Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gonzales' Sudden Flip-Flop on 'Torturegate' Probe Stuns Beltway Politicians, Pundits

Former Attorney General Breaks From Cheney, Says Holder is Doing the Right Thing By Asserting His Independence From White House in Getting to the Bottom of CIA 'Torturegate' Scandal 'Based on the Facts' -- But Less Than a Month Ago, He Opposed the Investigation as 'Having a Chilling Effect' on Anti-Terrorism Efforts


Who's side is he on? That's what many politicians and pundits inside and outside the Washington Beltway are asking of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (left), who, in a stunning break with former Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservatives, has defended a decision by his successor, Eric Holder (right), to reopen a Justice Department investigation into whether CIA operatives broke the law in interrogating terrorism suspects. Gonzales said Holder was right to assert his independence in deciding to reopen the investigation "based on the facts." Yet just weeks ago, he opposed any such investigation, warning that it would have a "chilling effect" on future anti-terrorism efforts. (Photos: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, September 3, 2009)


Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales caused a sensation both inside and outside the Washington Beltway on Tuesday when he came out in defense of his successor's decision to reopen an investigation into whether CIA officers tortured terrorist suspects.

In a sharp break from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservatives, Gonzales said in a radio interview that Attorney General Eric Holder was correct to move forward with the investigation, despite President Obama's often-stated desire to put the "Torturegate" controversy to rest and move on.

"As chief prosecutor of the United States, he [Holder] should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House," Gonzales said during an appearance Tuesday on "America's Morning News," a nationally syndicated radio program produced by The Washington Times, which published an exclusive story based on the interview on Wednesday.

Gonzales' comments marked a dramatic reversal from remarks he made in an earlier interview less than a month ago, in which he opposed any such investigation. The former attorney general told the Associated Press on August 11 that any criminal investigation into whether CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects crossed the line into torture could have a chilling effect on future anti-terror efforts.

Gonzales told the AP that if the Justice Department launched an investigation, it “could discourage” CIA operatives from “engaging in conduct that even comes close” to department guidelines. “So where do you draw the line?” he said. “What is allowed, what’s not allowed?”


In his radio interview, Gonzales said that as attorney general, Holder has a "great deal of discretion" in such matters, but denied having any inside information on whether Holder acted alone in deciding to name a special prosecutor, John Durham, to head the "Torturegate" investigation, then informing the president of his decision.

In sharp contrast to Cheney, who has been highly critical of Holder, Gonzales said he was confident that Holder is concerned only about the "one percent of actors" who went beyond the guidelines of Justice Department lawyers, and not conducting a "witch hunt."

The other 99 percent "are heroes and and should be treated like heroes for the most part, not criminals," he said. Gonzales said Bush administration lawyers clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal and the few who went beyond the rules should be investigated, despite the so-called "chilling effect" it might have on future intelligence-gathering.

"We worked very hard to establish ground rules and parameters about how to deal with terrorists," the Times quoted Gonzales as saying. "And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it's action in prosecuting the war on terror."


Gonzales' comments marked a dramatic reversal from remarks the former attorney general made in his earlier interview in Lubbock, Texas with the AP, in which he said that any such investigation "could discourage" CIA operatives from "engaging in conduct that even comes close" to department guidelines.

Gonzales said at the time that he had talked to CIA attorneys who had heard from the spy agency's operatives. "They're very, very concerned about the legal liability and legal exposure," he told the AP. "And that's the danger with launching some kind of investigation. But, again, this is a decision that's got to be made by the current attorney general."

The former attorney general's radio interview also puts him at odds with Cheney, who bluntly accused Obama on Sunday of setting a "terrible precedent" by launching an "intensely partisan, politicized look back at the prior administration" -- remarks that strongly suggested that the former vice president was calling into question Obama's fitness as commander-in-chief.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Cheney minced no words in attacking Holder's decision to reopen the "Torturegate" probe. "It offends the hell out of me," he said. "I think it's a direct slap at the CIA. I don't think it will work."

In unusually blunt language, Cheney blasted the president for not overruling Holder. "We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn't be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration," Cheney said. "Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they're reversing course on that."


Gonzales' latest comments stunned both human-rights activists and Beltway Republicans -- and, not surprisingly, drew mixed reactions.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, was quoted by The Washington Times as saying that "there's a kind of dumb honesty to Gonzales."

Malinowski told the newspaper that "There is no reason why he [Gonzales] shouldn't support this investigation because, at least on the face of it, it appears to validate the Bush-era legal memos concerning interrogations" and added that CIA officials who authorized controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, "have nothing to fear."

On the other hand, at least one congressional Republican took issue with Gonzales. Representative Peter King (R-New York), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Homeland Security and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was mystified with the former attorney general's motives.

"I don't know the reason for it," he told the newspaper. "I just think Gonzales is missing the larger point here: This is either a political decision or a liberal philosophical decision by Holder. [This] has all the indicators of a political investigation, a political decision [because] these cases have already been investigated by the Justice Department, have already been examined, to reopen them has to have a chilling effect and violates the spirit of double jeopardy."

The Justice Department declined to comment on Gonzales' remarks.


Gonzales, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005 as the first Latino to serve as attorney general, is no stranger to controversy. Under his two-year tenure, the Justice Department and the FBI were accused of improperly, and perhaps illegally, using the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act to uncover personal information about U.S. citizens.

His inability to explain his role and influence in the highly controversial dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys -- particularly the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias -- and his interpretations of the Constitution led several members of Congress from both major parties to call for his resignation. The dismissals are now the subject of a separate criminal investigation ordered by Holder.

When The New York Times revealed in December 2005 that the National Security Agency (NSA) was eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without proper warrants, Gonzales threatened to prosecute journalists for leaking classified government documents, raising the specter of a First Amendment confrontation between the Bush administration and the media reminiscent of the court battle in the 1970s between the Nixon White House and the media over publication of the Pentagon Papers.

But it is the treatment of terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks that has generated the most controversy. Gonzales, who previously served as Bush's White House counsel, drew fire for approving legal opinions written by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel that became known as the "torture memos." One such memo suggested that Geneva Conventions protections for prisoners of war did not apply to Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan or al-Qaida suspects held worldwide.

Those memos have led to calls for Gonzales' disbarment from practicing law and even for the, prosecution of the former attorney general and other Bush administration lawyers.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 66
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, August 31, 2009

Anti-Gay Westboro Cult: Hatemongers, Homophobes -- and Moral Hypocrites

Westboro Baptist Church -- In Vermont This Week to Protest Its New Same-Gender Marriage Law -- Has Long Condemned Homosexuality as an 'Abomination,' But Its Members Have Long Criminal Records and Its Iron-Fisted Leader Has a History of 'Abominable' Personal Behavior Himself, Including Wild Binges on Booze and Drugs and Repeated Episodes of Violent Abuse of His Wife and Children


Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church conduct one of their now-trademark protests at a recent funeral for a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. Their protests at such funerals have long drawn the ire of the soldiers' families -- and at least one lawsuit that resulted in the cult being ordered to pay $2.9 million in damages for inflicting emotional distress. But what you might not know is that the Phelps family has a long history of running afoul of the law -- and that the cult's leader, Fred Phelps, also has a history of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as a history of physically abusing his wife and children. (Photo courtesy The Stranger, Seattle)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 31, 2009)

NOTE TO READERS: On Tuesday, Vermont's same-gender marriage law, which the state's legislature passed over Governor Jim Douglas' veto, will take effect, according full marriage rights to the state's gay and lesbian residents exactly nine years and two months after its pioneering civil-union law took effect. On that day, members of the Reverend Fred Phelps' virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church plan to stage protests against the new law. Vermonters are divided on how to deal with the WBC's protests, but what many may not know is that not only is Westboro a tightly-controlled cult whose members are exclusively relatives and in-laws of Phelps, but its longstanding condemnation of homosexuality as an "abomination" masks a dirty secret: That its members have lived rather "abominable" lifestyles of their own -- Namely, repeated run-ins with the law and its leader having a history of out-of-control binges on alcohol and drugs and repeated physical abuse of his wife and children. The following article, which was originally posted in 2006, is being re-posted in updated form today, for the sole purpose of exposing the moral hypocrisy of the Phelpses.

(Originally published June 26, 2006)

An incredible thing happened a little over three years ago.

The daughter of the leader of a Kansas-based ultra-paranoid, anti-gay cult made a guest appearance June 10, 2006 on one of the three major 24-hour TV news networks, ostensibly to discuss the cult's highly controversial protests at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the discussion quickly degenerated into a bitter, name-calling shouting match between the guest and the program's host, with the guest calling the host a "bimbo" and the host firing back, "You're an abomination!"

What made the live exchange so incredible was that it happened not on CNN, not on MSNBC, but on the right wing's favorite news network, Fox News Channel. Even more incredible: The host is herself a conservative evangelical Christian who got into a heated, Bible-quoting duel with Phelps-Roper.


Appearing on the weekend edition of Fox's "The Big Story," Shirley Phelps-Roper, the chief spokeswoman for the Westboro Baptist Church and the eldest daughter of the sect's iron-fisted leader, Rev. Fred Phelps, was asked by the program's host, Julie Banderas, why her sect's members were staging protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers with slogans such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "Thank God for IEDs [improvised explosive devices]" and "God Hates Fags."

The cult claims that the killing of U.S. troops in the two war-torn countries are "God's vengeance for America tolerating homosexuality."

That didn't sit well with Banderas, herself a conservative evangelical Christian -- and she was loaded for bear. "What would you do if you had a son in the military?" she asked Phelps-Roper. "Would you damn him to hell as well? Because you're going to join him there if you had a son!"

From that point, things quickly got heated. "I have eight sons and I have three daughters," Phelps-Roper responded, "And none of them would dare, dare fight for a nation that has made God its number-one enemy!"

"You are the devil!" Banderas fired back. "If you believe in the Bible, miss, you're going to hell!"


Banderas: "The Bible says 'the fear of the Lord is hatred of evil,' [from the Book of] Proverbs. 'Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.' Perverted speech like yours: 'God hates fags.' You are preaching absolute bull-- and you know what the final letter is!"

Phelps-Roper: "If you don't tell them that this nation is full of idolatry, full of adulteries --

Banderas: "Full of insane people like yourself, ma'am!"

Phelps-Roper: "You're proud. You're proud of your sins. You can't do enough sinning. You think 'gay' pride, bimbo! You have sinned away your day of grace!"

Banderas: "OK, you are an abomination!"

Phelps-Roper: "America is doomed! America is doomed! Before your eyes, missy, you're gonna see the destruction of America!"

Banderas: "If America is doomed, then why don't you get out? Why are you in this country? Why are you an American? Are you an American?"

Phelps-Roper: "I am exactly where my God put me to tell you plainly, that you are going to hell, and there's nothing you can do about it!"

Banderas: "Why don't you take your church to another country, then, ma'am? Thank you so much. You should not be proud to be an American, and thank you. Good-bye!"

The following day, Banderas was interviewed by fellow Fox News anchor Trace Gallagher about her war of words with Phelps-Roper. Said Gallagher: "Most would say that she [Phelps-Roper] is a little on the whacky side." To which Banderas replied, "Yeah, a little bit. And she claims to be a Christian! Hah!"

The 'Skeeter Bites Report didn't learn of the exchange until two weeks later, but when its editor and publisher viewed a video clip of the exchange on YouTube, he was astonished at what he saw and heard. Not so much that it took place at all, but that it happened on, of all places, Fox News. And the editor wasn't alone. It also astonished many other bloggers and pundits as well -- progressives and conservatives alike. The clash had been all abuzz across the Internet.

(The clip of the clash between Banderas and Phelps-Roper -- which follows an interview with the father of a fallen soldier whose funeral was picketed by Westboro -- can be viewed HERE.)

A subsequent interview of Phelps-Roper on Fox News' now-defunct "Hannity and Colmes" talk show found the conservative Sean Hannity and his liberal former co-host Alan Colmes in rare agreement: Both blasted Phelps-Roper, with Hannity telling Phelps-Roper point-blank, "We've had a lot of nutty people on this show . . . but you are as mean and as sick and as cruel as anybody that I've had on this program. The fact that you use religion to justify your hatred this way is frankly mind-numbing."

Colmes was far more blunt, tearing into the Phelpses' anti-Semitism as well as their homophobia. "You and you father hate not just gays," he told Phelps-Roper. "You hate Catholics, you hate Jews . . . You father referred to the Holocaust as 'miniscule.' You led a protest at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. You said Jews are 'the real Nazis.' You are an abomination! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are an embarassment to this nation! How dare you do this to the families of our soldiers!"


Westboro's funeral protests have been so highly offensive to the grieving families and friends of our fallen soldiers that a Pennsylvania man has taken the cult to court, charging it with "intentional and outrageous" conduct both during and after the funeral of his son.

Albert Snyder, whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in a non-combat vehicle accident in Iraq, filed suit in May 2006 "to deter this group of people from these disruptive and mean-spirited protests at the funerals of deceased members of the military," according to Snyder's attorney, Craig Trebilcock.

Phelps-Roper, herself an attorney, vowed to countersue Snyder, accusing the father of "conspiracy to violate [Westboro's] civil rights and a violation of [the cult's] civil rights."

In November 2007, a federal court jury in Baltimore found Westboro guilty of violating the Snyders' privacy and of inflicting emotional distress and ordered the cult to pay the Snyders $10.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages.

A federal judge subsequently halved the jury awards to $2.9 million in compensatory damages and 2.1 million in punitive damages.


That Phelps-Roper was so quick to fire back at Snyder's lawsuit should surprise no one, for the Phelps clan has a long history of filing frivolous lawsuits, according to the district attorney's office in the Phelpses' hometown of Topeka, Kansas.

In fact, a review of public records by The 'Skeeter Bites Report has uncovered a wealth of civil and criminal charges against the Phelpses dating back nearly 20 years -- in the case of Fred Phelps, more than a half-century -- and evidence of abuse by Fred Phelps against his wife and children.

Fred Phelps first ran afoul of the law in 1951 when he was arrested in Pasadena, California on charges of misdemeanor battery against a police officer. The charges were later dropped. By 1987, however, getting into trouble with law enforcement would become a Phelps family trademark.

At the time, Fred Phelps and five of his children -- Margie, Jon, Elizabeth, Shirley and Fred Jr. -- were charged by police with extortion, witness intimidation, harassment, making false accusations and filing frivolous lawsuits.

The senior Phelps, who was a practicing attorney, was also facing disbarment hearings. He ended up striking a plea bargain in which he agreed to resign from the Kansas Bar and never again practice law in exchange for the charges against his children being dropped.

Throughout the 1990s and well into the soon-to-be-concluded first decade of the 21st century, the Phelps clan has run afoul of the law on numerous occasions in their hometown, but the Topeka district attorney often declined to press charges, mainly because every time charges were pressed against Westboro or one of its members, the cult retaliated by filing class-action lawsuits against the city, the police department and the complainant.

Westboro's hair-trigger litigiousness, however, could not protect Jonathan Baxter Phelps from being brought to justice, albeit on relatively minor charges. Jon -- whom many Kansans said was the one son of Fred Phelps who was most like his father -- was arrested more often than any other member of the family, save for Fred himself.


Jon turned out to be the most obnoxious member of the Phelps clan, according to the Topeka Capital Journal, which published a major expose of Westboro in 1994. Jon Phelps regularly shouted obscenity-laced comments to passersby at Westboro pickets and often issued verbal threats at women to sexually assault them.

The newspaper reported that Jon was taken into police custody after a raid on the Westboro compound in December 1993 for an incident stemming from a local theater group's production of the holiday classic, "The Nutcracker."

Jon stood outside the theater and asked passing children, "Did your daddy stick his [BLEEP] up your [BLEEP] last night?" while holding a sign that read, "Fags: The [BLEEP] Goes Up the [BLEEP]."

He was subsequently convicted of misdemeanor assault, witness intimidation and disorderly conduct.


In that same case, several charges against other Westboro members were later dropped; the trials that followed saw every member of Westboro over the age of fifteen testifying in the defense of their family and fellow congregants; over 100 defense witnesses were called in all.

Margie Phelps was found guilty of filing a false report with Topeka police and Fred Sr. was found guilty of disorderly conduct as defined by aggravated intimidation of a witness; all three lost their appeals. The Phelpses promptly filed lawsuits against the city and took their cases to an appeals court, where their lawsuits were dismissed.

In 1995, Fred Phelps' eldest grandson, Benjamin -- who operates the cult's Web sites -- was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct after spitting in the face of a passer-by during a Westboro picket and then laughing about what he did. Security cameras of a nearby business caught the incident on tape.

In 2004, Fred Phelps Jr. was arrested for possession of marijuana, but no charges were pressed. That same year, Margie Phelps and her son, Jacob, were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer after disregarding the officer's order that they were not allowed to enter a business' private property for the purpose of staging one of Westboro's now-trademark "God Hates Fags" protests against the company's inclusion of gays in its employment non-discrimination policy.


All of this -- and much more -- is a matter of public record. But what the Phelps clan really doesn't want the public to know is that their patriarch has a history of alcohol and drug abuse -- and physical abuse against his wife and children.

It's a history that was exposed in 1994 by Capital Journal > reporters Steven Fry, John Michael Bell and Joe Tashcler, in a series of articles titled, "Hate for the Love of God." The series was later edited by Bell into a book, Addicted to Hate.

The book was never published, however, due to a dispute between Bell and the Capital Journal's parent company, Stauffer Communications. Bell subsequently sued Stauffer Communications in Shawnee County District Court, alleging the Capital Journal owed him compensation for overtime and to clarify ownership of his notes and work product -- his book.

Bell took the unusual step of attaching the entire manuscript of the book to his lawsuit, making it a public document. Significantly, the Phelpses -- who are well-known for their hair-trigger litigiousness -- have never sued the Capital Journal for libel. Because Bell's manuscript is an official court document, the Phelpses cannot sue anyone who uses it. What follows in this article, therefore, is based upon Bell's manuscript (The full text of the manuscript is available HERE).


The dirty secrets of Fred Phelps Sr.'s life dates back to 1962, when Fred Sr. graduated from Washburn University in Topeka. Sometime after his graduation, Fred Sr. became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates, which he often took while also dousing large quantities of alcohol.

One of Fred's sons, Mark Phelps, recalls the earliest memory of his father was that he shot a dog while in a drunken rage for the dog defecating on the Phelpses' front lawn. The dog's owner sued Fred for animal cruelty, but he successfully defended himself in court. But the incident led many of Westboro's members who were not related to the Phelpses to quit in protest. Mark Phelps later quit Westboro himself.

"Several former Westboro members would sneak onto our front yard in the middle of the night and place signs that read: 'Anyone who would stoop to killing a dog someday will mistake a child for a dog,'" Mark said.


Fred remained hooked on drugs and alcohol for six years after the incident, according to Mark, and would often go on eating binges. He would also go for days or weeks without leaving his bedroom.

When Phelps did emerge from his bedroom, he would throw temper tantrums -- throwing food, smashing dishes and screaming at his children for not eating, Mark said. When he became too exhausted to continue with his tantrum, he would take his wife Marge back into his bedroom to have sex while his children cleaned up the mess he left behind.

"It established a life habit for me," Mark Phelps recalls. "Even today, the moment I get home, I'm thinking, 'Is Daddy mad?' Our walls were stained with food. And my mom used to cry because she couldn't keep good dishes.

"My father would also bust holes in the walls and doors," he added. "If they [the holes] were on the outside, he'd fix them quickly [to avoid generating suspicion from the neighbors]. But on the inside, he'd leave them unrepaired for months."


As a result of his binges, Fred ceased to earn money for the family -- and because he barred his wife from working, it fell to the Phelps children to become the family breadwinners.

During this period, the clan's sole source of income was the children's door-to-door sales of candy, which Phelps called "The Children's Crusade." Phelps assigned each of the children sales quotas; those who failed to meet those quotas were beaten with a mattock handle, a farming tool that is twice the density of a baseball bat.

The campaign often found the children selling candy in high-crime areas of Topeka and Kansas City. It was in Kansas City when a then-teenaged Jon Phelps and his eight-year-old sister Rebecca were assaulted by a transvestite after Jon "held forth the latest 'fag' joke making the rounds at his junior high school."

The transvestite, angered by Jon's remark, pulled out a switchblade knife and chased them into an alley, where, as sister Margie Phelps recalls, "Jon got 'bitch-slapped' by a guy in a dress to teach him a lesson." Jon Phelps has maintained a particularly intense hatred toward transgenders ever since.


Eventually, revenue from the candy sales began to dry up, but Fred adamantly insisted that the money keep coming in. Fearing more beatings, the Phelps children began stealing from businesses around Topeka and resorted to other petty crimes, including purse-snatching.

They were often caught, but the DA was reluctant to prosecute, for fear of violent retribution from Phelps.

By the mid-1960s, Marge Phelps had had enough of Fred's abuse. She loaded the children into the family car and attempted to flee from Fred, but none of her relatives and friends had the resources to accommodate 11 extra people.

She was left with little choice but to return to the Westboro compound, where Fred promptly beat up his wife.


In 1968, Fred Phelps attempted suicide while high on methamphetamines by trying to shoot himself in the head with a shotgun. He was so stoned, however, that he missed and ripped a hole into the roof.

Shortly thereafter, Phelps overdosed on a "speedball" cocktail of alcohol and amphetamines, slipping into a coma. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he remained comatose for a week.

After returning home from the hospital, Phelps put himself on a detoxification diet, eating no solid food for several weeks and drinking only water. He then decided that his children do the same, denying them food and forcing them to run ten miles a day.

Even his two youngest children -- who at the time were six and eight, respectively -- were forced into the regimen. If any of the kids finished the race ahead of Fred, he would severely beat them.

Even though by this time he had returned to work as a lawyer, Phelps still forced his children to sell candy.

(In conducting research for their expose, the Capital Journal reporters discovered that Phelps had defrauded the candy manufacturer, which promptly sued him after the newspaper published the reporters' findings and won a judgment of $125,000. It remains unclear, however, if Phelps ever paid back the company.)


With their shameful record of criminal activity and physical and psychological abuse -- to themselves and to others -- Fred Phelps and his clan have no moral authority to claim that God hates anyone.

They certainly have no moral authority to condemn others for "disgusting" lifestyles when their own lifestyle is hardly an example of moral, upstanding citizenship.

The bottom line is that the Phelpses are the ultimate moral hypocrites and richly deserve every ounce of scorn that they're receiving for their reprehensible and clearly un-Christian -- even anti-Christian -- actions.

What goes around, comes around.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 65
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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