Monday, November 28, 2005

R.Dreyfuss: Our Monsters in Iraq

Thanks to CL for passing this along. --RB

Our Monsters In Iraq
Robert Dreyfuss
November 18, 2005

Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.He can be reached at his website:

It is time to start waving the bloody shirt. There is no longer any doubt that the men that the United States has installed in power in Iraq are monsters. Not only that, but they are monsters armed, trained and supported by George W. Bush's administration. The very same Bush administration that defends torture of captives in the so-called War on Terrorism is using 150,000 U.S. troops to support a regime in Baghdad for which torture, assassination and other war crimes are routine.

So far, it appears that the facts are these: that Iraq's interior ministry, whose top officials, strike forces and police commando units (including the so-called Wolf Brigade) are controlled by paramilitary units from Shiite militias, maintained a medieval torture chamber; that inside that facility, hundreds of mostly Sunni Arab men were bestialized, with electric drills skewering their bones, with their skins flayed off, and more; that roving units of death-squad commandos are killing countless other Sunni Arab men in order to terrorize the Iraqi opposition. Even the Washington Post, that last-ditch defender of America's illegal and unprovoked assault on Iraq, says:

Scandal over the secret prison has forced the seven-month-old Shiite-led government to confront growing charges of mass illegal detentions, torture and killings of Sunni men. Members of the Sunni minority, locked in a struggle with the Shiite majority over the division of power in Iraq, say men dressed in Interior Ministry uniforms have repeatedly rounded up Sunni men from neighborhoods and towns. Bodies of scores of them have been found dumped by roadsides or in gullies.

The New York Times reports that the Iraqi interior minister isn't all that upset about the torture center. Bayan Jabr, "speaking of the prison in an angry sarcastic tone, said, 'There has been much exaggeration about this issue.' And he added, "Nobody was beheaded.'" So, apparently not beheading innocents is the standard of justice in the New Iraq. And, apparently there may be dozens, scores or hundreds of similar facilities.

This is not a surprise.

Nearly two years ago, writing in the American Prospect, I wrote the following: "The Prospect has learned that part of a secret $3 billion in new funds—tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq appropriation that Congress approved in early November—will go toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups...The bulk of the covert money will support U.S. efforts to create a lethal, and revenge-minded, Iraqi security force." Except for a parallel story by Sy Hersh in the New Yorker, the story was ignored.

Over the past two years, writing for, I have repeatedly written about Shiite death squads and about abuses by the paramilitary Badr Brigade, the secret army trained and run by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Iraqi Sunnis and opposition leaders, including Aiham Al Sammarae (as I wrote for TomPaine ) have charged that the Iraqi government has been running assassination teams. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been killed already, including two attorneys for those accused in the kangaroo court set up to convict Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi government officials. The Post suggests that the prison uncovered in Baghdad was a "secret torture center run with the help of intelligence agents from neighboring Iran." Read that again: intelligence agents from Iran.

Last week I had a chilling encounter with one of the monsters responsible for the Murder Inc. units run by Badr and by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). At a Washington think tank, I met Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's so-called deputy president and a SCIRI official. When I asked Mahdi about reports that Iraqi police and interior ministry squads were carrying out assassinations and other illegal acts, he didn't deny it—but, he said, such acts were merely a reaction to the terrorism of the resistance. "There is terrorism on only one side," he said. "Inappropriate acts by the other side, by the police—this is something else. This is a reaction." As far as civilian casualties in Sunni towns, he had this to say: "You can't fight terrorism without attacking some popular areas."

I also asked him about the Badr Brigade, the Iranian-backed paramilitary force that is the main domestic army propping up Abdul Mahdi's Shiite coalition, he said "they are disarmed," which is patently absurd. He added: "They participate fully in the political process."

Abdul Mahdi had this to say about Fallujah, the city that was obliterated by the U.S. armed forces a year ago. "It is one of the most peaceful areas in Iraq. I don't know whether the people are happy or not. But it is one of the most peaceful cities."

Make no mistake. The gangsters now running Iraq are our creatures.

Earlier this week, I was speaking with someone who was involved in the pre-2003 war planning effort vis-à-vis Iraq. As I mentioned in TPM Cafe , he told me that some of his colleagues realized that the New Iraq would probably be taken over not by Ahmed Chalabi, but by the Shiite fundamentalists. Those radical-right parties (along with the Kurds) were the real forces that took part in Chalabi's INC bloc. And the United States consciously supported the toppling of Saddam knowing that radical Shiites would be the chief beneficiaries. This was not an intelligence failure. We knew it. This was an explicit decision by the neocon-dominated cabal to replace Saddam with Shiite crazies. Now, we see that those crazies are running Saddam-like torture prisons where they use electric drills and flay the skin off Sunni captives.

The military in Iraq is scrambling to limit the damage from the stunning revelation about the men who are running Iraq today. We toppled Saddam—and in his place we've installed a hundred mini-Saddams.

Iraqi Guards Seen as Death Squads
Among the varied armed security men on Baghdad's streets these days, you can't miss the police commandos... The commandos are part of the Iraqi security forces that the Bush administration says will gradually replace American troops in this war. But the commandos are being blamed for a wave of kidnappings and executions around Baghdad since the spring.


See also, Kim Sengupta, The Dirty War: Torture and mutilation used on Iraqi "insurgents", The Independent (UK) Nov 20, 2005

J.Scahill: Cheney's fear mongering on germs: another potential disaster

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Germ Boys and Yes Men

[from the November 28, 2005 issue]

In early November George W. Bush, struggling to claw his way upward in polls that had acquired the consistency of quicksand after two months of blunders and disasters, launched a new PR blitz. The Administration declared it was taking charge of the nation's health and security with an all-out war on the flu (to be conducted with vaccines provided by well-connected pharmaceutical companies). "Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland," Bush declared. "It's my responsibility as President to take measures now to protect the American people."

But if Bush hoped to wipe away the stain of Katrina--and the memory of a hapless Michael Brown steering FEMA in circles while New Orleans drowned--he should have thought twice about bringing up the specter of a public health emergency, because the man responsible for coordinating the federal response to a flu pandemic or bioterror attack could well be the next Michael Brown.

Meet Stewart Simonson. He's the official charged by Bush with "the protection of the civilian population from acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies"--a well-connected, ideological, ambitious Republican with zero public health management or medical expertise, whose previous job was as a corporate lawyer for Amtrak. When Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recently speculated, "If something comes along that is truly a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence," many of those professionally concerned with such scenarios couldn't help thinking of Simonson. They recalled his own unsettling words at a recent Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on government response to a chemical or biological attack: "We're learning as we go."

"Great. What we need in the middle of a crisis is somebody learning on the job at that high level of government," says Jerry Hauer, Simonson's immediate predecessor at the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness (OPHEP) and a veteran public health expert who served as Rudy Giuliani's director of emergency management from 1996 to 2000.

"If I was in charge, he wouldn't be in that position," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "We don't have the best and brightest in the key positions, and this leaves us in a very, very precarious situation."

So how is it that Simonson ended up in a position that could impact the lives and health of millions? Simonson's qualifications can be summed up in two words: Tommy Thompson. Simonson was a protégé of the former Health and Human Services secretary and longtime Republican governor of Wisconsin. Thompson hired him out of the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1995 and put him on the political fast track, eventually naming him as his legal counsel. Thompson then used his influence as chair of Amtrak's board to place Simonson as the rail service's corporate counsel. When Bush named Thompson as HHS secretary, Simonson again went with him, and he has been rising through the ranks of the Administration and the Republican Party ever since. "He's a political hack, a sycophant," says Ed Garvey, a prominent Wisconsin attorney and the state's former deputy attorney general. "People just laughed when he was appointed to Amtrak, but when the word came out that he was in charge of bioterrorism, it turned to alarm. When you realize that people's lives are at stake, it's frightening. It's just one of those moments when you say, Oh, my God."

What is particularly disturbing to public health professionals and others is that Simonson is in charge of insuring that the country has adequate vaccines and antivirals to combat an avian flu outbreak. "Mr. Simonson is a lawyer, not a medical expert," declared Representative Henry Waxman, who highlighted Simonson in a list of five "inexperienced individuals with political connections." The California Democrat warned that the appointment of people like Simonson has "led to legitimate public concern that those in government, particularly those who are relied upon to keep us safe from harm, are not competent or independent in their judgments." As evidence of this, Waxman cited Simonson's July appearance before the House Government Reform Committee, where Simonson "claimed he had sufficient funds to purchase influenza vaccine and antiviral medication for the nation. The next day his office submitted a funding request to Congress seeking an additional $150 million for flu vaccine and antiviral medication."

But it is Simonson's acquiescence in the Bush Administration's reordering of priorities in the name of the "war on terror" that has most distinguished him throughout his career at HHS. Shortly after 9/11 Thompson and Simonson began plans to create an office within HHS dedicated to combating terrorism, which became OPHEP. "When Stewart came into this, he was deputy counsel to the secretary and a very close friend of the secretary's," says Donald "DA" Henderson, named by Thompson as the founding director of OPHEP, who was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bush. "Within a short period of time, this became all [Simonson] was doing--without a title."

In mid-2002, as the White House aggressively sought to convince the world that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, it was engaged on another front of the propaganda war at home: convincing Americans that Saddam was poised to deploy biological weapons in an attack on American soil. It was a battle that would pit Vice President Cheney and his now-indicted chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby against a team of public health experts at HHS, led by then-OPHEP chief Jerry Hauer. Inside HHS it was Simonson who emerged as the White House's key strategic ally.

From his days as Defense Secretary during the Gulf War, Cheney was intensely interested in biological warfare. Libby, who worked for Cheney as an under secretary from 1990 to '92, shares his boss's obsession with biowar. Known in the Administration as "germ boy," Libby was obsessed with pre-emptively vaccinating the entire population against smallpox. (The fixation even extended to Libby's 1996 novel, The Apprentice, about a smallpox epidemic.) Shortly after 9/11 Cheney and Libby were briefed on a war game called Dark Winter, which simulated a smallpox attack on the United States. Interestingly, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who penned a book called Germs, had taken part in the exercise, playing a reporter covering the attack. "It's a dramatic briefing," Libby told the Washington Post, "but we were well on this road already." Libby said that Cheney advocated "a forward-leaning position on protecting Americans from this threat."

Many in the public health community regarded Cheney and Libby's calls for mass smallpox vaccinations as fearmongering. Hauer, who also took part in Dark Winter, was among those asking uncomfortably probing questions. Hauer butted heads directly with Libby and his deputy on homeland security, Carole Kuntz. Another veteran of the first Bush Administration, Kuntz was Libby's special assistant at the Pentagon when Cheney was Defense Secretary. "The risks of vaccinating the whole country were greater than what we saw as the threat," says Hauer. "You're so focused on smallpox you lose perspective on all the other planning you're trying to do and nobody could make a good medical or public health case." Hauer, who ultimately would have been in charge of implementing Libby's program, says he had no choice but to oppose the plan. "There were times I felt you had to not be a yes man. You do an enormous disservice when you do that." Hauer says that when he raised objections to mass smallpox vaccinations, Kuntz became "downright offensive." Hauer adds, "It was very clear that I was not giving her the answers she wanted or telling her what she wanted to hear."

Like so many other instances when expert knowledge was discarded in the run-up to war, the bioterror obsession could well have long-term consequences. "It has been four years of throwing money at a perceived threat with very little to show for it," says Columbia's Dr. Redlener. Many public health experts say that the billions spent preparing for these imagined threats have left the country dangerously unprepared for actual ones, including the very real possibility of an avian flu outbreak, which is only now being addressed.

Cheney's office was eventually forced to back off its call for universal vaccinations, but the Administration persisted in hyping the threat of a bioterror attack. In early 2003 Bush announced a major biodefense initiative during his now infamous State of the Union address, laced with references to Iraq's alleged WMDs, including the fraudulent evidence about Iraq attempting to import uranium from Niger. Bush spoke of the prospect of terror attacks with anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola and plague. "We must assume that our enemies would use these diseases as weapons," he told the nation. The $6 billion plan was called Project Bioshield. Bush named Cheney as his point man on the project; at HHS it was Stewart Simonson.

Bioshield quickly became the main focus of OPHEP's work. For eighteen months, according to current and former HHS officials, Simonson worked diligently with Cheney's office to win Congressional approval for the program. Cheney scared up support for the plan, personally telling lawmakers Bioshield was "life on the planet stuff." Henderson says that Simonson's close contacts at the White House were "very helpful working with the Bioshield legislation."

At the time, Hauer was still heading OPHEP, while Simonson was Thompson's deputy legal counsel. According to former and current HHS officials, a power struggle developed between Hauer--who had already angered the Vice President's office with his opposition to the smallpox plan--and the well-connected Simonson. Hauer was critical of the way Bioshield was being thrown together and disagreed with Simonson on the priorities emerging within HHS, which increasingly privileged "war on terror"-related programs over preparing city and state governments and agencies for disasters, as well as over plans vital to public health, like preparing for a flu epidemic.

"Bioshield was a disaster," says Hauer. "It was done half-assed.... Instead of doing it right, they rushed to get it done so that they could announce it in the State of the Union." Hauer alleges that while Bioshield was being developed, the White House political office, led by Karl Rove, was seeking to undermine his authority. A couple of years before, Hauer, a Democrat, had aroused the ire of his former boss, Rudy Giuliani, after he publicly endorsed Mark Green over Michael Bloomberg in the 2001 New York City mayoral race. When he subsequently went to Washington to work for HHS, his title remained "acting" assistant secretary because the White House refused to officially approve his appointment. "The White House was not going to confirm me, particularly after the folks in New York were calling saying I supported a Democrat. I'm a Democrat. It was as simple as that." Still, he says, Thompson backed him and retained him at HHS despite the political pressure.

By March 2003, however, Hauer had been stripped of much of his authority, and he knew his days were numbered. Simonson intervened to prevent Hauer from attending a briefing in Thompson's office on Bioshield. In a March 24 e-mail to Thompson's briefing coordinator Simonson wrote, "Bioshield does not involve Jerry so I am unclear as to why he invited [sic]."

With the 2004 election a year away, and the environment at the agency becoming more hostile, Hauer says he could not in good faith continue to work for the Administration. "The political side of this White House is very vindictive," says Hauer. He says it was made clear to him that if he was not willing to endorse the President and "attend events," it was time to move on. "I don't want to be disrespectful of the office of the presidency," Hauer says. "I just felt that things needed a change, so I could not be part of the Administration and not support the White House. Plus, the fact is there was enormous frustration at HHS in large part because of Stewart."

In April 2004, with Hauer out of the way, Bush named Simonson director of OPHEP. Hauer says that with Simonson the Administration has "somebody they know will go along with pretty much anything they want." On July 21, a day before the 9/11 commission issued its findings, Bush signed Bioshield into law. The White House released a statement saying, "Today's action is just the latest step the President has taken to win the War on Terror and protect our homeland."

Even within the "war on terror" community, Bioshield has proved controversial. That's because more than 80 percent of the nearly $1 billion allocated under the program has gone to a scandal-plagued company that has never successfully produced an FDA-licensed vaccine. In November 2004 California-based VaxGen was handed one of the largest government vaccine contracts in history. The company is largely known for its failed AIDS vaccine, and just a few months before VaxGen won the Bioshield contract, the Nasdaq took the unusual step of delisting it from trading because of financial irregularities. So why did it get the contract? "I have no idea why VaxGen was selected," admits Henderson, who remains chair of the influential Secretary's Advisory Council at HHS. "It's not for me to decide whether it's a good idea or not." But it was for Simonson and his staff. And as with many Bush Administration contracts, several signs point to cronyism as the deciding factor--among them: VaxGen CEO Lance Gordon is a longtime associate of one of Simonson's top deputies on Bioshield, Dr. Phil Russell, former chief of Army medical research.

Now a powerful group of Republican lawmakers is pushing "Bioshield 2" through Congress. The legislation would strip people injured by vaccines of their right to sue manufacturers and would virtually eliminate pharmaceutical corporate accountability. The legislation would also make the newly created Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency the only federal agency exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Simonson did not return numerous messages left for him at his office. But Thompson stands by him, as does Henderson. "This is not necessarily somebody who has got a lot of depth of background here, but you can get people who have a variety of expertise. I would liken it to having a CEO in a company," says Henderson, adding that Simonson "may not have been qualified but he is a real learner.... We are where we are today because Stewart pressed this very hard. He read a lot, he talked a lot, he learned a lot."

Perhaps not quite enough, because where we are today, according to many public health experts, is unprepared.

S.Blumenthal on Cheney's illegitmate power +NYT editorial : The dark force

A very important and lonely article by former Clintonite, Sid Blumenthal, about Cheney as the prime mover and monster of the US government.

It's distressing that for all the damage that Cheney has done and continues to do, so few of these articles have been written. In an amazing (or not so amazing) editorial, the NYT spoke of Cheney as the "dark force" in this administration and suggested that Bush should marginalize him! (see NYT editorial below) --RB

Here are some key paragraphs from the Blumenthal article, as chosen by blogger, Laura Rozen (11.25.05)

The hallmark of the Dick Cheney administration is its illegitimacy. Its essential method is bypassing established lines of authority; its goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power. When it matters, the regular operations of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department have been sidelined.

Richard Nixon is the model, but with modifications. In the Nixon administration, the president was the prime mover, present at the creation of his own options, attentive to detail, and conscious of their consequences. In the Cheney administration, the president is volatile but passive, firm but malleable, presiding but absent. Once his complicity has been arranged, a closely held "cabal" -- as Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, calls it -- wields control.

Within the White House, the office of the vice president is the strategic center. The National Security Council has been demoted to enabler and implementer. Systems of off-line operations have been laid to evade professional analysis and a responsible chain of command. Those who attempt to fulfill their duties in the old ways have been humiliated when necessary, fired, retired early or shunted aside. In their place, acolytes and careerists indistinguishable from true believers in their eagerness have been elevated. ...


The long march of Dick Cheney
For his entire career, he sought untrammeled power. The Bush presidency and 9/11 finally gave it to him -- and he's not about to give it up.
By Sidney Blumenthal

Nov. 24, 2005 | The hallmark of the Dick Cheney administration is its illegitimacy. Its essential method is bypassing established lines of authority; its goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power. When it matters, the regular operations of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department have been sidelined.

Richard Nixon is the model, but with modifications. In the Nixon administration, the president was the prime mover, present at the creation of his own options, attentive to detail, and conscious of their consequences. In the Cheney administration, the president is volatile but passive, firm but malleable, presiding but absent. Once his complicity has been arranged, a closely held "cabal" -- as Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, calls it -- wields control.

Within the White House, the office of the vice president is the strategic center. The National Security Council has been demoted to enabler and implementer. Systems of off-line operations have been laid to evade professional analysis and a responsible chain of command. Those who attempt to fulfill their duties in the old ways have been humiliated when necessary, fired, retired early or shunted aside. In their place, acolytes and careerists indistinguishable from true believers in their eagerness have been elevated.

The collapse of sections of the façade shielding Cheney from public view has not inhibited him. His former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, indicted on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, appears to be withholding information about the vice president's actions in the Plame affair from the special prosecutor. While Bush has declaimed, "We do not torture," Cheney lobbied the Senate to stop it from prohibiting torture.

At the same time, Cheney has taken the lead in defending the administration from charges that it twisted intelligence to justify the Iraq war and misled the Congress even as new stories underscore the legitimacy of the charges.

Former Sen. Bob Graham has revealed, in a Nov. 20 article in the Washington Post, that the condensed version of the National Intelligence Estimate titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs" that was submitted to the Senate days before it voted on the Iraq war resolution "represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed [WMD], avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version." The condensed version also contained the falsehood that Saddam Hussein was seeking "weapons-grade fissile material from abroad."

The administration relied for key information in the NIE on an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball. According to a Nov. 20 report in the Los Angeles Times, it had learned from German intelligence beforehand that Curveball was completely untrustworthy and his claims fabricated. Yet Bush, Cheney and, most notably, Powell in his prewar performance before the United Nations, which he now calls the biggest "blot" on his record and about which he insists he was "deceived," touted Curveball's disinformation.

In two speeches over the past week Cheney has called congressional critics "dishonest," "shameless" and "reprehensible." He ridiculed their claim that they did not have the same intelligence as the administration. "These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities." Lambasting them for historical "revisionism," he repeatedly invoked Sept. 11. "We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001 -- and the terrorists hit us anyway," he said.

The day after Cheney's most recent speech, the National Journal reported that the president's daily briefing prepared by the CIA 10 days after Sept. 11, 2001, indicated that there was no connection between Saddam and the terrorist attacks. Of course, the 9/11 Commission had made the same point in its report.

Even though experts and pundits contradict his talking points, Cheney presents them with characteristic assurance. His rhetoric is like a paving truck that will flatten obstacles. Cheney remains undeterred; he has no recourse. He will not run for president in 2008. He is defending more than the Bush record; he is defending the culmination of his career. Cheney's alliances, ideas, antagonisms and tactics have accumulated for decades.

Cheney is a master bureaucrat, proficient in the White House, the agencies and departments, and Congress. The many offices Cheney has held add up to an extraordinary résumé. His competence and measured manner are often mistaken for moderation. Among those who have misjudged Cheney are military men -- Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft and Wilkerson, who lacked a sense of him as a political man in full. As a result, they expressed surprise at their discovery of the ideological hard man. Scowcroft told the New Yorker recently that Cheney was not the Cheney he once knew. But Scowcroft and the other military men rose by working through regular channels; they were trained to respect established authority. They are at a disadvantage in internal political battles with those operating by different rules of warfare. Their realism does not account for radicalism within the U.S. government.

Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal thwarted his designs for an unchecked imperial presidency. It was in that White House that Cheney gained his formative experience as the assistant to Nixon's counselor, Donald Rumsfeld. When Gerald Ford acceded to the presidency, he summoned Rumsfeld from his posting as NATO ambassador to become his chief of staff. Rumsfeld, in turn, brought back his former deputy, Cheney.

From Nixon, they learned the application of ruthlessness and the harsh lesson of failure. Under Ford, Rumsfeld designated Cheney as his surrogate on intelligence matters. During the immediate aftermath of Watergate, Congress investigated past CIA abuses, and the press was filled with revelations. In May 1975, Seymour Hersh reported in the New York Times on how the CIA had sought to recover a sunken Soviet submarine with a deep-sea mining vessel called the Glomar Explorer, built by Howard Hughes. When Hersh's article appeared, Cheney wrote memos laying out options ranging from indicting Hersh or getting a search warrant for Hersh's apartment to suing the Times and pressuring its owners "to discourage the NYT and other publications from similar action." "In the end," writes James Mann, in his indispensable book, "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet," "Cheney and the White House decided to back off after the intelligence community decided its work had not been significantly damaged."

Rumsfeld and Cheney quickly gained control of the White House staff, edging out Ford's old aides. From this base, they waged bureaucratic war on Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, a colossus of foreign policy, who occupied the posts of both secretary of state and national security advisor. Rumsfeld and Cheney were the right wing of the Ford administration, opposed to the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and they operated by stealthy internal maneuver. The Secret Service gave Cheney the code name "Backseat."

In 1975, Rumsfeld and Cheney stage-managed a Cabinet purge called the "Halloween massacre" that made Rumsfeld secretary of defense and Cheney White House chief of staff. Kissinger, forced to surrender control of the National Security Council, angrily drafted a letter of resignation (which he never submitted). Rumsfeld and Cheney helped convince Ford, who faced a challenge for the Republican nomination from Ronald Reagan, that he needed to shore up his support on the right and that Rockefeller was a political liability. Rockefeller felt compelled to announce he would not be Ford's running mate. Upset at the end of his ambition, Rockefeller charged that Rumsfeld intended to become vice president himself. In fact, Rumsfeld had contemplated running for president in the future and undoubtedly would have accepted a vice presidential nod.

In the meantime, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld undermined the negotiations for a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty being conducted by Kissinger. Fighting off Reagan's attacks during the Republican primaries, Ford was pressured by Cheney to adopt his foreign policy views, which amounted to a self-repudiation. At the Republican Party Convention, acting as Ford's representative, Cheney engineered the adoption of Reagan's foreign policy plank in the platform. By doing so he preempted an open debate and split. Privately, Ford, Kissinger and Rockefeller were infuriated.

As part of the Halloween massacre Rumsfeld and Cheney pushed out CIA director William Colby and replaced him with George H.W. Bush, then the U.S. plenipotentiary to China. The CIA had been uncooperative with the Rumsfeld/Cheney anti-détente campaign. Instead of producing intelligence reports simply showing an urgent Soviet military buildup, the CIA issued complex analyses that were filled with qualifications. Its National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet threat contained numerous caveats, dissents and contradictory opinions. From the conservative point of view, the CIA was guilty of groupthink, unwilling to challenge its own premises and hostile to conservative ideas.

The new CIA director was prompted to authorize an alternative unit outside the CIA to challenge the agency's intelligence on Soviet intentions. Bush was more compliant in the political winds than his predecessor. Consisting of a host of conservatives, the unit was called Team B. A young aide from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Wolfowitz, was selected to represent Rumsfeld's interest and served as coauthor of Team B's report. The report was single-minded in its conclusion about the Soviet buildup and cleansed of contrary intelligence. It was fundamentally a political tool in the struggle for control of the Republican Party, intended to destroy détente and aimed particularly at Kissinger. Both Ford and Kissinger took pains to dismiss Team B and its effort. (Later, Team B's report was revealed to be wildly off the mark about the scope and capability of the Soviet military.)

With Ford's defeat, Team B became the kernel of the Committee on the Present Danger, a conservative group that attacked President Carter for weakness on the Soviet threat. The growing strength of the right thwarted ratification of SALT II, setting the stage for Reagan's nomination and election.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1978, Cheney became the Republican leader on the House Intelligence Committee, where he consistently fought congressional oversight and limits on presidential authority. When Congress investigated the Iran-Contra scandal (the creation of an illegal, privately funded, offshore U.S. foreign policy initiative), Cheney was the crucial administration defender. At every turn, he blocked the Democrats and prevented them from questioning Vice President Bush. Under his leadership, not a single House Republican signed the special investigating committee's final report charging "secrecy, deception and disdain for law." Instead, the Republicans issued their own report claiming there had been no major wrongdoing.

The origin of Cheney's alliance with the neoconservatives goes back to his instrumental support for Team B. Upon being appointed secretary of defense by the elder Bush, he kept on Wolfowitz as undersecretary. And Wolfowitz kept on his deputy, his former student at the University of Chicago, Scooter Libby. Earlier, Wolfowitz and Libby had written a document expressing suspicion of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalizing perestroika and warning against making deals with him, a document that President Reagan ignored as he made an arms control agreement and proclaimed that the Cold War was ending.

During the Gulf War, Secretary of Defense Cheney clashed with Gen. Colin Powell. At one point, he admonished Powell, who had been Reagan's national security advisor, "Colin, you're chairman of the Joint Chiefs ... so stick to military matters." During the run-up to the war, Cheney set up a secret unit in the Pentagon to develop an alternative war plan, his own version of Team B. "Set up a team, and don't tell Powell or anybody else," Cheney ordered Wolfowitz. The plan was called Operation Scorpion. "While Powell was out of town, visiting Saudi Arabia, Cheney -- again, without telling Powell -- took the civilian-drafted plan, Operation Scorpion, to the White House and presented it to the president and the national security adviser," writes Mann in his book. Bush, however, rejected it as too risky. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was enraged at Cheney's presumption. "Put a civilian in charge of professional military men and before long he's no longer satisfied with setting policy but wants to outgeneral the generals," he wrote in his memoir. After Operation Scorpion was rejected, Cheney urged Bush to go to war without congressional approval, a notion the elder Bush dismissed.

After the Gulf War victory, in 1992, Cheney approved a new "Defense Planning Guidance" advocating U.S. unilateralism in the post-Cold War, a document whose final draft was written by Libby. Cheney assumed Republican rule for the indefinite future.

One week after Bill Clinton's inauguration, on Jan. 27, 1993, Cheney appeared on "Larry King Live," where he declared his interest in running for the presidency. "Obviously," he said, "it's something I'll take a look at ... Obviously, I've worked for three presidents and watched two others up close, and so it is an idea that has occurred to me." For two years, he quietly campaigned in Republican circles, but discovered little enthusiasm. He was less well known than he imagined and less magnetic in person than his former titles suggested. On Aug. 10, 1995, he held a news conference at the headquarters of the Halliburton Co. in Dallas, announcing he would become its chief executive officer. "When I made the decision earlier this year not to run for president, not to seek the White House, that really was a decision to wrap up my political career and move on to other things," he said.

But in 2000, Cheney surfaced in the role of party elder, above the fray, willing to serve as the man who would help Gov. George W. Bush determine who should be his running mate. Prospective candidates turned over to him all sensitive material about themselves, financial, political and personal. Once he had collected it, he decided that he should be the vice presidential candidate himself. Bush said he had previously thought of the idea and happily accepted. Asked who vetted Cheney's records, Bush's then aide Karen Hughes explained, "Just as with other candidates, Secretary Cheney is the one who handled that."

Most observers assumed that Cheney would provide balancing experience and maturity, serving in his way as a surrogate father and elder statesman. Few grasped his deeply held view on presidential power. With Rumsfeld returned as secretary of defense, the position he had held during the Ford administration, the old team was back in place. Rivals from the past had departed and the field was clear. The methods used before were implemented again. To get around the CIA, the Office of Special Plans was created within the Pentagon, yet another version of Team B. Senior military dissenters were removed. Powell was manipulated and outmaneuvered.

The making of the Iraq war, torture policy and an industry-friendly energy plan has required secrecy, deception and subordination of government as it previously existed. But these, too, are means to an end. Even projecting a "war on terror" as total war, trying to envelop the whole American society within its fog, is a device to invest absolute power in the executive.

Dick Cheney sees in George W. Bush his last chance. Nixon self-destructed, Ford was fatally compromised by his moderation, Reagan was not what was hoped for, the elder Bush ended up a disappointment. In every case, the Republican presidents had been checked or gone soft. Finally, President Bush provided the instrument, Sept. 11 the opportunity. This time the failures of the past provided the guideposts for getting it right. The administration's heedlessness was simply the wisdom of Cheney's experience.

-- By Sidney Blumenthal

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New York Times Editorial


President Bush's Walkabout

(NYT) 518 words
Published: November 8, 2005

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.
In Argentina, Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his ability to relate to world leaders face to face, could barely summon the energy to chat with the 33 other leaders there, almost all of whom would be considered friendly to the United States under normal circumstances. He and his delegation failed to get even a minimally face-saving outcome at the collapsed trade talks and allowed a loudmouthed opportunist like the president of Venezuela to steal the show.

It's amazing to remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for president, he bragged about his understanding of Latin America, his ability to speak Spanish and his friendship with Mexico. But he also made fun of Al Gore for believing that nation-building was a job for the United States military.

The White House is in an uproar over the future of Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, and spinning off rumors that some top cabinet members may be asked to walk the plank. Mr. Bush could certainly afford to replace some of his top advisers. But the central problem is not Karl Rove or Treasury Secretary John Snow or even Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. It is President Bush himself.

Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver -- in great part through his own powers of leadership -- a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.

The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Compan

Alex Cocburn: How the Dems Undercut Murtha

Thanks to Alex for highlighting the Democrats' unwillingness to stand behind Murtha despite the recognition that the great majority of the country agrees with him. Cockburn however, like every other commentator I've seen thus far, is loath to mention, much less explore, the possibility that the Dems' silence is due to the influence of the Zionists on their party because they are still clinging to the war as good for Israel, never mind what it's doing to the US, the world, and the Middle East.

Is there a better explanation for Hillary's and Schumer's silence, the silence of all the NY Congressional delegation including hi profile liberals such as Nadler, Maloney, Rangel and more on Iraq. According to Cockburn, Nancy Pelosi was about to call a press conference rallying behind Murtha, but changed her mind. Who do we think got to her? --Ronald
Weekend Edition
November 26 / 27, 2005

He Pointed the Way Out; They Chopped Off His Hand
How the Democrats Undercut John Murtha

Here we have one of the most widely derided presidents in the history of the United States and a war abhorred by a majority of all Americans and the Democrats have near zero traction as a credible party of opposition. The sequence of events after Representative Jack Murtha's speech on Capitol Hill on November 17 tells the story.

It truly was a great speech, as the Marine veteran (37 years in the US Marine Corps, then 31 years in Congress) actually delivered it with extempore additions to the prepared text handed out after his news conference.

Listen to Murtha and you are hearing how the US commanders in Iraq really see the situation. Murtha is trusted by the military and has visited Iraq often. "Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowed its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. Much of our ground equipment is worn out."

On Iraq's condition: "Oil production and energy production are below prewar level. You remember they said that was going to pay for the war, and it's below prewar level. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment is 60 percentClean water is scarce and they only spent $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects.

"And, most importantly -- this is the most important point ­ incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year."

Then, amid his tears, came Murtha's sketches of war's consequences in today's America:

"Now, let me personalize this thing for youI have a young fellow in my district who was blinded and he lost his foot. And they did everything they could for him at Walter Reed, then they sent him home. His father was in jail; he had nobody at home -- imagine this: young kid that age -- 22, 23 years old -- goes home to nobody. V.A. did everything they could do to help him. He was reaching out, so they sent him -- to make sure that he was blind, they sent him to John Hopkins. John Hopkins started to send him bills. Then the collection agency started sending billsImagine, a young person being blinded, without a foot, and he's getting bills from a collection agency."

And finally, Murtha's call for rapid pullout of US troops from Iraq capped by one of the most amazing resumes of political reality ever administered to an audience on Capitol Hill:

"I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid-December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice: The United States will immediately redeploy -- immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from a United States occupation. And I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process."

This was no wimp. This was a 73-year old Marine veteran with Purple Hearts and Bronze Star, one of the Armed Forces' most constant supporters. What more credible advocate a speedy end to an unpopular war could the Democrats ever hope for?

Barely had he stopped speaking before the halls of Congress echoed with the squeaks Democrats whimpering with panic as they skipped clear of Murtha's shadow. Emboldening the White House to savage Murtha, John Kerry hurried before the cameras of MSNBC to frag the Pennsylvania congressman and to tell Chris Mathews how he, John Kerry, had a better plan, involving something in the nature of a schedule for withdrawal possibly limping into action in 2006.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats' leader in the House abruptly retreated from a scheduled pres conference to express support for Murtha. Scenting weakness, the Republicans put up a resolution calling for withdrawal now. Democratic panic escalated into pell mell retreat, shouting back over their shoulders that they weren't going to fall for such a dirty Republican trick. Why not? What better chance will they get to go on record against the war? In the end just three Democrats (Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Jose Serrano of New York, and Robert Wexler of Florida voted for immediate withdrawal and six voted "present"). McKinney put it starkly:

"I will not vote to give one more soldier to the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney war machine. A vote on war is the single most important vote we can make in this House. I understand the feelings of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who might be severely conflicted by the decision we have to make here tonight. But the facts of US occupation of Iraq are also very clear."

They may be clear to McKinney, and Murtha and 60 per cent of the American people, but not to the three Democratic Senators interested in the presidential nomination in 2008. Even after Murtha's lead Russell Feingold continued to mumble about the "target date" for withdrawal being 2006, as does Kerry. For her part Hillary Clinton announced at the start of Thanksgiving week that an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be "a big mistake" which "would cause more problems for us in America. It will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war, if it becomes a failed state"

The importance of Murtha's speech was that it vaulted over these laboriously prudent schedules into the reality of what is actually happening in Iraq. As his military sources in Iraq most certainly urged him to point out, the main fuel for the Sunni Arab insurgency is foreign occupation. So long as it continues the resistance is likely to go on. . The idea that the Sunni taking part in the election somehow means a shift from military action is also baloney.

Would there actually be a power vacuum if US withdrew, followed by civil war, as is widely argued in the U.S.? The Sunni can't take Baghdad. They can't penetrate the main Kurdish and Shia areas. How exactly is the US military preventing a civil war at the moment? The refusal of the Shia to retaliate is the most important factor here and this is primarily the result of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani standing firmly against it.

Now suppose Sistani calls for a withdrawal? Then the US and Britain will have little choice but to go, probably over an 18 month period. This very week, incidentally, a gathering in Cairo of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish leaders (under the auspices of the Arab League) called for a timetable for US withdrawal and also said that Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right to resistance." The Sunni are not going to stop fighting while the occupation continues. The quid pro quo for the US leaving would presumably be a ceasefire by the Sunni and an end to suicide bombing attacks.

All those Democratic Party withdrawal dates are predicated on the idea that Iraqi army security forces will be built up and can take over. This scenario is as unrealistic as calls to "internationalize" the occupying force. All the evidence is that only an agreement on the departure of the US will lead to an end to the armed resistance, just as Murtha said. The idea that the Sunni taking part in the election somehow means a shift from military action is also baloney. It is clearly an 'Armalite and ballot box' strategy.

The Evolving Postures of Prof. Juan Cole

First the professor from the University of Michigan, influential in liberal circles as an expert on Iraq, said he wanted withdrawal. Then he said that to urge withdrawal would be advocacy of genocide. Then this, on his website. Can you figure out what he wants?

Cockburn Misrepresents Cole

Alexander Cockburn says in his piece in The Nation: 'Cole says to The Nation Institute's Tom Engelhardt that for the United States to "up and leave" Iraq would be to become an accomplice to genocide. He counsels the heightened use in Iraq of "special forces and air power." In other words, assassinations and saturation bombing.'

Cockburn is referring to my interview with Tom Engelhardt.

I actually haven't called for any assassinations or saturation bombing, and Mr. Cockburn's "In other words" is just a trite way to open up a mendacious smear.

For the thousandth time, what I have in mind is that in the wake of a substantial drawdown of US troops (which I think advisable), a civil war may well break out in Iraq. It is also likely that Sunni Arab militiamen will attempt to kill the members of the current government. (I mean, they are already trying to kill them, they just aren't usually succeeding.)

Monday, November 07, 2005

B. Foley: GITMO -- Torture is US

Foley correctly points out: Americans like thinking they're the world's nicest, most democratic people, but they'll abandon that warm and fuzzy feeling if being nice and democratic will increase their risk of being blown up by terrorists.

This indicates that if most Americans understood that the war on terror is totally bogus, that the US govt planned and executed 911, they would pay more attention to the GITMO and torture horrors.

But more realistically, it would also help if the media did more to point out that (as even the New Yorker noticed some months ago) not ONE terror cell has been located in this country. The implication is that the FBI and security agency terror budgets are not only a waste of many billions, but are being used to jail, harrass, torture, and deport only innocent people.

See also the very good NYT editorial below on torture. They start off by saying that US torture policy is "maddening." This indicates that they acknowledge that we are living in a fascist dictatorship, meaning that there is no force or agency or due process in this country that can stand up to the will of the White House.

November 2, 2005

The Denial of Basic Legal and Human Rights
Why Most Americans Don't Care About Gitmo (and Why They Should)

For almost four years, Americans collectively have ho-hummed news about the prisoners caged at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO). Torture? Big deal. Hunger strike? What hunger strike? -- most people don't even know about it. So it's no surprise that Americans don't care that the tribunals that determine whether the prisoners are "enemy combatants," and the tribunals that will try some of them for particular crimes, all deny prisoners the full set of procedural rights that US and international law offer.

Americans' indifference comes in large part because the arguments that denying process to "enemy combatants" is bad policy and illegal have failed to appeal to the public's self-interest.

For example, most of the policy arguments against this lack of process have been the following: (1) Giving process to these prisoners is just the right thing to do morally. (2) Our failure to do so shows we're hypocritical. US leaders have been extolling American democracy over other forms of government because it purportedly preserves individual rights and freedoms; the separate-and-unequal justice system at GTMO undercuts such claims. (3) Our denying process to these prisoners will cause other countries to deny process to our soldiers if they are captured. (4) We should accord process because one of us might be jailed by mistake, and we would like fair process to protect us.

These arguments are all valid. However, the problem is that they are either sentimental or unrealistic--and most Americans sense that. Americans like thinking they're the world's nicest, most democratic people, but they'll abandon that warm and fuzzy feeling if being nice and democratic will increase their risk of being blown up by terrorists. Americans don't worry about being hypocrites, because "everything changed" after 9/11; we're fighting a "different kind of war," and history will judge us as prudent, they believe. Most Americans know that our soldiers probably won't be captured: enemies are barely able to kill our troops, much less capture them. And as we saw with Jessica Lynch, we can just go rescue them anyway. Moreover, what country would dare mistreat US troops and incur our (perhaps nuclear-tipped) wrath? As for the classic argument that we need rigorous legal process in case we're arrested by mistake, well, most Americans know that it's highly unlikely they themselves will ever be caged at GTMO: most Americans aren't radical Muslims.

The legal arguments against GTMO (that the US is violating US and/or international law) haven't interested the public, either. The arguments are too technical, and the number and length of court opinions, of differing opinions by judges, and the number of scholarly articles and op eds on this issue let Americans think the arguments on both sides are plausible. There has been no sweeping, landmark Supreme Court decision thoroughly vindicating one side or the other. Instead, courts are considering whether the US can, legally, deny a certain level of process in general; whether specific processes are permissible; and which procedural safeguards, if any, are required. Every lower court ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court, and the meaning of the Supreme Court's decisions will be debated in subsequent cases. Settling this area of law will take years. Ultimately, it's not clear to most Americans that the US isn't following the law at GTMO. Indeed, if torture seems justifiable, then denying various courtroom procedures can seem justifiable, too.

The argument that the US should "follow the law" (and set an example for the rest of the world) is sentimental, too. Our leaders can act with impunity. No one can stop the US from doing whatever it wants to do, and why lead by example when we can force other countries to do what we want them to do?

GTMO appears to reflect what most Americans want: to be safe from terrorism. Most Americans believe that the lax rules for GTMO tribunals are necessary to convict terrorists. If we used our regular court system, the terrorists would not be convicted, because the evidence we have against them doesn't meet the necessary high standards. If a terrorist walks free, he's a ticking time bomb.

The survival instinct trumps sentimentality.

But the belief that lax court rules can protect the public from terrorism is wrong. The most powerful argument for giving prisoners at GTMO more legal process is that the weak rules there now can't protect us from terrorism. Weak standards cannot help us determine, reliably, if the people we've locked up or released are the right people, because the rules rely on notoriously unreliable forms of evidence: hearsay, coerced confessions, and evidence kept secret from the accused. Garbage in, garbage out.

Also, the lax rules give no incentive to the FBI, CIA, military, and police to conduct serious investigations. Why bother, when they can "win" a case at the tribunal by pounding a "confession" out of a prisoner? In this way, we'll fail to develop the anti-terrorism investigative abilities we need to thwart terrorism. As time goes by, we'll become weaker rather than stronger; like unused muscles, our skills will atrophy. In a few years, we might lack any meaningful anti-terror investigative abilities at all. We might merely have goon squads who beat "confessions" out of people.

We can reverse this slide by requiring that terrorists be tried under rigorous rules of evidence and criminal procedures. That would cause our police and intelligence officials to work harder to investigate, to get solid evidence. Much would be learned about terrorists and their networks. We could also be more confident that the people released were not dangerous. (I discuss these benefits of rigorous process in a previous commentary.)

GTMO is a public safety issue. It's time for Congress to act. We should try the GTMO prisoners under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which applies to POWs. Better, we should try the prisoners in our federal courts, where there is more process--and thus a better chance for accuracy in convictions.

When Americans understand that using stronger rules at GTMO is not about being good world citizens or being nice to prisoners, but about giving ourselves the strongest anti-terrorism tactic we can--vigorous, hard-nosed police and intelligence work--they will see the folly of maintaining our separate-and-unequal justice system. Strong procedural rules at GTMO will require our government to work for us, and the increased transparency will make our government accountable to us.

GTMO is about our own survival--something Americans of all political stripes can agree on.

BRIAN J. FOLEY is an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law. Email him at or visit his website:


New York Times lead editorial: Nov 3, 2005

US use of 'secret' prisons, abandonment of human rights, and more ...
This entry is about: Social Justice & Human Rights

The Prison Puzzle

November 2005 Editorial

It's maddening. Why does the Bush administration keep forcing policies on the United States military that endanger Americans wearing the nation's uniform - policies that the military does not want, that do not work and that violate standards upheld by the civilized world for decades?

When the Bush administration rewrote the rules for dealing with prisoners after 9/11, needlessly scrapping the Geneva Conventions and American law, it ignored the objections of lawyers for the armed services. Now, heedless of the lessons of Abu Ghraib, the civilians are once again running over the people in uniform. Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt reported yesterday in The Times that the administration is blocking the Pentagon from adopting the language of the Geneva Conventions to set rules for handling prisoners in the so-called war on terror.

Senior military lawyers want these standards, as do some Defense and State Department officials outside the inner circle. They say the abuse and torture of prisoners has reduced America's standing with its allies and taken away its moral high ground with the rest of the world. They also know that it endangers any American soldiers who are captured.

The rigid ideologues blocking this reform say the Geneva Conventions banning inhumane treatment are too vague. Which part of no murder, torture, mutilation, cruelty or humiliation do they not understand? The restrictions are a problem only if you want to do such abhorrent things and pretend they are legal. That is why the Bush administration tossed out the rules after 9/11.

It's a terrifying thing when the people who devote their lives to protecting our national security feel that the civilians who oversee their operations are out of control. Dana Priest reports in The Washington Post that even the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine operators are getting nervous about the network of secret prisons they have around the world - including, of all places, at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.

We're not naïve enough to believe that if the C.I.A. nabs a Qaeda operative who knows where a ticking bomb is hidden, that terrorist will emerge unbruised from his interrogation. Extraordinary circumstances are different from general policies that allow foot soldiers and even innocent bystanders to be swept up in messy, uncontrolled and probably fruitless detentions. Ms. Priest reports that of the more than 100 prisoners sent by the C.I.A. to its "black site" camps, only 30 are considered major terrorism suspects, and some have presumably been kept so long that their information is out of date. The rest have limited intelligence value, according to The Post, and many of them have been subjected to the odious United States practice of shipping prisoners to countries like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco and pretending that they won't be tortured.

Like so many of the most distressing stories these days - the outing of Valerie Wilson and questions about the intelligence on Iraq also come to mind - this one circles right back to Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

Mr. Cheney, a prime mover behind the attempts to legalize torture, is now leading a back-room fight to block a measure passed by the Senate, 90 to 9, that would impose international standards and American laws on the treatment of prisoners. Mr. Cheney wants a different version, one that would make the C.I.A.'s camps legal, although still hidden, and authorize the use of torture by intelligence agents. Mr. Bush is threatening to veto the entire military budget over this issue.

When his right-hand man, Lewis Libby, resigned after being indicted on charges relating to team Cheney's counterattack against Joseph Wilson, Mr. Cheney replaced him with David Addington, who helped draft the infamous legalized-torture memo of 2002. Mr. Addington is now blocking or weakening proposed changes to the prison policies. The Times said he had berated a Pentagon aide who had briefed him and Mr. Libby recently on the draft of the new military standards for handling prisoners. (The indictment of Mr. Libby said he had done the same thing to a C.I.A. briefer in 2003 when agency officials questioned the intelligence on Iraq.)

The Times reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, favor changing the detention policies. So we can only conclude that President Bush has decided to expend the minimal clout remaining to his beleaguered administration in a fight to put the full faith and credit of the United States behind the concept of torture. After all, the sign on Dick Cheney's door says he is the vice president.