Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I feel like I've never followed the minute details of the torture debate (sort of shows where we've gotten to, that there's a 'torture debate) as much as I'd like to or should have. But be sure to check out this piece on the Times OpEd page today which looks into the backstory of how we got here. I'm curious how widely this has been reported before. But, in brief, we built our current (literal and figurative) torture manual by going back and studying how wartime enemy regimes have tortured our soldiers in the past.

As the article explains, there was a "classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody." As the piece goes on to explain, "The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE's teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went 'up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques' for 'high-profile, high-value' detainees."

In a sense we can take some solace these days from the fact that the enablers and justifiers of torture seem more and more isolated and embattled. But it still appears to be our standing policy. And this almost novelistic detail just makes the story all the more grim.

Thanks to everyone who's contributed so far. And, so far, so good. Our goal is to come close to getting contributions from one-half of 1% of our estimated monthly audience. Our monthly unique visitors number hovers between 750,000 and 800,000 at TPM. So we've pegged our goal at getting 3,000 readers contributing.

So far we're coming up on 140 contributors. So we've got a long way to go. And it won't be easy. But it's a solid start. (Click here to contribute right now.)

I'm juggling blog business stuff today with blogging proper. But shortly we'll bring you the story of the fellow who got caught with a seat on the Abramoff freebie bandwagon and told the folks back home that it was too bad, that's just how things work in Washington.

Okay, I've threatened and described what we're doing in several posts. So here we go. This is 5th Anniversary week at TPM. Today is day one of our 6th year online. And we're celebrating by kicking off our new fundraiser.

I'll be following up with a number of posts describing our plans for expanded coverage of politics, public corruption and the 2006 election cycle and what this fundraiser is for. But here are the essentials ...

We're going to launch a new blog dedicated to chronicling, explaining and reporting on the interconnected web of public corruption scandals bubbling up out of the reigning Washington political machine. As we move into next year the coverage will also expand into how these different stories are playing in congressional elections around the country. What are we raising the money for? Simple. Salaries.

One of the reasons so few blogs do sustained, original reporting is that it's hard, time-consuming work. And that's near to impossible to do if you've got another full-time job making claims on your time. We want to hire one and hopefully two full-time reporter-bloggers to dig into this story, explain recent press reportage and distill it, work sources on Capitol Hill and around Washington, and report on it every day exclusively for you. We hope it'll be a site you'll want to visit every day.

Anyway, that's the pitch. It's an experiment and we hope you'll be part of it with us. We'll be following up with more details about what we're planning throughout the week. Click here to make a contribution right now. And thank you so much in advance.

Bob Dreyfuss has just kicked off our latest TPMCafe Book Club, explaining why he wrote his new book Devil's Game.

Here's the beginning of Bob's kick-off post ...

I wrote Devil's Game to fill in a gap amid the millions of words that have been written about political Islam and U.S. policy since September 11, 2001.

It's the story before the story, and it helps answer the question: How did we get into this mess? It's my contention that part of the answer to that question, at least, is that for half a century the United States and many of its allies saw what I call the "Islamic right" as convenient partners in the Cold War.

I approached this book not as an historian, but as a journalist. A great deal of it is based on scores of interviews with men and women from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. military, and the private sector who participated in many of these events. And I relied on dozens of published works. Most of the sources I interviewed are quoted on the record, and virtually every fact in the book is footnoted.

Click here to read the rest of Bob's post and join us all this week for a lively discussion of Bob's argument.

Fascinating. Andrew Sullivan takes his blog in-house at Time.com. I wish him luck. Despite our frequent -- though it seems diminishing -- disagreements, Andrew's has always been one of the few blogs I've read consistently, every day, for years.

When I read this just now over at Andrew's site, I couldn't help thinking about it at least a bit in the context of the changes we're now planning for this site and where we've already been.

As you can see by the flashy little ribbon on the top marquee, Sunday was the fifth anniversary of this website. I started TPM during the Florida recount on November 13th, 2000. At the time, to the best of my knowledge, there were only two political blogs. Actually, only two blogs at all, though I'm pretty sure I'd still never heard the word 'blog' and wouldn't for a good year or so more.

Now, before you reach for the keyboard to send me an email correcting me on my blog history, let me be clear: Blogs had already been around for some time at the end of 2000. There were quite a few of them. And most were about topics other than politics.

My point is simply that I didn't know anything about that at the time. I knew of two blogs: Mickey Kaus's Kausfiles.com and Andrew Sullivan's site. If memory serves, Kaus started around September 1999, give or take. And Andrew started a bit less than a year later. Mickey's site especially -- because I'd been reading it for a year and I knew Mickey personally -- was my model when I started TPM.

Now both of those sites are, or are soon to be, under the wing of a major media corporation. Kaus is part of Slate, which is owned by the Washington Post. Andrew will be part of Time, which is owned by Time-Warner. And tomorrow we're starting a fundraiser to help launch our third blog and fairly ambitious plans for expanded coverage of politics during the election year.

Now, given all the anxieties about media consolidation these days, it may sound like I'm warming to a paean to TPM's continuing independence. But I'm not, at least not in the editorial sense. Knowing both the people and at least one of the media companies, I don't think there's even the slightest chance that either would ever get leaned on by editors at Slate or Time. Or rather, I'm pretty confident that that would never happen, and that if it did, they'd just up and leave and go independent again.

Over the years I've had a handful of these offers to bring TPM under the embrella of another publication. Actually, a while back, Andrew and I had a sort of joint offer, to bring both sites under the umbrella of another operation. Obviously, each time I declined. But in none of those cases was a fear of editorial interference my main reason for saying no.

As you can see, I plan to keep TPM an independent operation. Why? I think some of that is probably a life- or career-cycle thing. Mickey and Andrew were both well-established and highly-respected journalists before they ever got involved with blogging. And though I'd been a working journalist for about three years before I started TPM, that was very far from the case for me. They both had thick stacks of accomplishments already piled up. Another reason is some unquantifiable matter of 'ownership', which is probably a reflection of ambition or ego, perhaps not altogether in flattering ways.

For me, though, I think the big reason is that remaining independent allows me to continue experimenting with the medium itself. The hybrid journalism-activism projects the site did with Social Security or the DeLay Rule or Sinclair are some examples of that -- or, perhaps, three examples of one experiment. Then there's our on-going efforts with TPMCafe (which will be relaunched with myriad improvements in the near future). And now we're launching into a new effort -- part of which will be a new site -- to use the blog medium as a vehicle for sustained and focused reporting and synthesis on what we think is one of the great issues of our day.

In any case, as Andrew says in his message for the evening, let a thousand flowers bloom -- independents, ones housed in big media operations, group blogs, blog syndicates and a lot else. I've been a critic of 'blog triumphalism'. And in a lot of ways I still am. But these are exciting times to be in this field, simply because so many different things are being tried, so many avenues are being explored. Genuinely new things are being created.

Failed New Jersey Gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester says it was W's fault ...

Doug Forrester, in his first postelection interview, laid the blame for his loss in the governor's race last week directly at the feet of President Bush. He said the public's growing disaffection with Bush, especially after Hurricane Katrina, made it impossible for his campaign to overcome the built-in advantage Democrats have in a blue state like New Jersey.

"If Bush's numbers were where they were a year ago, or even six months ago, I think we would have won on Tuesday," Forrester said. "Katrina was the tipping point."

I don't know that he could have won regardless; but Bush may have made it impossible.

RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, now with twice the lying power!

Here's the clip from Mehlman's appearance this morning on the Russert show. And I honestly found it hard to keep up with the full number of lies and half-truths that rolled out of his mouth.

I know that some of my more cautious readers will blanch at my use of the "L" word. But when so many falsehoods and misleading statements are rolled atop each other, there's really no other description that fairly categorizes what the man is doing. As for why he's doing so, it's not just that he has to as head of the RNC. He was part of the deception and perfidy to the constitution. So like the president and his advisors, Mehlman's dishonesty today is just self-protection.

Let's catalog a few of them.

One was that the Senate intel report exonerated the administration of any effort to mislead the American people over Iraq. Wrong. They specifically did not look at that question.

He also said the Silbermann/Robb Commission concluded the same thing. Wrong. They too were specifically not authorized to examine that question.

He said the British Butler Report said the same thing. First of all, who cares what a Report written to cover Tony Blair said? Second of all, it said no such thing.

He said the Duelfer Report said Saddam "was trying to reconstitute his weapons programs." That is at best a highly, highly misleading description of the report.

He said that Saddam "had supported terrrorists, had terrorists operating out of his country." There are so many different lies and canards potentially underlying this claim it's hard to know where to start. But again, wrong. None of the purported evidence for this claim has ever stood up.

This hurricane of lies scarcely covers all the false or misleading statements he made in just that one little video clip. So please take a look at the clip and send in any more examples you find of clearly false or intentionally misleading statements.

What this country will end up needing is something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission because what the country needs is not so much for particular people to go to jail but for the lies and the lies to cover up earlier lies to stop. The country can't get past what has happened or move forward until we can get the truth on the table, deal with it and move on.

What a sorry, sorry, unfortunate president -- caught in his lies, his half-truths, his reckless disregard ... caught with, well ... caught with time. Time has finally caught up to him. And now he doesn't have the popularity to beat back all the people trying to call him to account. He could; but now he can't. So he's caught. And his best play is to accuse his critics of rewriting history, of playing fast and loose with the truth -- a sad, pathetic man.

Chronicling the full measure of the Bush administration's mendacity with regards to the war is a difficult task -- not because of a dearth of evidence for it but because of its so many layers, all its multidimensionality. It's almost like one of those Russian egg novelties in which each layer opened reveals another layer beneath it. Hard as it may be, in the interests of getting Mr. Bush past the phases of denial and anger, let's just hit on some of the main themes.

1. Longstanding effort to convince the American people that Iraq maintained ties to al Qaida and may have played a role in 9/11. This was always just a plain old lie. (And if you want to see where the real fights with the Intelligence Community came up, it was always on the terror tie angle and much less on WMD.) The president and his chief advisors tried to leverage Americans' horror over 9/11 to gain support for attacking Iraq. Simple: lying to the public the president was sworn to protect.

2. Repeated efforts to jam purported evidence about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program (the Niger canard) into major presidential speeches despite the fact the CIA believed the claim was not credible and tried to prevent the president from doing so. What's the explanation for that? At best a reckless disregard for the truth in making the case for war to the American public.

3. Consistent and longstanding effort to elide the distinction between chem-bio-weapons (which are terrible but no immediate threat to American security) and nuclear weapons (which are). For better or worse, there was a strong consensus within the foreign policy establishment that Iraq continued to stockpile WMDs. Nor was it an improbable assumption since Saddam had stockpiled and used such weapons before and, by 2002, had been free of on-site weapons inspections for almost four years. But what most observers meant by this was chemical and possibly biological weapons, not nuclear weapons. Big difference! The White House knew that this wasn't enough to get the country into war, so they pushed the threat of a nuclear-armed Saddam for which there was much, much less evidence.

4. The fact that the administration's push for war wasn't even about WMD in the first place. Scarcely a week goes by when I don't get an email from a reader who writes, "I always knew that Saddam didn't have WMDs. How is that you, with all your access and reporting, didn't know that too?" Good question. They were right. And I was wrong. But like many things in this reality-based universe of ours, this was a question subject to empirical inquiry. No one really knew what Saddam was doing between 1998 and 2002. And US intelligence made a lot of very poor assumptions based on sketchy hints and clues. But the solution, at least the first part of it, was to get inspectors in on the ground and actually find out. That is what President Bush's very credible threat of force had done by the Fall of 2002. But once there the inspectors began making pretty steady progress in showing that many of our suspicions about reconstituted WMD programs didn't bear out, the White House response was to begin trying to discredit the inspectors themselves. By early 2003, inspections had shown that there was no serious nuclear weapons effort underway -- the only sort of operation which could have represented a serious or imminent threat. From January of 2003 the administration went to work trying to insure that the war could be started before the rationale for war was entirely discredited. They wanted to create fait accomplis, facts on the ground that no subsequent information or developments could alter. The whole thing was a con. It wasn't about WMD.

Beneath these top-line points of dishonesty, there were second order ones, to be sure -- claims that the entire war would cost a mere $50 billion, insistence that the whole operation could be managed by only a fraction of the number of troops most experts believed it would take. Of course, these may be categorized as willful self-deceptions or gross irresponsibiity. And thus they are properly assigned to different sections of the Bush-Iraq Lies and Deceptions (BILD) bestiary than the cynical exploitation of lies and attempts to confuse proper.

In the president's new angle that his critics are trying to 'rewrite history', those critics might want to point out that his charge would be more timely after he stopped putting so much effort into obstructing any independent inquiry that could allow an accurate first draft of the history to be written. In any case, he must sense now that he's blowing into a fierce wind. The judgment of history hangs over this guy like a sharp, heavy knife. His desperation betrays him. He knows it too.