Political MoJo

Got Sarin? Here's a Band-Aid

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 10:56 AM EDT

This morning I was among a lucky few DC subway commuters to receive a bundle of safety information from a Metro representative. It included an "Emergency Guide," published by the Washington Post several years ago, several pamphlets detailing what to do in the event of a terrorist attack on the subway, and (my favorite) a pocket-size first aid kit, complete with Band-Aids, antiseptic towelettes, and antibiotic ointment. Now I'm ready for anything!! I suppose it makes sense to raise "awareness," but, geesh, reading the literature does remind you how screwed you'd be if you got stuck in one of those tunnels with a cloud of Sarin. Whatever you do, I guess you shouldn't leave the train car. As the Emergency Guide warns:

Seen through the windows of a speeding train, a Metrorail tunnel is little more than a blur of blackness and lights. Outside the train, on foot, it's a complex and treacherous place, riddled with hazards that can cause injury or instant death.

Thank goodness for my new moist towelette...

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Fujimori Might Slip Away, Again

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 9:13 PM EDT

Former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori might once again escape the law. For the last year, Peruvian authorities have sought Fujimori's extradition from Chile for human rights abuses he oversaw during the 1990s, but it's not looking good. A Chilean judge denied Peru's extradition request last month. Peru, of course, immediately appealed the decision. And Peruvians living in Chile also filed separate criminal charges hoping to tie up Fujimori in the courts rather than allowing him to flee should Peru's appeal fall through.

The South American strongman seems to always be escaping the law. In 2000, a corruption scandal forced Fujimori to flee Peru allowing the South American nation to confront Fujimori's human rights violations with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to South Africa's. Meanwhile, Fujimori's Japanese descent afforded him safe exile in Japan from where he faxed in his resignation. During his exile, international arrest warrants building on the commission's findings were issued by Interpol and Peru. But despite the possibility of capture, Fujimori attempted to slip back into Peru via Chile in 2005. And to run for president, no less. Chilean authorities apprehended him as the two countries have an extradition treaty.

But last month, a Chilean Judge turned down Peru's request. Seemingly as a last resort, Peruvian ex-pats filed the new criminal charges, although, to no avail. Last week, the charges were quickly dismissed and it looks as if Chile's supreme court could take three or more months to decide Fujimori's fate. Without new charges, or some other divine hand, it looks like Fujimori might be back in Japan for Christmas.

—Rafael Valero

Turkey To Issue "Final Warning" to Iraq

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 2:56 PM EDT

I wrote last week of a secret plan to send U.S. Special Forces troops to hunt down Kurdish PKK rebels in the mountains of northern Iraq. The plan was first exposed by columnist Robert Novak. Well, in this morning's Washington Post, Ellen Knickmeyer reports that the Turkish political establishment and military have agreed that the time for action against Kurdish rebels has come. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit Ankara tomorrow for discussions with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Knickmeyer writes that the Turkish leader will deliver "a final warning" for Maliki to act against PKK guerillas based on the Iraqi side of the Turkish-Iraqi border. One analyst quoted in the article said that a Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan could took place as early as August or September.

Meanwhile, Xinhua, the Chinese press agency, reports that Maliki could sign a cooperation agreement with Erdogan during their Ankara summit. According to one Turkish official quoted in the article, "We [asked the Iraqi authorities] to sign a cooperation agreement on counter-terrorism, and they welcomed the offer. They two countries are now working on a draft agreement... There is a chance to sign the agreement during Maliki's visit, if it is completed on time." No word on how the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan feels about this...

As for U.S. participation in a drive to oust the PKK from Iraq, Novak's column may have altered the political calculus. According to The Journal of Turkish Weekly, published by Ankara's International Strategic Research Organization:

Sources close to the Turkish military say the military did not look warmly to the idea of a joint covert operation with the Americans to capture PKK leaders in northern Iraq because they felt even the gossip of such a plan would be leaked and would drive the terrorist leadership deeper underground thus preventing planners from monitoring their whereabouts.
They feared exactly what happened after the Washington Post leaked a story that American officials had briefed senior congressional members about a planned joint operation to capture leaders of the PKK terrorist organization holed up in the northern Iraqi mountains.
They said the news leak meant such an operation had now become null and void.

Even as the U.S. schemes to expel the PKK from Iraq, the organization's Iranian arm—known as PJAK—is looking to the Americans for help. Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, the group's leader, is visiting Washington this week. In a weekend interview with the Washington Times, he appealed to the U.S. government for support:

We obviously cannot topple the government with the ammunition and weapons we have now... Any financial or military help that would speed the path to true Iranian democracy, we would very much welcome, particularly from the United States.

Both the PKK and PJAK are based in the Kandil mountain range in northern Iraq. More on this as it develops...

CREW Files DOJ Complaint Against John Boehner

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 1:24 PM EDT

Early last week House Minority Leader John Boehner appeared on Fox, telling Neil Cavuto that "we have a serious problem with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" and vowing that "Republicans are not going to leave this week until this problem is addressed." Indeed, congressional Republicans and the administration forced Democrats to act on FISA before members of Congress departed for the August recess and succeeded in passing legislation, signed by the president yesterday, that allows the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign communications and people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States."

During his Fox appearance, Boehner told Cavuto that a FISA court judge had issued a ruling "over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintelligence people from listening in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communication could come through the United States." By revealing the secret ruling, Boehner may have divulged classified information, a prosecutable offense. To this end, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington just filed a complaint with the Justice Department, requesting an investigation into whether Boehner broke the law by discussing the FISA court ruling publicly.

From CREW's release:

Rep. Boehner apparently made his remarks to Mr. Cavuto in an effort to blame Democrats for failing to pass legislation overriding the court's decision, stating: "The Democrats have known about this for months. We have had private conversations, we have had public conversations that this needs to be fixed. And Republicans are not going to leave this week until this problem is addressed."

Notably, Minority Leader Boehner has previously expressed strong concerns over illegal leaks for political gain. In discussing a long-running court case regarding an illegally intercepted phone call that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) released to the media, Rep. Boehner stated: "When you break the law in pursuit of a political opponent, you've gone too far. Members of Congress have a responsibility not only to obey the laws of the country and the rules of our institution, but also to defend the integrity of those laws and rules when they are violated."

One Person Who Won't Be Voting For Giuliani: His Daughter

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 12:17 PM EDT

Slate breaks the story today that Rudy's own daughter would rather Barack Obama become president than her own dad.

According to the 17-year-old Caroline Giuliani's Facebook profile, she's supporting Barack Obama.

On her profile, she designates her political views as "liberal" and—until this morning—proclaimed her membership in the Facebook group "Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)." According to her profile, she withdrew from the Obama group at 6 a.m. Monday, after Slate sent her an inquiry about it.

So his son hates him. And his daughter won't vote for him. And then there are the two ex-wives who, one imagines, will have plenty to say about him, especially Donna Hanover.

He may go by "America's Mayor" but Mr. Family Man, he ain't.

Cunningham Co-Conspirator U.S. National Security Asset?

| Sun Aug. 5, 2007 6:00 PM EDT

Big hints that alleged Duke Cunningham co-conspirator Tommy Kontogiannis is experiencing highly unusual treatment from the U.S. government. You can read my theories here and here. But in sum, it's becoming increasingly hard not to believe that Kontogiannis is some sort of long time U.S. government national security asset.

More here.

— Laura Rozen

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Let the Warrantless Wiretapping Resume

| Sun Aug. 5, 2007 12:02 PM EDT

It's official: The Protect America Act is on it's way to the president's desk and, once it arrives, you can be sure it will be signed promptly so the administration can resume its warrantless eavesdropping program (legally this time). Last night 41 House Democrats sided with their Republican colleagues to pass the measure, greenlighted by the Senate on Friday, which revises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing the NSA to intercept foreign communications without obtaining a court order. Troubling to civil libertarians and the House Democrats who voted against the legislation is the wording in the bill, which seems just vague enough that U.S. citizens and domestic communications could still be swept up in the surveillance net, which was the whole problem with the first incarnation of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. According to the bill, electronic intercepts involving people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" are fair game. The question is what constitutes "reasonable belief" and can the intel community be counted on to adhere to this standard, particularly after the FBI's well publicized abuses of its FISA authority.

Another question that's worth asking is why the Democratic leadership—Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in particular—allowed their caucus to be rushed into action on this bill, bowing to pressure from the White House and congressional Republicans, who have been agitating for a FISA fix.

Presidentials at YearlyKos - Are We Done Yet Edition

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 3:49 PM EDT

I am so very tired — physically, metaphysically, everything. Barack Obama will have a hard time impressing me here at this small group event.

"Changing political parties is not enough," says Obama. We need to change the way Washington does business. The main thurst of his campaign stated, he opens the floor to questions.

Education comes up first. Obama says he won't vote to reauthorize No Child Left Behind unless serious changes are made to give underprivileged students better opportunities.

Next, trade. Obama has a conventional response about how trade agreements can't serve corporations; they have to serve American workers and the environment. He does point out that the speech he gives to environmentalists about fuel efficiency standards is the same speech he gives to auto executives in Detroit. Sometimes they don't like it; tough.

Obama is asked about coal, and his previous support of it. He talks about how much he supports renewables (a lot), but won't abandon coal. He says that there are coal miners in Illinois and throughout the Midwest, and he cares about their jobs. That's an unnecessary thing to say here, but kudos, I guess. He says the biggest objective in defeating global warming is working with the Chinese and Indians.

"I'm skinny but I'm tough." That's funnier without context. Is he a chicken wing?

Canadian Controversy Over Mother Jones' Article of a Doctor's Account of Cpl. Megeney's Death: The Editors Respond

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 2:36 PM EDT

There's a lot of controversy in Canada over the Mother Jones article by Dr. Kevin Patterson, "Talk to Me Like My Father: Frontline Medicine in Afghanistan," published in our July/August issue.

This 7,000 word diary of Dr. Patterson's time serving at the military hospital at Kandahar Air Field culminates with a scene in which Dr. Patterson (a Canadian) is on call when Canadian Cpl. Kevin Megeney, who'd just been accidentally shot by another soldier in his own tent, was brought in to the ER. Cpl. Megeney arrived unconscious, his pupils fixed and dilated. Dr. Patterson and the other doctors at hand tried to do what they could—including opening his chest with a "clamshell incision"—but the bullet had entered his heart.

The controversy started when the The News—a community paper that serves Pictou County, Nova Scotia, where parts of the Megeney family live—reported that George Megeney, Cpl. Megeney's uncle, was upset that Dr. Patterson described the methods used to try to save his nephew, and did not disguise his identity:

"Had he not identified Kevin, it would have been bad enough," he said. The use of the soldier's name – and lack of permission from the family to identify him – has Megeney questioning the author's ethics.
He said the first the family heard of the article was when he and Kevin's parents received a letter from Mother Jones advising them that the magazine was publishing a story with graphic content about the death, and offering to send them copies of the magazine prior to publication.

Which is more or less correct. But what The News failed to report (in part because it didn't talk to us or Dr. Patterson) in its initial article was that I spoke to Cpl. Megeney's mother at length by phone and that even after reading the article, some members of the immediate family wrote us to thank us for publishing the article and Dr. Patterson for doing all he could to try to save Cpl. Megeney. Here's the response that I posted on our website after a few people who'd read The News article wrote in to express their outrage:

As the co-editor of Mother Jones, I would like to make a few things clear in regards to the part of this story that involves Cpl. Kevin Megeney. First, we sent a letter to Cpl. Megeney's parents, uncle, and sisters, ahead of publication, informing them that this 7,000 word diary of a doctor's month of service at Kandahar Air Field did contain a scene involving the tragic death of their son. That it was written by a doctor present when Cpl. Megeney was brought in for emergency surgery, and that it would likely be disturbing to those close to him. We offered to send it to them or any intermediary they would like if they thought it would be too disturbing to read it themselves.
I then spoke with Mrs. Megeney by phone at length. She assured me that the family would like to see the article, and that she was a nurse and would read it before any other members of her family; she said it would help to have closure to know more about what happened. We heard from other members of the family who also wanted to read it, and some whom, after they did, expressed the desire to write to Dr. Patterson "to express my appreciation to him for exhausting every effort to save [him]." They asked that we link to Cpl. Megeney's memorial site, which we were already planning on doing, so our readers would have a chance to express their condolences [they've since asked that it be removed. See below].
As to the question of anonymity: The death of Cpl. Megeney was an extremely well covered story in Canada. There was no way to write about the incident and not have it be instantly clear to any member of his family or any member of the Canadian press, or anyone who'd followed the story who we were talking about simply by omitting his name. So we felt it would be false anonymity at best. Doctors can and do publicly talk about how patients die when the story is already in the news--consider press conferences following tragic accidents. And there was certainly nothing in this account that disparaged Cpl. Megeney, who served his country admirably and died in a tragic accident.
This was an extremely emotional story to work on. The account of Cpl. Megeney's death was particularly poignant, but there were many other stories in there of death and injury to soldiers and civilians that are hard to read. But in our opinion for the greater public to live in denial about what happens in a war does a disservice to those soldiers who serve and the civilians who are affected.

I could go into greater detail about our correspondence with the Megeney family, but I'm not going to. They have the right to disagree amongst themselves or to change their minds, individually or collectively, about their reaction to the article. And they have a right to express those views publicly. Their loss and their grief is their own.

But now, perhaps emboldened by (or having stirred up) this controversy, the Canadian military has announced that it will investigate if Dr. Patterson—who is a veteran of the Canadian army but went over there as a civilian because the Canadian army (like our own) is running out of enlisted doctors—violated any military rules or ethics by writing about the event. (No one, I might add, is questioning the factual basis of the article, which was rigorously fact-checked. Just whether it was okay to recount the facts.)

Now, I can't look into the military's heart and know why it is investigating Dr. Patterson. But I can say that in multiple conversations I've had in the past 24 hours with various members of the Canadian press, they've all told me off the record that they a) thought the article was great, sensitive to all parties, and responsible b) an antidote to the sanitized coverage of the war c) that the Canadian military was mostly upset because this kind of realistic account of the war (or any war) "hurts recruiting," and d) they get upset whenever they can't control the press. Particularly around a friendly-fire incident, as the Pat Tillman incident has taught Americans quite well.

I can however speak to Dr. Patterson's character, which is being maligned by some on various comments boards. I've known Dr. Patterson for nearly a decade. In addition to serving Canada in the military as young man, he took the risk to go to Afghanistan and treat allied personnel and Afghan civilians. He's also worked in Inuit and tropical communities treating TB patients (which he wrote about in "The Patient Predator" for Mother Jones; the reporting inspired his novel Consumption, which has just come out to rave reviews.). In sum, he's not only a great writer, but a truly fine human being. Were I, or anyone I loved, sick or injured, I could only hope to come under the care of someone as compassionate as he.

And on the subject of compassion: At the Megeney family's request, we've removed the link to Kevin Megeney's memorial site as some people on our site—that means you, "Jackie"—were using it to mock the family. Those posts have been deleted and we will continue to monitor. I would ask any visitor to our site that no matter what your feelings about the war in Afghanistan or Iraq that you not conflate your political opinions with other people's loss.

You can read more about the controversy at the Globe and Mail here and subsequent comments, where I've weighed in, but that has mostly deteriorated into a shouting match about the war itself here. A CBC radio interview with Dr. Patterson can be found here. And an account by the (Nova Scotia) Chronicle Herald, is here. More from The News here and here. And of course people have weighed in on our site here.

You can also view a photo essay by Canadian photographer Lana Slezic on the plight of women in Afghanistan. And CNN terror analyst and Taliban expert Peter Bergen lists ten reasons why the war in Afghanistan is starting to look more like Iraq here.

Live-Blogging the Big Forum (Circus?): The Candidates Meet on Stage

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 2:16 PM EDT

Next up, a forum of the presidential candidates. I'll try my best to live blog. When the candidates were introduced a moment ago, there was a standing ovation with wild applause. In fact, Barack Obama got a standing ovation from a portion of the crowd when it was announced that today is his birthday – some people even sung.

This is going to get rowdy.