April 12, 2007

Voter Fraud: Real Menace or Rove Meme?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3) The US attorneys scandal turns on politicization of justice — specifically on the question of whether Bush administration US attorneys were fired for failing to prosecute ...

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

The US attorneys scandal turns on politicization of justice — specifically on the question of whether Bush administration US attorneys were fired for failing to prosecute enough Democrats for voter fraud.

Interestingly enough, it turns out that voter fraud — stacking the deck by voting, say, in the name of a deceased person — isn’t actually a big problem. So says a report commissioned by the federal Election Assistance Commission. Funny thing, though: instead of distributing that report, the EAC released one claiming that the jury’s still out. Yesterday a House committee made the original report public.

The EAC also dragged its heels for months before finally releasing (at Congress’s urging) a separate report on voter identification: a report saying that voter ID requirements — rationalized to combat voter fraud — can inhibit voter turnout, especially for minorities.

What do you think? Is this another snub by the Bush administration of professional expertise in favor of politics? Or is it a series of awkard mistakes with very unfortunate timing?

Maurice Hinchey

U.S. Representative, D-NY

Justin Levitt

Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law

Frances Fox Piven

Professor of sociology, City University of New York

Co-author, Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way

Extra Credit Reading

Ian Urbina, Panel Said to Alter Finding on Voter Fraud, The New York Times, April 11, 2007: “‘Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,’ the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that ‘there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.'”

Josh Marshall, Voter Fraud, Talking Points Memo, April 12, 2007: “Who’s running all this? Who’s put it all in motion. Look at the documents that have already been released. It’s been run out of Karl Rove’s office at the White House.”

Spencer Overton, Dissenting Statement, Carter Baker Dissent, 2005: “The [Commission on Federal Election Reform’s voter ID] proposal is so excessive that it would prevent eligible voters from proving their identity with even a valid U.S. passport or a U.S. military photo ID card.”

Jim Miller, Does David Postman Actually Believe This?, Sound Politics, April 4, 2005: ” . . . Many Republicans would start this discussion not in 2000, but in 1993, when the “Motor Voter” Act was passed. Let me remind him of the nickname many Republicans gave it then: the “Motor Cheater” Act. Republicans believed that the law would make vote fraud easier and that the fraud would usually benefit Democrats. There has been enough evidence since then so that we can not dismiss or ignore those concerns. I believe, along with many other Republicans, that vote fraud is becoming more common and that it nearly always benefits Democrats (often against other Democrats).”

Stefan Sharkansky, No Evidence of Election Crimes?, Sound Politics, March 13, 2007: “But we were all tipped off that something wasn’t right when King County counted more votes than voters and admitted to fabricating the reconciliation reports.”

David Schraub, I’ll Show You A Fraud, The Debate Link, April 11, 2007: “We simply cannot discuss this issue blind to the history behind these sorts of policies, and the manner in which formally neutral voting laws were a key pillar in America’s racist hierarchy. The willful blindness exhibited on this issue is simply unbecoming of genuine deliberative dialogue, and ought to be called out more often.”

Jeff Kogen, Swords at dawn, Rove, for you have insulted the honor of Multnomah!, BlueOregon, April 11, 2007: “You have attacked our community’s honor, claiming that our vote by mail system (admired from sea to shining sea) encourages fraud – a subject about which you are admittedly an expert. You implied that if your lawyers had been able to “monitor” the 2004 elections in Portland, you might have won in our fair State of Oregon. If by “monitor” you mean get rid of vote by mail and move all but one polling place to Klamath Falls, we suspect you’d be right.”

hilzoy, Voter Fraud, Obsidian Wings, April 11, 2007: “An actual individual has to cast each and every fraudulent vote. Even if you have people going around voting all day long (without election workers catching on?), you’d need a fair number of them to alter the course of most elections. And every person you involve makes your plan more vulnerable to discovery. Again, much simpler just to disappear the odd ballot box.”

April 11, 2007

The Boys in Control One

One of the best things about going to the studio every night is getting to answer the phone “Control One, Open Source.” It just feels pro. Like we actually know what all the buttons and ...

One of the best things about going to the studio every night is getting to answer the phone “Control One, Open Source.” It just feels pro. Like we actually know what all the buttons and sliders do. Control One refers to the particular control room we use at WGBH. Chris works his magic in an adjacent studio, where we can see him through a soundproof window and, from a strange angle, on a closed-circuit monitor. These photos are from the nerve center last week:

David and Brendan

Primping before we go live because it’s important to look good for radio [Katherine Bidwell]

David directing

David, le directeur, in action [Katherine Bidwell]

Brendan prepping

Brendan focussed on the comment thread [Katherine Bidwell]

Ray driving

The unflappable Ray Fallon driving the show; he actually does know what all those buttons do [Katherine Bidwell]

chris on air

Chris on the air [Katherine Bidwell]


The countdown clock: the only buttons Ray lets us push [Katherine Bidwell]

April 9, 2007

We'll Miss You Sorely, BG

In the studio [Katherine Bidwell] BG, of course, is the inimitable Brendan Greeley. Who is about to leave us. It hurts. He’s been our chief blog strategerizer since day one, the guy with the vision ...
Brendan in studio

In the studio [Katherine Bidwell]

BG, of course, is the inimitable Brendan Greeley. Who is about to leave us. It hurts.

He’s been our chief blog strategerizer since day one, the guy with the vision that was always bigger than our nonexistent tech budget. He turned us into Flickr and del.icio.us junkies and, leading by example with his outsized personality and fast great writing, taught us all to blog. And to mine the blogosphere for ideas and people we never knew existed. And to think always and first about getting the spirit of the web onto the radio.

If you know Brendan at all, you won’t be surprised that he was reliably, um, late to our daily morning story meeting. But once there, he was our man on politics or Germany or New Orleans. Or the Army War College. He championed offbeat listener pitches and mostly persuaded us. When he didn’t, it was only because he was two weeks ahead of the rest of us. We still owe him a show on Japan.

Brendan and I almost came to blows over serial commas a few weeks after the birth of Open Source. He’s against them. I’m for them (and the venerable E. B. White, by the way, is in my corner). The good part was that it showed how much he cares about the written word. Thankfully we’ve since agreed on almost everything else about writing, and I learned quickly — as we all did — to depend on his incisive edits.

Brendan on the air

Putting your words on the air every night [Katherine Bidwell]

ALSO! and most importantly, Brendan makes us laugh. He’s a true friend, and though we’re so sad to see him go, we’re excited that he’s following his nose in life. We’re rooting for you, BG. Come back to visit. There will always be a chair — or cracked milk crate — awaiting you in the story meeting.

March 22, 2007

Captain Toby Johnson, Apache pilot

In a Humvee on the road to Baghdad from Kuwait, 2003 Meet Toby Johnson, one of the guests for our Women in War show. After graduating from West Point, Toby became an Army Apache helicopter ...
inside Humvee on road to Baghdad

In a Humvee on the road to Baghdad from Kuwait, 2003

Meet Toby Johnson, one of the guests for our Women in War show. After graduating from West Point, Toby became an Army Apache helicopter pilot (in what was probably one of the first all-female crews). During her deployment to Kuwait and then Iraq in 2003, she worked as a battalion adjutant, responsible for personnel administration. She’s now a former Captain and a student at Harvard Business School. These photos she sent us give a glimpse of her life as a woman in the military.

battalion formation

Toby forming the battalion in Kuwait

laundry by hand in Kuwait

Doing laundry the old-fashioned way in Kuwait

inside tent

Inside a tent in Iraq where she slept next to the men

at a pilot brief

In the company of men at a pilot brief in Kuwait

standing next to Apache Longbow

In flight school in Enterprise, AL, next to an Apache

March 18, 2007

Women in War

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3) [Thanks to hurley and valkyrie607 for pitching this idea.] In Iraq [Mary Godwin / Flickr] American women are serving, getting injured, and dying in Afghanistan and ...

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

[Thanks to hurley and valkyrie607 for pitching this idea.]

female soldier

In Iraq [Mary Godwin / Flickr]

American women are serving, getting injured, and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq in numbers far greater than in any previous war. Over 160,000 women have served there, and so far 72 have died in Iraq. Most significantly — because there are no front lines but plenty of ambushes and roadside IEDs — many women are, for the first time, engaging the enemy even though they’re not in ground combat units.

Women were allowed in the peacetime military soon after WWII, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that they were admitted to the service academies and integrated into regular units in all of the forces. Women were prohibited from any combat position until the 1990s, when they were allowed to fly combat aircraft and serve on combat ships. They now make up roughly 15 percent of the armed forces, but they still don’t serve in several combat arms branches — most notably the infantry.

Because so many women are experiencing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s adding tension to a longstanding battle over women’s right to serve in every part of the military. At issue — from the perspective of men who’d rather not see women in the infantry — are on-the-ground realities of unit cohesiveness; distraction because of sexual attraction; women’s physical strength; problems of women and men sleeping, showering, and using bathrooms together in the field; and men’s willingness to send women into dangerous situations. In other words: anything that might detract from a mission’s effectiveness. Military women who want all doors open to them say these arguments echo old ones against integrating black and white units — and that all of them have ready answers. Other countries (like Canada and Germany) already allow women in ground combat.

The elephants in the room here are sexual harassment and assault. Some believe they bolster arguments against allowing women in the infantry. Others feel they’re a symptom of a macho military culture that refuses to accept women as equals. Rape and harassment are unquestionably a problem [pdf file] in the military, but they’re part of civilian life, too. So are they any more prevalent in the armed forces? If so, what are the reasons? How significant is the fact that women are a small minority and therefore easy to pick on? Is the background of the typical enlisted man — or woman for that matter — relevant? How much of the solution lies in better training? Or in leadership at all levels?

All of these questions about women in combat and sexual violence are slippery and fraught and surely more layered than we can get at in an hour, so what are you most curious to know or ask?

Update, 3/21

After a fair amount of smiling and dialing (as Mary calls it) and trying to figure out how to put this show together, we’ve decided that we want to talk to as many Iraq veterans as possible rather than stacking the hour with military experts.

So because we won’t have room for a statistics wizard to explain the confusing sexual assault numbers — and because many of you have been asking about them in the comment thread — here’s what we’ve found out: The Miles Foundation — an NGO dedicated to research on, education about, and services for military victims of sexual and domestic violence — put it this way: It’s basically impossible to compare the military numbers reliably with the civilian numbers. This is because different organizations are collecting the data (DoD, VA, a variety of civilian institutions) and using different methodologies (various survey or self-reporting methods). The Miles people stay on top of all the data, and their best guess, based on the numbers, is this: The rates of sexual assault are higher in the military than in the civilian world. And the rates go up during wartime.

The Miles Foundation was also, by the way, one of two sources that told me the story in the Salon piece Potter mentions about the women dying of dehydration in their cots is false, completely unsubstantiated by the death records.

Toby Johnson

Former Captain, Army (Apache helicopter pilot)

Iraq veteran (deployed in 2003)

Student, Harvard Business School

See our photo feature on Toby here

Sonya Foster

Tech. Sergeant, Air Force

Iraq veteran (deployed in 2006)

Blogger, Diary of the Deployed Mama

Tina Bean

Former Senior Airman, Air Force

Iraq veteran (deployed in 2006)

Jason Hartley

Specialist, New York Army National Guard

Iraq veteran (deployed in 2004)

Author, Just Another Soldier

Blogger, Jason Christopher Hartley

March 6, 2007

Legal Limbo at Guantanamo?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3) Almost exactly a year ago we did our first and only show on Guantanamo. We were remiss, last autumn, in not covering Congress’s approval of the ...

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Almost exactly a year ago we did our first and only show on Guantanamo. We were remiss, last autumn, in not covering Congress’s approval of the Military Commission Act, which outlines a process for trying “unlawful enemy combattants” in military commissions. And so now, with yesterday’s news that a second group of Gitmo prisoners has filed an appeal challenging the act, it’s high time that we revisit the legal limbo the detainees have lived in for the last five years.

Congress passed the 2006 Military Commissions Act in response to two Supreme Court rulings (Rasul v. Bush in 2004 and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006) that rejected the military tribunals the Bush Administration had designed to try Gitmo detainees. Among other things, the Court upheld the habeas rights of the detainees (their right to challenge their detention in the US court system). It also ruled that Congress, not the White House, had to design the rules for trying “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Congress responded to the Supreme Court rulings by passing the act — but the act still abolishes the habeas rights of detainees. This means that our Congress has stripped detainees of their rights to challenge their detention. In other words, “unlawful enemy combatants” can be imprisoned indefinitely with no legal recourse. The Supreme Court should decide this month whether it will hear the two current appeals challenging the abolishment of habeas corpus in the act.

We want to know: What’s the argument for denying detainees habeas rights — rights that Anglo-American law has upheld fiercely for centuries? What other aspects of the act’s rules for trying Gitmo’s prisoners are controversial (things like reliance on hearsay and inability to confront accusers)? Who is still imprisoned at Guantanamo? How are the prisoners being treated now, after several years of controversy about abuse and interrogation?

Dwight Sulllivan

Chief defense counsel, Office of Military Commissions

Colonel, US Marine Corps Reserve

Mark Danner

Former staff writer, New Yorker

Contributor, New York Review of Books

Professor of Journalism, UC Berkeley

Lee Casey

Partner, Baker Hostetler

Extra Credit Reading

Reuters, Guantanamo Inmates Appeal Detention to Top Court, The New York Times, March 5, 2007: “Some of the Guantanamo prisoners have been unlawfully detained for more than five years and deserve at least a hearing on their challenge to their confinement, their attorneys said on Monday in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Jeffrey Rosen, My Gitmo Vacation, The New Republic, February 26, 2007: “Before leaving, I had been given a preview of the tour by Colonel Dwight Sullivan, the chief defense counsel at the Office of Military Commissions, whose strong criticisms of the military tribunals have been accepted by the Defense Department as part of his job. “They’ll show you the accused in a La-Z-Boy sharing fries with the investigator,” Colonel Sullivan predicted…. Even more troubling, however, was Colonel Sullivan’s assessment of the Defense Department’s new rules for the military commissions regarding torture.

Jane Mayer, The Experiment, The New Yorker, July 11, 2005: “‘Come here!’ a man screamed. ‘See here! They are liars!’ He was middle-aged, with a full beard and skinny bow legs, and wore an orange shirt and shorts….’No food! No medicine! No doctor! Everybody sick here!’ A soldier near the detainee began ferociously signalling to the officials leading the tour to usher me out.”

AP, Experts Want New Definition of Torture, The New York Times, March 5, 2007: “Prisoners who endure poor or degrading treatment suffer much of the same long-term psychological distress as do captives who are tortured, suggests a study published Monday.”

Jeffrey Toobin, Killing Habeas Corpus, The New Yorker, December 4, 2006: “Since the Middle Ages, habeas corpus –‘You should have the body’– has been the principal means in Anglo-American jurisprudence by which prisoners can challenge their incarceration.”

Via Lumiere: Robert Parry, Gonzales Questions Habeas Corpus, January 19, 2007: “Gonzales continued, ‘The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended” except in cases of rebellion or invasion.'”

Gal Beckerman, Forget the Peripheral Stuff at Gitmo. The Story is Who’s There and Why?, CJRDaily, February 28, 2007: “The government’s lack of transparency about this is appalling, and we need our best journalists to root out this story of who is there and why. Everything else, it seems, is just commentary.”


It’s a much different feel today than it would have been jus six months ago . . . The exact protocols for the interrogation of course are classified. I saying that to tell you I can’t share them with you, I’m saying that to tell you I don’t know. But I can say that over time, Guantanamo has moved more from an interrogation, intel-producing operation into a human warehousing operation. You can actually see that in the physical infrastructure.

Dwight Sulllivan


Here what concerns me—and this is also part of the problem of allowing and hearsay. Let’s say that instead of having to obtain a confession from me, by coercive means, that statement was obtained from you by coercive means. And then that statement is admitted at my trial. But they don’t call you as a witness. They don’t even call the person that obtained the statement from you as a witness. They just take that piece of paper and they put it in against me. Now, under the commission system rules, I have the burden of showing why that evidence that’s being provided by the prosecution is inaccurate or unreliable. Well, I don’t have access to you. I don’t have access necessarily to the interrogator who took the statement from you. Through the use of the hearsay, it sets up a system where the United States could easily launder evidence derived by torture or other coercive means, and the defense would never know.

Dwight Sulllivan


I think the Military Commissions Act, for all kinds of reasons, is the piece of legislation that will be studied in law schools in the future as a horrible violation of what the United States stands for . . . I think you have to go back to the decision made in the fall of 2001 to essentially say that Al Qaeda prisoners are not going to be subject to protections under the Geneva Convention, including Common Article III. Now, that decision essentially stood until last summer, when Hamdam finally basically declared no Common Article III applies . . . Had these prisoners been respected under the system of laws of war that we have come to expect, there would have at least been an accepted procedure by which their capture and imprisonment would have been examined in a responsible way. And that was not done.

Mark Danner


When you point to habeas [corpus], you’re pointing to a broader principle that I think simply states that for basic fairness, legal fairness, someone cannot be seized by executive power and essentially disappeared. There has to be some kind of procedure, a fair procedure, a fairly recognized procedure, that they can appeal their arrest, they can appeal their detention, and they can get some kind of recognizably fair due process. And that has not yet happened.

Mark Danner


The fact it that these individuals who are being held as enemy combatants will get more due process than any individuals held in that capacity have ever gotten either in our history, of war in the tradition of pretty much any other country . . . What they have gotten, in terms of deciding whether they are in fact enemy combatants, it compares very favorable to what lawful prisoners of war would have gotten.

Lee Casey


Military commissions have been a part of American law since the War for Independence. They were used by Washington; they were used in the Civil War; they were used in the Second World War. And the military commissions we have now are far more protective than any military commissions in our history.

Lee Casey

March 5, 2007

From Russia With Love?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3) ‘Russia is not claiming the role of a superpower,’ Mr. Putin told al-Jazeera. ‘But Russia knows its own worth and we will strive to make the ...

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

‘Russia is not claiming the role of a superpower,’ Mr. Putin told al-Jazeera. ‘But Russia knows its own worth and we will strive to make the world multipolar.’

Wall Street Journal, 28 February, 2007

Vladimir Putin got Senator John McCain’s dukes up a few weeks ago at a security conference in Munich when he criticized US unilateralism. “The United States,” Putin said, “has overstepped its national borders, and in every area.” Whether Putin meant to antagonize America or cozy up to Europe or just speak his mind, his words were unmistakably a sign that Russia’s feeling its oats again. It’s rediscovered its self-confidence.

While America’s been obsessed since 2001 with the Middle East, lots has been happening in Russia. Like China, it’s forged ahead — and now arguably exists as one of several counters to US power. On the Iranian front, for example, the US can’t deal with Tehran exactly as it pleases: Moscow’s been using its power in the UN Security Council to oppose wide-ranging sanctions against Iran; it’s signed on build Iran’s first nuclear power plant; and it’s sold Iran millions of dollars worth of arms and defense systems.

What’s responsible for Russia’s renewed self-esteem? High oil and gas prices, for one thing: the country seems to be betting its economic future on petroleum, and so far it’s certainly raking in cash and building geopolitical muscle. Putin’s also consolidated power in the office of the president: he now nominates Russia’s 89 governors and appoints the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg; and he effectively acts unopposed by the Duma. No one really disputes that the 2008 Russian presidential elections (assuming they’re held) will be more than theatre to part the curtains for Putin’s hand-picked successor. The combination of renewed political stability — albeit at the cost of democratic freedom — and an uncommonly strong economy has made the majority of Russians rather content with the curent situation. Content enough not to — for the moment anyway — revolt against the string of dead journalists, the imprisonments and disappearances of political opponents, the disastrous situation in Chechnya, the cleverly muzzled media.

So: What’s to learn about the inner workings of Russia? What does domestic stability means for Russian action on the global stage? What kind of a mirror does Russia hold up to America? What might all of this tell us about our superpower trajectory? In one poll from last summer, 37% of Russians called the US an enemy — so what do they really think of us, and how does that matter?

Michael Specter

Staff writer, The New Yorker

Former Moscow Bureau Chief, The New York Times

Mark Kramer

Director, Harvard Project on Cold War Studies

Senior Fellow, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University

Pavel Podvig

Research associate, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

Extra Credit Reading

Michael Specter, Kremlin, Inc, The New Yorker, January 29, 2007: “Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin, a career K.G.B. officer, was, in effect, anointed as President by Boris Yeltsin, thirteen journalists have been murdered in Russia.”

Andy Young, A new cold war? Don’t believe the hype, Siberian Light, February 12, 2007: “It’s not the start of a new cold war, but it is clear that not every country in the world shares the same worldview, and that Putin feels that Russia has the opportunity to become a standard bearer of sorts for countries who share one particular worldview. I actually found the speech quite refreshing.”

Candace Rondeaux and Lori Aratani, Intelligence Specialist’s Shooting Stirs Speculation, The Washington Post, March 4, 2007: “Two men shot Joyal about 7:35 p.m. Thursday, sources said. The shooting occurred four days after Joyal alleged in a television broadcast that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in the fatal poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.”

Justin Raimondo, Phony “Dissidents”, Anti-War Blog, March 5th, 2007: “Every time a critic of Russia stubs his toe, Putin is going to be blamed. Logic is not a strong point with our New Cold Warriors.”

The Editors, Gangster President, The New York Times, March 3, 2007: “This week Vladimir Putin delivered another clear message about the kind of state Russia is becoming. He did so by nominating as the new president of the republic of Chechnya a man named Ramzan Kadyrov — an unspeakably savage and corrupt warlord.”


It’s complicated, because most people do live better than they ever did before, and most people don’t really get all that worked up about things that bother a few intellectuals in Moscow, like freedom of speech, and the ability to write and say what you want.

Michael Specter


I think it should be remembered the system of power in Russia has always been surrounding one man, sometimes one woman, but one person. And when Boris Yeltsin ran the Kremlin, he ran the Kremlin. And he picked a guy who was a cipher, who nobody felt would be anything more than a puppet, and when he ran the Kremlin, he suddenly wasn’t a cipher, and everyone responded to his whims. I only say that because I don’t think it’s all clear what’s going to happen when Mr. Putin leaves office.

Michael Specter


In Michael’s recent story, he cites Evgenia Albats saying that the K.G.B. was not reformed, but I would go beyond that. I don’t think it was a reformable organization. It should have been disbanded, and some new structure created that would have been much more politically controllable.

Mark Kramer


If you’re in Moscow, you can go get internet access, and there are all these bloggers writing whatever you might want to read, and some of them are quite perceptive, and they’re very critical. But in Tomsk, in Yakutsk, all across the country, there are not those choices.

Michael Specter


If you look at the recent steps that Russia has been taking, Russia actually was fairly reluctant to go ahead full-speed to supply nuclear fuel to Iran, for example. The fuel has been sitting there for, I think, three years now.

Pavel Podvig


To the extent that there was what I would describe as a broad sentiment seeking integration with the West under Yeltsin; that has really diminished under Putin. It’s not a return to the Soviet era, but it’s a sense that Russia is not part of the West and need not become part of the West, that it will be a great power on its own.

Mark Kramer


There’s actually no telling what will happen yet, even though I think we do see a continuation of the sort of corporate Kremlin. Who knows what’s going to happen. Maybe Mr. Putin will just decide to become Prime Minister, and rewrite the constitution in such a way that it’s a strong prime ministerial country. That would take about an hour.

Michael Specter

February 19, 2007

Iran: Another War Dance?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3) The photographer’s caption: “Just in case some news magazine ever comes searching Flickr for stock images illustrating Middle East unrest.” [Stewf / Flickr] New Yorker writer ...

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

cannon in iran

The photographer’s caption: “Just in case some news magazine ever comes searching Flickr for stock images illustrating Middle East unrest.” [Stewf / Flickr]

New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh warned last spring that the Bush administration was actively planning a possible attack on Iran. For those of us without White House sources, it seemed too frightening to believe. With President Bush now claiming that Iran’s involved in American deaths in Iraq — and that he intends to do something about it — it’s still frightening but a little easier to believe.

Especially if you consider the context: The year-old Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group that’s coordinating US strategy on Iran. The newish Pentagon directorate on Iran that’s apparently being run by some of the neocons who planned the Iraq war. The carrier group now in the Persian Gulf off the Iranian coast. The disagreements between the Bush administration and intelligence officials over the scope of Iran’s nuclear program and its involvement in the Lebanon-Israel war this summer (the administration being the more alarmist). The “proxy war” aspect of that Lebanon-Israel war. Tehran’s alleged desire to talk with the US in 2003 that was apparently not acted on by the US. The five Iranians detained last month in Iraq. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman added up the pieces rather persuasively last week.

Here’s the question: could this possibly be 2003 all over again? One difference is that members of Congress and the media are questioning the administration’s claims more openly this time. Representative John Murtha has declared that he’ll try to prevent any military action against Iran without congressional approval; some news outlets are reporting the not insignificant skepticism about the intelligence on the Iranian explosives.

In response, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said clearly last week that the US is “not planning a war with Iran.” So are those who hear war drumbeats just conspiracy theorists? If so, what’s driving the White House’s focus on Iran — and where will it get us? How do we explain the timing and the urgency of this new round of anonymous intelligence?

Jonathan Landay

National security and intelligence correspondent, McClatchy

Former national security correspondent, Knight Ridder

Sam Gardner

Colonel (ret.), US Air Force

Taught military operations and strategy at National War College and Air War College

Juan Cole

Professor of modern middle east and south asian history, University of Michigan

Blogger, Informed Comment

Trita Parsi

President, National Iranian American Council

Author, forthcoming “Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States”

Extra Credit Reading

AllahPundit, BBC:U.S. plans for attack on Iran revealed (again), Hot Air, February 19, 2007: “I probably missed another half-dozen major media “revelations” between summer and winter of ’06, but why bother digging them up? They all say the same thing: a sustained attack targeting not just the Iranian nuclear plants but the country’s major military targets and infrastructure.”

Seymour Hersh, The Iran Plans, The New Yorker, April 17, 2006: “The President believes that he must do ‘what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,’ and ‘that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.'”

Paul Krugman, Scary Movie 2, The New York Times [Select], February 12, 2007: “Let’s do an O. J. Simpson: if you were determined to start a war with Iran, how would you do it?”

David S. Cloud, Defense Chief Again Says U.S. Will Not Wage War With Iran, The New York Times, February 16, 2007: “‘For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran,’ he said at a Pentagon news conference. ‘We are not planning a war with Iran.'”

Via Nick: Michael Young, Who will blink first, the US or Iran?, Middle East Transparent, February 11, 2007: “There was an exception to international dithering on Iran last December, when the United Nations Security Council passed a sanctions resolution against Tehran. Later this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency will review whether Iran has complied. Though it was watered down, the resolution supposedly took the Iranian leadership by surprise.”

Via jazzman: James Surowiecki, Troubled Waters Over Oil, The New Yorker, February 19, 2007: “This latest confrontation with the U.S. should have been the capper to a bad winter for Ahmadinejad. Strangely, though, it may instead have brought about an upturn in his fortunes.”


Having cried wolf the first time in Iraq, and having used exaggerated and bogus intelligence to justify the invasion, the irony here may be that the administration does have a stronger case when it comes to Iranian complicity in Iraq, at least on a small scale. The question is why are they pumping it the way they are at this time.

Jonathan Landay


I think what we see going on, and what perhaps the President was referring to in the clip you played, was some kind of very high-stakes, high-risk strategy to try and create bargaining chips, leverage with the Iranians. And why I say this is high-stakes, is because the fact of what the United States is doing, and what the Iranians are doing, creates a situation where missteps can put both countries on the road to conflict.

Jonathan Landay


One of the things that the BBC said, and I find it to be totally credible, is that if there were a major attack inside Iraq, that had a high number of American casualties, that could be traced to Iran, that would be the trigger for an operation, to start another war. That’s totally credible.

Sam Gardner


What I do, and what I’ve done a lot of, is war games. I did a couple for the Atlantic Monthly — one on Iran. And every time I do a war game — which sort of takes it through the next step — it doesn’t stop at diplomacy, but it asks the question of what happens if diplomacy fails, where does this go? And the answer is, it doesn’t go well.

Sam Gardner


I think the situation right now is extremely tense, particularly with the policies of the Bush administration in Iraq, in which they’re targeting Iranian diplomats, invading Iranian consulates and other types of offices. We’re basically one bullet away from a major escalation into a larger war in the region.

Trita Parsi


It’s fully understandable that a lot of attention has been given to [Ahmadinejad], but I think that attention has created a false perception that he is far more of a decision-maker than he actually is. In fact recently, now that there’s been a little bit of a backlash against him, he has come out and actually admitted that he is not the one making the decisions: that he is just implementing the decisions that have been made higher up.

Trita Parsi


Nobody’s plan — that I’ve heard of or has been written about — is about invading Iran. This is punishing Iran for not following the international community. That’s why this is an air-only operation. I don’t hear anybody that’s talking about regime change.

Sam Gardner

February 11, 2007

Plamegate: The Libby Trial

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3) Vying for screentime with Anna Nicole Smith [Sheila Steele / Flickr] We’ve done several shows on Plamegate, and each time we have to ask, “So wait, ...

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

libby on cnn

Vying for screentime with Anna Nicole Smith [Sheila Steele / Flickr]

We’ve done several shows on Plamegate, and each time we have to ask, “So wait, remind me, what happened when?” If you’d like to refresh your own memory, check out Frog-Marching: Miller, Cooper, Rove or Getting Judith Miller or Rome to Yellowcake to Grand Jury: How Did We Get Here?.

The current installment in this le Carr&#233-esque mystery is Scooter Libby’s perjury trial. On Thursday the prosecution wrapped up its case; the defense begins on Monday.

The twists of the trial rest on minutuae: of notes scrawled on margins of documents; of who leaked what information to whom, when; of why stories don’t match up and who’s covering for whom. The big question, though, isn’t about Libby. It’s about what his trial will churn up on the White House’s role in discrediting criticisms of its WMD claims. In other words, it’s about whether the White House lied to galvanize the country to go to war in Iraq.

Libby’s trial does raise questions about Dick Cheney’s part in undermining Joe Wilson. It’s also rubbing the mainstream media’s face in its failures on this story four years ago — and we’re curious to ask whether, as a result, investigative reporters will dog whatever clues emerge from the trial.

John Nichols

Blogger, The Online Beat

Washington correspondent, The Nation

Associate editor, The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Author, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism

Author, Dick: The Man Who Is President

Co-author, It’s the Media, Stupid

Lawrence O’Donnell

Political analyst, MSNBC

Former Hill senior staffer

Former producer and writer, The West Wing

Jeralyn Merritt

Blogger, TalkLeft and The Huffington Post

Criminal defense attorney in Denver

William Powers

Columnist, Off Message, National Journal

Extra Credit Reading

Scott Shame and Jim Rutenberg, Cheney Testimony in Libby Trial Would Carry High Risk, New York Times, February 12, 2007: “But the first 10 days of testimony have already exposed some of the long-hidden workings of Mr. Cheney’s extraordinary vice presidency, revealing how deeply Mr. Cheney himself was engaged during 2003 in managing public relations as the administration’s case for war came under attack.”

David Johnston, A Historic Moment if Cheney Testifies Live, as Expected, New York Times, February 12, 2007: “If he testifies as expected, Dick Cheney would be the first sitting vice president, at least in modern times, to appear as a witness in a criminal trial. And if he testifies in court, he may also be the first to give live testimony in defense of a subordinate’s actions on his behalf, legal historians said.”

Adam Liptak, Cheney’s To-Do Lists, Then and Now, New York Times, February 11, 2007: “RETURNING to the White House after the Memorial Day weekend in 1975, the young aide Dick Cheney found himself handling a First Amendment showdown. The New York Times had published an article by Seymour M. Hersh about an espionage program, and the White House chief of staff, Donald H. Rumsfeld, was demanding action. Out came the yellow legal pad, and in his distinctively neat, deliberate hand, Mr. Cheney laid out the “problem,” “goals” while addressing it, and “options.” These last included “Start FBI investigation — with or w/o public announcement. As targets include NYT, Sy Hersh, potential gov’t sources.””

Frank Rich, Why Dick Cheney Cracked Up, New York Times, February 4, 2007: “The White House was terrified about being found guilty of a far greater crime than outing a C.I.A. officer: lying to the nation to hype its case for war . . . Though Mr. Libby’s lawyers are now arguing that their client was a sacrificial lamb thrown to the feds to shield Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby actually was – and still is – a stooge for the vice president.” (Behind the NYT paywall, but viewable on TruthOut for free.)

R. Jeffrey Smith and Carol D. Leonnig, Vice President’s Shadow Hangs Over Trial, The Washington Post, February 4, 2007: “Vice President Cheney’s press officer, Cathie Martin, approached his chief of staff, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, to ask how she should respond to journalists’ questions about Joseph C. Wilson IV. Libby looked over one of the reporters’ questions and told Martin: ‘Well, let me go talk to the boss and I’ll be back.'”

David Kurtz, February 04, 2007, Talking Points Memo, February 4, 2007: “You could headline just about every story that way these days: ‘Vice President’s Shadow Hangs Over _________.’ Fill in the blank: Iraq. Iran. Global warming. Renditions. Domestic surveillance.”

Robert Kuttner, See Dick Run (the Country), The American Prospect, August 28, 2006: “Cheney is in a class by himself. The administration’s grand strategy and its implementation are the work of Cheney — sometimes Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sometimes Cheney and political director Karl Rove.”

Charlie Savage, Cheney aide is screening legislation, The Boston Globe, May 28, 2006: “Previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation. But Cheney has used his power over the administration’s legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined.”

Jane Mayer, The Hidden Power, The New Yorker, July 3, 2006: “Most Americans, even those who follow politics closely, have probably never heard of [Cheney’s aide] Addington. But current and former Administration officials say that he has played a central role in shaping the Administration’s legal strategy for the war on terror.”


We’ve seen that the administration, or at least key players in the administration, including the Vice President, were obsessed with protecting their position. They did not want anyone to know that there was a serious discussion about whether they were right to argue for going to war in Iraq in the way that they did.

John Nichols


Why isn’t somebody in the mainstream media in Washington saying, “They’re doing it again?'” We’re seeing the phenomenon, the whole pattern, all over.

Christopher Lydon


Not putting the defendant on the witness stand is not a show of confidence. That is an act of legal desperation. That is normally done when the defense attorneys feel their client is so guilty that if he gets on the witness stand, he will not only get convicted of this, but will face other charges by the time he leaves the stand. Look, defense lawyers put guilty clients on the stand all the time and let them perjure themselves and say “I didn’t do it,” because it’s usually a necessary component of a criminal trial in order to walk someone out of the building. When you can’t put the defendant on the stand, you have such a weak, and for most lawyers impossible, case, that you’re facing something pretty hopeless. Now, once you’ve faced the case in those kinds of terms, from Libby’s perspective you say, “OK, what is the friendliest possible way for me to conduct my defense so that I can go to that White House and get a pardon when the dust clears on my guilty verdict.”

Lawrence O’Donnell


When you’re reading something in a national publication like Time or Newsweek, you expect that this information has been vetted, not only by the writer, but then by their editors. And yet we find out that Matthew Cooper consistently writes mistyped letters in his notes, and he can’t recall what exactly happened. And he doesn’t even include the key quote against Libby when he sends in his initial report to Time. We learn that Judith Miller keeps her notes in shopping bags under her desk, and that she writes in parentheses and question marks, and then when you ask her about it later . . . How should we trust what we read in the press?

Jeralyn Merritt


Let’s not forget that reporters, like senators, are part of the zeitgeist of the moment. They are operating within a kind of a national mood and an atmosphere about the question under discussion. If we go back to 2003, we were still very much in the post-9/11 period. I think that there was a sense that the administration could pull off this war. They were part of it, but so was everybody in the country . . . I don’t think they had the killer instinct on this partly because of this atmosphere.

William Powers

February 1, 2007

Acronym Days for Global Warming

Modern art?…Or global warming? [Rob Lee / Flickr] It’s been a busy, acronym-filled — SOTU, USCAP, WEF, IPCC — fortnight in the global-warming world (and in the warming, global world). Here are the highlights and ...
melting snowmen

Modern art?…Or global warming? [Rob Lee / Flickr]

It’s been a busy, acronym-filled — SOTU, USCAP, WEF, IPCC — fortnight in the global-warming world (and in the warming, global world). Here are the highlights and a tour through our climate archive.

Last Tuesday, George W. Bush finally did it: in his State of the Union (SOTU!) speech, the President acknowledged, however briefly, in a very public forum, the fact of global warming — without obfuscation.

A day earlier, the new United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP!) — a coalition of businesses and NGOs — pressed President Bush to back mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The USCAP members include Caterpillar, GE, and Alcoa, all giants of American business. They’re catching on.

In the not-so-snowy Alps last week, at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF!) Annual Meeting, the business-world glitterati decided that, of all the world’s trends and changes, global warming will have the biggest impact on our future — and that it’s the challenge we’re least prepared to meet.

Today in Paris the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC!) wraps up a meeting of the world’s foremost global-warming scientists. The forthcoming report — the first of its kind since 2001 — will tighten the noose on climate-change naysayers.

Old Shows Made New

If you’re curious to know more about the interplay of climate change, politics, and business, you could check out Politics of Climate Change and Businesses Take On Climate Change. Or a variety of other shows in our global warming series.