TPM News

A House panel has begun looking into a former Halliburton/KBR employee’s allegations of rape and forced detention. In a “hearing next Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony relating to allegations made by Jamie Leigh Jones that in 2005, a group of Halliburton/KBR employees in Baghdad drugged her and gang-raped her less than a week into her time in the country.” Meanwhile, the head of KBR, Bill Utt, has sent a memo to employees stating that press reports have mischaracterized the sexual assault and his company’s response. Utt will certainly have time to defend his company in front of Congress or in federal court, as Congress has also begun “asking questions about another ex-employee of government contracting firm KBR who claims she was raped in Iraq.” (ABC’s, “The Blotter”)

Newsweek (via Think Progress) reports that the interrogation techniques used on Abu Zubaydah “sparked an internal battle within the U.S. intelligence community” to such an extent that one agent, so offended by the methods, “threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators.” (Newsweek)

Salon has new testimony from witnesses and victims of Blackwater's September 16th shootings that “provides the most in-depth, harrowing account to date of the U.S. security firm's deadly rampage in Iraq.” One man describes how he “identified his son from what was left of his shoes. His forehead and brains were missing and his skin completely burned. He identified his wife of 20 years by a dental bridge.” (Salon)

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And here you thought Stuart Bowen was a paragon of integrity.

Bowen is the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). Despite being an old buddy of George W. Bush's back in the Texas days, Bowen has earned a reputation as a tireless investigator of waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq contracting.

The quarterly reports issued by SIGIR have not hesitated to name names of both crooked contractors and crooked contracting officials. Bowen's appearances on Capitol Hill have been remarkably candid and free of euphemism. When I was in Baghdad in March, military public-affairs officers jumped at the chance to show me how they interface with SIGIR and boasted of the enormous respect they have for an office that's all up in their business.

But now, reports The Washington Post, the worm has turned. SIGIR faces four separate investigations -- including one by a federal grand jury -- looking into everything from its own profligacy to its alleged abundance of ego:

Current and former employees have complained about overtime policies that allowed 10 staff members to earn more than $250,000 each last year. They have questioned the oversight of a $3.5 million book project about Iraq's reconstruction modeled after the 9/11 Commission report. And they have alleged that Bowen and his deputy have improperly snooped into their staff's e-mail messages.

The employee allegations have prompted four government probes into the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), including an investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors into the agency's financial practices and claims of e-mail monitoring, according to law enforcement sources and SIGIR staff members. Federal prosecutors have presented evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a grand jury in Virginia, which has subpoenaed SIGIR for thousands of pages of financial documents, contracts, personnel records and correspondence, several sources familiar with the probe said.

Bowen, with no evident irony, dismisses many of the charges as the result of "disgruntled" employees. Yet some of the overtime that certain SIGIR officials have racked up is downright gaudy (1400 hours?).

One SIGIR official spoke anonymously of a climate of fear that pervades the office. SIGIR's chiefs are "gripped by paranoia. It's almost a siege mentality." Such alleged paranoia, according to federal prosecutors, has led top officials to illegally snoop on their employees. One of them, Ginger Cruz, Bowen's deputy, allegedly used, um, witchcraft to intimidate subordinates:

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The Miami "Seas of David" terror bust was such an important blow in the War on Terror that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales himself gave a press conference in July of 2006. Federal agents had stopped a plot to blow up the Sears Tower, he said. The group had planned to "accomplish attacks against America," the FBI's deputy director said at Gonzales side. "We pre-empted their plot."

But, as we wrote at the time, "the more we learn, the less this crew looks like they could have toppled a tree house, let alone the Sears Tower." The clique, adherents of a sect "that mixes Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism," met in a windowless warehouse they called the "Temple." The leader of the group, Narseal Batiste, was described as a "'Moses-like figure' who would roam the streets in a cape or bathrobe, toting a crooked wooden cane and looking for young men to join his group." And when the group met in their Temple, the men "took turns standing guard outside the door, dressed up in makeshift military uniforms and combat boots. Sometimes they covered their faces with ski masks." Nobody ever charged them with being subtle.

And it was unclear whether the group really had any plans themselves, or whether they got all their ideas from the FBI informant. When the FBI raided the Temple, FBI agents found only one knife and a blackjack. The group trained by shooting paintball guns in the woods.

Sure enough, the government's case ended today with one exoneration and six mistrials. "The government wants to try them again next year," the BBC reports.

Remember that fateful day? March 17, 2005? When House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) held his hearing into steroids in baseball, and Mark McGuire disgraced himself for all time? When Jose Canseco named names? And Sammy Sosa pretended not to speak English?

Well, there may not be do-overs in baseball, but it's time for a rematch of sorts. Davis, now the committee's ranking member, and Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman, announced today that they'll ask steroids investigator George Mitchell, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and players' union chief Don Fehr to testify next week. Unfortunately, none of the implicated players -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, the whole gang -- will be "invited" to speak. However, reliable sources tell us the official soundtrack for the hearing will be Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days."

Full statement after the jump.

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The military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have plenty of critics. But here are two in particular worth mentioning.

Earlier this week, the former chief prosecutor at the tribunals, Col. Morris Davis blasted the system in an op-ed, calling the system "deeply politicized" (that same day, the administration arbitrarily barred him from testifying to Congress).

And today The New York Times has this:

Back in 2002, a master’s degree candidate at the Naval War College wrote a paper on the Bush administration’s plan to use military commissions to try Guantánamo suspects, concluding that “even a good military tribunal is a bad idea.”

It drew little notice at the time, but the paper has gained a second life because of its author’s big promotion: Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann of the Marines is now the chief judge of the military commissions at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The system, Judge Kohlmann wrote in 2002, would face criticism for the “apparent lack of independence” of military judges and would have “credibility problems,” the very argument made by Guantánamo’s critics.

He said it would be better to try terrorism suspects in federal courts in the United States. “Unnecessary use of military tribunals in the face of reasonable international criticism,” he wrote, “is an ill-advised move.”...

Prior terrorism and organized crime cases, he wrote, showed that “the existing United States criminal justice system does not have to be put aside simply because the potential defendants have scary friends.”

Kohlmann appears to have taken the attitude that it's better to work to fix the system from the inside than criticize it from outside. He hasn't disavowed the paper, the Times reports, though he's changed his original opinion that "President Bush’s original order establishing military commissions 'essentially states' that fundamental fairness would not be a part of commission trials." Comforting.

Last August, we united with and GOP Progress to unmask the senator who was holding up a bill introduced by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) to create a public, searchable database of all federal grants and contracts.

For days, we worked the phones and gathered responses that hundreds of TPMm readers had received from senators' offices, eventually eliminating 98 senators as being behind the hold. And indeed, there turned out to be not one, but two pork-happy senators behind the hold: Sens. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Robert Byrd (D-WV). (The two didn't seem to appreciate the irony of holding up a government transparency bill in a singularly nontransparent way.) After being unmasked, the senators lifted their holds and the bill sailed through to passage.

Well, this morning, finally launched.

Commenter Joe Corrao takes me to task in my last post for cherry-picking a data point from the Mitchell Report that reflects badly upon my hated Boston Red Sox. He goads me into citing some Yankees named in the report who were part of the Bronx Bombers' torrid 1996-2000 teams. Sure, I mentioned both Clemens and Pettitte in the last post, but you know what, Joe? Fair enough. Behold, the horrible coda to one of the strangest psychological tales in baseball: the case of Chuck Knoblauch's wonky arm.

Every Yankee fan remembers the horror of Knoblauch. Knoblauch was a fantastic second basemen who, starting in 1999 and accelerating in 2000, lost the ability to throw to first base. Sure-fire outs sailed into the stands or into the home-team dugout. The conventional wisdom said it was a vicious circle of self-inflicted psychological pressure, as Knoblauch buckled under the freight of playing for the Yanks. Buster Olney devoted a whole chapter to Knoblauch in his book The Last Night of The Yankee Dynasty.

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The fallout from George Mitchell's 409-page report (pdf) into baseball's Steroids Era (Mitchell's words) is yet to fully drop. We're still combing the report for the most explosive revelations -- no big surprise that Yankee greats Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte juiced -- but for now, this Yankee fan wants to bring you his moment of schadenfreude. To wit: the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. According to Mitchell, Sox general manager Theo Epstein acquired flop reliever Eric Gagne nearly a year after learning of serious circumstantial evidence of Gagne's steroid use.

Gagne and Paul Lo Duca were teammates in Los Angeles from 1999 to 2004. During that time, Gagne used Lo Duca, who went on to a beloved career catching for the Mets (sorry, Paul), as his hook-up to steroid and human-growth hormone pusher Kirk Radomski. The Red Sox scouted Gagne, once a valuable relief pitcher, after the 2006 season, when Epstein began overhauling the Sox pitching staff. Yet a certain concern lingered. On November 1, 2006, Epstein emailed his scout, Mark Delpiano, "Have you done any digging on Gagne? I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?"

Delpiano replied:

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Earlier we noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted to approve contempt resolutions against Karl Rove and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten for failing to comply with subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney firings probe.

The final vote tally was 12-7, with two Republicans, Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) Chuck Grassley (R-IA) crossing over.

Now, it's up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as to when (or whether) he'll scheduled a vote on the Senate floor. When we asked a Reid aide last week about it, we were told the Reid would consult with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) about it when the time came.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee's contempt citations against Harriet Miers and Bolten have been sitting on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) desk since July. After much delay, Dem House leadership aides said last month that the vote had again been delayed to December. So now's the time. Perhaps the Senate and House will team up and schedule both votes before the New Year, sending the White House contempt citations against Rove, Miers, and Bolten as a Christmas gift. Or maybe nothing will happen. Stay tuned.

Although Jose Rodriguez might have felt he had good reason to destroy the CIA's 2002 interrogation tapes, the destruction threatens to break the agency's surprisingly sterling record of escaping prosecution for torture, so not many people would defend it as a wise move. But surely an even dumber move is the 2002 decision to videotape the interrogations in the first place.

Various explanations abound, but none of them are definitive -- least of all CIA Director Mike Hayden's.

Very little is known, and none of it for certain, about why the tapes ever existed. It's astonishing that in 2002, CIA officials wouldn't have realized the tapes were evidence of potential criminal conduct. Clearly they realized shortly thereafter, since the CIA spent years trying, and failing, to get outside legal authority to destroy them.

Last Thursday, Hayden ventured an explanation to CIA employees. Via Marty Lederman:

The tapes were meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages. At one point, it was thought the tapes could serve as a backstop to guarantee that other methods of documenting the interrogations---and the crucial information they produce--were accurate and complete. The Agency soon determined that its documentary reporting was full and exacting, removing any need for tapes.

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