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“GOP’s Benghazi Committee Passes Ignominious Milestone”: The American Taxpayers Continue To Pay The Price

It’s long been difficult to find a legitimate purpose for the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee, but as of October, the panel was simply indefensible. A farcical 11-hour hearing with Hillary Clinton, coupled with a series of internal controversies, made clear that the committee needed to pull the plug.

But it didn’t. In fact, McClatchy reported this morning on the partisan exercise passing an ignominious milestone.

As of Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has been in existence for 609 days, surpassing the length of time the 9/11 Commission took to investigate the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Instead of following the bipartisan model set by the 9/11 Commission, which brought our entire nation together after we were attacked by terrorists, Republicans created a highly partisan Select Committee with an unlimited budget to attack their political opponents,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat. “Republicans continue to drag out this political charade closer to the 2016 presidential election, and the American taxpayers continue to pay the price.”

Remember, even congressional Republicans have admitted the committee is a partisan exercise, making it that much more difficult to justify its prolonged existence.

For the record, the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel created to investigate the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, conducted its work over 1 year, 7 months, and 25 days – which works out to 604 days, five fewer than this current charade.

A report from Benghazi Committee Democrats added, “The Benghazi Select Committee has surpassed multiple previous congressional investigations, including the investigations of Hurricane Katrina, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, Iran-Contra, Church Committee, and Watergate.”

What’s more, the Benghazi investigation, which has cost American taxpayers nearly $5.6 million, isn’t done. There is no end date in mind, and there’s every reason to believe GOP lawmakers will just keep it going, probably with this year’s elections in mind.

Just so we’re clear, though I find the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee ridiculous, I’m not suggesting the deadly terrorist attack in Libya, which left four Americans dead, is unworthy of investigation. Just the opposite is true – Congress had a responsibility to determine what happened and take steps to prevent similar attacks in the future.

But therein lies the point: seven separate congressional committees investigated the Benghazi attack before the Select Committee was even created. It was one of the most scrutinized events in American history. Republican lawmakers, however, didn’t quite care for what the evidence told them, so they effectively concluded, “Maybe an eighth committee will tell us something the other seven committees didn’t.”

That, alas, was 609 days ago. If there’s a coherent defense for this exercise, I can’t think of it.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 6, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Congressional Investigations, GOP, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Knowing Who’s On Your Airplane”: Inconveniencing People Should Not Trump (Excuse The Expression) National Security

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that the feds have screened the other passengers sitting on my airplane. To do that, they also have to screen me. That’s the deal.

In America, any state-issued driver’s license had long been acceptable ID for passing security checks at airports. That lax attitude changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists turned four commercial jetliners full of passengers into missiles, killing thousands more on the ground. All four planes took off from U.S. airports.

On the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, Congress passed the Real ID Act. It tightens standards for state driver’s licenses used to board flights. Among other information, applicants must provide their Social Security number and immigration status. The licenses must also contain a chip or other technology that can be read by a computer. The deadline for compliance is approaching.

Some states have done their duty and issued secure driver’s licenses. Others have made enough progress that their licenses are acceptable for the time being. And a few states — Washington, Minnesota and New Mexico, for example — have largely not complied. Barring another extension of the deadline, their driver’s licenses will soon be inadmissible as proof of identity at airport security.

Consider the stakes.

When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed last year, killing all 239 aboard, the world shuddered to learn that two of the passengers had carried fake passports. The two, it turned out, were not terrorists but ordinary Iranians trying to move to Germany.

Everyone, Americans included, noted that known terrorists bent on destruction could probably have secured similar phony ID. But there’s a tendency, especially among Americans, to rapidly forget what obsessed them the year before.

With the deadline for Real ID drawing near, hostility has again flared toward letting the federal government do what it must to ensure that passengers flashing driver’s licenses at airport security are who they say they are.

To me, the main difference between a secure driver’s license and an insecure one is that the insecure one can be used for committing crimes, among them identity theft and fraud. But to many foes of Real ID, secure ones’ threat to privacy is a more serious matter.

The foes argue that requiring enhanced licenses is tantamount to creating a national identity card. That presupposes that a national identity card would be a terrible thing. Actually, the gentlest of European democracies have national identity cards, and they haven’t turned into police states.

Besides, Americans already have a national ID number, courtesy of Social Security. When the Social Security program was established in 1935, its enemies fulminated against the issuance of numbers, with some of the arguments now being hurled at Real ID.

As historian Douglas Brinkley writes, “Critics likened the process to the social engineering used in fascist nations, notably Nazi Germany, predicting that American workers would be forced to wear metal tags on chains around their necks and charging that ‘surveillance is a part of the plans of the (Franklin D.) Roosevelt administration.’”

It was inevitable that an ID requiring proof of immigration status would rankle defenders of undocumented workers. One wishes for a solution to the immigration problem that is humane to both those settled here illegally and American workers competing with them for jobs. (Such a plan would legalize the status of most of the undocumented while cutting off future illegal entry.)

That said, it is politically unwise to let concerns about inconveniencing people here illegally trump (excuse the expression) concern over national security.

An air disaster set off by passengers getting on board with fake ID would move many fence-sitters to the side of Real ID. But let’s not wait for it.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, December 31, 2015

January 1, 2016 Posted by | Air Travel, National ID Card, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Many Overdue Questions”: What Might Be Missing From Bush’s Presidential Library

Like all such monuments that former presidents construct to edify the public, the George W. Bush Presidential Center – opened with great ceremony in Texas yesterday — is mounted from its subject’s point of view.

My own invitation to the festivities must have been lost in the mail, so I have yet to view the super-cool interactive exhibitions that reportedly allow visitors to become “the decider” on Iraq and other debacles. But the point seems to be that the 43rd president came under sustained pressure and, if he screwed up to an unprecedented degree, then he doesn’t think you or I would have done any better.

That pointless comparison would no doubt elicit Bush’s trademark smirk. He is said to feel well-satisifed with himself, no matter what the world thinks.

Still the overall tone of the remarks by President Obama, former President Clinton, and others who attended the library dedication was appropriately generous, as befits such a civic occasion in a democracy – even in honor of a man who ascended to office by trampling democratic values. Obama drew attention to the good works that Bush did to combat HIV/AIDS while in office, perhaps his single most important achievement, as did Clinton, who also generously praised Bush’s fitful effort to reform immigration and his work with Clinton in post-earthquake Haiti.

But does that mean Bush may now take for granted the verdict of historians, many of whom consider him America’s worst president? Not so fast, please: There are a few salient questions that Bush (or at least his library) ought to address before the rehabilitation begins.

Everything changed abruptly after September 11, 2001, as the Bush library depicts so dramatically – but what should have changed in the White House before that horrific day? Why did Bush and Cheney ignore the warnings about al Qaeda delivered by Bill Clinton, Richard Clarke, and other authoritative figures when he took office? What were they trying to conceal when the Bush White House first opposed and then tried to weaken the 9/11 Commission?

Why did he and Dick Cheney (barely mentioned in the Bush library, according to NBC’s David Gregory) permit Osama bin Laden and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar to escape from Tora Bora after allied forces invaded Afghanistan? Was it wise to neglect the Afghan conflict while launching an invasion of Iraq?

The library portrays Bush as a dauntless advocate for “freedom” around the world. But did the invasion and occupation of Iraq establish liberty in that country and if so, for whom? Why is the authoritarian Shiite government in Baghdad now among the closest allies of the theocratic dictatorship in Iran? (And wasn’t that a predictable outcome of Bush’s Iraq policies?)

Finally, do the library’s exhibits or archives mention anywhere the hundreds of thousands of people killed, crippled, wounded, and driven from their homes as a consequence of the Iraq invasion? Is any attention devoted to the total financial cost of the war, last estimated to be approaching three trillion dollars?

Those traumas will always haunt the Bush presidency, no matter how many coats of red-blue-and-whitewash are applied in Dallas during the years ahead. And that is why Barbara Bush, his acerbic mother, sounded so wise when she said of the potential presidential candidacy of his brother Jeb, “we’ve had enough Bushes.”

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, April 26,2013

April 27, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“He Kept Us Safe” Festival Of Falsehoods: Bush Ignored Repeated Warnings Of Terrorist Attack

During the festival of falsehood held by Republicans in Tampa two weeks ago, perhaps the very biggest lie emanated from the mouth of Jeb Bush, the Florida politician, entrepreneur, and potential heir to the GOP presidential dynasty.

“My brother, well” began Jeb, referring to former president George W. Bush, “I love my brother” — and then went on to add, more arguably: ” He is a man of integrity, courage and honor. And during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.”

That those words – “he kept us safe” – could be uttered in public about that leader is a testament to our national affliction of historical amnesia. The harsher truth, long known but now reiterated in a startling report on the New York Times op-ed page, is that the Bush administration’s “negligence” left us undefended against the disaster whose anniversary we will mark again today.

New documents uncovered by investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald show that despite repeated, urgent warnings from intelligence officials about an impending Al Qaeda attack, Bush did nothing because his neoconservative advisers told him that the threats were merely a “ruse” and a distraction.

Recalling the evidence compiled by the 9/11 Commission – which Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney, his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and numerous other officials sought to stymie and mislead – it has been clear for years that they ignored many warnings about Al Qaeda.

Specifically, as Eichenwald points out in his op-ed report, CIA officials sought to warn Bush with a glaring headline in the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” That memorandum represented the culmination of many months of attempts to awaken a somnolent White House to the impending threat of a terrorist attack.

None of that is news, although Republicans like Jeb Bush continue to behave as if the facts uncovered by the 9/11 Commission had never emerged.

But according to Eichenwald, he has seen still-classified documents that place the August 6 PDB in a new context – namely, the briefing papers preceding that date, which remain locked away:

While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.

On May 1, 2001, the CIA relayed a report to the White House about “a group presently in the United States” that was planning a terrorist attack. On June 22, the agency told Bush that the Al Qaeda strikes might be “imminent.”

A week later, the CIA answered neoconservative officials in the Bush administration who claimed that Osama bin Laden’s threats were a ruse to distract the United States from the real threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. “The United States is not the target of a disinformation campaign” by bin Laden, wrote agency officials, citing evidence compiled by its analysts that the Al Qaeda threats were real.

The warnings continued and multiplied into July 2001, with counter-terrorism officials becoming increasingly alarmed – or as Eichenwald puts it, “apoplectic.” Still, Bush, Cheney, Rice and their coterie failed to act.

Familiar with Eichenwald’s career, I’m confident that he is reporting what he has seen with complete accuracy and due caution. A two-time winner of the George Polk Award and a Pulitzer finalist, he concludes carefully that we will never know whether a more alert administration could have mobilized to prevent 9/11. What we know for certain –that they didn’t bother  – is an eternal indictment.

But Eichenwald’s report has relevance that is more than historical. Advising Mitt Romney, foreign policy neophyte, arethe same neoconservatives whose arrogance and incompetence steered Bush away from Al Qaeda and toward the quagmire in Iraq. Returning them to power would be exceptionally dangerous to the security of the United States and the world.

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, September 11, 2012

September 12, 2012 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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