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Buried in the New York Times article on the White House-GOP detainee treatment compromise was this:

The senators agreed to a White House proposal to make the standard on interrogation treatment retroactive to 1997, so C.I.A. and military personnel could not be prosecuted for past treatment under standards the administration considers vague.


I "fell over when I read it," as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) might say. Can that be so? I thought of the horrors at Abu Ghraib. Why would such past violations need to be excused?

I checked a copy of the bill introduced by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) which contained the language. Here's what I found:

The compromise proscribes a select list of extreme no-no's for the handling of detainees, including murder, rape, biological testing, maiming and mutiliation. The Geneva Conventions bans broad categories of behavior, such as "humiliating and degrading treatment."

According to the agreement, if you handled detainees anytime between now and Nov. 26, 1997, and treated them in ways that violated the Geneva Conventions -- but didn't violate any of the no-no's outlined in the "compromise" -- you can't be criminally prosecuted under the War Crimes Act.

Who would benefit? Civilian contractors working the K-9 division at Abu Ghraib, for one. And of course, CIA officers or other civilian employees who engaged in "extreme" interrogation tactics.

It's also likely to be good news for any civilian officials who may have ordered, approved or condoned such treatment during that period. No need to keep that criminal defense lawyer on retainer, boys. Take the kids to Disney World.

I don't think it helps military personnel who were unlawfully heavy-handed with detainees, despite the New York Times' reporting. The compromise doesn't seem to affect the Uniform Code of Military Justice, under which I would expect them to be tried. The UCMJ has always barred extreme treatment of prisoners.

More details on Bush's HUD Secretary and patronage boss Alphonso Jackson. Among other charges, the political appointee told his subordinates that when awarding contracts, "they should be considering supporters of the President." That's according to excerpts from a new report from his agency's inspector general.

The document has not been publicly released. A summary was obtained by Think Progress, which has more details.

So which firm is doing the Swiftboaters' dirtiest work? The short answer: they don't want you to know.

As I wrote yesterday, the Economic Freedom Fund's nastiest tactics -- tactics a polling expert called "egregious" -- come via the phone. But try and find out who's actually doing that work for them, and you're bound to come up empty.

A little investigation shows that the calls come from phantom numbers connected to non-existent companies.

Constituents in West Virginia, for instance, have been bombarded with calls from the group, but when they check their caller ID, the number, (571) 522-6400, comes up as from a company called Aetr, Inc.

Who Called Us, an online site that allows users nationwide to log instances of anonymous callers, says the number also sometimes comes up on Caller IDs as originating from "Braddock, VA," or from "ER PR."

When I tried to call the number, I got a recording saying my call "cannot be completed as dialed." I could find no records for a company called "ER PR" in Virginia. I did turn up records for a corporation called Aetr in the state -- but its license was terminated in May for failing to pay its $100 annual registration fee with the commonwealth.

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A major left-wing media watchdog group slammed a recent analysis by a nonpartisan watchdog group for their assertion that an attack ad against Sen. George Allen was "just plain wrong."

"FactCheck's broad assertion that 'Allen did not vote against giving troops modern body armor' is simply false," stated Media Matters in a report posted Thursday evening. The spot in question, produced by the left-leaning veterans' PAC, VoteVets.org, charges that Allen voted against a 2003 proposal to buy much-needed body armor for troops in Iraq.

Specifically, the group took issue with FactCheck's interpretation of the vote in question -- Allen's "nay" vote on an April 2003 amendment from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to appropriate approximately $1 billion for "National Guard and Reserve Equipment."

Landrieu's one-sentence proposal did not specifically mention body armor, and she did not mention body armor in her floor comments about the amendment, the group noted. A press release from her office about the amendment mentioned a need for "bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests," but FactCheck concluded that was not enough to assert that Allen's vote was against buying body armor.

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In their editorial pages this morning, two of the nation's most prominent daily papers wasted no time in decrying the White House-GOP "compromise" on a bill authorizing treatment of terror suspects the rest of the world considers inhumane.

In editorials entitled "A Bad Bargain" (NYT) and "The Abuse Can Continue" (WaPo), the two papers minced no words declaring not only their opposition to the bill but its effect on the war on terror, global opinion, and history's judgement of the president.

Washington Post: "In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent. If they do, America's standing in the world will continue to suffer, as will the fight against terrorism. . . .

"Mr. Bush will go down in history for his embrace of tortue and bear responsibility for the enormous damage he has caused."

New York Times: "[The bill] allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an 'illegal enemy combatant' using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantanamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

"The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It's time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation's severely damaged reputation."

Early Victory for Defense in Libby Case "A federal judge handed a victory to the defense Thursday in the Valerie Plame case, siding with Vice President Dick Cheney's indicted former chief of staff in a fight over release of classified information.

"U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton decided that he won't impose strict standards sought by prosecutors who want to limit the amount of classified information used in the trial of defendant I. Lewis Libby." (AP)

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We've been following the activities of the Economic Freedom Fund, a.k.a. Swiftboat 2.0 -- and by now it's apparent that the nastiest of the group's tactics are robo calls to voters that smear Democrats in targeted districts.

"It's awful. It's egregious," said Nancy Mathiowetz, President Elect of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, after hearing a recording of one of the group's calls. In this case, the call, which attacks Dem Baron Hill of Indiana's 9th, is purportedly a poll. But "it appears they are not interested in actually collecting data, but rather disseminating a distorted view of a candidate’s record," Mathiowetz said.

In other words, it's a textbook example of a push poll, a practice which “AAPOR condems and abhors," she said.

Factcheck.org, in its first look at the organization, proclaimed the allegation in the call "misleading." Similar polls are attacking Democrats in five districts across the country.

In other calls from the group, rather than creating a fake poll, EFF simply played call recipients a recorded line of attack. You can hear one of the calls against Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA) here, courtesy of the Peach Pundit. Hitting Marshall for his embrace of the "death tax," the caller intones, "Jim Marhsall's liberal voting record does not represent Georgia values." In all of the group's calls, the robo caller identifies itself as from the Economic Freedom Fund. But which firm is actually doing the dirty work? I'll see if I can find out. . . .

The White House and GOP members of Congress say they've reached some level of compromise to break the deadlock over detainee treatment legislation. The deal, however, does not appear to solve a key disagreement over the use of classified information in terror prosecutions.

White House adviser Steven Hadley called the deal struck between the White House and three conservative GOP senators a "framework of agreement," while Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) called it a “conceptual agreement.” Nothing has been signed, however, and no specifics have been confirmed.

With the caveat that "details of the agreement were sketchy," AP reported the following:

One official said that under the agreement, the administration agreed to drop language that would have stated an existing ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was enough to meet Geneva Convention obligations. Convention standards are much broader and include a prohibition on "outrages" against "personal dignity."

In turn, this official said, negotiators agreed to clarify what acts constitute a war crime. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he had not been authorized to discuss the details.

The agreement did not extend to a related issue -- whether suspects and their lawyers would be permitted to see any classified evidence in the cases against them.


It seems the agreement resolves just one of two points of conflict, however. There's no indication the administration has dropped its insistence it can prohibit terror suspects from seeing classified evidence used against them. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of three senators negotiating with the administration, has called that issue "the killer."

McClatchy quoted the senator Sept. 9: "I don't feel good about telling someone - no matter who they are - `We're going to execute you next week, but I'm sorry, we can't tell you why.'"

Update: NYT/IHT now reports the agreement covers "which interrogation techniques can be used against terror suspects" as well as "trial procedures for those in military custody." Frist is quoted saying, “Classified information will not be shared with the terrorists.”

A few months ago, we reported that a top aide to the House Appropriations chairman received a multi-million-dollar buyout from his old lobbying firm while he was working on the Hill. Oh -- and neglected to report the size of the deal.

That aide, Jeffrey Shockey, has now been cleared by the House Ethics Committee of wrongdoing, according to Roll Call (sub. req.).

It's a bit of good news for Shockey -- but only a bit: He and his boss, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), are both subjects of a much larger and more worrisome federal investigation into the Cunningham scandal, and the prosecutors in that case don't give a hoot what the House panel says.

Anyway, given that the House Ethics Committee seems to do so little these days, it's nice to get confirmation they're showing up to work every now and then.

CQ reports (sub. req) that now, rank-and-file House Republicans are predicting that the White House-backed bill on the interrogation and prosecution of terror suspects could fail if brought to a full House vote next week, as scheduled. "I don’t think the bill passes," Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) told CQ. The publication says Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) agrees that the outcome of a full House vote is "no longer certain."

It's increasingly looking like both bills could go down in flames, CQ concludes:

[T]he growing reservations among Republicans toward Bush’s measure suggested that two of the party’s principal legislative goals before November’s midterm elections were in trouble. The other, made up of several bills that would provide a legal framework for a domestic surveillance program, is tied up in both the House and Senate and is not likely to move before the elections.


Update: Or maybe not. CNN reports: "The White House and GOP senators reached an agreement on a bill setting out procedures for interrogating terror suspects and trying them in front of military tribunals, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced Thursday."

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