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Just one week before General Petraeus is expected to testify about the progress of the surge, General Richard Cody, the army's vice chief of staff, asserted that the 30,000 additional troops sent to Iraq have inflicted "incredible stress" and have created "a significant risk" for the military. Cody added, "I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today." (Washington Post)

The U.S. and Britain disagree about the status and future of one of the two British residents who remains in detention at Guantanamo Bay. While the Pentagon is determined to pursue terrorism-related charges against Binyam Mohamed, Britain has criticized the American's military tribunal process as unfair. Britain is also concerned that information about its intelligence agencies could emerge during a trial: “there is some discomfort with what the defense will try to drag out.” (New York Times)

The ACLU believes that the Pentagon has been using the FBI's national security letters to hide its efforts to evade legal restrictions on obtaining private internet, financial, and telephone records of American citizens. After reviewing more than 1,000 documents that the Defense Department was forced to turn over in a ACLU filed law suit last year, the ACLU is "incredibly concerned that the FBI and DOD might be collaborating to evade limits put on the DOD's use of NSLs." (USA Today)

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More than five years after its composition, we finally see a copy of John Yoo's March 14, 2003 memo to William Haynes, then the Defense Department's general counsel. It was, as The New York Times and Washington Post report, a green light for military interrogators to use just about any technique the Pentagon deemed useful. Criminal statutes prohibiting torture stopped at the water's edge, because, Yoo wrote, "such criminal statutes, if they were misconstrued to apply to the interrogation of enemy combatants, would conflict with the Constitution's grant of Commander in Chief power solely to the President."

As Thomas J. Romig, who was then the Army's judge advocate general, tells the Post, "it appears to argue there are no rules in a time of war." As Marty Lederman, a former lawyer at OLC writes, "it is, in effect, the blueprint that led to Abu Ghraib and the other abuses within the armed forces in 2003 and early 2004."

Despite the fact that Congress has been asking for the declassification of this memo, it appears to have only been released now as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The memo is 81 pages long (here's Part I and Part II). We've posted one of the more remarkable sections here.

In that section, Yoo explains how even if a particularly brutal interrogation might "arguably cross the line drawn" by the law, "certain justification defenses might be available." Those are "necessity" (the "choice of evils," the evils being torture and a terrorist attack) and "self-defense" ("If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.") Just about the only actions that were impermissible and indefensible in Yoo's eyes, it seems, were those motivated strictly by malice or sadism.

The memo was rescinded just nine months later by Jack Goldsmith, when he came in to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Yoo himself doesn't see what all the hubbub is about. From the Post:

Yoo... defended the memo in an e-mail yesterday, saying the Justice Department altered its opinions "for appearances' sake." He said his successors "ignored the Department's long tradition in defending the President's authority in wartime."

"Far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution," Yoo wrote, "our legal advice to the President, in fact, was near boilerplate."

But as Marty explains, the legal reasoning of Yoo's memo is only half the scandal. The circumstances under which it was instituted constitute the other half. More on that in a bit.

There are already indications that the 2008 election will be remarkable for the number of outside groups weighing in with major ad buys supporting or attacking candidates. The latest: a group called the American Future Fund that's hit Minnesota with a TV ad singing the praises of Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), who's locked in an already tight reelection battle with Al Franken.

You can see the ad, which began running March 19th and will last for approximately three weeks, below. With the feel-good synthesized music characteristic of positive ads playing soothingly in the background, it lauds Coleman's legislative accomplishments ("Coleman has worked with Republicans and Democrats to make college more affordable" etc.), adds, "An independent voice for Minnesota: Norm Coleman," and ends by urging viewers to call Coleman and "thank him." The ad buy cost "well into six figures," according to Larry McCarthy, the media consultant who produced it.

Because the group has established itself as a non-profit -- the popular choice this election for outside groups wanting to spend money without restraint while disclosing little to nothing about their activities -- details on the new group are sketchy.

The Rothenberg Political Report reported last month that a number of notable conservatives are associated with the group (no one seems to head the group, exactly, as you'll see below). McCarthy, the media consultant, runs a major firm that also recently produced ads attacking House Democrats run by another outside group called Defense of Democracies.

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We've been wondering whether the public will be seeing the results of the intelligence community's hard work on assessing the situation in Iraq. Turns out (not surprisingly, no). Spencer is the bearer of bad news:

For weeks, analysts within the 16-agency U.S. intelligence community have been toiling to complete an assessment of the situation in Iraq. This morning, it finally went to the Hill: the Senate and House intelligence committees, and the leadership in both chambers, are the proud owners of an update to the August 23, 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee received a briefing on it. But you'll never see it.

According to an administration official with knowledge of the intelligence process, this morning's intelligence document isn't itself a National Intelligence Estimate. "It's not a formal report," the official said, "it's more or less an assessment memo, an update to policy makers."

So does the intelligence community think that the political situation in Iraq is in a hopeless deadlock? That the security gains of the past few months are meaningful and lasting? Well, I guess we'll just have to take the word of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker when they testify before Congress next week.

Unbelievably, there's still some unfinished business from the Jack Abramoff years. From ABC News:

A bill to reform the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration system will be introduced on the Senate Floor today, addressing more than a decade of mounting concerns about the exploitation of workers, sex trafficking and porous borders and years of political maneuvering by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"After fighting for these reforms for many years, we are now closing the legal loopholes that had allowed some of the poorest men and women to be abused and exploited in sweatshops in this American territory," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who has championed the fight for CNMI reform since the 1990s.

The bill would extend U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI and establish a federally administered guest worker program in the American territory.

If you're wondering where Abramoff is these days, he's still serving out his sentence for defrauding investors in his purchase of a fleet of gambling boats, but has yet to be sentenced for his bribes to lawmakers. That's because he's still cooperating with prosecutors, who've repeatedly requested a delay for his sentencing since he's got more to give (as Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Tom DeLay know full well).

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirms this morning's Wall Street Journal story that the administration has changed its tune. From Roll Call (sub. req.):

The Bush administration is “now in a position where they want to talk about a possible compromise” on stalled electronic spying legislation, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters today.

“I think, frankly, they were surprised” that House Democratic leaders were able to pass their preferred version of the bill, which would reauthorize and update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, just before lawmakers left for the two-week spring recess, he said.

Hoyer said he has been in conversations with administration officials and with House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), all of whom have indicated that they are ready to reach a compromise.

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

The House of Representatives and the Justice Department are in negotiations over new protocols and procedures for law enforcement searches of Congressional offices — talks that began in the wake of the controversial May 2006 raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) Capitol Hill office.

An appeals court has ruled that raid was unconstitutional and the Supreme Court on Monday refused a Justice Department request to reconsider that ruling.

According to House General Counsel Irv Nathan, discussions between the House and DOJ are in “preliminary” stages, but “we have put forward concrete proposals.” Nathan said the goal of the discussions — led by his office and by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher — is to produce “either a set of procedures, a memorandum of understanding or perhaps legislation, that would make clear the rules for law enforcement actions in Congressional offices.” Nathan would not set a timetable for the talks, but said he hoped a resolution could be reached this year.

As we've often noted here, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has frequently gotten into trouble for making statements that were either impolitic or, well, not true. And last week, in his zeal to demonstrate the unreasonableness of liberal critics, he made a statement that was both.

Speaking at Furman University, he said (pdf):

We had a bill go into the Senate. It was debated vigorously. There were some who said we shouldn't have an Intelligence Community. Some have that point of view. Some say the President of the United States violated the process, spied on Americans, should be impeached and should go to jail. I mean, this is democracy, you can say anything you want to say. That was the argument made. The vote was 68 to 29. It's a bill we can live with. It's the right bill.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is not happy. Sure, many senators -- particularly Feingold and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) -- objected to key aspects of the legislation, including the provision granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms. But the debate was nothing like McConnell describes. And Feingold writes in a letter to McConnell today that he ought to either back up his statement or "issue an immediate correction and an apology."

Feingold concludes:

While all sides of this debate deserve to be heard, to falsely attribute statements to United States Senators serves only to mislead the American people. It also undermines your credibility and that of the position of Director of National Intelligence.

We put a call in to McConnell's office to see what the response is. We'll let you know when we hear back.

You can see Feingold's letter here or read it below.

Update: As Spencer reported over at The Washington Independent last month, McConnell was similarly glib in criticizing those who disagree with him at a talk at Johns Hopkins.

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When Rush Limbaugh launched his "Operation Chaos" plan which urged Republicans to register as Democrats so that they could vote for Hillary Clinton in Mississippi, he may not have realized the extent of the chaos he was causing. Party-switchers in Mississippi who voted in the presidential primary last week - an unusually high number - will not be allowed to cast ballots in an important congressional contest this week. (Politico)

The U.S. military has struggled throughout the Iraq war to contain blogs, especially those written by soldiers. A 2006 report for the Joint Special Operations University - "Blogs and Military Information Strategy" - proposed that ""hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering." But the plan also conceded that "on the other hand, such operations can have a blowback effect, as witnessed by the public reaction following revelations that the U.S. military had paid journalists to publish stories in the Iraqi press under their own names." (Wired)

The book is now officially closed on the investigation into the CIA leak that outed the identity of agent Valerie Plame. The price tag: $2.58 million, according to the Government Accountability Office. The extensive 45-month investigation by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald involved many prime players of the Bush Administration and the State Department, including I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff who was convicted of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI. (AP)

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OK, things were said. Patriotism was impugned, fear was mongered, attack ads were run. But that doesn't mean we can't work something out, does it?

The administration is ready to talk turkey, reports The Wall Street Journal. But if the administration "has signaled to Democratic lawmakers it is open to negotiation" about the surveillance bill, it's not entirely clear just yet where the administration is willing to give.

The centerpiece of negotiations, of course, will be whether telecoms will receive retroactive immunity for their participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Though a number of Senate Dems crossed over to support that, the House has managed to hold firm, twice passing a bill without retroactive immunity. Some Dems are floating "a pared-back version of immunity," such as limiting immunity to certain aspects of the program or capping possible damages. Talks about other aspects of the legislation, for instance concerning judicial oversight of surveillance, might come more easily.

But the reason for the White House's new tack is pretty clear: they used every weapon at their disposal -- presidential statements and press conferences, alarming letters and public appearances by the director of national intelligence and attorney general, time pressures created by the lapsing of legislation or a Congressional recess -- and none of it worked. The House, after all that, still passed a bill a world away from what the administration was pushing for. It was, as the Journal points out, a strikingly different outcome from August, when the White House's squeeze play worked to perfection.

The difference? Well, a number of things. But one thing in particular is the fact that Dems no longer trust the administration's point man, DNI Mike McConnell. From today's Los Angeles Times:

On the eve of a House vote on controversial wiretapping legislation last month, the nation's intelligence director, J. Michael McConnell, convened a secret weekend meeting in northern Virginia with members of the House Intelligence Committee.

The two-day session was designed to promote a calmer atmosphere for discussing an array of intelligence issues, including the nation's eavesdropping laws. But participants said the event ended with a series of acrimonious exchanges.

Democrats accused McConnell of making exaggerated claims and of doing the bidding of the Bush administration, according to officials who attended the event. McConnell bristled at the Democrats' charges, and chastised members of the committee for failing to defend the intelligence community amid a barrage of bad press.

As a wise man once said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."