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


The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

The comments by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, produced an instant torrent of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists and bar association officials, who said Friday that his comments were repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble.

Stimson is himself a lawyer, sad to say. Here's the money quote:

I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.

The Administration has already done virtually everything possible to deny detainees any hope of justice. Encouraging boycotts of the law firms representing detainees is an effort to close off any last chance that the detainees will be treated in accordance with Anglo-American legal standards.

Each of us will mark our own low point of the Bush presidency. This is on my short list.

If you haven't seen it already, check out Murray Waas' preview of the upcoming trial of Scooter Libby, which will likely open a window on the Imperial Vice Presidency.

The top FBI official for San Diego, on the firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam: "I guarantee politics is involved."

It's just stunning to have a FBI agent blast the Department of Justice and the White House like this.

Lam prosecuted the Duke Cunningham case and is in charge of other high-profile public corruption cases involving Republicans.

President Bush has seen the Saddam execution video (not clear which one) and said today that it ranks just behind Abu Ghraib as the most damaging mistakes the U.S. has made in Iraq, reports NBC's Brian Williams:

Upon exiting the West Wing, I phoned one particular detail into MSNBC: Toward the end I asked the President if he'd seen the Saddam Hussein execution video. He said he had, and when I asked where it "ranked" (among the mistakes of the war) he indicated it was just below Abu Ghraib in terms of damage -- meaning slightly less damaging. The President also noted the damage done at Haditha.

The President's comments came in a not-for-quotation background briefing with select reporters in advance of tonight's primetime address on Iraq.

OK, there's more than a little irony in Rep. Nick Lampson, the Texas Democrat who holds Tom Delay's old seat, supporting one of Delay's most expensive pet projects:

Texas congressmen Nick Lampson (D-Stafford) announced Saturday the finalization and signing of a 10-year, $375 million U.S. Department of Energy research and development contract that will be managed in Sugar Land.

The Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a non-profit consortium of research institutions and energy companies, will manage the project from its Sugar Land headquarters. RPSEA is expected to award research contracts to universities, research institutions, national laboratories and industry partners, Lampson said at a press conference at offices RPSEA shares with the Texas Energy Center.

This contract was a particularly controversial part of the 2005 energy bill. Between RPSEA and the Texas Energy Center, there was Delay-connected muck at every turn. Last year the President went so far as to single this project out in calling for cutting tax breaks and funding for the oil and gas industry (although he had already signed the bill containing those very same tax breaks and funding--but that's another story).

So why didn't Congress heed the President's call to ax this program last year? Apparently then-candidate Lampson intervened:

Melanie Kenderdine, vice president of the Gas Technology Institute and a RPSEA board member, said Lampson was instrumental in rescuing the DOE program in May 2006, when [Rep. Ed] Markey [D-MA] offered an amendment in Congress to kill the project.

She said Lampson, who was campaigning for the seat he ultimately won in CD-22, took time out to “educate his past and future colleagues” in the House about the benefits that would accrue from the project RPSEA now will manage.

“When I found out there were no limits to what could be done with this research money, it was easy for me to contact Markey…,” Lampson said. “I was able to get them to understand it was not just an oil subsidy . . ."

So Democrats were actually persuaded to support Tom Delay's boondoggle by Delay's Democratic successor. That's pretty rich.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) announced today on Meet the Press that he intends to run for President again. But it was this portion of his appearance, on the subject of Iraq and the "surge," which caught my attention:

MR. RUSSERT: You said the other day that this is President Bush’s war, and there’s...

SEN. BIDEN: It is.

MR. RUSSERT: ...there’s really little Democrats can do. Why not cut off funding for the war?

SEN. BIDEN: I’ve been there, Tim. You can’t do it.


SEN. BIDEN: You can’t do it. It’s—what—because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off funding when you had no standing army. We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, “You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece and”—he—able—he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.

MR. RUSSERT: Why not have legislation then that would cap the number of troops in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: Because it’s very difficult to—it’s constitutionally questionable whether or not you can do that. I think it is unconstitutional to say, “We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.” When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces, when you authorize them, to be able to use the forces.

Biden here is his reliably muddle-headed self. Congress can declare war (or, in this case, resolve to authorize the use of force) but not reverse itself later? Congress cannot redline certain defense expenditures?

Giving Biden the benefit of the doubt, what I think he is trying to say is that it would be utterly unproductive for Democrats in Congress to get bogged down in the tactical minutia of our Iraq policy. I completely agree. To surge or not to surge is really not the issue. But it would be nice to see a Democratic presidential contender better able to articulate that notion.

Biden told Russert:

I am running for president. I’m going to be Joe Biden, and I’m going to try to be the best Biden I can be. If I can, I got a shot. If I can’t, I lose.

Is this the best Biden he can be?

The Chicago Tribune has obtained a copy of a 6,300-word, handwritten letter by radical Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr describing his abduction in Italy and alleged rendition to Egypt, which has resulted in charges against more than two dozen American CIA operatives and the former chief of Italian intelligence.

Business as usual?

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.

. . .

Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through "production-sharing agreements" (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, is state controlled.

Opponents say Iraq, where oil accounts for 95 per cent of the economy, is being forced to surrender an unacceptable degree of sovereignty.

. . .

Supporters say the provision allowing oil companies to take up to 75 per cent of the profits will last until they have recouped initial drilling costs. After that, they would collect about 20 per cent of all profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. But that is twice the industry average for such deals.

Update: Meanwhile, in Iran, "a new U.S. campaign to dry up financing for oil and natural gas development poses a threat to the republic's ability to continue exporting oil over the next two decades," reports the LA Times.