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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

In the spirit of blasting talking points all over the internet, I'm going to do something I don't do here all that often -- quote another blogger at length. In honor of a certain unnamed RNC chairman, and instead of writing some screed which only serves to popularize his claims, I've decided that Digby is my whatever-national-committee chairman for today and these are his talking points. Ladies and gentlemen, the truth:

'In his op-ed on July 6th,2003, Wilson gave a straighforward account of who he is and why he went on this fact-finding trip to Niger. He says "I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report." He does not say that Cheney had sent him personally on the mission. He reports that he found no evidence that Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Niger.'

'He says that he assumes from working in the government for many years that his report had been forwarded through channels. When he heard the president use the claim about African uranium in the SOTU, he became alarmed and asked the State department about it. He accepted that the excuse that the president might have been talking about a different African country than Niger until he later learned that Niger was specifically mentioned quite recently in official documents. He concludes at this time, based upon the fact that he had personally been involved in debunking this claim, that the administration had been "fixing" intelligence.'

'The administration was now for the first time explicitly and openly being accused of knowingly using false information to sell the war. And since Wilson had specifically named the Vice president as having been the one to request additional information that led to his trip, the White House was involved at a very high level. The administration claims that this was not true, that in spite of a series of mishaps, there was no concerted or conscious effort to mislead the country about the intelligence. And whatever mistakes were made were the result of shoddy intelligence work, not the "fixing" or "sexing up" of the evidence. When the Niger episode became public, they decided that it was time for George Tenet to admit that he had screwed this particular case up and they arranged for him to make a public statement to that effect.'

'The White House response to Wilson's piece is that Cheney never asked for the information in the first place. And they said they had no idea about Wilson's evidence because his trip was a low level nepotistic boondoggle arranged by his wife, a CIA "employee." Karl Rove and others spoke to several reporters to that effect (They now claim, since Matthew Cooper's e-mail was leaked that it was only in order to "warn them off" taking Wilson seriously.) Robert Novak --- an extremely unlikely columnist for the white house to feel they had to warn off Wilson --- was the first to put this into print on July 13th.'

'When it came out, exposing Valerie Plame as an undercover operative, Wilson believed that it was an act of retaliation and a signal to anyone else who might be thinking of coming forward. Novak was quoted shortly after the column ran saying: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it." (He has since said that he used the term "operative" inappropriately, although he has used that word very precisely throughout his career to mean "undercover.")In the days after the column appeared there were reports that the administration was actively pushing the column, claiming that Wilson's wife was "fair game."'

'I have no idea if Joe Wilson's wife or the ghost of Ronald Reagan was involved in sending him on that trip and I don't care. It's irrelevant and it's always been irrelevant and they were either incredibly malevolent or incredibly negligent in settling on using her as the best way to discredit Wilson. But as I wrote earlier, I think it was a P.R. decision, and it has the mark of Rove all over it. Thuggishness is his hallmark. Any chance they have to portray a male opponent as a milksop, they do it. I think the "wife" being involved in getting her husband a job was central to their calculations.'

'I don't know if Cheney read his report but considering what we now know, I don't find it credible that he didn't. He has been proven to have been immersed in the pre-war intelligence, particularly the claim that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear program. That was his baby. But Wilson didn't claim in the op-ed that Cheney knew, only that he assumed his report had been circulated. And since he'd been told that the trip itself was a result of Cheney's question he assumed that it had filtered up to Cheney.'

'That is what sent the administration into overdrive --- Wilson merely mentioning Cheney in the context of fixing the intelligence. Quite a panicked reaction, don't you think?'

'The White House response to Joe Wilson's report was that it was something cooked up in the bowels of the CIA by his (gasp) wife and it was not very compelling and nobody paid any attention to it, even there, and they never sent the information back to the White House anyway.'

'If it weren't for the fact that Wilson's conclusions about the uranium were right, you might even believe their tale. If it weren't for the fact that Dick Cheney was knee deep in the intelligence, even personally spending time at the CIA, leaning over the shoulders of desk officers, you might believe it. If it weren't for the fact that the aluminum tubes "evidence" was shown to be false, the drone plane "evidence" was shown to be laughable and the mobile labs "evidence" was shown to be non-existent you might even believe it. If it weren't for the fact that the meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta and the Iraqis was proven false, that we had chances to take out Zarquawi and refused and that the inspectors were at the very moment of the SOTU reporting that they were not finding any stockpiles, we might even believe it. If it weren't for the fact that the Downing Street Memos show definitively that the US knew its intelligence was weak and decided to "fix" it we might even believe it.'

'If we'd found even one scintilla of evidence that Saddam had the stockpiles, the programs or the means to make weapons of mass destruction, we might even believe it.'

'Unfortunately for the White House, there have been so many revelations now aside from the "16 words" that they no longer can claim credibility on this issue. It is quite clear to any sentient being that they manipulated, misled and outright lied about the intelligence. Joe Wilson knew back in 2003 that something was wrong. He had been involved in one particular part of the intelligence gathering and he knew the facts were being misrepresented. He spoke out. And the white house responded by portraying him as a partisan loser whose report was so low level that nobody ever saw it. In the course of that they also exposed his wife's covert status, likely endangering national security.'

Andrew 2:55 PM : |

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

While we await the fate of Karl Rove, it's instructive to ponder the characterization he made of Democrats in a now-infamous speech a few weeks back. He lambasted "liberals" for supporting a law-enforcement approach to fighting terrorism. This "law enforcement" approach has been used to great effect in Spain. It is also (assuming from the news reports) being used in England. Could it help the U.S. in apprehending those who carry out terrorist acts? Here's a couple of questions-and-answers from the New Yorker's most recent Q & A section:

'Q: A surprising part of the story is the role of the F.B.I. in challenging the Pentagon. Can you talk about that a little? Specifically, it seems that there are two issues: on the one hand, some agents simply objected to the treatment they witnessed; on the other, they had a different approach to interrogation, based more on building rapport, and different goals.'

'A:The F.B.I. has had fierce fights with the Pentagon over the interrogation methods used in Guantánamo and elsewhere. The F.B.I., to begin with, is a law-enforcement agency, geared towards prosecuting cases in the U.S. courts. The Pentagon is more interested in gaining actionable intelligence than in bringing wrongdoers to justice. The F.B.I. requires its agents to read suspects their Miranda rights, and to question them in ways that are consonant with American law, so that when cases do get to trial they aren't thrown out. U.S. courts, for instance, would never allow confessions from suspects who have been coerced into implicating themselves. But as your question points out, the divide goes beyond just what the U.S. courts allow. The F.B.I., which has had years of experience questioning suspects, has found that non-coercive interrogation methods yield more reliable results. F.B.I. officials acknowledge that force may get someone to talk, but it won’t necessarily get them to tell the truth. Force often yields false confessions. One agent told me, "I'd confess to being the third gunman on the grassy knoll if you tortured me. But what good would that be? Not only am I giving you misleading information, you also haven't solved the crime."'

'Q:This raises the question of whether torture works. Is it a mistake to think that it does?'

'Many experts think so [emphasis mine]. The Israeli Supreme Court, for instance, banned the use of torture in interrogations in 1999, after finding that it resulted in too many false confessions and too much moral baggage. An interesting case study is discussed in this article, involving the alleged twentieth hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani. He was subjected to extremely harsh interrogation, which some would define as torture. In the end, we know he confessed that he was, as suspected, sent by Al Qaeda to assist in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But was this a triumph? Traditional non-coercive legal methods had already proven this to U.S. law-enforcement authorities. Qahtani was stopped in Orlando, Florida, by an alert immigration agent, who refused him entry based on doubts about his reason for entering the country. After he was later captured in Afghanistan, he was sent to Guantánamo, where he refused to give his name. A fingerprint check identified him, and a subsequent search of phone and parking records revealed that he was connected to Mohammed Atta. None of this required torture. It just required smart (and legal) police work. So, after months of extremely harsh treatment, Qahtani essentially confirmed what the government already knew about him. One of the sources I interviewed asked, given the international political outrage that Guantánamo has provoked, "Was it worth it?" It's a question that Congress and the public have not yet really stepped up to answer.' [source: The New Yorker]

I put the emphasis on the "Most experts think so" bit because a.) that's important to realize -- the folks whose job it is to get information are practically all in agreement that torture doesn't work, and b.) because the Bush Administration is, once again, showing its disdain for the opinions of experts. Both points are important, but the second one is part of a larger narrative -- the Bush Administration routinely ignores expert opinion. This willful ignorance is the reason why we won't win the "war on terrorism" under this administration. As I've argued in the past, fighting a war is a science (as is ending a war) and the constant disdain for, and fight against, science by those making the decisions bodes very poorly for any hope of gaining ground against extremists. Also, it's important to realize that it's not _our_ definition of torture that determines whether or not it's effective; if the person who's being interrogated feels they are being tortured then they will probably lie or provide a false confession.

Andrew 8:20 AM : |


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