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“The 28 Pages Movement”: Rand Paul’s New Crusade; The Secret 9/11 Docs

Senator Rand Paul, the man of the hour when it comes to pushing back against government secrecy, is throwing his weight behind a fresh push to declassify 28 pages from a 2002 Senate inquiry into the causes of 9/11.

The Kentucky Republican is sponsoring legislation called the “Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Act,” which would force the release of the disputed pages. With his support, an important issue that has languished far too long may be finally gaining traction.

Paul is a big catch for the 28 pages movement, as advocates describe their effort. Former Florida senator Bob Graham, who has been banging the drum on the classified pages for years, will appear alongside Paul at a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday morning to lend his gravitas to the occasion.

Graham led the Senate inquiry and drafted the pages that have been kept under wraps. Without violating his oath of secrecy about specifics, the Democrat has been quite outspoken, saying the redacted pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks. He has also said the U.S. government’s protective stance toward the Saudis allows them to continue spreading the extreme Wahhabi version of Islam that has led to the rise of ISIS.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has long been on record supporting the disclosure, and he is co-sponsoring the legislation. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is described as “definitely interested,” and as the 9/11 family members continue to press for answers, they hope the moment is coming when this long-festering report will see the light of day, either by legislative action or by President Obama deciding enough is enough.

North Carolina Representative Walter Jones, an anti-war Republican who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the 9/11 families, said he started reaching out to members of the Senate after a House resolution he sponsored in two successive Congresses failed to gain enough momentum. Bringing Paul aboard at this time, when the nation is focused on issues of government overreach and secrecy, could generate the momentum that until now eluded him.

“This has never been about me, this is about the pain of the families,” Jones told The Daily Beast. He said he had been in contact with several senators, all Democrats, and their staffs. Then he noted, “Rand Paul is my choice for president, so I reached out to his daddy, who had me on his show to talk about it.”

Ron Paul has a radio show where he promotes his libertarian views, and father and son agree that you can always look for excuses not to release something, but absent clear harm to national security, government is not supposed to keep things secret because they’re embarrassing.

“I don’t know if it might be embarrassing to the Bush administration, how close they were to the Saudi family,” Jones said. “I just don’t know. I can’t put my fingers on it.”

Jones and Massachusetts Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch wrote a letter to Obama almost a year ago reminding him that on two separate occasions he told family members that he would declassify the pages. “And he hasn’t kept his word,” Jones said, despite numerous conversations he and Lynch have had in the interim with administration officials.

The introduction that precedes the redacted pages says that in the course of the Senate committee’s inquiry, it found pretty significant leads about the possible sources of support for the 9/11 attackers. But unable to reach firm conclusions within the time frame of the report, and with the resources at hand, the committee passed the information to the FBI. Whether the FBI followed up with sufficient zeal is left to the imagination, and listening to Senator Graham, the answer seems to be no.

Graham has pressed forward on his own to compel the FBI through a Freedom of Information request to turn over some 80,000 pages of evidence to a federal judge in Florida, who is reviewing the information about the agency’s investigation of possible terrorist ties by a Saudi family in Sarasota who fled the country just before the attacks, leaving a new car in the driveway and dinner on the table.

Members of Congress with a security clearance can read the 28 pages in a secure room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol after first writing to the chairman and the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee for permission. Members can’t take notes or bring a staffer, and only a small number of lawmakers have taken the opportunity. A House resolution introduced in the last Congress and the current Congress by Jones and Lynch to declassify the pages has 15 co-sponsors, almost all of whom signed on after reading the pages.

Kentucky Republican Representative Thomas Massie, one of the signers, said in a press conference last year that reading the 28 pages was “shocking” and that he had to stop every couple of pages to “try to rearrange my understanding of history.” A fellow libertarian and frequent sidekick of Senator Paul, Massie tweeted a photo of himself and Republican Representative Justin Amash with Paul in the aftermath of the legislative battle that raged over the weekend. “These are the people in John McCain’s nightmares,” the caption read.

Jack Quinn, a Washington lawyer acting on behalf of the 9/11 families, is part of the legal team bringing accusations against the Saudi government in a long-standing civil suit in the Southern District of New York.

With or without the 28 pages, Quinn says, evidence of Saudi involvement is “28 feet high, way more than ample evidence to bring everyone to trial.” He blames “dilatory tactics” of the Saudis and others to have the case dismissed and thrown out. They’re on their third judge; the case has dragged on for so long the first two judges passed away.

The pages’ potential release has implications far beyond Congress. “This isn’t going to go away,” says Quinn. “There’s too much here that points to the culpability of people who held positions in the Saudi government.”

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, June 2, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | 911, Classified Documents, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Nuclear Deal With Iran Isn’t Just About Bombs”: An Opportunity For Iran To End Its Chapter In Extremism

To prove that Americans can be every bit as crazy as Iranians, I took my daughter along on my last trip to Iran, in 2012, for a road trip across the country.

Iranians were stunned to see a 14-year-old Yankee teeny-bopper in their midst. In Mashhad, a conservative Islamic city that might seem wary of Americans, three Iranian women in black chadors accosted my daughter — and then invited her to a cafe where they plied her with ice cream, marveling at her and kissing her on the cheek as she ate.

They weren’t political, but they yearned for Iran to be a normal country again.

As the Iranian nuclear talks creep on into double overtime, let’s remember that this isn’t just about centrifuges but also about creating some chance over time of realigning the Middle East and bringing Iran out of the cold. It’s a long shot, yes, but it’s one reason Saudi Arabia is alarmed, along with Iranian hard-liners themselves. Those hard-liners survive on a narrative of conflict with the West, and depriving them of that narrative undermines them.

It’s odd to be debating a deal that hasn’t been reached, but, frankly, critics are mostly right in their specific objections to a deal, and in their aspirations for it.

“A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure,” noted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior.”

All true. Of course, a better deal would also involve gifts of delicious Persian baklava for every American. And a pony.

Netanyahu also suggests that a deal would give “Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb.” That’s a fallacy.

Iran is already on a path to nuclear capability. Netanyahu should know, because he’s been pointing that out for more than two decades. Beginning in 1992, he asserted that Iran was three to five years from a nuclear capability. Over time, that dropped to “a year or two,” and then to “months.”

But even if Netanyahu’s warnings have been alarmist, he has a point: Iran is getting closer. The problem is that fulminations don’t constitute a policy.

The West essentially has three options:

■ We can try to obtain a deal to block all avenues to a bomb, uranium, plutonium and purchase of a weapon. This would allow Iran to remain on the nuclear path but would essentially freeze its progress — if it doesn’t cheat. To prevent cheating, we need the toughest inspections regime in history.

■ We can continue the sanctions, cyberwarfare and sabotage to slow Iran’s progress. This has worked better than expected, but it’s not clear that we have a new Stuxnet worm to release. And, partly because of congressional meddling, international support for sanctions may unravel.

■ We can launch military strikes on Natanz, Isfahan, Arak, Fordow and, possibly, Tehran. This would be a major operation lasting weeks. Strikes would take place in the daytime to maximize the number of nuclear scientists killed. All this would probably delay a weapon by one to three years — but it could send oil prices soaring, lead to retaliatory strikes and provoke a nationalistic backlash in support of the government.

Imagine if we had launched a military strike against Chinese nuclear sites in the 1960s. In that case, Beijing might still be ruled by Maoists.

On balance, with either the military option or the sanctions option, Iran probably ends up with a nuclear capability within a decade. With a nuclear deal, it’s just possible that we could prevent that from happening. Perhaps no deal is achievable; the Iranian side has been recalcitrant lately. In that case, we continue with sanctions and hope that the economic pressure further delegitimizes the government and eventually forces Iran back to the table.

But, again, this isn’t just about uranium but also about undermining an odious regime and creating the conditions for Iran to become a normal country. I’ve rarely been to a more pro-American country, at the grass-roots, and there’s a pent-up anger at corruption and hypocrisy. That doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a revolution anytime soon. But it means that there’s a chance for movement after the death of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 75 and underwent prostate surgery last year.

In the office of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whom Khamenei edged out to be supreme leader, I was once jokingly introduced as coming from the “Great Satan.” An aide, referring to Iran’s own regime, immediately quipped: “America is only Baby Satan. We have Big Satan right here at home.”

So, sure, a nuclear deal carries risks and will be ugly and imperfect, but, on balance, it probably reduces the risk that Iran gets the bomb in the next 10 years. It may also, after Ayatollah Khamenei is gone, create an opportunity for Iran to end its chapter in extremism, so that the country is defined less by rapacious ayatollahs and more by those doting matrons in Mashhad.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 3, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Take A Look At The Man In The Mirror”: Saudi Money And The Moral Posturing Of Rand Paul

Expecting morally serious debate from any would-be Republican presidential contender is like waiting for a check from a deadbeat. It could arrive someday, but don’t count on it.

But listening to someone like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) feign outrage over a real moral issue can still be amusing, if you know enough about him to laugh. The Kentucky Republican has seized on stories about millions of dollars donated by Saudi Arabian agencies and interests to the Clinton Foundation, demanding that the Clintons return those funds because of gender inequality under the Saudi version of Islam.

Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, the senator said the Saudi monarchy is waging “a war on women,” turning a phrase often used to describe what Republican politicians do to women here. Like all aspiring leaders in the GOP, Paul wants to prove that he would be tough enough to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton in a national campaign. Women and men alike may admire her and hope that she will become America’s first female president — but how can she speak on behalf of women and girls if her husband’s foundation accepted support from the Saudis?

Certainly it is true that the Saudi monarchy inflicts special oppressions on its female subjects. But before examining how that should influence the policies of a charitable foundation – and a former president or secretary of state – it is worth considering the feminist credentials of Rand Paul and his fellow Republicans.

Presumably, Paul favors permitting women to drive and exercise other rights that they would be denied in Riyadh. In his habitual hostility to any legislation improving the status of women in this country, however, he is all too typical of his party. He opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to ensure that women are paid equally to men for similar work, as an assault on the “free market” worthy of the “Soviet Politburo” (which somebody should tell him no longer exists).

Like Senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and other presidential hopefuls, he co-sponsored the Blunt Amendment, a mercifully defeated law that would have deprived millions of women of contraceptive and other vital insurance coverage at the whim of any employer. He sponsored a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion and some forms of birth control. And he even opposed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – a vote that the ultra-right Saudi imams would no doubt approve.

If Paul wants to confront an enemy of women’s advancement, he need only glance in the mirror.

As for the Clinton Foundation, leave aside the fact that the senator only knows about any Saudi donations because the foundation’s transparency exceeds anything required under U.S. law – and that the Carter Center, the Bush 41 and Bush 43 presidential libraries, Oxfam, and the World Health Organization, among many other charities, have also accepted Saudi funding.

Paul and other critics ought to explain specifically how the foundation’s receipt of support from Saudi Arabia has compromised its mission of empowering women and girls. Anyone who has attended the annual meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, has seen and heard that commitment repeated again and again, around the world, in Muslim countries and everywhere else.

The fact that economic and social development demand full gender equality has been the unmistakable message of those meetings, year after year, for more than a decade. And no Saudi official who looked at the foundation’s programs in health, education, or economic development could misunderstand what the Clintons and their foundation are saying and doing.

To consider just one example: Over the past dozen years, the Clinton Health Access Initiative has helped to save millions of lives, including many women and girls suffering from HIV/AIDS. In Ethiopia, the Saudi billionaire Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi donated $20 million to a Clinton Foundation program providing AIDS drugs to infected men, women, and children.

Would it have been better to refuse the Saudi money, provide less medicine, and let some of those Ethiopians die?

While Bill Clinton’s answer is plain enough, let’s not pretend such moral quandaries really trouble Rand Paul and his ilk. We already know that politicians like him are quite prepared to “let ’em die” here as well as over there, because they are eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ruin Medicare, and gut the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But it is a question for the rest of us to consider seriously.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 20, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Global Inititiave, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rove’s New Game; Split Warren & Clinton”: Typical Rovian Dishonesty, Using Warren’s Words Out Of Context To Attack Clinton

So now, America’s most overrated political consultant has decided that the foundation that has handed out free AIDS medications to millions of Africans and done far more in a few years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world than the Republican Party has in its entire history is Hillary Clinton’s great Achilles’ heel. I’ll admit that time might prove Karl Rove right, although I don’t really think so. More on that later.

But one thing Rove has accomplished with his new web ad that uses Elizabeth Warren’s words to attack Clinton is to show us that Warren, while she may not be running for president, is definitely out to maximize her leverage over the presumptive nominee. Here’s the story.

The ad, in case you’ve missed it, shows both Clintons posed for photos with various be-keffiyehed petro-garchs with flash cards announcing that the Clintons’ foundation has accepted millions from “foreign governments.” This is not illegal, and if the governments in question had been Iceland and Lichtenstein, the ad wouldn’t even exist. But they were the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, a “prominent backer of Hamas,” which has given the foundation “potentially millions.” Uh…potentially?

But here’s where the ad gets cute. There is a voice-over, a woman’s voice, which warns that “the power of well-funded special interests tilts our democracy away from the people and toward the powerful.” That voice, of course, is Warren’s. Boom!

The ad wants to make the viewer think that Warren was inveighing against the Clintons when she spoke. But Warren was not, when she said those words, thinking about the Clinton foundation taking oil money at all. In fact, the ad cobbles together Warren quotes from different occasions. For example, the line I quoted above was taken from a September 2013 event of the Constitutional Accountability Center about the dangers of Citizens United and other Roberts Court decisions (here’s a video of that; the line comes at 11:28). In other words, she was lambasting the people Rove loves—two of whom, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, he helped elevate to the Court.

And get this. The full quote as Warren spoke it isn’t quite what you get in the ad. The full quote goes: “The power of well-funded special interests to blanket our politics with aggregate contributions tilts our democracy away from the people and toward the powerful.” Doesn’t sound to me much like a denunciation of nonprofit cup-rattling, even on the Clintons’ operatic scale.

In another of the ad’s sound bites, Warren cries out that “action is required to defend our great democracy against those who would see it perverted into one more rigged game where the rich and the powerful always win.” Did she wake up enraged that morning that the Clintons were perverting our democracy by funneling Saudi dollars into childhood nutrition programs? Not quite. She was on the floor of the Senate in September 2014 speaking in support of a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and states the authority to regulate campaign finance.

So it’s typical Rovian dishonesty. Nothing new there. Warren was lambasting a system of corruption that Rove supports, indeed lives and breathes, and has done far more than his part to advance.

But here’s an interesting thing. Warren hasn’t denounced this misuse of her words. Why not? I was on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show Monday night with David Axelrod and others talking about this ad, and O’Donnell raised the point of Warren’s silence, and Axelrod said yes, “that’s surprising to me. I would think she would speak out. The last place I’d think she’d wanna be is narrating a Karl Rove Crossroads ad.” You might think that Warren would be anxious to say hey, bub, I wasn’t talking about the Clintons! I was talking about you and your kind!

But she hasn’t. I emailed Warren’s office asking about this and got silence. I emailed Clinton’s office asking if they had asked Warren to issue a statement and got the same silence. So it seems on some level Warren doesn’t mind being used in this manner. She probably figures something like: To the extent that ads like this create pressure that pulls Clinton in the direction of eschewing special interests, she’s all for them. That may increase her leverage over Clinton in the near term. But undoubtedly other Republicans are going to notice her silence, and they’re going to try to drive a wedge between her and Clinton, and she’s not going to be able to stay silent forever.

On the broader question of the foundation: As I said on O’Donnell, sure, the Republicans will hit it hard, and it will remind some voters of some of those Lincoln Bedroom-y aspects of Clintonist politics. And they’ll raise questions about whether all of Bill’s glad-handling and hustling might compromise his wife’s White House in some way. But A, the Clintons can and should counter with the massive amount of good the foundation has done in the world, and B, unless some hot new smoking gun emerges that blossoms into an actual scandal, as opposed to a Fox News Scandal, the foundation is probably a second-tier issue.

A lot of voters can be troubled by something like the Clintons’ fund-raising. But most of them still like old Bill fine and know how he rolls. Elections are about the state of the economy and the alternate futures of the country the two candidates present to voters. Those are both matters the Clintons have always understood better than Rove, whose vision of America’s future was so wobbly that he was predicting a permanent conservative realignment shortly before the bottom fell out of George W. Bush’s presidency. That is reality. He can splice all the dishonest sound bites he wants.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Karl Rove | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No New Or Plausible Idea’s”: Cuba Diplomacy; Behind Right-Wing Outrage, An Intellectual Void

Listen carefully to the Republican leaders and presidential hopefuls roaring with outrage over President Obama’s courageous decision to normalize relations with Cuba; listen very carefully, because no matter how long or how closely you listen to them, there is one thing you will surely never hear.

You will never hear a new idea – or any plausible idea – about bringing liberty, democracy, and prosperity to the suffering Cuban people.

Instead, the furious denunciations of the president’s initiative from his adversaries reveal only an intellectual void on Capitol Hill, where the imperatives remain partisan and cynical. Everyone paying attention has known for decades that the frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba has accomplished nothing – except possibly the prolongation of the Castro regime, which has long considered the embargo a plausible excuse for its own economic failures – and viewed the United States as a politically convenient enemy.

Anyone who has visited the island knows that the Cubans wish nothing more than to see the embargo lifted, because they know it has done nothing to advance their liberty or prosperity – just the opposite.

As former president Bill Clinton likes to say, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. (He wanted to normalize relations as president, but the Cuban government clearly didn’t.) The U.S. government has been doing the same thing in Cuba for 54 years, yet the Republicans still don’t think that was long enough. They haven’t explained how or why – or when – their policy will achieve a different result.

Opponents of change have also failed to justify why treating Cuba so differently from other – and in various respects, worse – authoritarian regimes with which we maintain not only vigorous diplomatic relations but massive trading partnerships and even military cooperation. The conduct of those governments is arguably more repressive in important respects; there is, for instance, less religious freedom in China or Saudi Arabia than Pope Francis found in Cuba.

To browse human rights findings from the State Department’s annual reports or the online files maintained by groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International is to find at least a dozen countries with atrocious human rights records, from Chad to Turkmenistan. But the United States maintains diplomatic and trade relations with all of them.

Indeed, Republican leaders and businessmen – notably including members of the Bush family – have profited handsomely from investment in countries like China and Saudi Arabia for many years, with scarcely a peep about human rights violations in those places. It is impossible to forget how the first President Bush toasted the Chinese regime, immediately following the massacre in Tiananmen Square – and how his opportunistic family members showed up in Beijing and Shanghai, looking for a deal.

With the liberation of more than 50 political prisoners – along with USAID worker Allen Gross and an unnamed American spy – the Cubans have suddenly improved their human rights performance, while the Chinese continue to inflict horrendous repression and even torture on Tibetans, Uighurs, and Han Chinese who dare to dissent. (Many of our leading Republicans don’t object to torture, of course, unless it is perpetrated in foreign countries. Sometimes.)

House Speaker John Boehner accused the president of making “another mindless concession to a dictatorship.” What seems entirely mindless, however, is his insistence that we dare not abandon an unworkable and destructive strategy. No boycott observed and enforced by one country alone – even a powerful country like the United States – is ever going to prevail.

That is among the reasons why international human rights organizations, always the most consistent and implacable critics of Castro’s abuses, have long advocated engagement rather than embargo. As Human Rights Watch notes on web pages devoted to detailing those abuses, U.S. policy has imposed “indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people” since 1961, “and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights.”

Not long after the president concluded his historic speech – among the most lucid, logical, and inspiring he has delivered in his second term – a spokeswoman for Amnesty International called his new approach “the best opportunity in half [a] century for human rights change in Cuba.”

Designed to quarantine the Cuban government, the policy that failed for five decades has only succeeded in isolating the United States from the rest of the world. Its end is long overdue.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, December 19, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Human Rights, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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