“The Times article, based on information from former intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abu Zubaydah had revealed a great deal of information before harsh methods were used and after his captors stripped him of clothes, kept him in a cold cell and kept him awake at night. The article said interrogators at the secret prison in Thailand believed he had given up all the information he had, but officials at headquarters ordered them to use waterboarding.” Perusing last week’s sordid torture memos, eagle-eyed blogger Marcy Wheeler discovered an unsettling statistic: two suspects — Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — were waterboarded by the CIA 266 times. Zubaydah “revealed no new information after being waterboarded, the article said, a conclusion that appears to be supported by a footnote to a 2005 Justice Department memo saying the use of the harshest methods appeared to have been ‘unnecessary’ in his case.“
Meanwhile, as right-wing stooges like former CIA director Michael Hayden and Mike Allen’s anonymous friend excoriate the president for breaking tradition and revealing the illegalities of the Dubya era, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ventured onto the Sunday shows to tamp down talk of any prosecutions, even for the higher-ups. “[P]eople in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted…those who devised policy, he [Obama] believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go — as he said in that letter.“
Wrong answer, Rahm. And, unless President Obama were to grant full pardons to the architects of Dubya-era torture, it’s not even his call whether or not they should be prosecuted. In fact, choosing not to prosecute them would constitute a violation of international law.
Update: The White House doesn’t necessarily agree with Rahm. “[A]dministration officials said Monday that Mr. Emanuel had meant the officials who ordered the policies carried out, not the lawyers who provided the legal rationale. Three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, are the subjects of a coming report by the Justice Department’s ethics office that officials say is sharply critical of their work. The ethics office has the power to recommend disbarment or other professional penalties or, less likely, to refer cases for criminal prosecution.“
Update 2: “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” President Obama opens the door further for prosecution.
With the final episode airing Friday (I’ll be visiting friends in CA, so probably won’t catch it until next week), the cast and writers of Battlestar Galactica visit the UN to “discuss issues such as human rights, children and armed conflict, and terrorism. Also on the agenda: dialogue among different civilizations and faiths.” Uh…so their advice to leaders would be, what. exactly? Meander about with no plan and little-to-no-purpose, retcon thorny individuals into line with your newest idea whenever necessary, and, when faced with an intractable situation, throw someone in the brig and/or stage either a show trial or a weepy, teeth-gnashing breakdown?
Perhaps I’ve been ruined by meticulously planned out shows like The Wire. Nevertheless, this last half-season of Galactica has been operating at about 3:1 filler-to-good-episode ratio, and that’s being charitable. As I feared, imho, the show’s been going down the FTL tubes ever since the ill-advised Dylan 5 reveal. Ah well…we’ll always have New Caprica.
By a count of 14-0 (Russia abstaining), the UN Security Council votes to shut down their inquiry into Iraq WMDs. Well, so much for that particular casus belli. From the vaults: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” — Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 29, 2002. (There’s another one for the impeachment file.)
With an international dispute over 15 seized British sailors simmering to a boil in Tehran and Ahmadinejad cancelling his trip to New York in protest, the UN Security Council unanimously opposes sanctions against Iran for its continuing nuclear program (details.) “‘The impact is primarily political rather than practical,’ said Abbas Milani, the director of Stanford University’s Iranian studies program. The financial and military restrictions are ‘rather limited and toothless,’ but they are having a profound psychological impact on investors and eroding Ahmadinejad’s standing in Iran, he said.“
By way of Do You Feel Loved and Ed Rants respectively, see how many member UN nations (143) and American states (49) you can name in ten minutes. Harder than you might think, particularly if you go about it randomly rather than systematically. (Or, at least, that’s my excuse.)
In a welcome bit of good news on the international front, negotiators strike a deal in North Korea that lays down a plan for nuclear disarmament by Kim Jong Il’s regime. But all is not rosy yet: “In a harbinger of the potential for difficulties ahead, the official North Korean news agency said the agreement required only a temporary suspension of the country’s nuclear facilities…The agreement also seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faced criticism from Democrats who charge the administration that broke away from the Agreed Framework in 2002 ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.“
Meanwhile, in related but considerably more depressing news, a European Union report argues that it is now too late to prevent Iran from developing its own nuclear weaponry. “The admission is a blow to hopes that a deal with Iran can be reached and comes at a sensitive time, when tensions between the US and Tehran are rising. Its implication that sanctions will prove ineffective will also be unwelcome to EU diplomats.”
Happy day at the UN (if not at the White House): Facing unbeatable opposition on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (thanks to outgoing Senator Lincoln Chafee, to his credit, joining the Dems against him), interim UN ambassador John Bolton is forced to resign as predicted. Good riddance. “‘The president now has an opportunity to nominate an ambassador who can garner strong bipartisan and international support and effectively represent the interests of the United States at the United Nations at a time of extraordinary international challenge,’ [incoming committee chairman] Biden said. ‘If the president nominates such a person, I look forward to scheduling hearings promptly in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.‘”
“It is no secret that I have serious questions about this Administration’s policies in the Middle East.” Desperate to shore up his maverick cred before the GOP primary next week, Sen. Lincoln Chafee puts a hold on the GOP’s planned Bolton coronation. (Of course, the UN would never have had to put up with Bolton in the first place were it not for Chafee’s capitulation last year.)
“‘What about Kofi Annan?’ Bush asked Blair. ‘I don’t like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens.’” Dubya and Tony Blair get caught (apparently) off-guard and on tape discussing the escalating crisis in the Middle East. “Bush said that he feels ‘like telling Kofi to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and make something happen. We’re not blaming Israel, and we’re not blaming the Lebanese government.’” (A lot of news sources seem to be fronting Dubya’s use of the S-word — “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.” — but, really, who gives a shit about his language?) “Bush also told Blair that he would be sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region soon. ‘She’s going,’ Bush said. ‘I think Condi’s going to go pretty soon.’” Update: Watch it online, just to get a sense of how boorish and out-of-his-depth our president seems on the world stage. (Exhibit B: Dubya’s ill-fated and cringeworth back-rub attempt.)
“The State party should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible, ensuring that they are not returned to any State where they could face a real risk of being tortured, in order to comply with its obligations under the Convention.” A day after an ugly prisoner uprising, the UN Committee Against Torture implores the US to close the prison at Gitmo. The report (PDF) also calls for the US “to expressly ban controversial interrogation techniques, and to halt the transfer of detainees to countries with a history of abuse and torture.“
While the Pope, Kofi Annan, Richard Clarke, and others try to stem the increasing saber-rattling over Iran, more trouble brews in Tehran: Along with possibly expanding their nuclear fuel plants and upgrading their centrifuges, the “Iranian government has intensified efforts to illegally obtain weapons technology from the United States.” Well, let’s at least hope the White House isn’t helping them this time…
“God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.” Although Dubya is personally dismissing the report as “wild speculation”, The New Yorker‘s Sy Hersh argues in a terrifying piece that the administration is actively planning for “regime change” in Iran, and — no joke — the use of tactical nuclear weapons (particularly “bunker-busters”) is on the table.
No doubt about it, this is trouble. A nuclear Iran would represent a grievous threat to the region (and particularly Israel), and must be prevented by diplomatic means if at all possible. But, after the Iraq WMD debacle, this administration has become the boy who cried wolf, and — just as the US is facing perhaps its thorniest diplomatic issue yet, neither our European allies nor many US observers trust Dubya’s motives or credibility any more, to say nothing of his basic competence. (“Speaking of President Bush, [one] House member said, ‘The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.’.”) And, needless to say, if Dubya and the neocons screw this one up, the consequences for both the entire Middle East and the war on terror — as well as our own homeland security — could be nightmarish. “If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us…If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.“
Update: ““I’m announcing officially that Iran has now joined the countries that have nuclear technology.” The situation darkens with Iran’s successful (increased) enrichment of uranium. “Iran had previously enriched uranium to a level of about 2 percent, using a smaller cascade, and separately enriched uranium to about 15 percent during laser experiments in 2002. Bomb-grade uranium must be enriched to a level of well over 80 percent…Though it is technically possible, most nuclear experts agree it is unlikely Iran would be able to make bomb-grade uranium with the[ir current] 164-centrifuge cascade.” Still, Russia and Britain are decrying the advance, and Secretary Rice wants “strong steps” by the UN Security Council in reply.
“The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.” The NYT relates the details of a January 2003 pre-war meeting between Bush and Blair, and it’s not pretty. Not surprisingly (and like the July 2002 Downing Street memos, the recollections of Paul O’Neill, and countless other sources), this new material confirms that Dubya and the neocons wanted a war in Iraq, come hell or high water.
“We’ve always said that Guantanamo Bay was something that shouldn’t have happened.” A report by the UN Human Rights Commission argues that the US should shut down the Gitmo gulag immediately, a conclusion shared by Kofi Annan and — apparently — the British government. As to be expected from this gang, the White House is shrugging the criticism off.
Well, that’s that, then. As expected (and although he may be late to the party), Dubya has appointed Bolton to the UN ambassadorship by fiat. Well, the Dems pushed as hard as they could on this one, and only George Voinovich ended up seeing the light. Shame on supposed moderates Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel for letting this freakshow get out of committee in the first place.
Chalk up another X against Dubya’s UN nominee: It now turns out John Bolton lied to Congress about his part in the investigation of the Iraq-Niger claim. (He claimed he hadn’t been interviewed…He had.) Regardless, Dubya still has plans to appoint Bolton by fiat after Congress skips town. After all, what’s one more liar in this truth-starved administration? He should fit right in.
Stymied by the Senate, Dubya looks to sneak Bolton into the UN with a recess appointment, perhaps as early as this Friday. “Senate Democratic leaders have removed a possible hurdle by signaling that they would not use a recess appointment of Bolton to hold up Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court.” Update: Next week?
Although he’s been upstaged of late by O’Connor and Rove, potential UN freakshow John Bolton still waits in the wings, and is prepared to accept a recess appointment by Dubya sometime next month. In fact, he’s already acting like he owns the place. “Two months ago, while his confirmation was in trouble, Bolton began efforts to double the office space reserved within the State Department for the ambassador to the United Nations.”
“‘I don’t know how the Bolton nomination stands,’ said Danforth, who resigned in January. ‘But she could certainly do that job and anything else.’” While the Bolton nomination withers on the vine, it seems career diplomat and acting US Ambassador Anne Patterson is handling the UN position with all the grace, aplomb and savvy Bolton lacks. Can we keep her?
Since the White House still won’t cough up the necessary info, the Dems (and Sen. Voinovich) manage to keep Bolton out of the UN once again, prompting Dubya to consider putting him there by recess appointment fiat. (As Fred Kaplan wryly noted, that should teach those evildoers abroad what we mean by democracy up in these parts.) And the big winners in this affair thus far? The State Department, who no longer have Bolton as a “roadblock” against diplomacy.
“Frist had only eight years of Senate experience when he succeeded Lott, and some colleagues felt he was more Bush’s choice than the GOP caucus’s. He was bound to need more White House help than did up-through-the-ranks predecessors such as Lott and Dole, they said, but sometimes Bush seemed to dump tough problems at his door and walk away.” As right-wing Republicans hammers the GOP moderates who crafted the nuclear compromise, Charles Babington examines the political import of Catkiller’s lousy week. Meanwhile, Frist’s possible primary nemesis John McCain calls for a compromise on Bolton, in which the White House would release the info they’ve been holding in exchange for a vote.
Still waiting in vain for the White House to turn over some crucial intelligence documents regarding Dubya’s pick, the Dems succeed in holding off the Bolton vote until next week. The GOP moderates still don’t seem to be joining Voinovich in apostasy, though, so it looks like Bolton will soon be representing us before the world. For shame.
“After hours of deliberation, telephone calls, personal conversations, reading hundreds of pages of transcripts, and asking for guidance from Above, I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton.” Nevertheless, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) will let the Bolton nod go to a floor vote, arguing he has “every faith in [his] colleagues” to do the right thing. (Sen. Chafee (R-RI), for his part, already reluctantly folded.) “Voinovich called Bolton ‘the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.’ He said Bolton would be fired if he was in the private sector.” Update: Fred Kaplan has more: “A special place in the halls of cowardice should be reserved for Sen. Lincoln Chafee, the Republican from Rhode Island.”
Meanwhile, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee inquiry into John Bolton widens, a deeply concerned Dubya and the GOP now threaten to sidestep the concerns of Dems and moderate Republicans completely by bringing Bolton’s nomination to a floor vote, regardless of the committee’s recommendation. Hopefully Senators Voinovich, Hagel, and Chafee, as well as other independent-minded Senators in the Republican Party, will take serious umbrage at this attempt to ride roughshod over the committee’s usual advise & consent prerogatives.
As more ugly details leak out about John Bolton’s private war with dissenting intelligence analysts, Newsweek reports that England (and Jack Straw) think he’s a jackass too. Is it time for Dubya & Cheney to pull the plug? Many observers think so. Update: Arlen Specter wonders aloud about Bolton’s prospects on CNN Late Edition.
Dubya & Cheney may still love the guy, but right-wing freakshow John Bolton has clearly irked former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who bore the brunt of Bolton’s obfuscation in the past. Will Powell’s not-very-off-the-record contempt be enough to sway Sens. Chafee, Hagel, and Voinovich?
Now that Sen. Voinovich has bravely put his foot in the door, GOP Senator Lincoln Chafee also declares he’s less likely to vote for John Bolton at this point. But, judging from his remarks today, Dubya isn’t getting the message. After embracing the Hammer earlier this week, one wonders how many more radioactive liabilities the White House is willing to continue accommodating. At a certain point, even this administration’s considerable arrogance of power will have to bow to political reality.
“It’s a good guess that one of two things is going to happen in the coming days and weeks: Either Bolton goes down — or we start learning a lot of unpleasant things about Sen. George Voinovich.” (And, right now, it’s looking like the latter.) To his credit, Senator Voinovich (R-OH) follows his conscience and admits “real concern” about John Bolton, forcing the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to forestall the vote on Bolton’s nomination. And, if Slate‘s Fred Kaplan is correct and Bolton has perjured himself, Dubya had better start warming up another right-wing freakshow for the post.