Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tanzania

A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

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New York Times, Cool with Ghailani Verdict

The New York Times editors scold those politicians who are alarmed by the verdict in the civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. “They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence,” they write. “That clearly wasn’t enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.” They close their editorial with the following: “The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.”

The time to be served is not the issue. The fact is that a universe of critical and hard-earned evidence was thrown out due to the incompatibility of the war on terror and our civil court system. The Times omits the glaring, screaming, phosphorescent reality that Ghailani was found not guilty of 284 out of 285 charges against him. This case establishes a precedent that will have us crossing our fingers in hopes that .35 percent of the charges against a given suspect will be viable enough to allow for civil prosecution. The courts got .35 percent of the “job done.”

The Times editors understand this, of course. They are playing a shell game with the salient facts to put a respectable face on their frenzied denunciations of war tribunals for terrorists. In this case, pretending that justice was served strikes me as being more abject than actually believing it.

The New York Times editors scold those politicians who are alarmed by the verdict in the civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. “They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence,” they write. “That clearly wasn’t enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.” They close their editorial with the following: “The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.”

The time to be served is not the issue. The fact is that a universe of critical and hard-earned evidence was thrown out due to the incompatibility of the war on terror and our civil court system. The Times omits the glaring, screaming, phosphorescent reality that Ghailani was found not guilty of 284 out of 285 charges against him. This case establishes a precedent that will have us crossing our fingers in hopes that .35 percent of the charges against a given suspect will be viable enough to allow for civil prosecution. The courts got .35 percent of the “job done.”

The Times editors understand this, of course. They are playing a shell game with the salient facts to put a respectable face on their frenzied denunciations of war tribunals for terrorists. In this case, pretending that justice was served strikes me as being more abject than actually believing it.

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Civilian Trials for Terror Suspects and America’s Image Abroad

The case for handling terrorists outside the civil legal system has now received support from an unlikely quarter: Judge Lewis Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan. Judge Kaplan presided over the trial of Ahmed Ghailani, who was just acquitted in 284 out of 285 counts relating to the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The verdict is largely the result of the prosecution’s decision not to introduce Ghailani’s own confession, obtained while he was being held at Guantanamo, and of the judge’s decision not to admit the evidence of a witness who said he had sold Ghailani the explosives used to blow up the embassy in Tanzania. In a fascinating tidbit, the New York Times notes:

The judge himself recognized the significance of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of “enemy combatant” probably would permit his detention as something akin “to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.”

In other words, the judge fully expected that Ghailani would not be released regardless of the outcome in his court. Thankfully, that seems a good bet. For all President Obama’s miscalculation in sending Ghailani to a normal criminal court, he also remains committed to holding some detainees indefinitely simply because of the risk they would pose — a risk that has been amply documented by the number of Gitmo detainees released by the Bush administration who have gone back to terrorism. Ironically, Obama’s decision to employ criminal courts was designed to improve America’s image in the world, but our image will actually suffer more from holding indefinitely a suspect who has been largely acquitted by a jury than it would if there were no jury trial to begin with.

The case for handling terrorists outside the civil legal system has now received support from an unlikely quarter: Judge Lewis Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan. Judge Kaplan presided over the trial of Ahmed Ghailani, who was just acquitted in 284 out of 285 counts relating to the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The verdict is largely the result of the prosecution’s decision not to introduce Ghailani’s own confession, obtained while he was being held at Guantanamo, and of the judge’s decision not to admit the evidence of a witness who said he had sold Ghailani the explosives used to blow up the embassy in Tanzania. In a fascinating tidbit, the New York Times notes:

The judge himself recognized the significance of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of “enemy combatant” probably would permit his detention as something akin “to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.”

In other words, the judge fully expected that Ghailani would not be released regardless of the outcome in his court. Thankfully, that seems a good bet. For all President Obama’s miscalculation in sending Ghailani to a normal criminal court, he also remains committed to holding some detainees indefinitely simply because of the risk they would pose — a risk that has been amply documented by the number of Gitmo detainees released by the Bush administration who have gone back to terrorism. Ironically, Obama’s decision to employ criminal courts was designed to improve America’s image in the world, but our image will actually suffer more from holding indefinitely a suspect who has been largely acquitted by a jury than it would if there were no jury trial to begin with.

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The Ghailani Debacle

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.’”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.’”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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Geldof’s Bush Interview

Bob Geldof interviewed George Bush aboard Air Force One for a must-read piece in Time magazine. It should come as no surprise that it takes an individual outside of journalism and politics to cut through the fog of false perceptions about the president. Here’s Geldof on Bush’s “Africa story”:

It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

While expendable legislators in New Hampshire and elsewhere waste taxpayers’ money on proceedings to impeach George Bush, Geldof—a man who’s spent decades staring humanitarian crisis in the face—gets to the heart of the President’s sense of morality and responsibility in history:

Bush adds, “One thing I will say: Human suffering should preempt commercial interest.”
It’s a wonderful sentence, and it comes in the wake of a visit to Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial Center. The museum is built on the site of a still-being-filled open grave. There are 250,000 individuals in that hole, tumbled together in an undifferentiated tangle of humanity. The President and First Lady were visibly shocked by the museum. “Evil does exist,” Bush says in reaction to the 1994 massacres. “And in such a brutal form.” He is not speechifying; he is horror-struck by the reality of ethnic madness. “Babies had their skulls smashed,” he says, his mind violently regurgitating an image he has just witnessed. The sentence peters out, emptied of words to describe the ultimately incomprehensible.

Geldof goes too easy on China, and he’s disappointingly clichéd on Iraq. But even there, he evinces a natural respect for Bush that’s vanished from the sphere of public criticism. In all, it’s an indispensible character portrait of the president.

Bob Geldof interviewed George Bush aboard Air Force One for a must-read piece in Time magazine. It should come as no surprise that it takes an individual outside of journalism and politics to cut through the fog of false perceptions about the president. Here’s Geldof on Bush’s “Africa story”:

It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

While expendable legislators in New Hampshire and elsewhere waste taxpayers’ money on proceedings to impeach George Bush, Geldof—a man who’s spent decades staring humanitarian crisis in the face—gets to the heart of the President’s sense of morality and responsibility in history:

Bush adds, “One thing I will say: Human suffering should preempt commercial interest.”
It’s a wonderful sentence, and it comes in the wake of a visit to Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial Center. The museum is built on the site of a still-being-filled open grave. There are 250,000 individuals in that hole, tumbled together in an undifferentiated tangle of humanity. The President and First Lady were visibly shocked by the museum. “Evil does exist,” Bush says in reaction to the 1994 massacres. “And in such a brutal form.” He is not speechifying; he is horror-struck by the reality of ethnic madness. “Babies had their skulls smashed,” he says, his mind violently regurgitating an image he has just witnessed. The sentence peters out, emptied of words to describe the ultimately incomprehensible.

Geldof goes too easy on China, and he’s disappointingly clichéd on Iraq. But even there, he evinces a natural respect for Bush that’s vanished from the sphere of public criticism. In all, it’s an indispensible character portrait of the president.

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Kosovo, Russia, and China

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

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Ned Colt’s Inspiration

Yesterday on the Today Show, NBC broadcaster Ned Colt offered a disturbing and inaccurate portrait of Osama bin Laden.

Colt begins: “Murderous fanatic or hero of radical Islam?” Strange use of the word or, indeed. But that’s not the real kicker by a longshot.

COLT: In the West the Saudi born al Qaeda leader is blamed for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and two years later the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. And while he’s never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11, at the very least he inspired the attacks that left 3000 dead.

Bin Laden’s guilt isn’t a stone-cold fact, but a Western construction. And how does Colt know this? Because bin Laden has “never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11.” Actually, he has. But since when does a criminal’s culpability rest on his taking credit for a crime, anyway?

The only person Colt speaks with during this piece is Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds, who gushes: “History will remember Osama Bin Laden as the man who challenged the American superpower. The little David who actually stand up against the mighty Goliath.” Lest we miss the point, Colt closes with “American officials believe Bin Laden’s power [“inspirational”, Ned?] has only increased in recent years with his followers now active in at least 40 countries worldwide,” before throwing it over to Brian Williams.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to know if a prominent NBC news reporter considers Osama bin Laden a mass-murderer or a guiltless inspiration.

Yesterday on the Today Show, NBC broadcaster Ned Colt offered a disturbing and inaccurate portrait of Osama bin Laden.

Colt begins: “Murderous fanatic or hero of radical Islam?” Strange use of the word or, indeed. But that’s not the real kicker by a longshot.

COLT: In the West the Saudi born al Qaeda leader is blamed for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and two years later the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. And while he’s never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11, at the very least he inspired the attacks that left 3000 dead.

Bin Laden’s guilt isn’t a stone-cold fact, but a Western construction. And how does Colt know this? Because bin Laden has “never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11.” Actually, he has. But since when does a criminal’s culpability rest on his taking credit for a crime, anyway?

The only person Colt speaks with during this piece is Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds, who gushes: “History will remember Osama Bin Laden as the man who challenged the American superpower. The little David who actually stand up against the mighty Goliath.” Lest we miss the point, Colt closes with “American officials believe Bin Laden’s power [“inspirational”, Ned?] has only increased in recent years with his followers now active in at least 40 countries worldwide,” before throwing it over to Brian Williams.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to know if a prominent NBC news reporter considers Osama bin Laden a mass-murderer or a guiltless inspiration.

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Somalia’s Islamist Insurgency

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

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The London Bomb Plot: All the News That’s Fit to Spin

No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.

“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”

“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Is there anything to this?

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No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.

“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”

“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Is there anything to this?

Multiple simultaneous attacks have long been a hallmark of al Qaeda. The Times is suggesting that it is multiple simultaneous attacks using car bombs that is the unique Iraqi element in this instance. Is this so?

On August 7, 1998, two U.S. embassies were simultaneously blown up by al Qaeda, one in Tanzania, the other in Kenya. The method employed: car bombs. This particular weapon may be in wide use in Iraq, but car bombs were being employed by al Qaeda long before the United States became embroiled in a counterinsurgency there. The Times, for obvious reasons, would have us think otherwise.

The Washington Post, to its credit, does not even hint in this direction; indeed, it directly refutes the suggestion offered by the Times. Noting that the two rigged cars found in London were packed with gas cylinders and nails, it refers to the “Gas Limos Project,” a 39-page document written by a British citizen, Dhiren Barot, that was found by counterterrorism operatives in 2004 on a laptop in Pakistan, containing instructions on how to use gas cylinders and nails in cars to blow up an underground parking garage and cause maximum bloodshed:

The limousine scheme called for a six-man team to park the vehicles in a garage underneath a large building—the precise target wasn’t specified—and detonate the bombs by remote control.

According to the memo, Barot envisioned packing each limo with 12 or 13 cylinders of propane, acetylene or liquid oxygen, which would be detonated by a separate main charge of explosives. He also suggested packing the vehicles with nails—”preferably rusty”—to act as shrapnel.

The New York Times cites the Barot document but fails to mention that it was found in Pakistan. A multiple choice question for readers: is this latest bomb plot an example of (a) blowback from Iraq, (b) the continuation of al Qaeda’s war against the West, or (c) the continuation of the New York Times‘s war against the Bush administration? To ask the new ombudsman of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, for the correct answer, write to public@nytimes.com.

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Bad Character Assassination

Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

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Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

Let me be more specific. In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This had been preceded by similar such restrictions issued by Presidents Ford and Carter.

These assassination bans, as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, came to hamstring our policy against al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. After Osama bin Laden had successfully launched terrorist attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA was ordered to find ways to put al Qaeda out of business. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but the assassination ban dominated the agency’s thinking; the upshot of all the preparations, states the 9/11 Commission staff report, was that “the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation.”

A plan designed to kill bin Laden outright was deemed unacceptable and illegal. Never mind that the U.S. had launched a fusillade of cruise missiles at one of his camps in 1998 to do just that; that was a military action, not a CIA covert operation.

One of the most memorable sentences in the entire 9/11 Commission report concerns the CIA contemplating action against bin Laden on a road leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination.”

Not long afterward, the operation was called off. As a result, people did get killed—thousands of them—and not on the road to Kandahar but in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania.

Islamist clerics around the world are still calling for suicide bombers to attack the United States. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on one such Pakistani cleric in today’s paper. If the CIA could from time to time engage in covert action against such avowed advocates of violence against the U.S., would they be so brazen? Would the madrassas in which they preach their hatred continue to be multiplying homicidal graduates?

President Bush can revoke the assassination ban at will. As the Congressional Research Service explains, he can most obviously do so by issuing a new Executive Order. As the CRS also points out, under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an Executive Order need not be published. In other words, Bush might already have revoked the ban and we would not know it—at least until homicidal clerics start disappearing.

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The Libby Verdict, Take Two

Under what circumstances is it right to lie to federal investigators or to a grand jury? There is only one answer: none. If that is what Scooter Libby did–and it is what a jury of eleven concluded he did by convicting him of four of five counts–then he is guilty as charged. But Libby is still maintaining his innocence. The legal burden now falls on him, not on the government, to show why his conviction should be overturned.

Nevertheless, this case represents a terrible injustice, which was the point of my posting here yesterday that has stirred so much controversy in the comments section. Comparison with the investigation of Bill Clinton, and the perjury charges that were leveled by the House of Representatives when it voted to impeach him, is instructive.

To begin with, both cases featured the familiar phenomenon of runaway special counsels. Although the independent-counsel statute under which Clinton was endlessly investigated and ended in his impeachment has expired, it was a recipe for mischief. By vesting executive authority in a prosecutor not subject to the control of the executive branch, Congress had created a constitutional anomaly, one with unintended and destructive effects that plagued Democratic and Republican administrations alike. True, Fitzgerald’s appointment was the result of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s self-recusal, and he was endowed with a different set of powers from those granted to Kenneth Starr, but he operated every bit like a one-case prosecutor, effectively unchecked by line-authority in the executive branch.

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Under what circumstances is it right to lie to federal investigators or to a grand jury? There is only one answer: none. If that is what Scooter Libby did–and it is what a jury of eleven concluded he did by convicting him of four of five counts–then he is guilty as charged. But Libby is still maintaining his innocence. The legal burden now falls on him, not on the government, to show why his conviction should be overturned.

Nevertheless, this case represents a terrible injustice, which was the point of my posting here yesterday that has stirred so much controversy in the comments section. Comparison with the investigation of Bill Clinton, and the perjury charges that were leveled by the House of Representatives when it voted to impeach him, is instructive.

To begin with, both cases featured the familiar phenomenon of runaway special counsels. Although the independent-counsel statute under which Clinton was endlessly investigated and ended in his impeachment has expired, it was a recipe for mischief. By vesting executive authority in a prosecutor not subject to the control of the executive branch, Congress had created a constitutional anomaly, one with unintended and destructive effects that plagued Democratic and Republican administrations alike. True, Fitzgerald’s appointment was the result of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s self-recusal, and he was endowed with a different set of powers from those granted to Kenneth Starr, but he operated every bit like a one-case prosecutor, effectively unchecked by line-authority in the executive branch.

As it happens, there is no evidence that Kenneth Starr, appointed under the independent-counsel law, behaved improperly in his investigation of Clinton–although, as Richard Posner argued in An Affair of State, he did throw details into his report that gratuitously damaged the President and the presidency. By contrast, there is considerable evidence that Fitzgerald stepped out of bounds, primarily by insisting both to the public and to the jury that the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s identity–the underlying action that he was appointed to investigate–was in fact a crime. This is a point that has never been established, but Fitzgerald’s overreaching on it colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for lying that did not reside in proven facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status. All this will undoubtedly form the essence of any appeal.

In retrospect, it is clear that the Clinton case, despite the President’s obviously perjured statements, should not have been permitted to move forward. Indeed, as Posner has also argued, the Supreme Court erred grievously when it ruled in 1997, unanimously, to allow a sitting President to be caught up in civil litigation involving sex.

There is another more ominous point of comparison as well. Though the unfolding Monica story made 1998 a year of endless entertainment, that was also the crucial year in which American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up by al Qaeda, and the year in which Clinton’s ineffectual response–bombing a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and unleashing a fusillade of cruise missiles on an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan–led to authority-sapping charges that he was reenacting a scenario from the 1997 film Wag the Dog.

We obviously cannot know whether the feckless Clinton would have acted more vigorously abroad had he not gone to sleep every night that year thinking about how to escape from the legal consequences of his own tawdry conduct and lies, and been thinking instead about how to protect the country from its enemies. But all of us have paid a price for having a President distracted from his duties by an unbounded investigation of his private life in a year that his Secretary of State came to call “all Monica, all the time,” but should have been all counterterrorism, all the time. The bill for Clinton’s fun and frolic, and for our own, was only to come due on September 11, 2001.

Now, unlike in the 1990’s, we are at war. We do not yet know what the price tag will be for the Libby distraction, just as we do not know if his conviction will be tossed out on appeal or result in a presidential pardon. But in its broadest ramifications, the case, which arose out of an internecine dispute about the quality of foreign intelligence, augurs ill for any President’s ability to gather and evaluate the intelligence provided by subordinate agencies like the CIA, to formulate foreign policy, to defend what it has formulated from bureaucratic warfare waged by such subordinate agencies, and to keep our country secure.

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