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Sy Hersh's piece on the stifling of General Antonio Taguba's inquiry into Abu Ghraib begs a big question: What would Taguba have uncovered if he had been free to investigate?

Buried within three of the Pentagon's official investigations into torture, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the answer is a separate, harsher set of rules for detainee and interrogation operations led by Special Operations Forces -- the elite units specializing in unconventional warfare -- than those that apply for the rest of the U.S. military. Yet none of the inquiries follows through on how highly trained SOF units, increasingly important in the war on terrorism, could have created detention facilities so brutal as to give them the motto "No Blood, No Foul" absent official guidance.

In 2004, in order to undercut calls for an independent inquiry into Abu Ghraib, Donald Rumsfeld appointed a panel chaired by ex-defense secretary James Schlesinger to investigate the Defense Department's detainee operations. Schlesinger found (pdf) that, essentially, there were two distinct sets of rules for interrogating detainees in Defense Department custody: one for the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush administration decreed that the Geneva Conventions don't apply, and another for department operations everywhere else. Outside of Guantanamo Bay, military interrogators were supposed to rely on an Army field manual, known as FM 34-52, that complied with the Geneva Conventions. For years, the Pentagon's line was that the only set of authorizations for interrogations were FM 34-52, or the enhanced techniques to be used only at Guantanamo -- nothing else. (Last year, the Army updated FM 34-52, rechristening it FM 2-23.2 and intending the Geneva-compliant manual to apply in Guantanamo as well.)

Except that Schlesinger's report hinted at another set of rules for interrogations. During December 2002 and January 2003, Rumsfeld furiously reviewed and revised the procedures for interrogations in Guantanamo Bay -- but it turned out that those techniques didn't remain in the island prison. In late January 2003, intending to facilitate Rumsfeld's review, the U.S. command staff in Afghanistan provided to U.S. Central Command "a list of techniques being used in Afghanistan, including some not explicitly set out in FM 34-52." Schlesinger never specified what the techniques were. But he wrote that they were subsequently "included in a Special Operations Forces (SOF) Standard Operations Procedures document published in February 2003."

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President Bush has claimed that his executive powers allow him to bypass more than 1,100 laws enacted since he took office -- in what are called "signing statements." But what has been unclear ever since The Boston Globe's landmark story on the statements (which won Charlie Savage a Pulitzer) is just what effect these obscure little statements, published in the federal register, have.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) wanted to know just that, so they asked for an analysis by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, of last year's appropriations bills. The report, released today, is sure to lead to further investigation.

The agency examined a sample of appropriations bills from last year, focusing on 19 provisions that were affected by a presidential signing statement added to a bill -- in each case, Bush invoked the "unitary executive" theory or some other justification for disputing the bill. The result: of the 19 provisions, six were not executed as authorized by Congress.

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Email messages sent by White House officials using Republican National Committee addresses have been extensively destroyed, according to an early report on the ongoing investigation released today by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The full report is here (pdf) and the executive summary is available here.

Of the 88 officials using RNC accounts, the RNC has deleted records for 51 users. Still, the committee found heavy use of the account by some high-ranking officials. For instance, the RNC tracked down 140,000 messages sent to or received by Karl Rove. Half of those were addressed to or from an official ".gov" address. The White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor sent 66,018 emails and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings sent 35,198 emails, according to RNC records.

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Last week, TPMmuckraker reported that some U.S. intelligence analysts think it's curtains for Pakistan's embattled General Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf has been the linchpin of U.S. policy in Pakistan ever since 9/11, but he now faces growing and multifaceted opposition -- everyone from Islamists to democrats -- after he sacked the country's chief Supreme Court justice in March. But while Musharraf is running out of friends in Islamabad, he's still got many in Washington.

Over the weekend, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Central Command's Admiral William Fallon and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher reaffirmed the Bush administration's support for the Pakistani strongman. Negroponte took the lead, telling Pakistani TV that "there's no equal" to Musharraf in terms of fighting terrorism around the world and implying that the U.S. would back Musharraf if he decides not to step down as Army chief of staff before the next round of elections, as Pakistan's constitution demands. One of Musharraf's leading critics, the cricket star turned Islamist demagogue Imran Khan, seized on Negroponte's comment as evidence that Musharraf has turned the country into a U.S. "colony."

Furthermore, there's speculation that the U.S. is encouraging Musharraf to enter into a modus vivendi with his hated rival, ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, who badly wants to end her exile. The thinking goes that Musharraf can hold onto power -- and the U.S. can hold onto a reliable ally -- if he concedes Bhutto's return to political prominence. And as if by astonishing coincidence, Bhutto claimed over the weekend that such a deal is in the works:

Mrs Bhutto, who has served as prime minister twice, between 1988 and 1990 and 1993 and 1996, acknowledged that the (Pakistan People's Party) had been discussing a possible deal with Gen Musharraf that would enable him to continue as president, provided he agreed to quit as army chief.

“We’ve had discussions but they have not moved forward,” she said. “We’ve left all options open. We may abstain or we may resign. To say that we’ve decided not to vote against him would be wrong.”

It remains to be seen whether the Pakistani movement that's putting the heat on Musharraf will accept the return of the country's old, disgraced leaders -- Bhutto and her successor Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf overthrew -- particularly if Pakistanis see the hand of the U.S. in engineering their reemergence.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., heard evidence last month about the expansion of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' Girdwood home in 2000 and other matters connecting Stevens to the oil services company Veco Inc....

The existence of the Washington grand jury investigation is the strongest indication to date that Stevens himself has become a subject of the wide-ranging federal probe that surfaced with FBI raids on state legislative offices last August. Former State Sen. Ben Stevens, Ted Stevens' son, was among the legislators whose offices were searched. Ben Stevens has denied wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Sen. Stevens admitted that the FBI has asked him to preserve records relevant to his ties to Veco.

Via Think Progress: The Office of Special Counsel has asked 18 government agencies to preserve all records so that the office can adequately investigate accusations of Hatch Act violations because of presentations given by White House staffers (Scott Jennings, I’m pointing in your general direction). (Government Executive)

After embarrassing statements about performance, Attorney General Gonzales is looking to improve the evaluation process of U.S. prosecutors by including annual evaluations at which the attorney general can air the grievances of politicians with the prosecutors. It seems a gutsy call to combat claims of departmental politicization by actually enhancing the politicization of evaluations, but there you go. (Chicago Tribune)

Meanwhile, federal courtrooms are beginning to hear defense lawyers impugn the motives and integrity of U.S. attorneys who brought charges against their clients, citing the recent scandal as evidence that politics is interfering with impartial justice. (LA Times)

It is hard to imagine how Walter Reed could get any worse, but a backlog on letters and packages revealed last week shows that some items with post dates over a year old have still not been delivered to injured troops. (USA TODAY)

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The war on terrorism has a number of silenced Cassandras -- figures whose careers suffered because of their candor or wisdom regarding the conduct of the war, and whose response has been to embrace silence and seclusion. General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff who warned that occupying Iraq would require hundreds of thousands more troops than the administration intended to provide, is perhaps the most famous. A close second is Major General Antonio Taguba, whose 2004 inquiry into the "systemic" abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison complex set off an international scandal. But now Taguba has come forward, telling Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker that Donald Rumsfeld essentially ended his career for violating a precious trust -- the ex-defense secretary's cherished plausible deniability about the consequences of his interrogation regime.

At best, Taguba said, “Rumsfeld was in denial.” Taguba had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through several channels at the Pentagon and to the Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, which ran the war in Iraq. By the time he walked into Rumsfeld’s conference room, he had spent weeks briefing senior military leaders on the report, but he received no indication that any of them, with the exception of General Schoomaker, had actually read it. (Schoomaker later sent Taguba a note praising his honesty and leadership.) When Taguba urged one lieutenant general to look at the photographs, he rebuffed him, saying, “I don’t want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?” ...

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld’s testimony was simply not true. “The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them,” Taguba said. Rumsfeld’s lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, “Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There’s no way he’s suffering from C.R.S.—Can’t Remember Shit. He’s trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves.” It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.

For putting Rumsfeld in this position, Taguba was assigned to a bureaucratic backwater overseeing reserve issues at the Pentagon, instead of his scheduled assignment to the Third Army headquarters in Georgia. "I didn’t quibble," he tells Hersh. "If you’re going to do that to me, well, O.K. We all serve at the pleasure of the President." Within two years, however, Taguba was forced out of the military.

In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. “This is your Vice,” he told Taguba. “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, “He offered no reason.” (A spokesperson for Cody said, “Conversations regarding general officer management are considered private personnel discussions. General Cody has great respect for Major General Taguba as an officer, leader, and American patriot.”)

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As McClatchy reported last month, the administration -- for some reason -- is having a difficult time filling U.S. attorney vacancies. And as The Washington Post reports this morning, the string of resignations in the Justice Department leadership just compounds the problem:

The Justice Department is scrambling to find willing replacements for nearly two dozen temporary U.S. attorneys, whose time in office is now limited under a law signed last week by President Bush.

The developments add to growing personnel problems at the Justice Department in the wake of last year's firings of nine U.S. attorneys, which led to a political confrontation with Congress, lowered morale and contributed to an exodus of officials from the upper ranks of the department.

A quarter of all federal prosecutors are now on the job on an interim or acting basis -- reflecting a vacancy rate that is much higher than normal, according to department statistics. Five senior Justice Department officials have also resigned since March, including one who announced his departure Friday.

It's clear that the world has its share of corrupt politicians. What's not clear, however, is whether or not Ed Jew, a San Francisco supervisor, can be counted as one.

That is not to say that Jew is not corrupt. Jew is accused of extorting $40,000 in cash from a local tapioca shop that he promised to help with permit problems. In actuality, the $40,000 came from the FBI, after the tapioca store owners reported the situation. That led to an FBI raid of his properties, an arrest warrant and an indictment.

Still, Ed Jew might not be a corrupt politician, because he might technically not be a politician. Yes, Jew ran for office in the fourth district of San Francisco. And yes, he is scheduled to serve until November (despite his legal troubles, Jew is keeping his seat). But Jew has never actually lived in the fourth district. In fact, Jew doesn’t even live in San Francisco.

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Yesterday, prosecutors made their case against Steven Griles, the former #2 at the Department of Interior who pled guilty in March to lying to Senate investigators about his relationship with Jack Abramoff. Prosecutors want a ten month sentence for Griles, split between prison and home detention.

Their sentencing memo extensively detailed how Griles was Abramoff's man in Interior, providing a constant stream of confidential information valuable to Abramoff's tribal clients. In return, Abramoff helped Griles' many lady friends: channelling $500,000 into Italia Federici's right-wing group, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, and interviewing two others for possible jobs with Abramoff's lobbying firm (Griles, as we've noted before, is quite the lady's man). Abramoff also came close to hiring Griles himself. You can read The Washington Post's rundown of the sentencing memo here.

But my favorite part from the memo was this:

On September 24, 2003, Touchstone Pictures/Declaration Productions, Inc. was filming the 2004 motion picture "National Treasure" on the grounds of the United States Navy Memorial located in Washington, D.C. The Navy Memorial, built on Federal land and under the jurisdiction of the DOT National Park Service, was steps away from the entrance to Signatures. Abramoff was upset that the film crew and its trailers and equipment were blocking the valet parking area abutting his restaurant. Because the film crew had a valid permit, they ignored Abramoff's demands to move away from his restaurant.

Knowing that the Navy Memorial was built on Federal land, Abramoff telephoned defendant Griles. The defendant, in turn, contacted the Special Assistant to the Director of the National Park Service and asked the Government official to investigate Abramoff' s complaint. The National Park Service official went to the restaurant, spoke with both the manager of Signatures and a representative of the film crew, and directed the film crew to move their equipment away from the restaurant's valet parking area.

So who wins in a power showdown between Abramoff and Nick Cage (who starred in National Treasure)? In D.C., Abramoff would have won that battle every time.