Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Senate foes of troop buildup join forces

WASHINGTON - Two senators — a Republican and a Democrat — leading separate efforts to put Congress on record against President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq joined forces Wednesday, agreeing on a nonbinding resolution that would oppose the plan and potentially embarrass the White House.

Sens. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., and Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., had been sponsoring competing measures opposing Bush's strategy of sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to the war zone, with Warner's less harshly worded version attracting more Republican interest. The new resolution would vow to protect funding for troops while keeping Warner's original language expressing the Senate's opposition to the buildup.

Levin replaced Warner as chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the Democrats took control of the Senate in January. Their resolution could well gain more support from members of both parties than their separate versions had been attracting. It lacks Levin's language saying the troop increase is against the national interest, and it drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record) said he wants to begin debate Monday on the new measure, bypassing committee review. Levin's original resolution would no longer be considered unless offered as an amendment.

"I believe we have a better chance now" of passing a resolution against the president's plan, said Sen. Richard Durbin (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill.

The resolution is likely to pose a threat to the White House because of its potential appeal to Republicans who have grown tired of the nearly four-year war and want a chance to express their concerns. The White House has been hoping to avoid an overwhelming congressional vote criticizing Bush's handling of the war.

"It's been a hard work in progress," Warner said of his resolution, which has been struggling to win support of 60 senators so as to prevent a filibuster.

The agreement comes as several leading Republicans who support the troop buildup said they will give the administration and the Iraqis about six months to show significant improvement. Many other Republicans say they are deeply skeptical additional troops in Iraq, rather than a political settlement, would help calm the sectarian violence.

The widely unpopular war has led to the deaths of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and is blamed for GOP losses in the Nov. 7 elections that handed control of Congress to the Democrats.

The House had planned on waiting for the Senate to vote as a way of testing the waters for Republican support of such a resolution. But according to a Democratic aide, the House may begin the process next week with a committee review. That would set the stage for a House floor debate the week of Feb. 12.

Warner had attracted at least seven other Republicans who were inclined to vote for his resolution. Scrambling to find additional support, Warner added language proposed by Sen. Judd Gregg (news, bio, voting record), R-N.H., that would protect funding for troops.

As of late Wednesday, Gregg had not said whether he would support the revised resolution.

"Colleagues have come up to me and said, 'Can you assure me that this doesn't provide a cutoff of funds?'" Warner said.

Warner's resolution will now rival a proposal by Sens. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., that would identify benchmarks for the Iraqi government. McCain's measure is intended to give Republicans an outlet for expressing that the U.S. commitment in Iraq must not be open-ended, without openly criticizing the president.

McCain's measure also picked up steam Wednesday, with Sens. Pat Roberts (news, bio, voting record), R-Kan., Lisa Murkowski (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (news, bio, voting record), R-Ga., and GOP leaders saying they might support it.

"I don't think this war can be sustained for more than six months if in fact we don't see some progress," said Roberts. His comments came two days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., said the new U.S. military push was the Iraqis' "last chance."

Bush on Wednesday objected to Iraq proposals from Republicans and Democrats alike and acknowledged that "there's a lot of pessimism" in Congress about his troop buildup.

In an interview with Fox News, Bush took issue with McConnell's statement that his plan needs to be successful over the next six to nine months.

"I think it's a mistake to put timetables on difficult missions because an enemy can adjust," Bush said. "On the other hand, I certainly understand the urgency in Mitch's voice. I also understand the skepticism on Capitol Hill. I mean, no doubt, there's a lot of pessimism there today."

In a statement after the president's interview, McConnell avoided mention of a specific time frame, but he stressed that the U.S. commitment in Iraq "is not open-ended."

"We will know in a relatively short period of time whether or not the Iraqis are committed, and initial results are positive," McConnell said. "Of course we would need to reconsider our strategy if this effort fails."

Bush also criticized a proposal by Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), a Democratic presidential candidate from Illinois, to have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by spring 2008. "I say that it's important to succeed and that failure in Iraq will cause chaos," Bush said. "My admonition to those who are speaking out is let us back the troops and let us hope for the success" of their mission.

Although deserted by some key Republicans, Bush said: "I don't feel abandoned. ... When times are good, there's millions of authors of the plan. When times are bad, there's one author, and that would be me."


Obama Says “Withdraw the Troops By March ‘08″

Barack Obama has introduced a bill that requires the withdrawal of troops in the near future, with complete withdrawal by March of 2008.

The timetable may be too slow for some, and too fast for others.

Sen. Clinton has said she would consider it "irresponsible" for Bush not to have withdrawn all troops by the end of his term in January 2009.

Obama is now recommending making it a matter of law that troops be out ten months earlier than that.

The debate among Democrats is clearly shifting more toward winding down the war. (Note that I didn't say it's "shifting to the left."

Opposition to this war can no longer be described as a left/right issue.)

Click for video

Matthew Cooper Testifies Rove Told Him About Plame

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper testified today that top presidential aide Karl Rove was the first person to tell him that an Iraq war critic's wife was a CIA official.

Cooper, testifying in Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby's perjury trial, also contradicted Libby's account of a conversation the two had the following day, on July 12, 2003, about war critic Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame.

Libby, 56, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, is accused of lying to investigators probing whether U.S. officials deliberately leaked Plame's identity to retaliate against Wilson for attacking the administration's Iraq war claims. Prosecutors say Libby falsely told a grand jury that, when Cooper asked about Plame, he said he heard about her from other reporters and didn't know if the information was true.

``I asked what he heard about Wilson's wife'' sending him to Niger to find out if Iraq sought to buy uranium there, Cooper said. ``Mr. Libby said words to the effect of `yeah, I heard that too.'''

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked whether Libby said where he had learned about Plame.

``Not in any way,'' said Cooper, now Washington editor of a new magazine, Conde Nast Portfolio. Asked whether Libby said he heard about her from other reporters, Cooper replied in the negative.

Wilson wrote a column in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, saying he found no evidence that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger and accusing the Bush administration of ``twisting'' intelligence to justify invading Iraq.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Roundup: 'Stressed' Miller takes stand in CIA leak trial

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller is "stressed out" and on the stand live undergoing questions in the CIA leak trial, and has just contradicted statements by Vice President Cheney's former Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, who said he believed he first learned of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity from another reporter.

AP: "Miller testified Tuesday that Libby discussed the CIA officer on June 3, 2003. He said Wilson’s wife worked for the “bureau,” Miller recalled. She was confused about that at first, she said. “Through the context of the discussion, I quickly determined it to be the CIA,” she testified.

Firedoglake, which has been covering the CIA leak trial closely, is in the courtroom now. "This is not the picture of someone who is relaxed," blogger EmptyWheel notes.

It "looks like she's doing breathing exercises, pouring herself water. Got out of chair and is now back," adds EmptyWheel. "Gets more water... Looking around cautiously. Closes eyes. Breathes. Breathes out. Looking straight forward. Head darts nervously. Staring forward. Shifts in chair. Looks toward Libby's team? Looks toward lawyers. Adjusts blouse. Looks at lawyers again. Looks down, folds arms. Looks down. Looks toward Libby's team. Folds arms, leans back, turning in swivel chair. Takes glasses off. Looks for tissue to wipe her hands."




NY Times: Bush signs landmark executive order increasing power over federal agencies

President George W. Bush has given his administration a boost in how the government regulates key issues such as civil rights and the environment, The New York Times will report on its Tuesday front page.

The President "signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules that the federal government develops to regulate public health, safety," privacy and other issues, writes Robert Pear for the Times.

Pear reports that "in an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Bush said that each federal agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee" who will monitor the creation of process and procedures and the associated documentation.

"The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency," Pear writes, "to analyze the costs and benefits of new rules and to make sure they carry out the president's priorities."

Excerpts from the Times article follow...

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Business groups welcomed the executive order, saying it had the potential to reduce what they saw as the burden of federal regulations. This burden is of great concern to many groups, including small businesses, that have given strong political and financial backing to Bush.

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive order, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would hinder agencies' efforts to protect the public.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Jan. 27: This Marine's death came after he served in Iraq

When Jonathan Schulze came home from Iraq, he tried to live a normal life. But the war kept that from happening.

At first, Jonathan Schulze tried to live with the nightmares and the grief he brought home from Iraq. He was a tough kid from central Minnesota, and more than that, a U.S. Marine to the core.

Yet his moods when he returned home told another story. He sobbed on his parents' couch as he told them how fellow Marines had died, and how he, a machine gunner, had killed the enemy. In his sleep, he screamed the names of dead comrades. He had visited a psychiatrist at the VA hospital in Minneapolis.

Two weeks ago, Schulze went to the VA hospital in St. Cloud. He told a staff member he was thinking of killing himself, and asked to be admitted to the mental health unit, said his father and stepmother, who accompanied him. They said he was told he couldn't be admitted that day. The next day, as he spoke to a counselor in St. Cloud by phone, he was told he was No. 26 on the waiting list, his parents said.

Four days later, Schulze, 25, committed suicide in his New Prague home.

Citing privacy laws, Veterans Affairs officials wouldn't comment specifically on the case, nor would they confirm or deny the Schulze family's account. However, Dr. Sherrie Herendeen, line director for mental health services at the St. Cloud hospital, said Thursday that under VA policy, a veteran talking about suicide would immediately be escorted into the hospital's locked mental health unit for treatment.

She also said that after hearing of Schulze's death, the hospital is doing an internal review of its procedures.

Schulze's father and stepmother, Jim and Marianne Schulze of rural Stewart, Minn., say their son would be alive today if the VA had acted on his pleas for admittance. They say they heard him tell VA staff in St. Cloud that he felt suicidal -- in person on Jan. 11 at the hospital, and over the phone on Jan. 12.

On the evening of Jan. 16, Schulze called family and friends to tell them that he was preparing to kill himself. They called New Prague police, who smashed in the door and found him hanging from an electrical cord. Police attempted to resuscitate him, but it was too late.

Schulze's family doctor in Stewart, a farming crossroads in McLeod County, said he was convinced that Schulze suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a disabling mental condition that can result from military combat.

"Jonathan was a classic," said Dr. William Phillips, who said he first examined Schulze in October 2004 when Schulze was home on leave from Marine duty.

Phillips said Schulze was reliving combat in his sleep, had flashbacks when he was awake, couldn't eat, felt paranoid, struggled with relationships and admitted to drinking alcohol excessively. Phillips prescribed medication to calm his nerves and help him sleep.

The doctor also asked Schulze to seek counseling at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in California where he was assigned. Phillips said he was unable to learn whether Schulze had done so.

"We don't have a system for this," Phillips said this week. "The VA is overwhelmed, and we're rural doctors out here trying to deal with this.
Unfortunately, we're going to see a lot of Jonathans."

Seeking help

Maj. Cynthia Rasmussen, the combat stress officer for the 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling, said veterans returning to Minnesota who have problems often don't seek help until their civilian lives begin to fall apart. "Soldiers think if they go to get help that they're going to be seen as weak, but they also think their command won't have faith in them," she said.

Rasmussen said reasons for mental illness among returning veterans are many and complex, but often relate to personality changes that service members must make while in uniform -- and especially in combat zones -- and then try to readjust to civilian life.

After Schulze left the Marines in late 2005, he continued to have aching memories of combat.

"When he got back from Iraq he was mentally scattered," said his older brother Travis, who also served there with the Marines.

Click for more on this story

Fleischer Tells Jury That Libby Told Him About Plame

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told a jury today that Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff disclosed to him the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame a week before her name surfaced publicly in the press.

Taking the stand as the most critical witness so far in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fleischer said that in an unusual lunch in the White House mess, Libby told him that the wife of prominent war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV worked in the CIA's counterproliferation division.

Fleischer, who was called by the prosecution, said Libby told him at the July 7 lunch that former ambassador Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate reports Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material there by Wilson's wife, not by the vice president, as some news accounts were saying.

Wilson later accused the administration of twisting information he gathered, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. Some have charged that Plame's name was leaked to columnist Robert D. Novak, who published it in a July 14 column, to discredit Wilson.

Fleischer said he believed that Libby told him Plame's name, but could not be sure.

"He added that this was something hush-hush or on the QT, that not many people knew this information," Fleisher said. "My impression was Mr. Libby was telling me this was kind of newsy."

Added Fleischer: "My thought was that what I was hearing was about nepotism."

Libby is charged with lying to FBI agents and a grand jury and obstructing justice in the investigation of who leaked Plame's name to Novak. He told investigators that he learned about Plame's identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert in a July 10 telephone call. He has pleaded not guilty, contending that when he testified, he did not remember some conversations he had with reporters about Plame. He is not charged with the leak itself.

Fleischer said he never viewed the information he received about Plame as classified or secret, because the protocol in the White House was that press aides would be warned explicitly when information was classified and could not be used in discussions with reporters.

Fleischer also made clear how uncomfortable he was when questioned earlier that day at a press briefing about Wilson's claims that the administration was twisting intelligence. Earlier in the spring, he had insisted that President Bush stood behind 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium in Niger.

But higher level officials he didn't name began suggesting it might be a problem to defend that statement.

"I had been told to be careful not to stand by the 16 words, that the ground might be shifting on that," Fleischer said. "You can't say yes. You can't say no. At that briefing, I basically punted. I said yes and no."

During afternoon testimony, Fleischer told jurors that, a few days after his lunch with Libby, Fleischer had relayed the fact that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA to two reporters while they were covering a trip Bush made to Africa.

According to Fleischer, he passed on the information to the reporters, NBC's David Gregory and Time magazine's John Dickerson, as they were walking alongside a road in Uganda.

The former press secretary said that, in addition to learning about Plame from Libby, he also had just heard another White House aide, then-communications director Dan Bartlett, "vent" about news accounts that Cheney had asked for Wilson's trip. Fleischer said he was in the senior staff cabin of Air Force 1 during the Africa trip when he overheard Bartlett say out loud that Wilson's wife had sent him on the mission to Niger.

He testified that neither Libby nor Bartlett gave him any reason to believe that Plame's employment was classified.

"I never in my wildest dreams thought this information would be classified," he said.

Fleischer, who left the White House in mid-July 2003, said that in September, about 2 1/2 months after his conversation with the reporters, he saw a news account that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate a possibly illegal leak of a covert CIA officer's identity.

"I was absolutely horrified to know I had played a role," Fleischer said. "I thought, 'Oh my God. Did I play a role in somehow outing a CIA officer. . . . Did I just do something that I could be in big trouble for.' "

He said that he hired lawyers and ultimately agreed to be interviewed by investigators after receiving immunity from prosecution.

Defense attorneys told U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton this morning they want to try to cast Fleischer as a man who had a motive to help prosecutors and lie about Libby -- to save himself from possible prosecution for leaking information to reporters in mid-July 2003. Plame's name and secret CIA role first appeared in a syndicated column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003 -- eight days after her husband publicly accused the administration of using bad intelligence to justify the war with Iraq earlier that year.

But at the same time, defense lawyers warned Walton that they are worried about the government providing too much information or suggesting too much about Fleischer seeking the immunity deal --- because of what it might imply about their own client.

"The government seeks to use this testimony that if Mr. Fleisher thought he had a criminal problem, Mr. Libby must have thought he had a criminal problem," said defense attorney William H. Jeffress Jr.

Defense attorneys are suspicious of the immunity deal and why Fitzgerald made it without any apparent reluctance. Libby's defense lawyers suggested last week in court that Fitzgerald got a secret summary of Fleischer's testimony -- a deal they want to discuss with jurors when Fleischer takes the stand today.

Walton said this morning he had read in his chambers an affidavit the government provided from Fleischer about his immunity deal and was "satisfied" there was nothing to suggest Fleischer promised Fitzgerald any specific testimony. Fitzgerald had said last week no such promises were made.

"We got no specifics," Fitzgerald said then.


Ex-aide's immunity deal won't be detailed

WASHINGTON - Attorneys for former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby won't know the specifics of former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's unusual immunity-from-prosecution deal when Fleischer testifies against their client Monday.

A federal judge ruled that Fleischer's agreement with prosecutors is not relevant to Libby's perjury and obstruction defense. Libby's attorneys believed Fleischer promised specific testimony against Libby in exchange for immunity — a deal they wanted to use to question Fleischer's credibility.

Prosecutors normally require an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to grant immunity. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said that he reluctantly gave Fleischer immunity without knowing specifics and believing only that the former top White House spokesman could help the investigation into who leaked a CIA's operative's name.

Fitzgerald gave U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton a summary of his conversations with Fleischer's attorneys and Walton agreed that it didn't need to be disclosed to Libby's attorneys.

Fleischer was to begin his testimony later Monday after Vice President Dick Cheney's former spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, leaves the stand.

Fleischer, who was the chief White House spokesman for the first 2 1/2 years of
President Bush's first term, will be a key witness against Libby. Libby is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of a prominent Bush administration critic.

Libby says he was surprised to learn from NBC News reporter Tim Russert that Plame worked at the CIA. Anything he later told reporters about Plame was simply a repetition of what he learned from Russert, Libby said.

Fitzgerald's first witnesses were government employees who testified that they told Libby about Plame days before the Russert conversation. Fleischer is expected to testify that Libby then relayed that information to him, also before Libby and Russert spoke.

As Fitzgerald said in his opening statement: "You can't learn something on Thursday that you're giving out on Monday."

Fleischer acknowledged being one of the sources for the leaks Fitzgerald was investigating and defense attorneys want to cast him as an opportunist who cannot be trusted.

Prosecutors will counter that Fleischer sought immunity because he feared he did something wrong by talking to reporters about Plame. If they can hint that Libby felt the same way, it would suggest a possible motive for him to lie to investigators.

Nobody was ever charged with leaking Plame's identity. Libby is the only person charged in the case.


White House defies Congress, public to push Iraq surge

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House has stood by President George W. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, despite growing public opposition and a chorus of criticism from lawmakers in Congress.

Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States needed to remain steadfast in the face of escalating violence in Iraq, defending the administration's plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops.

"People are trying to make a judgment on whether or not this plan is going to work I think far too early," he said in an interview with Newsweek. "And I think in fairness to the Iraqis, they need to be given an opportunity to follow through on their commitments."

He cautioned against the phased withdrawal backed by Democrats, saying Iraq would collapse into chaos and the United States would lose stature in the world.

"All of a sudden, the United States, which is the bulwark of security in that part of world, would I think no longer -- could no longer be counted on by our friends and allies that have put so much into this struggle," he said.

Congress is due to vote in early February on a non-binding motion criticizing the surge in troops, with Democrats and Republicans moving to prepare other draft resolutions even as the violence in Iraq claimed more lives with at least 61 killed across the country on Sunday.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) predicted a large number of lawmakers in Bush's Republican Party -- possibly "even a majority" -- would support the resolution condemning the proposed deployment.

"And that will send shockwaves through the White House and through the country," Schumer told NBC.

Congress also appeared headed for a possible confrontation with Bush over requests for additional funds for the war, with Schumer and other lawmakers vowing to pile pressure on the president.

Bush has urged a skeptical US public to give his new strategy a chance and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record) told CBS that Senate Republicans were "not going to talk about failure" in Iraq.

"We're going to talk about success," he said. "But we don't want to allow these places, to become once again where these elements like Al-Qaeda can operate with impunity and then be prepared to launch attacks on us again here in America."

But the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, presidential hopeful Joe Biden, challenged the administration's doomsday predictions.

"It's not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy," he told Fox News.

"It's the failed policy of this president, going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment and lastly, now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6.5 million people with bullseyes on their back with no plan," he added.

Biden vowed a "full-throated debate" on the plan in the Senate despite administration promises to move ahead in face of the opposition.

The president faces an uphill battle to gain support for his plan, with even loyal Republicans like Senator David Vitter (news, bio, voting record) of Louisiana calling it "clearly the final shot."

"I think we should be stronger and clearer about benchmarks," the senator said on NBC, adding his support for a regional conference that includes Iran and Syria.

"We need to go over and over and over the issue of, is this new troop level enough to make a difference. Because I think, clearly, we have been wrong in the past about the adequacy of troop levels," he said.

Democrat-leaning independent Senator Joe Lieberman said Sunday he was working with Republican Senator John McCain (news, bio, voting record) on a text to try to bridge the divisions.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters -- including Vietnam War opponent US actress Jane Fonda -- took to the streets of Washington to denounce the president's plan and demand an end to the war.

In Iraq Sunday, US and Iraqi forces killed more than 250 gunmen in a raging battle north of Najaf in which two US soldiers also died when their helicopter crashed.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Politics TV: The DC Rally

C-Span has been doing coverage of the DC anti-war rally all day.

PoliticsTV got video up on YouTube for those of us unable to attend.

It's nice to see some Congresspeople at the rally, but the absence of every senator does not go unnoticed either.

Click for videos

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tens of thousands in D.C. protest war

WASHINGTON - Protesters energized by fresh congressional skepticism about the Iraq war demanded a withdrawal of U.S. troops in a demonstration Saturday that drew tens of thousands and brought Jane Fonda back to the streets.

A sampling of celebrities and busloads of demonstrators from distant states joined in a spirited rally under a sunny sky, seeing opportunity to press their cause in a country that has turned against the war.

"We see many things that we feel helpless about," said Barbara Struna, 59, of Brewster, Mass. "But this is like a united force. This is something I can do."
Struna, a mother of five who runs an art gallery, made a two-day bus trip with her 17-year-old daughter, Anna, to the nation's capital to represent what she said was middle America's opposition to President Bush's war policy.

Her daughter, a high school senior, said she has as many as 20 friends who have been to Iraq. "My generation is the one that is going to have to pay for this," she said.

Showcased speakers in addition to Fonda included actors Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Danny Glover; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy; and several members of Congress who oppose the war.

Fonda was a lightning rod in the Vietnam era for her outspoken opposition to that war, earning the derisive nickname "Hanoi Jane" from conservatives for traveling to North Vietnam during the height of that conflict 35 years ago. She has avoided anti-Iraq war appearances until now.

About 40 people staged a counter-protest, including military family members and Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, who lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq in November 2005.

He said the anti-war protesters, especially those who are veterans or who are on active duty, "need to remember the sacrifice we have made and what our fallen comrades would say if they are alive."

As protesters streamed to the Mall, Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the troop increase in a phone conversation Saturday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a day when one or two rockets struck the heavily fortified Green Zone, home of the Iraqi government, thousands of Americans and the U.S. and British embassies.

Bush was in Washington for the weekend. He is often is out of town during big protest days. On Monday, for instance, he called anti-abortion marchers on the telephone from Camp David.

United for Peace and Justice, a coalition group sponsoring the protest, said there has been intense interest in the rally since Bush announced he was sending 21,500 additional troops to supplement the 130,000 in Iraq.

The rally was held as congressional opposition to the war is building. The Senate is considering nonbinding resolutions that would state opposition to Bush sending the extra forces to Iraq.

Frank Houde, 72, of Albany, N.Y., was a career Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam. Houde did not carry a sign, but said that his protest was on his hat, which said "Veterans for peace."

"The fact is war doesn't work," he said. "Iraq is not going to work. The war was started for reasons that turned out to be false."

Houde, retired from the antique restoration business, said he was never upset by protests at home while he was in Vietnam.

"I knew most were protesting on principle," he said. "It was a democratic process."

Houde said he came to this protest to be counted and added, "You can't sit in the middle of the stink of war for a year and not be affected by it. We changed the balance of power in Congress."

Active-duty military troops were featured in the protest. A Defense Department spokeswoman said members of the Armed Forces can speak out, subject to several restrictions. They must not do so in uniform, and they must make clear that they do not speak on behalf of their military unit, their service or the Defense Department, unless authorized to do so.


Newsweek: Rove could testify in Libby case as subpoenas delivered

President Bush's top political consultant, Karl Rove, could testify in the much-publicized trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Michael Isikoff reports in a Newsweek web exclusive.

"White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials--including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett--may be forced to provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial" of Libby, writes Isikoff.

Rove and Bartlett have both already received subpoenas from defense lawyers for Libby, Isikoff quotes lawyers related to the case as saying.

The article states that while it's not guaranteed that Rove and Bartlett will be called, chances rose this week after Libby's lawyer "laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client ... had been made a 'scapegoat' to protect Rove."

Isikoff adds, again quoting, that the Vice President is "expected to provide the most crucial testimony" to back up the assertions made by Libby's lawyer.

RAW STORY earlier reported on a New York Times article that suggested Libby's "scapegoat" defense "may not be supportable by any evidence."

Excerpts from the Newsweek article follow...

The possibility that Rove could be called to testify would bring his own role into sharper focus--and could prove important to Libby's lawyers for several reasons.

Rove has said in secret testimony that, during a chat on July 11, 2003, Libby told him he learned about Plame's employment at the CIA from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, a legal source who asked not to be identified talking about grand jury matters told NEWSWEEK...

But the Rove account could cut in other ways. Fitzgerald would likely argue that Libby's comment to Rove merely shows that the vice president's top aide "was even lying inside the White House," according to the legal source. Moreover, Rove is likely not eager to recount the story either. The reason? He would have to acknowledge that shortly after he had the chat with Libby, he went back to his office and had a phone conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in which he also disclosed the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. The disclosure was potentially illegal since, at the time, Plame was employed in the Directorate of Operations, the agency's covert arm...

An equally embarrassing conflict could emerge next week when former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer takes the stand. Fleischer has been one of the most mysterious figures in the case, making virtually no public comments about it since he left the White House in July 2003. In the past he has insisted he wasn't even represented by a lawyer. But it emerged during court arguments this week that Fleischer originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges to avoid testifying and then only agreed to do so after he was given an immunity deal by Fitzgerald--an arrangement that normally requires extensive bargaining among attorneys...

On its face, Fleischer's account seems to contradict the repeated public assertions of his immediate successor, Scott McClellan, in October 2003 that nobody at the White House was in any way involved in the leak of Plame's identity. It also potentially puts Bartlett, one of the president's senior and most trusted advisers, on the hot seat. If Bartlett backs up Fleischer, it suggests he himself played a role in passing along radioactive information that triggered a criminal investigation that has plagued the White House for more than four years...



Kucinich: Bush's actions 'could lead to impeachment'

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says the White House is "up to its old tricks" as it preps for a U.S. attack on Iran, according to a press release.

The 2008 Democratic presidential candidate warns that Bush's actions could result in impeachment.

Kucinich accuses the Bush administration "of mounting a media blitz to prepare the U.S. public for an eventual attack on Iran," according to the release, which cites a report that the President authorized the military to kill Iranians operating inside Iraq.

"The White House is up to its old tricks again," says Kucinich, accusing the administration of "providing information by anonymous sources and portraying Iran as an aggressor in Iraq." He continues, "The President is mischaracterizing U.S. action vis à vis Iran. In fact, the U.S. is already engaged in offensive and provocative acts against Iran.

"The President's strategy, by portraying our involvement as only being on the defensive, is laying out the groundwork for him to attack Iran and bypass authorization by Congress."

The six-term Congressmember, a long-time advocate for peace, blasts "the White House spin machine" for "providing justification for a new war ... against Iran." He adds, "The Washington Post is quoting strategically placed Administration sources who are providing justification for an attack... This new twist on Iran, a country this Administration refuses to have free and open diplomatic talks with, is stating the Administration's case for war."

Kucinich closes by warning, "The degree to which this President continues to take steps to go to war against Iran without consulting with the full Congress is the degree to which he is increasingly putting himself in jeopardy of an impeachment proceeding."

The full release is available at Rep. Kucinich's official site.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Prosecutor gave former Bush spokesman immunity in leak case

CIA leak Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald gave White House spokesman Ari Fleischer immunity in the case investigating the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame without even knowing his story, the prosecutor told court Thursday.

"As Fitzgerald's inquiry was heating up into who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters, Fleischer stepped forward with an offer: Give me immunity from prosecution and I'll give you information that might help your case," AP reported Friday. "What prosecutors didn't know was that Fleischer was one of the leakers. And without immunity, he refused to talk. Not even a hint."

"Prosecutors normally insist on an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to immunity," AP continues. "It's known in legal circles as a proffer, and Fitzgerald said Thursday that he never got one from Fleischer, who was chief White House spokesman for the first 2 1/2 years of President Bush's first term."

"I didn't want to give him immunity. I did so reluctantly," Fitzgerald told the court. "I was buying a pig in a poke."



Bush: 'I'm the decision-maker' on Iraq

President Bush, on a collision course with Congress over Iraq, said Friday "I'm the decision-maker" about sending more troops to the war. He challenged skeptical lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup.

"I've picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed," Bush said in an Oval Office meeting with senior military advisers.

The president had strong words for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are lining up to support resolutions opposing his decision to send 21,500 troops to Iraq. He challenged them to put up their own ideas.

"I know there is skepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," the president said. "They have an obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work."

Despite doubts in Congress and among the public about his strategy, Bush said lawmakers agree that failure in Iraq would be a disaster and that he chose a strategy that he and his advisers thought would help turn the tide in Iraq.

The president met with Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, newly confirmed by the Senate to command U.S. troops in Iraq.

"My instruction to him was `Get over to the zone as quickly as possible, and implement a plan that will achieve our goals,'" Bush said.

"You're going into an important battle in the war on terror," he told Petraeus.

During a photo opportunity, Bush was asked about stepped-up activities in Iraq against Iranian activities thought to be fueling the violence.

Bush defended the policy, but said it is no indication that the United States intends to expand the confrontation beyond Iraq's borders.

"That's a presumption that's simply not accurate," Bush said. But added: "Our policy is going to be to protect our troops. It makes sense."

Bush also said he was confident that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program could be resolved diplomatically.

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said Friday that Iran expects to start installing thousands of centrifuges in an underground facility next month. He said the installation would pave the way to large-scale uranium enrichment, a potential means of making nuclear weapons.

"I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000-centrifuge facility ... sometime next month," ElBaradei said.

Meanwhile, Bush also called Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to thank her for her support in the global war on terror. The president commended Arroyo for actions against the al-Qaida-linked group, Abu Sayyaf. Philippine officials say DNA test results have confirmed that the leader of the group was killed in a clash with Philippine troops in September, officials said Saturday.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

U.S. invasion was "idiot decision"-Iraq vice president

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an "idiot decision" and Iraqi troops now need to secure Baghdad to ensure the country's future, Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday.

"Iraq was put under occupation, which was an idiot decision," Mahdi said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mahdi said the Iraqi government planned to bring troops in to Baghdad from surrounding areas and said it was "a technical question" for the United States to decide whether to deploy more soldiers.

President George W. Bush plans to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq, a move widely criticised in the United States. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against the decision, which is due to go before the Senate next week.

"If we can win this war in Baghdad then I think we can change the course of events," Mahdi told a panel on the state of affairs in Iraq.

"As Iraqis, we think we need more (Iraqi) troops in Baghdad, and we are calling for some regiments to come from other parts of the country," he said.

Mahdi's party, the powerful Shi'ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was one of the exiled opposition parties consulted by Washington as it planned the invasion.

Its leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is a key figure behind the U.S.-backed national unity government.


Some commentators are concerned that without the support of U.S. troops in Iraq, the already boiling sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites could break out into ever greater killing sprees.

Adnan Pachachi, a member of Iraq's parliament and a former acting speaker, said that if the United States could not stay in Iraq, other troops should be drafted in. "If because of domestic pressure in the United States, the U.S. feels it is not possible to continue undertaking this burden, then I think we should consider going to the United Nations and having an international force," said Pachachi.

"This is a last resort really, otherwise there would be total chaos in the country."
Bush, who this week pleaded for the United States to give his new Iraq plan a chance, does not have to abide by a Senate resolution if legislators vote against sending more troops.


In perjury trial, testimony by Cheney aide damages Libby

WASHINGTON: The spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney told a jury Thursday that she informed Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., that the wife of a prominent critic of the invasion of Iraq worked for the CIA days before Libby contended he heard the information from a reporter.

Cathie Martin, who was Cheney's chief spokeswoman, was the fourth witness for the prosecution in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of Libby, who is charged with lying during an investigation of who leaked the name of the CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, and why. Unlike the previous three witnesses, who worked at the CIA and State Department, Martin provided an insider's perspective, one from directly inside the office of the vice president.

The perspective she laid out under questioning from a federal prosecutor was damaging to Libby. She testified that both Cheney and Libby were intensely interested in Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a mission to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger for his nuclear weapons program.

Martin's testimony was damaging for Libby in two respects. She bolstered the prosecution's assertion that Libby was fully aware of Wilson's identity from a number of administration officials, and did not first learn about her from reporters, as he has claimed. Perhaps more important, she testified as a former close colleague of Libby's and demonstrated her familiarity with him by repeatedly referring to him by his nickname, Scooter.

Martin, who still works at the White House but no longer for Cheney, described how Libby had telephoned a senior Central Intelligence Agency official in her presence and asked about the Wilson trip. She said she was then put on the phone with Bill Harlow, the CIA's spokesman, who told her that Wilson went on behalf of the agency and that his wife worked there.

Libby is facing five felony counts that he lied when he told a grand jury and FBI agents that he learned of Wilson's identity from reporters. Her identity was first disclosed in a news column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003, just days after her husband had written a commentary in The New York Times asserting that the Bush administration had distorted intelligence to bolster the case for invading Iraq.

Martin also described a senior staff meeting at the White House in which Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, expressed anger after receiving a query from Andrea Mitchell of NBC. Mitchell had heard that the White House was blaming the CIA for causing the president to inaccurately say in his State of the Union address that the British government had confirmed Iraq's efforts to buy uranium in Africa.

Martin said that Libby earlier had taken on the task of speaking with Mitchell about that issue. But at the July meeting in the White House, she said that Hadley made a point of turning around and looking at her, as of to signify he knew she was Mitchell's source.

"Were you the source?" she was asked by Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor. She said she was not.

"What was Mr. Libby doing during this complaint from Mr. Hadley?" Fitzgerald asked.

"He was looking down at the floor," she said. At the end of the meeting, she said, Hadley took her aside and upbraided her further.

Theodore Wells Jr., Libby's chief lawyer, in his cross-examination of Martin, had her acknowledge that she had not listened fully to a telephone conversation with Matthew Cooper, then of Time Magazine, on July 12. It was in that conversation that Libby is charged with having told Cooper about Wilson.

On Wednesday, prosecutors paraded a roster of former government officials before the jury to testify that they had informed Libby about the identity of Wilson, contrary to Libby's claim that he had learned about her weeks later from reporters.

Libby's lawyers spent their time cross-examining those witnesses in an effort to attack both their credibility and their memories.

Libby has put the issue of memory front and center in his defense.

He has sworn that he did not discuss Wilson's identity with reporters in the spring and summer of 2003. But two reporters — Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, and Cooper — have testified that Libby explicitly told them about Wilson.


NPR’s Rehm: Delayed Iraq NIE Will Undermine Case For Escalation

Six months ago, Harper’s Ken Silverstein reported that “in spite of pressure from CIA analysts, intelligence czar John Negroponte was blocking a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq.” National Intelligence Estimates present the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. Despite pressure from Congress, the administration insisted it could not complete the NIE until January 2007.

Last week, however, an administration intelligence official told senators that the report is still not complete. According to Silverstein, Senate hearing attendees “believe that senior intelligence officials are stalling because an NIE will be bleak enough to present a significant political liability.”

Yesterday, NPR host Diane Rehm may have revealed why the NIE remains so politically sensitive. On her national radio show, Rehm said:

It’s my understanding that the National Intelligence Estimate…is going to suggest that adding troops is the wrong way to go, that it’s not going to improve the situation.


Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the House and Senate intelligence committee chairmen wrote President Bush “urging prompt completion of a national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iraq first requested by Congress six months ago.” Read the full letter


Digg It!

Full transcript:

REHM: It’s my understanding that the National Intelligence Estimate — that now at least two months overdue — is going to suggest that adding troops is the wrong way to go, that it’s not going to improve the situation. Why has that NIE been delayed for so long? And was it deliberately delayed until after the election — after President Bush’s speech last night?

VIN WEBER: I don’t know. I doubt it. I mean, I don’t often buy into conspiracy theories in Washington. There’s too many reporters that uncover those.

REHM: Do you question that John?

JOHN PODESTA: Well, you know it was due in August. I think when they want to get something out, they get it out. And when they want to have more review, they have more reviews. So I think at this point that the Congress demand that that NIE be completed and provided to the Congress.


Escalation of US Iran military planning part of six-year Administration push

A project of Raw Story Investigates

(Click here to read the full timeline of the decades-long buildup to Iran)

The escalation of US military planning on Iran is only the latest chess move in a six-year push within the Bush Administration to attack Iran, a RAW STORY investigation has found.

While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the post-9/11 war on terror. Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the CIA’s own analysis shows and positing Iranian influence in Iraq’s insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In classified defense planning guidance – written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassador-nominee to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad – Cheney’s aides called for the United States to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats and many in George H. W. Bush’s Administration.

In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued a report titled “Rebuilding America's Defenses,” which espoused similar positions to the 1992 draft and became the basis for the Bush-Cheney Administration's foreign policy. Libby and Wolfowitz were among the participants in this new report; Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other prominent figures in the Bush administration were PNAC members.

“The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” the report read. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. . . . We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself.”

This approach became official US military policy during the current Bush Administration. It was starkly on display yesterday when Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns noted a second aircraft carrier strike force headed for the Persian Gulf, saying, "The Middle East isn't a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn't a body of water to be controlled by Iran. That's why we've seen the United States station two carrier battle groups in the region."

The Structure

Almost immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Iran became a focal point of discussion among senior Administration officials. As early as December 2001, then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and the leadership of the Defense Department, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, allegedly authorized a series of meetings between Defense Department officials and Iranian agents abroad.

The first of these meetings took place in Rome with Pentagon Iran analyst, Larry Franklin, Middle East expert Harold Rhode, and prominent neoconservative Michael Ledeen. Ledeen, who held no official government position, introduced the US officials to Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. According to both Ghorbanifar and Ledeen, the topic on the table was Iran. Ledeen told RAW STORY last year the discussion concerned allegations that Iranian forces were killing US soldiers in Afghanistan, but Ghorbanifar has claimed the conversation focused on regime change.

In January 2002, evidence that Iran was enriching uranium began to appear via credible intelligence and satellite imagery. Despite this revelation – and despite having called Iran part of the Axis of Evil in his State of the Union that year – President Bush continued to focus on Iraq. Perhaps for that reason, throughout 2002 the strongest pressure for regime change flowed through alternative channels.

In early 2002, Ledeen formed the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, along with Morris Amitay, the former executive director of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In August 2002, Larry Franklin began passing classified information involving United States policy towards Iran to two AIPAC employees and an Israeli diplomat. Franklin pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2005, explaining that he had been hoping to force the US to take a harder line with Iran, but AIPAC and Israel have continued to deny them.

At the same time, another group’s political representatives begin a corollary effort to influence domestic political discourse. In August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran – a front for a militant terrorist organization called Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK) – held a press conference in Washington and stated that Iran had a secret nuclear facility at Natanz, due for completion in 2003.

Late that summer , the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz expanded its Northern Gulf Affairs Office, renamed it the Office of Special Plans (OSP), and placed it under the direction of Abram Shulsky, a contributor to the 2000 PNAC report.
Most know the Office of Special Plans as a rogue Administration faction determined to find intelligence to support the Iraq War. But that wasn’t its only task.

According to an article in The Forward in May 2003, “A budding coalition of conservative hawks, Jewish organizations and Iranian monarchists is pressing the White House to step up American efforts to bring about regime change in Iran. . . . Two sources [say] Iran expert Michael Rubin is now working for the Pentagon's 'special plans' office, a small unit set up to gather intelligence on Iraq, but apparently also working on Iran. Previously a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, Rubin has vocally advocated regime change in Tehran.”

Dark Actors/Covert Activities

While the Iraq war was publicly founded upon questionable sources, much of the buildup to Iran has been entirely covert, using non-government assets and foreign instruments of influence to conduct disinformation campaigns, plant intelligence and commit acts of violence via proxy groups.

A few weeks prior to the Iraq invasion, in February 2003, Iran acknowledged that it was building a nuclear facility at Natanz, saying that the facility was aimed at providing domestic energy. However, allegations that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program would become louder in the course of 2003 and continue unabated over the next three years.

That spring, then-Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) opened a channel on Iran with former Iranian Minister Fereidoun Mahdavi, a secretary for Ghorbanifar.

Both Weldon and Ledeen were told a strikingly similar story concerning a cross border plot between Iran and Iraq in which uranium had been removed from Iraq and taken into Iran by Iranian agents. The CIA investigated the allegations but found them spurious. Weldon took his complaints about the matter to Rumsfeld, who pressured the CIA to investigate a second time, with the same result.

In May 2003, with pressure for regime change intensifying within the US, Iran made efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the United States. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, then-Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, these efforts were sabotaged by Vice President Cheney.
"The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran," Wilkerson said.

The US was already looking increasingly to rogue methodology, including support for the Iranian terrorist group MEK. Before the US invasion, MEK forces within Iraq had supported Saddam Hussein in exchange for safe harbor. Despite this, when they were captured by the US military, they were disarmed of only their major weapons and are allowed to keep their smaller arms.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hoped to use them as a special ops team in Iran, while then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and State Department officials argued against it. By 2005, the MEK would begin training with US forces in Iraq and carrying out bombings and assassinations in Iran, although it is unclear if the bombings were in any way approved by the US military.

The Pressure is On: 2004 – 2006

For a variety of reasons – ranging from the explosion of the insurgency in Iraq following the high point of "Mission Accomplished" to Iran's willingness to admit IAEA inspectors – the drumbeat for regime change died down over the summer of 2003. In October 2003, with Iran accepting even tougher inspections, Larry Franklin told his Israeli contact that work on the US policy towards Iran which they had been tracking seemed to have stopped.

Yet by the autumn of 2004, pressure for confrontation with Iran had resumed, with President Bush telling Fox News that the US would never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. By then, the Pentagon had been directed to have a viable military option for Iran in place by June 2005.

This phase of pressure was marked by increased activity directed at Congress. An "Iran Freedom Support Act" was introduced in the House and Senate in January and February of 2005. Neoconservatives and individuals linked to the defense contracting industry formed an Iran Policy Committee, and in April and May presented briefings in support of MEK before the newly-created Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus of the House of Representatives.

In March 2006, administration action became more overt. The State Department created an Office of Iranian Affairs, while the Pentagon created an Iranian Directorate that had much in common with the earlier Office of Special Plans. According to Seymour Hersh, covert US operations within Iran in preparation for a possible air attack also began at this time and included Kurds and other Iranian minority groups.

By setting up the Iranian Directorate within the Pentagon and running covert operations through the military rather than the CIA, the administration was able to avoid both Congressional oversight and interference from then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who has been vocally skeptical about using force against Iran. The White House also successfully stalled the release of a fresh National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which could reflect the CIA's conclusion that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

In sum, the Bush Administration seems to have concluded that Iran is guilty until proven innocent and continues to maintain that the Persian Gulf belongs to Americans – not to Persians – setting the stage for a potential military strike.

Click here to read the full timeline of the decades-long buildup to Iran


Cheney's ex-spokeswoman says VP's office was aware of Plame prior to Libby's talks with reporters

In a major development today in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury and obstruction of justice trial, a former vice presidential spokeswoman raised questions about the defense employed by Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.

Cheney's former Press Secretary Cathie Martin took the stand and told the prosectuion she had briefed Libby and the Vice President on the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame as the wife of Iraq war critic Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Martin revealed that she had a conversation with a CIA counterpart who in the course of the discussion said that Plame was Wilson's wife. She immediately informed Cheney and Libby of this fact, on a date she said was prior to July 6th, according to the Associated Press. Libby claims he learned of Plame's identity days later.

The defense will cross-examine Martin on Libby's behalf this afternoon.

MSNBC has provided details on Libby's lawyers questioning of memory as a tactic to call witnesses' accounts into doubt during the trial.



Dems seek GOP support on Iraq resolution

WASHINGTON - Emboldened by a successful first vote against President Bush's Iraq war policy, Senate Democrats said Thursday they were wary of the
administration's anticipated $1.2 billion request for reconstruction there.

Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he wants assurances from the administration that the money would not fuel corruption or the insurgency in Iraq.

A key piece of Bush's new strategy is increasing reconstruction efforts, with the U.S. pledging another $1.2 billion and the Iraqi government designating $10 billion. As part of the plan, Bush is dispatching 21,500 additional troops to Iraq to bolster security so reconstruction efforts are not stalled.

"I hope we will hear today some concrete details on why these funds will achieve better results than we've been able to achieve before," Biden said.

The U.S. has spent nearly $15 billion in reconstruction already and "as you know better than I do, the results aren't pretty," the Delaware Democrat added.

Biden's committee on Wednesday passed 12-9 a resolution that dismissed Bush's plans to increase troops in Iraq as "not in the national interest." The vote on the nonbinding measure was largely along party lines, with Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska being the sole Republican on the committee offering his support.

The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.

"The president has made his decision," Vice President Dick Cheney fired back in a CNN interview, a response that made it clear the administration would go ahead anyway. "We need to get the job done."

Republicans have been meeting behind closed doors to shore up support for the Iraq war plan. The Senate is tied 49-49 between the two parties, with two independents caucusing with the Democrats. That means either party needs help from the other in order to achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and advance legislation.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., has said that he doesn't want the issue rammed through.

"We're not going to try to stop the votes. What we want to do is make sure we have a number of different alternatives," he told MSNBC. "Members of my party who differ with the president one way or another are all working on different alternatives. I think what we'll end up with ... is sort of a smorgasbord of options that will attract different members, all of which are likely, as virtually everything in the Senate is likely, to be subject to a 60-vote threshold."

Senate Democratic leaders say they are willing to negotiate the language to pull in more GOP support. Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., who sponsored a rival proposal, has already met with Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., and others to discuss his position.

"The goal is to try to salvage this situation and not send the additional troops with a message of disapproval," Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., said Thursday that the resolution the committee approved is not the last that will be heard from Congress.

"A resolution that that says we're against this escalation, that's easy. The next step will be how do you put further pressure on the administration against the escalation, but still supporting the troops who are there," he said on NBC's "Today" program.

"That's what we're figuring out right now," Schumer added. "But this will not be the end. There will be other resolutions with more teeth in it afterwards and my bet -- they'll get a majority of support and significant Republican support."

As the two sides try to find consensus, the State Department's senior Iraq adviser, David Satterfield, planned to testify Thursday on reconstruction efforts before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

While most Republicans refused Wednesday to back the Iraq resolution, some of them suggested their position may change.

Sen. George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, said he believed the resolution could be viewed as a political attack on Bush and misinterpreted "by our enemies as abandoning Iraq." But, he added, he remained skeptical that additional troops in Baghdad would be successful.

"I have been waiting for the administration to extend an olive branch in an attempt to forge a compromise" that would make clear "we stand united as a nation," he said. "I obviously have been disappointed since that has not happened."

Voinovich and like-minded GOP senators say they might be willing to sign on to a measure backed by Sens. Warner, Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine, Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record), R-Minn., and Ben Nelson (news, bio, voting record), D-Neb.

Warner, a prominent Republican and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, cast his measure as a milder alternative. It leaves open the possibility of Bush sending in a much smaller number of troops, particularly to the western Anbar province, and uses language that some say may be seen as less partisan.

"I think this is just the beginning," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Murkowski voted against the resolution but not before voicing her opposition to sending more troops to Iraq.

"I feel that I have to tell (Bush), and the administration, where I'm coming from, what I have learned, what I'm hearing from my constituents, from those who have been over there," she said.

While Warner said he is willing to discuss his resolution with Democrats, the two sides have substantial differences. Warner's resolution, for example, explicitly states that the president commands the U.S. forces and the resolution is not intended to "question or contravene such authority."

Democrats said such a provision raises flags because it suggests the Congress cannot implement stronger measures, such as cutting off funding.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Libby trial prosecutors reveal pre-war battle over Iraq WMDs

Prosecutors in the trial for former White House aide I. Lewis Libby revealed some details on the Bush Administration's "pre-war battle" over Iraq's WMDs, according to MSNBC.

Former Under-Secretary of State Mark Grossman testified that he received a request from Libby at the end of May in 2003 asking for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to Africa in which he found there was no evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, MSNBC's David Shuster reported.

Grossman testified it was just two weeks later when he had a face-to-face meeting with Libby, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff and Assistant to the Vice President for National Security at the time, and told him, in so many words, "look, here's a report on Joe Wilson's trip and, by the way, we've learned that the ambassador's wife , Valerie Wilson, she is undercover at the CIA," Shuster continued.

In the pre-war arguments, many State Department workers had huge problems with the nuclear case that the Bush Administration had made against Iraq. That came up and was significant because at the time the Administration and former Secretary of State Colin Powell were putting up a united front, Shuster added.

At firedoglake, blogger emptywheel is "live-blogging" the trial, and relates that the judge mentioned a potential juror problem.

"We have a problem with one juror who for the first time has indicated that she has a problem being here for the length of the trial," Judge Walton said, according to emptywheel's rough transcription. "Her employer will only pay her for 10 days of the trial. I don't know why she didn't tell us this previously, but we'll just have to see."



Senators eye rejection of Bush war plan

WASHINGTON - Democrats took the first step toward a wartime repudiation of President Bush on Wednesday, convening a Senate committee to endorse legislation declaring that the deployment of additional troops to Iraq is "not in the national interest."

"We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska, the only Republican on the committee to announce support for the measure.

Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), D-Del., the panel's chairman, said the legislation is "not an attempt to embarrass the president. ... It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq."

Less than one month after taking control of Congress, there was little doubt Democrats had the votes to prevail. They hold 11 seats on the committee, to 10 for Republicans.

The full Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the measure next week, although Biden has said he is willing to negotiate changes in hopes of attracting support from more Republicans.

Even Republicans opposed to the measure expressed unease with the revised policy involving a war that has lasted nearly four years, claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and helped Democrats win control of Congress in last fall's elections.

"I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed," said Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record) of Indiana, senior Republican on the committee.

But he also said he would vote against the measure. "It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modification of our Iraq policy."
"The president is deeply invested in this plan, and the deployments ... have already begun," Lugar added.

He suggested a more forceful role for Congress, and said lawmakers must ensure the administration is "planning for contingencies, including the failure of the Iraqi government to reach compromises and the persistence of violence despite U.S. and Iraqi government efforts."

Hagel's remarks were among the most impassioned of the day.

"There is no strategy," he said of the Bush administration's war management.
"This is a pingpong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans; they're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."

A Vietnam veteran, he fairly lectured fellow senators not to duck a painful debate about a war that has grown increasingly unpopular as it has gone on. "No president of the United States can sustain a foreign policy or a war policy without the sustained support of the American people," Hagel said.

At least eight other Republican senators say they now back legislative proposals registering objections to Bush's decision to boost U.S. military strength in Iraq by 21,500 troops.

The growing list — which includes Sens. Gordon Smith (news, bio, voting record), George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) and Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record) — has emboldened Democrats, who are pushing for a vote in the full Senate by next week to rebuke the president's Iraq policy.
In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Bush urged skeptical members of Congress to give the plan a chance to work.

Many lawmakers remained reluctant.

"I wonder whether the clock has already run out," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine. She said she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived "not as liberators but as occupiers."

Bush did get a word of support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls.

"I believe we should give the president the support to do this. I want us to be successful in Iraq," he said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "I know how important it is to the overall war on terror. Success in Iraq means a more peaceful world for America, it means a victory against terrorists. Failure in Iraq means a big defeat against terrorists and the war on terror is going to be tougher for us."

But Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill., appearing on the same show, said, "I think all of us are talking about a phased redeployment which would leave American troops in the region to send a strong message, not only to the Iraqi government that we want to help them, but also to neighbors, like Iran, that we're not abandoning the field."

The nonbinding resolution being voted on Wednesday by the Foreign Relations Committee was drafted by Biden and Hagel, along with Sens. Olympia Snowe (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine, and Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich.

Some Republicans worried that it would undermine Bush's diplomatic efforts on Iraq. "The worst thing we can do as a Congress is to undercut the president internationally," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, said Wednesday on CNN.

GOP defections for Bush's Iraq policy spell trouble for an administration that has come to rely on congressional Republicans to champion its agenda. While many Bush loyalists remain, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., other lawmakers say the president cannot continue down a path the public does not support.

White House officials "realize you can't conduct a war with one party for it and one against it, and we're getting in that type of position," said Brownback, R-Kan. "And that is not a durable position."


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Webb's 'aggressive' Democratic response to Bush 'State of Union' speech

Freshman Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) delivered the Democratic Party response to President Bush's State of the Union this evening.

The Washington Post reports that Webb's response is "an aggressive challenge" to the President.

"We in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and healthcare for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans," Webb stated early in his speech.

The full text of Webb's response to President Bush follows...

Good evening.

I'm Senator Jim Webb, from Virginia, where this year we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown – an event that marked the first step in the long journey that has made us the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth.

It would not be possible in this short amount of time to actually rebut the President’s message, nor would it be useful. Let me simply say that we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and healthcare for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans.

Further, this is the seventh time the President has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs. We look forward to working with the President and his party to bring about these changes.

There are two areas where our respective parties have largely stood in contradiction, and I want to take a few minutes to address them tonight. The first relates to how we see the health of our economy – how we measure it, and how we ensure that its benefits are properly shared among all Americans. The second regards our foreign policy – how we might bring the war in Iraq to a proper conclusion that will also allow us to continue to fight the war against international terrorism, and to address other strategic concerns that our country faces around the world.

When one looks at the health of our economy, it’s almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it’s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them.

In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.
In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy – that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We’ve established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We’re working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons.

With respect to foreign policy, this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years. Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world.

I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, as we waited for him, back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues – those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death – we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm’s way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us – sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable – and predicted – disarray that has followed.

The war’s costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

On both of these vital issues, our economy and our national security, it falls upon those of us in elected office to take action.

Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.

Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves “as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other.” And he did something about it.

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. “When comes the end?” asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War Two. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end.

These Presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way.

Thank you for listening. And God bless America.