The 101st Airborne surely meant well in 2003 when it published a guidebook for soldiers on Arab culture. U.S. troops could hardly be expected to know going into Iraq that, for instance, it's a sign of disrespect to show someone the sole of your foot, and it's better to avoid giving offense in the first place than potentially disrupt an emerging U.S.-Iraqi relationship. But the advice offered in the guidebook, it turns out, runs the gamut from respectful to hokey to offensive:
* There is little virtue in a frank exchange. Getting down to business may always occur at a later meeting or a more informal setting such as dinner.
* Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility... if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.
* Arabs operate by personal relations more than by time constraints.
* Arabs do not believe in upward mobility or social status; they gain status by being born in the right family.
* Arabs do not shake hands firmly. If an Arab does not touch you, it usually means that he does not like you.
* It is said that the Arab likes to feel your breath in their face. As you back away, the Arab will continue to shuffle forward. This is known as the "diplomatic shuffle."
* An Arab sees friendships with anyone outside the family as meaning, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."
The guidebook was prepared 101st Airborne Division in 2003, which at the time was commanded by then-Major General David Petraeus. You'd think someone who emphasizes the importance of understanding a host country's culture wouldn't have signed off on a guidebook quite this crude.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is under investigation by his own department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility. From The Washington Post:
The Justice Department is investigating whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales sought to influence the testimony of a departing senior aide during a March meeting in Gonzales's office, according to correspondence released today.
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the two officials who are leading an internal Justice Department investigation of the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys last year said their inquiry includes the Gonzales meeting, which was revealed during testimony last month from former Gonzales aide Monica M. Goodling.
Here, to refresh your memory, is Goodling's testimony about the meeting last month. Goodling said that in this private discussion with Gonzales, she asked for a transfer out of her current position because of the scandal. Gonzales said he'd have to think about that, but then started telling Goodling what he remembered about the firing process. He then asked her if she had "any reaction" to his memory. "I didn't know that it was maybe appropriate for us to talk about that," she said, adding that it made her "uncomfortable." When Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) asked if she thought the attorney general had been trying to shape her recollection of the firings, she said no, but then did say again that the conversation had made her feel uncomfortable.
The Post reports, "The disclosure could represent a serious legal threat to the embattled attorney general. [Inspector General Glenn] Fine's office is empowered to refer matters for criminal prosecution if warranted."
Update: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) response was to the point:
"The last time an internal investigation at the Department of Justice got too close for comfort the White House shut it down. I hope this investigation will not suffer the same fate as the OPR inquiry into the warrantlesss wiretapping program. This internal investigation is an important step in getting to the truth behind this matter, and they should be allowed to do their jobs without interference from this Administration."
A federal judge said Thursday he will not delay a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a ruling that could send the former White House aide to prison within weeks.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton's decision will send Libby's attorneys rushing to an appeals court to block the sentence and could force President Bush to consider calls from Libby's supporters to pardon the former aide.
It's amazing what happens when a former Justice Department official sits behind a microphone.
Earlier this week, six veterans of the Civil Rights Division's voting rights section wrote the Senate Rules Committee to urge that they reject Hans von Spakovsky's nomination as a commissioner at the Federal Election Commission. The reason, they wrote, was that von Spakovsky had been "the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights" when he worked at the Justice Department.
Von Spakovsky, they wrote, had been instrumental in overruling career attorneys who objected to voter ID laws -- such as the infamous case of Georgia's 2005 law, which was ultimately blocked by a federal appeals court, likened by the judge to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.
But in his testimony before the panel yesterday, von Spakovsky said they had it all wrong. He was merely one counsel among many there, and when he was asked his opinion, he gave it; he was not "a decision maker." He nevertheless defended the division's stances, even though, he argued, they weren't his decisions to make. Here is under questioning by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) about the Georgia voter ID law:
Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting rights section, and one of the former section employees who wrote the committee about von Spakovsky, told me that von Spakovsky's minimization of his own role was laughable: "He was the de facto chief of the section."
One example in particular drove this home, Rich said.
The US department of justice is preparing to open a corruption investigation into the arms company BAE, the Guardian has learned. It would cover the alleged Â£1bn arms deal payments to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia.
Washington sources familiar with the thinking of senior officials at the justice department said yesterday it was "99% certain" that a criminal inquiry would be opened under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Such an investigation would have potentially seismic consequences for BAE, which is trying to take over US arms companies and make the Pentagon its biggest customer.
Those "seismic consequences" would be sure to extend to the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. After all, Tony Blair scotched a British investigation of the payments for just that reason. One wonders if the Bush administration might do the same.
Here's Spencer's piece from earlier this week on the alleged payments to Bandar.
General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is the man everyone's watching. Petraeus has a deserved reputation for clarity and honesty, something I've observed firsthand on two occasions I've had to interview him. His status assessment on the surge, slated to be delivered to congress in September, will be a political milestone for how Washington views the war, and so there's no shortage of speculation about what message Petraeus will deliver. If it's anything like his interviewwith USA Today, though, expect his briefing to accentuate the positive.
On a day when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra threatened to reignite sectarian chaos, Petraeus gave a curious description of Baghdad to the paper:
If you drive around Baghdad, you'll find astonishing signs of normalcy in perhaps half to two-thirds of the city. â¦ In fact, the car bomb numbers have come down fairly steadily as well until just a couple of days ago, and we'll see if we can get those coming down again. â¦
There's a real vibrancy in certain parts of Iraq, and in others obviously there is continued fighting and a sectarian cycle of violence underway. Obviously, there is damage, a need to â¦ help them stitch back the fabric of society that was torn during the height of the sectarian violence.
When I was in Baghdad in March, I saw normalcy myself, but I also saw a police force infiltrated with Shiite militias and a city teeming with tension. His interview came right as Baghdad instituted a total vehicular curfew, a number of Sunni mosques were bombedin retaliation for Samarra, and Iraq waits to see how bad the fallout from the attack will be. If that wasn't enough, the Pentagon's latest quarterly report on Iraq shows no decrease in violence, despite the arrival of Petraeus as commander and a 30,000-troop reinforcement. Suggesting that the "vibrancy" of certain parts of Iraq is as significant as this larger picture risks diminishing Petraeus's hard-won credibility for the first time in his career.
Someone is trying to scrub voter fraud kingpin Thor Hearne's wikipedia entry of mentions of the American Center for Voting Rights, the organziation he used to push the cause over the past two years. (Slate, The Brad Blog)
Scooter Libby heads to court today to try to forestall his 2 1/2-year prison term in the Plame case. Patrick Fitzgerald wants him put in jail immediately. (AP)
The FBI has let its agents know that they should review all personal data collected from Americans in terrorism investigations before it is uploaded into FBI databases. So you can sleep easy now. (AP)
Stop the presses: enhanced powers given to the FBI to obtain communications or financial data in national security investigations without judicial approval... has been repeatedly abused!
In March, the Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, disclosed 22 cases of misconduct in agents' use of National Security Letters, a power given under the Patriot Act allowing the FBI to in effect subpoena e-mail, telephone and financial records from third parties -- like internet service providers -- entirely in secret. NSL's, as they're known, are only supposed to be used in terrorism cases, and only when agents are able to provide "specific and articulable" reasons tying the subject of the data to a terrorism investigation.
Fine discovered the FBI had been using NSL's to circumvent the more cumbersome process of obtaining warrants, relying on NSLs in non-terrorism cases or under circumstances where they didn't meet the "specific and articulable" threshold. That, however, was on a relatively limited scale -- 22 cases out of a sample of 293 -- although Fine noted that between 2002 and 2006, the FBI issued a staggering 19,000 NSL's. Today, the Washington Post finds that the March report only scratches the surface:
An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism.
The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand, bureau officials said in interviews. The earlier report found 22 violations in a much smaller sampling.
When the story broke in March, embattled FBI Director Robert Mueller promised the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was acting expeditiously to fix the problem.
According to the Post, the audit has so far turned up no evidence of intentional wrongdoing. Instead, its found that the FBI has been less than rigorous in ensuring that agents understand that NSLs are supposed to be used only in terrorism-related emergencies, and carry with them a strict limit on how long collected information may be retained. Once again, the FBI is promising that it'll put enhanced safeguards into place, and now has a "clear plan" to do so:
Of the more than 1,000 violations uncovered by the new audit, about 700 involved telephone companies and other communications firms providing information that exceeded what the FBI's national security letters had sought. But rather than destroying the unsolicited data, agents in some instances issued new National Security Letters to ensure that they could keep the mistakenly provided information. Officials cited as an example the retention of an extra month's phone records, beyond the period specified by the agents.
Case agents are now told that they must identify mistakenly produced information and isolate it from investigative files. "Human errors will inevitably occur with third parties, but we now have a clear plan with clear lines of responsibility to ensure errant information that is mistakenly produced will be caught as it is produced and before it is added to any FBI database," (FBI General Counsel Valerie) Caproni said.
The FBI should conclude its audit in the next few weeks. That should give Mueller enough time to prepare for his next round of hat-in-hand testimony.
Here's Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) on the floor of the Senate today making an offer to the White House for a compromise:
The standing offer from the White House is that congressional investigators interview White House aides about the U.S. attorney firings behind closed doors, with no oath or no transcript. Democrats have rejected that, and today the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees issued subpoenas for former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Karl Rove's former top aide Sara Taylor.
Specter said that he'd spoken to the current White House counsel Fred Fielding today about the subpoenas for Taylor and Miers. Specter went on to muse about a possible compromise. He'd prefer that there be a public hearing and that the hearing be under oath, but said that's not necessary, given that it's a crime to lie to investigators, even if it's not under oath. But Specter said there needs to be a transcript -- otherwise it would be much more difficult to hold an aide to account for lying.
So if the White House offers to hand over Taylor and Miers for private interviews with a transcript (but no oath), Specter would agree. And given that a court battle between Congress and the White House is likely to drag on for months upon months, you can bet that Democrats would give such a deal serious consideration.
But before any of that happens, the White House has to give ground -- something they haven't done since Congress started knocking on the door in March. Will the subpoenas change that?