Daily Flog: Remembering the 9/11, Bush disasters; waiting for Lehman's final collapse

Running down the press:

You'll be deluged all day with stories about Ground Zero, where Barack Obama and John McCain will duke it out in the tragic death cage.

As the BBC notes with a straight face:

In a joint statement from the campaigns announcing their decision to visit Ground Zero together, the two men vowed to come together "as Americans" and suspend their political campaigns for 24 hours.

Yes, no politicking going on there.


Google News: 'Lipstick politics: The big diversion'

In a hopeful sign for fans of artificial intelligence, the algorithms show a glimmer of irony this morning.

At one point, the above headline (from the Chicago Tribune's Swamp blog in D.C.) zoomed to the top of the page, the lede item of 2,233 lipstick/pig/Palin/Obama related items.

The irony? News orgs and everyone else hunger so much for a spot on the Google News page that they will think this story continues to be important and thus will stay diverted.

Meanwhile, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11, the Bush regime is now diverting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan — troops it never should have diverted in 2003 from Afghanistan to Iraq.

As for the Tribune story itself? Mark Silva's item is lame:

Like "lipstick on a pig," the hot new debate of the presidential campaign has sparked one stunning distraction. And, as anyone knows, lipstick smears.

Me and everyone else used that pun yesterday.


CBS: 'Poll: Most Say U.S. Prepared For Attacks'

The rest of this meaningless poll (which gets weight because news orgs give it weight) notes, in part:

Americans give some credit to the Bush administration for making the country safer. Fifty percent say the administration's policies have improved the country’s safety, about the same rating as they have given the White House for the last two years. Twenty-one percent say the administration's policies have made the country less safe, and 23 percent say they have had no effect.

President Bush's approval rating is now at 29 percent, slightly above the low of 25 percent reached this past summer. His approval has not climbed above 30 percent since April 2007.

I guess this means that there won't be a sudden push to abolish term limits (like the trend the Times spotted) for presidents. Talk about worries lessening: Bush is unlikely to ever again win the presidency.


McClatchy: '9/11 seven years later: U.S. 'safe,' South Asia in turmoil'

In one of the better 9/11 stories this morning, Jonathan S. Landay and Saeed Shah remind us that there's a big ol' planet outside the U.S. borders:

Taking their cue from Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen's assessment yesterday — "I am not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan" — they run with it:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Seven years after 9/11, al Qaida and its allies are gaining ground across the region where the plot was hatched, staging their most lethal attacks yet against NATO forces and posing a growing threat to the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan.

While there have been no new strikes on the U.S. homeland, the Islamic insurrection inspired by Osama bin Laden has claimed thousands of casualties and displaced tens of thousands of people and shows no sign of slackening in the face of history's most powerful military alliance.

The insurgency now stretches from Afghanistan's border with Iran through the southern half of the country. The Taliban now are able to interdict three of the four major highways that connect Kabul, the capital, to the rest of the country.


Daily News: 'Remember towering spirit in 9/11 aftermath'

Tendentious and predictable, courtesy of super-self-serious columnist Michael Daly:

The obligation to honor the murdered innocents neither begins nor ends with a quick visit to Ground Zero, whether you are Barack Obama, John McCain or anybody else.

The obligation has been with us from the day of the attack and for a brief time we lived up to it: remembering we were all in it together, no matter where we were born, no matter who we voted for, no matter what we did for a living or how much we earned.

Emma Lazarus he ain't.


New York Review of Books: 'The Battle for a Country's Soul'

Forget about today's coverage. On this 9/11, the best reflection — one with real meat — remains Jane Mayer's think piece in the NYRB's previous issue:

Seven years after al-Qaeda's attacks on America, as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country's soul.

In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that whatever the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism, it would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America's interests in the world.

These warnings came not just from political opponents, but also from experienced allies, including the British Intelligence Service, the experts in the traditionally conservative military and the FBI, and, perhaps most surprisingly, from a series of loyal Republican lawyers inside the administration itself.

The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America's ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring.

One more passage from Mayer's look back, which is every bit as patriotic and stirring as the feeble attempts by Daly and others — and without the schmaltz and jingoism:

Instead of heeding this well-intentioned dissent, however, the Bush administration invoked the fear flowing from the attacks on September 11 to institute a policy of deliberate cruelty that would have been unthinkable on September 10.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and a small handful of trusted advisers sought and obtained dubious legal opinions enabling them to circumvent American laws and traditions.

In the name of protecting national security, the executive branch sanctioned coerced confessions, extrajudicial detention, and other violations of individuals' liberties that had been prohibited since the country's founding. They turned the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel into a political instrument, which they used to expand their own executive power at the expense of long-standing checks and balances.


Times: 'Pressure Builds as Lehman Faces Mounting Losses'

As it usually does, the paper of record takes the angle of the pressure on the suffering bank instead of the broader, more logical angle of the pressure of the bank's looming collapse on the rest of the world's economy. The Times lede:

The trouble at Lehman Brothers is rapidly becoming a race against time for the struggling Wall Street bank.

Lehman’s fortunes dwindled further on Wednesday as the firm, staggered by the biggest loss in its 158-year history, fought to regain confidence among investors.

You have to go overseas to get to the real news: what impact this collapse is having on the rest of the planet outside Lehman's Seventh Avenue HQ. Try this one from the Financial Times in London: "Lehman survival strategy fails to lift markets."


Daily News: 'Biden blunder: Joe says maybe Hillary Clinton would make better VP'

Joe Biden is already giving us an example of how he just can't keep his big yap shut — even when he's responding to praise.

No one wants a veep who's not confident in himself or herself, but Biden just couldn't let a compliment pass.

"Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America - let's get that straight," Biden said testily after a voter said he was "very pleased" that Democratic nominee Barack Obama had chosen him instead of Clinton.

"She is qualified to be President of the United States of America, she's easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America and, quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me," the Delaware senator added forcefully. "I mean that sincerely, she is first- rate."

OK, OK, we get the point: You're trying to pander to women to counter the presence of a woman on the GOP ticket.

Shut the fuck up already with the "I'm not worthy" bit. How will you try to show, in this popularity contest, that Sarah Palin's not worthy if you say that about yourself? Suitors — successful ones — don't act that way.

And notice that Biden even said it "testily" instead of graciously. The guy is more competent than he sounds, but you wouldn't know it. Trouble is brewing for the Demo ticket, because it's sound, not substance, that bites.


Post: 'QNS. POL CAUGHT IN STING: FBI NABS "$500,000 GRAFT" ASSEMBLYMAN'

Good one from Fred Dicker and his colleagues:

In an unprecedented sting that brought an undercover FBI agent onto the state Capitol floor, a veteran Democratic assemblyman from Queens was busted yesterday for allegedly taking $500,000 in bribes, prosecutors announced.

Anthony Seminerio, 73, who has represented South Ozone Park since 1978 and often boasted he was "John Gotti's assemblyman," was charged with running a secret consulting firm through which he pocketed the cash in return for peddling influence in Albany.

An FBI agent going undercover on the Capitol floor. Send that man to Congress!

Pentagon Acquits Itself Well on Abu Ghraib

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jordan's acquittal of charges in his court-martial over Abu Ghraib tortures should have been no surprise. Only a week ago, some of the most serious charges against Jordan — including that he lied — were dropped just before the court-martial began.

It didn't matter that the Abu Ghraib scandal — and its coverup — reached all the way up to the White House of Dick Cheney. Check out my August 22 piece, "Chains of Command," for links to the Washington Post series on Cheney and to great stuff by the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh.

The Post's Josh White reports today:

The jury of nine colonels and a one-star general concluded that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., was not responsible for training or supervising soldiers who have been convicted of abusing detainees at the prison. Jordan was also cleared of charges that he personally abused prisoners, after prosecutors tried to link him to supervising the use of forced nudity and the use of military working dogs to intimidate detainees in interrogations in late 2003.

What's curious is that White's story today doesn't at least mention the previous dropping of charges. After all, White's excellent August 21 story reported it:

Military prosecutors dropped two charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan yesterday, hours before his court-martial for allegedly abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was set to begin at Fort Meade.

The dismissal of allegations that Jordan lied to investigators in the 2004 probe of the notorious abuses was a last-minute surprise in the military courtroom at the Maryland Army base. Based on new evidence that surfaced over the weekend, prosecutors determined that Jordan had not been read his rights before giving detailed statements to Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led the seminal investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. Those statements are therefore inadmissible in the proceedings. …

The development was a significant victory for Jordan's defense attorneys, who had been arguing for suppression of the statements. Jordan gave extensive statements to Fay outlining his role at Abu Ghraib and explaining specific incidents for which he has been criminally charged. In May, Henley also tossed out statements Jordan gave to Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, because Taguba also did not properly advise him of his rights. Now, none of Jordan's statements can be used against him.

White explained the situation quite well in his earlier story, just before the court-martial trial began:

Fay's failure to read Jordan his rights appears to be a major oversight in the probe, and prosecutors did not explain the discrepancy. The move reduces Jordan's potential sentence almost by half, to a maximum of 8 1/2 years.

It was the latest in a series of odd twists in Jordan's case. Prosecutors have recommended for years that Jordan face administrative punishment rather than trial. An investigative officer once advocated a reprimand to avoid a public rehashing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. And emerging evidence has now led to the dismissal of eight out of 12 original charges against the Army officer. Jordan said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes he is a scapegoat because authorities want an officer to go to trial as a final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal, even though a more senior officer who admitted approving the use of dogs, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, received only a reprimand and a fine.

Jordan, 51, is the last soldier to face charges related to the Abu Ghraib abuses and the only officer to go to court-martial for alleged crimes there. A jury panel of nine Army colonels and one brigadier general is expected to hear opening statements in the case today, and yesterday each member told the court — under questioning by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, one of Jordan's defense attorneys — that they would not use Jordan's trial as "a referendum on Abu Ghraib."

In any case, don't let Abu Ghraib slip down the memory hole. We've known for a long time that the genesis of the abuse was in D.C., that it was a rogue presidency, not just rogue soldiers. Read Hersh's June story on Taguba and Taguba's own 2004 report.

Chains of Command

To unravel the tortured excuses for Abu Ghraib abuses, go back to June 25, a day of brilliant journalism.

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Once so proud of plans for "War on Terror detainees" that they even showed off their special Gitmo chains and other jewelry, the Bush regime's various soldiers are now crying, as the Nazis did, "We were only following orders." Or they're saying, "Hey, I didn't even give the orders."

Blame them, but save the biggest share of blame for their higher-ups — all the way up to Vise President Dick Cheney.

The freshest example is that of Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, whose court-martial right now at Fort Meade, Maryland, for Abu Ghraib abuses that occurred on his watch is a travesty of cover-up upon cover-up.

Despite the fact that the soldiers under Jordan got off by torturing and humiliating prisoners — most of whom were innocent and none of whom were of any intelligence value — Jordan himself will probably get off with a wrist-slap.

Today's account of this extremely important trial is buried on page A14 of the Washington Post:

Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer charged in connection with abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, did not train, supervise or work directly with interrogators who questioned detainees, the prison's top military intelligence officer testified yesterday.

Testifying for the prosecution in Jordan's court-martial at Fort Meade, Col. Thomas M. Pappas said that Jordan's duties centered on improving the quality of life for soldiers at the austere base outside Baghdad and improving the flow of intelligence information — not on the interrogations or harsh methods of eliciting information approved for use at the time.

The news cycles of real news, especially follow-ups, cause so much frustration. How can anyone put his or her hands around what's going on?

Abu Ghraib blazed in the headlines in 2004, but now that details of who did what and when are coming out, it's considered old news. That's why I try to salt my posts with so many links. All we can do is point to some stories that point to the facts and provide context.

And one unmistakable fact is that no matter what happens to Jordan, the torture scandal goes all the way up the chain of command, right into the White House run by Dick Cheney.

When it comes to Abu Ghraib, all you really have to do is focus on just one day's worth of brilliant journalism. Go back to this past June 25 and you'll see what I mean.

Now, I'm not faulting the Post for burying today's Jordan story. It has kicked the ass of the New York Times on almost every topic since the Bush regime came to power. While Jordan's court-martial continues, go back and re-read the Post's stellar series on Cheney, particularly Barton Gellman and Jo Becker's June 25 "Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power," which I wrote about that day. Here's how that Post story began:

Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney's lawyer, [David Addington], who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby. The meeting marked "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. "The CIA guys said, 'We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'" if interrogators confined themselves to humane techniques allowed by the Geneva Conventions.

From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive's will to resist. The vice president's office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.

Remarkable stuff. Too bad it didn't come out before the November 2004 presidential election.

If you really want to understand how such a coverup happened — and what tragic roles this Colonel Jordan and various other officials played in this sick drama —go back to Seymour Hersh's brilliant piece "The General’s Report: How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties," also published on June 25.

Taguba's investigation (PDF of his report) was circumscribed by his higher-ups, Hersh reveals. And of course now it comes out that Jordan supposedly wasn't read his rights at the proper time and he might skate on serious charges.

What about the people above — way above — Jordan? Hersh's reporting explodes the Bush regime's lame excuse that Abu Ghraib's abuses were the work of a few "rogue soldiers":

Taguba came to believe that Lieutenant General [Ricardo] Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq, and some of the generals assigned to the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib even before Joseph Darby came forward with the CD. Taguba was aware that in the fall of 2003 — when much of the abuse took place — Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation. According to Taguba, "Sanchez knew exactly what was going on."

Taguba learned that in August, 2003, as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was gaining force, the Pentagon had ordered Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantánamo, to Iraq. His mission was to survey the prison system there and to find ways to improve the flow of intelligence. The core of Miller’s recommendations, as summarized in the Taguba report, was that the military police at Abu Ghraib should become part of the interrogation process: they should work closely with interrogators and intelligence officers in "setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees."

Taguba concluded that Miller’s approach was not consistent with Army doctrine, which gave military police the overriding mission of making sure that the prisons were secure and orderly. His report cited testimony that interrogators and other intelligence personnel were encouraging the abuse of detainees. "Loosen this guy up for us," one M.P. said he was told by a member of military intelligence. "Make sure he has a bad night."

The M.P.s, Taguba said, "were being literally exploited by the military interrogators. My view is that those kids" — even the soldiers in the photographs — "were poorly led, not trained, and had not been given any standard operating procedures on how they should guard the detainees."

Rogue soldiers? No, a rogue presidency.

'Incorporeity': Increase Your Wartime Vocabulary

This morning's L.A. Times report that the U.S. and its allies are killing more Afghan civilians than the Taliban are could be just the tip of the coffin.

In Iraq, documents that the ACLU pried from the War Department indicate that the U.S. often rejects claims — even defying judges' rulings — that its troops have killed innocent civilians. And one of those rejected claims shows that a seldom-used word — "incorporeity" — is creeping into the wartime language.

Judges are granting "incorporeity damages" for civilian deaths, as the document below shows, but U.S. officials often rejected such claims. In the case below, an Iraqi claims that his son was killed by troops as he approached a checkpoint on his way to market. A judge valued the son at $7,500 — $5,000 for "killed my son" and $2,500 for "incorporeity damages" — but U.S. officials said his behavior was "threatening" and refused to pay.

incorpfinal399.jpg

Heretofore not used to describe the death of Iraq civilians, "incorporeity" comes from "incorporeal," according to my OED, which I guess you could say backs up the U.S. position: The first OED definition of "incorporeal":

Having no bodily or material structure; not composed of matter; immaterial.

The second definition gets right to it:

Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of immaterial beings.

That's accurate. As I pointed out in October 2004, General Tommy Franks remarked early on, "We don't do body counts," but others were, including Iraq Body Count, which has documented 65,000 violent deaths so far. It used to be that we did most of the killing, but now of course it's the rebels' bombs and suicide runs that account for most of it. Nevertheless, IBC noted in a March 2007 rundown:

Coalition-caused deaths.
Coalition forces, principally US as well as some UK, were identified to have killed at least 536 Iraqi civilians in year four (excluding a major incident in Najaf in January which is still under investigation by IBC). This compares with 370 in year three. If 536 seems insignificant in light of the overall total, consider for a moment what it would mean if in your country there were, on average, three incidents a week in which a foreign army killed civilians, including the killing of a 5-yr-old girl and entire families with their children. Would this army be a stabilising influence?

Check out the batch of Iraq death claims yourself at this ACLU page; there's even a search engine on civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The same kind of destabilizing is happening in Afghanistan, where Hamid Karzai's government is shakier all the time. This morning's L.A. Times story notes:

After more than five years of increasingly intense warfare, the conflict in Afghanistan reached a grim milestone in the first half of this year: U.S. troops and their NATO allies killed more civilians than insurgents did, according to several independent tallies. . . .

But the growing toll is causing widespread disillusionment among the Afghan people, eroding support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and exacerbating political rifts among NATO allies about the nature and goals of the mission in Afghanistan.

More than 500 Afghan civilians have been reported killed this year, and the rate has dramatically increased in the last month.

The Times story tries to be fair:

Still, Western military leaders argue that any comparison of casualties caused by Western forces and by the Taliban is fundamentally unfair because there is a clear moral distinction to be made between accidental deaths resulting from combat operations and deliberate killings of innocents by militants.

"No [Western] soldier ever wakes up in the morning with the intention of harming any Afghan citizen," said Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. "If that does inadvertently happen, it is deeply, deeply regretted."

Well, it's not true that no Western soldier wakes up in the morning with the intention of harming a civilian. How about the Abu Ghraib tortures, which my colleague Graham Rayman recently revisited?

A better example is soldier Steven Green, leader of a rape crew that prosecutors say got drunk, put on masks, invaded an apartment, raped a 14-year-old girl and killed her and her whole family.

Green's now facing the death penalty, so maybe at some point he'll become incorporeal himself.

Cheney as Furor

Grabbing onto the coattails of the Washington Post's brilliant series, "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," Democratic party activists and consultants are wailing that "Dick Cheney is a war criminal."

I guess that makes the whole host of Democrats who went along with the regime's march to war during the crucial Congressional votes of October 2002 "war schlemiels."

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Barefoot boy with sheikh: An Arab being tortured at Abu Ghraib, thanks to the brainstorming of Cheney (far right).

The Post series is indeed explosive. As this morning's dispatch, "Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power," by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, shows, Cheney and other top officials personally brainstormed how to violate the Constitution and perfect the torture of Arabs captured during the War of Terror.

Basically, Cheney acts as if he were a sheikh, kind of a Dick of Arabia. No wonder Halliburton, which continues to take cues from ex-CEO Cheney and kept paying a salary to the vice president through at least the first six years of his reign at the White House, has fled to Dubai. The United Arab Emirates is one of the most repressive regimes on Earth. Our own State Department says:

• "The law permits indefinite routine prolonged incommunicado detention without appeal."

• "The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government restricted these rights in practice. The government drafts all Friday sermons in mosques and censors private association publications. . . . The law prohibits criticism of the rulers, and from acts to create or encourage social unrest.

• "Organized public gatherings require a government permit. No permits were given for organized public gatherings for political purposes."

• "There are no political organizations, political parties, or trade unions."

• "Unrestricted foreign travel and emigration is permitted for male citizens, except those involved in legal disputes under adjudication. Custom dictates that a husband can bar his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports."

• "The law does not provide to citizens the right to change their government peacefully, or to freely change the laws that govern them. There are no democratic elections or institutions and citizens do not have the right to form political parties."

Otherwise, Dubai, where the world's tallest building is being erected, is a great place. It's the dream of people like Cheney. Business and government are one and the same. Most of the workers are foreigners — only 5 percent of Emirati citizens work. Development has run amuck. An oligarchy controls everything.

Burdened by an intolerable climate (as hot as Phoenix and as humid as Houston), Dubai is bursting with outrageous resorts. It's a playpen for the rich — more like a sandbox.

D.C. isn't the greatest place, either, and it's also a playpen, as the Post series points out. From this morning's piece:

Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney's lawyer, who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby. The meeting marked "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. "The CIA guys said, 'We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'" if interrogators confined themselves to humane techniques allowed by the Geneva Conventions.

From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive's will to resist. The vice president's office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.

Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden "torture" and permitted use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods of questioning. They did not originate every idea to rewrite or reinterpret the law, but fresh accounts from participants show that they translated muscular theories, from Yoo and others, into the operational language of government.

Hope there's a special section in the George W. Bush Presidential Libary on Cheney. Actually, that library should be only a wing to Dick Cheney's tome tomb.

Where were the Post and other U.S. media back in the spring of 2005 when the Times of London — one of Rupert Murdoch's papers — revealed what became known as the Downing Street Memo and other documents laying out the furtive plotting in 2002 behind the unjustified invasion of Iraq?

Gonzales 'Grilled' Kerik?

Al should have taken his own advice on interrogation techniques

What a remarkable series of conversations it must have been: Alberto Gonzales grilling Bernie Kerik.

If you believe this morning's New York Times, Bush's nominee as attorney general conducted "hours of confrontational interviews" with Kerik, to make sure none of the little Napoleon's cream filling had spilled into places it shouldn't have. (See photo of tough guy Gonzales below.)

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Gonzales, prepping for his arduous grilling of Kerik, practices his steely-eyed tough-guy face on Bush.

The Times' Elisabeth Bumiller pins her tale to an unnamed "government official." I hesitate to believe it only because Bumiller also describes the White House as "normally careful." I think she means "normally careful" only in vetting potential nominees, which means that the White House is careful about whom it trusts and picks? Uh-huh. In her same story, she points out that the White House was careless in dispensing top-security information after 9/11: Kerik, while still the NYPD commissioner, was put on the list even though he neglected to fill out the basic form to start the security-check process. I wouldn't call that "normally careful." If Bumiller means "normally careful" in general—no, she can't mean that.

Anyway, this is how Bumiller sketched Gonzales's personal vetting of Kerik:

Well, let's see. Gonzales was a key figure in OK'ing the torture that we've used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. As my colleague Nat Hentoff writes today:

    If there ever is an honest investigation of who is ultimately responsible for what happened [at Guantánamo] and at Abu Ghraib, Mr. Gonzales might well be in the dock, along with Donald Rumsfeld and a number of the defense secretary's closest aides.

When Gonzales was faced with vetting Kerik, we could reasonably assume that Al took his own advice on interrogation techniques, like the ones listed in today's Washington Post story by Thomas E. Ricks, "Detainee Abuse by Marines Is Detailed."

Which means that Gonzales probably burned Kerik's hands by dipping them in an alcohol-based cleaner and then igniting them, tied him up and held a pistol to his head, made him kneel next to an open grave and then fired a shot as a "mock execution," and hooked him up to an electric transformer to make him "dance."

Apparently, none of that worked on Kerik. Some people just won't talk about some things.

But then there's Paul Wolfowitz, who before the U.S. invasion of Iraq just wouldn't shut up about how easy the occupation was likely to be. As I wrote a while back, to get Wolfowitz to spill his guts back then, you didn't even have to drag the deputy secretary of defense by his hair from a Humvee to a prison cell or strip him and wedge him into a pyramid of naked people or punish him while he prays or have him simulate masturbation or threaten him with rape or throw him into a wall or smear shit on his back or scare him with a growling dog or put a dog collar on him or ride him around like a donkey or hook up wires to his nuts while making him stand on a box or make fun of his schmeckel while you grinned for the camera.

Maybe Wolfowitz and Kerik like wearing dog collars.

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