Going to School on Doug Feith
Top Pentagon official and ardent neocon Doug Feith, boss of suspected spy for Israel Larry Franklin, has contended for years that the U.S. needed to expunge Saddam Hussein because the guy was a ruthless and horrible dictator.
But neither Feith nor the rest of the Bush regime and their financiers seem to have a problem with blood money from Teodoro Obiang, the brutal ruler of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang and his family ran millions of dollars they got from big oil companies through personal accounts in Bush sugar daddy Joe Allbritton's Riggs National Bank, and Obiang's brotherwho is accused of torturing prisoners with stinging antswas touted by a top bank official as a "valued customer." (See this previous Bush Beat item for details.)
Now it turns out that Allbritton, whose control of Riggs finally collapsed this summer after those revelations, has contributed large sums of money to a private school of which Doug Feith is a director and former president.
Allbritton pumped millions of dollars from his own holdings of bank stock and from George W. Bush's uncle Jonathan's investment-banking operation (which was part of the Riggs National Bank conglomeration) into the Allbritton Foundation, according to federal tax records pored over by the Voice. During 2000 and again in 2002, the records show, the foundation donated $25,000 to the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, the Rockville, Maryland, institution connected to Feith. The school is one of the most prominent private Jewish schools in the country. It's the only Jewish school listed as receiving money from the foundation.
Feith's son is a student there too. That must be one reason that this May 16, while the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was front-page news, and Feith was in the middle of it as the guy who had helped loosen control on interrogation "techniques," he led a group of kids from the school on a private Pentagon tour that included a rare look at Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld's office.
Think about that access the next time a Republican convention comes to town.
It could be Feith's ties to the Bushes that have allowed him to keep his Pentagon job for so long despite controversy after controversy and despite being loathed by such people as Secretary of State Colin Powell and General Tommy Franks.
During the runup to the invasion of Iraq, Franks, who was preparing the actual war plan, told colleagues about Feith, "I have to deal with the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth almost every day."
That morsel is from Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, which includes other major slams of Feith: Powell referred to Feith's top-level Pentagon cluster (which included Larry Franklin, by the way) as the "Gestapo office."
That's not the way, of course, Feith was portrayed in The Lion's Tale, the student newspaper at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
"The highlight of the trip was going to all of the special offices and rooms that are not typically open to the public," junior Sarah Ifft was quoted as saying in The Lion's Tale story of the May 16 visit.
The show-off-and-tell session for the 18 juniors (including his son) and five teachers included a photo, with this caption: "Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith points toward special tinting on the windows of his E-ring Pentagon office."
The school paper also noted that "the group stopped for question-and-answer sessions in Feith's office and in the conference room used by the Pentagon's leadership to meet with military commanders around the world via video teleconference."
History teacher Jane Michael told the paper, "Visiting Rumsfeld's office gave everyone the sense of him as a person, not just as a policy maker." She added, "For many of these students, Feith put a personal face on the Pentagon."
As opposed to the image of snarling dogs that much of the rest of the world sees, in large part because of Feith.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez cabled his commanders to "exploit Arab fear of dogs" as a strategy for obtaining information from Iraqi prisoners.
Feith not only advocated harsher treatment of prisoners than even the military's own lawyers wanted (think about that for a minute), but he also moved the GuantÌÁnamo Bay prison chief Geoffrey Miller to Iraq to change the interrogation "techniques." As The New York Times pointed out the very day that Feith was leading the schoolkids on the Pentagon tour, he "had made his name during the Reagan administration by arguing that Geneva Convention protections should not be extended to terrorists who mingled with civilians. The issue was abstract then, but on September 11 it had immediate consequences."
The Times went on to say,
In the early 1980s, Feith was a young lawyer in the Reagan administration who gained fame in conservative national security circles for arguing against ratification of a proposed amendment to the Geneva Conventions that would treat members of national-liberation movements, irregulars who wore no uniforms and sometimes used terrorist tactics, as prisoners of war.
Feith said that this policy would endanger civilians by removing the incentive for fighters to obey traditional laws of war: staying in the open so the opposing party will not target noncombatants. It would also grant terrorist groups the same status as armies, something Feith, a harsh critic of the Palestine Liberation Organization, rejected. Two decades later, he returned to the Pentagon in the second Bush administration as its leading defense policy thinker.
Feith is like the Zelig in the Bush regimeor maybe the Pet Goat. He personally pushed and promoted Ahmed Chalabi and the WMD malarkey, and he greased a post-war deal for Dick Cheney and Halliburton. As an adviser for the right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel, Feith argued against following the Oslo peace accords.
There's so much commentary, criticism, analysis, and furor about the bombastic Feith that you hardly know where to start. But there's this Disinfopedia entry. Arab American lobbyist James Zogby connects the dots between Chalabi and Feith in this piece. In March, Tim Noah skillfully argued in Slate, using Feith as a minor character example, "why Bush is worse than Reagan." Jim Lobe, of Inter-Press Service, frequently writes about Feith. One of his more succinct pieces is posted by Dissident Voice here.
Meanwhile, Feith may take some major hits in the latest scandal. Larry Franklin, after all, worked directly for Feith, and Israeli commentators are freaking out about the accusations against Franklin.
This AP story out of Jerusalem, posted by USA Today, sums up that commentary (at least as of late last week) and matter-of-factly notes what overseas papers routinely report (but what U.S. papers generally don't): that Feith has "close ties to Israel."
This morning's edition of Ha'aretz, the liberal Israeli daily, ran a photo of Feith with its story on the Franklin case. And so did the more conservative Jerusalem Post.
The Jerusalem AP story quoted Uzi Arad, a former senior official in the Mossad spy agency, as saying the Franklin allegations were leaked to hurt the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.
"They way it was reported, they pointed out in which office [Franklin] worked," Arad told Israel Radio, according to the AP. "They pointed at people like Doug Feith or other defense officials who have long been under attack within the American bureaucracy."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.