United States News Digest
GOP Attempts To Save Cheney from Defeat on McCain Amendment
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md), during a Dec. 8 colloquy with Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo), effectively accused the GOP of undercutting the House rules regarding conference committees by refusing to appoint conferees on the defense appropriations bill until a deal is cut between the White House and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), the author of the anti-torture provision in the Senate version of the bill.
Under questioning from Hoyer, Blunt said that he anticipated that a motion to go to conference on the bill would be offered early in the week of Dec. 12. In reality, of course, negotiations involving the White House have been underway for some time, on both the appropriations bill and the authorization bill. The McCain amendment is attached to the Senate versions of both. Hoyer pointed out that if the expected motion to instruct House conferees to agree to the McCain amendment, which can't be made until after conferees are appointed, is not made until after the conference report has been essentially completed in a deal with the White House, the motion would have little value. "Whatever the House might want to do would be a meaningless act," Hoyer said.
The already wide support for McCain's amendment appears to be broadening by the minute. Congressman Chris Shays (R-Conn) reported Dec. 8 that he was told by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, that the Pentagon can operate effectively under the guidelines in the Army field manual on interrogations, which is what the McCain amendment mandates. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said that he sees his GOP House colleagues putting heavy pressure on the Administration to accept the McCain amendment. "There is a passion for this," he said, "and given a straight up or down vote on this, the House will pass it."
Fitzgerald Makes Presentation to New Grand Jury
In what cannot be good news for Dick Cheney and his gang, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent three hours Dec. 7 presenting evidence to a new grand jury on the Valerie Plame Wilson leak case, the Washington Post reported Dec. 8. Fitzgerald went into the grand jury room with four deputies, an FBI agent, and cartons of files. Characteristically, he refused any comment to reporters.
On Dec. 8, Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak was reported to have given a sworn deposition to Fitzgerald, at her lawyer's office. Again, Fitzgerald came and left without making any comment. Time has reported that Fitzgerald wanted to talk to Novak about a conversation she had had with Karl Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin.
Observers note that there is no reason for Fitzgerald to be presenting evidence to another grand jury, unless he is contemplating further indictments.
'Stunning Defeat' for Justice Department in Terror Case
"This ranks as one of the most significant defeats for the U.S. government, for the Justice Department, since 9/11," said Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School, referring to the trial in Florida of former professor Sami Al-Arian on various charges related to funding allegedly terrorist organizations. "The Justice Department spent copious amounts of money and time to make the case against Al-Arian."
In what the Tampa Tribune called "a stunning defeat" for the Justice Department, Al-Arian was acquitted outright on eight counts, and the jury was deadlocked on the other nine. His three codefendants were also acquitted. Al-Arian had been a target of right-wing neo-cons and elements of the Israeli lobby since the 1980s. When he was indicted two years ago, then-Attorney General Ashcroft called it "a milestone in the war on terror." Using wiretaps obtained under the expanded Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and other material obtained under the Patriot Act, prosecutors set out to prove that Al-Arian and his codefendants had provided financial and other support of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that, despite the massive amount of evidence produced by the government, jurors said that there was not enough proof to support convicting the four men. "The dots didn't connect," one said.
David Cole of Georgetown University says of the prosecutors: "They say the Patriot Act allows them to connect the dots. But they failed to make the most important connection, which was to tie Mr. Al-Arian to some violent or criminal act. It should make the government rethink its reliance on these very broad theories of guilt by association," he said.
The Los Angeles Times Dec. 8 headlined its article: "The Patriot Act Can't Make Up for a Weak Case."
Lawsuit Targets Extraordinary Renditions
The ACLU has filed a first-ever lawsuit on behalf of Khaled el-Masri, the German national falsely identified as a terrorist and abducted by the CIA in December 2003. The lawsuit alleges that the CIA "violated U.S. and universal human rights laws" during the abduction, and specifically targets the policy of "extraordinary renditions." In its release, Steven Watt, the ACLU's primary human rights advisor on the case, said, "The CIA's policy of extraordinary rendition is a clear violation of universal human rights protections." Anthony Romero, the ACLU's Executive Director, said, "Kidnapping a foreign national for the purpose of detaining and interrogating him outside the law is contrary to American values. Our government has acted as if it is above the law."
Adding insult to injury, when el-Masri flew to the U.S. to be present for the press conference, the ever-vigilant Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused him entry (his name showed up in an "intelligence database"), and sent him home on the next available plane. Speaking to the press via video hook-up then, el-Masri said, "I am asking the American government to admit its mistakes and to apologize for my treatment. Throughout my time in the prison, I asked to be brought before a court, but was refused. Now I am hoping that an American court will say very clearly that what happened to me was illegal and cannot be done to others."
Authorities were probably most worried because el-Masri's planned visit to the U.S. included a trip to Capitol Hill.
9/11 Commission Gives Administration Anti-Terror Strategy Failing Grade
Not only is the U.S. losing the war on terror in Iraq, the U.S. is also failing at home. So says the Final Report of the 9/11 Commission, issued Dec. 5. The 500-some pages of the Commission's findings were condensed into a form even George could understand: a report card, almost 50% of whose list of grades were "Ds" (for substandard), and "Fs" (for failing). Among the 30-plus categories, the one most directly targetted at the administration is that covering "Coalition detention standards," a diplomatic reference to inmate torture, for which they were given an "F," saying the U.S. strategy "makes it harder to build the necessary alliances" to work against global terror networks.
Showing the incompetence of the Administration (and their true attitude toward defending the American people), even some of the most basic measures, such coordinating radio frequencies for first responders, had not been acted on. Other terrorist-fighting recommendations, like "stand[ing] as an example of moral leadership in the world," or "stand[ing] for a better future," this Administration could not even approximate.
The report has its drawbacksin its limitation of terrorism to "Islamic terrorism," and the lack of even a hint of domestic involvement in the 9/11 attacksbut it hits hard at the last leg that Cheney has to stand on. For that reason, Administration spokesmen were hard at work assuring that they had "accepted" its findings. Not good enough, said former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a former Commission member. "Accepting" a recommendation and "making it happen" are two different things. "We saw that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," she said.
DeLay Must Stand Trial for Money Laundering
In a ruling announced late on Dec. 5, Judge Pat Priest ruled that Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and his codefendants will stand trial in 2006 on two money-laundering charges. The judge dismissed one conspiracy charge that had also been filed against him. Though DeLay's spokesman immediately said this was proof that the prosecutor was engaged in "partisan vilification," the DeLay camp is reported to be extremely unhappy, as he will be unable to reclaim his position as House Majority leader.
The money-laundering charges against DeLay stem from the channelling of funds, by DeLay and his operatives, to candidates who subsequently pushed through the redistricting.
This blow to DeLay follows the revelation a week earlier that DOJ legal experts concluded that DeLay's machinations to redistrict Texas violated the Voting Rights Act. However, the political appointees at DOJ overruled the legal staff.
Wilkerson To Help Convicted Abu Ghraib Soldiers
Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell when Powell was Secretary of State, is working with the lawyers for a number of low-level soldiers who were convicted of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Newark Star Ledger reported Nov. 28.
Paul Bergrin, the lawyer of Army MP Juval Davis, had sought last year to take testimony from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, arguing that they had authorized actions which led to the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The military judge in the case denied the motion, saying that Bergrin hadn't shown the connection to high-level government officials. Wilkerson says he saw the paper trail that linked Cheney et al. to detainee abuse and torture, and he told Bergrin that "I will do whatever I can to help" re-open the Abu Ghraib case. Bergrin says that "now, with Wilkerson's help, we believe we will show that the orders for torturing and mistreating Iraqi detainees came from the highest levels of the national government."
An interview with Bergrin was published in the July 16, 2004 EIR.