May 16, 2008
Now I want to update some of the stories we've been reporting over recent weeks.
You'll recall that last week I interviewed the international lawyer Philippe Sands. He had just testified in Congress about his book TORTURE TEAM. The book is based on his conversations with the Bush administration insiders responsible for the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" - torture - on detainees at Guantanamo. Sands mentioned in particular Detainee 063 - Mohammed al-Qahtani....suspected of being the missing "20th hijacker" in the 9/11 attacks. The administration offered al-Qahtani as proof that coercion works, and the White House said he had provided "valuable intelligence." But Sands knew differently...
I do have actual information on Detainee 063. I spent time, as I describe in the book, with the head of Mohammed al-Qahtani's exploitation team. And the bottom line of it was, contrary to what the administration said, they got nothing out of him.
This week, after al-Qahtani had been in confinement for over six years, the charges against him were dismissed "without prejudice" by the presiding authority for military commissions. No reason was given, but it's being speculated that the evidence obtained by al-Qahtani's torture would not stand up in court. This is just one reason, many people argue that such trials should be more open and moved out of the military courts. In the meantime, Philippe Sands has written an incisive essay on these events of the week. We've posted it on our web site at pbs.org.
Earlier this spring our colleagues at Exposé reported on those billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to the richest farmers in the country. Because demand for food has driven prices sky-high and corporate farmers are earning record income, you might think this an ideal moment to cut out profligate subsidies to farmers who don't need them. But as we heard from David Beckmann of the non-profit organization Bread for the World, the farm lobby has a stranglehold on Congress
The main thing is that the people who are getting, who have their hands in the cookie jar are well organized. And according to the Wall Street Journal, they spent eighty million dollars last year lobbying Congress to defend those subsidies to affluent people.
Sure enough, this week Congress overwhelmingly passed a new farm bill. It contains more funds for nutrition programs and food stamps, but continues to funnel billions of dollars to the largest and wealthiest landowners. There was an effort to prohibit subsidies to farmers making $250,000 or more a year, but it failed. Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, a Democrat, said the new bill is "well designed to avoid every opportunity for serious reform...while actually piling on additional layers of unnecessary spending." Republican reformer Tom Petri, also from Wisconsin, calls it "a bloated disaster."
The Bush administration has wanted to cut the subsidies while opposing raising new revenues to pay for the increase in support for food stamps and other programs in the bill. The President is now expected to veto the bill, but Congress has the votes to veto the veto.
A final update. Last month Victor Navasky of the COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW told us about how all the talk about military strikes against Iran reminds him of the arguments made for invading Iraq five years ago
If you read Norman Podhoretz's account...where he says that we have a carrier right off the coast of Iran, and all the President has to do is say "go". And that the non-military solutions have not worked. You can't not take it seriously.
Since then, the talk about bombing Iran has only increased. And the biggest talker of all is the Connecticut hawk, Senator Joe Lieberman. The Democratic candidate for vice president eight years ago has now endorsed Republican senator John McCain for president and become his alter ego on the Middle East. Wherever McCain goes, Lieberman is sure to show up. Earlier this week Lieberman called air strikes against Iran "a distinct possibility," and on Wednesday he and talk show host Bill Bennett coupled their banter about Hillary Clinton with some hopeful praise for her own hawkish policies toward Iran.
This is a girl who puts on her pearls, goes down, throws down a shot of liquor, and bombs Iran...you know...lookout Mrs. Bennett, this is my kind of girl.
... it does have an appeal to it.
For his part, President Bush this week once again indicates we will be in Iraq for a long, long time. To pull out he said, to fail to maintain what he calls "a forward presence" in the Middle East, would send the wrong signals. The President also disclosed that out of respect for the sacrifice of American soldiers and their families, he had given up golf, although there were sightings of him on the course reported after the renunciation. I'm not making this up.
That's it for THE JOURNAL. We'll see you next week.
I'm Bill Moyers.