The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Thursday, June 24, 2004

TIGHT AGAIN -- To the surprise of absolutely no one, Florida is close again, according to a new American Research Group poll. John Kerry holds a narrow lead over George W. Bush, 47-46 percent. Ralph Nader is at two percent and five percent are undecided.
While Bush continues to run stronger among Democrats than Kerry is running among Republicans, Kerry now leads among independents 51% to 38%. In May, Kerry was leading Bush among independents 47% to 40%.
...
A total of 46% of likely voters say they have a favorable opinion of Bush and 46% say they have an unfavorable opinion of Bush.

A total of 51% of likely voters say they have a favorable opinion of Kerry and 44% say they have an unfavorable opinion of Kerry.
Kerry's favorable rating has increased 10 points and his unfavorable rating has dropped three points since March. It makes you wonder just what George W. Bush has bought with $75 million in negative TV ads.

Jeb, your brother needs you! Time to steal another election.

AN UNPOPULAR WAR -- Well, it's official: The Iraq War was a mistake. At least, that's what most Americans think.
For the first time since the start of the war in Iraq, a majority of Americans say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to that country, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday.

Fifty-four percent of those polled said it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq, compared with 41 percent who expressed that sentiment in early June.

Most poll respondents, 55 percent, also said they don't believe the war has made the United States safer from terrorism -- rejecting an argument that President Bush has repeatedly advanced in his rationale for the war.
What's incredible about this poll is the huge jump in those who think the war was a mistake. A shift of 13 points in less than a month is gigantic and, if true, signifies a major movement of public opinion away from Mr Bush's position.

OHIO LOOKS GOOD -- A new American Research Group poll of likely voters in Ohio gives John Kerry a six point lead over George W. Bush, 49-43 percent. Ralph Nader receives two percent of the vote and six percent is undecided. In a head-to-head with only Kerry and Bush, the Democrat leads 50-44, with six percent undecided. That's great news for Kerry because, if the past is any guide, he can expect to win at least four of those six undecided percentage points, giving him a solid victory in Ohio.

REAGAN ON CHENEY -- From today's edition of The Note:
Ron P. Reagan, son of former President Reagan, doesn't hide any of his distaste for the Bush Administration in his New York Times Magazine "Questions For" appearance coming out this weekend. Here are two excerpts for you to tide you over until you can read it in the magazine in its entirety this weekend.

Q: "How do you account for all the glowing obituaries of him?"

RR: "I think it was a relief for Americans to look at pictures of something besides men on leashes. If you are going to call yourself a Christian -- and I don't -- then you have to ask yourself a fundamental question, and that is: Whom would Jesus torture? Whom would Jesus drag around on a dog's leash? How can Christians tolerate it? It is unconscionable. It has put our young men and women who are over there, fighting a war that they should not have been asked to fight -- it has put them in greater danger."

Q: "How did your mother feel about being ushered to her seat by President Bush?"

RR: "Well, he did a better job than Dick Cheney did when he came to the rotunda. I felt so bad. Cheney brought my mother up to the casket, so she could pay her respects. She is in her 80's, and she has glaucoma and has trouble seeing. There were steps, and he left her there. He just stood there, letting her flounder. I don't think he's a mindful human being. That's probably the nicest way I can put it."
Fabulous.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

VICTORY IN MASSACHUSETTS -- A major concern for Massachusetts and national Democrats was that if John Kerry won the November election, his successor in the U.S. Senate would be chosen by Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican. This didn't sit too well with Democrats so they did something about it.

After a 32-8 vote in the Massachusetts state Senate today, along party lines, John Kerry's seat in the U.S. Senate will be filled by a special election held 145-160 days after Kerry leaves office. Governor Mitt Romney will have no say in the matter.
Letting Romney appoint someone to Kerry's seat would allow enough time for a fair election while not depriving Massachusetts of representation in the U.S. Senate, Republicans said.

But Democrats said allowing the governor to appoint a successor is less democratic than a special election, even a quick election.

''Let the people vote. We heard that over and over and over, and still over again, recently from the executive branch during the gay marriage debate,'' said Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton. ''What could be more democratic than let the people vote?''

The bill requires a special election not more than 160 days and not less than 145 days after a vacancy is created in the U.S. Senate. Under the bill, a vacancy is created when a letter of resignation is filed, even if the incumbent senator does not actually resign until a later date.

The winner of the special election would serve out the remainder of the unexpired term. Kerry's term ends in 2008.

Romney could veto the measure, but the Democrats have a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
Well done, Massachusetts Democrats! This is a hardball political maneuver worthy of Tom DeLay and I, for one, heartily approve. It seems there are still some bare-knuckled politicos in the Democratic party. They live in Massachusetts. Give them a cheer.

BOWLES DOING WELL -- It's still early, but former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles holds an eight-point lead in a new poll by The News & Observer, WRAL-TV and WUNC radio. Bowles, who ran and lost a Senate race two years ago in North Carolina, holds a 47-39 percent lead over Republican Richard Burr.

GOT YER POLLS HERE -- In a bit of a thunderbolt, John Kerry is not only competitive with George W. Bush in Arkansas, but he now holds a small lead in a new Zogby poll, 47-45 percent.

Kerry's lead over Bush in New Jersey widens a bit, to 46-40 percent, in the new Quinnipiac University poll released today. Kerry's previous lead had been within the margin of error.

The Rasmussen poll continues to be close, with Kerry holding a small three point lead, 47-44 percent, over Bush right now in a national poll. Similarly, a new Fox News poll gives the nod to Kerry by a razor-thin margin, 45-43 percent, in the nation as a whole.

STUFF YOUR 'SORRIES' IN A SACK! -- That's pretty much the message Nation columnist David Corn has for the editors of The New Republic, who have devoted most of the current issue to asking [and sometimes answering] the question of whether or not they made a mistake by endorsing the Iraq War more than one year ago.

Mr Corn writes in the latest edition of his excellent Capital Games column that the very Bush administration blunders TNR editors are now blaming for the disaster in Iraq are the very ones liberal critics of the war cited as major reasons for their lack of support. Two years ago TNR poured scorn over liberals for opposing the war for the very reasons TNR now claims the war is failing.
It might take The New Republic that long to concede its opponents in the prewar debate were correct on key points. Peretz and several of his comrades act as if their post-invasion realizations are bolts from blue, when, in fact, they were the arguments they dismissed--or derided--when it mattered most. In this we're-not-sorry special issue, Kenneth Pollack's piece stands out. He recounts a debate he had in the fall of 2002 with Bill Galston, a University of Maryland professor and former colleague of his in the Clinton administration. Galston held up a copy of Pollack's book, The Threatening Storm, and said, "If we were going to get Ken Pollack's war, I could be persuaded to support it. But we are not going to get Ken Pollack's war; we are going to get George Bush's war, and that is a war I will not support."

Pollack says that several months ago he sent Galston a note conceding he had been right. "The primary cause of our current problems in Iraq," Pollack writes, "is the reckless, and often foolish, manner in which this administration has waged the war and the reconstruction....The thought that nags at me the most is that I, too, should have foreseen what Bill Galston did--that the Bush administration would not fight the war properly." He adds, "the willingness of members of the Bush administration to abandon their past records of prudence and match Saddam's reckless and delusional behavior with their own may have been the most important element missing from my own thinking about the war." Pollack remarks that he remains "deeply torn about the decision to invade Iraq." (Note to Beinart: how about a cover piece: "I Was Right," by Bill Galston?)
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And the clever thinkers at TNR should have been smart enough to have absorbed Galston's warning: no matter how clever they were, this would not be their war. It would not be fought for or on their terms. Thinking otherwise was their big mistake. The reluctant regretters of TNR were either duped by Bush or by themselves--or, maybe, both. They are not yet ready to admit that. Let's hope that matters in Iraq do not disintegrate to such a degree that they are forced to reconsider the limited extent of their regrets.
Mr Corn also takes TNR to task for claiming that the humanitarian case for war in Iraq is still strong when that was not the rationale the editors used to justify war originally.
But before the war, TNR had a different take. In an editorial posted on August 22, 2002, and entitled "Best Case," the editors dismissed going to war because Hussein was evil. ("He is not the only evil leader in the world, and we are not proposing to act against other evil leaders.") It pooh-poohed invading Iraq to bring democracy to Mesopotamia. ("But this, too, cannot explain why the absence of democracy in Iraq is more odious and more threatening than the absence of democracy in many other states.") But there was "one spectacular thing" that made the "villain in Baghdad" an appropriate target: "He is the only leader in the world with weapons of mass destruction who has used them....That is the case."
Mr Corn is dead right about all of this. TNR luxuriated in their alleged clear-eyed toughness in advocating war with Iraq, when in fact it is now clear that they were the pie-in-the-sky daydreamers. The clear-eyed toughness was to found on the other side of the debate, among the liberal critics of the war who wanted Saddam Hussein contained, controlled and eventually deposed, but not by an administration that was bound--from the very beginning--to make a shambles of the entire operation.

Nevertheless, I encourage you to read TNR this week, as I have. It's an interesting issue, with some, like Leon Wieseltier, looking much better than dead-enders like Martin Peretz or John McCain.

THE FANATIC FACTORIES -- Asia Times has a long, but extremely informative and valuable article on how winning the war against International Jihad must include an aggressive campaign against the fundamentalist madrassas of Pakistan, where a new class of religious lunatics is churned out every year. The article points out that the Pakistan government is not taking its pledge to reform these "schools" seriously and demonstrates that the Pakistan government essentially turned education over to the religious maniacs so that they could spend more money on defense. It's a sobering read. Check it out.

CLINTON ON KERRY -- In his new memoir "My Life," Bill Clinton writes this about Senator John Kerry:
"I went to Boston for a fund-raiser for Senator John Kerry, who was up for reelection and would likely face a tough opponent in Governor Bill Weld," Clinton wrote about the 1996 Senate race in Massachusetts. "I had a good relationship with Weld, perhaps the most progressive of all the Republican governors, but I didn't want to lose Kerry in the Senate. He was one of the Senate's leading authorities on the environment and high technology. He had also devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the problem of youth violence, an issue he had cared about since his days as a prosecutor. Caring about an issue in which there are no votes today but which will have a big impact on the future is a very good quality in a politician."
Kerry is mentioned a total of seven times in the book, according to the index, but the above quote is the only sizable opinion Clinton offers of the Democratic presidential nominee.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

THE FOX IN THE HENHOUSE -- Major General Geoffrey Miller is the man in charge of U.S. military prisons in Iraq. When he took over the military prison at Guantanamo, he was quite keen to wring valuable information out of the Islamic detainees there. It's not clear if he obtained much information, but he did have a big effect in other ways.
Three months after a get-tough general took command of the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects, prisoners began a flurry of suicide attempts, according to military records.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller took over as commander at Guantanamo in November 2002 after interrogators criticized his predecessor for being too solicitous for the detainees' welfare.

Between January and March 2003, 14 prisoners at Guantanamo tried to kill themselves, according to Pentagon figures. That's more than 40 percent of the 34 suicide attempts by 21 inmates since the prison was opened in January 2002.

Miller is now in charge of all military-run U.S. prisons in Iraq, a job he took after news broke of beatings and sexual humiliations last fall at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Miller had visited Abu Ghraib in August and September and recommended interrogation techniques that military lawyers said had to be modified to comply with the Geneva Conventions on treating prisoners of war.
I suspect the more we find out about Major General Miller the more it will seem that he should be in a prison himself, not running them.

PERSONALLY, I'D TAKE THE MONEY -- But I do have to admire Brian Rodgers, whoh has been offered $135,000 for the rights to the bush2004.com domain. Mr Rodgers' response to the offer from the Bush campaign: "He's a sorry son of a bitch and I'll do anything I can to bring him down."

I think that's a no. For some reason, I just found that quote very funny. Nevertheless, I'd take the money and then vote for John Kerry in November. Oh, and a $2000 check to the Kerry campaign would probably be in order, too.

ANOTHER ATROCITY -- Al Jazeera television is now reporting that the South Korean citizen recently kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq has been beheaded. The terrorists demanded that South Korea cancel plans to send troops to Iraq and promised to execute the kidnapping victim if their demand was not met. The South Korean government insisted it would go ahead with the deployment and this, apparently, is the response of the terrorists. The war against Al Qaeda and its corollaries must go forward with uncompromising determination. This scum must be extirpated from the Earth.

UPDATE: Here is a link.

WHOSE RECOVERY? -- Kudos to the Economic Policy Institute [via Crooked Timber] for pointing out that the economic "recovery" has been vigorous for corporate profits, but not so vigorous for the average American. In fact, the average American is getting far less out of this "recovery" than out of past recoveries.
Corporate profits have risen 62.2% since the peak, compared to average growth of 13.9% at the same point in the last eight recoveries that have lasted as long as the current one. This is the fastest rate of profit growth in a recovery since World War II.

Total labor compensation has also turned in a historic performance: growing only 2.8%, the slowest growth in any recovery since World War II and well under the historical average of 9.9%.
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These are ominous signs, suggesting a new march toward greater inequality in the American economy. Worse, the growth in profits combined with a drop in wage and salary incomes suggest that the recovery has a narrow base, with most American consumers only able to increase their purchasing power through debt. Wage growth is not just fair, it is also necessary for a more sustainable recovery.
This is the sort of information that usually escapes journalists because the media almost never discusses the actual economic struggles of Americans, instead relying on largely incomprehensible and meaningless statistics that bear no relation to the reality of everyday life. The only people living large off this current "recovery" are corporations, who have seen profits surge. Most Americans are seeing little of this wealth and thus it is not surprising that their view of the economy has not changed much in the past few months. If the media ever studied numbers that matter to most Americans, they'd know this by now.

NARROW MARGIN IN N. CAROLINA -- States that should not be up for grabs are up for grabs--like North Carolina.
If North Carolina elected a president today, President Bush would win -- but not nearly by the margin this Republican-friendly state handed him four years ago, according to a new statewide poll.

In the poll, 47 percent of likely voters chose Bush, a Republican, while 42 percent selected Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat.

The divide would narrow further if Kerry selects Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, according to the survey, conducted June 13-16 for a partnership of The News & Observer, WRAL-TV and WUNC radio.

"Kerry doesn't have to win North Carolina to win the presidency. Everybody knows that. Bush knows that," said Del Ali of Research 2000, the Maryland polling firm that conducted the survey. "But by taking Edwards on the ticket, it really does force Bush to spend time in an area that, frankly, he can't afford to spend time in.
...
The new poll hints at some of the reasons why:

* On the economy, 56 percent of those polled do not think Bush has done enough to protect furniture, textile and other manufacturing industries from foreign trade.

* On the war in Iraq, 46 percent of those polled approve of Bush's leadership there while 44 percent disapprove. This is a remarkably narrow divide given this state's long-standing support for the military.
The rationale for putting John Edwards on the ticket is getting stronger, though I don't think the odds are. Edwards would force Bush to work hard for states like North Carolina, Tennessee, maybe Arkansas and Louisiana. I hope it happens.

BUSH PLUMMETS -- A new poll from The Washington Post reveals just how bad things are getting for Mr Bush. For starters, Bush has lost his ace in the hole--the terrorism issue. Senator John Kerry [48%] and Bush [47%] are now tied in the ABC News/Washington Post poll among voters on the subject of which man would handle the war on terrorism better. That's a stunning fall for Bush, who once held a lead of over 20 percentage points on that issue.

Mr Bush also trails Kerry on who would handle health care better [by 21 points], education [by 10 points], international affairs [by 8 points], prescription drugs [by 12 points], taxes [by 13 points], the budget deficit [by 4 points], the economy [by 5 points]. Kerry trails Mr Bush only on who would handle Iraq better [by 5 points] and judging by the poor marks the public is giving Mr Bush's Iraq policy, that's not a big help to the incumbent.

There's even more good news. Sixty-three percent of Americans believe the Iraq War has damaged relations with the rest of the world and only 42 percent believe it has contributed to peace and stability in the Middle East over the long term. Over 75% believe the Iraq War has harmed our image in the world and over 40% want U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq more or less immediately. All those numbers are new highs.

The internals on this poll are very bad for Mr Bush and thus very good for John Kerry, America, and the world.

Monday, June 21, 2004

WHERE CLINTON CAN HELP -- Can former President Bill Clinton, who is in the midst of a massive publicity campaign to support his new book "My Life," be of help to John Kerry in the presidential campaign this fall? Democrats think so.
In stark contrast to four years ago, when then-Democratic nominee Al Gore kept Clinton at a distance, Democrats plan to make the former president an integral part of this year's campaign. While the former president's book tour will keep him occupied much of the summer, aides are already trying to work political appearances around his domestic travels.
Nowhere is that more true than in Clinton's home state of Arkansas.
Arkansas is one of at least 17 states that both sides see as close. President Bush won Arkansas in 2000 by five percentage points. Many political observers here think the only way Kerry can beat Bush in Arkansas is to recruit Clinton as his surrogate-in-chief.

"It comes down to Clinton," says John Brummett, a longtime Arkansas political columnist. "If Kerry is left to his own devices in Arkansas, he will lose."

Clinton no longer lives in Arkansas; he switched his voting residence to New York when his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, decided to run for Senate there. But his presence still looms large.

His presidential library, due to open in Little Rock on Nov. 18, is one of the largest private-sector construction projects in the city's history. It has employed 1,500 and fueled a downtown renaissance.

The state's Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, is grateful for the library. But while Huckabee insists that Clinton is not as popular with voters as he used to be ("There's still some heartburn about the move to New York," the governor says), Clinton still has loyal fans among Arkansas Democrats.

Mayor Larry Hall of Bay says that while he and many of his constituents are dismayed about Clinton's "immoral relations with a lady at the White House," he still admires the former president's record. "He could run again and I'd vote for him," says Hall, an independent.

Republicans acknowledge that Clinton is a plus for Democrats here. "If he gets out and really campaigns for Kerry, it could make a big difference. In my opinion, it would be the difference," says Bill Vickery, a Little Rock-based GOP consultant.

Recent polls in the state have shown Bush and Kerry in a tight race. Local politicians say Bush has been hurt by problems in Iraq; 11 Arkansas soldiers have died there since the war began. Many mayors from across the state, in Little Rock last week for an Arkansas Municipal League conference, say that their communities are split 50-50.

"It's going to be a dogfight," says Mayor Robert Patrick, an independent from St. Charles.
Arkansas is worth six votes in the electoral college, so it is not a big prize. On the other hand, if Al Gore had won either New Hampshire [four electoral college votes] or West Virginia [five electoral college votes], he'd be President right now. Arkansas is close and it is a chance to take a state in the south. Clinton should be campaigning for Kerry in every part of the country where he can help, but nowhere more so than Arkansas. The state is winnable. So let Bill get one for the good guys.

UP TO THEIR EYEBALLS -- Amid the squabble about the ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda [or lack thereof], the 9/11/01 Commission makes it clear that Al Qaeda ties to governments in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were far more extensive than the fleeting and inconsequential contact between Iraq and Al Qaeda
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia helped set the stage for the Sept. 11 attacks by cutting deals with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden that allowed his Al Qaeda terrorist network to flourish, according to several senior members of the Sept. 11 commission and U.S. counter-terrorism officials.

The financial aid to the Taliban and other assistance by two of the most important allies of the United States in its war on terrorism date at least to 1996, and appear to have shielded them from Al Qaeda attacks within their own borders until long after the 2001 strikes, those commission members and officials said in interviews.

"That does appear to have been the arrangement," said one senior member of the commission staff involved in investigating those relationships.

The officials said that by not cracking down on Bin Laden, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia significantly undermined efforts to combat terrorism worldwide, giving the Saudi exile the haven he needed to train tens of thousands of soldiers. They believe that the governments' funding of his Taliban protectors enabled Bin Laden to withstand international pressure and expand his operation into a global network that could carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Saudi Arabia provided funds and equipment to the Taliban and probably directly to Bin Laden, and didn't interfere with Al Qaeda's efforts to raise money, recruit and train operatives, and establish cells throughout the kingdom, commission and U.S. officials said. Pakistan provided even more direct assistance, its military and intelligence agencies often coordinating efforts with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they said.
...
"There's no question the Taliban was getting money from the Saudis … and there's no question they got much more than that from the Pakistani government," said former Sen. Bob Kerrey, one of the congressionally appointed commission's 10 members. "Their motive is a secondary issue for us."

Kerrey said the commission officials believed that the Saudi government had a mutually beneficial relationship with the Taliban that bought Riyadh safety from attack.

"Whether there was quid pro quo with the Saudis, we don't know. But certainly the Pakistanis believed that there was. They benefited enormously from their relationship with the Taliban and Al Qaeda."

Kerrey said the findings were based almost entirely on information known to officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, most of it as early as 1997 — just months after Bin Laden moved his operations from Sudan to Afghanistan.
Bad enough for you yet? Too bad because there's more.
In interviews with The Times, the senior commission members said their investigation had uncovered more extensive evidence than the report suggested.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, commission investigators believe that Riyadh made overtures to Bin Laden soon after his arrival in Afghanistan in May 1996.

At the time, Saudi officials feared that Bin Laden was responsible for two recent terrorist attacks in the kingdom, including the killing of 19 U.S. servicemen at the Khobar Towers residential complex in Dhahran. The Saudi leaders were desperate to avoid further attacks and to silence Bin Laden, a vocal critic of the monarchy since it revoked his citizenship in 1994.

A formal delegation of Saudi officials met with top Taliban leaders, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, and asked that a message be conveyed to "their guest," Bin Laden.

"They said, 'Don't attack us. Make sure he's not a problem for us and recognition will follow.' And that's just what they did," according to the senior commission staff member.

Shortly afterward, Saudi Arabia became one of only three countries to formally recognize the Taliban as the rightful government in Afghanistan. The others were Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

More Saudi delegations followed, including several in 1998 led by Prince Turki at the request of the United States. U.S. officials wanted him to negotiate the surrender of Bin Laden. But Richard Clarke, the former Bush and Clinton counter-terrorism czar, and a second senior Clinton administration official said U.S. officials suspected that Turki merely ensured that Saudi Arabia would remain out of Al Qaeda's crosshairs.

Pakistanis, meanwhile, were in with the Taliban and Al Qaeda "up to their eyeballs," said the senior commission staff member.
At this point, you're probably asking yourself: Then why the hell did we invade Iraq? Good question and one the Bush administration has been unable to answer. It would be like invading Peru after the Pearl Harbor attack. It makes no sense.

It gets even worse. The Bush administration considers both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to be key allies. Yeah. That's not a joke.

POST-ING TORTURE -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's rant last week, during which he essentially blamed the media for whipping up an anti-American frenzy and endangering American lives by reporting on the Abu Ghraib scandal, has provoked a pointed response from The Washington Post.
What might lead us to describe Mr. Rumsfeld or some other "senior civilian or military official" as "ordering or authorizing or permitting" torture or violation of international treaties and U.S. law? We could start with Mr. Rumsfeld's own admission during the same news conference that he had personally approved the detention of several prisoners in Iraq without registering them with the International Committee of the Red Cross. This creation of "ghost prisoners" was described by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who investigated abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, as "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine and in violation of international law." Failure to promptly register detainees with the Red Cross is an unambiguous breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention; Mr. Rumsfeld said that he approved such action on several occasions, at the request of another senior official, CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Did senior officials order torture? We know of two relevant cases so far. One was Mr. Rumsfeld's December 2002 authorization of the use of techniques including hooding, nudity, stress positions, "fear of dogs" and physical contact with prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay base. A second was the distribution in September 2003 by the office of the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, of an interrogation policy that included these techniques as well as others, among them sleep and dietary manipulation. In both cases lawyers inside the military objected that the policies would lead to violations of international law, including the convention banning torture. Both were eventually modified, but not before they were used for the handling of prisoners. In the case of the Abu Ghraib prison, the policy apparently remained in effect for months.

Did senior officials "permit" torture? A Pentagon-led task force concluded in March 2003, with the support of the Justice Department, that the president was authorized to order torture as part of his war-making powers and that those who followed his orders could be immunized from punishment. Dictators who wish to justify torture, and those who would mistreat Americans, have no need to read our editorials: They can download from the Internet the 50-page legal brief issued by Mr. Rumsfeld's chief counsel.
Quite so. Once in a while The Washington Post wakes up and discovers its conscience. Happily, today was one of those days.

CHILL OUT, UC-I GRADS -- According to the Orange County Register, a controversy has erupted at the University of California [Irvine] over the plans of 11 Islamic students to wear a green sash to graduation ceremonies that state their devotion to their faith.

A rumor circulated that the students intended to wear armbands in support of the terrorist group Hamas, but the truth is that
a handful of Muslim students did plan to wear stoles over their gowns, - as do many other graduates who want to commemorate groups they have ties to.

On one side, the stoles say "God, increase my knowledge."

On the other side, they have the word "shahada" written in Arabic.
However, some students and a number of outside groups are still opposed to the Islamic students wearing the green stoles.
Jewish students and outside groups that have gotten involved in the controversy, such as the American Jewish Congress, say the wearing of a garment with that word implies approval of terrorism and suicide bombings.

"I am offended by that," said Larry Mahler, president of the UCI chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. "What they are doing is ratifying the suicide bombing that killed innocent people."

Muslim students said the word is intended only as a religious statement. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Web site, shahada may be translated as, "There is no God but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God."

"It's written in mosques. The Saudi flag has it on it," said Muslim student Aatif Abdul-Qadeer, dispelling the notion that it is a terrorist message.
Juan Cole is very annoyed:
I can't say how upset I am by the gross bigotry displayed by anyone in the American Jewish Congress who would attempt to associate the Muslim confession of faith with terrorism.

The shahadah or confession of faith is a universalist statement. It begins by saying "La ilaha illa Allah." "La" means "no" in Arabic. "Ilah" is god with a small "g", a deity of the sort that is worshipped in polytheistic religions like those of ancient Greece and Babylon. It is a cognate of the ancient Hebrew "eloh," which also means "god." One of the names for God in the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible is Elohim, which literally means "the Gods." Some scholars believe that the use of this plural is an echo of the process whereby a council of gods in ancient Near Eastern religion gradually become merged into a single figure, the one God.

So "La ilaha" means that there are no gods or small deities of the polytheistic sort. The ancient Arabs worshipped star-goddesses such as al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat. These are the equivalents of Venus, Hera and Diana in classical mythology. The Muslim witness to faith denies that such deities exist.

"Illa Allah" means "except for God." So there is no deity except The Deity. This part of the shahadah is a pure expression of monotheism. Monotheism's basic characteristic is its universalism. It asserts that one, single divinity underlies all of Being. This point is why it is wrong to insist on using the word Allah in English rather than God. Allah is not a proper name. It is simply the Arabic word for "the God." A god is ilahun. The God is al-Ilahu. The close proximity of two "L's" in al-Ilah caused them to be elided together so that the word became Allah. But it just means "the God," i.e., "God." Christian Arabic-speakers also use Allah to refer to the God of the Bible.

And, the Koran also identifies Allah or "God" as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, David, John the Baptist and Jesus, as well as of Muhammad. So, "there is no God but God." There is no difference in sentiment between this statement and the phrase, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord." (Dt. 6:4).

The other part of the Muslim witness to faith is, "and Muhammad is His Messenger." (Muhammadun rasul Allah [or, transliterating by pronunciation: Muhammadu'rasulu'llah]. The word rasul or messenger is used interchangeably in the Koran with nabi or prophet. The Arabic nabi is cognate to the Hebrew word, which is the same. When Jesus said, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country," he certainly used the word nabi in his original phrasing. The Koran does not represent Muhammad as the only prophet or recipient of divine revelation. Even the bees receive a form of wahy or revelation from God. God has sent a prophet "to every city," it maintains. Not only are all the biblical figures prophets, but so are John the Baptist and Jesus, and even ancient Arabian prophets are accepted. In India, many Sufi Muslims were perfectly comfortable accepting Krishna and Ram as prophets. Of course, committed Muslims believe that Muhammad is the most recent messenger and the most appropriate one in which to believe, but they don't deny the validity of others such as Moses. And, in traditional Islamic law, it is perfectly all right for human beings to follow other prophets of the one God, whether they be Christians, Jews or members of some other monotheistic religion. This tolerance was implemented for the most part, though there were lapses, and some serious ones. It can be contrasted with medieval Christianity, which often expelled Jews and Muslims or forcibly converted them.

So both elements of the confession of faith in Islam are universalistic. The one God is the God of all being, and Muhammad as prophet exists within a moral universe of many prophets, and comes in a long line of true prophets, with much the same message as they had, concerning the compassion and love of the one God for his creation.

As for the phrase, "Increase my knowledge, " it is literally "increase me in knowledge and make me one of the virtuous." The phrase is from a pilgrimage prayer: Rabbi zidni 'ilman wa alhiqni bi's-salihin. The salihun or righteous in the Koran are those who do good deeds. At one point the Koran says that Jews, Christians and others who are salih or righteous need have no fear in the afterlife.
Professor Cole concludes with a piece of advice:
So, the bigots should back off and stop demonizing the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. In multicultural America, moreover, an atmosphere of religious tolerance is the only safeguard against pathologies like antisemitism.
I quote him there because I couldn't have said it better myself.

BLEEDING IRAQ -- Four more American troops have been killed in Iraq.

LONG OVERDUE -- The corrupt and disgraceful tenure of Governor John G. Rowland [R-CT] ends tonight when he finally resigns amid an array of exposed lies and corruption scandals.

TRUST BETRAYED -- Over at The New Republic, some much-needed soul-searching is going on. Most of that newspaper's luminaries were strong supporters of the Iraq War, buying into most or all of the justifications for it offered by the Bush admin. Of course, since just about every single one of those justifications has run aground on the shoals of accuracy, many at TNR have had second thoughts, which they have committed to paper. Leon Wieseltier is among those angry at an administration that betrayed his trust.
But I was deceived. Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation. You do not act against a threat for which there is little or no evidence. Yet that is precisely what the United States did. Saddam Hussein had no nuclear capability, and almost no nuclear program. If there is an adequate explanation for the disposition of his vast and documented hoard of chemical and biological weapons, I have not heard it; but the magnitude of the mystery surrounding his arsenal must not obscure the magnitude of the blunder that was committed in our description of it. Will some canisters or some vials still turn up in the desert? Perhaps, but I would not send a thousand American soldiers to their deaths for a debater's point. The arsenal that we said was there is not there. Whatever the merits of preemption, there was nothing to preempt. It really is as plain as that. An absence of regrets and recriminations on the part of a supporter of this war now amounts to an absence of intellectual honesty. The administration is reaping an alienation that it sowed. (It is very hard to forgive George W. Bush for the good fortune of Michael Moore.) Whether or not the president lied, he was not speaking the truth. He justified this war to the American people in a manner that will make it difficult for a long time to come to justify almost any war to the American people. In a time of genuine crisis, in a world riddled with savage enmity toward America and Americans, he was sloppy with our trust.
Of course, Mr Wieseltier is absolutely correct. The biggest lasting damage for the United States as a nation [put aside the personal loss suffered by so many Iraqis and Americans] is that it will be very difficult to convince many Americans and most foreigners to trust an American President when he or she tells the world that war, however unwanted, is necessary. And it will be necessary. The world is still an ugly, brutish place and the deployment of U.S. forces to combat zones abroad will be a necessary evil for whomever is sitting in the Oval Office in 2005. Establishing a domestic and international consensus for a necessary war will be much more difficult now because so many lies have been told on behalf of an unnecessary war.

THE ENEMY WITHIN? -- The Al Qaeda group which kidnapped and murdered American contractor Paul Johnson last week now claims on a website devoted to extremist Islamists that Saudi security forces aided the kidnapping. According to the assertion, Al Qaeda sympathizers in the Saudi security forces donated clothing so the kidnappers could stage a phoney checkpoint where the Americans could be killed or kidnapped.

Naturally, the Saudi government is hotly denying this. Clearly the radicals want to sow dissension within the Saudi government and increase tension between the Saudi government and western governments and workers within the kingdom. That doesn't mean the assertions are false, however. Most keen observers of Saudi Arabia believe the country is infected by Islamic extremism at all levels and in every important segment of society. Penetrating the security forces would be a top priority for an outlawed radical organization in the kingdom. If they have done so, more bloody violence in Saudi Arabia is not only likely, but assured.