Thursday, August 04, 2005


By William Fisher

One of the major tasks likely to test Karen Hughes’ diplomatic skills most has nothing – and everything -- to do with winning ‘hearts and minds’ of people around the world.

It has to do with how effective she is in persuading the people who run America’s overseas broadcasting programs to accept her recommendations and suggestions.

We say persuading because, though Ms. Hughes is now President Bush’s top official in charge of public diplomacy, she has no direct authority over the radio and television broadcasts the administration considers so critical to reducing anti-American attitudes abroad, especially in the Middle East.

The best she can hope for is influence, based on her close relationship to the President and, of course, the budgeting process. In other words, a turf war!

The reason is that America’s overseas broadcasting programs are controlled by a government-funded but quasi-independent corporation called the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The BBG is chaired by Kenneth Tomlinson, the rumpled-loooking Bush friend who is currently causing a political tsunami by attempting to make the domestic public broadcasting system more ‘fair and balanced’, i.e. include more right-wing and less left-wing content. The Secretary of State is a member of the BBG, but votes only in case of a four-to-four deadlock.

The rest of the BBG -- four Democrats and four Republicans – have little experience in overseas ‘ public diplomacy’ broadcasting. Most made their fortunes in commercial domestic radio and television.

The Board, with a large staff and many millions in funding, has jurisdiction over a wide array of broadcast media: Voice of America (VOA), Alhurra, the Arabic-language satellite TV channel, Radio Sawa, radio beamed at the Middle East, Radio Farda, which broadcasts to Iran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Radio and TV Martí, which broadcast to Cuba.

And they protect their turf zealously!

Yet it is noteworthy that in the 1,825 words of the opening statement she made at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the word ‘broadcasting’ was not uttered a single time. Not once.

Moreover, the mission she articulated had all the earmarks of a branding campaign for a consumer product – precisely the reason for the failure of Ms. Hughes’ two predecessors.

She laid out what she called “four strategic pillars -- the four "Es":

Engagement:” We must do much more to confront hateful propaganda, dispel dangerous myths, and get out the truth.”

Exchanges: “People who have the opportunity to come here learn for themselves that Americans are generous, hard-working people who value faith and family.”

Education: “Americans must educate ourselves to be better citizens of our world – learning different languages and learning more about other countries and cultures. And through English language training programs, we can give young people a valuable tool that helps them improve their own lives and learn more about our values.”

Empowerment: “We will create relationships with those who share our values and we will help amplify the voices of those who speak up for them.”

Ms. Hughes said little about the ‘how’ of it all, but not to worry. While there have been something like thirty major studies of U.S. public diplomacy programs during the Bush Administration alone, one of Hughes’ first acts as Undersecretary of State has been to request proposals for a $250,000 contract to carry out “a thorough and scientific study of how to address negative perceptions of the U.S., particularly in Muslim countries."

Having now been confirmed in her new post, Ms. Hughes will no doubt soon embark on the obligatory ‘charm school’ trip to far-off capitals. And, because she is a charming lady, she will probably get high marks.

But, then again, so did her predecessors.

Back home, she will have to confront not only the prospective turf war with the BBG, but an even more daunting reality: The critical juncture between George Bush’s foreign policy and the credibility of the messages we craft to send to the world.

Can anyone think of a job less doable?


By William Fisher

As early as March 2003, senior military lawyers complained to the Pentagon about the Justice Department's definition of torture and how it would be applied to interrogations of enemy prisoners captured by U.S. forces.

The lawyers were reportedly concerned that broadly defined, tough interrogation tactics would not only contravene long-standing military doctrine -- leaving too much room for interpretation by interrogators -- but also would cause public outrage if the tactics became known.

The disclosure – the first public acknowledgement of internal Defense Department disagreements over the issue – was made during a Senate hearing. The judge advocate generals (JAGs) for the Army, Air Force and Marines said they expressed their concerns during policy discussions in March and April 2003.

"We did express opposition," said Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, the Army's top lawyer. "It was accepted in some cases, maybe not in all cases. It did modify the proposed list of policies and procedures."

Republican Sen. Lindsay O. Graham of South Carolina, the reserve JAG officer who chaired the Armed Services subcommittee hearing, said he was concerned that the objections were not taken seriously enough, and that the resulting policy may have triggered the abuses at U.S. detention facilities around the world.

"If they had listened to you from the outset, we wouldn't have a lot of the
problems we've dealt with" over the past two years, Graham said.

Graham, along with two other Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia, recently introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that would establish the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as the governing authority for prisoner interrogations. The UCMJ confirms the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to all detainees.

At the hearing, the Army's judge advocate general, Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, said he cautioned the DOD that the Justice Department analysis could damage military "interests worldwide … putting our service personnel at far greater risk and vitiating many of the POW/detainee safeguards the U.S. has worked hard to establish over the past five decades."

Marine Corps JAG Brig. Gen. Kevin Sandkuhler said he cautioned that the techniques suggested by the Justice Department would "adversely impact … public support and respect of U.S. armed forces [and] pride, discipline, and self-respect within the U.S. armed forces." Also at risk would be military intelligence-gathering, efforts to encourage enemies to surrender and efforts to obtain support from allied nations.

Navy JAG Rear Adm. Michael Lohr said he wrote the DOD cautioning that at least one of the interrogation techniques suggested by the Justice Department "constitutes torture under both domestic and international law."

If harsh interrogation techniques are used, he asked in his letter to the DOD, "Will the American people find we have missed the forest for the trees by condoning practices that, while technically legal, are inconsistent with our most fundamental values?"

Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, asked the JAGs if they felt the tactics recently reported by investigators were consistent with Geneva Conventions prohibitions on torture.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Rives said he believed they were inconsistent.

Levin also asked the generals if they would want U.S. prisoners of war treated that way. "No, Senator, we would not," Rives said.

Rives warned the general counsel's office at the Pentagon that "several of the more extreme interrogation techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law and the (UCMJ)"

According to senators at the hearing, the JAG concerns were overruled by the DOD general counsel's office. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence T. Di Rita said their views were weighed along with those of intelligence and policy officials. The result, he said, was a “collaborative document”.

Di Rita said a new department-wide interrogations policy is being developed
and will "reflect the input of everyone who has a stake in it." The Army is also revising its field manual instructions on interrogations, he said.

The JAGs’ concerns were reportedly part of an internal debate during the formulation of the policy on treatment and interrogation of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The State Department's legal adviser weighed in even earlier than the JAG officers. In 2002, State expressed concerns that the Bush administration had ignored the Geneva Conventions in deciding how to treat captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Administration’s position was – and is – that because such captives have been categorized as "enemy combatants" and not prisoners of war, rules governing their detention are not subject to the Geneva Conventions. The White House has merely said they would be “treated humanely”.

But a military investigation into abuse at Guantanamo Bay found that a number of specific interrogation tactics -- such as forced nudity and the use of military working dogs -- were used at Guantanamo Bay to extract information from a high-value detainee. They were considered "authorized" by the Army field manual and Defense Department guidance and were therefore not considered abusive.

Identical tactics were later used at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, after Guantanamo’s commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, was transferred to Iraq. An Army investigation of abuses at Guantanamo recommended that Gen. Miller be reprimanded, but the recommendation was overruled.

The issue of prisoner treatment has come under increasing scrutiny since the release of the photos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, showing soldiers abusing prisoners there. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing the DOD demanding release of additional photos from that location, and the DOD has gone to court to defend its refusal to release the photos under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The abuse firestorm has been fuelled by disclosure of early memos from the Department of Justice and then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, now Attorney General, redefining the meaning of ‘torture’.


By William Fisher

As Congress left town for its August vacation, the Bush Administration was congratulating itself on its legislative victories.

Critics, however, saw few victories in what Congress accomplished – bankruptcy ‘reform’ that they say heavily favors the credit card industry, an energy bill that does little to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, a highway bill larded with wasteful and unnecessary projects, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and more protection from lawsuits for the gun industry.

But when Congress returns in September – aside from the confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court -- it will be facing multiple other political tsunamis: reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, immigration reform, and consideration of the $491 billion defense bill.

Picking up consideration of the defense bill – which includes $50 billion for U.S. troops in Iraq -- is likely to cause widespread White House heartburn. Lively debate was already well underway when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Republican from Tennessee, abruptly pulled the bill from consideration.

The reason was White House hostility to amendments setting standards for the treatment of enemy prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other military detention centers. The White House let it be known that the president would veto the defense-spending legislation if this provision was included in final legislation.

But White House angst about this amendment does not come from the usual suspects – the Democrats. Its authors are leading Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, a former military judge, and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain had been working with Graham and with Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to respond to widely publicized cases of prisoner abuse. They proposed to set specific standards for the treatment of foreign detainees.

The McCain-Graham-Warner amendment would require that the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation cover prisoners in military custody. McCain said, “The Army Field Manual and its various editions have served America well, through wars against both regular and irregular foes. I think we all agree to fight terrorism we must obtain intelligence. But we have to ensure that it is reliable and acquired in a way that is humane. To do otherwise not only offends our national morals but undermines our efforts to protect the Nation's security.”

Together with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, they also introduced an amendment that would prohibit cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners and would require the United States to abide by the Geneva Convention and other international agreements on the treatment of prisoners.

The two amendments would probably have received substantial Democratic support, giving them a strong chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

McCain, a leading sponsor of the interrogation-standard amendment, said, "We need to make sure that every member of the Department of Defense understands the procedures that are being used in interrogation and we don't have a repetition of Abu Ghraib," referring to the prison in Iraq that became synonymous with detainee abuse.

Rachel Meeropol, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "The administration's actions in authorizing and condoning torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment are clearly illegal, and contrary to American ideals. Continuing to ignore the abuses being carried out puts detainees, American soldiers, and even all of us at home in jeopardy. It is long past time to act, and the American people should demand a thorough inquiry, all the way up the chain of command. "

"These senators sent a message that until the Senate deals directly with the
issues of interrogation and detainee treatment, the DOD bill will not get
through the Senate," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights
First, a group advocating for stricter rules for handling prisoners.

Pressure on the senators to back off came from Vice President Dick Cheney, among others. The White House issued a policy statement saying, "The Administration strongly opposes such amendments, which would interfere with the protection of Americans from terrorism by diverting resources from the war to answer unnecessary or duplicative inquiry or by restricting the president's ability to conduct the war effectively under existing law."

In support of his amendment, McCain read from a July 22 letter signed by 14
retired military officers, including Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, the former
commander of U.S. Central Command, and Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000.

"The abuse of prisoners hurts America's cause in the war on terror, endangers U.S. service members who might be captured by the enemy and is anathema to the values Americans have held dear for generations," the letter stated.

A third amendment was introduced by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee to set up an independent commission to study reports of abuse at military detention facilities. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, and chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, said he was considering support for an independent investigation.

Sentiment favoring such an investigation has slowly been gathering steam in Congress, since legislation was introduced last January by Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Graham charged that the White House and the Pentagon had issued confusing and contradictory directives regarding detainee treatment. He said, “Our people are trained to do it one way; you're confusing the heck out of them. And what have we learned in the last two years? If you know what the rules are about interrogating anybody, come tell me, because I can't figure it out.”

But the White House view was articulated by conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who said, ”I reject the idea that this Defense Department and our Army and our military is out of control, is confused about what their powers and duties and responsibilities are.”