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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

Speaking of the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross has consistently held to its position that it should have access to those captured by the United States and held at undisclosed locations around the world.

In light of the Hamdan decision, has the Red Cross again approached U.S. officials about gaining such access? What has been the U.S. response? I haven't seen any reporting on this issue. If any TPM readers have, send me the link and I'll post a follow up.

Style note to editors/producers:

Describing those held at Guantanamo as "detainees" or "enemy combatants" is not accurate.

The Supreme Court's Hamdan decision declared them to be prisoners of war, entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, until such time as a properly constituted tribunal concludes otherwise. The thrust of the Court's decision was that the military commissions set up by the Administration did not include the basic procedural safeguards necessary to qualify as a properly constituted tribunal.

As a matter of law now, the United States is holding prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay. That's a fact, which is obscured when journalists continue to use language first put forth by the Administration specifically to avoid the strictures of the Geneva Conventions.

Update: Nothing like giving style instructions, and being incorrect. A number of readers have correctly pointed out that the Supreme Court in Hamdan did not reach the issue of whether Hamdan was a prisoner of war. So I overstated the case when I wrote that the Supreme Court had declared his POW status. Rather, the District Court had made that determination, and the judgment of the District Court was affirmed by the Supreme Court, but on different grounds. It simply did not decide the POW issue one way or the other. I think it's fair to say that the District Court's opinion that Hamdan is a prisoner of war remains good law, but that decision does not have the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, as my post stated. My apologies for the error and thanks to the readers who caught it.

More on the latest New York terror case, from the WP:

There were conflicting assessments among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the significance of the plot.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, speaking on the condition that their names and agencies not be identified because the FBI is the government's lead agency, discounted the ability of the conspirators to carry out an attack.

One said the plot was "not as far along" as described and was "more aspirational in nature." The other described the threat as "jihadi bravado," adding "somebody talks about tunnels, it lights people up," but that there was little activity to back up the talk. . . . Like the plot announced yesterday, the Miami group's plans were described by investigators as "aspirational."


The Miami group had a leg up on this newest bunch; its members were actually in the country.

They always say everything is bigger in Texas, but this is too much even for the Lone Star State.

Reckoning that two U.S. senators and 32 congressmen were insufficient representation in Washington (not to mention that fella in the White House), Texas created an independent state agency to advance the state's interest in Washington, the only state with such an arrangement.

But that wasn't enough, not for Texas.

Even though the Office of State-Federal Relations has its own staff and an office in Washington, it decided to hire outside lobbyists to represent the agency, signing Drew Maloney, Tom Delay's former chief of staff, and Todd Boulanger, a former member of Team Abramoff, to contracts together worth more $1 million. Some of that money made it back into GOP campaign coffers, but that's a whole other story.

The next step would be for Maloney and Boulanger to hire their own lobbyists--because, really, with things like they are in Washington these days, how can the good people of Texas compete for federal dollars without their elected representatives' agency's lobbyists' lobbyists?

Showing some of the common sense Texas prides itself on, a state advisory commission has now recommended that the Office of State-Federal Relations be abolished. Republicans in the Texas Legislature oppose the idea.

Well, turns out the Holland Tunnel wasn't the target after all, according to the NYT. But what does that matter?

Representative Peter T. King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said today that even though the Holland Tunnel was not the target this time, the tunnel has been a target of terrorists before, including a plot against the Hudson River tunnels and other New York landmarks uncovered after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.


By that logic, we'd better keep a close eye on, say, Pearl Harbor.

Think it's time to compare the number of announced terrorism cases in pre-election 2004, post-election 2005, and, now, pre-election 2006?

As Josh has rightly noted, the current wave of public corruption cases is largely the result of GOP machine politics.

It's easy to get distracted by the baubles and the booty. Scottish golf trips. Persian rugs. Limousines and hookers.

But personal aggrandizement is not the sum total of these various cases. That's just the carrying charge, the price of doing business.

The GOP machine is built on the nexus of earmarks, lobbying fees, government contracts, and laundered monies. Aboveboard campaign contributions (i.e., corporate cash) play a part, but the under-the-table money fuels the machine.

That's why a Jack Abramoff has access to the White House. It's why a Tom Delay rises to become House majority leader. It's why the revolving door keeps spinning.

Machine politics subordinates ideology to the exigencies of keeping the machine running. Thus you have out-of-control federal spending under professed small-government conservatives. You have conservative foreign policy elites wary of foreign entanglements suddenly proclaiming the good news of nation-building.

Independents and honest Republicans recognize the threat that machine politics poses to democratic institutions. It trumps party, ideology, and competent government. It also trumps God, flag, and country.

So, in the 2006 elections, are you with the machine or are you against it?

In a post last night I waded into the soup of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I figured, why not? I'm only guest posting. If I leave carnage in my wake, Josh will be the one who gets to clean it up.

For the most part, the email response was temperate and quite thoughtful, but by no means was there a consensus, as these two TPM readers demonstrate:

From TPM Reader SS:

I couldn't disagree more with your post regarding the so-called "disproportionate" Israeli response to the kidnapping of one of its soldiers.

First, to frame the debate as you did--a response over the kidnapping of a single soldier--is disingenuous. Israel's response is not over the kidnapping of a single soldier. It concerns the elevation of a terrorist organization into political power--in Israel's own backyard.

Hamas has vowed, and continues to vow, to destroy Israel. In the same incident in which a soldier was kidnapped, two others were murdered and one seriously injured. Qasam rockets rain into Israel regularly. I do not understand why Israel does not have the right to self-defense and self-preservation. Regardless of how you view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--and I for one believe in a negotiated two-state solution--it is impossible to negotiate with an entity that predicates its existence upon Israel's complete destruction.

The United States attacked and destroyed the Afganistan political establishment because it harbored terrorists. Everyone applauded. Israel has been living side-by-side with a people that harbored a substantial number of people who supported its destruction, and tacitly went-along with (or at a minimum refused to condemn or attempt to stop) these terrorists. Now they control the government. I think that Israel's response to having a people call for its destruction has been remarkably constrained. I don't think, in fact, we could find a more restrained response in history.


Then again, from TPM Reader JB:

The "kidnapping" of the Israeli soldier in a daring commando raid, an Israeli military disaster btw, was the pretext for this operation, which very likely was planned well-before the soldier was seized.

Discussing what the Israelis are doing as though it were really in reaction to this incident is to buy into Israeli propaganda. What they are really up to is simply to destroy the (democratically-elected) Hamas government and prevent the formation of a viable government in Palestine as part of PM Olmert's "Convergence Plan."

If anything, Israel's kidnapping of the eight Palestinian civilian cabinet members and the shelling of their civilian PM's offices is probably in reaction to the joint statement agreed to recently by both Fatah and Hamas pledging to reduce violence and by implication recognizing Israel's right to exist. Oops. The one thing Israel cannot countenance is peace.


Doesn't look like I'll be unleashing world peace during this guest posting stint. Maybe next time.

When exactly did the NSA start monitoring domestic telecommunications traffic, after September 11--or before?

Are the Russians calling our bluff?

At the Thursday meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Moscow, someone forgot to turn off the audio feed from what was supposed to be a private luncheon. Reporters were able to listen in on what turned out to be, in diplo-speak, "frank discussions" between Condi Rice and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Toward the end of the back and forth, came this pointed jab from Lavrov, as described by Glenn Kessler in the WP:

The two continued to squabble when Lavrov threw out a new concept -- that the new Iraqi government had to answer questions about former president Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction because last week Republican lawmakers in the United States had said there was evidence of chemical munitions.

"I think it's serious," he said. "While we want to support this government, we also believe that this government has something to do to finalize the leftovers of the past, which is basically nonproliferation concerns."

This line of conversation riled Rice, but once again other ministers suggested a compromise that mentioned the idea without endorsing it.


I'll confess I had missed this exchange until an astute TPM reader pointed it out to me. But it appears that the Russians, as skeptical as the rest of us of claims from some in Congress that WMD really was found in Iraq after all, is telling the Bush Administraton to put up or shut up.

If what members of the President's party are saying is true, then it logically follows that the international community will need certain assurances, such as guarantees that all such weapons and weapons capabilities are destroyed and commitments by the new Iraqi government that it will not pursue any such capabilities.

It's not clear from the WP piece exactly what a "riled" Rice said in response, but as Laura Rozen put it:

The Russian government anyhow seems to be taking Hoekstra/Santorum/Weldon's Iraq WMD concerns seriously. The Bush administration, not so much. What's wrong with this picture?


(Thanks to TPM Reader GP)

The Air Force is venturing forth into the virtual blue yonder with $450,000 in funding for a three-year project entitled “Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information.”

That's right. The Air Force is studying blogs. All part of Rumsfeld's military transformation, I suppose. Here's some of what the Air Force has deduced so far:

“It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what’s important in blogs unless you analyze patterns,” [senior scientist Brian] Ulicny said.


He must be talking about these guys.

One of the problems analysts may have with blog monitoring, Ulicny noted, is there is too much actionable information for the analyst to properly analyze.


I've always said that about Wolcott's blog--too much actionable information.

“Blog entries have a different structure,” Ulicny said. “They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself , such as a news event. It’s not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, ‘I can’t believe this happened,’ and then link to a news story.”


Busted.

“The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analysts,” Kokar said. “Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace."


I could not agree more.

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