Mojo - June 2009

The Missing Abu Ghraib Photos

| Wed Jun. 3, 2009 11:54 AM EDT

Back in 2006, Salon published 279 photos and 19 videos depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But the website was quick to warn readers of the images' "limitations"—the Army's Criminal Investigation Command [CID] had produced two reports, one in Tikrit, Iraq on June 6, 2004, and one a month later in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The Tikrit CID report analyzed some 1,300 images and over 90 videos of possible detainee abuse. But only around 280 videos and 19 videos were analyzed in the second report—numbers that correspond to the images Salon published. "It remains unclear," Salon warned in 2006, "why and how the CID narrowed its set of forensic evidence to the 279 images and 19 videos that we reproduce here." But if the Pentagon ever had more images of Abu Ghraib abuse, it doesn't have them now. "The Department of Defense is unaware of any images or video of potential abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib that have not already been made public," a Pentagon spokesman tells Mother Jones, echoing earlier statements.

I speculated yesterday that the discrepancy might stem from the Pentagon's claim that many (separate) images that the ACLU is seeking in a lawsuit depict what at first glance appears to be abuse but was determined not to be—pre-existing bruises or injuries to detainees, for example. That could still be the case. I've asked Salon's Mark Benjamin, who first asked the Pentagon about whether there were more Abu Ghraib photos and got a similar response, if he can help me figure out what happened to the images from the first CID report. I haven't heard back yet, but I'll post his response if and when I get one. I'm also following up with the Pentagon.

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Pawlenty, Franken, and 2012

| Wed Jun. 3, 2009 10:43 AM EDT

al franken

On Tuesday, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said he will not run for reelection in 2010, fueling speculation that he is clearing his schedule in order to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Pawlenty also promised that if the Minnesota Supreme Court orders a certificate of election when it rules on Al Franken and Norm Coleman's battle for a Senate seat, he will "not hold it up" or "delay in any fashion." (Franken is almost certain to win the court fight.) There's still some speculation that Pawlenty might break his promise and delay Franken's certification so as to appeal to the GOP primary electorate, but it's pretty far-fetched—Pawlenty made a clear promise that would be hard to break, and holding up Franken probably wouldn't help him anyway. The Economist's anonymous Democracy in America blog explained last month:

The conservative argument is that Mr Pawlenty, if he wants to run for president in 2012, would boost his chances if he blocks Mr Franken. That's just not true. Becoming identified with a partisan election count is the political equivilent of biting down on a cyanide capsule. What was Katherine Harris's reward for verifying the Florida election count in 2000? Two terms in Congress, sure, but a total party abandonment in 2006 when she ran for Senate. What was Ken Blackwell's reward for protecting George Bush's Ohio campaign in 2004? More disrespect from his own party, which tried to deny him the 2006 nomination for governor and then abandoned him. If Mr Pawlenty wants a political second wind, it's good news for Mr Franken.

If The Economist is right, you can expect to see Senator Franken strolling around Capitol Hill by early July.

Photo courtesy of flickr user ohad*.

New Zealand The World's Safest Country

| Wed Jun. 3, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

Citizens of Reykjavik, lock your doors! Iceland is no longer safe! Well, not as safe as it was last year, according to the third-annual Global Peace Index, released Tuesday. The brainchild of Australian tech entrepreneur, Steve Killelea, the study takes after similar annual ventures, such as Freedom in the World, and purports to be the world's only quantitative measure of global peace. Iceland topped the list in the first two years, but the global recession--a particularly dramatic event for the island nation, which led to the complete implosion of its government and banking system--has shuffled the deck. Still, the results are pretty much what you'd expect. The three safest countries on Earth are New Zealand, Denmark, and Norway--all relatively small, affluent, and democratic nations. Island countries also fair well. At the bottom end of the scale there are no surprises. Iraq remains the worst place in the world to go in search of peace, followed by Afghanistan and Somalia. But unless those places are on your vacation agenda, you should probably be alright. Full results of the report are available here.

A Confusing Contradiction in the Pentagon's Torture Photos Story

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 4:01 PM EDT

I've been following Mark Benjamin's excellent reporting in Salon on the photos being withheld by the Obama administration. After the Telegraph reported Gen. Antonio Taguba's allegations that photos exist that "show rape" of detainees, Benjamin spoke to Taguba, who did not withdraw his claim that the photos exist but clarified that he was not talking about the photos Obama is withholding, which he hasn't seen. In the course of investigating Taguba's claim, Benjamin asked a Pentagon spokesman whether there were any more photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib beyond those that Salon already published in 2006. The official said no. But I've read Salon's summary of the 279 photos and 19 videos it published in 2006, so I did a double-take at this passage from Benjamin's article Tuesday:

Obama's Inexcusable Support for New Detainee Photo Secrecy Law

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 3:16 PM EDT

While the press have been investigating Gen. Antonio Taguba's claim that photos existed that "show rape" of detainees by Americans, Congress and the Obama administration have been working behind the scene to pass a law allowing the executive branch to summarily withhold any photos of detainee treatment it wants for an effectively unlimited time. Salon's Glenn Greenwald reports that the White House is "actively supporting" a bill called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 that would pre-empt the ACLU's court battle with the administration and allow Obama to pre-empt any future efforts to force the government to disclose evidence of torture. 

It's one thing for the president to fight in court for the ability to withhold these specific photos in this specific instance. It's another thing entirely to lobby for detainee treatment photos to get blanket immunity from the Freedom of Information Act. But that's what Obama's doing.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and usual suspect Joe Lieberman (I-CT), would allow the administration to easily suppress "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States" as long as the Secretary of Defense claimed it was to protect the troops. The bill is reportedly sailing through Congress. "What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?" Greenwald asks. Indeed. What kind of a president says "Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," and then supports such a law?

No Twitter at the White House

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 2:12 PM EDT

The White House Twitter feed has--as of this writing--233,182 followers. But apparently not too many are within the White House itself.

At today's daily press briefing, a reporter asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs if the White House would use Twitter to disseminate the speech on US-Muslim relations that President Obama is set to deliver later this week in Cairo. Laughing, Gibbs said, "that would be awkward"--perhaps thinking that the reporter meant Twittering it before it happened. He then added, "we can't get" Twitter on the computers in the White House.

Really? When it was my turn to ask a question, I queried Gibbs on the George Tiller murder (he said Obama had nothing to add to his previous statement and indicated the president was not contemplating any additional steps to take), and I asked about the case of two American brothers who were imprisoned in Saudi Arabia after apparently participating in a religious protest (Gibbs said he was unfamiliar with this incident and did not know if Obama would raise it with the Saudi king when he sees him this week). Then I realized I had forgotten to ask about Twitter. And my turn was over.

After the briefing, I found a press aide who informed me that White House aides working on new media do have access to Twitter on their office computers, but that he and others in the White House press office did not. "Security?" I asked. He nodded.

So much of the White House is Twitter-free. That may be good for productivity. But Gibbs and his crew are missing a lot in the Twittershpere. Still, I wonder if Obama can get secret tweets on his BlackBerry.

Of course, I tweeted this story as it unfolded.

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Cheney and Limbaugh: On the Same Stage?

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 1:30 PM EDT
It's no secret that Dick Cheney fancies Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell. During a May 10 appearance on Face the Nation, the ex-veep called Limbaugh a better Republican than Powell. That was before Limbaugh went on his crusade to brand Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a "racist" and bigot" who is comparable to former KKK leader David Duke. But the radio host's anti-Sotomayor rants have apparently not made him radioactive for Cheney. Cheney will join Limbaugh and other conservative movement poohbahs for Troopathon, a web telethon that will raise money for care packages for US troops and that will be broadcast from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on June 25. Other rightwingers signed up for the event include Laura Ingraham, Lars Larson, and Monica Crowley. The event will be hosted by conservative journalist Melanie Morgan and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Certainly, Cheney can say that his involvement in this good cause has nothing to do with Limbaugh, who has become more of a hot potato for the GOP since Cheney chose him over Powell. But the event's organizers are trying to link the two men. A press release the group sent out announces, "Vice President Cheney in Fundraiser for Troops--Appearing with Rush Limbaugh, Jon Voight and Others." Appearing with? Really? Side by side? At the same time--during this eight-hour-long parade of guests? Maybe not, and maybe the group is just trying to draw press attention. Well....bingo! But imagine Cheney and Limbaugh coming on stage together and singing a duet. A lot of people would pay money to see that.

Will Saletan is Missing the Point on Abortion

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 1:09 PM EDT

Slate columnist Will Saletan wrote in the New York Times in February that he believes that we can end the culture wars by encouraging birth control and discouraging abortion. This week, in the wake of the murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller in Kansas, Saletan returned to that argument, writing that while abortion is not "murder," it's "something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided," and we should look for ways to prevent it. On the way to that conclusion, Saletan stumbled on an interesting point:

CAP Gets it All Wrong on White House New Media

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 10:53 AM EDT

Given Barack Obama's game-changing use of new media during the campaign, there's been a lot of excitement about how his team might use technology now that he's President. Unfortunately, there seems to be some disagreement about what exactly the White House should be doing. The Center for American Progress, for example, has a new memo out on the White House new media strategy that could hardly be more off base.

Hanging with an Abortion Foe Who Targeted Tiller

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 9:56 AM EDT

With the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Randall Terry is back in the news. For years, he has been one of the leading antiabortion extremists, and he has at times directed his fury at Tiller. On Monday, while essentially justifying the slaying of Tiller, Terry compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1998, I wrote a profile of Terry for The Nation. At the time, he was running for Congress in upstate New York. He didn't win the seat, but while campaigning he was--as he often is--quite candid about his fundamentalist views. Terry revealed a world view shared by a number of radical fundamentalists--perhaps including Scott Roeder, the antigovernment, anti-abortion fundamentalist who is the key suspect in the Tiller murder. Here are some excerpts from that article.