United States News Digest
Bush Meets with Former Secretaries of State, Defense
President George Bush probably got an earful from some of the former Secretaries of State and Defense, who were invited to the White House on Jan. 5 for a videoconference briefing on Iraq by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, and an exchange of views. Participants included former Secretaries going back to the Kennedy and Nixon Administrations; among them William Perry, Madeleine Albright, James Schlesinger, James Baker III, Melvin Laird, Lawrence Eagleburger, George Shultz, William Cohen, Frank Carlucci, Al Haig, Robert McNamara, and Colin Powell. From the Administration's side, apart from President Bush, present were Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley, who seems to be the one who pulled the meeting together. Vice President Cheney was reportedly also a participant.
The meeting lasted a little over an hour, and, according to Laird, the "Boy in the Bubble" President probably got to hear some things that he doesn't normally hear. While Khalilzad spoke without interruption, a number of the former Defense Secretaries interrupted Casey's briefing to ask some pointed questions. Albright expressed concerns about the way the operations in Iraq were going, with 150 casualties being reported in two incidents that day. A few of the former Secretaries simply left when the meeting was over, but a number of them came to the press stakeout. While Haig tried to be upbeat about the progress, he also indicated that there was no room for optimism. Eagleburger was even more pessimistic about the post-Iraq election situation. A number of the participants were curious to know if this meeting were envisioned as a glorified photo-op or whether it would lead to more substantive discussions over the direction of policy. No return visit has yet been set.
Supreme Court Allows Transfer of Padilla
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Jan. 4 to permit the transfer of accused "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla from military to civilian custody, to face criminal charges. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had blocked the transfer as part of a rebuke to the White House in which it accused the Administration of trying to evade a Supreme Court review of their holding of Padilla for three years as an "enemy combatant," even though Padilla is a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil.
While ordering Padilla's transfer, the high court said at the same time that it will decide "in due course" whether to take up Padilla's challenge to his military imprisonment. "That's fine. It's great," said Donna Newman, one of Padilla's lawyers. "Both things are good."
Support for Iraq War Declines Among Military Personnel
The third annual poll of the readers of Military Times, released Jan.3, found that support for the Iraq war, and for Bush, is dropping rapidly. The poll, among readers whom they describe as mostly older, and mostly officers, resulted in a drop in approval for the Administration's Iraq policy by 9%, to 54%, while overall approval of Bush went down 11%, to 60%. They note that supporters of the war had used the Military Times polls in the last two years to show support for the war within the military.
Fewer Death Penalty Sentences in 2005
The number of death sentences handed down in 2005 fell to 96, from 125 in 2004, and 276 in 1999; the number of executions fell from 98 in 1999 to 60 in 2005. Only on the Federal level, under the Bush-Cheney Beastman cabal, was there a counter-trend, with expanded use of the death penalty and efforts in Congress to restrict further the capital appeals process. Even Texas, which topped the charts again last year with 19 executions (or approximately one-third of all U.S. executions), saw a shift, as it became the 37th out of 38 states which still have the death penalty, to adopt the option of life without parole in capital murder cases.
In other significant developments, New York's legislature refused to restore the death penalty, after the State Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional; Virginia, which has carried out the second-highest number of executions (after Texas) since 1976, commuted the sentence of Robin Lovitt to life without parole, and had zero executions for the year. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Roper v. Simmons, declared juvenile executions unconstitutional, and this year will take up three new Death Row cases, exploring the issue of innocence.
Many former death penalty advocates have switched sides, especially in the face of so many exonerations, now up to 122, since 1973, recognizing that it is virtually impossible to guarantee that innocent people have not be put to death and will not be. One example is retired Orange County, California Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin: "This may seem strange coming from a man known as the 'hanging judge of Orange County,' but I think it's time to abolish the death penalty.... Human error, inequities, biases, and personal ideologies create the problems that have caused my rejection of the death penalty. Because these frailties will not magically vanish, capital punishment cannot be implemented with any sense of balance of fairness, thus it must be abolished."
Bush Issues Fewest Pardons
President Bush has issued the fewest pardons of any modern President. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 3,687 pardons during his 12 years in office; Woodrow Wilson, 2,480, and Truman, 2,044, in eight years each. Calvin Coolidge issued 1,545 in six years, and Herbert Hoover gave 1,385 in four years, the most for any single-term President. During their eight years in office, Clinton issued 456 pardons, Reagan 406. Carter issued 566 in four years, while Bush has issued only 77 pardons in five years, 11 of them last week. Bush has not pardoned a single person on Death Row, and is said to favor those who have "made amends," as he has. "I'm on a walk just like you," says the dry drunk. "It is a never-ending walk as far as I'm concerned." Bush also seems to favor requests from Texas and Florida, having granted 14 of his precious 77 to residents of those "Bush fiefdoms" during his tenure.
The best way to get a Bush pardon? Buy it. Wendy St. Charles, a lawyer for a Denver homebuilder, was convicted on "drug charges" in 1984. In 2004, the homebuilder gave $39,000 to the Republican National Committee, for the Convention. His former lawyer was pardoned last week.
Anti-LaRouche Propagandist Was on Pentagon Payroll
The New York Times revealed on Jan. 2 that neo-con anti-LaRouche propagandist and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin was being paid by the Lincoln Group, with Pentagon money, to "consult" on propaganda operations in Iraq. The Lincoln Group, a private consulting outfit, was paid tens of millions of dollars in Pentagon funds to plant pro-U.S. propaganda stories in the "liberated" Iraqi media. The Times story revealed that some of that money went to hiring Muslim "scholars" to advise on propaganda strategies. And Michael Rubin, who served for six months in the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, and was part of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) Pentagon apparatus, was also hired as a consultant to the Lincoln Group, to advise it on the Muslim propaganda efforts in Iraq.
Rubin told the Times, "I visited Camp Victory and looked over some of their proposals or products and commented on their ideas. I am not nor have I been an employee of the Lincoln Group. I do not receive a salary from them. Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or honorarium." Rubin was interviewed last month by the Times about the revelations of the Lincoln Group's propaganda work for the Pentagon, but at the time he never mentioned his own work for the group.
Rubin penned a series of slanders against LaRouche, and in defense of Leo Strauss and the neo-cons, over the past few years, in which he accused a wide range of critics of the neo-cons, from Seymour Hersh to Karen Kwiatkowski, to Patrick Lang, of being "LaRouche agents." Was Rubin also paid for his anti-LaRouche propaganda with taxpayer money through the Pentagon's black budget?
Democrats Block Federalist Society Nominee
Of six 2005 appeals court nominees yet to be voted on by the Senate, only one has been bounced back to the White HouseBrett Kavanaugh, a Federalist Society member who drafted the impeachment papers against President Bill Clinton while working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
Under Senate rules, if a nominee has not been confirmed by the end of the year, the nomination automatically returns to the White House; however, the rule is usually waived, as it was for the other five nominees in that category. Right-wing circles are speculating that the objection to Kavanaugh was made by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), but her office has denied it.
Under the present Administration, Kavanaugh has worked in the Office of White House Counsel, under Alberto Gonzales, Timothy Flanigan, and others, and he played a major role in screening judicial nominations and defending the most ideological of them. Last April, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) )called Kavanaugh's nomination "among the most political in history," and said that Kavanaugh "would probably win first prize as the hard right's political lawyer."
"Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the D.C. Circuit is not just a drop of salt in the partisan wounds," Schumer said, "it's the whole shaker."