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The Nation

Waterboarding's Comeback

Did you read Walter Pincus's important article in Thursday's Washington Post? Pincus--whose extraordinary reporting has been a rare beacon of truth and accountability in these last years--shows through historical example that actions once considered, and treated, like war crimes are now condoned and sanctioned by legislators relying on immoral legalisms crafted by criminal yes-men like David Addington and John Yoo and, of course Dick Cheney. I'm talking about torture. Specifically, waterboarding. In 1947, the US charged a Japanese officer with war crimes for carrying out a form of waterboarding on a US civilian. The officer was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor.

No wonder millions of Americans--you can read their words in letters to the editor or hear their words on talk radio--express a sense of loss. I'm not just talking about the tragic loss of lives in Iraq or the loss of jobs or the loss of America's good name in the world. I'm talking about a loss of our moral standing as a great nation. What use is power if corroded by torture and fear?

I also think of our loss as a democracy. Think of this: There have been other periods in American history when torture has been committed, when habeas corpus has been suspended; when innocent civilians have been imprisoned; when secret prisons were created; when due process has been denied; when private records have been subpoened; when illegal domestic spying has been approved; when the President of the United States has repeatedly and consistently broken the law.

But they have never all happened at the same time. They have never all happened under the watch of the same Administration. They have never come with the promise that this song will remain the same for the rest of our natural lives. Because of it, I believe there has never been a more important time to raise our voices and hold our leaders accountable as there is today.

Every other chapter of excess and overreach in American history has been followed by a period of regret, and then reform. But what do we make of this President's claim that the war on terror is a war without end? Does that also mean that the war on our fundamental rights and liberties knows no end?

The true test of a great nation's highest ideals aren't what it espouses when times are good, but the ideals and values it embraces when times are bad. I believe that the best defense against excess are informed and engaged citizens, unafraid to speak their minds, unafraid to hold their leaders accountable, unafraid to remind us of the principles that made this nation great.

Teach the Children Well

Escalating violence in Iraq has resulted in the deaths of 24 US soldiers since Saturday, and the Pentagon just reported that IED attacks are taking place at an unprecedented rate. (The number of planted bombs is "at an all-time high," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told the Washington Post, defying American efforts to stanch the vicious sectarian bloodshed in Baghdad that has the country on the cusp of civil war.) Unsurprisingly, the latest CNN poll reports that 66 percent of Americans currently disapprove of the job the President is doing in Iraq.

Why is the United States still occupying Iraq? How and when can we withdraw? How does the Iraqi occupation relate to the current crisis in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon? What are the prospects for a new war in Iran or Syria? How and why is the Bush Administration expanding the powers of the Executive Branch? What are the domestic effects of the administration's commitment to a prolonged "war on terrorism?"

Historians Against the War (HAW), formed in 2003 to oppose the Iraq invasion, is urging professors and students nationwide to organize National Teach-Ins from October 17 to November 7 to address these questions. There are currently more than thirty events planned coast to coast with many more in the works. The exact formats and themes will reflect the specific identities and issues of each respective institution but the common bond will be a revulsion against this war, an accounting of the multilayered costs it has exacted, and a renewed commitment to bringing the troops home.

Check out HAW's website if you'd like to organize something yourself. The group is currently lining up speakers, offering suggestions on logistics and planning, and faciliating connections between student groups and national organizations such as Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Parents and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Click here to see if there's a teach-in near you, and sign and circulate HAW's statement against the war. Any historian, historically-minded scholar, teacher, or student of history is eligible.

The Blame Game

Republicans have finally found the causes and culprits of Foleygate: political correctness and George Soros.

First, political correctness. On Tuesday the Arlington Group, a coalition of over seventy religious right organizations, issued a letter responding to Rep. Foley's conduct.

"We are very concerned that the early warnings of Mr. Foley's odd behavior toward young male pages may have been overlooked or treated with deference, fearing a backlash from the radical gay rights movement because of Mr, Foley's sexual orientation," the letter stated. "It appears that the integrity of the conservative majority has given way to political correctness, trading the virtues of decency and respect for that of tolerance and diversity. No one should be surprised at the results ofsuch a tragic exchange."

In other words, gays and liberals are to blame.

But it doesn't stop there. The new conservative talking point is that Soros-funded organizations, particularly Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) leaked the emails and IMs between Foley and the underage pages to help Democrats regain control of Congress. "The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," still-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told the Chicago Tribune yesterday as part of a desperate attempt to keep his job.

Last I heard, ABC News is not funded by Soros. And CREW, which filed an ethics complaint against Foley and passed on some of his emails to the FBI, targets Democrats as well as Republicans and receives only a small percentage of its budget from Soros personally.

And the source who originally gave ABC News the emails was a House GOP aide. Let me repeat: a Republican. Not someone presumably funded by the "radical gay rights movement" or George Soros.

Big-Brother Software

Read Wednesday's New York Times article about how software is being developed to monitor negative opinions of the US or its leaders in overseas newspapers and other publications. It's like an episode of The Twilight Zone written by Orwell.

It's also creepy because it's so reminiscent of the aborted 2002 attempt to develop a tracking system called Total Information Awareness that, as the Times points out, "was intended to detect terrorists by analyzing troves of information."

This administration actively tries to alienate everyone through its words and actions and then it wants to measure just how much they've offended everyone? You couldn't make this stuff up.

Premature Celebration

The President and his speechwriters have, these last years, fallen in love with "victory." Back in November, 2005, for instance, promoting his administration's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Bush used the word "victory" 15 times in a single speech. Things in Iraq were already bad enough then. Now, of course, they are beyond disastrous and, in a small but telling piece on p. A28 of Wednesday's New York Times, Thom Shanker reports the following: "Tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation's capital ‘for commemoration of success' in Iraq and Afghanistan." He adds, "Not surprisingly, the money was not spent." It was, in fact, rolled over to next year when… well, if the Republicans still control Congress, it will surely be rolled over to 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Victory in Iraq is not on many American minds right now in a country where, according to the latest CNN poll, 66% of us disapprove of the job the President is doing there. So it's not surprising that a little piece about marches in honor of "success" in his wars is tucked away in the paper, while an unexpected slaughter among the Amish and mayhem over charges over pedophilia cover-ups among Republicans, dominates front pages countrywide. But here's the strange thing: Right now, if victory is relegated to p. 28 (and next year's military budget), the pain of American loss has hardly been easier to see recently, unless, as Juan Cole pointed out at his Informed Comment blog, you're reading very local papers.

Since Saturday, at least 23 American soldiers have died in Iraq (mostly in Baghdad) and at least 2 in Afghanistan. A single day total of 8 was announced by the Pentagon for Monday and yet these numbers generally didn't make it near a front page. The Washington Post, whose Wednesday front page had a huge story on the murdered Amish girls, "Pa. Killer Had Prepared for ‘Long Siege,'" on page 1, dealt with American casualties in Iraq in a tiny Associated Press piece on page A21 ("11 U.S. Troops, 52 Iraqis Killed"). A story of rising American casualties around Baghdad only hit the paper's front page today. The New York Times, whose front page had a similar Amish story ("Elaborate Plan Seen by Police in School Siege") Wednesday, put its Iraq piece by Michael Luo ("8 G.I.'s Die in Baghdad, Most in a Day Since '05") on p. A12 -- with a tiny box about it on p. 1.

The news from Baghdad is even worse than you might imagine, but this week you had to be a news junkie to notice. The capital not only experienced the highest daily American casualties of the war, but "the highest number of car bombs and roadside bombs... this year." And here's the real twist: While American casualties are on the rise, Iraqi military casualties are actually falling! This undoubtedly reflects not better fighting skills on the part of the Iraqi Army, but an ever-lessening engagement with the insurgency in Baghdad where a militia-ridden, death-squad-linked national police brigade was also being pulled off the capital's streets and replaced by… well, what did you expect?... American troops.

The President has long said, "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But what if they stand down? And Americans in their place simply die in increasing numbers.

Maybe the Vietnam-era advice of Vermont Senator George Aiken is still worth considering. What if we just declared "victory" and started to come home. Then that $20 million in parades might be a fine investment.

Hastert Under Mounting Pressure

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, has scheduled a press conference this morning in Chicago.

What will Hastert, who faces mounting pressure to quit over his mishandling of the scandal surrounding former Congressional Mark Foley, have to say?

Chances are, Hastert may not know.

In a Wednesday evening interview with the Chicago Tribune -- which followed the announcement by Foley's former chief of staff that he had warned Hastert's office more than two years ago about the Florida congressman's inappropriate behavior toward teenage pages – the Speaker said he was not going to quit. "Look, I've talked to our members," Hastert told the largest newspaper in his home state. "Our members are supportive. I think that (resignation) is exactly what our opponents would like to have happen -- that I'd fold my tent and others would fold our tent and they would sweep the House."

But it wasn't just Democrats who were telling Hastert to fold the tent.

Human Events, the influential conservative weekly newspaper, is reportedly set to editorialize today for Hastert's exit and the election of a new Speaker. ``We think the Republicans need new leaders, and I don't think Hastert will be there much longer,'' explained Human Events the editor-in-chief Tom Winter in an interview Wednesday. ``I think (Hastert) has to do this for the team, he has to step down.''

Another conservative publication, the Washington Times, called earlier in the week for Hastert's resignation.

But the real measure of Hastert's troubles may be coming from the ranks of his own caucus. Congressman Ron Lewis, a Kentucky Republican who is waging a tough reelection campaign, announced on Wednesday that he had cancelled a fundraiser that was to have featured Hastert.

Lewis is unlikely to be the only Republican in a close race to distance himself or herself from Hastert, who is under fire for failing to respond adequately when concerns were raised about sexually-explicit communications between Foley and congressional pages and who, since the scandal broke last week, has repeatedly been caught in lies about it.

As conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote late Wednesday, "a dysfunctional House leadership" – led by Hastert – is now a key factor threatening GOP control of the House. "The anger by rank-and-file Republican House members over the incompetence of their leaders is palpable," explained Novak.

All of this points to the prospect of a Hastert resignation. What argues against that prospect?

One big argument that key Republicans are making for keeping Hastert is the challenge of finding another leader who is not tarnished by the scandal. Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is at least as closely tied to the scandal as Hastert, as are other top Republicans such as New York Congressman Tom Reynolds, the chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

The former Foley aide who has come forward to challenge Hastert's version of events had served as chief of staff for Reynolds until the aide abruptly resigned Wednesday.

One suggestion that seems to be gaining traction is a proposal that Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, a senior Republican who is not seeking reelection, might replace Hastert for the short term.

But many Republicans fear that even a shuffle of leadership that put the reasonably well-regarded Hyde in charge would not be enough to make the party's problems go away. Indeed, there is concern that a Hastert resignation would bring so much additional attention to the scandal that disenchantment among religious conservatives – essential supporters of the GOP in recent election cycles – would spread. No one thinks that fundamentalist voters will switch as a group to the Democrats in this fall's elections. Rather, the fear is a portion of the party's social-conservative base would simply fail to turn out on Election Day.

The Circle Fires

The fallout from Foleygate keeps increasing. Just when it looks like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert might be shoring up his support among conservatives, another bombshell drops.

Just an hour ago the AP reported that former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham asked Hastert to intervene three years ago.

GOP aides had previously told ABC News that Fordham, who resigned today, prevented an inquiry into Foley. When Fordham read the report, he went public with what he knew.

"Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005," Fordham told the AP.

After leaving Foley's office, Fordham went to work for National Republican Congressional Committee Tom Reynolds, who accepted $100,000 from Foley and himself is a central figure in the cover-up.

But Fordham's revelation puts the spotlight back on Hastert. His contradictory explanations thus far about why he didn't investigate Foley earlier have been woefully inadequate. Now sources on Capitol Hill say it may be a matter of hours before Hastert loses his job.

Stale Peanuts

All hands are on deck, and scrambling desperately, as the administration tries in vain to get its story straight regarding a July 10, 2001 meeting between then-National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice, then-CIA Director George Tenet, and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black.

It would be farcical if not for the incalculable consequences of their bungling and deceptions.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Bob Woodward's State of Denial describes a meeting where Tenet and Black warned Rice of an imminent al-Qaeda attack.

Rice's response to Woodward's report was to insist that she never received such a briefing.

But then the administration said that the meeting did in fact take place.

Still, Rice "strongly suggest[ed] that the meeting may never have occurred at all – even though administration officials had conceded for days that it had."

So a State Department spokesman then said that the meeting took place but that "there was nothing new" revealed. He added that Rice told Tenet to give the same briefing to both Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Huh, come again? No new information but repeat the same briefing for Rumsfeld and Ashcroft? Would you mind explaining that, Mr. Spokesman?

"[The spokesman] was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material," The Post reported.

What is catching up with this administration is not so much its "state of denial" as its state of disdain. Disdain for any position in contradiction to its own. Disdain for any facts that fly in the face of its own myths and suppositions. And, most of all, disdain for the American public. So it is no surprise that former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger (who arguably takes disdain to war crimes-proportions), has become one of President Bush's preferred and most frequent confidantes.

Kissinger has even exhumed his September 10, 1969 "salted peanuts" memo for the "benefit" of President Bush. In it, Kissinger advised President Nixon against significant troop withdrawals from Vietnam: "Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded." With opposition to the Iraq war solidifying, and the public aware that this war is based on lies and deception, Kissinger knows that if the administration flinches the floodgates will open.

And there you have it. To hell with the public, to hell with contradicting facts, to hell with the troops. Just stay the course. To this administration, the lives, the costs, the waste is nothing more than peanuts compared to its own ill-conceived, ill-fated designs.

The Costs of War (Continued)

Last week, Congress authorized another $70 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007, with additional increases through 2009.

According to the National Priorities Project (NPP), $378 billion has already been spent or allocated for the Iraq war. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the economic costs of war, occupation, and related expenditures may reach $2 trillion – despite the Bush administration's promise that this conflict would cost $50 billion and its firing of its economic advisor for daring to estimate the cost between $100 to $200 billion. (The horrific human cost: more than 2,700 US soldiers and some 100,000 Iraqis killed since the US invasion in 2003.)

As NPP Research Director, Dr. Anita Dancs, testified at a congressional forum, $378 billion could pay for all of the following: health care coverage for all uninsured children during this entire war; four-year scholarships to a public university for all of this year's graduating seniors; construction of 500,000 affordable housing units; the Coast Guard's estimate on funds needed for port security; tripling the energy conservation budget in the US Department of Energy; and reducing this year's budget deficit by half.

But there are other costs to our nation too. They include the corrosion of our values, our constitution, and our reputation internationally. The passage of legislation on military detainees last week is believed by some scholars to be as destructive to our republic as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. (In fact, Charles Falconer, one of the highest-ranking justice officials in Britain, told the Washington Post that current US practices make it "harder to identify to the world what your values are.")

What makes these human, economic, and morals costs of the Iraq war even more infuriating is the Bush administration's messianic, "state of denial." As the recently released National Intelligence Estimate reveals, the war has transformed a relatively limited terrorist threat into a breeding ground for a new wave of extremist Islamic jihadism. NPP also points out that we are now less prepared at home for a natural disaster (as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated) or terrorist attack with our resources and troops stretched to the breaking point in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This administration had a misguided idea about building a shining city on a hill in Iraq and its own power to achieve it. What was truly needed then, as now, was international cooperation and a commitment to spreading our democratic values by force of successful example, not force of arms. This is far from a policy of retreat or isolationism, as "stay the course" (right off the cliff) adherents would have you believe. It means challenging the Bush administration – and too many Democratic leaders – who have bought into an over-militarized approach to terrorism. It means, in the end, being a global leader instead of a global cop.