Just Above Sunset
June 20, 2004 - The Big Stories of the Week. Not Really News. Just Confirmations.

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Sunny optimism or early onset Alzheimer’s – We report and you decide…



The big story of the week turns out to be more of the same.

Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie; Describes a Wider Plot for 9/11
Philip Shenon and Christopher Marquis, The New York Times


WASHINGTON, June 16 - The staff of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks sharply contradicted one of President Bush's central justifications for the Iraq war, reporting on Wednesday that there did not appear to have been a "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. …



The president says there is a link, sort of, really.  The vice president says there is, and attacks the Times as irresponsible.  The Times editorializes that Bush and Cheney should apologize.  Bush and Cheney say the Times should apologize.


Classic he said, she said stuff.  Yawn.

To be clear, the commission's report does not, really, have anything to do with whether or not we should have gone to war in Iraq.  That wasn’t what they were up to.  And is there a contradiction?  It is not true that these findings really do contradict what Bush and Cheney said, literally, about Al Qaeda and Iraq.  And Bush is carefully saying that he does NOT dispute the findings of the commission.

The problem is with what is said literally, and what is implied.

On his Thursday broadcast Jon Stewart on his satiric “newscast” The Daily Show did run the clip of Bush saying, "You can't distinguish between Iraq and Al Qaeda when you're talking about the War on Terror."  And Stewart made great fun of that.

But Bush was speaking of the big picture, the moral “good and evil” overview, not the details.  The idea is Saddam Hussein did not, of course, have anything to do with the four hijacked airplanes and that whole really bad day almost three years ago.  But he was still bad.  He was, sort of, one of THEM.  Sort of.  We never said that Saddam specifically….”

You get the idea.

You might glance at this comment –


Live by Syntax, Die by Syntax.

I wish there were a pithy, catchy way to say it, because it's important: George W. Bush and his administration used certain rhetorical and syntactical techniques to convince Americans that a war against Saddam was connected to 9-11, and they do not have the right to complain now when those same techniques imply that they are lying, manipulative bastards.

… The folks in this administration were careful in the way they constructed their talking points prior to the war.  I've always thought that each mention of Iraq in relation to the WoT was vetted in anticipation of a situation like this week's.

… The evidence of their intent is in the result of their efforts: a majority of Americans have believed that Saddam had something to do with 9-11.

Well, not only did he not have anything to do with 9-11, he really had very little to do with Al Qaeda beyond a meeting here, or an overture there.  But now, suddenly, Bushco wants to go back and parse their sentences and say, "See? See? We didn't really say that."

Well, shut up. You made the rules, and if you're getting your asses kicked now, it's your own damn fault.


Well, the situation is a little awkward.  Perhaps we all should have listened more carefully.

There were connections, a few meetings and such, and Iraq never really did anything for Al Qaeda in the end, but, but, they MIGHT have.

Matthew Yglesias offers some thoughts, and an interesting theory to the mix:


On the one hand, the administration, in the past, suggested that Iraq was behind 9-11.  Currently, they aren't doing that, but they are "overstat[ing]" the extent of Saddam/Qaeda links and keeping stories alive "long after others in the government thought [them] discredited."  The result of all this is "to keep alive in the minds of many Americans a link between Iraq and the attacks" which… was put there by the administration in the first place.

The administration, in other words, is trying to mislead people into ignoring the difference between being responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans and not being responsible for those deaths.  The administration's accusers, by contrast, are trying to mislead people into ignoring the distinction between misleading the public about this (after lying to them), and lying to the public.  On what planet is the latter "almost" as irresponsible as the former? One is a question of life and death -- war and peace -- and the other is semantic hair-splitting.


Oh man, that just makes my head hurt.  I’m supposed to understand the distinction between lying about something and then misleading everyone, which is somehow different that just lying, and not so bad?  What?

And Yglesias knows he’s being unclear – and links to David Adesnik saying something much simpler:


David Adesnik remarks that my theory that the administration's weirdly nonsensical discourse on the Iraq/Qaeda connection is designed to mislead people while protecting them from elite media criticism that it has not, in fact, protected them from such criticism. Rather, his "best guess is that Bush himself (along with Cheney) is deeply in denial.  It's the same phenomenon we saw with Reagan.  When you believe in something with all your heart and then stake your reputation on it, letting go is the hardest thing to do."


Yep, that’s right.

And if Bush wants to be associated with the dead Reagan, he should remind people he’s as good at denying reality as the Gipper ever was.  Folks find that comforting.  You stay the course, in spite of everything.  Sunny optimism or early onset Alzheimer’s.  Whatever.

It was Ronald Reagan who famously said, "Facts are stupid things."  He said that in 1988, and probably was confusing it with - "Facts are stubborn things."  But who needs details?  You get the general idea.  Sort of.

So, it comes down to who are you going to trust?  As the old Groucho Marx line goes, “Who are you going to trust – me or your own eyes?”




The week started out with much better stories.


Last Sunday evening, switching between the restored version of Frank Capra’s 1937 “Lost Horizon” (all two and a half hours of it) on the classic movie channel and the news I saw the Washington Post had just posted the memo they reported on a few days earlier.  This one is the one from Alberto Gonzales, the lawyer who advises Bush – the White House Counsel – to the CIA.  It is the White House saying to the CIA – “Torture folks? No problem. Go for it!”


And I had just written about it. 


Now the source material was out there.

Say, do you remember when the New York Times printed the Pentagon Papers – all that internal policy stuff we weren’t supposed to ever see about the Vietnam War?  The New York Times used its newspaper to provide the full transcripts of those Pentagon Papers.  The Post is using the web.  Whatever.

Here we go again.  We can read what we are really not supposed to read.  The free press doing its job?  Treason?  Depends on your political leanings.

Well, the memo is not from Bush himself, only his lawyer, his legal spokesman, his Justice Department, so Bush himself can claim he, himself, would never advise such a thing.  He can claim Alberto was acting on his own initiative and really should have discussed the memo with him before Al sent it over to the CIA.  Bush would have known this would be trouble.  Bush could say that.

Delegation has its risks.  Sometimes your subordinates do things that just aren’t good.

We shall see how this plays out.  In one of my previous careers I was a boss – a Senior Systems Manager, no less.  One, of necessity, delegates.  You trust your guys.  And when things go in the weeds, as they sometimes do when you delegate, well, you suck it up, repair the damage, and go on.

How will Bush handle this? I have no idea. Should be interesting.

Here’s the item:

Justice Dept. Memo Says Torture 'May Be Justified'
Dana Priest, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, June 13, 2004; 6:30 PM


Today washingtonpost.com is posting a copy of the Aug. 1, 2002, memorandum "Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A," from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to President Bush.

The memo was the focus of a recent article in The Washington Post.

The memo was written at the request of the CIA.  The CIA wanted authority to conduct more aggressive interrogations than were permitted prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  The interrogations were of suspected al Qaeda members whom the CIA had apprehended outside the United States.  The CIA asked the White House for legal guidance.  The White House asked Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for its legal opinion on the standards of conduct under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Office of Legal Counsel is the federal government's ultimate legal adviser.  The most significant and sensitive topics that the federal government considers are often given to the OLC for review.  In this case, the memorandum was signed by Jay S. Bybee, the head of the office at the time.  Bybee's signature gives the document additional authority, making it akin to a binding legal opinion on government policy on interrogations.  Bybee has since become a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Another memorandum, dated March 6, 2003, from a Defense Department working group convened by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to come up with new interrogation guidelines for detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, incorporated much, but not all, of the legal thinking from the OLC memo.  The Wall Street Journal first published the March memo.

At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, senators asked Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to release both memos.  Ashcroft said he would not discuss the contents of the Justice and Pentagon memos or turn them over to the committees.  A transcript of that hearing is also available.

President Bush spoke on the issue of torture Thursday, saying he expected U.S. authorities to abide by the law.  He declined to say whether he believes U.S. law prohibits torture.  Here is a link to the White House transcript of the president's press conference, which included questions and answers on torture. …


Well, the cat is out of the bag.

This on the heels of US News and World Report, in their June 21 issue revealing that our top officer in Iraq, General Richard Sanchez was directly involved in hiding prisoners from the Red Cross.

Well, that explains why John Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, is planning to appoint a four star general to head up the Army's investigation of this mess, as the New York Times reports.


General Abizaid's request, which defense officials said Mr. Rumsfeld would most likely approve, was set in motion in the last week when the current investigating officer, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, told his superiors that he could not complete his inquiry without interviewing more senior-ranking officers, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq.

But Army regulations prevent General Fay, a two-star general, from interviewing higher-ranking officers.  So General Sanchez took the unusual step of asking to be removed as the reviewing authority for General Fay's report, and requesting that higher-ranking officers be appointed to conduct and review the investigation.


Fay has to go.  He only has two stars.  Sanchez has three.  A two star cannot investigate a three star.

A few bad apples indeed.

And there are lots of indications that four confidential Red Cross documents implicating senior Pentagon civilians in the Abu Ghraib scandal have been passed to an American television network, which is preparing to make them public shortly.  First notice here.

And add this – another “Oops, sorry.”  The New York Times tells us here that at the start of the Iraq war we “launched many more failed airstrikes on a far broader array of senior Iraqi leaders during the early days of the war last year than has previously been acknowledged, and some caused significant civilian casualties, according to senior military and intelligence officials.”

Now they tell is.

It just keeps getting better all the time.

And the Los Angeles Times was reporting that a group of twenty-six former senior diplomats and military officials, a number of them appointed to key positions by Republican Reagan and Bush’s father, planned to issue a joint statement on Wednesday arguing that this President Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November.  And they did.  This would be twenty former ambassadors - appointed by presidents of both parties - to places like Israel, the former Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.  And some retired State Department guys.  The organizer is retired Marine general Joseph Hoar, and he was the commander of US forces in the Middle East under Bush's daddy.



What a week!


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....