TPM News

So it begins. After years of obfuscation and denial on the length of the U.S.'s stay in Iraq, the White House and the Maliki government have released a joint declaration of "principles" for "friendship and cooperation." Apparently President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed the declaration during a morning teleconference.

Naturally, the declaration is euphemistic, and doesn't refer explicitly to any U.S. military presence.

-- Iraq's leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq. We are ready to build that relationship in a sustainable way that protects our mutual interests, promotes regional stability, and requires fewer Coalition forces.

-- In response, this Declaration is the first step in a three-step process that will normalize U.S.-Iraqi relations in a way which is consistent with Iraq's sovereignty and will help Iraq regain its rightful status in the international community – something both we and the Iraqis seek. The second step is the renewal of the Multinational Force-Iraq's Chapter VII United Nations mandate for a final year, followed by the third step, the negotiation of the detailed arrangements that will codify our bilateral relationship after the Chapter VII mandate expires.

A "democratic Iraq" here means the Shiite-led Iraqi government. The current political arrangement will receive U.S. military protection against coups or any other internal subversion. That's something the Iraqi government wants desperately: not only is it massively unpopular, even among Iraqi Shiites, but the increasing U.S.-Sunni security cooperation strikes the Shiite government -- with some justification -- as a recipe for a future coup.

Read More →

What? Permanent U.S. bases in Iraq? I've never heard of anything so absurd! Why, you -- you -- you conspiracy theorist! How can you be so shrill, so irresponsible, so, so, so...

Oh, wait.

Iraq's government is prepared to offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for an American guarantee of long-term security including defense against internal coups, The Associated Press learned Monday.

The proposal, described to the AP by two senior officials familiar with the issue, is one of the first indications that the United States and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might look like, once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence.

Make no mistake: this is Nouri al-Maliki offering the U.S. a permanent presence in return for guaranteeing the security of his government. (Would-be PM Ayad Allawi can't make President Bush a counteroffer as good as that.) In exchange for a platform for the indefinite projection of American power throughout the Middle East, the Bush Administration probably considers protection for Maliki and his coterie to be a small price to pay. No wonder the negotiation of a mandate for foreign troops in Iraq at the United Nations -- where this deal would begin to take shape -- is one of Bush's new post-benchmark benchmarks.

Who could have seen this coming?

The Pentagon’s statistics show that 4,471 troops have sustained brain trauma in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the actual number is five times that, according to USA Today’s investigation. One reason why the Pentagon has missed more than 20,000 brain injuries is that wounds discovered after a soldier leaves Iraq are not counted. (USA Today)

Guards from Unity Resources Group who shot and killed two Iraqi women on October 9 also shot and seriously wounded a man in June when they raked his van with automatic weapons near a Baghdad kindergarten. Now, RTI International, the North Carolina-based firm that hired Unity and works under a U.S. contract to help promote democracy in Iraq, has discovered internal reports about that second, previously undisclosed shooting. The firm initially said it had no information about the event – maybe because Unity deleted the event from its records. (Washington Post)

The Sunday Times of London reveals that several European countries have assisted the U.S. in transporting detainees to Guantanamo Bay, despite their officials' public objections to the widespread human rights abuses and torture there. At least five European nations provided airstrips and have allowed more than 700 suspects to cross their territory. Officials from those countries believe this makes them complicit in crimes. (TimesOnline)

Read More →

When last we left the Bush administration's so-called benchmarks for strategic progress in Iraq -- that is, the political progress that military success allows -- they weren't being met, and the White House didn't care. Now that the year's almost over and the administration is beginning to bring the "surge" troops home, it's worth asking: what happened to the benchmarks? The New York Times reports that the administration has quietly given up on them, preferring nebulous goals for which it's easier to claim success.

With American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections.

Instead, administration officials say they are focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals in the hope of convincing Iraqis, foreign governments and Americans that progress is being made toward the political breakthroughs that the military campaign of the past 10 months was supposed to promote.

The short-term American targets include passage of a $48 billion Iraqi budget, something the Iraqis say they are on their way to doing anyway; renewing the United Nations mandate that authorizes an American presence in the country, which the Iraqis have done repeatedly before; and passing legislation to allow thousands of Baath Party members from Saddam Hussein’s era to rejoin the government. A senior Bush administration official described that goal as largely symbolic since rehirings have been quietly taking place already.

In January, the entire point of the surge, according to President Bush, was to achieve sectarian reconciliation. The surge has had quite a few tactical successes, as would be expected with an infusion of 30,000 troops and a smarter, population-centric approach. But that's an unfortunate footnote to a four-plus-year war -- and one susceptible to reversal -- without political progress, as any half-awake counterinsurgency expert can attest. And, once again, the Bush administration has substituted at least some tangible definition of success for what amounts to a PR strategy. Remember this when Bush and the 2008 GOP presidential candidates praise the surge to high heaven and castigate liberals for opposing its manifest, shining wisdom.

Read More →

Who is Paul Singer? He and Rudy Giuliani would prefer you not think too much about it.

Singer, who founded the multibillion dollar hedge fund Elliott Associates, has raised $200,000 for Giuliani. He flies Giuliani around in his jet.

And, as of September, his $175,000 contribution was the sole backing for the Republican scheme to split up California's electoral votes. Instead of all the electoral votes in the country's most populous state going to the state's winner (almost surely the Democrat), the ballot initiative would throw the loser (the Republican) his percentage, potentially swinging the election.

Singer's no fan of publicity, which explains why he looks rather unhappy in the picture The New York Times photographer snapped of him on the street for today's piece.

Singer tells the Times that made the contribution because he "believes in proportional voting in the Electoral College." As the Times notes, Singer was also a donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004. Presumably that was just because he believes in the truth.

But just because Singer is the only money behind the California scheme doesn't mean it's entirely his baby. There's a whole host of other Giuliani backers who've gotten involved:

-- Anne Dunsmore, who resigned as the Giuliani campaign’s chief fundraiser this September, has taken charge of raising funds for the effort. She said she quit because she couldn't meet Giuliani's fundraising demands, but says she still support Giuliani.

Read More →

Another year has almost passed under the Bush Administration, and so it's time to review how much less we know.

Last year, we launched the insanely ambitious project of recording every significant instance of this administration stifling government information. As we said then, "they've discontinued annual reports, classified normally public data, de-funded studies, quieted underlings, and generally done whatever was necessary to keep bad information under wraps." To be sure, the list will continue to grow through January, 2008.

TPMm research hounds Adrianne Jeffries and Peter Sheehy set to updating our already extensive tally, and those items have been added below (don't miss our new section on global warming!). But TPMm readers made the list what it is, so if you see something else that should be on there, let us know, and we'll update it accordingly.

So, without further ado, the list! Some notable additions:

* Does the intelligence community disagree with the administration's take on Iraq, Iran, or al Qaeda? Don't expect to hear about it. In October 2007, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell reversed the practice of declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligence estimates.

* In July 2007, Richard Carmona, President Bush’s first Surgeon General from 2002-2006, testified to Congress that when he attempted to speak publicly about stem cell research, he was “blocked at every turn, told a decision had already been made, stand down, don’t talk about it.” He also testified that political appointees vetted his speeches “in such a way that would be preferable to a political or ideologically pre-conceived notion that had nothing to do with science.” Carmona was precluded from speaking openly with reporters.

* On June 2007, the New York Times reported that Dick Cheney's resistance to "routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information" is so intense that he has "suggested abolishing" the National Archives unit that monitors classification in the executive branch. Because Cheney has repeatedly refused "to comply with a routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff’s classification," "the Information Security Oversight Office, a unit of the National Archives, [has] appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not yet ruled on the matter." In a related effort to prevent the release of information about his office, Cheney has also instructed the Secret Service to destroy copies of visitor logs.

Read More →

Despite the Pittsburgh TV station KDKA citing "thousands" of wounded soldiers being asked to return their recruitment bonuses, it's unclear how many actually were, according to Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

Boyce says he has personally been in touch with the station's reporters as part of the Army's efforts to get to the bottom of the bonus-recoupment story, and he's been able to determine that 300 soldiers were asked to send back part or all of their battlefield pay -- not their bonuses. So far, the Army attributes the mistake to an insufficient number of finance clerks at some hospitals where wounded soldiers were admitted in 2004 and 2005, resulting in paperwork mix-ups. In 99 of those cases, the remittance was waived "on the spot" after the Army caught the error. For the remaining 201, some measure of congressional assistance was required, Boyce said, but for all cases that didn't involve a soldier involved in obvious wrongdoing (a more precise number was unavailable), soldiers kept their money. In response, the Army beefed up their finance personnel at its hospitals, Boyce said.

It remains unclear how many wounded soldiers actually received notices from the Army demanding they return their recruitment bonuses -- or who don't receive installments of those bonuses -- after injuries prevented them from finishing their service commitments. Boyce says the Army is "presently looking into the circumstances" of how many soldiers were asked to send back their bonuses.

After learning from the media that a wounded Iraq veteran, Private First Class Jordan Fox of Pennsylvania, was asked to return his enlistment bonus when an IED prematurely ended his soldiering career, the Army has emphasized that its policy is not to recoup those bonuses. But it doesn't know how the snafu occurred. And that raises concerns that other wounded soldiers might lose their benefits through a different bureaucratic mix-up.

Apropos of Paul's good question on Wednesday about recruitment bonuses -- are they paid up front, allowing them to be partially withheld if soldiers are unable to complete their tours? -- we have an answer. Bonuses are paid incrementally, for the most part, except for military jobs facing a "critical shortfall" of personnel.

That means infantrymen are probably going to get their bonuses on the installment plan, though Army spokesman Paul Boyce -- who has the unfortunate assignment of fielding reporters' calls on the Jordan Fox story post-Thanksgiving -- says that wouldn't "necessarily" be the case. "It depends on the situation for the individual soldier," he explains.

So what percentage of recruitment bonuses are paid up front? Boyce doesn't know, and says that there isn't a system in place for determining that percentage "at this time."

Very well. So couldn't the Army conceivably not pay the remaining installments of a recruitment bonus to a soldier unable to complete his or her tour, as opposed to the current policy of not seeking recoupment?

Read More →

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joe Connelly offers a Don Young (R-AK) quiz for readers (what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving?). A sample:

7) A man renowned for his temper, Young has during 35 years in Congress:

a) Waved an oosik, the penis bone of a walrus, at the first woman head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a hearing.

b) Loudly argued, during a hearing on trapping and animal cruelty, that leg-hold traps are neither painful nor dangerous -- and put his hand into a trap.

c) Reacted to the effort by a Republican colleague to cut one of his pet projects by yelling across the House floor: "There's always another day when those who fight will be killed, too, and I am very good at that."

d) All of the above.

Boy, does Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) have something to be thankful for:

A federal judge spared Sen. David Vitter an embarrassing appearance on the witness stand in a prostitution case when she abruptly canceled a hearing scheduled for next week.

The Louisiana Republican was under subpoena to testify about his ties to a Washington escort service. Deborah Palfrey, the woman accused of running a prostitution ring, had sought to question Vitter about whether he paid for sex.

But U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler canceled the hearing Wednesday, saying it served no purpose in the criminal case. It was Kessler who originally set the hearing but, after seeing Palfrey's witness list, the judge said she was convinced Palfrey was just trying to game the judicial system....

The Nov. 28 hearing was merely a tangent to Palfrey's prosecution, but Vitter's testimony would have drawn a crowd. With Vitter on the stand, attorney Montgomery Blair Sibley said he would ask, "As a client, did you engage in illegal sex acts?"

It's a novel strategy, asking someone to say they paid for sex to help bolster a prostitution case. But Palfrey says she provided a fantasy service, not a sexual one, and anyone who sold sex was a "rogue escort" who violated her employment contract.

Oh, good. No more embarrassment. Like those embarrassing details offered up by New Orleans prostitute Wendy Yow Ellis in Hustler, such as the fact that he insisted that prostitutes not "wear any perfume, body lotions, not even take a shower," because "he did not want any scent on him whatsoever"; that he took his used condoms with him afterwards; or that after he found out that Ellis had the same first name as his wife, he stopped visiting her, although he'd still go to watch Ellis dance at a French Quarter strip club occasionally. Phew!