Political Hacks Find Ascendency In Bush's Iraq

No Second Acts, Except in Iraq

OAKLAND, California - Earlier this decade, Manuel Miranda spent a good deal of time figuring out how to pilfer documents related to the Democratic Party's strategy for dealing with President George W. Bush's judicial appointments.

He helped convince Republican Party senators to threaten the use of the so-called "nuclear option", a procedure that would have ended the minority's right to filibuster judicial nominations. He later led the effort to put the kibosh on President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers, whom the right considered to be insufficiently hard-core on certain issues, to the Supreme Court.

Less than a year ago, he was the spokesperson for Families First on Immigration, a newly formed conservative Christian evangelical group that was aiming to advance what it was calling "religiously grounded positions on immigration".

Out of the spotlight for a while, in mid-November he re-surfaced, shepherding a delegation of Iraqi lawyers and lawmakers around the capital.

Given the Bush administration's penchant for cronyism -- rewarding partisan political operatives with political appointments -- it was not surprising to see Manuel Miranda reappear. What was surprising -- particularly to several Democratic senators -- is that despite his unsavoury record regarding democratic practices, and once having been characterised as having "one foot in the political graveyard", Miranda is now the director of the Office of Legislative Statecraft at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

His work includes giving instruction on democratic principles to Iraqi lawyers and lawmakers.

Miranda's current placement would have likely continued to go relatively unnoticed had he not shown up on Capital Hill last week escorting a group of troubled Iraqi lawyers and lawmakers.

Led by Aswad al-Minshidi, the president of the Iraqi bar association, the delegation was in town to hand-deliver a letter to House Minority Whip Roy Blunt and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Arlen Specter calling for better treatment of detainees in Iraq and criticising the U.S. government for not doing enough to build Iraq's legal system.

According to The Hill, The delegation was mainly "concerned about the length of time -- ranging from three months to two years -- Iraqis rounded up in broad security sweeps must wait behind bars before seeing authorities with power to adjudicate their cases, said a State Department source familiar with their views."

Quite often these suspects "rounded up on suspicion of having ties to insurgents are let go, but they often have to wait months to trickle through the legal process. In many cases, their families have little idea of what happened to them."

According to a State Department official, in Iraq, 15,000 people are incarcerated at Camp Bucca, and 5,000 are held at Camp Cropper.

"We all have an interest in justice and as American lawyers tell us, justice delayed is justice denied," wrote al-Minshidi, the Shiite president of the bar association. "Moreover, a people's respect for the rule of law, which is the keystone of a lawful society, is also affected by the mere appearance of injustice."

In the letter, which expressed thanks to the U.S. for helping rebuild his country, al-Minshidi wrote that they were "ask[ing] that more resources be made available to expedite the investigation and trial of all prisoners held by multinational forces in Iraq."

"[O]ur legal culture is in need of assistance and America's millions of dollars have done little to assist our institutions," wrote the head of Iraq's bar association. "For example, you have established 18 benchmarks for Iraqi progress, seven are legislative, yet not one American dollar has been spent to assist the State Council, the oldest, most legitimate and respected legislative institution in our country. Our 36 law schools graduate over 1,000 lawyers every year, yet your embassy has done nothing to assist them to set their sights on the future."

Hisham al-Fityan, a Sunni and vice president of the Iraqi bar association, and Wrea Ahmad, president of the Kurdish bar association, also attended the meetings with Blunt and other lawmakers. The lawyers also met with Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees.

In the Senate they met with a handful of Judiciary Committee members including Jeff Sessions, Lindsey Graham and Tom Coburn. The delegation also had a private meeting with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and later met with Emmet Flood, special counsel to the president.

Last winter, Miranda was an enthusiastic spokesperson for Families First on Immigration, a coalition of long-time Christian conservative leaders including former Republican Party presidential hopeful Gary Bauer, who heads American Values; former Bush advisor on Catholic matters, Deal Hudson of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture; and David Keene of the American Conservative Union.

"Our position really is consistent with Christian teachings and with the rule of law," Miranda, chair of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of over 150 leaders that brought together more than 30 top conservatives on this issue, told the Washington Times. "Out of concern for keeping families together, the religious leaders propose granting citizenship to any illegal aliens in the country who are related to U.S. citizens. This would include anyone who has had a child born here, often referred to as an 'anchor baby'."

"In return, the federal government would end birthright citizenship, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of his parents' legal status. The 14th Amendment says 'all persons born or naturalised in the United States...are citizens of the United States'."

"This is a real compromise," Miranda claimed. "On the one hand, there is legalisation of a large number of people, but conservatives get the settlement of the thorniest issue for them in the immigration debate."

Unlike Miranda, Families First on Immigration appears to have faded from the political scene.

Miranda, who worked as judicial-nominations counsel for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, was "forced from his job in early 2004 after an internal Senate investigation determined he and a junior aide had swiped 4,670 documents, memos and e-mails" from Democratic Party staffers, the Washington Post recently reported.

While acknowledging the operation, Miranda insisted that he had broken no laws because the committee had no internal password protection at the time when he looked through and printed out other aides' electronic files.

That Manuel Miranda has earned his conservative stripes was apparent in February 2006, when David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, presented him with the organisation's Reagan Award, saying, "[Democrats] no doubt thought that it would all end with that, that Manny Miranda would slink off into the darkness and never be heard from again...But it turns out that he's more than just a principled conservative: he's a man who doesn't know the meaning of surrender."

Although Miranda's charge in Iraq appears rather nebulous, he has in the past shown a well-honed disregard for democratic principles and practices. A veteran of the Karl Rove school of slash and burn politics, Miranda's back-story doesn't bode well for Iraq's troubled legal system.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

(c) 2007 Inter Press Service

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