Monday, December 19, 2005

Democarcy Now: Christopher Pyle, Martin Garbus, James Bamford discuss the NSA spying; Molly Ivins, Murray Waas, Matthew Rothschild

AMY GOODMAN: Now, has this never happened before?

    JAMES BAMFORD: No. It's happened quite a bit before. Throughout the 1960s -- actually, since the end of World War II, the N.S.A. was doing illegal spying. One project was known as Project Shamrock, where they were getting illegal access to all the telegrams that came into the United States, went through the United States, or went out of the United States, every single day. They would go to New York, and Western Union would turn over all the telegrams to them. And that continued right up until the 1970s. And they were also doing a lot of targeting on communications on behalf of the C.I.A. and other agencies, telephone communications and so forth, and again, without any warrants.

    So that was why, after these revelations became public and during the Church Committee hearings in 1975, they created the FISA Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and then the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to act as sort of a buffer or a firewall between the whatever president, whatever administration happens to be in power and the American public, so there will be some neutral arbiter there to take a look at the request and decide whether the government should be able to do the eavesdropping or not.

The above is from "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval" (Democracy Now!). As Zach will point out, Robert Parry's written of the Pike Committe (October 20, 2005). On Democracy Now! today, Amy Goodman and guests do a good job walking through the history but it shouldn't be left to Goodman and her guests or Parry. (You can find a history of the Pike Committee at CounterPunch. In addition, you should be able to find more on both it and the Church Committee.) I know that magazines have to turn out new editions but I really hope that those which have been around for some time, such as The Nation and The Progressive, will post some of their original reporting on the Church and Pike Committees. Again, praise to Parry, Goodman and her guests and CounterPunch. But this is an issue that's pertinent today and I'm not sure how much people know about it. (Judging by the response to the repeated comments up here on both committees and from a conversation I had this morning with a very smart woman, I don't think as many people are aware of it as might be assumed by some.) By the way, since The Village Voice put out the Pike Report, they could also dig into their archives for their coverage of it in real time.

Sen. Leahy: No More Secret Orders, Secret Courts, Secret Torture
Many legal experts have accused the President of breaking the law by ordering the wiretappings without a court warrant as required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

  • Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT): "This warrant-less eavesdropping program is not authorized by the patriot act, it's not authorized by any act of congress, and it's not overseen by any court. And according to reports it has been conducted under a secret presidential order, based on secret legal opinions by the same justice department, lawyers who argued secretly, that the president could order the use of torture. Mr. President, it is time to have some checks and balances in this country, we are a democracy. We are a democracy. Let's have checks and balances, not secret orders and secret courts and secret torture, and on and on."

Senate Accused of Permitting Use of Evidence Obtained Through Torture
Here in the United States human rights attorneys are criticizing the Senate for voting Friday to strip detainees at Guatanamo Bay of basic legal rights and to allow the government to use evidence in court that has been obtained through abuse at Guantanamo. According to Human Rights Watch this marks the first time in U.S. history that Congress has effectively permitted the use of evidence obtained through torture. The legislation known as the Graham-Levin amendment was approved just a day after the Senate approved a different amendment put forward by Senator John McCain which was supposed to ban the use of torture.

Report: U.S. Ran Secret "Dark Prison" in Kabul
In news from Afghanistan - Human Rights Watch has accused the U.S. of operating a secret prison in Kabul where detainees were tortured and chained to the walls. The jail, which was in operation up until last year, was known as the "Dark Prison" because detainees were kept in total darkness for days. They were also deprived of food and drinking water. Loud music and other sounds blared for weeks at a time. Human Rights Watch based its report on descriptions of the jail given by men who were held there and are now being held at Guantanamo Bay. One detainee said "The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."

The three items above are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Hank, Miguel and Liang. Democracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says):

Headlines for December 19, 2005

- Bush Oks Secret Wiretapping of Americans Without Warrants
- Sen. Leahy: No More Secret Orders, Secret Courts, Secret Torture
- Senate Blocks Renewal of USA Patriot Act
- Evo Morales Wins Stunning Election in Bolivia
- Military Knew Lincoln Group Planted Stories in Iraqi Press
- 900 Arrested at WTO Meeting in Hong Kong
- Senate Permits Use of Evidence Obtained Through Abuse
- Report: U.S. Ran Secret "Dark Prison" in Kabul
- Lobbyist Abramoff Paid Off Conservative Columnists For Coverage

Los Titulares de Hoy: Democracy Now!'s daily news summary translated into Spanish

An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval

President Bush has admitted he secretly ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without ever seeking court approval. Famed constitutional attorney Martin Garbus and former intelligence officer, Christopher Pyle both say it is an impeachable offense. We also speak with investigative journalist James Bamford about the history of the NSA. Plus, The New York Times exposed the story, but why did they hold it for more than a year? [includes rush transcript - partial]

Leftist Union Leader Evo Morales Poised to Become First Indigenous President of Bolivia

In Bolivia, union leader Evo Morales has claimed a stunning victory in Sunday's presidential elections. Exit polls show Morales won just over 50% of the vote - giving him the greatest political mandate that any Bolivian president has had in decades. Morales would become the country's first indigenous head of state. He has vowed to increase state controls over Bolivia's key gas resources and to protect coca plantations. We go to Bolivia for a report. [includes rush transcript]

WTO Talks Close with Partial Trade Agreement, Over 900 Protesters Arrested in Hong Kong

The World Trade Organization wrapped up its six-day ministerial meeting on Sunday with a partial trade agreement. On Saturday police arrested 900 protesters during widespread protests on the streets of Hong Kong led by farmers, peasants and union members. We go to Hong Kong for a report.

So what's going on online? Our latter day Dylan's apparently on his meds or attempting to "play nice" which explains his opening sentence. Nothing explains the fact that he fails to identify the writer he's commenting on -- a regular contributor to the New York Times. That's the sort of fact that we'd be bothered if PBS' The NewsHour left out. There are twelve e-mails on that this morning.

With more on the ball, as noted by Brenda, Molly Ivins' "They Wouldn't Lie to Us, Would They?" (Common Dreams) pokes holes in the Bully Boy's bubble and lets the air out:

As one on the liberal side of the chorus of moaners about the decline of civility in politics, I feel a certain responsibility when earnest, spaniel-eyed conservatives like David Brooks peer at us hopefully and say, "Well, yes, there was certainly a lot of misinformation about WMD before the war in Iraq, but ... you don't think they, he, actually lied do you?"

Draw I deep the breath of patience. I factor in the long and awful history of politics and truth, add the immutable nature of pols -- fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly -- and compare Tonkin Gulf, Watergate and Iran-Contra with the piddly Curveball and Niger uranium. I prepare to respond like a reasonable person -- "Of course not actually lie, per se, in the strict sense" -- and then I listen to another speech about Iraq by either the president or the vice president and find myself screaming, "Dammit, when will they quit lying?"

Civility is fine. On the other hand, sanity has its claims, as well.

I have been listening with great attention to the series of speeches President Bush has lately given on his newly revealed "Plan for Victory." Of course I was pleased to learn we have a plan for a victory, which consists, it turns out, of announcing: "We cannot and will not leave Iraq until victory is achieved. ... We will settle for nothing less than complete victory."

Unfortunately, the White House claims it produced this once supposedly secret plan in 2003, when it is actually a public-relations paper written less than six months ago, which is pretty much the way things go credibility-wise these days. It has long been clear that this administration thinks it can spin reality to a blue-bellied fare-thee-well, but isn't it a tad late for this?

From one muckraker (Molly Ivins) to another:

Muckraking Journalist Jack Anderson, 83, Dies
And the muckraking journalist Jack Anderson has died at the age of 83. He was credited with breaking countless stories, including the Iran-Contra scandal and the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Castro. The Washington Post wrote "President Richard Nixon tried to smear him as a homosexual, the CIA was ordered to spy on him, and a Nixon aide ordered two cohorts to try to kill the journalist by poisoning."

That's a Democracy Now! headline and Liz wondered if I planned to note that? I haven't noted it here due to time limitations. (And members know there's one issue that's absorbed a great deal of everyone's time.) However, I did note it Saturday night in "4 Books, Many Minutes" (The Third Estate Sunday Review) when we were discussing Robert Parry's Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom. It comes in the midst of this :

Rebecca: I'll note that people interested in this book should also check out Robert Parry's Lost History and Secrecy & Privilege. I think he's an important writer. He's a reporter and that gives him a perspective that may be different from some of the press criticism you get. I said "different" not "better."
C.I.: I'd agree and stress Lost History just because it's focus is on the contras and how they were spun by the Reagan administration and by the press. But they're both great books and I read both when Rebecca gifted me with them. The book we're discussing, Fooling America, also charts the decline of Newsweek -- a decline I don't see as sharply as Parry -- and that will be of interest.
Jim: You disagreed with the quality declining?
C.I.: Yes and no. Parry wanted to do real reporting and had nothing but hassles at Newsweek. He knows what he's talking about and I'm not questioning that. But, let me think of the example. Okay, he's talking about how Periscope, in the magazine, went from breaking scoops to repeating rumors. News scoops to repeating gossip and uses the snide manner in which they wrote of Cary Grant's reported affair with Howard Hughes. I agree that was snide writing, but this is the magazine that reported the rumors on Jean Seberg as fact. I mean, we've talked about this here before, the rumors made it into the Los Angeles Times as blind items. They were not blind items in Newsweek. And the excuse that the writer didn't think it would be included in the print article and that the editor had a scooter accident on the way back to the office don't wash, not with me. They were sued for that and, of course, Seberg lost the baby, she miscarried. So from where I come from on Newsweek, they've always been a trashy little magazine and that's why you'll never find a great deal of highlights for it at The Common Ills. Where Parry's coming at it is looking at it as a newsmagaine and noting it's decline. He's right that it declined but our starting points on charting the magazine's sorry period are different. And just to clarify because I know some readers may have missed this topic when I brought it up some time ago. The rumors about Seberg start in the FBI. The FBI prepares them and plans to distribute them. Supposedly, Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover, killed that plan. However, the same rumors do appear in the press. They were attempts to discredit her with the America public and they pop up as a blind item by Joyce Harber, when her editor passed them on and vouched for the source, but in Newsweek the rumors are presented as fact, which they weren't, and Seberg's name is attached to them. For every Jane Fonda or Paul Newman who lived through Nixon's enemies list, there were others, like Seberg, who were destroyed. She was destroyed. Newsweek took part in that destruction. Willingly or as idiotic pawn the magazine took part in it, my opinion. So it's rag to me from way back. I'm going to go way off topic but I'm not planning to note a death, unless members raise it in e-mails, that just happened. It has to do with Nixon's enemies list, so I'll note it now. Jack Anderson passed. Anderson was a target of the Nixon administration. They were plots floated to kill him. In addition to being a target himself, he passed on, in Ocotber of 1973, the Justice Department's file on Jane Fonda [to Fonda], thousands of pages. The FBI, the Secret Service, the State Department and the CIA were monitoring her. Phones were tapped, mail intercepted, etc. A lot of people don't talk about it now, but she sued the government and the government settled by making a pledge, one they certainly have broken in the last few years as evidenced by the Pentagon's spying on peace activists and much more. Constitutional rights were violated, the same way Bully Boy's doing today, and, as with Seberg, they attempted to plant false rumors on Fonda. Anderson's death was noted on a news break during The Laura Flanders Show and the news anchor noted that Jack Anderson can be seen as a link between the brave muckraking period and the Watergate period, I believe. I'd add that he was important to exposing Nixon and did so regularly. In terms of the present, we're right back where we were then.

I noted it there and, as stated, didn't intend to note it further unless members brought it up. Liz did and so does Marcus who notes Murray Waas' "Jack Anderson: A Rememberance" (whatever already!):

The columnist and muckraker Jack Anderson has died. He was 83, and suffering from Parkinson's.
From Joe McCarthy to Richard Nixon, he took on all of them, and was, despite all his shortcomings, when it came to his journalism, fearless. In the current day as the public has pushed back against insider, access journalism-- whether it be that of Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, or Robert Novak-- Anderson understood it was his role to be an outsider, not just in regards to the politicians he covered, but also to the established order of journalism, which has always been part of the problem.
I hope to blog and write about him some more in coming days, and link to some of the better articles, remembrances, and obituaries that are sure to come.
By way of disclosure, he was my first boss in journalism. He put me to work for him between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I was eighteen at the time. The power of his column was so great that I could get a Congressman or Deputy Secretary of Defense on the phone in ten minutes, the person I was calling always anxious as to why someone from Jack's office was phoning. The phone was always better than visiting in person: When I went out for interviews, the subjects often took one look at me and just laughed out loud. I may have been eighteen, but I was one of those kids who was eighteen looking like fifteen. The cherub, however, always got the last laugh in over 1,000 newspapers.
[. . .]

Forget pressures from without, as Michael Massing wrote in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, "Today's Reporters: The Enemy Within." A foot race is taking place as to who will cause the public to lose whatever confidence they place in us: those in power who do not like the fact that a diminishing number of us continue to challnge them, or journalists themselves, journalists who themselves cluelessly lend the impression that self absorption and acceptance by the elites they cover are their driving values.
The "social calendar" is now the pervasive drive, Massing writes: "The most popular [event of the journalistic social calendar] is the White House Correspondents' Dinner. This year, hundreds of the nation's top journalists showed up at the Washington Hilton to mix with White House officials, military brass, Cabinet chiefs, diplomats, and actors. Laura Bush's naughty Desperate Housewives routine, in which she teased her husband for his early-to-bed habits and his attempt to milk a male horse, was shown over and over on the TV news; what wasn't shown was the journalists jumping to feet and applauding wildly.
"Afterward, many of the journalists and their guests went to the hot post-dinner party, hosted by Bloomberg News. On his blog, The Naton's David Corn described arriving with Newsweek's Mike Isikoff... Seeing the long line, Corn feared he wouldn't get in, but suddenly"-- thank God!-- he was "whisked" into the "entourage" of a media celebrity who had entry.
The key word here is "entry"-- whether it be Judith Miller's entry to Scooter Libby, Michael Wolff getting the right table at Michael's or mention in the right gossip column, David Corn's entry to the right after-party, or the beat repeater's entry to the two o'clock briefing.
Jack never gave a damn about entry. That alone did not make him a truly great investigative journalists. But it is the first step along the way at even having a shot to become one.

Christy notes Matthew Rothschild's "Bush's Speech: Reclaiming Lives?" (This Just In, The Progressive) where Rothschild addresses Bully Boy's Sunday spin:

But the one line I found most offensive in the entire speech was the following: "For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed."

What is he talking about here?

His war has killed between 30,000 and perhaps 150,000 Iraqis, as well as more than 2,140 U.S. soldiers. How has he "reclaimed" countless more people than that?

Did he rise them from the dead?

Once again, Bush has rationalized away the mountain of deaths that he himself has created.

It might make him sleep better at night, but it does not wash the blood off his hands.

Lastly, Doug notes Chris Floyd's "The White Death of Fallujah" (CounterPunch):

Last month, the broadcast of a shattering new documentary provided fresh confirmation of a gruesome war crime covered by this column nine months ago: the use of chemical weapons by American forces during the frenzied, Bush-ordered destruction of Fallujah in November 2004.

Using filmed and photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts, and the direct testimony of American soldiers who took part in the attacks, the documentary ­ "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre" ­ catalogues the American use of white phosphorous shells and a new, "improved" form of napalm that turned human beings into "caramelized" fossils, with their skin dissolved and turned to leather on their bones. The film was produced by RAI, the Italian state network run by a government that backed the war.

Vivid images show civilians, including women and children, who had been burned alive in their homes, even in their beds. This use of chemical weapons ­ at the order of the Bushist brass ­ and the killing of civilians are confirmed by former American soldiers interviewed on camera. "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorous on Fallujah," said one soldier, quoted in the Independent. "In military jargon, it's known as Willy Pete. Phosphorous burns bodies; in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for."

The broadcast is an important event: shameful, damning, convincing. But it shouldn't be news. Earlier this year, as reported here on March 18, a medical team sent to Fallujah by the Bush-backed Iraqi interim government issued its findings at a press conference in Baghdad. The briefing, by Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, was attended by more than 20 major American and international news outlets. Not a single one of these bastions of a free and vigorous press reported on the event. Only a few small venues ­ such as the International Labor Communications Association ­ brought word of the extraordinary revelations to English-speaking audiences.

We'll note Democracy Now!'s "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approvalt" one more time:

MARTIN GARBUS: I think that one of the things that we should be aware of is the way the argument by the Bush administration has shifted. First, when they admitted to this wiretapping, they were saying it was wiretaps for surveillance between domestics and people overseas. Now, they’ve admitted it's the wiretapping and investigation of people within the United States, domestic calls to domestic calls. Secondly, the way the argument has shifted: The argument originally had been that the mandate, given as a result of September 11, gave the President the power to do this, as it gave him the power to do torture, as it gave him the power to restrict detainees, as it gave him the power to stop habeas corpus. The argument has now shifted. They're no longer claiming that it's that particular enactment which gives him this authority. This is a straight constitutional argument, saying that under the Constitution, he has the power to protect the United States, and he can do anything under the Constitution to protect the United States, and therefore, he now has a constitutional power, not a statutory power, and that was, again, the argument in the Nixon case.

The e-mail address for this site is

[Note: "Settled" corrected.]