United States News Digest
Second Judge Removed from DeLay Case
After Texas Judge Bob Perkins was removed from hearing former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's case on grounds that he had given donations to Democratic organizations, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle moved, on Nov. 3, to remove Judge B.B. Schaub from making the decision about who will replace Perkins, on the grounds that Schaub has contributed roughly the same amount to Republicans as Perkins did to Democrats. Schaub responded to Earle's motion by recusing himself. DeLay is charged with conspiracy and money-laundering in connection with fundraising for his political action committees.
Iraq War Plan Worst in American History
The Iraq war plan "will come to be regarded as the worst war plan in American history," said former Washington Post military correspondent Tom Ricks, on Nov. 2, at the conclusion of an all-day conference on military operations in Iraq, held at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. Ricks, who is writing a book on the Iraq war, was highly critical of the war, as were a number of other speakers throughout the day, exposing how the poor planning led to chaos in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad in April of 2003, and the further chaos caused by Amb. Paul Bremer's order disbanding the Iraqi army the following month.
Dr. Conrad Crane, director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute, called Bremer's order "a key mistake," because the Iraqi army was disbanded without pay, but still had its guns. Even worse, the order was issued in such a way as to impugn the honor of the army, which was virtually guaranteed to provide a large pool of potential manpower for the insurgency.
Lt. Col. Richard Lacquement, who was serving in the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul at the time, documented how Bremer's orders for dissolving the army and de-Ba'athification, actually disrupted the efforts by the military commanders on the ground to establish some stability. The riots that followed Bremer's orders, he said, were about "how are we going to live," because upwards of 3 million people were left without support.
Another active-duty officer, Maj. Isaiah Wilson, currently teaching at the U.S. Military Academy, sided with then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who had testified to Congress just before the invasion, that it would take several hundred thousand troops to occupy Iraq. Shinseki's estimation, Wilson said, was based on a conception of a "quality of peace objective." In other words, determine what the country should look like as an objective, and then backward-plan from there, to determine the types of forces required, and the types of activities required to get to that objective. Instead, planning was driven by a military objective and a political decision on what numbers and types of forces would be allocated.
Bush Cronyism Strikes Again
On Nov. 1, President Bush picked a banker/bureaucrat, FDIC chair Donald Powell, who raised big bucks for his Presidential campaign, to manage Gulf Coast "recovery and rebuilding" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Powell, like other Bush cronies such as Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff, has no disaster and/or large-scale rebuilding experience. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the appointment shows that Bush doesn't consider the Gulf Coast recovery "a top priority." Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked how Bush, after his failed response to Katrina, thinks the problem can be solved "by adding another layer of bureaucracy."
Texas Governor Blasts FEMA's Incompetence
The White House might have been able to pretend that criticism of FEMA and Federal disaster response was just partisan politics when the complaints came from the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans, and Democratic Governor of Louisiana. But on Nov. 1, Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote a scathing letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, saying that thousands of hurricane victims are at risk of getting evicted from their current housing. Two months after Katrina, there are still about 175,000 refugees living in Texas apartments, and Perry stated that 15,000 evacuees could face eviction this month, if FEMA does not come up with a plan. Perry also blasted FEMA's denial of a state request to extend by 60 days the government's agreement to pay 100% of the cost of debris removal.
McGovern To Introduce Bill To Force Withdrawal from Iraq
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) announced Nov. 2 that he will be introducing legislation to stop funding deployment of U.S. armed forces in Iraq. The bill would allow Defense Department funds to be used only to provide for: the safe and orderly withdrawal of all troops; consultations with other governments, NATO, and the UN regarding international forces; and financial assistance and equipment to Iraqi security forces and/or international forces.
Cosponsors include Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), and Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.).
Waxman Blasts Chertoff's Failure To Plan
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, fired off a letter Nov. 1 to Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, demanding to know why he has not completed the operational annex to the National Response Plan. The NRP was released by Tom Ridge, Chertoff's predecessor, last Jan. 6, and the operational annex is supposed to set forth, in detail, the precise role of each agency in responding to a major emergency. In his testimony to the House special committee on the Hurricane Katrina response, Chertoff had attributed much of DHS's and FEMA's problems to a lack of planning.
"Given your numerous statements about the importance of planning," Waxman wrote, "it is unclear to me why your department did not complete the detailed operational annex, which would have provided precisely the type of planning you believe was missing in your agency's response to Hurricane Katrina. As Secretary of Homeland Security, you are the federal official responsible for this planning function.... It is your responsibility to complete the operational annex."
Waxman attached to his letter two e-mails exchanged between FEMA officials in the days immediately after the hurricane, showing the chaos reigning in the agency. FEMA director Michael Brown and Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, the military on-scene commander, didn't even make contact until four days after the storm, even though Chertoff had ordered Brown "to get hold of General Honore and make sure you two guys are lashed at the hip." Chertoff, Waxman wrote, "sent an unqualified battlefield commander [Brown] into the field without an adequate battle plan."
Pollard Gets Prison Release Date of 2015
The website of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons last week posted the release date for the notorious spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard as Nov. 21, 2015. On this date, in 1985, Pollard was convicted and, in 1986, sentenced to life in prison for spying. This is the first time a date for his release has ever appeared.
There is no explanation given. Although those given life sentences can be released from prison, it is not usual to post it. Others convicted for spying, including former CIA agent Aldrich Ames and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, have been given life sentences without any date for possible release. The Israeli press speculates that additional Israeli government pressure could shorten the sentence even further.
Releasing Pollard has been a no-no for the last 20 years. Even Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), when he was in Israel several months ago, when asked about the release of Pollard, said he could not be released because of the seriousness of his crime.
U.S. Population Questions White House Ethics
The U.S. population is questioning White House ethics, according to a Washington Post poll, published Oct. 3, which says that 46% of Americans think the level of honesty and ethics in government has declined under Bush, and 55% consider that the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby signals broader problems "with ethical wrongdoing" within the government. The poll also suggests that President Bush's overall job approval rating has fallen to 39%, while a mere third of Americans think he is still doing a good job to ensure high ethics in office. The Post notes that this is slightly lower than Clinton's rating when he left office. Ouch!
The poll says that seven out of ten Americans think the charges against Libby are serious, while 55% believe Fitzgerald's decision to indict Libby was based on the facts, not partisan politics, as some Republicans charge.