Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
On March 11, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, strode on to the Senate floor and made a shocking charge: The CIA had spied on committee investigators who were examining the CIA's past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture). She essentially confirmed media reports that the agency had accessed computers that had been set up in a secured facility for her staffers to use—and that this high-tech break-in was related to a CIA memo that the agency had not turned over. The document was far more critical of the CIA's interrogation program than the agency's official response to the still-classified (and reportedly scorching) 6,300-page report produced by Feinstein's committee. As Feinstein described it, the CIA, looking to find out how her sleuths had obtained this particular memo, had been spying on the investigators who were paid by the taxpayers to keep a close watch on America's spies.
Feinstein's public statement—unprecedented in US national security history—caused an uproar. I noted that this clash between the Senate and Langley threatened a constitutional crisis. After all, if the CIA was covertly undercutting and interfering with congressional oversight, then the foundation of the national security state was at risk, for the executive branch, in theory, can only engage in clandestine activity as long as members of Congress can keep an eye on it. Yet the system of oversight appeared to have broken down.
The scene in Gaza following an Israeli missile strike on Monday
On Monday, Israeli warplanes fired 182 missiles into Gaza, Israeli ships launched 146 shells into the territory, and Israeli tanks shot 721 shells, with all these attacks striking 66 structures and killing 107 Palestinians (including 35 children), while Hamas launched 101 rockets toward Israel, and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. That day, the State Department announced that the United States would be providing $47 million "to help address the humanitarian situation in Gaza." A third of these funds would go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which is providing food, water, and shelter to tens of thousands of war-affected Palestinians in Gaza. So once again, US taxpayers are in an absurd place: They are partly paying for the Israeli military action in Gaza and funding the cleanup.
Each year, the United States gives Israel about $3.1 billion in military assistance, a commitment that stems from the 1978 Camp David accord that led to peace between Israel and Egypt. Those billions are roughly divided into two funding streams. About $800 million underwrites Israeli manufacturing of weaponry and military products. The rest finances what is essentially a gift card that the Israeli military uses to procure arms and military equipment from US military contractors. It can be safely assumed, says a US expert on aid to Israel, that all units of the Israel Defense Forces benefit from US assistance—and this obviously includes those units fighting in Gaza. So to a certain degree, the destruction in Gaza does have a made-in-the-USA stamp.
Barack Obama is in charge of the world's most consequential superpower (when you combine economic might and military force) at a time when the world seems to be cracking up more than usual. A Malaysian airliner is shot down—presumably by Russian-armed separatists in Ukraine. The too-extreme-for-Al-Qaeda Islamic State, a Sunni force once allied with Washington-backed Syrian rebels fighting the Russian-supported Assad regime, has taken control of a swath of territory in Syria and Iraq and set up an Islamic fundamentalist state that is waging war against the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq, which is supported by Russia-allied Iran and Washington. Meanwhile, US-backed Israel has sent military forces into Gaza to quash Hamas, a Sunni-dominated outfit that receives support from Shiite Iran (a US foe) and Sunni Saudi Arabia (a US ally). And at the same time, the United States—as part of the P5+1, which includes Russia, China, England, France, and Germany (a key trading partner of Iran and a US ally that is pissed off at Washington for spying on it)—is trying to arrange the extension of nuclear talks with Iran, as the negotiations hit the deadline. Obviously, the United States needs Russia—which Obama just hit with tougher sanctions (before Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was blasted out of the sky)—to lean on Iran for these talks to succeed.
The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff speaks with the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.
When Vice President Joe Biden visited Brazil for the start of the World Cup soccer tournament last month, he brought along something of an odd gift for President Dilma Rousseff: a collection of State Department cables and reports that included a chilling account of state-sponsored torture. The documents were from 1967 to 1977 and covered assorted human rights abuses conducted by the military dictatorship then ruling Brazil—a government that was supported by the Nixon administration and its foreign policy poobah Henry Kissinger.
Brazil has been examining its dark past through the work of the Brazilian National Truth Commission, and the 43 documents turned over by Biden are meant to help the commission uncover the dirty deeds of the recent past. As the National Security Archive notes, these records report on "secret torture detention centers in Sao Paulo, the military's counter-subversion operations, and Brazil's hostile reaction in 1977 to the first State Department human rights report on abuses."
And one document stands out: a 1973 cable from the US embassy in Brazil to State Department headquarters titled, "Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives." The report noted that arrests by military forces of regime critics—mostly university students—had recently increased, and that "the detainees are being subjected to an intensive psychophysical system of duress designed to extract information without doing visible, lasting harm to the body." The cable reported that Brazilians suspected of being "hardened terrorists…are still being submitted to the older methods of physical violence"—such as the use of electrical shock devices and being tied to and hung from a suspended bar—"which sometimes cause death." But the main point of the cable was that the Brazilian military had developed "a newer, more sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical duress system…to intimidate and terrify the suspect."
The cable then detailed, in a rather clinical fashion, this process:
The cable noted that detainees with "good connections" inside and outside the government were usually spared this torture.
This document is a rare step-by-step description of government-backed torture. Yet it contained no criticism of the regime or the practice. It reported that public reaction to a recent wave of arrests "has been mild thus far and is likely to continue to be subdued."
The cable was in sync with the Nixon/Kissinger policy of not getting worked up about torture conducted by military regimes Washington favored. (See Kissinger and Argentina.) And a cable sent to Foggy Bottom a year earlier by William Rountree, then the US ambassador to Brazil, noted that though the US embassy in Brazil had "on appropriate occasion and in appropriate manner" informed the Brazilians that the US government did not condone "excesses in the form practiced in Brazil," Rountree believed the United States had to make this case without "unduly jeopardizing our relations with this country or causing a counter-productive reaction on the part of the" government of Brazil. In this cable, Rountree said that he strongly supported the State Department's opposition to legislation then under consideration in Congress that would cut off US funding to Brazil as long as the government engaged in torture.
Rountree explained, "Given Brazilian pride and sensitivity about sovereignty, efforts by any branch of US government or by US political figures to bring pressure on Brazil would not only damage our general relations but, by equating reduction in anti-terror measures with weakness under pressure, could produce opposite of intended result." In other words, the United States shouldn't lean too heavily on the torturers of Brazil.
The Brazilian Truth Commission, which has posted the documents Biden handed over, has been at work for two years, and Biden, when he was in Brazil, promised that the Obama administration would mount a broader review of top-secret CIA and Defense Department documents that might be useful to the commission. So the World Cup has given Brazil more than just a soccer tournament; it has highlighted the nation's effort to come to terms with its recent past of government abuse and violence—and Washington's own effort to acknowledge its support of that regime.
For a decade or so, Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, have been generous benefactors of a Christian ministry that until recently was run by Bill Gothard, a controversial religious leader who has long promoted a strict and authoritarian version of Christianity. Gothard, a prominent champion of Christian home-schooling, has decried the evils of dating, rock music, and Cabbage Patch dolls; claimed public education teaches children "how to commit suicide" and undermines spirituality; contended that mental illness is merely "varying degrees of irresponsibility"; and urged wives to "submit to the leadership" of their husbands. Critics of Gothard have associatedhim with Christian Reconstructionism, an ultrafundamentalist movement that yearns for a theocracy, and accused him of running a cultlike organization. In March, he was pressured to resign from his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, after being accused by more than 30 women of sexual harassment and molestation—a charge Gothard denies.
More MoJo coverage of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
The Institute traces it origins to 1964, when Gothard designed a college seminar based on biblical principles to help teenagers. The ministry says it was established "for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ" and to give individuals, families, businesses, and governments "clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God's principles found in Scripture." The group, which operates what it calls "training centers" across the United States and abroad, says more than 2.5 million people have attended its paid events, which have brought in tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Gothard and the Institute have drawn support from conservative politicians, including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. The Duggar family, the stars of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting, have been high-profile advocates of Gothard's home-schooling curriculum and seminars. (One of Gothard's alleged victims has called on the Duggars to break with Gothard and the Institute.) Don Venoit, a conservative evangelical who has long been a critic of Gothard, contends that Gothard's approach to Christian theology emphasizing obedience to authority creates a "culture of fear." In 1984, Ronald Allen, now a professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, observed that Gothard's teachings were "a parody of patriarchalism" and "the basest form of male chauvinism I have ever heard in a Christian context." He added, "Gothard has lost the biblical balance of the relationship between women and men as equals in relationship. His view is basically anti-woman."