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February 13, 2006

The Bureaucracy Strikes Back


by Nick Turse


TomDispatch

In the first installment of this series, I offered 42 names to begin what now seems an endless – and ever growing – list of top officials as well as beleaguered administrators, managers, and career civil servants who quit their government posts in protest or were ridiculed, defamed, threatened, fired, forced out, demoted, or driven to retire by Bush administration strong-arm tactics, cronyism, and disastrous policies. In the second installment, I added what turned out to be a modest 175 further casualties to the rolls of "the Fallen." With this latest installment, TomDispatch's tally of the battling bureaucracy's casualties stands at approximately 243 – and rising (so please continue to send your suggestions of deserving legionnaires to: fallenlegionwall@yahoo.com).

Despite this toll, now into the hundreds and counting, it seems that we've barely scratched the surface. In fact, since the last installment, other commentators have increased our knowledge of these folks by digging into what Tom Engelhardt has aptly called the Bush administration's "war with the bureaucracy" – a battle between the Bush administration and the career civil servants (sometimes even Bush's own appointees), who constitute "the only significant check-and-balance in our system since September 11, 2001."

In one such effort, Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr., and Evan Thomas, writing for Newsweek chronicled a "Palace Revolt" – a secret war waged not by black-ops troops in the wilds of Waziristan, but behind closed doors in Washington where "loyal conservatives and Bush appointees fought a quiet battle to rein in the president's power in the war on terror." They profiled a number of the unlikely rebels, including:

Jack Goldsmith: A former assistant attorney general who, after working in the general counsel's office at the Pentagon, was tapped to head the Justice Department's powerful Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) – known as the "mini Supreme Court" of the executive branch. There, his opinions against torture, among other principled stands, brought him into direct conflict with David Addington, formerly counsel (now chief of staff) to Vice President Dick Cheney. He became "a rallying point for Justice Department lawyers who had legal qualms about the administration's stance" that the president had near-absolute power and "the central figure in a secret but intense rebellion of a small coterie of Bush administration lawyers." All of this eventually led him to leave "his post in George W. Bush's Washington to become a professor at Harvard Law School." Resigned, summer 2004.

James Comey: A former prosecutor and Bush nominee who served as deputy attorney general from 2003-2005. In December 2003, after then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from a probe into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity (meant to discredit her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who challenged White House justifications for the Iraq war), Comey appointed dogged special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Then, during Ashcroft's hospitalization in March 2004, as acting attorney general – and on the advice of his national-security aide Patrick Philbin as well as Goldsmith – he further endeared himself to the administration by refusing to reauthorize the president's illegal spying program, angering White House figures from Addington to President Bush (who began referring to Comey with various "put-down nicknames"). Resigned, summer 2005.

Patrick Philbin: A former OLC lawyer who then became national-security aide to the deputy attorney general and was "the in-house favorite to become deputy solicitor general. Philbin saw his chances of securing any administration job derailed when Addington, who had come to see him as a turncoat on national-security issues, moved to block him from promotion, with Cheney's blessing." He declined comment to Newsweek but was reported to be "planning a move into the private sector." Expected to resign soon.

Daniel Levin: A senior Justice Department lawyer who "fought pitched battles with the White House" over the definitions of torture – "battles" which "took their toll on his political future" and ultimately saw him leave to settle into private practice. Resigned, 2005.

Newsweek noted that these "rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense" nor were they "downtrodden career civil servants." They were actually "conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against." Despite their connections to the administration, these public servants, at least in some cases, demanded "that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding roughshod over the law" and "fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law."

Far from being atypical, these public servants, like their Fallen Legion sistren and brethren, rebelled "at their peril" and some found themselves "ostracized … were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia." Like others on (or soon to be added to) the Fallen Legion list, they represent perhaps, the last bastion of viable opposition to an almost totally unfettered administration. For years now, these bureaucrats have stepped into the near-check-and-balance-less breach becoming a crucial counterweight to an administration run amok – a counterweight of a sort the founders of this country couldn't have imagined but surely would have applauded, given their support for an elaborate system of checks and balances meant to forestall the rise of tyranny and their antipathy to executive power, unnecessary warmaking, and standing armies.

Some Fallen Legionnaires have merely been attacked and smeared but remain in the fight, others have gone down swinging. Here are more for our ever expanding roll of honor, starting with a couple of other casualties of David Addington, who "[e]ven in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy," wrote Dana Milbank in the Washington Post back in 2004, "is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president."

Matthew C. Waxman: The Pentagon's former chief adviser on detainee issues was also set upon by Addington, who objected to his "insistence that a new set of Pentagon standards for handling terror suspects adopt language from the Geneva Conventions barring cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment." Waxman "eventually quit" and moved to the State Department where he now serves as principal deputy director of the department's policy planning staff. Quit the Pentagon, 2005.

John B. Bellinger III: The chief legal adviser to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and another Addington-generated refugee to the State Department. Bellinger was, during Bush's first term in office, a "special target of Addington's needling" and, according to one colleague, was assailed by him for espousing views that were "too liberal" or that gave "away executive power." As a result, Bellinger left with Rice to be her legal adviser at the State Department. Defamed, 2001-2004.

Russell Tice: A former intelligence agent with the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Tice worked at the NSA up until May of 2005 when, he notes, he was "given [his] walking papers and told [he] was no longer a federal employee." Tice, who worked on "special access" programs, what he and other insiders called "black world programs and operations," publicly blew the whistle on illegal NSA spying on U.S. citizens that began in 2002. As he put it, "We need to clean up the intelligence community. We've had abuses, and they need to be addressed." Tice also made charges about possible espionage within the Defense Intelligence Agency and incompetence by the FBI. As a result, he said, "retaliation came down on me like a ton of bricks." Fired, May 2005.

James Robertson: Until recently one of eleven federal judges serving on the top secret the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, Robertson submitted his resignation – "in protest of [President Bush's illegal domestic spying program] according to two sources familiar with his decision." As Carol D. Leonnig and Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reported, "Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations that he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain FISA warrants." Said "one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants, 'What I've heard some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court.'" Resigned, December 2005.

Col. Ted Westhusing: A military ethics scholar and full professor at West Point who – wrote T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times – "volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students." While in Iraq, Westhusing was tasked with overseeing USIS, a Virginia-based private security company with $79 million in contracts, to "train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special operations." In the course of his duties, he received a report detailing corruption and human rights violations by USIS and Iraqi police trainees. Wrote Miller, "In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor, and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military." Westhusing expressed feelings disillusionment and talked of resigning his command. Then, less than a month before his scheduled return home, Col. Ted Westhusing, according to the Army, committed suicide with his service revolver. A note in his room severely criticized his commanding officers and proclaimed, "I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more." Committed suicide, June 5, 2005.

David Kay: The head of the Iraq Survey Group – the organization the Bush administration tasked with locating Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq resigned from his position as chief weapons inspector citing a lack of resources to complete the task. According to the Boston Globe, he said "that he believed no such weapons existed and that the failure to find them raised serious questions about the quality of prewar intelligence." He added, "We are in grave danger of having destroyed our credibility internationally and domestically with regard to warning about future events. The answer is to admit you were wrong, and what I find most disturbing around Washington … is the belief … you can never admit you're wrong." Resigned, January 2004.

Michael Scheuer: A 22-year veteran of the CIA who worked in the Agency's Counterterrorist Center and once headed its Osama bin Laden task force, he resigned his post, wrote the Christian Science Monitor, publicly "criticizing the Bush administration for going to war in Iraq and for the way it has conducted the war on terror in general." Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a book critical of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policy (written under the pen name "Anonymous"), said of the situation at the CIA at the time of his resignation:

"I've never experienced this much anxiety and controversy. Suddenly political affiliation matters to some degree. The talk is that they're out to clean out Democrats and liberals. The administration doesn't seem to be able to come to grips with the reality that it was a stupid thing to do to invade Iraq... If it goes too far like this into the political realm our fortunes overseas are going to be hurt."

Resigned, November 2004

Lt. Colonel Steve Butler: The vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute, he had a letter published in the May 26, 2002, Monterey County Herald in which he said, "Of course Bush knew about the impending attacks on America. He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism. His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama." As a result, the Ph.D. and former combat pilot was relieved of duties at the DLI and threatened with court-martial. In the end, an Air Force spokesperson intimated that Butler would most likely face "administrative or nonjudicial disciplinary action." Further details have never been made public. Suspended from his duties, May/June 2002.

Clark Kent Ervin: The improbably-named Houston Republican with close ties to the Bush family, he served as associate director of policy for the White House Office of National Service from 1989 to 1991 under President George H.W. Bush, then, under President George W. Bush, as inspector general at the State Department. In December 2003, when Congress was out of session, he was appointed the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. According to a report by ABC News, "Clark Ervin made himself very unpopular by issuing a series of stinging reports on security programs that he said had failed, officials he called inept, and fraud that he suspected." He alleged that millions of dollars had been wasted or were unaccounted for by the department and exposed lax airport security (undercover investigators were able to sneak explosives and weapons past screeners); federal air marshals who were sleeping on the job and tested positive for alcohol or drugs while on duty; and lavish spending by the Transportation Security Administration ("executive bonuses of $16,477 to 88 of its 116 senior managers in 2003, an amount one-third higher than the bonuses given to executives at any other federal agency"; $1,500 paid for three cheese displays and $3.75 for each soft drink served at a TSA banquet). After reporting these findings, among other unwelcome information, Ervin failed to be renominated when his term as IG expired. Asked for comment, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, stated, "I don't get into speculating about who might be nominated," adding only the obligatory, "We appreciate the job he has done." Failed to be reappointed, December 2004.

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of TomDispatch.com. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, Daily Ireland, and writes regularly for TomDispatch. If you have further legionnaires to recommend for our series, please send them to the address below with the subject line: "fallen legion." If you have whistles to blow yourself, or have confidential and unexposed muck you think Nick should rake, send your insider information with the subject line: "info" to fallenlegionwall@yahoo.com

Copyright 2006 Nick Turse


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An editor in publishing for the last 25 years, Tom Engelhardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War era, now out in a revised edition with a new preface and afterword, and Mission Unaccomplished, TomDispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters. He is at present consulting editor for Metropolitan Books, a fellow of the Nation Institute, and a teaching fellow at the journalism school of the University of California, Berkeley. Visit his Web site.

 


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