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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Swift Boat Attack on Bernie Sanders

The latest polls from Vermont show that U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, the only independent member of the House, has a dramatic lead in the race for that state's open U.S. Senate seat. In a race where the Democrats are expected to fall back and allow the Sanders a clean shot at the seat, a WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll, released last week, found the congressman to be leading the likely Republican nominee, millionaire Rich Tarrant, by a margin of 64 percent to 16 percent of Vermonters who were surveyed.

Those numbers will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has spent time in Vermont, where Sanders' three decades of political independence and straight-talk about economic issues have earned him the admiration even of those who do not always agree with his progressive populism. But Sanders' strong position is a source of frustration for inside-the-Beltway Republican operatives and their network of henchmen.

Aside from impending indictments, few things frighten the political hacks who run the White House more than the thought of Sanders, who has served with great success as an independent member of the House since 1991, entering the Senate and developing an even greater national profile. Unlike the Democrats who have such a hard time appealing across lines of party and ideology on fundamental economic issues, Sanders is something of a genius when it comes to building broad coalitions – as illustrated by his big wins in Vermont regions that generally vote Republican.

In the Senate, Sanders would give voice to a critique of Bush administration economic policies and the White House's assault on domestic civil liberties that would make would be far more likely to resonate with voters than the tepid Democratic message. And Karl Rove and his compatriots know that voice could turn the direction on debates on a host of major issues. It's for that reason that -- despite Sanders' immense popularity in Vermont -- the hacks in Washington have not given up on trying to figure out how to beat him in next year's Senate race.

Needless to say, they understand that it will take a lot of character assassination, innuendo and outright deception to defeat the man who is generally recognized as the most popular political figure in Vermont.

So it comes as no surprise that, just days after the WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll results showed just how daunting the task of taking on Sanders has become for the Beltway bandits, the big gun were called out.

John O'Neill, the man behind the "swiftboating" of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is now going after Sanders. O'Neill, who started working with Republicans to attack political dissenters back in the Nixon years but who really came into his own with his role in promoting the wildly disingenuous and broadly disputed "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" attacks on Kerry's Vietnam service record during the 2004 campaign, has just penned an anti-Sanders letter that is being distributed on right-wing websites. O'Neill says he's enthusiastic about the campaign of little-known perennial candidate Greg Parke in the Republican Senate primary, but it's clear that he is getting involved in the race to attack Sanders rather than to promote Parke.

Never one to hold back the hyperbole, O'Neill labels Sanders "the most dangerous liberal in America" and promises to defeat the congressman with a "similar mission" to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" crusade against Kerry. The letter features the standard talking points against the congressman from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee but it goes heavy on the suggestion that Sanders poses some kind of threat to national security.

"His record in the House of Representative -- particularly on defense matters -- is disgraceful," writes O'Neill. In particular, the man who made "swiftboating" a political term of attack goes after Sanders for his efforts to fight wasteful spending by the Pentagon and for challenging the Bush administration's wrongheaded rush to attack Iraq. "He's consistently fought President Bush on issues of national security -- most specifically he voted against the use of force to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein," O'Neill writes of Sanders in a message that conveniently forgets to note that, according to recent polls, a clear majority of Americans now believe the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was a mistake.

What O'Neill, who claims to speak for veterans, also fails to note is the fact that Sanders has been one of the most ardent champions in Congress for men and women who have served in the military. In addition to co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to assure that victims of Gulf War Illness get all of the medical care to which they are entitled, he has battled Republican attempts to cut funding for veterans programs. Indeed, Sanders has been such an effective advocate for those who wore the uniform of the U.S. military that he has been endorsed in his House races by the political arm of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

These are facts that O'Neill neglects as he attempts to "swiftboat" Sanders. That's typical of O'Neill and his group, which ought to be called Swift Boat Veterans for (Anything But the) Truth."

¿Cómo Se Dice 'Spin'?

George Bush had a tough time of it last weekend in Argentina.

Mass demonstrations of opposition to the President's trade and economic policies greeted his every move. And even inside the cloistered gathering rooms of luxury hotel where the the Summit of the Americas was convened, Bush was the odd man out. Leaders of Latin American countries, many of them elected because of their explicit opposition to the American President's approach, made it clear that Bush will have a hard time establishing a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americans that his campaign contributors so desperately seek.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

When he ran for the presidency in 2000, Bush benefited from the claim that he spoke Spanish and understood better than most politicians how to relate to the countries and the peoples of the South. As a candidate, Bush delivered a major policy address in which he complained that "Latin America often remains an afterthought of American foreign policy," and declared, "Those who ignore Latin America do not fully understand America itself. And those who ignore our hemisphere do not fully understand American interests."

Unfortunately, four years into the Bush presidency, it is now clear that the suggestion that Bush would seek to understand and work with Latin America--perhaps even in the language of many of the region's countries--was merely another example of Karl Rove's campaign spin.

When he does not have a script in front of him, Bush can barely mumble a restaurant order in Spanish. And his mastery of the intricacies of the western hemisphere is even less impressive.

Bush continues to peddle discredited proposals for progress in Latin America, such as privatization of public services and the conversion of family farms to factory farms. And, of course, he continues to promote a free-trade agenda that allows corporations to hop from country to country in search of the lowest wages and the least restrictive environmental and worker-safety protections.

What Bush and his aides do not recognize is that the people of Latin America are already well aware that the president's prescriptions do not work. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a dismal failure for Mexico, where wages for industrial workers actually fell after deal was put into place in 1994 and where small farmers have been driven from the land in record numbers as a result of trade policies that have flooded the market with cheap beans and corn. As a result of NAFTA, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have been forced to make the painful choice to abandon their country and to enter the United States seeking work.

Just as Mexicans understand the devastating impact of the free trade policies Bush is promoting, so Bolivians understand the devastating impact of the privatization policies that the president talks up, and so Argentines understand the devastating impact of the structural adjustment policies that Bush claims are necessary.

In short, the president went to Latin America with a program that was outdated and wholly unworkable program and he tried to sell it to the people who have suffered through the experiments that have proven the program's flaws.

Bush has become the president he warned against in the 2000 campaign – the president who ignores the experiences and the concerns of Latin America because he "(does) not fully understand America itself."

Congressmen Want Cheney to Testify

Vice President Dick Cheney has had very little to say about the indictment of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and even less to say about aspects of the investigation that have touched on his own actions before and after the invasion of Iraq. Now, three key Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives want to give the vice president an opportunity to clear the air.

Recalling that Cheney's former boss, then-President Gerald Ford, testified before the House after his controversial pardon of former President Richard Nixon in 1974, Representatives John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee; Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee; and Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the administration's misuse of intelligence during the period before the Iraq War began, have asked the vice president to "make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement - in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."

The letter, sent to Cheney on Thursday, two days after Democratic Leader Harry Reid forced the Senate into closed session to discuss investigations of efforts by the administration to inflate intelligence assessments of the threat posed by Iraq, offers the latest signal that Congressional Democrats are determined to hold key players in the administration, particularly Cheney, to account.

"We are going to do everything we can to force this administration and this Congress to face up to the truth and to face up to their responsibility under the Constitution," said Hinchey.

"The people who wrote the Constitution that set this government up knew what they were doing. They knew what would happen if you let a regime go its own way without oversight. That's why they set up the system of checks and balances," added Hinchey. "This Congress has shunned its responsibility, tossed its obligations under the Constitution aside – allowing the administration to do whatever it chooses, even to the point of looking aside when the administration lies to Congress and violates federal laws. That's got to stop. We cannot have a monolithic government. We have to restore some balance, where the legislative branch is a part of this process. And we think that one way to do that is by asking the vice president, in light of the questions that have arisen with regards to his actions, to come to Congress and answer the questions that are on the minds of the American people and their representatives.

It may be true that the House, like the Senate, is controlled by a Republican majority that is uncomfortable calling members of the administration to account, admits Hinchey. But, the veteran representative from New York says, Republicans ought to ask themselves whether they want to allow partisanship to stand in the way of their responsibilities under the Constitution. Hinchey says Congressional leaders of both parties should, as well, be concerned about their responsibility to help the American people sort through not just what happened when Cheney's chief aide apparently set out to punish Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had raised pointed questions about the administration use of intelligence, by revealing that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative -- but also broader questions about why the vice president's office was so determined to attack that critic, a former ambassador who had revealed how the administration deliberately used faulty intelligence to make the "case" for war.

"It's just intolerable for any Congress, no matter which party is in charge, to look aside when an administration engages in the sort of behavior that this administration has engaged in-- and that is especially true when those behaviors, those issues relate to the most serious decision that any Congress can take: the decision to go to war," the congressman explained.

Three senior members of the House have refused to look aside. And, while it may be the case that Cheney will disregard their request, the American people are unlikely to be so dismissive. Polls show that, by a wide majority, Americans think the vice president has been less than forthcoming with regards to his actions, and that they want answers from Cheney about the Wilson case and all of the issues it has raised.

Here is the letter that asks for those answers:

Dear Mr. Vice President:

In response to significant public scrutiny, President Gerald R. Ford came to Capitol Hill on October 17, 1974 to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on why he pardoned President Richard M. Nixon. At the time of President Ford's appearance before Congress, you served as his Deputy Chief of Staff and later became his Chief of Staff. With that precedent in mind, we respectfully request that you make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement - in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative.

Last week, your former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was indicted for committing perjury and obstructing the investigation of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity. According to the indictment, you and members of your office were involved in discussions about Valerie Wilson and her work for the CIA. In fact, the indictment alleges that you personally informed Mr. Libby that Valerie Wilson worked in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division and that you had learned this information from the CIA.

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:

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

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

· 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?

· When you learned that the leak had occurred, did you investigate whether any members of your staff were responsible for this act? If so, when did you do so and what were your findings? Do you think that those involved with the leak should be allowed to maintain their security clearances?

We therefore encourage you to follow the example of your former boss, President Ford, by testifying before Congress. Openness and sunshine are the best way to restore public trust that the White House is operating ethically, efficiently, and in compliance with rules protecting national security.

Sincerely,

Maurice Hinchey Henry Waxman John Conyers, Jr.

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An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

John Conyers and Rosa Parks

The death last week of Rosa Parks at age 92 has inspired a predictableoutpouring of tributes from politicians of every partisan andideological bent. Even President Bush, a man who inspired the ire ofParks as far back as the mid-1990s, when she was campaigning againstcapital punishment in Texas, hailed the mother of the civil rightsmovement as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century" anddeclared that she had "transformed America for the better."

In their self-serving rush to praise Parks prior to her funderal today,a number of politicians displayed their complete ignorance of thewoman's history and her legacy. The worst of them was Senate MajorityLeader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who said of the protest that sparkedthe Montogomery bus boycott of the 1950s and gave rise to thehigh-profile civil rights movement of the 1960s: "Rosa Parks' bold andprincipled refusal to give up her seat was not an intentional attemptto change a nation, but a singular act aimed at restoring the dignityof the individual."

Frist was, of course, wrong. Parks' refusal to give up her seat on thatbus was an intentional attempt to change a nation. At a time when theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People was underattack in the segregated south, Parks was an elected official of herlocal NAACP branch from the 1940s on and an activist with Voters'League, a pioneering voting rights group in Alabama. Employed byClifford and Virginia Durr, who were among the most outspoken whitesupporters of civil rights in the south, Parks was trained at theHighlander Folk School and acted as an informed and intentionalactivist.

Parks would remain an activist across the years that followed herrefusal to give up that seat on the bus, as one of the electedofficials who paid tribute to her well knew.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who is the senior memberof the House Judiciary Committee, was elected to Congress in 1964, theyear the Civil Rights Act was passed. He immediately hired Rosa Parksas a member of his staff.

Parks, whose political views mirrored those of the outspoken Conyers,would remain on the congressman's staff until her retirement in 1988.

Parks would remain close to Conyers, who recalled the other day that,when Nelson Mandela visited Detroit in 1990, the pair joined the SouthAfrican leader on stage.

Mandela got the crowd to join him in chanting "Rosa Parks!"

Conyers said that day with Mandela caused him to recognize a simpletruth: "Rosa Parks is worldwide."

Yet the icon was also a warm and generous human being. Thus, when RosaParks died, Conyers explained, "America lost a living legend; and I,along with countless others, lost a friend."

As a token of his respect for his former aide's accomplishments,Conyers always referred to her as "Mrs. Parks." But there was nothingformal about their friendship. She regarded him as the most importantpolitical leader in the many struggles that she waged--not just forcivil rights but for peace, economic justice and, in particular, an endto the death penalty.

The congressman regarded "Mrs. Parks" as something akin to a secularsaint, as his warm reflection on her passing makes abundantly clear:

We all knew that Mrs. Parks was frail. We always feared this moment,and now it is here. The extent to which she will be missed cannot bedignified with words.

She and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, and I think it is fair tosay we bonded right away. Mrs. Parks was there with me at the beginningof my career as a Congressman in 1965 and worked for me as myadministrative assistant for next 20 years until her retirment in 1988.I am therefore one of the lucky few who have had the privilege of beingable to call her my colleague, as well as my friend.

As the mother of the new civil rights movement, she left an impact notjust on the nation, but on the world. And while she was an apostle ofthe nonviolence movement, Mrs. Parks never saw her self that way. Shenever sought the limelight and was never really a political figure atall. It was important to her that people understand the government andto understand their rights and the Constitution that people are stilltrying to perfect today.

Mrs. Parks will endure in my memory as an almost saint-like person. AndI use that term with care. She was very humble and soft-spoken, butinside she had a determination that was quite fierce. You treated herwith deference because she was so quiet, so serene.

There will only ever be one Rosa Parks..."

And there will only ever be one John Conyers.

Cheney, Libby and the Mess They Made

Much of official Washington remains focused on the issues -- legal and political -- that have arisen from the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney who was a principal architect of the administration's approach to Iraq before and after the invasion and occupation of that distant land. This is as it should be: Libby and his former boss need to be held accountable for leading this country's military forces into a quagmire that has cost more than 2,000 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.

The only problem with this otherwise healthy obsession with the investigation is that it draws attention away from the disaster that Cheney, Libby and their crew of neoconservative nutcases have created.

In addition to the rapidly mounting death toll -- 93 U.S. troops were killed in October, the highest casualty rate since January -- the insurgency's Tet offensive-level attacks within the capital city of Baghdad, and the degeneration of the trial of Saddam Hussein into a legal farce, there is the tragedy of the country's bumbled attempt to craft and implement a constitution.

Were any U.S. officials paying serious attention to the process -- as opposed to trying to spin it into something it is not -- they would acknowledge that Iraq is in a state of constitutional crisis. Even if the October 15 vote on the new Iraqi constitution were technically legitimate -- under the undemocratic rules adopted by its framers in order to guarantee a particular result -- it would have been hard to spin as a meaningful signal of progress toward democracy.

The details of the document were literally up for grabs until just days before the voting began, and not even the most over-the-top apologists for the process would dare suggest that the people of Iraq knew what they were voting on. More significantly, the vote took place while the country was occupied by a foreign force that deposed the previous government, that faces an open insurrection and that, by all accounts, shaped the character of the constitution more than did the Iraqis themselves.

But, of course, all this is beside the point, since the vote does not appear to have met the base standards of legitimacy.

Iraq's election commission was for the better part of a week forced to delay the release of the results as it investigated serious irregularities in the voting. The commission had to examine evidence of vote totals that did not appear to be credible -- including "unusually high" numbers of yes votes in provinces where there was widespread opposition to the constitution. Also of concern to the commission were reports that Iraqi police removed ballot boxes from districts where there was significant opposition to the constitution and that districts where there was more support for the document had recorded more votes than there were registered voters.

It is true that, after all the irregularities that were documented in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the U.S. government lacks the authority that it once had in discussions of democracy. But the Bush administration and members of Congress should have been much more concerned about the evidence of fraud and corruption in what was supposed to be a definitional vote regarding Iraq's future.

As of now, questions about the legitimacy of the Iraq vote remain, especially after the release of "results" suggesting that the constitution was rejected by a majority of voters in three Iraqi provinces. That was the standard that was set for rejection of the plan, but because the constitution was not rejected by a supermajority in one of the provinces, it was determined to have been "approved."

The state of affairs is so troubling that claims by American supporters of the war that Iraq has passed another "milestone" lack even the bare minimum of credibility. The only way the new constitution can ever be considered a viable document, by the Iraqis or by honest observers from the rest of the world, is if all questions about the legitimacy of the process in general and the October 15 vote in particular are removed.

That has not happened. Concerns about stolen and stuffed ballot boxes remain. So, too, do equally serious questions about whether Iraqis were fully aware of the contents of a document that was in flux up until the eve of the vote, and about whether a country can or should try to define its future while under occupation.

Before U.S. officials can make grand claims about "progress" in Iraq, these are the issues that must be addressed.

If Iraq is every to become the stable, functioning democracy that not only President Bush but the vast majority of his critics would like to see emerge, the process must begin with the absolute assurance that elections are conducted in a manner that is transparent, fair and fully legitimate. In light of the scandalous manner in which the vote on the new constitution was conducted -- and the scandals that have arisen as a result -- no such assurance can be found.

An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

Patrick Fitzgerald: It's Not Over

The most intriguing news with regard to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the apparent effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing how the White House deceived the American people about the threat posed by Iraq is not the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Make no mistake, it is exceptionally significant that Cheney's closest aide and political confidante over the past two decades, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been charged with two counts of making false statements to federal agents, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for misleading and deceiving the grand jury about how he learned that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency operative.

Of course, it matters that Fitzgerald's office says Libby lied "about how and when in 2003 he learned and subsequently disclosed to reporters then-classified information concerning the employment of Valerie (Plame) by the Central Intelligence Agency." Of course it matters that, in response to these indictments, one of the most powerful players in Washington -- the right-hand man of the vice president, a pioneering champion of the neo-conservative worldview and a principal architect of the war with Iraq -- has resigned from his positions with the administration.

But what matters most are the questions that the Libby indictment has raised with regard to Cheney's actions?

Let's be clear: If the Libby indictment and resignation is all that comes of Fitzgerald's two-year-long investigation into a case that touches on fundamental questions of government accountability, abuse of power and the dubious "case" that was made for going to war in Iraq, then this whole matter will be no more that a footnote to the sorry history of the Bush-Cheney era.

But Libby indictment is not necessarily all that will come of this investigation.

As Fitzgerald said during his press conference Friday, "It's not over."

Fitzgerald was extremely cautious about what he meant by that statement. But he did confirm that he will be keeping the "(grand)jury open to consider other matters."

But, while Fitzgerald made the predictable announcement that that the "substantial work" of the investigation was done, the fact that the grand jury remains empaneled makes it reasonable to suggest, or at the very least to hope, that we have reached the Churchillian moment when it can be said: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

There will be those who are excited by the prospect that an extended investigation might actually "get" White House political czar Karl Rove, who has long been a subject of the inquiry but was spared indictment Friday. That's very possible, as Fitzgerald has reportedly informed Rove's lawyers that he is still under investigation.

But this will never be the inquiry that it can and should be if it merely tags Libby and Rove for wrongdoing.

The fundamental responsibility of the special prosecutor, and the one that he now has an opportunity to pursue, is to determine whether the Bush-Cheney administration set out to punish Wilson for exposing the fact that the president and the vice president had deliberately and dramatically inflated claims regarding Iraqi programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Even David Gergen, the former adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton who is as cautious as the come in these matters, says that the indictments that have now been obtained in the case "raise questions about whether criminal acts were perpetrated to help get the country into war."

The Congress and the media, which should have served as watchdogs on the administration before and after the start of the war, failed in their duty. And, while it is now commonly accepted that the president and the vice president stretched the truth to the breaking point in their feverish campaign to win support for action against Iraq, the specific details of the administration's abuse of intelligence materials have yet to be adequately established. It is in the establishment of those details, and the facts surrounding them, that it becomes possible to understand why so many powerful people were so determined to destroy Wilson's reputation and that of his wife. It is, as well, where questions about the precise roles of the president and the vice president in this whole sordid affair can, and must, be clarified.

Some details with regard to the vice president's role have been revealed. The indictment indicates that Cheney was one of the first federal official who spoke with Libby about the identity of Joe Wilson's wife. "On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division," it explains. "Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."

The document goes on to point out that several of Libby's most controversial calls to reporters appear to have taken place following conversations with Cheney. "On or about July 12, 2003," the indictment says, "Libby flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, Libby discussed with other officials aboard the plane what Libby should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper."

The indictment does not detail what was discussed in those conversations, and it does not get into who said exactly what. But it does note that Libby called both Cooper and Judith Miller of the New York Times, and that the Wilson's wife was discussed during both those conversations.

Fitzgerald is careful to say, "We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act." But, as he explained, that is the "standard" response to questions regarding individuals who have not been indicted.

A review of the documents surrounding the Libby indictment leaves little doubt that there are still many questions to be answered, and that at least some of those questions should relate to the actions of the highest-ranking officials in the administration.

This is why 40 members of the U.S. House have urged Fitzgerald to expand the inquiry to examine whether Bush, Cheney and members of the White House's Iraq War Group conspired to deceive Congress into authorizing the war – thus committing the federal crime of lying to Congress. Of course, there will be those who argue that such an investigation would be too broad an extension of the special prosecutor's brief. But that's just the latest line from those who have always wanted to close down this inquiry.

The simple fact is that, if Patrick Fitzgerald wants to get to the truth about who was behind the attempt to discredit Wilson and Plame, he has to examine the reason why the White House cared so very much about what was said regarding the use and misuse of intelligence. That is the examination that Fitzgerald can and should now begin.

John Nichols' biography of Vice President Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President (The New Press, 2004) is currently available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. An expanded paperback version of the book, which Publisher's Weekly describes as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says "reveals the inner Cheney," will be available this fall under the title, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press).

With Miers Out, The Games Begin

Faced with a choice of Biblical proportions, America's born-again president decided to sacrifice Harriet Miers for Karl Rove's sins.

On the day when much of official Washington was buzzing about the prospect that his political Svengali could be indicted for something akin to treason, along with the chief aide of his vice president and various and sundry other administration insiders, President Bush "reluctantly accepted" the decision of his embattled nominee for the Supreme Court to withdraw her name from consideration.

There was nothing "reluctant" about it.

Miers, whose nomination was already in trouble with Senate conservatives and this week faced the prospect of a low rating from the American Bar Association that might well have destroyed her chances with moderates, was going to have to go. When the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter -- says a Republican president's nominee for the highest court in the land "needs a crash course in constitutional law," the question becomes not "if" but "when" the withdrawal will be "reluctantly accepted."Adding just a little more insult to the injury of Harriet Miers, the White House decided to use her withdrawal as part of an elaborate public-relations strategy designed to distract official Washington -- which, of course, includes the White House press corps -- from the question that has transfixed it for days: When will special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indict Rove or "Scooter" Libby or someone else or everyone else?The Miers withdrawal announcement, timed to dominate the news cycles on what would otherwise have been a day of all-indictment-talk-all-the-time, gains the president a brief respite from the around-the-clock speculation about how far the investigation of criminal wrongdoing -- the "outing" of a covert operative for the CIA and attempts to cover up for that wrongdoing -- would reach into the offices of the president and vice president.

The flip-side of the administration's calculus is this: When and if indictments finally come, everyone in Washington will quickly forget about Miers.

None of this means that the administration is in a good position -- there will still be legitimate talk about the crisis of confidence with regard to this president, and Bush's poll numbers will drop -- but it is clear that this White House is still playing the sort of political games for which it is now well known. And that should concern Americans who worry about the character of the Supreme Court.

With Miers out, and with the president and vice president linked to a serious scandal, the administration has an opportunity to come up with a replacement nominee who will draw attention away from discussions of unindicted co-conspirators and the misuse of intelligence to argue the country into a war of whim.

The choice to achieve that goal will undoubtedly be a clearly conservative jurist, almost certainly a woman, whose nomination can rally the Republican base while bringing liberals to the barricades. A rip-roaring fight over the most critical Supreme Court nomination in years is, in the thinking of administration aides, just what Bush needs to turn attention away from his other troubles -- and to suggest that those troubles have more to do with partisanship than presidential missteps and misdeeds.

The withdrawal of the Miers nomination on this critical day tells us that the administration is thinking hard about how to spin its way out of its troubles. It also tells us that, for all the talk about how loyal Bush is to his friends and his country, the reality is that, when this president is in trouble, no one and no institution is safe -- not Harriet Miers, and certainly not the U.S. Supreme Court.

What Rosa Parks Gave America

In 1776, the Continental Congress awarded the first Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to General George Washington, a bold and determined man who had the courage to lead his country into battle for its freedom but who lacked the wisdom to recognize that the promise of the American Revolution would never be fully realized for so long as African Americans were second-class citizens.

In 1999, two hundred and twenty three years after Washington was recognized by the Continental Congress, its successor, the 106th Congress, voted overwhelmingly to award the same Congressional Gold Medal of Honor that had once been given to the man know as The Father of His Country to the woman who will forever be known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

With her December 5, 1955, refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white passenger, Rosa Parks triggered a boycott by African Americans of the municipal bus system that lasted more than a year and inspired the movement that forced the end of the officially-sanctioned segregation that had created an apartheid system in the American south.For that, and for her resolute commitment to carry on the struggle for social and economic justice throughout a long life of fighting discrimination based on race, class, sex and sexuality, Parks received many awards, all of them richly deserved.

But Parks, who died Monday at age 92, never needed those honors as much as America needed to bestow them.

And no recognition of Parks was more necessary than the awarding of that Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1999.

The American Revolution was not an event but rather a promise of freedom. That promise may have been made by a Virginia plantation owner and his white male compatriots. But it was realized by an African American seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, who refused to believe that that promise did not apply to her.

President William Jefferson Clinton, who was named for the greatest of Washington's comrades in that struggle for freedom, and who presented the medal to Parks on June 15, 1999, gave voice to that reality when he explained to the crowd that gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to celebrate the honor that, "In so many ways Rosa Parks brought America home to our founders' dream."

It was not merely appropriate that Rosa Parks receive the same recognition as George Washington had been accorded. It was essential, for without Parks and those who joined her in forging the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Washington's promise of freedom would have remained forever constricted by the overt chains of slavery and the covert chains of segregation.

A (True) Conservative Case for Exiting Iraq

George Bush, who once criticized Ronald Reagan's approach to terrorism, is now making a desperate grab for the former president's coattails.

In August, Bush said that, because of Reagan's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of a Maine barracks in Beirut killed 241 Americans, "[Terrorists] concluded that free societies lack the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy."

But two months later, with his poll ratings dropping to levels Reagan never saw, and with public support for the Iraq occupation collapsing, Bush traveled to a the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, where he declared with a straight face that, "we are answering history's call with confidence and a comprehensive strategy."

Comparing himself with Reagan, Bush said of the former president: "He recognized that freedom was opposed by dangerous enemies. And he understood that America has always prevailed by standing firmly on principals - and never backing down in the face of evil."

Returning again and again to his "stay-the-course" theme, Bush announced that, "The key to victory lay in our resolve to stay in the fight till the fight was won."

He did not, of course, announce a strategy for pulling anything akin to victory out of a quagmire that former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, a Republican stalwart, compares with the Vietnam imbroglio in an article penned for the forthcoming edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. Connecting Bush with another former president, Laird suggests that the current commander-in-chief is repeating the mistakes of Richard Nixon by keeping U.S. troops in a fight where there appears to be no obvious benchmark for defining victory and no plan for bringing U.S. troops home. Some kind of exit strategy is needed, contends Laird, because, "Our presence is what feeds the insurgency (in Iraq), and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency."Bush and his supporters has repeatedly dismissed calls for an exit strategy, suggesting that any announced plan for withdrawing U.S. troops would make Iraq more chaotic and make America more vulnerable.

But Ronald Reagan, the man Bush was trying so hard to associate himself with during his visit to California Thursday, took a different view. And even some Republicans are beginning to make that point. In a remarkable October 7 speech delivered on the House floor, Representative Ron Paul, a maverick Republican from Texas who has long been critical of Bush's misguided approach to fighting terrorism, invoked Reagan's legacy as part of a call for withdrawal.

Supporters of the war in Iraq, as well as some non-supporters, warn of the dangers if we leave. But isn't it quite possible that these dangers are simply a consequence of having gone into Iraq in the first place, rather than a consequence of leaving? Isn't it possible that staying only makes the situation worse? If chaos results after our departure, it's because we occupied Iraq, not because we left.

The original reasons for our pre-emptive strike are long forgotten, having been based on false assumptions. The justification given now is that we must persist in this war or else dishonor those who already have died or been wounded. We're also told civil strife likely will engulf all of Iraq.

But what is the logic of perpetuating a flawed policy where more Americans die just because others have suffered? More Americans deaths cannot possibly help those who already have been injured or killed.

Civil strife, if not civil war, already exists in Iraq-- and despite the infighting, all factions oppose our occupation. The insistence on using our militarily to occupy and run Iraq provides convincing evidence to our detractors inside and outside Iraq that we have no intention of leaving. Building permanent military bases and a huge embassy confirms these fears. We deny the importance of oil and Israel's influence on our policy, yet we fail to convince the Arab/Muslim world that our intentions are purely humanitarian.

In truth, our determined presence in Iraq actually increases the odds of regional chaos, inciting Iran and Syria while aiding Osama bin Laden in his recruiting efforts. Leaving Iraq would do the opposite-- though not without some dangers that rightfully should be blamed on our unwise invasion rather than our exit.Many experts believe bin Laden welcomed our invasion and occupation of two Muslim countries. It bolsters his claim that the U.S. intended to occupy and control the Middle East all along. This has galvanized radical Muslim fundamentalists against us. Osama bin Laden's campaign surely would suffer if we left.

We should remember that losing a war to China over control of North Korea ultimately did not enhance communism in China, as she now has accepted many capitalist principles. In fact, China today outproduces us in many ways-- as reflected by our negative trade balance with her.

We lost a war in Vietnam, and the domino theory that communism would spread throughout southeast Asia was proven wrong. Today, Vietnam accepts American investment dollars and technology. We maintain a trade relationship with Vietnam that the war never achieved.

We contained the USSR and her thousands of nuclear warheads without military confrontation, leading to the collapse and disintegration of a powerful Soviet empire. Today we trade with Russia and her neighbors, as the market economy spreads throughout the world without the use of arms.

We should heed the words of Ronald Reagan about his experience with a needless and mistaken military occupation of Lebanon. Sending troops into Lebanon seemed like a good idea in 1983, but in 1990 President Reagan said this in his memoirs: "…we did not appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and complexity of the problems that made the Middle East such a jungle… In the weeks immediately after the bombing, I believed the last thing we should do was turn tail and leave… yet, the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there."

During the occupation of Lebanon by American, French, and Israeli troops between 1982 and 1986, there were 41 suicide terrorist attacks in that country. One horrific attack killed 241 U.S. Marines. Yet once these foreign troops were removed, the suicide attacks literally stopped. Today we should once again rethink our policy in this region.

It's amazing what ending military intervention in the affairs of others can achieve. Setting an example of how a free market economy works does wonders.

We should have confidence in how well freedom works, rather than relying on blind faith in the use of military force to spread our message. Setting an example and using persuasion is always superior to military force in showing how others might live. Force and war are tools of authoritarians; they are never tools of champions of liberty and justice. Force and war inevitably lead to dangerous unintended consequences.

While George Bush and his neoconservative allies connive to use Ronald Reagan's legacy as the latest justification for maintaining the deadly, dangerous and unnecessary occupation of a distant land, it has fallen to a more historically-savvy and genuinely-conservative Republican, Ron Paul, to honor that legacy with the suggestion that it might indeed be time to bring the troops home.

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John Nichols's book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) examines Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative traditions of challenging U.S. wars of entanglement, expansion and empire. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Case Against Cheney

Well, of course, the investigation of who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's name -- violating the federal law that bars the "outing" of intelligence operatives -- has come around to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. While it may be news to the Washington Post -- which headlined a breathless report on Tuesday: "Cheney's Office Is A Focus in Leak Case" -- the fact is that Cheney and his aides have been likely suspects from day one.

No prominent member of the administration had more to lose as a result of the 2003 revelation by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, that the White House's pre-war claims regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been inflated than did Cheney -- who, to a far greater extent than George Bush, had a hand in shaping the arguments for going to war, plugged them in media appearances and defended them after all evidence suggested his pronouncements had been wrong. It is important to recall that, while Bush may have deliberately fuzzed the facts in his 2003 State of the Union address, it was Cheney who leapt off the cliff of speculation with the pre-war declaration that, "We know Saddam Hussein's been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

No key player in the administration was more at odds with the Central Intelligence Agency than Cheney. Indeed, Cheney's badgering of the agency to come up with "evidence" of Iraqi WMDs and al-Qaeda connections was so aggressive -- he regularly stormed into the CIA headquarters to demand a briefing and then, when the information did not fit his biases, demanded that someone else brief him -- that members of the House Intelligence Committee complained in a reprimanding letter, "These visits are unprecedented. Normally, vice presidents, including yourself, receive regular briefings from (the) CIA in your office and have a CIA officer on permanent detail. There is no reason to make personal visits to the CIA."

No top office within the administration was better positioned than Cheney's to gather the information that was used to attack Wilson and his wife and to peddle that information to the press. In fact, as Joe Wilson told me in an interview about the leaking of his wife's name that we did early in 2004, "With respect to who actually leaked the information, there are really only a few people -- far fewer than the president let on when he said there are a lot of senior administration officials -- who could have done it. At the end of the day, you have to have the means, the keys to the conversations at which somebody might drop my wife's name -- deliberately or not -- a national security clearance, and a reason to be talking about this. When you look at all that, there are really very few people who exist at that nexis between national security and foreign policy and politics. You can count them, literally, on two hands."

Wilson added that, without a doubt, "the vice president is one of those people."

And no one, repeat no one, in Washington is known to be more vindictive than Dick Cheney. So the notion that Cheney would not only have been aware of but in fact delighted in punishing Wilson by ruining the career of the ambassador's wife is entirely plausible. By all accounts, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating that prospect as his long examination of crimes that may have been committed in relation to the Plame leak draws to a close.

Does this mean that the vice president will be indicted by the federal grand jury that is currently examining the actions of White House political czar Karl Rove and, more importantly, Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

Don't bet on it.

Libby is blood-oath, fall-on-the-sword loyal to Cheney. A Reagan-era State Department hand and Congressional staffer who came to know his future boss when Cheney was serving in Congress during the 1980s, Libby went with Cheney to George H. W. Bush's Defense Department -- serving Secretary of Defense Cheney as Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Strategy and Resources and Deputy Under Secretary for Policy. Libby was then a founder of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century, which promoted the vision of American Empire that Cheney and his staff had cooked up in their controversial draft Defense Policy Guidance statement during their final days at the Pentagon. And when Cheney returned to the corridors of power, as vice president, Libby was at his side.

But the Cheney-Libby partnership is not merely a power and policy connection. Their relationship is more father-son than boss-surrogate. Libby vacations with Cheney at the vice president's $2.9 million villa in Wyoming, and Libby's access is such that he is welcome to invite friends and compatriots along to enjoy the skiing near Jackson Hole.

The likelihood that Libby would give up a relationship that has buttered his bread for the better part of a quarter century is even more remote than the likelihood that Rove would turn on Bush.

Yet, no one who knows about how Cheney and Libby operate will doubt that the two men had no secrets from one another during the period when the attacks on the CIA, in general, and Wilson and Plame, in particular, were taking place.

The vice president is a famously hands-on player. He personally requested information about claims that the Iraqis were attempting to obtain uranium from African countries -- the issue that Wilson examined in 2002, when he was dispatched to Africa and found that the claims were not credible. And while Cheney now says that he knew nothing of the report that Wilson produced before the war, the former ambassador has never believed him.

"If you are senior enough to ask the question, you are senior enough to get a very specific response," said Wilson. "In addition to the circular report that was sent around as a consequence of my trip, I have every confidence that one way or another the vice president was briefed as well." Yet, it was the vice president who continued to claim, long after Bush had dropped the line, that Saddam Hussein was a nuclear threat. And Cheney always went much further than Bush or others in the administration when making that claim. Indeed, it was Cheney who specifically stated prior to the Congressional votes on authorizing the use of force in Iraq that, Hussein had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." Cheney claimed in the same speech that, "Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten American friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."

It is certainly reasonable to argue that Cheney had more reason to strike out at Wilson than anyone else in the administration when the former ambassador revealed the truth in a New York Times opinion piece that appeared in the summer of 2003. And, while Cheney may not have done the deed directly, it is comic to suggest that the vice president -- who was in constant contact with both Libby and Rove around the time of the leak -- could have been unaware of any serious effort to discredit Wilson by "outing" his wife as a CIA agent.

John Nichols' biography of Vice President Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President (The New Press, 2004) is currently available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. An expanded paperback version of the book, which Publisher's Weekly describes as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says "reveals the inner Cheney," will be available this fall under the title, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press).

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