Mojo - November 2009

The Torture Tapes: What We Know Now

| Tue Nov. 24, 2009 5:18 PM PST

There's a certain beauty to the Freedom of Information Act. Even when the government won't give you something under it, they still have to give you a list of what it is they're not giving you. So when the government decided that it would not release the documents the ACLU has been seeking regarding the CIA's destruction, it still had to provide a description—including a date—of each document it was withholding and what its rationale was for doing so.

A date and the description of a document can tell you a lot. That's why the ACLU was able to announce today that it now knows "the precise date the tapes were destroyed" and has "evidence that the [Bush] White House was involved in early discussions about the proposed destruction."

Marcy Wheeler has the highlights of the chronology that the new list provides. I've added some comments for context.

November 1, 2005: Bill Frist [then the Republican Senate majority leader] briefed on torture.

November 1, 2005: [Washington Post reporter] Dana Priest reveals the use of black sites in Europe. In response, CIA starts moving detainees from the countries in question.

November 3, 2005: [Judge] Leonie Brinkema inquires whether govt has video or audio tapes of interrogations. CIA IG Report on Manadel al-Janabi’s death completed.

November 4, 2005: Member of Congress writes four page letter to CIA IG.

November 8, 2005: CIA requests permission to destroy torture tapes. CIA reaffirms March 2005 statement that all interrogation methods are lawful. Duncan Hunter [R-Calif.] briefed on torture. Pete Hoekstra [R-Mich.] briefed on torture.

November 9, 2005: CIA confirms destruction of torture tapes.  Doug Jehl article on spring 2004 CIA IG report on interrogation methods appears.

November 14, 2005: Govt tells Brinkema it has no audio or video tapes.

This is yeoman's work (par for the course from Marcy). If you can't tell, it shows that the tapes were destroyed right after Judge Brinkema and Congress asked about them. That looks pretty damning. Here's Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU's National Security Project, explaining the White House involvement:

[T]he tapes were destroyed immediately after the Washington Post reported the existence of the CIA black sites and the New York Times reported that the CIA Inspector General had questioned the legality of the agency's torture program.

The index also lists the earliest known record of White House participation in discussions about destroying the tapes—an e-mail dated February 22, 2003 revealing that CIA officials met with Bush administration officials to discuss how the agency should respond to a letter from Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) advising the agency not to destroy the tapes. While it was known previously that the White House participated in discussions about the disposition of the tapes, this is the earliest record to date of any such discussions.

I'll say the same thing I said about the Obama administration's suppression of perhaps thousands of torture photos two weeks ago: this smells like a coverup.

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Alan 'Die Quickly' Grayson Seeks 55-Vote Supermajority

| Tue Nov. 24, 2009 3:27 PM PST

The Dems' bombastic pit-bull Alan Grayson started a petition (sub req) yesterday urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to lower the Senate’s cloture requirement from 60 votes to 55. Edging dangerously close to his "die quickly" meme, Grayson says that "every day the Senate delays, more people die from lack of health care." Though this could jumpstart the movement for cloture reform, it's most likely a non-starter since mid-session rules changes require 67 votes. Still, the petition could draw criticism from conservatives who think Democrats are trying to force Obama’s agenda through congress, and liberals who worry that lifting cloture requirements would backfire when the GOP reclaims control of Congress.

But the suggestion is not unprecedented and most harmed by Grayson's reputation as a partisan flame thrower. In the mid-1970s, Congress lowered the supermajority of 67 votes to 60. And Ezra Klein writes that liberals should not be worried about weakening the filibuster:

A system governed by the filibuster is a system in which you can't really do anything, but you can't undo anything, either. If the Democrats pass health-care reform, but an angry populace throws 12 Democratic senators and 35 Democratic congresspeople out of office, and then impeaches Barack Obama and replaces him with Haley Barbour, nothing will happen to health-care reform. At least, not if the remaining Democrats don't want anything to happen to health-care reform. That is, on some level, insane: A landslide election is not likely to result in anything close to a ratification of the public's will.

Whether you agree with Grayson's proposal or not, it is clear that something needs to change. Kevin Drum writes today that "full-blown unanimous obstruction is something new under the sun...Dems, for better or worse, never tried to make every single bill a destruction test of the opposing party's governance."  The filibuster was not consistently abused until the Dems reclaimed control of Congress in 2007.  During the Reagan administration, for example, there were as few as 20 cloture votes per congressional term, compared to more than 100 in the 2007-2008 term, twice what was necessary in the preceding six years.

"If progressives REALLY want to transform America," a Senate Democratic chief of staff told TPM last week, "they'll make an issue of the anti-democratic rules of the Senate which make real change virtually impossible." So Alan Grayson's long-overdue proposal could pick up some steam. Too bad it was proposed by… Alan Grayson.

Fertile Opposition to Pesticide-Pushing Ag Nominee

| Tue Nov. 24, 2009 11:56 AM PST

Since Obama tapped Islam "Isi" Siddiqui, an executive for the pesticide lobby, to serve as the chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, discontent with the pick has grown so quickly you'd think it had been genetically modified. On Friday, statements from 90,000 citizens and 80 advocacy groups were delivered to Capitol Hill protesting Siddiqui's nomination. 

The Finance Committee was expected to move his nomination forward on Friday, but pushed its business meeting back until sometime after the holiday. Opponents want to make that delay a permanent one. Siddiqui's critics say he is too close to agri-business interests to perform the job adequately. Since 2001, Siddiqui worked at the agribusiness trade group CropLife America, first as lobbyist and later as vice president of science and regulatory affairs.

Last week, Pesticide Action Network North America delivered a petition to the White House signed by 77,000 people calling for Obama to remove Siddiqui’s name from consideration. Another 14,000 people have emailed their senators about the nomination, and 80 organizations—including sustainable agriculture, farmworker, environmental, trade, and anti-hunger advocacy groups— sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee urging it to reject him. 

"All eyes are on the U.S. to demonstrate international leadership in this arena by withdrawing support for the current industrial model of agriculture, which imperils both people and the planet by undermining food security and worsening climate change," reads the online petition.

The petition also asks Obama to "reconsider" his appointment of Roger Beachy to serve as director of the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beachy was the long-time president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, the nonprofit arm of Monsanto, and his selection also angered sustainable agriculture groups who were hoping that this new USDA office would embrace alternatives to industrial agriculture. But his position did not require Senate confirmation, and at this point it's unlikely that it would be rescinded.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 24, 2009

Tue Nov. 24, 2009 3:55 AM PST

US Army Pfc. Stephen Martin cleans his weapon inside a small shelter at an observation post near Combat Outpost Munoz in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Nov. 15, 2009. Martin is assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith.)

Need To Read: November 24, 2009

Tue Nov. 24, 2009 3:53 AM PST

Today's must reads:

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Coming Soon: Obama's Copenhagen Plans

| Mon Nov. 23, 2009 1:40 PM PST

The White House will announce soon whether President Barack Obama will make an appearance at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.

The administration also expects to be able to announce a target for US emissions reductions before the meeting. The figure will likely fall somewhere between the targets set by the House climate bill (which mandates a 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020) and the Senate measure (which calls for a 20 percent reduction over the same time period.)

Whether Obama shows up at the summit or not, the administration is working hard to convince observers that his administration has already made significant progress on the climate front, despite Congress' failure to enact legislation before the international talks begin. "We have done more than anyone could have ever expected us to do in a relatively short time frame," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday. "[Obama's] turning around an ocean liner and he has done an extraordinary amount to turn that ocean liner around."

 

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Investors Call for Companies to Disclose Climate Risk

| Mon Nov. 23, 2009 10:34 AM PST

What will climate change cost the US economy? To date, the political debate has been fixated almost exclusively on fears that carbon regulations will impose heavy burdens on American companies. But what about the costs that companies will incur if climate change continues unabated? Or the new opportunities that a carbon cap may create for some businesses, such as firms that make windmills or solar panels? Faced with a lack of reliable analysis of the full costs and benefits of both climate change and climate policies, a group of major investors wants the Securities and Exchange Commission to step in. On Monday, the investors wrote to the SEC asking the agency to come up with guidelines to help businesses properly account for climate-related factors that will affect their bottom lines.

The letter was signed by 20 institutional investors from the US and Canada who represent $1 trillion in assets. Signatories include the state treasurers from Oregon, North Carolina, Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, the Environmental Defense Fund, Ceres, a sustainable business coalition, and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the biggest public pension fund in the US. "CalPERS protects workers’ retirement benefits, and climate change poses both great risks and opportunities to these investments,” said CalPERS CEO Anne Stausboll in a statement. "The SEC should strengthen and enforce its current requirements so investors' decisions fully account for climate change’s financial effects."

Last month, the SEC issued new rules at the behest of Ceres and investor groups that require companies to disclose how climate regulation could affect their earnings, if investors request such information. But most companies haven't even started to assess these potential financial risks, in part because the tools for doing are still in their infancy. This latest investor request is an attempt to hurry up the process of ensuring that clmate change is factored into every company's balance sheet—and a sure sign that business leaders and investors believe some kind of climate regulation is coming, and coming soon.

Gitmo Politics in Obama's White House

| Mon Nov. 23, 2009 7:14 AM PST

Photo from the Obama-Biden transition team via flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.Photo from the Obama-Biden transition team via flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.Liberals have not done enough public wrestling with Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf's Time article on the ouster of White House counsel Gregory Craig. Perhaps that's because they don't want to deal with the article's troubling implications. As Kevin explains, Craig was "the White House lawyer tasked with dismantling Bush-era interrogation and detention policies. At first, Obama was on board with Craig's plans.  Then, reality set in."

By "reality," Kevin presumably means "political reality." Time says that as soon as Obama's positions on Bush era torture—releasing the torture photos, for example—became politically difficult, the president jettisoned them. He did this despite the fact that he had been "prepared to accept — and had even okayed" those same positions "just weeks earlier":

First to go was the release of the pictures of detainee abuse. Days later, Obama sided against Craig again, ending the suspension of Bush's extrajudicial military commissions. The following week, Obama pre-empted an ongoing debate among his national-security team and embraced one of the most controversial of Bush's positions: the holding of detainees without charges or trial, something he had promised during the campaign to reject.

But perhaps the most damning part of the Time piece is this sentence, near the beginning, that summarizes exactly what has happened in Obama's White House:

[Obama] quietly shifted responsibility for the legal framework for counterterrorism from Craig to political advisers overseen by Emanuel, who was more inclined to strike a balance between left and right.

Take a minute to think about how the left would respond to this if Obama was a Republican president. Obama delegated the responsibility for determining what to do about detainees to his political advisers. If George W. Bush had charged his political advisers, including Karl Rove, with crafting such policy, the entire blogosphere would have melted down from outrage overload.

Obama's actions here are deeply at odds with the public image he cultivated during his campaign—idealist, civil libertarian, constitutional law professor, someone who rose above politics. You can claim that the president is a "pragmatist," and always has been, but Obama draped himself in idealism and principle during the campaign. The left always complained that Bush let politics drive his policy decisions. But in this instance, couldn't Obama be accused of the same thing?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 23, 2009

Mon Nov. 23, 2009 6:30 AM PST

US Army Military Police officers cross a bridge outside Surkhani Village after leaving an Afghan police checkpoint in eastern Kunar province, Afghanistan, Nov. 11, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 49th Military Police Company, 759th Military Police Battalion. US Army Military Police regularly offer assistance and mentorship to their emerging Afghan police partners. (US Army photo by Pfc. Cody A. Thompson.)

Need To Read: November 23, 2009

Mon Nov. 23, 2009 6:00 AM PST

Today's must reads:

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