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The Nation

Honoring Our Rock and Roll Tom Paine

"O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!"

-- Tom Paine

"I can relate to Thomas Paine. When he wrote Common Sense, he was trying to stir people up, get them thinking. And he did. Paine's words -- 'These are the times that try men's souls' -- became the battle cry of the American Revolution. I can relate to a person like that, who has this calling and does the work."

-- Patti Smith

Patti Smith will be recognized tonight as a member of rock-and-roll royalty.

But Smith is no royalist. She remains as rebellious as ever – and as politically charged.

Few of the dozens of individual artists and bands that have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have accepted the honor at a point when their careers are so vibrant, and necessary.

Because of the Hall of Fame's quarter-century rule – artists can't get in until 25 years after they begin recording -- inductees tend to be honored at the point when they are either retired or, at the very least, retiring in their approach to demands of the day.

But Patti Smith continues to push the envelope, releasing adventurous albums, touring passionately and speaking up as an American who sees herself in the tradition of Tom Paine.

"I guess I'm essentially a late-18th-century, early-19th-century kind of person. There is a part of me that likes to serve the people," she says. "In a different era, I'd have liked to have worked with Thomas Paine."

While she may not work with Paine, Smith's career has been marked by a determination to work like Paine -- as a poet-pamphleteer with a good beat

Smith is an artist, not a politician. But she has never shied away from the power of the pen – or the guitar – to rouse the masses against tyranny and injustice. Her faith in the force of an informed citizenry, expressed in the 1988 song, "People Have the Power," remains unaltered:

I believe everything we dream

can come to pass through our union

we can turn the world around

we can turn the earth's revolution

we have the power

People have the power ...

"That song came out in an election year, in 1988, and I saw Jesse Jackson delivering speeches and I felt like, if I knew his phone number, I'd call him and say, ‘I have a song for you,'" Smith once told me. "His speeches, the concepts he was addressing, were very similar to the lyrics in the song."

Eventually, "People Have the Power" would become the theme song of a presidential campaign, that of Ralph Nader in 2000. Smith even got the consumer advocate to sing along on the chorus at some of his super rallies that year.

Smith's political passions run deeper than mere calls to arms – although this fan of Paul Revere would never dismiss the noble work of rallying Americans to embrace and act upon their citizenship. "The country belongs to us," she once explained to me in a conversation about her political ethic. "The government works for us. But we don't think of it that way. We've gotten all twisted around to a point where we think that we work for the government."

Over the course of three decades as a recording artist, Smith has been both activist and educator. She has constantly explored issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and militarism. She has written of the conditions of Native Americans ("Ghost Dance"), immigrants ("Citizen Ship") and Africans ("Radio Ethiopia/ Abyssinia"), of the Chinese occupation of Tibet ("1959") and the Vietnam War ("Gung Ho"). She has celebrated the inspiration of the Mahatma ("Gandhi") and of the and the WTO protests in Seattle ("Glitter in Their Eyes").

Militantly opposed to the war in Iraq, Smith penned what remains the most powerful anti-war song of the moment, "Radio Baghdad," which ends with chilling indictment of the bombing of that city and the cry: "They're robbing the cradle of civilization." Fiercely critical of the Bush administration, Smith's most recent songs have condemned the detention without trial of foreign nationals at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay facility ("Without Chains") and U.S. support for Israel's 2006 assault on Lebanon ("Qana").

Smith is an artist, first and foremost. She is a rock-and-roller wholly worthy of her hall of fame induction.

But she is also a Tom Paine for our time, calling out as the great pamphleteer did to a nation in need of redemption. She places no faith in the current "King George" – a ruler she judges worthy of impeachment – or in rulers generally. In her manifesto for a "New Party," Smith sings to the commander-in-chief:

You say hey

The state of the union

Is fine fine fine

I got the feeling that you're lying…"

Like Paine, Smith keeps the faith in the people, and in the potential of the American experiment to be redeemed by a politics worthy of a nation founded on the Jeffersonian principle "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…"

"When in the course of human events," Patti Smith sings in "New Party":

It becomes necessary

To take things into your own hands

To take the water from the well

And declare it tainted by greed

We got to surely clean it up…

Or, as Paine suggested a few centuries earlier: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

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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.'"

George McGovern to Cheney: Resign

George McGovern has a word for Vice President Dick Cheney: "Resign."

Responding to Tuesday's conviction of Cheney's former chief-of-staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI -- after a trial that revealed Cheney's intimate involvement with a scheme to discredit a critic of the administration's war policies -- the former congressman, senator and presidential candidate said it was time for the vice president to go.

"What we have learned about how he has conducted himself leaves no doubt that he should be out of office," McGovern says of Cheney. "If he had any respect for the Constitution or the country, he would resign."

And if Cheney does not take the liberal Democrat's counsel?

"There is no question in my mind that Cheney has committed impeachable offenses. So has George Bush," argues McGovern. "Bush is much more impeachable than Richard Nixon was. That's been clear for some time. There does not seem to be much sentiment for impeachment in Congress now, but around the country people are fed up with this administration."

At age 84, McGovern has attained the elder statesman status that is afforded politicians who have held or sought the presidency. He enjoys the respect of fellow Democrats and more than a few Republicans for being, like former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a straight-talking man of deep commitment who may have lost one presidential election but won the battle for a place of honor in the nation's history texts.

McGovern testifies before congressional caucuses about how to end the war in Iraq, delivers distinguished lectures, travels widely to discuss his well-received books, contributes articles to magazines such as The Nation and Harper's and regularly defends anti-hunger programs with a former Republican colleague in the Senate, Bob Dole.

What distinguishes McGovern from most other political elders, however, is his refusal to mince words about the current occupants of the White House.

"I think this is the most lawless administration we've ever had," he says of the Bush-Cheney team. That's a strong statement coming from a man who tangled in 1972 with Nixon, and then saw Nixon's presidency destroyed by the Watergate scandals. But McGovern says there is no comparison.

"I'd far rather have Nixon in the White House than these two fellows that we've got now," said the former three-term senator from South Dakota. "Nixon did some horrible things, which led to the effort to impeach him. But he simply was not as bad as Bush. On just about every level I can think of, Bush's actions are more impeachable than were those of Nixon."

Of particular concern to McGovern is the war in Iraq, which he has steadfastly opposed.

"The war was begun in clear violation of the Constitution," McGovern says. "There was no declaration of war by the Congress. Secondly, it's a flagrant violation of international law: Iraq was not threatening the United States in any way. Yet, the United States went after Iraq. The president and vice president got away with it, at least initially, because they were willing to exploit the emotional power of the 9/11 attack to achieve their goal of getting us into a war in the Middle East."

McGovern, a decorated World War II veteran, approves of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's suggestion that Congress should look into employing the power of the purse to force the administration to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Frankly," the former senator says, "I would support anything that would get our troops out of there."

During his tenure in the Senate, McGovern worked with a Republican, Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield, to try and pass legislation to force the end of the Vietnam War. He also supported efforts to "chain the dogs of war," which were spearheaded by his liberal Democratic colleague, Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, a leading proponent of the 1973 War Powers Act.

Eagleton, who died this week at age 77, was briefly McGovern's running mate in the 1972 race. But the revelation that Eagleton had checked himself into the hospital three times for physical and nervous exhaustion led, after some internal turmoil, to a decision by McGovern to drop the Missouri senator from the ticket.

That decision, McGovern now says, was "absolutely a mistake." He now believes that the controversy would have quickly blown over. He also says that dropping Eagleton from the ticket did more harm than good.

McGovern is not afraid to delve into the historical record, even when it involves incidents related to his own career in public life. "We ought to learn from history," says the former senator, who notes that he earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University "thanks to the G.I. Bill."

"I think that the greatest deficiency in our politics these days is the fact that our leaders fail, by and large, to remember our history," says McGovern.

A close second is the caution of the current political class. McGovern calls the Congress "lily-livered" for failing to check and balance Bush and Cheney on the war.

McGovern does not suffer from the condition. He's as bold now as ever, and there is a sense of urgency about the man who could easily relax and accept the honors accorded an senior statesman of his own party and the country.

"I feel an obligation to speak up when I see these flagrant things happen," says McGovern. "I can't be silent when President Bush and Vice President Cheney choose to disregard the Constitution. Maybe if there were other people in the White House, I could slow down a little. But I can't do that as long as this administration is in charge."

Speaking of which: Is there a Democratic contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination that McGovern likes? He's making no endorsements at this stage. But, like a lot of Democrats, McGovern says, "Right now, (Illinois Sen.) Barack Obama looks awfully good."

Then again, a typically frank McGovern admits, "I've gotten to the point where I think just about anyone would be better than Bush."

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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.'"

Alt Spring Break

If you're a high school or college student, you can use your spring break to become a part of the next generation of human rights leaders.

Taking place in Austin, Texas from March 12 to 16, the 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Spring Break, organized by Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and co-sponsored by Campus Progress, Amnesty International and Texas Moratorium Network, among numerous other good groups, will draw national attention to the continued use of capital punishment in the US.

Why Texas? Texas leads the nation by far in number of executions. The Lone Star State performed 45 percent of all the executions in the United States in 2006. Since the US Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that allowed executions to resume after a four-year period during which they were considered unconstitutional, there have been 1058 executions in the United States. Texas has performed 380 of those executions, which amounts to about 35 percent of the national total. Texas is ground zero for the implementation of what most of the rest of the world considers cruel and unusual punishment so it needs to also be the focus of any effective movement to repeal the practice.

There's noting wrong with partying at the beach but Alternative Spring Breaks are designed to give students something more meaningful to do during their week off than hanging out or catching up on school work. As the organizers are saying, "go to the beach to change your state of mind for a week, come to Austin to change the world forever."

The specific purpose of this year's Break is to bring students to the Texas state capital for five days of anti-death penalty activism, education and entertainment. And don't think this activist version of spring break is without any glitz--the events from Austin will be featured on The Amazing Break, an MTV show featuring alternatives to beer and beaches.

Click here for info on the activities, subsidized housing and transportation. If you're not a student you can help make it possible for more activists to participate by sponsoring a student.

Giving DC a Vote

Imagine you lived in the most powerful city in the world. Imagine elected officials from all across the country came there to debate the nation's future. Imagine you paid taxes and fought in wars. Now imagine that only you didn't have an elected representative, or a say in how the country chooses its president.

By now, you obviously know I'm talking about Washington, DC, which since its inception has been disenfranchised. That could be changing, finally, and not a minute too soon. "The House of Representatives will vote on a bill to give the people of Washington, DC full representation in the People's House by the end of the month," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced this week. "The people of the District have waited too long to have a voice in the House."

This is an important first step. But, as Sam Schramski reported last summer, the real goal for DC residents is statehood, which the House bill does not address. The motto should be: "No Taxation without full Representation."

UPDATE: Posters in the comments section are already saying that this is a ploy to get Dems an extra seat in the House. Not so. The bill would add another seat in the red state of Utah, enlarging the House to 437 members and offsetting a likely Dem in DC with a likely Republican in Utah.

Wasting Our Soldiers' Lives

We know that, since the moment President Bush stood under the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln in early May 2003 and declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," American deaths have risen from relatively few into the range of nearly 100 a month or more. We know that these deaths have also grown steadier on a day-to-day basis like a dripping faucet that can't be fixed. This February, for instance, there were only five days on which, according to the definitive Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, the Pentagon did not report at least one (and often multiple) American deaths.

It's finally national news that Americans wounded in Iraq come home "on the cheap" (as Tomdispatch's Judith Coburn reported back in April 2006). The crisis at the country's premier military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is already proving to be another "Brownie-heck-of-a-job" privatization scandal (with the contract to run the place having gone to a company headed by two former Halliburton execs), and the nightly network news as well as major newspapers assure us that this is just "the tip of the iceberg."

According to a Congressional staffer quoted in human-rights lawyer Scott Horton's "No Comment" newsletter, "This is Hurricane Katrina all over again. Grossly incompetent management and sweetheart contracts given to contractors with tight GOP connections. There will be enough blame to go around, but the core of the problem is increasingly clear: it's political appointees near the center of power in the Pentagon who have spun the system for partisan and personal benefit. But they'll make a brigade of soldiers and officers walk the plank to try to throw us off the scent."

As Juan Cole pointed out recently,

"The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here… The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of 'privatization' at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals."

What a needless waste!

We know that the U.S. military has been ground down; that the National Guard has been run ragged by its multiple Iraq call-ups and tour-of-duty extensions -- according to the Washington Post, "Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated ‘not ready'"--and can no longer be counted on to "surge" effectively in crises like Hurricane Katrina here at home; that the Reserves are in equally shaky shape; that troops are being shipped into Iraq without proper training or equipment; that the Army is offering increasing numbers of "moral waivers" for criminal activities just to fill its ranks; that the soldiers joining our all-volunteer military, however they come home, are increasingly from communities more likely to be in economic trouble -- rural and immigrant -- either forgotten or overlooked by most Americans; that these traditionally patriotic areas are now strikingly less supportive of administration policy; and that the death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is 60% higher for soldiers from rural than suburban or urban areas. If all of this doesn't add up to a programmatic policy of waste and evasion of responsibility, what does?

We know that, on February 11th, the day Sen. Barack Obama, in his first speech as an avowed presidential candidate, said, "We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged, and to which we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted," Sgt. Robert B. Thrasher, 23, of Folsom, California died in Baghdad of "small-arms fire," Sgt. Russell A. Kurtz, 22, of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania in Fallujah from an IED, and Spc. Dennis L. Sellen Jr., 20, of Newhall, California in Umm Qsar of "non-combat related injuries." We know that on February 28th, the day that Senator John McCain announced his candidacy for the presidency on the Late Show with David Letterman, saying, "Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, over there," Sgt. Chad M. Allen, 25, of Maple Lake, Minnesota and Pfc. Bufford K. Van Slyke, 22, of Bay City, Michigan died while "conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province."

We know that, while in the remote backlands along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan--an area our President recently called "wilder than the Wild West"--and in Afghanistan itself, the Taliban is resurgent and al-Qaeda has reorganized, Americans die in Iraq. We know that every Bush administration public explanation for the invasion and occupation of Iraq--Saddam's links to the 9/11 attacks, his weapons of mass destruction and burgeoning nuclear program, the "liberation" of Iraqis, the bringing of "democracy" to Iraq--has sunk beneath the same waves that took down the President's "victory" (a word, as late as November 2005, he used 15 times in a speech promoting his "strategy for victory in Iraq"). We know that the President's policies, from New Orleans to Afghanistan, have been characterized by massive waste, programmatic incompetence, misrepresentation, and outright lies.

We know that the real explanations for the invasion of Iraq, involving the urge to nail down the energy heartlands of the planet and establish an eternal American dominance in the Middle East (and beyond)--in part through a series of elaborate permanent bases in Iraq--still can't be seriously discussed in the mainstream in this country. We know that the Bush administration has never hesitated to press hot-button emotional issues to get its way with the public and that, until perhaps 2005, the hot-button issue of choice was the President's Global War on Terror, which translated into the heightening of a post-9/11 American sense of insecurity and fear in the face of the world. We know as well that this worked with remarkable efficiency, even after the color-coded version of that insecurity and those fears was left in the dust. We know that in this al-Qaeda played a striking role -- from the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which a small number of fanatics were able to create the look of the apocalypse, to the release of an Osama bin Laden video just before the election of 2004. What a waste that such a tiny group of extremists was blown up to the size of Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia in the public imagination.

We know that there is only one hot-button issue left for this administration (short of a massive new terrorist attack on "the homeland") -- the American troops already in or going to Iraq or those who have already died there. We know that Senators Obama and McCain had to immediately backtrack and express "regrets" for in any way indicating that American deaths in Iraq might represent a "waste" of young lives; that, for their statements, Obama was promptly attacked by Fox News and right-wing bloggers, while McCain was set upon by the Democratic National Committee. So we also know that there is some kind of agreement across the board politically when it comes to those troops, which goes under the rubric of "supporting" them.

We know that both Senators' statements about a profligate invasion, a disastrous occupation, and a catastrophic pacification campaign, all based on a web of lies and false (or cleverly cherry-picked) intelligence, turning Iraq into a charnel house -- far more Iraqis have now died than were ever killed by Saddam Hussein -- and a center for extremist activity, were promptly pegged in the media as "slips" or "gaffes" that hurt each of the politicians involved. We also know that the American people in poll after poll now say that the Iraq War was not worth fighting and the invasion not worth launching; that similar majorities want the war to end quickly, preferably within a six-month to one-year time-frame for the withdrawal of all troops with no garrisons left in Iraq.

We know that congressional representatives are generally terrified of not seeming to "support the troops"; that somehow those troops themselves have been separated from the actual fighting in Iraq, even though, for better or worse, you can't separate the military from the mission; that, to some extent, you are (and are affected by) what you do; and that when the mission is a "waste" -- or, in this case, even worse than that because it has created conditions more dangerous than those it wiped away--then any life lost in the process is, by definition, a waste of some sort as well. No matter what your brand of politics might be, this should be an obvious, if painful, fact--that the loss of young people, who might have accomplished and experienced so much, in the pursuit of such waste is the definition of wasting a life. That this can hardly be said today is one of the stranger aspects of our moment and it has a strange little history to go with it.

[Note: That history will be in part 3 of this series, "How Our Soldiers Became Hostages," which will appear Monday. Part 1 was "A Wasted War."]

Paradoxes of the US-Iranian Dance

One week ago today we were sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Amman,Jordan, talking with the very smart and well-informed Middle Eastanalyst Joost Hiltermann about the interactions that US power now hasin and over Iraq with Iraq's much weightier eastern neighbor,Iran. (Hiltermann has worked onIraq-related issues for manyyears, including for several years now as the senior Iraq analyst forthe International Crisis Group.)

He said,

Well, the US and Iran agree on twothings inside today's Iraq-- but they disagree on one key thing.

What they agree on, at least until now, is the unity of Iraq, and needfor democracy or at least some form of majority rule there.

What they disagree on is the continued US troop presence there. Because the US basically now wantsto be able to withdraw those troops, and Iran wants them to stay!

He conjectured that the main reason Iran wants the US troops to stay inIraq is because they are deployed there, basically, as sitting duckswho would be extremely vulnerable to Iranian military retaliation inthe event of any US (or Israeli) military attack on Iran. Theyare, in effect, Iran's best form of insurance against the launching ofany such attack.

I have entertained that conjecture myself, too, on numerous occasionsin the past. So I was interested that Hiltermann not only voicedit, but also framed it in such an elegant way. (For my part, I amslightly less convinced than he is that the decisionmakers in the Bushadministration at this pointare clear that they want the US troops out of Iraq... But I think theyare headed toward that conclusion, and that the developments in theregion will certainly continue to push them that way.)

From this point of view, we might conclude that the decisionmakers inTeheran-- some of whom are strategic thinkers with much greaterexperience and even technical expertise than anyone in the current Bushadministration-- would be seeing the possibility of "allowing" the USto withdraw its troops from Iraq only within the context of the kind of"grand bargain" that Teheran seeks. The first and overwhelminglymost important item in that "grand bargain" would be that Washingtoncredibly and irrevocably back off from any thought of pursuing astrategy of regime change inside Iran or from any threats of militaryforce against it.

Under this bargain, Washington would need to agree, fundamentally, thatdespite serious continuing disagreements in many areas of policy, itwould deal with the regime that exists in Teheran-- as in earlierdecades it dealt with the regime that existed in the Soviet Union--rather than seeking to overthrow it. Teheran might well also askfor more than that-- including some easing of the US campaign againstit over the nuclear issue, etc. But I believe there is no way themullahs in Teheran could settle for any less than a basic normalizationof working relations with Washington-- such as would most likely beexemplified by the restoration of normal diplomatic relations betweenthe two governments-- in return for "allowing" the US troops towithdraw from Iraq.

There are numerous paradoxes here. Not only has Washington's widedistribution of its troops throughout the Iraq has become a strategicliability, rather than an asset, but now the heirs of the same Iranianregime that stormed the US Embassy in the 1970s and violated all thenorms of diplomatic protocol by holding scores of diplomats as hostagesthere are the ones who are, essentially, clamoring for the restorationof diplomatic relations with Washington.

... Meantime, a great part of the steely, pre-negotiationdance of these two wilful powers is being played out within the bordersof poor, long-suffering Iraq. For the sake of the Iraqis, I hopeWashington and Teheran resolve their issues and move to the normalworking relationship of two fully adult powers as soon as possible.

One last footnote here. I do see some intriguing possibilitieswithin the Bushites' repeated use of the mantra that "All options arestill on the table" regarding Iran. Generally, that has beenunderstood by most listeners (and most likely intended by its utterers)to meanthat what is "on the table of possibilities" is all military options-- up toand perhaps even including nuclear military options, which the Bushiteshave never explicitly taken off the table with regard to Iran.

But why should we not also interpret "all options" to include also all diplomatic options? Thatwould be an option worth pursuing!

(This post has been cross-posted tomy home blog, Just World News.)

Waxman Sets Hearings on CIA Leak Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How aggressive will the Waxman-led hearings be?

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

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

The letter declared that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waxman has the authority to pursue those answers.

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

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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.'"

For Women in Iraq, a Sad Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislation Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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