Friday, January 05, 2007

Bush's Signing Statement and the First 100 Hours

The wrongheadedness of the Democrats' refusal to even entertain the notion of impeachment was underscored yesterday when it emerged that in signing a piece of postal legislation last month, George Bush issued a "signing statement" that effectively granted himself the right to open any American's mail without a warrant. The statement was attached to H.R. 6407, the "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act," and the relevant passage reads,

The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the Act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.

Translation: Bush has the authority to open Americans' mail without a court warrant.

Much of the rest of the signing statement reaffirms the "authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch" and asserts the "constitutional limitation of Federal courts."

Despite Bush's views on the "unitary executive" with its "plenary powers," the signing statement he issued actually contradicts existing law and the bill he just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. "It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we've ever known," said a career senior U.S. official who reviewed the legal underpinnings of Bush's claim.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who co-sponsored the bill, emphasized that the signing statement does not change the intent of the legislation, which prohibits the government from violating people's privacy. "Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection," he said, "the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant."

Indeed, the section of the legislation (section 1010) that Bush is "construing" to grant him the power to open mail without warrants is actually quite clear in its prohibition of warrantless surveillance of America's mail:

The Postal Service shall maintain one or more classes of mail for the transmission of letters sealed against inspection. The rate for each such class shall be uniform throughout the United States, its territories, and possessions. One such class shall provide for the most expeditious handling and transportation afforded mail matter by the Postal Service. No letter of such a class of domestic origin shall be opened except under authority of a search warrant authorized by law, or by an officer or employee of the Postal Service for the sole purpose of determining an address at which the letter can be delivered, or pursuant to the authorization of the addressee.

With such explicit language on the matter, it's rather astounding that the Bush White House could "construe" the legislation as granting the Executive Branch authority to open mail without a warrant. But what is perhaps more astounding is that after the repudiation of the Bush agenda in November, and even with the possibility for greater oversight from Congress, that the president would make such a bold statement on his views of executive power.

What is perhaps even more astounding than that is the continuing refusal of the new Democratic leadership to make more of an issue out of civil liberties, executive power, and individual privacy. As the Washington Post pointed out on Wednesday,

Nowhere in the Democrats' consensus-driven agenda is legislation revisiting last year's establishment of military tribunals and suspending legal rights for suspected terrorists. Nor is there a revision of the civil liberties provisions of the USA Patriot Act, a measure curbing warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency or an aggressive confrontation of the president on his Iraq war policies.

It could also be pointed out that there is no mention of addressing the use of presidential signing statements, which under Bush has skyrocketed. He's issued more than 1,200 as president, and has taken them to a level that no previous president ever has, essentially using them as a line-item veto, or even as a way to legislate from the Oval Office.

Many legal scholars argue that his use of signing statements is flatly unconstitutional, and may even be grounds for impeachment. It's obvious that at the very least, they undermine the intent of duly passed legislation, and could pose a major obstacle to the new Democratic majority's legislative agenda. But rather than confront the president on this and other issues, it seems the Democrats' emphasis is on cooperation.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

110th Congress Greeted With Calls for Impeachment

As the 110th Congress was sworn in this afternoon, about a hundred demonstrators gathered outside in a rally calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush and an end to the war in Iraq. With the Capitol Dome in the background, speakers denounced U.S. policies in Iraq and Guantanamo, and also highlighted domestic issues such as warrantless electronic surveillance and the abandonment of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Flanking the stage were a dozen demonstrators dressed up in orange jumpsuits and black hoods to represent the thousands of detainees being held in secret CIA prisons around the world, and at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern was among the speakers as was "peace mom" Cindy Sheehan, who yesterday disrupted a press conference by House Democratic leaders touting their proposed ethics reforms.

At one point, 12 protesters broke away from the rally and dropped a banner inside the Hart Senate Office Building denouncing war and torture. Inside the building, protesters chanted "De-escalate, investigate, troops home now," and "We will not be silent.”

Restoring the rule of law, ending the war in Iraq, and reining in the Executive Branch were the overriding themes of today's demonstration, but implicit in all of these goals was the necessity for George Bush's impeachment. One speaker, Sunsara Taylor of World Can't Wait, addressed the common refrain from anti-impeachment Democrats that impeaching Bush would distract Congress from enacting progressive policy, pointing out that progress will only be possible once Bush is removed from office.

In particular, when it comes to Iraq, she argued that because the president is unwilling to entertain proposals for a "graceful exit," and instead wants to escalate the war by sending a "surge" of 20,000 or more troops, only by removing Bush would peace be possible.

The crowd then erupted in a chant of "Impeach for peace! Impeach for peace!"

While the numbers at today's demonstration were not huge, what the rally made clear was that there will be no honeymoon for the new Democratic majority, and that although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asserted that "impeachment is off the table," there are many Americans who will continue to insist that it is placed back on the table.

More demonstrations in the nation's capital are planned for the coming weeks, including one tomorrow at the American Enterprise Institute, where Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) will publicly call for the U.S. to send tens of thousands more troops to Iraq. Next week, on the fifth anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at Guantanamo Bay, a demonstration is planned against arbitrary detention and torture, during which more than a hundred activists will risk arrest by committing civil disobedience.

And on January 27, a mass march on Washington will call on Congress to heed the voters' demands and end the war in Iraq.

Dems, We're Citizens, Not Consumers

By Robert Parry
January 4, 2007

As the Democrats regain control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, the party leaders still don’t seem to understand the forces that sent them into the wilderness in 1994 or the reasons they were summoned back in 2006.

Typical of their cluelessness was a “100 Hours Survey” distributed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in mid-December. The survey asked Democratic contributors to rank nine priority issues in order of importance for the new Congress.

The issues included raising the minimum wage, financing stem-cell research, revising the Medicare prescription drug program and stiffening ethics rules. The only national security issue on the list was the implementation of all the remaining – but unspecified – recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

No reference was made to ending the Iraq War, launching investigative hearings on President George W. Bush’s actions, reasserting checks and balances on the Executive, or restoring constitutional safeguards that have been overridden during the “war on terror,” such as the habeas corpus right to a fair trial.

Though many issues on the DCCC’s priority list surely have merit, what’s missing is any commitment to the larger purpose of the American Republic.

Read on.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Democrats Facing Pressure from Activists on the Left

The Washington Post ran an article today discussing the "mounting pressure from liberal activists" for Democrats in Congress "to chart a more confrontational course on Iraq and the issues of human rights and civil liberties, with some even calling for the impeachment of President Bush."

The carefully calibrated legislative blitz that Democrats have devised for the first 100 hours of power has left some activists worried the passion that swept the party to power in November is already dissipating. A cluster of protesters will greet the new congressional leaders at the Capitol tomorrow. They will not be disgruntled conservatives wary of Democratic control, but liberals demanding a ban on torture, an end to warrantless domestic spying and a restoration of curbed civil liberties.

Many progressives are concerned that despite the clear repudiation of the Bush Agenda in the last election, Democrats in Congress will fail to address the issues that matter most to the Democratic base and the millions Americans who expelled the Republican majority from Congress. This concern may have been exacerbated by a survey sent out by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a couple of weeks ago that asked respondents which issues Democratic leaders should focus most of their attention on. Conspicuously absent from the list was ending the war in Iraq, restoring habeas corpus and other civil liberties, banning torture, and holding accountable members of the administration for misleading the nation into war.

In an effort to hold the Democrats' feet to the fire, activists are planning a number of demonstrations, beginning tomorrow, the first day of the new Congress: World Can't Wait Demonstration for Impeachment
The protest will be held at Upper Senate Park (Delaware & Constitution, just north of the Capitol) starting at 12:00 noon Thursday, Jan. 4.

The day Congress opens, World Can’t Wait will lead a major challenge to the political direction in this country since the election. A regime as criminal as the Bush regime still allowed to even remain in office? No! An unjust war started on lies, allowed to continue for four years despite an election where people meant to express how strongly they want it stopped? No! The Democrats, now the majority, allowing debate only on how to run the war more effectively, and saying that impeachment can’t even be considered? No!

Evening program:
Voices for Impeachment
Jan. 4, 7pm, National Press Club
Speakers to Include:
Cindy Sheehan
John Nichols
Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights*
Debra Sweet

On January 27, United for Peace and Justice is urging people to Bring the Mandate for Peace to Washington, DC

On Saturday, Jan. 27th, people from every corner of the country will march on Washington, DC. Our message will be clear, our voice will be strong: End the war in Iraq, Bring all the troops home now! We urge you to join us!

On Mon., Jan. 29th, we will take our message directly to the new Congress during our lobby day.

There will also be a demonstration in DC on January 11, in which various groups will be denouncing arbitrary detention and torture on the fifth anniversary of the first prisoners being sent to Guantanamo Bay.

With the mounting pressure from progressive activists over the war, civil liberties and human rights, it should be interesting to see how the Democrats respond. If Democratic leaders continue to ignore these issues, they could find themselves facing an increasingly angry base and a divided party heading into the 2008 presidential election.

Operation: Save Bush's Legacy

By Robert Parry
January 3, 2007

If press reports are correct – that George W. Bush will approve a troop “surge” in Iraq of 17,000 to 20,000 soldiers – the follow-up question must be whether the escalation will do anything but get more Americans and Iraqis killed while only forestalling the defeat of Bush’s war policy.

Even top advocates for the “surge,” such as retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and neoconservative activist Frederick W. Kagan, have argued that U.S. troop levels must be increased by at least 30,000 for 18 months or more to bring security to Baghdad, what they call a “precondition” for any successful outcome.

“Any other option is likely to fail,” Keane and Kagan wrote in an Op-Ed article in the Washington Post on Dec. 27, 2006.

So, the more modest escalation of up to 20,000 soldiers would appear to represent what might be called “Operation: Save Bush’s Legacy,” with the goal of postponing the inevitable until 2009 when American defeat can be palmed off on a new President.

Read more here.

Saddam's Killing Provokes the Predictable Response in Iraq and Beyond

As the Iraqi government comes under international criticism for the manner in which Saddam Hussein was executed, U.S. officials are doing their best to distance themselves from the chaotic hanging, with Major General William Caldwell emphasizing that the Americans "had absolutely nothing to do with the facility where the execution took place." The U.S. would have "done it differently" if it had been their responsibility, he said.

The leaked video of the execution -- apparently taken on a cell phone smuggled into the gallows room -- has sparked angry Sunni Arab protests throughout Iraq and has drawn international condemnation over the blatant sectarian nature of the hanging. The criticism has pushed Iraqi officials to promise investigations of the incident, and apparently, the individual who took the video has been arrested. But even without the evidence provided by the video, the execution might have been seen by Sunnis as a sectarian vendetta, and to the international community might have had the look of an unjust killing after an unfair trial. Before the execution, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights urged Iraqis not to be hasty in carrying out the sentence, especially since the appeals court ruling required careful study.

It was also almost certain that the hanging would trigger an upsurge in sectarian violence in Iraq, regardless of the manner in which the execution was carried out. Still though, the level of anger and violence is alarming even the most seasoned observers of Iraq, such as University of Michigan professor Juan Cole. In responding to the attack by Sunni protesters on the Shiite Askariyah Shrine in Samarra, Prof. Cole wrote at his blog, "Folks, this is very bad news." Explaining the significance of the shrine, he wrote,

The Askariyah Shrine (it isn't just a mosque) is associated with the Hidden Twelfth Imam, who is expected by Shiites to appear at the end of time to restore the world to justice. (For them, the Imam Mahdi is sort of like the second coming of Christ for Christians). The Muqtada al-Sadr movement is millenarian and believes he will reveal himself at any moment.

The centrality of the cult of the Twelfth Imam, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who is said to have vanished in 873 AD, helps explain why the bombing of the Golden Dome on February 21 of 2006 set off a frenzy of Shiite, Sadrist attacks on Sunni Arabs. Last February, stuck in a Phoenix hotel because of a missed flight and without an internet connection for my laptop, I blogged from my Treo that it was an apocalyptic day. Sadly, it was, kicking off a frenzy of sectarian violence that has grown each subsequent month.

For Sunni Arabs to parade a symbolic coffin of Saddam through the ruins of the Askariya shrine won't be exactly good for social peace in Iraq. Can't that site be properly guarded or something?

It's also possible that the sectarian strife and anti-U.S. anger could spill out well beyond Iraq. Already, protests have been taking place around the world against the execution, with many Muslims pointing out the timing of it contravened Islamic custom, since it fell on the beginning of the Eid-al Adha holiday. reported,

Libya and Yemen, which tried to prevent Saddam’s sentence, strongly reacted to the execution. Libya declared three days of mourning. Hamas also considered the decision a ‘political murder’. The Organization of Islamic Conference expressed its concerns about the increase of conflicts between the religious sects and appealed to Iraqis for peace.

A protest in Jordan was attended by Saddam Hussein's daughter, and Muslim youth have hit the streets of India, including the cities of Kerala and Srinagar. In a demonstration on Wednesday, protesters in Srinagar chanted anti-U.S. slogans.

Anti-American sentiments ran high as protesting Muslims accused US President George W. Bush of conspiring against the Muslim community.

"It is a conspiracy of America against the Muslim community. They want to destroy the whole of Muslim world. We as members of Muslim community demand that all the Muslim countries should come together, unite and fight against America," said Muzaffar Ahmed, a protestor.

While American officials try to distance themselves from the execution and criticize the blatantly sectarian way in which it was carried out, the perception that it was made in America will be difficult to extinguish. This is, after all, Bush's war, and the killing of Saddam after an unfair trial fits in well with all the general pattern of U.S. policy towards Iraq, especially the refusal to acknowledge that weapons of mass destruction did not exist in the country.

The overall ramifications of this execution remain to be seen, but it is safe to say that nothing positive can possibly come out of it. The only question is the degree to which it will contribute to further sectarian strife and revenge killings.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Where Gerald Ford Went Wrong

By Robert Parry (A Special Report)
January 1, 2007

After replacing Richard Nixon in 1974, Gerald Ford turned his back on the imperial presidency that had reached new heights under Nixon. But facing political pressure from the Republican Right, Ford gradually reversed course putting the nation on track for even worse excesses under George W. Bush.

This mixed legacy has been missed amid the effusive eulogies that have followed Ford’s death on Dec. 26 at the age of 93. Ford has been showered with near universal praise for helping to bring the nation together in the wake of Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the U.S. military defeat in Vietnam.

Ford is depicted as a common man who toasted his own English muffins, respected the constitutional role of Congress, supported reform of the CIA and advocated negotiations with the Soviet Union, a process known as “détente.”

But this praise focuses on the first months of his 2 ½-year presidency. By late 1975 and early 1976, Ford began shifting direction when he found himself threatened by Ronald Reagan’s insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination.

To stave off Reagan’s challenge from the Right, Ford made a series of critical concessions, such as backpedaling on CIA reforms, forsaking détente, and compromising the integrity of the CIA’s analytical division to pacify hard-line Cold Warriors.

Read on.