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Across the Atlantic, stories continue to churn around the U.K. defense giant BAE Systems' alleged payment of $2 billion in kickbacks over 20 years to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Ambassador to the United States, in a massive U.K.-Saudi arms deal in the 1980s. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's panel on bribery is scheduled today to inquire why the British government abruptly ended its Serious Fraud Office inquiry into BAE last year. And if that doesn't provide enough grist for the story mill, later this month -- and probably this week -- U.K. Attorney General Lord Goldsmith will try to explain to parliament his role in the BAE scandal.

So why the comparative silence over here? After all, from 1983 to 2005 -- during the period in which he allegedly received BAE's bribes -- Bandar was one of the most powerful individuals in Washington. And it was Riggs Bank, the collapsed, CIA-tied Washington financial powerhouse, where BAE allegedly sent money to Bandar, despite the sale proceeding from London and Riyadh. Finally, BAE is trying to purchase Armor Holdings, a leading U.S. defense firm that produces vehicle armor for Humvees and Strykers, putting a company allegedly involved in bribery in the regulatory crosshairs.

For starters, it's not clear that the Justice Department in fact has opened an investigation into BAE. The U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office has reportedly accused BAE of bribery in six countries, which should be enough to prompt an inquiry into whether BAE is in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law banning companies that pay bribes from the U.S. market. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that an investigation has begun, but the Guardian reported yesterday only that the Justice Department is "on the verge" of investigating BAE. (DoJ hasn't clarified matters to TPMmuckraker.) What's more, even if the Justice Department does investigate BAE, that's no guarantee that it can bring a case against the company -- and thereby reveal details about Bandar's role in the scandal.

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As the Anchorage Daily News reported yesterday, a federal grand jury has been investigating Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) ties to the corrupt Alaskan oil company, Veco. Both the former CEO and vice president have pled guilty to corruption charges.

But just as surprising as the fact of the investigation is the location of it: far away from Alaska, in Washington, D.C.

The heavy lifting in the probe so far has been done by a grand jury in Anchorage, Alaska. That investigation has resulted in a number of guilty pleas by executives and indictments of state lawmakers.

But the existence of the second grand jury raises the question of why prosecutors split the investigation. ADN went to the experts and came up with a number of theories:

Legal experts in corruption cases said that while it's unusual for prosecutors to use grand juries in separate jurisdictions in an investigation, they may have sound reasons. The experts also cautioned that even though prosecutors may be presenting evidence to a grand jury, that doesn't mean crimes have been committed.

Paul Butler, a law professor at George Washington University and a former federal attorney who prosecuted a U.S. senator and several FBI agents, said it could simply be a matter of convenience for witnesses.

Jules Epstein, a law professor at the Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del., and a criminal defense lawyer, said the grand juries could be investigating separate, unlinked crimes.

Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said prosecutors might bring a case against a popular elected official in Washington to avoid being "home-courted."


Given that witnesses in the probe have been flying out from Alaska to testify, I think it's fair to discount the "convenience" explanation.

But that prosecutors might have chosen D.C. as the venue to make their case against Stevens -- and perhaps his son, Ben, a former state senator, who's been implicated in charging documents -- makes a whole lot of sense. There's simply not a more powerful figure in Alaska (or perhaps in the history of Alaskan politics) than Sen. Stevens, who's served in the Senate since 1968, and who even, back in 1958, played a role in shepherding Alaska to statehood while working at the Interior Department.

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Four years after the invasion, five months after the surge began and one day into a new anti-al-Qaeda offensive in Diyala Province, and Iraq is "at risk" of becoming a failed state, according to an index compiled by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund For Peace.

A ranking list of what the two organizations specify as the criteria for failed statehood -- factionalized elites, refugees and displaced persons, the delegitimation of the state, external intervention and eight others -- place Iraq as the second-most state at risk of failure. That's ahead of such failed-state perennials as Somalia, the Ivory Coast, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The only state considered worse off than Iraq is Sudan, where the Khartoum government is pursuing a genocide in Darfur. Perhaps as ominous: Afghanistan is number eight on the failed-state index.

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Welcome back to the heady nine months after 9/11, when the Bush administration feverishly debated what constituted acceptable treatment for al-Qaeda detainees. After a nearly six-year cycle of impunity, scandal and retrenchment, the CIA is again seeking guidance from the White House and the Justice Department about the legality of a detention and interrogation regime with which it has grown increasingly uncomfortable. And a congressional nomination hearing this afternoon for the agency's proposed top lawyer should give senators insight into what the new rules for interrogation will be.

Many within the CIA, for years, have been uncomfortable with the guidance it received from the Justice Department about interrogations. In August 2002, the Office of Legal Counsel famously ruled that nothing short of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constituted torture, thereby blessing as legal interrogation techniques -- like waterboarding, which simulates drowning -- that fall short of that redefined standard. The worry within CIA was that, inevitably, word of the agency's expanded interrogations would leak out, prompting an Abu Ghraib-style outrage and leaving CIA interrogators vulnerable to prosecution by the very Justice Department that initially blessed the new regime. That fear compounded in late 2004, when the OLC revised its definition of torture without clearly defining it, further troubling CIA interrogators.

Nor has the White House resolved the confusion.

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Steven Griles argued yesterday that he should be assigned to community service in lieu of imprisonment. Conveniently, Griles suggested he volunteer for the American Recreation Coalition, a powerful pro-consumer lobbyist group that benefited from Grile’s time in the Department of the Interior. (Project on Government Oversight)

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has told Condoleezza Rice that he lacks enough qualified staffers to effectively run an embassy, a problem that is compounded by overly restrictive security rules. (Washington Post)

The scandals surrounding Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) goes international. Check out a no-bid contract that allowed an Inupiat Eskimo firm to feed Bolivian soldiers as part of the War on Drugs. (Salon)

Are you searching for meaning in the U.S. Attorney scandal? Wondering why Monica Goodling mentioned vote caging? Two McClatchy reporters field some great questions here. (McClatchy Newspapers)

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Last week, Hans von Spakovsky testified before the Senate Rules Committee that he'd been something of a wallflower when he worked at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. His critics had it all wrong, he said. Despite claims that he'd led the Department's efforts to overturn the voting rights section's traditional work protecting African-American voters -- using the division's power instead to spread the myth of voter fraud and purge state voter rolls -- von Spakovsky said that he'd merely been there in an advisory capacity. People asked his opinion and he gave it, that's all.

But those who actually worked under him in the voting rights section say otherwise, calling him the de facto head of the section.

And in a letter to the Senate Rules Committee yesterday (the committee is considering von Spakovsky's nomination to be a commissioner at the Federal Election Commission), a group of former voting rights professionals in the Department laid out the numerous areas where von Spakvosky had been less than forthright in his testimony. You can read the letter here.

We've already noted one area where von Spakovsky's testimony is highly disputable. McClatchy, reporting on yesterday's letter, highlights another.

Under questioning from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) about the Civil Rights Division's failure to file discrimination cases on behalf of African-American voters while he was there, von Spakovsky argued that Durbin had it all wrong. They'd actually filed two cases (von Spakovsky didn't mention that one of those was actually initiated during the Clinton administration), and there were two other cases that the leadership at the Department had approved for filing, but that hadn't moved forward. He was all for protecting African-American voters, really.

What he didn't mention was this:

A former Justice Department political appointee blocked career lawyers from filing at least three lawsuits charging local and county governments with violating the voting rights of African-Americans and other minorities, seven former senior department employees charged Monday....

Von Spakovsky blocked a major suit against a St. Louis suburb and two other suits against rural governments in South Carolina and Georgia and halted at least two investigations of election laws that appeared to suppress minority voting, one of them in Wyoming, said Joseph Rich, the former voting rights section chief....

Monday's letter included the first allegations that von Spakovsky torpedoed suits and investigations over alleged state, county or local laws that diminish the voting strength of African-Americans, Native Americans or other minorities or prevent them from voting altogether.

Von Spakovsky, the letter said, stripped the voting rights section chief of his authority to open investigations of discrimination without his superiors' approval.


As McClatchy reported last week, despite Democratic opposition to von Spakovsky's nomination, Republicans may be able to protect him by legislative maneuvering. Regardless of von Spakovsky's fate, though, his nomination, along with the U.S. attorney firings investigation (which has shined a light on von Spakovsky's former colleague, Bradley Schlozman), is proving a valuable opportunity to expose what's been happening at the Civil Rights Division under the Bush administration.

It's good to have an international rainmaker for a father.

So far, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., has denied all accusations that he received up to $2 billion in kickbacks from British defense giant BAE for a massive British-Saudi arms deal. That's been a pretty tenable line to maintain, since neither the BBC nor the Guardian, which broke the story, have disclosed the basis for their reports. But that was before anyone learned about the December 1996-January 1997 honeymoon of Bandar's daughter, Princess Reema.

Reema and her husband, another Saudi royal, celebrated their nuptuals with a six-week trompe through some of the world's most expensive hotels in Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Bali and Hawaii. Their wedded bliss included a private Gulfstream flight to the Great Barrier Reef. And according to Peter Gardiner, managing director of the travel firm that booked the honeymoon, the nearly half-million-dollar affair was entirely paid for by BAE. Gardiner tells the Sunday Times:

“They were a young, attractive couple in love and on a dream honeymoon. They knew nothing about BAE paying and must have believed it was their parents paying. I was instructed by BAE not to discuss payments with them – or with anyone. I was told by BAE to give them the very best,” Gardiner said.


BAE's accounting for the trip appears brazen. Documents obtained by the UK's Serious Fraud Office show that Gardiner's company, Travellers World, billed BAE with statements reading "HM.Aus," for "Honeymoon, Australia." When Reema's husband needed to find a place in Australia where he could watch the Dallas Cowboys live on cable, Travellers World arranged it, and BAE paid about $12,000 for three hours of gridiron drama.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that BAE is under investigation by the Justice Department for potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law preventing access to U.S. markets for companies involved in bribery. BAE told the Sunday Times it denies any wrongdoing.

For months, sectarian acrimony in the Iraqi parliament has stalled passage of an oil law -- a crucial "benchmark" for national unity. That's been especially distressing to U.S. officials, who frequently invoke the oil law's potential for fostering national unity. One of its chief proponents, former U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, wrote in a valedictory March op-ed that the measure represents "the first time since 2003 that all major Iraqi communities have come together on a defining piece of legislation."

But UPI energy correspondent Ben Lando, perhaps the most diligent and thorough reporter focusing on the oil law, points out that the actual text of the legislation doesn't represent anything of the sort. For starters, the law punts on the hard questions:

A separate revenue-sharing law would decide how the oil revenue is spread around the country. It is currently being negotiated, though far behind the hydrocarbons law in the Iraqi legislative process. ...

Only a small portion of the law mentions revenue, and explicitly states that, according to the Iraqi Constitution, a separate "federal revenue law" is required to dictate how the revenue is spent.


Got that? The law doesn't even establish who owns the revenue generated by oil sales -- the mechanism that's supposed to mollify Sunnis in the oil-starved center-west of the country -- and it's still bottled up in the Iraqi parliament. Talk about a benchmark that marks few benches.

The Los Angeles Times details the growing number of cases where defense lawyers "are citing the furor over the U.S. attorney dismissals as evidence that their cases may have been infected by politics."

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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