The Nation

The Mother of All Benchmarks in Iraq: Oil

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002-2003, oil was seldom mentioned. Yes, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz did describe the country as afloat "on a sea of oil" (which might fund any American war and reconstruction program there); and, yes, on rare occasions, the President did speak reverentially of preserving "the patrimony of the people of Iraq" -- by which he meant not cuneiform tablets or ancient statues in the National Museum in Baghdad, but the country's vast oil reserves, known and suspected. And yes, oil did make it prominently onto the signs of war protestors at home and abroad.

Everybody who was anybody in Washington and the media, not to speak of the punditocracy and think-tank-ocracy of our nation knew, however, that those bobbing signs among the millions of antiwar demonstrators that said "No Blood for Oil" were just so simplistic, if not utterly simpleminded. Oil news, as was only proper, was generally relegated to the business pages of our papers, or even more properly -- since it was at best but one modest factor among so very many in Bush administration calculations -- roundly ignored. Admittedly, the first "reconstruction" contract the administration issued was to Halliburton to rescue that country's "patrimony," its oil fields, from potential self-destruction during the invasion, and the key instructions -- possibly just about the only instructions -- issued to U.S. troops after taking Baghdad were to guard the Oil Ministry. Then again, everyone knew this crew had their idiosyncrasies.

Ever since, oil has played a remarkably small part in the consideration of, coverage of, or retrospective assessments of the invasion, occupation, and war in Iraq (unless you lived on the Internet). To give but a single example, the index to Thomas E. Ricks' almost 500-page bestseller, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, has but a single relevant entry: "oil exports and postwar reconstruction, Wolfowitz on, 98." Yet today, every leading politician of either party is strangely convinced that the key "benchmark" the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must pass to prove its mettle is the onerous oil law, now stalled in Parliament, that has been forced upon it by the Bush administration.

Recently, Tomdispatch.com regular Michael Schwartz followed the oil slicks deep into the Gulf of Catastrophe in Iraq. Offering a sweeping view of the role oil, the prize of prizes in Iraq, has played in Bush administration considerations since 2001, he concludes on the Mother of All Benchmarks: "Like so many American initiatives in Iraq, the oil law, even if passed, might never be worth more than the paper it will be printed on. The likelihood that any future Iraqi government which takes on a nationalist mantel will consider such an agreement in any way binding is nil. One day in perhaps the not so distant future, that ‘law,' even if briefly the law of the land, is likely to find itself in the dustbin of history, along with Saddam's various oil deals. As a result, the Bush administration's ‘capture of new and existing oil and gas fields' is likely to end as a predictable fiasco."

Not Quite a French Poodle

PARIS -- During the campaign for president of France, Socialist Sègolene Royal's supporters derided conservative front runner Nicolas Sarkozy as "an American neo-conservative with a French passport."

The line Royal and her backers pushed as she struggled to close the gap in the final sprint to catch up with Sarkozy was that the conservative would abandon France's traditional stance as an independent player on the international stage and make the nation little more than an American puppet-state.

The charge was always something of stretch. Sarkozy may have been more comfortable than Royal when it came to speaking of "friendship" with the US, but he always explained that friendship did not require "submission."

Sarkozy was never going to be George Bush's "poodle" in the way that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been in the run-up to the Iraq war. During the campaign, Sarkozy pointedly stated his opposition to the war, backed moves to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan, and allowed as how "the messianic side of Americans can be tiresome."

That said, Sarkozy was during the course of the campaign portrayed as the more Bush-friendly candidate for the presidency, a characterization that did him no good in a country where the American leader enjoys only a six percent approval rating.

No serious election observer doubted that it was Sarkozy's tough talk about modernizing the French economy and promoting law and order--as well as Royal's missteps early in the campaign--that gave the conservative the lead. Still, Sarkozy's 53-47 win over Royal in Sunday's voting was always going to be seen as something of a victory for Bush. The White House rushed to congratulate the winner, as presidential aides and appointees spoke up about how the administration really looks forward to working with the man who will replace outgoing French President Jacques Chirac, a frequent thorn in Bush's side.

But Sarkozy, who ran with Chirac's support, was not playing the poodle role on the night of his electoral triumph.

Conscious of fears that he would be unwilling to stand up to an American president who was making mistakes, the French president-elect delivered an acceptance speech that promised friendship to the United States but rejected acquiescence.

Speaking of his desire for good relations with the US, Sarkozy did not hesitate to prod Washington on an issue--after Iraq--has put the Bush White House most at odds with the world. While the Bush and his allies have long attempted to deny the seriousness of the threat posed by global warming, and in so doing have undermined international efforts to address climate change, the French president-elect said, "I want to tell them [American leaders] as well that friendship is accepting that one's friends can act differently, and that a great nation like the United States has the duty to not obstruct the fight against global warming but on the contrary to take the lead in this struggle because what is at stake is the future of all humanity."

Despite that opening salvo, Sarkozy is not likely to be so publicly pointed in his challenges to US policies as Royal would have been.

But the conservative, who led the race from the start, knows that Royal scored points by suggesting that Sarkozy would be too willing to align with the US, and he is taking important steps to establish his independence.

That's important, for France and the US.

As Sarkozy says, honest friendship between countries is about more than just allies saying "yes" to allies.

Honest friendship between countries requires a pointed challenge when the capable leader of one country comes to the conclusion that an ally is at odds with reality.

There's no question that President Bush is at odds with reality when it comes to global warming.

Sarkozy's willingness to challenge the American president in his first address as the president-elect of France marks him as a something more than a French poodle.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Wolfowitz and Riza: How Sweet It Is!

At the start of the scandal triggered by the revelation that World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz had helped arrange generous pay boosts for his girlfriend Shaha Riza, Wolfowitz declared, "I made a mistake, for which I am sorry."

Two and a half weeks later, Wolfowitz had readjusted his rhetoric. "The ethics charges are unwarranted" and "bogus," he said.

On Friday, the Bank's board of directors was working to complete its report on the Wolfowitz affair and pondering whether to reprimand or even remove Wolfowitz. But regardless of the outcome of the official deliberations--which have been affected by behind the scenes maneuvering and the individual agendas of member nations--the Wolfowitz and Riza tale is one of Washington insiderism, a story in which a powerful player was able to guarantee that his companion would make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and be entitled to a lucrative pension while working at a fledgling foundation with a friend of his. This is not how most public servants in Washington live.

After Wolfowitz, a former deputy defense secretary who was a prime architect of the Iraq war, assumed the Bank's presidency, he was faced with what he has called "a potential conflict of interest." He would be the boss (albeit not the direct boss) of his girlfriend, who was a communications officer in the Middle East section. He subsequently worked out a deal under which Riza would remain a Bank employee but be reassigned out of the Bank. What has caused the fuss is that this arrangement included a 36 percent pay hike--which raised her annual salary from $132,660 to $180,000--and guaranteed yearly pay increases of 8 percent. (She is now pulling in $193,000 a year.)

Wolfowitz has justified the initial compensation boost by arguing that when he arrived at the Bank Riza was short-listed for a promotion to communications adviser to the vice president of the Middle East region. Such a promotion would entail a jump in pay grade. The office of the vice president of the region had placed Riza's name on a short list of nine candidates, but, according to an official familiar with the deliberations of the human resources committee overseeing this job opening, Riza's position on the short list was not initially approved by the committee--a necessary step for her to receive the job. That did not end the matter. "It became clear the board was under strong pressure from upstairs to keep her on the short list," this official says.

Whether or not she made it to the final short list--Bank officials have different recollections--she was no shoe-in for the promotion. Two years earlier, Jean-Louis Sarbib, then the vice president for the Middle East region, had proposed Riza for a similar position, and the human resources board had rejected her. The board noted, according to a report made available to The Nation, that Sarbib should have sought other applicants for the position, that Riza "needs to establish herself as a communications professional," and that she should not receive a "promotion through the backdoor." Riza did not meet the minimum job qualifications: an advanced degree in communications and 15 years of experience. She was a gender specialist at the Bank--a well-known Arab feminist-- who had done communications work for only a few years.

In statements to the Bank's board, Wolfowitz has pointed to Riza's candidacy for the communications adviser post as a reason for awarding her a $47,340 compensation increase. "This raise is about double what you'd be allowed to get if you got that promotion," the official familiar with these deliberations said. "For Wolfowitz to use the argument that she was short-listed goes against what the committee said about her two years before. It does not justify the salary increase."

The Riza deal included more than that first big pay hike and annual increases. It also essentially guaranteed Riza subsequent promotions to higher pay grades. And the deal would provide her the yearly pay increases for up to ten years, if Wolfowitz remained at the Bank for a second term. By the end of a second Wolfowitz term, Riza, were she to stay a Bank employee, would make close to $400,000, possibly more.

These pay increases would lead to an outsized pension. According to a Bank source familiar with the institution's pension rules and formulas, pensions for Bank retirees are based on the average salary of an employee's last three years at the Bank. Under the Wolfowitz deal, Riza could expect an annual pension of about $110,000, if she retired in 2015 (assuming Wolfowitz served two terms). If Wolfowitz had not awarded her that initial salary hike of nearly $50,000 and she instead received steady annual raises of 4 percent over this ten-year period, her pension would be about $56,000. With the Wolfowitz deal, Riza could look forward to a rather comfortable pension.

And she could retire after working with a close friend of her boyfriend.

In September 2005, the Riza deal was finalized, and the World Bank and State Department agreed she would be seconded to the department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. She was given the task of developing a foundation that would focus on reform in the Middle East and North Africa. It would eventually be called the Foundation for the Future. (At the time, Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, was a principal deputy assistant secretary in the bureau, coordinating Middle East initiatives.) But there aparently was some question about her status at the State Department. The next month, J. Scott Carpenter, a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, faxed a note to the World Bank saying that "we do not view Ms. Riza as detailed or seconded to the U.S. Government." He offered to "further refine this arrangement." Documents released by the World Bank do not indicate what subsequently transpired between the State Department and the Bank regarding Riza's employment status.

Over a year later, on October 1, 2006, Anwar Ibrahim, chairman of the Foundation for the Future, wrote Robin Cleveland, a senior Wolfowitz aide at the Bank, and requested the transfer of Riza from the State Department to the Foundation for the Future. Two months later, after Cleveland instructed the Bank's vice president of human resources to approve the transfer, the Bank okayed the switch.

The Anwar letter and other Bank documents related to this transfer did not mention that Anwar is a longtime friend of Wolfowitz. One of Asia's most prominent Muslim politicians, Anwar was a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia. He and Wolfowitz met and developed a friendship in the mid-1980s, when Wolfowitz was U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, according to Aasil Ahmad, an adviser to Anwar. In 1998, after addressing a rally protesting the government, Anwar was arrested and subsequently jailed on corruption and sodomy charges. During his years in jail, Wolfowitz was an outspoken champion of Anwar. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Anwar, while still imprisoned, wrote an essay condemning the attacks and calling on the Muslim worked to address "the suffering inflicted on the Muslim masses in Iraq by its dictator."

When Anwar was released from prison in 2004, Wolfowitz flew to Germany to meet him. The next year, Anwar, a former finance minister for Malaysia, endorsed Wolfowitz's appointment to the Bank, though he noted that he didn't share Wolfowitz's view of the Iraq war. ("The best the Americans can do is to withdraw their forces from Iraq," Anwar said.) These days, Anwar is back in Malaysia, advising the PKR opposition party, which is led by his wife, and preparing to run for president.

While helping to establish the Foundation for the Future at the State Department, Riza had recruited Anwar to serve as its initial adviser, according to Ahmad. The two then went about selecting a board of directors and drawing up the mandate for the group, which calls on the foundation to "advance and strengthen freedom and democratic trends and practices" in Middle Eastern and North African nations by supporting reform, media, human rights, and women's groups in those countries. The foundation, which is not a US government entity, has received a $35 million funding commitment from the United States and about $20 million in pledges from other governments. The board includes prominent citizens of Muslim nations. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is the only American on the board.

The foundation has not gotten off to a big start. It has yet to provide a single grant. Its first president, Bakhtiar Amin, an Iraqi who served as a minister in the first interim government set up following the invasion of Iraq, left the post after a short time in the job. "He was not up to the task," says a source who has worked with the foundation. No replacement has yet been selected. The group also does not have a chief financial officer or a chief operations officer at this time. Last year, it decided to open its main Middle East office in Beirut--right before the war in Lebanon. It has no permanent office in Washington. Email requests for information on its activities have gone unanswered. Its website lists no phone number. But Ahmad, the adviser to Anwar, says the foundation will soon begin awarding grants, perhaps in the beginning of June. Riza, he says, has continued to handle the day-to-day operations of the foundation. Riza, who is qualified for the job, has not been talking to the media.

Bloggers have raised conspiratorial questions about the foundation. (See here.) The available evidence is that the outfit is legitimate, though it has been beset with logistical problems. But until it gets around to handing out grants, its work and aims cannot be fully assessed.

In the Paul and Shaha saga, the work (or non-work) of the Foundation for the Future is not the main issue. Riza ended up there after a Wolfowitz friend (Anwar) wrote the Bank and asked for Riza to be detailed to the foundation--and a Wolfowitz crony (Cleveland) said yes. Whether such actions violate any Bank rules, this is incestuous. Consider the overall scenario: thanks to her boyfriend, Shaha Riza, after receiving a hefty pay raise, could serve as an adviser to a barely-functioning foundation she helped create, working with a friend of her romantic partner, and pull in $200,000 to $400,000 annually over the next ten years. And then she could retire with a $110,000 per year pension. This is quite a deal for the average foundation aide in Washington. In all that, is there nothing wrong? (Wolfowitz attorney Robert Bennett told Newsweek that it was Riza who "worked up the numbers" and pressed Wolfowitz to craft such generous terms.)

After first admitting he committed an error, Wolfowitz now fiercely argues he is the victim of a smear campaign waged by Bank employees who opposed him from the get-go due to his role in the Iraq war. His detractors at the Bank may be out to bring him down as payback for Iraq and for his heavy-handed management ways at the Bank. But Wolfowitz, who entered the Bank a self-styled scourge of corruption, has handed them potent ammunition. Every recipient of World Bank money must now want deals with terms so sweet.

With reporting from Stephanie Condon.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

In France, Running Against Bush

PARIS -- American elections do not usually turn on the question of how the candidates for president propose to relate to foreign countries.

But elections in other countries often feature debates about how potential presidents or prime ministers might relate to the U.S.

That is certainly the case in France where the two contenders in today's presidential contest have taken distinctly different stances with regard to whether France should maintain or alter what are now relatively strained relations with the U.S.

The issue is not anti-Americanism versus pro-Americanism, as the sillier U.S. commentators might suggest. France actually has reasonably good relations with the U.S., which is generally an ally of the European state. U.S. and French troops have fought side-by-side in Afghanistan and shared intelligence in the war on terror. They have reasonably solid trade relations and deep cultural ties going back to the days when the French were essential backers of the American revolution..

Rather, the issue is whether France should maintain an explicit policy of setting her own agenda when it comes to international affairs or follow the lead of Tony Blair's Britain and establish a policy of generally deferring to Washington -- even when the leaders there may be less than competent. Far from being offended by froeign leaders who seek to keep their distance from the U.S. and its presidents, Americans should recognize the value of having international allies who are willing to speak bluntly about what they think to be mistaken policies of a U.S, president.

The Socialist Party candidate, Segolene Royal, has made French independence in international affairs an central focus of her campaign. At a rally in Toulouse, before 17,OOO cheering supporters, she declared, "We will not genuflect before George W. Bush. In Europe, we will defend the emergence of a multi-polar world, safe from the imperial temptations of another age."

There have been no such statements from the conservative front runner in the race, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy is no Blair-like puppet. He allows as how "the messianic side of Americans can be tiresome."

But the conservative has distanced himself from retiring President Jacques Chirac's policy of distancing the French from the Bush administration. Sarkozy, who served with Chirac and has the outgoing president's endorsement, says he shares the current president's opposition to the war in Iraq. But he also talks about wanting to "rebuild the transatlantic relationship" with the U.S., and protests that "profound, sincere and unfailing" French relations with the U.S. do not amount to submission.

Royal is not so sure.

Referring to a trip to Washington on which Sarkozy met with Bush and requested that they be photographed together, she says, "I shall not be the one to shake George Bush's hand like nothing happened [in the sometimes bitter pre-war debate over Iraq], without a word on our tactical and strategic disagreements in fighting religious extremism and terrorism.

Specifically, Royal says, "I am not for a Europe that allies with the U.S. I have never been, and will never. apologize to President Bush for the position of France on the issue of refusing to send troops to Iraq."

Sarkozy denies making any apologies. He says that, under his leadership, France would be an independent player that would not be afraid to tell U.S. presidents when they are wrong.

But that has not stopped Royal's backers from trying to chip away at Sarkozy's popular appeal -- most of which appears to be rooted in the appeal of his tough approach to domestic issues such as crime and immigration -- by referring to him as "an American neo-conservative with a French passport." and producing a 9O-page review of Sarkozy's links with U.S. right wingers that refers to the conservative candidate as a "French unit of Bush & Company."

Linking Sarkozy to Bush is smart politics for Royal and her backers, According to a recent poll for the Paris newspaper Le Monde, the American president has a six percent approval rating in France.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Conservatism Crashes and Burns

Before the GOP candidates auditioned for the Republican nomination, the Campaign for America's Future held a great debate between the American Prospect's Bob Kuttner and the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol on an apt subject: "Can Conservatives be Trusted to Govern?"

Kristol had the misfortune of standing behind a podium with a large red "Con" sign. That pretty much summed things up. "I feel that I'm here to adopt that poor orphan," he joked at the beginning.

The crowd--and the political momentum--was on Kuttner's side. "The Bush era was conservatism's moment," he said. "It all crashed and burned."

Like the GOP candidates, Kristol's opening statement included a spirited defense of Ronald Reagan yet barely mentioned George W. Bush. "Reagan stopped being President eighteen years ago," Kuttner rebutted. He should tell that to the Republican presidential hopefuls in California.

Kristol wouldn't back down from his vociferous support of the war in Iraq, which he helped engineer. But he was pessimistic about the GOP's chances to retain the White House. "I bet right now that the odds are better than 50-50 that Republicans will lose in '08," he said.

And for a man who edits the Weekly Standard, Kristol seemed almost praiseworthy toward the Clinton's. "A decade of Rubinomics followed by a decade of Reaganomics--I'm fine with that," he said of the Clinton's economic policy and their guru Bob Rubin. On Iraq, he yearned for a Democrat who'd make George Bush's war a bipartisan affair. Sadly, Joe Lieberman is not running for President again.

Kristol ended by invoking his father Irving's old saying that a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality." Soon it might be the other way around.

A (Small) Measure of Sanity

Yesterday, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee proposed cutting $764 million from the Pentagon's $8.9 billion request for missile defense programs in Fiscal year 2008. Included in the cuts were $160 million from the missile defense system in Europe which would "temporarily halt" construction of silos in Poland but permit continuation of the ground-based radar in the Czech Republic and the R&D on the missile interceptors.

According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, subcommittee Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher said there needs to be debate on "Eastern European deployment…adding that the administration is trying to go around NATO while ‘we should be working within NATO….'"

But even these minimal cuts might not hold. The subcommittee's ranking member, Republican Rep. Terry Everett, hopes that the money for the Polish site will eventually be restored and Republican Rep. Trent Franks said he was "dumbfounded" by the cuts and will offer amendments when the full House Armed Services Committee meets next week.

"If this cut holds, it affects the third interceptor site in Poland – the interceptors in Alaska and California are already deployed – but it doesn't kill it entirely," says Victoria Samson, Research Analyst at the Center for Defense Information. "The funding exists to start doing R&D on the proposed interceptors and leaves open the possibility for future cooperation on the Polish site."

Another critical and perhaps less noticed cut was $10 million for the proposed insidiously named Space Test Bed. According to a CDI report co-authored by Samson "this [program] would represent the first dedicated spacebased weapons program since 1993." The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) proposes spending $290 million on this system through FY13. (It is notable that the MDA reduced its request for FY08 from $45 million to $10 million which raises these questions: are other programs doing background research for the Space Test Bed on the down low? Or perhaps the work has been classified?)

"I'm glad to see that the entire FY08 budget for the proposed Space Test Bed is gone," Samson says, "let's see how that holds up in the budgetary process. This funding would weaponize space by stealth – a move that merits a serious debate of the pros and cons, as well as an acknowledgement of the potential consequences."

Debate? Acknowledgement of consequences? Both are in short supply in the New Cold War. If your representative is a member of the House Armed Services Committee let him or her know these cuts need to be retained – and new ones identified. Spending billions on a new nuclear arsenal, and a system that raises fears of a first strike capability, is no way to promote peace.

Why Is Oliver North Still Involved in the Middle East?

I receive scores of letters each week--some via snail mail, some by e-mail. Here's one I thought worth sharing. I suspect there are many people who, like this US sailor (and for the sake of privacy, I'm not sharing his name) want to know how the hell Oliver North is "in any way involved in any situation in the Middle East." As a service to this good sailor, and others who care about how those who shamed our country in the Iran-Contra scandal are back in this White House, I am attaching a few choice links to Nation articles and other sources.


17 April 1007

To whoever is reading this...

I am currently a US Sailor aboard the USS John C Stennis operating in the Persian Gulf. I read your magazine a lot as I am currently enrolled in your subscription.

I am doing fine, I will be getting an honorable discharge this August as long as I don't do anything stupid and just do my job and stay out of trouble. I can't say I have enjoyed the military as it has its ups and downs. But I am proud of the fact that I have served my country as patriotic intentions were the reason for my enlistment. I have no regrets.

The main reason why I am writing is cause of a man I see on the news known as Oliver North. I had no clue who this man was or what he was about. My supervisor was outraged at the fact that he is a war commentator and speaking on the issues of strategies of warfare.

My supervisor educated me a bit on the Iran-Contra affair. Is there any possible way that The Nation magazine could run a small article explaining what Oliver North is about and the whole Iran-Contra affair. It is one thing to hear it from one person, but it's another to hear it from a group. I don't get any internet access to check it out myself, and if I do, I use it to check my accounts and pay bills. And if Oliver North is speaking out on the issue, who the hell is he to even be any way involved in any situation in the Middle East?

Any inputs would be nice. You can also email me with some education.

Thank you for your time.




Wikipedia Article

Iran/Contra Rehab: David Corn 2002

From Iran-Contra to Iraq

Iran/Contra: 20 Years Later


America's Mayor?

It's GOP Debate night and I'm dreading the idea of having to watch the Seven Dwarves (plus three) duke it out at the Reagan Library. I'm heading uptown in a taxi to an "Obama for Women" event (more on that later) --and my taxi driver looks like he's straight out of a Scorsese film. He's railing against Giuliani. "You know what we New York City taxi drivers used to call Rudy--Adolph or Benito," he cackles. "I can't wait for the rest of the country to find out who this guy really is."


Habeas Corpus is Missing

For the past seven years, George Bush has repeatedly violated the Constitution. Even worse, Congress has knowingly let it happen.

There's been the legalization of torture, warrantless wiretaps and the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the president absolute power to decide who is an enemy of the US, to imprison people indefinitely without charging them with a crime, and to define what is -- and what is not -- torture and abuse.

This act represented an unprecedented attack on the basic system of habeas corpus--a fundamental Constitutional right that protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment. Translated from Latin it means "show me the body." It has acted historically as an important instrument to safeguard individual freedom against arbitrary executive power.

The MCA, passed by the Republican Congress soon before the 2006 elections, was sparked by the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the original military commission system established by President Bush to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay was unfair and illegal.

This wide-ranging legislation eliminated a cornerstone of the Constitution by depriving habeas corpus rights from certain individuals and allowing the US government to continue to hold hundreds of prisoners indefinitely and without recourse.

In response, the Restoring the Constitution Act, introduced by Senator and Presidential candidate Christopher Dodd, Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Congresswoman Jane Harman restores habeas corpus and due process to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and to other detainees held by the federal government.

Moreover, this bill would prevent the current and future presidents from making up their own rules on torture, and make clear that the federal government must comply with the Geneva Conventions. The bill asserts that the Constitution is the law of the land -- and that no president can make up his or her own rules regarding torture and abuse.

The ACLU has created a website to help promote grassroots support for restoring the US Constitution. Sign the petition which will be delivered to Congress on June 26 (the one-year anniversary of the MCA's ratification), learn more about the issue, encourage others to get involved and implore your legislators to support Dodd and Nadler's bill. This is one issue left, right and center should agree on.