IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Saturday, October 29, 2005 THE SEALED COCOON: The president plans no changes, no major staff shake-ups and hopes to weather the storm. Not surprising, but maddening for anyone who wishes this country well. What's still amazing after all these years is how impervious Bush is to any criticism, how unable he is to be flexible or self-critical, how stubborn and insular he is. Just recall who was getting on the helicopter to Camp David on Friday to review the new Supreme Court nominees over the weekend: Andy Card and Harriet Miers. Recall and weep. - 7:39:00 PM GALLOWAY UPDATE: Saddam's best buddy is beginning to see the harsh light of justice. Updates here and here. - 6:23:00 PM THAT PLANE AGAIN: A TPM reader picks up on some very interesting tidbits in a NYT 10/1/05 story, a story that casts new light on the point raised by Greg Djerejian below. Money NYT quote:
A lawyer who knows Mr. Libby's account said the administration efforts to limit the damage from Mr. Wilson's criticism extended as high as Mr. Cheney. This lawyer and others who spoke about the case asked that they not be identified because of grand jury secrecy rules.
On July 12, 2003, four days after his initial conversation with Ms. Miller, Mr. Libby consulted with Mr. Cheney about how to handle inquiries from journalists about the vice president's role in sending Mr. Wilson to Africa in early 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq was trying acquire nuclear material there for its weapons program, the person said.
In that account, Mr. Cheney told Mr. Libby to direct reporters to a statement released the previous day by George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence. His statement said Mr. Wilson had been sent on the mission by C.I.A. counter-proliferation officers "on their own initiative."
Was this on the plane? Yes, it was:
Mr. Libby has said he spoke with Mr. Cheney on July 12, six days after Mr. Wilson's article.
Mr. Libby said he told Mr. Cheney that reporters had been pressing the vice president's office for more details about who sent Mr. Wilson to Africa. The two men spoke when Mr. Cheney was on a trip to Norfolk, Va., for the commissioning of the carrier Ronald Reagan.
Libby doesn't testify that Cheney told him to leak the name. But Libby's testimony has been charged with perjury already. What we know from this is that Cheney and Libby conferred about how to respond to reporters' questions on the matter. Libby subsequently leaked the name.
FITZ AND BUSH: This also strikes me as interesting:
Mr. Fitzgerald was spotted Friday morning outside the office of James Sharp, Mr. Bush's personal lawyer. Mr. Bush was interviewed about the case by Mr. Fitzgerald last year. It is not known what discussions, if any, were taking place between the prosecutor and Mr. Sharp. Mr. Sharp did not return a phone call, and Mr. Fitzgerald's spokesman, Randall Samborn, declined to comment.
Hmmm. - 6:07:00 PM CHENEY IS THE NEXT STORY: And the press is already on the case. - 2:54:00 PM QUOTE OF THE DAY: "So then he said - I said - he said, sorry - he said, Mr. Russert said, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife, or his wife, works at the CIA?" - Lewis Libby testifying before the grand jury (page 18 of the indictment). - 2:49:00 PM SOME CONTEXT: Some context is important here. I have yet to be even nearly convinced that Plamegate reveals some massive conspiracy to deceive the public in advance about the rationale for the Iraq war. It looks far more likely to me that in 2002, Cheney and Libby were intent on insuring that the CIA was not complacent, and that they weren't blindsided by Saddam's WMD program this time the way they were in 1990. I'm grateful for their aggressive attempt to make sure they didn't ignore threats to this country in the aftermath of 9/11. And they'd now be crucified if a Saddam-made bio weapon had gone off in the U.S. on their watch. What seems more likely to me is that in the aftermath of the war, when their claims largely evaporated, they found it hard to deal with the humiliation. So they over-reached in trying to smear their critics, in the Wilson case, almost certainly violating the law. That's serious, and it may be a sub-conspiracy. (I have to say I find it entirely credible - though we have no evidence as yet - that Cheney was fully aware of the illegal leak and encouraged it.) But criminality and conspiracy in reaction to post-invasion humiliation is not the same thing as criminality and conspiracy before the war. The anti-war left's attempt to conflate the two has, as yet, little substance. That's worth keeping in mind.
THE CASE AGAINST SADDAM: Stephen Hayes makes an interesting point that one consequence of the Fitzgerald investigation is that it has spooked the White House into a failure to make important arguments about why they still had very good reason to depose Saddam. Of course, that's partly the administration's fault. If they hadn't entangled themselves in this mess, they might be freer to make their full case to the public. Like Clinton, Libby did this to himself. And, in a rare moment in the Bush administration, someone is actually being held to account.
THE POPE AND GAY-BASHING: Matthew Parris in the Times of London eviscerates this Pope's acquiescence to the forces of bigotry. (Bad link now fixed. Apologies.)
VERY, VERY INSIDE BASEBALL: My friend Pete Williams must have felt a little disoriented yesterday:
At one point, Mr. Cheney's onetime press secretary, Pete Williams of NBC News, asked Mr. Fitzgerald how the prosecutor could take the word of "three reporters" (including his current bureau chief and boss, Tim Russert) "versus the vice president's chief of staff," with whom Mr. Williams served in the Pentagon when Mr. Cheney was secretary of defense in the first Bush administration.
Got sand in your eyes yet?
SULU: I find myself wondering what Michelle Malkin's response was to the news. On the minus side, George Takei's gay. On the plus, at least they jailed him for a few years in an internment camp in World War II. You can't win them all, Michelle. - 2:40:00 PM THAT PLANE RIDE: Greg Djerejian wonders what happened on this plane ride:
On or about July 12, 2003, LIBBY flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, LIBBY discussed with other officials aboard the plane what LIBBY should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper.
(Greg's italics.) Libby couldn't have been chatting about this with Cheney, could he? - 12:03:00 AM
Friday, October 28, 2005 A READER NAILS IT: This blog's greatest resource is you. Here's an email that shows why:
Just got through reading a transcript of the Fitz press conference, and a few things stood out.
As bizarre as that baseball analogy was, I think it said a lot about what might happen in the next few days or weeks. Seems to me that when discussing the possibility of a leak-related crime, e.g. violation of either the Intelligence Identities Act or Espionage Act, Fitz focused on how such prosecutions were very difficult because they require proof of a mental state. (Hence the silly analogy about a pitcher throwing at guy's head.) Under both statutes, the disclosure of classified info must be intentional or purposeful, i.e., the perp must have "known" that the information was classified (for the Espionage Act) or that the agent was "covert," among other things (under the Intelligence Act). As Fitz asked, "was this something where he intended to cause whatever damage was caused? Or did they intend to do something else and where are the shades of gray?"
I don't know what Fitz knows. But I think he is one inch from prosecuting the leak itself - at least his public comments leave the impression that he's pissed about it - and the only thing holding him back is that he's afraid he can't prove state of mind. Proving state of mind is really hard in any case -- and it's especially hard when the defendant is an intelligent career political operative with an expensive white collar defense lawyer. I think Fitz can do it, and I think Fitz thinks he can do it, but he seems to be playing it cautious. Why?
Let's just take the Espionage Act. Fitz clearly said that Plame's position was classified, he implied strongly that it related to national security, and as Josh Marshall pointed out in a recent post, the indictment itself states that both Cheney and Libby knew the precise division of the CIA where she worked, which by definition made her covert. So right there - as soon as he tells that to Miller - you have a prima facie violation of the Espionage Act.
Fitz also said, "I don't buy that theory [that one should never use the Espionage statute], but I do know you should be very careful in applying that law because there are a lot of interests that could be implicated in making sure that you picked the right case to charge that statute ... You want to know what their motive is, you want to know their state of knowledge, you want to know their intent, you want to know the facts." He went on to lament the fact that Libby had lied, thus throwing the proverbial sand in his eyes.
What's all this mean? Well, seems like Fitz has a pretty strong case for the Espionage Act, and if Plame met the objective standards in the Intelligence Act, for that one too. And it seems like the fact that Libby lied repeatedly is very strong evidence of a culpable state of mind, belying any claim that he didn't "know" the info was classified or that divulging it was wrong. Add that to the very specific allegation in the indictment that he knew exactly where she worked, and there it is.
So why not charge it? Because Fitz has Libby nailed on the 5 counts from today's indictment. Just nailed. So he's bringing Libby in on those charges, they're going to talk some turkey, and Fitz is going to see if Libby will talk, maybe about VP, maybe about Official A (who's clearly Rove), or maybe about the VP's moles at State and in the CIA. Offer some carrots - maybe no jail - but if Libby refuses, then Fitz brings down the espionage or intelligence act charges. Libby has nowhere to go, and Fitz knows it. In my view, he's going to try to exploit that opening before wrapping this thing up.
That's entirely my view as well, after mulling this over some more for a few hours. From the evidence we now have, it seems crystal clear to me that Libby knew he was out of line when he leaked the Plame name, and perjured himself to protect himself and the real source of the leak, Cheney. He gambled that the reporters wouldn't squeal; and that he could cleverly spin his phone conversations so that the information seemed to come from reporters, not him. The question now is whether he will now turn against his colleagues and master to save his own skin. This story is just beginning. Ultimately, it's about Cheney. - 9:07:00 PM PAGE FIVE: Josh Marshall finds something quite revealing in the indictment. - 4:44:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: "One comment on the Libby indictment and your comments where you say 'Fitzgerald did not believe he had enough evidence to prove that Libby knowingly outed a covert agent's identity.' I think you are correct, but I think that speaks to the heart of the cover up.
According to the indictment itself, Libby repeatedly told FBI investigators and the Grand Jury that he passed on the information that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but, every time he did so, he made sure to note that this was just what he had heard from other reporters, and did not know if it was true. According to the indictment, this was a lie, because he had learned this information on numerous prior occasions, once from Cheney himself.
The key part of the indictment is on page 21, with this question:
Q And let me ask you this directly. Did the fact that you knew that the law could turn...on where you learned the information from, affect your account to the FBI...?
A: No, it's a fact, that's what I told the reporters.
Libby was clearly lying because he thought if he told them that he learned it from Cheney and disclosed it to reporters, he might have been convicted for the underlying crime. And he might have been.
As Fitzgerald said, the reason that obstruction and perjury is so serious is because it prevents you from having the information necessary to charge for the underlying crime. So, although I agree with you that there is not enough evidence to prove the underlying crime, maybe that is only because Libby is covering it up." - 4:20:00 PM FITZGERALD'S RESTRAINT: I echo these sentiments from a reader:
Fitzerald was indeed very impressive. In my mind, the most impressive part of the press conference was his willingness to repeat, over and over, that Libby is innocent until proven guilty. This is a man who has spent two years away from his home, working tirelessly, to investigate what may or may not have been a crime. Rather than come out with both guns blaring, his chest puffed, disparaging one of the targets of this investigation, he reminds us all that there are processes to be followed and guarantees made to us by the Constitution that aren't redifined by politics. This tells me that this man isn't driven in the least by his ego, but that his true dedication is to the law. He is an absolute breath of fresh air at a time when it's desperately needed.
Bush's extremely brief non-response to the news was politically smart but a place-holder. Soon, I think, both he and Cheney will have to answer some very basic questions aout what they knew about all this and when.
WHY DID LIBBY LIE? I ask the question. You offer answers:
You are assuming that conspiracy is the cause, and not incompetence. It might be that when Libby testified he did not know a) that outing Plame might not have been a crime since she might not have been covert anymore, or her cover had been blown and b) assumed that reporters would not testify if asked - and thus no one could refute his account. It's also possible that he told reporters about her because he did not realize that she was covert in the first place, and then panicked when he found out that she was, and that explains it.
Libby's indictment as a consequence of his trust that reporters would never answer subpoenas? Oh, the ironies. But why, then, did he encourage Miller to testify? And why did Libby also lie to the FBI? As for "Official A", Fitzgerald has a record of keeping identities secret until he has shaken enough witnesses to name them. Libby's indictment may be a way for Fitzgerald to leverage harder facts about who else he believes was involved. Fitzgerald clearly thinks there were other leakers, and perhaps other liars. We don't know if we will ever find out who those people are, but their existence seems to me a premise of Fitzgerald's argument. Will this therefore go further? Is this indictment the very beginning? Another emailer suggests:
I don't think this whole mess will go beyond Libby. If he can hold out and delay until after the midterm elections, he can be pardoned without Bush paying a price. I fully expect pardons in 13 months or the day before Libby has to do any jail time. Libby has no incentive to cooperate with Fitzgerald. He may be many things but he is not stupid. Protecting Cheney with the assurance of a pardon would be logical in his situation.
There are two tracks here: legal and political. Leave the legal side to Fitzgerald and the Libby trial. But the press now has a lot of questions to ask. I suspect more answers are in the pipeline. This story has legs. - 4:16:00 PM THE GRIM OVERHANG: What seems clear is that Fitzgerald did not believe he had enough evidence to prove that Libby knowingly outed a covert agent's identity. Once again: It's the cover-up, not the crime. They never learn. But of course, unraveling cover-ups can reveal crimes that might otherwise have remained unknown. And this particular cover-up begs many other, major questions. Why did Libby put himself in so much unnecessary jeopardy? If Libby had nothing to hide, why lie in the first place? What did Cheney know? Who is "Official A"? These questions may be addressed in the remaining work that Fitzgerald says he has to do - or be ferreted out by the press. Some might think that it's good for Bush to avoid a Rove indictment now. I'm not so sure. Having this drag on - having Libby in a position to name others in a trial or plea agreement, having Rove still under a legal threat - is a terrible burden for the White House to bear indefinitely. I'd say this looks like the very beginning of something, rather than the end. And that, in itself, is crippling. - 3:45:00 PM WOW: Just a comment on the press conference. Fitzgerald is more than impressive. His focus, grasp of the relevant facts, clear enunciation of what he is doing and dignified way in which he refused to speculate on anything else were, to my mind, deeply encouraging for anyone who cares about public life. He's an antidote to cynicism. The Jesuits who educated him should be very proud today. It will be very hard to slime him; and the administration would be very foolish to even think about it. - 3:38:00 PM THE ARTICLE: Here's the article that, according to the indictment, triggered the "chain of events" that led to today. (Link now corrected. It's free now.) - 2:05:00 PM THE CHENEY QUESTION: Here's my first take on the five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying against Scooter Libby, before the press conference. The common thread appears to be Libby's alleged determination to obfuscate where and how he found out that Valerie Plame was an undercover agent. I cannot understand why someone as smart as Libby would have taken such risks under oath, would have been so stupid, unless he felt the risks were necessary to protect someone or something. It's hard to believe, in other words, that Cheney is not somehow involved. And it's hard to believe that the indictment of Libby, and the continuance of the investigation into Rove, does not potentially lead to the highest potential source of this mess: the vice-president. Libby is now going to be pressured by the prosecutor to name others, as part of a plea agreement. (Who's "Official A"?) The judge assigned to his case is known for hefty sentences, putting more pressure on Libby. The biggest aspen so far may be about to turn. Which other trees may fall? I'll add one more thing: I don't believe that five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying by a major administration official are a "mouse," or even a large rabbit. Not if you care about the integrity of government officials and the rule of law. - 1:59:00 PM IRAN EXPOSED: The new president wants Israel "wiped off the map". We knew that already, although it's scandalous how the MSM downplay it. Ahmadinejad won't withdraw the remark, because it is central to his ideology: "My words were the Iranian nation's words. Westerners are free to comment, but their reactions are invalid." The term Islamo-fascism was never more appropriate. - 12:26:00 PM THE MEANING OF HOWARD STERN: Jeff Jarvis explains. - 12:08:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: It's in response to my insta-post of last night:
Andrew, you wrote: "If Fitzgerald doesn't have enough evidence to indict Rove after two years, is it fair to prolong the agony?"
Yes, it's fair. This was likely part of his reported discussions with the chief judge on Wednesday, to check if what he had on Rove was enough to keep the investigation going. This is very similar to his investigation of former Illinois governor George Ryan and the corruption in his offices over the course of years. What started with a fatal car accident eleven years ago has erupted into a trial putting an entire system of "doing business in Illinois" under a very public microscope. In that case, Fitzgerald repeatedly referred to "State Official A," until he had enough to indict Ryan almost two years ago. That he would name Rove so early is not a good sign for the White House.
If the NYT is right, then there's a high likelihood of a lot of smoke from Rove, but no flames yet. Libby, on the other hand... Fitzgerald is acting like any competent prosecutor here, picking one thread to pull on, and seeing what unravels.
Sure, but at some point, you have to stop, right? I guess we'll soon find out enough to judge whether Fitzgerald has reasonably reached that point or not. - 11:32:00 AM SCHRODER'S PARTING SHOT: It's a screed against market reforms in Europe. The European left is now among the most conservative forces in the world today. By conservative, I mean instinctively and somewhat fearfully opposed to change. - 11:26:00 AM HAMDAN VS RUMSFELD: It's a central case for our time, and certainly critical in understanding president Bush's Supreme Court appointments. Emily Bazelon provides an excellent summary of what's at stake in terms of individual liberty. - 11:17:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY II: "Life is like a festival. Just as some come to the festival to compete, and some to ply their trade, while the best come as spectators, so in life the slavish men go hunting for fame, or gain, but the philosophers, for truth." - Diogenes Laertius, The Life of Pythagoras. The press conference is scheduled for 2 pm. - 10:48:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "I want the president to look across the country and find the best man, woman, or minority that he can find." - Senator Trent Lott, yesterday. - 10:43:00 AM THE DOBSON VETO: Every now and again, I have referred to the James Dobson veto over social policy in the Bush administration. I usually get several emails afterwards, telling me that's nonsense and that one religious outsider does not have that much clout in the White House. And then you read articles like the WaPo tick-tock on the Miers nomination, and you come across passages like this:
Recognizing that conservatives might not find Miers exciting, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove tried to lock up a few important figures who would back her, mainly James C. Dobson, head of the evangelical Focus on the Family. As Dobson later recalled it, Rove assured him "that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian [and] that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life." That was enough for Dobson, and Dobson's blessing was enough for Rove.
The person who gets that call is pretty powerful, don't you think? It's also clear that Rove used an explicitly religious test for a public office to get his most influential backer's support. He did something that violates both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. We only know about it because it failed. Next time, when it succeeds, we should at least recognize what we have here: a toxic conflation of politics and religion, one that has also infected the judiciary. It seems to me that using explicitly religious criteria - rather than jurisprudential philosophy - for judicial nominations is yet another sign of how degenerate Bush's brand of conservatism is. Much of it is not, in fact, conservative at all - but a profound betrayal of the entire tradition. I'm relieved that more and more people seem to be recognizing that. - 10:40:00 AM THANK GOD: For Kinsley. - 10:28:00 AM
Thursday, October 27, 2005 ROVE ON THE RACK: If the New York Times' version is correct (a big 'if' these days), then it seems to me to be a pretty horrible scenario for the president. You have Libby indicted and Cheney thereby under suspicion, with a raft of potential questions heading his way; and you have Rove still under threat from the Grand Jury, fighting for his legal and political life, but required to stay mum (and understandably distracted) if the prosecution continues. You don't even get a clean break, and a chance to start over. I'll ask something else: if Fitzgerald doesn't have enough evidence to indict Rove after two years, is it fair to prolong the agony? Equally, is it fair for Rove to ask the president to keep him on when he is under such a cloud? I'm writing this with only the scantest of clues as to the full scope of what we'll find out tomorrow. So allow me to revise these instant remarks in due course. - 10:57:00 PM LIBBY AND CHENEY: Some more nuances from National Journal's Murray Waas:
Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, overruling advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers, decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, according to Bush administration and congressional sources...
[A]dministration officials said in interviews that they cannot recall another instance in which Cheney and Libby played such direct personal roles in denying foreign policy papers to a congressional committee, and that in doing so they overruled White House staff and lawyers who advised that the materials should be turned over to the Senate panel.
I'm not sure what the salience of this new information is. But if Libby is indicted Friday, a critical question will be the role of the vice-president in the actions of his chief-of-staff. This may be a political rather than legal question. How credible is it that Libby would have done what he did without Cheney's knowledge? They were joined at the hip in what was, to my mind, an understandable post-9/11 attempt to make sure that the CIA wasn't being complacent about Saddam's WMD program. But what if they over-reached in the process? Or unwittingly or wittingly set Colin Powell up at the U.N.? Or stupidly broke the law and lied about it? I don't see Cheney escaping without damage. - 8:31:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY II: "I'm an avid reader of your blog, but today I was a little upset that you gave a Moore award to Cole for pointing out what so many war supporters simply ignore, that we unleashed more violence in Iraq than was there previously, especially if you just consider the past 10 years of Saddam's rule. That is obvious and proven. In a moral world, a nation and its leaders take responsibility for that. If Saddam were still in power, thousand upon thousands would still be alive who probably weren't interested in dying for Saddam facing trial and a thrown together constitution. I'm fine with people arguing that things will be eventually better for the people of Iraq (even if I think that is wishful thinking) but you could at least have the decency to recognize the deaths of the Iraqis and the fact that our action has led to an increase in their collective suffering." - 8:13:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: "You are very civil and I read your blog a lot. I am not so civil but I am a fast learner and you're a good teacher. Take the discussion about gay marriage, for example. I love the Milton quote, the debate with the Blankenhorn dude, all the power of reason pointing towards a civil discussion with bright, but bigoted opponents. While I tore up the streets with the rest of them in the late '80s in the most urgent days of gay/AIDS activism, I have a strong predilection for your approach in this matter. It was all about life and death then, now it's about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My only quibble is, actually, with Milton, who elevates companionship above the rest in his analysis of marriage. This is where my experience of gay civil union departs from his ideal and I suspect that it holds true for many gay men. My thoughts on this matter were formed at an impressionable age by reading crazy ass Paglia's book 'Sexual Personae', wherein she identifies hardcore gay male sexuality as being primarily defined by libido unhindered by social constraint (marriage, female 'civilizing' influence). Of course, that presupposes that all gay men are hung, horny, masculine types like myself and my partner. There are, of course, all shades of masculinity and femininity in all gay men, so the principle suffers in translation to the more various aspects of our identities. But I have spent 5 years with the same guy, no cheating on my part and I doubt on his, and staunchly believe that the solid core of our union is the intense fucking. Sorry, we do other things as well like travel, cooking, affection, music and AA meetings. If the sex was not fulfilling, I doubt we would be monogamous, which I define as a requirement for proper marriage." - 7:59:00 PM MILTON AND MARRIAGE: Not the best source, I'm afraid. A few academic readers take me to task:
Your use of Milton here is absurd. Milton was practically burned at the stake for his stance on marriage. The obvious corollary to what you quote, which Milton seemed to endorse � that when the �conversation� wasn�t going so well, divorce was a legitimate option � was regarded by almost everyone at the time as radical to the point of heresy. Milton's views were not ordinary '17th century Christian' views. Even in the 19th century, they would have been radical.
I stand corrected. Milton also had a strange personal history:
He marginalized the importance of sex in marriage partially because he felt it to be especially sinful - he was a Puritan early. He was a virgin at the time of his marriage - at 36, when he married a girl twenty years his junior, who left him within a month. While she eventually returned to him, and they had children, his writings on marriage and divorce predate that event.
Milton: way ahead of his time. - 7:39:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "The thing that impresses me most about our editors is that they understand that it�s not all about the book. It's about the money you can make from that book." - the publisher of a new book company. A new blogger laments here. - 7:26:00 PM THE BLANKENHORN DEBATE: Thanks to all of you who listened to it and wrote me your responses. I was struck by two points. A reader makes one:
I enjoyed listening to your debate with David Blankenhorn. However, I was jarred by one, what appeared to me large, flaw in David's logic. If marriage is "translegal" and exists as a social institution despite the governng law, how can changing the law to include more married couples have the catastrophic effect on marriage that David and his coterie suggest it will? I know you alluded to the fact briefly during a rebuttal, but it would appear to me a paradox that David will need to think long and hard about before engaging in similar debates in the future.
This is indeed a critical issue. It's clear that opponents of marriage rights for gay couples have been frustrated in trying to show why those couples do not meet the current standard of what civil marriage is. If the legal standard is that Britney Spears gets to exercize a civil right for 55 hours but a committed 55-year long lesbian couple do not, then you have a hell of a case to make, without appearing to be, well, just prejudiced against the lesbians. So they switch to a "translegal" standard, which, of course, can mean anything they want it to mean. But if it's trans-legal, why would changing the law, as in Massachusetts, affect it in any way?
THE SHIFTING DEFINITION: At the same time, the opponents of marriage rights for gay couples now argue that child-rearing is the central purpose of civil marriage, that such child-rearing must include a father and a mother, and that therefore the current exclusion of even committed gay couples with children is justified. (They do not fully explain why childless heterosexual marriages nevertheless qualify, except that they "symbolize" the ideal and so get a pass. In fact, of course, childless heterosexual marriages represent the exact opposite of the ideal. They represent a heterosexual couple fully capable of the ideal - but choosing to go against it. Gay couples have no such choice.) But as this blogger points out, making procreation and child-rearing the sine qua non of civil marriage has not, as Blankenhorn would have it, always been the main argument of the gay marriage foes. A few weeks ago, Blankenhorn argued that
Talking about heterosexual intercourse, child bearing, and child well-being is not something that some of us just thought up five minutes ago in response to a political controversy. Instead, you simply can't talk accurately about marriage without talking about these very things ...
Hmmm. Blankenhorn's own Institute put out a "Statement of Principles," only five years ago on what marriage is. It has "six important dimensions." Five of them do not mention children at all. The one dimension in which children do appear - the sixth and last dimension listed - says the following:
Marriage takes two biological strangers and turns them into each other's next-of-kin. As a procreative bond, marriage also includes a commitment to care for any children produced by the married couple.
Notice how children are optional, not essential. In the statement, the first definition is that "marriage is a legal contract." Five years later, Blankenhorn is insisting that it is a "trans-legal" institution. Maybe this new argument is a product of five years of deeper thinking. Or maybe it is indeed "something that some of us just thought up five minutes ago in response to a political controversy."
THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE: Blankenhorn was, of course, right in the first place. The notion that marriage isn't marriage without procreation and children is far from being the traditional view. Here, for example, is John Milton, hardly a milque-toast Christian, on what marriage is fundamentally about. A reader sent me the passage from Milton's "Doctrines and Disciplines of Divorce":
"And what his [God's] chiefe end was of creating woman to be joynd with man, his own instituting words declare, and are infallible to informe us what is mariage, and what is no mariage, unlesse we can think them set there to no purpose: It is not good, saith he, that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. From which words so plain, lesse cannot be concluded, nor is by any learned Interpreter, then that in Gods intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and the noblest end of mariage: for we find here no expression so necessarily implying carnall knowledge, as this prevention of lonelines to the mind and spirit of man."
Here, in the seventeenth century, is a Christian arguing that the divine, "trans-legal" meaning of marriage, its central meaning, is companionship. Sex is peripheral, let alone procreation. And Blankenhorn and Gallagher would have you believe that the idea of marriage as a form of lasting faithful friendship built out of romantic love, in which children are optional, is something invented in modern times. Hooey. - 2:56:00 PM MIERS' TIME-LINE: This is an interesting tidbit from Byron York, who has great sources in the White House:
According to informed sources, this is how the last day of the Miers nomination played out. Yesterday morning, President Bush met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, and others at the White House, where they discussed the problems facing the nomination. There were staff conversations between the majority leader's office and the White House throughout the day. There was a meeting in Dick Cheney's office in the afternoon, with the vice president and nomination strategists taking part, in which the fading support for the nomination was discussed. And then in the early evening, Frist had a phone conversation with White House Chief of Staff Andy Card in which Frist gave what's being called a frank assessment of the nomination's prospects. Not long afterward, a final decision was made, and Miers called the president at 8:30 p.m. to say she would withdraw, and the formal announcement was set for this morning.
My italics. Who made the decision? Cheney? Bush? Doesn't this strongly imply that the president or vice-president decided to pull the plug on Miers and then had Miers "decide on her own" to withdraw? Face-saving can be so elaborate sometimes, can't it? Especially if you're constitutively unable to concede error. This was probably a necessary move - in order to consolidate the base in response to the looming possibility of indictments. The fight is on. And whom Bush picks to replace Miers will be a very interesting insight into how he sees the remainder of his presidency. - 2:29:00 PM KRAUTHAMMER UPDATE: An impeccable source informs me that Charles Krauthammer is indeed brilliant and clairvoyant and was never nudged by anyone in the White House to come up with a face-saving formula for the Miers' withdrawal. He came up with it on his own in the shower. Who says you don't get solid, breaking news from a blog?
RACIST LEFT UPDATE: Robert George has the latest on the fall-out from this. - 2:17:00 PM WHAT NEXT? Jonah is terrified it might be Gonzales. I doubt it will be. Another fight with his base, while he's losing key aides? Bush will be politically tempted to pick the most nationally divisive candidate he can find - one that gives the far right goosebumps of joy and the center and left a shiver up the spine. Bush may believe he needs to polarize the country to win back his base, especially if he's reeling from indictments and a major staff turn-over. He has done it before; and he may do it again. For my part, I think the Rovians are misguided in this prescription. A socially conservative fire-breather is not what the country needs right now - and, although it may shore up the base, it will further rattle the middle. What we need is someone of Roberts' ilk: impeccably qualified, intellectually serious, and concerned more with judicial process than results. The fundamental concern the public now has about this administration is its competence. The Roberts and Bernanke picks are reassuring. The Miers pick, er, wasn't. Excellence and judicial restraint should be the criteria: not ideology. They are the criteria upon which the right and center can converge. Here's hoping.
MOORE AWARD NOMINEE: "Iraq Body Count, Reuters says, estimates that 38 Iraqis die in violence every day. Over thirty-five years, that would amount to nearly 500,000 dead. In fact, it is estimated that the Baath party killed 300,000 Iraqis, so the current rate seems to be greater than the Baath rate. (The number of civilians killed by the Baath is probably in fact exaggerated. Only a few thousand bodies have been recovered from mass graves so far.)" - Juan Cole, on his blog. (Hat tip: Striding Lion.) - 11:32:00 AM THE KRAUTHAMMER SOLUTION: In the end, the Bush team decided to deploy what seems to me a transparently phony argument that executive privilege over confidential papers forced them to withdraw Miers. The Bush statement is particularly lame:
"It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House _ disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel. Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers - and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her."
All of this was scripted in advance in Charles Krauthammer's latest column. Either he's brilliant and clairvoyant - and he is, of course - or he was nudged to air the strategy in advance. Or both.
REAX: A couple of thoughts. This is a big coup for the Washington conservative intellectual establishment and the counter-intelligentsia that has been deliberately built to tackle the left's academic monopoly these last couple of decades. They wanted one of their own on the Court, and they'll get one. At the very least, they have shown they have a veto against anyone too patently unqualified. Given Miers' credentials and post-nomination performance, we may have reason to be grateful for their clout. Score one for Frum! Second, it's again amazing how unable this president is to take full responsibility for his decisions and choices. Face-saving is not an unusual thing in politics. But equally it is never a sign of real strength. A strong president takes responsibility for his own choices, even if he feels misunderstood or misled. Reagan's Iran-Contra confession was an example of someone strong enough to admit a failure. This president is not internally strong enough to do something similar. His strength is a form of brittleness. Like all brittleness, it is prone to cracking suddenly and without warning. It just did. - 10:04:00 AM
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 EMAIL OF THE DAY: An emailer responds to my previous post:
"You are right, Bush should clean house (I would say, because this nation has no means to do that otherwise until 2008, e.g. call for elections).
But your post is pie-in-the-sky for two reasons: 1) He will never do it. He has never backtracked on anything significant, for better or worse (usually worse). You are asking him to admit wholesale failure. What in his history suggests that he would ever do what you are asking? In fact, his stay-the-course simplicity has been a major cause for the current problems.
2) The country has had a "reeling vacancy" in the Oval Office since 2001. All of the failures, the poor choices, the misguided appointments, lack of foresight and diplomatic grace etc. have been there for years. Put another way, he is not reeling now just because he has been caught at being wrong in so many ways on Iraq, North Korea, the deficit, torture, cronyism, et al. He is reeling now because he has always been reeling.
There is a distinction physicians make between an acute illness and the acute diagnosis of a chronic illness. We as a nation are dealing with the latter."
That's what I fear and why I reluctantly backed Kerry last year. But I'm trying to be constructive. And Bush has been capable of radical moves in the past. If it weren't for the war, this would be an opportunity for schadenfreude, but far too much is at stake for that kind of response. I can hope, can't I? - 5:44:00 PM WHAT BUSH SHOULD DO: The president is reeling. Tomorrow may mean a raft of indictments, or none at all. Either way, there is obviously something awry with the structure of the current White House, the small group of people who have dominated foreign policy and seem unable to rectify clear mistakes, and the inner clique who came up with the brilliant idea of nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Bush will have two options in the coming days: a) retain as much of his staff as he can, while ceding the indicted to the history books and struggling on or b) clean house for real. I think he'd be smart to do b). By that, I mean firing Cheney as veep and replacing him with Condi Rice, regardless of what Fitzgerald discloses. Cheney's role in the Plamegate mess is just the latest in a long string of screw-ups and misjudgments. If Bush cannot see that now, he is fooling himself. I also mean getting rid of Rumsfeld, replacing Card, withdrawing the Miers nomination, and shaking his cabinet to its roots. He needs to show the world that he gets it; and that he will not merely limp along in damage control mode for the next three years. In every crisis, there is an opportunity. The future of Bush's presidency will pivot on whether he seizes this moment, surprises all of us, and regains momentum. He can; and he should. We have a war to win. We cannot afford to have a reeling vacancy in the Oval Office.
THE READERS VENT: Byron Calame provides an online forum for NYT readers to tear Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger Jr to shreds. I'm not sure whether I am more shocked or impressed. (Hat tip: Petrelis.) - 5:22:00 PM IS RELIGION GOOD FOR YOU? An MIT economist thinks so.
HOW TO BECOME A REPUBLICAN: One jaundiced but funny Democrat's cartoon version. - 3:40:00 PM PLAMEGATE: At this point, we should simply wait for the facts, no?
THE DEMS AND MIERS: It takes a conservative to give them an obviously shrewd, if cynical strategy.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "Andrew, isn't it obvious? The social right wants sodomy laws reinstated and homosexuality defined as a mental illness. Of course they're not going to come out and say it (at least not most of them--some of them are quite upfront about it) but the bottom line is that gay people don't deserve civil rights or protections of any kind because gay people shouldn't exist in the first place. What part of that don't you understand? You really need to get out in the trenches some more, on various websites and discussion lists where ordinary people are not only homophobic but open and unapologetic about it."
I am aware of much of the homophobia in the trenches of the religious right and the GOP. But I'm referring to people who would publicly strongly deny such a thing, i.e. people like Bill Bennett or Stanley Kurtz or Maggie Gallagher. David Blankenhorn does not strike me in any way as homophobic, for example. In fact, he went out of his way in our debate to say he worries about associating with such bigots. So whence the silence about social policy toward gays? And when does complete indifference to gay lives become indistinguishable from bigotry? There are shades and nuances of prejudice here. There's another explanation, of course. The people I have mentioned have as key allies those who believe that homosexuality is a moral blight that demands legal suppression or psychiatric or religious "cures." Some are political operators as much as they are intellectuals, and so their silence is simple politics, nothing else. But at what point does allying with bigots and not calling them on it make you a bigot yourself? - 3:27:00 PM THE RACIST LEFT: This post speaks for itself. (Hat tip: Robert George.) - 12:31:00 PM HITCH ON GALLOWAY: The Schadenfreude deepens. This time, it's fully justified. - 12:24:00 PM THE SOCIAL RIGHT AND GAYS: My debate with David Blankenhorn on the matter of marriage rights is now posted. In many ways, I think the most telling part of the conversation was at the very end. Blankenhorn was asked a simple question by a member of the audience: since you oppose marriage rights for gay couples, what do you support for them? What's amazing is that after decades of thinking about marriage and several years mulling the issue of marriage for gays, David still had no answer. Frum has no answer. Gallagher has no answer. Kurtz has no answer. I have to say I find this quite extraordinary. It is as extraordinary as the social right's complete indifference to the revolution in gay culture and society these past two decades. I just read Rick Santorum's book about conservatism and the "common good." It's better than I expected and has many pages devoted to excluding gay couples from civil marriage. But again: I could find no practical, constructive suggestion from Santorum on what he believes should be our civil policy toward gay couples. Should they be deterred from settling down? Should they be encouraged to make faithful commitments? Should their households, when they include offspring, be legally protected? Silence. Nada. Zip. The "common good" does not include gay people or their kids. For much of the social right, homosexuals simply do not exist. Our reality is so threatening to them that they cannot even begin to construct a viable social policy toward us. And that's why they're losing this debate. In many ways, they haven't even joined it. - 12:02:00 PM POSTREL ON MIERS: I'm pretty close to persuaded that Miers should not be confirmed because of her lack of basic competence or even interest in the field. Virginia makes a very strong case. I still think Miers deserves a hearing before final judgment, though. But two things: I see no reason why president Bush should have some "face-saving" option. He should withdraw the nomination or let the Senate decide. And if the Senate does get to decide, they need to address the recusal issue. Miers has been so intimately involved in certain issues - the legalization of torture, for example - that she must be asked if she will recuse herself from any related case. We have a right to know what topics she dealt with, even though we may forgo an attempt to find out details. We need a clear list of areas where she will recuse herself in the future. That list may help explain why she was nominated in the first place. - 11:49:00 AM THE CHURCH IN IRELAND: How it abused the innocent; covered up its crimes; and suddenly collapsed. Anyone who believes that the sexual abuse crisis was restricted to the U.S. needs to read more. - 11:40:00 AM VICE PRESIDENT FOR TORTURE: What Cheney believes in. I had dinner with an old friend last night and he made a good point about the Bush administration and torture. In every war, the executive tends to over-reach. In this one, they have over-reached to the point of subverting the very meaning of America and its honor. But the task of correcting such an over-reach is ultimately the Congress's. We have seen the ramifications of an improvised, ill-advised, poorly executed policy of allowing abuse of detainees for purposes of "military necessity" as defined by the executive. What we need are laws to create a clear standard both for Geneva-protected combatants and non-Geneva-protected terrorists. That's the Congress's job, not the president's. It's staggering that the McCain Amendment is the first attempt to do that. We have known of these abuses for a long time now. John Kerry wouldn't touch them in the campaign. The feckless Democrats in Congress are too scared of being labeled soft on terror to defend American and Western values; and the corrupt Republicans couldn't give a damn, for the most part, or are too scared to stand up to a president of their own party. The legacy of torture is firstly this president's. But it is also this Congress's. - 11:04:00 AM GRAPPLING WITH A MISCARRIAGE: A Mormon conservative absorbs some personal news. - 10:30:00 AM 2,000: We have to resist two temptations, I think. The first is not to absorb the human cost of war. Every dead - and maimed - soldier has a story, a narrative, a family, a life and a soul. Their young deaths - so young in so many cases - are worthy of the deepest mourning; and their service of the deepest respect. I don't think it inappropriate for the news media to show them in full, or to mark an anniversary like the one we just observed. It is an important part of our moral calculus.
But the second temptation is to move the goalposts on this war and to expect the impossible. If someone had told me three years ago that by October 2005, Saddam Hussein's murderous tyranny would be over for ever, that Iraq would have a new constitution that emerged from a democratic process and that it will soon have a democratically elected parliament and government, I would have been thrilled. If I were further told that the inevitably embittered Sunni Arab minority had decided to throw itself into democratic politics to amend the constitution and protect its interests in a future Iraq, I would be amazed by how swiftly democratic habits can take root in a post-totalitarian country. If I had been told that, despite extraordinary provocation from Jihadist and Sunni Arab terrorists, the country had not dissolved into civil war, and that unemployment was dropping, I'd be heartened. If I had also been told that the United States had not suffered another major terror attack since the fall of 2001, I would have refused to believe it. The fact that the administration has made countless, terrible errors in the aftermath of the invasion and miscalculated badly on how the Baathists and Jihadists would fight back, should not distract us from these underlying realities. In 2002, I feared U.S. casualties approaching 10,000 in a brutal, urban war for Baghdad. The enemy gave us a simmering insurgency instead, shrewdly calculating that that was their best defense. They were right in the short term. But that makes it all the more imperative to prove them wrong in the long term. For the sake of the 2,000 who have already died; and the countless, innocent civilian Iraqis who have borne an even greater burden, let's do all we can to make this work. - 10:13:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "[W]hen science cannot determine the facts and decisions vary based upon religious belief, then government should not act." - Harriet Miers, 1993. Maybe she really is a conservative after all - just not the theocon the hard right wants on the court. Wouldn't it be marvelous to have an avowedly conservative justice on SCOTUS who supports the separation of church and state? Unfortunately, this is just one statement from her. Many others give an impression of political and philosophical, er, confusion.
THE KKK VS GAYS: They know whose side they're on: the side they've always been on.
IF YOU THINK YOU'RE A LOSER: And waste your days doing pointless but occasionally satisfying things, then know this and know it well: You are not alone. - 9:56:00 AM
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 IRAQ AND THE POLLS: Two thirds of Americans now disapprove of president Bush's handling of the Iraq war. But there appears to be a stabilizing in discontent: the numbers aren't that much worse now than they were a few months back. Americans are mature enough both to grieve for the U.S. and Iraqi casualties while understanding that wars always mean casualties. As to the future, the public is now evenly split on whether things are going in the right or wrong direction. Count me among the 24 percent who don't know for sure. I certainly hope that the political process will work in the end. - 5:30:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY II: "I speak Italian and while Josh Marshall is waiting for a "professional translation" of the Repubblica series, I can confirm that Rozen's summary is accurate, and that the original with its full detail sounds even more damaging. The Italian article mixes clearly-sourced reportage with common-sense speculation on what it must mean more freely than American journalistic practice would condone. But it keeps the two distinct; it is always clear what details are sourced, and (by local standards) relatively few of the sources are even anonymous." Developing ... - 3:31:00 PM ANOTHER THEORY: Kevin Drum homes in on the conundrum at the center of Plamegate: since Wilson never really debunked the notion that Saddam had merely sought uranium from Niger, and that was all that the president had ever claimed, why did the Bushies over-react the way they did to Wilson's first emergence on the scene? Kevin speculates that it's because they knew something we didn't at the time. His argument can be read here. It's certainly plausible, if still only a theory. I have to say that as someone who trusted the administration not to consciously lie or mislead about their evidence for Saddam's WMDs, I'd be pretty pissed if it turned out they did. We have no solid evidence for that, though. Yet. - 3:30:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: "In your apparent zeal to see Cheney taken down, you have failed to take into account a very important fact that easily explains the Libby/Cheney meeting on Plame where Libby took the notes that were made public today. Cheney met with Libby on June 12, 2003. What happened on that day? Well, if you want to know, check out this link - which is the article written by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post on that day. The subject of Pincus' article is the CIA's not sharing doubt on the Niger story. It was reported that
The CIA's decision to send an emissary [i.e. Joe Wilson] to Niger was triggered by questions raised by an aide to Vice President Cheney during an agency briefing on intelligence circulating about the purported Iraqi efforts to acquire the uranium, according to the senior officials. Cheney's staff was not told at the time that its concerns had been the impetus for a CIA mission and did not learn it occurred or its specific results.
So this article is printed, and the VP gets on the phone with Tenet to find out what he can about this emissary that was sent to Niger, supposedly at the direction of his office. He finds out that it's Wilson, and that his wife works for CIA. He shares that info with Libby. Thus, there is a legitimate reason for Cheney and Libby to be inquiring about Wilson's trip and Plame's identity. Nowhere is there any evidence that Cheney told Libby "Now go smear her and Wilson by leaking". You say that Libby may be taking one for the team, but you have no evidence of that. You're asking someone to prove a negative, which is impossible. Now, if Libby didn't mention this in the Grand Jury thinking that he was protecting Cheney from something Cheney doesn't even need protection from, he could end up being the dumbest man alive. Plus, if he lied to the GJ or misled investigators he should be indicted and prosecuted. No question there. But you're looking for some nefarious conspiracy that has no basis in fact based on what we know now."
So either Libby is the dumbest man alive or Cheney has something to hide. This email is from bulldogpundit. He elaborates here. Make your own mind up. Neither of us knows for sure. - 1:58:00 PM FAKING THE WMD EVIDENCE? The Italian angle in Plamegate appears to be heating up. One name I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about in the near future: Larry Franklin. - 1:44:00 PM DID GALLOWAY LIE? It certainly appears so. Why am I not surprised? - 12:53:00 PM DID CHENEY LIE? McLellan was asked this morning. He wouldn't answer. What if Cheney is not indicted, but it's clear that he directly lied to the public about what he knew and when he knew it about Valerie Plame? That leaves his future as a political question, not a legal one. - 12:44:00 PM ARIANNA VERSUS PINCH: She wants accountability, I guess. - 12:36:00 PM A READER'S THEORY: Well, it's as plausible as any:
Tenet told Cheney about Wilson's wife. Cheney asked and Tenet answered. Then, in their zeal to discredit Wilson, Cheney's henchmen blow her cover. An enraged Tenet makes the referral to the Justice Dept. and tells Fitzgerald (from day one) that he told Cheney about Plame. Fitzgerald has been working backwards from Cheney all along.
Now the question is whether Fitzgerald has looked more broadly into the methods Cheney has used to buttress his WMD convictions. As to what Bush thinks about Cheney in this respect, the New York Daily News tells us:
Bush has told associates Cheney was overly involved in intelligence issues in the runup to the Iraq war that have been seized on by Bush critics.
More distancing. - 12:23:00 PM BUSH, TORTURER-IN-CHIEF: We are constantly told that the United States does not torture or abuse detainees as a matter of policy. President Bush has told the American people exactly that. Two facts in the news today show otherwise. The first is evidence of how many detainees have actually been tortured to death by the U.S. Over a hundred detainees have died in captivity. The ACLU looked at the records of 44 such deaths and concluded that 21 were homicides and that "at least eight resulted from abusive techniques by military or intelligence officers, such as strangulation or 'blunt force injuries', as noted in the autopsy reports." This is the minimum we are likely to know about. Let's see how the government itself has accounted for some of the deaths. In the following, the term "OGA" or "Other Government Agency" refers to the CIA:
An Iraqi detainee (also described as a white male) died on January 9, 2004, in Al Asad, Iraq, while being interrogated by �OGA.� He was standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died. The cause of death was asphyxia and blunt force injuries. Notes summarizing the autopsies record the circumstances of death as �Q by OGA, gagged in standing restraint.� (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Abdul Jaleel.)
* A detainee was smothered to death during an interrogation by Military Intelligence on November 26, 2003, in Al Qaim, Iraq. A previously released autopsy report, that appears to be of General Mowhoush, lists �asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression� as the cause of death and cites bruises from the impact with a blunt object. New documents specifically record the circumstances of death as �Q by MI, died during interrogation.�
* A detainee at Abu Ghraib Prison, captured by Navy Seal Team number seven, died on November 4, 2003, during an interrogation by Navy Seals and �OGA.� A previously released autopsy report, that appears to be of Manadel Al Jamadi, shows that the cause of his death was �blunt force injury complicated by compromised respiration.� New documents specifically record the circumstances of death as �Q by OGA and NSWT died during interrogation.�
* An Afghan civilian died from �multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso and extremities� on November 6, 2003, at a Forward Operating Base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Abdul Wahid.)
* A 52-year-old male Iraqi was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment facility on June 6, 2003, in Nasiriyah, Iraq. His autopsy also revealed bone and rib fractures, and multiple bruises on his body. (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Nagm Sadoon Hatab.)
Over to you, James Taranto.
EXEMPTING THE CIA: And now you begin to understand why the president is so insistent on the Roberts and Miers nominations (the one thing the two nominees have in common is complete deference to the executive in war-time, which means to say for the indefinite future). And you also understand why Bush is for the first time threatening to veto a piece of legislation - the McCain Amendment. If the administration doesn't and would never condone abuse or torture of detainees, why would it want to exempt the CIA from the ban on torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners? If we are not abusing detainees as a matter of policy, why would the White House be in any way resistant to the amendment? The compromise is that the military will no longer abuse detainees, as long as the CIA still gets to do it. In other words, prodded by the Bush administration, the U.S. would actually legislate the government's permission to torture for the first time. Money quote:
"They are explicitly saying, for the first time, that the intelligence community should have the ability to treat prisoners inhumanely," Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said. "You can't tell soldiers that inhumane treatment is always morally wrong if they see with their own eyes that C.I.A. personnel are allowed to engage in it."
McCain is resisting any compromise, as he must. It's one thing to have a rogue president, violating the law and instituting torture and abuse as militarily acceptable. It's another thing to actually give him the cover of the law. One day, Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld will be held accountable for their actions. Let them have no legal defense. Bush and Cheney are also threatening a veto of any independent investigation that would examine their own role in sanctioning torture and abuse in the military. Duh. If you were in their shoes, wouldn't you?
GAY ARABS: The first magazine in the Arab world for homosexuals debuts. And gay life begins to come to life in Namibia. The shift in consciousness is global. And unstoppable. - 12:01:00 PM CHENEY: It's been pretty obvious for a while now. The heart of the Plamegate thingy is Dick Cheney. Who believes that Scooter Libby would be engaged in an elaborate attempt to defenestrate an administration critic on WMDs in Iraq without Cheney's knowledge and approval? Over a week ago, I proposed the obvious scenario. It was Cheney who sicced Libby onto Miller et al. The question then becomes: how did Cheney know about Plame and did he know she was an officially undercover agent? The fact that Libby appears to have tried to cover for his boss - and dramatically tripped up in what looks like perjury, or, at least, an implausibly flawed memory under oath - only further leads to the conclusion that Cheney has and had something to hide. If all Cheney was doing was politics, why would Libby cover for him? And if Libby lied about where he first got the information, did Cheney also? Under oath? I'm beginning to understand, for example, why Bush told Andy Card to inform Dick Cheney about the Miers nomination. Bush was already insulating himself from Cheney and the legal trap Cheney might have signified.
MORE WILD SPECULATION: So let's run a scenario here. Libby and Rove are indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Cheney, who appears to have been the source for Libby, remains vice-president. How plausible is that? It's plausible if Cheney cannot be shown to have known Plame's covert status or name; while Libby has tied himself into perjurial knots. It's implausible if Fitzgerald has actually discovered clear evidence of Cheney's and Libby's knowledge of what was at stake in Plame's CIA cover. Where would he get such clear evidence? Tenet hasn't been summoned in months. I'm still interested in what, if anything, Colin Powell or other senior figures may have told Fitzgerald. Powell has motive and means to finger Cheney. Who else has both? - 11:20:00 AM ANBAR SAYS NO: 97 percent of the voters in the mainly Sunni Arab province, Anbar, voted against the new Iraq constitution. That's the bad news. The good news is they voted (and that the number looks a little rigged). Three provinces voted no, but only two by more than two-thirds. The third, Nineveh, voted no by 55 percent. In other words, another 12 percent in one province would have torpedoed the entire thing. I don't mean to be pessismistic. The fact that the political process is actually going forward is what matters, most of all. But the challenges of reconciling the voters of Anbar and Salahuddin are still enormous. The Iraqis have about a month to offer some sweeteners.
AND JASON TOO: The other co-conspirator at TNR's new blog is Jason Zengerle. Today, he ponders what bad luck can possibly mean for Bill Frist. - 10:52:00 AM
Monday, October 24, 2005 TODAY'S REPUBLICANISM: You can't really parody this exchange between an NYT interviewer and Connie Mack, former Republican senator, and president Bush's point-man on tax reform. The dialogue is about spending and taxes:
NYT: Well, the U.S. government has to get money from somewhere. As a two-term former Republican senator from Florida, where do you suggest we get money from?
Mack: What money?
The money to run this country.
We'll borrow it.
I never understand where all this money comes from.
When the president says we need another $200 billion for Katrina repairs, does he just go and borrow it from the Saudis? In a sense, we do. Maybe the Chinese.
Is that fair to our children? If we keep borrowing at this level, won't the Arabs or the Chinese eventually own this country?
I am not worried about that. We are a huge country producing enormous assets day in and day out. We have great strength, and we have always adjusted to difficulties that faced us, and we will continue to do so.
This is what we're dealing with. Essentially: fuck the next generation. And they call that conservatism these days. - 5:05:00 PM BLOGGING BERNANKE: The WSJ collects some economists' reactions. - 4:52:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "I got shot three times and my album comes out November 22," - hip-hop artist Cameron "Cam'ron" Giles, in the Washington Post today. - 4:41:00 PM I LOVE GLOBALIZATION: Here's why. Be patient with the streaming. It's worth it. - 4:37:00 PM FOLLOWING THE YELLOWCAKE ROAD: The Fitzgerald investigation appears to be rather expansive. Maybe he's establishing the primary motive for the smear and the cover-up. Not a good sign for Bush. - 4:29:00 PM BAD LINK: Hugh Hewitt's attack on George Will can be read here. My bad. - 4:25:00 PM HUTCHISON ON PERJURY: No big deal now; big deal then.
THE MIKE 'N' FRANK SHOW: Two of the sharpest young journalists in D.C. now have a blog. What took you so long?
EMAILS OF THE DAY: Two readers comment on James Taranto's defense of anti-Islamic interrogation techniques:
"You are right to say that Taranto's comment on menstrual blood was pathetic, and to add the label "homophobic bigot" to the label "religious bigot" and "torture apologist" that he deserves to wear. As a man who has been a happy heterosexual all my life, I just want to point out that I too find this interrogation tactic utterly repellent and un-American. And not because I find menstrual blood itself repellent--I actually have some very fond memories of being smeared here and there with menstrual blood over the years, and I have found it not the least bit repellent. (Sometimes as part of love-making, sometimes as part of the ordinary inevitable intimacy of living with the wife of twenty years who has given me two children). But you know, there is this thing about the difference between what we may do consensually, and what the government may order its agents to force on people, which the Bush administration seems to have stopped paying attention to. You'd have thought this distinction was essential to the conservative outlook, but then...
But my real point is that targeting religious conscience violates something very important about America. Another reader adds:
I was disgusted by Opinion Journal's defence of the tactic of using fake menstrual blood (and the attacks on your homosexuality). I do not think there is anything particularly immoral in using what an enemy most fears to get him to talk; I have proudly reported on WWII vets who interrogated Nazis and who brought out everything under the sun (within the confines of the Geneva Conventions) to get vital information from them. But in this war, what we need most is to convince religious Muslims that we--and modernity--respect the basic tenets of their faith. Just like in our previous war what we needed most was to convince Commies that liberal democratic capitalism was the way. It seems to me that deliberately doing something that we know violates the Muslim faith and humiliates them, is the worst way to do that. Imagine the rumours going around Iraq: "the US military hates Muslims: see, they use menstrual blood just because they know it humilates it." This creates more terrorists than anything else. Its a disastrous policy, and you should be commended it for opposing it.
But I'm defending the "rights of terrorists"! Actually, I'm simply defending the honor of the United States. - 2:21:00 PM HEWITT VERSUS WILL: The conservative mud-slinging continues.
THE LEFT AND BUSH: They'll never admit it, but this president is the liberal left's best friend in a long, long time. Yglesias tiptoes near the truth:
It would be a serious mistake to confuse Bush's brand of big conservatism with liberalism, or with any kind of real concession to liberalism, but it suggests that the underlying political dynamics have shifted a great deal. If you did have a progressive president, there's no longer a particularly large amount of popular resistance to expanding the activist state. Even most Republicans don't especially care about small government.
See? Bush has redefined conservatism into meaninglessness by legitimizing massive government spending for social policy. The left will take the 35 percent spending increase and up it. Then they'll raise taxes to pay for it. From their perspective, what's not to like? The left-liberal project and the Bush-conservative project are essentially the same: use the state to control and direct the actions of the citizenry, and wean them onto government aid. The only difference is that the constituencies that are the beneficiaries of other people's money are not identical; and the ideologies directing big government are not the same. I miss Clinton-Gingrich. It was, in retrospect, the high-water mark for conservatism as a governing philosophy. - 12:35:00 PM DOBSON UNDER OATH? It's only logical for the Senate to question James Dobson, the evangelical Protestant who has a veto over White House social policy. And it will help moderate Americans better understand who really pulls the strings in the Republican party. Money quote:
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday that his panel is likely to require Dobson and perhaps others to testify about such purported conversations. Asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" whether the committee will "bring some of these people who said they were told things that perhaps they shouldn't have been told, like Mr. Dobson," Specter replied: "my instinct is that they'll be called. And the American people are entitled to clarification." Specter has expressed interest in Dobson's comments before, but yesterday marked the clearest signal that the broadcaster may be required to face the 18-member committee in public.
The upcoming hearings (if we get that far) will be the best SCOTUS must-see TV since the Thomas circus. Get your popcorn ready.
THE COMING TAX HIKE: When it comes, remember who is responsible:
To date, the Bush administration has a disjointed, two-track budget policy. It has favored letting Americans keep more of their money via tax cuts while steadily building up the welfare state via unrestrained spending. Over time, that that strategy can't work. As Milton Friedman and others have long argued, the size of government is found in its total spending and, ultimately, spending is a taxpayer issue. Higher spending and resulting deficits create a constant threat of higher taxes. It's no surprise that not just Democrats but even moderate Republicans are now arguing that Bush's recent tax cuts be allowed to expire.
Bush's long-term legacy will be a much bigger welfare state and much higher taxes. He will have achieved what Ted Kennedy would never have gotten away with. Congrats, conservatives! - 11:33:00 AM MUSEVENI AND BUSH: The Ugandan dictator and American president have one thing in common: they both back amendments to their countries' constitutions to bar gay couples from marrying.
IN DEFENSE OF MILLER: Well, someone's got to do it. - 10:53:00 AM THE FLU THREAT: I'd like to be reassured about the potential effects of a bird flu epidemic, but count me in the still-panicky department. Fareed Zakaria rightly points out that new viruses - HIV among the most recent - often leap to humans during major population shifts. Today's massive relocation of people and animals in China raises the odds of a new flu virus considerably. We are not doing anything nearly sufficient to prepare for a pandemic - either with the current bird flu strain or a future one. Money quote:
The total funding request for influenza-related research this year is about $119 million. To put this in perspective, we are spending well over $10 billion to research and develop ballistic-missile defenses, which protect us against an unlikely threat (even if they worked). We are spending $4.5 billion a year on R&D;�drawings!�for the Pentagon's new joint strike fighter. Do we have our priorities right?
We need some adjustment.
A DEPRESSING POLL: A British Defense Ministry poll of Iraqi attitudes suggests deepening hostility to coalition troops. Given their failure to provide even minimal security (which is not the troops' fault, but their political masters'), this is fairly understandable. But worrying nonetheless. - 10:23:00 AM ON ONE PAGE: The president's tax reform commission proposes a one-page 1040-SIMPLE form. Nice work. I've long believed that simpler, flatter taxes are a potential vote-winner - as well as being good for the economy. If the president wants to re-boot his administration, real tax reform would be a good start. - 10:14:00 AM THE BASE SHIFTS: In South Carolina, Republican voters are moving - away from Bush and in favor of John McCain. Six years too late. McCain-Rice 2008? - 9:50:00 AM DEAR BYRON: Judy Miller replies to yesterday's Public Editor column. She basically calls Jill Abramson a liar. Byron Calame posts the full email on his public blog. Money quote:
You chose to believe Jill Abramson when she asserted that I had never asked her to pursue the tip I had gotten about Joe Wilson�s trip to Niger and his wife�s employment at the C.I.A. Now I ask you: Why would I � the supposedly pushiest, most competitive reporter on the planet -- not have pushed to pursue a tantalizing tip like this? Soon after my breakfast meeting with Libby in July, I did so. I remember asking the editor to let me explore whether what my source had said was true, or whether it was a potential smear of a whistleblower. I don�t recall naming the source of the tip. But I specifically remember saying that because Joe Wilson�s op-ed column had appeared in our paper, we had a particular obligation to pursue this. I never identified the editor to the grand jury or publicly, since it involved internal New York Times decision-making. But since you did, yes, the editor was Jill Abramson.
Obviously, Jill and I have different memories of what happened during that turbulent period at the paper. I did not take that personally, though she never chose to discuss with me our different recollections about my urging her to pursue the story. Without explanation, however, you said you believed her and raised questions about my �trust and credibility.� That is your right. But I gave my recollection to the grand jury under oath.
The hole Miller has dug just got a little deeper. (Hat tip: Petrelis. The intrepid blogger needs some cash to keep his blog alive.) - 9:44:00 AM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend -- I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore... I don't think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought, 'The world's going to hell and we've got to show we're not going to take this, and we've got to respond, and Afghanistan is O.K., but it's not sufficient.'" - Brent Scowcroft, in the new New Yorker.
Well ... the question begged is whether Cheney was actually right, if he entertained those two possibilities. After 9/11, the cost-benefit analysis changed a little, didn't it? Who would want to be the president who gambled (in retrospect, correctly, of course) that Saddam was no WMD threat, and then discovered that some terrorist detonated a Saddam-linked chemical weapon in a major U.S. city? Do you think that president would now be popular? It's easy to know now, not so easy to have known for sure then. Scowcroft prides himself on always asking about the potential downside. Well, there wsa a pretty major potential downside of trusting Saddam Hussein in 2002. The question was never simply whether we knew the WMDs existed or not. The question was whether, without being able to know for sure, we could trust Saddam to keep such weapons away from terrorists. There's a realist case for the Iraq war: that the risks of inaction were too high, and that the threat posed by the entire region demanded a radical departure from the acquiescence to autocracy of the past. Scowcroft's hindsight is a little too easy. He should enjoy it while others deal with reality; and try to change the world for the better.
Sunday, October 23, 2005 QUOTE FOR THE DAY II: "In their unseemly eagerness to assure Miers's conservative detractors that she will reach the "right" results, her advocates betray complete incomprehension of this: Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path that the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result." - George F. Will, today. He's been resplendent recently. - 2:06:00 PM AN EARLY LIE? Why did Fitzgerald very quickly ensure that he could investigate obstruction of justice and perjury in his inquiry? Maybe one of his first witnesses provided an authoritative, over-arching story that was immediately contradicted by subsequent witnesses. Maybe contradictions began appearing almost immediately. Here endeth today's piece of informed speculation.
QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "[O]ddly enough, the scriptures seem to be telling us, this is part of God�s gift to us. God intentionally chooses to be mysterious � for our sakes. If God were to be fully and completely revealed, if we were to see God beyond all hiddenness and mystery, our freedom would disappear. We would be forced to believe, forced to be obedient. No, this hiddenness is God's blessing. Certitude is a spiritual danger. If we claim to know God�s ways without question, we limit God to the shape of our own minds. As St. Augustine put it 1700 years ago, 'If you think you understand, it isn't God.' One of the troubling currents of our time is the tendency of religious people to speak as if we have seen God's face. A lot of what is being said in religious circles can suggest that some people claim to have God figured out, under control, in their pockets." - The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of Washington National Cathedral. Without doubt, faith is not faith.
SONG FOR THE DAY: An unorthodox recording of "Oh, Holy Night." No, it's not Cartman.
MENSTRUAL BLOOD AND TARANTO: I think we have a new low in defenses of government-sanctioned abuse of prisoners. On Friday, WSJ blogger, James Taranto, tried to dismiss my ethical concerns about U.S. interrogators in Gitmo smearing fake menstrual blood on the faces of Muslim detainees. Taranto regards such techniques as "excellent." My concern, along with that of many others within the military and CIA, is that this technique deliberately targets Islamic religious taboos, shocks the conscience and undermines the war by making us as religiously intolerant as the enemy. This story explains the rationale behind the technique:
Islam forbids physical contact with women other than a man's wife or family, and with any menstruating women, who are considered unclean. "The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to [the interrogator who smeared fake menstrual blood on his face], he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," says the draft, stamped "Secret."
Taranto endorses the use of a detainee's religious faith against them, but then appears to dismiss that angle as unimportant. The only people who would find this tactic abhorrent, he argues, are
adult men who remain strangers to the female body. Among them are homosexual men who identify as gay at a young age and thus do not have heterosexual experiences. Also among them are single men from sexually repressed cultures, such as fundamentalist Islamic ones, in which contact between the sexes is rigidly policed.
So my own concern with religious abuse is dismissed as a function of my sexual orientation! I have to say that of all the sad attempts to dismiss or belittle abuse and torture of detainees, this has to be about the lowest and lamest yet. For the record, my objection is because we should not transform this war into one against all Islam. Abusing Islam in military prisons or on the battlefield is both immoral and deeply counter-productive. Using people's religious conscience against them is a mark of totalitarian countries, not one where religious freedom is paramount. Taranto's exclusion of gay men from the categories of adulthood and masculinity is also, shall we say, revealing. Has the pro-torture right really been reduced to this kind of irrelevant bigotry? Is this all they have left? - 1:34:00 PM