Mojo - March 2007

Iraqi Allies "A Population at Risk"

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 11:32 AM EDT

Last night 60 Minutes ran a piece on the forgotten Iraqi fighters of this war, not the insurgents nor the Iraqi Security Forces, but the translators, the drivers, the guides, the civilians who signed up to work with the US Army early on, and are paying for it with their lives and security now.

In our current issue, on newsstands now, David Case looks at this very issue, reporting that only 291 Iraqis have been granted refugee status in the United States since the war's beginning, and "meanwhile the line outside the UNHCR's gates gets longer every week, and the wait for an interview stands at five months." Read the whole thing, here.

Several (disguised) Iraqis, who have had to flee the country, spoke to 60 Minutes, expressing their frustration, and fear. One man whose leg was shattered in an explosion two years ago when he was working with the Mississippi National Guard said he was told by the State Department that he knew "the danger when you work with the U.S. Army" when he asked for support in leaving the country.

Retired Major General Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi army in 2003 and 2004, called on the President and Congress "to admit that a population is at risk. At risk because they have thrown their lot in with us." By 60 Minutes' tally at least 100,000 translators have worked for the armed forces in Iraq. "Add their families and you're well over a half a million people at risk. How many of them have been allowed to immigrate to the United States? About ten."

This, and the total of 291 Iraqi refugees, is in stark contrast to the 131,000 Vietnamese allowed into the United States in 1976, under Gerald Ford. In just 8 months. The Bush administration, on the other hand even after congressional hearings on refugees in January, has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced is next to nothing.

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Hagel-Huckabee Not Happening -- YET!

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 11:31 AM EDT

So, blergh. Chuck Hagel's big announcement about whether he was running for president turned out to be Hagel telling America, "I'm punting." What a waste of everyone's time and CNN's cameras. Here's the relevant quote from Mr. I-Can't-Make-Up-My-Mind.

"I'm here today to announce that my family and I will make a political decision on my future later this year."

Whatever, dude. I was all set to facetiously pimp your candidacy. If you want to read some of what Hagel had to say -- he did speak about his life story, his voting record, what America needs now, blah, blah, blah -- take a look at this story from a local Omaha news station.

I'll Tell You Chuck Who

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 11:08 AM EDT

I remember the moment I fell out of love with Chuck Hagel. I was writing the blog post that Leigh links to below and decided to do some digging into the Nebraska senator's background. I found out that the Republican I half-revered as Congress's loudest war objector and Bush Administration critic actually voted with the White House more frequently in 2006 than any senator of any party. The man is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. You can see his record at the link I provide above.

And tell me: How is that not the best possible candidate for the Republican nomation? In the eyes of the conservative base, Hagel is perfect on every social and economic issue. The one place he diverges from the party line is the one place where America diverges from the party line. Some are speculating that there isn't a place for an anti-war candidate in the Republican Party. I say if there will ever be a time for an anti-war candidate, it is now. And considering how flat wrong all the frontrunners for the Republican nomination are on key issues like abortion, gay rights, and guns, I think even if the base finds Hagel hard to stomach on Iraq, they'll take him. Hagel-Huckabee '08!

Chuck Who? Americans Don't Know Much About the Potential Prez Candidate

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 10:20 AM EDT

Today, Senator Chuck Hagel is set to announce whether or not he will run for president. But will anyone care? The New York Times' blog, the Caucus, reported this morning that few Americans know enough about the guy to offer any opinion at all. The paper, in conjunction with CBS News, conducted a poll from last Wednesday through last night of 1,266 registered voters nationwide. 75 percent of the polled voters say "they had not heard enough about Mr. Hagel to offer an opinion of him either good or bad." For more info on the guy, read this post by Jonathan, "The Changing Dynamics of the Chuck Hagel Phenomenon."

NM GOP Party Leader Says Rove Had Hand in Firing USA

| Sun Mar. 11, 2007 3:30 PM EDT

As I wrote last Thursday, Karl Rove is making it clear that he does not think the mass firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, now under investigation by both the House and Senate, is a big deal. It appears that perhaps the president's adviser is insisting that the purge is a non-issue because of his potential implication in the situation. Yesterday, McClatchy reported that the New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh admitted to having a conversation in 2005 with a White House liaison to Rove, during which, he urged the White House to fire David Iglesias because the USA had failed to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation. Weh claims to have followed up with Rove personally in the winter of 2006. The party chairman inquired as to whether anything would happen to Iglesias (read: would he be fired) and Rove said, "He's gone." Weh responded, "Hallelujah." As McClatchy points out, this directly contradicts what the Justice Department has been saying about White House involvement; that they merely approved a DOJ-created list of attorneys to be fired.

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Chuck Schumer, New York Times Call for AG Gonzales to Resign

| Sun Mar. 11, 2007 1:00 PM EDT

Saying that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution," Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for Gonzales to resign today on Face the Nation. You can see the video on ThinkProgress.

An editorial in the New York Times today says essentially the same thing. It calls for Gonzales to step down because he "never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency." Gotta love the Times.

The Times makes it clear that Gonzales has got to go not just because of this new flap with the fired U.S. Attorneys and not because of the F.B.I.'s newly exposed overreach in gathering information about Americans. It's because of his body of work.

It was Mr. Gonzales, after all, who repeatedly defended Mr. Bush's decision to authorize warrantless eavesdropping on Americans' international calls and e-mail. He was an eager public champion of the absurd notion that as commander in chief during a time of war, Mr. Bush can ignore laws that he thinks get in his way. Mr. Gonzales was disdainful of any attempt by Congress to examine the spying program, let alone control it.
The attorney general helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture. He has been central to the administration's assault on the courts, which he recently said had no right to judge national security policies, and on the constitutional separation of powers.
His Justice Department has abandoned its duties as guardian of election integrity and voting rights. It approved a Georgia photo-ID law that a federal judge later likened to a poll tax, a case in which Mr. Gonzales's political team overrode the objections of the department's professional staff.
The Justice Department has been shamefully indifferent to complaints of voter suppression aimed at minority voters. But it has managed to find the time to sue a group of black political leaders in Mississippi for discriminating against white voters.

The Bush Administration has a long history of naming appointees to oversee areas they once lobbied on. It would make sense, then, that the Attorney General "more than anyone in the administration, except perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney... symbolizes Mr. Bush's disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law."

If You Blinked, You Missed Our "Diplomacy" With Iran

| Sun Mar. 11, 2007 12:46 PM EDT

We've written a ton about the need for diplomacy with Iran here at MoJoBlog. Here's my position, from an earlier post:

...talks with Iran fundamentally make the United States safer. Right now we have no influence over Iran, and, if anything, continue to antagonize them. Entering a tense but workable diplomatic relationship humanizes both sides, allows them to talk through grievances, and begins the process of making concessions and finding middle ground.

I've always felt, "Hey, why not try it? It can't make things worse." Well, it's happened. After a period in which the White House repeatedly changed course over whether they would establish contact with the Iranians, and if so, to what extent, the two sides finally met a long-awaited meeting of regional leaders in Iraq. But when I say they "met," I mean they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. From the Wall Street Journal:

...the two sides merely had a quick "meet and greet" and then exchanged remarks within the larger forum. U.S. and Iranian officials said there were no private conversations of any substance.

The optimist in me says, "It's a start, but we can and must do better." The cynic in me says that the White House simply used the announcement of talks with Iran as a way to generate positive headlines and never had any intention of performing true diplomacy.

Women's Days Better These Days in Pakistan, India and Here at Home?

| Fri Mar. 9, 2007 8:51 PM EST

With this being Women's History Month and yesterday being International Women's Day should we try to cram in a crib sheet on the complex and varied "women's issues," of the day? One might argue that such issues are most powerful, and all the more relevant, when addressed as human issues, just as we should all look at Hillary not as the female candidate, Obama not as the black one. But, alas, we humans do love to compartmentalize, so here goes.

As an opportunity to demonstrate international solidarity groups took full advantage of IWD yesterday. Women (and men) all around the world attended demonstrations and rallies calling for equal rights and a stop to violence against women. And while many recognize that there are some initiatives and laws that theoretically secure and guarantee gender equality, in practice much remains to be done.

In Pakistan yesterday activists repeated the demand for a complete abolition of the Hudood Ordinances. Some background: last year's much advertised Protection of Women Act amends the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 and was touted by President General Musharraf as a measure to "safeguard the rights of women." But it only partially repeals the ordinances. Previously, rape was subject to the Sharia law; now, a judge can choose whether the rape case should be tried at a criminal court or under the Sharia, based on " forensic and circumstantial evidence." Little wonder that Pakistani women's groups have severely criticized the bill, charging that Musharraf is still beholden to the radical mullahs. In order to placate the mullahs, Pakistanis who want change, and international criticism of women's rights in Pakistan, he recently introduced this half-assed bill which is arguably no different from the Ordinances.

Pakistan's next door neighbor, the "largest democracy" in the world, India, also has its share of problems regarding the situation of women: child trafficking, the sex trade, female foeticide, illiteracy, discrimination, and Hindu fundamentalists that police Hindu women and direct sexual violence towards Muslim women. The country's Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which took effect last year, does not require women to provide physical evidence of abuse in contrast to previous laws --meaning emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse are now recognized as potential forms of abuse. Moreover, it includes all females, whether they are spouses or not. A step forward though this act is not a remedy for all social ills: phenomenon such as female foeticide must be effectively targeted.

And a word on the home front. Perhaps because most of the western media heavily focuses on the status of women in the Third World and in conflict-ridden areas, we're under the impression that we don't have equally serious problems here at home. Think again: According to a UN Report from last year, "between 40 and 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by husbands or boyfriends in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States." And, "in Europe, North America and Australia, more than half of women with disabilities have experienced physical abuse, compared with one third of non-disabled women." And the numbers reflecting abuse against females in the US indeed prove that violence against women is "pervasive" across the globe, even in America. More on women's plight here at home in our package of articles on domestic violence, "No Safe Haven".

--Neha Inamdar

FBI Violated Civil Liberties Repeatedly In Issuance Of National Security Letters

| Fri Mar. 9, 2007 7:32 PM EST

For some time now, the FBI has insisted that it is using the Patriot Act's national security letters function with caution and discretion. National security letters were used by the agency between 2003 and 2005 to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents and visitors, and a court order is not required to issue one. Corporations and other organizations receiving national securing letters are told that part of federal compliance is that they keep the request and the reply secret.

The FBI reported that it had sent only "about 9,000" national security letters, when--in fact--it had sent between 19,000 and 50,000, depending on who you ask or how the data is interpreted. At any rate, there is no doubt that they sent many more than they claim to have sent, and the figure seems to be in the several-thousand area. More significant, a sampling of the letters, investigated by the Justice Department, indicates 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations.

Because the Patriot Act permits the gathering of personal information from persons not alleged to be spies or terrorists, the potential to abuse the national security letter function was obvious to many of us from the beginning, but both the FBI and the Bush administration insisted, over and over, that no abuses were taking place. You can call it incompetence or you can call it lying, but the bottom line is that abuses were taking place all the time.

Lanny Davis, a member of the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, says that a recent briefing by the FBI left him "very concerned about what I regard to be serious potential infringements of privacy and civil liberties by the FBI and their use of national security letters. It is my impression that they too regard this as very serious."

In the Justice Department report are many examples of FBI agents having used "exigent letters" to get fast information under the condition that they would later cover the requests with either full national security letters or grand jury subpoenas--only the national security letters and subpoenas never surfaced. There were also several instances in which agents claimed exigent circumstances when none existed.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is said to be "incensed" over the report, and FBI director Robert S. Mueller III has taken full responsibility for the errors.

Thanks to Think Progress and NPR.