by David Sirota, Christy Harvey and Judd Legum

May 17, 2004

Another Blow to Stability
Show Us the Videotape
The Bush-Riggs Connection


Another Blow to Stability

In a massive blow to the stabilization effort, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council was assassinated in a bombing near a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad today. "Abdel-Zahraa Othman, also known as Izzadine Saleem, was the second and highest-ranking member of the U.S.-appointed council to be assassinated. He was among four Iraqis killed in the blast." This is the latest development in a war hobbled by setbacks, a lack of strategy and rampant mismanagement. The death signifies that one year after the end of "major combat operations," the country is still beset by violence and instability.

RUMSFELD'S SECRET SYSTEM: New reports in The New Yorker and Newsweek allege the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison wasn't triggered by a handful of errant reservists; it was the direct result of decisions made all the way at the top, by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Newsweek reports, President "Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door" to the abuse. "It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war." Specifically, Seymour Hersh writes, Rumsfeld, as part of his "long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the CIA," approved a plan in Iraq which encouraged the "physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence."

A STATE OF DENIAL: The Pentagon has been quick to disavow the charges made by The New Yorker and Newsweek as part of a larger attempt to limit blame to low-level soldiers. But the denials are actually a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Hill Columnist Joshua Marshall points out, if you read the official denial statement by Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita, "This is not a denial of anything. It's a classic non-denial denial -- a bunch of aggressive phrases strung together to sound like a denial without actually denying anything."

STILL DON'T KNOW WHO'S IN CHARGE: The latest case in point: the NYT reports, "About 100 high-ranking Iraqi prisoners held for months at a time in spartan conditions on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport are being detained under a special chain of command, under conditions not subject to approval by the top American commander in Iraq."  In this situation, so-called "high value detainees" have been held in strict solitary confinement "in small concrete cells without sunlight, according to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross." The conditions have been described by the ICRC as "a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the international treaty that the Bush administration has said it regards as 'fully applicable' to all prisoners held by the United States in Iraq." According to the rules, American commander Ricardo S. Sanchez must give his approval to all prisoners held in solitary for more than 30 days. However, "on Sunday, a senior military officer said that statement did not apply to the prisoners being held at the airport, because 'we were not the authority' for the high-value detainees." The military was unable to say who was in charge, and the U.S. has taken no steps to call a halt to the procedure.

LOSING FALLUJAH: Coalition forces are locked in battle with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's militia in southern Iraq. The WP reports, the fierce fighting is "presenting U.S. officials with a more serious political challenge than the insurgency's still potent strongholds farther north." The ongoing battle "reflects the U.S. strategy of squeezing Sadr militarily while allowing a group of local Shiite leaders to broker a deal, much as Sunni Muslim leaders did this month in the western city of Fallujah."  The U.S., however,  may want to use a different model of success; the LAT reports this morning that, in fact, the deal that ostensibly brought stability to Fallujah actually handed power over to the guerrillas. Instead of a coalition victory, "Fallujah is for all intents and purposes a rebel town"  which serves as "an inspirational ground zero for anti-Western militants in the Middle East, the place that beat back the Marines."

POWELL ADMITS MISTAKE: For the very first time, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday evidence that Iraq had mobile biological laboratories, a major claim in his presentation to the United Nations, was faulty. Powell said, "It turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading...and for that, I am disappointed and I regret it." The NYT reports, "Taken with past admissions of error by the administration or its intelligence agencies, Mr. Powell's statement on Sunday leaves little room for the administration to argue that Mr. Hussein's stockpiles of unconventional weapons posed any real and imminent threat."  (A State Department press aide tried to block the Powell from answering the question; Powell chastised her sharply and continued.) Powell's admission that his assertions were inaccurate provides  "a sharp contrast to comments four months ago by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said the administration still believed that the trailers were part of a program of unconventional weapons, and added that he 'would deem that conclusive evidence' that Mr. Hussein in fact had such programs."

SENATORS SPEAK OUT: Two senators this weekend charged that the White House had made serious errors in the war in Iraq, resulting in a nation grappling with grave security issues. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on Meet the Press, "One [mistake] was the lack of sufficient troops there which allowed the looting to take place, which established kind of a lawless environment," as well as the fact that the U.S. didn't "make sufficient plans to turn over the government as quickly as possible." Sen. Biden concurred, saying, "As [McCain] pointed out, too few troops, looting, 850,000 tons of weapons left open, not able to guard them and then we went with too little legitimacy." An additional problem, said Biden, was the White House's inability to admit and fix existing problems: "They seem to be unwilling to acknowledge the mistakes made and trying to correct them."

Show Us the Videotape

There are new allegations that the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq also occurred at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Tarek Dergoul, a British prisoner freed from Guantanamo Bay last month, said that Camp Delta's punishment squad, called the Extreme Reaction Force (ERF), "pepper-sprayed me in the face, and I started vomiting. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed." Dergoul's description of his treatment was similar to three other British detainees – Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iabal and Ruhal Ahmed – released in March. The three alleged that, at Guantanamo, to be "ERFed" meant "being slammed against the floor wielding a riot shield, pinned to the ground and beaten up by five armed men." But there is no reason for speculation and allegation to continue. Dergoul also revealed that "every time the ERFs were deployed, a sixth team member recorded on digital video everything that happened." The Guantanamo spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, confirmed that "all ERF actions were filmed" and "are kept in an archive there." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he "would demand that Rumsfeld must produce the videos this week."

GOVERNMENT ADAMANTLY DENIES ABUSE OCCURRED AT GUANTANAMO: According to government officials, the rules for prisoner treatment at Guantanamo Bay "forbid the kind of torture coming to light in Iraq." Officials do acknowledge that techniques at Guantanamo are designed to cause "disorientation, fatigue and stress" and put pressure on the "pride and ego" of the detainees. But Army Col. David McWilliams, spokesperson for the military command that runs Guantanamo, said the facility permits "no physical contact at all...our procedures prohibit us from disrobing for any reason at all." The only way to confirm McWilliams' claim: Release the videotape.

ABUSE AT GUANTANAMO ALREADY DOCUMENTED: There have already been confirmed cases of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Two guards "received administrative punishments for hitting a detainee with a radio and spraying a detainee with a hose." It has been confirmed that "eight soldiers had been punished by being demoted or given less serious administrative punishment for offenses ranging from humiliating detainees to physical assault." But according to Navy Inspector General Thomas Church, who briefly visited Guantanamo to review the treatment of detainees, "there's more than eight."  Army spokesman McWilliams claims the cases were not part of an interrogation strategy but "the misapplication of a guard to a detainee's action." American Progress has called for the formation of an independent commission to investigate the charges of abuse at Guantanamo and other locations where the United States holds detainees.

RED CROSS CRITICIZES CONDITIONS AT GUANTANAMO AGAIN: Last week the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) "delivered the latest in a series of critical reports on treatment of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay." According to a State Department official who read the report, it is "'critical' of living conditions and interrogation techniques used on detainees at the base." Last October the ICRC said that conditions at the prison resulted in the "deterioration in the psychological health of a large number" of prisoners – a contributing factor to the 32 suicide attempts that have occurred at the based. In January, their concerns about Guantanamo were so acute that ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger met privately with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. According to Wolfowitz, "there are some serious issues between us and the Red Cross about Guantanamo...[but] they have nothing to do with the kinds of abuses that we've been hearing about in Iraq." The only way to confirm Wolfowitz's claim: Release the videotape.

GUANTANAMO CHOSEN BECAUSE NO RULES APPLY: According to Newsweek, "The appeal of Gitmo from the start was, in the view of administration lawyers, the base existed in a legal twilight zone – or 'the legal equivalent of outer space.'" A memo written by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." The administration has been adamant that prisoners at Guantanamo are not protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The Bush-Riggs Connection

The decision last week by federal regulators to fine Riggs Bank $25 million for a "willful, systemic" violation of anti-money-laundering laws is raising new questions about whether the Bush administration's ties to powerful moneyed interests is unduly influencing U.S. foreign and national security policy. Riggs Bank is headed by longtime Bush family friend Joe Allbritton, employs President Bush's uncle Jonathan as a top executive, and other executives have been financial donors to the Bush campaign. The bank is at the center of a controversy, according to the Wall Street Journal, for failing to monitor "tens of millions of dollars in cash withdrawals from accounts related to the Saudi Arabian and Equatorial Guinean embassy," including "suspicious incidents involving dozens of sequentially numbered cashier's checks and international drafts written by Saudi officials, including Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan." Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) "said members of the bank's board of directors should be held to account for failing to exercise their watchdog role over Riggs's operations" and said refusal to follow money laundering laws "allows terrorists to funnel their blood money through the system."

CONNECTION – JONATHAN BUSH AND RIGGS: Jonathan Bush, President Bush's uncle, was appointed CEO of Riggs Bank's investment arm in May of 2000, just months after his nephew secured the nomination for the presidency. At the time of the appointment, Jonathan Bush had already become a major financial backer of his nephew, rising to "Bush Pioneer" status by raising more than $100,000 for his nephew in 2000. The move solidified the relationship between Jonathan Bush and Riggs, which was originally initiated in 1997 when, according to American Banker newsletter, Riggs paid Bush $5.5 million for his smaller investment firm. That transaction, according to the NYT, "deepened [Riggs's] links to the Bushes." While Riggs denies any connection between Bush and the accounts being investigated in the money laundering probe, Riggs President Timothy Lex told the Washington Times in 1997 that "there's a blurring of distinctions between banks, mutual-fund families, broker dealers and everything else across the board."

CONNECTION - ALLBRITTON-BUSH LINK: Allbritton, who said during the federal probe that he was stepping down from Riggs's board, also was close to the Bush family. As the NYT reported, he (along with Riggs client Saudi Prince Bandar) was a financial backer of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, with National Journal noting he contributed between $100,000 - $250,000 to the project.  And there also appears to be a personal bond with the current President Bush: As the 2/15/01 WP noted, "When President Bush climbed out of his limousine on Inauguration Day at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, he spotted Allbritton, waved and said, 'Hey Joe, how are you doing?'" That might have something to do with the fact that, according to the 11/7/2000 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Allbritton-owned TV station KATV in Little Rock broke 39 years of precedent and publicly endorsed Bush in the 2000 presidential election. The station, which is the biggest in the state, proceeded to air its endorsement 10 times throughout Arkansas, and refused to give equal time to Democrats "who asked for the time to present an alternative to the station's endorsement."

ACTION – LOOSENING BANKING REGS THAT COULD AFFECT RIGGS: According to Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's "Age of Sacred Terror," upon taking office the Bush administration tried to halt efforts to tighten international banking laws – some of which may have affected Riggs. As he notes, the new Bush Treasury Department "disapproved of the Clinton administration's approach to money laundering issues, which had been an important part of the drive to cut off the money flow to bin Laden." Specifically, the Bush administration opposed Clinton administration-backed efforts by the G-7 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that targeted countries with "loose banking regulations" being abused by terrorist financiers. Meanwhile, the Bush administration provided "no funding for the new National Terrorist Asset Tracking Center."

ACTION - HIDING INFORMATION THAT COULD BE DAMAGING TO RIGGS: Newsweek reported that checks to "two Saudi students in the United States who provided assistance to two of the September 11 hijackers" may have come "from an account at Washington's Riggs Bank in the name of Princess Haifa Al-Faisal, the wife of Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan." This, and other details, were reportedly part of the bipartisan House-Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the Saudi money flow after 9/11. Yet, instead of allowing the committee's final report to be published in full, "Bush administration officials, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, have adamantly refused to declassify the evidence" surrounding the transactions.

ACTION – RESUMING RELATIONS WITH SORDID RIGGS CLIENT: Riggs's fines were also in relation to its business with Equatorial Guinea – the oil-rich West African country headed by brutal dictator Gen. Teodoro Obiang. As the LA Times notes, though the country's offshore oil fields "generate hundreds of millions of dollars, there are few signs of the petroleum boom" there, and the Guinean ambassador admits "the country's oil funds are held in an account at Riggs Bank" controlled by the dictator. But while the IMF and other international institutions have refused to do business with the regime until it accounts for its country's financial resources, the Bush administration "initiated a political thaw with the Obiang regime" in late 2001, "authorizing the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Equatorial Guinea, which had been closed six years earlier, in large part due to the country's horrific human rights record." The move came even though "there's been little, if any, improvement" on human rights.


EDUCATION – BROWN V. BOARD ANNIVERSARY: The NYT reports that today, the anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools, the primary issue of educational equality "is often money." In Topeka, Kansas, where the Supreme Court case originated, the focus is often on cases involving "dozens of states embroiled in other lawsuits, accusing them of skimping on education spending." And President Bush's serious underfunding of Title I aid to disadvantaged school districts is adding to the problem. In Kansas' 2nd Congressional District, where Topeka is, the president's budget leaves more than 8,000 students without Title I aid because it refuses to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act.

SCIENCE – THANKS, NANCY: Under pressure from former first lady Nancy Reagan, the White House took its first step towards reversing its ban on using federal funds for stem-cell research. The NYT reports that "the Bush administration has acknowledged that additional lines, or colonies, of embryonic stem cells could speed scientific research." While the announcement denied the President would "sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos," advocates for patients "say it could mark the first step toward easing limits" on research outlined by President Bush in 2001. 

AIDS – A REVERSAL OF POLICY: The Bush administration "announced a significant shift in its AIDS policy on Sunday, expediting the approval process for generic and combination antiretroviral drugs so they can be purchased at lower prices and provided more efficiently and safely to millions of infected people in Africa and the Caribbean." This is a large – and welcome – policy change; the Bush administration, bowing to pressure from the powerful pharmaceutical lobby, was previously trying to delay the "approval of less costly generic copies of AIDS drugs to promote the sale of the more expensive, patented originals." The change comes as the White House was facing heavy international criticism on its AIDS policy at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva, which starts today.

SPECIAL INTERESTS – MONEY (IN) LAUNDERING: In the second part of its series on "The Bush Money Machine" the WP looks at Richard T. Farmer, a Bush "pioneer" (having raised at least $100,000 for the 2000 campaign) and "one of America's richest men." Farmer's family controls Cintas Corp., "a $2.7 billion company that rents and launders uniforms and industrial shop towels." Farmer's industry has traditionally found itself "at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency over increased regulation of shop towels." But never fear, a sizeable contribution to the Bush 2000 campaign seems to have bought Farmer and his towel industry a much more harmonious relationship with the EPA: "Last November, the EPA changed its position, adopting a more lenient proposal for the woven towels. Farmer and his industry were overjoyed, because the change promised to save them millions and preserve their advantage over the competition -- paper towels. 'It would have been a big problem,' Farmer said." For more, see Public Campaign's expose on this Bush Pioneer.

ENVIRO – GOING AFTER GREENPEACE: The Justice Department is suing Greenpeace over two activists who peacefully protested the Bush administration's logging policies. The two activists, who climbed aboard a ship involved in illegal logging in April 2002 intending to hang a sign, were arrested by federal authorities, spent a weekend in jail, pled guilty, and were sentenced to time already served. "But in July 2003, the Justice Department decided it wanted more," and indicted Greenpeace "under an obscure 'sailor-mongering' law enacted in the 19th Century to prevent touts from luring arriving sailors to their establishments with offers of liquor and prostitutes." Besides being "the first reported indictment under the sailor-mongering law in more than 100 years," the Government's attack on Greenpeace constitutes "the first time in U.S. history that the Government has prosecuted an organization for the speech-related activities of its supporters." Click here for more information on the trial beginning today.

 Don't Miss

DAILY TALKING POINTS: Administration Losing Grip in Iraq

BROWN V. BOARD: A Call for Leadership

COLUMN: India, Stay the Economic Course

IRAQ: The New Yorker's Sy Hersh exposes connections between Bush Administration secret policy and the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

IRAQ: In an effort to hide exploding costs in Iraq, the White House has not requested any funds for an Iraq embassy, even though it is expected to cost up to $1 billion in 2005.

WMD: Powell admits his pre-war speech to U.N. about Iraq's supposed WMD was inaccurate.

Contact The Progress Report:

 Daily Grill

"Those involved [in the abuses at Abu Ghraib], whoever they are, will be brought to justice."

- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 5/13/04


"President Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods [used at Abu Ghraib]. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war."

- Newsweek, 5/24/04

 Daily Outrage

The Bush Administration still refuses to declassify 28 pages of a bipartisan congressional report detailing Saudi financial transactions that may have aided the 9/11 hijackers.


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