Several minutes after noon on Tuesday, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby sat in a crowded Washington court room and somberly watched as the forewoman of the jury in his obstruction of justice trial pronounced the verdict. "Guilty," she said, regarding Count One. She moved on to the other counts and repeated that word three times. The jury had found Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff guilty on four out of five counts. Libby stared straight ahead. He showed no reaction.
Eleven Washingtonians had convicted a former senior Bush White House aide of lying. The case was narrow. It was not about who had leaked classified information outing Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA officer; it was not about whether the Bush administration had manipulated the prewar intelligence to whip up public support for the invasion of Iraq; it was not about the war. Still, Libby had been on trial for having deliberately misled government investigators to protect himself--and perhaps the vice president--from a criminal inquiry that had come about because the White House had not been straight with the public about the war. In the face of criticism that the administration had hyped the prewar intelligence, the White House in June and July 2003 went on the offensive and mounted a campaign that included passing information to the media about a high-profile critic, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Cheney's office conducted a push-back operation of its own. In this swirl of damage-control and finger-pointing, administration officials leaked Valerie Wilson's CIA identity. And that leak beget the criminal investigation that caused Libby to lie.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald charged that Libby obstructed justice, committed perjury and made false statements when he told FBI agents and the grand jury investigating the leak that he had possessed no official knowledge of Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection in the days before the leak appeared in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column. Libby acknowledged to the investigators that Cheney had told him weeks before the leak occurred that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. But Libby claimed that he completely forgot this and that when Meet the Press host Tim Russert told him days before the leak happened that all the reporters in town knew Wilson's wife was CIA, he believed he was learning this information "anew" as gossip. He then, Libby maintained, passed along this scuttlebutt to two reporters--Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, and Matt Cooper, then of Time--only as unconfirmed rumor.
In Libby's telling, he had not disclosed any official and classified information to journalists. (Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA was classified.) And a government official cannot be prosecuted for sharing chitchat he or she picked up from journalists. Such a story would take Libby (and any official who had passed him information on Valerie Wilson) out of the line of fire. But only if it were true.
Libby's account, Fitzgerald charged, was a cover story designed to remove him and the vice president from a leak investigation that was targeting the White House. At the trial, Fitzgerald methodically presented a series of witnesses who testified that weeks before the leak they had told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA: Marc Grossman, who had been undersecretary of state for policy in 2003; Robert Grenier, a former top CIA official; and Cathie Martin, who had been Cheney's communications director. Craig Schmall, Libby's CIA briefer at the time, testified that Libby had discussed Valerie Wilson with him. Schmall also testified that after the leak occurred, while he was briefing both Cheney and Libby, they asked him what he thought about the leak scandal. Noting that some commentators had dismissed the leak as "no big deal," Schmall explained that he considered it a "grave danger." He explained to Libby and Cheney that foreign intelligence services could now investigate everyone who had come into contact with Valerie Wilson when she had served overseas. "Those people," he said, "innocent or otherwise, could be harassed...tortured or killed
Fitzgerald also called Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary, as a witness. Fleischer, who had struck an immunity deal with Fitzgerald in return for his testimony, testified that on July 7, 2003--the day after Joseph Wilson published an op-ed piece accusing the White House of having twisted the prewar intelligence--Libby disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA link to him at lunch and said this information was "hush-hush." The conversation Fleischer recalled, was "odd." (Fleischer also testified that he had leaked information to two reporters about Valerie Wilson--although it was unclear whether he had done anything more than egg on these reporters to discover her CIA connection. Later in the trial, Washington Post reporter testified that Fleischer had disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection to him.)
Fitzgerald presented three journalists as witnesses who contradicted Libby. Judy Miller claimed Libby had told her about Wilson's wife in three different confidential interviews, beginning with a meeting on June 23, 2003. Matt Cooper testified Libby had confirmed for him the leak about Valerie Wilson he had received from Karl Rove. Russert said there was no way he could have been Libby's source for any information on Valerie Wilson because he knew nothing about her before reading about her in the Novak column.
It was a powerful case. All these witnesses--except Russert--said they had spoken to Libby about Wilson's wife prior to the leak. Three said they had provided Libby information about her. (And Libby had conceded that Cheney had done so, too.) Libby, though, had told the FBI and the grand jury he had known nothing concrete about her at the time of the leak. And his explanation was convoluted: yes, Cheney had told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA; but he had forgotten that the vice president had done so; he then heard about her from Russert and believed this was the first time he was learning about her. This defense--I knew, I forgot, I learned it anew and was surprised--was implausible.
Ted Wells, a tall and charismatic attorney leading Libby's defense, tried to convince the jury that these witnesses were unreliable (and all were similarly misremembering similar events that had not happened). He attempted to make the case seem bigger and deeper than it was. It's a twisted, complicated and dark tale, he said during opening arguments, one of conspiracies, bureaucratic infighting, turf wars, backroom deals, terrorist plots (involving nuclear weapons and anthrax) against the United States, and assorted memory lapses, convenient and accidental. Libby merely had engaged in no-harm-intended forgetfulness about a few "snippets" of conversation, Wells insisted. Moreover, Libby had been "set up" as a "sacrificial lamb" in a White House melodrama starring Cheney, who supposedly was defending Libby from a White House effort designed to protect Rove at all costs. "The case is far more complex than what you heard," Wells told the jurors. He suggested that he would bring Cheney to the stand--and Rove and Libby.
But Wells did none of that. He let Cheney off the hook. (Fitzgerald had prepared for a cross-examination that would last hours.) Rove, too, was not called--even though Libby had claimed he had told Rove about his call with Russert right after it happened. If that had been true, testimony from Rove presumably could have corroborated Libby's version of the Russert phone call--and could have blown a big hole in Fitzgerald's case. A sharp-eyed juror could have read Rove's absence from the witness stand as a sign that Libby had lied. And Libby himself stayed mum during the trial. His lawyers decided it would not be useful to place Libby in the position of having to repeat the same rhetorical acrobatics he had performed during his grand jury appearances. The defense ended its presentation without submitting any evidence to support its dramatic contentions that Libby had been set up by the White House, the CIA, the State Department or NBC News.
The jurors did not appear to have much trouble cutting through all the clutter tossed up by Libby's defense. They spent a week reviewing and organizing all the testimony and evidence (on 34 pages of poster-size paper) before assessing whether Fitzgerald had proved his case. They convicted Libby on the single obstruction of justice count, two perjury counts (regarding his testimony to the grand jury) and one false statement count (stemming from an FBI interview). The jury acquitted him on the weakest count in the indictment--a false statement count related to what he had told the FBI about his conversation with Matt Cooper.
Libby said nothing as he left the courtroom. He looked neither resigned nor surprised. Minutes later, he appeared with his lawyers in front of reporters and camera crews outside the courthouse. Wells declared his client was "totally innocent" and that they would continue to fight. He said he would file a motion for a new trial and that if that motion is denied, he will file an appeal. "Mr. Libby will be vindicated," he proclaimed. Libby made no comment.
After Libby and his lawyers walked off, Fitzgerald strode toward the microphones. He noted he was "gratified" by the verdict and explained that he had had no choice but to pursue Libby once he suspected that Cheney's former chief of staff had lied under oath. "It's every prosecutor's duty," he asserted. He declined to say what the verdict and case said--if anything--about the White House and the vice president's office. During the trial, he had declared that Libby's lies had placed a "cloud" over the vice president. Was such a cloud still present? he was asked. Fitzgerald refused to answer the question, but he said that by lying to the grand jury and the FBI, "Mr. Libby had failed to remove that cloud....Sometimes when people tell the truth, clouds disappear. Sometimes they do not."
Fitzgerald defended his decision to subpoena reporters--and to imprison Judy Miller for 85 days--stating that he had to question journalists in order to determine if Libby had lied to the investigators. But he cautioned that other prosecutors ought to be "very careful" when considering whether to chase after journalists as witnesses. He added that he did not expect to file any further charges. His investigation was done.
The trial was not a satisfying end to the leak case. Fitzgerald's mission was not to discover the whole truth of the saga and reveal all to the public (as he pointed out when speaking to reporters today). He was on the hunt for a crime--and for criminals. He ultimately concluded he could not prosecute the leakers--Rove, Libby, and then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage--for having disclosed information regarding Valerie Wilson. (The law prohibiting government officials from intentionally revealing information about clandestine intelligence officials requires a prosecutor to prove the leaker knew the officer was undercover.) So his criminal investigation focused on whether Libby lied. (He also investigated Rove for having possibly lied to the grand jury but ultimately decided not to indict him.) Consequently, only information from his investigation related to the Libby cover-up became public. What else Fitzgerald uncovered remains a secret. And per the rules governing criminal cases, it will stay a secret, he told reporters.
After the verdict was delivered, only one juror, Denis Collins, a Washington Post reporter in the 1980s, spoke to the press. He noted that jurors more than once asked, Why was Libby here, not Rove, not someone else? "Where are these other guys?" he said. The jurors were convinced, he noted, that Libby was guilty as charged (on four of the counts). But the jurors also believed he had been ordered by Cheney to talk to reporters as part of the White House's spin operation. In other words, some White House wrongdoers or conspirators (if not conspirators in the strict legal definition of the word) had gotten off. But there was nothing the jurors could do about this, he said: "It was not a question of who we could punish about going to Iraq." What about the prospect of a presidential pardon? one reporter asked Collins. Will you feel cheated if Bush pardons him? No, Collins replied: "He's been pilloried. We found him guilty." (Conservatives have already started a campaign for a Libby pardon.)
Scooter Libby, once Cheney's top aide and one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, is now a criminal. He is the first White House official convicted of a crime since the Iran-contra scandal that tarred the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. He is also a symbol of an administration that has lost credibility. How Bush and Cheney misrepresented the case for war and their disingenuous and dishonest post-invasion assertions about the war are more serious matters than the lies of the leak case. But the leak affair represents how this White House has done business and how it has mugged the truth. Libby is not only a fall guy for Cheney; he's a poster-child for the Bush administration. The guilty verdict applies only to Libby, but the guilt extends beyond.
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 February 2005, a GOP Policy Committee report asserted that "voter fraud continues to plague our nation's federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans." No evidence or research was offered in support of this dramatic claim, and the facts tell a far different story.
As a new report by Project Vote makes clear, the above statement typifies the intentionally confusing rhetoric employed by those who oppose efforts to expand voting participation in our democracy. "The Politics of Voter Fraud" offers a thorough examination of the real (and rare) occurrences of voter fraud while exploring the exploitation of public fears about fraud by those who wish to maintain the status quo.
Between 2002 and 2005, 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting at the federal level – an average of eight people per year. Those who buy into the voter fraud hype suggest that there are so few cases due to the difficulty of prosecution. But the Department of Justice manual on election crimes states that "there are several reasons why election crime prosecutions may present an easier means of obtaining convictions than do other forms of public corruption," including that the crimes occur in public, "often involve many players," and "tend to leave a paper trail."
Yet despite scant evidence of real fraud, every election – especially close elections in recent years – brings charges of illegal voting, illegal voter registration and the like. Offering an explanation, the Project Vote report notes that just as the Democratic Party felt threatened by an influx of new African-American voters in the late 19th century and responded by erecting stricter registration rules to "protect our democracy," so too are Republicans now resurrecting baseless fraud allegations to make voting more difficult through the use of restrictive ID requirements.
And, just as in the past, those on the losing end are "the marginalized and formerly disenfranchised, urban dwellers, immigrants, blacks, and lower status voters."
In 2004, approximately 8.5 percent of all registered voters had registered through voter registration drives. The success of these drives "has made them a target for fraud allegations." But between 2002 and 2005 the federal government "prosecuted just 33 people for various misdemeanor and felony crimes related to any form of election fraud that could have involved voter registration…. Only two people were prosecuted for crimes related to… voter registration applications for other people…"
But facts be damned, charges of widespread fraud committed by small "d" democratic groups persist. A case in point relates to the good work of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) – the largest community-based organization of low- and moderate-income people in the nation.
ACORN has been highly effective in voter registration drives and ballot initiatives but it was unfairly tainted recently when conservative news outlets and right-wing bloggers widely circulated allegations by a fired employee. When a staffer was fired for suspicion of an illegal check cashing scheme, he filed a whistle blower lawsuit alleging that ACORN was withholding Republican registration cards, registering ineligible felons, selling voter lists for profit, and "knowingly [submitting] thousands of invalid registration cards." The right-wing media made it a big story but then ACORN countersued the former employee for defamation and libel. Not only was the individual's case dismissed by a federal judge but ACORN won its defamation case. However the ending to this story received far less attention than the initial trumped-up charges, and ACORN opponents continue to claim that the organization is engaged in voter fraud – even citing the bogus case described above.
There are plenty of real and pressing issues with our voting process that urgently need addressing: registration problems stemming from overwhelmed state and local bureaucracies; a lack of uniform voting standards; electronic voting without a paper trail; partisan election officials…. The voter fraud hype not only distracts our attention from needed reforms, but it does the same thing it has always done – helps those who would stand in the way of every citizen's right to vote.
A CNN headline just flashed across the screen: "President Bush cites progress in Iraq crackdown." This from Bush, on the day that 93 Iraqis were blown up in the holy city of Karbala and nine American soldiers killed in twin attacks on Monday, the deadliest day for US troops since February 7, when a helicopter went down in Falluja.
If Bush measures "progress" by rising casualties, then the surge is going swimmingly. This is not the first time--and it won't be the last--that the Administration has argued that Iraq is turning the corner during one of its bloodiest moments.
But the act is beyond dated. In the latest USA Today poll, only 28 percent of Americans think the US will "win" the war. Even the White House can't define what a victory would look like. Maybe Bush should start reading polls, along with the newspaper.
And Congress ought to as well. Six in ten Americans want their elected representatives to set a deadline for withdrawing all US troops by the end of 2008.
The jury found Scooter Libby guilty on four of the five counts. The ruling: Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff lied to federal investigators. I'll be back with more later--after the prosecution and defense talk to the reporters at the court house.
At 11:30, the reporters covering the obstruction of justice trial of Scooter Libby were notified that the jury had reached a verdict and that the verdict wil be read in court at noon.
More to come--obviously.
The National Call-In for Peace is an effort by a coalition of peace and veterans groups to coordinate a unified phone campaign to urge Congress to reject the Bush supplemental appropriations request for $93 billion more for the war in Iraq.
Each day from March 5 through March 13, a different national antiwar group will take the lead in generating calls to Congress. The Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are up today with CodePink on deck for tomorrow.
PDA offers some talking points for the calls:
**Most Iraqis – both Sunni and Shia -- want US troops out of their country and most believe attacks on our troops are justified.
**US military force is no solution in Iraq. Diplomacy, not war, is the solution.
**The American people at the polls in November and in opinion polls have expressed their view that the US needs to get out.
**With its Constitutionally-granted "power of the purse," Congress has the duty to end the war by cutting off war funding, except what's needed for the prompt, safe, orderly withdrawal of all our troops.
With a wobbly Democratic leadership consumed with half-hearted amendments aimed at undermining the surge but not the war, the coalition is making every effort to marshall grassroots pressure on Democratic legislators. Help the effort by calling 1-888-851-1879 today and click here to share the story of how the call went.
RUTLAND, Vt. -- Over the weekend, I traveled Vermont with three of the most remarkable defenders of democracy I have met in a long time: former Army Sgt. Drew Cameron, former Marine Cpl. Matt Howard and former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne.
We were on a mission: A mission to end an unjust and horrific war, and a mission to hold to account the men who launched that war.
What made the experience of appearing in close to a dozen communities with the local Iraq Veterans Against the War campaigners was not that these courageous young vets had chosen to speak so openly and so directly about the reasons why they favor ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. IVAW members and supporters are speaking up all over this country, more boldly, more aggressively, every day, telling the fundamental truth that Drew Cameron, who served as a field artillery soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, spoke: "Democracy is not taught through the end of a gun."
Rather, the experience was remarkable because these veterans had come to the same conclusion as that reached by a growing number of honest critics of the war: If we are determined to bring the troops home, we have to get serious about addressing the lawlessness of those who brought this war on and who now seek to expand it.
We do not do so by promoting "non-binding resolutions."
We express our seriousness by sending a signal that the need to end this occupation of a foreign land is so pressing that we are prepared to speak of impeaching the men who promise to maintain their military misadventure for so long as they occupy the White House.
"If you want to support the troops, you need to support the Constitution," explained Kinne, who served in the Army from 1994 to 2004 as an Arabic linguist in military intelligence, "And you need to recognize that if you support the Constitution, you must support impeachment."
There are millions of Americans who would like to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney for the long list of high crimes and misdemeanors that have been associated with the names of these errant executives over the past six years. For instance, polls suggest that a majority of Americans favor impeachment if it is proven that the president lied to the America people about the reasons for going to war in Iraq.
But there are still those casual citizens who suggest that impeachment is a "distraction" from the important business of the day.
The Americans who established the power to impeach had just finished a revolution against a king named George. They fought that revolution on the premise, spelled out by a young Virginia farmer named Thomas Jefferson, that the people had the power to remove leaders who disregarded the rule of law and the mandates of morality. "A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people," wrote Jefferson, who worried that the presidency would devolve into a circumstance where an occupant of the Oval Office would govern as a king for four years.
An "elected despotism" is not what we in America fought to achieve, explained Jefferson, who established that both members of the U.S. House and state legislatures would have the authority to submit articles of impeachment.
Impeachment is not a casual act of political retribution. It is not a game. It is an essential act of the republic, established and defined for the purpose of preventing presidents from governing as warrior kings.
We are not talking about stained blue dresses anymore.
We are talking about a war that has cost more than 3,000 lives and ruined tens of thousands more -- need we mention Walter Reed? -- a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, a war that is emptying our federal treasury at a rate of $200 million a day.
Impeachment, as intended by the founders who created a system of checks and balances in order to "chain the dogs of war," is a political act -- initiated, at its best, with the purpose of preventing a president from maintaining a course of action that affronts the Constitution, endangers the republic or damages democracy.
The war in Iraq does all of these things. And, yet, as the Bush-Cheney administration proposes to surge 21,500 more young Americans into the quagmire that is Iraq, and as the Congress debates non-binding resolutions that, by virtue of their very names, are guaranteed to be inconsequential, there are those who would dare suggest that impeachment initiatives might distract the House and Senate.
There is no more serious work than ending the war.
The veterans I traveled with this past weekend put no faith in non-binding resolutions.
Instead, they expressed a faith, born of bitter experience, that only a serious movement to impeach Bush and Cheney will meet these maladministrators with a response equal to the crisis the president and vice president seek to perpetuate.
"The first thing I did in the United States military was swear to defend the Constitution," recalled Howard, who served two combat tours in Iraq, deploying with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. "I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and that is what I'm doing now by speaking out against the war and against this administration."
Over the course of three days, we spoke in schools, churches and community halls across the state of Vermont about the war and impeachment. We were encouraging Vermonters to vote for impeachment resolutions at today's town meetings -- as part of a process to convince the state legislature to forward articles of impeachment to Congress and to get Vermont's U.S. representative to propose and promote such articles. We were joined by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain Iraq War veteran who has long been an advocate of the "Impeach for Peace" movement, and by Dan DeWalt, the instigator of Vermont's grassroots impeachment campaign.
If the call for impeachment is raised by the town meetings of Vermont today, it will not be a "symbolic" act.
It will be the right response to the wrong war. It will be the response that our bravest veterans counsel that we must embrace if we want to get about the business of bringing the troops home. As Drew Cameron said, "They're sending us to these aggressive wars overseas and democracy is eroding beneath our feet here at home so… it us our duty, it is our service to say something about that."
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.'"
At times, the right and the left share a school-marmish attitude toward pop culture and the people who enjoy it. (You know, those benighted fools who make up most of the world's population.) Not surprisingly, then, liberals and conservatives alike have been falling all over themselves to chide the masses for taking an interest in the tragic story of Anna Nicole Smith. Writing in the March 19 National Review, Rob Long admits that watching the judge cry on television he thought: "What are we fighting so hard for? Let the terrorists win. They have a point." New York Times token conscience Bob Herbert recently lamented that Americans care more about Anna Nicole than about global warming or the resurgence of terrorists in North Waziristan. (He even quotes arch-scold Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death.) Over the past month, I've heard numerous similar laments.
People, get a grip.
First, what's not interesting about this story? An iconic and beautiful celebrity dies after enduring a horrendous trauma (her adult son died while she was still in the hospital after giving birth to a daughter). Everything is in question, from the cause of death to the paternity of the baby to where -- in a creepy twist -- Smith's rapidly decomposing body should be buried. Sure, it won't affect our children's futures and won't matter that much a year from now. But if you weren't -- at least briefly -- sucked into the high drama and supreme weirdness of this story, you're probably the lovechild of Theodor Adorno and Donald Wildmon.
And look how much more compelling it is than many allegedly "serious" news stories, many of which are simply pallid -- rather than tragic or titillating -- gossip. Most of the endless reports about the presidential candidates and their little tiffs and beefs with one another are, after all, about nothing more than celebrity and personality, and these don't even deliver sizzle, much less steak!
Furthermore, why should we have to choose between gossip and "real" news? We journalists are perfectly capable of following both Anna Nicole's autopsy report and Al Qaeda -- why should we assume that the rest of the public can't do the same? People spend ample time on the Internet, and watching TV. Bob Herbert intones gravely: "I imagine that there are a fair number of television viewers and newspaper readers who have trouble distinguishing the relative importance of celebrity stories, like the death of Ms. Smith, from other matters in the news, like the reconstitution of forces responsible for the devastating Sept. 11 attacks." Herbert imagines this is true, but provides no data or evidence showing that it is. I've never met any mentally functional adult (much less a "newspaper reader") who had "trouble distinguishing" between a celebrity story and a news story of longer-term social or economic significance, and I doubt that Bob Herbert has, either.
In the case of Anna Nicole, broadcasters did get carried away; for two days in February, the story took up half the airtime on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. But as the Associated Press reported today, the networks backed off in their coverage of Smith's Friday funeral. And guess what? You're still not going to see much in-depth coverage of North Waziristan. Or much thoughtful coverage of anything else. So let's not blame Anna Nicole for the sorry state of the U.S. media. Hasn't the lady suffered enough?
In the Washington Post today, following on the Post's extraordinary series about Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reporter Christian Davenport takes an important look at the problem of homelessness for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs provided shelter for only 300 veterans of the two wars from 2004 to 2006, Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Post that this number fails to include the "others sleeping in buses, their cars or on the streets." Rieckhoff said his group alone has helped 60 veterans since 2004--and that's just in New York City.
Army studies suggest that "up to 30 percent of soldiers coming home from Iraq have suffered from depression, anxiety or PTSD… [and] that those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to suffer from acute combat stress." But the VA says that there is no causal connection between combat exposure and homelessness. Local shelter providers disagree, and retired Army Col. Charles Williams--executive director of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training--says that the increased demand for shelter is on its way. "The wave has not hit yet," he told the Post, "but it will."
Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, would probably agree. Last month Filner cited that there are 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night, and how this speaks to the importance of getting the Veterans Administration to treat post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness. Filner co-sponsored the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act, which would guarantee full health care funding, including mental health, for US veterans of the Iraq war and other conflicts.
General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, is widely viewed as the architect behind a "surge" of 21,500 troops. But even Petraeus believes that the Bush Administration's policy is unlikely to succeed.
The Administration and its loyalists are constantly urging critics of the war to give Petraeus time for his policy to bear fruit. But is it tactically smart--and morally justifiable--to send 21,500 more troops into a mission that even our top generals believe is likely to fail?
And how in the world does the Administration still not have a backup plan. "Plan B was to make Plan A work," Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recalled after a group of governors met with the White House last week.
Or maybe there's a plan C: Topple Iran and hope nobody remembers Iraq (or Afghanistan).