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Libby Sentenced: 30 Months in Jail Because "Truth Matters"

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby stood before federal district court Judge Reggie Walton. It was finally the moment for Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff to speak. The sentencing hearing was coming to an end; Walton was about to pronounce the punishment Libby would face for having obstructed justice in the CIA leak case. Libby, who did not testify during the trial, thanked the court for showing him and his defense team consideration during the proceedings. He told the judge, "It is...my hope the court will consider...my whole life."

That was it. No apology. No expression of remorse.

Then Walton sentenced Libby to 30 months in jail and a $250,000 fine. Libby didn't flinch. His wife, Harriet Grant, cried. Notable conservatives in the front row of the crowded courtroom--Mary Matalin, Barbara Comstock, and Victoria Toensing--appeared shocked.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asked Walton to incarcerate Libby for 30 to 37 months. At the hearing, prior to Walton's ruling, Libby's defense attorneys--Ted Wells and William Jeffress Jr.--contended that Libby should get off with probation. They threw several arguments at the judge. First, they claimed that the toughest sentencing guides should not be applied to Libby, echoing an argument put forward by Libby's champions in rightwing circles: Nobody was ever charged with leaking the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, so the whole case was not such a big deal. Walton did not bite. Citing appeals court decisions, he noted that in an obstruction of justice case it's the investigation that counts, not the ultimate outcome of the investigation. "Your position," Walton told Jeffress, "would seem to promote someone aggressively engaging in obstruction behavior."

Next, Jeffress asserted that no one really knew if Valerie Wilson had been a covert CIA officer covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and suggested this ought to be a mitigating factor. (In a recent court filing, Fitzgerald declared, "It was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute [the Intelligence Identities Protection Act] as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.") Walton, with his voice rising, outlined the case: "The CIA believes one of its agents was improperly outed....They had a legitimate concern. So they contact the Justice Department and they say this needs to be investigated....And the Justice Department...goes to investigate and they make inquiries....And that person lies." Walton went on: "When law enforcement officials...initiate an investigation...it is the obligation of the American citizenry to be honest and forthright." And Fitzgerald, wearing a gray rumpled suit, added that Libby's lie to those investigating the Plame leak created "a house of mirrors" and made it more difficult for the investigators to "sort out the truth."

Walton indicated that as a matter of law he was sticking with the tougher sentencing guidelines. Next, the issue was whether he ought to use judicial discretion and cut Libby any slack. Fitzgerald argued that Walton's sentence should "make a clear statement that truth matters." He noted that Libby had lied persistently during the leak investigation and had subsequently displayed no contrition. The sentence, the prosecutor continued, should also send the message "that one's status in life does not matter" when it comes to justice. Realizing what Wells and Jeffress were about to argue, Fitzgerald declared that a public servant ought not to receive special treatment. Libby, he said, deserved no more consideration than a social worker, a teacher, a cop. Fitzgerald recognized that Libby had worked long and hard in a variety of government jobs, but he said, "We need the truth from government officials."

Wells had one last shot. The dynamic and dramatic African-American defense attorney said he had "no quarrel with Mr. Fitzgerald's statement that truth matters." But, he added, "it is entirely appropriate for a sentencing judge to take into consideration the good works and the good deeds a person has done." He contended that Libby for decades had engaged in "exceptional public service." He reminded the judge that more than 150 people had submitted to the court letters hailing Libby. This band includes prominent conservative and neoconservative hawks, including Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger, John Bolton, Doug Feith.

But Wells did not read the letters from these notables. He chose six others. In this group were retired Admiral Joseph Lopez, who praised Libby as a "linchpin" during the first Persian Gulf War; Seth Carus, a biowarfare expert who asserted "Libby has done more to enable the United States to address the challenge of bioterrorism than any other single person"; Robert Blackwill, a former Bush National Security Council official, who said that at the White House no one was "more driven by...sound policy reasoning than Libby"; and Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary, who extolled Libby's "decisive contribution" to forging the post-Cold War world. (Wells' use of Wolfowitz, the scandal-struck and outgoing World Bank president, as a character reference prompted smirks among reporters in the courtroom.)

None of the testimonials Wells read referred to the Iraq war. And Wells told the court that though the Libby case was not about the war, it did "seem that Libby was the poster child for all that has gone wrong with this terrible war." Wells essentially argued that was punishment enough. He noted that Libby has "been exposed...to overwhelming negative press coverage" and has "endured public scorn and ridicule." He pointed out that Libby has received hate mail. And that whether Libby goes to jail or not, he will no longer be able to serve his two great loves: working in the government and practicing law. "He has fallen from public grace," Wells exclaimed. "It's a tragic fall....There's no need to incarcerate Mr. Libby."

Walton accepted none of this. He acknowledged Libby had been a public servant for years, foregoing income he could have obtained in private practice. But, the judge noted, "we expect a lot" of senior government officials. Libby's high position, Walton remarked, came with high obligations. Walton derided the attacks launched by Libby partisans and commentators against the CIA leak investigation, the trial, and the verdict. "The evidence overwhelmingly indicates Mr. Libby's culpability," he declared. He blasted Libby for discussing Valerie Wilson with reporters without considering that she might have been an undercover officer. "Government officials must realize," he said, "if they're going to step over the line...there are consequences."

In the end, Walton explained, Libby's government service and his violation of the obligations of his office balanced each other out. There would be no mitigation in the sentencing. He announced his decision: two-and-a-half years in jail and a quarter of a million dollars.

Libby was not hauled off to jail. His lawyers asked Walton to permit Libby to remain free on bond while they appeal the conviction. Walton indicated he was not sympathetic to this position. But he noted that it would take the Bureau of Prisons 45 to 60 days to find a spot for Libby. Consequently, he said, the defense could file a motion on this point by Thursday, and he scheduled a hearing on this question for next week. Presuming Walton does not change his mind at that hearing, Libby will have to surrender himself and begin his jail term sometime in the next two months.

After the sentencing hearing was concluded, Libby exchanged hugs with his wife and friends. His lawyers said they would make no statements. They quickly left the courthouse. Fitzgerald and his team exited the courtroom without answering questions. A few minutes later, I spotted Fitzgerald alone in a courthouse hallway. He was checking messages on his cellphone. Anything to say? I and another reporter asked. He shrugged sheepishly and stuttered, "I...I..." He closed his cell phone. "Just can't." He had an apologetic look on his face. Then he left the building.

Minutes later, as television camera crews in front of the courthouse were breaking down their equipment, a motorcade sped past. In a dark limousine was Cheney, on his way to a meeting on Capitol Hill. His former aide--who had helped Cheney guide the country into the Iraq war--was heading to jail, having been convicted of obstructing an investigation that had targeted Cheney among others. Cheney was still in power. His office had, as of that moment, issued no comment on Libby's sentence.

Fitzgerald got from Walton the message he wanted: Libby lied; this lying was consequential; it demanded serious punishment. One of the Bush officials responsible for a war that many Americans believe was sold with lies will be imprisoned for lying. Still, Libby's conviction and sentencing will have little impact on popular opinion, for most of the public has already reached a verdict on Bush, Cheney and their administration. The Libby case is merely an affirmation of the (widely-held) view that the Bush crowd is not an honest one.

Now the Libby saga enters the real endgame: pardon or no pardon. Bush has a week until the question is truly forced upon him. If next Thursday's hearing changes nothing, Libby will be awaiting a vacancy in a federal penitentiary. This will drive the Libby Lobby to pump up the volume on its call for a pardon. Conservative pundits will go wild. Republican presidential candidates will demand freedom for Libby. (Former Senator Fred Thompson is a member of the Libby Legal Defense Trust and has hosted a fundraiser for Libby.) What will Cheney say? What will Bush do? It appears Bush will not be able to opt for on-the-sly, last-minute sort of pardon that his father awarded Iran-contra figures shortly before leaving office and that President Bill Clinton handed to fugitive financier Marc Rich as the Clinton presidency was ending. If Bush wants to pardon Libby, he will have to do it in full public glare. He will have to explain why a convicted liar--who shares blame for the mess in Iraq--ought to go free.

When Bush first ran for president in 2000, he vowed to bring accountability and ethics back to the White House. A pardon of Libby would be a telling moment in his long departure from that promise.

*****

JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Opposing Occupation

This week marks is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Israel's Six-Day War, when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began.

On Saturday, June 10 , tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out in Washington, DC, as part of a Global Day of Action Against the Israeli Occupation, followed by a day of lobbying on June 11. There'll be a teach-in on Sunday morning, a rally on the west lawn of the capitol from 2:00 to 4:00 and a subsequent march from Capitol Hill to the White House, among other related activities.

These activities are the first national actions in the US ever specifically opposing the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and Syrian Golan Heights. Pro-Israeli critics have been putting out the word that the event seeks "the dissolution of Israel." This is false. Here are the demands being put forth by the organizing coalition:

* An end to US military, economic, diplomatic, and corporate support for Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

* A change in US policy to one that supports a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis based on equality, human rights and international law, and the full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions.

In this blogger's view, these goals would not only bring about a more just situation for the Palestinians but would increase any chances the Israelis have for a stable and relatively peaceful existence.

Sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice, and endorsed by dozens of religious, peace, student and Jewish groups, the events will bring a broad constituency to the nation's capitol to oppose occupation in any form. The weekend is, says one of the organizers, a "coming out" for the Palestine solidarity movement in the United States. It's about time.

For more information on the anti-occupation march, visit EndTheOccupation.org. Click here to sign the rally's petition, get info on bus caravans leaving from various cities, find affordable housing options in DC and check out maps and key logistical info.

Finally, for some crucial background on the 1967 war, its real causes and its enduring legacy, read my colleague Jon Wiener's recent interview with Tom Segev, one of Israel's leading historians, and author of the new book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East.


Weigh in on the Israeli "wall of seperation" in the new Nation Online Poll.

Libby Sentenced: 30 Months and $250,000

I'm at the courthouse and will be back with a report soon.

The Six-Day War, 40 Years Later

Israel went to war 40 years ago this week more because of "psychological weakness" than because of a genuine strategic threat--that's the conclusion of Tom Segev, one of Israel's leading historians, and author of the new book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East. June 5 is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Israel's Six-Day war, when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began. I spoke with Tom Segev on the phone in Jerusalem on Monday.

The prevailing view of the war, in both the US and Israel, was expressed by historian Michael Orren, who wrote in the LA Times on Sunday that the war "saved Israel from destruction." Segev commented, "We don't really know that. We don't really know what the Arabs intended to do." But we do know what Israelis thought: "They thought Egypt was out to destroy them. It's really a psychological matter more than a clear-cut strategic one. Psychologically Israelis were very weak on the eve of the Six-Day War; they believed they were facing a second Holocaust."

How much of that psychology was an accurate response to the strategic situation, and how much was caused by other factors? "The crisis of May 1967 caught Israel at a weak point in its history," Segev said, "with economic recession and unemployment, more Israelis leaving Israel than Jews coming to live there, a generation gap with people fearing they were losing their children as Zionists, and a widespread feeling that the Zionist dream was over. And beyond that Israel was feeling the first acts of Palestinian terrorism, and the army had no answer to that, just as it doesn't have an answer to today's terrorism. All this led to a deep pessimism. Then the crisis broke out."

I asked Segev whether he thought Israel over-reacted to Egyptian and Syrian threats by going to war. "I think this crisis might have been solved without war," he replied. "There were suggestions coming from Washington and several ideas in Israel about how to do that. But that required a stronger society, stronger nerves, stronger leadership, more patience, and we didn't have all that. So we gave in to an understandable Holocaust panic. That made war with Egypt inevitable. But to say today that the Six-Day War saved Israel's existence--that is not accurate."

Today we think of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the main legacy of the 1967 war. Orthodox Jews regard the West Bank as the biblical land of Israel: Judea and Samaria. They believe God wants Jews to live there. I asked Segev how popular that idea was in Israel before the war. "It was not very popular," he said. "Most Israelis did not expect the Green Line to change. Some had hopes--there was a strong political party headed by Menachem Begin that advocated taking the West Bank, but most Israelis regarded that as unrealistic.

The government came to the same conclusion: "Six months prior to the war," Segev reports, "the head of the Mossad, the head of the Army intelligence branch, and the Foreign Office sat down together and did something Israelis don't often do – they thought ahead. They concluded it would not be in the interests of Israel to take the West Bank. Because of the Palestinian population, of course. Six months before this war. Then on June 5, Jordan attacks Israeli forces in Jerusalem, and all reason is forgotten: Israel takes East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, in spite of all the reasons not to do so, in opposition to our national interest."

Segev's book has a stunning cover: a photo of Israeli soldiers posing triumphantly in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the three holiest shrines in Islam. When Israeli forces conquered the old city, he reports, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army advised his commanding officer to blow up the Dome of the Rock. "Everybody lost their minds," Segev explained. "Everybody was euphoric. There were lots of crazy ideas floating around. It speaks to the credit of the military commander that he told the chief rabbi of the army, ‘if you repeat that suggestion, I will put you in jail.' But that was the atmosphere in those days--a feeling that the sky's the limit, we're an all powerful empire. The euphoria that followed the war was as wrong as the panic that preceded it."

As Israeli forces advanced through the West Bank, Segev shows, they pressured Palestinians to leave, to flee to Jordan. "200,000 Palestinians left the West Bank," he told me, "and at least half of them were actually forced to leave. Many are still in Jordan. When speak about the refugee problem we think about 1948, but there is a refugee problem from 1967 as well."

Back in 1948, the UN had called for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. I asked Segev what kind of national movement existed among Palestinians on the eve of the Six-Day War. "It was very weak," he said, "not much more than a feeling of shared identity and solidarity. Actually as a result of the Six-Day War the Palestinian national identity became much stronger, just as Israeli analysts had predicted prior to the war."

Future prime minster Yitzhak Rabin supported Palestinian independence after the war, according to Segev, who reports that the Israeli government held secret talks at the time with Palestinian leaders. "Isn't that amazing?" he said. "Rabin was chief of staff. He felt it was the right moment to punish Jordan, to take the West Bank away from Jordan, but not God forbid, to control it--instead to give the Palestinians independence. He thought that was the right way to do it. By the way, that's what the government of Israel thinks today, 40 years later – and it's what most Israelis think."

The War Over "War on Terror"

Bill Clinton made a habit of blurring the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Now his wife is doing the same to her Democratic rivals.

"The differences among us are minor," she said during last night's debate in New Hampshire. "The differences between us and the Republicans are major." That's true, but only to a point. Take, for example, the rather important question of whether or not the US is engaged, as George W. Bush says, in a global war on terror.

In a speech last month, John Edwards courageously called the "war on terror" a "bumper sticker" for President Bush. "The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe," he said on May 23. "It's a bumper sticker, not a plan." He reiterated that criticism last night. The phrase was intended, Edwards said, "for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture."

When asked for her response, Hillary disagreed. "I am a senator from New York," she said. "I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11, and I have seen firsthand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda." Perhaps most tellingly, she concurred with Bush that the country is safer now than it was before 9/11.

Hillary has aggressively moved left on Iraq since entering the primary. But when it comes to the "war on terror," her answer last night revealed that she still favors the status quo.

Sex and Reality

A recent study commissioned by Congress concluded that abstinence-only programs are completely ineffective in preventing or delaying teenagers from having sexual intercourse. Nor do they lower unwanted pregnancy rates or lessen the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Given this reality, it's bad news that the federal government will waste $176 million on these programs in 2007 alone. "In short, American taxpayers appear to have paid over one billion federal dollars for programs that have no impact," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The good news: Leaders at the state and federal level are learning how counterproductive abstinence-only programs are and are starting to take action.

Several states, including California, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have already rejected Title V funds, for being too restrictive. And more recently, Congressional leaders have indicated that they would allow Title V, a $50 million abstinence-only program, to expire on June 30. "Abstinence-only seems to be a colossal failure," said Rep. John Dingell, (D- MI) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over Title V funding.

Rep. Waxman is also considering holding hearings on the issue in the near future.

"With all we know about how to prevent teen pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted diseases," said Rep. Diana DeGette, (D-Col.), "it is high time to redirect the millions of federal dollars that we squander every year on abstinence-only education to programs that actually work."


This post was co-written by Michael Corcoran, a former Nation intern and freelance journalist residing in Boston. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Boston Globe and Campus Progress. he can be reached at www.michaelcorcoran.blogspot.com. Please send us your own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing to nationvictories@gmail.com

Dems Debate: Is There a Difference on Iraq--Or Not?

There are no major differences among us regarding the Iraq war.

So said Senator Hillary Clinton at Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire.

There are profound differences among us regarding the Iraq war.

So said former Senator John Edwards at the same debate.

The difference over the difference was the main point of contention of the event. The positions staked out by the leading candidates were--no shocker here--obvious. Clinton wants to play down the fact that until recently she was out of step with Democratic primary voters concerning the war, for she had (a) voted to grant George W. Bush the authority to attack Iraq and then (b) more or less defended the war for several years before she (c) announced her campaign for presidency and starting calling (and voting) for an end to the war. So on the stage she pointed out that "we all believe we need to end the war." She added that whatever disagreements exist among the Democrats on how best to do so, these disputes are trivial given that every major Republican running to succeed Bush supports the president on the war. "This is George Bush's war," she declared.

It was a typical frontrunner's performance. Focus not on the rivals in your own party but on the other side. After all, Clinton doesn't want to encourage Democratic voters to compare the Democratic contenders on the Iraq war.

Edwards--who's placing third in the national polls but first in the Iowa polls--needs a line of attack on Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. So at the debate, he maintained there's an immense gap between himself and the other two. He defined it as the "difference between leading and following." He noted--correctly--that when the recent Iraq war funding bill was up for a vote in the Senate, he vociferously urged the Democrats in the Senate to say no to Bush, while Clinton and Obama went mum. Sure, Edwards went on, Clinton and Obama ended up voting against the funding, but they did so "quietly" and said nothing about how they would vote before the roll was called. That, Edwards maintained, is not leadership.

Edwards had a point--but perhaps a minor one. Is this criticism enough to fuel his attempt to overtake Clinton and Obama? Edwards' claim that he's the best antiwar candidate of the leading Democrats would have more potency if his current position were significantly different from theirs. But Clinton and Obama, by voting against the Iraq funding measure, did not give Edwards the opening he craved. And at the debate, Obama had a good comeback. "It is important to lead," he said, adding "I opposed this war from the start...not years late." Edwards, like Clinton, voted to give Bush the authority to start the war.

So among the Democrats' three leaders, there's a candidate who was initially against the war and now pledges to end it, a candidate who voted for the war and now pledges to end it, and a candidate who voted for the war and now pledges to end it and who criticizes his two key opponents for not being sufficiently passionate in their opposition to the war. Viva la difference? Or not.

Clinton hopes to blur the edges; Edwards needs to sharpen them. Meanwhile, Obama cannot coast on his original opposition to the war. If he and Clinton are at the same place now on the most critical issue for Democratic voters, he's going to have a tough time upsetting her apple cart. On Iraq--the dominant topic of the night--this debate did not achieve much for Clinton's main rivals. With Edwards' support slipping and Obama's support softening in the most recent national poll, each needs a boost more than she does. Bottom-line (for those keeping score at home): it was a good night for the former First Lady. Anytime she makes it through a debate without being clobbered, she's the winner.

*****

JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

The Somalia Strike

Here's something that didn't come up at Sunday's Democratic debate: Under what authorization did President Bush order a military strike on Somalia this past Friday--essentially widening the "war on terror"?

While the Dems argued about the best way to get out of this failed and disastrous war in Iraq, what Friday's military strike reveals is how our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from a misconceived "war on terror"--and the damage that "war" continues to inflict on our security and engagement with the world.

That's why I think it's useful that John Edwards is attacking the Bush Administration for its cynical use of "the war on terror" metaphor. A bad bumper sticker, he likes to call it, that "has created a frame that is not accurate and that Bush and his gang have used to justify anything they want to do..."

Very true. Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. The "war" has been used by the Bush team as justification for almost everything-- unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty. It's also been used to justify the expansion of America's military capacity--over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets topping $500 billion--as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism and to fight the "war on terror." Now the expansion of the "war on terror" to the Horn of Africa.

What too few politicians (especially frontrunning Dem candidates) are willing to say--clearly, honestly--is that combating terrorism is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world (including Afghanistan). Indeed, the failed Iraq war should demonstrate, anew, the limits of military power. Yet what Friday's missile strike deep inside Somalia exposes is that the hyper-militarized "war" on terror continues in ways we are only seeing the tip of.

Where were the tough questions, for example, when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" earlier this year to hunt down Islamists in Somalia. The consequence: Friday's strike--led by a US Navy destroyer launching an attack on suspected militant forces--was the third US strike inside Somalia this year. (At least that's the figure we know about; There may well be more strikes we will only learn about through investigative reporting and real Congressional oversight.) According to Sunday's Washington Post, the attack was "the latest in a US military operation that began late last year in Somalia, a moderate Muslim country, and that US officials say is aimed at fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa." The Post also reports that "Dozens of FBI and CIA personnel have traveled to Ethiopia to question Somalis and foreigners, including at least two US citizens, rounded up by Ethiopian troops in Somalia and held in secret prisons that human rights have likened to a mini-Guantánamo." Chilling. A mini- Gitmo in the Horn of Africa.

Yes, let's end the disastrous war in Iraq but let's not lose sight of how this Administration is USING the 2002 war authorization. It must be repealed, so as to provide some check on this Administration's ability to wage secret wars on obscure battle fronts, large and small, and inflate a real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war. Maybe there's a question in here for one of the next Presidential debates?

Clinton Beats Blitzer in CNN Debate

Maybe the Democratic presidential candidates should rethink their decision not to debate on the Fox New Channel. It couldn't be worse than the theater of the absurd CNN organized Sunday night at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College – which, it should be noted, was co-sponsored by an even more aggressively conservative media outlet than Fox: the rabidly right-wing Manchester Union-Leader newspaper.

The second major debate between the eight Democrats who would be president broke little new ground. In fairness, that wasn't CNN's fault. It's still too early for the candidates to stray from their talking points; that won't happen until the desperate days of the late fall and early winter when contenders who recognize that the keys to the Oval Office are slipping from their grasp decide to go for broke.

So Sunday's debate was, for the most part, a dull dance.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards repeated appropriate criticisms of his fellow frontrunners, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama, for failing to take a leadership role in opposing the war in Iraq – while Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd tried to get some attention for the fact that they actually been outspoken in their opposition to giving President Bush another blank check to pursue his war of whim.

The former First Lady said she'd make "dear husband" Bill some sort of roving ambassador, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel said they'd do the same. While the other candidates made vague promises that they won't even try to keep regarding what they'd do in their first 100 days in office, Dodd stood out by saying he would use his first day to renew and restore basic liberties that have been undermined by George Bush's presidential edicts, decrees and secret schemes. Richardson was equally impressive when he suggested – correctly – that a U.S. threat to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics could play a vital role in ending the genocide in Darfur.

Unfortunately, Dodd did not get a chance to speak in anything more than the shortest sound bite about resurrecting the Constitution. And Richardson never got to explain that, because of China's trade links with the Sudanese government, and because of Beijing's obsession with making next year's Olympics a success, the threat of a U.S. boycott of the games could be dramatically more effective than most such gambits.

Despite the fact that this was a two-hour debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer acted throughout the night as if he was hosting "Beat the Clock." Of course, a moderator must keep a crowded field under control. But the candidates weren't the ones who were off the leash. Rather, it was the CNN anchor who repeatedly interrupted contenders who were trying to explain the basics of their positions, cut off thoughful answers in mid-sentence and failed to follow up when significant points of difference – on issues such as trade policy – were thrown into the mix.

Worst of all, Blitzer tried to take complex issues and reduce them to show-of-hand stunts.

At one point, Blitzer tossed a wild hypothetical at the candidates: If they knew where Osama bin Laden would be for 20 minutes, would they move to eliminate him even if that meant killing "innocent civilians"? Blitzer's question raised fundamental questions: What do we mean by innocent civilians? Are we talking about children? How many would die? Could bin Laden be captured? Would taking him out compromise a flow of intelligence that might provide information that could prevent future attacks on Americans?

Kucinich tried to explore subtleties of international law and common sense, but Blitzer shut him down. Instead of a nuanced discussion on how the U.S. might operate in a post-Bush world, Blitzer simply demanded that candidates raise their hands if they were for getting bin Laden.

Moments later, after Delaware Senator Joe Biden suggested using military force to end the genocide in Darfur, Blitzer was again calling for a show of hands.

No room for a discussion about what sort of force – a no-fly zone or troops on the ground, an international coalition or a U.S.-led expedition, a full-fledged attack on another Muslim state or peacekeeping in the desert – just hands in the air by candidates who were for marching on Africa.

Blitzer was determined to race past anything akin to a serious discussion. And through most of the night, he got away with it.

Finally, as the moderator pressed his "who's-against-genocide" show and tell, Clinton called him on his antics. While the other candidates grumbled about the host's absurdly overbearing approach, the New York senator pointedly declared, "We're not going to engage in these hypotheticals. I mean one of the jobs of a president is being very reasoned in approaching these issues. And I don't think it's useful to be talking in these kinds of abstract hypothetical terms."

She got a deserved round of applause from a crowd that was as annoyed as the candidates were with Blitzer.

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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.'"