Military whistleblowers: watch your back.

Back in July of 2009, the Department of Justice Inspector General's office issued a report that found that the Pentagon's system for investigating military whistleblower retaliation has been given the short shrift. Focusing on the Pentagon IG's Directorate of Military Reprisal Investigations (MRI), the DOJ's IG report found that the number of military whistleblower retaliation allegations more than doubled between 1997 and 2007, suggesting a considerable dearth of oversight. The previously undisclosed report was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), an independent watchdog group.

One of the report's biggest criticisms of the MRI: that the office has failed to resolve complaints within the required 180-day timeframe. "The failure of MRI to meet consistently the statutory time deadline," it says, "is largely a function of insufficient staffing to handle the large and growing number of reprisal allegations." The report also found that the military reprisal program wasn't viewed as a priority with the DoD IG's office. "We believe that MRI should do more to ensure that cases delegated to the service IGs are assigned for investigation outside the chain of command of the involved parties," the report adds. The DOJ IG report also recommended greater oversight and better training for IGs.

The DoD IG's office has been cleaning up its act in the 16 months since the DOJ took it to task. A March 2010 report to Congress shows progress towards implementing Justice Department's reform recommendations, including increased staffing and improved procedures.

The bad news is that this was a problem in the first place. But at least things are improving. Whistleblowing, of course, violates the armed forces' foundational culture—respect for the chain of command. But words like Iran-Contra, Tailhook, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo make it painfully obvious that that chain isn't immune to perversion. And it's a big deal that the DoD is acknowledging that.

In February, multiple media outlets reported that the Obama administration had a list of US citizens it was targeting for death. Topping the hit list, according to the reports, was Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda propagandist hiding out in Yemen who is accused of masterminding the Fort Hood and Christmas Day terror attacks. So in August, two civil liberties groups and al-Awlaki's father, Nasser, filed suit in federal court in an attempt to force the Obama administration to disclose the legal rationale it is using to target al-Awlaki for death. On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the case, finding that Nasser al-Awlaki doesn't have the legal right to sue on his son's behalf. For now, it seems, the federal courts will defer to the Obama administration's implicit assertion that it has an unreviewable power to target and kill US citizens that it believes to be terrorists. 

The decision, by Judge John Bates of the DC Circuit, was widely anticipated. (When the lawsuit was filed in August, I wrote a post explaining all the reasons why it was likely to fail.) Bates' acknowledgement that "this is a unique and extraordinary case" that presents "fundamental questions of separation of powers involving the proper role of the courts in our constitutional structure," and that "vital considerations of national security and of military and foreign affairs (and hence potentially of state secrets) are at play" will come as cold comfort to civil libertarians, who had hoped that the court would find a way to address those very issues. As Marcy Wheeler notes, Judge Bates' decision also echoes his July 2007 ruling dismissing former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson's attempt to sue Bush administration officials for blowing her cover. In that case, Bates also highlighted the key issues raised by the case before throwing it out on technical grounds.

The DREAM Act never stood much of a chance in this lame-duck Congress. Now things look even worse: The bill's staunchest champions are wavering, and the DREAM Act looks like it's in the dustbin even before it's hit the floor. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)—a co-sponsor of many iterations of the DREAM Act—had for months been the lone Republican who's vowed to support the bill, which would provide a pathway to legalization for young immigrants. Lugar's support gave Democrats hope that other moderate Republicans might come on board, and his position helped convince outgoing Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) to pledge support. But Politico reports that even Lugar is now reconsidering:

Support from Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, who co-sponsored a version of the bill as recently as September, is now uncertain, with his spokesman saying the senator "doesn’t like the political games being played" and is exploring his options.

Sound familiar? It's the same rationale that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) gave for dropping out of the climate-change negotiations with Democrats in the spring, when partisan polarization had reached a new high after the passage of health-care reform. Having once fashioned himself as a party-bucking maverick, Graham has largely refused to cross party lines to work with the Democrats since. In recent months, Lugar has stepped into that role, leaving liberals hopeful that Democrats might still have a GOP ally. If Lugar abandons DREAM, it will certainly dampen those hopes. And it could make even incremental reform on immigration far more difficult if DREAM fails with more "no" votes than ever before.

That being said, Lugar could also be trying to perform political triage, saving up his capital to make a big push for the new START treaty, which has a significantly better chance of passing than the DREAM Act. The Republican was bullish about START's passage on Sunday, but the treaty still needs more GOP support before it can pass. Lugar might not be willing to stir up the enmity of his Republican colleagues by defying his party on a separate bill that looks bound to fail anyway.

This is a personal story about a recent interaction I had with the health care system and the pharmaceutical industry that caused me to reevaluate a lot of things.

The Friday before Thanksgiving, I realized I was sick. I had a bad cough, a sore throat, and my nose was totally stuffed-up. I was pretty miserable. I was like that for about a week, dosing up regularly on NyQuil and DayQuil. Things seemed to get a bit better—the sore throat calmed down and the stuffy feeling went away. But I was still coughing, so this Thursday, I went to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed bronchitis and prescribed an antibiotic. 

The Washington Post's editorial page suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The cause: the newspaper's inability to come to terms with its cheerleading for the Iraq war. The symptoms were most recently manifested in an editorial that slammed the movie, Fair Game, which is a Hollywood treatment of the Valerie Plame/CIA leak case that culminated with the 2007 conviction of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. The Post huffed that the movie is "full of distortions—if not outright inventions." But the paper's editorialists protest too much—and reveal their own biases.

When the movie opened, two veteran Post reporters who covered the CIA leak case—Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby—wrote an extensive article detailing what portions of the movie were fact and what were the product of dramatic license. The pair noted that the film exaggerates Valerie Plame Wilson's role in a specific intelligence operation aimed at gathering intelligence on WMD activity within Iraq. (In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, we revealed that she was the operations chief of the CIA’s clandestine Joint Task Force on Iraq.) And the movie, the pair report, may stretch the truth in the scenes in which Iraqi scientists who cooperated with the CIA are stranded in Iraq when Valerie Wilson's CIA identity is revealed in a newspaper column by conservative Bob Novak. But Pincus and Leiby concluded, "the movie holds up as a thoroughly researched and essentially accurate account."

Not so, huffs the editorial page, which has long been edited by Fred Hiatt, a fervent supporter of the Iraq war. The editorial takes issue with the movie's depiction of Valerie Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, "as a whistle-blower who debunked a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country of Niger." Joe Wilson, in case you've forgotten, was dispatched by the CIA to Niger in 2002 to check out the allegation that Iraq had obtained yellowcake from Niger that could be used to produce nuclear weapons. The CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger had been sparked by a request from Cheney for more information on the unconfirmed and sketchy Niger allegation.

When Wilson returned from Niger, he told the CIA that based on his conversations with former Nigerien officials, he had concluded that such an Iraq-Niger uranium deal was highly unlikely. And in July 2003—months after President Bush launched the Iraq war with the claim that Saddam Hussein posed a serious WMD threat—Wilson wrote a New York Times op-ed maintaining that the Bush-Cheney administration had "twisted" some of the pre-war "intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program." He wrote that he was basing this conclusion on the administration's public use of the Niger charge—which President George W. Bush had cited in that year's State of the Union speech—despite what Wilson had told the CIA. This is the somewhat mild way Wilson put it in the op-ed:

The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government. The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.

 Now, the Post editorial belittles Wilson's whistleblowing:

In fact, an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee found that Mr. Wilson's reporting did not affect the intelligence community's view on the matter, and an official British investigation found that President George W. Bush's statement in a State of the Union address that Britain believed that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger was well-founded.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Adam J. Rigdon, an armorer with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), participates in combat marksmanship training while wearing the M50 Joint Service General Purpose Mask at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 30, 2010. The marksmanship training is one of several scheduled training events the MEU will complete in preparation for their upcoming deployment. (DoD photo by Cpl. Brandon Rodriguez, U.S. Marine Corps/Released)

I've never thought of the angry activists who make up the tea party movement as a bunch of duffers, but apparently I must have just missed those folks at the rallies. Because the Tea Party Patriots recently added some new holiday offerings to their online "store" that suggest the group's target audience not only plays a lot of golf but drinks serious booze as well.

Along with the usual t-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the Tea Party Patriots' fancy new logo, the store is offering what may be the first tea party Christmas tree ornament, TPP golf towels and balls, and even some engraved barware that will set your average tea partier back a pretty penny. TPP engraved "rocks" glasses are going for $19.95 each for a set of four, while a set of four 18-ounce crystal glasses are selling for $59.95. (No TPP menorahs, though.) While these items might do well among members of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots, which holds its meetings at a tony Bethesda, Maryland tennis and swim club, it's hard to imagine many tea partiers snapping up golf towels and highball glasses, particularly given the movement's fondness for thrift and disdain for elitism.

TPP might do better to take some cues from the National Rifle Association, whose membership has considerable overlap with the tea party's. The NRA knows its audience. For Christmas stocking stuffers, its online store offers NRA pistol cases, emergency radios, gun socks, and cleaning pads. For gifts under $50, there are lots of better goodies that will appeal to the man in your life who has too many Gadsden flags. There's the "Holster Mate," a nifty pistol holder that attaches to a mattress. It "even works with a bed skirt" so that "your pistol will never leave your side." And of course, it comes equipped with the NRA logo. Other gifts include official NRA Zippo lighters, dog collars, floor mats designed for a big truck, and an NRA "bug out" bag. ("Whether you have a 180 square mile wildfire, a category 4 hurricane or a trip to the in-laws bearing down on you, either way, if you need to bug out of town this duffle is ready to go.") Oh, and there's also the official NRA battle axe, designed for both chopping down big trees and also throwing at people should the need arise.

It's all very manly and defiantly anti-establishment, an image the gun rights group no doubt likes to express. TPP's store, on the other hand, suggests that the movement has already assimilated into the very Washington establishment it claims to despise. After all, it's hard to think of a Christmas gift that screams "country-club Republican" more than a golf towel.

Gingrich-Rubio 2012?

Gearing up for his likely 2012 presidential bid, Newt Gingrich has given himself a pro-Latino makeover. Having once criticized Latinos for continuing to speak "the language of living in the ghetto," he's now become a dutiful Spanish language student. And last week he held a two-day conference for Latino conservatives. In his keynote address, Gingrich tried to come across as a Bush-style moderate on immigration: "We are not going to deport 11 million people…There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty." He emphasized he's open to a pathway for legalizing undocumented immigrants: "People who have been here obeying every law except immigration…you're not going to send them home."

Gingrich's Latino outreach comes just as another round of the immigration fight is about to break out on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to legalization for young immigrants who've completed two years of college or military service. While the bill could conceivably pass the lower chamber, it doesn't take a pessimist to predict that it will hit a total impasse in the Senate.

At least five or more Senate Republicans need to sign on for the immigrant legalization bill to pass, and the GOP has made it abundantly clear lately that it ain't gonna happen. The debate isn't likely to ennoble the Democrats in the eyes of Latino voters, many of whom have been disappointed that the party hasn't pushed harder to make immigration a priority. But it's even less likely to attract them to the GOP, whose harsh and occasionally ugly rhetoric against immigrants is likely to make a reappearance during the debate next week.

At Gingrich's summit in Washington, conservatives Latinos (and pro-Latino conservatives) tried to push the message that Latino voters were fundamentally in sync with the GOP principles of free enterprise, self-reliance, and social conservatism. But, when pressed, some admitted that they needed to push back against the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric within the GOP. Andro Nodarse-Leon—a Miami investment banker and board member of a Jeb Bush-led PAC—described the GOP's race problem:

There is a massive amount of ignorance in part of the party, and that's the reality. When you have ignorance, you basically default to stereotypes…You need to educate that part of the party, if you will, about the contributions that Hispanics have made to this country, continue to make to this country.

Nodarse-Leon, for one, has pinned his hopes on Marco Rubio to help counter such ignorance. Having worked on the Florida Senator-elect's campaign from the start, he's confident that Rubio will push for moderate immigration reforms like guest-worker visas and changes to the legal immigration system—effectively reclaiming the Bush immigration agenda. And Gingrich has come closer than any other 2012 Republican contender willing to venture back to the land of the reasonable on the issue.

You know why being a diplomat is so awesome? In addition to living in exotic locations and meeting interesting people, you also get to debrief colorful characters. Like Iranian ninja masters.

Reading through the latest diplomatic traffic released by WikiLeaks, I came across this September 2009 communiqué from the US Embassy in Baku, Azerbijan. Its subject line reads, "IRAN: NINJA BLACK BELT MASTER DETAILS USE OF MARTIAL ARTS CLUBS FOR REPRESSION." The cable details a meeting with a "martial arts coach and trainer," who tells an embassy official "that private martial arts clubs and their managers are under intense pressure to cooperate with Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guard organizations, both in training members and in working as 'enforcers' in repression of protests and politically motivated killings." From the cable:

xxxxxxxxxxxx observed that Iranian internal security forces are highly suspicious of these clubs as potential vehicles for organization and "combat" training of future protesters and regime opponents. Nonetheless, he asserted that their main motivation is seeking to control these clubs is less driven by such fears as by a desire to deploy their trained membership at will for "special tasks." According to xxxxxxxxxxxx these tasks range from providing martial arts training to Revolutionary Guard members and Basij, assistance in protest repression, intimidation, and crowd control, to political killings. He observed that use of these clubs and their members provides the security forces with "plausible deniability" for dirty undertakings, as well as trained fighters and potential trainers.

The trainer/ninja master went on to detail the exploits of one ninja hit man:

xxxxxxxxxxxx said he personally knew one such martial arts master whom he said was used by the Intelligence service to murder at least six different individuals over the course of several months in xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the victims included intellectuals and young "pro-democracy activists," adding that his assassin acquaintance was ultimately "suicided" by the authorities (i.e., killed in what was subsequently labeled a suicide).

I never realized that Iran had a big ninja contingent. Apparently they do. And if this video is any indication, they're pretty bad ass.

Last week, incoming House Speaker John Boehner and incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were acting like they'd received a gift from above. On November 29, a Christian web news service published a critical story about "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," a new gay-and-lesbian themed exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery that included a seemingly sacrilegious video of an insect-infested crucifix. In response, the two top House Republicans demanded that the gallery, part of the federally funded Smithsonian Institution, cancel the entire show. Cantor dubbed the exhibit "an outrageous use of taxpayer money."

Their conservative colleagues rushed to bring the wrath of Congress down on a staid institution best known for its First Lady portraits and Gilbert Stuart renderings of George Washington. Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News, "If they've got money to squander like this—of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing—then I think we should look at their budget."

For congressional Republicans, the kerfuffle was a welcome chance to rile up their base. Evangelical Christians have been uneasy with the rise of the tea party movement and its attempt to focus on fiscal issues to the exclusion of more controversial social ones. The Portrait Gallery provided the GOP leadership with an easy way to reassure socially conservative foot soldiers that it has not forgotten them: Reviving the culture wars of the 1980s, when conservatives crusaded against objectionable federally funded art. Attacking "Hide/Seek" provided an effortless victory with little downside: The artsy types who cried censorship generally don't like Republicans, and Bohner and company know that while the tea party is a vocal part of their coalition, evangelical Christians still make up a much bigger part of the electorate (and there are many tea partiers among them, too). And besides, there's nothing better than a fight over publicly-sponsored gay art to get evangelicals fired up.