Serious Matters

IF it weren’t tragic it would be a New Yorker cartoon. The president of the United States, in the final stop of his forlorn Latin America tour last week, told the world, “We do not torture.” Even as he spoke, the administration’s flagrant embrace of torture was as hard to escape as publicity for Anderson Cooper.

The vice president, not satisfied that the C.I.A. had already been implicated in four detainee deaths, was busy lobbying Congress to give the agency a green light to commit torture in the future. Dana Priest of The Washington Post, having first uncovered secret C.I.A. prisons two years ago, was uncovering new “black sites” in Eastern Europe, where ghost detainees are subjected to unknown interrogation methods redolent of the region’s Stalinist past. Before heading south, Mr. Bush had been doing his own bit for torture by threatening to cast the first veto of his presidency if Congress didn’t scrap a spending bill amendment, written by John McCain and passed 90 to 9 by the Senate, banning the “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of prisoners.

So when you watch the president stand there with a straight face and say, “We do not torture” – a full year and a half after the first photos from Abu Ghraib – you have to wonder how we arrived at this ludicrous moment. The answer is not complicated. When people in power get away with telling bigger and bigger lies, they naturally think they can keep getting away with it. And for a long time, Mr. Bush and his cronies did. Not anymore.Frank Rich, New York Times, November 13, 2005

It’s a shame the way that Frank Rich minces words. He should just come out and say what he thinks.

He goes on to say that the American people are not buying GOP talking points that the Libby-Rove-Plame investigation is all just politics; polls show that “roughly 8 in 10 Americans regard the leak case as a serious matter.” Further, “57 percent of Americans believe that Mr. Bush deliberately misled the country into war.”

Frank Rich continues,

The Bush loyalists’ push to discredit the Libby indictment failed because Americans don’t see it as a stand-alone scandal but as the petri dish for a wider culture of lying that becomes more visible every day. The last-ditch argument rolled out by Mr. Bush on Veterans Day in his latest stay-the-course speech – that Democrats, too, endorsed dead-wrong W.M.D. intelligence – is more of the same. Sure, many Democrats (and others) did believe that Saddam had an arsenal before the war, but only the White House hyped selective evidence for nuclear weapons, the most ominous of all of Iraq’s supposed W.M.D.’s, to whip up public fears of an imminent doomsday.

And then there was, IMO, the Mother of All Lies —

There was also an entire other set of lies in the administration’s prewar propaganda blitzkrieg that had nothing to do with W.M.D.’s, African uranium or the Wilsons. To get the country to redirect its finite resources to wage war against Saddam Hussein rather than keep its focus on the war against radical Islamic terrorists, the White House had to cook up not only the fiction that Iraq was about to attack us, but also the fiction that Iraq had already attacked us, on 9/11. Thanks to the Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who last weekend released a previously classified intelligence document, we now have conclusive evidence that the administration’s disinformation campaign implying a link connecting Saddam to Al Qaeda and 9/11 was even more duplicitous and manipulative than its relentless flogging of nuclear Armageddon.

But…but…but…the White House says they never claimed Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11! Or did they?

This report by David Shuster was on MSNBC yesterday:

…the White House started claiming that Iraq and the group responsible for 9/11 were one in the same.

“The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror,” said Bush on September 25, 2002.

“We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” said Bush a few days later on October 7. “He’s a threat because he is dealing with Al-Qaeda.”

In pushing the Saddam-Iraq-9/11 connection, both the president and the vice president made two crucial claims. First, they alleged there had been a 1994 meeting in the Sudan between Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi intelligence official.

After the Iraq war began, however, the 9/11 Commission was formed and reported that while Osama bin Laden may have requested Iraqi help, “Iraq apparently never responded.”

The other crucial pre-war White House claim was that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech republic in April 2001.

Cheney stated, “It’s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a Senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.”

Confirmed or unconfirmed by Vice President Cheney the 9/11 Commission said, “We do not believe such a meeting occurred.” Why? Because cell phone records from the time show Atta in the United States.

None the less, the White House strategy worked. In March of 2003, one poll found 45 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.

On the eve of the Iraq war, the White House sent a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that force was authorized against those who, “aided the 9/11 attacks.”

Yet the Bush administration continues to say it never claimed Iraq was linked to 9/11.

“I think I made it very clear that we have never made that claim,” White House Press Secretary McClellan repeated on Sept. 17, 2003.

The brutal irony is that while implications, innuendo, or false claims if you will about a 9/11 connection helped take us into Iraq. The Iraqi war itself has created a real al-Qaeda/Iraq link that may keep us from getting out.

Do you remember the pre-flightsuit, “military” (cough) phase of the Iraq war? Do you remember that a flag that had flown at the Pentagon on September 11 somehow ended up in the hands of a U.S. Marine, who by coincidence was one of the Marines who pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad? The Marines couldn’t actually raise the flag–wouldn’t have looked right, you know–but they could, with much publicity, cover Saddam Hussein’s bronze head with the flag before they pulled the statue down. If Karl Rove wasn’t behind that …

Let’s go back to Frank Rich.

… in October 2002, as the White House was officially rolling out its new war and Congress was on the eve of authorizing it – Mr. Bush gave a major address in Cincinnati intermingling the usual mushroom clouds with information from that discredited, “intentionally misleading” Qaeda informant. “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” he said. It was the most important, if hardly the only, example of repeated semantic sleights of hand that the administration used to conflate 9/11 with Iraq. Dick Cheney was fond of brandishing a nonexistent April 2001 “meeting” between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague long after Czech and American intelligence analysts had dismissed it.

The power of these lies was considerable. In a CBS News/New York Times poll released on Sept. 25, 2001, 60 percent of Americans thought Osama bin Laden had been the culprit in the attacks of two weeks earlier, either alone or in league with unnamed “others” or with the Taliban; only 6 percent thought bin Laden had collaborated with Saddam; and only 2 percent thought Saddam had been the sole instigator. By the time we invaded Iraq in 2003, however, CBS News found that 53 percent believed Saddam had been “personally involved” in 9/11; other polls showed that a similar percentage of Americans had even convinced themselves that the hijackers were Iraqis.

The full story of how the Bushies managed to sell this whopper to so many Americans has yet to be told. Of course, that’s not the only story we don’t know in full. Rich writes,

There is still much more to learn about our government’s duplicity in the run-up to the war, just as there is much more to learn about what has gone on since, whether with torture or billions of Iraq reconstruction dollars. That is why the White House and its allies, having failed to discredit the Fitzgerald investigation, are now so desperate to slow or block every other inquiry.

The White House has launched a counter-offensive against its critics. Bushies are wounded and cornered, so they are going to be vicious. Our job is to keep the pressure on, to answer the lies, and to call loudly for investigations. The next few months could be pivotal.

People of Faith

Righties are nearly giddy with joy at yesterday’s combative Veterans Day address by George W. Bush. Dear Leader is finally fighting back, and now the sun will shine and birds will chirp and all the awful bad poll numbers will go away.

At the rightie blog PoliPundit, Lorie Byrd wrote,

I agree with Michelle [Malkin] that the outrageous allegations of “lying” and “misleading” into war should have been addressed sooner. At one time I thought maybe it was better that Bush not personally respond, but that others do it for him. And many did a good job. As time passed though, and those allegations got repeated enough, with the media never questioning their validity, but merely parroting them over and over again, they gained an air of credibility about them. That is all that the public has heard in the mainstream media for two years now. Many have accepted those allegations as truth. I am very impatient. I could not have waited as long as Bush has to come out swinging. Maybe, though, if the President and his people come out forcefully enough now, armed with unassailable facts, they might be able to make a stronger argument than they would have if they were playing defense. I have been begging for this for a while now and would have liked to have seen it sooner, but it will be interesting to see if the President’s timing and method of action are effective.

Michelle also described Norman Podhoretz’s essay which was linked here as “the clear catalyst for Bush’s speech.”

“Outrageous” allegations? One wonders if righties understand what truth is.

Let’s say you ask me, “Have you seen Jane lately? How is she?” and I respond truthfully that I saw her last week and she was fine, you would naturally assume that Jane is fine. But if I knew for a fact that last night Jane was run over by a train and is being refrigerated at the county morgue, and didn’t bother to pass along that little detail, then my response would not have been honest.

But this is essentially the rightie approach to “truth.” For example, in the essay linked above Podhoretz writes,

And even Hans Blix–who headed the UN team of inspectors trying to determine whether Saddam had complied with the demands of the Security Council that he get rid of the weapons of mass destruction he was known to have had in the past–lent further credibility to the case in a report he issued only a few months before the invasion:

    The discovery of a number of 122-mm chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at a storage depot 170 km southwest of Baghdad was much publicized. This was a relatively new bunker, and therefore the rockets must have been moved there in the past few years, at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions. . . . They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg. The discovery of a few rockets does not resolve but rather points to the issue of several thousands of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for.

Blix now claims that he was only being “cautious” here, but if, as he now also adds, the Bush administration “misled itself” in interpreting the evidence before it, he at the very least lent it a helping hand.

Blix may very well have said all those things. But Podhoretz leaves out the inconvenient little detail that at the eve of the invasion Blix was begging the White House to at least postpone the invasion and give the inspectors more time, because they were not finding WMDs and doubted, at the very least, they were there.

Podhoretz’s whole essay is like that; it’s all spin and talking points. It is literally factual and deeply dishonest at the same time.

Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus write in today’s Washington Post

President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence.

Neither assertion is wholly accurate.

The administration’s overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.

But Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material. And the commissions cited by officials, though concluding that the administration did not pressure intelligence analysts to change their conclusions, were not authorized to determine whether the administration exaggerated or distorted those conclusions.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, briefing reporters Thursday, countered “the notion that somehow this administration manipulated the intelligence.” He said that “those people who have looked at that issue, some committees on the Hill in Congress, and also the Silberman-Robb Commission, have concluded it did not happen.”

But the only committee investigating the matter in Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not yet done its inquiry into whether officials mischaracterized intelligence by omitting caveats and dissenting opinions. And Judge Laurence H. Silberman, chairman of Bush’s commission on weapons of mass destruction, said in releasing his report on March 31, 2005: “Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.”

President Bush’s speech yesterday was one miscarriage of truth after another.

Bush, in Pennsylvania yesterday, was more precise, but he still implied that it had been proved that the administration did not manipulate intelligence, saying that those who suggest the administration “manipulated the intelligence” are “fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments.”

In the same speech, Bush asserted that “more than 100 Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.” Giving a preview of Bush’s speech, Hadley had said that “we all looked at the same intelligence.”

But Bush does not share his most sensitive intelligence, such as the President’s Daily Brief, with lawmakers. Also, the National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community’s views about the threat from Iraq was given to Congress just days before the vote to authorize the use of force in that country.

In addition, there were doubts within the intelligence community not included in the NIE. And even the doubts expressed in the NIE could not be used publicly by members of Congress because the classified information had not been cleared for release. For example, the NIE view that Hussein would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or turn them over to terrorists unless backed into a corner was cleared for public use only a day before the Senate vote.

As Chuck at Just a Bump in the Beltway said,

Anyone see a pattern here? Much like the Patriot Act and other controversial activities, the White House and its allies repeatedly waited util the last second to present confusing and sometimes incomplete information to Congress and rammed through a vote on it right away.

Milbank and Pincus continue,

Bush, in his speech Friday, said that “it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.” But in trying to set the record straight, he asserted: “When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support.”

The October 2002 joint resolution authorized the use of force in Iraq, but it did not directly mention the removal of Hussein from power.

The resolution voiced support for diplomatic efforts to enforce “all relevant Security Council resolutions,” and for using the armed forces to enforce the resolutions and defend “against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

In other words, in “trying to set the record straight,” Bush lied about the record.

Hadley, in his remarks, went further. “Congress, in 1998, authorized, in fact, the use of force based on that intelligence,” he said. “And, as you know, the Clinton administration took some action.”

But the 1998 legislation gave the president authority “to support efforts to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein” by providing assistance to Iraqi opposition groups, including arms, humanitarian aid and broadcasting facilities.

President Bill Clinton ordered four days of bombing of Iraqi weapons facilities in 1998, under the 1991 resolution authorizing military force in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Describing that event in an interview with CBS News yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: “We went to war in 1998 because of concerns about his weapons of mass destruction.”

I believe Condi has equated Clinton’s bombing with “going to war” before. Never mind that the “Clinton did it too” defense sounds a tad juvenile — I wasn’t the only one who threw eggs at Mr. Johnson’s car! Billy did it, too! — it is ludicrous on its face to equate Clinton’s bombing with “going to war.”

But to righties, that does’t matter. The hard-core rightie faithful, which includes most rightie bloggers, will grasp at any verbiage that comes out of a White House officials’ mouth as “unassailable facts” that repudiate the lies of the trickster left. That’s because any challenge to the fantasy world they live in scares the piss out of them. It is absolutely futile to try to reason with most of them, because they’ll turn purple and start screaming before you can finish a sentence. But it is vital for all of us to keep setting the record straight, so that Americans who are capable of appreciating the truth get to hear the truth.

Fathers’ Rights

I’m all for equal rights for fathers, but why don’t they have equal liability?

A 4-month-old girl died when her inebriated mother fell asleep on top of her while breast-feeding, prosecutors said. …

The 27-year-old — who was on probation for child neglect — had consumed six double-shot alcoholic beverages at a bowling alley, the complaint said. A toxicologist estimated her blood alcohol level ranged from .15 to .27 percent.

Her husband drove Hawkins and their 4-year-old daughter to the bowling alley and later brought them home, then went out drinking himself, according to the complaint. The baby was unresponsive when he returned an hour later, the complaint said.

Hawkins was on probation for neglect of the same child, and was prohibited from drinking alcohol and from having unsupervised contact with all four of her children at once, court documents show.

If there’s a negleced child, how come only the mother was on probation for neglect? And how come the father isn’t being charged with something regarding the child’s death?