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Given our love affair with Hans A. Von Spakovsky, I can't let his op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal go unnoted. Titled "Anatomy of a Beltway Smear Campaign," it is his embittered reaction to being forced, finally, to withdraw his nomination to the FEC last week:

During the past two years, while my nomination to the Federal Election Commission was pending - and before I withdrew last week - friends would call whenever the latest newspaper story or blog post attacking me was planted by political operatives and left-wing advocacy organizations.

They always asked the same question: Why was I putting up with the character assassination that has become the norm in Senate confirmation battles whenever a conservative is nominated for public office? ...

My own hard feelings will pass. But the political system has been damaged once more by the poisonous tactics of the left, and there is no reason to think that the whole sorry spectacle will not be repeated again and again and again. So long as such tactics are accepted and even encouraged by politicians and the media, it will become harder and harder to find ordinary citizens willing to submit to the character assassination that now passes for our confirmation process.


It was a little disappointing not to see TPM mentioned by name, but I couldn't help but think Hans was giving us a nod when he complained about being called a "vote suppressor."

When the Bush Administration rolled out charges against five Gitmo detainees last week for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks, there were a lot of questions about why the suspected 20th hijacker was not charged.

The Wall Street Journal today suggests one answer:

An alleged 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 conspiracy attempted suicide rather than face a Guantanamo Bay military commission and now suffers from such mental impairment that he can't adequately help in his own defense, his civilian lawyer says.

The contention suggests one possible reason the Defense Department last week dismissed charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, who faced a potential death penalty if convicted in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At the time, the administrator of the military commissions, Susan Crawford, gave no explanation. Mr. Qahtani remains under indefinite detention, and prosecutors may seek to file amended charges.

In 2002 Mr. Qahtani suffered a severe and prolonged interrogation that a Pentagon review later labeled "abusive and degrading." Some military investigators and prosecutors feared that the coercive treatment had ruined a potential case against Mr. Qahtani, under legal and ethical rules.


Intriguingly, we may yet learn more about al-Qahtani's interrogation, the Journal reports:

Friday, a military judge ordered such an inquiry for Guantanamo defendant Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, after a psychiatrist hired by the defense reported that Mr. Hamdan was suffering from "major depression" and expressed suicidal thoughts.

If a military judge were to order a similar examination for Mr. Qahtani, it could force the first independent inquiry into his interrogation, which to date has been reviewed by only the Pentagon.

The prospect of two key Guantanamo defendants being incapable of standing trial is another problem for a military commissions system already beset by legal challenges and staff unrest.


Late Update: Speaking today about al-Qahtani's suicide attempt, his lawyer told AP that she didn't learn of his suicide attempts until weeks after it occurred:

Gutierrez said the military did not inform her or al-Qahtani's family of the alleged suicide attempt. She said she learned of it when she went to visit him and noticed three scars on his hand, inside wrist and inner forearm near the elbow.

The prisoner seemed desolate during the meeting, said the attorney, who has met with him more than 20 times.

"This was the worst I have ever seen him in terms of his psychological state," she told The Associated Press. "He just can't take it anymore and just kept threatening to kill himself."

The DOJ inspector general's report on the FBI's role in detainee interrogations that we previewed yesterday has now been released -- all 370 pages plus appendices.

You can read the report in its entirety here (.pdf).

As Andrew Zajac at The Swamp notes, "The tortured title of the report -- A Review of the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- suggests a certain amount of hairsplitting and eggshell-walking."

We'll have more shortly.

Late Update: The bottom line of the report?

In Sum, while our report concluded that the FBI could have provided clearer guidance earlier, and while the FBI and DOJ could have pressed harder for resolution of FBI concerns about detainee treatment, we believe the FBI should be credited for its conduct and professionalism in detainee interrogations in the military zones and in generally avoiding participation in detainee abuse.


Later Update: The ACLU finds the report more troubling than exculpatory:

Jameel Jaffer, national security director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the report "shows a failure of leadership on the part of senior FBI officials."

"Senior FBI officials knew as early as 2002 that other agencies were using abusive interrogation methods," Jaffer said. "The report shows unequivocally, however, that the FBI's leadership failed to act aggressively to end the abuse."

Whistleblowers within the Federal Aviation Administration are believed to have been subject to bullying tactics and unwarranted punishment from FAA managers for reporting safety concerns, according to FAA documents. Included in the allegations are accusations that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, recently under fire for chilling such whistleblowing, was slow to investigate claims made by FAA workers. (Wall St. Journal sub. req.)

Only one in five prisoners under U.S. custody in Iraq fall under one of the prime militant extremist groups opposing U.S. forces, say U.S. military analysts. The rest that are swept up in the search for such militants have no business being detained. (USA Today)

Charges were dismissed last week against Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker on 9/11, most likely because his mental impairments disallowed him from participating in his own defense. A Pentagon review of Qahtani's treatment while at Gitmo found "abusive and degrading" interrogation tactics. Such treatment may have ultimately ruined the case against him, say some military prosecutors. (Wall St. Journal sub. req.)

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EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, perhaps the Administration's most accomplished stonewaller, goes before the House government oversight committee today to testify -- again -- about his refusal to grant a waiver for California to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions despite unanimous staff support for such a waiver.

So far, Johnson has been a most reluctant witness, going so far as to schedule overseas trips to avoid attending congressional hearings. But Rep. Henry Waxman's committee staff has continued digging, reviewing thousands of documents and interviewing witnesses outside the public eye. Yesterday, in advance of Johnson's appearance, Waxman released a 20-page memo and supporting documents on what his committee has found so far.

The headliner of the memo is that a top EPA official conceded in sworn testimony that he believed that Johnson changed his mind about supporting the waiver after he talked to the White House:

In one deposition, EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett told congressional investigators that Johnson in August and September was "very interested in a full grant of the waiver," then said he thought a partial grant of the waiver "was the best course of action."

California has the right to enact tougher air pollution laws under the Clean Air Act but must secure a waiver from the EPA.

Johnson denied California's request in December. When asked whether the administrator communicated with the White House in between his preference to do a partial grant and the ultimate decision, Burnett said, "I believe the answer is yes."


With a flourish, the EPA dismissed the news that Johnson has initially supported the waiver. "I equate this to deciding whether to wear a red tie or a blue tie in the morning," an EPA spokesperson told Reuters. "It doesn't make much difference until I put the tie on. To go through and suggest that maybe (Johnson) had a different opinion during the process -- none of that matters."

As the Post's Juliet Eilperin notes, the details of the White House involvement remain murky:

It remains unclear how exactly senior Bush officials intervened in the decision. Burnett said he was instructed not to answer questions about the White House's involvement, and the White House maintains that Johnson was not influenced by his talks with White House officials.

"As Administrator Johnson said in his statement, he made an independent decision and his decision was based on the facts and the law," said Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


Given Johnson's previous refusals to divulge what he and the White House discussed, don't expect Waxman to make much progress with Johnson in today's hearing. The real fireworks may be between committee Democrats and Republicans. Ranking Member Tom Davis (R-VA) called yesterday's majority memo "a knee-jerk conclusion of nefarious intent by the White House derived from a manifestly incomplete investigation."

The Justice Department's inspector general has finally completed its report on the FBI's involvement in detainee interrogations:

Overall, the report gives the FBI fairly positive marks for repeatedly raising concerns between 2001 and 2004 about interrogation methods at three military prisons: Abu Ghraib in Iraq; in Bagram, Afghanistan; and at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to two law enforcement officials who have seen it, the report's twelve chapters touch on a range of issues, including the interrogations of terror suspects who were thought to have high-value information. The officials spoke about the report on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

"The FBI decided it would not participate in joint interrogations of detainees with other agencies in which techniques not allowed by the FBI were used," the report concluded, according to one law enforcement official who has seen it.

Fine's office also concluded that clearer guidance was needed for FBI agents left wondering what to do when interrogation tactics appeared to violate what would be allowed in the United States -- as opposed to under military law or in overseas detention centers, according to the second law enforcement official.

And the report raps the FBI in some cases for not immediately reporting the questionable interrogations or leaving the room when they were under way, the officials said.


The IG's report has been delayed in part because the Pentagon slow-rolled its review of the report for classified information.

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to Congress last month that he had "reached out" to the Pentagon and the Department of Justice "in terms of activity that we were concerned might not be appropriate -- let me put it that way." But it was clear from his testimony that the Justice Department's essentially unilateral legalization of torture had prevented the FBI from investigating the abuses its agents witnessed.

We've documented Alphonso Jackson's tenure at HUD pretty thoroughly here: the cronyism, the politicization, the stonewalling of congressional investigators.

But let's not forget retaliation as a tool to further those ends.

Today the Washington Post reports on three minority HUD contractors who in very short spans went from few, if any, HUD contracts to many millions of dollar's worth. The common denominator for all three firms was that they were well-connected in GOP circles or with HUD officials.

Now that may be a scandal in itself, but so is what happened to the career HUD staffers who raised questions.

The contract specialist who flagged concerns about one of the companies was asked to return to her previous job within HUD, the Post reports. "At that point, the top procurement people -- Jo Baylor and Annette Hancock -- decided my services would no longer be needed because I was a pain in their neck," said Gloria Freeman, the specialist, who has since retired.

Another contracting specialist, also since retired, was reassigned to a different HUD job within weeks of finding that one of the companies had submitted an exaggerated claim under the contract and instead owed HUD money.

The Post doesn't link these three contractors directly to Jackson; rather, their rapid rise despite performance issues is symptomatic of HUD during the Jackson era. This isn't the first time retaliation has been alleged. The Philadelphia public housing director is suing for retaliation, alleging that his refusal to help out a Jackson buddy led HUD to take enforcement action against the housing authority as punishment. Emails previously published by the Washington Post suggest a warped management climate within HUD, with one HUD official asking another, "Would you like me to make his life less happy? If so, how?"

Did taxpayers foot the bill for Rep. Vito Fossella's hanky panky with Lt. Col. Laura Fay?

That's what Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wants the House ethics committee to investigate:

CREW's request asks the ethics committee to focus on Fossella's official travel, some of which occurred with Fay when she was an Air Force liaison to Congress, and to look into whether Fossella essentially took advantage of such travel to foster an illicit relationship with Fay.


You can read the complaint here (.pdf).

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has seen a recent rash of resignations amongst his lobbyist-riddled campaign staff as he tries to live up to his image as an untethered candidate. The latest to leave the camp is McCain's national finance co-chair Thomas Loeffler, who runs The Loeffler Group. (Politico and Associated Press)

The long saga of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham continues to play out. Thomas Kontogiannis was sentenced to eight years and one month in the joint for money laundering through fraudulent mortgages in an effort to influence Cunningham. Duke himself received an eight-plus year sentence for accepting the bribes. Defense contractor and briber Brent Wilkes was given 12 years for his dealings with Cunningham. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The fallout continues from the revelations that Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann used his position to unlawfully attempt to prosecute Gitmo detainees during tribunals. Now lawyers of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and four other prisoners, are calling for the abandonment of all charges levied against them due to Hartmann's failure to objectively handle such cases. (LA Times)

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Here's a new one to add to the federal government's blizzard of acronyms: CUI.

It stands for "Controlled Unclassified Information" and it's the latest designation the Bush Administration has chosen for a sprawling class of materials and documents that falls short of meeting the standards to be stamped as classified, but which for one reason or another is considered sensitive.

The new CUI designation was announced two Fridays ago, while the President was in Texas for Jenna's wedding, in a memorandum from the White House. Be advised: the memo doesn't make for light reading. [Late Update: It was first reported by Kos contributing editor Michael Clark.]

As Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, CUI replaces SBU: Sensitive But Unclassified. The SBU framework was a mess:

"Among the 20 departments and agencies . . . surveyed, there are at least 107 unique markings and more than 131 different labeling or handling processes and procedures for SBU information," Ted McNamara of the office of the director of national intelligence told the House Homeland Security Committee in April 2007.

The Archives was asked to create a single set of policies and procedures on the way materials should be marked, stored safely and disseminated. There are to be three categories of dissemination -- standard, specified and enhanced specified. The latter two require measures to reduce possible disclosure.


If the ostensible reason for the new designation is intended to regularize and standardize the system for handling that vast trove of unclassified data, there are nonetheless other reasons why the most secretive administration in history might be interested in this sweeping new designation.

For one, it may help shield information otherwise subject to FOIA from disclosure, at least indirectly. It will be a factor in determining disclosure:

The Archives will establish "enforcement mechanisms and penalties for improper handling of CUI." The "controlled" classification "may inform," but will not determine, whether information can be made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.


Secondly, as Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, notes:

[Th]e definition of what information may qualify as CUI, which includes anything that "under law or policy" requires protection from unauthorized disclosure, is vague and expansive.


The saving grace may be that many of the hard decisions about how CUI will work have not been made, and likely won't be made until after President Bush leaves office. So federal officials may dodge one of the memo's more comical requirements: "oral communications should be prefaced with a statement describing the controls when necessary to ensure that recipients are aware of the information's status."

It's a requirement that leads the Post's Pincus to imagine the absurd scenario where one government official talking to another about terrorists will have to preface the conversation with: "What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination."

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