldiers. And suddenly you’ll understand why no one would volunteer for the military anymore, and why people like you had to be drafted.

One day you’re gonna wake up and want very badly to run outside and scream in anger about a government that long ago stopped serving your interests in favor of the narrow interests of a tiny oligarchy. But instead you’ll stay inside and keep your scream tucked safely in your belly. Because you’ll know that in your country dissent has long since been outlawed, on pain of torture and death. You’ll remember concepts like due process, limitations on government search, seizure and wiretapping, habeas corpus, trial by peers, legal representation and prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment as historical artifacts no longer even taught in schools.

On day you’re gonna wake up and want so badly to change governments. You’re gonna treasure the concept of democracy like no Soviet dissident ever did. You’re gonna crave the opportunity to own your own government, to make your own societal choices, to make a change of direction never before so desperately necessary. And you’re gonna wonder why you didn’t speak up as you watched first-hand the dismantling of the democracy you had been handed by previous generations of patriots. You’re gonna wish you had been patriotic enough yourself to demand, above all else, free and fair elections, and you’re gonna shake your head in puzzlement at how you stood by watching in silence those that patently were not.

One day you’re gonna wake up and want to get the hell out of your rotting, repressive country. You’re gonna remember a time when that wasn’t true. But, oddly enough, you’ll find that other countries remember too. They’ll remember your country’s arrogance, its unilateralism, its walls, its racism, and its politicized abuse of immigrants. And they’ll remember how your government undermined and violently replaced theirs whenever corporations from your country had their profits threatened. You’re gonna want to leave, but there will be nowhere you’ll be welcome. You’re gonna find out that walls can face both directions.

One day you’re gonna wake up in a hostile world where your country no longer has any friends. There will be governments of other countries - former long-standing allies - that cannot afford to have anything to do with you, lest their publics angrily remove them from office for collaborating with a country as hated as yours. Nor will those governments trust yours anyway. They will perhaps possess intelligence that could save your life, but they will not share it. They will possess forces that could help you survive real security threats, but they will not provide them. Your country will have become an international pariah, the South Africa of the twenty-first century.

And because no one will assist you, one day you’re gonna wake up fearing for your life as your country is brutally attacked by angry militants deploying weapons of mass destruction against your cities. Long dormant connections in your brain will resurface, and you will dimly understand why. On this day - perhaps March 20, 2023 - you might be assisted in your comprehension by the message of one of the attackers, someone whose family your country callously destroyed in its mission accomplished in Iraq, and who spent the next twenty years plotting this day’s revenge. And you will wonder again why you stood by as your country attacked Iraq on a completely bogus pretext. You’ll remember applauding when this mailed fist was long ago sent. And, just as it comes hurling back in your direction at a lethal velocity, stamped “Return to Sender”, you’ll wonder what you were thinking. And you’ll realize just how much you weren’t.

One day you’re gonna wake up, America, and you’re gonna find out what was happening while you were sprawled on the couch watching endless mind-numbing loops of CSI, Desperate Housewives or Dancing with the Stars.

One day you’re gonna wake up and realize that catching all the action during week seven of the 2011 NFL season really wasn’t so critical in the greater scheme of things after all.

One day you’re gonna wake up and wished you’d invested a little more energy into monitoring and choosing the people who made monumental decisions on your behalf.

One day, with a flash of remorse greater than you thought it possible that one human vessel could contain, you’ll remember the ignored warning shots across your bow. Moments later, you’ll discover the human capacity for searing remorse is actually even greater still, as you contemplate your inattention even to the shots that were fired right through the bow. With a fury you would yesterday have thought yourself incapable of, you’ll hurriedly attempt to affix Band-Aids to the tattered splinters remaining from your country’s once sturdy hull. But you’ll learn quickly the toll of those years spent wasted in a civic coma. You’ll find that no amount of patchwork can any longer save this sinking ship from its appointment with the dustbin of history.

In shame, you’ll regret the callous arrogance with which you laughingly dismissed those who sounded the early clarion call. “We are destroying ourselves”, they tried to tell you. But even on the rare occasion when you roused yourself from your stupor long enough to learn the slightest bit about the very threats that jeopardized your life and that of your species, still you found it more reassuring to follow the blustering worst amongst us, with their patently absurd pretended confidence, and their ever constant resort to the cheapest of false solutions, and the rudest of demeanors.

One day, you’ll desperately search for hope of any sort, but none will remain. Nothing will be left to save you.

One day you’ll realize that once there were solutions, but that that day is now long past. You’ll see that human technological capacity ran its evolutionary race with wisdom, and the latter came in second. You’ll sadly realize that you stood by while your country led the once great tool-making species to its own destruction.

One day you’re gonna wake up, America, and realize how far it’s all gone. But if that day isn’t very soon, it won’t matter.

Because one day you’re gonna wake up, and it will be far, far too late.

Justice Official Says He Was Directed To Call Fired Prosecutors; Rove, Still In the Mix

Rove, Still In the Mix



National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Thursday, May 3, 2007

Justice Department Probe

Previous coverage from National Journal:
Gonzales Order Gave Aides Extraordinary Powers (4/30/07)
Aborted Probe Probably Would Have Targeted Gonzales (3/15/07)
Bush Blocked DOJ Probe (7/18/06)
What Ashcroft Was Told (6/8/06)

More stories from Murray Waas

The chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has told congressional investigators that phone calls he placed to four fired U.S. attorneys -- calls that three of the prosecutors say involved threats about testifying before Congress -- were made at McNulty's direction.

Michael Elston, the chief of staff, told congressional investigators in a closed-door session on March 30 that McNulty specifically instructed him to make the phone calls after the Justice Department's No. 2 official learned that the fired prosecutors might testify before Congress about their dismissals.

A transcript of Elston's confidential interview with the congressional investigators was made available to National Journal.

The U.S. attorneys have said that Elston, in effect, told them that if they kept quiet about their dismissals, the Justice Department would not suggest that they had been forced to resign because of poor performance.

At least one member of Congress has questioned whether the phone calls might constitute obstruction of justice.

In his interview with congressional investigators, Elston adamantly denied that he ever tried to discourage the prosecutors from testifying before Congress. He said that he was directed by McNulty to tell the fired U.S. attorneys that the Department of Justice did not have a formal position as to whether they should testify.

At least one member of Congress has questioned whether the phone calls might constitute obstruction of justice.

Elston said that McNulty directed him to place calls to fired U.S. attorneys Paul Charlton of Arizona, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, and John McKay of Seattle, all of whom said they felt pressured to keep quiet. Elston also placed a call to federal prosecutor Kevin Ryan of San Francisco, as directed, but did not speak to him. The calls were placed between January and March of this year -- before details about the political motivations for the firings became public.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee made public formal correspondence from three fired prosecutors who said they thought that Elston was trying to intimidate them into keeping quiet.

In an interview with National Journal, McKay, reacting to Elston's disclosure that McNulty directed him to make the calls, said, "Because [Elston] was the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, I always assumed that the phone call was authorized and directed by the DAG. If Elston is telling the truth, it is all the more troubling."

McKay, who was the first of the prosecutors whom Elston called, described Elston's message to him: "The attorney general was not going to disclose that I or the other U.S. attorneys were fired or forced to resign.… 'We have no intention of naming people.'"

McKay said that Elston never specifically suggested an explicit quid pro quo whereby Justice officials would not say that McKay had been fired for cause or poor performance if McKay did not talk to the media or Congress about his firing. However, McKay said, "a reasonable person would have felt both offended and threatened" by Elston's call.

McKay said that the message he took away from the conversation was, "If you remain silent, we will not out you as someone who was forced to resign."

McKay said that he made contemporaneous notes of his conversation with Elston, and dated them -- something, he said, that was not his ordinary practice. He did so because of his concerns about what Elston was telling him, according to McKay.

Charlton said he got a similar phone call from Elston on the same day. In formal response to written questions posed to him by the House Judiciary Committee, Charlton said, "I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general's."

Cummins testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 6, at which time a contemporaneous e-mail he wrote within an hour of his phone call with Elston was released. In the e-mail, which he sent to five of his fellow prosecutors, Cummins said that the "essence of [Elston's] message" was that if any of the fired U.S. attorneys had pressed their case in the media or before Congress, senior aides to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales might "feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off" and accuse the prosecutors of ineptitude or poor management.

Cummins also wrote in his e-mail that Elston had called him because he was upset about comments Cummins had made in the press about his firing. "[Justice officials] feel like they are taking unnecessary flak to avoid trashing each of us," Cummins said in the e-mail to his fellow prosecutors. "I also made it a point to tell him that all of us have turned down multiple invitations to testify. He reacted quite a bit to the idea of anyone voluntarily testifying, and it seemed clear that they would see this as a major escalation of the conflict meriting some kind of unspecified form of retaliation."

McKay, one of the prosecutors who got the e-mail, said: "[Cummins] wanted to send a message to all of us. We got that message, loud and clear: If you talk to the press or go to Congress, the Department of Justice will not consider you a friend. I considered it an act of intimidation."

In his interview with congressional investigators, Elston said that he called Cummins and the other U.S. attorneys "at the deputy attorney general's direction" and "to reassure them that the attorney general was not going to name names."

Elston said that McNulty only wanted him to tell Cummins that the department had no position on whether he should testify: "[McNulty] also told me to be very careful when I called Bud back and to make it very clear to him the Department of Justice had no position on whether he testified or not. And that he could testify if he wanted to, or not testify. It was entirely up to him.

"And that conversation sticks in my mind because the deputy attorney general was very earnest and being very careful. And having no experience on Capitol Hill... I followed his instruction."

Congressional investigators asked Elston about an e-mail in which Gonzales's then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, wrote to other Justice Department officials that he did not think it was a good idea for Cummins to testify. Elston also told investigators, "The deputy attorney general [McNulty], I think, concurred with that."

During the interview with investigators, Elston also said that in his February 20 phone call to Cummins it was the prosecutor who expressed a desire to remain loyal to the department and to not testify. "[Cummins] said a number of things, but one of them was, 'I still want to be on the team, and I don't have any hard feelings,' " Elston testified. " 'I would like to be a federal judge someday, and I didn't think the Democrats are going to nominate me.'"

In an interview, Robert Driscoll, Elston's attorney, said that the U.S. attorneys might have been mistaken in their accounts of their phone calls with his client. "From the information I have seen, none of the fired U.S. attorneys quote Mike as making any type of explicit threats, and each one focuses more on their interpretation of the conversation than [on] what Mike actually said. Their interpretations appear in some instances to be unjustified, based on their own descriptions."

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse disputed the notion that Elston’s phone calls to the fired prosecutors could have been viewed as an attempt to keep them from testifying before Congress. At the time the first phone calls were made in January, Roehrkasse said, the issue of the prosecutors' dismissals had attracted so little attention that it would have been highly unlikely that any of prosecutors would have thought that they might be called upon to appear before Congress.

The stakes are high for McNulty if key members of Congress or investigators believe that he directed Elston to discourage any of the U.S. attorneys from testifying.

At the March 6 Senate Judiciary hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Cummins and three others U.S. attorneys what they would have done in their capacity as federal prosecutors had they learned that an interested party in one of their investigations had tried to discourage a witness from providing information or testifying. All four said that they would have investigated the matter to determine a possible obstruction of justice.

"Mr. Cummins, let me ask you first. I'd like to ask you to put your U.S. attorney hat back on," Whitehouse said. "You're still in office, and think of a significant grand jury investigation that you led as United States attorney in your district. And consider that a significant witness in that grand jury investigation has just come into your office to relate to you that prior to his grand jury testimony he was approached about his testimony and [told]... essentially exactly the words that Mr. Elston approached you. What would your next step be as United States attorney?"

Cummins responded: "We take intimidation of witnesses very seriously in the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney's office, so we would be very proactive in that situation."

Attempting to moderate his statement, he added: "I would qualify that by saying that at the time this discussion was had, we weren't under a subpoena; the idea of testifying was just kind of a theoretical idea out there. And I would say … to the extent we talked about testimony at all, it was the idea that running out and volunteering to be part of this would not be viewed charitably by the people that it would affect."

Whitehouse pressed Cummins: "But if that sort of approach had been made to a witness in an active proceeding that you were leading, and you were extremely proactive about it, that would lead you where?"

"Well, we'd certainly investigate it and see if a crime had occurred."

"And the crime would be?"

Cummins responded: "Obstruction of justice. I think there are several statutes that might be implicated -- but obstruction of justice."

Whitehouse posed the same question to John McKay, the fired U.S. attorney from Washington state.

McKay responded: "I would be discussing it with the assigned prosecutor and federal agents."

"With regard to?"

"With regard to possible obstruction of justice."

Whitehouse next put the question to David Iglesias, the fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico:

Iglesias replied: "Same answer, sir. I would contact the career [assistant U.S. attorney] and probably the FBI and talk about what's the evidence we have to maybe move forward on an obstruction investigation.

Finally, Whitehouse looked toward Carol Lam, the fired U.S. attorney from San Diego.

She answered without hesitation: "Fundamentally the same answer: witness intimidation."

By Murray Waas

Waxman: Rice hindering Niger forgeries probe

State Department blocked investigators' access to analyst who had raised alarms about the yellowcake forgeries before the State of the Union in 2003.
Friday, May 04, 2007

Iraq Intelligence and Nuclear Evidence, Correspondence Regarding the Testimony of Secretary Rice

Committee Seeks Niger Documents and Testimony and Instructs State Department Not to Impede Probe

Today Chairman Waxman sent a letter to Secretary of State Rice (1) informing the Secretary that the legislative affairs officials in the Department should not hinder the Committee’s inquiry into why Secretary Rice and President Bush cited forged evidence to build a case for war against Iraq; (2) advising the Secretary that the Committee will depose a nuclear weapons analyst at the State Department; and (3) requesting relevant documents.

Brains Scans Of Symptomatic Gulf War Veterans Show Differences

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Date: May 2, 2007

Science Daily — Veterans of the first Gulf War who returned with multiple health symptom complaints show significant differences in brain structures from their fellow returnees without high numbers of health symptoms, according to research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 59th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 28 -- May 5, 2007.

The study involved 36 veterans of the first Gulf War (1990-1991). Half of the veterans had a high number (more than five) of symptoms, such as joint pain, fatigue, forgetfulness, headaches, skin rash, nausea, and difficulty concentrating. The other half of the veterans had a lower number (five or fewer) of symptoms.

Researchers found that two areas of the brain involved in thinking and memory were significantly smaller in the veterans with a high number of symptoms than in the veterans with fewer symptoms. The overall cortex was five percent smaller in those with more symptoms, and the rostral anterior cingulated gyrus was six percent smaller.

Those with more symptoms also did not perform as well on tests of learning and memory. On one test, those with more symptoms scored 15 percent lower than those with fewer symptoms; the score was 12 percent lower on another test. The researchers found that the smaller the brain volume was in those areas, the worse the veterans performed on the memory tests.

"We don't know the cause of these differences in the veterans' brain volumes, but the hypothesis is that they are related to exposure to hazardous substances during the first Gulf War," said study author Roberta White, PhD, of Boston University School of Public Health. "Many troops were exposed to hazardous substances such as pesticides, and other studies have shown that exposures to these substances affect the central nervous system."

The study was supported by a Veterans Affairs Merit Grant.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by American Academy of Neurology.

Fast, Loose Credit Scares Even the Buyout Gurus

Mark Gilbert

By Mark Gilbert

May 3 (Bloomberg) -- Central bankers aren't the only people distressed by lax lending standards. Even the dealmakers who depend on cheap finance with few strings attached are complaining that finance is too cheap and there aren't enough strings.

``There's too much liquidity in the system,'' Philip Yea, chief executive officer of 3i Group Plc, Europe's largest publicly traded venture-capital and buyout firm, said last month. ``There's too much debt available.''

Too much debt available? That's tantamount to Kate Moss complaining that her photo is in too many magazines, Steve Jobs moaning about iPod ubiquity or Madonna criticizing African nations for not having more stringent child-adoption policies.

So what's going on here? Why, in the fastest, loosest credit markets seen since a tulip bulb was worth as much as a house, are the supposed beneficiaries of loan largess bleating about easy money and the boom in global liquidity from Texas to Tokyo?

Is it because cut-price loans are propping open the mergers- and-acquisitions door for interlopers? Are existing leveraged- buyout specialists concerned about new entrants pushing up prices, and exacerbating the risk that a big deal will sour and attract the unwelcome attention of regulators?

Steve Rattner, co-founder of buyout firm Quadrangle Group LLC, told Bloomberg reporter Edward Evans in January that ``the world isn't pricing risk appropriately. Investors are simply not being paid for the risks they're taking.''

Ninja Loans

You might have expected renewed caution among lenders after the willingness of some U.S. mortgage companies to grant so- called Ninja loans -- No Income, No Job or Assets -- triggered the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage market and helped sink an armada of companies.

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc., says the subprime debacle has had a domino effect on the rest of the credit market -- just not the one you might have expected.

``We're seeing fewer investments in subprime, but that money needs to be put to work so they're going into other credit markets,'' Fink said in an interview published by the Financial Times newspaper last week. ``Historically, when we've seen one problem, we've seen an adjustment throughout the marketplace. We've seen no indication of that yet. We've seen the actual opposite.''

While liquidity is notoriously hard to define, the Bank of England took a stab at quantifying it last month in its Financial Stability Report. The central bank combined some key market measures -- the gaps between bid and offer prices on bonds, currencies and stocks, the ratio of market returns to trading volumes, and spreads in the credit market -- to produce an index showing that financial-market liquidity is at its highest level since at least 1992, and has doubled in the past four years.

Loaded With Debt

``Markets are currently very liquid and have been so over the past few years,'' the central bank wrote in the report. ``Maximum debt levels for European LBOs are now consistently above seven or eight times earnings, whereas the maximum was around six times earnings a year ago.''

While that extra leverage makes deals more risky, it isn't deterring newcomers from getting in on the action. ``There's a lot of money in the Middle East that the private-equity companies can now access,'' said Colin McKay, the New York-based head of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP's private-equity division in March. ``The force that hasn't even entered yet into the private-equity market to any degree is the trade surplus in China and where that's going to be invested.''

`Capital Everywhere'

Investment banks used to be content to take a fee for advising on takeovers; now they can demand equity participation, boosting the pool of capital available to get deals done.

``There's capital everywhere,'' buyout doyen Henry Kravis of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. said at a New York conference last week. ``It's very smart of these firms to be in it. I just wish they wouldn't compete with us, but they do.''

In the U.S., the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's biggest public pension fund, is allocating more money to private-equity firms. In Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan have all said they might bid for BCE Inc., the country's biggest telephone services provider. In the U.K., the Wellcome Trust Ltd. charity is part of a group trying to buy drugstore company Alliance Boots Plc.

As more buyers enter the fray, prices for doing deals rise, eroding the internal rate of return on transactions. In a low- yield environment, however, even a slowing bandwagon can be an attractive investment vehicle for latecomers.

Settling for Less

``Inevitably, returns can't be as good as they've been,'' David Rubenstein, co-founder of Carlyle Group, said last week. ``The returns that people will be able to get are better than anything else they can do with their money, at least that's legal.''

The biggest worry that the LBO community has, though, is that an overpriced, overleveraged deal will collapse. ``Some of these deals will go bad,'' Quadrangle's Rattner said in January.

When you borrowed from a bank, there was room to negotiate a rescue when the business plan melted. When your lender is a hedge fund trying to deliver monthly returns, the ear may not be anywhere near as sympathetic.

(Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Mark Gilbert in London at

Last Updated: May 2, 2007 19:16 EDT

Bush appoints incompetent for Medicare chief

A debate prepper. Period.
Bush taps Weems for Medicare chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kerry N. Weems, a longtime federal health official, is President Bush's choice to oversee the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

If confirmed by the Senate, Weems would succeed Mark McClellan, who resigned in October. Weems is deputy chief of staff to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. He also has served as an acting assistant secretary overseeing budget and technology issues.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the agency that oversees federal health programs for the elderly, disabled and the poor. It accounts for about a fifth of all federal spending.

The president also is nominating Tevi David Troy to be deputy secretary at HHS. Troy is the deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy.

"Both bring a broad array of knowledge, management experience and expertise that will enhance our ability to advance effective policies to improve Americans' health," Leavitt said Thursday.

Medicaid provides health coverage and services to nearly 53 million low-income people. The government spends about $200 billion on the program. States provide abut 43% of the money for the program.

Medicare provides coverage for about 43 million elderly and disabled people. The Medicare program's expenses totaled about $408 billion in 2006; costs are expected to rise rapidly in coming years.

Weems has been one of Leavitt's most trusted advisers on budget issues as the administration tries to restrain the pace of federal health spending.

Troy had primary responsibility for debate preparation in President Bush's re-election campaign. He also has served as the president's liaison to the Jewish community. He began working in the Bush administration at the Labor Department.

McClellan joined a center for regulatory studies run by two think tanks in Washington, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute. An economist and physician, McClellan helped put in place the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Baghdad wall has nothing to do with protecting Iraqis

In Focus:

More than a wall

Walling in Al-Adhamiyah has nothing to do with protecting Iraqis

When the Americans decided to build a wall around Al-Adhamiyah in Baghdad, they claimed that their main concern was to protect the inhabitants. Very noble of them, but was this the real reason? Are the Americans interested in protecting Al-Adhamiyah, or in protecting other areas from fighters based in Al-Adhamiyah? Before answering these questions, let's review a few developments that took place in Iraq of late.

The city of Kirkuk is being Kurdicised. Up until the occupation, ethnic Arabs mostly inhabited the city. Now the Kurds want to annex it to their province. Why is that? Because Kirkuk sits on a lake of oil, and the Kurds need to control the oil as part of their plan to secede from Iraq. The Kurdish scheme is so obvious that Turkey is already saying it cannot allow it to happen. The last thing the Erdogan government needs is a Kurdish state on its southern borders.

Meanwhile, plans are underway to declare a Basra Province in southern Iraq, although no attempts at secession have so far been made. The similarity between the situation in Kurdistan and Basra is worth examining. If things keep proceeding in this direction, Iraq would soon be partitioned into three mini-states. The "no fly" latitude lines the Clinton administration put in place several years ago would determine the borders of those mini-states. Kurdistan is already behaving as a semi-independent state. It is signing oil agreements with other countries, establishing political and economic ties with other nations, and generally ignoring the beleaguered government in Baghdad.

The Americans want to see Iraq divided; Kurdistan in the north, Basra in the south, and the Sunni triangle in the middle. But what does all this have to do with Al-Adhamiyah?

Well, let's not forget that the US administration is faced with a deepening crisis both at home and abroad. In Iraq, the US army is on the defensive. At home, the two houses of Congress, acting in defiance of President Bush, have made it clear that troops must be pulled out by September 2008 at the latest. Should the withdrawal take place -- and it most likely will -- then the whole Project for the New American Century would fall apart. All this planning, all these attempts to control oil resources, would come to nothing. It would be a disaster for the neo-cons. This is why the latter are determined to divide Iraq prior to withdrawal, the aim being to have two out of three mini-states under US control.

The Kurdish government would be pleased to forge a close alliance with the Americans. Such an alliance would offer the Kurds protection from the Turks, the Iranians and the pan-Arab government that may emerge in central Iraq. The southern province would also rush into US arms, for more or less the same reasons. Iraq would thus be reduced to the same status as any of the Gulf states, just another group of sheikhdoms reliant on oil and foreign backing.

This scenario wouldn't be easy to carry out so long as the resistance is going strong. So the fighters must be isolated in their strongholds: in Al-Anbar, Tel Afar, Al-Qaim and Al-Adhamiyah. Furthermore, some effort must be exerted for national unity, through the integration of former Baathists and army personnel into the system. The US administration is already moving in that direction. Also, the Americans claim to be succeeding in breaking the ranks of the Iraqi resistance. Still, why Al-Adhamiyah?

Let's go back to history. Founded at the time of Caliph Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour, Baghdad was built on the opposite banks of the Tigris. The west bank of the river was known as Al-Karkh, the east bank as Al-Rasafa. Until recently, the centre of the city was divided equally between the two banks. The mausoleum of Abu Hanifa was in Al-Rasafa, and that of Imam Al-Kazem was in Al-Karkh, with the Imamayn (two imams) Bridge connecting the two. Al-Adhamiyah took its name from the words "Al-Imam Al-Adham", or Abu Hanifa, a leading Sunni doctrinaire. During the Ottoman era, Al-Adhamiyah had a reputation for rebellion that continued even during the communist tide of the 1960s. Since the fall of Baghdad, Al-Adhamiyah has been active in resistance.

In the early days of the occupation, it was said that Iraq's political elite, Saddam's Hussein included, took refuge in Al-Adhamiyah. At one point, it was said that Saddam attended prayers at the mosque of Al-Imam Al-Adham. US forces reacted to the rumours by shelling the mosque. The main minaret of that mosque still bears the marks of shelling. For the past four years, Al-Adhamiyah has been a hotbed of resistance. The Americans repeatedly declared the area "liberated" from the resistance. But when the Americans tried to send the Iraqi army -- the new one they had created -- to its first real test in Al-Adhamiyah, dozens of Iraqi and US troops were killed. After this, the Americans tried to send troops in dinghies across the river, but suffered further losses.

Al-Adhamiyah is the link between the two banks of the Tigris and the gateway to Al-Waziriya, to the Ministry of Defence and the Green Zone. To isolate Al-Adhamiyah is to deprive the resistance of a vital asset. This is why the Americans built the wall. So there you have it. Al-Adhamiyah is part of the US drive to restrain, not protect, the Iraqis. This quest is likely to fail, as it did repeatedly in the past. The days of the occupation are numbered.

Galal Nassar

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Al-Ahram Weekly Online

America's Coming Dictatorship

May 4, 2007

The theory and practice of oligarchical "conservatism"

by Justin Raimondo

The Iraq war and the inquiry into its origins has provoked interest in a number of subjects formerly considered obscure, the discussion of which was once limited to the rarified aeries of academia and specialty journals. Some examples are neoconservatism, just war theory, and, most surprisingly, the theories of Leo Strauss, the philosophical avatar of a cynical Machiavellianism that promotes the idea of the "noble lie." As the disaster in Iraq unfolded, subjects once considered abstruse were introduced into the pages of the popular press, so that, at one point, we were treated to a long explanation of the doctrines of Strauss in the pages of the New York Times.

As Jeet Heer put it in the Boston Globe,

"Odd as this may sound, we live in a world increasingly shaped by Leo Strauss, a controversial philosopher who died in 1973. Although generally unknown to the wider population, Strauss has been one of the two or three most important intellectual influences on the conservative worldview now ascendant in George W. Bush's Washington. Eager to get the lowdown on White House thinking, editors at the New York Times and Le Monde have had journalists pore over Strauss's work and trace his disciples' affiliations. The New Yorker has even found a contingent of Straussians doing intelligence work for the Pentagon."

This sudden interest was due to the unusual number of Straussians who had found their way into close proximity to the centers of power in Washington – an extraordinary number of Strauss's students (or students of his leading followers) were employed in and around the Bush administration, particularly at key points in the national security bureaucracy, as William Pfaff pointed out, including then- "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Abram Shulsky of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, Richard Perle of the Pentagon advisory board, Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council, and the writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol."

One can easily see how the concept of the "noble lie" fits neatly into the neoconservative scheme of things, and the run-up to the Iraq war is surely a textbook example of the Straussian method in action: an enlightened elite deceives the public into an action that must be taken, after all, for their own good. In this case, we were lied into invading and occupying Iraq, for reasons that had nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction" and Saddam's alleged links to al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, both of which the promulgators knew to be lies, and yet reiterated ceaselessly.

Since we are now permanently at war, the ideal atmosphere for a Straussian (or any authoritarian) to theorize in, this is the time for the War Party to come out in the open with its theory of government, which, in normal times, is dressed up as "peace through strength," and now comes out of the closet as "peace through dictatorship." Aside from rationalizing a regime based on lies, the Straussian method, and philosophy, is useful in other ways. The prominent Straussian Harvey Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard, demonstrates his usefulness as a promoter of the regime's authority, and specifically the supremacy of the executive branch of government in wartime. Mansfield makes "The Case for the Strong Executive" in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, and it is an argument that constitutes a vital part of the intellectual blueprint for the dictatorship I wrote about the other day.

Mansfield starts out with a paean to the incorrect and unfortunately near-universal conception of the Constitution as a "flexible" document, and the resulting reference to "the living Constitution" is one of those cliches that no one ever thinks to challenge – except when it's too late. When the tanks are already rolling through the streets, that is …

Look: there is nothing "flexible" about the Constitution. It means precisely what it says, and its language is not in any way obscure or complex. Furthermore, I would note that every time someone is about to take away our liberties, or in some way circumvent the plain intent of the Founders, they inevitably preface it with odes to the Constitution's "flexibility." Balderdash! The Founders meant what they said, and said what they meant in plain and simple English, language that even a Harvard professor can understand. Yet, examining Mansfield's case for an executive dictatorship – and that is surely the intent of his piece – we see at work the old Straussian method of "reinterpreting" an author's clear intent to mean its exact opposite.

Now it would seem that the Founders, being revolutionaries, and even libertarians of a sort (except for Hamilton), were intent on setting up a republic of freemen, that is, a form of government that was constitutionally limited and certainly had nothing to do with the royalism against which they had recently rebelled. Ah, but a Straussian can find "hidden" meanings that the rest of us are blind to, and Mansfield detects a built-in contradiction, a deliberate tension between "one-man rule" and the republican spirit that imbues the Constitution with – yes, an authoritarian streak:

"Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his ‘Politics' where he considers ‘whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws.'

"The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. …There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

"The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason – one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant."

This is the theme of Mansfield's book, Taming The Prince, in which he asserts that the modern idea of the executive is merely the old Aristotleian portrait of a royal personage who exemplifies the right of the strong to rule over the weak. In our own time, we are unable to directly acknowledge this ancient legacy and so we mask it in the mythology of the Constitution. We cloak the royalist reality in the raiment of republicanism, and promulgate the myth that the executive is somehow the servant of the people. "The American Founders," Mansfield avers, had a different idea, because they

"Heeded both criticisms of the rule of law when they created the presidency. The president would be the source of energy in government, that is, in the administration of government, energy being a neutral term that might include Aristotle's discretionary virtue and Machiavelli's tyranny – in which only partisans could discern the difference."

Tyranny, discretionary virtue – whatever. It's all a matter of partisan, i.e. totally subjective, opinion. In any case, the cult of Strauss is built around the cult of the Leader, or the "wise man," as Mansfield puts it, the solo uno who sees beyond what ordinary citizens can perceive. Sure, he's driven by a relentless drive to achieve and maintain his own power, but this very ruthlessness is what gives a republic its "energy" and the ability to survive its own inherent fragility.

"A free government" avers Mansfield, "should show its respect for freedom even when it has to take it away." This little aphorism, worthy of being carved in stone on the gravestone of the American republic, just about sums up the tone and content of Mansfield's panegyric to the "greatness" of the presidential office, and its necessary "expansion" in time of war – which means, in the neocon lexicon, from now on.

Rights are not inherent, in the Manfieldian-Straussian universe, but purely conditional, and our condition today is one that cannot afford such luxuries. According to Mansfield:

"In our time … an opinion has sprung up in liberal circles particularly that civil liberties must always be kept intact regardless of circumstances. This opinion assumes that civil liberties have the status of natural liberties, and are inalienable. This means that the Constitution has the status of what was called in the 17th-century natural public law; it is an order as natural as the state of nature from which it emerges. In this view liberty has just one set of laws and institutions that must be kept inviolate, lest it be lost.

"But Locke was a wiser liberal. His institutions were ‘constituted,' less by creation than by modification of existing institutions in England, but not deduced as invariable consequences of disorder in the state of nature. He retained the difference, and so did the Americans, between natural liberties, inalienable but insecure, and civil liberties, more secure but changeable. Because civil liberties are subject to circumstances, a free constitution needs an institution responsive to circumstances, an executive able to be strong when necessary."

I won't dispute Mansfield's reinterpretation of the Lockean position on natural rights, except that it resembles a Bizarro Locke, inverting the philosopher's defense of natural rights and limited government, and somehow managing to turn it into the manifesto of a super-centralism that the 17th century English liberal would recoil from in horror. This is typical of the Straussian method.

Leaving Locke entirely out of it, however, let us look at the Mansfieldian theory of "civil liberties" as forever "subject to circumstances" – just like our "flexible" Constitution, and, of course, the "secure but changeable" Bill of Rights. In the Bizarro-Mansfieldian world of perfect "freedom," where "a free government should show its respect for freedom even when it has to take it away," there is no right to free speech, no right to assemble, nor, really, any rights at all, including the right to hold property: all of these are merely temporary privileges, and are particularly ethereal in wartime. Inalienable rights? Not if the President says otherwise.

This is nothing less than a rationalization for a dictatorship. It is authoritarianism dressed up in seemingly "American"-sounding verbiage, a prescription for fascism just as surely as the rantings of Alfred Rosenberg or the polemics of Robert Brassillach. As John T. Flynn, the liberal-turned-‘Old Right' opponent of the New Deal put it:

"When fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund, practicing disloyalty. Nor will it come in the form of a crusade against war. It will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism; it will take some genuinely indigenous shape and color, and it will spread only because its leaders, who are not yet visible, will know how to locate the great springs of public opinion and desire and the streams of thought that flow from them and will know how to attract to their banners leaders who can command the support of the controlling minorities in American public life. The danger lies not so much in the would-be f├╝hrers who may arise, but in the presence in our midst of certain deeply running currents of hope and appetite and opinion. The war upon fascism must be begun there."

Flynn, one of FDR's bitterest opponents, wrote these words in As We Go Marching, his indictment of a postwar America that had fought national socialism – and was beginning to fight Soviet totalitarianism as the book was published – but, he feared, would lose the fight against incipient authoritarianism on the home front. Flynn defined fascism in a way that was congruent with the rising Welfare-Warfare State, founded on the principle of Big Government at home and militarism abroad. "First let us state our definition of fascism," he writes:

"It is, put briefly, a system of social organization in which the political state is a dictatorship supported by a political elite and in which the economic society is an autarchic capitalism, enclosed and planned, in which the government assumes responsibility for creating adequate purchasing power through the instrumentality of national debt and in which militarism is adopted as a great economic project for creating work as well as a great romantic project in the service of the imperialist state."

What a near-perfect anticipation of our present state! He must have seen it in a dream. As an unpopular war reaches its horrific crescendo, and the President upholds his "right" to wage it in defiance of Congress and the popular will, the theoreticians of the new fascism – what Lew Rockwell trenchantly calls "red-state fascism" – are given ample space on the editorial page of the War Street Journal to make their case. Are the masses growing increasingly discontented with the "wisdom" of their rulers, who are, after all, by definition, their betters? Well then, let us endow the President with kingly powers, so he can disregard the "temporary delusions" of the people, as Mansfield puts it – such as, for example, the "delusion" that we cannot win the war in Iraq, and shouldn't have gone there in the first place – and let our glorious Leader and Commander-in-chief get on with the job. This, Mansfield avers, is true "greatness." Naturally he invokes the spirit of FDR, among others (Lincoln, the great "emanicipator," who jailed his opponents and closed down newspapers for "seditious" utterances, also gets Mansfield's strong endorsement).

What is odd is that both Flynn and Mansfield are considered conservatives, men of the Right – and yet their political and moral stances could not be more adversarial. What kind of "conservatism" is it that extols the Leader Principle, disdains the Constitution and the concept of "rights" as inalienable, and openly calls for authoritarian rule in case of "emergencies"?

Today we have an ostensible "conservative," Thomas Sowell, pining for a military coup in the pages of National Review, and, in the same magazine, Col. "Buzz" Patterson, author of War Crimes: The Left's Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror, opining that the Democratic party, and especially its congressional branch, is legally guilty of "treason," and ought to be punished for this crime forthwith. Mansfield articulates the theory, while Sowell and Patterson – along with the Anne Coulters and David Horowitzes of the neoconized "conservative" movement – exemplify the practical politics of red-state fascism. The American Right has come a long way from The Conscience of a Conservative.

The legislative basis of the new autoritarianism – the "Patriot Act," the Military Commissions Act [.pdf], the growth of the national surveillance state – is underpinned by the Mansfieldian theory of presidential supremacy and the concept of the "unitary presidency" – in short, the Leader Principle, which is the foundation stone of the modern fascist edifice.

Centered around imperialism and the push to expand its system over all or most of the earth, this "energetic" ideology employs the administrative and economic centralism that is the hallmark of modern American "liberalism," and the militarism and imperialism that is the hallmark of the modern "conservative," in a perfect synthesis of "left" and "right" that satisfies everyone and leaves the dissidents in the "far left" and "far right" margins. This is how our modern fascists can, with some justification, call themselves "centrists," and even "moderates."

In the Bizarro World we seem to have fallen into, post-9/11 – when a rip in the space-time continuum, caused by the explosive power of the planes' impact on the World Trade Center, caused us to slip into another dimension – who will dispute their self-characterization? After all, in Bizarro World, up is down, truth is a lie, and "democracy" means rule by a self-appointed elite. A Straussian is perfectly comfortable with this universal inversion: as for the rest of us, we'll just have to get used to it.

Deputy national security adviser resigns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Public support in the U.S. for the Iraq war is wavering. Lawmakers are battling the White House over money to fund the combat. Suicide bombings continue in Baghdad.

Despite it all, J.D. Crouch, who is stepping down from his national security post at the White House, is confident history will prove that invading Iraq was the right thing to do.

Crouch, who has been President George W. Bush's deputy national security adviser for more than two years, said the president never will be swayed by opposition to the war. Instead, Crouch said, Bush will use his resolve to help convince a broad section of Americans that it is important to be in Iraq.

"I think it was really the right thing to do, and I think history will bear that out," Crouch said in an interview Thursday.

Crouch, 48, said he has been thinking for months about leaving his job as deputy to the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. The White House was to announce Crouch's resignation on Friday.

With two big projects off his desk — one on Iraq and the other on detainees — Crouch said he thought it was time, for both him and his family, to leave the government and take a position in the private sector or academia.

Hadley said he'll miss Crouch's self-deprecating humor and the way his work discourages leaks.

"He was able to force people to step up to difficult issues, but do it in a way that everybody felt that they had a hearing and that the process was fair," Hadley said. "And that's one of the reasons why I think there has been very little leaking of squabbles of State versus Defense, which you've seen from time to time."

For several months last year, Crouch's cramped office in the West Wing, which he will vacate early next month, was the nerve center for the Bush administration's top-to-bottom review of war strategy that culminated with the president's decision in January to send more troops to Iraq.

"It's going to still be tough and there's still going to be a lot of bad days out there, but definitely, we're already beginning to see some of the positive benefits," Crouch said, while acknowledging that even though Shiite-Sunni violence has ebbed, terrorist attacks have not.

In his remaining time in office, Crouch says Bush hopes to see a stable Iraq and keep pressuring Iran not to develop a nuclear weapon.

Bush also wants to direct attention to his agenda of helping people around the world gain greater political freedom and economic prosperity.

"These are not things that can be solved by military solutions," Crouch said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Where is the dissent in America?


Charles R. Larson

May 4, 2007

WASHINGTON -- When viewed through American eyes, the recent protests in Istanbul and Tel Aviv demanding that their governments become accountable are truly impressive and extraordinary.

For a US liberal - which is what I consider myself to be - the Israeli and the Turkish protests are also a disturbing reminder that Americans have apparently forgotten one of their constitutional rights: the right to protest. Americans are loud at proclaiming their rights, but, lately, they have been reluctant to practice them. Indeed, a couple of years ago, when Iraq was writing its new constitution, a joke was frequently repeated in limited circles: "Why not give them the US constitution, since we're not using it?"

The George W. Bush presidency has articulated, ad nauseam, America's plan for exporting democracy to the rest of the world - especially to the Middle East. Yet, rarely does the Bush administration proclaim the need for democracy outside of areas where oil is of our concern.

Take Africa, for example. A couple of years ago, it was Liberia, which, under Charles Taylor, became one of the most wretched places for human rights in the world. Taylor could have been unseated quickly and expeditiously with minimal force, and the United States certainly had historical reasons for "liberating" Liberia from its monstrous dictator. But Taylor stayed in power until he wrecked his country, at which stage the US sent in a handful of marines to make a belated push to force Taylor to leave.

More recently, Zimbabwe and Nigeria ought to be of major concern regarding constitutional abuses, but Robert Mugabe still reigns supreme in the former country (that has no oil) and the rigged election in Nigeria two weeks ago, which ought to have triggered a barrage of criticism from the American State Department, resulted in hardly a puff of smoke. (Actually, in the case of Nigeria - one of America's major oil suppliers - it looks as if oil did contribute to Bush's decision to do nothing.)

But it is the war in Iraq that ought to have led to major protests in the United States by now, because of the administration's "selective" push for democracy around the world.

Three weeks ago, a lone gunman at Virginia Tech murdered 32 innocent students and faculty members, triggering a massive outcry for a few days, but no one expects that America's obsession with guns is about to change. One hundred US soldiers have died in Iraq in the last month alone, and there is nary a protest or airing of concern from Americans, who have clearly stopped paying any attention to the debacle - except to say that they "want our soldiers to come home."

Americans have so compartmentalized the war that hardly anyone pays attention to what's happening in Iraq, except the families of the 150,000 US soldiers who are dying there. Most other Americans have stopped reading articles in the newspapers about the war and muted their TV sets during the evening news when the declining minutes of daily coverage are broadcast.

In part, the utter lack of concern about the war is because Americans are convinced that it has nothing to do with them economically - they have certainly not been asked to make any sacrifice to pay for the war. So, the war continues to drain the country of billions of dollars, while the American consumer continues to prop up the economy by increasing personal debt. That is, of course, a mirror of the government's own massive debt because of Bush's folly.

And it is not just the war that Americans are reluctant to protest about - but just about everything else involving George W. Bush's vision for the country and the world. The country's top law enforcer, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been disgraced by recent partisan acts that clearly were designed to support the Republican agenda. Yet, Gonzales is praised almost daily by President Bush, while he violates other parts of the constitution in acts that have systematically eroded all of our individual rights.

Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank, is similarly lauded by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, though Wolfowitz has also compromised his position and run the morale of the World Bank into the ground.

The list of abuses at the hands of the neocons in their attempt to cram right-wing conservatism down the throats of every American are so ubiquitous that the only pleasure a sane person can take these days is the occasional smile, and the remark, "I told you so," which echo a bumper sticker seen on many vehicles in the country for the past six years: "If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention."

Americans are asleep. They have tuned out and shut down to recent events because of the staggering amount of outrage and abuse by their government during the past half-dozen years. Even in the best of times, a large portion of the population pays little attention to world events. If you visit the outlying sections of the country and pick up a local newspaper, you might conclude that the readers of that gazette were only concerned about local events. An international incident, which ought to be of concern for everyone, is either given no attention at all or buried in a minor paragraph at the back of the paper.

One wonders what kind of outrage would finally draw Americans into the streets as the citizens of Istanbul and Tel Aviv did earlier this week.

Charles R. Larson
is Chair of the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC. He is a frequent Contributor to Salon, The Nation, and The Washington Examiner magazines. He submitted this commentary to the Middle East Times.