Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Man For All Treasons

Like Duncan, and perhaps Matt to a lesser extent, I confess to a bit of wry bemusement at the return trip home of the chickens looking for a roost. The same "journalists" that continue to patronize people like Ann Coulter that call for their violent deaths (repeatedly), and others in the conservative punditry that beg for their imprisonment and/or executions via more traditional legal means, are facing some of the consequences of this self-flagellating, over-indulgence of vociferous enemies. The often caustic Mr. Black:

Torturing people, jailing journalists for treason, the president being allowed to disobey the law at whim...The mainstream media has made all of these things a part of the normal conversation. They've allowed "two sides" to all of these things to be debated on equal footing. Left wing bloggers on the internets complain about the media and they get ignored and accused of "blogofascism." Conservatives call for the New York Times to be blown up and their reporters and editors jailed and they get treated seriously on MSNBC's flagship political talk show.

There's a problem here. You've been playing this game for years, letting these people control the terms of the debate. This is where it has brought you. Congratulations.

Congratulations indeed. And guess what your prize is? Just wait, it's coming.

Meanwhile, in the right wing press, the sins far exceed providing venues to those who wish to tear down, marginalize and neuter their hosts. At outlets such as the Weekly Standard, New York Post and Fox News (to name but a few), there has been a fairly strident call for criminal prosecution of the New York Times - for treason - over revelations in its recent story on the Bush administration's plans to monitor certain financial transactions.

While I am outraged, generally, at the notion of trying a newspaper for treason - in the United States of America! - I am also somewhat curious as to the shortsightedness on display here from those on the right. Do they think, as I asked in these posts on other abuses of power by the Bush administration, that the GOP will remain at the helm forever? Would they be comfortable with such a precedent for persecuting the press when such powers were wielded by Democratic administrations with compliant and prostrate legislatures?

Because they are certainly inhabiting glass houses. Laura Rozen recounts hearing William Kristol on Fox News imploring Attorney General Gonzales to bring charges against The Times. Mr. Kristol might want to be a bit careful about the standard he's working to establish:

But - didn't Mr. Kristol's magazine publish classified information just a few years ago leaked to it during the height of the Iraq war? I believe it did. As Mr. Kristol's magazine brags below, it published excerpts from a top secret intelligence document:

OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003...according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee....

So does Mr. Kristol as Keller's editorial counterpart deserve to be prosecuted as well by Mr. Gonzales? Why does he think he has the authority to make that decision to publish top secret intelligence information in his magazine, while, as he is saying now on Fox, the NYT's Bill Keller does not? Does Kristol think it should be left to his editorial discretion?...

Kristol might be safe in the knowledge that Gonzales would never turn his sights on him, but would he be as confident with a Democratic Attorney General? And while we're dispensing indictments for treason based on the revelations contained in this story, should we spare the editors of the Wall Street Journal who also published details on the same day?

All that being said, there is, as they say, a cherry on top. That cherry being the President of the United States of America. Here is Bush himself setting out the stakes of these disclosures:

...the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program...does great harm to the United States of America....If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money. And that's exactly what we're doing. And the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror.

Maybe Bush is right. Perhaps the President, when making such bold statements, deserves to be taken seriously. It is because of this, that I, with somber reluctance, beseech Representative Peter King to join me in calling for an investigation of President Bush for treason. As evidence, I rely, in part, on this post from Glenn Greenwald. Behold, our President and his underlings doing "great harm to the United States of America" and making it "harder to win this war on terror."

Here is President Bush, campaigning for re-election in Hershey, Pennsylvania on April 19, 2004, boasting about our vigilant efforts to monitor the terrorists' banking transactions:

Before September the 11th, law enforcement could more easily obtain business and financial records of white-collar criminals than of suspected terrorists. See, part of the way to make sure that we catch terrorists is we chase money trails. And yet it was easier to chase a money trail with a white-collar criminal than it was a terrorist. The Patriot Act ended this double standard and it made it easier for investigators to catch suspected terrorists by following paper trails here in America.

And as former State Department official Victor Comraes detailed (and documented) on the Counterterrorism blog, it has long been public knowledge that the U.S. Government specifically monitors terrorists' banking transactions through SWIFT:

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news.

But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries.

The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:
"The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries."

...Claims that The New York Times (and other newspapers which published stories about this program) disclosed information about banking surveillance which could help terrorists are factually false. Nobody can identify a single sentence in any of these stories which disclosed meaningful information that terrorists would not have previously known or which they could use to evade detection. To the extent that it is (ludicrously) asserted that the more they are reminded of such surveillance, the more they will remember it, nobody has spoken more openly and publicly about the Government's anti-terrorism surveillance programs than a campaigning George Bush.

Think about that folks: "nobody has spoken more openly and publicly about the Government's anti-terrorism surveillance programs than a campaigning George Bush." How much longer can we let this rogue element jeopardize our safety?

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