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The Nation

They Just Don't Get It

Republicans have sunk to a new low in their campaign to retain control of the House and Senate in 2006. They've apparently decided to claim the image and stature of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as exclusively their own.

King biographer Taylor Branch and those who were close to the civil rights leader have long insisted that King was nonpartisan. But the Washington-based National Black Republican Association has begun airing a deeply offensive and historically inaccurate radio ad in Maryland that not only alleges that Democrats started the Klu Klux Klan and want to keep African Americans "poor while only voting Democrat," but also states unequivocally that Dr. King "was a Republican".

To his credit, Maryland Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele, who happens to be African-American, has denounced the ad. But the fact that it was ever run in first place highlights a consistent problem the GOP seems to have with racial sensitivity. In Montana, embattled Republican Senator Conrad Burns has implied taxicab drivers are would be terrorists. When asked by an elderly rancher, "Conrad, how can you live back there [in Washington] with all those niggers?" Burns famously replied that it was "a hell of a challenge."

Virginia Senator George Allen's prejudices are becoming progressively more troubling. Beyond the infamous "Macaca" incident, there are now new allegations that Allen used racial epithets during the his youth to describe African Americans and once even conspired to put the severed head of a deer in the mailbox of a local black family. Allen, raised in Southern California, also appears to have romanticized some of the worst aspects of Southern history by fighting in favor of the Confederate flag and against establishing a Martin Luther King holiday.

Which brings us back to Dr. King. He would never have approved of using race to divide people. Anyone who's heard his speeches or read his works should know his life's work was to unite people of all races. It's both tragic and sad that partisan organizations like the National Black Republican Association would misrepresent him in the hopes of bolstering a candidate who's trailing in the polls.

Corn Versus Hitchens: On Niger, Plame and WMDs

A version of this was first posted at my blog at www.davidcorn.com....

I told readers of my regular blog that I would eventually get to Christopher Hitchens and his claims that Iraq had indeed sought uranium in Niger and that the Plame leak was not connected to a White House vendetta against Joe Wilson (and that I had promoted this "delusion.") Today's Slate contains a lengthy response from me that contends that Hitchens' Niger theorizing is contradicted by various facts he conveniently ignores. (These facts are covered at great length in the new book I wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.) The piece also reminds (or, attempts to remind) Hitchens of other facts he never references when he writes about the Plame case: namely, that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were out to undermine Wilson and in doing so leaked classified information about his wife's CIA employment. If you're interested in the details, you can go to the piece. Here's the finale:

For more than two decades, I have seen Hitchens weave facts and assertions into stylistically brilliant copy as he attempts to intuit great truths. But when he comes to believe that he can outthink the facts, he ends up enwrapped in creative conspiratorial fantasies. This past February, I participated in a radio debate with him on whether the Bush administration had misguided the nation into war. Hitchens largely avoided the question at hand and instead argued the necessity of the invasion. When he did address the issue of the absent WMDs in Iraq, he took a strange turn. "Doesn't anything ever strike you as odd," he said, "about the figure of zero for [WMD] deposits found in Iraq?...Isn't it odd that none after all this? None? Doesn't that suggest a crime scene that has been pretty well dusted in advance, the fingerprints wiped? Well, it does to me." Read that quote carefully. It is revealing. Hitchens was saying that the fact that no weapons had been uncovered in Iraq (after nearly three years of searching) was evidence that there had been weapons. How can one argue with a person of such intellectual prowess that he can turn absence into presence by mere deduction?

On the Niger and Plame matters, his accounts rely on the same conceit: that his deductions, as Byzantine as they might be, trump the known facts. In this manner, Hitchens has become a full-fledged ally of the reality-defying advocates of the Iraq invasion. I sadly count that as another casualty of the war.

Hitchens, of course, replied--mainly be repeating his previous assertions, without addressing the inconvenient facts I presented. As might be expected, he offers a caricature of my original argument, claiming that I adhere to a "simple-minded presumption of Iraqi innocence" on the matter of its alleged pursuit of uranium in Niger. He did not read my response carefully enough. I did not state that Iraq was innocent because it claimed to be. I pointed out that the facts--those developed primarily by Charles Duelfer and his Iraq Survey Group (and recently endorsed by the Republican-controlled Senate intelligence committee)--contradict Hitchens' charges. He wisely avoids that reality and instead swings his scythe at a straw man of his own construction.

Hitchens also belittles the work of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. But here he again ducks a significant slice of reality, such as Libby's alleged lying to the FBI and the grand jury. Does Hitchens, a crusader for the (that is, his) truth, believe that government officials who lie to federal prosecutors deserve a pass?

As for the missing WMDs, Hitchens writes,

Corn seems to believe that the dictator who not only acquired and concealed them, but who actually used them, must be granted the benefit of the doubt.

Why does such a brilliant man have such a difficult time with a simple concept? I do not grant Saddam any benefit. Nor did Duelfer or David Kay, his predecessor as ISG chief. I merely cite the conclusions of their investigations. If these two men--who both supported the war and believed there were WMDs in Iraq--determined there were no unconventional weapons (or WMD programs) in Iraq after 1991, then Hitchens must bring more to the table than his presumptions. Accepting the findings of Duelfer and Kay (as even George W. Bush reluctantly did; though I'm not sure about Dick Cheney) is not a sign of softness on Saddam. By conflating the two, Hitchens is resorting to disingenuous wordplay. It is a rhetorical tactic he should not have to resort to--unless he is on the ropes.

All in all, Hitchens' reply was in keeping with the columns that prompted my article. He still believes his deduction and analysis can trump the facts. That places him in fine company, for it was just that sort of thinking that landed the United States in the mess in Iraq.

******

For information on Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, click here.

'You Did Your Nice Little Conservative Hit Job On Me'

Regular readers of this column will know that it maintains no great affection for former President Bill Clinton. A Democratic Leadership Council stalwart, Clinton got elected president by promising health care and education for all and then proceeded to give the country fiscal conservatism and a corporate-sponsored free trade agenda. His missteps handed control of Congress to Newt Gingrich and the radical right, rendering the Democratic party largely dysfunctional at the legislative level to this day.

But there has never been any doubt that Clinton was more serious about combating terrorism than his successor, George W. Bush. Clinton actually worried about threats to the United States, while Bush dismissed warnings at precisely the moment when the threats were most serious. And, as the intelligence community now confirms, Bush's failure of focus and practice have made the Americans more vulnerable.

The fact that Bush's supremely political presidency treats "homeland security" as a slogan rather than a necessity is the fundamental flaw in the current commander-in-chief's deeply flawed tenure. And his handlers are well aware of the problem. That's why they have worked so hard, along with their amen corner in the media, to create the false impression that Clinton and the Democrats were somehow more responsible for the 9-11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than Bush and the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Unfortunately, the so-called "leaders" of the opposition party have done a lousy job of challenging the spin job... until now.

Clinton used an appearance with "Fox News Sunday's" Chris Wallace to challenge the lies of the Bush administration and its media acolytes.The interview, which was broadcast over the weekend, got to the heart of what's wrong not with the Bush presidency but with a media that covers that presidency from the on-bended-knee position.

Clinton recognized that Wallace, one of the more competent members of the Fox team, was under pressure to mouth the Republican talking points that the network uses as its reference points. And the former president pounced on that vulnerability.

When Wallace started in on the "Why didn't you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President?" line of questioning, Clinton leapt.

"Okay, let's talk about it," the former president began. "I will answer all of those things on the merits, but I want to talk about the context (in) which this (discussion) arises. I'm being asked this on the FOX network… ABC just had a right-wing conservative (program) on "The Path to 9/11" falsely claim that it was… based on the 911 Commission Report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission Report. I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn't do enough claimed (in the 1990s) that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush's neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn't have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say that I didn't do enough said (then) that I did too much. Same people."

By now, Wallace was sputtering: "I understand...," "with respect, if I may, instead of...," "But Mr. President..."

But Clinton was on a roll.

Despite Wallace's stumbling attempts to interrupt him, Clinton went year-by-year, incident-by-incident, initiative-by-initiative through his anti-terror efforts.

"I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill (bin Laden)," the former president explained. "The CIA was run by George Tenet, who President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to and said he did a good job. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack/search for Bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got (only) after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred Special Forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn't (think we should have done) that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too? All I'm asking is if anybody wants to say I didn't do enough, you read (former National Security Advisor) Richard Clarke's book."

Wallace finally asked: "Do you think you did enough, sir?"

Clinton replied: "No, because I didn't get him."

Wallace chirped, "Right."

Clinton countered, "But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn't. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country: Dick Clarke. So you did FOX's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know…

Stung, Wallace was again interrupting. But Clinton held firm. "I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you've asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked ‘Why didn't you do anything about the Cole?' I want to know how many you asked ‘Why did you fire Dick Clarke?' I want to know…"

"We ask plenty of questions of…" sputtered Wallace.

"Tell the truth…" Clinton shot back, before revealing that he had Wallace's number.

"You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because (Fox owner) Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you'd spend half the time talking about (climate change.) You said you'd spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don't care."

Truer words have rarely been spoken on a nationally-televised "news" program.

When a beaten Wallace tried to cover for himself – "… all I can say is, I'm asking you in good faith because it's on people's minds, sir. And I wasn't…" – Clinton nailed him: "There's a reason it's on people's minds. That's the point I'm trying to make. There's a reason it's on people's minds because they've done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression."

Love Bill Clinton or hate him, but understand that his appearance on Fox New Sunday was one of those rare moments in recent American history when a target of our drive-by media shot back.

All the News Our Tiny Minds Can Manage

For a little thought experiment, go to the website of Newsweek'sinternationaledition. There, running down the left side of the page, are threecovers, all the same, for the European, Asian, and Latin Americaneditions of the October 2 issue.

Each has a dramatic shot of a Taliban fighter shouldering an RPG(rocket-propelled grenade). The cover headline is: "LosingAfghanistan," pointing to a devastating piece on our Afghan War by RonMoreau, Sami Yousafzai, and Michael Hirsh, "The Rise ofJihadistan." which sports this subhead: "Five years after theAfghan invasion, the Taliban are fighting back hard, carving out asanctuary where they--and Al Qaeda's leaders--can operate freely." Thepiece begins: "You don't have to drive very far from Kabul these daysto find the Taliban." (In fact, the magazine's reporters found agathering of 100 of them in a village just a two-hour drive south of theAfghan capital.)

Now, go back to the internationaledition and take another look. Scrolldown the page to the cover which doesn't match the others. That's the one forNewsweek's US edition. No Taliban fighter. No RPG.Instead, a photo of an ash-blond woman with three young children dressedin white, one in her arms, and the headline: "My Life in Pictures." The woman turns out to be Annie Liebovitz, photographer of the stars,and the story by Cathleen McGuigan, "Through HerLens," has this Taliban-free first line: "Annie Leibovitz is tiredand nursing a cold, and she' s just flown back to New York on thered-eye from Los Angeles, where she spent two days shooting AngelinaJolie for Vogue."

"The Rise of Jihadism" is still inside, of course; now, a secondarystory. After all, Angelina Jolie is ours, while a distant botch of awar in Afghanistan..? As the magazine's editors clearly concluded,while the rest of the world considers the return of the Taliban, let useat cake.

No Fox Trot

On Fox News this Sunday, President Bill Clinton offered Democrats a timely lesson in defeating tired Rovian election-year ploys when Chris Wallace asked him, "Why didn't you do more to connect the dots and put [al-Qaida and bin Laden] out of business?"

On the heels of the ABC faux drama – not much documentary – The Path to 9-11, a fiery Clinton was on display. His response (and performance) was fierce, relentless, and stuck to the facts. Clinton didn't allow Wallace to do a Fox trot of an interview. Instead, he passionately defended his record and turned the conversation back to where it belongs – on the real failings of the Bush administration, neo-cons, and their lock-step GOPsters when it comes to national security and fighting terrorism.

Holding that band accountable just became a lot easier. A National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus view of the 16 spy services, suggests that the War in Iraq has increased the terrorist threat. But the White House and Republicans continue to avoid any and all inconvenient facts, and insist that only their failed policies are keeping Americans safe. Ready for media folks like Wallace (and the "we distort, you decide network) to rush off and ask Republicans the tough questions required if we're going to call ourselves a democracy ? I'm not holding my breath.

Release the NIE on Iraq and Terrorism!

Reality intrudes again. President Bush and his allies keep insisting that the invasion of Iraq was essential to winning the fight against anti-American Islamic jihadists. The government's top experts on terrorism and Islamic extremism disagree. As The New York Times reported on Sunday, a National Intelligence Estimate produced earlier this year noted that the Iraq war has fueled Islamic radicalism around the globe and has caused the terrorist threat to grow. In other words, Bush's invasion of Iraq has been counterproductive. Or put this way: the ugly war in Iraq that has claimed the lives of thousands of American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians has placed the United States more at risk.

Times reporter Mark Mazzetti noted in his front-page article that he had spoken to "more than a dozen" U.S. government officials and outside experts who had either seen the NIE or who had participated in its creation. That's a lot of footwork. But he did not quote from the document itself, except to note that the NIE describes a radical Islamic movement of "self-generating" cells. (An NIE is the intelligence community's most definitive assessment of a major strategic issue and is supposed to represent the consensus view of the government's various intelligence agencies. This particular NIE is the first evaluation of global terrorism since the invasion of Iraq.)

The White House has claimed that the Times's account of the NIE did not represent the complete document. And Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte has declared--in response to the news of this NIE--that the Bush administration has scored significant success against the "global jihadist threat."

Well, is the threat now worse because of Bush's war in Iraq? Does the NIE say the war has made the jihadist threat more dangerous? The White House could resolve this very quickly by declassifying the NIE. If the report contains nuances or success stories not conveyed by the Times report (and those of other newspapers), releasing the report will clear things up.

The report is classified. But an NIE of this sort is probably more of an analytical document than a run-down of secret intelligence. And, certainly, the real secrets in the report--particularly references to sources and methods--can be redacted.

There is precedent for a partial release of an NIE. Months into the war in Iraq, when no WMDs had been found and the Bush administration was being accused of having misrepresented the prewar intelligence to hype the Iraq threat, the White House did declassify portions of the NIE on Iraq's WMDs. The point was to show that the intelligence community had informed the White House that Saddam Hussein was sitting on stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. But that flawed NIE also contained dissents and conflicting information indicating there were serious questions about the WMD case. And before the White House released these slices of the NIE, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized Scooter Libby to disclose potions of the NIE to friendly reporters--most notably, Judith Miller of The New York Times. Libby, though, made sure not to share the dissents and contradicting material. Libby's highly selective leak to Miller did not end up helping the White House, and Bush's press operation subsequently made public whole chunks of the NIE. That, too, didn't get Bush out of the where-are-the-WMDs jam, for these excerpts showed there had been questions about key parts of the WMD case. (For more on all this, see the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff: Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.)

If the White House was able to release parts of that NIE on WMDs, it can do the same with the NIE on Iraq and terrorism. It may, though, not be motivated to do so.

INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "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 more information on Hubris, click here.

The Devil and Mr. Bush

Love him, hate him, fear him, revere him, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is an elected world leader whose fiery criticisms of US foreign policy can't simply be ignored or ridiculed.

Maybe Chávez did himself, his larger alternative agenda and his country a disservice by treating the UN podium as the set of his weekly TV show at home. His "The Devil is Mr. Bush" riff--an obviously allegorical one if you ask me--delivered with an actor's dramatic flair and a good deal of humor risked drowning out other important messages he did deliver. For example, how many know that he laid out an innovative four-point program to renew and reform the UN--and spoke eloquently about how and why this "era is giving birth to a heart"?

For sure, the speech was far from a model of diplomatic rhetoric. But that didn't seem to bother the scores of experienced delegate-diplomats in the hall, who greeted Chávez's speech with wild applause. (When Bush spoke the day before, the General Assembly's hall sounded like a morgue.) That reaction, as an incisive Washington Post article points out, shows that Chávez's words, while "harsh...in many ways...merely expressed in bolder terms what a number of other world leaders and foreign diplomats believe." Moreover, to be fair, how much diplomatic tact does Chávez owe to a President whose administration supported a coup against him?

Instead of trying to understand why Chávez said what he did, and how it played in Latin America and other parts of the world, or reporting that he also said in an interview last week that he'd welcome an improved relationship with the next Administration, most of the US media was quick to attack the Venezuelan President for his incendiary words. Few bothered to ask why Chávez's excoriation of Bush might increase his popularity with UN member states and boost his campaign to win a non-permanent seat on the Security Council this October.

The media's response isn't surprising. What surprises me, however, is that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi felt compelled to go on record denouncing Chávez's words. Pelosi-- someone I usually respect because I think she's been an effective leader (and has effectively handled ridiculous and tasteless GOP attacks)--said that "Chávez fancies himself a modern-day Simon Bolivar, but all he is is an everyday thug."

This bad soundbite of an attack certainly seems a distraction from more important issues the Democrats should be engaging and fighting for with just 44 days before election day. And if Pelosi felt it was so important to say something, weren't there more effective ways of putting Chávez's criticisms into context? Maybe talk about how unfortunate it is that Bush's policies have fueled unprecedented anti-Americanism abroad and such vitriolic rhetoric from foreign leaders? Maybe talk about why these are times when we need effective diplomacy and dialogue with countries like Venezuela--not name calling?

Some Democrats, like Senator Tom Harkin, got it right. Harkin said that, while he believes Chávez's remarks were "incendiary," he "can understand the frustration and anger of certain people because of George Bush's policies." Seems like common sense to me.

Rendition Chic

In a recent Washington Post piece on the case of Maher Arar ("Canadian Was Falsely Accused, Panel Says"), reporter Doug Struck noted that since September 11, 2001, an estimated 3,000 people have been captured or kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency. Many, like Maher, taken in "extraordinary rendition" operations, were transported "to other countries, hidden from U.S. legal requirements and often subject to torture." (Arar was sent to Syria to be tortured.) Then Struck added this curious note: "Those renditions are often carried out by CIA agents dressed head to toe in black, wearing masks, who blindfold their subjects and dress them in black."

Head to toe in black with masks? Uh… is this simply the fashion fetishism from hell? Are our covert warriors from Langley, Virginia now choosing to sport the look of ninja warriors?

Can anyone remember a time -- we're talking World War II here -- when black was still the color, and aesthetic, of fascism? When, if you were small, you automatically knew that the guy in black in the western -- the one with the twirlable mustache and the leer who slunk into the saloon just as the cowboy dressed in white emerged from the sheriff's office -- was the bad guy?

Way back in 1948, three years after the World War ended in triumph, actor William Boyd, who had played the cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy on the silver screen, gained TV rights to his old "Hoppy" movies and shunted into a new medium those "spine-tingling episodes never before shown on TV!" Now, Hoppy, who had the requisite white hremember a time when black was the color--and aesthetic-oorse, nonetheless dressed in black and yet proved an early TV sensation. And Boyd parlayed his TV show into a host of licensed products -- including black shirts sold to adoring children by the skadzillion. As TV historian J. Fred MacDonald wrote, this was "a singular marketing achievement since in American culture black was associated with mourning or Italian Fascism."

No longer is it so singular. Now, the aesthetic of fascism and of Hong Kong ninja movies, the aesthetic that came to be shared in the post-Vietnam toy universe by both G.I. Joe and his arch enemy, COBRA, the aesthetic of Darth Vader and his storm troopers, not to speak of SWAT teams across the country, is shared as well by our covert warriors. We know that on extraordinary rendition operations, CIA renditioners have, on occasion, stayed on taxpayer money in five-star hotels, dined out in five-star restaurants, and taken five-star Italian vacations to rest up. But who knew that, having spent all those years at the movies, they were also boning up on torture chic. Where's the runway? Egypt? Syria? Uzbekistan?

The Pro-Torture Pact

Democrats chose to outsource their policy on military tribunals to John McCain. And McCain did what he's done best the last year: capitulate to Bush.

"Senators Snatch Defeat From Jaws of Victory: US to be First Nation to Authorize Violations of Geneva," Georgetown University law professor Marty Lederman writes of the so-called "compromise" between Senators McCain/Graham/Warner and President Bush.

Says Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office:

"The proposal would make the core protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions irrelevant and unenforceable. It deliberately provides a 'get out of jail free card' to the administration's top torture officials, and backdates that card nine years.

"Also under the proposal, the president would have the authority to declare what is - and what is not - a grave breach of the War Crimes Act, making the president his own judge and jury. This provision would give him unilateral authority to declare certain torture and abuse legal and sound. In a telling move, during a call with reporters today, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley would not even answer a question about whether waterboarding would be permitted under the agreement.

"The agreement would also violate time-honored American due process standards by permitting the use of evidence coerced through cruel and abusive treatment. We urge lawmakers to stand firm in their commitment to American values and reject this charade of a compromise."

Adds the Washington Post editorial page:

"In effect, the agreement means that US violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent."

In the end, McCain got loads of admiring press coverage. And Bush got almost everything he wanted.