Archive for March, 2007

Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com, Leslie Cagan of United for Peace, and Environmental Writer Erik Reece on Talk Nation Radio

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Talk Nation Radio for March 28, 2007

US Election Rigging, DRE’s, Iraq, Iran, and a legal victory on Mountaintop Mining

Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Erik Reece author of Lost Mountain, a Year in the Vanishing Wilderness

Produced by Dori Smith at WHUS a Pacifica Affiliate at the University of Connecticut Total Running Time: 29:26

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(For more information about this interview see: Another Resignation Leaves Only the Chair of Both the Ohio Republican Party and Cuyahoga’s Election Board After SoS Demands All Resign in State’s Most Democratic County…Bradblog.com)

Welcome to Talk Nation Radio, a half hour discussion on politics, human rights, and the environment. I’m Dori Smith

We hear from Leslie Cagan of United for Peace on the Iraq War spending bill, the deadline and the likelihood of a U.S. attack on Iran. Environmental writer Erik Reece fills us in on a court battle involving mountaintop mining. And we begin with Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com We spoke with Brad just after the Valerie Plame Wilson testimony before U.S. Congress. He was live blogging during that testimony. Today we will air the second part of that conversation where we spoke about another breaking story on Bradblog.com about Cuyahoga County Ohio where election officials have been asked to resign over election fraud.

Brad Friedman: They were asked to resign by the new Secretary of State in Ohio, Jennifer Brunner, who comes in and replaces the extraordinary partisan J. Kenneth Blackwell. This request for those folks to resign in Cuyahoga County, that’s essentially Cleveland, the most Democratic part of the state, comes in the wake of the conviction and sentencing of two Cuyahoga County elections officials who were convicted just last week of gaming of rigging if you will the 2004 presidential election recount in Ohio. So again this has been another area where folks like myself have reported on this for years, we’ve been called ‘conspiracy theorists’ and what do you know? In fact, they did game the 2004 presidential election recount and in fact, during the sentencing both the judge and the prosecutor said that they felt that this story goes much higher and that their superiors had to know about these matters.

The prosecutor said that the election officials who were charged were not cooperative during the investigation and that they believe there is much more to this story. So the new Secretary of State has jumped in, has asked all of those board of elections officials to resign, and in fact, the head of the board of elections Robert Bennett out there has vowed that he will not resign and it should be noted here that the head of that Cuyahoga county board of elections, Robert Bennett also happens to be the chairman of the Ohio State Republican Party.

So you’ve got in Ohio which is just a snake pit still, you’ve got this mix of partisan politics in our public elections system and frankly there should not be this kind of a mix. It has endangered not just Ohio but certainly the whole country as Ohio was the state whose results ended up giving the Presidency to George W. Bush in 04.

This is another story by the way that the mainstream media, I mean just days after the 2004 election the New York Times came out and regarded all of the questions that folks like me had about what happened in Ohio as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and ‘left wing bloggers’. I would suggest the New York Times also owes an apology to folks like myself because it turns out something very very bad did go wrong in Ohio in 04 and the matter is still, to this day, being covered up and not adequately investigated by the mainstream media.

Dori Smith: Turning to electronic voting machines themselves now, the DRE’s, they are under scrutiny again but they have always been under scrutiny by bloggers. Just talk about this new challenge to get rid of DRE’s because even though they may produce a paper trail that may not be enough to protect them from various kinds of fraud.

Brad Friedman: The concern is election insiders who have access to these machines who can game the system. Here is a place where I believe the bloggers, the progressive bloggers, had as well dropped the ball in many cases. One of the biggest progressive blogs out there, Daily Kos, actually banned and purged diarists who were writing about the Ohio 2004 election controversy and trying to investigate that matter, the circle of folks who have been looking into this gets even smaller.

But yes there has been a controversy about these DRE, Direct Recording Electronic, or sometimes known as touch screen voting systems, for quite some time. You now have Democrats in control of Congress. Rush Holt in the House has brought forward an election reform bill that has a lot of very good stuff in it. However, he stops short of banning these DRE voting systems.

Now the fact is with or without a so called paper trail these systems are damned dangerous and are antithetical to democracy because it is quite literally impossible, impossible for anyone who votes on a DRE system to verify that their vote was recorded correctly. It can’t be done. You can verify these so-called paper trails all you want but the dirty little secret is that the paper trails are not used for the election results. They use the machine numbers, the internal numbers, and there is no way that a human being can actually verify those numbers prior to them being tabulated and recorded on election night.

So we’ve got to ban these DRE touch screen systems, there is no reason in the world not to, and in fact we ran an item today at Bradblog.com called, ‘A Challenge to Opponents of A Ban on Electronic Ballots,’ asking them, asking anyone, right left center, I don’t care, step forward and give a single reason that DREs should be allowed under the Holt bill or for that matter anywhere in America again.

They are dangerous, they are disenfranchising, when they break down voters simply can’t vote, and that doesn’t happen when you deal with a paper based ballot system. By the way we saw that in 2006 all across the country with thousands of legally registered voters unable simply to cast a vote because when a DRE system breaks down there is nothing to vote on.

They are disenfranchising, antithetical to democracy, never mind that they are hackable, that they are inaccurate, and all of this has been proven time and time again by scientific studies from Princeton University to NYU’s Brandon Center of Justice, to John’s Hopkins, UC Berkeley and on and on. Even the government’s own Homeland Security Department has issued warnings about these systems. Yet, we continue to use them and this latest bill by Rush Holt, HR 811 allows them to continue to be used and it’s just extraordinary, mind blowing, and really begs the question of what the hell are these people thinking at this point?

Dori Smith: Now the news report cited on your blog, bradblog.com is that two Cuyahoga County election officials were found guilty of rigging the 2004 presidential election recount. And I want to ask you about recounts because during the 2006 election I observed recounts at three locations in the state of Connecticut. A recount of the 2nd district race was going on and that was between former Congressman Rob Simmons the Republican, and Democrat Joe Courtney who ultimately took office.

I interviewed Professor Alex Shvartsman a computer expert from the University of Connecticut; he was under contract with the Secretary of State’s office to look into machine security. There were new Diebold optical scan machines in use in 25 locations.

Now this professor had warned of vulnerability with the memory cards in those machines and that was what he targeted in what he told the Secretary of State. Basically this is what he told me: ‘I realize that LHS says that, you know open up the machines, switch the cards, this is highly unadvisable.’

Click here (For the Talk Nation Radio interview posted November 30, 2006 with Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Deputy Secretary Leslie D. Mara)

Despite Professor Shvartsman’s warning, and despite written instructions, a protocol that the Secretary of State’s office sent to LHS, the company that provided the machines to Connecticut, the LHS salesmen were on site with memory cards ready to put them in machines that had been used in the casting of the vote, put them in machines that were in process of a recount. And they did make changes to the memory cards during the recount (according to Montville poll workers we interviewed on tape.) So the Secretary of State’s office expressed surprise about this, but the bigger problem was the way the vote had been essentially privatized to LHS. The folks at the polls really thought of them as state officials.

Brad Friedman: This is what we see all the time with the voting machine companies, their vendors, their employees, are actually the ones coming in and dealing with any technical problems, any recounts, any audits, it’s incredible. That’s what you need because these are the only people who actually understand how these systems work. And when you are relying on companies, private companies, to come in and tell you what is going on in your public democracy you are at a very very dangerous place and I would argue that’s exactly where our Democracy is right now and it simply underscores the need for the public to get involved, for the media to get involved, to be there, whenever any vote is counted or recounted.

More and more as we have now privatized this system to make it harder for mere mortals to be able to determine if the results are accurate or not, you are going to see more and more of these questions. This is one of the reasons it is so important to get electronic balloting out of our system rather than institutionalize it and allow it as the Rush Holt bill does in many ways.

Basically if you can’t see it you can’t count it. You’ve got paper ballots that are actually marked by human beings and you can actually look at those paper ballots and determine their intent. This cannot be done with paper trails; this cannot be done with internal electronic ballots that you have with DREs. We have currently got five different House races from last November being challenged in the United State’s Congress because of problems that happened on the voting machines last November.

In one case most famously right now down in Sarasota Florida you’ve got 18000 votes that completely disappeared in an election where the result was determined by 369 votes. And the voting machine manufacturer in the state trial that’s occurring down there has admitted that were it not for problems with these voting machines the Democrat Christine Jennings would have beaten the Republican Vern Buchanan. So we are only going to see more and more of these things until elections officials start to get it, get the picture, and I’m talking about Republicans and Democrats alike, until they start to realize that citizen oversight and transparency underscores this system.

Remember our country and indeed our electoral system is founded on checks and balances. It is not based on trust. We have a very rich history in this country of gaming elections and I think a lot of Americans find that hard to believe but if you take a look at it billions if not trillions of dollars are frequently riding on these elections. There is a great incentive to game the system and that’s why you need transparency not trust and faith based voting. The best elections officials out there will tell you, ‘no don’t trust me, don’t trust anyone if you can’t see it and verify it for yourself.’

Dori Smith: You can continue this conversation about elections and corruption in Washington with Brad Friedman at Bradblog.com. The President has issued another threat to veto the 122 billion dollar funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan unless Democrats remove the deadline of March 2008 for a withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. The funding bill passed in both houses of congress with the deadline and now the President is chastising Congress and arguing that the bill will delay needed funding for soldiers in combat. The original funding bill contained a restriction designed to force the White House to come back to Congress before launching an attack on Iran. That restriction was removed and questions remain about why. Various guests on this program including Journalist Dahr Jamail and Attorney Francis A. Boyle have warned that an attack on Iran is being planned by the Bush/Cheney White House. Attorney Boyle has argued that the President should be impeached in order to block a war against Iran.

Leslie Cagan joins us next. She is National Coordinator for United for Peace a core group opposed to the war from the start. Leslie Kagan welcome to Talk Nation Radio.

Leslie Cagan: Hi.

Dori Smith: We have been looking at a very difficult process in Iraq, and yet almost unbelievably the US has also continued to saber rattle and defend preemption doctrine on Iran. (See Tarpley story in that link, Russian sources say attack scheduled for early April, perhaps the 6th) I want to ask you your thoughts about where things stand.

Leslie Cagan: It’s quite hard to know what exactly is going on in the minds of George Bush or those close to him. Part of me doesn’t even want to try to understand. (laughs) It’s such a convoluted way of thinking. I think there is reason to be concerned. There are many indications over the last few years, the last two years or so that the Bush administration seems to be seriously considering the option of military action against Iran. I just noticed in the paper this morning a little piece about how these maneuvers and US Military operations in the Persian Gulf are on the largest scale since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And at least this one article I was reading said they thought it was in part to send a message to Iran. Again that’s just the latest indication. Clearly there are reasons, enough reasons to be concerned, especially given the track record of this administration and what they have done in Iraq and continue to do in Iraq against the advice of people literally all around the world let alone the majority of the people of this country who want the war in Iraq to end. This administration, the Bush administration, keeps forging ahead. So even though many might say a military strike against Iran would be absolutely ridiculous it doesn’t mean that reason will win the argument and this is very possible, that this administration will decide to take military action.

I guess obviously the next question is why, what is the interest here? What is going on here? And I think this is a complicated set of dynamics that are at play but I do think one if not the central issue underlying much of US policy both toward Iraq and toward Iran has to do with access to and control of resources; oil in particular but other resources as well in that region. It’s not the only dynamic in play but I think we have to take that one extremely seriously.

Dori Smith: Your organization United for Peace and Justice was supporting Senator Webb in his amendment to prevent US funding from being used to attack Iran. Has Senator Webb made any statements after that was removed from the supplemental bill?

Leslie Cagan: I haven’t seen any yet so I don’t know what his present thinking is. Let me just say one thing also to be very clear that while that kind of language is important, mostly because it puts Iran right on the radar screen, everybody has to see it; that is the language that says that the President and the Executive Branch cannot take military action without prior authorization from the Congress, while that’s important it’s not the only thing that would prevent such an attack from happening. But of course one danger that we could run into, something that happened four years ago, actually four and a half years ago now, in the fall of 2002, when Congress did give the President the authority to go ahead and attack Iraq. They gave him the military authorization to do so. Now obviously a lot of that was based on lies. I don’t know why so many members of the Congress fell for the lies when many anti-war activists in this country and in fact governments around the world did not fall for the lies but it seems that members of Congress fell for the lies that were being fed by the Bush administration and gave them the authorization that they wanted. So just because an amendment like that had passed and had it been in the legislation, that would have been a good step in the right direction but that would not have settled the matter by any means.

Dori Smith: They have offered the suggestion from the White House in fact and White House officials; they have not taken an attack off of the table as it were and no one seems to be going out of their way to deny the idea that nuclear weapons might be used.

Leslie Cagan: Right. I think one of the really frightening things and there are many frightening things about the Bush administration, but one of the really frightening things is that they not only have put into play this notion of preemptive first strike, that is that they can decide to take military action literally against any nation in the world at any time on any pretext, using whatever weapons they want, not only have they done that in a break from what US policy has been in the past but they also have put out very clearly that they are not taking the option of using nuclear weapons off the table in any situation. And that is an extremely frightening proposition I think that there is not nearly enough consciousness or awareness about what it means that we have all of these nuclear weapons and just how dangerous, how deadly and dangerous using any nuclear weapon at this point would be let along a whole host of them. You know once you use one that opens the door to start using more.

So we completely support nuclear disarmament. We think that the first step to global nuclear disarmament and a truly nuclear free planet has to be made by the US since we have the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. Why would any country in the world believe us that we are interested in nuclear disarmament if we don’t start taking some steps here? In fact, we are obligated to take those steps under the nuclear non proliferation treaty which we are a signer on but we have done nothing in terms of moving toward nuclear disarmament.

Dori Smith: Just comment on the latest Iraq spending bill and what it would mean if the White House vetoes it where we would all go from here?

Leslie Cagan: That’s a very interesting question also where do we go from here? Of course they did take action already in the Senate. We were trying to get people to keep those calls and keep that pressure on the Senate right up until the vote was taken. What happens now is that the Senate and the House have both passed their own versions of bills that will give more money to the Bush administration for the ongoing war and occupation in Iraq. It’s about a $100 billion dollars more for the war, that’s billion with a B not million more for the war. But there’s other parts of the language in each version of these bills that are different, one from the other, so what happens now and this is a standard practice in how legislation moves through Congress is there will be a conference committee set up and then some members of the House and some members of the Senate will be appointed by the leadership of the House and Senate to meet together to work out common language so that there is one bill that then will have to go back to the House and to the Senate for another vote. And then assuming it passes both the House and the Senate then it goes to the President for him to sign into law or to veto.

The President has said very clearly that he will not sign any bill that comes to him that has any kind of time line for withdrawing the troops. So this is going to be a very interesting dynamic if in fact the final wording that passes the House and Senate that goes through these steps for approval does have a timeline in it which both the Senate and the House versions do even though we think, the anti war movement is unhappy with that time line we think it’s much too late. We need a shorter time line to start the withdrawal of troops, start and complete the withdrawal of troops. But even with a long time line if the final version has that in it and it goes to the President he has said he is not going to sign that. If he doesn’t sign it then he doesn’t get the money he has asked for so it will be very interesting to see what happens both in the conference committee and as they write the new language when it goes back to the House and the Senate and then finally when it gets to the President.

I should say all of this is going to take several more weeks because next week Congress goes on recess. The Senate will be out for a week and the House will be out for two weeks so we believe, this could change, but we believe the conference committee will not even start its work for another two weeks or two and a half weeks. So this is all going to take a while longer before it gets resolved.

Dori Smith: Do we run a risk though that it’s not in the best interest of policy makers who want the US to stay in Iraq at those new bases that we have there, do we run the risk that they will in some way tolerate more chaos or even as has happened in the past cultivate more instability as a way to argue that they are desperately needed in Iraq? I mean we have been hearing about successes but the news of failures continues to roll out too.

Leslie Cagan: Yeah it’s hard to know how all of this is going to play out. Clearly the situation in Iraq itself has a long way to go before things are stabilized and calm and peace can return to that nation. It’s not clear who is stoking which fires and there is a lot that is very hard to judge from this distance. What we do believe is that the first step to bringing peace and stability back to Iraq is the withdrawal of US troops and US forces. We call for the complete withdrawal of those troops and forces and not leaving any bases behind or any troops behind. Obviously there are those in Congress, even some who are opposed to the war, who think we have to start withdrawing troops soon, now. Some of them think that we also need to leave some troops there or in Kuwait or close by. We think that is the wrong way to go that all of the troops need to be brought home completely and unconditionally.

It’s hard to know totally, none of us has a crystal ball, we can’t see into the future, so it’s hard to know exactly how things are going to be playing out on the ground in Iraq. What we do know is that they continue every single day that the US is there they continue to be horrendous and there is death and destruction throughout the country throughout the society, basic needs are not being met, the health care system, educational system, much of the infrastructure, it’s in complete disarray; people are unemployed, it’s a nightmare. And the continued US Military occupation is the core problem at this point and if the US were to leave the doors would open to beginning to move Iraq into a new state into a new moment in its history.

Dori Smith: Leslie Cagan thanks so much for joining us.

Leslie Cagan: Sure. Thank you.

Dori Smith: Leslie Cagan is the National Coordinator for United for Peace. Environmental groups like I Love Mountains and Mountain Justice Summer or Earth First have been struggling for years to try to stop the coal industry from blowing the tops off of mountains in order to get at the coal.

On the 26th a federal judge in Charleston, West Virginia, ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law by issuing valley fill permits for mountaintop removal mines without conducting extensive environmental reviews. Erik Reece is author of, ‘Lost Mountain, a Year in the Vanishing Wilderness’. He is an artist in residence in the English Department of the University of Kentucky. I asked him to tell us why this destructive practice is even used.

Erik Reece: It’s the quickest and the cheapest way to extract coal in the mountains of Appalachia and unfortunately it’s the most destructive because what the companies do is they blast in very thick seams of sandstone to get to very thin seams of coal. They mix ammonium nitrate and fuel oil together and they just blast the tops of the mountains off, all of the tops along with the forests and everything and they just dump it into the valleys below. So that they have buried thousands of miles of streams using this process and cracked people’s wells and house foundations and just in general created mayhem.

Dori Smith: The general public doesn’t seem to know much about what’s going on. It’s sort of a failure of media here. Have you been trying to call attention to this story for some time now?

Erik Reece: Well I wrote a book about it and yeah, I’ve been trying, and people around here, in Kentucky and West Virginia and Virginia and Tennessee have been trying, but we’re kind of a remote area. The mountains are very remote. It’s been hard to get west coast and east coast media to pay attention. I mean every time there is a mud slide in California it makes the national news and that’s happening every day around here and it just doesn’t get covered.

Dori Smith: Do you think these mud slides are largely related to these mining practices?

Erik Reece: Yeah I know they are. Once you create these valley fills by dumping all of this debris off the mountainside then you just have big barren funnels where the water and the mud is just pouring off.

Dori Smith: Now in the global warming story we saw how companies like Exxon Mobil hired public relations firms to market the impressions of scientists that global warming wasn’t real or to down play serious and significant findings on global warming. What about mountaintop mining? Has the same thing happened?

Erik Reece: I think it’s happening now. What we are trying to do is connect the two to make people see that coal is bad when you burn it and coal is bad when you extract it and that coal is one of the most poisonous substances on earth and we need to get away from it.

Dori Smith: There are amazing web sites set up where you can learn the facts about this, ilovemountains.org and we will be hearing from that organization next time, but evidently we are talking about 450 mountains destroyed, huge areas of land turned into moonscape, homes destroyed, lives lost. And there have been various legal actions without apparent success at preventing this practice. Just talk about the background of this case.

Erik Reece: Well in 2002 George Bush brought an industry lobbyist named Stephen Griles in as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. And J. Stephen Griles rewrote the Clean Water Act changing one word, the word ‘waste’ to ‘fill’ so that all material from a mine site could be dumped into streams as quote ‘fill’ material. Last week Griles was implicated and lied to Congress about a connection to Jack Abramoff and he is on his way to prison. So one of the reasons we haven’t gotten any legislation done is simply for the last eight years we have had this classic fox is guarding the henhouse scenario.

I think that is about to change. What’s happened with the Army Corps of Engineers is they have been fast tracking mining permits without truly studying the watersheds and the ecosystems that they are damaging. And so that’s what this is about. The Corps is feeling intense pressure from the Bush administration and from the coal industry because coal prices are high right now and there is all of this volatility about oil. So the Corps has just felt a lot of pressure to do this.

Dori Smith: Erik Reece is writer in residence at the University of Kentucky. His book is ‘Lost Mountain, a Year in the Vanishing Wilderness’. You an learn more about the practice of mountaintop mining at ilovemountains.org.

For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith. Talk Nation Radio is produced in the studios of WHUS at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. WHUS.org to listen live Wed. at 5 PM. Talknationradio.org and Talknation.org for transcripts and discussions.

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Truthout.org has an interesting footnote to the story and in the link about J. Stephen Griles above note how they came out with important information about Griles well in advance of the mainstream media. Ex-Interior Deputy Pleads Guilty in Abramoff Probe The Associated Press, Friday 23 March 2007. Under the plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed to propose no more than a 10-month prison sentence for Griles – the minimum they could ask for under sentencing guidelines – that would allow him to serve half that time in prison and half either in a halfway house or under house arrest.

Our music is by Fritz Heede. Special thanks to the engineering staff at WHUS and to Pacifica.org and Radio4all.net for allowing us to upload this program to their websites so that others may download the program and thank you to the many radio producers and production staff members that have written to us to tell us that they like our show. We are working on some upgrades to the program’s sound quality and to the Talk Nation web page. Your suggestions are welcome. Write to Dori Smith at theshockvote@yahoo.com or doritalknation@sbcglobal.net

Despite assurances from the Secretary of State in Connecticut that a protocol was submitted in writing to LHS who provided Diebold Optical Scan Voting Machines to the State of Connecticut, the LHS staff members who were onsite at the set up of the election, the recount of the 2nd District, and a subsequent audit of the machines, insisted that their protocols from LHS were to open a machine with a malfunctioning memory card, open the machine and replace the card.

During our long interview with Ken Hajjar of LHS, only part of which has been aired, we asked about protocols for handling machines that malfunctioned during the election and or the recount. As of this point in the conversation we had already been told several times that LHS employees would be using the protocols given to them by their boss at LHS.

Ken Hajjar: Basically the day that we did the recount I was given one sheet of paper which was the Secretary of State’s rules and I was just told, “don’t touch anything just answer questions.” So I don’t have that with me and I’m not even sure what I did with it. I might have just thrown it away once I got through.

You know the Secretary of State has been working with some of our guidance because we have been using the same machine in four other New England states for almost 20 years. So as far as protocols and procedures are concerned a good deal of what the Secretary of State did was based on procedures that are already in place and already proven to be effective in every other New England state.

Dori Smith: What would LHS be on hand to do if the machine were to fail? You know tell me the protocol.

Ken Hajjar: Well in that case, first of all in this case that didn’t happen. None of the machines failed. If a machine were to fail either on election day or in any other circumstance it would be merely a matter of removing the memory card, there’s a little card that keeps track of the votes, bring a new machine over, put the memory card in the new machine, when you turn it on the new machine picks up right where the old machine stopped.

Dori Smith: Now what if there were a problem with the memory card itself what would you do?

Ken Hajjar: In that case you would have to bring in another memory card which had been programmed the same way as the original one, and every town by the way, had a back up memory card that had been programmed and tested. So if a memory card fails then obviously that is the worst thing that can happen. Then you would have to re-feed all of the ballots.

Dori Smith: What if for some reason that happened and they didn’t have any other memory cards to use. Did you guys bring any with you?

Ken Hajjar: Then we would have to supply them with a new memory card which would be tested by the registrars prior to being inserted in the machine.

Dori Smith: And tell me the protocol for that.

Ken Hajjar: The protocol is pretty straightforward. We have a data base of all of the elections in the state. So if somebody tells me that Durham (Connecticut) had a problem we would program a Durham card, we would bring it to Durham the Registrar would have already set up a “test deck” of ballots that had been previously hand counted, they would run that “test deck” through the machine and check the machine count against the hand count, and if they match up then they assured that the program has been positively coded correctly. Once that’s the case they insert that card into the machine and then they take all of the ballots and depending on what time of the day it was would depend on how big the stack of cards would be that would have to be re-fed.

Dori Smith: Ken Hajjar is director of sales and marketing at LHS Associates in Methuen, Mass.

Is Connecticut Outsourcing Elections to LHS Associates?

Posted on Thursday 16 November 2006
A Talk Nation Investigation Reveals that Poll Workers, Voting Machine Providers, Voting Officials, and Officials at the Secretary of State’s Office, had different ideas about how voting machines were to be handled on Election Day 2006 and during the recount of the 2nd Congressional District. See interview with Mike Carlson where he agrees with Ken Hajjar’s version of the protocol.

Reports: Security Assessment of the Diebold Optical Scan Voting Terminal

A. Kiayias L. Michel A. Russell A. A. Shvartsman

UConn VoTeR Center and
Department of Computer Science and Engineering,
University of Connecticut
{akiayias,ldm,acr,aas}@cse.uconn.edu
with the assistance of
M. Korman, A. See, N. Shashidhar, D. Walluck
October 30, 2006
Reports

Security Assessment of the Diebold Optical Scan Voting Terminal
We present an independent security evaluation of the AccuVote Optical Scan voting terminal (AV-OS). We identify a number of new vulnerabilities of this system which, if exploited maliciously, can invalidate the results of an election process utilizing the terminal. Furthermore, based on our findings an AV-OS can be compromised with off-the-shelf equipment in a matter of minutes even if the machine has its removable memory card sealed in place. The basic attack can be applied to effect a variety of results, including entirely neutralizing one candidate so that their votes are not counted, swapping the votes of two candidates, or biasing the results by shifting some votes from one candidate to another. Such vote tabulation corruptions can lay dormant until the election day, thus avoiding detection through pre-election tests.

Based on these findings, we describe new safe-use recommendations for the AV-OS terminal. Specifically, we recommend installation of tamper-resistant seals for (i) removable memory cards, (ii) serial port, (iii) telephone jacks, as well as (iv) screws that allow access into the terminal’s interior; failure to seal any single one of these components renders the terminal susceptible to the attack outlined above. An alternative is to seal the entire Optical Scan system (sans ballot box) into a tamper-resistant container at all times other than preparation for election and deployment in an election. An unbroken chain of custody must be enforced at all times. Post-election audits are also strongly advised.

Technical report: uconn-report-os.pdf

http://voter.engr.uconn.edu/voter/Reports.html

Talk Nation Radio interview with Stephen Soldz on Psychologists Participating in US Military Interrogations

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Welcome to talk nation radio, a half hour discussion on politics, human rights, and the
environment. I’m Dori Smith.

Listen to the audio

By torture we don’t mean, and international law does not mean, just physical abuse. Psychological torture is probably more common these days. Stephen Soldz

Our guest this time is psychoanalyst, psychologist and public heath researcher Stephen Soldz of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He has taken a strong stand against torture in all of its forms and he is presently working to get the American Psychological Association (APA) to enact stricter guidelines on torture.

In fact Soldz and others are withholding membership dues from the APA as a way to protest that organization’s policy on psychologists participating in interrogations.
“We have to examine the whole nexus of ties between the Military and the APA,” he says. The petition is (here).

Dori Smith: Stephen Soldz welcome to Talk Nation Radio.
Stephen Soldz: Thanks for having me.

Dori Smith: You have been working so hard to get the APA to get on board against torture. Just talk about where things stand right now and where your efforts are right now.

Stephen Soldz: Officially the APA, American Psychological Association, there are a number of APA’s, has taken a position against torture. The issue has to do with what’s actually going on in Guantanamo, the other U.S. detention facilities, mental health professionals, at this point mainly psychologists, are participating in interrogations and what are called ‘behavioral science consultation teams,’ or ‘biscuits’ BCTS as they get referred to. And there have been repeated accounts in the Press, in the New Yorker and Salon and MSNBC and the New York Times that these psychologists are participating in abuse in either torture or certainly cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment banned by U.S. and international law. So there have been repeated accounts of this occurring. The APA has done nothing to look into these accounts and has strongly supported over and over again the participation of psychologists in interrogations. Though, to be fair to them they claim that the psychologists are not supposed to participate in torture or abuse. They just do nothing to find out whether in fact they are doing so.

So this has been an issue for years. A couple of years ago, in 2005, the Association appointed a Presidential Task Force on National Security, or PENS Task Force, (PDF File) to form policy on this. Now, somewhat oddly they kept the membership secret at least for quite a while.

Mark Benjamin in Salon last summer finally revealed that up to nine voting members, because there was a chair who was non voting, six were from the Military, five with intelligence ties, Military or intelligence agencies, so six of nine are from the Military with five of them having direct intelligence connections. So it was a completely stacked task force. Not surprisingly they said, ‘Oh it’s ethical for psychologists to participate in interrogations though they shouldn’t participate in torture.’

The APA then circumvented their own procedures which would have had that being debated by their council of representatives, which is an elected body, something like 170 members. Instead they took it straight to the board which usually doesn’t get things until after it’s been approved by the counsel of representatives and within a few days of approval of the so-called PENS report it was approved by the board. And then they touted this that this was ethical.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association (pdf) have said it is not ethical for their members to participate in interrogations in any direct way, either to be present or to consult on interrogations of individuals. So they do allow the possibility of consulting on general strategies. So the American Psychological Association stands out of the mental health professions in allowing this. So the Military announced last summer that at this point they quote ‘prefer psychologists’ for these BCTS because of the differing approaches of the mental health profession and different ethics guidelines.

The Military notices these things. The APA uses every trick in their book to avoid changing, every institutional way to muddy the issue, to delay, to make sure nothing really happens. And last summer they voted on an anti torture resolution, which is fine, it sounds good but it completely ignored the issue that what raised it was allegations that torture is occurring at Guantanamo and elsewhere. They completely ignored that and have refused to do any investigation and have attacked people who have claimed this.

For example, the APA President in 2006 said, ‘A number of opportunistic commentators masquerading as scholars have continued to report on alleged abuses by mental health professionals. Obviously, the APA is not interested in finding out what is really going on. They are interested in protecting their ties to the Military at all costs, and also possibly the prestige of psychology as being helpful to the Military in these efforts.

So there are a number of us who are very unhappy with this. There has been this undercurrent of dissatisfaction but it has been hard to focus it. The APA I have to say has been very good at using every bureaucratic and institutional means that there is to deflect and delay.

But things are proceeding. There is a resolution to declare a moratorium on psychologist participation until the issue can be further debated. This we hope will come up at the council representative meeting in August. Our latest strategy is to run a presidential candidate, Steven Reisner who has been a vocal critic of participation in interrogations. We are running him on a single issue campaign of getting out of the interrogations business and joining the American Medical and American Psychiatric and by the way American Nursing Association.

Dori Smith: I know Reisner has said something about the Hippocratic Oath when he first started to discuss this and come out as a leader, to try to take a position within the APA and to have some influence there. Is it to run the organization?

Stephen Soldz: A lot of the running is done by permanent staff. There’s an executive director and then there is a president each year. So it would be at least partly a moral force but we hope to use that as leverage to reform the organization and change the policy.

Dori Smith: He had said, and I’m quoting him, ‘the Hippocratic oath says do no harm. It does not say measure harm and see if it is the correct amount.’ Explain what that means in terms of the medical aspect of what a psychoanalyst or a psychologist in any case would do in a situation involving an interrogation.

Stephen Soldz: You see doctors have this Hippocratic Oath that everyone swears upon, I don’t know if it is upon graduation from medical school or getting a license, and the first line is ‘first do no harm.’ The psychology ethics code has somewhat similar language, something like ‘psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and to do no harm.’ But it doesn’t have the same role in psychology practice as the Hippocratic Oath has in medicine. So we are trying to make the force of that stronger.

What’s been interesting is that the APA leadership has basically poo-pooed this thing about striving to benefit those with whom they work because presumably the way detainees are being treated they are not benefiting and they are being harmed by what’s being done to them. From the data that we have of what these biscuit psychologists do it involves increasing the stress and finding individual triggers using individual detainee fears and weaknesses against them. So if someone has a phobia of dogs then you use dogs in the interrogation as they have been doing. If someone has a phobia of confined places you put them in a confined place. This certainly doesn’t fall under any reasonable version of the Hippocratic Oath or for that matter under the APA ethics guidelines either.

Dori Smith: Stephen Soldz, the difference again, in terms of mental health care, why is that an exception? How did that happen? I mean was it the Military influence?

Stephen Soldz: Well first, speaking of the psychological community, psychoanalysis is sort of a specialty form of treatment that includes people trained as psychoanalysts who may have varied backgrounds; it’s primarily psychology and then psychiatry, in terms of the distinctions in the health professions which can be confusing. There are two aspects, one is its not mental health that’s going on, it’s consulting on interrogations. So the American Psychological Association would say ‘well these people are not health providers, unlike you therapists.’ But the Military in fact says that the BCTS psychologists are health providers, this is a crucial point because health providers are held to a different standard, potentially. It has to do with the nature of what is psychology going to be as a profession, is it OK to consult on harming people as long as you are not their therapist?

We say no. I’m not sure what the APA would say on that but they are very anxious to expand the realm of professional activities open to psychologist beyond the traditional mental health boundaries, beyond helping people with their personal problems. Presumably they don’t want to tick the military off by taking a position against interrogations. Rather, they would like to say, ‘oh we are so useful, see how useful we are to you, we can do all of these different things.’

Dori Smith: How might this affect people who rely on therapists in general? How might this all have an impact on their ability to trust their therapist which I understand is very important?

Stephen Soldz: Well trust is absolutely central, I mean patients are telling their therapists the most personal details of their lives and in the absence of trust that’s impossible and help is impossible. So this can have a very serious impact. It’s actually not just the interrogations issue. Recently, information has come to light of a joint conference at the APA that was held, I think it was in 2002, with the FBI in which the FBI was advocating that basically therapists act as spies. And if they hear from somebody that their neighbor or their brother or their friend might be doing something suspicious they should turn them in and they wanted the APA to change their ethics guidelines to make this ethical.

So it could go considerably beyond what is going on at Guantanamo and the other detention facilities, but in general to hear that psychologists are engaging in abusive treatment can affect all mental health professions. Are people going to trust a profession that thinks it’s OK to do that? I don’t know, but if it gets more popularized that could be a serious issue.

Dori Smith: How has U.S. torture affected our view of the U.S. Military as an entity set up to protect the American people?

Stephen Soldz: The way I think of it is that it increases the denial. One of the most dangerous social trends is that people just want to not think about the bad things that are going on. Many people are against the Iraq War but they just don’t want to hear about it, you know Abu Ghraib comes up in pictures and they say, ‘I just can’t deal with it.’
The biggest danger is that it increases that tendency of people to shut down. You don’t want to think that your side that the U.S. Military are doing these bad things so you simply won’t think about it. And how can you have any kind of democratic debate when people can’t think about all of the different aspects of what’s happening and don’t inform themselves?

Then we also have the media that of course doesn’t play a very good role in informing the public. But I think at the public level these things increase a kind of cynical turning off that doesn’t help anybody, or maybe it helps the government to accomplish some of their ends because there is less accountability when people can’t deal with it.

Dori Smith: Just give us a definition of psychological torture so we can understand what the topic is a little better.

Stephen Soldz: By torture we don’t mean, and international law does not mean, just physical abuse. Psychological torture is probably more common these days. I think people don’t understand how horrific the kind of absolute isolation, having no human contact, the sensory depravation for many of the people both Jose Padilla and the people in Guantanamo, they are kept under bright lights 24 hours a day, they are denied even the ability to cover their eyes. There are detainees at Guantanamo who were given 15 pieces of toilet paper a day. When one of them used the toilet paper to cover his eyes from the bright lights so he could sleep at night the toilet paper was taken away as an ‘inappropriate use’.

This is designed to break people down, to destroy their personalities. The use of loud music, we are talking about music just below the point of breaking ear drums for hours and hours on end. When Jose Padilla was taken to the dentist they put goggles over his eyes so he couldn’t see anything. They put ear muffs over his ears so he couldn’t hear anything. This is horrifying. It’s designed to destroy people and it has long lasting and in many cases permanent psychological affects that people may never get over. So that’s what is being done.

Dori Smith: We are speaking with Stephen Soldz a member of the faculty of Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He co-edited the book ‘Reconciling Empirical Knowledge and Clinical Experience, the Art and Science of Psychotherapy’, with Leigh McCullough in 2000, and has authored numerous papers for magazines such as ‘Psychotherapy Research’ and ‘The International Journal of Group Psychotherapy”.

But Stephen Soldz also writes about issues of peace and justice. You can find recent articles in Counterpunch and you can learn more online at Psychoanalystsopposewar.org

Other members of the American Psychological Association such as past President Gerald Koocher have stated support for psychologist participation in interrogations carried out in facilities such as the top secret U.S. Military prison on Guantanamo Bay Cuba. We contacted the APA for comment but they did not return our call. A follow up call from us resulted in a reply from Pam Willenz at that organization that she had no one to speak with us at this time. She suggested that we email her and we have done so in the hope that someone from the APA can be heard on Talk Nation Radio in the future so that we can get their position on torture and psychologists participating in interrogations in general.

If you log on to the web site of the APA it appears to be a typical health organization with referrals to therapists and updates on treatments for depression and PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There is also information for parents about topics like bullying and for students seeking careers in psychology.

A closer look reveals some not too subtle invitations into careers with the US Military. But it is APA policy that ‘psychologists participating in terror related interrogations are fulfilling valuable and ethical roles to assist in protecting the U.S. and other nations and innocent civilians from harm,’ their web site says.

As to America’s prospects for peace in the Middle East there is a possibility that some U.S. forces will leave Iraq, at least. On March 12th Reuters reported that U.S. Military planners have a fall back strategy if the U.S. troops build up fails to stabilize Iraq. This would involve a strategy of pulling troops back combined with an advisory role similar to the U.S. experience in El Salvador in the 1980s they reported. –At that time there were few if any stories about violence in El Salvador making the corporate news. In complete obscurity therefore El Salvadorans who were trained by the U.S. at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning Georgia participated in mass arrests, atrocities, death squads, torture, and the killing of priests and nuns. It was not until a UN led truth commission report came out on the disaster that members of Congress helped peace groups to pressure the first Bush Administration for an end to Military aid to El Salvador.

Finally, as they seek more funding for the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration has tried to push members of Congress back into a more militant posture. Military and security experts, meanwhile, have been advising the Administration to keep negotiating. Yet, Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to rule out negotiations with those he sees as enemies of Israel or America in the Middle East. Here is a portion of what he told a meeting of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, just this week.

‘An enemy that operates in the shadows and views the entire world as a battle field is not one we can fight with strategies used in other wars. An enemy with fantasies of martyrdom is not going to sit down at a table for negotiations. Nor can we fight to a standoff hoping that some form of containment or deterrence will protect our people. The only option for our security and survival is to go on the offensive facing the threat directly, patiently and systematically until the enemy is destroyed.’ (Vice President Dick Cheney March 12, 2007)

I asked Stephen Soldtz to talk about the way the current administration’s hard line policies such as torture have been affecting society and the Military.

Stephen Soldz: There are some signs that culture has changed the recent discussion about the show 24 which features torture on a regular basis in a very positive light. Even the Military have gotten concerned. The New Yorker reported that some Military officers went to the director of 24 and asked them to tone down the torture because U.S. troops in Iraq are being influenced by it to practice what they see there.

I want to emphasize that despite any opinions on what the Military is doing that the Military is very split on these abuses and there are significant factions in there who do not approve of torture and have been aghast at what’s been going on there. And I feel that they deserve credit regardless of what one thinks of the Iraq War or other aspects of the current military operations.

But in terms of the brutalization of society, certainly overseas we have this traditional problem that Americans don’t pay a lot of attention to other countries. We just read the news from Iraq and senior officers are routinely talking about the ‘bad guys’ –the ‘bad guys this, the bad guys that,’ I think just this morning I saw in their move into Sadr City, home for two and a half million Iraqis, ten percent of the total population, ‘there were a lot of bad guys who were in hiding.’ I mean if the senior military leadership is thinking about ‘good guys and bad guys’ how in the world can you make discriminations about use of violence in an environment which is more like cowboy movies than reality?

Dori Smith: It’s becoming an accepted idea anyway that the harshest tactics must be used in the so-called war on terror to stop an attack on America somehow. That torture must be used in order to stop the worst case scenario anywhere in the world, Iraq, Afghanistan, America, and our whole culture has changed now to support this trend towards the use of torture supposedly to protect Americans.

Stephen Soldz: Yeah the ticking time bomb scenario which I gather that people who have looked into it have never found an instance where if you don’t get the information out of someone within an hour there is going to be a bomb going off.

Interestingly former President Clinton and also Hillary Clinton have endorsed the use of torture in those circumstances. They want it legalized with something like ‘torture warrants’ but it was rather shocking to see them endorsing torture in these circumstances while condemning it in general.

We do have this general brutalization but I think also if you are thinking, ‘good guy bad guy’ then by definition those who suffer this are ‘bad guys’. That’s always the reason why we can close our eyes to abuses in the criminal justice system. After all they must be guilty why else would they be there? And we close our eyes to the torture and as you mentioned the Military Commissions Act because, ‘it would only be done to bad guys, besides which you know I really can’t think about it’. –It’s going to come back to haunt us in various ways, I don’t think we know in what ways yet. While we do have leaders criticizing some of the abuses we really don’t have any leaders saying, ‘you know the world’s a little more complicated than that’ and if you want to deal with Iraq maybe you have to understand why people are fighting U.S. occupying forces. You have to understand the different factions that are fighting there and maybe you even have to understand the so-called terrorists. I mean terrorism may be bad but terrorists in most cases have political goals in mind, even it looks like Osama Bin Laden has political goals of getting the U.S. out of the Middle East. And this ‘good guy bad guy’ stuff never works. It didn’t work with the IRA, it doesn’t work with the Irgun in Israel, and it won’t work today. Eventually these things get solved through some type of negotiation and political solution. You know you can’t kill everyone who might be sympathetic to so-called terrorists. Maybe you can but its too horrific to imagine.

Dori Smith: A whole people become vilified and able to be attacked or targeted or bombed or what have you?

Stephen Soldz: Yes, there’s no ability to make distinctions. I did a piece looking at some of the memoirs of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. These were people who were there in the earlier stages, the first year or two. One thing that was striking was that no where in the three books I looked at was even the term Sunni and Shiite mentioned, you know U.S. troops were completely oblivious to them. There was simply the ‘good guys and the bad guys’. And while at moments some of them could imagine why would someone fight us when we are here 5,000 miles away from home in their homes busting down their door, and they quickly went back to the ‘good guy bad guy’ scenario. But who is the bad guy? It seems like it’s almost any Iraqi.

Dori Smith: When it’s applied to us, when it blows back in our direction and then we get vilified as a people then we are more able to be targeted right and thus 9/11?

Stephen Soldz: And of course, we don’t accept, and rightly don’t accept being put in these terms of ‘the bad guys’. We want fine distinctions between particular acts of our government and the American people. Well it applies the same to other countries and other peoples.

Dori Smith: Getting back to your petition with regard to the APA are you calling on the APA to do specific things and if so let’s just list them, I mean have you looked at practices, do you want them to take some sort of time to organize a promise not to support torture, are you looking at Military contracts, what exactly are you trying to organize here?

Stephen Soldz: The first step is to get a moratorium on the participation of psychologists in national security interrogations of so-called enemy combatants. This is to get some breathing space for the organization to engage in a legitimate participatory democratic process to debate it. We consider the PENs task force with its secret military intelligence dominated membership to be illegitimate and that that should be set aside and the organization needs to set a new policy.

I personally advocate what’s called the ‘bright line’ that psychologists should never be involved in interrogations. I don’t think a health profession should be. There are other people among our group who disagree, who think that if there are appropriate human rights safeguards which don’t exist at present at Guantanamo, that it would be OK for psychologists to participate in interrogations. So this is an issue that needs to be resolved democratically with an open process, not a task force meeting in secret being rushed through, that’s the first step.

Then, I personally, I’m speaking now as an individual, believe that we have to examine the whole nexus of ties between the Military and the APA, the American Psychological Association. How did we get here? How did it turn out that the APA leadership has gone so out on a limb to defend participation in interrogations? We need to find out.

It may be that the best way to find out would be a Congressional investigation of what’s going on in Guantanamo, the mental health professional’s participation in activities there, I don’t know that anyone but Congress has the ability to find that out. And maybe also of what’s going on with the APA because we need some type of independent look at that. It seems that something is rotten in Denmark but exactly what isn’t clear.

Dori Smith: Psyche, Science and Society is the blog if you would like to continue this conversation with Stephen Soldz. You can also find him at psychoanalystsopposewar.org The petition for a moratorium on psychoanalysts and psychologists participating in torture is at Psyact.org Stephen Soldz thank you so much for joining us.

Stephen Soldz: Well thank you.

For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith. Talk Nation is produced in the studios of WHUS, Radio for the People at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. WHUS.org to listen live Wed. at 5 PM. Talk Nation.org or talknationradio.org for transcripts and discussion. Our music is by Fritz Heede and also this time the Known Unknowns with Tell the Truth.

The Center For Constitutational Rights has announced that a damages complaint has been filed on behalf of former Guantanamo detainees.

CCR FILES DAMAGES COMPLAINT FOR FORMER GUANTÁNAMO DETAINEES
AMENDED COMPLAINT INCLUDES MEN HELD FOR TWO YEARS AFTER THEY WERE FOUND NOT TO BE ENEMY COMBATANTS BY TRIBUNALS AND NAMES ENTIRE MILITARY CHAIN OF COMMAND AS DEFENDANTS

March 22, 2007, New York, NY – Last night, attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) added new plaintiffs and new defendants to a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages and declaratory relief for five released Guantánamo detainees who spent years in captivity under abusive conditions at the offshore prison camp. The suit is brought against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, and dozens of others, including civilian and military personnel at Guantánamo Bay. It charges that the Pentagon chain of command authorized and condoned torture and other mistreatment in violation of the Alien Tort Statute, the Vienna Convention, the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Federal Civil Rights Act. None of the former detainees has ever been a member of any terrorist group, and all were released without being charged with any crime. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

CCR, which represents many of the detainees at Guantánamo and coordinates the work of nearly 500 pro bono attorneys, filed the original complaint on November 11, 2006 on behalf of Yuksel Celikgogus and Ibrahim Sen, two Turkish citizens who were released from Guantánamo in 2004. The new plaintiffs added yesterday include Turkish citizen Nuri Mert, Uzbekistan citizen Zakirjan Hasam, and Algerian citizen Abu Muhammad. Hasam and Muhammad, both refugees sent by the U.S. against their will to Albania, were determined to be non-enemy combatants at their Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT’s) in late 2004, yet were not released until two years later. Celikgogus and Sen were released without charge before the creation of the CSRT process.

Said former detainee Abu Muhammad, “Guantánamo destroyed my life. I lost four and a half years of my life – there’s no way that the government can replace that, but it hasn’t even tried. I am alone in Albania without my family, a job, or a future. I used to believe that the United States stood for justice and fairness, but I cannot believe that anymore after what I have been through.”

Abu Muhammad is a 43-year-old medical doctor and Algerian refugee who was taken from his pregnant wife and five children in Pakistan in 2002, sent to Guantánamo for four years and released to Albania on November 16, 2006. Zakirjan Hasam, an Uzbek refugee who fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan, was transferred to the U.S. in 2002 by Afghanis who he believes received a bounty from the U.S. government, and was also released on November 16, 2006 and transferred to Albania. Yuksel Celikgogus is a 39-year-old Turkish citizen and father of three. Ibrahim Sen is a 26-year-old Turkish citizen. Both Sen and Celikgogus were released to Turkey on November 22, 2003, after two years in U.S. custody. Nuri Mert, a 35-year-old Turkish citizen and father of four, was released to Turkey on April 1, 2004, after being detained for more than 2 years by the U.S.

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

The Role of Bloggers like Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com in Political Reporting

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Talk Nation Radio for March 21, 2007
Interview with Brad Friedman on Valerie Plame Wilson and US Attorney’s Cases

Produced by Dori Smith, at Pacifica Affiliate WHUS, at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut

Click Link to download the audio and link to listen

Welcome to Talk Nation Radio, a half hour discussion on politics, human rights and the environment. I’m Dori Smith

I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence. Valerie Plame Wilson testifying before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

We don’t know because it’s classified what the real effects of her outing were. Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com

Joining us for the half hour is Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com He was live blogging as Valerie Plame Wilson testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform And we are going to be analyzing some of the testimony that has been taking place on Capital Hill since March 16th.

Dori Smith: Brad Friedman welcome to Talk Nation Radio.
Brad Friedman. Thanks Dori. Great to be here.

Dori Smith: Was it me or did this seem like a surreal montage that could have been from the era of Nixon, Watergate, and other ‘gates’?

Brad Friedman: It could have been although I suspect that back in the era of Nixon and Watergate a hearing like this would have been on every single network prime time and would have lead to the immediate dismissal of very high level administration officials. Such is the Alice in Wonderland world that we now seem to be in, there are so many scandals that go in fact so high they make Watergate seem like child’s play. It’s rather remarkable that even the news cable channels did not carry the entirety of those hearings which were simply astounding, made even more so by the fellow James Knodell who followed Valerie Plame Wilson who admitted that the White House has never done an investigation into the leak of a covert CIA operative’s name.

I mean that’s an extraordinary scandal in and of itself further underscoring the fact that for the first time in the history of this nation a White House has now admittedly outed the name of a CIA covert operative during war time, an operative who was working on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That’s an incredible story. And it was relegated as usual to the back pages and not carried live on all of the news channels much less the networks. So yeah, it’s quite a difference from the Watergate days.

Dori Smith: Let me play that for listeners and we will just refresh our memories as we listen, this is now C-Span and we are going to start with hearing a little bit of Rep. Henry Waxman asking the question was there an investigation:

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA 30th District) Are you aware if there was any investigation that ever took place in the White House about the release of this classified information?

James Knodell: I am not.

Rep. Waxman: Hmm. Do you know whether Karl Rove, the President’s senior political advisor, came forward and reported what he knew about the breach of Mrs. Wilson’s identity after all we learned, that Mr. Rove talked about her identity with at least two journalists, Robert Novak and Mathew Cooper of Time Magazine?

James Knodell: Mr. Chairman I have no knowledge of any investigation within my office.

Dori Smith: After a brief exchange Rep. Henry Waxman then asked Mr. Knodell if there was a report.

Rep. Henry Waxman: Mr. Knodell wouldn’t there have to be a report that would have been filed in your office?

James Knodell: If, if we were notified there would be Sir. Yes.

Rep. Henry Waxman: OK. So if you were notified a report would be on file. Is that right?

James Knodell: Correct.

Rep. Henry Waxman: And you don’t know if there is one on file?

James Knodell: That’s correct.

Rep. Henry Waxman: Is that correct? You don’t even know there is one on file?

James Knodell: There is not one on file.

Rep. Henry Waxman: There is not one on file. You know that there is no report on file that classified information was disclosed and that report was about Fleicher or Rove or all of the other names?

James Knodell: Mr. Chairman not within the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Rep. Henry Waxman: OK. Last question to Mr. Knodell. Was any corrective action taken? Was any disciplinary action taken against Mr. Rove for failing to report his knowledge of the breach of Mrs. Wilson’s identity?

James Knodell: No Mr. Chairman.

Rep. Henry Waxman: No, no action was taken or no you don’t know?

James Knodell: No action was taken.

Rep. Henry Waxman: OK. Thank you.

Dori Smith: Brad Friedman it was the no heard round the Washington D.C. area wouldn’t you say?

Brad Friedman: It was heard around the hearing room. How many folks actually heard it outside of the hearing room and around D.C. is still a question that remains. Waxman did follow up that testimony with a letter to the White House demanding to know what they did and didn’t do in regard to an investigation since the lack of an investigation would appear to be in direct conflict of an executive order signed by George Bush in March of 2003 requiring an investigation into any such disclosure of classified information, whether the disclosure was done purposely or not. He appears to have violated his own executive order in not carrying out an investigation of that matter.

Dori Smith: This coincides with his public statement that if he found that someone at the top level, at the White House level, was involved he would fire them right?

Brad Friedman: Well you can’t find that if you don’t look for it and it appears that he has not bothered to look for it. So no wonder there have been no heads that have rolled at the White House. He clearly has gone out of his way to not find out what had happened.

Dori Smith: Just describe what you do as you watch these hearings and what you are looking for, what kinds of key points you are looking for to share with your audience.

Brad Friedman: You know in the case of these hearings in particular, and Valerie Plame Wilson’s testimony, it was in once sense rather remarkable because she made things quite clear that have been frankly obfuscated in the media for years now. That is the fact that she was a covert CIA operative, that she served overseas within the last five years prior to her outing, that she was working on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and then she spoke to that quite directly, and in fact, Waxman also confirmed her covert status by giving us the information that the information that the director of the CIA, General Hayden, had also confirmed that she was a covert operative and that this has never occurred in the history of our country that our own government has outted a CIA operative like that. That was some pretty stark and extraordinary revelations. But in fact, had you been following this story and the facts of this story all of this is information that was known long ago unless you read the Washington Post or the New York Times or MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, where they kept repeating the same disinformation over and over again that she was not covert.

If you looked into the information, if you saw what her husband Joe Wilson said, if you saw what fellow CIA colleagues of hers like Larry Johnson and Jim Marcinkowski had said, you would have known already that she was a covert operative. So it’s been three years on this story trying to get out the real story, and in fact, one of the reasons that I wanted to live blog the hearings was because I knew that the coverage that followed would again be inadequate and its important to get the truth on the record even if Bradblog.com is not the New York Times at least we can get the truth out there and those people who really give a damn about the truth at least have a place to go find it. And that’s what I’ve found myself doing now for the past three or four years now at Bradblog.com is telling those stories, giving the actual evidence, the actual evidence, the actual facts, of all of these stories that have been so overlooked by the mainstream media. It’s been an extraordinary disservice to this country and I believe that is in no small part why this country is currently in the mess that we are in.

Dori Smith: Throughout the time you have been blogging on these cases that have been sequestered in the back room of the corporate press, the Chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman, who we saw in action, has been documenting the kinds of details that could be used to hold the Administration accountable. I want to ask you about Henry Waxman’s treatment of Victoria Toensing where he asks her specifically about the way she has been characterizing Valerie Plame Wilson in terms of this law we are discussing:

Rep. Henry Waxman: I am stunned Miss Toensing that you would come in here with absolute conclusions that she was not a covert agent, the White House did not leak it, no one seemed to know in advance that she was a CIA agent. Do you know those facts from your own first hand knowledge?

Victoria Toensing: Well let’s just take those one by one. I, as I said, I was there, I was the chief drafter for chair.

Rep. Henry Waxman: I am not asking you for your credentials. I am asking how you reached those conclusions. Do you have evidence.

Victoria Toensing: As part of my credentials, because I know what the intent of the act was.

Rep. Henry Waxman: I am not asking what the intent of the act was.

Victoria Toensing: Well that was.

Rep. Henry Waxman: Do you know that she was not a covert agent?

Victoria Toensing: She was not a covert agent under the act.

Rep. Henry Waxman: OK. So. So you are.

Victoria Toensing: You can call her anything you want to in the halls of the CIA.

Rep. Henry Waxman: Well. But General Hayden, General Hayden the head of the CIA, told me personally that she was that if I said that she was a covert agent it wouldn’t be an incorrect statement.

Victoria Toensing: (Trying to speak over Rep. Waxman Does he want to swear that she was a covert agent under the act?

Rep. Henry Waxman: I am trying to say this as carefully as I can. He reviewed my statement and my statement was that she was a covert agent.

Victoria Toensing: Well he didn’t say it was under the act.

Rep. Henry Waxman: OK so you are trying to define it exactly under the act?

Victoria Toensing: Well I was..

Rep. Henry Waxman: No no no no no no, I’m not giving you, I’m not yielding my time to you. So that’s your interpretation. She’s not. Do you know that the White House, no one in the White House leaked that information?

Victoria Toensing: I don’t even know how to deal with the word leak here, I know that people in the White House.

Rep. Henry Waxman: Well Karl Rove admitted he leaked it. Do you think he is not telling us the truth?

Victoria Toensing: Well words are important and I’m not sure what this means.

Rep. Henry Waxman: Oh so you want to completely define the words in so narrow a meaning that your statements can be credible but not honest.

Click for PDF file to Waxman’s letter

Dori Smith: That exchange went on for quite some time Brad an we saw an exasperated Henry Waxman and Attorney Toensing seemed to be splitting hairs right?

Brad Friedman: What she was doing was beyond splitting hairs. I would suggest what Victoria Toensing was doing was lying and she has been given a platform to lie about this now for years. While the jury was out in the Libby case deliberating the Washington Post allowed her to once again come on out, and some people have called it jury tampering, that she was able to come out and file a column making all of these false claims. Toensing has been now doing that for years and been given a platform all over the place in the mainstream media and in fact, this was the first time that she was sort of cross examined on her claims and you will notice she mitigated finally, instead of saying Valerie Plame was not covert, well when she was called on that during those hearings she said Plame was not covert according to the statute. She was referring to the IIPA which talks about what the bar is for criminal prosecution of outing a CIA agent. The hair that she was splitting was claiming that because Valerie Plame Wilson did not live overseas in the past five years that she did not meet the statute when she was outted. But in fact if you bother to read the actual statute that she actually had a hand in writing 25 years ago you see that there is no requirement to live overseas, simply to serve overseas. This is something that Valerie Plame Wilson made quite clear that she had done in the five years prior to her outing.

Dori Smith: Let’s listen to that portion of Valerie Plame Wilson’s testimony where she says she worked overseas as a covert CIA agent.

Valerie Plame Wilson: In the run up to the war with Iraq I worked in the counter proliferation division of the CIA. Still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified I raced to discover solid intelligence for senior policy makers on Iraq’s presumed weapons of mass destruction programs.

While I helped to manage and run secret world wide operations against this WMD target from CIA’s headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.

I love my career because I love my country. I was proud of the serious responsibilities entrusted to me as a CIA covert operations officer and I was dedicated to this work. It was not common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit that everyone knew where I worked. But all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, all of the value, my years of service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly.

In the course of the trial of Vice President Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, I was shocked by the evidence that emerged. My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA. And having signed oaths to protect national security secrets they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer. The CIA goes to great lengths to protect all of its employees, providing at significant taxpayers expense, painstakingly devised and creative cover for its most sensitive staffers. The harm that is done when a CIA cover is blown is grave but I can’t provide details beyond that in this public hearing. But the concept is obvious. Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who in turn risk their own lives and those of their families to provide the United States with needed intelligence. Lives are literally at stake.

Dori Smith: And that clip and others we will be hearing today come curtsey of C-Span.
The law in question here about residence is seldom if ever used according to a Washington Post story from September of 2003 by Edward Walsh and Susan Schmidt. It was a law originally written because of concern about a book by former CIA agent Philip Agee and he had named some names.

Brad Friedman: What the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the IIPA, did was set very specific standards for what needs to be met to bring prosecution for the outing of a covert operative. What I find most troubling, however, is that because no one has yet been prosecuted under the IIPA in the Plame matter the apologists for this outing of a CIA agent have said that that in and of itself is proof that no crime was committed.

Well if you take a look at the Scooter Libby trial and what Prosecutor Fitzgerald made quite clear during the course of that trial is that he was not able to prosecute under the IIPA because Scooter Libby in fact was protecting Dick Cheney. He had perjured himself during the course of the investigation and he had blocked the investigation. So we don’t know ultimately whether a crime was or wasn’t committed here according to that statute because of what happened to block Fitzgerald’s investigation.

You see these folks coming out and saying, there was no crime committed, well we don’t know if there was a crime or not. That was why Scooter Libby was found guilty on four of the five charges that were brought against him.

Dori Smith: Just characterize the meaning of this leak.

Brad Friedman: What it meant was that we lost an incredibly valuable asset. Not just Valerie Plame but her entire intelligence network that had been set up. She had a front company called Brewster Jennings which was set up so that she could basically run this intelligence operation as a NOC a non official cover agent, which is the most dangerous type of covert agent to be. In other words if she is caught spying on foreign soil the CIA will disavow that she works for the CIA, that she has anything to do with the CIA, and someone like her can be summarily executed in a foreign country. If you have ever watched Mission Impossible you know what that has to do with.

When she was outed then not only was her ability to monitor WMD traffic in and out of Iraq and Iran wiped out and the CIA was essentially blinded when that happened, she was not able to continue her business, Brewster Jennings was not able to continue their business as a front company, and all of those people who were ever associated with Valerie Plame or anyone who worked at this outfit was similarly outed and perhaps put in danger.

We don’t know because it is classified what the real effects of her outing was. The CIA typically does damage assessment in these matters and it is possible that people were killed, we don’t know, but what we do know is that a huge section of our intelligence monitoring WMD in the Middle East was completely wiped out by this outing. There was at least 20 different disclosures by the Administration of Valerie Plame’s identification in what appears to be a direct political payback against Ambassador Joe Wilson, Valerie’s husband, simply because he came out and told the truth that there was no Uranium purchased by Iraq in Niger and the fact that the White House knew this when George W. Bush came out in his State of the Union Address and said that Iraq had attempted to buy Uranium from Niger That is what directly helped build public support for the war back in 2003. And the reason that the Administration has been fighting it is because it underscores the entire rationale for going to war in the first place and the fact that it was built on manipulate intelligence that they knew about at the time. They knew in fact those claims of Uranium in Niger were bogus and yet they reported it anyway. Joe Wilson exposed that lie when he wrote his OPED in the New York Times And as payback they had to figure out how to discredit Joe Wilson any way they could even if it meant selling off one of their own most valuable covert CIA operatives in the Middle East. It’s an extraordinary situation. We’ve never seen it before.

Dori Smith: It’s hard to characterize the scale of importance here. In the time since 9/11 this administration has written new laws, formed new agencies, claimed to have national security as an overarching concern, but we find that they were not committed to maintaining the security of the very people who were taking risks in order to get intelligence.

Brad Friedman: You also mentioned that it had been sort of sequestered to the back room, these matters. I would suggest it had been quite literally sequestered to the back room, not just the back room but the basement room of the Capital building where some of these hearings were relegated during the Republican majority.

There was an expressed conspiracy by the Republican majority to not carry out their Constitutional duty of oversight on these matters and many others including the Downing St. memos, what happened in the election of 2004, and in fact, when John Conyers, then ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, the Republicans would not even allow him the curtsey of a hearing room. He had to hold hearings on these matters literally down in the basement of the Capital in a room not much larger than a broom closet.

Now that we are finally seeing these hearings out in the light of day, that’s why you are seeing some accountability finally beginning to happen. But none of these stories, frankly, I believe, would still be out there at all were it not for the blogosphere. Folks like myself and Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo, and John Aravosis, at America Blog and the folks over at RAW Story who have been reporting on these stories continuously over the past three, four or five years, while the rest of the mainstream had completely ignored it. And they are only now coming around and saying, oh gees I guess we missed Something.

We saw that with the US Attorney’s case recently, with the Abramoff matter, with the Plame outing, and the list goes on and on. The mainstream media has simply failed in their responsibility to be the watchdog for the American People. They have been delinquent from top to bottom and were it not for the internet and for the bloggers out there I shudder to think where we would be now.

Dori Smith: About Josh Marshall Time Magazine issued an apology to him, why don’t you explain what happened with that story about the eight judges.

Brad Friedman: In fact, Jay Carney, one of the, I think he’s a senior editor over there at Time Magazine, he had dismissed this US Attorney purge scandal, another extraordinary scandal highlighting that the Bush administration has now used the Department of Justice as little more than a bludgeon.

Josh began reporting on that some weeks ago and it was dismissed by Jay Carney over at Time Magazine as an unprovable conspiracy theory. This is something that we’ve heard time and again from Time Magazine and the New York Times and others who I also should add characterized concerns about the 2004 election as a conspiracy theory, the After Downing Street revelations showing that Bush knew that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction prior to the war, that was a conspiracy theory, all of these things were. Finally Jay Carney admitted at Time Magazine last week that he was wrong, he was sorry, and that indeed the US Attorney purge is a story and a huge one at that.

Once you get to the point where it looks like a sitting US Attorney is going to be resigning and a sitting House member may be facing some serious fire themselves well I guess they had no choice but to admit that they were wrong and that this was much more than a silly conspiracy theory. But it shouldn’t be this hard. We should have folks in the mainstream media who unlike me actually get paid for this stuff and have resources to do this stuff. They should be the ones leading the way on these stories.

Dori Smith: We’re going to take a minute away from our interview with Brad Friedman to provide an overview of what can be found on Bradblog.com

When the White House released 3,000 pages of emails and other documents on the 19th a link was provided so readers could assess the pages. By that evening another link appeared to dailybackground.com so a citizen journalist named Arlen Parsa could describe some interesting details from one of the pages he had read. Arlen had found an October 2005 letter from 19 members of Congress to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The letter was about former US attorney Carol Lam who was fired by the White House. Arlen Parsa points out that Randy Duke Cunningham was one of those who signed what was effectively a complaint letter about Lam. Thus, while he was under investigation for corruption by Lam he and 18 members of Congress tried to get rid of her. Cunningham is now serving an eight year prison term.

Bradblog.com correspondent Margie Burns reported on what the Senate was up to and she quoted U.S. Senator Pat Leahy who said, “We don’t have a law that would make war profiteering specifically a federal crime. So Leahy introduced one, Burns reported.

There are also breaking news stories about voting and election machines and we will be taking that up with Brad Friedman at a later time. But in the time since my interview with him we’ve seen breaking news that you can bet he is working on. During the past 24 hours President Bush sought to protect White House officials from having to provide sworn testimony before Congress. Rep. John Conyers of the House Judiciary assured members of the press that he would have to insist that any conversations about the firings of US Attorney’s be dealt with in sworn testimony. Here is what he had to say on the morning of the 21st.

Rep. John Conyers (D MI) We think that this is developing into far more than we originally expected it to be. The latest round of disclosures from the Department of Justice raise new and troubling questions about the firing of the six United States attorneys that we had at the committee hearing. We have just received these documents that I held in my hand in the last hour and we are in the process of revealing them.

At a minimum we believe that these documents show a coordinated effort initiated by the White House to purge every United States attorney in the country. Until recently the Justice Department persisted in stone walling the Congress with claims that these firings were performance related. Now these documents prove this assertion was categorically false.

We know that the original plan was to fire all the United States attorneys. It’s absurd to think the performance of every U.S. Attorney in the country was sub par and that they deserved to be fired. So this is about something else, political cronyism or political pressure on public corruption investigations? We don’t know because the Justice Department and the White House continue to hide behind rationalizations and cover stories that are obviously not true, and so its time to come clean.

I’ve directed my staff to engage with the Justice Department and White House to bring in officials who may have knowledge of these issues for depositions. And if they fail to come forward voluntarily we believe that there may be other ways to compel their attendance.

Media accounts have raised the questions about the President’s and the White House role in this matter. The public deserves a full accounting.

Dori Smith: Brad just describe what comes to mind when you hear the term, Treasongate. What term are we talking about when we use that term?

Brad Friedman: It’s hard to keep all of these ‘gates’ straight at this point. Frankly I think one of the only things that’s keeping this administration afloat is that there are so many of them, we don’t have time to dig into any one before the next scandal comes along. So I think Treasongate was in reference to the outing of Plame which was quickly subsumed by the failure at Walter Reed which was quickly subsumed by the U.S. Attorneys firings scandal; I mean one has piled on top of the next on top of the next to the point that it is very difficult to keep up with any of them and to get full accountability for all of them. That is what is really required here and we need to see a lot of heads rolling and frankly at this point we’ve seen so much malfeasance and misfeasance from the White House and the administration. I see no reason why articles of impeachment are not being brought up against Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Had this been any other administration any one of these 20 or 30 scandals, I can’t imagine they would have not led to impeachment. If these aren’t impeachable offenses I don’t know what is. And yet the accountability is still not there. You still have Democrats sort of staring like a deer in the headlights in many cases afraid to follow their Constitutional duty of holding folks accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Dori Smith: You can continue this conversation with Brad Friedman online at Bradblog.com There you can learn more about Karl Rove, I. Scooter Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson, the state of the nation’s voting machines, and much more.

For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith. Talk Nation Radio is produced in the studios of WHUS, at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. WHUS.org to listen live Wed. at 5 PM. Talknationradio.org and talknation.org for transcripts and discussions. And special thanks to C-Span for granting us permission to use their audio.

Dahr Jamail is Returning to the Middle East

Friday, March 9th, 2007

A Discussion with Dahr Jamail about sectarian violence in Iraq, Ministries of death, and instability in the Middle East.

Dahr Jamail Returns to the Middle East

Produced by Dori Smith at Pacifica Affiliate WHUS at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT Total Running Time: 29:22

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Transcript of March 5, 2007 interview with Dahr Jamail

Welcome to Talk Nation Radio, a half hour discussion on politics, human rights and the environment. I’m Dori Smith

Journalist Dahr Jamail joins us for the half hour. I spoke with him on Monday March 5th by phone to California where he is readying for another trip to the Middle East to cover the results of US policy in the region. In Dahr Jamail’s case that means focusing on what is happening to the civilian populations and getting at the underreported stories. He has been covering civilian casualties in Iraq and pointing out desperate conditions at hospitals there. If you go to his web page dahrjamailiraq.com you will find his blog his many hard news stories, and multimedia links as well as pictures taken in Iraq during his eight months of coverage there. Photographer Jeff Pflueger will accompany him on his next trip.

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail welcome to Talk Nation Radio.
Dahr Jamail: Thanks Dori

Dori Smith: I know that you evaluate the violence in Iraq on a daily basis as you continue to report for Inter Press News Service and other outlets. Just start out her by commenting on the corporate reporting on the level of violence in Iraq today.

Dahr Jamail: It’s status quo there really when you talk about the US press coverage of Iraq and the current situation. I’m actually working on a new story on that for Foreign Policy in Focus that will come out somewhere around the upcoming four year anniversary of the occupation. But really it’s a status quo essentially where the US press does not show what the war looks like. They do not show the fact that according to the Pentagon we are up to almost 200 attacks per day by resistance groups and militias against US and Iraqi security forces. That’s almost 200 every day! This is the highest level of attacks against US and Iraqi security forces ever in the occupation. So that said we would expect a dramatic increase in US coverage showing many more bombs, many more dead people, wounded people, but instead we have the opposite. Instead of a media that’s done their job and shown the true face of war and its escalation as it is occurring on the ground we have actually less coverage today in Iraq than ever before.

Dori Smith: They do cover bombings on a fairly daily basis where we hear about an isolated case or two. Today we heard about a bombing in Baghdad that left roughly 28 people dead. The death toll hasn’t been calculated yet but AP reported that this attack came on the heels of a major push by nearly 1200 US and Iraqi troops into Sadr City. This is as we know a Shiite militia stronghold. Would you say that’s an indication that the situation is both escalating and also just repeating itself in terms of a spiraling violence where the US does something then the Iraqis do then the US and so on down the line.

Dahr Jamail: That really is true. This is not the first time the US has had a big incursion into Sadr City and this one really, it’s kind of funny to watch this happen because Muqtada al-Sadr no matter what the criticisms are against him you have to give him credit for not being a stupid strategist. He was forced into a situation politically where the US had to come in and make a show of going through Sadr City to quote unquote ‘root out his militia’.

So this is Sadr City, let’s be real clear, this is an area of three million people. This is half the population of Baghdad and theoretically the US is going to go house to house? With the troop shortage that all of us know is the case on the ground in Iraq this is just not going to happen but they have to make this show, the al-Maliki Government has to make a show and so they are letting the US Military go in and try to put a halt to the sectarian killings and the Mahdi Army Militias that everyone knows now are primarily responsible for the massive number of killings. And so of course Al-Sadr ordered his militia to just stand down, put your weapons away, and act like civilians, and let them come through your house and everyone is allowed one Kalashnikov and that’s how it is. That’s what’s happening. So yes you see the media very obediently giving the Pentagon line, look at the good job the US Military is doing they are going to do away with the Mehdi Army.

That’s really a bit of a joke because the Mehdi Army is a civilian populated militia of course. These people basically have their normal lives and then when they are called upon to go and fight they pick up their Kalashnikovs and go out and fight. And that’s what the US Military is up to in Sadr City which will accomplish approximately nothing.

Dori Smith: We heard Robert Fisk explain to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now Monday March 5th that the incidents where we hear about Iraqis in police uniforms committing attacks against police stations, or he said, the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, he said it’s not as if people can obtain fake uniforms readily but rather that the people committing these acts of violence are Iraqi soldiers and security forces. So we are looking at a problem that’s internal, that’s within the Iraqi Government. Just discuss how much of the violence is being perpetrated by people who are closely involved with the Government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Dahr Jamail: Well Fisk is exactly right and I would be very hesitant to disagree with him on most things but especially this situation where we have the US media consistently reporting of men wearing Iraqi police uniforms went and carried out this assassination or went and carried out this kidnapping and everyone is familiar with that type of headline and questioning US media. The reality is if you just scratch half a millimeter below the surface you see that it is men in these police uniforms and Iraqi soldier uniforms carrying out these things because the militia are the security forces or if you flip it around the security forces are the militias. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out because there was so much political wrangling in the Iraqi government over who was going to get control over which ministry. The Ministry of Interior which controls these security forces along with the Ministry of Health, for example, are controlled by Shiite political groups, particularly the Interior Ministry is controlled by the Dawa Party. So that’s why we have members of both the Mehdi Army and the Badr Organization, the two biggest Shiite militias in Iraq that are going around populating the Iraqi police forces and the Iraqi Army.

Just to give you an idea of how this works since the Ministry of Health is now controlled by a politician loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr you have to go get the graces of the Sadr political movement if you are going to get a job within that ministry. Well it’s the same way that it works with the Ministry of Interior. It certainly is going to help you get a job if you are already a member of one of these Shiite Militias to go apply for a job at a ministry controlled by essentially a Shiite Militia. So that’s why we have Iraqi security forces that rather than them being loyal to the state of Iraq they are loyal to which ever militia their members belong to and this has of course translated into exponential violence on the ground where these people can run around with total impunity now to carry out whatever acts they want to carry out and they are answerable to no none because they are the state security force.

The US Military, of course, now we see again this ties right into what we were just discussing, OK we are going to go through Sadr City now and go after the Mehdi Army. Well again the Mehdi Army is the Iraqi Security Forces. So who are the Iraq Security Forces going around with the US in Sadr City now are the Mehdi Army. So how many Mehdi Army people or militia members do you think the Military is going to find in Sadr City during this raid?

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail we did hear that Muqtada al-Sadr had gone into Iran. Did you hear any reports about what went on there and is he back in Iraq at this point, do you know?

Dahr Jamail: It does appear as though he did go to Iran but it is not clear whether he has returned or not. The reports I’ve been getting is that he is definitely in fear for his life and rightly so. I’m sure the US would be happy to take him out any chance they got. He does feel that his death is imminent. He is fully prepared to return a martyr so he doesn’t fear it, he wants to do it in fact, but he is on the run and will have to keep moving if he doesn’t want the US Military to catch up with him. But that’s very easy to do in a situation where the Military doesn’t have control over anything; they cannot even provide security for themselves. But I can’t say with any authority whether I know that Sadr is in Iraq or Iran, but in regards to how that affects the policy on the ground regarding the Mehdi Army and their attacks against US forces particularly in Southern Iraq; their attacks against the British increasing by the week so I don’t think it really matters whether Muqtada al-Sadr is in the country or not those attacks will continue.

Dori Smith: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told AP about a new policy of arresting and prosecuting Iraqis with quote ‘suspected ties to extremist groups’. Now apparently this came in response to a question al-Maliki was asked about whether or not lists were being made; so these would be targeted folks who might be in what we might call the resistance or what have you; there have also been reports of more house to house searches and arrests going on. So is this political, more of an effort at containment of bad news about death squads? How do you interpret that information Dahr Jamail?

Dahr Jamail: Again its how are we going to spin this particular topic of the day of this catastrophic situation in Iraq. The reality is that security operation in Baghdad is at least the third that I have reported on myself and there may well have been others before these three that didn’t get quite the publicity that these have. This one particularly has gotten so much attention because there is so much political pressure now in the United States growing against this failed occupation. And I think we can expect that trend to continue the longer the occupation continues. It will of course get worse over any amount of time and never better but again let’s just kind of talk about what arrangements of the deck chairs on the Titanic do we want to have today? Do we want this row in front or this row or maybe we should talk about the third row. That’s really how I see this rhetoric. It’s interesting I did hear Robert Fisk talk not just today but at other times about this circular motion of reportage about the occupation and I have experienced the exact same thing. Sometimes it seems like I just keep doing the same stories over and over but adjusting the numbers of dead upwards and the numbers in financial ruin upwards whether it be to the taxpayers here or the Iraqi people.

So we can talk about this security operation or what these people are trying to do to rein in the death squads. But the reality is it is the United States that formed these death squads to begin with. They armed them. They set them up. They have backed them. They gave them the intelligence they needed and they sent them out after the Sunni Resistance so at this point it doesn’t seem likely that they are going to be trying to rein them in too too much because it’s one of the only weapons they have against the growing resistance. And then particularly in light of what Seymour Hersh reported that it is now policy within the Bush administration to sort of redirect their efforts and start supporting more radical Sunni groups to go after Shiite groups since they have lost control of Iraq primarily to Iran and Shiite groups related to Iran, as well as other countries, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and other powerful Shiite groups in other countries as well. So I see that in relation to Iraq as sort of a stepping up of a process of funding Sunni radicals and other death squad type of groups to go after the Shiite. So rather than bringing down a process of death squads and sectarian violence I see an escalation but now from the other side.

Dori Smith: And then the Sunni Resistance is targeting higher profile government workers which is also a form of escalation right?

Dahr Jamail: That’s right. As I said before attacks particularly on occupation forces are at higher levels per day on an average than ever before seen and then of course we have the military with their ongoing giant operations, one in Baghdad right now, others going on in different parts of the country, for example, as you know, Anbar Province; you can rest assured there is usually at least one major military operation going on at any time usually more than that. So yes, basically it’s just violence coming from both sides on ever increasing levels.

Dori Smith: Mahmoud Amandinijaid visiting Saudi Arabia, what is the meaning there? Is that going to strengthen the hopes at least of the Iraqi Sunni Resistance.

Dahr Jamail: Oh you know it’s so complex. We have the President of Iran now visiting Saudi Arabia on the heels of Cheney who was over there relatively recently, you could kind of interpret it politically as potentially erasing whatever Cheney went to set up. There was Amandinijaid of course meeting with King Abdullah the most powerful person politically in Saudi Arabia. It is a bit of a show of force. I think that if nothing else it warns the United States that any attack on Iran could even have consequences of affecting the US oil supply out of Saudi Arabia which would have devastating impacts on our economy.

It seems a bit of a mixed message. It is interesting because it was King Abdullah, one of his foreign ministers, who talked about possible support for the Sunni Resistance in Iraq and that idea actually was I think probably followed up on by Dick Cheney.

Then we have the President of Iran go over and we are getting quite different signals coming out. It sends a very clear message that this probably would affect the US economically; to attack Iran if Iran and Saudi Arabia are making some deals behind the scenes. So it’s very very complex. Definitely mixed messages and at the end of the day no one is going to know for sure what kind of alliances are there and how this will affect the United States until the bombs begin to fall on Iran which I still remain quite certain that this is going to happen sooner rather than later.

Dori Smith: We have not heard much about the Kurds but you did tell us that Kurdish forces were in the streets during the election and they were influencing who got to vote. What is the influence and strength of the Kurds or Kurdish militias now and to what extent are they engaging in violence as well?

Dahr Jamail: Yes the elections of January 30, 2005 really did bring the Kurdish North closer to independence in economy. But at the same time it’s a very precarious situation because the closer they come to autonomy and independence, and they have even taken closer steps towards that with the recent drafting of the oil laws. They are making damned sure that they are going to have significant portions of the profits and even more importantly control of the oil fields in Kirkuk.

They are willing to play ball with western oil corporations but they are definitely negotiating very well for themselves in that process. Ironically, the closer the Kurdish North gets towards autonomy or even independence the closer it also gets to coming head to head with the Turkish Government which is loath to the idea of a Kurdish State. There are attacks almost daily between rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan into parts of Turkey and vice versa. Just last year alone Turkey had 400 troops killed by the Kurdish rebels who are consistently launching attacks out of Northern Kurdistan. The PKK Party is actually considered a terrorist group by the US State Department. Yet, that said the US is doing everything they can to avoid a direct confrontation of the Turkish Military and Kurdish Iraq because the Government of Turkey has been very clear from the beginning that if Kurdish Iraq does try to go totally independent that they just wont’ let that happen. They have not ruled out military force. There are well over 100,000 Turkish Military troops right there on the border of Kurdish Iraq. So it tends to make things a little bit dicey whenever the political authorities in Kurdistan start talking about independence.

Dori Smith: Haaratz have reported that three Arab Nations have told Washington they would allow overflights in the event of an Israeli and US air attack on Iran. NATO asked Turkey for the same rights. This sandwiches Turkey square in the middle again between the US and the Kurds if the Kurds help the US in an assault on Iran.

Dahr Jamail: That’s right. If that happens then it definitely opens them up to military attacks from Iran. We have already actually seen the same threats, I mean much of what I just said regarding Turkey I can basically just repeat regarding how Iran would respond to Kurdish compliance with US Military attacks against Iran. We have already had ongoing attacks again between Kurdish rebels into Iran. The US is working very closely with Kurdish militias and Kurdish special forces and training them to go into Iran and carry out attacks and engage in destabilization efforts. So this is another situation where the Kurds are playing a very dangerous game. They are in bed with the US on so many levels including economically and any attack on Iran is going to I think inevitably spell bad news for the Kurds where this Iranian Military is concerned particularly with the capability they have with rockets. And not only is every single US base in Iraq already targeted but you can rest assured that the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Kurdish political system and the economic system is going to pay severe consequences when this attack begins.

Dori Smith: We have seen an increase in downed US helicopters in Iraq and I’ve wondered if any of the old weapons provided to the Mujahideen through Pakistan back in the 1980s when people like Gulbadin Heckmaytar were receiving massive quantities of arms and aid including Stinger weapons that often went missing.

Dahr Jamail: We don’t know exactly for sure how these helicopters in Iraq have been brought down. In the past it has been by simply RPGs, they have been used by the Mujahideen there to bring them down. But there is grounds for that and I think it would be worth looking into as a news story of what exact type of weaponry are being used to bring these down. That possibility definitely exists; I mean there are people coming into Iraq from all over the Middle East, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, from Libya, from Sudan, from Yemen, I mean everyone now who has a score to settle with the US Government is making their way into Iraq and joining the Iraqi Resistance to fight against the big imperialist, the big beast of the United States of America whose foreign policy in the Middle East has brought nothing but violence and suffering to most people who live there. So it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility to say that we are looking at some of these military aircraft being brought down by weaponry provided to either Mujahideen in Afghanistan that the US backed against the Soviet Union or numerous other groups. I mean blowback is a very real phenomenon and it certainly would not be out of the realm of possibility to see this type of thing happening in Iraq. And in fact I am pretty certain that we already are.

Dori Smith: Competition for power is intensifying particularly in Afghanistan. I read a report that the former Afghan Prime Minister who is also known as a warlord and Mujahideen fighter, Gulbadin Heckmaytar, now an apparent enemy of the US has reached some sort of an agreement with the current President Hamid Karzai. But it’s difficult to know at any given time who is on which side.

Dahr Jamail: It would be humorous to watch all of this go down if it wasn’t costing human lives but yes we have on one hand the US running around putting their fingers in the dike with various political officials in various countries and then on the other hand the next day we will see these officials turning around and making deals with other people that are so-called US ‘enemies’.

For example, what we just talked about earlier with the President of Iran going to Saudi Arabia and meeting with the King, this type of thing happening with what you just mentioned between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it is a bit funny to watch people like Cheney and Rice and other US officials, high ranking government officials, going around doing really what I see as acts of putting their fingers into the dikes and then as they leave whoops another leak just sprung out right where you had your finger there Mr. Cheney or Miss Rice. And it is kind of funny to watch that happen and I think that this is indicative of how this is an empire that is on the decline.

Of course, all empires through history when they have to start using their brute force in using their military to kind of hold the empire together, that is the final stage of empire that usually precedes economic collapse or some other type of downfall. And I think that is what we are seeing today. They are going around doing everything in their power to hold this thing together to hold the hegemony together to try to keep expanding their power and control over resources in other countries and it’s just not working. It is a total failure. And then if you throw into that the state of our economy, the fact that we are about to go into a rather large recession if not much worse. It really just shows to anyone that is not paying close attention to that things are going to start changing very severely here at home. I think most people are going to be in for a rather rude awakening.

Dori Smith: I understand that there are tens of thousands of refugees perhaps four million in total according to UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, but where are these people coming from? What parts of Iraq? And where are they winding up?

Dahr Jamail: One in eight people in Iraq have had to leave their homes because of violence and instability in the country since the US invasion began. One out of every eight people has had to flee their homes. There are over four million refugees now that have been generated from this totally failed invasion and occupation. It is the biggest displacement of people, the biggest exodus we have seen in the Middle East since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 when Palestinians had to flee their homes.

So we are looking at the fastest growing refugee crisis on the planet according to the UN. The most conservative estimate I have seen, again provided by the UN is 1.7 million internally displaced people in Iraq, people who have had to flee their homes, that’s usually people who don’t have the money to be able to go to a different country to seek refuge. The most conservative estimate I have seen regarding people who have gotten into Jordan; at least 800,000 Iraqis have gone to Jordan, now over 1.2 million have gone to Syria and a sizeable percentage, well over 100,000, and I think the most conservative estimate I have seen is over 150,000 have gone into Lebanon, we don’t know how many have gone to Saudi Arabia, we don’t know how many have gone to Iran. We do know that at most 466 have been generously welcomed into the United States by the Bush administration. They recently said they are going to now allow in 7,000, but of course without letting anyone know how they are going to do that and who is going to be chosen to be allowed into this country. So 7,000 out of over 4 million isn’t exactly going to change a whole bunch but that’s the situation with the refugee crisis. It’s yet another catastrophic situation and I have seen little to no coverage of that, particularly on television stations. I mean this is giant news. This is history in the making. We have talked about what happened in Palestine in 1948 and we are seeing a similar type of situation as far as the severe level of crisis that we are looking at that has impacted the Iraqi people as a direct result of this US occupation.

Dori Smith: Do you see any chance that China, Russia, France, Germany, any of the leaders from these parts of the world, could have an influence on the US Government to stay the guns against Iran?

Dahr Jamail: If China and Russia really wanted to stop this from happening they could and they may well at some point, whether it’s before, during or after the attack has been underway for quite some time. Economically they could make it totally unviable for the US to continue in their policies and I think that will eventually happen because at some point they have to step in because the oil and natural gas and economic ties that Russia, specifically and China to a large extent, have with Iran, will dictate that they step in and take some actions. How they do that is up for argument. I think it’s a wait and see how they will do it. We can only speculate at this point whether its militarily or economically or in some other way but I think its inevitable. It definitely is bringing the crisis to a head of a US empire ambitions going up against Russia and China and their natural gas and oil needs, and economic needs and their aspirations for increasing their power in the world. This is why just over the weekend China announced a huge increase in their military budget I believe it was something like 16 or 18 percent, just a phenomenal jump or increase of spending but of course that still pales in comparison to the United States but it’s a statement. They are posturing now, sort of showing their muscles that well if the US is going to keep going down this path then we are going to start beefing up our security. Russia has made similar political postures very recently as well, talking about US meddling in affairs that it shouldn’t be meddling in, that sort of thing. So we are starting to see these reactions coming out of Russia and China and I think as the US attack on Iran approaches and starts to look more and more inevitable I think we should see more of those same type of gestures if not even more overt gestures like some of them starting to move around their military in a way like the US has been moving around theirs.

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail I understand that you have travel plans again. Would you care to share them with us and talk about the message that’s up on your web site right now, on your blog, talking about your latest plans?

Dahr Jamail: I do have plans to return to the Middle East. I am in a fundraising mode right now because I’m trying to raise enough money to bring over Jeff Pflueger. He is the person who has been running my web site. Jeff is a professional photographer. He wants to go over and give people more of a multimedia experience of what it looks like on the ground over there. We are making plans to go to Syria and Lebanon and there is an outside possibility of obtaining an Iranian visa. We are going to be going over there within the next couple of months to stay for at least a month, probably somewhere right around that time frame depending on how much funding we are able to raise.

Dori Smith: And listeners can learn more about that trip that is about to happen online at Dahr Jamail Iraq.com. Dahr Jamail thanks so much for joining us again on Talk Nation Radio.

Dahr Jamail: My pleasure Dori.

Journalist Dahr Jamail. And we look forward to his reports from wherever he lands next. You can log onto his web site at Dahrjamailiraq.com He also writes regularly for Inter Press Service and many other publications.

For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith. Talk Nation Radio is produced in the studios of WHUS at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. WHUS.org to listen live Wed. at 5 PM. Talk Nation.org and Talknationradio.org for transcripts and discussions.

Music is by Fritz Heede

Recent stories related to the content of this interview:

In the time since this interview CNN news reporter Kyra Phillips provided several reports on refugees. In one report she provided old statistics on Iraqi refugees, claiming there only 600,000 internal refugees in Iraq. In a subsequent report CNN’s Michael Ware reported that “some insurgents are becoming U.S. allies”. His report showed footage of ‘insurgents’ recruited by American forces. And al-Sadr has issued a call to his militias to demonstrate against the occupation. In spite of what we have just learned from Dahr Jamail about the true nature of the Baghdad security forces, CNN’s news team wrote: “Members of al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army are believed to be involved in fierce sectarian battles and killings. The Baghdad security crackdown has been targeting such armed Shiite groups. ” –Clearly Dahr’s reporting continues to be vital.

We were able to raise approximately one-third of the amount we need to support a return trip to the Middle East reports Dahr Jamail on his blog. He and photographer Jeff Pflueger are fundraising for another trip to the Middle East. While many people know that I’ve been interviewing Dahr Jamail ever since his first trip to Iraq in 2003 to report on the U.S. invasion and occupation, not that many people are aware that Dahr has provided his many telephone reports for us from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and other places, totally free of charge. He has provided up to the minute news reports and analysis of U.S. foreign and military policy without ever sending Talk Nation a bill. That’s because we produce the show at a non-commercial radio station, WHUS, and provide it free of charge to any and all radio stations that will air it. Contact theshockvote@yahoo.com for information on how to air the program.

Throughout the time we have received Dahr’s reports we have seen one example after another of his ability to get at the facts and his commitment to truth and justice. The list of stories he has done that have later become lead stories out of Iraq by other news sources include: torture in US run prisons in Iraq, Bechtel’s failure to make good on contracts by providing clean water to the people of Iraq, the U.S. Military’s use of depleted uranium munitions throughout Iraq as well as the use of White Phosphorus in Fallujah, the destruction of over 60 percent of the city of Fallujah during two seiges and the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians in Fallujah, Baghdad, and other parts of the country.

While other reporters fell in step with the corporate press in terms of presenting Middle East news in the context of what the White House and Pentagon press corps were saying, Dahr has stood his ground to cover the stories he thought were most vital, the stories Americans needed to hear about in order to be able to come to just decisions and just actions at home.

We treasure Dahr’s reporting and hope you do too.
Here are some relevant links to this week’s broadcast:

http://www.antiwar.com/jamail/?articleid=9652 US Losing Control of al-Anbar Province, September 6, 2006

http://www.rense.com/general75/morr.htm Russian Intel Sees US Military Buildup On Iran border From Webster Tarpley http://en.rian.ru 3-27-7

http://www.rense.com/general75/bite.htm General Ivashov Calls For Emergency Session Of UN Security Council To Ward Off Looming US Aggression
By Webster G. Tarpley 3-25-7

http://infolive.tv/infolive.tv-israelnews-ahmedinejad-visits-saudi-arabia-clinton-speaks-out-possible-us-strike-iran-0 Scenes in the streets of Saudi Arabia as Ahmadinejad visits Saudi Arabia, includes comments from former President Bill Clinton on a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Urges talks with Iran.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/syria/story/0,,1690447,00.html Ahmadinejad visits Syria. Staff and agencies Thursday January 19, 2006 Guardian Unlimited

http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Special_Report_Iraqs_growing_refugee_crisis_0313.html Video: Special report on Iraq’s growing refugee crisis, David Edwards, Tuesday March 13, 2007 The Raw Story

http://www.theirc.org/what/iraqi-refugees.html The conservative IRC, International Rescue Committee, also reports ‘Nearly 2 million Iraqis have fled to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey—another 1.8 million have been displaced within their country’s borders.’

http://www.swans.com/library/art13/ga227.html Four Years of Remarkable American Achievements in Iraq March 26, 2007 by Gilles d’Aymery

http://dahrjamailiraq.com/multi_media/ March, 2007 – Dahr Jamail on Free Speech TV Show “SourceCode” March, 2007
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhKNGnpHEYw Robert Fisk on Democracy Now, You Tube, video featuring Amy Goodman’s interview March 5, 2007.

www.theotheriraq.com Slick web page for ‘The Other Iraq’ Iraqi-Kurdistan.