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For those of you who might have wondered about the wisdom of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki....

On Monday, a 20 year-old Sunni woman went on Al Jazeera to say that she had been raped at the hand of three Iraqi policeman the previous day (the police force is overwhelmingly Shiite). The incredibly rare spectacle in Iraq of a woman publicly and graphically describing her rape immediately turned the case into a major scandal. (The New York Times does a very good job of telling the story.)

The woman said the Americans rescued her and gave her medical treatment. She was, according to the U.S. military, admitted to Ibn Sina Hospital, which the U.S. runs. A nurse who treated her at a clinic for Sunnis (it's unclear to me if this was before or after her visit to the hospital), interviewed by the Times, "said that she saw signs of sexual and physical assault."

The U.S. military would only say that they're investigating the case. Maliki was not so circumspect.

After initially issuing a statement promising a full investigation, Maliki suddenly issued a second statement a few hours later, declaring that the woman was a liar and a wanted criminal, and that the three officers were to be rewarded:

“It has been shown after medical examinations that the woman had not been subjected to any sexual attack whatsoever, and that there are three outstanding arrest warrants against her issued by security agencies.... After the allegations have been proven to be false, the prime minister has ordered that the officers accused be rewarded.”

Now, I've never run a country riven by sectarian tensions. But I'd say that's not the best way to handle the situation.

Maliki has continued his rampage, firing, or attempting to fire, the head of the agency that tends to Sunni mosques and shrines in Iraq because he called for an international investigation into the rape allegations. The problem with that, apparently, is that he doesn't have the authority to fire him... or at least so the Sunni official says.

This is the man who holds the U.S.'s fate in Iraq in his hands.

As Josh noted, the National Republican Congressional Committee has released a statement to CNN about the $15,000 in contributions it got from Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari, the man indicted last week for financing terrorists in Afghanistan:

"We are extremely concerned and disturbed by these charges but we need to be careful not to rush to judgment as the judicial process moves forward. If the individual in question is actually found guilty of a crime, it is our intent to donate the money to charity."

Just because you're the subject of a federal indictment, in other words, doesn't mean your money's not good enough for the NRCC. That's no surprise from the group that has refused to return the money contributed by ex-Reps. Mark Foley (R-FL) and Bob Ney (R-OH).

Lax though that may seem, it's a more serious response than the NRCC's reaction to the last member of their Business Advisory Council to be indicted for terrorist related charges, Yasith Chhun, the head of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. Then, NRCC spokesman Carl Forti, after cautioning that Chhun "hasn't been convicted of anything" would only say that his case was "something we need to look at," adding that they "wouldn't want any leader of a terrorist organization being members of our business advisory council." He was silent on the question of Chhun's contributions.

Now, Chhun is up for trial next month, so the NRCC should get their answer pretty soon.

Supreme Court, here we come.

From the AP:

Guantanamo Bay detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling upholding a key provision of a law at the center of President Bush's anti-terrorism plan.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 that civilian courts no longer have the authority to consider whether the military is illegally holding foreigners.

Barring detainees from the U.S. court system was a key provision in the Military Commissions Act, which Mr. Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a system to prosecute terrorism suspects.

The ruling is all but certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which last year struck down the Bush administration's original plan for trying detainees before military commissions.

Update: In a later edition of the story, the AP reports that that "attorneys for the detainees immediately said they would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court."

For those interested in a nitty-gritty breakdown of the decision, Marty Lederman's got your fix. "The only reason" [Gitmo detainees] are not entitled to habeas rights," he writes on the majority opinion, "is that their U.S. captors chose to turn left and take them to the U.S.-run facility in GTMO, rather than turning right to go to a U.S. facility in say, South Carolina."

Lobbyists Lost Steam in '06 "Ethics jitters and the distraction of campaign season hit K Street with a one-two punch last year, as the top lobbying firms posted negligible growth. Revenues for the top 25 shops inched north of the $400 million mark for the first time ever, but earnings across the board climbed just 2 percent for the period. That’s compared to 2005, when the biggest firms grew by 9 percent. " (Roll Call)

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With Scooter Libby's trial speeding to a close, the focus today is partly on Libby, but mostly on the man behind the curtain for all of Plamegate: Vice President Cheney.

In National Journal, Murray Waas reports on the ugly facts Cheney avoided having to publicly confront when Libby's defense team suddenly decided not to call him to testify:

At the time that Libby offered his explanation to Cheney [in the fall of 2003, after the Plame investigation had begun], the vice president already had reason to know that Libby's account to him was untrue, according to sources familiar with still-secret grand jury testimony and evidence in the CIA leak probe, as well as testimony made public during Libby's trial over the past three weeks in federal court.

Yet, according to Libby's own grand jury testimony, which was made public during his trial in federal court, Cheney did nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI and the federal grand jury. Moreover, Cheney encouraged then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly defend Libby, according to other testimony and evidence made public during Libby's trial.

Before the grand jury testimony, Libby testified that Cheney had only "tilted his head" when he'd heard Libby's recounting of things. And later, after Libby had discovered from his own notes that Cheney himself had actually been the one to tell Libby about Plame, he went back to Cheney. Upon hearing the news, Cheney only said, "From me?" and "tilted his head."

All this is not lost on prosecutors, Waas reports:

If Libby is found guilty, investigators are likely to probe further to determine if Libby devised what they consider a cover story in an effort to shield Cheney. They want to know whether Cheney might have known about the leaks ahead of time or had even encouraged Libby to provide information to reporters about Plame's CIA status, the same sources said.

But wait! That's not all, you Cheneyphiles. The New York Times reports on how the trial has "spotlighted" Cheney's "power as an infighter" (read: liar and manipulator), and The Washington Post reports on how Cheney's influence within the administration has waned in favor of what the paper calls a new "pragmatism" (I think that means problem-solving as opposed to problem-making).

Note: Nothing like a front page exposé in The Washington Post to get results. The Post reports this morning that the Army has suddenly decided to begin repairs on patients' housing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Oops! Building on my last post on the NRCC's bogus Business Advisory Council and "Businessman of the Year" program, it turns out that Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari isn't the first member of the council to be indicted on charges of supporting terrorism.

Yasith Chhun, the head of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, a group designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization, was indicted in May of 2005 for charges of plotting to overthrow the Cambodian government. He was also, The Los Angeles Times reported, a member of the NRCC's Business Advisory Council:

Before his federal indictment this week [Chuun] had raised $6,550 for the National Republican Congressional Committee and was invited to sit on the group's Business Advisory Council, which has tens of thousands of members nationwide, said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the committee....

Chhun attended the annual meeting of the National Republican Congressional Committee's business advisory council in Washington, D.C., last year. [NRCC Spokesman Carl] Forti said the committee did not know Chhun's group had been designated a terrorist organization, saying it was impossible to do background checks on all its members.

"At this point, the gentleman hasn't been convicted of anything," Forti said. If he is a terrorist, "it's something we need to look at. Clearly, we wouldn't want any leader of a terrorist organization being members of our business advisory council."

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Josh, looking into Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari (aka Michael Mixon), the New York businessman indicted last week for terrorist financing and bilking investors of millions of dollars, notes that Alishtari, in addition to doling out thousands to the National Republican Congressional Committee, also claims in an online CV to be a member of the "White House Business Advisory Committee" and at having been a "National Republican Congressional Committee [New York State] Businessman of the Year" in 2002 and 2003.

So was Alishtari a Republican heavy hitter?

Well, if he was, these awards aren't an indication of it.

As ABC's new ace investigative reporter Justin Rood reports today in his story on Alishtari, "the NRCC 'Businessperson of the Year' fundraising campaign, which gave such 'awards' to at least 1,900 GOP donors, has been derided as a telemarketing scam by political watchdogs."

Here's how it works, as reported in The Washington Post back in 2003:

The call starts with flattery: You have been named businessman of the year, or physician of the year, or state chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee's Business Advisory Council.

Then comes the fundraising hook: a request for as much as $500 to help pay for a full-page Wall Street Journal advertisement, then a request for $5,000 to reserve a seat at a banquet thrown in your honor. Can't handle that? How about $1,250 for the no-frills package?

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Pelosi Appoints Jefferson to Homeland Security Panel "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stripped embattled Rep. William Jefferson of his seat on a powerful tax committee last year, has decided to put him on the Homeland Security panel, infuriating some Republicans who charge he may be a security risk. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, was kicked off the Ways and Means Committee amid a federal bribery probe, yet still won re-election to a ninth term." (Associated Press)

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Last Friday, we noted that Karl Rove's former aide Tim Griffin, now the U.S. Attorney for Arkansas' Eastern District, said that he would not seek confirmation in the Senate.

Since the Justice Department had declared to the press and the Senate that President Bush will in fact nominate someone for the job, this would seem to mean that Griffin's days on the job are numbered.

It takes about two months on average for a nominee to make his way through the Senate. But that, of course, depends on the president nominating someone, and thanks to last year's change in the law, the administration isn't under any legal pressure to do that. And as for Griffin, he's not packing up his things quite yet. From McClatchy:

Griffin, 38, said he would be willing to remain interim U.S. attorney until a replacement is named. Under a change in the law last year, that means he could stay in office until the end of President Bush's term.

"I will be here as long as the White House and Department of Justice wants me here," he said. "Under the law, I could be here, hypothetically, until end of 2008 or early 2009."

Actually, to be exact, the law says that Griffin could stay on the job until he is replaced. But apparently even Griffin doesn't entertain the notion that the next administration, Republican or Democratic, would keep him on.

The Washington Post had more details on the prosecutor purge yesterday:

Most of the firings came on Dec. 7, when senior Justice Department official Michael A. Battle -- a former U.S. attorney himself -- called at least six prosecutors to inform them that they were being asked to resign. Battle was apologetic but offered little in the way of explanations, telling some that the order had come from "on high," according to sources familiar with the calls. source who was familiar with the episode said last week that an eighth U.S. attorney was asked to resign in December along with the others. The unidentified prosecutor is negotiating to stay in the job, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of those discussions.

"On high," to refresh your memory, means outside the Justice Department.