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Libby Trial: Final Arguments about Scooter, Cheney & Truth

Cover-up or scapegoating.

Nine conversations or two.

Scooter Libby the liar, or Karl Rove the liar.

A cloud unfairly placed over Dick Cheney, or Libby and Cheney placing a cloud over the White House.

As the prosecution and the defense teams in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby presented closing arguments on Tuesday, each side tried to encapsulate its case--and portrayed distinctly opposing views of reality.

"This case was about lying," prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said at the start of the government's summation. He maintained that during the CIA leak investigation Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, lied to the FBI and grand jury about how he had learned that Valerie Wilson was a CIA employee, whom he had talked to about her, and what he had told others about former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife. Referring to the opening argument of lead defense attorney Ted Wells, Zeidenberg pointed out that Team Libby had contended their client was an innocent man who had been turned into a sacrificial lamb by a White House desperate to protect Karl Rove, the administration's uber-strategist. But, he continued, Libby's lawyers introduced no evidence to support that flashy charge. "Unfulfilled promises from counsel," he added, "do not constitute evidence."

Zeidenberg asked the jurors to recall that nine witnesses had each said they had spoken to Libby about Wilson's wife and her CIA connection In June and July 2003. They contradicted the tale that Libby had told the FBI and the grand jury. In his FBI interviews and grand jury appearances, Libby had conceded that around June 11, 2003, Cheney told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division (which is part of clandestine operations directorate). But he claimed that he had been struck by total amnesia regarding this critical fact in the following weeks and learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment "anew" on July 11--three days before the leak appeared in a Robert Novak column--when NBC News' Tim Russert told him that "all the reporters" knew Wilson's wife was CIA. In Libby's account, when he had talked to reporters about Wilson's wife prior to the leak he had merely been passing along gossip (not official and classified information) he had picked up from Russert. (Russert testified he had said no such thing to Libby.)

This was nothing but a cover story, Zeidenberg charged: when Libby was questioned by the FBI in October 2003, he had reason to fear being caught up in the criminal investigation and to worry about losing his job. The prosecutor reviewed for the jurors the conversations Libby had during the relevant time period. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, senior CIA officer Robert Grenier, CIA briefer Craig Schmall, Cheney press spokesperson Cathie Martin--each testified he or she had talked to Libby about Wilson's wife in mid-June, within days of when Cheney had told Libby about Wilson's wife. Zeidenberg reminded the jurors that former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified Libby told him about Wilson's wife on July 7, 2003, and that Matt Cooper, formerly of Time, and Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, testified that Libby had spoken to them about Wilson's wife and her CIA employment prior to the leak.

The defense had taken shots at several of the prosecution witnesses, and Zeidenberg did his best to bolster their credibility. None, he argued, had reason to lie, and their accounts all pointed in the same direction. Could they all be lying or misremembering in a similar fashion? When Russert had been on the witness stand, Wells had accused him and NBC News of harboring a bias against Libby and the office of the vice president. Then why, Zeidenberg asked the jurors, did Cathie Martin testify that she had suggested that Cheney appear on Russert's Meet the Press in July 2003 to combat charges the White House had misrepresented the prewar intelligence?

Zeidenberg took on the defense's claim that Libby had been too busy with national security matters in 2003 and 2004 to remember accurately what he had known and said about Valerie Wilson. Listen to this, Zeidenberg told the jurors, and he played a portion of Libby's March 2004 grand jury testimony during which Libby was able to recall in detail a conversation he had with Rove on July 11, 2003. In that discussion, according to Libby, Rove told him that Novak had informed Rove that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that he (Novak) would be publishing a column about Wilson. Libby also told the grand jury that during this conversation he said to Rove that he had just heard from Russert about Wilson's wife. (Oddly--or not--the defense never called Rove as a witness to confirm Libby's claim that he had given Rove the same account of his Russert conversation that he had provided the FBI and grand jury.) Why could Libby, Zeidenberg asked rhetorically, recount specifics of this discussion but couldn't "recall one out of nine conversations that he himself had about Mr. Wilson's wife because it is a trivial detail?" There is a pattern, Zeidenberg added: Libby remembers the conversations he had with the government witnesses but never "the piece about Mr. Wilson's wife."

Libby, he argued, could even "remember with specificity what he didn't talk about" the week before the leak. When Libby appeared before the grand jury, he testified that in the days after Joe Wilson published a July 6, 2003, op-ed article--in which Wilson revealed that he had gone to Niger for the CIA to check if Iraq had been uranium-shopping there and reported back the charge was highly unlikely--he and Cheney talked about Wilson's mission. But Libby maintained that Cheney and he had not discussed the wife's CIA position until after the leak appeared in the Novak column. Zeidenberg reminded the jurors that Cheney had written a series of questions on a copy of the Wilson op-ed, including one asking whether Wilson's wife had sent him on a junket? "Ask yourself: the vice president has those questions," Zeidenberg said, "who is he going to discuss them with? Is he pondering these things on his own? Or discussing them with his chief of staff?" And is there nothing suspicious, he added, that Libby told the grand jury that he and Cheney in the week before the leak discussed all of Cheney's questions about the Wilson trip except the one about Wilson's wife?

The case has pitted Libby (and his claimed recollections) against several reporters (and their claimed recollections). And Libby's lawyers tried to knock down the testimony from Cooper, Miller and Russert. But Zeidenberg emphasized the core issue: could Libby have completely forgotten about her CIA connection and then learned it "anew." Addressing the jurors, Zeidenberg said, "Forget for the moment about the testimony of those nine conversations...it's simply not credible to believe that he would have forgotten this information about Wilson's wife from June 11 to July 11.....The vice president's office [at this time] is in the hot seat...They're asked the question over and over: why did Mr. Wilson say he was sent [on his Niger trip] by the vice president....Mr. Libby thinks he has an answer: the wife....And he wants you to believe...that he so completely forgets the information about Mr. Wilson's wife that when Russert tells him about it...it rings no bell?...It's just not credible."

Zeidenberg's summation of the case was straightforward and compact. He poked at Libby's hard-to-accept position: I knew, I forgot, then I knew again but forgot that I had forgotten. He explained there was a motive for Libby to lie to the FBI and the grand jury. It was a coherent tale about a fellow who tried to fib his way out of a tough spot. Perjury cases can be difficult because the prosecution has to prove the defendant's intention and state of knowledge. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and Zeidenberg argued a hard case well.

"Maybe I was drunk when I made my opening," Ted Wells said, as he began his closing statement. He was referring to Zeidenberg's characterization of his opening presentation: "Sure sounded like I said a lot of things I could not deliver on." Wells claimed he had not promised to put on "a whole case of evidence" about a White House conspiracy to sacrifice Libby for Rove. "I promised I would show you a note," he said. And Wells pointed to a note written by Cheney in October 2003--after the White House had declared (erroneously) that Rove had not been involved in the Valerie Wilson leak--that said, "Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder."

Why is this so significant? According to Wells, the note--written by Cheney in response to Libby's request that the White House also clear him of any wrongdoing in the leak case--is evidence Libby is innocent. Only an innocent man, Wells contended, would ask the White House to absolve him publicly and then--when rebuked by chief of staff Andrew Card and press secretary Scott McClellan--would beseech the vice president. Wells insisted that Libby had been hung out to dry by a White House eager to protect Rove.

But this was not a strong argument. After Cheney wrote that note, McClellan did clear Libby. And given that the White House had declared that Rove had not participated in the leak--even though Rove had been Robert Novak's second source--the fact that Libby wanted similar treatment does not prove his guilt or innocence. Sometimes guilty people want to be declared innocent.

Wells moved to another line of defense. He told the juror the case was simple: it was about two conversations. He meant Libby's phone call with Russert and a conversation Libby had with Matt Cooper. And, Wells added, this is all "he said/she said." He revisited questions about Cooper's and Russert's powers of recall that he raised earlier in the trial. But Wells was also being sly. The case is not merely about whose recollections are more accurate: the reporters or Libby. Wells was trying to distract the jurors from the nine conversations Zeidenberg had reviewed. A case based on two conversations--where there are no notes or third-party witnesses--is "madness," Wells proclaimed, adding, "there's a craziness to this case."

The defense team's closer had an air of disorganization. But that was the point. Wells and co-counsel Bill Jeffress threw whatever they could at the jury. That Russert has a memory problem and a vendetta against Libby--and that Russert actually may have known about Wilson's wife prior to his conversation with Libby. That Libby talked to eleven reporters and did not volunteer information to any of them about Valerie Wilson. That only Judy Miller said he leaked to her--and, Wells added, she cannot be believed. That Libby was too busy protecting the United States from terrorists to recall what had happened. That Libby would not have concocted such a cockamamie cover story that positioned Russert (whom Libby barely knew) as an alibi. That Rove and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were the real leakers. That Libby was not at all worried about losing his job. That every participant in the case has forgotten one fact or another. That Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection was not important to Libby because, Wells said, "nobody cared at the office of the vice president." That Libby had no reason to fear any investigation because he had not known that Valerie Wilson was a clandestine CIA employee.

The defense was not linear. There was no narrative. There were many assertions and questions. The closest the defense came to a competing explanation of what happened was its tale of the Libby sellout. Noting that the White House had said that Rove had not leaked, Wells declared, "Rove lied....Rove did talk to Novak." And he put up a slide for the jury that showed photographs of Rove and Libby and carried the bottom-line explanation: "Save Rove/Sacrifice Libby." By complaining about this in October 2003, Scooter Libby, Wells reiterated, had demonstrated he was innocent of any wrongdoing in the leak case. (Wells was operating under the assumption that leakers never lie.) And Libby's lead lawyer slammed the Bush crew for not initially standing by his man: "That's not a team I'd like to be part of. The sure didn't treat [Libby] like he was part of the team."

Over and over, Wells and Jeffress did what defense layers routinely do: drill into the jurors that the government has the obligation to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby lied deliberately. The prosecution must present "powerful" evidence, Wells said repeatedly, and the jurors have to base their deliberations upon the presumption of Libby's innocence. Wells told the jurors, "There was memory problems with every witness" and he recalled that Grenier, a prosecution witness, had testified that his recollection of a conversation with Libby had "a fair amount of vagueness attached to it." Jeffress asked, "Which witness came in here and didn't get something wrong?"

Wells finished his case by returning to the sacrifice quasi-narrative, asking the jurors not to treat Libby as he was mistreated by the White House: "[If] someone [in the jury room] starts to say, 'He was a Republican, he worked for Cheney, let's do him,' help that person....Don't sacrifice Scooter Libby for how you may feel about the war in Iraq or how you may feel about the Bush administration. Don't sacrifice Scooter Libby."

His finale was emotional. Scooter Libby is "a good person," Wells proclaimed, noting that Libby, during the trial, had been under Wells' care and protection. "I give him to you," he told the jurors. "Give him back to me. Just give him back." Wells voice broke; he choked back a sob. He sat down.

Then it was Fitzgerald's turn. After three years of working on this case, he, as is customary for prosecutors in a criminal case, would have the last word. "Madness," he exclaimed. "Madness. Outrageous....The government brought a case about two phone calls." He was mocking Wells. This was not a case of he-said/she-said, he explained; it was a case of he-said/he-said/he-said/she-said/he-said/he-said/he-said/she-said/he-said and he-said. "Is this the world's greatest coincidence?" he asked, contending that there could not be nine conversations with everyone remembering the wrong thing. And forget about Russert, he said. If Russert had been "run over by a bus and gone to the great news desk in the sky," the prosecution's case would stand: Libby learned about Wilson from Cheney and others yet claimed he had not.

Valerie Wilson and her CIA affiliation was no trivial matter for Libby and Cheney, Fitzgerald insisted. For Libby and Cheney, Fitzgerald said, Valerie Wilson "wasn't a person...she was an argument...a fact to use against Joe Wilson." He pointed out that there is physical evidence. According to the notes of Libby's CIA briefer, Libby told the briefer about Wilson and his wife a full month before Novak's column--and Libby did so during a briefing that covered heavy-duty national security issues, such as terrorist plots and the war in Iraq. This document, Fitzgerald said, "is a fingerprint of the defendant's brain."

Fitzgerald called the jury's attention to other documents that showed Libby and Cheney were nearly obsessed with the Wilson matter. He demonstrated that Cheney himself had helped create a set of talking points in early July about the Wilson imbroglio that began, "It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger." This showed, Fitzgerald argued, that the boss was concerned with the origins of Wilson's trip. (Cheney and Libby believed the media accounts made it appear that Cheney had directly dispatched Wilson, though Wilson had only been sent by the CIA in response to a question Cheney had put to his intelligence briefer.) Fitzgerald recounted how prosecution witnesses had testified that when Libby talked about Wilson's wife he did so in an unusual manner, as if Libby knew the subject was sensitive.

Fitzgerald came to the rescue of Judith Miller, whom he had sent to jail for 85 days before she agreed to cooperate with his investigation. The defense had had easy work in undermining her credibility--especially because she had forgotten in her first grand jury appearance to recall an entire meeting with Libby. But Fitzgerald walked the jurors through key portions of a memo on the Wilson trip that was sent to Libby on June 9, 2003. He then showed the jury portions of Miller's grand jury testimony in which she noted that Libby had shared these same specifics with her during a July 8 meeting at the St. Regis Hotel. This exercise was a twofer for Fitzgerald. He demonstrated that Miller could be a reliable witness and that Libby had been quite interested in and able to recall details about the Wilson matter. It seemed Libby did have a good memory on this topic.

Fitzgerald chugged along. He undercut the defense team's contention that Cooper's notes back up Libby's claim that he only shared scuttlebutt with Cooper. Fitzgerald scored points in rebutting the defense attorney's attacks on Russert. And he took on Wells' charge that the prosecution had throughout the trial attempted "to put a cloud over" Cheney. "There is a cloud on the vice president," Fitzgerald replied, explaining that Cheney had written notes indicating he was interested in the Valerie Wilson connection and that Cheney had sent Libby to the meeting with Judy Miller where Libby (according to Miller) told her that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. "And that cloud remains," Fitzgerald declared, "because this defendant obstructed justice....That cloud was there. It was not something we put there." Cheney and Libby, Fitzgerald noted, could have held in July 2003 a press conference to reveal information they believed would undermine Joseph Wilson's attack on the White House. Instead, they went with a leak to Miller. But why would Libby rely on a Russert-told-me cover story that could not withstand close scrutiny? "The sad truth is that sometimes when people lie it looks dumb when they get caught," Fitzgerald said.

The prosecutor brushed aside the argument that Libby merely failed to remember what he had known and discussed about Valerie Wilson. Use your common sense, Fitzgerald asked the jury. Wells had earlier said that prosecuting Libby for not accurately recalling in October 2003 details of conversations he had in June and July 2003 was akin to asking a college student, who had spent a summer on a beach, to remember in the fall the specifics of a conversation he or she had the previous semester. That's nonsense, Fitzgerald retorted, noting that memories are dependent on "uniqueness, importance, and anger." Valerie Wilson's CIA connection was certainly unique, he maintained, and the vice president's office believed the Wilson trip was a significant topic. And Libby, according to the testimony of several prosecution witnesses, was angry about Wilson's claim that the White House and the vice president had manipulated the prewar intelligence. "When you think it's important, when you're focused on it, when you're angry about it--those are the things you remember," the prosecutor said. And, Fitzgerald added, Libby's CIA briefer had testified that he told Libby and Cheney that the disclosure of a clandestine CIA officer could lead to the harassment, torture or death of others. Even a 21-year-old, Fitzgerald said, would consider that important.

Winding up, Fitzgerald aimed at the entire Bush crew. "There's a cloud over the White House as to what happened" in the leak affair, he told the jury. There were questions as to whether the law was broken when Valerie Wilson's CIA cover was blown and "what role the defendant played...what role the vice president played." Looking straight at the jury, Fitzgerald asked, "Don't you think the FBI and the grand jury is entitled to straight answers." Instead, he said, Libby made up a story and obstructed justice. Echoing Wells' last lines, Fitzgerald declared of Libby, "He stole the truth from the judicial system. Give truth back." With that, Fitzgerald was done.

After weeks, each side had presented the expected arguments. The prosecution marshaled a set of concrete facts that appeared compelling and that supported a narrow narrative. The defense picked at each witness, raised a host of other matters, suggested alternative theories (and conspiracy theories) without proving any, cited reporters to whom Libby had not leaked, and claimed that Libby had testified accurately to the grand jury and the FBI and that if he had not he had merely committed good-faith memory slips.

Fitzgerald offered a solid case. Wells offered several possibilities for any juror looking for a peg for a reasonable-doubt argument. Now twelve jurors will have to answer the question: who was sacrificed--Scooter Libby or the truth?

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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.

Chris Dodd, D-Constitution

No one is going to mistake Chris Dodd for a frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nod. The senator from Connecticut is running fourth in the latest poll of voters in his home state. And, while the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may be a well-respected man about Washington, he is rapidly learning that doesn't count for a whole lot in Keokuk or Dixville Notch.

But Dodd has hit on a campaign theme that is worthy of attention.

He has in recent days made the defense of the Constitution and the restoration of the rule of law central to his outreach to voters.

"One of the saddest days I've spent in public life, in the United States Senate, occurred last fall when the Senate of the United States passed the Military Commissions Act," Dodd says of the Bush-administration sponsored law that eliminates Habeas Corpus protections and retreats from traditional commitment of the U.S. to respect the Geneva Conventions.

"I want to see us get back [to being] a nation that supports the rule of law," argues the senator, who has proposed legislation that would restore Habeas Corpus protections to detainees, bar information acquired through torture from being introduced as evidence in trials, and limit presidential authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.

Dodd is not alone among the candidates in having cast a vote against the Military Commission Act of 2OO6. Both New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama joined him in doing so, as did Deleware Senator Joe Biden and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- although, notably, Republicans who should have known better, especially Arizona Senator John McCain and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, backed it.

But Dodd's "Restoring the Constitution Act of 2OO7" initiative does distinguish him from the field. He is choosing to make his commitment to addressing the damage done by the Bush administration to basic civil liberties central to his campaign -- talking about the issue in his campaign swings through early primary and caucus states, featuring his commitment at the top of his campaign website and launching a separate www.restore-habeas.org site that highlights a video of the candidate discussing the roots of America's commitment to the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law, as well as a set of tools for involving citizens in the fight to restore the Constitution.

Dodd's proactive approach to Constitutional matters that often get short shrift in presidential contests -- particularly Democratic primary races -- distinguishes him from the field. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, has signed on as a co-sponsor. So has the chairman of the Constitution subcommittee, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who it should be noted has a better record as a defender of civil liberties than anyone in the Senate, including Dodd. But neither Clinton nor Obama has yet done so.

Every presidential candidate chooses his or her issues with an eye toward enhancing their electoral appeal, and Dodd's effort is no different. Dodd is well aware that grassroots Democratic activists have been especially, and appropriately, concerned by the Bush administration's assaults on the rule of law. But even if there is a measure of political calculation in his timing and his focus, it is meaningful that a senior senator, who will be a key participant in all the pre-primary debates, has chosen to put the defense of the Constitution at the top of the agenda.

No matter how he fares in the caucuses and primaries, Dodd's initiative is consequential. An essential element of any presidential campaign season involves the defining of issues, and the 2OO8 race offers an opportunity to remind Americans that they do not have to sacrifice liberty for security. As Dodd says, "I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting this country from terrorists. But there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this. It's clear the people who perpetrated these horrendous crimes against our country and our people have no moral compass and deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But in taking away their legal rights, the rights first codified in our country's Constitution, we're taking away our own moral compass, as well."

George Bush and his allies have made the Constitution an issue in the 2OO8 race. Chris Dodd deserves credit for recognizing that fact and addressing it legislatively and politically.

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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.'"

Worse Than Scalia?

Over at TAPPED, Scott Lemieux makes the case that we have more to fear from Alito and Roberts than we do from Thomas and Scalia:

Scalia and Thomas, at least when there's no conflict with strongly held policy preferences, will have their ideological conservatism constrained by legal policy goals which don't always produce conservative results. Alito and Roberts, conversely, are free to be much more slavishly pro-business -- marrying O'Connor-style unprincipled "minimalism" to a much more conservative ideology is the most dangerous combination of all. If you're a left-liberal, you'd much rather have Scalia or Thomas than Alito.

The occasion for this commentary was the Supreme Court's decision to overturn a $79.5 million punitive damage award against Altria (nee Phillip Morris). Dissenting were the unlikely foursome of Ginsburg, Stevens, Thomas and Scalia.

Though the court punted on the biggest constitutional question -- whether a punitive damage award could be large enough to be in and of itself a constituional violation -- the decision does not bode well for the future of this court, or the Bush appointees. While the "hot button" social issues tend to get the most attention, a lot of the Court's work is in refereeing inevitable disputes between business and the state. This gives a pretty good indication of which side is more likely to get a sympathetic hearing.

“If Iraq Don't Kill You, Walter Reed Will”

According to the Washington Post, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation's capital has treated one out of every four soldiers injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 700 outpatients reside on the hospital grounds or nearby as they receive continued treatment or await bureaucratic decisions – which can take 18 months or longer. They outnumber in-hospital patients by 17 to 1.

In a two-part series, reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull have done a great service in rendering a portrait of the sad and horrifying state of "supporting the troops" when they come home to Walter Reed.

These soldiers suffer from amputations, brain injuries, post traumatic stress, and other life-changing combat wounds. They are housed in rooms with "mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses," as well as rotting floors and black mold. "Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are [also] part of the narrative here."

Soldiers with "brain injuries sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from the staff to arrange them. Many disappeared even longer. Some simply left for home."

"If Iraq don't kill you, Walter Reed will," said one soldier's wife.

Meanwhile, the army haggles with these servicemen and women over disability ratings in order to avoid paying benefits. ("They were fit enough for war, but now they are facing teams of Army doctors scrutinizing their injuries for signs of preexisting conditions"). One soldier hit in the head by a steel cargo door of an 18-wheeler – knocked unconscious and cracking several vertebrae – is told that his intellectual and emotional difficulties are not a result of the head injury and therefore he isn't entitled to disability. Only when a congressional staffer intervenes is further testing done and the diagnosis corrected. The same thing happens to another soldier with steel rods in his neck who can only turn his head by rotating his whole body.

The Mologne House– a 200-room hotel on the hospital grounds – has a full bar but "not one counselor or psychologist assigned there to assist soldiers and families in crisis – an idea proposed by Walter Reed social workers but rejected by the military command that runs the post."

Records are lost, even patients' identities as soldiers are challenged and they are forced to produce letters or photos to prove their service.

After 5 ½ years of combat, it is clear that real support and protection for our troops means safely bringing them home and fully funding their treatment – including mental health care.

The Bush administration, its GOP allies, and the neocons will play an ugly blame game, pushing the fallacy that those who use the power of the purse to end this war are endangering troops. They appear to be more interested in protecting their reputations, egos and legacies than in protecting troops who are refereeing a bloody civil war that they were never meant to be engaged in.

It is Congress' constitutional right – and moral imperative – to use the power of the purse to end Bush's bloody war and protect the troops from further loss and betrayal by this administration.

Postscript: The Washington Post now reports that as a result of its series Walter Reed and Army officials are taking steps to improve conditions at the hospital – including stationing social workers at Mologne House around the clock.

Clinton Would Rather Be Wrong Than President

"If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from."

So says New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who appears to be campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination on the theme that she would rather be wrong than president.

Perhaps, in this post-modern moment, Clinton is on to something. Henry Clay, a frequently unsuccessful contender for the Oval Office in the first half of the 19th century, suggested that he would rather be right than president and he lost. Maybe Clinton believes that by reversing the scenario, she can achieve the victory that eluded Clay.

At the very least, Clinton's steadfast refusal to admit that she was wrong to vote to give George W. Bush the power to launch a preemptive war against Iraq sets a news standard for stubbornness.

According to the New York Times, top Clinton aides have done everything in their power to get her to acknowledge that she read Bush wrong back in 2002. "Several advisers, friends and donors said in interviews that they had urged her to call her vote a mistake in order to appease anti-war Democrats, who play a critical role in the nominating process," reports the Times. "Yet Mrs. Clinton herself, backed by another faction, never wanted to apologize... [Y]esterday morning Mrs. Clinton rolled out a new response to those demanding contrition: She said she was willing to lose support from voters rather than make an apology she did not believe in."

Hence, the "there are others to choose from" line -- which is a clear reference to her two most serious competitors for the Democratic nod, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

In 2002, Obama was an outspoken opponent of authorizing Bush to take the country to war. Edwards voted for the authorization but has since admitted his mistake.

Poking at Clinton, Edwards says on the campaign trail: "'I was wrong.' See, I can say it."

That's a snappy response. But, if Edwards and Obama want to move this contest to the next level, they might want to ask the question that Clinton's remark begs: Is it really courageous -- or politically smart -- to suggest that voters who want a president with good judgment should vote for someone else?

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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.'"

The YouTube Defense

A teacher, hospital charity worker and father of four, Adel Hamad has been a prisoner at Guantanamo for five years. Like most other detainees at Guantanamo, he's never had a day in court, and never been accused of a crime against the United States. Habeas corpus, for those of you who have forgotten 11th grade civics (admittedly, that's easy to do), is enshrined in our constitution: it means that if the government is holding someone prisoner, it has to say why, and cannot detain that person indefinitely without charge. The detainee has a right to go to court and demand that the state justify his continued incarceration. Last year, with the Military Commission Act, the Congress essentially eliminated habeas corpus for the first time in U.S. history -- and I don't think you have to be imprisoned on Guantanamo to find that scary.

Adel Hamad's lawyers, then, have taken an unusual step: they have given the unclassified documents relating to their client's case to a group of online activists who have formed Project Hamad, a website on the detainee's behalf. They've also made a video about the case and put it on YouTube. The website has a number of actionsyou can take, including signing up to be a "citizen co-sponsor" of Senator (and prez candidate) Christopher Dodd(D-CT)'s proposed Restoring the Constitution Act, which would restore habeas corpus, re-affirm our commitment to the Geneva Conventions, and narrow the definition of enemy combatant, among other civilizing measures. (My colleague Ari Berman mentionedthis bill last week.) Like Hamad's supporters, Dodd, too, is taking the debate to YouTube, encouraging people to make videos of themselves supporting the measure.

It was beyond silly when Time magazine declared "You" the "Person of the Year," but it's inspiring to see people using these technologies to mobilize fellow Americans to demand a little decency from our government. Bush's approval ratings keep slipping, but let's show the world we can do more than simply disapprove.

Three Weak Reeds Meet in Jerusalem

As I write this from Cairo at 11:30 a.m. Monday local time, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The first thing to note is that all three of these officials represent political trends that are currently extremely weak within their respective countries.

So in this summit of three weak reeds, can any of the three expect to gain any strength from the support that the other two may-- or may not-- be able to offer them?

Of these three political trends, Mahmoud Abbas's is currently (at his domestic level) the least weak. This might seem paradoxical. But his Fateh movement is the only one of these three three trends that has actively engaged with its domestic critics and done the hard work of reaching an agreement for internal entente; he did that through the Mecca Agreement that he concluded with Hamas last week.

By contrast, the administration that Rice represents has done almost nothing to try to reach a workable entente with the domestic critics whose rising power and new willingness to challenge the administration havey been much in evidence in the past two months. And as for Olmert, his complex governing coalition is limping along with little direction, plagued by internal problems and having still failed to recover any of the sense of direction it lost when its main original project-- the pursuit of unilateralist "convergence" in the West Bank-- was rendered irrelevant by the Hizbullah victory of last summer. (For details of which, see here.)

Though Abu Mazen is currently domestically stronger than the other two summiteers, his ability to give support to the other two weak reeds there is, of course, severely constrained by the terms of that same Mecca Agreement which represented, essentially, his conceding to the reality that Hamas is noticeably stronger and better organized in Palestinian society than is Fateh.

The Mecca Agreement represented a significant set-back to the US-Israeli plan to weaken or break Hamas's power by using Fateh against it. (Just as, in Iraq at the end of December, the US plan to weaken or break Moqtada Sadr's power by using SCIRI and other Iraqi Shiite forces against it was also blocked by the indigenous political forces there.)

These days, regarding Palestine, Rice is evidently fnding it hard to come to terms with the Palestinians' new attainment of national entente. Al-Jazeera English tells us today that she told the Palestinian daily paper Al-Ayyam that: "This is a complicated time, and it has been made more complicated by the (Palestinian) unity government, but I'm not deterred..."

She has been going out of her way to "lower expectations" regarding the outcome of the summit. (Note to Rice: You think anyone even had any expectations of it in the first place?) She has made clear that she intends to coordinate closely with the Israelis throughout all the new bout of Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy of which today's summit is supposed to be a key first step-- and that she thinks the parties are nowhere near to reaching any lasting diplomatic agreement. (See her interview with Aluf Benn in today's HaAretz.)

Here in Egypt I found the well-informed journalist and commentator Fahmi Howeidy quite scathing regarding his expectations from the summit. He told me:

    When Rice visited the region before and said she wanted to reach a final agreement on the Palestinian issue I said that she was not here primarily for the sake of the Palestinians but to try to shore up the Americans' position in Iraq. It's the same thing today!

They just want to try to convince the Arabs that they're doing something about Palestine, in order to help them build an Arab coalition that could support their policies in Iraq-- or towards Iran. It's all a show!

Did he think the Arabs would be taken in?

    Look, for the Arab regimes, it's not a problem. They don't need to be persuaded, because they have already stated their support for Bush. Even President Mubarak has said he supports Bush's 'surge' policy. But what the administration needs to do is to convince the Arab people. This, they can't do, because the Arab people aren't stupid!"

So, back to my main question: can any of these three weak reeds receive meaningful support from the other two at today's summit?

However much support Abu Mazen might want to give to Rice or Olmert (and I suspect that isn't very much, anyway), he is constrained by the terms of the Mecca Agreement-- and by the very strong support it has received from within Palestinian society-- from making any further concessions to Rice and Olmert at this time.

As for whether they will do anything to support him? That doesn't seem to be on the horizon, either. In her interview with Benn Rice still seemed quite inflexible regarding the Bushites' demand that the Palestinian government meet all three of the Quartet's extremely tough conditions, and she expressed her complete unwillingness to respond to Abu Mazen's strongly stated request to move rapidly into negotiations of the final-status settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

So I guess that means the answer there would be a "No."

(I'll try to update this later in light of any public statements issued after the summit and the lunch that will follow it.)

House Denounces Bush's Surge Strategy

By a comfortable margin of 246 to 182, the US House on Friday adopted a resolution denouncing President Bush's "surge" of more American troops to the Iraq quagmire.

All but two Democrats--southern conservatives Jim Marshall of Georgia and Gene Taylor of Mississippi--voted in favor of the non-binding resolution, as did 17 Republicans.

That allowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to describe the vote as a historic "bipartisan" break with the president.

In the cases of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses, it was the largest dissent since before the start of the war from the Bush administration's agenda.

The sentiments of those dissenters, now a House majority, were well summed up by California Democrat Henry Waxman, who after intense lobbying by the administration voted in 2002 to authorize the president to use force against Iraq.

During this week's debate, Waxman said, "We cannot achieve the illusions of the Bush administration." Indeed, warned Waxman, continued adherence to the White House line "threatens (the engulf of the entire Middle East) by the forces we have unleashed."

New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who has opposed the administration's approach from the start, put the non-binding but potentially significant vote in perspective.

"For the first time since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the House finally had an open and honest debate about Iraq," observed Hinchey. "Democrats and Republicans had an equal opportunity to debate the ongoing occupation of Iraq and offer their perspective on President Bush's proposal to send more than 20,000 additional troops to that country. This is how democracy is supposed to work."

"By passing this resolution, those of us in Congress made it clear that we continue to support our troops and will do everything to protect them, but we believe President Bush's proposal for an escalation of forces is a bad idea and wrong for our country," Hinchey continued. "By voting against sending additional troops to Iraq, we spoke up for the majority of Americans who recognize that it's time to begin the strategic redeployment of our troops so we can get them out of Iraq, bring many of them home, and confront the real threats facing our nation such as al Qaeda, which is once again being given a safe haven by a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The resolution we passed in the House today is the first step in what will be a continued attempt to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq. In the weeks and months ahead, I will help lead an effort in Congress to force the president to wind down the occupation and get our troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. The security of the United States depends on having our troops ready to confront the real threats facing our nation. Iraq was a mistake from the start. It's time for that mistake to end.

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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.'"

Free Speech in New York City? Fuhgeddaboutit!

In summer 2004, citizens who peacefully protested during the Republican National Convention in New York City were subject to mass arrest, lengthy detention under horrible conditions and a wide range of other civil liberties violations. Civil liberties exist, much of the time, to protect minority rights, and that's important. But most of these protesters, in opposing the war and other Bush policies, were expressing the views of New York City's majority. If such mainstream dissent is punished severely, many wondered, what lies in store for those expressing unpopular opinions?

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) brought a number of lawsuits challenging the city's conduct during the 2004 convention. One of the best things about lawsuits -- from a public interest viewpoint -- is the fascinating documents obtained during discovery (the period before the trial in which the parties can compel each other to give up relevant information). In this case, the NYCLU had sworn testimony from high-level New York Police Department (NYPD) officials, thousands of pages of city memos, minutes and other documents, and many hours of videotape. When the City tried to prevent the NYCLU from making this information public, the organization yet again took the City to Court. A couple weeks ago, a judge ruled in the NYCLU's favor. The city is still trying to stop the civil liberties group from releasing the documents, but it's lost the legal battle. Beginning around noon next Wednesday, the documents will be open to the public, at www.nyclu.org. The videos will be available soon as well.

I'll be writing about these documents in more detail soon in the magazine (and next week, please check them out for yourselves). But briefly, here are some details that stand out:

NYPD officers had to seek medical attention after exposure to asbestos, carbon monoxide, and other toxic substances (including, ominously, an unknown "black liquid") at Pier 57, which was used as a mass arrest holding facility during the convention. Many demonstrators detained at Pier 57 have made similar complaints; it's significant that the police and the demonstrators experienced similar problems with this toxic facility.

A "no summons" memo shows that the long detentions of protesters during the RNC was a deliberate, premeditated policy decision, not inefficiency on the part of the NYPD. The police could have simply issued a summons to each protester, but instead, they (illegally) decided in advance to fingerprint everyone who was arrested.

Police department data shows that the RNC protesters were arraigned slowly, compared to people arrested for other offenses during that week. It's pretty appalling that people arrested for serious crimes received better treatment that those who were simply exercising their right to express dissent.

Finally, the documents present a big fat pile of evidence that the police department was preparing for mass arrests. With zero evidence that the protests were going to be violent, the NYPD was planning, not simply to keep order, but to incarcerate thousands of demonstrators. Obviously, it's annoying when protesters over-dramatize their victimization by police, deliberately provoke cops, or claim that we live in a "police state." (We don't.) But the city handled this situation disgracefully, and should be held accountable.