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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

NBC's Tom Aspell has a kick-butt report tonight on John McCain's trip to Baghdad.

McCain declared earlier this week on CNN that the media was distorting the conditions on the ground in Iraq and that in fact you could stroll through many Baghdad neighborhoods, a rose-colored account that drew a quick rebuke from CNN's Michael Ware.

Aspell reports that McCain's "stroll" today through a Baghdad market was guarded by 100 American soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships.

In his Dukakis-in-a-tank moment, McCain himself wore a bulletproof vest on his stroll.

Glenn Greenwald hits another one out of the park:

Two of the three leading Republican candidates for President either embrace or are open to embracing the idea that the President can imprison Americans without any review, based solely on the unchecked decree of the President. And, of course, that is nothing new, since the current Republican President not only believes he has that power but has exercised it against U.S. citizens and legal residents in the U.S. -- including those arrested not on the "battlefield," but on American soil.

What kind of American isn't just instinctively repulsed by the notion that the President has the power to imprison Americans with no charges? And what does it say about the current state of our political culture that one of the two political parties has all but adopted as a plank in its platform a view of presidential powers and the federal government that is -- literally -- the exact opposite of what this country is?


Worth reading the whole thing.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (via Atrios): “If Republicans in this election vote in such a way as to say a candidate’s personal life and personal conduct in office doesn’t matter, then a lot of Christian evangelical leaders owe Bill Clinton a public apology.”

We learn more of the sordid details of the plea agreement of Australian David Hicks, whose five-year detention by the U.S., mostly at Guantanamo Bay among the purportedly most dangerous of the dangerous, ended in a nine-month prison sentence.

The plea agreement, which includes a one-year gag order on Hicks, was not negotiated by the military tribunal's prosecutors but by the official overseeing the tribunals, reports the Post this morning. In fact, the agreement was reached without the knowledge of the prosecutors, who favored a much stiffer penalty.

Australians have long suspected that the political fortunes of Prime Minister John Howard, who is up for re-election this year, would have some bearing on Hicks' fate. The circumstances of the plea agreement further cement that notion:

Marine Maj. Michael "Dan" Mori, representing Hicks, took his plea negotiations to Susan J. Crawford, the top military commission official, rather than dealing with prosecutors who were seeking a lengthy penalty, according to both sides in the case. In what became a highly politicized situation involving the Australian government, Crawford allowed Hicks a short sentence in exchange for a year-long gag order, a guarantee that he will not allege illegal treatment at the hands of his U.S. captors, and a waiver of any right to appeal or sue.

Though Australian officials have said they were not directly involved in plea negotiations, Mori declined to answer questions about what, if any, influence they had. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, up for reelection this year, has been under public pressure to bring Hicks home. He turned to Vice President Cheney to implore that the case be resolved. Crawford was the Defense Department's inspector general from 1989 to 1991, when Cheney was defense secretary.

"What an amazing coincidence that, with an election in Australia by the end of the year, he gets nine months and he is gagged for 12 months from talking about it," said Australian lawyer Lex Lasry, who was in Cuba to monitor the case over the past week.


Could the outcome of the Hicks case be any less legitimate?

On the one hand, you have Hicks being held for five years without trial amidst allegations of torture and other mistreatment, fighting simply to get a fair hearing. His case has become an internationally known example of the Bush Administration's blatant disregard for basic human rights.

On the other hand, you have the outcome of the case determined not by conventional Anglo-American standards of due process, including evidence presented to an impartial fact-finder, but by the political considerations of the Bush Administration and its ally Howard. Or as a spokesperson for the military commissions candidly told the Post, "Like it or not, the detainees at Guantanamo are from different countries, and that sometimes is a factor."

It's another example of politics trumping the War on Terror when it suits the Bush Administration. While you might feel some relief that there is an end in sight to Hicks' Kafkaesque detention, you can't help but be left with niggling doubts. Was Hicks a true danger? Perhaps not. But prosecutors thought Hicks would have received a decades-long sentence if the case went to trial. Has Hicks been vindicated? Not at all. The able representation of Hicks by Maj. Dan Mori took advantage of the political situation in Australia to win his client's eventual release. Mori knew the game that was being played, and played it.

It is a deeply unsatisfying outcome.

Late update: Here's the Hicks plea agreement. [Thanks to TPM Reader JG for the link.]

Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson, the New Mexico pols whose phone calls to then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias ultimately lit the fire under Purgegate, have been laying low, but the Post has a nice takeout on how close their political relationship has been from the very beginning and remains to this day. Says Domenici's chief of staff of the role his boss had in first getting Wilson elected to Congress, "It was substantially more than an endorsement." All of which helps explain why Domenici would take such an interest in Wilson's re-election last fall, going so far as to call Iglesias to pressure him to bring corruption indictments against state Democrats before election day.

Jonathan Landay explores the curious case of Amir Mohamed Meshal, a U.S. citizen with alleged, albeit obscure, ties to al Qaeda who fled the fighting in Somalia earlier this year, was detained upon his arrival in Kenya, reportedly with U.S. help, and was subsequently deported to Ethiopia, where he now sits in a secret prison in the custody of Ethiopia's intelligence service, even though the FBI interviewed him twice and declined to pursue charges. Confused? Landay maps out what is known to this point about the status of the 24-year-old from New Jersey.

As anyone who has paid a lick of attention to the U.S. Attorney scandal knows, it is just one example--perhaps the most egregious example--of the Bush Administration's deep and widespread politicization of the Justice Department:

No other administration in contemporary times has had such a clear pattern of filling chief prosecutors' jobs with its own staff members, said experts on U.S. attorney's offices. Those experts said the emphasis in appointments traditionally has been on local roots and deference to home-state senators, whose support has been crucial to win confirmation of the nominees.

The pattern from Bush's second term suggests that the dismissals were half of a two-pronged approach: While getting rid of prosecutors who did not adhere closely to administration priorities, such as rigorous enforcement of immigration violations and GOP allegations of voter fraud, White House and Justice officials also have seeded federal prosecutors' offices with people on whom they can depend to carry out the administration's agenda.

The Bush Administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Syria:

The State Department in recent weeks has issued a series of rhetorical broadsides against Syria, using language harsher than that usually reserved for U.S. adversaries. On Friday, the administration criticized a planned visit there by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"It's the new Cuba - no language is too tough," said one of the officials, who like others insisted on anonymity to discuss internal government planning.

The campaign appears to fly in the face of the recommendations last December of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which urged President Bush to engage diplomatically with Syria to stabilize Iraq and address the Arab-Israeli conflict. The White House largely ignored that recommendation, agreeing only to talk with Syria about Iraqi refugees and to attend a Baghdad conference where envoys from Iran and Syria were present.

Some officials who are aware of the campaign say they fear its real aim is to weaken or even overthrow Assad and to ensure that he can't thwart the creation of an international tribunal to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A U.N. report has implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials in the murder.

The officials say the campaign bears the imprint of Elliott Abrams, a conservative White House aide in charge of pushing Bush's global democracy agenda.


Elliott Abrams--with the way Republicans rehabilitate their own, Kyle Sampson will be attorney general in 20 years.

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