The Nation

Shut It Down

The Bush Administration claims they always treated prisoners in the war on terror "humanely."

Detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may beg to differ.

President Bush slammed John Kerry during 2004 for sending "mixed messages" to terrorists. But as the New York Times reported today, "Mixed messages over exactly which rules applied where, and which Geneva protections were to be honored and which ignored, were at the root of prisoner abuse scandals from Guantanamo to Iraq to Afghanistan."

That's why the military applauded the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon's memo announcing that all enemy combatants, including those held at CIA black sites, be treated in accordance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

"I think commanders in the field will see it positively," Col. David Wallace, a West Point law professor, told the Washington Post. "They see the value of complying with the law of war."

After the Supreme Court's ruling, some Republicans simply wanted to put a Congressional stamp on the Administration's indefinite detentions at Gitmo. But the decision's aftermath gave added backing to GOP dissidents like Senator Lindsay Graham, a former Air Force lawyer who wants the Administration to follow the existing code of military justice. "If you fight that approach, it's going to be a long hot summer," Graham told a DoD lawyer yesterday.

The larger question, of course, is why we need Gitmo at all?

Only 10 of the 450 prisoners have been charged with crimes, and none convicted. Innocent people are stuck in a legal no man's land, with no access to lawyers and no way to defend themselves. America's reputation has been irrevocably sullied. So instead of arguing about the particulars of international law, maybe we should listen to Colin Powell, who said last week: "Guantanamo ought to be closed immediately."

Novak Speaks on Leak Case--Finally

Robert Novak finally speaks--in a way.

In a column published in newspapers today, the conservative columnist finally discloses that he cooperated with the investigation of the CIA leak. Novak, of course, outed Valerie Wilson (aka Valerie Plame) as a CIA officer in a July 14, 2003 column on her husband's now-infamous CIA-assigned trip to Niger. In disclosing Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA--which was classified information--Novak cited two senior administration sources. After I read the original Novak column, I wondered if these leaks meant that Bush administration officials had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and wrote the first article that suggested the leaks might be evidence of a White House crime. (That article was posted on The Nation's website two days after the Novak column appeared.)

Novak's latest column answers only a few of the lingering questions. It has long been obvious that he cooperated with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald--otherwise, he would have been subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, as had Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Tim Russert and Washington Post reporters. The only question was the manner of Novak's cooperation. In public, he had proclaimed he would not give up his source. So what did he disclose to the investigators?

It turns out that when FBI agents on October 7, 2003, first called on Novak, they already knew who his sources were. They did not need Novak to ID the senior administration officials. And Novak cooperated to an extent. As he writes, "I did disclose how Valerie Wilson's role was reported to me, but the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources."

Three months later, he was questioned by Fitzgerald at his lawyer's office. Fitzgerald arrived wielding waivers signed by Novak's two sources. Most journalists did not accept such waivers--which were blanket statements signed by Bush administration officials under the threat of dismissal. Novak, too, did not believe these waivers, as he writes, relieved him of his "journalistic responsibility to protect a source." But since Fitzgerald already knew the identity of his sources (how Fitzgerald knew this Novak does not say), Novak discussed them by name--and avoided being subpoenaed and threatened with jail. He later testified about his sources before the grand jury.

Other reporters later took less accommodating stances. Even after Time magazine turned over emails indicating that Karl Rove had leaked information about Valerie Wilson to correspondent Matt Cooper, Cooper refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald. He only did so after his lawyer had extracted a personal waiver from Rove. Judy Miller went to jail rather than reveal that Scooter Libby had been a source, though Fitzgerald clearly knew Libby had spoken to her.

Novak took a different approach--which kept him out of jail and allowed him to duck a confrontation with Fitzgerald. He did not ask his sources for personal waivers. He confirmed for the prosecutor--even if begrudgingly--who his sources were without obtaining their permission to do so.

The leak case raised plenty of questions about reporter-source confidentiality and what journalists should do to protect sources--and how laws and ethics affect such decisions. Purists argued that reporters should never cooperate and not recognize either blanket or personal waivers. Others--such as reporters who faced jail sentences--advocated a sliding standard of sorts: they would go to prison to defend a confidentiality agreement with a source but would accept a personal waiver to avoid such trouble or to get out of jail. Novak found an even murkier middle ground: he would talk about a source whom the prosecutor had identified without first consenting with that source.

As a journalist who would not fancy doing hard time to protect an administration official, I am reluctant to judge another journalist's decision on such a matter. But, clearly, Novak's actions are not likely to win him many First Amendment awards.

Novak's new column also offers further proof that Karl Rove leaked classified information. This is no news flash. The Libby indictment pointed the finger at Rove. Rove's own lawyer has confirmed that his client confirmed the Valerie Wilson leak for Novak. And in the summer of 2005, Newsweek disclosed a Matt Cooper email that detailed how Rove had told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. (There is no question that Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified. Fitzgerald stated so at a press conference last October.)

Still, despite all this evidence, the Bush White House has not honored the vow made early on in the leak investigation: anyone involved in the leak would be dismissed. Rove still is gainfully employed as George W. Bush's top strategist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are no signs that he has even been disciplined or denied access to classified information. During the investigation, the president refused to say anything publicly about Rove and the probe. And after the investigation, the president has refused to say anything publicly about Rove's participation in the leak.

Novak's column is an explanation of how the columnist wiggled out of a legal jam. More important, it is a reminder of how the stonewall strategy mounted by the White House and Rove succeeded.

Gitmo Reversal

What you learn in American government 101 still rings true: we live in a system of three co-equal branches. The Bush Administration, for perhaps the first time in six years, got the message today.

Justice John Paul Stevens 5-3 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was blunt and stinging: the Bush Administration must get approval from Congress to hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and treat those detainees in accordance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Republicans such as Majority Leader John Boehner denounced the ruling as "special privileges for terrorists." But the Pentagon took notice, releasing a memo today announcing that it would follow Article 3--specifying that prisoners be treated humanely and afforded basic judicial protections. An Administration that gleefully snickered at international law finally decided to comply with it.

What else might the Administration U-turn on? Secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, warrantless wiretapping, permanent bases in Iraq?

The latest issue of Time magazine proclaims "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy." North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan put an end to the unilateralist Bush doctrine. Too bad France didn't win the World Cup.

A Maverick Media Mogul Takes on Mainstream Spinelessness

"I will tell you that there won't be any corporate considerations. No earnings per share issues, No worries about advertisers and what they might think." Okay, you probably think these are lines from a recent Nation editorial or Bill Moyers' latest speech.

It's actually Mark Cuban blogging about his negotiations with Dan Rather to launch a program on HDNet, his high-definition cable channel that reaches about 3 million homes. (Later this week, Rather will announce that he's joining Cuban's channel--launching "Dan Rather Presents" this October. ) Cuban also owns HDfilms production company.

At a time when CBS News is run by "by bean counters and profiteers with no interest in serious news," as Moyers recently put it, the billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise seems ready to revive public interest journalism.

At a time when newspapers and traditional media seem clueless about their future, Cuban sees opportunity. In a recent post on his popular blog, Cuban lamented what he calls the loss of spine and guts in mainstream journalism. "Young people aren't turning away from mainstream media because they don't care about current events," he writes, "but because the media don't know how to connect with them."

(Cuban also likes to boast that HDNet News is working to hire "the young and the restless to go out and produce stories that matter. Stories that have payoff." )

Echoing any number of Nation editors/writers, Cuban adds, "Even for a 21-year old, it's not just about Paris Hilton, Bradgelina and the latest rap feud. Kids want to learn. They want to know. Journalism matters....We will produce news reports that matter to people of all ages."

I think he's one of the the most interesting media moguls around. What's appealing is that Cuban isn't just talking the talk. As Dan Rather might say, this guy "walks the walk"--puttinghis money into projects like "Sharesleuth," a new investigative website launched last month that will, as Cuban puts it, "do nothing but try to uncover corporate fraud." He's hired longtime business reporter, Christopher Carey, away from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to run the site--which will go live next month.

Last Spring, Alex Jones, Director of the Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on the Press wrote that "Traditional media of all kinds are retreating from the job of covering news on politics, policy and other topics because some consider them boring--the kiss of death. What might be alternative ways to keep accountability widely available?"

Mark Cuban may just be the alternative needed to shake up the traditional media world.

23 Days

No, the above title is not a reference to how many vacation days I've taken this year. Twenty-three days is how long the Senate plans to be in legislative session this year.

According to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate will try and complete its "must-pass" bills by September 27, giving Senators the rest of the time to campaign and raise money before the November elections.

As Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid noted:

This new adjournment date means the Senate has only 8 more weeks in which it will be session.

Eight weeks is 40 business days.

Subtract Labor Day, and there are only 39 days.

Subtract Mondays and Fridays--which aren't real work days in this Republican Congress--and there are just 23 legislative days left in the 109th Congress.

Not exactly much time to tend to the people's business. I forgot to mention they're gone the entire month of August.

Last year Frist promised votes on stem cell research and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Thus far, neither have been given a specific date for debate.

And you can forget about Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform or new limits on lobbyists.

Right now, we'll be lucky if they name a few post offices.

CIA vs. Congress vs. White House: Who to Root For?

It's hard to know who to root for in the continuing scuffles between the Republican Congress, the White House and the CIA over the intelligence agency. The latest round--actually, it's a postdated tussle--was triggered by a May 18, 2006 letter that Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, sent to George W. Bush raising protests on three fronts: recent appointments at the CIA, the new Director of National Intelligence office, and the White House's failure to brief Congress about certain covert programs, which Hoekstra didn't name in his letter. (The letter was first disclosed by The New York Times on July 9.)

It was easy for some to see Hoekstra as a heroic reformer challenging secret government. Truthdig.org named Hoekstra the "Truthdigger of the Week." But the spy wars of Washington are not linear affairs and the battle lines murky. Is the CIA a rotting institution that failed prior to 9/11 and then provided Bush flawed intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq? Or is it a bastion of risk-averse conventionalists who have undermined Bush's ambitious, forward-looking national security agenda (which includes the Iraq war)? The CIA has been getting it from the left and the right in recent years. And it's unclear whether the top tier of the agency ought to be backed or booted.

When Porter Goss, a Republican who preceded Hoekstra as chairman of the House intelligence committee, was CIA director, he placed his political aides in charge of the agency, and the career officers rebelled. Several of the most experienced CIA veterans--including Stephen Kappes, the director of operations, resigned rather than deal with the Goss crew. The CIA people viewed the Goss gang as hacks motivated by political concerns; Goss and his allies saw the CIA career leadership as bureaucrats resistant to change. (Goss resigned as CIA chief in May; he was replaced by General Michael Hayden, who, as the National Security Agency chief, was a longtime intelligence professional.)

Enter Hoekstra and his letter. What received the most attention was his charge that his committee had not been briefed about "some alleged Intelligence Community activities." He added, "If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the Administration, a violation of law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the Members o this committee." Hoekstra did not say what secrets the White House had been keeping from him. Open-government fans cheered Hoekstra's pointed reminder to Bush: the law says you cannot run covert programs on your own without telling Congress. And on Fox News Sunday, the day his letter was disclosed, Hoekstra said his letter had done the trick and that subsequently he was briefed about this intelligence activity--which he still would not identify. (Hoekstra is not much of a maverick; he has not rushed to hold public hearings on such matters as the controversial and arguably illegal NSA domestic wiretapping program.)

Another point Hoekstra made in his letter was important. He expressed his concern that the new DNI office has become a "large, bureaucratic, and hierarchical structure." If there was a need for a DNI--which supposedly is supposed to coordinate the various intelligence agencies of the US government, including the CIA--there was no reason to create another intelligence bureaucracy. The intelligence community would benefit more from streamlining than from an expanding management. So score Hoekstra another point here.

But the first topic Hoekstra raised in his letter shows he can be loopy. Hoekstra voiced his displeasure over the selection of Hayden, an Air Force general, to be the CIA director, noting that he wanted a civilian to head a civilian agency. But what really ticked him off was the selection of Kappes to be the new number-two at the agency. Bringing back Kappes, Hoekstra wrote, would lead to "political problems" at the agency. What did Hoekstra mean by this? He explained: "I have been long concerned that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the Administration and its policies. This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization that prides itself with being able to keep secrets." Kappes, he added, is part of this group.

Hoekstra didn't spell it out in his note. But what he was saying was that he believed a CIA cabal has tried to undercut Bush regarding the war in Iraq--that CIA officials opposed to the war plotted against the president and sought to undercut his case for war by leaking stories indicating that the intelligence cited by Bush and his aides on Iraq's WMDs and purported connections to al Qaeda was not that strong. (Joe Wilson's trip to Niger and subsequent op-ed piece declaring there had been nothing to the charge Iraq was seeking uranium there, the rightwing theory goes, was part of a deliberate CIA conspiracy against the White House.) Hoekstra also is probably thinking of the leaks about CIA secret prisons and the agency's clandestine renditions of detainees to nations where abusive interrogation occurs.

So Hoekstra appears to be of the belief that the problem was not that Bush used flawed WMD intelligence to take the nation to war but that CIA leakers disclosed the flaws of the intelligence. This is a tad alarming, for every post-invasion review of the intelligence--including one conducted by Hoekstra's own committee--found that the intelligence community was dead wrong on WMDs. A Senate intelligence committee review also concluded the CIA had been right to conclude there was no strong evidence that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in cahoots. Hoekstra should realize that the important issue is not the leaks (which were true) but the misuse of the intelligence.

But Hoekstra still believes in Iraq's WMDs. Last month, he joined with Republican Senator Rick Santorum to hype a 2003 Defense Department report that noted that about 500 weapons containing degrade mustard gas or sarin nerve agent had been found in Iraq. These weapons, though, were manufactured before the first Gulf War and were not evidence that Saddam Hussen had maintained a WMD program in the years before the invasion. A senior Pentagon official, quoted by Fox News, said that these weapons were not useable. "This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," he said, noting the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war." Yet Hoekstra and Santorum made it seem this discovery was significant. Hoekstra promised further investigation. "We are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war," he said.

Let's recap: Hoekstra was mad at Bush for keeping him out of the loop, and he warned the president about expanding the bloated intelligence capability. But he thinks the CIA is laced with politically-minded plotters who hold unfounded beliefs (such as there were no operational links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden) and who are working to thwart the national security policies of the nation. In Washington's version of Spy Verus Spy, it can be difficult to know which--if any--side to cheer.

Bono's Anti-Chavez Video Game

The New York Post's Page Six reports that Bono , supposed savior of the world's disenfranchised, has, through his private equity firm, invested in a video game which depicts Venezuela as a "banana republic led by a 'power-hungry tyrant.'" According to Page Six, "Players assume the role of a mercenary sent to a fictitious Venezuela, where a dictator has seized control of the country and its oil. The gun-for-hire is instructed, 'If you can see it, you can buy it, steal it, or blow the living crap out of it.'"

The Post story quoted some "lefties" who were annoyed about the game, among them Jeff Cohen, who criticized the game for glorifying "stale, old mercenary approaches." Oh, is that the problem with the violent overthrow of other people's governments? It isn't fresh thinking! It's so 1980s, like berry-flavored lip gloss. Jeff must have been a little jet-lagged when he made that silly remark.

Bono gets much humanitarian cred for campaigning for Third World debt relief. But it is disgusting to make a game out of the Bush Administration's effort to undermine Hugo Chavez, a democratically elected leader, and one of the few living politicians today who are actually working to improve the lot of the world's poor -- the poor, whom the sanctimonious Bono claims to care so much about. If Bono is serious in his commitment, and not, as one frequently suspects, a vapid celebrity poser, he should immediately use his financial muscle to deep-six this horrible video game.

Mexico's Electoral Cliffhanger

The fate of Mexico is undetermined at this hour, but this much we know:Don't take at face value what you read in the leading Americannewspapers about Mexico's cliffhanger election outcome. Their candidateis the candidate of multinational business--FelipeCalderón--who supposedly won the presidential election by 240,000votes out of 41 million. Keep in mind that nearly 65 percent of Mexicanvoters essentially voted against Calderón and his pro-globalization,pro-NAFTA agenda by voting for someone else.

The leading opponent--Andrés Manuel López Obrador--came in second andcharges he was robbed. The most influential papers in America--theNew York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall StreetJournal--have already warned that López Obrador is a dangerous character.They depict a "firebrand" and "messianic" leader of the unwashed poor,a potentially violent "populist" who might destabilize the country.There is a long tradition in these newspapers of warning Americanreaders about the rise of non-establishment politicians in Mexico andLatin America. The CIA has devoted enormous energy over the years topreventing such a calamity for US interests (oil, banking, minerals--you name it.)

So keep an open mind about whether López Obrador's charges of election fraudare substantive or, as the media suggest, farfetched. In recentdecades, Mexico's ruling class has been notorious, even violent, aboutfixing elections. The presidency was effectively stolen from aleft-wing challenger back in 1988 to install Carlos Salinas de Gortari, much admired byWall Street as a "modern reformer." He embraced NAFTA and US financesbut was discredited and deeply corrupt. (He had to flee the countryafterward but was taken in by his American friends, including theWall Street Journal, which put him on the Dow Jones board.)

On occasion, a promising politician's candidacy has even been cut shortby murder. There were two in the run-up to the 1994 election: Luis Donaldo Colosio and Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu.

What's most disgusting in the current coverage is the similarity to anAmerican election scam. Newsies are pounding home the same message forLópez Obrador that they used to bully Al Gore back in 2000: Don't be a soreloser. Fold your tent and accept defeat, for the sake of stability, forthe good health of democracy. Remember Florida? If the votes had beenfairly, thoroughly recounted there in 2000, Gore would be the "nextPresident."

In Mexico, López Obrador asks for a full recount of the national vote--areasonable demand, given what's already known--but this is dismissed asirrational, even unpatriotic. So far he is standing his ground, but wecan expect the respectable pressures to intensify against him.Establishment influentials from the North will warn that Mexico'sfuture prosperity could be damaged if US investors "lose confidence."The specter of small-d democratic protest will be described as animpediment to Calderón's governing the entire country. Indeed, itmight be.

I am not anticipating a López Obrador triumph, but surely he is right todemand a full accounting of the real results. In any event, theMexican people have turned a big corner in their long struggle toachieve a genuine voice in a self-governing democracy. This election,even if the common people fall short of full justice, represents asignificant advance. (If only the American people could discover thesame spirit of insurgency.)

If Americans were not kept in ignorance by their own leaders and media,they might recognize their self-interest is directly involved. Theywould understand why, instead of fearing the popular aspirations ofordinary Mexicans, ordinary Americans should be standing with them.

Abramoff Returns

Jack Abramoff lives! When's the last time you heard his name? Washington had almost forgotten the disgraced lobbyist.

Luckily the Secret Service hadn't. New logs released over the weekend show that Abramoff visited the White House a half-dozen times in the early days of the Bush Administration. Previously the White House claimed Abramoff had only been there twice. But the Justice Department explained that the Secret Service had quote "unexpectedly discovered" Abramoff's other appointments.

Still, something is missing from this picture: the Congressmen Abramoff bought and used.

When Abramoff plead guilty to bribery charges last January, press reports indicated that over a dozen Congressmen might be implicated. The Wall Street Journal put the number at sixty. Since then, not one has been charged. Aides have copped deals. A top Bush Administration official, David Safavian, was recently convicted for lying to investigators.

But I'm still waiting for the top guns to fall on Capitol Hill.