Justice To Open Criminal Probe On CIA Videotapes

Michael Mukasey has decided to open a criminal investigation into the destruction of videotaped interrogations conducted by the CIA that included waterboarding. John Durham, the federal prosecutor for Connecticut, will head the probe. It raises the stakes for everyone involved in the destruction of the tapes, which the CIA denied ever having and kept from the 9/11 Commission:

The Justice Department opened a full criminal investigation Wednesday into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, putting the politically charged probe in the hands of a mob-busting public corruption prosecutor with a reputation as being independent.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced that he was appointing John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to oversee the investigation of a case that has challenged the Bush administration’s controversial handling of terrorism suspects.
The CIA acknowledged last month that in 2005 it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. The acknowledgment sparked a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by Justice into whether the CIA violated any laws or obstructed congressional inquiries such as the one led by the Sept. 11 Commission.
“The Department’s National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation,” Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.

The announcement comes on the same day that the two co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission published an essay in the New York Times accusing the CIA of obstruction. Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean detail how they requested precisely this kind of material from the CIA, but were told it didn’t exist — well before the destruction of the tapes in 2005. Given a charter by both Congress and the President, the panel attempted to validate the information given it by checking some of the source material, only to be rebuffed, and rebuffed again when they requested an interview with Abu Zubaydah, one of the terrorists whose interrogation was on the tapes:

As a legal matter, it is not up to us to examine the C.I.A.’s failure to disclose the existence of these tapes. That is for others. What we do know is that government officials decided not to inform a lawfully constituted body, created by Congress and the president, to investigate one the greatest tragedies to confront this country. We call that obstruction.

Mukasey chose his lead investigator wisely. John Durham has extensive experience in politically sensitive investigations. Durham won an award in 2003 for his prosecution of former FBI agent John J. Connolly, Jr. He won convictions in that case for racketeering, obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, bribery and leaking FBI information to two Southies. He also ran the corruption prosecution that wound up convicting Governor John Rowland to prison, along with a number of his aides. Like Rudy Giuliani, he has a track record in Mafia prosecutions that show his mettle as a tough, straight-arrow prosecutor.
Durham will not operate as an independent counsel in the manner of Patrick Fitzgerald or Ken Starr. The DoJ will instead do its own work, as it should, in determining whether a crime was committed and who committed it. Durham will have accountability, but also wide latitude to pursue the case. Mukasey went outside of the DC power structure after several recusals allowed him to select the best jurisdiction for the case. Mukasey puts himself on the line through this action, and Congress will hold him accountable.
Mukasey has proven himself to be a good choice as AG. The DoJ needed to send a statement showing that they understood the seriousness of this issue. Regardless of whether we like the current administration or not, we cannot allow destruction of evidence and obstruction of investigations to go unchallenged. Congress represents the people, and when both Congress and the President charter a commission to investigate anything — especially an intelligence failure that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans — the subsidiary agencies are expected to cooperate. That’s a big enough problem without the rather transparent coincidence of the tapes’ destruction just as Congress got interested in the topic of waterboarding.
Durham will have his opportunity to determine whether anyone broke the law. People across the political spectrum should cheer this opportunity to clear the air and to see that the rule of law prevails.

Heading Right Radio: Mike Huckabee, Jim Talent, And NZ Bear

Note: This post will remain on top until show time; newer posts may be found below.
Today on Heading Right Radio (2 pm CT), I will air a recorded interview with Republican front-runner Mike Huckabee regarding the ad pull and the presser that followed. We’ll also talk live with Senator Jim Talent about his support for Mitt Romney. NZ Bear joins us to make sense of it all in the second half!
Call 646-652-4889 to join the conversation! And don’t forget to join our chat room! And don’t forget to join our chat room! This show is now sponsored by Lifelock — and listen to find out how you can save 10% on their services.
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Does The Peacock Have A Brown Beak?

The mainstream news media tends to discount bloggers, especially in the electoral process, as biased shills who either deliberately or cluelessly wind up doing promotional work for parties and candidates. I’m sure that NBC viewers noticed the professional treatment Matt Lauer and especially his co-anchor Meredith Viera gave Hillary Clinton in this gushing performance this morning (via The Anchoress).
Pay close attention to the chatter between Lauer and Viera afterwards. I’m glad to see a major media outlet demonstrating their objective and impartial distance from political candidates. I wonder how long it will be before both submit this as a video for The Hillary I Know.

Huckabee Responds To Critics On Ad Pull

Earlier this morning, I conducted an interview with Governor Mike Huckabee regarding criticism of his ad pull in Iowa and the press conference that followed. The interview got arranged after last night’s blogger conference call, when Huckabee’s team wanted to allow for a clear answer to the controversy.
I’ll play the entire 10-minute recorded interview on Heading Right Radio today, but here are a few quotes to whet listener appetites:

  • Regarding ads opposing Huckabee: “The ads were dishonest …. misrepresentations and outright fabrications of my record.”
  • A pattern: “The same kind of ads were going against John McCain in New Hampshire. … not an accident or an isolated incident.”
  • Why he pulled the ads: “The television sets (in Iowa) had become a cesspool … People keep saying that they want a positive campaign, and let’s give them an opportunity to prove that that’s exactly what they want.”
  • On showing the ad to the press: “Maybe in hindsight we’d have done it differently, but if we had said that we had an ad that we were going to run but now we’re not going to run it, the press would have said, ‘Oh yeah, right — where is the ad? You don’t have one.'”
  • Huckabee has plenty more to say about his prospects in Iowa and where he sees himself in the national race. He also disputes the report at The Politico that the ad cost his campaign $150,000, putting the figure closer to $30,000. Don’t miss the whole interview!

    Musharraf Goes International On Bhutto Investigation

    Apparently bowing to some harsh political realities, Pervez Musharraf has reversed course and allowed for an international investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The move comes hours after the Musharraf government apologized for its “official” version of events and acknowledged that Bhutto died from gunshot wounds in the assassination. Scotland Yard will come to Pakistan to conduct its own probe into the murder of dozens, including Bhutto:

    Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Wednesday that he had requested a team of investigators from Britain’s Scotland Yard to assist in the investigation into the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
    “We decided to request a team from Scotland Yard to come. I sent the request to (British) Prime Minister (Gordon) Brown, and he accepted the request,” Musharraf said, adding that the British team would assist local investigators.
    “We would like to know what were the reasons that led to the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto. I would also like to look into it,” Musharraf said in a nationally televised address.

    The speech intended to calm the anger and vitriol that has led to the deaths of dozens more in rioting against the Musharraf government over the last week. It was the first time Musharraf had addressed the Pakistani nation since Bhutto’s assassination, and clearly he needed to build some credibility with his people. The wildly changing stories in the first few days after the events in Rawalpindi had shaken his regime to its base and left Musharraf’s international partners with few choices but to put distance between themselves and the controversial leader.
    Will this work? The Pakistanis will no doubt question how much access Scotland Yard will get in their investigation. Musharraf cast their role as assistants, which means that they may only have restricted access to the evidence and the witnesses. However, a half-baked international investigation may harm Musharraf more than it helps. If the British return home and start talking about lack of cooperation and an opaque process, Musharraf’s international standing may get worse rather than better.
    In the short run, it should help quell the violence in the streets. However, people will watch closely over the next seven weeks, when the delayed parliamentary elections will be held. The decision to acquiesce to global demands for an independent probe, even in a limited fashion, represents a serious change of heart for Musharraf and an indication of how badly Bhutto’s assassination and his government’s response has damaged him. If he really had nothing to do with the assassination, this is his only chance to convince anyone.

    Don’t Bash The Mismanager?

    Mitt Romney apparently got caught not taking his own advice yesterday. While the New York Times quotes Romney as scolding Mike Huckabee for criticizing George Bush in a December essay for the Council on Foreign Relations, Reuters has Romney doing much the same thing at another venue. First, the Times quotes Romney in central Iowa:

    Mitt Romney was in central Iowa, where he went after Mr. Huckabee for making critical comments about President Bush’s foreign policy on Monday.
    “I think we should come together and recognize the great work our president is doing and not take our rhetoric or our plays from Democratic playbook,” Mr. Romney said. “This is the kind of stuff you expect of the Democrats, but it’s certainly not something you expect of a presidential contender on the Republican side.”

    In Johnstown, however, Romney appeared comfortable with that same approach:

    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Tuesday the Bush administration mismanaged the Iraq war, distancing himself from his party’s unpopular president two days before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential contest.
    “I think we did a less than effective job in managing the conflict following the collapse of Saddam Hussein,” the former Massachusetts governor said at a news conference. “I think we were under prepared for what occurred, understaffed, under planned, and, in some respects, under managed.”

    The problem for Republicans is that the current success of the surge points out the failure of the previous two years of the war, a failure that reflects directly on Donald Rumsfeld and by extension Bush himself. Bush made the right change just short of too late, and the situation has improved greatly in Iraq. However, the change should have come at least two years earlier, which John McCain has said since 2004. We didn’t have enough people in the theater to succeed against a widespread insurgency, let alone multiple terrorist forces.
    Republican contenders have to show that they learned from this lesson. Most of them have chosen to do so without specifically criticizing the administration. They instead talk about increasing the force size of the Army and Marine Corps, and utilizing a broader range of military advisors on defense policy. Even McCain blunts his criticism by focusing on Rumsfeld.
    And that’s really the difference between Huckabee and Romney on this issue, although Romney muddied it yesterday. Huckabee charged Bush with having an “arrogant” foreign policy without noting the context of the environment in which it was conducted. Romney criticized the administration for its mismanagement, but didn’t characterize the failure as a personal one on the part of Bush. Still, Romney’s mixed message in Iowa will have some scratching their heads on where the line sits.
    UPDATE: Team Romney responds:

    Throughout this year, Governor Romney has been consistently making the point that, while the initial execution of the war in Iraq was successful, the occupation that followed was undermanaged. As you recognize, these obvious and responsible comments are a far cry from accusing President Bush of an “arrogant bunker mentality” or echoing Sen. Harry Reid’s accusation that President Bush that President Bush knew four years ago that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program.

    They also sent a link to more extensive comments by Romney which give a broader context, and this comes from almost a year ago (February 18, 2007):

    Again, this is a high-wire act that all of the contenders have to do without crashing. I would say that these remarks are notably positive about the surge given that it hadn’t yet been implemented, saying that he was “absolutely confident that it’s the right thing to do” — and George Stephanopolous notes that Rudy Giuliani had expressed a lack of confidence in its potential for success at the time.

    Thanks, But No Thanks

    Dennis Kucinich has bequeathed his political support in Iowa to Barack Obama, in the case of his political demise in the caucuses. The perennial also-ran told his supporters that they should caucus for Obama if he fails to win enough support to pass the viability test. And while Kucinich may not have numerical support, he still retains influence among the MoveOn crowd.
    At Heading Right, I look at the dynamics of the Kucinich endorsement. It doesn’t take “peace math” to calculate the potential damage to Obama in more moderate states if he gets too closely linked to Kucinich’s brand of fringe politics or his vocal supporters among the MoveOn/International ANSWER crowd.

    China’s Family Values: The More Valuables, The More Family

    China’s infamous one-child policy has women undergoing forced abortions and the proletariat paying heavy fines for their supposedly excessive procreation. The rich, meanwhile, have a completely different experience in China. Their fines go mostly uncollected, and they have other means to increase their multitudes:

    A growing number of rich and powerful people in central China are brazenly flouting the country’s one-child policy, a newspaper said Wednesday.
    The violations in Hubei province are leaving local family planning officials powerless, the Beijing Morning Post reported. Even when fined by authorities, many rich that have openly ignored the rules are slow to provide the money, the newspaper said.
    In one case, a person was fined $106,000 for having a second child, the highest amount ever in Hubei, but has only paid $14,000, the paper said.
    The report said 1,678 people, including government officials, were punished in 2007 for not adhering to the policy, which has been in place for almost 30 years. There were no details about the punishments.

    Polygamy has become popular as a dodge for the rules. Rich men will keep two wives in order to get around the rules, sometimes faking divorces in order to make that work. The wealthy also attempt to pass off children as handicapped, as the state allows an exception to the rule when the first child has some sort of incapacitation.
    As I noted in May, the top-down governmental action of the one-child policy has turned children into status symbols. At that time, Beijing had announced a “shaming” policy to bring violators in line, but people don’t give up their reproductive imperative quite that easily. Those who have it tend to flaunt it, and as a result, there are now two Chinas: one free to have children, and the other not.
    This will erode confidence in the government. As the history of Communism shows, a population will endure privations for a greater mission, but only when they perceive that everyone makes the same sacrifices. If a ruling class of elites can run roughshod over such an intrusive ban as the one on procreation, the hoi polloi — whose long-term financial stability rests on having children — will soon produce a backlash the likes Beijing has not seen in decades.

    Tribal Warfare In Kenya?

    Kenya has erupted in violence after a suspicious election process kept president Mwai Kibaki in power, but that political unrest may have turned to tribal warfare. Thirty people died in a church in a fire, reminiscent of a well-known Nazi atrocity in France, and over 200 more have died in fighting since an election rejected by European and American observers as flawed. The Luo tribe, to which opposition leader Raila Odinga belongs, appears to be targeting the Kikuyus of Kibaki:

    The tribe of the church victims in the western town of Eldoret is not immediately clear, but the Kikuyus of Mr Kibaki have been the main targets of the violence so far.
    The Kikuyus are the largest tribe in Kenya, and Mr Odinga belongs to the second-largest Luo tribe.
    “Supporters of Raila Odinga are involved in ethnic cleansing,” a government spokesman said. Members of Mr Odinga’s party have made similar charges against the president. …
    Kikuyus are fleeing from towns west of the capital, Nairobi, trying to take refuge in police stations or escaping into neighbouring Uganda.
    Gangs wielding machetes again manned road-blocks on some roads, searching for Kikuyus.

    The Kibaki government has an interest in having this cast as a tribal war. If he can sell this as an attempted genocide by the Luo, then he can sidestep Western criticism over the rigged election and put the blame on the Luo for the unrest. After Rwanda and Darfur, Europeans and Americans have a great deal of sensitivity towards accusations of ethnic cleansing, and the Telegraph report helps build a case for Kibaki.
    It could be a blend of both, of course. The Kikuyus form the power base for Kibaki, as they comprise the largest tribal bloc in Kenya’s population at 22%. The Luo come in third at 13%. Politics and tribal affiliation blend there as they do in many African (and Arab) nations, and tribal affiliation has more resonance than shifting political movements do. If Kibaki has attempted to hijack the Kenyan elections to grab power, it could be seen as a Kikuyu move to retain primacy over other tribes in Kenya.
    Odinga holds the majority of Parliament, and can make life very difficult for Kibaki. Odinga refused an entreaty from Gordon Brown to enter into negotiations with Kibaki, demanding that Kibaki first step down from the presidency and allow international monitors to recount the ballots independently. Kibaki refuses, and has barred the Orange Democratic Movement from holding any assemblies or demonstrations. Odinga plans to hold one anyway and predicts that a million people will join him in the streets, a situation that will almost certainly end in violence.
    That won’t be tribal warfare but a real political opposition to a corrupt government. Kibaki cannot afford to have that happen, and he may cry “genocide” to gain Western support for his rickety grip on power.

    Light ‘Em If You Got ‘Em?

    The man responsible for enforcing a smoking ban in Portugal needs a refresher course on its parameters, as well as a nicotine patch for himself. The day that the new ban went into effect, Antonio Nunes decided to light one up in a casino — one of the areas where cigarette smoking is prohibited:

    The head of the Portuguese agency responsible for enforcing a new ban on smoking in public was seen lighting up at a New Year party, breaking the law on the first day it came into effect.
    Antonio Nunes, president of Portugal’s food standards agency, was photographed by the daily Diario de Noticias smoking a cigar at a casino on the outskirts of Lisbon.
    Nunes told the daily he was not aware the anti-smoking law, which applies to cafes, restaurants and bars, also included casinos. But a spokesman for the Ministry of Health said it did.
    “We will have to look into what is in the law,” Nunes said.

    Well, that would be a nice idea, considering that Nunes is supposed to enforce that law. One presumes that the person heading an enforcement agency for such an intrusive regulation would understand exactly where it applies. And isn’t it a little incongruous to have a smoker enforcing a smoking ban?
    Smoking bans just constitute the next iteration of nanny-statism. It would be nice if the nannies themselves knew what they were doing. Spending the first day on the job proving that they have no better insight into living than anyone else doesn’t help. Nunes showed that he has no business scolding others on a choice he flunks as well.