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     -- George M. Humphrey, U.S. Treasury Secretary, February 23, 1954.
"According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions."
-- Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Defense Secretary, September 10, 2001.


Posted May 23, 2005 | Link

As the 109th Congress considers the fate of President Bush's judicial nominees--as well as permanent changes to Congressional procedures--let's take a step back and look at the big picture. Perhaps there is a larger and more serious trend we should be looking at. Here are some of Bush's other, non-judicial appointees. 

Admiral John Poindexter
Former Director, Information Awareness Office

Poindexter is such a smart fellow that he apparently thought nothing of lying to Congress, obstructing justice, engaging in a conspiracy, and destroying documents--all of which he was convicted of during the Iran-contra scandal. (The convictions were later overturned on appeal--not because he was innocent, but because of a legal technicality.)

Apparently pleased with Poindexter taking the fall for his old man, Bush allowed him to run the Information Awareness Office (IAO) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Tasked with maintaining a database of every person in the U.S., the IAO was a privacy advocate's worst nightmare. Why? Because this database was designed to store your entire credit history, your medical records, your Internet activity, your educational transcripts, your utility bills...I think you get the picture.

Poindexter livened up the IAO by also starting a futures market for international "events." Ostensibly a mathematical predictor of instability, Poindexter's system helped get Congress to de-fund the IAO when it was learned that people could actually profit from accurately predicting assassinations and the overthrow of particular governments. A little too close to the action perhaps.

Elliott Abrams
Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy

Another Iran-contra convict (withholding information to Congress, later pardoned by the first President Bush), Abrams earned his stripes while ignoring Central American massacres as Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights.

Being the bane of just about every human rights group on Earth was somehow attractive to Bush, so Abrams was invited to join Bush's National Security Council (NSC), where he oversaw the 2002 coup d'état against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Abrams was also busy ousting (or helping to oust) the existing Middle East experts on the NSC so that he could rewrite our Israeli-Palestinian policy into the unilateral mess it is today. "Unilateral" is the operative word here, since his plan strictly follows AIPAC/Likud guidance while ignoring the UN, the EU, and three decades of U.S. policy. More specifically, how does a 25' concrete wall around Palestinian settlements qualify as a strategy?

Otto Reich
Former US Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere for the Secretary of State

Another Iran-contra veteran (noticing the trend yet?), Reich was never convicted of a crime but was nonetheless found to have been running an illegal operation by the U.S. Comptroller General. As the founder/manager of the Office of Public Diplomacy in the Reagan administration, Reich engaged in "prohibited, covert propaganda activities, beyond the range of acceptable agency public information activities."

Impressed by Reich's initiative, Bush tried to appoint him as an Assistant Secretary of State, but couldn't get the nomination through Congress. Although Reich had to settle for the title of "Special Envoy," he did get to help plan the Venezuelan coup with Mr. Abrams above. He must have enjoyed the opportunity.

Appropriately, it appears that Reich was also nominated to serve on the board of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA), WHINSEC is notorious for having trained many if not most of the Central and South American dictators and assassins of the past half century (Cf. Manuel Noriega).

John Negroponte
Director of National Intelligence

Now here's an interesting man. Unlike the gentlemen above, Negroponte didn't suffer an indictment or even a serious investigation during the Iran-contra scandal. However, what happened under his watch as our ambassador to Honduras (1981-85) is even more disturbing than the petty crimes listed above.

In a nutshell, Negroponte not only supported the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and their bases in Honduras, but he also refused to report scores of human rights violations that occurred under his watch. In order to preserve Reagan's illegal Central American policies, Negroponte allowed thousands of innocents--including U.S. missionaries--to be tortured and killed.

The sordid details of these years are readily available, but the lowlight has to have been when Negroponte remained silent after a group of visiting nuns was captured by the Honduran secret police and thrown out of a helicopter over the ocean.

Looking back at Negroponte's edgy diplomatic career (Saigon, Vietnam, Honduras), it seems natural that he was also our ambassador to Iraq. What better role for a diplomat who has already proven himself immune to the vagaries of morality. Now, as our new intelligence czar, one has to wonder what other human rights abuses are being ignored.

Bernard Kerik
Nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security

Few politicians have ever cashed in an IOU as blatantly (or as stupidly) as Rudy Giuliani did when he strong-armed President Bush into nominating his longtime friend and business partner Bernard Kerik as Secretary of Homeland Security. It seems odd that the Bush team would have gone forward with such a weak candidate, but perhaps it's not so strange when you consider how low the bar had been set in the Bush administration and how large Mr. Giuliani's marker really was (more on that in another article when I'm feeling randy).

The problems with Kerik were many, but let's highlight the most obvious one: As head of the N.Y. Department of Corrections and the N.Y.P.D., Kerik failed to report numerous gifts that he received that were beyond the legal limit, including a $10,000 wedding reception, a $2,000 Tiffany badge, and $4,300 worth of high-end Bellini furniture. One of his main benefactors, Lawrence Ray, and 18 other men were later indicted for running a $40 million, mob-run, stock scam.

While running a Department of Corrections foundation, Kerik's handpicked treasurer, Frederick Patrick, was convicted for stealing $140,000 from the foundation in order to pay for collect-call phone sex from inmates. I doubt Kerik was worried about the loss, since the whole operation was secretly funded with $1 million in tobacco company refunds from cigarettes purchased with city funds.

It's not even worth going into how we went from being bankrupt to a multimillionaire (as an N.Y.P.D. cop), why he earned a contempt of court citation, or the details of his extramarital affairs. Perhaps Bush went through with this fatal nomination simply to make the subsequent ones look better by comparison.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice is obviously a very smart, capable woman. In fact, during her 10-year seat on the board of Chevron, she was so instrumental in their success that they named an oil tanker after her (seriously). The smell of the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan (where Chevron has a 70% stake) must have been like perfume to Bush, so he appointed her as his National Security Advisor.

Although the oil tanker was quietly renamed, it didn't prevent her from suffering a terrible rookie season. Although hindsight is always 20-20, it seems that Rice did almost nothing to address the threats of domestic terrorism that were rampant in 2001. Richard Clarke, a long-time expert on counterterrorism and her point-man on 9-11, went on Larry King and came right out with it:

"If Condi Rice had been doing her job and holding those daily meetings the way Sandy Berger did [i.e., daily interagency meetings during the Clinton administration], if she had a hands-on attitude to being national security adviser when she had information that there was a threat against the United States ... [the information] would have been shaken out in the summer of 2001," he said.

One could almost give Rice the benefit of a doubt for her 2001 performance if it wasn't for the fact that she later perjured herself in front of the 9-11 Commission.

When asked about the infamous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB), Rice claimed that the memo, "did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States."

This is one of those situations where the difference between what was said and what really happened is so large that the person being scrutinized must either be incompetent or a liar. Given Rice's resume, she is certainly not incompetent.

For the record, the Aug 6 PDB quotes Osama bin Laden as saying that he wants to "bring the fighting to America," and that he wanted to "retaliate in Washington." The information in the PDB was neither old nor historical, since it mentioned 70 bin Laden-related field investigations currently being conducted by the FBI. The FBI had noticed that federal buildings in New York were under surveillance by suspicious characters and these and other activities were "consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks." Rice didn't see any of this as important.

Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General

It's not hard to imagine why Bush nominated Gonzales for the top legal position in the country. As White House Counsel, Gonzales did whatever it took to make the President happy. Unfortunately, that happiness came at the expense of thousands of "enemy combatants" around the world.

Of course, nobody really knows what "enemy combatants" are, what they did, or where they are being kept. We think they are members of al-Qaeda, or perhaps soldiers who attacked us in Iraq or Afghanistan. However, we may never know, since they will probably never get to publicly testify in a fair trial. The CIA and the Pentagon lack sufficient evidence against these people, so they are kept safely outside of U.S. jurisdiction in U.S. prisons such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and even U.S. ships that stay permanently at sea in international waters.

If imprisoning thousands of people without any "hard evidence" is okay with you, it wasn't enough for President Bush, who had a team of legal experts (led by Gonzales) declare that he could also permit the use of torture on these prisoners. And just to be sure they were all on the same page as to what "torture" was, the Gonzales team raised the bar to define torture as pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

Thus, a number of previously inhumane interrogation tactics are now legal and can be recommended by the President, the CIA, or the Pentagon. The best part is that anything short of this mark of modern barbarism is now legal and a essentially non-issue.

It was hard to top John Ashcroft, the man who spent $8,000 to put clothes on the Spirit of Justice and who dubiously claimed that the "objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." However, Gonzales might just do it.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been content for years knowing that they could potentially block a nomination from the other party through stunts like filibustering. Given the quality of Bush's nominations, it seems more than prudent to keep this as part of our checks and balances. Both parties need this "ejector seat" and taking it away will spell disaster for everyone going forward--especially the Congress.

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