TPM News

The Nation reports in harrowing detail on the rape of Lisa Smith (a pseudonymn), who worked as a paramedic for KBR in southern Iraq. A KBR supervisor told her to shut up about the brutal rape and the camp's military liaison officer also instructed her to keep quiet. (The Nation)

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union to launch an $8 million program to defend at least seven Guantanamo Bay detainees. The two organizations believe that the Pentagon has failed to provide adequate resources to military defense lawyers and that the military tribunal process permits convictions based on “secret evidence, hearsay and confessions derived from torture.” (New York Times)

The chairs of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the oversight and investigations subcommittee want Environmental Protection Agency documents to determine if the the chemical industry has improperly influenced expert review panels convened by the EPA. Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group called it a "landmark investigation" that "has called into question the ethics of the entire industry." (Washington Post)

Read More →

No doubt that good news about Iraq has been hard to come by lately for the administration. The failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offensive against the Shiite militia of Moqtada al-Sadr in Basra and Baghdad still stings, and the postmortems by The New York Times and Washington Post are not pretty. The Times also reports this morning that "more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts" during the fighting last week, a toll that features "dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle."

Earlier this week, just after the offensive went kablooey, intelligence officials delivered a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to Congress. It's a bit of tentative good news amid all the bad. If the administration has its way, however, you'll never see a declassified version of it. Director of National Intelligence Mike "public debate of intelligence issues kills Americans" McConnell will do what he can to ensure that. Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) have begun a push for the administration to release a declassified version of the report, writing a letter earlier this week to McConnell earlier this week (see below).

The general conclusion of the report is evident from the headlines this morning. "Report: Security in Iraq is improving," says the AP. "U.S. Study Finds Progress in Iraq, but Fragile Security and Potential for Terror Attacks," says the Times. A senior administration official tells The Wall Street Journal, "The NIE update confirmed that the surge strategy the president announced in January of last year is working. There's more work to be done, but progress has obviously been made."

And that pretty much seems to be the scope of it. Democrats who have read it are mightily unimpressed and say that it's just part of the broader PR push which will culminate in next week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

As Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) puts it, "The stuff that was positive, they emphasized. The negative, they stated, but deemphasized." Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) complains that it doesn't cover most of the stuff you'd want it to cover: "It's much less insightful than other, recent products and focuses narrowly on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi leadership."

And Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House intelligence committee, is mighty suspicious -- both of the report's content and its timing: "One might ask whether the timing of the release and the apparent departure from usual procedures means this is more of a political document than an intelligence document," he tells the Journal.

As the Journal points out, "intelligence reports are often delayed by major developments that could affect the assessments, such as the Sadr fighting." This report, however, was not delayed, and there is no mention of the failed offensive in the report. It has, however, come right in time for the Petraeus and Crocker hearings next week.

Read More →

It's gotten to be something of a pattern with administration figures of late: making sweeping claims about national security matters that do not stand up to scrutiny. Just Monday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) complained that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (who has something of a habit with this), had mischaracterized liberal opposition to retroactive immunity in the Senate as a bunch of impeachment-crazed loonies.

This time it's Attorney General Michael Mukasey who's catching flak. In a Q&A session after a speech last week, Mukasey said:

"[Officials] shouldn't need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that's the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that's the call that we didn't know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."

The problem with this, as Glenn Greenwald at Salon has shown, is that nothing of this sort seems to have happened. Greenwald asked former executive director of the 9/11 Commission Philip Zelikow, who responded that he was "not sure of course what the AG had in mind" and came up empty guessing.

In a letter today, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) calls Mukasey's statement very disturbing and writes, "I am aware of no previous reference, in the 9/11 Commission report or elsewhere, to a call from a known terrorist safe house in Afghanistan to the United States which, if it had been intercepted, could have helped prevent the 9/11 attacks." And anyway, he adds, there's no reason why the FISA law would not have served to intercept the call in this instance. So what's Mukasey talking about? he wants to know.

You can read the letter, which was also signed by fellow committee members Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), below. The lawmakers also ask, not for the first time, for a copy of the October 23, 2001 memo by John Yoo that declared the Fourth Amendment kaput (it had "no application to domestic military operations").

Read More →

Do we really understand the scope of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program?

We've already written a number of times about the new book by New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau. And on Tuesday, I interviewed Lichtblau, who began reporting on the administration's wireless wiretapping program back in 2004 and won the Pulitzer Prize along with James Risen for breaking the story in December of 2005.

Among other things, I got him to walk me through what we do and don't know about the program. How broad was the surveillance? What does the NSA's massive data mining project have to do with the warrantless wiretapping? And does Lichtblau suspect that his own phone has been tapped?

Lichtblau also responded to Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who posted at TPMcafe on Monday of this week. Harman was in turn responding to a passage in Lichtblau's book, where he writes that when he approached Harman in 2005 about the administration's then-still-secret warrantless wiretapping program, she'd shushed him and told him that The New York Times did the right thing by not publishing the story in 2004. Beginning in February of 2003, Harman was a member of the so-called "gang of eight," the eight lawmakers, four Republicans and four Dems, who were briefed on the surveillance program.

Harman didn't dispute his account, but did take issue with his characterization that her position on the program underwent "a dramatic transformation" after the Times broke the story. She wrote in her post that she'd been completely in the dark that the program had involved wiretapping without warrants.

To which, Lichtblau responds below:

I think that assertion was consistent with what we’ve heard, that these briefings were very limited, very carefully crafted, that they were only told a certain amount about the program and given sort of a filtered view of it. I believe all that much is true.

I guess the next question is why the gang of eight were willing to settle for that....

I’m not saying the program shouldn’t have continued, but it’s one thing for four members of Congress to know what they were approving and to say, okay. It’s another thing to say we had no idea, then to allow this to continue for five years.

The full interview is below. TPM research hound John Amick provided the transcription.

Read More →

John Yoo, speaking to Esquire:

“I did not think as a matter of policy that it was a good idea for the military to use aggressive interrogations of the kind that would be permitted to the CIA,” he said, adding that he expressed those reservations “to officials higher up the chain of command.”...

“The memo released yesterday does not apply to Iraq. It applied to interrogations of al Qaeda detained at Guantanamo Bay. I don’t [necessarily] agree that the methods did migrate to Iraq, because I don’t know for a fact that they did. The analysis of the memo released yesterday was not to apply to Iraq, and we made clear in other settings that the Geneva Conventions fully applied to the war in Iraq. There was no intention or desire that the memo released yesterday apply to Iraq.”

Of course, Yoo was just a lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, so it is true that it was not his call what to do as a matter of policy. He was just the consigliere.

But nothing can erase the fact that it is, in fact, his legal analysis that's been dropping jaws for the past two days.

Yesterday the ACLU noticed another of John Yoo's contributions to legal thought, tucked in a footnote of the March, 2003 memo. That footnote indicated that in a October 23, 2001 memo, Yoo had advised that the Fourth Amendment was too much bother. Here's that footnote:

The October 23, 2001 memo remains classified. And as the AP and The Wall Street Journal report, it's unclear exactly what sort of activities the memo was used to support. A White House spokesman denied that it had anything to do with the warrantless wiretapping program, but as the AP points out, "the government itself related the October memo to the [Terrorist Surveillance Program] when it included it on a list of documents that were responsive to the ACLU's request for records from the program."

And how long did the administration rely on this finding? "It was in use at least until March 2003 but not after January 2006," reports the Journal.

At the very least, it's apparent what Yoo thought about "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States." There seems to have been no limits to that authority. As Justin points out over at ABC, another of Yoo's infamous memos, the August 2002 "Torture Memo" signed by then-Office of Legal Counsel chief Jay Bybee, gave another indication of this:

A footnote to the Bybee document said that the October 2001 memo also concluded that Posse Comitatus –- an 1878 statute barring the military from participating in "law and order" missions domestically, under most circumstances – does not apply to the war on terror.

If the Army had conducted proper paperwork on the initial testing of its body armor, it would have been able to guarantee that the protective vests provided to soldiers met current safety standards. But it didn't, a Defense Department audit shows. (USA Today)

After September 11, 2001 the federal government established dozens of "fusion centers" across the nation that have access to personal information about American citizens. One center even has access to "top-secret data systems at the CIA." By employing "law enforcement analysts and sophisticated computer systems to compile, or fuse, disparate tips and clues and pass along the refined information to other agencies," the centers are designed to enhance "national information-sharing networks that link local, state and federal authorities." (Washington Post)

Representative Don Young (R-AK) supports the Alaska SeaLife Center and its three-day fishing tournament. But Young's genuine appreciation of wild marine animals and marine biologists is now complicated by the fact that Alaska SeaLife Center (a 501(c)(4) nonprofit) used the same invitation to invite donors to both the fishing tournament and a campaign event for Young. Young and his campaign have refused to comment on the apparent violation of campaign finance law. (KTUU News)

Representative William Jefferson's (D-LA) needs a new chief political strategist. Mose Jefferson, who currently holds that position, and is also William's oldest brother, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on seven felony counts. Mose is charged with bribing a New Orleans school official to win support for a math curriculum he was selling. (Times Picayune)

Read More →

Months after Justice Department lawyer John Yoo carefully delineated for the Pentagon how U.S. personnel could torture detainees all they wanted, the abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred. Does this put a dent in the "few bad apples" theory?

The New York Times mulls it and comes back with: "Some legal experts and advocates said Wednesday that the document, written the month that the United States invaded Iraq, adds to evidence that the abuse of prisoners in military custody may have involved signals from higher officials and not just irresponsible actions by low-level personnel." So it's no smoking gun.

The memo was intended to deal with "'unlawful combatants,' a label that would not apply to the largely Iraqi population captured during the Iraq war." Still, the natural suspicion remains that Yoo's expansive parsing might have migrated over to Iraq. After all, Major General Geoffrey Miller, then the commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay, did travel to Iraq in August of 2003 to advise officials there on interrogating Iraqi detainees. Miller had been briefed on the Pentagon's guidelines for interrogation, which owed much to Yoo's green light.

Not so, says Yoo:

“The ‘culture of abuse’ theory has no reliable evidence to support it,” Mr. Yoo wrote. He noted that several military investigations had found that what he called “the appalling abuses” at Abu Ghraib were not authorized by any military policy.

“While each case of abuse is regrettable,” Mr. Yoo wrote, “it is not possible for a large organization charged with protecting the national security, under extraordinary pressure, to perform its mission error-free.”

Shit happens.

The lesson is clear. If you want the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency to do something to help fight global warming, you better sue. And if you really want it to do something, you better sue again.

Today, officials from 18 states and a number of environmental groups, filed a petition to force the EPA to do what the Supreme Court said one year ago. In the landmark ruling -- itself the result of a lawsuit against the EPA -- the court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and that it had to act. Except it didn't.

It's become clear that EPA staff did, in fact, do the work to determine the agency's response. But EPA chief Stephen Johnson and the White House put a lid on it last December, and since then nothing has happened -- except that Johnson has deployed a succession of transparent delaying tactics.

The states and groups want the court to force the EPA to issue its "endangerment" finding within 60 days.

Now, don't confuse this lawsuit with another lawsuit by several states and environmental groups against the EPA. Earlier this year, California and 17 other states sued to reverse Johnson's decision to deny California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. Johnson made that decision against the unanimous recommendation of his staff.

There was another familiar development today. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming voted to issue a subpoena for EPA documents showing the Agency's progress in making the "endangerment" finding and proposing national emissions standards. That's the third subpoena issued this year by Congress for EPA documents.

It won't surprise anyone that the least sympathetic portrayal in Phillipe Sands' Vanity Fair piece is of former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

Not only did Feith play a major hand in promoting the myth of Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda before the invasion of Iraq, but he also played a major role in developing the interrogation policy for Guantanamo Bay.

Feith boasted to Sands that back in 2002, he "was really a player" in ensuring that Gitmo detainees would not receive Geneva protections. But when Sands asked him "whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority," Feith got nasty:

He was not. “The problem with moral authority,” he said, was “people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.”