Sunday, 31 January 2010


Ken Berwitz


One more point regarding that exoneration of Jay Bybee and John Yoo.


Look at how the Associated press reported it.  Look at the headline, then read what Tom Blumer of has to say.  See if you can find anything to disagree with:


AP Headline Tells Readers DOJ Lawyers Approved Torture; Article Content Differs


By Tom Blumer (Bio | Archive)
Sun, 01/31/2010 - 08:25 ET


Well if you can't win the propaganda war by twisting the content of something you don't like, you can at least plant a presumptive seed in the heads of those who will only see a story's headline.


That seems to be the logic behind an unbylined Associated Press report this morning. Its headline ("Report: No sanctions for lawyers who OK'd torture") would tend cause anyone not reading further to believe that what was under review is indisputably considered "torture." But that is not the case, and the underlying article itself proves it.


If you click on the link above, you'll note that the second paragraph refers to "so-called torture memos." The word "torture" does not appear anywhere else in the report.


There is widespread disagreement as to whether waterboarding fits the legal definition of torture. The AP report also fails, as so many other reports relating to the controversy have, to note three important points the linked Newsmax article makes:


Only three terrorists have been subjected to waterboarding, and the technique has not been employed since 2003.


.... In fact, U.S. special forces are subjected to waterboarding as part of their training in case they are captured and experience the procedure.


.... The three terrorists who were subjected too waterboarding are Abu Zubaydah, Osama bin Ladens chief of operations; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole; and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.


In these cases waterboarding and other coercive techniques, such as forcing prisoners to stand for hours, succeeded in extracting intelligence that led to the capture of key al-Qaida operative planning terrorist attack against Americans.


.... Waterboarding was employed on only three terrorists who were not cooperating, and the information they ultimately provided helped stave off attacks that could have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people.


In a later sentence, the AP writes (hopes?) that "The finding is likely to unsettle interest groups who contended there should be sanctions for Bush administration lawyers who paved the way for tough interrogations, warrantless wiretapping and other coercive tactics."


An honestly headlined report would at least have put quotes around the word "torture." A more accurate headline would have replaced the T-word with "enhanced interrogations," either with or without quotes. But excuse me for questioning whether honesty or accuracy was the headline's goal.


I would call this unbelievable..but, sadly, it is all too believable.  How can you not believe what is in front of your eyes?


As I asked earlier, just how much will this inhibit any administration's lawyer from offering an opinion that doesnt coincide with the prevailing PC position?  Or, put another way, just how much will this inhibit any administrations lawyer from giving an honest opinion altogether?


Great job, AP, and so much of the rest of our wonderful neutral media.  Thank you for trying so hard to keep our system free and our country safe.


Ken Berwitz


Is it possible for the Obama administration to look worse than it has when discussing the trial of khalid sheikh mohammed?  Is it possible for the administration to be more inept?  More self-contradictory? 


If so, tell me how.  Please.


First, lets consider President Obamas words from mid-November, as reported in, among many other places, an article from


In an interview with NBC News, Obama said those offended by the legal privileges given to Mohammed by virtue of getting a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won't find it "offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."

Obama quickly added that he did not mean to suggest he was prejudging the outcome of Mohammed's trial. "I'm not going to be in that courtroom," he said. "That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury."


So we have the President of the United States telling us in so many words that khalid sheikh mohammed will be convicted and put to death before there is any trial..but then assuring us that he did not mean to prejudge the trials outcome.




Now lets fast-forward to today.  We have Baghdad Bob Gibbs, President Obamas stumbling, bumbling press secretary, on CNNs State of the Union.  Host John King points out that Plan A was to have a civil trial in New York but suddenly no one there seems to want it (translation:  they caught wind of how the voters felt about this insanity).  So What is Plan B if you need one?


Gibbs response?


Let me tell you what plan A is for khalid sheikh mohammed.  khalid sheikh mohammed is gonna meet justice, and hes gonna meet his maker, uh, he will be, he will be brought to justice and hes likely to be executed for the heinous crimes he committed in killing, in masterminding the killing, of 3,000 Americans.  That you can be sure of.


In other words, over two months after his boss told us mohammed would be put to death, and then immediately backtracked, the Presidents Press Secretary tells us 1) he is gonna meet his maker, then  2) he is only likely  to be executed, but 3) That you can be sure of  In other words, yes, then maybe, then yes.


Are these people really in positions of authority, or did we accidentally stumble upon open auditions for the clown act at Barnum & Bailey?


What do you think the international press will say about such inept, amateurish, self-contradictory stupidity?


If we are lucky, they will call it what I just did.  If we are lucky.


If we are not so lucky they will report that there is no actual trial at all for khalid sheikh mohammed.  The fix is in, he is already convicted and doomed, and the so-called United States system of justice is a complete lie.  A farce.  A fraud.


The saddest part is that we deserve this.  It is our fault. 


We elected a man with no qualifications to be President.  He appointed an Attorney General happy to give the khalid sheikh mohammeds of the world civil trials instead of military tribunals, along with, arguably, the single most ridiculous Press Secretary in recent (or even not so recent) memory.


And, to compound matters further, we also elected a lopsided majority of their political party in both houses of congress, most of whom are perfectly willing to look the other way as this sorry triumvirate makes a mockery of everything this country stands for.


The 2010 elections cannot come fast enough.  And that goes double for 2012.


Ken Berwitz


Earlier this month, Scott Brown did the unthinkable:  he won a senate seat Ted Kennedys former seat, no less running as a Republican in Massachusetts.


Can Republicans hit for the daily double and win Barack Obamas old seat as well?


According to Lois Romano of the Washington Post, this is a strong possibility bordering on outright probability.  See for yourself, via the following excerpts from her article in todays edition:


Republicans hope for another Senate victory, this time in Obama's Illinois


By Lois Romano

Sunday, January 31, 2010


CHICAGO -- Not a good week for the Democrats here trying to hang on to President Obama's old Senate seat.


The party's leading contender -- state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias -- has spent these last precious days before Tuesday's primary scrambling to explain why regulators have targeted his struggling family bank for greater oversight. Giannoulias, once a senior lending officer at Broadway Bank, is being pressed relentlessly by his Democratic rivals and the media about his role in the bank's woes.

Republicans promise that it is not a topic that will go away.


The Senate race in the president's home state will be among the most symbolically important and expensive races in the country this year. After Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts this month, the GOP sees a clear path to victory in this Democratic state -- and his name is Mark Kirk.


Kirk, 50, a moderate five-term Republican House member, appears to be the man of the moment. As the likely GOP nominee to emerge Tuesday, Kirk is seen as a formidable, well-funded candidate, a Navy Reserve officer who has done two tours in Afghanistan and who can withstand the weight of a White House set to defeat him.


Democrats have criticized Kirk for soliciting support from Sarah Palin and for switching his position on cap-and-trade -- a measure intended to reduce carbon emissions by taxing certain forms of energy use. He was one of a handful of Republicans who voted for the House bill. But after tea-party activists protested at his office, he came out against it.


Kirk said in an interview that he shifted his position after he traveled the state and heard from businesses that the measure would "hammer them and cost jobs."


Paul Green, director of policy studies at Roosevelt University here, said: "Kirk will have plenty of time to modify his positions in the general. He is going to be very tough to beat if the current trends continue. None of the other candidates' rsums match up to his."


Some Democrats think Giannoulias, 32, may not even make it out of the primary. Former city inspector general David Hoffman, 42, has been moving up in the polls over the past few weeks, while Giannoulias's numbers have stayed about the same, suggesting undecided voters may be moving to Hoffman in these final days. A known anti-corruption former prosecutor, Hoffman has been endorsed by most state newspapers -- the Chicago Tribune called him "an incorruptible man who speaks truth to power" -- and he has seen contributions soar this week. ("We just got $2,400 from Tom Daschle!" a breathless aide shouted, bursting into a room where Hoffman was being interviewed.)


Cheryle Jackson, head of the Urban League here and running third in the field, called on Giannoulias to quit the race with the news that Broadway Bank must raise $50 million in capital.


Giannoulias said he hasn't worked at the bank in four years. Still, both Kirk and Democratic rivals have pointed out that large loans were made to people with questionable reputations on his watch, including convicted felon Tony Rezko.


The son of Greek immigrants and college basketball star, Giannoulias is telegenic and able to raise money, and he has assiduously worked the party establishment. But he was not the White House's first choice: Obama aides openly courted state Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run, even bringing her to Washington to meet with Obama.


Kirk entered the race after it was clear Madigan would not.


Republicans are relishing that the trial of the ever-colorful Blagojevich is expected to start in June and could create an unwelcome circus for Democrats.


Kirk, a social moderate who supports abortion rights and is fiscally conservative, has shown resilience in tough races. Democrats pumped millions of dollars into his district, trying to defeat him in the last two election cycles. Even with Obama on the ballot in 2008 and pulling 61 percent in Kirk's districts, Kirk still won convincingly.


"What's past is prologue for me," Kirk said. ". . . I'm braced for what I lived through last year."


To summarize, Alexi Giannoulias is not the Democratic Partys first choice.  Neither is Hoffman or Jackson. 


If Giannoulias wins the primary, he will start as damaged goods because of his familys banking practices.  And he will be running during the Blagojevich trial.  


That sounds like a losing proposition so youll pardon my suspicion regarding the timing of the Posts article, which seems designed to knock him off and install David Hoffman as the candidate instead.


But while Mr. Hoffman is not tainted by scandal, and gets more newspaper endorsements (for the primary, anyway), he has a major problem that will be common to whoever runs for President Obamas former seat:  Mark Kirk.


Kirk is a genuinely formidable candidate regardless of who wins.  His political and personal credentials are excellent, and he is a proven vote-getter not because he is in a safe Republican congressional district but because people who are perfectly willing to vote Democratic are just as willing to vote for him.


Little wonder that Democrats are worried about this one.


Ken Berwitz

Yesterday I blogged about the exoneration of Jay Bybee and John Yoo. 

Today we have a quick analysis of its meaning from John Hinderaker of  It is well worth reading:

In the Clear

January 30, 2010 Posted by John at 6:23 PM

Newsweek reports that the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility will issue a report that exonerates Jay Bybee and John Yoo of professional misconduct in connection with their authorship of legal memoranda that argued or implied that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation methods were legal. This represents a softening of the initial draft of OPR's memo, which would have found such misconduct, requiring referral to state bar associations for possible discipline, potentially including disbarment. According to Newsweek's report, the final version of the OPR report finds that Bybee and Yoo used "poor judgment" in defending aggressive interrogation tactics.

That's good, I guess. But it is still an outrage that a lawyer who writes a memorandum arguing a legal position with which a subsequent administration disagrees can be threatened with disbarment. In my opinion, the Bybee-Yoo memoranda were mostly or entirely correct. You can access the principal memorandum here. It undertook the difficult and unpleasant task of defining what constitutes "torture;" it also adopted an expansive, but historically well-supported, view of the President's war-fighting powers. As I've said before, I think that waterboarding, the most aggressive of the enhanced interrogation techniques that have been used in the current conflict, is a humane alternative to torture. It lasts for only a few minutes, is nearly always effective, and does no--zero--physical harm.

Lawyers and others can argue about the statutory definition of "torture" and about the constitutional powers of the executive and legislative branches. But what is going on now is not a legal argument. Rather, those currently in power are committed to an ideology that makes the conclusions of the Bybee-Yoo memos inconvenient. The persecution of those individuals is a political witch-hunt of the worst sort. Worse, it is emblematic of our establishment's reversion to a pre-September 11 mentality.

Like John, I am unimpressed by the fact that after being run through hell and back for all these months - Bybee and Yoo have finally been told that they are off the hook.  


For what?  Expressing their legal opinion?  Why were they on the hook?


What a chilling effect this will have on any other administration lawyer who dares to offer an opinion which goes against the current PC ideology.  What a sad, damaging blow to our freedom.


And you can be especially sure that the next lawyer who thinks he/she sees a legal way to aggressively extract information from a terrorist who has information that could save US lives will think twice about doing so. 


Feel safer?


Ken Berwitz

Several days ago I blogged about the awarding of a $25 million dollar contract to a big-time Democratic contributor.

That, by itself, would not be troubling to me.  I have no problem with people who support a President getting such contracts.  But what was troubling greatly troubling was that the contract was issued without competitive bidding.

Under some circumstances, a no-competitive-bid contract is understandable.  For example, when one company is far and away the leader in what is being bid on, and has far and away the most experience, I can see why it could happen.  But this is not one of those times.

In any event, this has become so embarrassing to the Obama administration that it rescinded the contract.  Here are the particulars, from Fox News (the bold print is mine):

Updated January 31, 2010

U.S. Cancels No-Bid Contract for Afghan Work Given to Democratic Donor

The U.S. canceled a $25 million federal contract for work in Afghanistan -- awarded without entertaining competitive bids -- to a company owned by a Democratic campaign contributor.

The U.S. has canceled a $25 million federal contract for work in Afghanistan awarded to a company owned by a Democratic campaign contributor who did not face competitive bids.

The cancellation comes after Fox News first reported on the details of the contract last week, prompting lawmakers to make inquiries into the deal.  

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that USAID terminated the award and is now working on an appropriate resolution.

"If you want to say this violates the basis on which this administration came into office and campaigned, fair enough," Crowley told Fox News.  

The contract had been awarded on Jan. 4 to Checchi & Company Consulting, a Washington-based firm owned by economist and Democratic donor Vincent V. Checchi that was hired to provide "rule of law stabilization services" in war-torn Afghanistan

A synopsis of the contract published on the USAID Web site said Checchi & Company would "train the next generation of legal professionals" throughout the Afghan provinces and thereby "develop the capacity of Afghanistan's justice system to be accessible, reliable, and fair." 

The legality of the arrangement as a "sole source," or no-bid, contract was made possible by virtue of a waiver signed by the USAID administrator. 

When Checchi was contacted by Fox News for its earlier report, he confirmed that his company had indeed received the nearly $25 million contract but declined to say why it had been awarded on a no-bid basis, referring a reporter to USAID. 

Asked if he or his firm had been aware that the contract was awarded without competitive bids, Checchi replied: "After it was awarded to us, sure. Before, we had no idea." 

Joseph A. Fredericks, director of public information at USAID, told Fox News the Checchi deal was actually a renewal of a five-year, $44 million contract, awarded in 2004 by the Bush administration after a competitive bid process.

Crowley said the new contract was only for a year, and that USAID "didn't want to have a gap" in the programs. Now that it goes to bid, it is a "possible outcome" that Checchi will get the contract anyway. 

"What was missing was a determination that there was an urgent and compelling reason to award" the contract on a no-bid basis to Checchi; thus the revocation following the protest, he said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Fox News the no-bid contract in this case "disturbed" him. 

Issa had written to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah requesting that the agency "produce all documents related to the Checchi contract" on or before Feb. 5. Citing the waiver that enabled USAID to award the contract on a no-bid basis, Issa noted that the exemption was intended to speed up the provision of services in a crisis environment. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, told Fox News she, too, was seeking answers about the Checchi contract. 

As a candidate for president in 2008, Obama, then a senator, frequently derided the Bush administration for the awarding of federal contracts without competitive bidding. 

Less than two months after he was sworn into office, President Obama signed a memorandum that he claimed would "dramatically reform the way we do business on contracts across the entire government." 

"If you want to say this violates the basis on which this administration came into office and campaigned, fair enough," Crowley told Fox News.

Federal campaign records show Checchi has been a frequent contributor to liberal and Democratic causes and candidates in recent years, including to Obama's presidential campaign. The records show Checchi has given at least $4,400 to Obama dating back to March 2007, close to the maximum amount allowed. 

Click here to read the contract award.

Click here to read Rep. Issa's letter to USAID.

Arguably, the most fascinating part of this story is that when Democratic contributor Checchi got the original contract in 2004 via competitive bidding it was from the (obviously Republican) Bush administration.

I wonder how many Republican contributors are winning bids competitive or otherwise - in the Obama white house.  Dont you?

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