Thursday, January 31, 2008

American Progress Action Fund

Earlier this week, President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, which included a statute forbidding the Bush administration from spending taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq." But Bush quietly attached a signing statement to the law, asserting a unilateral right to disregard the ban on permanent bases in addition to three other measures in the bill. "Provisions of the act...could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional protect national security," the signing statement read. Reacting to the statement, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Mark Agrast said, "On the merits, for the president to assert that Congress lacks the authority to say there shouldn't be permanent bases on foreign soil is fanciful at best." Bush's "frequent use of signing statements to advance aggressive theories of executive power has been a hallmark of his presidency," writes the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage, who has authored a book on that topic. In 2006, the American Bar Association condemned signing statements as "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers." Bush's latest signing statement was immediately met with anger on Capitol Hill. "I reject the notion in his signing statement that he can pick and choose which provisions of this law to execute," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) added, "Congress has a right to expect that the Administration will faithfully implement all of the provisions" of the law -- "not just the ones the President happens to agree with."

THE POWER TO STAY IN IRAQ FOREVER: Last November, Bush announced that he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had signed a "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship" that set the parameters for negotiating an "enduring" U.S. occupation of Iraq. The negotiations have drawn fire in part because the administration said it does not intend to designate the declaration as a "treaty," and so will not submit it to Congress for approval. Bush's attempt to waive the ban on permanent bases is seen as one more step in the direction of establishing a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. "If Bush is allowed to negotiate a treaty with Iraq that binds the United States under international law, the next president will be handcuffed," said John Isaacs, Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World. The Guardian notes that permanent bases "are broadly unpopular with Iraqis, who have voiced fears of an ongoing U.S. occupation." Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), who has led the push to prevent permanent bases, explained that Bush's statement is "sending a dangerous signal to the people of Iraq that the U.S. has a long-term interest in occupying their country, a move that will only enflame the insurgency." Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) said that while administration officials frequently state that they do not intend to permanently occupy Iraq, "this signing statement issued by the President is the clearest signal yet that the Administration wants to hold this option in reserve."

THE POWER TO PROTECT CONTRACTORS: Among the other provisions in the Defense Authorization Act that Bush asserted an unfounded right to ignore were two accountability measures aimed at private security firms accused of wartime abuses. One of these provisions would establish an independent, bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting. The Pentagon's inspector general, whose office conducts internal investigations, endorsed the commission's proposal, telling lawmakers in a November meeting, "We're leaning forward in the saddle, we're committed to this." Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said, "The idea that the president would stand in the way of a non-partisan, independent committee to look into waste and fraud by companies like Blackwater and Halliburton in Iraq is inexcusable and it's irresponsible, and it ought to ruffle a lot of feathers across the country." The other provision Bush waived would extend whistleblower protections to employees of defense contractors. "The president doesn't have the authority to cancel these rights," said Tom Devine, legal director at the non-profit Government Accountability Project, "unless he sends in troops to stop a jury from hearing whistleblower cases."

THE POWER TO COVER UP: The fourth and last provision of the law that Bush sought to ignore was a requirement of the administration to turn over "any existing intelligence assessment, report, estimate or legal opinion" requested by the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees within 45 days. The New York Times writes, "Clearly, this violates the power that Mr. Bush has given himself to cover up an array of illegal and improper actions, like his decisions to spy on Americans without a warrant, to torture prisoners in violation of the Geneva Conventions and to fire United States attorneys apparently for political reasons."
HUMAN RIGHTS -- MUKASEY CONTINUES TO HEDGE ON WHETHER WATERBOARDING IS TORTURE: Attorney General Michael Mukasey has again hedged on whether waterboarding fits the definition of torture. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), Mukasey stopped short of offering a clear legal opinion on the harsh interrogation method because he alleged that "the CIA no longer uses the practice on prisoners." Mukasey wrote that a straight answer would not be appropriate because whether waterboarding is torture is "not an easy question." "There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding," said Mukasey. "Other circumstances would present a far closer question," he added, although he failed to define those circumstances. Mukasey's letter comes just days after former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte offered the first clear acknowledgment by a government official that the United States had used waterboarding in terrorism interrogations. In a statement, Leahy offered a stern rebuke for Mukasey's continued dodging. Stating that Mukasey's letter "does not answer the critical questions we have been asking about [waterboarding's] legality," Leahy said that the Attorney General should expect "to be asked serious questions" at a Judiciary Committee hearing today.

ADMINISTRATION -- METHODIST MINISTERS TRY 'LAST DITCH EFFORT' TO BLOCK BUSH LIBRARY: In Nov. 2006, the New York Daily News reported that President Bush and "his truest believers" were launching "an eye-popping half-billion-dollar drive" to secure Southern Methodist University (SMU) as the home for the Bush presidential library and policy think tank. The idea was met with protests from SMU students, faculty, and staff, who wrote that they would "regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically outrageous." Now Methodist ministers "are mounting a last-ditch effort to block" the project. They argue that "church rules require that an agreement be submitted to the 290 elected delegates of the church's South Central Jurisdiction"; one minister predicted that about 35 percent of the delegates would oppose the library. A Methodist petition opposing the library boasts after only two weeks the signatures of 14 bishops, more than 600 United Methodist clergy, and more than 9,000 members of Methodist churches in the United States and Canada. The ministers object to Bush's "pre-emptive, first- strike war," his policies that "reward the rich, while punishing the poor," and "the torture of prisoners."

IRAQ -- TROOP REDUCTIONS MAY HALT AS U.S. OUTPOSTS IN BAGHDAD EXPAND: Last September, President Bush announced that the United States would withdraw five brigades from Iraq by mid-2008. While the first brigade began its departure last November, on Jan. 17, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that "all available evidence" suggests that plans to withdraw the other four brigades remained on track, leaving 15 brigades in Iraq by July. Now "the Bush administration is sending strong signals that U.S. troop reductions in Iraq will slow or stop altogether this summer, a move that would jeopardize hopes of relieving strain on the Army and Marine Corps." While Gen. David Petraeus has said he is "concerned" about a "rush" to 10 brigades by the end of the year, "the Army in particular wants additional reductions to enable it to shorten Iraq tours from 15 months to 12 months. The longer tours are among pressures that Army leaders fear could break the force." At the same time, Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, recently announced "plans to boost the number of neighborhood outposts across the [Iraqi] capital by more than 30 percent this year."

Memorandum of Justification for Waiver of Section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 with Respect to Iraq

Section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (the “Act”) amends the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which establishes a framework for lawsuits against foreign countries and their agencies and instrumentalities under U.S. law. Immediately upon enactment, Section 1083 would put at risk substantial Iraqi assets in the United States that are crucial to Iraq’s recovery efforts –- including the Development Fund for Iraq, the assets of the Central Bank of Iraq held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and assets of Iraqi agencies or instrumentalities used in commercial transactions in the United States. Section 1083 would also expose Iraq to potential new liability by undoing judgments favorable to Iraq, by foreclosing available defenses on which Iraq has relied, and by creating a new Federal cause of action backed by punitive damages. Any and all provisions of section 1083 may adversely affect Iraq or its agencies or instrumentalities, by exposing Iraq or its agencies or instrumentalities to liability in United States courts and by entangling their assets in litigation. Such burdens would undermine the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, including by weakening the ability of the democratically-elected government of Iraq to use Iraqi funds to promote political and economic progress and further develop its security forces.

Section 1083(d)(1)-(3) of the Act ..........continued

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