United States News Digest
Abu Ghraib General 'Takes the Fifth'
Attorneys in court-martial proceedings against two Abu Ghraib military dog handlers, accused of using the animals to threaten detainees, have sought to question Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller to show that the accused were acting on the instructions of higher authority. Miller was the commander of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba prison facility who was sent to Iraq in late 2003 to "Gitmo-ize" interrogations at Abu Ghraib. A Navy judge in Washington ruled that the attorneys could interview Miller next week, and Miller has refused, citing Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a provision which is recognized as being nearly identical to the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Miller's attorney's spin is that Miller has already been questioned about these matters and has nothing to add to what he's already said. It should be noted that "I already testified" is not covered by the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self-incrimination, nor will it be an adequate response if the accused, who have a Sixth Amendment right to call and confront witnesses in their defense, subpoena Miller to testify in their trials.
Shortly before Miller's action, Abu Ghraib commanding officer Col. Thomas Pappas accepted from the Commander of the Military District of Washington a grant of immunity from any prosecution based upon his testimony in any future trials. The soldiers seeking Miller's testimony, Sgt. Santos Cardona and Sgt. Michael Smith, are scheduled to go to trial separately in February and March.
Cardona's lawyer, Harvey Volzer, says that he believes that orders his client was following came from Pappas, who in turn got direction from Miller, who in turn was instructed by the Pentagon. With Pappas having received immunity, Miller may think he's next to be accused, Volzer reported said.
Prisoner Boycotts Military Commission Tribunal
The reconvened Guantanamo military commission was "thrown into disarray" when the prisoner to be tried announced that he was boycotting the proceedings, the New York Times reported Jan. 12. The commission had reconvened on Jan. 11 for the first time in more than a year. Invited to address the tribunal, defendant Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al-Bahlulcharged with attending an al-Qaeda training camp, being a bin Laden bodyguard, and having made an al-Qaeda recruitment videodenounced the commission in a ten-minute oration replete with Islamist rhetoric, but also complained that he had not been permitted to choose a lawyer from his home country of Yemen, nor allowed to represent himself, and that he was therefore boycotting the proceedings. Major Tom Fleener, Bahlul's appointed military lawyer, moved, after the commission denied Bahlul's motion to represent himself, to withdraw from the case, stating that requiring him to represent a client who didn't want his help was an attempt "to add some air of legitimacy to an otherwise wholly illegitimate process." Fleener's motion to withdraw was also denied.
Scramble Underway To Replace DeLay
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) has set Feb. 2, two days after President Bush's State of the Union speech, as the date for a GOP caucus election to permanently replace Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas) as House Majority Leader. DeLay is to go on trial in Texas on felony charges relating to fundraising. Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo) and House Education and the Workforce Committee chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) are the two top contenders for the post. As of Jan. 13, Blunt had released the names of 70 members publicly supporting him; Boehner released 36. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz), a late entry into the race, had one. However, Congressional Quarterly points out that the balloting is done in secret and more than one candidate has learned the hard way the difference between a public commitment and an actual vote.
Both Blunt and Boehner have renounced DeLay's "K Street Project," the tight relationship that DeLay built with Washington, D.C. lobbying firms as part of his effort to cement GOP control of the Congress, as part of the scramble to distance the GOP from convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "If I am elected Majority Leader, there will no longer be a 'K Street project,' or anything else like it," declared Boehner in a Jan. 12 statement. Blunt followed with a similar statement a short time later. However, as Ellen Miller, director of Campaign for America's Future, pointed out in an op-ed in The Hill Jan. 9, there isn't much difference between them and DeLay, especially when it comes to lobbyists and political action committees. Not only are they each good at hustling trips on corporate planes, she says, they each love to spend PAC money on themselves. Both had strong ties to DeLay's "Corruption, Inc." Alexander Strategies Group; Blunt ran the place and Boehner was a big customer. And they both employed DeLay pal Jim Ellis to run their personal PACs.
Conyers To Hold Democratic Hearing on NSA Spying
Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich), Bobby Scott (D-Va), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) will hold a Democratic hearing on Jan. 20, on warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). They made the decision to have their own hearing after House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc) failed to respond to a request from all 17 Democrats on the committee for hearings. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa) has agreed to hearings, but has not set a date.
Meanwhile, Pentagon Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble has declined a request from 39 House Democrats to investigate the NSA surveillance program. Gimble said the NSA's Inspector General Joel Brenner is investigating, but Brenner's investigation does not involve legal and constitutional issues. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) said the NSA's IG should not be investigating since his office approved the program. Justice Department IG Glenn A. Fine said his office does not have jurisdiction to investigate. The Democrats responded that both the inspector general statute and the USA Patriot Act require his office to investigate. DOJ officials have instead referred the request to the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility.
White House Faces New Investigations of Iraq Policy
George Bush's staged extravaganza before a Veterans of Foreign Wars event in Washington on Jan. 10 wasn't enough to stop the criticism of the Iraq war, which continues to grow. Here are some of the latest developments:
* Paul "Jerry" Bremer, the former pro-consul of the U.S. occupation, says that the failures in Iraq are not his fault, in a new book, My Year in Iraq. He says that from Day One he had wanted more troopshe came to the job with a RAND study that said that 500,000 troops would be needed for the post-combat phase. He says that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ignored his appeals, and that he (Bremer) even brought it up at an NSC meeting where Bush was present, but Bush said he would only listen to "our generals" in Iraq.
* There is growing outrage over reports that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been cheated out of body armor. One astute reader blasts the Pentagon for having a small contract company armor-plate the Humvees. He writes that the job should be given to GM and Ford, which are laying off people, but have the experience to "mass produce" for wartime as they did in World War II.
* Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), one of the co-sponsors of the first bipartisan bill to come up with a withdrawal plan from Iraq, is introducing a resolution that calls upon the new Iraqi Parliament to vote on the question of the U.S. troop withdrawal.
Composition of U.S. Military Looks Like Foreign Legion
Is the U.S. military becoming more like the French Foreign Legion? This is the question that is raised when one looks at the composition of the U.S. military these days. Of course, the all-volunteer military has become the option of last resort for young kids on the street who have a hard time finding a job. But now it is rapidly becoming the fast lane to becoming a citizen for those foreign-born nationals working in the United States. The number of foreign nationals in the U.S. Army has gone from some 25-30% ten years ago, to almost 50% now, according to one VFW official. It is also known that the over-stretching of the U.S. forces has led to several stages of ratcheting down the criteria for joining. For instance, there is no requirement for a high-school diploma or equivalency now. In fact, recruiters are being encouraged to pursue high-school dropouts. The passing grade on the aptitude test has been continually dropped lower.
Cheney Hospitalization Raises New Speculation About Health
Vice President Dick Cheney was rushed to George Washington University Hospital at 3 a.m. on Jan. 9, after experiencing breathing problems. President Bush was not informed about Cheney's condition until much later, when Bush was on his way to breakfast, at which point he said that he was sure that Cheney would be fine and would serve out the remainder of his term.
Although Cheney was released several hours later and there has been great secrecy about his condition, the hospitalization has raised a new round of speculation about his health and future as Vice President. One medical expert told EIR that the symptoms Cheney was exhibiting implied heart or kidney failure, and that doctors were saying the official explanation (fluid retention caused by a medication) made no sense.
An Associated Press release headlined "Cheney Scare a Reminder of Heart Ailments" made a similar point, asking, "Does the episode, Cheney's sixth sudden hospital trip since taking office, suggest his health is worsening?" and stresses that "The latest episode illustrates how Cheney's heart problems may complicate every other ailment that will hit him as he ages." The article explains that although "Cheney's own doctors weren't talking," other heart specialists informed them that if a patient with Cheney's history of serious heart problems developed gout or other arthritic conditions, treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, could create a strain on their kidneys, which would make them that much more vulnerable to side effects.