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Flashback: What Now, Karl?

White House adviser Karl Rove reportedly has a—count ’em—fifth date with the grand jury today in the Valerie Plame affair. Reports the Associated Press, through the Houston Chronicle:

“Rove consulted with his private lawyers before a scheduled afternoon court appearance and was prepared to answer questions about evidence that emerged since his last grand jury appearance last fall, the person said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy rules.”

What’s all the fuss over Rove? Last August, investigative reporter Murray Waas provided a few clues into the matter.


What Now, Karl?
Rove and Ashcroft face new allegations in the Valerie Plame affair
by Murray Waas
August 13th, 2005 2:39 PM

Justice Department officials made the crucial decision in late 2003 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame in large part because investigators had begun to specifically question the veracity of accounts provided to them by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to senior law enforcement officials.

Several of the federal investigators were also deeply concerned that then attorney general John Ashcroft was personally briefed regarding the details of at least one FBI interview with Rove, despite Ashcroft’s own longstanding personal and political ties to Rove, the Voice has also learned. The same sources said Ashcroft was also told that investigators firmly believed that Rove had withheld important information from them during that FBI interview.

Those concerns by senior career law enforcement officials regarding the propriety of such briefings continuing, as Rove became more central to the investigation, also was instrumental in the naming of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Up until that point, the investigation had been conducted by a team of career prosecutors and FBI agents, some of whom believed Ashcroft should recuse himself. Democrats on Capitol Hill were calling for him to step down, but he did not. Then on December 30, 2003, Ashcroft unexpectedly recused himself from further overseeing the matter, and James B. Comey, then deputy attorney general, named Patrick J. Fitzgerald as the special prosecutor who would take over the case.

The Justice Department declined to publicly offer any explanation at the time for either the recusal or the naming of a special prosecutor—an appointment that would ultimately place in potential legal jeopardy senior advisers to the president of the United States, and lead to the jailing of a New York Times reporter.

During his initial interview with the FBI, in the fall of 2003, Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed Plame with Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, according to two legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter. Federal investigators were also skeptical of claims by Rove that he had only first learned of Plame’s employment with the CIA from a journalist, even though he also claimed he could not specifically recall the name of the journalist.

As the truthfulness of Rove’s accounts became more of a focus of investigators, career Justice Department employees and senior FBI officials became even more concerned about the continuing role in the investigation of Ashcroft, because of his close relationship with Rove. Rove had earlier served as an adviser to Ashcroft during the course of three political campaigns. And Rove’s onetime political consulting firm had been paid more than $746,000 for those services.

In response to these new allegations, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the current ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and former chairman of the committee as well, said in a statement: “There has long been the appearance of impropriety in Ashcroft’s handling of this investigation. The former attorney general had well documented conflicts of interest in this matter, particularly with regard to his personal relationship with Karl Rove. Among other things, Rove was employed by Ashcroft throughout his political career, and Rove reportedly had fiercely advocated for Ashcroft’s appointment as attorney general. Pursuant to standard rules of legal ethics, and explicit rules on conflict of interest, those facts alone should have dictated his immediate recusal.

“The new information, that Ashcroft had not only refused to recuse himself over a period of months, but also was insisting on being personally briefed about a matter implicating his friend, Karl Rove, represents a stunning ethical breach that cries out for an immediate investigation by the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined on Friday to say what action, if any, might be taken in response to Conyers’ request.


Also of concern to investigators when they sought Ashcroft’s recusal, according to law enforcement sources, was that a number among Ashcroft’s inner circle had partisan backgrounds that included working closely with Rove. Foremost among them was David Isrealite, who served as Ashcroft’s deputy chief of staff. Another, Barbara Comstock, who was the Justice Department’s director of public affairs during much of Ashcroft’s tenure, had previously worked for the Republican National Committee, where she was in charge of the party’s “opposition research” operations.

“It would have been a nightmare scenario if Ashcroft let something slip to an aide or someone else they had in common with Rove . . . and then word got back to Rove or the White House what investigators were saying about him,” says a former senior Justice Department official, familiar with the matter.

Although not reported at the time, when Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame investigation, Deputy Attorney General Comey said in a statement that the A.G.’s personal staff was also being fully recused in the matter.

Indeed, the appointment of Fitzgerald as special prosecutor and the recusal of Ashcroft came just three weeks after Comey, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was named to be deputy attorney general. Comey himself was no stranger to the issue—even before he took office.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Comey had pledged that he would personally see to it that the independence and integrity of the investigation would not be compromised in any way.

At one point during those hearings, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the close relationships between Ashcroft and Rove, and also between Ashcroft and others also likely to be questioned during the leak probe. Schumer asked Comey:

“How could there not be an appearance of a conflict given the close nexus of relationships?”

“I agree with you that it’s an extremely important matter,” Comey replied.

Within days of his taking office, several career Justice Department prosecutors took their own longstanding concerns to Comey, telling him that perhaps it would be best for Ashcroft to recuse himself, the same legal sources said. A smaller number also advocated the appointment of an outside prosecutor to take over the matter completely.

The combination of Ashcroft’s close relationship with Rove, the omission of critical information from the FBI by Rove during his initial interview with agents, that Ashcroft had been briefed about that interview in particular, and the-then recent appointment of Comey, all allowed for a forceful case being made by career Justice Department employees be made that the attorney general should step aside and a special prosecutor be named.

But says one government official familiar with the process: “When Ashcroft was briefed on Rove, that ended the argument. He was going to be removed. And there was going to be a special prosecutor named.”

The new disclosures as to why Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame case and why a special prosecutor was named are important for a number of reasons:

First, they show that from the very earliest days of the criminal probe, federal investigators had a strong belief and body of evidence that Rove and perhaps other officials might be misleading them.

Second, the new information underscores that career Justice Department staffers had concerns that the continued role of Ashcroft and other political aides might tarnish the investigation.

Finally, the new information once again highlights the importance of the testimony of journalists in uncovering whether anyone might have broken the law by disclosing classified information regarding Plame. That is because both Rove and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney—who are at the center of the Plame investigation—have said that they did not learn of Plame’s employment with the CIA from classified government information, but rather journalists; without the testimony of journalists, prosecutors have been unable to get to the bottom of the matter.

Several journalists have testified to Fitzgerald’s grand jury, but New York Times correspondent Judith Miller, who has refused to identify her confidential sources, was ordered to jail by Federal District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan on July 6, where she remains.


The initial criminal investigation began well before the case was turned over to Fitzgerald in December 2003. It started shortly after conservative columnist Robert Novak first identified Plame as an undercover CIA officer, in a July 14, 2003, column.

The column was written during a time when senior White House officials were attempting to discredit Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was then asserting that the Bush administration had relied on faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with Iraq. Wilson had only recently led a CIA-sponsored mission to the African nation of Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was covertly attempting to buy enriched uranium from the African nation to build a nuclear weapon.

Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were most likely the result of a hoax.

When Wilson sought out White House officials, believing they did not know all the facts, he was rebuffed. He then went public with his criticism of the Bush administration. It was then that senior administration officials began their campaign to discredit Wilson as a means of countering his criticisms of them.

Rove and Libby, and to a lesser extent then deputy National Security Council (NSC) adviser Stephen J. Hadley (who is currently Bush’s NSC adviser), directed these efforts. Both Rove and Libby discussed with Novak, Cooper, and other journalists the fact that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, and that she was responsible for sending him to Niger, in an effort to discredit him.

The manner by which Rove and Libby learned of Plame’s employment at the CIA before they shared that information with journalists is central to whether any federal criminal laws regarding classified information were violated. Rove and Libby have reportedly claimed they learned of the information from journalists. Rove in particular told FBI officials that he first learned of Plame’s employment with the CIA from a journalist, but drew their suspicions when he claimed that he could not recall the journalist’s name.

Plame’s employment with the CIA had been detailed in a highly classified State Department memorandum—circulated to senior Bush administration officials—in the days jut prior to conversations between Rove and Libby and journalists regarding Plame.

Dated June 10, 2003, the memo was written for Marc Grossman, then the undersecretary of state for political affairs. It mentioned Plame, her employment with the CIA, and her possible role in recommending her husband for the Niger mission because he had previously served in the region. The mention of Plame’s CIA employment was classified “Secret” and was contained in the second paragraph of the three-page classified paper.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson published his now famous New York Times op-ed and appeared on “Meet the Press.” The following day, on July 7, the memo was sent to then secretary of state Colin L. Powell and other senior Bush administration officials, who were scrambling to respond to the public criticism. At the time, Powell and other senior administration officials were on their way to Africa aboard Air Force One as members of the presidential entourage for a state visit to Africa.

Rove and Libby apparently were not on that trip, according to press accounts. But a subpoena during the earliest days of the Plame investigation demanded records related to any telephone phone calls to and from Air Force One from July 7 to July 12, during Bush’s African visit.

On July 8, Novak and Rove first spoke about Plame, according to numerous press accounts. That very same day, as the American Prospect recently disclosed, Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller also discussed Plame.

On July 9, then CIA director George Tenet ordered aides to draft a statement that the Niger information the president relied on “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for the presidential speeches, and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed.” Rove and Libby were reportedly involved in the drafting of that statement’s language.

Two days later, on July 11, Rove spoke about Plame to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper.

On the following day, July 12, an administration official— apparently not Rove or Libby—told Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus that Wilson was sent to Niger on the recommendation of his wife, who worked at the CIA.

Two days after that, on July 14, Novak published his column disclosing Plame’s employment with the CIA, describing her as an “agency operative” and alleging that she suggested her husband for the Niger mission.

And on July 17, Time magazine posted its own story online, which said: “[S]ome government officials have noted to Time in interviews . . . that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched to Niger.” Facing jail time for not disclosing his source, Cooper recently relented, and disclosed that Rove was one of his sources for that information.

But it was Rove’s omission during an initial interview, back in October 2003, with the FBI—that he had ever spoken with Cooper at all—coupled with the fact that Ashcroft was briefed about the interview, that largely precipitated the appointment of Fitzgerald as special prosecutor, according to senior law enforcement officials familiar with the matter.

Comey, then only recently named deputy attorney general, called a press conference and dramatically announced: “Effective today, the attorney general has recused himself . . . from further involvement in these matters.”

He also said he was naming Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who also serves as U.S. attorney in Chicago, as special prosecutor to take over the case. To further assure his independence, Comey also announced that he personally would serve as “acting Attorney General for purposes of this matter.”

Last week, however, Comey announced he was leaving the Justice Department to become the general counsel of the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. In his absence, Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum is the most likely choice to be named as the acting deputy attorney general, and thus the man overseeing Fitzgerald’s work. But McCallum has been a close personal friend of President Bush. Justice Department officials are once more grappling as to how to best assure independence for investigators. And Democrats on Capitol Hill are unlikely not to question any role in the leak probe by McCallum.

[Update: Since this article was originally posted, the Justice Department announced that David Margolis, an associate deputy general, would take the place of outgoing Deputy Attorney General James Comey in supervising Fitzgerald’s investigation.]

(Alberto Gonzalez, who succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general, had also—like Ashcroft—recused himself from the case. Gonzalez had overseen the response of White House officials to requests from investigators working the Plame case while he was White House counsel, and has also been a witness before Fitzgerald’s grand jury.)

In the meantime, Fitzgerald’s investigation appears to be in its final stages.

Nineteen months ago, when Comey appointed him as special prosecutor, reporters pressed Comey during the announcement as to what was behind his dramatic action. All that he would say at the time was: “If you were to speculate in print or in the media about particular people, I think that would be unfair to them.”

Then he added, almost as an afterthought: “We also don’t want people that we might be interested in to know we’re interested in them.”

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You There!

I am almost totally put off by the fact that Paul Shambroom prints many of his color photographs on canvas. Not because he’s treading on ground occupied by painting, a non-issue if ever there was one. I am turned off because the canvas undercuts the directness, seriousness, and clarity of his investigative vision. Seeing Shambroom’s pictures on canvas makes his work ingratiating, garish, and hokey, and diminishes the probing uncertainty of this artist’s vision.

Five of the smaller pictures in Shambroom’s impressive show are printed on photographic paper. Too bad he didn’t do this with the larger pictures, which form the centerpiece of this exhibition. In his latest series, titled “Security,” this 45-year-old from Minneapolis, whose pictures of underground nuclear facilities stood out in the lackluster 2000 Whitney Biennial, presents a series of John Singer Sargent–meets–John Ashcroft portraits of emergency workers, SWAT teams, bomb squad members, search-and-rescue professionals, and hazardous-material-response teams. Each figure is outfitted in full, often brand-new regalia. The uniforms and the equipment create fetishized worlds unto themselves: Geiger counters, bomb detonators, infrared-vision cameras, fire suits. All display prominent brand names and logos. These soldiers of disaster are also walking billboards.

Shambroom’s pictures depict the convergence of capitalism, citizenship, and paranoia. They seem to say, “Welcome to Donald Rumsfeld’s war machine.” He has the eagle eye and levelheaded skill to bring this message to the forefront, even if he’s still misguidedly printing these otherwise gripping pictures on canvas.


jsaltz@villagevoice.com

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Moussaoui’s Guilt: Less Profound Than the FBI’s Own Negligence?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—FBI Special Agent Harry Samit’s testimony yesterday at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial adds just one more piece of evidence to a growing list of incidents showing what Samit himself labeled “criminal negligence.”

Samit warned FBI headquarters on August 21, 2001, that Moussaoui wanted to hijack a plane “for the purpose of seizing control of the aircraft.” Shortly thereafter he learned from French intelligence that Moussaoui had been a recruiter for a Chechyna group with ties to Osama bin Laden.

Higher ups in the FBI blocked his efforts to get a search warrant, and edited out of his reports any reference to the French.

Samit’s testimony is but one of a growing list of incidents involving FBI’s failure to take action on information it had received warning of an attack, while at the same time deliberately downplaying the possibilities of an attack.

From the onset of his tenure, Attorney General John Ashcroft had at first received, but later rejected briefings on the Al Qaeda threat. Ashcroft killed an August 2001 plea for an additional $58 million to combat Al Qaeda. In May that year, Ashcroft put out a memo outlining strategic goals of the Justice Department. It made no mention of counterterrorism. Subsequently, in testimony before the 9-11 Commission, Ashcroft blamed the Clinton administration for terrorism failures and said he thought any attack would come from abroad.

According to press reports at the time, the Justice Department leaned on the 9-11 Commission to tone down sections of a staff report on Ashcroft, and the final commission report devoted little more than one page to Ashcroft. It makes no mention of the fact that Ashcroft had decided in the summer of 2001 to begin traveling exclusively by government jet, rather than on commercial airliners.

According to Bureau translators, agents learned in April that bin Laden was planning an attack involving hijacked airliners. Why this didn’t sound the alarm, nobody knows. The matter disappeared into the bureaucracy.

The role of the Bureau in muzzling Sibel Edmonds, the interpreter who tried to blow the whistle on the Bureau’s translation operations pertaining to 9-11, is well known. The FBI and Justice Department fought to prevent Edmonds from giving public testimony and so far the courts have backed them up.

The most startling occurrence involves the FBI’s inability to detect the presence of the two hijackers who flew into Los Angles in 2000, and lived openly in San Diego. They socialized around town and even rented an apartment from the FBI’s key informant in the Muslim community there. The informant either didn’t tell his handlers at the Bureau about the men or the Bureau didn’t act on his information. When the staff of the Congressional Joint Inquiry—the investigation that preceded formation of the 9-11 Commission—discovered what had happened in San Diego, the FBI tried to cover it up, refusing subpoenas to produce the informant for congressional testimony.

In its report, the Joint Inquiry said that five of the hijackers may have had contact with 14 people who had come to the FBI’s attention during terrorism investigations. Four of the 14 were the focus of Bureau investigations during the time the hijackers were in the U.S.

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While You Were Watching Katrina

Republicans on three separate congressional committees this week derailed three formal “resolutions of inquiry” by Democrats that would have required the Bush administration to turn over sensitive information and records relating to the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Had the resolutions of inquiry been adopted, they would have led to the first independent congressional inquiries of the Plame affair, and perhaps even the public testimony of senior Bush administration aides such as Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, about their personal roles.

As things currently stand, a special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, continues to conduct a grand jury investigation of Rove, Libby, and other White House officials, but the public has gained scant insight into what, if anything, that inquiry has uncovered.

Votes on all three House committees this week were along strictly partisan lines. The House Select Committee on Intelligence voted 11-9 on Thursday to adversely report H. Res. 418, which would have opened a formal inquiry by Congress of the Plame affair. The House International Relations Committee voted 26-21 against the same resolution one day earlier. And the House Judiciary Committee voted 15-11 on Wednesday as well against launching an inquiry.

Republicans argued that any vote in favor of the resolution might impair Fitzgerald’s ongoing probe. In the case of the House Intelligence Committee, they were aided when, at the very last minute, the Justice Department informed the committee that Fitzgerald himself opposed any independent inquiry by Congress at this point.

In a letter to the committee, dated September 14, William E. Moschella, an assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, wrote: “Mr. Fitzgerald has advised that production at this time of the documents responsive to H. Res.418 and the other resolutions, and any attendant hearings, would interfere with his investigation. Accordingly, we request that the committee report adversely H. Res. 418.”

Democrats, however, pointed out that Congress engaged in its own extensive formal investigations of Watergate and Whitewater even while special prosecutors conducted criminal inquiries.

Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, made just that point during the debate, telling his colleagues:

“Let us not forget the endless hearings in this committee and others on alleged Clinton-Gore campaign finance violations, the Whitewater claims, and Clinton White House Travel Office firings. These were matters all under Justice Department review at the time of our hearings.

“Finally, I must remind my colleagues of the numerous House and Senate hearings on Watergate that were simultaneous with the Justice Department’s own investigation.”

In making the case for the resolutions, Conyers also cited a recent Voice story about the rationale for appointing a special prosecutor. The article disclosed that Justice Department officials made that crucial move because investigators had serious concerns that then attorney general John Ashcroft continued to receive regular briefings about the inquiry despite the fact that Karl Rove—a close personal and political friend of Ashcroft—had become a subject of the probe. The story quoted senior law enforcement sources as saying that Ashcroft continued the briefings even after he was told investigators firmly believed that Rove had withheld important information from them during an FBI interview.

Conyers questioned the Justice Department’s handling of the Plame investigation prior to Fitzgerald’s appointment virtually since its inception, alleging that Bush administration officials botched the initial stages of the inquiry, or perhaps even purposely stymied the efforts of investigators:

“The purpose of this resolution is to get to the bottom of what happened and why the Justice Department slow-walked the investigation at the beginning. We know that, despite [initial] urgent pleas from the CIA for a criminal investigation into the leaker, the Justice Department and White House dragged their feet. The Department then waited three days before notifying the White House of the breach and subsequent investigation. The White House then waited an additional 11 hours before telling staff to preserve evidence.”

Conyers wasn’t done there:

“We now know that then attorney general John Ashcroft insisted on being briefed on Department interviews of Mr. Rove that were conducted in connection with the leak. He did so despite his own long-standing ties to Mr. Rove; Mr. Ashcroft had paid Mr. Rove almost $750,000 for work on several campaigns. That Mr. Ashcroft eventually recused himself demonstrates there were conflicts of interest with his continued involvement.”

A Justice Department spokesman did not return telephone calls for comment either on Wednesday or Thursday. Ashcroft also declined to comment.

The House Armed Services Committee will be soon the fourth congressional committee to consider the matter. Their vote is scheduled for September 20. But it’s similarly unlikely that any Republicans will break ranks and vote in favor an inquiry.

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What Now, Karl?

Justice Department officials made the crucial decision in late 2003 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame in large part because investigators had begun to specifically question the veracity of accounts provided to them by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to senior law enforcement officials.

Several of the federal investigators were also deeply concerned that then attorney general John Ashcroft was personally briefed regarding the details of at least one FBI interview with Rove, despite Ashcroft’s own longstanding personal and political ties to Rove, the Voice has also learned. The same sources said Ashcroft was also told that investigators firmly believed that Rove had withheld important information from them during that FBI interview.

Those concerns by senior career law enforcement officials regarding the propriety of such briefings continuing, as Rove became more central to the investigation, also was instrumental in the naming of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Up until that point, the investigation had been conducted by a team of career prosecutors and FBI agents, some of whom believed Ashcroft should recuse himself. Democrats on Capitol Hill were calling for him to step down, but he did not. Then on December 30, 2003, Ashcroft unexpectedly recused himself from further overseeing the matter, and James B. Comey, then deputy attorney general, named Patrick J. Fitzgerald as the special prosecutor who would take over the case.

The Justice Department declined to publicly offer any explanation at the time for either the recusal or the naming of a special prosecutor—an appointment that would ultimately place in potential legal jeopardy senior advisers to the president of the United States, and lead to the jailing of a New York Times reporter.

During his initial interview with the FBI, in the fall of 2003, Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed Plame with Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper, according to two legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter. Federal investigators were also skeptical of claims by Rove that he had only first learned of Plame’s employment with the CIA from a journalist, even though he also claimed he could not specifically recall the name of the journalist.

As the truthfulness of Rove’s accounts became more of a focus of investigators, career Justice Department employees and senior FBI officials became even more concerned about the continuing role in the investigation of Ashcroft, because of his close relationship with Rove. Rove had earlier served as an adviser to Ashcroft during the course of three political campaigns. And Rove’s onetime political consulting firm had been paid more than $746,000 for those services.

In response to these new allegations, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the current ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and former chairman of the committee as well, said in a statement: “There has long been the appearance of impropriety in Ashcroft’s handling of this investigation. The former attorney general had well documented conflicts of interest in this matter, particularly with regard to his personal relationship with Karl Rove. Among other things, Rove was employed by Ashcroft throughout his political career, and Rove reportedly had fiercely advocated for Ashcroft’s appointment as attorney general. Pursuant to standard rules of legal ethics, and explicit rules on conflict of interest, those facts alone should have dictated his immediate recusal.

“The new information, that Ashcroft had not only refused to recuse himself over a period of months, but also was insisting on being personally briefed about a matter implicating his friend, Karl Rove, represents a stunning ethical breach that cries out for an immediate investigation by the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined on Friday to say what action, if any, might be taken in response to Conyers’ request.


Also of concern to investigators when they sought Ashcroft’s recusal, according to law enforcement sources, was that a number among Ashcroft’s inner circle had partisan backgrounds that included working closely with Rove. Foremost among them was David Isrealite, who served as Ashcroft’s deputy chief of staff. Another, Barbara Comstock, who was the Justice Department’s director of public affairs during much of Ashcroft’s tenure, had previously worked for the Republican National Committee, where she was in charge of the party’s “opposition research” operations.

“It would have been a nightmare scenario if Ashcroft let something slip to an aide or someone else they had in common with Rove . . . and then word got back to Rove or the White House what investigators were saying about him,” says a former senior Justice Department official, familiar with the matter.

Although not reported at the time, when Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame investigation, Deputy Attorney General Comey said in a statement that the A.G.’s personal staff was also being fully recused in the matter.

[

Indeed, the appointment of Fitzgerald as special prosecutor and the recusal of Ashcroft came just three weeks after Comey, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was named to be deputy attorney general. Comey himself was no stranger to the issue—even before he took office.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Comey had pledged that he would personally see to it that the independence and integrity of the investigation would not be compromised in any way.

At one point during those hearings, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the close relationships between Ashcroft and Rove, and also between Ashcroft and others also likely to be questioned during the leak probe. Schumer asked Comey:

“How could there not be an appearance of a conflict given the close nexus of relationships?”

“I agree with you that it’s an extremely important matter,” Comey replied.

Within days of his taking office, several career Justice Department prosecutors took their own longstanding concerns to Comey, telling him that perhaps it would be best for Ashcroft to recuse himself, the same legal sources said. A smaller number also advocated the appointment of an outside prosecutor to take over the matter completely.

The combination of Ashcroft’s close relationship with Rove, the omission of critical information from the FBI by Rove during his initial interview with agents, that Ashcroft had been briefed about that interview in particular, and the-then recent appointment of Comey, all allowed for a forceful case being made by career Justice Department employees be made that the attorney general should step aside and a special prosecutor be named.

But says one government official familiar with the process: “When Ashcroft was briefed on Rove, that ended the argument. He was going to be removed. And there was going to be a special prosecutor named.”

The new disclosures as to why Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame case and why a special prosecutor was named are important for a number of reasons:

First, they show that from the very earliest days of the criminal probe, federal investigators had a strong belief and body of evidence that Rove and perhaps other officials might be misleading them.

Second, the new information underscores that career Justice Department staffers had concerns that the continued role of Ashcroft and other political aides might tarnish the investigation.

Finally, the new information once again highlights the importance of the testimony of journalists in uncovering whether anyone might have broken the law by disclosing classified information regarding Plame. That is because both Rove and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney—who are at the center of the Plame investigation—have said that they did not learn of Plame’s employment with the CIA from classified government information, but rather journalists; without the testimony of journalists, prosecutors have been unable to get to the bottom of the matter.

Several journalists have testified to Fitzgerald’s grand jury, but New York Times correspondent Judith Miller, who has refused to identify her confidential sources, was ordered to jail by Federal District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan on July 6, where she remains.


The initial criminal investigation began well before the case was turned over to Fitzgerald in December 2003. It started shortly after conservative columnist Robert Novak first identified Plame as an undercover CIA officer, in a July 14, 2003, column.

The column was written during a time when senior White House officials were attempting to discredit Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was then asserting that the Bush administration had relied on faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with Iraq. Wilson had only recently led a CIA-sponsored mission to the African nation of Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was covertly attempting to buy enriched uranium from the African nation to build a nuclear weapon.

Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were most likely the result of a hoax.

When Wilson sought out White House officials, believing they did not know all the facts, he was rebuffed. He then went public with his criticism of the Bush administration. It was then that senior administration officials began their campaign to discredit Wilson as a means of countering his criticisms of them.

Rove and Libby, and to a lesser extent then deputy National Security Council (NSC) adviser Stephen J. Hadley (who is currently Bush’s NSC adviser), directed these efforts. Both Rove and Libby discussed with Novak, Cooper, and other journalists the fact that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, and that she was responsible for sending him to Niger, in an effort to discredit him.

The manner by which Rove and Libby learned of Plame’s employment at the CIA before they shared that information with journalists is central to whether any federal criminal laws regarding classified information were violated. Rove and Libby have reportedly claimed they learned of the information from journalists. Rove in particular told FBI officials that he first learned of Plame’s employment with the CIA from a journalist, but drew their suspicions when he claimed that he could not recall the journalist’s name.

[

Plame’s employment with the CIA had been detailed in a highly classified State Department memorandum—circulated to senior Bush administration officials—in the days jut prior to conversations between Rove and Libby and journalists regarding Plame.

Dated June 10, 2003, the memo was written for Marc Grossman, then the undersecretary of state for political affairs. It mentioned Plame, her employment with the CIA, and her possible role in recommending her husband for the Niger mission because he had previously served in the region. The mention of Plame’s CIA employment was classified “Secret” and was contained in the second paragraph of the three-page classified paper.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson published his now famous New York Times op-ed and appeared on “Meet the Press.” The following day, on July 7, the memo was sent to then secretary of state Colin L. Powell and other senior Bush administration officials, who were scrambling to respond to the public criticism. At the time, Powell and other senior administration officials were on their way to Africa aboard Air Force One as members of the presidential entourage for a state visit to Africa.

Rove and Libby apparently were not on that trip, according to press accounts. But a subpoena during the earliest days of the Plame investigation demanded records related to any telephone phone calls to and from Air Force One from July 7 to July 12, during Bush’s African visit.

On July 8, Novak and Rove first spoke about Plame, according to numerous press accounts. That very same day, as the American Prospect recently disclosed, Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller also discussed Plame.

On July 9, then CIA director George Tenet ordered aides to draft a statement that the Niger information the president relied on “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for the presidential speeches, and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed.” Rove and Libby were reportedly involved in the drafting of that statement’s language.

Two days later, on July 11, Rove spoke about Plame to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper.

On the following day, July 12, an administration official— apparently not Rove or Libby—told Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus that Wilson was sent to Niger on the recommendation of his wife, who worked at the CIA.

Two days after that, on July 14, Novak published his column disclosing Plame’s employment with the CIA, describing her as an “agency operative” and alleging that she suggested her husband for the Niger mission.

And on July 17, Time magazine posted its own story online, which said: “[S]ome government officials have noted to Time in interviews . . . that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched to Niger.” Facing jail time for not disclosing his source, Cooper recently relented, and disclosed that Rove was one of his sources for that information.

But it was Rove’s omission during an initial interview, back in October 2003, with the FBI—that he had ever spoken with Cooper at all—coupled with the fact that Ashcroft was briefed about the interview, that largely precipitated the appointment of Fitzgerald as special prosecutor, according to senior law enforcement officials familiar with the matter.

Comey, then only recently named deputy attorney general, called a press conference and dramatically announced: “Effective today, the attorney general has recused himself . . . from further involvement in these matters.”

He also said he was naming Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who also serves as U.S. attorney in Chicago, as special prosecutor to take over the case. To further assure his independence, Comey also announced that he personally would serve as “acting Attorney General for purposes of this matter.”

Last week, however, Comey announced he was leaving the Justice Department to become the general counsel of the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. In his absence, Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum is the most likely choice to be named as the acting deputy attorney general, and thus the man overseeing Fitzgerald’s work. But McCallum has been a close personal friend of President Bush. Justice Department officials are once more grappling as to how to best assure independence for investigators. And Democrats on Capitol Hill are unlikely not to question any role in the leak probe by McCallum.

[Update: Since this article was originally posted, the Justice Department announced that David Margolis, an associate deputy general, would take the place of outgoing Deputy Attorney General James Comey in supervising Fitzgerald’s investigation.]

[

(Alberto Gonzalez, who succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general, had also—like Ashcroft—recused himself from the case. Gonzalez had overseen the response of White House officials to requests from investigators working the Plame case while he was White House counsel, and has also been a witness before Fitzgerald’s grand jury.)

In the meantime, Fitzgerald’s investigation appears to be in its final stages.

Nineteen months ago, when Comey appointed him as special prosecutor, reporters pressed Comey during the announcement as to what was behind his dramatic action. All that he would say at the time was: “If you were to speculate in print or in the media about particular people, I think that would be unfair to them.”

Then he added, almost as an afterthought: “We also don’t want people that we might be interested in to know we’re interested in them.”

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John Ashcroft’s Achievements

He has made sure that the rights of Americans are respected and protected. —George W. Bush, on accepting the resignation of John Ashcroft, November 9


We’re not sacrificing civil liberties. We’re securing civil liberties. —Attorney General John Ashcroft, September 11, 2002


I once suggested to the American Civil Liberties Union that it award John Ashcroft its Medal of Liberty because he has done more—however inadvertently—than any American since 9-11 to educate the public on how fragile our constitutional liberties are, and why it’s so essential to never let up on the agents of government who strive to strip them away.

In October 2001, Ashcroft bullied the Patriot Act through Congress. The bill was so huge—including the late-night changes at the White House, with only the Republican leadership present—that many members of Congress did not have time to read it. Most who did, and had qualms, voted for it anyway for fear of jeopardizing their re-election prospects on charges of being soft on patriotism. In the House, Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, who did vote against it, said bitterly: “Why should we care? It’s only the Constitution.”

Only one senator, Democrat Russ Feingold, voted against the Patriot Act. On the floor, on the night of the vote, then Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle told the Democratic caucus not to vote for any of Feingold’s amendments. He wanted the Democrats to also show their patriotism.

Confident that he held most of the electorate in his hand, Ashcroft was gratified when, for some time, the polls showed that a considerable majority of Americans were indeed willing to trade their individual liberties under the Constitution—insofar as they knew what those liberties are—for supposed security against homicidal jihadists.

Nor could Ashcroft resist tarring the dissenters, declaring at a Senate hearing toward the end of 2001: “To those who would scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.”

But the designated traitors were not intimidated and indeed fired up their resolve to protect the Constitution against this frenzied hit man. Their numbers kept growing as our chief law-enforcement officer, fortified by the morning prayer meetings he held at the Justice Department, feasted on the omnivorous advances in surveillance technology that not even George Orwell could have imagined.

Gradually, a foreboding arose across political, ethnic, racial, religious, and other lines that we were entering the twilight of our liberties.

In Yale University’s law journal, Legal Affairs, its editor, Lincoln Caplan, wrote, “What is more startling than the scope of these new powers [particularly embodied in Attorney General Ashcroft] is that the government can use them on people who aren’t suspected of committing a crime. Innocent people can be deprived of any clue that they are being watched and that they may need to defend themselves.”

Long before the mainstream media took notice, a network of insistent resisters—a combination of demographic and political bases in hundreds of towns and cities—created a Bill of Rights dynamic that propelled town and city councils to pass Bill of Rights resolutions that vigorously informed their members of Congress that these constituents demanded they rein in Ashcroft and the rest of the Bush team who were dismantling the Constitution.

The constitutional warrior organizing much of this network through the Internet is Nancy Talanian of the first Bill of Rights Defense Committee, in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, partly because of these committees and the work of the ACLU in Congress and the courts, some members of Congress—increasingly aware of their responsibility to hold Ashcroft and Bush accountable under the separation of powers—have been mounting their own determined resistance through legislation in the works. They range from liberal Democrats to deeply conservative Republicans who are also libertarians and distrust any administration which does not recognize that we would not have had a Constitution unless and until the Bill of Rights became the first 10 amendments.

If the Constitution survives, it will be, in part, because John Ashcroft, without realizing it, made so many of us aware that—as Louis Brandeis warned—”the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

On learning of this zealot’s resignation, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “The legacy of Mr. Ashcroft will take an enormous amount of work to undo.”

But the legacy still continues, and will grow, under Ashcroft’s designated successor, Alberto Gonzales—more on whom in next week’s column. It continues along with George W. Bush, and a Democratic Party insufficiently focused—as a party—on the realization that these persistent threats to civil liberties can energize many more parts of the electorate than the party leadership was able to do in the presidential campaign.

To move in that essential direction, the Democratic Party needs a candidate, starting soon, and a stronger rank-and-file movement in Congress, that will clearly and honestly identify the Democratic Party as the party of the Constitution.

Are there any such signals on the horizon? This war on terrorism will be the longest in our history, continuing for at least decades. Libertarian Republicans are not in control of their party, and they need a lot of help across the aisle. It’s only the Constitution at stake.

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Bob Barr vs. the FBI

Recent history screams that we are fast becoming a nation of suspects, in which vocal dissent is a legal cause for monitoring.Bill Johnson Columnist, Rocky Mountain News, July 31, 2004


Last year, I became the only writer in Voice history to appear at the American Conservative Union’s annual Political Action Conference. The ACU is the largest configuration of conservatives in the country. I was assigned to a panel on the Patriot Act, and joining me in attacking John Ashcroft’s bypassing of the Bill of Rights was conservative libertarian Bob Barr.

Speaking of privacy, I discovered this year that I was on the Right Wing Watch of the liberal—not always libertarian—People for the American Way. Years ago, that organization gave me a lifetime achievement award for my civil liberties work. But now I’d become a suspect right-winger.

It turned out I had been the subject of mechanical McCarthyism solely because I’d been a panelist at the American Conservative Union. There was no explanation of why I was there. After I called, I was assured that I’d be removed from the watch list. But I may be back on because I profoundly disagree with PFAW’s ardent support of bullyer Chuck Schumer and his Senate Democratic colleagues’ filibustering judicial nominees who would otherwise have a majority vote on the floor to be confirmed.

The Constitution, the Federalist Papers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay all stated that an up-or-down vote by the majority of the Senate is the constitutional requirement.

Bob Barr and I have been in contact since that session because of the accelerating raids on the Constitution by this administration. No longer in Congress, he works with the American Conservative Union—and consults on privacy matters with the ACLU. He is emblematic of the strong coalition after 9-11 between liberal civil liberties activists and conservative libertarians in and out of Congress. Barr is still on People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch.

In an August issue of a leading website of commentary on legal issues (findlaw.com), Bob Barr confronts FBI director Robert Mueller, who has morphed into J. Edgar Hoover. Like Joe Hill, Hoover has never died. Barr’s headline is: “The FBI’s Pre-Emptive Interrogation of ‘Possible’ Demonstrators: Chilling Political Speech.”

Before this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions, FBI agents, with the enthusiastic approval of John Ashcroft, engaged in intimidating visits to watch-listed people considered likely to protest at the conventions. As an editorial in the August 19 Denver Post accurately charged: “They have gone about their mission aggressively, with little regard for basic rights and without evidence that the people they are trying to dissuade are actually intending any criminal activity.”

This is part of a continuing targeting by the FBI of those whom Joe McCarthy used to call “subversives.” In early 2002, John Ashcroft discarded the guidelines for FBI “intelligence” expeditions, covert and public, that were instituted after the bureau’s COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence) program of the ’50s and ’60s that eviscerated the First and Fourth Amendments in the Bill of Rights.

When Ashcroft unleashed the FBI, former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, who prosecuted the horrific Abner Louima police brutality case, said (New York Times, May 31) that now “law enforcement authorities could conduct investigations that [have] a chilling effect on entirely appropriate lawful expressions of political beliefs, the free exercise of religion, and the freedom of assembly.”

As to what’s to come, Bob Barr, on findlaw.com, writes: “To make matters worse, the Department of Justice blessed the FBI strategy in its own memo—suggesting that no First Amendment concerns are raised by these [preemptive] interrogations.” (Emphasis added.)

Barr adds, “The memo came from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Council”—the same office that wrote the memorandums justifying the torture of “detainees” in the war on terrorism. That memo actually had a grave effect on the prisoners in Abu Ghraib as well as others being held in our interrogation centers.

The Department of Justice memo sending forth the FBI on its visits to potential agitators, Bob Barr adds, concluded that “even if, hypothetically, such activities did raise concerns, any ‘chilling’ effect would be ‘quite minimal’ and would be far outweighed by the overriding public interest in maintaining ‘order.’ ”

Then Barr notes mordantly: “The FBI, seemingly, takes an absurdly narrow view of what kind of tactics would, in fact, chill speech. . . . For instance, Joe Parris, an FBI spokesman, told The New York Times that, because ‘no one was dragged from their homes and put under bright lights,’ interviews of potential demonstrators are not chilling.

“So,” says Barr, “now we know the administration’s new First Amendment standard: So long as the government agents don’t ‘drag you from your home’ and interrogate you ‘under bright lights,’ you have nothing to complain or worry about . . . such tactics usher in an era of intolerance and fear that has no place in American politics.”

Obviously, this is not just the First Amendment standard of FBI agents. It’s set by FBI director Robert Mueller, who serves in the Justice Department under John Ashcroft, who serves under George W. Bush.

On August 28, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, John Ashcroft, who took an oath to defend the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, told The New York Times that “suggestions that the [FBI preemptive] interviews were aimed at stifling protests were an ‘outrageous distortion.’ ”

Hearken to George Orwell: “If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Are you an inconvenient minority?

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Agents of Obstruction

In his new book Intelligence Matters, retiring Florida Democratic senator Bob Graham, former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells how his staff discovered that one of the FBI’s own informants knew two of the hijackers and rented a room in his house to one of them. Congressional investigators wanted to talk to the informant and tried to have the FBI serve him with a subpoena. But the FBI refused to cooperate, and actually took steps to obstruct Congress from getting to the informant by hiding him in a new location “for his own safety.”

Graham called a meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA head George Tenet, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. He asked them to make possible an interview. Still they refused. Eventually, one FBI official blurted out that it was the Bush White House that didn’t want the man interviewed or to appear in public.

Meanwhile the press had revealed the man’s name. At that point, this informant with little money of his own suddenly was being represented by an expensive lawyer with close ties to the FBI. And to the end of this episode, the FBI refused to cooperate, insisting that references to this informant be removed from the committee’s final unclassified report and rejecting any idea of public hearings on the subject.

Maybe the FBI was just embarrassed, or as Graham writes, “A far more damning possibility is that perhaps the informant did know something about the plot that would be even more damaging were it revealed, and that this is what the FBI is trying to conceal.”



Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese and David Botti

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The Big Flinch

Last year I spoke at a rally to protest the Patriot Act, a demonstration whose primary purpose, as nearly as I could tell, was to reassure John Ashcroft and his minions that from the specter of domestic dissent they had nothing whatsoever to fear.

Excluding the focused remarks of an unpretentiously militant librarian and an overdressed (for that crowd, anyway) spokesman for the ACLU, the rally would best be described as a muster of prima donnas. Only a few actually spoke on the topic. Some were barely speaking on the planet Earth. One went so far as to put forward a theory that the September 11 attacks had been masterminded by the CIA, a brazenly absurd idea, not because the agents of covert shenanigans are necessarily above such things but because they would never have chosen targets like the WTC and the Pentagon. We live in a time when thinking outside the box is so prized that people will not even think within the rationale of their own fantasies.

If I was one of the few people to take umbrage, it may be because I was one of the few actually listening to the speeches. Those who had already taken a turn at the mic were conspicuously inattentive, preoccupied as they were by the need for verbal solidarity with anyone who might pay them a compliment. Out of the corner of my eye, where I fondly expected I might glimpse a plainclothesman in sunglasses, a protester lay on his back, working on his abs, surely the last and best defense of our civil liberties, right up there with buns of steel.

Almost no speaker observed the stipulated time limit. I deduced from this that economic justice must be every bit as unworkable as the talk-show pundits would have us believe, for how can we expect to fashion a society in which every citizen gets a fair share of the pie when “progressives” are incapable of contenting themselves with a fair share of an hour and a half?

Shortly thereafter I was invited to attend the burial of a man I hardly knew. I felt obligated to go, if for no other reason than that hardly anyone else had seemed to know him either. For many years he had been unemployed, mentally disabled, and institutionalized. As he was a veteran, his widow had requested a color guard. They showed up in full dress, played taps, and with a demeanor that would have suited the funeral of a president, folded and presented the flag to his blind wife. No first lady was ever approached with greater deference. If this was all show, it was a pretty edifying show.

I went away from both events, the rally and the burial, recalling George Orwell’s essay “My Country Right or Left” (1940), in which he spoke of “the possibility of building a Socialist on the bones of a Blimp, the power of one kind of loyalty to transmute itself into another, the spiritual need for patriotism and the military virtues, for which, however little the boiled rabbits of the Left may like them, no substitute has yet been found.” Lots of standout phrases there, but the two that were standing out most for me, aside from the irresistible “boiled rabbits,” were “military virtues” and “need.”

It would seem, in the aftermath of the Democratic convention, that the boiled rabbits have at last learned to love the virtues. The fierce Republicans, of course, have never stopped loving them. It would seem, for the duration of this election at least, that we are all “in the army now,” or on the Swift boat as the case may be.

It would seem—but it is nothing so much as unseemly, and to such an extent that the only word that serves better is unsoldierly. If there is any conclusion to be drawn from the pose and counterpose of more-military-than-thou and not-so-military-as-you-claim, it is that the very idea of military is as dead to the public imagination as the idea of socialism. Whenever something becomes extinct, we revive it as kitsch. In that sense, the Democratic nominee for president had to be a vet with a Purple Heart for much the same reason as Barney needed to be a dinosaur with a purple hide. A black bear or some other creature off the endangered list would simply not do.

The soldier is now as remote from middle-class experience as was the missionary of the 19th century. He or she is someone we revere, of course, someone we assume is saving souls somewhere, and someone we suspect, though we’d never say it out loud, is not very bright. Even the words “Support our troops,” and especially the pronoun, seem vague and abstract, as if a Nebraskan wheat farmer were to speak fulsomely of “our lobstermen at sea.” God bless our lads out in those little boats. Our lads, perhaps, but hardly our daughters and sons. They live elsewhere.

I don’t believe in blue states and red states, but I believe very much—because seeing is believing, and I see it every day—in the sharp distinction between the kinds of neighborhoods that hang bedsheets scrawled with soldiers’ names out the windows and neighborhoods where, for aesthetic reasons, one is not even supposed to hang bedsheets on a clothesline. Recruiters tend not to waste much time visiting the latter.

Of course this distinction has been institutionalized by our so-called volunteer army. What the word voluntary means in the case of a poor kid from deep in clothesline country who decides to join the army is something akin to what the word choice means when his laid-off sister decides to get an abortion. It amounts to one of those heart-stirring underclass demonstrations of free will so memorably symbolized by the victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire who “chose” to jump from the windows when all the exits had been locked from the outside. Let freedom ring; just don’t ask for whom the bell tolls.

Perhaps the greatest consequence of our estrangement from military culture is that the instinct for mobilization, for organized resistance—including organized resistance to militarism—is simply not part of the bourgeois ethos. Is it only coincidence that the largest growth of union membership in our history coincided with the demobilization of our largest civilian army? We should not be sentimental. The maddening propensity of working-class voters to support reactionary candidates in opposition to their own class interests is also a striking if twisted example of a vestigial military virtue, namely suicidal sacrifice. I wonder, though, if we of the leftward tilt would be capable of the same if, say, a truly progressive income tax meant that our Chip would have to go off to Bates lacking a kayak. Or for that matter, if the Chipster had to play his part in one of those dirty little wars we are more or less willing to tolerate so long as the plebes can get their prosthetic devices at discount.

The degree to which the educated classes take their privileges for granted is thrown into even sharper relief by comparison to societies where class privilege is or was supposedly absolute. Of the 5,687 Eton graduates who fought on the English side in the First World War, 1,160 were killed and 1,467 wounded. First in everything, and thus trained to be officers, they were also expected to be first over the top.

In the same essay in which Orwell extolled the military virtues, he wrote: “It is exactly the people whose hearts have never leapt at the sight of a Union Jack who will flinch from revolution when the moment comes.” How better to describe the protest rally I attended than as an exercise in flinching. The selection of John Kerry and of every Democratic presidential candidate since George McGovern—and perhaps including George McGovern—has amounted to much the same thing. It is essentially a pacifistic reflex, a hope that the bullies will be nicer if you act silly or try to be more like them, that if somebody like Newt Gingrich throws you a punch, perhaps you can get some of his friends on your side by throwing masses of people off the dole.

In that regard, the homecoming of Lieutenant John Kerry, the part of his service record that a certain type of nervous Democrat wishes would simply go away, might prove especially helpful. No doubt it will want a new interpretation. The young veteran who “broke ranks” needs to be seen instead as one who donated his experience to a protest movement that was floundering because of its inability to form ranks. It may be that in our moment and place, marching to a truly different drummer means recovering some of the discipline required to march in step.


Garret Keizer’s book Help: The Original Human Dilemma is out this month from HarperSanFrancisco.

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Film

What thousands of Muslims in the U.S. were put through immediately after 9-11 was pure torture—yanked off the streets because of their religion or ethnic origin, held incommunicado, deprived of their constitutional rights for months on end. None of these estimated 5,000 was charged with terrorist activity. Now filmmakers Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse put a dozen of them through their paces in a beautiful, powerful, and moving interrogation that raises troubling questions about Attorney General John Ashcroft’s post-attack roundup. The documentary’s creative method, using a sparsely furnished room, extracts these nightmarish narratives (without the usual dollops of schmaltz) from people who, for the most part, are so religiously conservative they would be honored guests in the attorney general’s own church if only they didn’t follow the wrong god. The viewer occupies Torquemada’s seat. You watch upstanding immigrant Mohammed Irshaid enter the stage/set/cell and unconsciously put his hands behind his back before he recalls, “That’s when I was handcuffed.” The interviewer remains off-camera, and the filmmakers’ rough-hewn style cleverly conceals brilliant editing. A boom mic sweeping down on some of them could be Ashcroft performing a reverse rapture. Still, the filmmakers provide a happy ending: This interrogation ends with the entire “cast” eating potluck and chatting.