The Nation

Waxman Sets Hearings on CIA Leak Case

Vice President Dick Cheney may have avoided serious law enforcement scrutiny in regard to his office's efforts to discredit and harm the man who exposed the administration's manipulation of pre-war intelligence.

But Congress has the power to examine wrongdoing by members of the executive branch, and it is going to start using that power.

The House Oversight and Government Affairs will open hearings – perhaps as early as March 16 -- on issues raised by the trial of Cheney's former chief-of-staff, I. "Scooter" Libby, who this week was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI in an investigation into the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative who is married to former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

The revelation by Wilson that members of the Bush-Cheney administration should have known statements the president and vice president were making to be false enraged Cheney, who personally dictated talking points designed to discredit Wilson.

Congressman Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the powerful oversight committee, announced Thursday afternoon that his committee will investigate the scandal. Waxman, who is widely regarded as the House's most diligent scrutinizer of governmental wrongdoing, says he may open the hearings with testimony from Valerie Plame.

Waxman has written to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Libby case, expressing concern that core questions about how the White House handled the whole affair remain unresolved.

Waxman has asked Fitzgerald to meet with him to discuss possible testimony before the oversight committee by the prosecutor.

"The trial proceedings raise questions about whether senior White House officials, including the Vice President and Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove, complied with the requirements governing the handling of classified information," Waxman explained in his letter to Fitzgerald. "They also raise questions about whether the White House took appropriate remedial action following the leak and whether the existing requirements are sufficient to protect against future leaks. Your perspective on these matters is important."

How aggressive will the Waxman-led hearings be?

Would Waxman consider asking Cheney to testify? If Cheney refuses, might a congressional subpoena be in order?

A hint may be found in a letter, sent in November, 2005, by Waxman, New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey and Michigan Democrat John Conyers to the vice president. The trio requested that Cheney testify before the House regarding his role in the CIA leak case.

The letter declared that:

It is extremely important with regard to the maintenance of the integrity of our democratic republic that the full and complete truth of this matter be made available to the American people. Unfortunately, doubts and questions will continue to grow until the nation learns the complete story behind the leak of Valerie Wilson's identity. There are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement with the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity to which the American people deserve answers, including:

1.) Why were you and other officials in your office investigating Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA?

2.) Did you authorize Mr. Libby to disclose Valerie Wilson's identity to the news media? Were you aware that he was doing so?

3.) At the time of the leak, Valerie Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been publicly questioning the Administration's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, which had been used as a primary justification for war. At the time of the leak, did you believe the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was true? When did you first learn that the uranium claims were untrue? Was the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity an attempt to discredit her husband and what he had been saying about the uranium claims being false?

4.) When you learned that the leak had occurred, did you investigate whether any members your staff were responsible for this act? If so, when did you do so and what were your findings?

5.) Do you think that those involved with the leak should be allowed to maintain their security clearances?

The Libby trial has highlighted the need to answer these questions.

Waxman has the authority to pursue those answers.

Perhaps most significantly, he understands that it is, indeed, "important with regard to the maintenance of the integrity of our democratic republic that the full and complete truth of this matter be made available to the American people."


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

For Women in Iraq, a Sad Day

It's Women's Day in Iraq, again, but not the bread-and-roses kind of day women want. The fact is, since the US invasion, every day has been a sick-and-twisted kind of women's day in that country -- a day on which Iraqi women's rights and their lives are under assault.

In the four months following the US invasion and occupation, women's rights groups estimate that some four hundred women were abducted and raped. At the time, the violence was blamed on the general breakdown of society, but there were always women warning that the killings weren't chaotic, they were systematic, and they heralded something worse.

They were right. A new report from the international women's human rights organization MADRE makes the case that gender-based violence is rampant and made worse by the US presence. As Houzan Mahmoud of the Organization for Women's Freedom, told a MADRE-organized press conference this week at the United Nations, reliable data is hard to gather in Iraq, but when OWFI visited a hospital in Basra last October they found 100 women's corpses, many showing evidence of torture. "The bodies were mutilated and unclaimed because families are too scared to pick them up."

The violence isn't a detail, it's strategic, said MADRE's Yifat Susskind (the author of the group's report.) "Gender based violence is central to the Islamists' agenda to create a theocratic state." The targets aren't just any women, but women whom the killers' claim flout Islamic law--other targets include artists and LGBT Iraqis--anyone whose continued existence doesn't suit the kind society the Islamists want. The media report the killings (as they did this week, when reporters covered attacks on a historic Baghdad book-market,) but they don't connect the dots. Why are militias bombing intellectuals? Because they're secular, says Susskind. For the same reason they've been beating and beheading women who refuse to cover their head.

While politicians in DC dodge and dart around the role that US troops play in Iraq, they'd be well-advised to read MADRE's Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy. All this guff about "protecting" Iraqis obscures the reality that for four years now, US forces haven't policed killers, they've unleashed them.

"The transformation of Iraq into an Islamist state is often characterized as one of numerous "unintended consequences" of US decision making since 2003." MADRE reports. "But the US has long viewed the religious right as a strategic ally in the Middle East." In Iraq, the US actively cultivated Shiite militias to help battle the Sunni-led "insurgency." The State Department even had the gall to call the policy of training and equipping Islamist death squads "The Salvador Option," reminding one that Iraq is hardly the first war in which the Pentagon has sacrificed the security of people for a fantasy of permanent military bases and (in Iraq's case oil-) profits.

The winds are changing in Washington. As journalists Patrick Cockburn and Seymour Hersh have been writing, the US is getting nervous about Iran and Shiites and they've begun to funnel money to Sunni jihadists to push back. What's next, a cozying up to the Taliban or Al Qaeda? Of one thing you can be sure, it won't be a concern for women's rights that holds anyone back.

MADRE (on whose board I'm proud to sit) and their sister group, OWFI somehow manage to run safe houses in Iraq and an underground railroad to help victims escape. If you're going to pay your war taxes the least you could do is send them a check. Then tune in Saturday when Patrick Cockburn will be our guest on RadioNation.

Legislation Watch

Earlier this year, as the new Democratic Congress gathered, I highlighted 10 pieces of legislation that I believe deserve to be passed – they would certainly help put our nation back on a path toward a more perfect union. One of the ten bills featured was Representative Ed Markey's Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act which was reintroduced on Tuesday as H.R. 1352.

In the last session of Congress the bill had 33 original cosponsors. There are now 45 original cosponsors of the new bill, and on Wednesday, Rep. Tom Lantos – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs – also signed on.

"I feel a rising optimism that we can end this repugnant and counterproductive practice of outsourcing torture during the 110th Congress," Markey said.

Let's hope he's right. The practice of sending individuals detained by our government off to other countries that torture – known in Orwellian speak as "extraordinary rendition" – flies in the face of the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, and the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act. It has led to the reprehensible and tragic cases of Maher Arar, Khaled El-Masri and Abu Omar – and in all likelihood the torture of many other innocent victims that we have not yet heard from.

Markey's legislation would bar the transfer of any individuals in US custody to any country known to use torture. It would also prohibit the use of "diplomatic assurances" – as the Bush administration claims to have received from Syria in the case of Arar's transfer – as the basis for determining that the threat of torture does not exist. The legislation would require the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a list of countries that engage in torture and forbid the transfer of any individual to those countries (unless the Secretary of State certifies that a country no longer practices torture and a mechanism is in place to assure that the person transferred will not be tortured).

With over 1000 CIA-operated "ghost flights" over Europe reported by the European Parliament; black sites used by the CIA; and cases against CIA agents for the abduction of innocent civilians now being prepared by both Germany and Italy – passing the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act is a necessary step towards restoring our commitment to human rights and our standing in the international community.

Dems Aren't Urgent Enough About Withdrawal

If we accept scientific estimates of the Iraqi death toll since the U.S. invasion of that country, as detailed in the British medical journal The Lancet, then it is fair to say that an Iraqi dies from violence or deprivation every ten minutes. An American dies every ten hours. And, every ten days, significantly more than a billion dollars from the U.S. treasury is spent maintaining the occupation -- not on helping veterans, not on assisting in the reconstruction of Iraq, but on continuing the physical occupation of a country where polling and circumstances on the ground indicate that the people do not favor the continued presence of foreign forces.

There are those who suggest that America has time to wait before we begin bringing our troops home from Iraq. House Democratic leaders on Thursday proposed legislation that would set benchmarks for progress in Iraq. If those benchmarks remain unmet, a slow process of extracting troops would begin under the plan favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Wisconsin's David Obey and Pennsylvania's John Murtha, the chair and defense subcommittee chair respectively of the appropriations committee; and Missouri's Ike Skelton, who chairs the armed services committee.

The fact that Democratic leaders are talking about attempting to impose a timeline for withdrawal of troops is good. It puts the opposition party in a position of actually opposing an unpopular president's exceptionally unpopular policies.

Unfortunately, because the president wants to maintain the occupation on his terms, Bush can be counted on to veto legislation establishing benchmarks and a timeline. So the Democrats find themselves in a difficult position. They plan to expend immense time and energy -- and perhaps even a small measure of political capital -- to promote a withdrawal strategy. Yet, the strategy they are promoting is unlikely to excite Americans who want this war to end.

In other words, while Pelosi and her compatriots propose to fight for a timeline, it is not the right timeline.

Theoretically, the Democratic leadership plan would create the potential for the withdrawal of some U.S. troops in six months. Realistically, because the Democratic plans lacks adequate monitoring mechanisms -- even Pelosi says determinations about whether benchmarks are met would be a "a subjective call" -- chances are that there would be no withdrawals for more than a year. The Speaker essentially acknowledged as much when, in announcing the plan, she said, "No matter what, by March 2008, the redeployment begins."

Forcing young Americans and Iraqis to die for George Bush's delusions for another year, while emptying the treasury at a rate of a billion dollars a week, is not an adequate response to the demands -- let alone the realities -- of the moment.

"This plan would require us to believe whatever the president would tell us about progress that was being made," says Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-California, speaking for the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus. "This is same president that led us into a war with false information, no weapons of mass destruction, said we would be (welcomed) with open arms, said that the mission had been accomplished. Now we expect him to give us a progress report in their plan by July?"

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, says of the legislation. "There's no enforcement mechanism. We have had the same thing in place for two years and [now] we're expecting [Bush] to do something...?"

Woolsey's question begs another question: Why? Why are Democrats, who just wasted weeks arguing about non-binding resolutions regarding Bush's surge of 21,5OO more troops into Iraq, now preparing to pour their energy into fighting for what appears to be another vague and inadequate proposal?

Rather than try to answer that one, perhaps it is best to note that Peace Action and other anti-war groups are launching a massive, rolling call-in campaign leading up to the vote on President Bush's request for another $93 billion to fund his approach to the war. Peace Action is asking Americans to tell their representatives to stand with Woolsey, who recently said "the only money I will support for Iraq is funding that is used for the withdrawal of every last US soldier and military contractor from Iraq."


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

"Tax" Is Not a Four Letter Word

Down in the Texas state capitol for the day, enjoying both the buzz of activity that comes with the legislature actually being in session (they only have regular sessions for five month, once every two years) and the good ole boy lobbyists stalking the halls, making deals. Just had an interesting interview with a Republican State Senator in which he raised an interesting point. Basically, he was complaining about how the conservative movement had essentially been reduced to one single, inviolable principle: never raise taxes ever. It's crazy he said. "I'm as much against having my taxes raised as anybody, but the the voters don't send us to the capitol just to make sure taxes don't get raised, they send us here to spend their money wisely. And if there's some program that can benefit the residents of the state, then we should fund it."

But instead, Grover Norquist's infamous no-tax pledge has created an untenable situation across the country, one in which state governments are increasingly resorting to gimmicks, tricks and the outright Russian-style auctioning off of state assets in order to fund government. This despite the fact, that, as this Republican legislator pointed out to me, spending on social programs is quite popular. "The notion that these are programs Democrats want and Republicans abhor may have been true thirty years ago, but I feel like there's been a shift. Now, everybody wants the programs, but one group [the Republicans] is unwilling to pay for them, and the other group [the Democrats] is unable to pay for them."

The only way this is going to change is if there's a) an organized lobbying effort on the part of citizens and interest groups to increase taxes b) some bold legislators vote for tax increases and find out that they won't necessarily get ridden out of town by angry voters. But I was amazed that this Republican legislator was so frank about the problem. And googling around I see that Republican presidential front-runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have both yet to sign the no new taxes pledge. It does suggest that the "tax revolt" may indeed be coming to a close.

The Clean Elections Challenge

My recent Nation article on Senator Max Baucus, "K Street's Favorite Democrat," has been a topic of discussion back in Montana, where Baucus is up for re-election in 2008.

Last night I talked about the article on Montana NPR's Evening Edition and Baucus went on after to respond. Host Sally Mauk said Baucus "laments the need for large corporate donations to his campaign."

Here's what Baucus said: "I've voted for every single campaign reform legislation that's been here. There's too many dollars in politics today. But you have to live with the system. And to live with the system you're gonna have to raise money, regrettably."

Later this month, Senator Dick Durbin will introduce a bill calling for publicly financed clean elections. If Baucus is serious about changing the system, he'll sign on as a cosponsor.

A Wasted War

Let's start with the obvious waste. We know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives since the Bush administration invaded their country in March 2003, that almost two million may have fled to other countries, and that possibly millions more have been displaced from their homes in ethnic-cleansing campaigns. We also know that an estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children are now malnourished and that this is but "the tip of the iceberg" in a country where diets are generally deteriorating, while children are dying of preventable diseases in significant numbers; that the Iraqi economy is in ruins and its oil industry functioning at levels significantly below its worst moments in Saddam Hussein's day--and that there is no end in sight for any of this.

We know that, while the new crew of American military officials in Baghdad are starting to tout the "successes" of the President's "surge" plan, they actually fear a collapse of support at home within the next half-year, believe they lack the forces necessary to carry out their own plan, and doubt its ultimate success. What a tragic waste.

We know that while the U.S. military focuses on the Iraqi capital and al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, taking casualties in both places, fleeing Iraqi refugees are claiming that jihadis have largely taken over the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, and renamed it "the Islamic Emirate of Samarra" -- a grim sign indeed. (Here's just one refugee's assessment: "that large areas of the farms around Samarra have been transformed into camps like those of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.")

We know that, as the US military concentrates its limited forces and the minimal Iraqi units that fight with them, in a desperate battle to control the capital, for both Sunnis and Shia, the struggle simply spreads to less well-defended areas. We also know that the Sunni insurgents have been honing their tactics around Baghdad, their attacks growing deadlier on the ground and more accurate against the crucial helicopter support system which makes so much of the American occupation possible. Some of them have also begun to wield a new, potentially exceedingly deadly and indiscriminate weapon--trucks filled with chlorine gas, essentially homemade chemical weapons on wheels which can be blown up at any moment.

In other words, before the Bush administration is done two of its bogus prewar claims -- that Saddam's Iraq was linked to the Islamic extremists who launched the 9/11 attacks and that it had weapons of mass destruction -- could indeed become realities. What a pathetic waste.

We know that, while Americans tend to talk about the "Iraq War," with a few exceptions like the fierce battle with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Najaf in 2004, it has actually been a remarkably unsuccessful pacification campaign against a Sunni insurgency alone; that is, a war against less than 20% of the Iraqi population (even if every Sunni supports some insurgent faction). We know that billions and billions of dollars have gone down the rat-hole of Iraqi "reconstruction"--with multimillions more simply stolen or utterly unaccounted for by American financial overseers--and that what reconstruction has been done is generally substandard and overpriced in the extreme. What a waste of resources.

We know, on the other hand, that a series of vast military bases have been built in Iraq of a permanency that is hard to grasp from thousands of miles away and that the largest embassy in the history of the universe has been going up on schedule on an almost Vatican-sized plot of land in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone to represent the United States to a government whose powers don't extend far beyond that zone. Talk about waste!

We know that we stand at the edge of a possible war with Iran. It could come about thanks to a Bush administration decision to launch a massive air attack on that country's nuclear facilities; or it could simply happen, thanks to ever more provocative U.S. acts and Iranian responses, leading to a conflict which would undoubtedly play havoc with the global energy supply, threaten a massive global recession or depression, and create untold dangers for the American military in Iraq, which might then have to face something closer to an 80% Iraqi insurgency. What a ridiculous waste.

[Part 2 of this series, "Wasting Our Soldiers' Lives," will appear Friday at The Notion.]

Left Forum 2007

One of the country's premiere progressive events, this weekend's Left Forum brings together activists and intellectuals from across the globe to share ideas for understanding and transforming the world.

An outgrowth of the former Socialist Scholars Conference, the Left Forum was started in 2005 after a factional split over strategy and personalities led to the resignation of seven SSC board members and the formation of a similar annual conference but with a greater emphasis on activism, organizing and practical politics.

With close to one hundred panels and three major cultural events, this year's Forum will tackle Big Questions like can the Left advance an alternative vision capable of capturing the popular imagination, and is reform the farthest possible horizon for our hopes?

Featuring a roster of dynamic speakers including Nation writers Gary Younge, Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, Christian Parenti and Dave Zirin as well as Frances Fox Piven, Cornel West, Dennis Brutus, Marion Nestle and many more, this year's Forum should be an invaluable opportunity for progressives to trade notes, numbers and ideas.

The conference's opening plenary (chaired by Featherstone) takes place this Friday, March 11, at 7:00 at Cooper Union at 7 East 7th Street (at 3rd Avenue) in Manhattan. The panels and events take place all day on both Saturday and Sunday. Various panels will also be streamed and archived online. Check the Left Forum site this weekend for details.

Check out the full program, including info on a special, free Saturday night series of readings from Howard Zinn's Voices of a People's History of the United States by Amy Goodman, Anthony Arnove, Staceyanne Chin, Brian Jones, Deepa Fernandes, and Erin Cherry. Click here for info on registering, getting there and anything else you might need to know.

Time for Celebration and Protest

A few nights ago, after putting the baby to bed, I watched The L-Word, then lay on the sofa and read Jennifer Baumgardner's excellent new book, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, which quotes veteran Second Wave feminist and writer Alix Kates Shulman on how relations between the sexes have improved since the fifties and sixties. "It's so different nowadays that it's almost impossible for someone like you to comprehend," Shulman tells Baumgardner. Drinking a glass of Cabernet while my husband made dinner, I had to agree.

It's International Women's Day, so let's give the global feminist movement props for the progress that women have made in recent decades. It's also a good time to call attention to the considerable work that remains. Two sobering reports released yesterday bear witness to some horrifying realities. Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq, written by Yifat Susskind, communications director of MADRE, a women's human rights organization, shows that women in Iraq are being exposed to "unprecedented levels" of assault, honor killings, and other forms of gender-based violence. Another report, released by a coalition called Women Won't Wait, finds that international agencies -- the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, Global Fund, UN AIDS and others -- are failing to address the relationship between gender-based violence and the spread of HIV.

So, both celebration and protest are in order this International Women's Day, and you can find festivities and political actions here (at this writing, over 422 events in 41 different countries).