State of the Union

Is Torture Ever Moral?

After opening the door to a truth commission to investigate torture by the CIA of al-Qaida subjects, and leaving the door open to prosecution of higher-ups, President Obama walked the cat back.

He is now opposed to a truth commission. That means it is dead. He is no longer interested in prosecutions. That means no independent counsel — for now.

Sen. Harry Reid does not want any new “commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are.” Thus, there will be none. The place to find out the facts, says the majority leader, is the intelligence committee of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Though belated, White House recognition that high-profile public hearings on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA in the Bush-Cheney years could divide the nation and rip this city apart is politically wise. Read More…

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Since I’ve been away…

I’d like to offer my thoughts since I’ve been away from the TAC blog…..

– The Washington Monthly has good article on the demise of Culture 11.I agree with author Charlie Homan that a conservative website devoted to culture and funded by Bill Bennett simply cannot have musings about Gansta Rap on it and be taken seriously as a cultural critique. Rather, such critiques must come from a counter-cultural perspective and for that, the best place to go for that is Front Porch Republic.

– President Bush II had the good fortune not to face two deteriorating war fronts at the same time, Iraq and Afghanistan, but that is what President Obama could very well face by summer. Getting troops out of Iraq and seeing the war at least be reduced to low-level banditry, was a key part of Obama’s election and if by 2012 the Administration needs more troops and more money to handle a full-scale two-front war, then all of the Administration’s grandiose plans will be wrecked, from foreign policy to the economy.  Unfortunately, Republicans wouldn’t be able to benefit too much if their response is to call for more money and more troops for an unpopular war. So long as the GOP acquiesces, Obama holds all the cards when it comes to foreign policy.

 – Patrick Deenen has good piece on the large meaning of last week’s Tea Party’s one won’t see anywhere else within the mainstream. As expressions of protest, the Tea Party’s were very helpful. Unfortunately their lack of proper focus meant that anyone could see an anti-Obama sign as say it was nothing more than a GOP rally and get away with it. They would have been better chanting “End the Fed” and many of them did.  Hopefully next time such chants will drown out those would-be Somali pirates from Conservative Inc.

– Liberals should admit the DHS’ report on so-called “right-wing extremism” from veterans and Ron Paul supporters was pretty dumb and, as they say, move on, instead of defending an institution who painted antiwar groups with the same broad brush of smear.

– If there’s no better example of the evils of having a central bank than the criminal way Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson reportedly pressured Bank of America to buyout Merill Lynch, then I don’t know what is.

–  Let’s hope the rule of law can somehow prevail when its comes to Bernanke/Paulson, “Torturegate” and Rep. Jane Harman, apparently AIPAC’s woman in Congress,

– There was some good discussion on the League of Ordinary Gentlemen on my TAC article on Carter’s “malaise speech”. I like “Lighthouse’s” comparison of 2009 being the same or at least almost the same as 1981 for Republicans and conservatives.


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“She’s Just Talking”

“It doesn’t resolve any problems. She’s just talking,” said Shaimma Salman, 27, manager of an Iraqi construction firm.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced trip to Iraq yesterday. Unlike President Barack Obama, who flew into the country last month during a sandstorm, Clinton was able to shuttle to the gargantuan U.S Embassy for a televised  “town hall meeting” with a (likely handpicked and cooperative) Iraqi audience to assure we won’t abandon the country altogether once the U.S makes its planned departure — first from the cities (supposedly) by this summer, and completely by 2011.

Does the lady protest too much?

Clinton’s arrival came 24 hours after the most deadly of insurgent bomb blasts in recent times. More than 160 people were killed in two days. U.S officials have been scrambling to explain away the violence, most notably Sec. Def. Robert Gates, who said in weirdly Cheney-like fashion earlier this month, that it was the “last gasp” of Al Qaeda in Iraq (he later recanted). But Clinton’s comments yesterday on the subject were oddly familiar.

Clinton played down the latest burst of violence, telling reporters she saw “no sign” it would reignite the sectarian warfare that ravaged the country in recent years. She said that the Iraqi government had “come a long, long way” and that the bombings were “a signal that the rejectionists fear Iraq is going in the right direction.”

The statement, “come a long, long way,” is certainly fungible. If you are talking about stanching the violence (mostly through sectarian cleansing, walling off neighborhoods, paying off insurgents) that erupted after the U.S invasion in 2003, then yes, Iraq has come a long way. Looking at Iraq today through the lens of other metrics: quality of life, including health, education, freedom from fear, corruption, poverty and tyranny, Iraqis may have “come a long way,” but where did they go? That is up for serious debate — and the streets don’t lie.

The Iraq that Clinton most certainly did not see: Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of  “Baghdad: City of Walls” by Iraqi-born Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a gripping portrayal of the director’s hometown, haunted by ghosts and grieving, scarred and inconceivably tense. Literally divided between Sunni and Shia, by a 12-foot concrete wall.

Clinton didn’t talk about walls Saturday, and for all the usual niceties about “standing strong” with the Iraqis, specifics about “how” were thin. Instead, reports about her visit emphasized her “listening” to Iraqis about how to assist. Six years in the country and we don’t know yet? No, it’s been made clear that Afghanistan is the new priority, and untold billions will flow from promises recently made to our fresh commitments there. When Obama visited Iraq in February, his photo-ops and key statements were made for U.S soldiers, reiterating his campaign pledge to bring them home, and stressing Iraq’s responsibility to take care of its own. Great for the American domestic audience, not so inspiring to Iraqis mired in unemployment and homelessness, driven out of their livelihoods and neighborhoods by the civil war we helped to create.

Not that the Democratic leadership will acknowledge the moral complexity of the situation. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, speaking on FOX News Sunday this morning, echoed the emerging talking points nicely and underscored to me the reality: that if any real assistance for rebuilding and healing hadn’t materialized in earnest by now, it certainly won’t happen when we are looking at Iraq through a rear-view mirror.

As the writers on this site and for TAC have argued so eloquently — and I think rightly — over the years, invading Iraq was a mistake (the majority of Americans now agree). Obama will no doubt fulfill agreements made during the Bush Administration to withdraw most of our troops from that country over the next few years. But it is a bitter turning of the page, marked not by a recognition of “victory” or grand accomplishment, but of weariness and for most Iraqis, despair.  It is a bitter release of our moral obligations to the people of Baghdad and beyond. I hardly think Hillary Clinton, parachuting in with a microphone and a smile, is going to make anyone feel better, about any of it.

Above image by AFP-Getty Images

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Obama’s Double Standard on Evil and Atrocities

At a Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the Capitol on Thursday, President Obama called for “fighting the silence that is evil’s greatest co-conspirator.”

On the same day, Obama decided to oppose creation of a truth commission to vigorously investigate and expose U.S. torture crimes.

This is another of those damn paradoxes of which Washington is full of.

Perhaps Obama believes that any atrocity with less than a million victims is merely a technical error.

Condemning a genocide committed by a foreign government cannot redeem Obama if he effectively pardons U.S. government officials guilty of barbaric practices.

Obama could reverse his opposition to a full disclosure. Or, perhaps more likely, the surge of events and the information already pried out of the government will create enough momentum that far more facts will become public. 

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Making Jane Go Away

I feel like the bore at the party who tries to corner people to tell them about how he birdied the thirteenth earlier that day .  The torture story is proceeding full speed because it is mostly about Republicans but the Jane Harman story is already going away, largely because the mainstream media and the liberal blogs are refusing to run with it. 

I will bore on because I think this is important.  As a former intelligence officer who has himself recruited agents of influence, I can tell you that Harman was the fruit of a high level Israeli covert action.  Whomever Harman spoke to, she was surely aware that she was in contact with someone empowered to promise her rewards from Israel and the Israeli lobby.  The threat to withhold contributions from the Democratic Party if Harman were not to be named chairman is significant, as it indicates that it was all part of a careful plan.  The Israeli on the phone was committing espionage against the United States by trying to influence the actions of a government official and Harman was committing a number of possible crimes by agreeing to cooperate in return for her own personal advancement.  Please take my word for it that the quid pro quo is precisely how an intelligence officer recruits an agent.  You ask for a favor and give a favor in return.  As both the favor and the reward are illegal and the agreement itself can be used to blackmail the target of the operation, the target henceforth will be obligated to do what the intelligence officer wants or risk exposure.  This whole transaction is particularly important in the context of Jane Harman and what she might have represented to the Israelis.  She was chairman presumptive of the House Intelligence Committee and subsequently was spoken of as being on the short list for Obama’s Director of Central Intelligence.  If she had obtained either position, which would have happened if the FBI had not been privy to the transaction, she would have had complete access to all of America’s secrets and would have been involved in policy making.  She would also have been working for Israel.  So I have to ask, why isn’t the MSM interested in aggressively pursuing this story?

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NASCAR vs. the New York Times

Does Barack Obama understand the people he leads? Do his aides?

These may seem cheeky questions to ask of a team that just won the presidency. But there is something in their cool, insouciant, blase demeanor, in the face of insults to their country, that suggests there yet exists a chasm — between them and us.

Now, the change since the 1960s in the character of the nation has been great. The moral and social sappers spawned by that decade have done their work well. But Middle America yet remains a blood-and-soil, family-and-faith, God-and-country kind of nation.

We are not Europe — yet.

Most Americans remain visceral patriots. It’s in the DNA. Read More…

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Some Things to Think About

I have been reliably informed that the leaks of the content of the transcript of the Jane Harman phone conversation with an Israeli national are absolutely accurate.  She did agree to “waddle” into the Rosen-Weissman trial in exchange for the Israel lobby’s influencing her promotion to committee chairmanship.  The threat to withhold funds to the Democratic Party if it did not promote Harman was also verbalized, at least to Harman.  I have also learned that the leak of the story originated with an official at the Department of Justice.  Since the story that Harman was involved in a indiscrete phone discussion relating to the AIPAC trial has been floating around since 2006, the question becomes why now for an expanded and much more incriminating version?  Who decided to let this story out and why?

My spook friends are speculating wildly but the theory that seems to make the most sense is that the White House is extremely angry about the Netanyahu government’s trashing of the peace process and also by his appointing of former Mossad spies Naor Gilon and Uzi Arad to senior positions, as both were involved in the Larry Franklin/AIPAC case.  The Administration is apparently seeking to demonstrate that it will not be pushed around by Bibi and is showing that it has teeth by taking aim at a prominent Dem politician who stepped over the line in demonstrating her enthusiasm to play ball with AIPAC.  This is pretty much speculation at this point, but I have heard from several independent sources that the White House is extremely vexed with Netanyahu and is going to tell him that his delaying tactics on substantive negotiations with the Palestinians will not be acceptable, so it might seem likely that a little pushback is taking place.  Whether the Obamas will allow Harman to walk the plank remains to be seen.   

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Military to Carry Out Civilian Surge in Afghanistan

When Obama Administration officials started talking about a “civilian surge” for Afghanistan ahead of the President’s formal plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan last month, it had all the fingerprints of the new Democratic hawk/COIN (counterinsurgency) set at work: Clear, hold and nation-build. And do it better than the Bush Administration ever could.

Top aides to President Barack Obama are recommending that the United States combine a boost in military deployments with a steep increase in civilian experts to combat a growing insurgency in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Several hundred civilians from various U.S. government agencies — from agronomists to economists and legal experts — will be deployed to Afghanistan to reinforce the nonmilitary component in Kabul and the existing provincial reconstruction teams in the countryside, officials said. (snip)

The move to add hundreds of civilian aides under [U.S ambassador to Kabul Gen. Karl] Eikenberry and his top staffers is similar to President George W. Bush’s “surge” in Iraq but will be on a smaller scale, the officials said.

To the general American audience, I’m sure the plan sounded reasoned and balanced and not all that radical — hadn’t the Democrats drilled endlessly on the theme that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan couldn’t be won with military force alone? But already, the administration is having to take it down a notch. The New York Times reports tonight that there just aren’t enough diplomats and civilians trained for this business, and those who are cannot be compelled to travel to a bloody war zone to engage what has become one of the most corrupt bureaucracies in the world.

Obama cannot force them. But he can call up the military reserves, and hire private contractors. It sounds like he doesn’t have a choice if he wants to pursue this part of the strategy in earnest.

The need to identify military personnel as one of several interim options to carry out the civilian mission in Afghanistan was foreshadowed this week by Michele A. Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy, who served as a director of the inter-agency strategy review.

“We’re going to be looking to our reserve components, where we can tap individuals based on their civilian skill set,” Ms. Flournoy said during a speech on Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a non-partisan policy institute here.

She said the government was still “playing a game of catch-up” after years of not setting aside money to create this civilian expertise, and she described the reliance on reservists as among “a whole host of stopgap measures” necessary until teams of civilian experts could be created.

Back where we started.

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Free Jane Harman

The Wash Post had a doozy of a front page article today on the Jane Harman/AIPAC scandal.  The piece, “US Might Not Try Pro-Israel Lobbyists” with a subtitle “Meanwhile, Rep. Harman Denies offering to Influence Case” brilliantly avoided saying anything nasty about Israel.  You mean they spy on us and try to buy and otherwise influence our legislators?  Shocking, shocking!

The feature para on Harman must be quoted in full “Transcripts of the FBI wiretaps depict a possible trade of favors in which Harman expressed willingness to discuss the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee prosecution with senior administration officals and, in return, AIPAC backers would provide Democrats with additional campaign contributions and support Harman’s efforts to become chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence…”

Actually, other media reporting on the case indicates that Harman was speaking to an Israeli intelligence officer or someone acting on the Israeli’s behalf.  She allegedly promised to do what she could to stop the AIPAC trial in exchange for Israel government and lobby support to obtain the plum committee assignment.  Some would call that unseemly or worse.  Much worse.  Think about the possible consequences of a chairman of the intelligence committee who was beholden to a foreign government for his or her position, for example.

The Post completely hides the Israeli hand in its description of Harman’s actions, though it later has a particularly convoluted bit of prose, “Harman came to the attention of the FBI when she was heard conversing with someone whom the FBI was wiretapping  under a law permitting domestic surveillance of suspected foreign intelligence agents…”  So a foreign government was involved…just which one might it be?  The Post never says.  It then goes on to avoid reporting that the investigation of Harman was allegedly squashed by Bush Attorney General Gonzales in exchange for Harman’s support of the NSA illegal wiretap program. 

The rest of the article tells how AIPAC spies Weissman and Rosen will likely walk when their trial re-commences in June. In its article, the Post described AIPAC as “an influence advocacy group.”

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Pity for a Constitution Stomper?

Congresswoman Jane Harman is indignant.  A National Security Agency wiretap reportedly picked up her conversation seeking favors from a suspected Israeli agent in return for Harman lobbying the Justice Department to drop the lawsuit against AIPAC’s former top officials.

Harman denies the charge and swears that her good name has been defiled. (Har!). Harman sent a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to release the transcripts of some of her NSA-tapped phone calls and to “investigate possible wiretapping of other Members of Congress and ‘selective leaks of investigative material which can be used for political purposes.’”

Harman was a champion of illegal wiretaps on average Americans.  She even urged the New York Times not to publish its original expose on Bush’s massive domestic warrantless wiretaps, and she suggested that the New York Times should be prosecuted when they did finally uncork the story.  

Jeff Stein’s superb CQ article on Sunday revealed that Attorney General Gonzales had rebuffed proposals to prosecute Harman after the wiretpped conversations in part because Harman became a vigorous cheerleader for Bush’s destruction of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable, warrantless searches.

The feds should release the records of Harman’s phone calls (at her request) – and all the other evidence regarding members of Congress, White House and other exeuctive branch officials,  lobbyists, and other insider players who have sought to pull strings to squelch the trial of AIPAC’s former leaders.

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