Quantcast

The Nation

Senate Subpoenas Cheney, White House Documents on Spying

After putting up with months of stonewalling by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their aides, the Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas seeking information about internal debates regarding the legality of warrantless wiretapping programs that were promoted by the vice president and authorized by the president.

Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy today issued subpoenas to the White House and, in particular, to Cheney's office demanding documents relating to the National Security Agency's spying program.

The fact that a primary target of the subpoenas is Cheney's office confirms that the focus of the committee's investigation of White House collaboration with embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has expanded to include a sharp focus on the role that the vice president played in promoting lawless actions and in pressuring others in the administration to go along with him.

Subpoenas have also been dispatched to the Justice Department and the National Security Council.

All must be answered by July 18, according to Leahy, who wrote in the cover letters for the subpoenas, "Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."

If Cheney's office and the other targeted agencies do not comply by the 18th, Leahy can take the matter to the courts -- provoking a conflict like that seen when the Nixon administration when it refused to comply in the 1970s with Congressional investigators of the Watergate scandal.

By expanding the Gonzales inquiry to include consideration of the warrantless wiretapping program, Leahy has brought to a head a simmering conflict between the executive and legislative branches that is more than a year old.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who last year proposed censuring President Bush for authorizing the illegal spying program, hailed the move.

"It has been more than a year and a half since it was first disclosed that the President authorized an illegal warrantless wiretapping program," he said. "After a year and a half of stonewalling by the Administration, the Judiciary Committee is finally taking appropriate action by issuing subpoenas for information that will tell us how and why high-ranking officials authorized this illegal program."

Specifically, the Judiciary Committee is seeking information about when high-ranking members of the administration were made aware of the fact that even their own appointees and allies believed the warrantless wiretapping program was in conflict both with specific laws and privacy protections outlined in the Constitution.

The decision to issue the subpoenas has bipartisan support, as the committee voted 13-3 to authorize Leahy to dispatch them. The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, has consistently sided with Leahy on this issue.

"The bipartisan support for issuing these subpoenas demonstrates that both Democrats and Republicans are fed up with the misleading statements from the Attorney General and the Administration about this illegal program," explained Feingold, who chairs the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution.

And the committee has a good sense of what it wants. The authoritative Center on Democracy & Technology has prepared a list of the seven "most wanted surveillance documents."

They include:

1. Memorandum prepared by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey which, according to Comey, was sent to the White House shortly after March 10, 2004. The memorandum followed a review of the classified surveillance program (to which Comey referred in his May 15, 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee) and it apparently explained why the Department of Justice in 2004 would not certify the surveillance program as lawful.

2. Memorandum from Department of Justice former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who participated in the DOJ's review of the classified surveillance program. This memorandum was attached to the Comey memorandum and was prepared in the same time frame as that document.

3. Department of Justice Office of Intelligence Policy and Review legal memorandum discussing the classified surveillance program, and drafts of that document. The final document was probably prepared in early March, 2004.

4. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memorandum prepared in early 2004 -- by Comey's account -- laying out OLC's legal concerns about the classified program.

5. Memorandum from then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales received by Comey shortly after March 10, 2004 that responded to the determination by the Department of Justice not to certify the lawfulness of the classified surveillance program.

6. January 10, 2007 orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing what the warrantless surveillance program the Administration calls the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

7. Court order applications related to the FISC authorization of the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."

 

Voices of Tomorrow

You've heard all the stereotypes. Students are apathetic, complacent and unaware of the world around them.

There's a grain of truth to that statement. But a whole lot of falsity. Just ask the 1,000 student journalists and activists who converged on Washington early this week from every single state for the third annual Campus Progress conference.

On Monday The Nation co-sponsored a journalism training day at the Center for American Progress with over 150 student journalists, featuring speeches by Katrina vanden Heuvel and two of America's best muckraking journalists, Barbara Ehrenreich and Eric Schlosser, panels on covering corruption and the courts, featuring the likes of Helen Thomas, Dahlia Lithwick, David Corn, John Nichols and yours truly, and workshops on culture, blogging, investigative journalism and reporting beyond the Beltway.

In her lunchtime address, Ehrenreich implored students to focus on issues like race and inequality that are so often excluded from mainstream media. She told a story about how an indifferent editor in a posh Manhattan restaurant agreed to let her do a piece on poverty as long she "made it upscale." Yet by ignored these petty dictates and immersing herself in the lives of her subjects, Ehrenreich has been able to produce such memorable and lasting work as her book, Nickel & Dimed.

Schlosser, the author of the best-selling Fast Food Nation, also spoke of spending years chronicling stories of struggle and injustice: undocumented migrant strawberry pickers in California, workers fighting to unionize for better pay, horrific conditions for employees at massive hog farms, and most recently, for an upcoming book, the millions of Americans incarcerated in prisons. This kind of work isn't easy, Schlosser said. But it is more necessary than ever.

Excerpts of the journalism conference will soon be available on The Nation's website and broadcast in the coming weeks on Radio Nation with Laura Flanders on Air America Radio.

At day-two of the conference on Tuesday, hundreds of activists joined their journalist counterparts. Prominent speakers like legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison moved beyond cliché by articulating not just the unprecedented challenges faced by college-age Americans, but also the unique assets their generation might bring to politics and the world.

"We've completely screwed you guys," Hersh told a room of more thanone thousand. "You're going to have to do so much better than we did."

But Hersh deviated from a relentless attack on American foreign policyto give his observations on current college students and add a bit of hope.

"Young people today are less seduced by the mercantile, Wall Streetsociety of 20 years ago," Hersh said. "There is more concern for theThird World."

Attendees agreed that problems well beyond the plush academy move students the most. "It is the issues farthest away from us that get the most attention," said Bobby Smith, a sophomore at Ithaca College. One example is how students are fighting to force attention and an end to the genocide in Darfur.

Like Hersh, Ellison, who became the first Muslim elected toCongress in November, spoke of the Iraq war's immorality and its consequences for both the troops and America's credibility. But he devoted much of his talk to issues that hit closer to home, such as student loans and credit card debt. Ellison adroitly tied the need for a single-payer health care system to the fact that many in the audience will be without coverage--and in debt--upon graduation

"We need you to continue to talk about affordability for college,"Ellison told the audience. In 2006 the over two-thirds of college seniors who took out loans graduated an average of $19,200 in debt, according to the Project on Student Debt.

Ellison also stressed that making politicians pay attention meansgetting young people to the ballot box.

"Don't forget to turn out votes, not just at your campus, but two-yearcommunity colleges and vocational colleges," Ellison said. He added that in his race for Congress, "We blew up the vote at the Aveda Institute of Hair and Cosmetology."

The conference closed with a panel of young Iraq war veterans, who spoke movingly about their time in combat and the hardships upon returning home. They are the lucky ones. Every week soldiers so often still in their teens are shipped back in body bags.

Young people, said Abdul Henderson, a vet from Los Angeles who spoke out in the film Fahrenheit 9/11, have the power to change things if they so choose.

Another one of the panelists, Jon Soltz, is a testament to that possibility. Upon finishing his tour in Iraq, "confused and disillusioned," Soltz began to speak out after being threatened with arrest for trying to attend a Veterans Affairs press conference in his hometown of Pittsburgh. "I don't know why I'm good enough to go to war but not good enough to ask the tough questions of our leadership," Soltz recalled. He soon founded an advocacy group called Vote Vets, which ran some of the hardest-hitting and most effective TV ads of the last election cycle, exposing how pro-war politicians had betrayed the troops.

Soltz found an audience, both with veterans throughout the country and attendees at the conference, who after two days of speaker after speaker, still listened intently to every word. "This is the only time where I've been in a room with young people in the last three-and-a-half years," Soltz said, "when I felt like people cared."

--With Reporting by Matthew Blake

Feingold on Cheney: “I Think He’s Confused.”

Along with venerable West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, Russ Feingold enjoys the relatively lonely distinction in the current Congress of having demonstrated something more than a passing familiarity with the Constitution that members swear an oath to support and defend.

So it is good, indeed, that the Wisconsin Democrat chairs the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The fact that Feingold has actually read the nation's essential document prepares him to resolve questions such as the one raised in recent days by Dick Cheney about where the Office of the Vice President can be found in the three branches of the federal government.

Cheney claims he is a member of the legislative branch, at least for purposes of accountability.

Does Feingold think there is any argument whatsoever for Cheney's interpretation?

"Not really," says the Senate's chief overseer of all things Constitutional, stifling something akin to grin of a Cheshine Cat.

If Cheney's attempt to classify the vice president as a legislator – in order to avoid requirements that his office comply with requirements the National Archives' charting of the classification and declassification of important documents -- were to be accepted, Feingold says, "I would have to go back and reconsider some of my answers on the quizzes when I was in elementary school. I would worry about my third-grade test results if I somehow got it wrong when I expressed this bizarre notion that the vice president was a member of the executive branch."

But Feingold has no such worries. The senator earned honors at the University of Wisconsin for his commentaries on the history of the Constitution and then, after completing a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, he burrowed deeper into Constitutional studies at Harvard Law School, from which he graduated with even more honors.

Cheney flunked out of Yale, never got near a law school and has, throughout his long career of public self-service displayed a disregard for the Constitution unequaled in American politics.

Choosing his words carefully, Feingold says of the vice president's pronouncements regarding the place of his office in the federal heirarchy: "I think he's confused."

To alleviate the confusion, the senator adds, "We may have to give him a little guidance on that."

Does that mean that Feingold might use the Subcommittee on the Constitution to clarify the specific question – and to address broader and more serious concerns raised by a vice president who seeks to confuse and undermine the system of checks and balances that maintains the smooth functioning of the Republic?

"Oh, yes!" he replies, so long as Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, does not decide schedule a session of the full committee to help the vice president figure things out. (On Wednesday, Leahy issued subpoenas to Cheney's office and the White House as part of the committee's probe into collaboration with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to thwart the law with regard to the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.)

Either way, says Feingold, "What you do, just like we did on this issue of whether you can cut off funding for the war, is you hold a hearing and you bring in the experts. On the war, we had (former Assistant Attorney General and White House counsel) Walter Dellinger to say, ‘Of course, you can cut off the funding.' You do the same thing on this. You bring in the Constitutional scholars. (Pennsylvania Senator Arlen) Specter even did one on the censure issue. That's a good way to lay the foundation for a discussion of some of the issues that are raised by the vice president. The only problem I can imagine is that it might be difficult to find a serious constitutional scholar who would agree with Cheney."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."

A Just Security

It's been clear for some time that when it comes to approaches to security and foreign policy, the people are way aheadof the Inside-the-Beltway politicians and pundits in believing there's a need for real change.

Now, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and its Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) network of progressive experts have released a new report –Just Security – that offers an alternative framework that is more sane and effective than the stunted vision and failed policies supported by so-called moderates in both parties.

One important departure from bipartisan conventional wisdom in the report is the call for a reduction of $213 billion in US military spending, which amounts to about one-third of the total defense budget. Even with this cut the US would retain the largest military in the world and spend over eight times more than any of the next largest militaries.

"This new foreign policy approach is more in line with public opinion than the US Congress, which recently backed additional money for the Iraq War," said John Feffer, co-director of FPIF. "Leading presidential candidates and the foreign policy establishment are being overly cautious. There's virtually no debate about freezing, let alone reducing, military spending, which has soared to unprecedented levels."

Other areas addressed by the report include: climate policy, nuclear disarmament, overall health and economic wellbeing, conflicts in the Middle East and Africa and counterterrorism, as well as security spending. This kind of bold and comprehensive approach is exactly what is needed in these times, as Feffer recently wrote: "Franklin Delano Roosevelt transformed US foreign policy with his big picture Good Neighbor policy of the 1930s. When they dramatically reoriented the US approach to the world, neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush… approached the matter piecemeal. They offered a large-scale, comprehensive foreign policy vision (Peace Through Strength, Global War on Terror). Those who oppose the current administration's foreign policy should take this lesson to heart. We should be thinking not just about Iraq or about cutting one or two old Cold War weapons systems. Judicious retrenchment, judging from the elections and the polls, is not what Americans want. We should be aiming high. We should be aiming for a Just Security program."

This report is an important contribution to articulating and demanding an alternative to the Bush Doctrine and the Global War on Terror. You can download the full report here.

EFCA Defeated--For Now

I posted last week about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decide to form a union, they can do so without the debilitating legal obstacles employers frequently use to block them.

Well, Senate Republicans blocked the bill today. Democrats were unable to get the 60 votes needed to force consideration of the Act, ending organized labor's chance to win its top legislative priority during this Congress. The final vote was 51 to 48 along party lines except for Arlen Specter who voted with the Democrats.

But Big Labor is putting a happy face on the defeat. The Teamsters applauded the majority vote, calling it "a significant achievement in the fight to restore America's middle class."

The AFL-CIO's lead blogger, James Parks, stressed that "the momentum for this bill is growing. The grassroots movement behind this legislation is bigger and more exciting than anyone believed last year. Working families across the country mounted a massive campaign to win passage of the bill. Sixteen governors and nearly 1,300 state and local elected officials expressed support for the legislation in all 50 states. Seven presidential candidates also backed the bill. Working families held more than 100 rallies last week across the country demanding that Congress restore the fundamental freedom to join a union and bargain for a better life. More than 4,500 workers and elected officials rallied on Capitol Hill June 19 to urge support for the legislation. Middle-class Americans generated 50,000 telephone calls to the Senate, 156,000 faxes and e-mail messages and 220,000 postcards, including 120,000 delivered to the Senate last week."

These are indeed encouraging signs of civic engagement and the labor movement is seeming more vibrant of late--from last year's victory by the Smithfield workers to the triumphs by tomato growers in Immokalee, Florida.

So, hopefully, this defeat is but a temporary one on the road to victory. As one of the bill's sponsors and one of the Senate's strongest progressives, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, made clear in a fiery press conference this afternoon, "It's clear the majority of the American people want this legislation. A majority of the House wants it. A majority of the Senate wants it. And we will keep coming back year after year."

Where's the CIA's Missing Jewel?

What's the missing jewel?

Today, the CIA released its infamous "Family Jewels" file. This is a set of internal memos compiled in the mid-1970s after press reports revealed numerous CIA dirty tricks. In 1973, CIA director James Schlessinger, having learned that Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and James McCord (each a CIA veteran) had been in contact with the Agency while carrying out illegal activities for President Richard Nixon's reelection campaign, ordered divisions within the CIA to report any activities they had engaged in since 1959 that might be outside the CIA's authority. Deputy Director William Colby then assembled a loose-leaf notebook of the memos that poured in. The whole package totaled 700 pages. And though its existence has been known for years--congressional investigators of the 1970s had access to these documents--this secret file has never before been made public. It was considered to hold the agency's darkest secrets.

Many of these secrets did emerge during the congressional investigations of the 1970s: the joint CIA-Mafia attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro; CIA surveillance of American reporters and political dissidents; the CIA's secret jailing for three years of a suspected Soviet agent (who was not a Soviet agent). The newly-released documents are full of fresh details about some of these notorious episodes. But at least one of the "Family Jewels" seems to be missing.

The first document in the packet is a 1973 memo from Howard Osborn, then the CIA's director of security, to the CIA top management, and it summarizes the "jewels" compiled by his office. It lists eight problems--including the recruitment of mobster Johnny Roselli for the Castro hit. But blacked out from this document is the first item on Osborn's list. And a two-and-a-half page description of this operation is also redacted from the "Family Jewels" file.

In a recent speech, General Michael Hayden, the CIA's director, hailed the declassification of the "Family Jewels." He remarked, "The documents provide a glimpse of a very different time and very different Agency." Yet the very first secret in these papers has been deleted.

"The No. 1 jewel of the CIA's Office of Security is probably a pretty good one--especially since the second jewel in this list is the Roselli/Castro assassination program," says Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a public interest outfit that filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the "Family Jewels" fifteen years ago. There are many other deletions in the "Family Jewels" file, and in most instances there's no telling exactly what has been excised. But much of the censored material seems to be related to how the CIA has created cover and fake documents. "This is probably justifiable," says Blanton, because such operational secrets may still be relevant today. But the missing jewel? Assassination? Domestic spying? Something unimaginable? "We just don't know," says Blanton.

All in all, Blanton notes, the file is not as explosive as CIA-watchers might have anticipated. "These are the 'Family Jewels'?" he asks sarcastically. "Much of this came out years ago. So how could the CIA justify keeping this stuff secret for 30 years? This is not really as informative as the [previously released] inspector general's report on the Castro assassination plots."

There are, however, intriguing tidbits scattered throughout these hundreds of pages. Here are a few:

* In a June 1, 1973 memo written to Colby, Walter Elder, who had been executive assistant for John McCone, the CIA director in the early 1960s, outlined "activities which to hostile observers or to someone without complete knowledge...could be interpreted as examples of activities exceeding CIA's charters." One such activity, he noted, "involved chemical warfare operations against...." The target is redacted. This operation, according to Elder, never went beyond the planning stage.

* In the same memo, Elder reports that discussions within the CIA chief's offices were recorded and transcribed: "I know that any one who has worked in the Director's office has worried about the fact that conversations within the offices and over the telephones were transcribed. During McCone's tenure, there were microphones in his regular office, his inner office, his dining room, his office in East Building, and his study at his residence on White Haven Street. I do not know who would be willing to raise such an issue, but knowledge of such operations tends to spread, and certainly the Agency is vulnerable on this score." Secret transcripts of conversations involving CIA directors? According to Blanton, there's never been any public indication that McCone or other CIA directors bugged themselves. Transcripts of such discussions could contain plenty of jewels. The National Security Archive is already filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

* One memo notes that CIA had a Project OFTEN that collected "data on dangerous drugs from U.S. firms" until the program was terminated in the fall of 1972. Another memo reports that commercial drug manufacturers "passed on" to the CIA drugs "rejected because of unfavorable side effects" These drugs were then tested using volunteers from the U.S. military.

* During the internal review that led to the creation of the "Family Jewels" file, a top CIA official suggested that the CIA director keep himself in the dark about MKULTRA--the Agency's mind control program run by Sidney Gottlieb, a psychiatrist and chemist. As part of this program, the CIA slipped LSD and other psychoactive drugs to unwitting subjects. (Gottlieb, according to another document in the file, was supposed to have provided poison in for an assassination attempt against Patrice Lumumba, the anti-colonial prime minister of the Republic of Congo. After being deposed in a 1960 coup, Lumumba was shot and killed by Kantangan forces.)

* CIA employees assigned to MHCHAOS--the operation that conducted surveillance against American opponents of the Vietnam war and other political dissidents--expressed a "high degree of resentment" about being given such a mission.

* The CIA "performed image enhancement techniques" on video footage of the television show of columnist Jack Anderson, who had received leaks of top-secret CIA documents. "The purpose was to try to identify serial numbers of CIA documents in Anderson's possession"--presumably documents he held up or that were on his desk. The memo on this operation does not say if the effort succeeded.

Hayden, the CIA chief, deserves some credit for releasing the "Family Jewels," and he wants the public to believe that his CIA is not your father's CIA, which plotted assassinations, illegally opened mail, and spied on American political dissidents. But the CIA in recent days has run secret prisons and used interrogation methods that either involve torture or border on torture. (The details are sketchy.) And the National Security Agency has used warrantless wiretaps to eavesdrop on American citizens and residents. Moreover, as the release of the "Family Jewels" demonstrates, there still are secrets from the past the CIA will not disclose. Are these legitimate secrets that ought to be kept from the public to protect national security, or are they embarrassments the Agency is not willing to face? Only the secret-keepers of the CIA know which jewels remain buried.

The entire "Family Jewels" file and related documents can be found at the website of the National Security Archive.

******

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

The Push to Restore Habeas Corpus

About four thousand people rallied in Washington today to advocate the restoration of habeas corpus and other constitutional rights undermined by the Bush Administration, according to estimates from the ACLU.

Organizers say they are delivering about 200,000 petition signatures to Congress that demand immediate action to "restore habeas corpus, fix the Military Commissions Act, end torture and rendition and restore our constitutional rights." This is not a one-day affair, either. The rally is designed to continue online until Congress acts. A coalition of over 50 organizations, led by the ACLU and Amnesty International, is recruiting supporters through an official website; Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy started a website asking people to pressure his Senate colleagues into supporting the habeas bill; and MoveOn has launched a new campaign to end torture, pass habeas legislation and "Restore the Rule of Law." MoveOn organizer Nita Chaudhary is leading the important effort, which includes support from retired Generals Robert Gard and John Johns, who spoke out in favor of closing Guantanamo this week.

Writing about the rally on the blog FireDogLake today, former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith urged her netroots readers to lobby Congress. "We are better than jailing people in perpetuity without a determination of innocence or guilt. And we owe a debt, both to our founders and to future generations, to right this profound wrong," she wrote.

This push comes at a critical time. The Senate will consider legislation on defense issues and habeas corpus when it returns from recess in July. Several Democratic presidential candidates now raise these issues on the trail. Dodd and Edwards challenge Bush's entire approach to the Global War on Terror, while Obama has been singling out habeas corpus in his stump speech for months (which the AP recently noticed). And this week the Bush Administration publicly debated when to close Guantanamo – not if.

So even the people who created Gitmo won't defend it.

In fact, the only people left supporting Bush's detainee policy offer unintelligible slogans, like Mitt Romney's promise to "double Guantanamo," or embarrassing falsehoods, such as James Taranto's Wall Street Journal column today, which claims that the executive branch "protects our freedom" by "keeping" people "out of our justice system." Suspending habeas corpus and denying people their right to challenge government detention actually limits "freedom," of course, but with no logical defense of Gitmo available, Mr. Taranto just throws around inflammatory words. The same column attacks Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for trying to "endanger the lives of American civilians." Why? Because Powell's proposal to close Gitmo supports "constitutional protections" for individuals in U.S. custody.

Yet this is one way to tell that the push for habeas corpus and human rights is working: With the administration openly planning to close the base, the diehard Gitmo defenders are getting desperate and shrill. Now they argue that Americans' lives are "endangered" by our generals and our constitution. Mr. Taranto and the diehards can loudly take their side against the constitution and the generals, but who will join them?

UPDATE: Phillip Carter, an attorney and former U.S. Army Officer who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, rebuts James Taranto's attack on Powell in a post on the blog Intel Dump. Carter emphasizes that as a realist, Powell was motivated primarily by the national security benefits to supporting the Geneva Conventions and closing Gitmo. Carter explains: "[Powell] felt, as I do, that taking a narrow, cribbed view of these international laws would undermine our security in the long run, and that America would be stronger if it continued to lead the world on issues of law in war [...] Powell is a hard-bitten realist, and always has been. His opinions on Gitmo relect a cost-benefit calculation about the benefits of keeping this facility open versus the costs to American interests of doing so."

 

Thompson's Spies & Smokers

Now that he's an all-but-declared candidate, surging in the polls and touring key primary states, Fred Thompson's campaign is starting to come together. One of Thompson's top operatives is an old PR hand named Ken Rietz.

Since Rietz is hardly a household name, here are a few things you should know about him.

Back in the 1970s, the late investigative reporter Jack Anderson described Rietz as a "key member of a Nixon campaign 'spy' team." Roll Call recently explained what that entailed: "When the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Rietz acknowledged he had paid a college student $150 a week to infiltrate a peace vigil at the White House and set up the demonstrators for drug arrest charges. He also tried to plant a driver with then-Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine), a presidential candidate, to get inside information."

Rietz resigned from the RNC, then led by George Bush I, and became an organizer for Ronald Reagan in California. In the 1980s Rietz joined the huge PR firm Burson-Marsteller, now run by Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn.

One of Rietz's big assignments at Burson, as reported by Tom Edsall today, was to set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris. The group, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, was founded in 1993 "to give the appearance of grassroots opposition to smoke-free laws without its corporate involvement being detected." Rietz is now one of a number of powerful tobacco-industry allies in Thompson's inner circle.

During the 2004 election Rietz headed a shadowy 527 called the November Fund, funded largely by the Chamber of Commerce, that ran $10 million in ads in battleground states attacking John Edwards and the "trial-lawyer lobby in DC." In September 2004, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the November Fund illegally received $500,000 from the Chamber of Commerce, colluded with the Bush-Cheney campaign and violated a moratorium on attacking candidates by name 60 days before an election. CREW head Melanie Sloan called the group's work "illegal and unethical."

Today, Rietz is largely in charge of Thompson's media strategy, organizing conference calls, recruiting talent and orchestrating "grassroots" buzz for the candidate.

It's a good thing that Thompson plays a District Attorney on Law & Order. Because in real life his close associates represent anything but.

An Olympic Disgrace

The Olympics are always big business, and the next summer's Games in Beijing may well be the most profitable in history. Much of the money is made through licensing; sale of Beijing Games mascots alone is expected to bring in profits of more than $300 million. But the workers making clothing and other items bearing the Olympic logo are not exactly sharing in this windfall. "No Medal for the Olympics on Labour Rights," a new report by PlayFair 2008, a coalition of human rights groups hoping to pressure the International Olympic Committee to set -- and enforce -- ethical standards, found, at the Chinese factories making official Olympic goods, grotesque disregard for workers' health and safety and for local labor laws. One of the companies involved, Mainland Headwear, which has the exclusive right to make Olympic hats, paid its employees half the legal minimum wage. Other companies were hiring children as young as twelve. Several others require workers to work more than thirteen hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as two weeks without a day off, to meet extremely tight deadlines for retailers eager to hawk Olympic goods. One worker said, "To hell with the Olympics product, I am so tired."

Human rights issues will -- and should -- loom large in discussions of next summer's Games, not least because the host is China, a country that is justly criticized for abuses. That doesn't mean, however, that we should join folks like would-be-president Bill Richardson, who's been taking a cue from Jimmy Carter and calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics (over China's lackadaisical response to the Darfur crisis). The Games -- while certainly a huge marketing opportunity for corporations -- are also about internationalism, human solidarity and fun, and a boycott is a slap in the face to athletes who have spent years training. (Other presidential candidates have soundly rejected the idea.) And of course, it's always hypocritical for Americans to boycott other countries on human rights grounds; in this case, the international community can rightly bring up Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and just a few other little problems for which the US is eminently to blame. (Then again, as the New Republic has reported, Richardson may be a wee bit out of his depth on such matters, despite having once been US Ambassador to the UN.) But that doesn't mean we should do nothing. PlayFair 2008 is seizing the opportunity presented by the Games to press for improved conditions in the sporting goods sector. The coalition is not calling on the Olympics Committee to throw people out of work by canceling factory contracts, rather, to live up to its own stated commitment to social responsibility and ethical sourcing by working with the factories to improve conditions. Check out the website to find out what PlayFair 2008 is asking the Olympics, sportswear companies, governments, and investors to do, and to find out how your organization can support its efforts.