Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Don Rumsfeld: "I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. <$NoAd$>My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word."

Taguba Report: "Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."

Doug Feith today at AEI: "No one can properly assert that the failure, so far, to find Iraqi WMD stockpiles undermines the reasons for the war."

Shaken, but apparently not stirred.

Yesterday in a Q & A with editors from Detroit area newspapers President Bush said he was "shaken" by reports of abuse of prisoners in US military custody in Iraq. Yet, according to his press secretary this morning, he hasn't even looked at the Taguba Report, the one people around the world are buzzing about in disappointment and outrage and half of Washington seems already to be reading.

In fact, in this exchange from that Q & A yesterday it wasn't even clear the president knew what the report was ...

Q: Are you concerned that there was a report completed in February that apparently --

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen --

Q: -- Myers didn't know about yesterday --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, if Myers didn't know about it, I didn't know about it. In other words, he's part of the chain -- actually, he's not in the chain of command, but he's a high ranking official. We'll find out.

Q: The question is, should something causing --

THE PRESIDENT: I just need to know --

Q: -- concern, raised eyebrows --

THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. I think you'll find the investigation started quickly when they found out what was going on. What I need to know is what the investigators concluded.

From this exchange, the president <$Ad$>seemed unaware of what the report even was and claimed to believe that he somehow couldn't get a hold of it until it came up through the chain of command.

The point here isn't that the president is stupid, but that he seems blithely indifferent to what is a huge setback to American goals and standing in the Middle East and indeed throughout the world.

There's an echo here of his response to the pre-9/11 warnings streaming up through the government bureaucracy. It hasn't landed on his desk yet, with an action plan, so what is he supposed to do? He talked to Rumsfeld who says he's on top of it. So what more can be done?

This isn't a matter of the aesthetics of leadership. It is another example of how this president is a passive commander-in-chief, how he demands no accountability and, because of that, allows problems to fester and grow. Though this may not be a direct example of it, he also creates a climate tolerant of rule-breaking that seeps down into the ranks of his subordinates, mixing with and reinforcing those other shortcomings.

The disasters now facing the country in Iraq -- some in slow motion, others by quick violence -- aren't just happening on the president's watch. They are happening in a real sense, really in the deepest sense, because of him -- because of his attention to the simulacra of leadership rather than the real thing, which is more difficult and demanding, both personally and morally.

Is that the report from The New <$NoAd$>Yorker?

From this morning ...

Question: Scott, one question. Has the president read the Taguba report yet? I mean, it's all over the media, everybody else seems to have read it.

Answer: Is this the one that General Myers was asked about?

Question: The one the New Yorker wrote about, and that the New York --

Answer: No.

Question: -- Times is writing about. He hasn't read it yet. Is he --

Answer: Yeah, no, that's why the president called Secretary Rumsfeld, to make sure that the military was taking strong steps to address the matter and prevent prisoner abuse from happening again.

Question: But this report says that it's more widespread --

Answer: Yeah, and that's why the Pentagon has taken a -- has a number of investigations going on right now, looking into these issues. And they are pursuing charges against individuals who may be responsible for what occurred and the president -- and they're also taking a comprehensive look at the entire prison system to make sure there's no systematic problem.

Question: Thanks.

Answer: He very much wants to -- wants the Pentagon to take a broad look at this and take action against those who were responsible for these appalling acts.

Our CEO President ...

[ed. note: The exchange above is from a pool report made available this morning to reporters traveling with the president.]

From George Will: "This administration cannot <$Ad$>be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how "all people yearn to live in freedom" (McClellan). And about how it is "cultural condescension" to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a "myth" that "our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture" because "ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit" (Tony Blair)."

The whole piece is worth a read.

Here's my post from last evening on why I suspect the built-up impediments to thought on their part are piled too high to be overcome, even if they wished to -- itself a proposition for which there is scant evidence.

I had promised myself: no more posts until tomorrow. But for this article ("How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons") out tonight in Salon I will make an exception.

This is one of those 'where to start' articles.

Let's start here. "Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he's got another ... He said he would end Iraq's boycott of trade with Israel, and would allow Israeli companies to do business there. He said [the new Iraqi government] would agree to rebuild the pipeline from Mosul [in the northern Iraqi oil fields] to Haifa [the Israeli port, and the location of a major refinery]."

Who said that?

That would be Marc Zell, frequent target of TPM barbs, former law partner of Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, and the guy who went into business just after the war with Chalabi's nephew Salem "Sam" Chalabi.

So apparently all is not well at Regime Change Ranch.

The broad outlines of this story -- Chalabi ditching his neocon friends for the Iranian mullahs -- have been clear for some time. But here it is in all its lurid detail. And though one can dispute this or that point of author John Dizard's interpretations -- I would dispute a few of them -- he's got neocons on the record dumping on Chalabi and the members of the Chalabi clan dumping on them.

And those quotations just aren't open to interpretation.

The upshot of the piece is that Chalabi's neocon supporters are beginning to realize that he is every bit the huckster and fraud that his most unyielding enemies at State and CIA said he was. He lured them in with all manner of improbable claims about the pain-free peace he'd make with Israel, how he'd upend Arab nationalism and generally make all the intractable conundrums of the region disappear.

In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds.

And just think, it's on your dime and with your nation's honor -- what an added benefit.

I don't mean to accuse the whole group that is sometimes classed under that label. Some are serious wrestlers with our nation's dilemmas and challenges. But for the most venal and gullible of them, which, truth be told, makes up the larger part, it's an apt description.

Read the article and you'll understand what I mean.

One of the things I've found difficult about writing about Iraq in recent days is imputing some level of seriousness to the arguments of the president and his retainers who continue to press an optimistic view of what's happening in Iraq. From them, on any given day, you can still hear the argument that, notwithstanding some tough days, things are still getting better in Iraq and the key to success is sticking with it.

At the same time, I talk to, or have conversations related to me with, various foreign policy, intelligence and military experts, all of whom --- across the political spectrum --- seem to believe that things are about as bleak as they can be. On top of this, they seem uniform in the belief -- sometimes based on inference, other times based on direct knowledge -- that the White House is fresh out of ideas about what to do, and basically hasn't any idea how to proceed.

Either the president knows the situation is that bad or he (and perhaps his advisors too) is just too out of touch to have any idea what's happening. Increasingly, I think that the president is just too small-minded and vainglorious a man to come to grips with the situation.

A strong president, a good president, would put his country before his pride and throw himself into saving the situation even if it meant admitting previous mistakes and ditching past policies and advisors. But I don't think this president has the character to do that.

Making a clean sweep, firing some of his most compromised advisors, admitting some past mistakes -- not for effect, but so that those mistakes could be more thoroughly and rapidly overcome -- might well doom the president politically. But I doubt there's any question they'd be in the best interests of the country.

This president seems either disinclined to or unable to do more than preside over a drift into disaster while putting on a game face.

(Kevin Drum has an excellent post today on President Bush as the prototypical bad CEO -- Here's a snippet: "Bush styles himself a 'CEO president,' but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them — but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it. They insist they want a realistic plan, but they're unwilling to do the hard work of creating one — all those market research reports are just a bunch of ivory tower nonsense anyway. They work hard — but only on subjects in their comfort zone.")

There's all this talk about what might be the best critique of the president's policies (politically and substantively), what the best alternative policies might be, and so forth. But all of that, I think, misses the point. This president is too compromised by his deceptions, his past lack of accountability and his acquiescence in failed policies, ever to correct the situation. Like C.S. Lewis's metaphor about the road to hell being easy to walk down, but the further walked, harder and harder to turn back upon, this president is just too far gone with misleading the public, covering up and indulging incompetence, and embracing venality ever to make a clean break and start retrieving the situation.

Let's return to the scandal at the heart of the Iraqi oil-for-food program.

The heart of matter, again, is that Saddam Hussein allegedly used the program to engineer pay-offs to a long list political leaders and journalists around the world. The problem is that none of the documents which are said to support this claim have been seen, let alone authenticated by any neutral observers.

In its current issue The Economist states: "Nothing, so far, has been proved, certainly not as far as the UN is concerned. His evidence and nearly all the other allegations against the UN have so far been based on documents found in Iraqi government archives. But no one, other than he and the GC's 25 members, has seen or authenticated the documents."

That point about the twenty-five members of the Interim Governing Council probably overstates the matter. The documents are in the charge of the Finance Committee of the IGC. And the Finance Committee is controlled by Ahmed Chalabi. The Chalabi-controlled investigation is being headed up by a man named Claude Hankes-Drielsma. He's the 'he' referred to in the quotation above. The Economist calls him, "a British financial adviser who was appointed by his old friend, Mr Chalabi, who chairs the finance committee of the GC in Iraq, to advise it on its investigations into the affair."

At the moment, there is a tug-of-war between Hankes-Drielsma and Chalabi on the one hand and Paul Bremer and the CPA on the other. The CPA wants to run an investigation out of the hands of 'politicians' (read: Chalabi) whose involvement might taint the results. But thus far, Hankes-Drielsma and Chalabi have resisted turning over the relevant documents to either the investigators at the CPA or the Volcker Commission which was appointed by Kofi Annan to investigate the matter on behalf of the UN.

This issue of the custody of the documents came up in congressional testimony on April 21st.

Let me reprint a portion of it in which Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) was questioning Hankes-Drielsma ...

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Is that true that no papers documenting the allegations that you've made today have been given to the United Nations?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No, that's true.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Right. Well, I want to get into that. Let me finish this and we'll get into that. And then you -- that the accounting firm KPMG was preparing a report the world body would receive. Now, that's true?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. "In January an Iraqi newspaper published a list of 270 groups and individuals, many of them past and present government officials, charging they received vouchers for oil they can sell. Hankes-Drielsma calls the list only the tip of the iceberg." Is that true?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. Is there anything -- and let me start from the back and go forward. Is there anything that you haven't testified so far today that would add to your comment that this is only the tip of the iceberg?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: So really most of what you've given us today is where you would stand, and you don't have any additional information that would help in the hard evidence to try to prove or disprove these allegations?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: At this stage we have to wait for the KPMG report.


MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: But the list is certainly only part of the problem. We 're talking about 10 percent added to invoices, so a complete list needs to be produced of all suppliers. KPMG are looking at all the illegal oil sales and what happened to that cash. KPMG have already secured a list of all the Iraqi accounts held in the name of individuals on behalf of Iraq. KPMG, with the Audit Bureau of Iraq, will be requesting the banks to provide five year records of all transactions on those accounts. So the work that needs to be done is very extensive and so that list that the media is focused on is only part of the big picture.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Who has retained KPMG or who is paying them right now?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, the appointment by KPMG being made by the Iraq Governing Council was done by the Finance Committee with the CPA present, but --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: And who's chairman of the Finance Committee?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Is he in charge of that investigation on behalf of the Iraqi Governing Council now?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: He and his colleagues on the Finance Committee.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, but there's one chairman, just like we have a chairman here.

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: So the chair --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: His duty is that he's in charge and he's the -- of conducting this investigation as it relates to what we've talked about here today, and right now the Iraqi Governing Council is paying KPMG to conduct this investigation?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No. First of all, as I testified earlier, the Governing Council unanimously endorsed the decision to appoint KPMG. But at this stage, although initial indications -- assurances were given by Ambassador Bremer that the Iraq Development Fund would pay for the work, this has not been reconfirmed by the CPA. The Governing Council certainly doesn't have at this stage any resources to pay KPMG, because all the Iraqi money is in the Iraq Development Fund, over which Ambassador Bremer has sole signing authority.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: But basically the Iraqi Governing Council retained or --


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Retains KPMG to do the work they're doing to investigate the alleged corruption that has been put out here today?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Now, the only issue now is that the Iraqi Governing Council through Chalabi is trying to get Bremer to be able to pay for this. Is that correct?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: And Bremer is leaving now. Correct?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: In two months.

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: You will know more about that than --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Do you know who's taking his place?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I know who's going to be the ambassador.


MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I understand from the media that it's Ambassador Negroponte.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, but is Negroponte also on the investigation committee appointed by Annan, which is Volcker and Annan?


REP. RUPPERSBERGER: He's not? Okay. And by the way, I want to say about the appointment of Volcker on that committee, I am very impressed with the credibility of Volcker. He's a tough individual who will get to the bottom if he's given the resources and the ability to get that facts and data that are needed. Do you agree with that?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I agree with that.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. So I think we've cleared up as far as where KPMG is supposed -- Bremer will pay them. What's going to happen then?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, if the CPA refuses to pay for this I think it will be a very sad day for the Iraqi people.

REP. SHAYS: I would agree.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, and I would agree too. Okay. The final issue, I just want to ask you the question. You talk about K -- and maybe --

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: (Cross talk) -- KPMG.



REP. RUPPERSBERGER: That's it. I've been doing KM, it's KPMG. Okay, that's taken care of.

REP. SHAYS: I'll write it out for him.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay, I've got it. One plus one is two. Now, the issue with respect to the information that KPMG have developed right now. I'm very much concerned that we're waiting -- that the United Nations is waiting for something when in fact there could be crimes and cover-ups going on at this point. This is going to have a tremendous impact, in my opinion, in world media and I think this is something that we have to deal with right away and move as quickly as we can. What is the hold up with respect to KPMG or you or any information the Iraqi Governing Council has, to getting it to the authorities immediately, right now? And why wait or hold back when you yourself said today you're concerned about shredding of documents?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Because an investigation needs to be thoroughly done. The documents -- there needs to be forensic work done on them. And the information -- some of the transactions need to be traced, ultimate beneficiaries need to be identified. And if you produce a document that is half baked, you will end up being criticized for precisely the reasons that we want to try and avoid. That this needs to be done professionally and properly.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: But my point is that Volcker is out there investigating, you're going to communicate with him. It seems to me that KPMG and any information that they have or you have should be brought to the table with Volcker and move as quickly as possible. Why isn't that being done?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, you're prejudging what might happen. We haven't had a discussion with Mr. Volcker. We suggested the meeting with Mr. Volcker. It was not at a request at this stage of Mr. Volcker, although the U.N. has suggested it -- internal -- the IOS has. We suggested it. The first opportunity for us -- and Mr. Bates is flying over specially tonight from the U.K. to actually be present at that meeting so we can discuss --

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: So when is that meeting?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Tomorrow morning.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: That's very good. Tomorrow morning with Mr. Volcker and the other gentleman?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I don't know who else Mr. Volcker will include.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. And at that point you, representing the Iraqi Governing Council, are you willing to put forth any hard evidence, documents, whatever that you have, that will help Mr. Volcker in his investigation of this serious matter?

MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: As a former letter from the Governing Council has already stated to Mr. Kofi Annan, that we will cooperate and Iraq will cooperate fully with the U.N. and we hope that the U.N. will also make all the information that the Governing Council and the information that they've requested as part of my evidence, is made available to the Iraqis so they can see for themselves.

REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Good. Thank you.

As near as I can tell from news reports, that list and other related documents still haven't been turned over to the UN or any of the other investigating agencies. According to an AP story dated May 1st, when IGC member Jalal Talabani was asked whether the documents would be turned over to the Volcker Commission, he said: "Yes. If it will be necessary, it's ready."

In any case, the point is that these are very serious allegations. And various of the players involved in Iraq right now have motives not entirely consistent with having all the truth come out.

The motives of Chalabi's crew are obvious. A greater UN role in Iraq deals a further blow to his plans to run Iraq for fun and profit. At the same time, the US government -- paradox and irony -- is increasingly dependent on UN mediation to halt the rapid deterioration of the situation on the ground in the country. So the Bush administration and the CPA, whatever their more general animus toward the UN, at the moment needs the UN very much. Antagonizing the world body at the behest of our one-time Iraqi favorite, Chalabi, even if the underlying charges are valid, would be a further complication in an already complicated situation. All of these many contending interests cry out for an independent, credible and transparent investigation.

Let me be clear, I don't think any of this means that these allegations are not true. I figure that most of them are. But I say that mainly on the basis of the supposition that this hullabaloo wouldn't have gotten so far without there being something to it. And that's not a particularly good reason. And we're far enough down the line now where no great argument needs to be made that Mr. Chalabi lacks a certain credibility when it comes to the quality of information and the authenticity of documents.

There's a column by Jackson Diehl in today's Washington Post pointing to the power Ralph Nader's candidacy has gained by his embrace of opposition to the Iraq war. The point of the piece is that Kerry's opposition both to President Bush's policy and equally to any abrupt withdrawal of American forces leave a good deal of political room for an out-and-out anti-war candidate like Nader.

In terms of political dynamics I suspect Diehl is on to something. And I also think Kerry has yet to adequately calibrate his rhetoric -- something we'll discuss later. On a larger level, though, this piece captures Washington's and, really, the Washington Post's tendency to polarize this debate to its weakest, most simplistic extremes. Nader is consistent; Bush is consistent; Kerry, by failing to be an imbecile, is in the wishy-washy middle, neither fish nor fowl, a flipflopper, waiting for the next flip from which to flop.