The Week in Bush: Gitmo, Warrantless Wiretaps, and Inspecting Inspectors (Updated)


This has been a week in which the Bushies have pulled out all the stops. Under siege from every direction, it seems, up to and including their own party, and in the face of scandals, investigations, and tumbling approval numbers, the White House has significantly stepped up its war against – us.

Item: On Sunday, the WaPo reported that 82 innocent men at imprisoned in Gitmo for 4+ years will have to wait yet more months for release because the Administration doesn’t know what to do with them.

More than a fifth of the approximately 385 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been cleared for release but may have to wait months or years for their freedom because U.S. officials are finding it increasingly difficult to line up places to send them, according to Bush administration officials and defense lawyers.

Since February, the Pentagon has notified about 85 inmates or their attorneys that they are eligible to leave after being cleared by military review panels. But only a handful have gone home, including a Moroccan and an Afghan who were released Tuesday. Eighty-two remain at Guantanamo and face indefinite waits as U.S. officials struggle to figure out when and where to deport them, and under what conditions.

What the hell does that mean? Of the 900 prisoners originally detained, the addition of these 80 means that some 600 – 2/3 – of the Gitmo detainees have been found innocent. Two-thirds. So far.

Over the past four years, they have been released in batches of a hundred or so, like this one, and sent home. There was never a problem before. Now there is? Why? The Fabulous NeoCondi’s State Dept has the answer.

Compounding the problem are persistent refusals by the United States, its European allies and other countries to grant asylum to prisoners who are stateless or have no place to go.

“In general, most countries simply do not want to help,” said John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Countries believe this is not their problem. They think they didn’t contribute to Guantanamo, and therefore they don’t have to be part of the solution.”

One: They weren’t “stateless” until we made them so.

Two: “Countries believe it’s not their problem” because, well, it isn’t. They didn’t pick up innocent people on the streets of Islamabad, fly them to Cuba, lock them up in wire cages, and torture them. Europe didn’t contribute to Gitmo and they don’t have to be part of the solution. They aren’t responsible, they didn’t ignore and then violate the Geneva Convention, and they don’t owe the US a damn thing.

Three: The excuse is highly suspicious considering the source. There has never before been a problem repatriating freed detainees. Suddenly countries that never questioned the right of the innocent to return are refusing them admittance? I’m not sure I buy this, not at all. All the reports of delays and refusals, you see, are coming from State. When the detainees’ lawyers go around State – pfffft! – the problems vanish.

Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer who represents…several…prisoners who have been cleared, said defense attorneys have tried to speed up the process by contacting foreign governments to see if there are any specific obstacles to the return of their clients. In many cases, he said, the prisoners and officials in their home countries are willing to approve the transfer, but the delays persist.

“The holdup is a mystery to me, frankly,” said Katznelson, senior counsel for Reprieve, a British legal defense fund. “If the U.S. has cleared these people and they want to go back, I don’t understand why they can’t just put them on a plane.”

Good question, and one that remains unanswered by the State Dept.

Part of the reluctance to obey State’s orders to accept them may be that the countries involved don’t see the US offering asylum to the innocents they’ve imprisoned and abused wrongfully.

[P]risoner advocates said the Bush administration has made its task more difficult by exaggerating the threat posed by most Guantanamo inmates — officials repeatedly called them “the worst of the worst” — and refusing to acknowledge mistaken detentions.

Foreign governments have also questioned why U.S. officials should expect other countries to pitch in, given that Washington won’t offer asylum to detainees either.

“This is a problem of our own creation, and yet we expect other countries to shoulder the entire burden of a solution,” said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “There needs to be a worldwide solution here. The U.S. has to bear some of that burden. It can’t simply expect its partners and allies to absorb all its detainees.”

Oh, but it does. As usual with the Bushites, they expect the freedom to make enormous messes that other people will then clean up for them.

Item: On Tuesday, DNI Mike McConnell reneged on the FISA agreement laboriously hammered out with a Congress suspicious of the way the Bush Administration has used the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, saying the president had the power to do what he wanted without their approval.

As a result of the January agreement, the administration said that the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program has been brought under the legal structure laid out in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved warrants for the wiretapping of American citizens and others inside the United States.

But on Tuesday, the senior officials, including Michael McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, said they believed that the president still had the authority under Article II of the Constitution to once again order the N.S.A. to conduct surveillance inside the country without warrants.

During a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. McConnell was asked by Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, whether he could promise that the administration would no longer sidestep the court when seeking warrants.

“Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution,” Mr. McConnell said. “So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.”

Scott Horton sums it up:

Under the compromise worked out at the beginning of the year, the Bush Administration agreed that it would submit its requests to monitor targets under some secret new proceeding in the FISA court, the exact parameters of which were never worked out. Civil libertarians were not happy about this, but it was something. But now, after a year of public debate, we learn that this was all an illusion. We are right back where we started: with a president who asserts that his commander-in-chief powers give him the right to ignore the specific requirements set out in FISA.

***

I don’t think Bush ever had any intention to honor his pledge. It was offered to get his critics to pipe down, not with any intention ever to abide by it. That is an operational principle of this administration after all.

Well, one of them anyway. The other may be found here:

Item: On Monday, the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released a report blasting war profiteering corporations for shoddy work and work already paid for that had never been done at all.

The U.S. project to rebuild Iraq remains far short of its targets, leaving the country plagued by power outages, inadequate oil production and shortages of clean water and health care, according to a report to be issued today by a U.S. government oversight agency.

***

[T]he Army has asked Parsons Corp., one of the largest contractors in Iraq, to explain why it should not be barred from pursuing government contracts for up to three years.

In the Army’s March letter, it questions “the effectiveness of [Parsons’] standards of conduct and internal control systems.” Parsons has been the subject of previous inspector general audits and is best known for building only a small fraction of the health clinics planned to be built in Iraq and for building a police academy so flawed that human waste rained from the ceilings.

***

In the most recent quarter, his inspectors reviewed eight projects and found that seven of them were not well maintained and may not function as well or as long as planned.

Seven out of eight. A helluva track record.

The picture presented by the IG isn’t pretty: of the $$$20Bil$$$ allocated for reconstruction since 2003 and spent – or at least collected – by govt contractors, barely half of the projects it was supposed to pay for have been finished. Of those that have, many have been the subjects of cost over-runs, low quality materials, shoddy workmanship, and unexplained abandonment. The corporations involved – Parsons, KBR, Halliburton, et al – blame all this on the fact that they’re in the middle of a war zone.

Which might make sense (WaPo reporter Dana Hedgpeth bought it hook, line, and sinker) until you realize that a) that’s what they contracted to do, and b) the same problems plague all these corporations’ other projects as well, and none of them are in war zones. It’s just BAU for the MIC – the same things they always do with govt contracts, no matter what or where they are.

So the IG, Stuart Bowen, did his job and slammed them. The response from the White House?

Clay JohnsonToday they announced they’re investigating him. A special White House panel made up of Bush appointees claim to be looking into allegations that – and this is going to sound awfully familiar to anyone who knows the excuse for firing David Iglesias – being absent from the office.

“Allegations have been made about Inspector General Bowen, and the integrity committee is investigating them to determine the validity of them,” the council’s chairman, Clay Johnson III, said yesterday. Johnson is also deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Former employees filed complaints last year about Bowen not showing up for work for long periods of time in 2004, according to a former employee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Complaints were also made alleging that Bowen had employees work on a book that is to explain the lessons of Iraq reconstruction, which pulled them away from audits.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Clay Johnson (photo above) is a BushBaby from way back.

From 1995 to 2000, Mr. Johnson worked with Governor George W. Bush in Austin, first as his Appointments Director, then as his Chief of Staff, and then as the Executive Director of the Bush-Cheney Transition.

But Mr Johnson isn’t just a Bush political hack, he’s also a corporate hack, having been president of Nieman-Marcus’ mail order division and done PR-flack work for Frito-Lay, CitiCorp, and Wilson Sporting Goods.

Any cred for running an investigation of any sort, let alone into the complicated world of an IG like Bowen?

Are you kidding? This is the Bush Administration.

Besides, he doesn’t actually have to find anything wrong, let alone pursue it. This is classic Karl Rove: Taking a hit? Plant a bogus story with a compliant press about an “investigation” – also a phony – of your current trouble-maker. Undercut the bad news by attacking the messenger who brought it. When the press – as it always does – moves on to something else, the “investigation” suddenly disappears like the smoke in the mirror it was.

IG Bowen gave the WH a black eye, so Karl’s hitting back. This is pure Plame-style revenge, nothing more, but the Washington press corps is biting like it always does.

What a bunch of maroons.

Item: Icing on the cake: the IRS announced today that it’s going to stop investigating corporate tax cheats who hide their money offshore.

The Internal Revenue Service is curtailing audits of many people who use offshore tax havens, even when agents see signs of tax evasion….

***

The I.R.S.’s estimates of money moved offshore are based on transfers that are reported by financial institutions like banks and investment firms that handle such transactions.

But those estimates leave out at least two potentially big pots of taxable income: transfers of money that are not reported to the government and overseas profits made by Americans on money that is already outside the country.

Reuven S. Avi-Yonah, a professor of law at the University of Michigan who will testify at the Senate hearing on Thursday, estimated last year that the United States could be losing as much as $50 billion from international tax maneuvering.

There you go.

Update: I’m not the only one who smells a rat about IG Bowen. Steve Benen’s nose is wrinkling, too.

The reality is, Bowen has been a bulldog on fraud and abuse in Iraq, exposing corruption and shining a bright light on mismanagement.

His office “opened 27 new criminal probes in the last quarter [of 2006], bringing the total number of active cases to 78. Twenty-three are awaiting prosecutorial action by the Justice Department, most of them centering on charges of bribery and kickbacks.” Indeed, Bowen is the only guy in the administration who actively targeted Halliburton contracts.

And it’s been driving the White House crazy. The Bush gang wanted Bowen to go to Iraq and be just another lackey, sticking to the Rove script. Indeed, when Bowen was tapped for the job in January 2004, it seemed like a typical set-up job for the Bush gang: the president needed to respond to criticism about corruption and mismanagement, but instead of asking an independent voice to begin serious oversight, Bush chose Bowen, a loyal friend, senior member of Bush’s gubernatorial campaign team in 1994, a Bush attorney during the Florida recount debacle in 2000, and an associate counsel in Bush’s White House. For Dems hoping for a strong, independent voice to exercise real oversight of Iraqi reconstruction, Bowen’s resume offered little encouragement.

But Bowen decided to take his responsibilities seriously — so much so that the White House at one point tried to fire him. (Congress saved his job.)

And now, at the very suggestion of possible (and mild) wrongdoing, the White House initiates an internal investigation, when more serious internal offenses have gone by with no scrutiny at all.

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