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What a Journalist Should Be Doing
Byron Williams writes a twice weekly column for the Oakland Tribune and other media outlets. Below are columns he's written on the Downing Street Memo on May 12, 20, 23, June 1, 3, and 7. Six pieces, exactly six more than we've seen on, say, ABC News.
Bush attempts to tarnish FDR's foreign policy image
May 12, 2005
IF President Bush would attempt to systematically dismantle Franklin D. Roosevelt's prize domestic policy in Social Security, logic would suggest that any criticism of the former president's foreign policy is almost a given.
While in Europe commemorating the 60th anniversary of V-E Day, the president publicly embraced one of the long-held historical positions of far-right conservatism � that the Yalta Agreement was the betrayal of freedom and Roosevelt is the culprit.
As reported by The Associated Press, the president singled out the 1945 Yalta Agreement signed by Roosevelt, stating: "We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability.
"We have learned our lesson; no one's liberty is expendable. In the long run, our security and true stability depend on the freedom of others."
The president went on to say that "the Yalta Agreement followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable."
The Yalta Agreement, signed months before Roosevelt's death, along with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, gave Stalin control of Eastern Europe.
The president's knee-jerk historical analysis fails to consider several points.
Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill were naive about the brutality of Stalin anymore than President Reagan was about Saddam Hussein when he dispatched Donald Rumsfeld to meet with the Iraqi dictator while the United States supported Hussein's war against Iran.
For Roosevelt and Churchill, the alliance with Stalin was one of necessity.
Moreover, Yalta was not an agreement hammered out in isolation. There had been several summits among the three, most notably Tehran in 1943. Much of what conservatives have historically regarded as betrayal was the result of negotiations in Tehran nearly two years prior.
Given that Stalin had taken over much of Eastern Europe from the Germans � including Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and eastern Germany � Yalta didn't give Stalin these countries as much as he already had them.
But to compare Yalta to the Munich Pact, in particular, is the highest form of insult to the legacy of Roosevelt.
In addition to V-E Day celebrations, this week also marked the 65th anniversary of Neville Chamberlain's resignation as British prime minister. He was replaced by Churchill.
Chamberlain, whose name is synonymous with appeasement, will forever be remembered in the annals of history for his remarks following the Munich Pact that he made with Hitler in 1938, saying:
"My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. ... Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."
Being wrong about Hitler in 1938 and forced to deal with Stalin in 1945 hardly makes for an apt comparison.
I agree that Yalta was hardly perfect, but it was not appeasement cloaked in naivete that the president seems to suggest.
Instead of attempting to revise Roosevelt's legacy for political purposes, the president may be better served to pay more attention to his own.
Assuming the London Sunday Times is still considered to be a credible source, on May 1 it published a memo that transforms left-wing conspiracy theorists who hate the president into courageous Americans who recognize the stench of mendacity through the perfume of patriotic rhetoric.
In a memo dated July 23, 2002, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that the case for war in Iraq was "thin" as "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
The memo makes official what many have suspected. We have surpassed conjecture, leaving only denial as the last recourse standing against formidable facts.
No amount of revision can change what is looking more and more as the proverbial "smoking gun." The repetitive nature of history reminds us that Carlisle was on to something in saying, "No lie can live forever."
And that includes attempts to revise the legacy of one president in order save face for another.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist.
E-mail him at email@example.com or leave a message at
U.S. patriots need a reality check
May 20, 2005
Byron Williams - byronspeaks.com
05.20.05 - There are moments when a democratic society must compare the utopian ideals it committed to on paper versus the reality of its praxis. In the 229 years since declaring itself a sovereign nation, America has had several such reality checks.
Women's suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement are examples of America being challenged to authentically live up to the ideals found in its two most cherished documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
These movements were spawned by profound acts of patriotism -- individuals whose love of a country exceeded the injustices they endured in the dominant culture.
I believe the recently published memo in the Sunday London Times suggesting the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to support its desire to wage war in Iraq has again brought us to a reality check moment.
As we collectively stand at the intersection of patriotism and nationalism, we are presented with a question: Which direction will America take?
Patriotism and nationalism, especially in moments of crisis, are often confused.
Patriotism is simply defined as love and devotion to one's country, while nationalism is the devotion to the interests of a nation; a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.
Nationalism itself does not carry a negative connotation, but that which is currently practiced in America is cause for great concern.
While patriotism finds its roots in dissent and questioning, the contemporary form of American nationalism depends on the power of groupthink. The Nazi regime remains the gold standard of nationalism gone awry.
Nationalism tends to sound like patriotism, especially when married to fear. It is the emotion of fear that causes one to focus on self-preservation -- seductively lured into seeing the world as good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, or us vs. them.
Most Americans intuitively understand there is nothing in keeping with American values to justify the torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Yet, the majority has remained on the sidelines while the Defense Department investigated itself and found only a "few bad apples" were at fault.
The same holds true for the memo in question dated July 23, 2002 -- a full seven months before the invasion of Iraq.
In a report by the former head of British Intelligence MI6, Richard Dearlove, who had recently returned from meetings with the Bush Administration, to Prime Minister Tony Blair states: "Military action was now seen as inevitable."
According to Dearlove, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
If the response to the memo is based on nationalism's "America: my country right or wrong," the subject obviously is closed.
If, however, one believes that America's raison d'etre includes establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, we must have answers.
With more than 1600 Americans dead along with countless numbers of Iraqis, is it not a sad commentary that doubt lingers as to why we invaded Iraq preemptively?
It is not enough for Senators to take to the Sunday talk shows, as did John Mc Cain, R-Ariz., to simply declare that he did not agree with the memo.
Why are runaway brides, freaks on trial, and false security scares at the Capitol bigger news stories than potentially the clearest evidence to date that the President of the United States did not level with the American people before going to war?
The biggest difference between nationalism and patriotism is the overall impact of the former weakens the nation while the latter strengthens it. No amount of yellow ribbons or "I Support the Troops" bumper stickers can mask the stain of complacency if we choose nationalism over our patriotic responsibility to demand answers from our elected officials.
America has never been weakened when "We the People" have demanded the truth. We owe that much. Not only to the country, but also to the families whose loved ones have returned home by way of Dover AFB.
(c) 2005, byronspeaks.com
White House hypocrisy
May 23, 2005
Byron Williams - byronspeaks.com
I truly understand the (self-) righteous indignation exhibited by the White House regarding the recent Newsweek retraction.
I agree with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the story is "appalling." Likewise, I concur with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's lamentation that "people lost their lives." And I am certainly in harmony with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan that "our image abroad has been damaged."
Newsweek retracted its May 9 story citing information from a "knowledgeable government source" that a military report on abuse at Guantanamo Bay found interrogators had flushed at least one copy of the Quran down a toilet in an attempt to make detainees talk.
Newsweek's flawed reporting about the desecration of the Quran is particularly troubling because it is linked to 17 deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Equally troubling is the dubious fraternity that that magazine has now joined.
To say portions of the media have been ethically challenged in the past year is like saying Custer overreached at Little Big Horn.
There is the unsubstantiated reporting by Dan Rather and CBS regarding President Bush's National Guard service. Jayson Blair temporarily transformed The New York Times into the world's largest creative fiction writing establishment.
Several conservative pundits, most notably Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, wrote in support of administration policies while failing to disclose they were simultaneously feeding from the administration financial trough.
How could we forget the attempts by Sinclair Broadcasting to run a "hit piece" on John Kerry during the final weeks of the election?
Because of our collective desire to live for the moment, we are perhaps titillated by blogs, talk radio and elected officials at the prospects to pile on the latest media faux pas.
Newsweek's journalistic errors are inexcusable. How many journalism classes are required before one is informed of the danger of relying on a single source?
Newsweek's unfortunate journalism has provided needed cover allowing the administration to bemoan what it is unwilling to do. Just as it did with the Terri Schiavo matter, the administration has shrewdly used the Newsweek debacle to keep the focus away from where it should be directed most.
I'm afraid Rice's "appalling" comment is somewhat overly myopic. How quickly she forgets Abu Ghraib and the appalling manner in which this administration handled it.
How many ACLU, Human Watch, Red Cross and Amnesty International reports will be required -- describing our human rights violations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere -- before we begin to take the extent that torture has played in the war on terror seriously?
Rumsfeld is right that people have lost their lives -- more than 1,600 U.S. troops along with estimated tens of thousands of Iraqis. With regard to the weapons of mass destruction, was it not Rumsfeld who said in the spring of 2003: "We know where they are"?
As people on all sides have lost their lives, there remains the shadow of a smoking gun that no one seems willing to touch. All the vigor to tar and feather Newsweek is sorely missing when it comes to the July 23, 2002, memo that questions the authenticity of the case for war.
Is McClellan serious that "our image abroad has been damaged" as a result of Newsweek? The most strident supporters of the administration's policies would be hard-pressed to make that claim and maintain a straight face.
For all of the criticisms of Newsweek, who in the administration has come forward with a categorical denial that such actions have taken place? How can the administration be more outraged about Newsweek's infractions than the 36 people who have died while interrogated under U.S. watch?
This administration treads lightly when it comes to accountability, historically demonstrating a willingness to hold others to a standard that it is unwilling to hold itself.
Newsweek, for its part, did the only thing it could by admitting its infractions, which is more than can be said for this administration.
(c) 2005, byronspeaks.com
And now, a message to our government
June 1, 2005
Byron Williams - byronspeaks.com
We are at a moment in history where our belief in American democracy must go beyond rhetoric and sound bites. I therefore have taken it upon myself to draft a letter that you can send to your elected officials regardless of your position on the war.
Dear (Senator or Representative):
I am writing to express my concern about my country's actions in the war on terror. Originally, I (supported/did not support) the war in Iraq, but as more and more information is leaked, I fear that we are moving away from the democratic traditions that I hold dear.
There's the administration's dismay over Newsweek's retraction of its May 9 Guantanamo Bay story citing a military report on abuse, including flushing a copy of the Quran down a toilet in an attempt to make detainees talk. Now newly released FBI documents support Newsweek's story.
According to the latest report, several detainees at Guantanamo Bay told FBI interrogators that guards had mishandled copies of the Quran, including one who said in 2002 that guards flushed a Quran in the toilet.
How can the administration show such outrage at Newsweek's reporting when its very own Justice Department acknowledges reports of similar abuse?
The time lag between our government's awareness of the possible infractions and the disclosure of the recent report suggests it may be more than a few bad apples that made the unilateral decision which led to the withholding of this evidence from the American people.
Myriad reports on torture come from the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Red Cross and Amnesty International.
I do not wish to suggest the FBI report alone has the final word, but does this not warrant an independent investigation?
The other matter I wish to bring to your attention is the secret memo dated July 23, 2002, first published in the May 1 edition of the London Sunday Times. I read the memo in its entirety by simply doing a Google search using the words "secret memo."
I thought it best that I quote the following passage in full: (Please note that Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6 -- CIA equivalent -- is the one referred to as C.)
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with going the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regimes record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath of military action.
More troubling, still, is that the aforementioned memo precedes the ominous statement by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice:
"The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he (Saddam) can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Without weapons of mass destruction, the only smoking gun I am aware of is the secret memo, which the media have done a poor job of reporting.
As Americans, we can agree or disagree about the war as it currently stands, but the items that I draw to your attention in no way serve the interest of our great nation.
Inaction by Congress would suggest that even within democratic societies, Machiavelli is ultimately correct: The ends do indeed justify the means.
As long as we hide our collective heads in the sand by doing nothing, despite the evidence, we place a higher premium on politics, thus moving us away from our democratic traditions.
I am not interested in your response with watchwords, shibboleths or the latest focus group-approved slogans.
I pray that you will have the courage to break from the herd and think for yourself and your country during these most difficult days.
One who loves her/his country authentically
P.S. You did take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
(c) 2005, byronspeaks.com
A disappointing performance from Rice
June 3, 2005
Byron Williams - byronspeaks.com
Initially, I was somewhat annoyed when the demonstrators interrupted a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They recreated an image of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in which a hooded prisoner stood with his arms outstretched attached to electric wires.
It is no secret that I disagree with the administration's policies in Iraq. But I wanted to hear what the secretary of state had to say, not a collection of protesters.
In retrospect, however, I had to rethink my position.
Had the four protesters not interrupted Rice's speech with chants of "Stop the killing, stop the suicide, U.S. out of Iraq," she would not have responded with the following:
"Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, it is a wonderful thing that people can speak their minds. And it is a good thing that they can now do so in Baghdad."
Without this brief interruption, Rice would have gone through her prepared remarks without mentioning Iraq. Moreover, during the hourlong session, which was hosted by the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, there was no mention of torture, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay.
There was nothing said about the recent Newsweek retraction that Rice initially called "appalling." Her most newsworthy item was her support for the Senate to confirm the embattled John Bolton as United Nations ambassador.
It was a disappointing performance from one who has such a compelling story. From humble beginning to becoming the first African-American woman to be named secretary of state is no small accomplishment. Forbes magazine calls Rice the "Most powerful woman in the world."
But how can a "wartime" secretary of state have roughly 25 minutes of prepared remarks and not mention the conflict that to date has cost the lives of more than 1,600 American husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, along with many thousands of Iraqis?
The subject of Iraq did come up in the vetted question-and-answer period. In what may have been the most curious moment of the speech, Rice offered strong words against those who have been critical of the war effort.
When asked whether she was confident the Iraq army and police could control their country, Rice's response included this stern historical reminder:
"And when you think they aren't going to make it -- when you want to criticize what they're doing and it's taking a long time and this and that -- just remember, not to this date, have they made a compromise as bad as the one in 1789 that made my ancestors three-fifths of a man. So let's be humble about what they're going through."
Did the secretary of state pull the race card from the bottom of her deck?
What does the Compromise of 1789 have to do with a preemptive strike, in which the primary reason for action has changed several times, justified with bad and inaccurate intelligence that, according to the Downing Street memo, fit the evidence around the policy and fortified by the use of torture and abuse?
Rice is correct that nothing to date in Iraq is as bad as the Compromise of 1789, but does that justify what appears to look more and more like a Faustian bargain?
Rice's false choice is simply following the administration playbook to the letter.
When Vice President Dick Cheney was recently asked about Amnesty International's condemnation of the United States for what it called "serious human rights violations" at Guantanamo Bay, the vice president responded, "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously."
Likewise, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan disputed the secret Downing Street memo, saying that it was "flat-out wrong." Yet, by his own admission, he had not read it.
How long will this administration be allowed to dismiss facts by using conjecture, denial and historical gymnastics?
I wasn't expecting Rice to admit in totality the shortcomings of the administration's war on terror policy, but her failure to mention them in an authentic way only cheapens the great office she represents.
(c) 2005, byronspeaks.com
Deep Throat and the state of democracy
June 7, 2005
Byron Williams - byronspeaks.com
I was sitting at my local coffee hangout the day after it was revealed that 91-year-old W. Mark Felt, who was second-in-command at the FBI in the early 1970s, was the confidential source named "Deep Throat" that led to Watergate becoming a household name.
The individual sitting adjacent to me suggested that we need another Deep Throat today so that the world might know of possible shenanigans within the present White House administration.
I wondered privately: "Is that really necessary or possible?"
In an era where journalists are being threatened with jail for not revealing sources, it seems doubtful that there would be the requisite trust for another Deep Throat to emerge. Moreover, there are more than enough Deep Throats that have already come forward to warrant some version of the cloak-and-dagger character played by Hal Holbrook in the film "All the President's Men."
Remember former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil's book "The Price of Loyalty"?
According to O'Neil, it was at the very first National Security Council meeting that the Bush administration expressed a desire to remove Saddam Hussein from office.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," says O'Neil, who adds that going after Saddam was a high priority 10 days after the inauguration -- eight months before Sept. 11.
Bob Woodward, the investigative reporter who, along with Carl Bernstein, put Watergate on the map, places the time frame for war three months after 9/11.
In Woodward's book "Plan of Attack," the invasion of Iraq was fueled in part by the CIA's conclusion that Saddam Hussein could not be removed from power except through a war that then-CIA Director and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient George J. Tenet called a "slam dunk" case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
There was also "Against All Enemies," written by former counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke.
According to Clarke, in a meeting on September 12, 2001, "The president, in a very intimidating way, left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office."
There is a temptation to dismiss the aforementioned Deep Throats because they had a possible ax to grind against the president. But an ax to grind does not necessarily diminish the authenticity of the information. This was certainly true for the original Deep Throat.
Deep Throats such as Amnesty International have come forward with reports that compare U.S. prison camps to Soviet gulags, which has brought condemnation and denial, but no call for an independent investigation, from the president, vice president, secretary of state and defense secretary.
There is the secret Downing Street memo that I have mentioned in five of my past seven columns that, so far, has as much newsworthy traction as bald tires on black ice.
We have more than our share of Deep Throats. The administration's shenanigans have been well-documented. The post-Watergate era, however, also comes with a profound sense of cynicism and distrust of government and, to a lesser extent, the media.
But to ignore the information provided by the myriad Deep Throats that have already come forward is to believe that this administration wants democracy in Iraq so deeply that it is willing to risk its own in the process.
I fear that we have given Mr. Felt too much credit over the years by suggesting his leaks took down the president. Deep Throats do not take down presidents; presidents take down presidents.
Just as John Dean told President Nixon during the height of Watergate: "We have a cancer � within, close to the presidency, that's growing."
There is a cancer on our democracy. It's growing daily. And we don't need another Deep Throat to figure that out.
(c) 2005, byronspeaks.com