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Fall 2006

Turning a corner? 2005 In Review

Eric Peter

Last November I literally fled the country after George Bush won the election. Unlike previous elections, in 2004 it seemed obvious to me that terrible, indefensible mistakes had been deliberately made without admission or apology, even in hindsight. Everyone makes mistakes, but representing these mistakes as triumphs in an accomplished plan was very seriously troubling to me.

So how are we doing, one year later? Here's my summary of the most important issues of 2005.

Torture:
In early December McCain defeated the White House's lobbying efforts and passed the torture ban. While there's some concern that the bill has loopholes at very least it's a rebuke for the people who think torture is a joke. Big improvement from last year, when we were still arguing how guilty we should think an indefinitely detained prisoner is and what voltage ought to be applied to their un-convicted testicles.

Habeas Corpus:
Rather than continuing to keep prisoners in jail indefinitely without charge, the Bush Administration actually decided to charge "the worst of the worst" with crimes. Jose Padilla was charged in late November, 3 years after his arrest, with "conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country" which isn't "building a dirty bomb to use against Americans" but at least it's something. I have some vague recollection of other prisoners being charged, but I can't turn up any links. At the same time "ghost prisoners" abducted by the CIA without charge, trial, access to a lawyer, or formal recognition as prisoners became big news along with concern in Europe that the CIA was using European land to secretly torture prisoners. We've still got around 500 prisoners being held indefinitely without charge, but charging a few is a step in the right direction.

Valerie Plame:
In late 2004 and early 2005 Bush was expressing interest in finding out who was responsible for leaking the classified identity of a CIA asset and promised to fire anyone involved in the leak. In July 2005, Karl Rove's lawyer admitted that he had leaked the identity and Bush flip-flopped, dodging whether anyone would be fired. Fitzgerald's indictments and press conference left no doubt that leaking Plame's identity was a serious crime.

Downing Street:
Before 2005 there had been rumors that the Iraq War was more than an innocent mistake based on faulty intelligence: Seymor Hersh had written about the Office of Special Plans which resurrected discredited intelligence reports to support claims which were known to be untrue. The Downing Street Memo was first published in May 2005 and provided the first real documentation that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of removing Saddam Hussein from power. As Republicans cut and ran from the issue John Conyers and 88 members of Congress demanded an explanation or denial of the memo, and issued The Conyers Report late this year. Note that there's a $1000 reward for anyone who can get Bush to answer any questions at all on the Downing Street Memo.

Patriot Act:
To my great surprise the Patriot Act failed to be permanently reauthorized two weeks ago. The House extended the bill by only one month, not the six months that the Senate wanted. It's clear that next month the bill will be passed in some form, but I'm happy to see that the more draconian (and useless) measures in the Patriot Act will be challenged and hopefully defeated.

Iraq:
Iraq held its first democratic elections this year, which was a good sign. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq won, which was not a good sign. A month after defeating an opponent who would have "appeased the terrorists" by mistaking terrorists for "legitimate voices" in Iraq Bush negotiated their inclusion in the government and then celebrated that terrorists were voting and that terrorist-supported politicians were getting votes. With lines of power being drawn between the Shia tied to Iran and their Wolf/Badr Brigades responsible for Shia revenge killings and kidnappings, Sunnis tied to Baathists and the insurgents still launching attacks against Coalition forces, and Kurds who just want to be left alone in an independent Kurdistani state it's hard to see how we're not already fighting the Iraq Civil War. I just hope we can define success, achieve success, and get out before we waste any more lives and treasure there.

Terror:
Last year during the run-up to the 2004 vote terror alerts were a regular occurrence. This year: zero terror alerts. I assume this is an excellent sign: Bush's success in Iraq and at home marked a complete defeat of all terror threats against America. Alternatively, sometime around December 2004 the terrorists successfully attacked and destroyed our terror alert mechanism which is why it hasn't alerted us to anything this year. Third explanation: button-happy Tom Ridge resigned in November 2004 and took his twitchy terror-false-alarming finger with him, which would also be a good thing. Also: everyone can take snakes nail clippers on planes again, leaving more time for security people to look for actual dangerous things. Good news.

Political Capital:
In his victory speech Bush announced: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style." Apparently that capital devalued faster than you can say "lame duck": last December his approval numbers were at 63/34, and for most of this year they've been down around 40/60. Reforming social security fell flat. Newscasters started talking about the stories they wanted to talk about rather than the stories the White House wanted them to talk about. Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and Katrina also had something to do with Bush's decline as well. I've tried to stay away from "us vs. them" political tribalism in this commentary, but when someone has proven again and again to be an incompetent and self-destructive force it's good to see that force weakened and impotent.

The political landscape isn't entirely thumbs-up, but it looks to be a significant improvement from where things stood last year. We turned a corner this year: wrongdoers were identified and misdeeds were exposed. All we need to do this year is to finish the work we started: successfully convict and punish the wrongdoers and fill our history books with their lessons to prevent these mistakes from being made again in the future.