Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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The Legislative and Judicial Branches are Overrated Anyway

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 11:49 AM EDT

The Bush administration's crusade to expand executive power beyond all reckoning has continued unabated. And, on Wednesday, when President Bush signed the homeland security bill passed by Congress last week, he reserved the right, in one of his infamous signing statements, to disregard at least 36 provisions in the legislation. Among them is a new law establishing the minimum job qualifications for future FEMA directors, which would prevent the president from appointing someone based on politics not experience (i.e. Michael Brown). It's not as if the requirements are that stiff. The candidate, according to the law, must have "a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management" and "not less than five years of executive leadership." Seems reasonable, but apparently the president found these prerequisites too restrictive. According to the Boston Globe, the president also took aim at "a provision that empowers the FEMA director to tell Congress about the nation's emergency management needs without White House permission."

Last week, Bush challenged 16 provisions in the 2007 military budget bill. The Globe reports:

The bill bars the Pentagon from using any intelligence that was collected illegally, including information about Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable government surveillance.

In Bush's signing statement, he suggested that he alone could decide whether the Pentagon could use such information. His signing statement instructed the military to view the law in light of "the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch."

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service, which notes that legal claims made in some of the president's signing statements are "generally unsupported by established legal principles," states that "the broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the President in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude." Not that we really needed a CRS report to tell us that.

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When In Doubt, Blame Soros

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 2:10 PM EDT

As the Foley scandal casts its long, dark shadow over the GOP, embroiling the likes of Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, and Tom Reynolds, among others, no amount of damage control seems capable of containing the fallout. But you have to hand it to the Republicans for trying. Over the last couple days they've dusted off a well worn line, which they never fail to trot out when things are looking particularly bleak for the GOP: George Soros is behind this.

Why Soros? After all, he wasn't the one sending creepy emails or dirty IMs to congressional pages. That was Mark Foley. Nor is he at fault for failing to act after being warned of Foley's lascivious behavior toward the pages. That was Hastert. In the minds of some Republicans, Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who has donated generous sums of his fortune to democratic candidates and causes, is the kingpin behind a vast conspiracy to dismantle the Republican Party. So, in their thinking, it would follow that Soros and the watchdog groups that are funded by his Open Society Institute, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), are pulling the strings on a well-timed effort to taint the Republican Party just before the mid-term elections by leaking Foley's emails to the press.

"The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," Hastert (who has previously intimated that Soros' philanthropic efforts may be funded by "drug money") told the Chicago Tribune yesterday. On Fox last night, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly were also preoccupied by this prospect. Interviewing Brian Ross, the ABC reporter who broke the scandal, O'Reilly said, "Now the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a far left group. George Soros gives a lot of money to it through his Open Society Institute. They apparently are the ones that drove this thing behind the scenes. Is that what you're hearing?"

"I'm not familiar with them," Ross responded. "They didn't drive us."

Of course, there isn't a shred of truth to the Soros/CREW conspiracy angle (though CREW was in possession of some of Foley's emails earlier this summer and forwarded them to the FBI). As The Hill reported today, the source who provided the Foley emails to several news outlets back in July, via an intermediary, was a House GOP aide. According to The Hill:

That Foley's scandalous communications came to public light during Congress's final week in Washington was largely determined by the media outlets which obtained the suspicious e-mails in the middle of the summer, said the person who provided them to reporters several months ago.

This, unfortunately, is not likely to stop right wingers from dissembling. Unable to scapegoat Soros or CREW, they will simply move onto their next favorite target – the liberal media, led by Brian Ross, who no doubt timed his report to deal a death blow to the GOP.

After Five Years Al Jazeera Journo Still at Gitmo

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 1:48 PM EDT

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Muhyideen al-Haj was detained by Pakistani intelligence in December 2001, shortly after the fall of Kabul, as he and his crew attempted to cross the border into Pakistan. Turned over to U.S. authorities, who have accused him both of acting as a bagman for Chechen rebels and of aiding al Qaeda, he has spent close to five years in Gitmo where he, like his fellow detainees, has been held on the basis of secret evidence and with no legal recourse. As the Committee to Protect Journalists' Joel Campagna writes:

The military labels the allegations as "evidence." But a review of the public documents shows that they are assertions of wrongdoing without the documentation or testimony normally considered by a court to be evidence. Supporting evidence, if any, is part of the U.S. military's classified file — off-limits to the public, al-Haj, and his lawyer.

Among the more troubling aspects of al-Haj's detainment is the subject his captors have routinely sought to interrogate him on. His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, told CPJ that "virtually all of the roughly 130 interrogations al-Haj has been subjected to have focused on Al Jazeera.... He said military officials have appeared intent on establishing a relationship between Al Jazeera and al Qaeda, questioning al-Haj about prominent network journalists, the station's finances, and how it pays for airline tickets."

Beyond pumping the journalist for information on Al Jazeera, American and British interrogators may have also tried to recruit him to spy on his employer. According to declassified notes of visits between al-Haj and his lawyer, which were obtained by the Guardian last year, he has been offered U.S. citizenship in return for informing on Al Jazeera. "They have said, 'If you work with us, we will teach you journalism, we will get you a visa to live anywhere you want, we will even give you US nationality, we will protect you, we will give you money,'" al-Haj has said. "'We will help you write a book and then we will publish it. This will help make the al Qaeda people contact you, and work with you.'"

If true, the fact that the government wants a mole inside Al Jazeera shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, since many military and administration officials regard the network as al Qaeda's de facto propaganda arm. But the government may also have other motivations for seeking to infiltrate and potentially undermine Al Jazeera. As a recent Congressional Research Service report on military information operations points out, the network "is considered by many to be a 'market competitor'" for U.S. propaganda efforts.

"Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 11:44 AM EDT

Yesterday, as the Senate cleared the controversial detainee bill and the House passed legislation authorizing the president's warrantless wiretapping program (with some restrictions), a little-noticed bill moved the nation a step closer toward a reckoning with Iran. Passed by the House, and now making its way quickly through the Senate, the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which would reauthorize existing sanctions against Iran, stops short of calling for outright regime-change but states that it should be U.S. policy to back "peaceful pro-democracy forces in Iran" and "to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self-determination over the form of government of their country."

The New York Sun reports:

The measure specifically does not authorize military action, but in the same way the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 foreshadowed events in the Gulf, the latest bill may come to be seen as an upping of the ante with the Islamic regime — or a step or two short of war.

As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who sponsored the bill, told the AP, "Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

The Fine Print in the Military Tribunals Bill

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 11:23 AM EDT

The House passed the Bush administration's military tribunals legislation yesterday, which clarifies the rules for how terrorism suspects can be interrogated and tried, and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. The bill, which was rushed through Congress as the legislative session comes to a close, includes a host of troubling provisions. Among them, the bill, for the first time, defines the meaning of "illegal enemy combatant" and it does so in a very broad way. As The New York Times notes in an editorial: "...The bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted."

As The Baltimore Sun reports, this under-the-radar provision would also "for the first time legally endorse the fight against terrorism as equivalent to war," which would "give the fight against terrorism the legal status of an armed conflict." "Does it allow the president to basically define the war on terrorism as broadly or as narrowly as he wants?" Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat, told the Sun. "The answer is yes."

Another provision, dealing with the rights (or, in this case, lack of them) of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in federal court, would effectively "strip green-card holders and other legal residents of the right to challenge their detention in court if they are accused of being 'enemy combatants,'" according to the Boston Globe.

The part of the bill that worries advocates for immigrants most is the one stating that "no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination."...

In the original bill, the section banning "habeas corpus" petitions applied only to detainees being held "outside the United States," referring to the roughly 450 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. But in recent days, the phrase "outside the United States" was removed.

Yet another provision makes "coerced evidence" admissible in court proceedings "if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant," according to the Times. Further, "coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses."

And that's just for starters.

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