The Nation

The Secret Air War Over Iraq

Just last week, in a typical air strike of the Iraq War, two missiles were fired at targets somewhere in the city of Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar province in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, in the course of a battle with American forces stationed there. According to newspaper accounts, "18 insurgents" were killed.

Air power has, since World War II, been the American way of war. The invasion of Iraq began, after all, with a dominating show of air power that was meant to "shock and awe"--that is, cow--not just Saddam Hussein's regime, but the whole "axis of evil" and other countries the Bush administration had in its mental gun sights. Among the largest of America's "permanent" megabases in Iraq is Balad Air Base with the sorts of daily air-traffic pile-ups that you would normally see over Chicago's O'Hare Airport. And yet, as Tomdispatch.com has pointed out numerous times over these last years, reporters in Iraq almost determinedly refuse to look up or report on the regular, if intermittent, application of American air power especially to heavily populated neighborhoods in Iraq's cities.

Now, the Bush "surge" is officially beginning. Little about it is strikingly new or untried--except possibly the unspoken urge to ratchet up the use of air power in Iraq, the only thing a Pentagon with desperately overstretched ground forces really has to throw into the escalation breach (as in recent months it has drastically escalated the use of air power in Afghanistan). Pepe Escobar, the superb globe-trotting correspondent for Asia Times, has recently warned that the new Bush administration "plan" signals "the dire prospect... of a devastating air war over Baghdad" in which "Iraqification-cum-surge" will prove "a disaster mostly for every Baghdadi caught in the crossfire."

Just last week, Julian E. Barnes of the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Air Force has the Iraqi itch and is getting ready to scratch it. Air Force commanders are preparing for a "heightened role in the volatile region." They are, he reported, already "gearing up for just such a role in Iraq as part of Bush's planned troop increase" -- an expansion of air power that "could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants… [and] more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran."

In preparation for all this the Air Force has signaled, according to InsideDefense.com, that it too is "surging" its forces--bulking up both personnel and fighter planes in preparation for the President's new offensive in Iraq. "We have increased our force posture in Iraq in anticipation of the surge," comments Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Clint Hinote. "We've brought over more fighters to better provide overwatch for the ground units in Iraq… We're also preparing to deploy more [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets to provide more information to ground ops."

Until now, U.S. air power in Iraq has been a non-story--if you weren't an Iraqi. In the coming months, however, it may force its way onto the front pages of our papers and onto the nightly TV news--but not if the Pentagon has anything to say about it. Doing some journalistic sleuthing, Nick Turse has discovered just how secretive the Pentagon has been about offering any significant information on the size, scope, and damage involved in its air operations over Iraq. For the first time at Tomdispatch.com, he tells what can be known about the history of the Pentagon's secret air war often over Iraq's heavily populated urban areas.

In the last weeks, there are hints that the air war in Iraq–at least the helicopter war–is becoming decidedly two-sided. Five American helicopters have gone down, at least four of them due to enemy fire, in less than three weeks. As Noah Shachtman at the Defensetech.org website pointed out recently, there is speculation among Air Force personnel that Sunni insurgents "have gotten their hands on a new, more deadly strain of surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs)." Whether a change of weaponry or of tactics is responsible for these downings, we don't know at this point; but given the reliance of the American military in Iraq on helicopters for transport and air support, this is no small thing. When Russian helicopters began going down in Afghanistan in the 1980s (due, in part, to the Stinger missiles the CIA was supplying to the Mujahedeen), it was a signal that their occupation was in real trouble. Could the same be true in American Iraq?

Libby Trial: Russert Ruins the Cover Story

After jurors in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury trial on Wednesday heard the defendant--on tape--cite Meet the Press host Tim Russert as his alibi, the alibi, using crutches, hobbled into the Washington courtroom and shot a hole in Libby's cover story.

For three days, the jury had been listening to audio tapes of Libby's two appearances before a grand jury in March 2004, when Libby repeatedly claimed that in July 2003, before the leak appeared that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer, he knew nothing about her until Russert told him that "all the reporters knew" she worked at the CIA. Libby acknowledged to the grand jurors that weeks earlier Vice President Dick Cheney had told him that Valerie Wilson was a CIA employee, but he said that he had completely forgotten this and had learned about her "anew" when Russert passed him this gossip during a phone call. It's an essential part of Libby's tale. When the FBI and a grand jury were looking for administration officials who had leaked information on Wilson to reporters--and Libby was a potential target--Libby told the Bureau and the grand jury that he had not disclosed any information gathered from official sources; he had only shared with a few reporters a rumor he had picked up from Russert. And you can't prosecute a guy for spreading gossip. Again and again, during his grand jury testimony, Libby pointed to Russert: he told me, and, boy, was I surprised.

But on the stand, Russert told the trial jurors the opposite. Questioned by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for less than fifteen minutes, Russert said he had uttered no such thing to Libby. Russert also noted that it would have been "impossible" for him to have done so because at the time of the call--July 10 or 11, 2003, and days before Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in a Robert Novak column--he knew nothing about her. Wilson's wife never came up in the conversation with Libby, Russert testified. Libby had called him to complain that Chris Matthews, the host of Hardball was being too hard on Cheney's office (and on Libby) as Hardball covered the controversy sparked by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge that the Bush administration had twisted the prewar intelligence.

Once Russert, with little elaboration, had punctured a main element of Libby's story, Fitzgerald was done with the witness. Then came Ted Wells, a Libby attorney. His mission was clear: destroy the credibility of the fellow whom earlier in the day Libby had described (on the grand jury tape) as "one of the best newsmen, one of the most substantive of the news people."

Wells took his shots. He grilled Russert about an episode in which the anchor in a 2004 interview had failed to recall a phone call he had made to a Buffalo News columnist who had criticized how Russert had moderated a debate during the New York Senate race in 2000. Wells noted that Russert has often described himself as driven to get the story first. If so, Wells wondered, how could Russert not have taken the opportunity to talk to Libby about the Wilson imbroglio (and possibly about Wilson's wife) when the vice president's chief of staff rang him up? Had he forgotten this part of the call? "Frankly, [Libby] wasn't in the mood to talk," Russert replied, noting that the Cheney aide was rather agitated about Matthews. Wells pointed out that Russert had no notes on the call and that he had told the FBI that while he believed there had been only one call perhaps there had been two. Wells was doing all he could to question Russert's powers of recall.

Wells tried a few other attacks as well. He cited an NBC News press release that was issued when Russert had challenged a subpoena from Fitzgerald. (Russert lost that fight.) The release noted that Russert had not said anything to Libby about Valerie Wilson's "role" at the CIA. Why the word "role"? Wells asked. Was it carefully chosen because Russert actually had told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA but had not said what position (or "role") she had at the agency? This word-game was a sign of desperation on Wells' part. "As I read [the press release]," Russert answered, "it includes the fact I did not know that she worked at the CIA."

Wells also suggested Russert had lied to a federal judge when Russert had filed a motion to quash Fitzgerald's subpoena of him. In a declaration to the court, Russert had said that it was crucial that he be able to maintain the confidentiality of his sources. Yet, Wells noted, Russert had already told the FBI about his conversation with Libby. In other words, so much for protecting sources. Russert explained that in his earlier conversation with an FBI agent he had responded to an allegation that Libby had made about him (when Libby had spoken to the FBI) and that he had resisted the subpoena because he did not want to be in the position of appearing before a grand jury and being asked a wide range of questions about various sources.

Russert was unflappable during Wells' cross-examination. His voice remained steady. He took his time answering the questions. He was hardly animated--not his usual Sunday morning self. (Remember, he used to be a lawyer.) He noted that after Novak disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA identity, the NBC News Washington bureau--which he presides over--waited several days before reporting the story. "We worked diligently to vet it," he said, recalling "long and extended conversations" about the national security implications of the disclosure. That is, NBC News acted more responsibly than the Bush administration leakers.

As the court recessed for the day, Wells said he might have another two hours of questions for Russert. Does he have better stuff to throw at Russert? He had not made much of a dent. Nor had Wells done much to advance his contention (presented earlier in the trial) that Russert might have heard about Wilson's wife from an NBC News colleague--most notably, David Gregory, who may have received leaked information on her from then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. (See herefor details of that confusing subplot.)

Wells needs to score more points in his Meet the Libby Lawyer show. Libby had based so much of his grand jury testimony on his conversation with Russert. Yet Russert pulled the rug out. His testimony was a simple conclusion to the prosecution's simple case.

Before Russert came to court, the jury finished listening to the audio tape of Libby's March 24, 2004 testimony to the grand jury. And there were passages that might cause a listener to think of Tony Soprano.

During that session, Fitzgerald asked Libby about several interactions he had with Cheney in the fall of 2003, when the leak scandal was red-hot. The news had just broken that the Justice Department was investigating the White House to determine who in the administration had leaked to Novak and other journalists about Valerie Wilson. The Washington Post had reported--perhaps not accurately--that two senior White House officials had called six reporters to leak this information as part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson after he had published an op-ed claiming he had inside information proving the White House had manipulated the prewar intelligence. Senior White House aide Karl Rove was a suspect in the investigation. So was Libby.

With a full-force firestorm under way, Libby, according to his grand jury testimony, went to Cheney and "offered to tell him everything I knew." Libby had not been a source for the Novak column. But at the time of that leak, he had talked to reporters about Wilson's wife and her CIA connection. (What he said is at issue in the trial.) He told the grand jury that he thought he ought to let Cheney know what he had done in the days before the leak. Yet Cheney, Libby recalled, "didn't want to hear." When Libby offered to disclose all to the vice president, Cheney said, "You don't have to. I know you didn't do it."

Cheney's incuriosity went further. When Libby told the vice president that he had discovered a note in his files indicating that in early June 2003, Cheney had told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division (a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate), the vice president barely reacted. The note was a big deal. Libby was claiming he had known nothing about Wilson's wife until his conversation with Russert. But here was indisputable documentation that Cheney had informed Libby weeks before that--and proof that Cheney had been gathering his own information on the Wilsons and the trip Joseph Wilson took to Niger for the CIA to check out the allegation that Iraq had sought uranium there.

What did Cheney say when told about the existence of this note? Fitzgerald asked. "He didn't say much," Libby replied, adding that Cheney "titled his head...and that was that." Tilted his head? What did that mean? Libby had no more of an explanation. He also testified that in the days before the leak occurred he and Cheney had discussed many aspects of Wilson's trip to Niger but that the "only part" of the controversy they had not talked about was Wilson's wife and her CIA employment. (When journalists in the media room heard Libby make this claim, several laughed.)

Libby's grand jury testimony contained other intriguing nuggets. At one point, he noted that then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had leaked portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMDs to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. This happened after Cheney had asked Libby to get this information to the Journal. (The NIE selections may or may not have been classified at the time: it's complicated.) Libby, in turn, talked to Wolfowitz about doing so because he didn't "have as good a relationship with the Wall Street Journal as Secretary Wolfowitz did." (When the Journal ran an editorial quoting the NIE and insisting that Bush had been right to cite Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium in Africa, the paper's editorialists asserted "this information...does not come from the White House.")

And in his grand jury testimony, Libby noted that both he and Cheney believed that Joe Wilson had been "qualified" for his mission to Africa. White House allies have long derided Wilson as an absurd choice for the trip. Will they retract that criticism? Or do they believe Libby was not telling the truth before the grand jury?

There also was an interesting absence in Libby's grand jury testimony. At the start of the trial, Wells suggested that Libby had somehow been set up by a White House cabal that was attempting to protect Rove at Libby's expense. Wells has yet to explain how this conspiracy worked. But during both of his grand jury appearances, Libby said nothing that hinted at the existence of a plot against him.

Perhaps Wells will get to this when he starts calling defense witnesses on Thursday or Monday. With Fitzgerald wrapping up his case, it's time for Wells to put up or shut up. He's tossed a lot of theories and notions at the jury over the past three weeks. It's easy for a defense attorney to cook up alternative explanations and dangle them in front of jurors. But if Wells calls certain witnesses to the stand--say, Rove or Cheney--jurors may well expect him to make good on his previous claims that the White House, the CIA and the State Department were each out to get Libby.

Wells has signaled that he intends first to put on the stand reporters who will testify that Libby didn't say anything to them about Valerie Wilson during the period he discussed her with Matt Cooper, then of Time, and Judith Miller, then of The New York Times. That's a modest defense. Will Wells and his colleague Bill Jeffress venture further? Fitzgerald appears to have put Libby in a hole. The grand jury tapes were quite damning. One conservative columnist emailed me to say that he/she now believes Libby is probably guilty, and a conservative-leaning reporter told me that after hearing the tapes she/he had come to the conclusion that Libby was screwed. If folks sympathetic to Libby believe this, one has to wonder what the jurors think.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." 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.

Mistrial Declared in Lt. Watada Court Martial

U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada finally had an opportunity to speak in his own defense Wednesday and in short order raised meaningful concerns about the prospect that he was being railroaded by prosecutors who had effectively limited his range of defense options. On a surprise motion from the prosecution, the judge then declared a mistrial in the high-profile court martial of the Army officer who refused to deploy to Iraq because he had come to the conclusion that U.S. invasion and occupation of that country was illegal.

The ruling by the military judge, Lt. Col. John Head, does not mean that Lt. Watada is off the hook. After moving for the mistrial, the prosecution asked for a new trial and the judge tentatively scheduled a one for mid-March. But it does mean that a new trial could offer Watada's defense team more flexibility in arguing that the officer had a legitimate reason for refusing to fight in Iraq.

This is significant because, as Richard Swain, a retired military officer who now teaches ethics at West Point, testified this week: Officers do not have to follow orders that they determine to be illegal. Of course, Swain explained, "if they make that determination, they have to be right. And if they're not right, they will be held accountable."

There is no guarantee that Watada's defense will succeed in convincing a military jury that the war in Iraq is illegal -- in fact, there is every reason to believe the officer and his lawyers will have a very hard time doing so -- but the prospect that they might be afforded more of an opportunity to mount such a defense could change the dynamic of a second trial.

Because of what is at stake -- not just for Watada but for the Army and for the Bush administration -- the trial has drawn international attention. And the scene in the courtroom on Wednesday was remarkable.

Under questioning from Head, Watada said that he did not believe the a pretrial stipulation he had signed -- in which he acknowledged that he had chosen not to follow orders and deploy with his unit to Iraq -- was an admission of guilt. Indeed, Watada explained, he felt he had a right to argue in his defense that the war is illegal and that serving in it would cause him to participate in war crimes.

Throughout the court martial proceeding, the prosecution had built its case against Watada around the argument that what was being determined was a simple question: Did Watada refuse to follow orders. The prosecution made the case that officers are not free to choose whether to serve in a particular war, and that they cannot question the actions and motivations of their commander-in-chief. "He bought shame and disgrace upon himself," Capt. Jeff Van Sweringen, the Army prosecutor, said of Watada.

According to Hal Bernton's detailed coverage in the Seattle Times -- the trial has taken place at Fort Lewis in Washington state -- Sweringen told the court: "The underlying facts to these grave charges are... unassailable."

That line of argument was complicated by the question of whether Watada had believed he was admitting guilt when he signed the statement acknowledging that he did not deploy with his unit to Iraq.

Under questioning by the judge, it became evident that the officer was not of the belief that he had signed away his right to defend himself.

"I'm not seeing we have a meeting of the minds, here," the judge finally said. "And if there is not a meeting of the minds, there's not a contract. Tell me where I'm missing something?"

The Army prosecutors made a last-ditch attempt to suggest that they were not arguing that the agreement represented an admission of guilt by Watada. But Head wasn't buying it. The judge told the courtroom that, because there was now a debate about the agreement's meaning, the prosecutors would have to move to reopen their case -- which they had finished Tuesday. That would have forced the prosecution to proceed in front of a jury that had been made aware of concerns about the meaning of the pretrial agreement.

That's when the request for the mistrial was made, and accepted.


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.'"

Filibustering While Iraq Burns

Ninety US soldiers have died since President Bush announced his plan to escalate the war in Iraq on January 10.

There's been a lot of talk about how Congress can challenge Bush's policy. Yet so far it's done nothing. It took the Senate almost a month to agree on what the non-binding resolution--essentially a nifty piece of PR--should look like. Then Republicans decided to use every trick in the Senatorial handbook to prevent the debate, which they once decried as meaningless, from occurring.

Now the House says it will debate the war next week. Why didn't it take the lead in the first place? Directly after the State of the Union address, the House could've expressed its disapproval of the President's policy. The Senate, with its complicated rules, presidential candidates and penchant for bloviation, could have followed whenever it got its act together. But the message would have been clear: Congress does not support the President's war any more.

The passage of the resolution was supposed to lay the groundwork, Democratic leaders argued, for the more substantive battle over the funding of the war. Now the resolution has become a distraction. Democrats were not elected to voice opposition to the escalation; they were put in office to at least try to end the war. "This is not a time to finesse the situation," says Senator Russ Feingold. "This is not a time for a slow walk."

Can Congress walk, even slowly, and chew gum at the same time?

The Alternative to a Failed Status Quo

President Bush and Vice President Cheney constantly claim that critics of the war have not offered an alternative to their proposals to surge deeper into the quagmire they have created in Iraq.

Watching the Senate struggle to open a debate on whether to pass even a non-binding resolution criticizing the surge scheme would seem to reinforce the administration's line.

But the truth is that the "there-is-no-alternative" spin is every bit as disingenuous as the claim that Congress saw the same intelligence as the president and vice president and then fully and unquestioningly bendorsed attacking Iraq. In fact, 133 members of the House and 23 members of the Senate saw the "intelligence" that the administration was peddling in 2002 and voted against authorizing the president to attack and occupy Iraq. Dozens of additional members of the House and Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- expressed reservations about the administration's rush to war.

A substantial number of the House members who were outspoken in their opposition to attacking Iraq were members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

They read the "intelligence" right in 2002, and they have continued to do so by raising their voices in favor of an exit strategy. CPC co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, advanced an amendment seeking a withdrawal plan almost two years ago, while the other co-chair, Barbara Lee, D-California, has led the House in voting for resolutions opposing the construction of permanent US bases in Iraq. Both continue to be in the forefront of congressional efforts to end the occupation and bring U.S. troops safely home.

Now, the 71-member caucus, which is by far the largest and most diverse ideological grouping of House Democrats, has issued a detailed policy statement regarding the war. It reads:

Over the last four years, the insurgency in Iraq has strengthened and sectarian violence has increased. Furthermore, the current situation on the ground in Iraq is grave and rapidly deteriorating. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has determined accordingly that a predominantly military approach is no longer a viable solution to stabilizing Iraq.

We are committed to bringing all of the US troops and military contractors in Iraq home in a six-month time frame as part of a fully-funded redeployment plan.

More specifically, we oppose sending additional US troops and military contractors to Iraq and favor binding votes to block President Bush's escalation of US military involvement in Iraq.

We believe all appropriations for US military involvement in Iraq must be for the protection of our troops until and during their withdrawal within six months of the date of enactment of this limitation and accelerating the training and equipping of additional Iraqi security forces during that six-month time frame. The President has left the Congress few alternatives other than to use the power of purse spelled out in Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution to curtail U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Finally, we are opposed to establishing any permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, support rescinding the President's Iraq war authority, and support greater diplomatic and political engagement in the region, while ensuring that the Iraqi people have control over their own petroleum resources.

This is the alternative that the administration wants Americans to believe does not exist.

This is, as well, a far sounder and more responsible approach to the Iraq imbroglio than anything proposed by the administration, by its allies in Congress or by the too-cautious Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. The only question now is whether the workable alternative of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will garner as much attention from the media as the failed status quo of the Bush-Cheney White House. If it does, the president and vice president will be forced to acknowledge that there is an alternative, and that the American people favor it.


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.'"

Mike Gravel's Campaign

Last weekend, C-Span radio was broadcasting live the speeches of presidential candidates before the Democratic National Committee in Washington. I was listening in the car while running errands. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, was holding forth when I ducked into a store. When I got back to the car, a different candidate was speaking, a voice I didn't recognize.

"We made a grave mistake," he said. "We should have the courage to admit it. We must bring our troops home now--not six months from now, not a year from now--NOW! One more American death for ‘our vital interest' is not worth it. We all know ‘vital interest' is code for oil."

Wow. Who is the guy?

"The Democrats in control of Congress need to act resolutely--and I'm not talking about some mealy-mouthed, non-binding resolutions. They need to precipitate a constitutional confrontation with the George Bush."

It's not Dennis Kucinich. I know his voice.

"We have become a nation ruled by fear. Since the end of the Second World War, various political leaders have fostered fear in the American people--fear of communism, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of people based on race and religion, fear of gays and lesbians in love who just want to get married and fear of people who are somehow different. It is fear that allows political leaders to manipulate us all and distort our national priorities."

Yes! I was working up real enthusiasm for this guy, but still didn't know his name. He then assailed the American-led arms race and the claim of "American exceptionalism" made by some of his fellow candidates.

"We are indeed a great nation, one that has made significant contributions to humanity. But our leaders are promoting delusional thinking when boasting that the United States and Americans are superior to the rest of the human race. We are no better and no worse."

I don't know if I've ever heard an American politician say that. He illustrated the point by observing that Americans are mainly "Number One" in production of weapons, consumer spending, debt, people in prison, energy consumption and environmental pollution.

"The major problems we face are all global in nature--energy, the environment, terrorism, drugs, war, immigration, disease, economic and cultural globalization. These problems require global solutions that can only be addressed by concerted diplomacy and cooperation, not jingoism about America's super power superiority."

Amen. He talked too long, but what an inspiring speech it was. Afterwards, I learned his name--Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska.

As a gutsy politician, Gravel was always out there. He championed the Alaska state fund that distributes the state's vast oil revenues directly to all its citizens. During the Vietnam war, he filibustered against renewal of the military draft. He unilaterally declassified the Pentagon papers by staging a one-man hearing where he read the documents into the Congressional Record.

This year, Mike Gravel is running for president and promoting a national initiative by which citizens could legislate laws directly. Look for him at the "cattle calls" where Democratic candidates gather. He is 76 years old. He is still speaking truth to power. They can't shut him up.

Libby Trial: Scooter Speaks, Part II

As jurors in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby spent Tuesday listening to audiotapes of Libby's two appearances in 2004 before the grand jury investigating the CIA leak, a possible killer moment occurred. It came when Libby, describing a conversation he had with reporter Matt Cooper, then of Time, on July 12, 2003 (two days before Valerie Wilson was outed as a CIA officer in a Robert Novak column), told the grand jury:

And I said [to Cooper], reporters are telling us that [former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife works at the CIA], I don't know if it's true. I was careful about that because among other things, I wanted to be clear I didn't know Mr. Wilson. I don't know – I think I said, I don't know if he has a wife, but this is what we're hearing.

I don't know if he has a wife--that's what the man said under oath.

By the time the jurors heard this part of the tape, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had presented as witnesses five past or present Bush administration officials and one journalist who each testified that he or she discussed Wilson's wife with Libby prior to Libby's phone call with Cooper. An additional witness--Vice President Dick Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington--testified that Libby had asked him about the paperwork the CIA would keep if an officer had sent a spouse on a trip. And a Libby note from early June 2003, introduced as evidence by both the prosecution and the defense, indicates that Cheney told Libby, his chief of staff at the time, that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate.

Yet now jurors could hear Libby claiming to the grand jury that at the time of the Libby-Cooper phone call--six days after Joseph Wilson had published an op-ed saying he had inside information showing the White House and Cheney's office had twisted the prewar intelligence--he (Libby) had no idea that Wilson was married, let alone that he knew the missus was a CIA employee.

Could Libby really have been telling the truth?

By playing the audiotapes, Fitzgerald placed the jurors in the position he was in when he grilled Libby before the grand jury. At that point, he already had testimony from witnesses who maintained they had told Libby or heard from him about Wilson's wife prior to the leak. Yet when Libby appeared before the grand jury, he told a convoluted tale. In essence, he claimed that he had been struck by amnesia--a rather selective case of amnesia.

Before the grand jury, Libby conceded that sometime before June 12, 2003, Cheney told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. (This happened during a period when Libby and Cheney were concerned about a Washington Post reporter who was looking into a story about an unnamed former envoy who had gone to Niger for the CIA and returned with information that the ex-envoy believed disproved part of the administration's case for war.) But Libby claimed that he had totally--and he meant totally--forgotten all about the wife when on July 10 or 11, 2003, Meet the Press host Tim Russert told him that "all the reporters" knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Before the grand jury, Libby repeatedly said he was "surprised" by the information he received from Russert. He said he felt he was learning it "anew" and was "taken aback." He was not unsure on this point: "I have a specific recollection I was surprised."

Libby was saying not that the Russert conversation had reminded him of what he had known only weeks earlier, but that he had so entirely forgotten what his boss had told him about Valerie Wilson that this was a complete news flash to him. Libby then insisted that he only passed the gossip he had received from Russert to other reporters (such as Cooper), telling them that he (Libby) knew nothing certain about Wilson's wife. Not that Wilson even had a wife.

It was some tale. This is how Libby described his phone call with Russert to the grand jurors:

And then [Russert] said, you know, did you know that this--excuse me, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA? And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken aback by it. And I said--he may have said a little more but that was--he said that. And I said, no, I don't know that. And I said, no, I don't know that intentionally because I didn't want him to take anything I was saying as in any way confirming what he said, because at that point in time I did not recall that I had ever known, and I thought this is something that he was telling me that I was first learning. And so I said, no, I don't know that because I want to be very careful not to confirm it for him, so that he didn't take my statement as confirmation for him.

Russert has denied telling Libby any such thing and has said that he knew nothing about Wilson's wife at the time of his conversation with Libby. And during Libby's grand jury appearances, Fitzgerald repeatedly asked Libby if Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, senior CIA official Robert Grenier, and Cheney aide Cathie Martin had told him, prior to this conversation with Russert, that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA. Libby said he did not recall any of these discussions. Fitzgerald asked him if he had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA tie with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer days before the Russert call. Again, Libby said he could not remember doing so. The trial jurors listened to all this, knowing that each of these people had testified at the trial that they did talk to Libby about Wilson's wife before he supposedly learned it "anew." (During his second grand jury appearance, Libby asked to clarify his previous testimony and said that he now recalled having spoken to Grossman about Wilson as "a joke" and that he had ribbed Grossman because an ex-ambassador was leaking information harmful to the administration. He still claimed he had no recollection of Grossman telling him anything about Wilson's wife. A cynical interpretation would be that Libby--or his lawyer--decided it was better to have a difference with Grossman about what was said than a contradiction over whether they had ever talked about the Wilson mission.)

In his grand jury testimony, there were other hard-to-swallow parts. Libby acknowledged that after Wilson's op-ed came out, he discussed the Wilson controversy with Cheney, who was "upset" by the article. But Libby claimed that he and Cheney (who had written a note about Wilson's wife on his copy of the op-ed) had not talked about Wilson's wife until weeks later. In other words, right after the op-ed was published, Cheney and Libby had talked about various aspects of the Wilson case except Wilson's wife.

Libby's grand jury testimony yielded some interesting tidbits. Fitzgerald asked him about phone records indicating that Novak had called him days before he published his column outing Valerie Wilson. Yet Libby said he had no memory of speaking to Novak at that time. What happened? The jury--and the public--may never find out. But the jury did learn who was one of Cheney's favorite reporters: Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times. Explaining why he chose to pass information from the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMD to Miller, Libby told the grand jury that he considered Miller (whose prewar reporting on Iraq WMDs was exaggerated) "a serious reporter who cares about the substance of the issues." And Libby testified that before he leaked the NIE excerpts to Miller on July 8, 2003, he told Cheney that he had picked Miller to be the recipient of this leak. Presumably, Cheney considered her a suitable conduit, for he did not stop his aide. (Cheney had arranged for President Bush to declassify parts of the NIE so Libby could selectively leak it to a reporter as part of the administration's effort to beat back the mounting criticism that the White House had hyped the prewar case for war.)

Before the tapes were played, there was a legal tussle in the court concerning the defense team's desire to call New York Times reporter David Sanger as a witness. Libby met with Sanger on July 2, 2003, and apparently Libby said nothing to Sanger about Wilson's wife. The defense wants to point to this conversation to show that Libby was not actively spreading information about Wilson's wife. A Times lawyer argued that if Sanger were forced to testify, his ability to deal with confidential sources would be hampered. Judge Reggie Walton shot down Sanger's argument and said the reporter would have to appear as a witness for the defense. (Will Sanger, like Miller did, defy a court order and face prison time?) As the defense and the Times tangled, Fitzgerald noted that during his July 2 conversation with Sanger, Libby shared information about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that was still classified. The implication: Libby was leaking before Cheney gave him permission to do so.

On Wednesday, the jury is scheduled to hear the final two and a half hours of Libby's grand jury testimony. So far the tapes are not favorable for Libby. His story before the grand jury was neither clean nor clear. And on the audiotape, when he made a remark that would later be contradicted by trial witnesses he often paused or dropped the volume of his voice. Are the jurors picking up on that? There's no telling. But his grand jury testimony--which got Libby into his current jam--is not a strong advertisement for the former vice presidential chief of staff. Libby's defense team has filed a motion suggesting Libby may not testify in his own defense. But after hearing Libby present confusing (if not untenable) explanations of his actions to the grand jury, the trial jurors may well want (and expect) to hear Libby clear things up on the witness stand. That is, if he can.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." 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.

Defense Budget Follies (continued)

With President Bush's latest budget request of $245 billion for the "global war on terror" (and a warning from administration officials that there are more funding requests to come), the staggering total has now reached $745 billion. And even that is probably too low.

"There's going to be real sticker shock when we get down to what the truth is about the cost of this war," Senator Kent Conrad, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, told the Washington Post. "It's going to be way beyond what anybody has fessed up to."

Which is exactly the point Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has made time and again, saying that the war could end up costing over two trillion dollars. Not to mention what Speaker Pelosi understatedly calls an "opportunity cost" sapping the ability of the US to undertake important domestic initiatives – not only now, but for future generations when the bill for the borrowing required to fight this war comes due (in contrast to past wars, this one has been paid for on a "credit card" while taxes for the wealthy are slashed).

It is critical that Congress not only reassert its power of the purse (and use that power to protect the troops and bring them home), but also begin to rethink what an effective, rational foreign policy and defense budget means in these times. Instead of squandering our resources on the Bush course of increased militarization we should be changing course to address national security issues that this administration has avoided like a pre-war intelligence report it doesn't want to hear. For example, global warming should be considered a national security issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with hundreds of scientists drawn from 113 nations (including the US), has just concluded based on six years of research that "there is an overwhelming probability that human activities are warming the planet at a dangerous rate, with consequences that could soon take decades or centuries to reverse."

Even the Bush administration can't keep its head in the sand any longer on this front – it's hard to be a denialist now – so it has offered small, token praise. But as Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "Talk is easy. Let's all roll up our sleeves and get on with the task – and end our state of denial."

So where is the administration's boldness to confront this central challenge facing us and the world in the 21st century? Where is the call for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases from all sources of global warming pollution, including power plants and factories? Where is the commitment not only to alternative fuels – but cleaner, cheaper, and renewable sources of energy?

These challenges are enormous. But fortunately there are some beginning steps now being taken on the road towards sanity. Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer have introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act that would begin cutting emissions now and increase reductions every year – saving money and preventing disasters in the long run. And the Apollo Alliance offers a broad vision on how our nation can invest in energy independence and alternative fuels. That's the kind of commitment, determination, and leadership we need to see to face the challenges of the 21st century – instead of the same old defense budget follies from a Bush administration that would dig us deeper and deeper into its disaster.

Holding Bush to Account for Climate Lies, Neglect

Viewers of Fox News, listeners to Rush Limbaugh and all the other sorry deadenders who choose Bush administration propaganda over perspective will be shocked to learn that the debate about global warming has been over for a long time.

Climate change is real. And the cynical ploy by conservative politicians and commentators of suggesting otherwise has slowed the American response to a crisis scientists say has grown so severe that -- no matter what is now done to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases -- gases that have already been produced or are in production will continue to contribute to global warming and the rise of oceans for more than 1,000 years.

The message from the world's top scientists is sobering. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level,'' argues a new report from the climate scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change formed by the United Nations' Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization.

The Bush administration has consciously and intentionally failed for six years to address the crisis. Worse yet, the president and his aides have actively attempted to foster the fantasy that global warming: a. does not exist, b. is a natural phenomenon, c. is a good thing or d. all of the above.

The combination of deliberate inaction and delusional denial has earned this president a place in history alongside all the past Neros who have fiddled while their Romes burned. But the evidence that the Bush administration tampered with scientific research on globalwarming in order to advance its agenda calls for more immediate sanction.

The president and those around him have, as evidenced by their actions over the past six years, proven that they cannot be trusted with power. Yet, without an intervention, they will retain power for another two years.

That is not a prospect to be considered casually.

"The Bush Administration is doing to the whole world what it did to New Orleans as Katrina began to descend on the city," says Green Party co-chair Rebecca Rotzler, who has been in the forefront of demanding an official response to the administration's assault on science. "By altering scientific research on global warming to fit his political agenda and refusing to take necessary steps to protect the public, President Bush has aggravated an impending environmental, public health, and security crisis.

What to do? The Green Party, for reasons both of its environmental commitment and the seriousness with which it approaches issues of political accountability, has proposed a proper response. Responding to complaints from more than 120 scientists from seven federal agencies that they have been pressured to remove references to global warming from research reports, press releases, and communications with Congress, the Greens have accused the Bush administration of conspiring to deceive Congress and the America people about fundamental issues facing the nation. And there is a proper sanction for so serious an offense.

"Congress must recognize the Bush Administration's tampering with studies on global warming and other scientific research as an impeachable offense," says Jody Grage, who serves as treasurer of the Green Party. "Ever since Vice President Cheney initiated private meetings with oil company representatives to determine energy policy, the administration has placed the demands for corporate profits over urgent human and environmental needs."

Just as there are still those who debate whether climate change is actually taking place, there are still those who debate whether this president has committed acts that merit impeachment and removal from office.

But the Greens are right on this one.

The founders intended impeachment not as a legal process but as a tool for the protection of the nation and its citizens from irrational, irresponsible and immoral executives. The point of creating a procedure that allowed the Congress to interrupt a presidential term was not to punish minor acts of wrongdoing, it was to preserve the republic -- both structurally and physically -- from a president whose actions, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, might be "productive of cruel distress to our country."

The European kings and queens against whom American revolutionaries took up arms had attacked science and free thought in order not merely to advance their pet theories but to improve their fortunes. A president who did the same, Jefferson argued, was no different from a monarch -- except that his tenure was constitutionally limited. That did not mean, however, that Americans should accept a king for four years.

"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others," explained the author of the Declaration of Independence who would make himself the steadiest advocate for democratic principles in the early days of the republic.

Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason and their circle fought to assure that the Constitution would include a broad power of impeachment. It was, these men of the enlightenment knew, the essential corrective against an elective despotism that might see an imperial president reject even the logic of science in pursuit of whims, fantasies and self-interest.

The founders knew that the impetus for impeachment might not be an act, but rather an inaction. And if that inaction was the result of a choice by the president and his aides to serve their oil-industry partners and contributors rather than their country and their planet, then surely it is a high crime against the republic -- an impeachable crime in the sense intended by the authors of the Constitution -- that has been committed.

The Greens have wisely recognized this fact, and made an appropriate argument for booting a pathetic president from the Oval Office.

Perhaps if those of us who still retain a Jeffersonian regard for science begin to speak of denying climate change as the impeachable offense that it is, we can begin to put the issue in proper perspective for the folks at Fox -- who seem only to feel a sense of urgency when their dear leader is threatened with sanctions more immediate than those of history.

We may, as well, answer the most poignant of the questions left us by Thomas Jefferson. "Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic," observed the third president, who then turned his attention to those who would inherit that republic and asked: "But will they keep it?


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.'"