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Between the Lines

March 03, 2004

9/11 commission gets feisty – and it's about time

The independent commission appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks appears to be thoroughly fed up with the Bush administration's lack of cooperation. It is refusing to meet with the president and Vice President Dick Cheney under the severe restrictions requested by the administration. Those include just one hour each of the president's and vice president's time and that only the commission chairman and vice chairman be present. The commission also has renewed its requests that Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, testify publicly. If she doesn't agree, she may be subpoeaned.

Bush and Cheney are expected to be asked about how they reacted to intelligence reports before Sept. 11, 2001, that suggested Al Qaeda might be planning a large attack. Panel members want to ask Rice the same questions in public.

" 'We have held firm in saying that the conditions set by the president and vice president and Dr. Rice are not good enough,' said Timothy J. Roemer, a former Indiana congressman who is one of five Democrats on the 10-member commission.

"Mr. Roemer said that former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore had agreed to meet privately with the full bipartisan commission, and that Samuel R. Berger, Ms. Rice's predecessor, would testify in public.

" 'It's very important that we treat both the Bush and the Clinton administrations the same,' he said."

So far, the White House has been stonewalling the commission on the absurd ground that the constitutional principle of separation of powers is at issue – i.e., that the prez and the veep don't testify before legislative bodies. This ignores the fact that the commission is not a legislative body, but a special panel appointed by Congress for a single task: to look into one of the critical security lapses of our age. The fact that it includes some members of Congress is, or should be, beside the point.

Clinton and Gore, by the way, have promised the commission as much time as it needs to ask its questions.

My, my. Such a contrast. Clinton, who as any right-thinking American knows, is personally responsible for everything that's gone wrong in this country in the last 10 years, including 9/11, is willing to answer whatever questions come his way, however long it may take. Bush isn't. What’s he so afraid of?

All I can say is that if Bush is going to continue posing as a "war president" he's going to have to start acting like one, instead of like a guy who’s never seen a buck he couldn’t pass.

Posted by tbrown at 02:26 PM


So, is it over now?

Yes. John Kerry is the Democratic nominee, barring very, very large unforeseen events. So now he needs a running mate. There are several obvious possibilities: Sen. John Edwards, who bowed out of the presidential campaign today after Kerry’s super Super Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico come to mind.

Then there’s this entertaining real, real long shot: Bill Clinton. Stephen Gillers, a New York University law prof, makes the case today on the New York Times op-ed page (free site registration may be required). Gillers quickly disposes of the potential constitutional problems:

“The Constitution does not prevent Mr. Clinton from running for vice president. The 22nd Amendment, which became effective in 1951, begins: ‘No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice.’

“No problem. Bill Clinton would be running for vice president, not president. Scholars and judges can debate how loosely constitutional language should be interpreted, but one need not be a strict constructionist to find this language clear beyond dispute. Bill Clinton cannot be elected president, but nothing stops him from being elected vice president.

“True, if Mr. Clinton were vice president he would be in line for the presidency. But Mr. Clinton would succeed Mr. Kerry not by election, which the amendment forbids, but through Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which provides that if a president dies, resigns or is removed from office, his powers ‘shall devolve on the vice president.’ The 22nd Amendment would not prevent this succession.”

The political problems, Gillers correctly notes, may be considerably more difficult.

But forget all that. Forget also the strong possibility that Gillers may have his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. The mere suggestion that the Great Satan might return to public life – particularly as a veep candidate who could devour Dick Cheney in a debate in less time than it takes to write this – has prompted near hysteria at one rightwing site.

Footnote: I don’t know anything about Stephen Gillers, but he appears to be one of those experts who is frequently cited in political stories with a legal component. He shows up, for instance, both in connection with investigations of Clinton and in stories about Bush’s shennanigans with Harken Energy stock.

Posted by tbrown at 02:21 PM


Death toll in Iraqi bombings reaches 223; Shiite leaders call for calm

The death toll in yesterday's horrific bombings in Karbala and Baghdad now appear to exceed 220.

In my post yesterday, I noted that one of the likeliest suspects is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to Al Qaida, who supposedly penned a letter that identified Shiites as a more serious foe to his eventual, no doubt pleasant, plans for Iraq than are U.S. occupation forces. His goal is thought to be fomenting a civil war through precisely such attacks as those of yesterday.

Interestingly, the Shiites aren't – yet – taking the bait.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the preeminent Shiite leader in Iraq, criticised the U.S.-led occupying forces for failing to provide enough security, but called upon Iraqis to remain united. "We call on all dear Iraqi sons to be more vigilant against the schemes of the enemy, and ask them to work hard to unite and have one voice to speed up regaining the injured country's sovereignty and independence and stability," Sistani said.

On Juan Cole's blog, translations from the Arab press note that hundreds of Sunni youths heeded a call to donate blood to help wounded Shiites. Cole's conclusion: "If az-Zaman is right about the sentiments of national unity generated by the bombing, it may have been the biggest mistake yet of the guerrilla insurgents."

Posted by tbrown at 02:17 PM


Casualty math in Iraq

An item on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo today got me thinking about the relative scale of casualty figures. He notes that,

“Iraq has a population of just under 25 million. The United States is home to a tad over 290 million. In other words, there are well over ten times as many Americans as Iraqis.

“So, to get a feel for the impact of these attacks on the country, the number of people who lost loved ones, know others who did, and so forth, multiply that death toll by 11 or 12 times in order to get a feel for the number in American terms

A good ballpark point of comparison is what it would be like to have around 2000 people killed in one day in this country. And, of course, that's not that different from the 3000 who were killed here on September 11th.”

The same point could be made about Iraqi civilians killed during the war and its aftermath.

Iraq Body Count continues to try to estimate deaths from available public information (news reports, surveys of hospitals and so forth). As of today, IBC estimates that between 8,437 and 10,282 Iraqi civilians have died.

Applying Marshall’s math with a multiplier of 11, which seems fair, a similar cataclysm in the U.S. would have killed between 92,807 and 113,102 Americans. It’s true that Iraq had been accustomed to decades of gratuitous violence by Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, who are believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of their countrymen. Still, the price of our liberation can hardly seem minor to Iraqis.

Posted by tbrown at 02:14 PM




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