Mojo - August 2009

News From Iraq? Surely Not!

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 11:09 AM EDT

Iraq has dropped out of the news:

Today, however, we actually do have some news from the 51st state. The Washington Post reports that the major pro-Iran Shiite parties in Iraq have formed a political alliance that excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (also a Shiite). This is both good news and bad news, according to the experts the Post contacted. It's bad news because it means that Maliki may be an underdog in the coming elections, making it more likely that a supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reprehensible regime in Iran might come to power in Baghdad. It's good news because it means that Maliki may ally himself with Sunni and Kurd groups, enhancing Iraqi unity:

Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Rasheed Flahe Mohammed, commander of the Samarra Operations Center, said he was thrilled to see politicians willing to cross sectarian lines, as Maliki may end up doing. Mohammed said that although he is a Shiite, he would vote for a bloc that would put a Sunni in power if he determined that person was the most qualified leader.

"I'm optimistic about this—Sunnis are allying with Shiites," he said as he watched the Shiite alliance's announcement on television. "This is something good for Iraq."

Does that seem right?

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CIA IG Report Question of the Morning

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 9:54 AM EDT

Lots of people have highlighted this passage from the 2004 CIA Inspector General's report:

Glenn Greenwald has a good rundown of some of the other most damning passages. Here's what I'm wondering: which country is "widely believed" to include "sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee" as part of its interrogation practices? And do we send people there for torture?

Need To Read: August 25, 2009

Tue Aug. 25, 2009 7:01 AM EDT

 

Today's links are heavy on the torture stuff, light on the Michael Jackson stuff. Don't like the mix? Try cable news.

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 25, 2009

Tue Aug. 25, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Thompson explains details of a sniper rifle to major league baseball players Albert Pujols and Ryan Franklin during a tour of Naval Special Warfare facilities. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique M. Lasco/Released)

Top Blue Dog Joins List of Vulnerable Dems

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 5:38 PM EDT

The debate over health care reform has left many important questions up in the air. Will the bill include a public option? Will the pharmaceutical industry support the President's goals? Is Barack Obama a Nazi?

Those questions aside, I think one thing is certain: the longer the debate rages, the more vulnerable the Dems become in their hopes for reelection in 2010. Last week, the widely respected Cook Political Report said that the health care debate "has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats" and predicted a net loss of at least 6-12 seats in the 2010 midterm elections.

Recent polling conducted by Research 2000 indicates that Tennessee Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper could be among those casualties, as his favorability ratings are lagging way behind both President Obama's and his state's Democratic Governor, Phil Bredesen. This led Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos to suggest that the Dems should mobilize a primary challenger to remind Cooper to support a public option... or else. Of course, this prompted a cyber shouting match in which Cooper called the poll's veracity into question and said that Markos falsely suggested that he did not support a public option (he has not yet committed either way.)

The 2004 CIA Inspector General Report

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 5:20 PM EDT

The 2004 CIA Inspector General's report on treatment of terrorist detainees has finally been released. Spencer Ackerman has the full text over at his place. I'm reading through a copy now. As I mentioned this morning, we already knew a lot about this report. We already knew that the CIA staged mock executions and threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill. More broadly, Leon Panetta is right: the fact that this country did horrible, inhumane things to terrorist suspects is old news. Sure, not everyone acknowleges it. But that's what it is: old news.

None of this is to say that we shouldn't be trying to figure out exactly what happened, when. A lot of the journalistic work around this subject has to be done detective-style. There's value in simply establishing what happened. But the the real question—the question that matters politically, the question that matters going forward—is whether anyone will face any consequences whatsoever for all that misconduct. Eric Holder's announcement today suggests that some people might, but they're likely to be the Lynndie Englands and Charles Graners: the "low-level operatives" the Center for Constitutional Rights (and now the ACLU) are worried will be the focus of the probe.

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Whole Lot of Torture Going On, Yeah

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 3:57 PM EDT

With President Barack Obama away on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, you might think things would slow down in DC. But after a slow morning, today turned into a big news day. The latest news is Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the Justice Department will begin a preliminary inquiry into the treatment of terrorist suspects. The inquiry could lead to prosecutions. Obama will let Holder decide exactly how to proceed, according to the New York Times. The Center for Constitutional Rights is complaining that the inquiry seems to be limited to CIA employees who went beyond what-John-Yoo-wrote. But it's not hard to see how the inquiry might snowball. Either way, the White House will try to distance itself from any political consequences of the Holder inquiry by highlighting the Attorney General's "independence." Bill Burton, the deputy White House press secretary, made that much clear today. From the Times:

"Well, as the president has said repeatedly, he thinks that we should be looking forward, not backward," [Burton] told reporters in Oak Bluffs, Mass., where Mr. Obama is vacationing. "He does agree with the attorney general that anyone who conducted actions that had been sanctioned should not be prosecuted."

The "he does agree," part seems to imply that there are some things Holder believes with which the president does not agree. But the "it's not me, it's my Attorney General" line is going to be a tough one to hold.

Do You Want Cheney With That?

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 2:09 PM EDT

We still don't have a CIA IG report, but Greg Sargent reports that the release will come with special bonus features: two documents requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney that he claims prove torture's "effectiveness." Zack Roth has corroborated the report by pointing to CIA Director Leon Panetta's memo to CIA employees today, which refers to the release of two documents from 2004-05 (presumably the same ones Cheney wanted).

As for Panetta's memo itself: it's what you might expect. The CIA director calls the story "old," lionizes the agency's intelligence-gathering during a time "when inside information on al-Qa'ida was in short supply," and calls debate over the "methods used" "legitimate." (Another way of saying that he thinks it's possible to defend the agency's treatment of detainees.) He also dredges up an old Bush excuse: "The Agency sought and received multiple written assurances that its methods were lawful." And as you know, in Bushland, whatever John Yoo writes is legal and right is, in fact, legal and right. We create our own reality.

The CIA IG Report

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 11:05 AM EDT

Today, finally, the Obama administration is set to release a redacted version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General's report on the Bush administration's interrogation of terrorism suspects.

We already know a lot about what the IG found. On Friday, Newsweek's Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff reported that the IG detailed how the CIA staged mock executions and threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill. If you want more foreshadowing, Marcy Wheeler has reposted two items (1, 2) she wrote in June outlining what already-released memos tell us about what's in the IG report.

Two more things you should know about developments on the detainee treatment front. First, as Spencer Ackerman originally reported, the Obama administration is setting up special new teams to interrogate terrorism suspects. According to the Washington Post's story, the new teams will have to abide by the techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, but as Spencer points out, the field manual itself—once widely considered to be Geneva Conventions-compliant—has been revised to include some questionable techniques.

Second, a new Justice Department report recommends reopening a number of prisoner abuse cases, making it "all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow," according to today's New York Times. So much for "not looking backwards." Good.

Need To Read: August 24, 2009

Mon Aug. 24, 2009 7:04 AM EDT

I'm back from vacation. Here's what you should be reading today:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)