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.
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."
On the Sunday morning television shows this past weekend—against the backdrop of an Iraq in flames—former Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continued their ongoing feud and the battle for the (national security) soul of the Republican Party. In recent months, as Mother Jones has reported that Paul in 2009 accused Cheney of using 9/11 as an excuse to launch the Iraq invasion to benefit Halliburton (the corporation Cheney once led) and called on the GOP to disassociate itself with the former vice president, Cheney's allies have slammed the senator for expressing reckless positions. During a private speech in March, without mentioning Paul by name, Cheney contended that Paul's skepticism about US intervention abroad would endanger the United States. On ABC News' This Week on Sunday, Cheney explicitly assailed Paul as "basically an isolationist"—a term of profound derision in the neocon wing of the GOP. Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Paul was asked if Cheney could be considered a credible critic of President Barack Obama's foreign policy, and Paul, without saying Cheney's name, replied, "The same questions could be asked of those who supported the Iraq war. You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That's what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable?...They didn't really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out." This was obviously a jab at the former vice president.
But though Paul, who is mulling a 2016 presidential bid, has not hesitated to challenge the hawks of the GOP, he has softened his language. He no longer accuses Cheney of pushing the Iraq war to reap corporate profits. (He even recently claimed that was not what he had meant to say.) And in these latest rounds, Paul has not voiced his previously stated view that the GOP is the party of war-mongers at odds with true Christian beliefs.
Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went ballistic. In response to the intensifying crisis in Iraq, an apoplectic McCain took to the Senate floor and demanded the resignation of President Barack Obama's entire national security team. He huffed that Obama's advisers have "been a total failure." He suggested that Obama was somehow responsible for the present predicament in Iraq. And what was McCain's big idea for addressing the crisis? What steps would he take had he not been prevented from becoming commander in chief by Obama? The senator proposed calling in former General David Petraeus, who led US forces in Iraq during the 2007 surge, and former General James Mattis, who succeeded Petraeus. That was it: Ask Petraeus what to do.
Well, it turns out, McCain wouldn't abide by his own advice. Earlier this week, I contacted Petraeus' office to ask what he thought the president should be doing in Iraq. Not surprisingly, Petraeus did not respond to the invitation (which was probably one of many from reporters). But on Wednesday, Petraeus, speaking at a conference in London, did share his current views. He accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of "undermining" national reconciliation—an obvious point made by most observers. He also declared that Iraq needed a more inclusive government—another obvious point that the president and others have pushed. And Petraeus dismissed the possibility of US airstrikes against the Sunni insurgents that have captured several cities in Iraq:
This cannot be the United States being the air force of Shia militias or a Shia-on-Sunni Arab fight. It has to be a fight of all of Iraq against extremists who do happen to be Sunni Arabs but extremists that are wreaking havoc on a country that really had an enormous opportunity back in 2011, has made progress in certain areas but has certainly not capitalized on that enormous opportunity in the way that we had all hoped.
McCain, apparently, wasn't listening. On Thursday, McCain went full McCain. He called for ousting Maliki. (Obama and his aides are trying to nudge Maliki aside, but it's not a snap-of-the-fingers task to get rid of a Washington-endorsed guy who was elected.) And McCain demanded, yes, airstrikes:
Of course Maliki has to be transitioned out. But the only way that's going to happen is for us to assure Iraqis that we will be there to assist. And let me make it clear: No one that I know wants to send combat troops on the ground, but airstrikes are an important factor, psychologically and many other ways, and that may require some forward air controllers and some special forces.
Several other GOPers joined McCain on the Senate floor to denounce Obama. On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner has been blasting Obama on Iraq, accusing the president of "napping" but not proposing any specific actions. On Wednesday, Boehner refused to comment on whether Obama should order airstrikes. The crisis is confounding Obama's GOP critics. And they're not even listening to Petraeus.
The Washington Post broke a big scoop on Tuesday with the news that US special forces, working with FBI agents, mounted a secret raid in Libya this past weekend that captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is suspected of masterminding the attack on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Post story noted that the operation had been months in the making. In fact, US Special Forces had a plan to apprehend Abu Khattala last October, days after US commandos in Tripoli snatched Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, who was accused of bombing US embassies in East Africa in 1998. But that attempt to apprehend Abu Khattala had to be called off at the last minute.
So for a long stretch, maybe a year or more, the Obama administration had been trying to figure out how best to grab Abu Khattala, who was identified as a possible Benghazi ringleader soon after the September 11, 2012, assault. Yet for much of that time, Republican critics of the president have repeatedly criticized Obama for not capturing the Benghazi perps. Even though it took a decade to nab Osama bin Laden, GOPers have depicted Obama as feckless on the Benghazi front, with some even saying that he was not truly interested in bringing the Benghazi killers to justice.
Here's a sampling of those GOP attacks:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): In November, Cruz criticized the Obama administration for failing to use a State Department program that offers rewards to people with information about terrorists in order to track down the Benghazi attacker: "The State Department's Rewards for Justice Program exists to help the US identify and apprehend its enemies, but the Obama administration has not used it to pursue the terrorists who attacked our personnel in Benghazi," he said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): In August, Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has held numerous hearings on the Benghazi attack, harped on the administration's "delay" in apprehending Abu Khattala: "If our government knows who perpetrated the attack that killed four Americans, it is critical that they be questioned and placed in custody of US officials without delay," he said. "Delays in apprehending the suspected Benghazi killers will only put American lives at further and needless risk."
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.): In a February letter to Obama, the three GOP senators wrote, "In almost 17 months, none of the terrorists have been brought to justice. The families of the murdered Americans deserve to see the terrorists brought to justice. Moreover, terrorists around the world need to know that if they kill Americans, we will hunt them down and bring them to justice. Allowing terrorists apparently involved in the attack to sit and give interviews in cafés sends a dangerous message that there are no consequences for killing Americans."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah): "[L]et's not forget the Benghazi terrorist attackers," Chaffetz told USA Today in October. "There's been no visibility on whether or not we're pursuing that."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.): In August, when the Justice Department filed charges against Abu Khattala, Wolf suggested the administration wouldn't have acted without Republican pressure. "I think they're feeling pressure to do something, to show they're making progress," he told the Washington Times, adding that charges against suspects have likely been delayed by "confusion" among US law enforcement authorities.
By now, it should be obvious: It can take a while—even years—to capture a suspected terrorist overseas. (Ruqai, the embassy bombings suspect, was apprehended 15 years after the attacks.) Yet that didn't stop these Republicans and other conservatives from slamming the president and suggesting publicly—in a real underhanded dig—that Obama was not seeking the murderers of Benghazi. Now what will they say? That his heart wasn't really in it?