Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

All other campaign funny-business aside <$NoAd$> (on both sides of the aisle), there's been a pretty high bar in place on using congressional websites for explict political campaign uses and electioneering.

Along those lines, almost all the space on the House Committee on Resources website today is devoted to fronting these two grafs ....

Headline: "That black stuff is hurting us." Sen. John Kerry on oil (Greenwire)

Washington, DC - Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry is quoted in today’s edition of Greenwire as saying, “that black stuff is hurting us,” with regard to oil. Members of the House Committee on Resources found the Senator’s comment absurd.

“John Kerry is dead wrong,” Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) said. “Oil doesn’t hurt Americans; John Kerry’s anti-energy policies hurt Americans. In fact, this is exactly the kind of rhetoric and bad policy that has led to the outsourcing of good American energy jobs. Last year alone, the United States outsourced more than $100 billion worth of American jobs, economic growth, and national security to foreign countries for our energy needs. Americans are left with a supply and demand imbalance that creates higher prices at the pump and longer waits on the unemployment line."

Read More

This is a taxpayer-funded website -- one for a House committee. This seems hands-down inappropriate, if not a breach of House rules.

The "read more" link is to this page, which contains straight-up GOP anti-Kerry bullet points. Perfectly legit as campaign material; but stuff that obviously has no place on this site.

For those of you interested in this weird mystery of the 'mercernary' plane in Zimbabwe, here's a good article from a South African newspaper, The Star, on what we know, what we still don't know, and how much of this remains unsubstantiated speculation.

One thing that does now seem clear is that the South African government is supporting the idea that this plane's mission was tied to an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

This article suggests that the South African government gave a crucial tip-off to the EG government which helped foil the effort.

Massequality, the group heading up the pro-gay marriage fight in Massachusetts, set themselves a goal of raising $100,000 by today for a campaign opposing a state constitutional amendment. They're close; but as of this morning they're still a bit short. And the issue of a state constitutional amendment comes up again today in the legislature.

See this earlier post for my thoughts on the issue, what the group's about, and how the issue is moving in Massachusetts.

An outlier or a trend? The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Bush 47% to Kerry at 45%. And, that aside, can we survive eight months of this?

Editorial Note: This last quip seems to have been widely misconstrued. So I must not have been clear. My point isn't a reflection on the state of the polls, good or bad, but the intensity of the campaigning, eight months out.

One other point: The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is a survey of "adults" rather than "registered voters" or "likely voters". So this may account for some of the variance from other recent samplings. We'll have to wait to see from the next round of numbers.

Okay, just what is going on in Zimbabwe?

Last night we discussed the mystery of this planeload of mercenaries taken prisoner in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Now the Zimbabwean government is getting on board with the government of Equatorial Guinea in claiming that the mercernaries were actually bound for Equatorial Guinea to assist in a coup there.

(Keep in mind the backdrop that vast oil reserves have recently been found in Equatorial Guinea.)

What's more, the Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe Stan Mudenge held a press conference today in which he claimed that one of the imprisoned conspirators had implicated the US, the UK and Spain in the plot.

As Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi later explained: Simon Mann, one of the detainees, has "been cooperating and has revealed that they were aided by the British secret service (MI6), the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Spanish secret service ... The western intelligence services persuaded the Equatorial Guinea service chiefs, that is the head of the police force and the commander of the army, not to put up any resistance, but to cooperate with the coup plotters."

Now, here's the problem. There's really, really, really good reason to doubt what we're hearing.

Zimbabwe is ruled by the corrupt and autocratic Robert Mugabe, who is almost a caricature of the post-colonial African kleptocrat. Not only is there little reason to take anything his government says at face value, he also has a history of playing on the colonial past and the possible neo-colonial present to whip up support for the rotten state of affairs he has created for his country.

And there's more. You can see the whole explanation that the Zimbabwean officials gave for this coup in this article.

But here's another part that caught me eye.

In Mohadi's words ...

"The group landed in Harare expecting to pick up arms and ammunition from Zimbabwe Defence Industries," a government-owned arms manufacturer, Mohadi said, adding that the plane had been expected to leave Harare Sunday night and land in Malabo Monday morning.

"On landing the group was to be joined by co-conspirators already in Malabo [the capital of Equatorial Guinea] to stage a coup to remove President Obiang from power.

"In the event of a successful execution of a coup d'etat, it was planned that the plane would fly to the Democratic Republic of Congo where the arms and ammunition brought from Zimbabwe were to be handed over to the Katangese rebels."

Now, I'm not clear enough on the geopolitical situation of either of these countries to be sure. But this guy seems to be describing a sort of airborne coup Love Boat.

Sort of like, hey, we're gonna pick up the arms in Zimbabwe and then fly on to Equatorial Guinea where we're gonna hook up with these coup dudes to overthrow the government there. And then once we've got that under control we're going to crank up the plane again and head off to deliver these arms to the rebels in Congo (DRC).

What am I missing here? I'd figure even the nastiest mercenaries and petro-thugs settle for one toppled government a plane trip, right?

Who knows? But it just sounds a little off to me.

On the other hand there are enough suspicious signs that I don't think we dismiss this entirely.

One of the principals of the Kansas company, Dodson Aviation, that supplied the plane told a local Kansas paper yesterday: "It's unbelievable. We basically sold the airplane, and the rest of it is just what we're finding out in the news."

But, as we noted late last night, it seems that a man tied to gun-running and African rent-a-mercenaries may have been an owner of Dodson's South African subsidiary. So I'm not sure that innocent, "golly gee, we just thought we were sellin' a plane" line really cuts it.

A Pentagon spokesman got a grilling on this yesterday from reporters too. And the statement he stood on was "It isn't one of our planes and not any of our people."

I think all that says is that the plane wasn't a US military plane and that the people weren't from the US military -- which of course tells us nothing.

I think what we need here is for a few reporters who have good sources and a good handle on African gun-running and natural resource politics to dig into this story and find out what's going on.

Late Update: There's a piece up on the New York Times website, datelined tomorrow, which discusses this story. Most of the article doesn't provide more than I've seen in the foreign press and what I've found on the wires.

With this exception: The South African government seems now to be lending some credence to the coup story ...

The South African foreign affairs minister, Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, said her department was in no hurry to help either the 20 South Africans detained in Zimbabwe or the seven arrested in Equatorial Guinea.

She told South African reporters that "there was a link between the plane and Equatorial Guinea" and that one man arrested in Equatorial Guinea had "spilled the beans."

"They are not exactly innocent travelers finding themselves in a difficult situation," she said, adding, "We don't like the idea that South Africa has become a cesspool of mercenaries."

That lends at least some greater measure of credence to these claims. But we still need to know more.

A few more points on this matter of the Senate Judiciary committee staff memos.

The unredacted version of the report was accidentally released to the media. The Dems first suspected that it may have been done to taint some later trial. Then the Republicans got in a huff thinking it may have been done to somehow smear ancillary figures mentioned in the report.

Now Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle has been tasked with what The Hill rightly calls "the oddly postmodern task of investigating a Senate leak of a report on the investigation of a Senate leak."

In any case, this caught my attention. Democrats want to make a direct criminal referral to the Justice Department (though it seems it would actually be more like a 'sense of the committee' vote). The Republicans want to refer the matter to the Secret Service who will then decide whether to refer it to Justice.

I'm not an expert on the Secret Service's jurisdiction. But on its face this doesn't make a great deal of sense to me, again, just on jurisdictional grounds.

Whatever the merits of the matter, both sides are playing to interest. The Dems are trying to advance the case to a criminal investigation; the Republicans are trying to put barriers in the way of a criminal investigation.

Now, here's the point of my interest. The vote is tomorrow. One Republican has defected to the Democratic side -- former House impeachment manager and now Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). On the other hand, Arlen Specter, who is up for election this year and facing a primary challenge from the right, says he's not sure how he's going to vote.

What to call it? The Iraq war lie mutual embrace?

Let me explain.

I've been asked by many people recently how John Kerry will manage to explain his vote for the Iraq war resolution and subsequent criticism of the war itself. For myself I don't find the explanation or rather the position one of great difficulty since it so closely mirrors my own position.

I was a contingent supporter of this war. I believed we had to deal permanently with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, and that we had to be willing to threaten war and if need be go to war to do it.

That's why after the White House had made a sufficient hash of the international diplomatic situation and after the inspections made it clear that Saddam really didn't have any serious nuclear weapons program, that I withdrew my support for any invasion.

So, again, I don't find this rationale problematic because it is a) my rationale and b) I think a good rationale.

But Kerry's critics -- on both the right and the left -- say, well, fine but it was clear in late 2002 that President Bush was going to war no matter what. And those critics have a very good point. I don't think it quite obviates the first argument. And I wrestle with this myself. But it's a very good point.

The problem is that this is an argument the president and really his partisans really just can't make. Because what it amounts to is saying is that Kerry's position doesn't hold up because the president is a liar.

Right? Isn't that the idea?

The president's argument at the time was that he needed to be empowered by the congress to go to the UN with a credible threat of force and a united congress behind him. That was the best way to assure that Iraq would be disarmed and in fact the best way to avoid war.

The resolution was intended to give the president full authority to go to war if the our vital security needs -- namely, resolving the weapons issue -- could not be solved by means short of war.

Kerry's argument is only the president's argument read back to him.

People don't think it adds up because they think the president was lying -- that he had already decided to go to war no matter what -- and that Kerry must have known.

The president gave a speech today in Cleveland, Ohio<$NoAd$>. And I'm told he told the audience that while the decision to go to war against Iraq was a sign of his leadership, the ill-effects which the lead-up to the war had on the economy were the fault of excessively bellicose media coverage.

As we've been saying, campaign slogan: It's not my fault.

Late Update: Here's the passage below, with the key line toward the end in italics ...

This economy of ours had been through recession, had been through emergency, had been through corporate scandals, and then I made the necessary decision to deal with Saddam Hussein. September the 11th taught a lesson I will never forget, and our country must never forget. America must confront threats before they fully materialize. That's the lesson of that fateful day. (Applause.)

In Iraq, this administration looked at the intelligence and we saw a threat to the American people. The Congress looked at the same intelligence, and they saw a threat. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and it saw a threat. And then the United Nations Security Council, in 2002, gave Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with U.N. resolutions and disarm. We all saw a threat and we put out, through resolutions, the demand that he disclose and disarm. And once again, he chose defiance. He made the choice. I had a choice, as well: either to trust the word of a madman, or to defend the American people. Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time. (Applause.)

And therefore, in 2002 and early 2003, the television screens across America had banners saying, "March to war" -- and, as business leaders, you understand that's not very conducive to investing capital. Marching to war is not a positive thought. But we overcame that challenge. Thanks to hardworking people and leaders, entrepreneurs, we overcame that challenge. And now we're marching to peace.

More to come.

Yet another John Kerry flipflop<$NoAd$> ...

No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

George W. Bush
White House Press Conference
March 6th, 2003

After insisting for a week that it would force a vote in the Council, the White House has over the last few days waffled about its intentions Today, administration officials did not rule out the possibility that the three leaders would decide on Sunday to abandon the resolution altogether.

The New York Times
March 15th, 2003

The United States, Britain and Spain at the United Nations _ facing certain defeat in the Security Council _ announced they would withdraw their resolution setting a deadline for full Iraqi disarmament and authorizing war.

March 18th, 2003

So many John Kerry flipflops.

This has me wondering.

If you've been reading the news the last few days you may have noticed this odd and somewhat mysterious story of a US-registered cargo plane loaded with 64 "mercernaries" and various military equipment which was impounded Sunday night at Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe "after its owners had made a false declaration of its cargo and crew."

When asked about it on Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "We have no indication this aircraft is connected to the U.S. government."

That seemed like a rather less than unequivocal response. And behind the scenes US government officials said they didn't believe the US government had any connection with this operation. But they wanted to make sure before saying anything definitive.

Now, if you look at the press accounts, what's caught people's attention is the US registry of the plane. Specifically, it's registered to a company called Dodson Aviation, which is based in Kansas.

Now, Dodson says they sold the plane to a "reputable" firm in South Africa about a week ago. "I think they were going to use it for charter flights," company director Robert Dodson told the Associated Press.

Now here's a little more detail.

Dodson Aviation of Kansas has a South African subsidiary, Dodson International Parts SA Ltd (According to their website, "Dodson International Parts SA (Pty) Ltd is the African division of United States based companies Dodson International Parts Inc. and Dodson Aviation. The company was established in 1998 and is based at Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria.") And it was from this subsidiary's hangar at an airport just north of Pretoria that the aforementioned mercenaries boarded the plane.

Now, here's where this gets a little murky.

I wanted to find out more about Dodson International Parts SA Ltd. What I found something out about was a company that sounded very similar: a South African company called Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They're also in the airplane business.

Not exactly the same name. But remember, the South African company is the subsidiary of two American companies, Dodson Aviation and Dodson International. If these aren't the same company, or closely related companies, I'd figure they often get confused for one another.

In any case, here's what I found about Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They come up in the December 2000 Report of the Panel of Experts to the United Nations on Sierra Leone, in the section of the report dealing with the arms trade.

Here's the section that caught my eye (italics added) ...

187. Fred Rindel a retired officer of the South African Defence Force and former Defence Attaché to the United States, has played a key role in the training of a Liberian anti-terrorist unit, consisting of Liberian soldiers and groups of foreigners, including citizens of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Niger and The Gambia.

188. The panel interviewed Mr Rindel extensively. Rindel was contracted as a security consultant by President Charles Taylor in September 1998, and training started in November 1998. The contract included consultancy services and strategic advice to convert Charles Taylor's former rebel militia into a professional unit. The Anti-Terrorist Unit is used in Liberia to protect government buildings, the Executive Mansion and the international airport, and to provide VIP Security and the protection of foreign embassies. The numbers trained were approximately 1200. Because of negative media attention, Rindel cancelled his contract in Liberia in August 2000.

189. In 1998, ECOMOG identified a plane, registration number N71RD, owned by a South African company, Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts, as having carried weapons to Robertsfield in September of that year. The plane is a Gulfstream 14-seater business jet that cannot be used for arms transport, but there are other relevant connections. Fred Rindel was the owner of Dodson. The company was closed on 31 December 1998, but during the period under investigation, the plane was leased to, and operated by, Greater Holdings (Liberia) Ltd., a company with gold and diamond concessions in Liberia. The plane was used for the transport of the Greater Holdings' staff to and from Liberia.

Mr. Rindel's name came up earlier in 2000 in testimony at the UN Security Council by then-UN Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke in a discussion of Sierra Leone (italics added) ...

In regard to arms trafficking to Sierra Leone, Mr. Chairman, we remain concerned and I would like to add a few more items to the record. The principal Africa countries involved in arms trafficking to the RUF - though they deny it - include Burkina Faso, Liberia and Libya.

In 1999, planes landed in Ouagadougou, allegedly coming from the Ukraine, with several tons of small arms and ammunition. This incident, which the Ukrainians say has stopped, is one that we believe should be brought to the attention of your committee.

In regard to trafficking, arms brokers have played a vital role in keeping the RUF supplied with weapons and other military materiel. A well-known arms and diamond dealer in Sierra Leone, Zief Morganstein, in July 1999 arranged for a Continental Aviation-based charter out of Dakar to fly a shipment of small arms from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone. Last year the RUF received 68 tons of weapons from Bulgaria, which Morganstein may have helped arrange. There have been other connections between former government officials from South Africa during its Apartheid regime who now operate as private individuals, including Fred Rindel, the South African Defense Attache in Washington, who now works as a security consultant in Liberia and trains Liberian troops and RUF insurgents. There are other charges about other businessmen who are reportedly helping the Sierra Leone government coming from various countries around the world.

Now, I've scanned the news coverage of this and I haven't seen any mention of this seeming connection. So perhaps these are two utterly unrelated companies?

As of Tuesday the situation in Zimbabwe seems to be calming down, though now there are apparently fears in Equatorial Guinea that these mercenaries were somehow intended to assist a coup in that country. (No, I can't keep up either.) "Some 15 mercenaries have been arrested here," the country's Information Minister Agustin Nse Nfumu told Reuters. "It was connected with that plane in Zimbabwe. They were the advance party of that group."

Equatorial Guinea is next door to Gabon. And Joe Wilson used to be the US Ambassador there back in the day. So maybe he can make some sense of this. I can't. But I'd be very interested to talk to the investigators who put together that UN report and see if there's any connection between Dodson International Parts SA Ltd and Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.