United States News Digest
Senate Judiciary Committee Targets Data-Mining Programs
The first hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held on Jan. 10, focussed on what Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) called a "dramatic increase" in the Bush Administration's use of data mining"the collection and monitoring of large volumes of sensitive personal information" to attempt to identify patterns or relationships. Leahy said that there are at least 199 different data-mining programs spread across 52 Federal agencies.
Leahy said that he and other Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, are attempting to restore Congressional oversight, by introducing the Federal Agency Data Mining Act of 2007, which "would begin to restore checks and balances," by requiring Federal agencies to report on their data-mining activities.
Former Republican Congressman and former CIA attorney Bob Barr was asked about reports that, even though Congress passed a law banning it, the Administration is still operating the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, which had been initiated by Adm. John Poindexter (ret.), of Iran-Contra fame.
"I am very concerned about this," Barr said, "as a former prosecutor, as a former member of the House of Representatives, and as a citizen." This Administration "does what it wants," he charged, and "it breeds contempt for the law." Until Congress addresses this issue, Barr said, the Administration will continue "to thumb its nose at the Congress and do what it wants."
When Barr raised the likelihood that the Administration is reading people's private mail, Leahy announced that he will call Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in front of the committee, and that he will question Gonzales as to whether there is a mail-opening program.
Wesley Clark: Is Iran Next?
Speaking at the press conference organized by Senate Democrats on Jan. 10, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), repeatedly attacked what he called "the neo-conservative vision" for regime change in the Middle East. Clark pointed out that under the Administration's plan, Iraq was supposed to be the first to go, followed by Syria, Iran, and others.
Identifying the "surge"Bush's plan to escalate the war in Iranis a tactical measure, not a strategy, Clark asked: "How does the surge contribute to the outcome? How does it help us deal with the larger regional issues?" He then asked, whether the surge is "to prepare for what comes next, in Iran?"
During the question period, EIR asked Clark to elaborate on this, and what would be the effect of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran, on U.S. forces in Iraq.
Clark said that he is sure that "there have been intelligence studies done on this," but he hastened to add that he was not referring to these. "It's just common sense that the Iranians have looked at this possibility, and that they have put in place some preparatory measures.... There is no doubt that the presence of American troops provides an accessible target for the Iranians, should they choose to use it."
He said that the United States can hit Iran with plenty of ordnance, but that this should be "a last, last, last resort," and that "hopefully, it will never come to this."
"I've yet to see the Administration disavow the neo-conservative strategy and vision for the region," Clark told EIR during impromptu questions afterwards. "I think that is a precondition for establishing some stability in the region. As long as the governments in the region believe, rightly or wrongly, that the United States has declared war on them and is committed to throw them out, then they're going to resist in any way they can."
Wild Attack on General Wesley Clark
The Jewish Republican Coalition, founded by the late, gangster-linked Max Fisher, lashed out against former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, who has been warning about a potential U.S. attack on Iran. The remarks in question, made to columnist Arianna Huffington, are also quoted in Jeffrey Steinberg's article, "Bush's Tragic Southwest Asian 'Peloponnesian War,'" in the Jan. 12 EIR. Clark said that he was concerned about a U.S. preventive strike on Iran, explaining: "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."
Selectively taking quotes from Clark, the RJC says that, "By prefacing the observation with a remark about the Jewish community, Clark made it clear to anyone who failed to read between the lines exactly which New York money people he had in mind." The RJC Executive Director stated that "Wesley Clark owes American Jews an apology, and I sincerely hope Democratic leaders will join the RJC in urging him to retract his reckless comments."
ACLU To Target Bush-Cheney Torture and Spying
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, and Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington office, told reporters Jan. 9, that the group would be working closely with the new Congress to roll back the Bush Administration's erosion of civil liberties. Among the measures they will be working for are the following:
* Restore habeas corpus and conduct oversight of the Military Commissions Act.
* Investigate and stop warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency, and conduct vigorous oversight of its activities to include learning the scope of the program and how the information acquired is being used.
* Repeal provisions of the Patriot Act that invade privacy and block unwarranted data-mining programs.
* Investigate and stop torture, abuse, and rendition, and determine where these illegal policies originated.
* Curb the abuse of state secrets privilege that is being used to hide embarrassing information from the public.
Romero noted that, with the Democrats now in charge of the Congress, the ACLU expects much greater success in overturning these measures, though nothing should be taken for granted.
Pentagon Continuing To Whitewash Torture at Guantanamo
Lawyers representing prisoners at Guantanamo said, on Jan. 9, that there is a continued effort by the Pentagon to whitewash the situation at Guantanamo prison; despite the Adminstration's protestations, the conditions there are not humane. Many of the detainees are in isolation cells, subjected to environmental manipulation, such as 24-hour lighting, sleep disruption, and temperature extremes. This is designed to drive them mad, and the techniques are all taken from the CIA's (1963) Kubark interrogation manual. As a result, many detainees are showing signs of mental illness, and can't assist in their litigation. This is similar, the lawyers said, to what was done to Jose Padilla.
Speakers reviewed the five-year history of the fight around Gitmo, including the Administration's denial that detainees had any rights, two Supreme Court decisions saying that they do, then the Administration going to Congress to get laws passed saying they don't. EIR asked what happens if the Cheney-directed Administration again defies the courts and Congressdoesn't this raise the question of impeachment? Center for Constitutional Rights head Michael Ratner said that if the White House were to defy a Supreme Court ruling, people in Congress would be looking at impeachment; but, he said, he isn't prepared yet to say that we have reached the point where our system of checks and balances is out the window.
The speakers, all affiliated with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that they are hoping to get hearings in the new Congress, where there would be witnesses from the military, the diplomatic corps (regarding the image that Guantanamo represents internationally), and some former detainees.
Bush-Cheney Plans for New Nuclear Warhead
The Bush-Cheney Administration will announce plans for a new nuclear warhead, reported the New York Times on Jan. 8. The announcement, to be made by the interagency Nuclear Weapons Council, will reportedly be of a hybrid design, taking elements from two competing designs, one by Los Alamos, the other by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The big question now, the Times quoted arms experts as saying, is whether such a mix-and-match approach "will produce a clever hybrid or an unworkable dud."
Congress authorized research, but not development, for new nuclear warheads three years ago. If the Administration goes ahead with the new design, the Times predicted, this will set off a debate in the new Democratic-controlled Congress, and also among both allies and adversaries abroad. Many have argued that this is the wrong time for Washington to produce a new nuclear warhead of any kindwhen the U.S. is trying to persuade other countries to put sanctions on North Korea and Iran to halt their nuclear programs; the U.S. project would be viewed as hypocritical, and as an attempt by the U.S. to extend its nuclear lead over other countries. It is likely that, if the U.S. tests the new weapon, China and Russia would likewise feel free to do the same under their own nuclear modernization programs.
As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states are committed, on paper, to reducing, and ultimately eliminating, all of their existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons.