Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Click on title for entire article. You may need to watch an ad to get access. A couple of extremely disturbing excerpts are highlighted below.

Bush's war on professionals

The president is determined to stop whistle-blowers and the press from halting his administration's illegal, ever-expanding secret government. But it may be too late.
By Sidney Blumenthal


Jan. 05, 2006 | New ranges of secret government are emerging from the fog of war. The latest disclosure, by the New York Times, of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency performed by evasion of the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court surfaces a vast hidden realm. But the NSA spying is not an isolated island of policy; it is connected to the mainland of Bush's expansive new national security apparatus....

During his first term, President Bush issued an unprecedented 108 statements upon signing bills of legislation that expressed his own version of their content. He has countermanded the legislative history, which legally establishes the foundation of their meaning, by executive diktat. In particular, he has rejected parts of legislation that he considered stepped on his power in national security matters. In effect, Bush engages in presidential nullification of any law he sees fit. He then acts as if his gesture supersedes whatever Congress has done.

Political scientist Phillip Cooper, of Portland State University in Oregon, described this innovative grasp of power in a recent article in the Presidential Studies Quarterly. Bush, he wrote, "has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress." Moreover, these coups de main not only have overwhelmed the other institutions of government but have taken place almost without notice. "This tour de force has been carried out in such a systematic and careful fashion that few in Congress, the media, or the scholarly community are aware that anything has happened at all."

Not coincidentally, the legal author of this presidential strategy for accreting power was none other than the young Samuel Alito, in 1986 deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Alito's view on unfettered executive power, many close observers believe, was decisive in Bush's nomination of him to the Supreme Court.

Last week, when Bush signed the military appropriations bill containing the amendment forbidding torture that he and Vice President Cheney had fought against, he added his own "signing statement" to it. It amounted to a waiver, authorized by him alone, that he could and would disobey this law whenever he chose. He wrote: "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks." In short, the president, in the name of national security, claiming to protect the country from terrorism, under war powers granted to him by himself, would follow the law to the extent that he decided he would....

Startlingly, Risen reports that on the eve of war, the CIA knew the U.S. had no proof of weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli, the justification for preemptive attack. The agency had recruited an Arab-American woman living in Cleveland, Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, as a secret agent to travel to Baghdad to spy on her brother, Saad Tawfiq, an electrical engineer supposedly at the center of Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Once there, she won his trust and he confided there was no program. He urged her to carry the message back to the CIA. Upon her return, she was debriefed and the CIA filed the report in a black hole. It turned out that she was one of some 30 Iraqis who had been recruited to travel to Iraq to contact weapons experts there. Risen writes, "All of them … had said the same thing. They all reported to the CIA that the scientists had said that Iraq's programs to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons had long since been abandoned."

Not willing to contradict the administration line, CIA officials withheld this information from the National Intelligence Estimate issued a month after Alhaddad's visit to Baghdad. The NIE stated conclusively that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear program." Risen writes: "From his home in Baghdad in February 2003, Saad Tawfiq watched Secretary of State Colin Powell's televised presentation to the United Nations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As Powell dramatically built the American case for war, Saad sank further and further into frustration and despair. They didn't listen. I told them there were no weapons."

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