That Was Easy

After the US government reported being unable to track down witnesses that Guantanamo detainee Abdullah Mujahid claimed would prove his innocence of terrorism, England’s lefty newspaper the Guardian took a shot at it. The paper claims that it

searched for Mr Mujahid’s witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead.


Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid’s hearing.

The statements that the Guardian obtained from Mr. Mujahid’s witnesses do not necessarily clarify his innocence, but may help clarify the US government’s competence or the seriousness of its efforts to allow the detainee a fair hearing. The newspaper notes that

The three living witnesses he requested were easily located with a telephone, an internet connection and a few days work.

Shahzada Massoud was at the presidential palace, where he advises Mr Karzai on tribal affairs. Gul Haider, a former defence ministry official, was found through the local government in Gardez.

The interior ministry gave an email address for the former minister, Ahmed Ali Jalali, although he could as easily been found on the internet – he teaches at the National Defence University in Washington DC.

So why couldn’t we find the man’s witnesses? Is it because we didn’t try? Is it because we don’t have anyone who speaks the language? Could it be because the government used [warning: Flash with audio] the Internets for its search? Maybe they should have used the Interweb.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Wear ‘Em Down

I kind of hope we are in for a redistricting boom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold most of the DeLay Texas map.

I hope that all state legislatures (both Dem- and GOP-controlled) take this opportunity to shamelessly re-draw districts to their advantages every chance they get. Several good things could come of this:

  1. Sheer confusion could force the American people to realize we need serious redistricting reform, and perhaps we’d see some momentum for independently drawn districts.
  2. Sheer confusion could also oust some incumbents, as people who’ve been shoved into a new district vote for a challenger just because they no longer recognize any names on the ballot. Anything that drops the incumbency rate below 98% is probably a good thing, no matter who gets elected!
  3. As more members of congress realize that their own seats are dependent on the whim of their home state legislature, perhaps they themselves will enact some sort of redistricting reform (I know — fat chance).

Either way, this should be interesting. DeLay’s audacity has challenged the status quo and kicked the debate to a new level. No more “tradition” or “restraint.” Time to take the gloves off and take it up a notch. Or two.

Hillary McCain

Not to pile on Hillary (following Bruno), but her McCain-esque* triangulation on flag burning — damn you dirty hippies and your lighter fluid! — is apparently pleasing absolutely no one:

Perhaps even more than her stance on the war in Iraq, it is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s position on flag desecration that has drawn the scorn of the liberal Democratic base.

When Mrs. Clinton took a stand on the matter last year — co-sponsoring legislation that would have criminalized the desecration of the American flag even as she opposed a constitutional amendment that sought to achieve the same end — she was pilloried from the left. Editorial boards criticized her for political maneuvering, the political commentator Arianna Huffington attacked her for “stars, stripes and triangulation” and even some of her supporters quietly wondered why she had gone out on a limb on such a controversial issue.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton played a leading role in the flag-burning debate once again, co-sponsoring a measure similar to her previous one as an alternative to the constitutional amendment that was about to come up for a vote in the Senate.

“Fortunately, we have an opportunity to protect our flag in a bipartisan and constitutional way,” Mrs. Clinton said in her floor speech.

The measure, brought to the floor by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, failed, 64 to 36, minutes before the proposed amendment fell short of the 67 votes it needed.

. . .

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a former presidential nominee, voted for the measure, which closely resembled past efforts to pre-empt an amendment to the Constitution. Democrats who voted for the measure in effect bought themselves the right to claim that they had voted against flag desecration, potentially inoculating themselves against possible charges of lacking patriotism in a general election campaign. The broader measure to amend the Constitution failed by a single vote, 66 to 34.

*In other words, a “While I’m against a constitutional amendment, I’m also opposed to gay marriage” kind of triangulation.

Conditions on the Ground

That’s what will determine troop levels in Iraq, according to President Bush. However:

The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said at a fundraiser Thursday at the National Rifle Association.

Souder acknowledged in his remarks that the war in Iraq has dampened support for Republican candidates but added that withdrawing 30,000 troops could have a big impact, said Martin Green, Souder’s spokesman.

Jonathan Kaplan, The Hill, May 3

The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

Michael R. Gordon, N.Y. Times, June 25

All administrations are political, of course. But never before has the White House inserted electoral priorities into Cabinet agencies with such regularity and deliberation. Before the 2002 midterm elections, for instance, Rove or Mehlman visited with the managers of many federal agencies to share polling information and discuss how policy decisions might affect key races.

Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger, L.A. Times, June 25

Conditions on which ground, again?

Those Who Did And No Longer Do, Blog

No 15 minutes here — Ken Jennings has a blog*! And it’s pretty interesting, showing that maybe you do need to be extra smart to succeed at Jeopardy:

The British love trivia (one in ten Britons self-identified as a “quizaholic” in one recent survey) but my sense is their nomenclature is a little different from ours (and if I’m wrong, I hope a British reader puts down his steak-and-kidney pie, pops in his monocle, and writes in to inform me). The word “trivia” has been in use in the UK ever since the Trivial Pursuit fad of the mid-80s, but most hardcore players refer to their pastime as “quizzing.” I’m not entirely crazy about the word “quiz,” since it makes trivia sound about as fun to me as seventh-grade algebra, but I like the idea that there might be two separate words: one for the concept of trivia (the enjoyment of odd facts, and questions about them) and another for quizzing (a specific, public, competitive game built largely on trivia). The difference between “trivia” and “quizzing” is sort of like the difference between “stamps” and “philately,” or “caves” and “spelunking.”

Then there’s snark Ken:

Posting this from Sun Valley, Idaho, where I’m speaking at a thingy. Sun Valley may be located in the second ugliest state of the union (sorry, Wyoming!) but it’s actually quite scenic up here.

Then there’s Where-did-THAT-come-from? Ken:

Is it just me, or are Sam Raimi and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck rapidly becoming the same person as they get older?

*Remember him? The Ken Jennings Drinking Game?

[Link via.]

Joe Biden’s Italian Side

The pinstripe suits… the slicked-back hair… the silk hankerchiefs. I’ve long wondered if Joe Biden has any Italian heritage like I do. Finally, I think we have proof, in the form of his answer to a question on being president:

Speaking to a group of 130 twenty- and thirty-something supporters of his leadership PAC last Thursday, Biden indicated that while he thinks he could be an effective chief executive, as far as the job itself goes, he could take it or leave it.

“I’d rather be at home making love to my wife while my children are asleep,” he said.

Biden’s PAC spokeman, Larry Rosky, said the line illustrates that “this is not an egostistical pursuit for him” and that he is “frankly totally in love with his wife.”

Now that’s a paisan!