Wednesday's must-reads


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Stephen W. StrombergGeraldine Sealey
July 14, 2004 5:36PM (UTC)

Butler report skewers British intel
The Press Association reports on the Butler Inquiry in the UK, which criticized both the content and interpretation of "open to doubt" and "seriously flawed" British intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

"The ex-cabinet secretary's 200-page report said Tony Blair's September 2002 dossier should not have included its controversial claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes."

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"The inquiry said that when the government began considering military action against Iraq in March 2002, the intelligence was 'insufficiently robust' to justify claims that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions requiring it to disarm."

"And it said that since the conflict, key claims based on reports from agents in Iraq, including claims that the Iraqis had recently produced biological agents, had had to be withdrawn because they were unreliable. The report said that the government's September 2002 dossier went to the 'outer limits' of the available intelligence."

"It said that Mr Blair's statement in the Commons may have 'reinforced the impression' that there was 'fuller and firmer' intelligence behind the assessments in the dossier than was actually the case."

Durbin: What was Bush told?
A one-page summary of prewar intelligence in Iraq prepared for President Bush could show exactly what intelligence agencies told Bush about Iraq's WMD -- but the White House and CIA won't hand it over, the New York Times says.

"The review, prepared for President Bush in October 2002, summarized the findings of a classified, 90-page National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's illicit weapons. Congressional officials said that notes taken by Senate staffers who were permitted to review the document show that it eliminated references to dissent within the government about the National Intelligence Estimate's conclusions."

"'In determining what the president was told about the contents of the N.I.E. dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, qualifiers and all, there is nothing clearer than this single page,' Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said in a 10-page 'additional view' that was published as an addendum to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Friday.'"

A separate white paper summarizing the National Intelligence Estimate was made public in October 2002. The Senate report criticized the white paper as having "misrepresented'' what the Senate committee described as a "more carefully worded assessment" in the classified intelligence estimate. For example, the white paper excluded information found in the National Intelligence Estimate, like the names of intelligence agencies that had dissented from some of the findings, most importantly on Iraq's nuclear weapons program. That approach, the Senate committee said, 'provided readers with an incomplete picture of the nature and extent of the debate within the intelligence community regarding these issues.'"

War's revolving door
The Los Angeles Times reports on the advocates for war in Iraq who are now profiting from the reconstruction. "Lobbyists, aides to senior officials and others encouraged invasion and now help firms pursue contracts," the headline reads, "They see no conflict."

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"As lobbyists, public relations counselors and confidential advisors to senior federal officials, they warned against Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, praised exiled leader Ahmad Chalabi, and argued that toppling Saddam Hussein was a matter of national security and moral duty. Now, as fighting continues in Iraq, they are collecting tens of thousands of dollars in fees for helping business clients pursue federal contracts and other financial opportunities in Iraq. For instance, a former Senate aide who helped get U.S. funds for anti-Hussein exiles who are now active in Iraqi affairs has a $175,000 deal to advise Romania on winning business in Iraq and other matters."

"And the ease with which they have moved from advocating policies and advising high government officials to making money in activities linked to their policies and advice reflects the blurred lines that often exist between public and private interests in Washington. In most cases, federal conflict-of-interest laws do not apply to former officials or to people serving only as advisors."

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the actions of former officials and others who serve on government advisory boards, although not illegal, can raise the appearance of conflicts of interest. 'It calls into question whether the advice they give is in their own interests rather than the public interest,' Noble said. Michael Shires, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, disagreed. 'I don't see an ethical issue there,' he said. 'I see individuals looking out for their own interests.'"

Marriage amendment on brink of failure
The marriage amendment is fizzling in the Senate, and Democrats are enjoying the GOP strife on display, with Sen. Dick Durbin reading aloud a statement by Lynne Cheney over the weekend saying the definition of marriage should be left to the states. The AP reports:

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"'This issue is not going away,' Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said in a virtual concession that the measure would fall short of the 60 votes needed to advance past a Wednesday test vote. 'Will it be back? Absolutely, yes,' he added."

" ... The emotionally charged proposal, backed by the president and many conservatives, provides that marriage within the United States 'shall consist only of a man and a woman.' A second sentence says that neither the federal nor any state constitution 'shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.' Some critics argue that the effect of that provision would be to ban civil unions, and its inclusion in the amendment has complicated efforts by GOP leaders to gain support from wavering Republicans."

" ... The odds have never favored passage in the current Congress, in part because many conservatives are hesitant to overrule state prerogatives in the area of issues such as marriage. But some Republican strategists contend the issue could present a difficult political choice to Democrats, who could be pulled in one direction by polls showing that a majority of voters oppose gay marriage, and pulled in the other by homosexual voters and social liberals who support it."

Even though that sentence says a "majority" of voters oppose gay marriage, putting opponents of the amendment -- Democrats and liberals -- on the spot, the next sentence points out that in fact, more people oppose the amendment than support it. "At the same time an Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in March showed about four in 10 support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but half oppose it."

Where's Hillary?
When the DNC announced the featured speakers list for the Boston convention yesterday, many Democrats noticed one of the party's most popular figures missing -- Hillary Clinton. The New York Times quotes Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter saying HRC didn't ask to speak, but also had no idea if others chosen, like Bill Clinton, did request time at the podium. Democrats speculated for the Times about possible other explanations.

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"Some wondered if the Kerry-Edwards campaign was worried about being upstaged by a woman who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, most likely in 2008. Others speculated that the campaign was worried that Mrs. Clinton may be too polarizing a political figure to showcase during an event intended to appeal to the broadest political audience."

"The speculation about Mrs. Clinton's political future has heated up since Mr. Kerry's announcement last week that his running mate would be John Edwards, the youthful and charismatic senator from North Carolina. Many Democrats say the decision means Mr. Edwards could present an alternative to Ms. Clinton in 2008, if President Bush is re-elected this year."

"Some Democrats wondered whether this potential rivalry was behind the decision to keep Mrs. Clinton off the list of convention speakers. 'It's very interesting,' said one prominent national Democrat who asked not to be identified because he did not want to provoke either side. 'A lot of 2008 presidential politics may be at work here. It certainly gives Edwards a tremendous edge to keep her off the list.'"

"But Peggy Wilhide, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention, and Ms. Cutter said Mrs. Clinton would have a role in the convention: she would be part of a special segment featuring all the women senators in the party led by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat and the dean of the female senators."

Dear Ken ...
John Kerry's campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill wrote a letter to her counterpart on the Bush-Cheney campaign blasting his operation for a "paparazzi-like" interest in seeing a tape of a recent Kerry fundraiser in New York City released. Instead, Cahill said, Bush should release documents including: his military records, White House correspondence with Halliburton, documents from the Cheney energy task force, correspondence between pharmaceutical companies and the White House while the Medicare bill was being drafted and documents relating to the abuse of prisoners. The letter is here:

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July 13, 2004
Ken Mehlman
Campaign Manager
BUSH-CHENEY '04, Inc.

Dear Ken:

Over the past several months, allies of the President have questioned John Kerry's patriotism while your staff has criticized his service in Vietnam. Republicans and their allies have gone so far as to launch attacks against his wife and your campaign has run $80 million in negative ads that have been called baseless, misleading and unfair by several independent observers.

Considering that the President has failed to even come close to keeping his promise to change the tone in Washington, we find your outrage over and paparazzi-like obsession with a fund-raising event to be misplaced. The fact is that the nation has a greater interest in seeing several documents made public relating to the President's performance in office and personal veracity that the White House has steadfastly refused to release....

We also wanted to wish you a happy anniversary. As we are sure you and the attorneys representing the President, Vice-President and other White House officials are aware, today marks one year since Administration sources leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent to Bob Novak in an effort to retaliate against a critic of the Administration.

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In light of the fact that the Administration began gutting the laws protecting the nation's forests yesterday, we hope you will accept the paper on which this letter is written as an anniversary gift. (The one year anniversary is known as the "paper anniversary.")

Sincerely,
Mary Beth Cahill
Campaign Manager


Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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