In the Loop: Moammar Gaddafi, Dapper and Chatty at the U.N.

By Al Kamen
Friday, September 25, 2009

By any account, this week's gathering at the United Nations ranks up there with some of the best ever. Granted, there have been great hits in the past: Khrushchev's pounding his shoe on the table, Fidel Castro's stemwinders, Yasser Arafat's gun holster, Hugo Chavez's detecting "sulfur" in the room last year after calling President George W. Bush "the devil."

But for serious news -- President Obama's adroit sandbagging of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, then the inevitable backpedaling, and Obama's historic chairing of the Security Council -- coupled with wondrous goofiness -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rantings to a mostly empty chamber -- this conclave would be hard to top.

Ah, but then there was the sheer lunacy of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's 96-minute stand-up routine attacking capitalism, ripping the U.N. Charter and demanding $7.77 trillion in reparations for colonialism. (Note: This is not an estimate, but a precise calculation.)

He was in New York with his elite virgin female bodyguard detail and his easily collapsible portable tent. Most of all, who can forget his extraordinary fashion statement with that stunning tunic. Brown? Bronze? Mango? Hard to say.

So we finally have a diplomacy-sparked fashion trend that has promise. Sure beats those old Nehru jackets and Mao suits.


Meanwhile, there are many who think the Iranian leader is an embarrassment, unfit to run even a small state here, let alone such an important country. But it turns out Ahmadinejad has at least one important trait in common with some leading governors and American presidents.

In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Post and Newsweek, Ahmadinejad claimed to have no knowledge of two letters Obama reportedly sent Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even though they were reported in the Iranian media.

"I don't read the press, so I would not know," he said. That may be one reason he doesn't know about the Holocaust.


Speaking of diplomatic wackiness, former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, now in the slammer serving a life sentence for corruption, is suing Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, claiming that Taiwan's legal ruler is the U.S. military and thus that Taiwan's courts are illegal.

Okay, so here's how this works, according to an account this week in the South China Morning News: Taiwan became Japanese property in 1895 and the United States took over after the Japanese surrender in 1945 and a later peace treaty recognizes that authority, Chen posits. Washington never gave up its "occupying power" status, he says, so the island belongs to America and not the Republic of China, Chen says.

From there, it's only logical to argue, as he does, that "the Taiwanese should be entitled to certain fundamental rights under the constitution and laws of the United States, especially the rights to life, liberty, property and due process of law." A former aide told the Morning News that Chen was "willing to testify in the U.S."

Might not want to buy that ticket just yet.


A Freedom of Information Act request, in theory, is supposed to be almost like a subpoena: Officials are legally obligated to find all the documents and vet them for potential release. They are not supposed to misplace them, forget where they are or "lose" them.

But reality is often messier, as American Civil Liberties Union lawyers discovered last week in the latest chapter of their five-year effort to unearth documents about Bush administration policymaking on harsh interrogations by the CIA and the Defense Department.

In a court filing Monday, the Justice Department said it can't find 10 of the 181 documents that the department described in a list it released two years ago. One is a 59-page message between the department's Office of Legal Counsel and the Pentagon on the eve of a ramp-up in the intensity of interrogations in 2002, our colleague R. Jeffrey Smith reports.

The good news is that the Justice Department also said 224 additional documents relevant to the ACLU's 2005 request have just been found. Two visiting assistant U.S. attorneys from New York and one department lawyer found the documents in three safes and in "the back of a third drawer" inside the Office of Legal Counsel's special room for highly classified documents.

The task of explaining this mess to a federal judge in New York -- who is already reviewing contempt allegations related to the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes -- fell to acting Assistant Attorney General David J. Barron.

The troubles began almost immediately after the 181 documents were located in 2005, he explained. "Due to their extreme sensitivity at the time," the relevant document set was not copied and its contents were "intermingled" with other files in the room, he wrote. The documents then toured Washington a bit, first going to another special room at the department and then, in 2007, on a longer journey across the river, to the CIA, where they stayed for two months. Then back to Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility until March of this year.

This summer, Justice, trying to get everything straightened out, conducted a wider search that included "a third drawer . . . deemed unlikely to contain relevant documents."

Voila! There they were, dozens, all holed up. No word on whether or when they might be released, at least in part, but at least they exist.


It seems the White House has settled on a cyber czar. Sources tell our colleague Ellen Nakashima that an announcement will be made soon, most likely in early October, to coincide with National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The buzz centers on Frank Kramer, a former Clinton administration Pentagon official who is said to have the backing of national security adviser Jim Jones.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

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