Jeffrey F. Addicott is Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Administration, and Director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. For twenty years, Professor Addicott served in the United States Army's Judge Advocate General Corps, retiring with the rank of Lt. Colonel. He served for much of that time as the senior legal advisor to the U.S. Army Special Forces. Professor Addicott has consulted with the United States military with respect to the military commission process at Guantanamo, and has written extensively on the law associated with terrorism matters, including one of the very first text books on the subject, "Cases and Materials on Terrorism Law". On June 28, 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Addicott by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Professor Addicott. [On June 29, 2006, between the interview and the subsequent review of the post, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case.]
The Talking Dog: The first question, as is my custom for various reasons, is "where were you on September 11th, 2001"? My understanding is that at that time, you were still an active duty Army officer, so if the answer impinges on anything classified (a ground rule for all questions, btw), just let me know if you can't answer it.
Jeffrey Addicott: I retired from the Army in 2000. As of 9/11, I was a visiting professor at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, and I was preparing to go to teach class that morning. My wife and I were watching the morning news and saw that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. We watched the live shot of the second plane crashing into the tower. In my mind, I immediately associated it with al Qaeda. I had previously (2000) published a chapter in a book sponsored by the Army War College, about al Qaeda, and the inevitability of this kind of an attack against us.
I had been the senior legal advisor for the Green Berets for six years. The rest of my career was primarily spent what is termed “operational law” dealing with a variety of terrorism related issues. I taught a course on terrorism as an instructor at the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s School and worked on a variety of terrorism issues as the Deputy, International and Operational Law Division at the Pentagon. I served in the traditional overseas assignments from Germany to Korea but also operated in places like Peru, Colombia, Haiti, Bosnia, Albania, Ukraine, Thailand, etc …. After bin Laden's fatwa in 1996 and 1998, the attacks on the USS Cole, the embassies in Africa... an attack here on the homeland was, unfortunately, inevitable.
Right after 9/11, the Dean of the law school, Dean Bill Piatt, directed me to establish a Center to study all of the legal issues associated with the Global War on Terrorism. In addition to my basic JD Law degree from the University of Alabama, I have an LLM (Master of Laws) degree and an SJD (Doctor of Juridical Science) degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, where national security law originates from, under the great scholar Professor John Norton Moore. I had always wanted to start our own national security law program here in San Antonio, which became our terrorism law center at St. Mary's, a subset of national security law. Senator John Cornyn of Texas officiated at our ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly established Center for Terrorism Law in 2003. The thing that most surprises me is that I would have thought that other law schools across the nation would have taken up the mantle as well – and developed their own terrorism studies programs - but they have not. Indeed, in 2003 the United States Northern Command J7 put out a call to law schools asking for assistance and help with looking at a variety of legal issues related to their new mission of protecting the homeland. And there are obviously potential conflicts that could arise, such as the proper application of the Posse Comitatus Act. In any event, we were the only law school to answer the call and we still provided constructive advice and support. In addition, although the Center for Terrorism Law is a non-profit, non-partisan entity that provides most services without charge, there is much grant money available from a variety of sources to study a variety of legal issues. For example, in 2006 our Center obtained grant money to study cyber-terrorism law issues. I understand that the Department of Homeland Security provided $5 million to Texas A&M to study agro-terrorism, and there is a similar program to study WMDs.
As I said, you'd think more law schools would see the need to provide legal perspectives to a variety of organizations, particularly since the nation is at “war.” But so far, we're the first and the only.
The Talking Dog: I understand that you had a role in preparing at least some of the rules and procedures applicable to the military commission process to be used for charged detainees at Guantanamo. Can you briefly describe what your role was, what aspects of the commission process you worked on, and whether and to what extent what you worked on has been subsequently modified?
Jeffrey Addicott: I should start off by saying that our Center is not partisan for any political party. Indeed, in the Acree case involving the right of U.S. soldiers to recover for alleged torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's forces during the First Gulf War the Center for Terrorism Law filed an amicus brief opposing the Bush Administration’s position on the matter. The soldiers won at the federal district court level, and got a judgment against Saddam, and then the Bush Administration intervened against the soldier's position at the Circuit Court level, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case after the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Again, we wrote an amicus brief against the government's position on that one.
As to the commissions, Bob Swann [the chief prosecutor of the commissions] happened to be a classmate of mine at the Army’s graduate course for Judge Advocates. Colonel Swann was looking for possible expert witnesses on some of the law of war issues associated with the military commissions. Now, let me preface everything else I'm going to say with a simple proposition. I firmly believe we are in a “state of war” with al Qaeda and similar al Qaeda-like groups. The Global War on Terrorism is not a metaphor like the “war on drugs” or the “war on poverty.” Indeed, if we are not in a "state of war," then the government is clearly engaging in a wide variety of illegal activities to include the detention process at Guantanamo. If we are at war, then these things are not unprecedented at all.
That said, if we are "at war", then the military commissions are nothing unusual. In any event, I ultimately didn't serve as an expert witness. However, I did review the pleadings in the Hamdan case for their legal sufficiency, and I went to D.C. on a pro bono basis to provide advice on these matters.
The Talking Dog: Can you tell me how you would respond to overall criticism of the commission process that certain aspects to it, such as the appeals process controlled by the President and Secretary of Defense rather than by independent courts (such as would be the case in courts martial) or other aspects of the commission process, at least as argued by some, that are purportedly rigged in favor of guilt (such as the potential use of coerced testimony) undermines the "fairness" of the commission process? Why shouldn't we just use the same basic procedures as courts martial?
Jeffrey Addicott: Once again, the issue and premise is that if we are at war, then we can do this. I note, for example, that detainees as such have far more rights for example then in earlier conflicts, such as during World War II.
Now, there are some criticisms I have, notwithstanding that I believe the commission process is, nonetheless, legal and not unprecedented. For one thing, I would have like to see Congress do this – establish the military commissions - rather than the President. (This position was taken by the majority in the Hamdan v Rumsfeld decision issued on 29 June 2006). For another, if the President has the authority to establish a military commission process, the President exempted U.S. citizens from the commission process. This is unnecessary, and I don't believe wise, It is not "illegal", but it is certainly inconsistent and sends a bad message. If someone, even if a citizen, is plotting with our enemies, I would want them treated the same way as any other member of al Qaeda, regardless. If that means that they stand before a military commission, so be it....
The Talking Dog: You cite the World War II example, but since World War II, we have the Geneva Conventions of 1949...
Jeffrey Addicott: In my view, the third Geneva Convention of 1949 really shouldn't have much impact on the military commissions. Look, we haven't done these commissions for a long time-- since World War II. But I think this is an area where we will need "adult supervision" from the Supreme Court (and we're going to get it shortly!)
In my view, we can certainly be at war without a declaration of war; there have been only 5 declarations of war in our history, but we have certainly been at war a lot more often than that. Can we be in a "state of war" without a Congressional declaration of war, and are we in that now? Again, I would answer yes, and certainly, the Authorization to Use Military Force following 9/11 and again in Iraq are clear Congressional statements to that effect.
Are things different for enemies who consistently violate the laws of war, such as by not wearing distinctive uniforms or being organized in commands or who hide among civilians? These are big issues that hopefully Congress and the Administration would have worked out...
Yes and we have other issues - Al Qaeda is very, very big. It is not simply another criminal organization. In fact, there are 191 U.N. members, in terms of finances, military strength, organizational infrastructure, and followers, al Qaeda might rank as 100th or so if it were a state. In my opinion, al Qaeda is a virtual state and must be treated under the laws of war.
In the 2004 Hamdi decision the Supreme Court with Justice O'Connor writing the plurality opinion, held that there had to be an independent judicial determination to make sure that the President “got it right” when he determined that a person was an “enemy combatant.” She didn't spell out the process in particular detail, but suggested that this body could consider hearsay and could be made up of military officers. Since Congress did not set up such a body, the Department of Defense set up a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. In my opinion, Congress should have taken on this mission.
The Talking Dog: Let me ask this... this nature of the enemy we now fight is not totally unprecedented; for example, in Vietnam, the Viet Cong didn't wear uniforms, hid among civilians and the like...
Jeffrey Addicott: Well, during the Vietnam War, we would turn over captured North Vietnamese or Viet Cong to the South Vietnamese government... by the way, when our personnel were captured, it was understood they could be detained for the length of the conflict-- and in many cases, we're talking about a period up to seven years from the mid 1960's to 1973. The United States never demanded that our POWs be charged with crimes or released as many do with the al Qaeda detainees.
In any event, Justice O'Connor held that an "independent body" can consider combatant status. Certainly, Congress should have designated such a body-- made some kind of determination by explicit legislation. It didn't. So it fell to the Defense Department. DOD came up with the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) which conformed to what Justice O'Connor said they had to do. Is it legal? Well, it followed the Supreme Court's directive.
Does it appear to be a competent Article 5 tribunal as required by the Geneva Convention? I would argue that it does.
Now, it would certainly have been better had each detainee had an independent Article 5 "trial," early on in the process of detention but instead the President made a blanket decision on all of the detainees at once. But that's not to say, necessarily, that how he proceeded with the CSRT's is not "legal."
The Talking Dog: The Supreme Court is likely to issue its ruling in the Hamdan case within a matter of days. How would you comment on the aspect of the case (and the Al Odah appeals now before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals) associated with the Graham Levin Amendment, to wit, can the Congress, either intentionally or inadvertently (as suggested by Solicitor General Clement) suspend habeas corpus absent invasion or rebellion (thankfully, neither of which now apply) pursuant to Article I of the Constitution?
Jeffrey Addicott: Again, this is associated with an "are we at war?" question. If we are not, under domestic law, we are doing an awful lot of illegal things. I believe we are at war. Nevertheless, I tend to take a "minimalist" view and look at the basic question, "is it legal under the rules of war?" As such, habeas corpus is not really the issue - we are not punishing these individuals, but simply detaining them under the laws of war for the duration of the conflict so that they don't attack us again. Such a detention is legal under the laws of war. We detained over 400,000 Germans and Italians in World War II, some of them U.S. citizens, and we held them until the end of the hostilities. It wasn't a "habeas corpus" issue.
Now, certainly, an issue that struck the Supreme Court in 2004, is "just when does this war, or this kind of war, end?" That's a very good question. Again, it would be nice if we had an answer from Congress, but again, we may require as the Court hinted, future guidance from the Court.
The Talking Dog: How would you comment on an observation made by former U.S. War Crimes Ambassador David Scheffer, that the conspiracy to commit war crimes charge leveled at all ten of the charged detainees is not a recognized charge under the laws of war, and hence, not a valid basis for the military commissions to proceed?
Jeffrey Addicott: The law is constantly evolving. In Nuremberg, while we essentially had conspiracy-type charges against the higher-ups, I'm not aware of such charges for the lower guys. One could argue that the senior leaders of al Qaeda can be tied into conspiracy such as conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity.
But absent a charge of having engaged in some overt act to advance the conspiracy, I must say I'm not all that comfortable with such a charge under the laws of war (the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision on 29 June 2006 made the same finding).
The Talking Dog: Do you have any thoughts on the likely outcome of Hamdan?
Jeffrey Addicott: Well, it's going to be dependent on one or two justices, and their ideologies. It will be a close call, and that is sad. If we have a clear cut rule, the Court just shouldn't be that divided on such a critical issue. We should really try to have a unified and unifying opinion. I am afraid it will be deeply divided.
As a military officer, and as director of our Center, one can "criticize the boss," (Congress, the Courts, or the President) but we try to suggest how to do it right. That's what we're trying to do with our Center, and our numerous national conferences include speakers from all spectra to discuss the subject issues, like cyberterrorism, WMDs, contractors on the battlefield, and new rules to deal with international terrorism ….
But certainly, we'd like to see a clear rule come out of it.
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about the cases of Messrs. Padilla and al-Marri, whom the Government arrested in the United States (and certainly not on any battlefield). Am I not correct that the Government has still not abrogated the authority to detain any other person in similar circumstances it deems appropriate as an "unlawful combatant", meaning if the President (or the next President... or the President after that) decided that you or I was somehow an "unlawful combatant", we could, like Padilla, be hailed off in camera to a military brig, indefinitely, for all practical purposes?
Jeffrey Addicott: Once again, this is an "are we at war?" issue. Certainly, in "this" war, the battlefield really could be anywhere. If that's the case, and the issue is to detain pending duration of hostilities rather than to punish, then the detained parties' citizenship shouldn't matter. They're entitled to a proper article 5 hearing, such as they'd get from a CSRT, and that's all that's legally required.
The Talking Dog: Doesn't our treatment of Padilla and Al-Marri violate Ex parte Milligan, finding that if the federal courts are open, habeas corpus must remain available? Have circumstances gotten so dire that we should consider amending the Constitution on the habeas corpus point?
Jeffrey Addicott: Well, there are a string of decisions after Milligan where the Court said that the President can designate ANYONE as an enemy combatant. Again, it's an "are we at war?" question. In my view, the President made a mistake in exempting U.S. citizens - if you are plotting our destruction as our enemy, why should your citizenship matter?
Many, indeed, most of my colleagues probably don't accept this. But, if we are at war, we can detain such persons for the duration of hostilities, and we can interrogate them as long as we do not violate the Torture Convention or applicable domestic law. But, if we are not at war, there is no question we are doing things that are very illegal!
The Talking Dog: Your book offers an extensive discussion of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and offers explanations for that (thankfully anomalous) situation, much of the responsibility for which, in your view, fell on the shoulders of the junior officers and command structure of the units directly responsible. I note that in the Abu Ghraib incidents, not a single commissioned officer was charged before a court-martial for anything, and even at Haditha, once again, it appears to be all NCOs and grunts charged. Can you tell me how you would respond to the proposition that it conveys to the rest of the world and to the American public that we are less serious (rather than more serious) about policing and combating these sorts of occasional abuses by not holding those higher in the chain of command responsible when events like this occur?
Jeffrey Addicott: There were other massacres during Vietnam, but fortunately, they were of smaller scale than My Lai.
I wrote a chapter in my first edition of the terrorism book discussing this issue at length, before our military campaign in Iraq, discussing the kind of conflict that Vietnam was, and what we learned from it, in particular with an enemy that blended in with civilian populations. While the Afghanistan conflict did not suffer this problem as I predicted, I predicted that Iraq would be a full blown Vietnam scenario for years to come.
To deal with terrorists who refuse to act under the laws of war, what you need, of course, is a well-disciplined chain of command with clear instructions and proper training.
In my view, the National Guard tactical chain of command responsible for overseeing Abu Ghraib - the Sergeant Major, the Colonel and General - should have all faced courts martial. We're talking about events of abuse that stretched over 6 weeks. Clearly, the chain of command at the tactical level, to include General Janis Karpinski, knew or should have known that there were tons of problems with what was happening. Under the Yamashita standard set by the United States in World War II, this knowledge of wide spread problems of abuse over a long period of time should have triggered an obligation on their part to take firm action.
So notwithstanding her book and her explanations, in my view Gen. Karpinski should have been court-martialed... she certainly "should have known" something was wrong.
As to Haditha, Iraq, it looks like we may have had the actions of soldiers keyed up from having lost members of their unit and other problems. But, at least from one report, it looks like there is a very, very low probability of a cover-up. We have to wait for the investigation to and legal process to play out. The good news is that our military self-reports the vast majority of abuse cases and then prosecutes as needed. That was a big problem with My Lai-- the cover up. Bad news never gets better... if an officer knew... or ordered it... or SHOULD have known... then there might be responsibility... it's too early to tell what happened there.
However, I really like the Schlesinger Report about Abu Ghraib, discussed in my book. Relative to previous wars, the Report indicated that our soldiers are better behaved by and large than in any previous conflict. Remember that we have had a tremendously large number of detainees processed – over 50,000 - and a relatively small number of problem incidents, comparatively, especially compared to prior wars.
We have better training of our personnel... we have learned the lessons of My Lai. For example, embedded with every Special Forces Group is a judge advocate serving as a legal advisor on laws of war-- I was the judge advocate in charge of advising all Special Forces having previously served as a Group judge advocate in 1987 along the Cambodian border, making some interesting calls. Our soldiers have extensive pre-deployment briefings prior to all operations. At this point, the military does a much better job of policing itself. The problems really do come down to a few bad apples. They are not to be excused by any means, and those responsible are to be fully punished... but certainly, there is nothing remotely like "moral equivalence" in our behavior compared to that of our enemies.
The Talking Dog: Let me turn to the "captured on the battlefield" issue, a term which the President, Vice-President and Secretary of Defense (and sometimes, you) use frequently to describe the detainees at Guantanamo. Are you familiar with the "Seton Hall reports" (here and here ? In particular, are you aware that those reports, based on declassified records made public by the military, that of the detainees at Guantanamo, less than 10% were captured by American (or coalition) forces, and that the majority of detainees were not even accused of having committed a single "hostile act"? Accepting these facts, do they change, in any way, your view or analysis of how we are treating detainees at Guantanamo? Do you have any reason not to accept them?
Jeffrey Addicott: Once again, I go back to the "we are at war" analysis. It does not matter if detainees were picked up by our own armed forces, or handed to us. The British handed us numerous detainees in World War II, for example. The detainees are entitled to a CSRT review to determine status.
Have we picked up some people we shouldn't have? Perhaps. I believe our government when they say that we are holding a lot of very dangerous people at Guantanamo. Yes, we may have 1 or 2% who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The solution is not to close down the facility and release all the detainees. That's the nature of war. I have a friend who lost his legs serving in Grenada from wounds accidentally inflicted by our side. Again, that's war.
The Talking Dog: Does it matter to the analysis if, instead of 1 or 2% incorrect, its, say, 50%?
Jeffrey Addicott: This sounds like the conversation Abraham had with God in Genesis regarding the pending destruction of Sodom! Are there 50 righteous men in Sodom? 10 righteous men? Look... the question is is it illegal? Immoral... or ill-advised... is another question, which is really not the issue.
The Talking Dog: Do you have any comment on the recent "extraordinary rendition" cases (the Arar case in New York and the Al-Masri case in Washington)?
Jeffrey Addicott: Rendition is a moving target. We certainly can't send anyone to a state with a pattern of gross human rights violation, for purposes of torture. But... is ill-treatment necessarily torture. If a nation is on our State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism, then certainly that's a problem. Egypt, for example, may be guilty of "ill treatment," but this not classified as "torture"...
The Talking Dog: How about Syria?
Jeffrey Addicott: Syria is more problematic, as it is on our State Department's list. But again, we have the torture conventions... that are not necessarily what everyone thinks they are...
For example, in the case of United Kingdom v. Ireland cited in my book, there are horrendous allegations of things done with respect to suspected IRA terrorists, and yet, the court finds that it was "only" ill-treatment and not "torture." Torture usually requires a very high standard, in legal terms, before it is termed that.
Generally, I think it's entirely safe to say that there is no command directed torture program by our military at Guantanamo Bay. "Stress and duress" to be sure. But interrogation is not illegal.
Look, there is the 2006 UN Human Rights Commission report I cite in my book, where, without even visiting the facility, the drafters arrogantly concluded that there was torture at the facility. How can a reasonable person sign off on a report like that? It's outrageous.
The Talking Dog: Of course, the U.N. officials complained that had they visited, they wouldn't have been permitted to speak to the detainees...
Jeffrey Addicott: And so what? What would you expect the detainees to tell them? Most would, naturally, insist that they were tortured. And, of course, they would also insist that they were completely innocent. They were certainly going to be given the same access as all other groups to include the Red Cross.
The Talking Dog: Would you concur that our overall legal regimen in the war on terror, to wit, Moussaoui, Reade and Lindh get federal trials, Padilla and al-Marri get the brig, all but 10 Guantanamo detainees get indefinite detention without charge, the 10 who are charged get military commissions, at Guantanamo we hold arguably innocent people while releasing some arguably very dangerous people (I'm thinking in particular of Mamdouh Habib of Australia and Abdullah Mesud of Pakistan)... is arbitrary? Isn't this very arbitrariness a very serious problem that undermines our overall moral authority in fighting the war on terror, not to mention our commitment to the rule of law?
Jeffrey Addicott: I would not call it arbitrary. For example, I recall Wall Street Journal reporters who were asking me at great length whether Rumsfeld was personally directing abuses at Abu Ghraib, etc. Let me say that our government – any democratic government - is simply too incompetent to keep something like that a secret for any length of time! The Bush Administration got some bad advice early on (from lawyers from unnamed law schools!) regarding how to deal with some of the folks that have now been convicted in federal court. There should have been a unified approach. If we are at war, then certainly a Moussaoui, who plotted against us, or a Reid, who tried to blow up an airplane, would have been perfect candidates for military tribunals, not federal courts. Even John Walker Lindh - as a citizen – should not have been given different treatment than the other terrorists.
But it was unfortunate that the government couldn’t get its act together. They did the best they could under trying circumstances. Mistakes were certainly made. Further, there were certainly very bad public relations in how this was done... placing similar factual cases in different categories only added to that. But as time goes on, things are improving, as the government starts to get it together and have a more sensible approach.
But the ultimate question comes back to is it ILLEGAL. And once again, if the answer to the "are we at war?" question is yes, then the answer is, while mistakes were made and matters were handled inconsistently, it's not illegal.
The Talking Dog: Your book makes quite clear that even in the case of "ticking-time-bomb" scenarios, there is simply no legal justification for torture (ever), which is a conclusion I fully agree with. And I also agree that "hard" or "aggressive" interrogation is not necessarily torture. Still, there are a number of allegations of abuse, if not outright torture, from Guantanamo detainees; one set is contained in the affidavit of a detainee named Al-Dossari ... he describes, among other things, beatings, the isolation, the sleep and food deprivation, etc. Could you comment on the issue of torture?
Jeffrey Addicott: Torture... depends on the degree of physical or mental pain inflicted. It must be severe. Below severe, we have "ill-treatment" which is not defined in the Torture Convention. Below that, we have "stress and duress." We need court decisions to define this area-- what can and cannot be done. We can certainly use trickery on detainees and other means that do not violate international or domestic law.
My book points out an instance in 2003 where some former Guantanamo detainees were interviewed by AP reporters following their release. They all insisted that they were tortured, though they refused to show things like their purported scars. However, one of the ex-detainees told the reporter that there was no torture at all, only daily questioning.
I will say it this way: the American military does not torture.
Domestically, the Supreme Court has developed a "shock the conscience" standard when dealing with abusive behavior by law enforcement. In the event that our personnel engage in torture, they should be prosecuted, period. If they can prove necessity-- that they were doing evil to prevent a greater evil—they may raise this common law defense and might be acquitted.
On this, I'm to the left of Alan Dershowitz, who insists that an interrogator should be able to apply to a judge for a "torture warrant." No. Torture is always illegal, in my view.
But, contrary to the arguments of some, there is evidence that force or even torture can be effective at extracting information, such as the Leon case discussed in my book-- where a cab driver who knew where a kidnap victim was... told interrogators after he was chocked and had his arm twisted.
As to detainees, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to our government and military, rather than to those accused of being terrorists.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything further on the subject of the legal basis of the United States' conduct of the war on terror (or our legal conduct in the war on terror) or related issues, that my readers, the American or international public need to be aware of?
Jeffrey Addicott: First, let me say that I hate the term "war on terror." Terrorism is a means or tactic. We are at war with militant Islam, Islamic fascists who want to kill us. We are not at war with Islam, but a small minority of fanatical groups who claim to murder in the name of Islam. You really can't win a war if you can't even identify who it's against.
We are the GOOD GUYS. We have to follow the rules of war, and the rule of law. This means that we fight with one hand tied behind our back in the short term. But in the long term we cannot engage in the tactics of the terrorists. For example, when the military charged an officer for pulling out a pistol to threaten a detainee to get information, that was appropriate. We CANNOT engage in tactics identical to the terrorists.
We self-report violations, and then we prosecute. Abu Ghraib, for example, was self-reported by members of the military.
Our Center is a source of information and study. While it is true that we criticize the Administration for its conduct at times, but then, unlike most, we try to say what we think the right way to proceed is.
We are, of course, waiting for guidance... adult supervision if you will... from the Supreme Court. The Court should have been clear in 2004 about many of these issues. Further, Congress should have been much more active-- legislation should have defined the parameters-- in short, Congress should take greater responsibility for the conduct of this war.
The Center for Terrorism Law seeks to explore the balance between increased security and civil liberties. In every war that balance is going to shift to some degree towards increased security, but the modifications must be judicious and equal to the need. We are trying to add our voice to the equation. But we have got to fight under the laws of war and the rule of law.
The Talking Dog: Thank you, on behalf of myself and my readers, for that extensive and informative interview. You have provided some illuminating views on critically important issues, and I sincerely wish our government officials could be anywhere near as clear in their expression of them as you have been.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, and with former detainee Shafiq Rasul to be of interest.
I'm unable to come up with a catchy post-title for the Supreme Court's long-awaited decision in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. I'll just let the decision speak for itself.
Ostensibly, the Supreme Court (by a not unexpected 5-3 majority of Stevens, Souter, Breier, Ginsberg and Kennedy, over a dissent of Scalia, Thomas and Alito with Chief Justice Roberts abstaining because of his participation in the lower court's decision) held that the military commissions proposed by the President to try ten Guantanamo detainees (and possibly a number of others) is unlawful, insofar as such commissions are unauthorized by any statute or Congressional authorization, such commissions lack basic procedural safeguards that would be applicable in courts martial (such as the right to even be present and see evidence against the accused), and such commissions violate our treaty obligations pursuant to the third Geneva Convention of 1949.
Talk Left gives us an observation made on Scotus Blog that a key part of the decision appears to be that the third Geneva Convention of 1949 is applicable to the Afghan conflict and apparently to all of the Gitmo detainees, regardless of whether or not the President decided it doesn't.
Readers of this blog, of course, can get significant background on the case from my interview with Salim Hamdan's counsel Neal Katyal, who successfully argued the case to the Supreme Court. (Under the perverse rules of Gitmo, it will doubtless be days, if not longer, before news of the decision can be personally conveyed to Mr. Hamdan by Katyal or his military lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift.)
While this appears to be a significant rebuke to the Bush Administration and its purported insistence on making up the law as it goes along, on the "inherent authority" of the "unitary executive", the reality is, the Hamdan decision nominally only effects at most a handful of Gitmo detainees; Rear Admiral Harris, the commandant of the prison facililties has said that, other than halting construction on a second courtroom, he envisions little day to day change at the Guantanamo Bay prison camps after the Hamdan ruling.
And so... life goes on. The irony is that the President was not rebuffed for detaining anyone at Guantanamo, or even for claiming the authority to try these men... it was the insistence on arbitrary rules intended to guarantee conviction (presumably so Bush wouldn't look bad) rather than to use established procedures such as courts martial, or failing that, to have appropriate legislation passed addressing why such procedures should be deviated from. The decision turned on the attempt to deprive detainees of well-established due process rights, not to mention the insistence that the President could put himself above duly enacted treaties such as the applicable provisions of the Geneva Conventions.
Imperial hubris, indeed.
We'll start stateside, where Republicans in Congress, who can't seem to get it together for an immigration bill or much of anything (not even elimination of the Paris Hilton tax!) , can at least agree that the one thing they all despise is a free press, took time away from trying to pollute the constitution with bans on flag desecration and gay marriage, and the House Speaker announced introduction of a resolution to condemn the New York Times for, you know, reporting the news. As I've said before, if there's one thing this country just can't abide, it is knowing what its government is doing, especially when told by a free press. [And Howell Raines is off somewhere doubtless savoring his own role, with Judy's help, of course, in helping this Administration hold power with the Iraq war gambit. The war effort was certainly helped immensely by the Times' uncritical reprinting of propaganda associated with non-existent WMDs and not-the-least-bit-credible "Iraqi defectors", as well as its own deliberately underreporting (and ridiculing) the extent of public opposition to the war going in... If the Times thought the seat it was buying at the tough guys' table was a permanent one, it is now getting its richly deserved comeuppance for that. And the only cost to the rest of us for this is the loss of the viability of our First (Third, Fourth, Fifth, etc.) Amendment.]
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, senators led by Arlen Spector were seeking what redress they had available to take back the prerogatives delegated to Congress and Congress alone by the Constitution in light of the President's insistence on issuing "nose-thumbing" signing statements, purporting to reserve his non-existent right not to enforce and execute the laws as Congress passed them. [If they want advice from this talking dog, I suppose that members of Congress could start by taking off their own dog collars.]
But why should things go to hell in a handbasket only on this side of the pond? Back in the usual bucolic and peaceful Middle East, we start by noting that Israel has apparently added to its incursion into Southern Gaza with one into Northern Gaza, Israel has arrested the Hamas Deputy Prime Minister, and Palestinian militants claim to have killed an 18 year old Israeli student they picked up (and a body was recovered near Ramallah that may well be him). For good measure, the one arguable bright spot in this, that Hamas may have signed off on a deal with Fatah that implicitly recognizes Israel, seems to be fading, as Hamas doesn't "read it that way."
And since we're in the peaceful and quiet Middle East, we'll move over to particularly peaceful and quiet Iraq, where it seems, Russian President Vladimir Putin is peculiarly incensed at the murder of four Russian diplomats in Iraq, after being kidnapped by insurgents, and has apparently ordered Russian forces to hunt down and kill those responsible. Time will tell with this one.
Perhaps there will be more excitement tomorrow.
The Unseen Editor forwards this from the Buckeye State Blog, documenting troubling aspects of the Sherrod Brown-Paul Hackett "netroots" Ohio senate fiasco, but from the standpoint of criticizing blogging 800 lb. guerrillas Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas and Jerome "founder of MyDD and friend of Kos" Armstrong, and in particular, their sorry role in that sorry event (that culminated in Hackett being kicked out of the race and withdrawing from politics, and perhaps, with Mike DeWine holding an otherwise takeable seat.)
Blogging, of course, is proof positive that no matter what the human endeavor, human beings have a herd instinct. Daily Kos is simply huge-- at something like a seven digit daily hit count, it has more readers and viewers than all but a handful of newspapers and many cable shows. MyDD is pretty damned big too, with tens of thousands of daily hits. (Of blogs, probably only Atrios and Instapundit are in that stratosphere, close behind by some of the more impressive right wing hate sites.) And there are a few other blogs (numbered in the dozens, probably, but no more than a few hundred) that have thousands of hits a day. Then there are probably a few hundred, or probably under 3 or 4 thousand, anyway, that, like this blog, have a few hundred hits per day, and then there are literally millions of blogs that exist for their authors and a few friends and those who might stumble onto them. But Kos is the koolest of the kool kids... in his own planet. Daily Kos is not so much a "netroots" as a media presence of its own.
Notwithstanding the hyperbole that has gone into both attacking Kos, such as Jason Zengerle's recent hit piece in the New Republic, and equally feeble attempts at defense (Kos's own suggestion was to ask the more popular liberal bloggers to ignore it... a mistake, to be sure), the real issue has been missed: it's something like "ye who is without sin can cast the first stone."
Why I like the Buckeye piece is that it lays out something extremely troubling: Kos, by his own apparent choice, once amply supported the candidacy of Paul Hackett for senate. Jerome Armstrong, who was hired by the Sherrod Brown campaign, naturally, supported Brown. Armstrong and Kos are friends, and, among other things, co-authored a now successful book ("Crashing the Gates.) Also, the Brown campaign spent some money on advertising on blogs (an ad buy directed by Armstrong). And so, it seems, that just 48 hours after a ringing endorsement of Hackett, Kos did a complete about face, and suddenly endorsed Brown (to the detriment of Hackett, including a suggestion that Hackett drop out of the race.)
The Buckeye piece draws no other innuendos... no "kosola" or contention of a payoff... just those troubling facts and their timing, and the fact that Kos's explanations to date have been anything but candid.
To be fair, Markos never portrays himself as anything but a Democratic party activist. But at this point, if one of the big themes is frowning upon Republican corruption (among which, for example, are hidden payments to, among others, bloggers, and of course, paid propaganda pieces such as to Armstrong Williams), then "our" house should be in order, don't you think? Certainly, there has been much hyperbole... but it's certainly the case that when we get up to this point, the "shtick" is that blogging (or at least, we like to think, "lefty blogging") is a sort of spontaneous "vox populi". We learn, of course, that it is as tainted with money and conflicts of interest as every other political endeavor (at least, up at the levels that get serious attention), although, of course, less money!
Which, in the end, might be fine; if one's loyalty is for sale, that's o.k. with me (as long as you tell me, of course.) But then please, please don't adopt a holier than thou attitude when anyone else engages in siimilar conduct.
And so Israel prepares to invade the Gaza Strip (again)... this time to rescue a kidnapped soldier (Corporal Gilad Shalit) that Palestinian
idiots militants kidnapped after tunnelling under the border with Israel and attacking a border post, kililing two other Israeli soldiers in the process. The kidnapped soldier's fate is a big deal to Israel, which will put up with almost anything directed against its civilians, but goes absolutely mad when anyone attacks its soldiers. (Such is the nature of truly universal conscription, at least in Israel. There is also another missing Israeli, believed to be in the hands of Palestinian militants as well, though there are also reports that a body was found near Ramallah in the West Bank; other reports indicate that militants have threatened to kill that Israeli unless the Gaza incursion is called off.)
Ironically, this comes the same day as an apparent breakthrough deal among Palestinians between Fatah and the ruling Hamas, to effectively recognize Israel and work toward a two-state solution, though with enough loopholes to drive an Israeli armored division through it. So far, Israeli forces have blown up some bridges and attacked the power station in Gaza, cutting off its electricity.
It is unclear where the rescue mission stands (one report shows "minimal resistance"), and what the other consequences of it will be. The only thing certain in the Israeli-Palestinian situation is that it will probably be a long, long time from now before the two sides can get along with each other. And while some Palestinians were proposing reconciliation, others were kidnapping Israeli soldiers, as the late Abba Eban quipped, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
We are losing troops and spending billions of dollars in Iraq, each and every week. The Taliban may be regrouping in Afghanistan. OBL and the AQ leadership remains at large. The federal budget deficit, and our trade gap, are at record levels with little relief in sight. Scientists are making troubling new findings about global warming. Tens of millions of Americans feel their jobs are threatened by illegal immigration, and there has been no minimum wage increase for over a decade. With all this going on, of course, it's obvious what the most important issue of the day is, warranting a full senate debate and vote: flag burning.
The latest brilliantly choreographed Karl Rove designed wedge issue, a proposed constitutional amendment to permit Congress to outlaw "desecration" of the American flag, came perilously close to passing with the required 2/3 of the Upper House, but the senate nonetheless rejected the measure 66-34.
For those keeping score, Joe Lieberman voted the correct way (NO) on this asinine infringement of free expression and dissent (not that this will necessarily help him win his primary, though it might.)
No one wants to see the flag disrespected. But look: the flag is a piece of cloth... we are a secular republic, and we are not to have "sanctified" icons... Indeed, I understood Judeo-Christian doctrine to mean that we weren't even supposed to worship graven images... It's amazing, but not surprising, that the same people who can't recite the freaking ten commandments... don't understand the First Amendment either.
Well, we needn't think about this piece of crap amendment (supported, btw, by virtually all Senate Republicans save Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and ex-Republican Jeffords of Vermont, and opposed by a bunch of Democrats, though not majority leader Reid, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Max Baucus, and some others)... until next time... when it'll be used as a wedge issue going into the 2008 presidential race!
In the "way too much information" department, we get this report out of Palm Beach, Florida, indicating that Rush Limbaugh was stopped at the airport in Palm Beach when returning from the Dominican Republic on a private plane after authorities discovered a bottle containing Viagra with a label indicating that the prescription was issued to two doctors, but not to Limbaugh himself.
That Houdini of the legal profession (and counsel to Limbaugh) Roy Black immediately came up with a credible sounding excuse for this almost certain violation of Limbaugh's probation on other drug charges (so credible that Limbaugh wasn't charged) to wit, the doctors did it that way to protect Rush's privacy.
Which is most ironic, given that had they played by the rules applicable to the rest of us, the fact that Rush Limbaugh can't keep it up without the aid of chemicals might not now be universally known.
The "we wish she were still blogging" Granny sends us a variety of links, including the map above (which shows a projected new 10-lane wide "NAFTA superhighway" to replace I-35 and some other roads, literally from our Southern border at Laredo, TX to our Northern border and on into Canada, with attendant Canadian and Mexican elements, whose ultimate intention and effect will be to allow a smooth American-union-worker-free movement of cheap goods from the Far East (China, mostly) through the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas, thus by-passing the Port of Los Angeles (and its container port which was built with federal taxpayer money), and allowing lots and lots of Mexican truckers to take our cheap Chinese goods to our markets at much lower cost while being waved through our borders and processed well behind them at Kansas City). There will also be rail links, pipelines, and other "modes" of movement of goodies.
Granny sends me a link to this article by the very, very suspect Jerome Corsi (of co-authoring the Swiftboat book fame) on the subject (which contains an expandable version of the map above),
as well as the Truthout piece if you click on the map above (or the link in this sentence), and what is arguably a confirmation of at least some elements of the story in the form of a Department of Commerce press release (the key being the "trusted traveler" program described in the sixth paragraph.)
I really have no idea as to the veracity of any of this; Mr. Corsi and the "Human Events" web site are... question marks as sources. After the unapologetic Jason Leopold and the Rove indictment fiasco, the once reliable Truthout is a question mark as well. (Granny, by contrast, seems to have a nose for this stuff; she, at least, has proven credibility, which, to my mind, gives some credence here.) Otherwise, there does not seem to be all that much confirmation of most of this out there.
The upshot of all this, it would seem, is that while the GOP led Congress is making a big deal about purportedly "shoring up our borders" (at least the Southern one) and the President is moving National Guard troops down there, another part of the Executive Branch seems to be making deals with Mexico, Canada (and I would guess China) to throw open our borders (at least to "trusted travelers") in the name of "commerce" (and if some of them undocumented workers want to ride in the back of an "approved" or "trusted" container truck that is waved through the "trusty lane" at the border, well, that's just bid'ness.)
I leave the implications to others. Frankly, I like the idea of free trade in general, and I certainly think this adventure will lower some costs and certainly be a boon to the Mexican economy. On the other hand, a vibrant port sector in this country is essential as a matter of national security, if for no other reason.
In this case, the proposed highway project and open border will, of course, screw American (and to some extent, Canadian) workers. Many "conservatives" (who stand to profit handsomely from it all) might say "that's the way it is;" at this point, the rest of us have got to ask, "what in God's name are we doing?" I'm just wondering where the outcry is from the teamsters and longshoremen's unions? Both of them will be screwed royally, if this all comes to pass.
But what's most interesting, as I said, is the juxtaposition and timing of it all.
If we're going to throw open a ten-lane wide hole in our border security, then just why bother with the pretense of doing anything about the rest of it? Are the rubes and hicks really going to continue to believe that their beloved Republican Party is going to put their own crypto-racist desires ahead of bid'ness interests, no matter what the facts show? I don't know, of course, but I suppose that's how you bet...
[BTW... if there's anyone out there in a position to confirm or debunk all this stuff, please chime in and let us know in comments...]
General George Casey has proposed a number of planned troop reductions of American forces in Iraq, including some reduction by [politically critical] September, and a reduction to about half of the number of combat brigades by the end of next year. It is unclear what effect this will have on total number of troops.
Why doesn't General Casey want to stay the course? Doesn't he know that an announced reduction in the American military presence only benefits our enemies? Sheesh. Somebody check Casey's voter registration card: he's doubtless a traitorous Democrat.
[In some sense, these troop reductions are coming much slower than I anticipated would be politically necessary (to wit, under 100,000 troops by October). The Congressional G.O.P. Republicans will be betting heavily that this year's stupid wedge issues for the hicks and rubes (gay marriage... again, and immigration) will offset general bad feelings about the war. The good news is that gasoline prices have stabilized, by and large. Still, one would think that maybe the GOP has run out of steam and won't hold Congress. That's not how you bet, of course.]
And so we learn of yet another secret Bush Administration program eavesdropping on activities many Americans might have thought beyond the government's snooping ability absent a warrant, in this case, secret monitoring of bank wire transactions, which (naturally) the Vice-President was quick to condemn (the disclosure of, that is, not the program, which he obviously likes, having approved it and all).
This is an interesting area, because, of course, unlike the apparent monitoring of tens of millions of telephone records, one would ordinarily think that people might just have a tad less of a privacy interest in this kind of transaction, particularly international wired money transactions. On the other hand, such transactions often involve the rich. So, it's a balancing game, between the twin aims of the modern Republican Party, protecting the interests (including privacy) of the super-rich, and crapping on the interests of everyone else... Tough one, all things told.
I'm also a bit less troubled by the disclosed program because unlike looking at everyone's telephone records, looking at international money wire transactions is actually rationally related to tracing the kind of financial transactions that might be used to fund terrorism. In short, it reflects the kind of clear thinking and arguable competence that I have just come not to expect from the Bush Administration. (While the program is supposed to have led to the discovery and thwarting of at least some terrorist activity, I take such a claim with a grain of salt; still, it's at least possible, unlike the telephone records dodge, which seems mostly about an excuse to let an expensive contract to Choicepoint and to have the ability to potentially abuse political opponents, this bank monitoring program is arguably related to the subject at hand, and who in their right mind really thinks that an international money transfer will truly be "private" when any part of the transaction involves the United States?)
Anyway, I contrast this with the revelation of the Miami Seven indictments; one would think that if it were a really serious anti-terrorism operation (as opposed to a public relations operation), blasting the story all over the media would be the last thing we'd want to do. We'd want to roll the would-be Qaeda members into ongoing informants, so we could get, you know, actual useful intelligence on Qaeda operations, so we could thwart any threats.
Although it's still June, it looks like the consortium of major news outlets and Republican operatives that control what we see and hear have gotten it together, and given us a look at what we'll be seeing between now and Election Day.
We'll start with the announcement of the arrests of seven young men in Miami who are certainly guilty of being Moslem and of living in a warehouse in the (heavily minority) Liberty City area, and having "aspirations" but "no means" of blowing things up... let me repeat that minor point: they had absolutely no means whatsoever to carry out their plots. They have now been charged in Miami on conspiracy charges of intending to work with Al Qaeda; the nominal targets include the Sears Tower and the FBI building in Miami... but again... no means. This was , btw, a government sting-- at all times, the men were dealing with government agents posing as fellow plotters. Entrapment defense to follow, but that's not really the issue. The issue, of course, is that by 2006, we are now cynical enough (well, I am, anyway) to question whether this is an actual major law enforcement coup, seeing as it now dominates headlines, or, rather, is really just a big "buy and bust" type thing, not so big in the great scheme of things ("aspirations... but no means"), but is blasted across the headlines (via Karl's fax machine) just to remind us to be ever paranoid... and remember which political party can best protect us from our irrational fears... You see, this is the sort of thing that law enforcement used to do all the time, rather effectively... we managed to stop terrorist attacks this way, through informants and stings and so forth, rather than through bloody ground wars... so that said, this is certainly something we should be all pleased about... perhaps we can go back to not having terrorism be the dominant focus and issue in our lives? Not if you're watching (or reading) anything between now and the elections!!! (I see from a CNN update that at least one of the indictees told FBI agents "he believed" he was working for Al Qaeda; again... the fact that it wasn't even remotely true is not a factor on "Perpetual Fear Factor".)
And so we continue with the coverage of the horrible and unfortunate deaths of Privates Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker in Iraq. Although reports of their torture and beheading are now all over the headlines (and the indignant feelings that we are battling a cruel and barbarous enemy have now been resurrected from wherever they were hiding), it seems that the military itself may have told at least some of the deceased soldiers' relatives that they were killed in a gun battle, and their bodies mutilated after they were dead. This is quite interesting, seeing as it is that same military giving accounts to the general press of the barbaric torture of these men... Absent images of their bodies being dragged through the streets a la Fallujah or Mogadishu, if they were mutilated after dead, as opposed to killed by torture and beheading... let's just say the fear and loathing factor would be a tad higher the more gruesomely this can be played...
And, of course, Congress is playing along beautifully (thank YOU John Kerry), with the senate rejecting two measures, one specific, one vague, that "suggested" that the United States military develop "some kind of" exit plan for the Iraq conflict; Joe-mentum and 5 other Democrats voted against both... thanks guys!
So, we have our elements. Enemies plotting HERE? Check. Enemies cruel and barbaric? Check. Democrats "soft on terror" and want to "cut and run"? Check.
Your summer and fall viewing and reading, Ladies and Gentlemen. Tip the wait staff generously.
A National Academy of Sciences study (commissioned by a Republican Congressman) demonstrates that the Earth is currently the hottest it has been in some time.... at least for the last 400 years, and probably for the last 2,000 years. The study concludes that greenhouse gases are largely responsible for this, as well as other factors.
The Bush Administration, of course, opposes various pollution control measures, that it contends will cost American jobs.
Well, look: the industrial era started long before George W. Bush became President, and indeed, long before George W. Bush was born. This is an ongoing problem, that has been going on for centuries, though getting worse over the last few decades. Yes, we can certainly fault the Bush Administration for playing politics with science and attempting (with the help of industry lobbyists and shills) to assert that there isn't a problem at all, balderdash that the regular media dignifies because they feel the need to print Karl's faxes verbatim... but in the end, this is a planetary issue that will likely get worse before it gets better as India and China (among others) rapidly industrialize, and the United States over an eight year period is a very, very small part of the overall problem.
We could, of course, take an international leadership role in cutting edge research and amelioration methodologies and technologies, given that this kind of climate change will result in unstable weather ranging from floods to hurricanes to tornadoes to seasonal shifts to God knows what that effect everyone on Earth... if for no other reason, to preserve the trillions and trillions of dollars in infrastructure and everything else invested based on certain climactic assumptions...
But why would we do that?
The New York Times, itself oh so instrumental in uncritically adopting Administration propaganda (and IMHO committing war crimes in the process, at least to the extent that similar actions to its resulted in the occasional conviction and death sentence at Nuremberg) that helped get us into Iraq, now offers us this discussion of Congressional Republicans' exploitation of some Democrats' call for a timetable for American withdrawal-- a timetable favored by an overwhelming majority of Iraqis, btw. Katrina.
Let me make this easy. We can't really leave Iraq; no, we shouldn't be there in the first place, but we're there, and none of us can change that. But U.S. forces leaving will, aside from breaching some moral obligation to the Iraqi people by engulfing them in a full-scale civil war... effectively destabilize the crucial oil producing Middle East, and probably result in yon sectarian strife spilling over into Saudi, Kuwait and the Gulf States... in short, say what you will, but we're not going anywhere for some time... doubtless several years, until we can at least assure ourselves that this spillover effect can be contained. (Perhaps this will be an abject lesson to the American people about the limits to what can be solved by launching an aggressive war, but the American people tend not to learn from history, or much of anything else...) Again... we're not going anywhere for some time, regardless of who the President is. Katrina.
The only answer for Dems: point out that Congress can end the war tomorrow with a funding cut, but no one on the Republican side is courageous enough to have a national debate, because they are chicken-shit afraid of being called "soft on terror" and "not supporting the troops". Point out that the war itself, and all of its funding measures to date, have passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and the current attempt to generate yet another wedge issue is just a cynical Republican ploy to try to change the subject and to run away from policies that the American people overwhelmingly no longer support. Katrina.
Now... let's talk about how the Republican government handled KATRINA! In the event of another crisis-- either man-made or natural-- this Government and its Republican lapdogs in Congress have given us no reason to think that it will be handled any better than, or even differently from, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. No different.
And THAT...Katrina... is the issue.
Taking an unfortunate page from Henry VI, it seems that Shia militias are content to try their own hand at killing all the lawyers, in this case, Khamis al-Obeidi, the third lawyer for Saddam Hussein or co-defendants to be killed during the course of his trial. (Trials are hard enough to prepare for without having to worry about whether you and/or your family will be kidnapped, tortured and murdered. For better or worse, Saddam's lawyers are just trying to do their damned jobs... like it or not, everyone is entitled to a defense, no matter how distasteful or even monstrous they may be. Our complete inability to provide basic security does not reflect well... on much of anything... coupled with our Ambassador's recent cable to Washington... this is just another indicator that Iraq seems to be out of our control.)
Let's just say that in an American courtroom, the murder of a defense counsel during the conduct of a case would probably result in a mistrial (assuming the trial had started)... the trial would have long been called off before the murder of three defense counsel was even possible. While I don't pretend to hold the Iraqis to American standards of justice (even if we set up the whole damned thing), at some point, one must really question if a fair trial in Iraq is possible under these circumstances. While there are those who would insist that Saddam, who seldom if ever gave others fair trials, is hardly one to complain, the standard isn't what he'd do, but what we (or our putative Iraqi allies who we are propping up) are doing... we owe it to ourselves and to the Iraqi people that Saddam receive a proper and fair trial (followed, of course, by a painless execution.)
Trying Saddam in an international forum outside of Iraq was, and remains, an option... a very good option. Recall that there is some precedent for this, as Libyan terrorist defendants were tried by Scottish jurists in the Netherlands over the crash of Pan Am flight 103 into Lockerbie. I'm sure that a place like the Netherlands, or perhaps, if we remain totally hung up on the death penalty, then an Arab or Islamic country, would have no problem permitting the trial to go forward with Iraqi jurists, lawyers and witnesses, in a setting more conducive to something approaching fairness.
This assumes, of course, that we care about such things, rather than, say, personal vendettas against "the guy who tried to kill my Dad."
I've tried to minimize discussion of the upcoming primary challenge to Joe Lieberman in Connecticut because, quite frankly, I believe that multi-millionaire Ned Lamont should be funding his own damned run, and by not doing so, is diverting critical money and energy that could be used by Connecticut Congressional candidates Diane Farrell, Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy to unseat Republican incumbents... Plus, Joe's pro-war stance shouldn't be any more offensive to Democrats than, say, that of my own state's senators Schumer or Clinton.
But then Joe Lieberman opens his damned mouth, such as described in this WaPo Op-Ed, where Lieberman whines about his putting country over party (i.e. calling opposition to the Iraq war "unpatriotic" in the same distasteful way as opponents of the Democratic Party)... and I'll be damned if I don't want to give money to Ned Lamont myself!
Joe-Mentum: let me re-write your script a little. Try the following: "We live in a free country, where any multi-millionaire has the right to take on a three-term incumbent senator. Bring it on, Ned, bring it on. The people of Connecticut appreciate that I serve their interests by voting and voicing my conscience; I'm quite certain that I have earned their trust, and that they will honor that trust by sending me back to Washington for a fourth term, whether or not I am in lockstep agreement with everyone on every issue."
(You see, Joe, that's how winners talk; losers whine about being betrayed by their own party, and how they'll run as independents. Or, in simple terms, just remember everything you did when you were Al Gore's running-mate, and do the mirror opposite, and you'll sail to reelection.)
The latest "bad idea" comes from the very same Pentagon that gave us "Start long, ugly, protracted, bloody, expensive invasion of country posing no threat to us followed by occupation and intervention in said country's sectarian civil war in Southwest Asia after dismantling all potentially stabilizing institutions in name of ideological purity based on advice from probable Iranian agent."
Their great new idea is "Bear-bait unstable nuclear-armed regime on doorstep of two most critical allies in East Asia using method almost guaranteed to result in failure and probable national humiliation."
Yes, that's right: plans are afoot to try to shoot down North Korea's apparent upcoming missile test.
I'll not even go into the fact that an act of provocation toward the unstable, nuclear armed North Korean regime at a time when it is trying to provoke us just seems like a bad idea. To be honest, I tend to think that this element is less serious; the fact that something like the last three major missile tests have all resulted in abysmal failures under controlled conditions makes a test of our anti-ballistic missile system under these sorts of systems ill-advised.
Best keep the North Koreans guessing as to whether or not we can shoot down their missiles... even if we can, they'll just go back to the drawing board and do what the Soviets did and frustrate our plans by "MIRV"ing (multiple impact reentry vehicle) their missiles (one of the terms I learned back from my days studying political science as an undergrad at dear old Columbia when the Soviet Union was still in a position to incinerate all 200,000,000 of us, i.e., when the threats to us were somewhat more worrisome then whether or not a few Arabs might sneak over here and take out a couple of thousand of us.)
Ah, but if we can't shoot down North Korea's missile-- and there is no evidence to the contrary-- then showing them that we can't will just embolden them to keep on with their damned missile program, and that they are on the right track (just as they already believe that their acquisition of nuclear weapons is a good idea to stop us from our "regime change" as opposed to the poorly armed, disorganized Saddam's Iraq.)
Oh, and a failure in this area will make us look bad. Whatever that's worth.
So... in this case, best to follow Franklin's advice and hold our tongue and be thought a fool rather than speak up and remove all doubt.
The New York Times treats us to this lengthy article documenting just how well numerous Bush Administration officials have done since leaving government for the private sector to work on homeland security matters.
While, for example, the famous success of St. Rudy of Giuliani in cashing in on the growth-industry-that-is-paranoia with Giuliani Partners may be so great that it is sufficient to keep him out of serious consideration for national office, other moves include former Deputy Homeland Security Secretary (and Clinton Impeachment operative) Asa Hutchinson to the Venable law firm, Tom Ridge to Savi Technology's board (which will be conveniently acquired by Lockheed Martin), and others enumerated.
While there are ethical limitations and federal laws against lobbying one's own former federal employer, let's just say that those are easily avoided legally, or otherwise.
Just think of this as another branch of "compassionate conservatism": why should the governmental largesse revolving door be strictly limited to defense contractors? Now, we can bring in various aspects of paranoid domestic security as well, and expand the largesse to a whole new group of players; thousands more people can now count themselves as having a meal ticket to the great federal gravy train.
Is there a solution to this? Perversely, there is. It's called "traditional conservatism." The government will need to stop handing out sweetheart contracts-- best of all, stop spending the money at all. I realize that the Democrats' likely answer is to complain that we're not spending enough on port security, but that doesn't seem to resonate with anyone. We'll never get traction arguing that how we spend the taxpayers' money is wrong; I'm suggesting that we stop spending this money (at the federal level, anyway) at all. Simple. Cut the fat out of this spending. And the lean. And the bone.
[I also have a long-winded reason why we should radically decrease our defense budget (and fund the DOD 100% by a petroleum tax), but that's for another day; right now, I'm saying, once and for all, that virtually all "homeland security" spending (to the extent it represents an increase over, say, what we were spending on September 10, 2001 in real dollars) is excessive. There has been no showing that increased monetary spending (or the increased federal power under the USA PATRIOT Act, and other programs and court decisions) have successfully thwarted so much as a single terrorist attack, or indeed, that these measures or spending would have thwarted the September 11th events.]
We have to reconcile ourselves to something: September 11th was horrible. Short of having having lost a family member myself, or having fled the towers themselves, I will say I know more than most, having gotten a front row seat from my window a block north of the WTC, and then, as a further reward for this, got to breathe in stuff generally regarded as "bad" for months, and lost my job as the office building was shut down, got nightmares from my observations, etc. Enough about me. September 11th was a personal tragedy for a great many people.
I will finally say it, now that we are moving on five years after: that's all it was. Yes, it was, in many ways, a logistical failure of a great many arms of government... from intelligence to airport security to air traffic control to local police and fire coordination... but it was not a rupture in the fabric of the uniterse. It was not a reason to toss out centuries of constitutional protections and the rule of law. It was not even in the same league as such existential threats to the nation as ten states in rebellion, the Empire of Japan and the Third Reich, or Soviet nuclear ICBMs (think "Cuban missile crisis.") 9-11 was an act of war principally in rhetoric. What it really was, of course, was a terrorist act. It was, in common parlance, "a crime". A large one. But still that. Designed to get our attention, and make us act. And act we did: but hyperbolically... Well, it's time we started thinking rationally, again.
9-11 has been exploited for far too long. But, in the end, it was a one-off. A singleton. In short, it won't happen again (certainly not like that.) And more to the point, nothing of the kind of paranoia driven "homeland security" expenditures will stop it if it does.
Such expenditures will, of course, greatly enrich the recipients of such governmental largesse, and through the magic of recycling campaign contributions to those responsible for the largesse, help those on the government side hold power and dispense still more largesse. (What they will not do, of course, is make us "safer", or "totally secure," or anything of the kind.)
But the spending and campaign contributing will go on. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
In response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act request, the Pentagon released over 1,000 pages of documents detailing abuses of prisoners detained by American forces in Iraq, including at least two major military reports on abuse. The overall conclusion of the reports (and other documents produced) is that while numerous... questionable... actions were taken against prisoners (including "sleep deprivation and playing loud music and limiting detainees to bread and water for extended periods up to 17 days and stripping at least one detainee naked"), such actions were, in the end, deemed "wrong... but not illegal."
For her part, commenting ACLU attorney Amrit Singh (who, btw, is the Indian Prime Minister's daughter) called the reports and other documents produced (which contained a number of redactions) "a whitewash."
Perhaps, as Rush Limbaugh suggests, all abuses of detainees anywhere and everywhere by American troops or personnel should simply be written off as "blowing off steam" or something akin to fraternity pranks.
That way, we needn't trouble ourselves with any, you know, hard questions.
That island would be Cuba, specifically the United States' 40-square mile tropical enclave (and naval air station) at Guantanamo Bay, and those voted off by SecDef Rumsfeld are reporters from the Miami Herald, L.A. Times and Charlotte Observer (the latter of whom thought he could report on the base commander's briefing in response to the recent detainee suicides.)
Despite my own paltry efforts to draw some attention to the Gitmo situation which have gone, by and large, unheeded (this is, after all, a hobby), it seems that the only things that get play down there are either a Supreme Court case... or some blood.
As the world's criticism of Gitmo steps up, as possible Supreme Court criticism (or worse) looms in less than a month, as detainees have finally managed to kill themselves...
Let's just say that the last thing we need down there is a free press that might actually report what's going on. So let's get them the hell out of there, lest they actually report anything. All hail the Secretary. He knows best. It's about time the rest of us realized that.
Shafiq Rasul is a British national who was detained for two years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mr. Rasul was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case of Rasul v. Bush, which, contrary to the position then asserted by the United States government, held that detainees at Guantanamo had legal standing to challenge their detentions in federal court.
Mr. Rasul is also one of the "Tipton Three" whose experiences are the subject of the soon to be released film, The Road to Guantanamo. After the recent suicides of three Guantanamo detainees, I interviewed Mr. Rasul, by e-mail exchange, on June 13, 2006.
The Talking Dog: Are you personally familiar with either of the two named Saudi detainees (Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani) or the Yemeni (Ahmad Abdullah) who apparently committed suicide?
Shafiq Rasul: Yes I am familiar with the 2 Saudi detainees, I came across them a few times while I was in Guantanamo. The time that I met them they were just like myself, they did not know what was going on, were being
interrogated regularly, but that in all was relatively the same for all of us. From what I can remember I did not come across the Yemeni detainee, maybe if I was to see his picture that would jog my memory.
The Talking Dog: When were you released, and by that time, were you aware of suicide attempts by detainees as of that time?
Shafiq Rasul: I was released on March 7 2004 and yes we were aware of numerous suicide attempts at the camp. I witnessed a number of them happening right in front of me. People were just losing the will to live because of the despair and fear of being in Guantanamo.
The Talking Dog: If I recall correctly, you were the lead party in the law suit under which the Supreme Court first found that Guantanamo detainees had the legal right to challenge their detentions. However, years have passed since that decision, and hundreds are still detained. Can you comment on how that effected morale among detainees? How did it effect you
personally? How long after the legal decision was your release?
Shafiq Rasul: Yes that's right, but myself and four other British Detainees were released before the decision was made, maybe that had something to do with our release. And while we were in Gitmo we never had any access to lawyers or any other kind of legal representatives. I cannot say how it affected the others still there but I have spoken to some of the lawyers
who are representing some detainees there and most have a problem gaining trust because for the first three years they had nobody to represent them and nobody other than fellow prisoners to confide in. All they see is another group of Americans (some lawyers were in Military Uniforms) saying that they are here to help, but you have to understand that they have been abused by people in the same uniform, so you have to understand that they are not going to trust these lawyers because they have been treated like animals.
The Talking Dog: Can you briefly describe the conditions of your own detention? Can you describe the circumstances of your capture, and what the US militaryclaimed you had done to merit capture and detention?
Shafiq Rasul: Myself, and 2 of my friends, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were initially arrested by the Northern Alliance and taken to Sheberghan
Prison where we were held with about 4000 other people. We stayed there for about a month and then we were taken out of the prison and handed over to the U.S Military on the basis that we spoke English. We were straight away accused of being terrorists and being members of Al Qaeda. We kept denying their ridiculous accusations but they were not prepared to listen to what we had to say. We were later told that our conditions were going to improve and that we would be treated a lot better and we believed this because we were now in the hands of a so called democratic society.. But the first thing that was done to me was that a sack was put over my head and taped very tightly over the eyes and neck, my hands were tied behind my back and my feet were tied together. Then we were thrown on the back of a truck constantly being abused at by the
soldiers who were shouting things like we were the ones responsible for 9/11 and that we had killed members of their families in the attack. At the same time we were being hit in the backs of our heads with the butts of their guns.
The Talking Dog: What media outlets are you speaking to, concerning these suicides, if you can tell me?
Shafiq Rasul: The main ones that I have spoken to so far are Americans.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything else my readers, the British, American or world public needs to know about this situation, and can you tell me your general feelings about these suicides?
Shafiq Rasul: I think the American Government needs to stop using phrases like "warfare against the U.S", and "Jihadi Code of conduct" for these recent deaths and stop blaming the detainees for what is happening in Guantanamo and start blaming themselves for what is happening . I mean it is very sad and shocking that these deaths have happened for me personally because we were all like family to each other and we would do anything to help each other in any way but knowing that these guys are never going to get any kind of justice and never be able to see their families is hard and hurts a lot. Inevitably, it was going to happen because of the despair that they were going through. People have to understand that when we say that these people have no rights that we mean that they do not have any rights at all, they are being treated much, much worse than if they had actually been convicted of a crime. They have now been incarcerated for four and half years in Guantanamo with no form of justice. They are in constant fear, worry and despair. For some reason the American Government thinks that these people have no values and are not human, and that this situation that they are in is not enough punishment for them. We in the west believe in democracy and in justice, so I believe it is about time that these people got some form of justice.
The Talking Dog: I'm sure I join my readers in thanking Mr. Rasul for that candid and moving interview.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and with former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer to be of interest.
The Newsrack blog gives us a snippet of an interview with Major Thomas Fleener, the military attorney thrust on Gitmo Commission defendant Al-Bahlul who'd prefer to represent himself; Major Fleener (rightly) argues that the Gitmo military commissions amount to little more than show trials. The Bush Administration, rather than try to formulate anything approaching, oh, fairness in the military commission process, says it will wait for the Supreme Court to tell it what to do. (I guess that's just professional courtesy to a body without whom there might not be a Bush Administration, one supposes.)
Scroll down a bit for another Newsrack item (or just look here) where Newsrack asks the relevant question: if these were "the worst of the worst, why was one of the now dead detainees scheduled for release?"
Yeah, funny that. Unless you think about it, of course.
Once in a while, we must take a moment away from the weight of the world, and just enjoy a moment. Such a moment is now.
The Loquacious Pup has lost her first tooth (naturally, a canine; they're all canines!) I know in the good old days, the Tooth Fairy would be notified of these things by telephone (or perhaps by telepathy), but in this case, she'll (we think the TF is a she, though we can never be sure) be notified by this blog's RSS feed. Or something.
Karl Rove's attorney Robert Luskin announced that he, Rove and the White House have been advised by the office of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that it is unlikely that Karl Rove will be indicted as part of the Valerie Plame leak probe. Rove has made innumerable appearances before the Grand Jury in last minute efforts to save his own (and, therefore, the President's) ass... and apparently these efforts have been successful.
It is unclear what, of course, Rove's legal team has successfully accomplished (other than the only thing that matters, of course, and the only thing that should matter to it, i.e., keeping its man out of the dock). Has Rove successfully implcated someone else (such as the Vice-President)? Or has Rove successfully laid out a defense strategy that Fitzgerald realizes he won't be able to overcome? Unlike every other department in the government, it seems that Fitzgerald's office has managed to keep its secrets... short answer... we don't know, and we may never know.
For those who object to "Martha Stewart" type prosecutions (i.e. the crime is not the crime, but some sort of technical "lying to or misleading" investigators with the caveat that such prosecutions are, of course, acceptable against the likes of major Democratic donors such as Stewart hereself) this will come as somewhat of a victory.
And there we have it. For those who somehow had grand illusions about how the world really works, perhaps this will disabuse you of those.
No, in general, the really powerful pretty much just don't have to be troubled about the consequences of their actions.
And, apparently, that's still the law.
This was inevitable. Two Saudis and one Yemeni, using bedsheets and clothing, managed to hang themselves at Guantanamo Bay, and are the first detainee deaths at that facility. Held there over four and a half years, without charges, without access to the outside world save only occasional highly restricted visits with attorneys (for those with attorneys)... suicides were inevitable.
While prior attempts by detainees to kill themselves via a hunger strike were thwarted using force-feeding in a restraining chair (described in detail in my interview with Dr. David Nicholl here), amongst other methods, and heretofore perpetual surveillance permitted intervention at some point prior to the completion of a suicide attempt, for whatever reason, these attempts have finally succeeded.
One of the interviews I conducted (which I have not yet posted) happened to be with two attorneys who represent a number of Yemeni detainees, quite probably one of whom just killed himself. Let me quote a response from one of the attorneys to my generalized last question, i.e., what do we need to know about his Yemeni detainee clients:
It is hard to capture in one generalization, but these are human beings with a variety of character traits. Many are quite resilient. They have retained a sense of humanity. They can distinguish between the government and between ordinary Americans. Most of our clients respect the United States and American values when they were brought to Guantanamo. Some still believe that. Many have been disabused of that, believing that after 4 years, American values are all a charade. For example, they have certainly not received any presumption of innocence. Some are quite depressed at this point. But certainly, not one says they hate America or Americans.
The Supreme Court will decide the Hamdan case probably within the month. Ironically, Salim Hamdan is Yemeni; his lawyer Neal Katyal told me that "I live in fear that Hamdan will be in no condition to press his case." Hamdan is also one of ten detainees charged by the military commissions. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will probably decide the Al-Odah appeals dealing with the legality of Gitmo detentions in general, shortly thereafter; you can read my interview with Al-Odah's attorney Tom Wilner here.
But after nearly five years in detention without charge, or the prospect of release (other than at the whim of the government detaining them), some of the detainees have given up hope; for them, justice, or even any semblance, delayed, is unquestionably justice denied. And now for all eternity, in their cases.
While the military spokesperson was quick to blame the detainees for this last desperate act of defiance and call their hanging themselves some kind of military tactic, the detentions were, of course, widely perceived as unjust if not unlawful, and were certainly unprecedented. Particularly given the earlier hunger strikes and numerous suicide attempts, it's not even hard to see why the detainees would take such desperate measure. Note the completely undocumented, unsupported statement that one of the detainees who killed himself was a high ranking al Qaeda official. Really? Who was he? The government won't even dignify these human beings by telling us their names. Of course, if such an individual really was at Guantanamo, why wasn't he perpetually monitored, like the dozens or hundreds there who are; they'd never be unwatched long enough to have pulled off a hanging if they fell into that category. There's certainly a 98% chance he wasn't charged with anything, seeing as only 10 out of the nearly 500 detainees there have been charged...
In short, I call bullshit: these were almost certainly poor schmucks picked up in our outsourced war and still held because our government is incapable of admitting error, no matter how obvious it is that it committed the error.
None of this should be a surprise at this point. There had, after all, been dozens of reported suicide attempts, if not hundreds of such attempts (one of these attempts was made in front of the detainee's own attorney, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, interviewed here.)
I have never talked to any of the detainees; I have, of course, talked directly to a number of people who have. Many Americans-- hell-- probably most-- won't so much as lift their heads over this news, let alone shed a tear for "these terrorists". You and I know better. We know that we are holding innocent men, and almost certainly abusing the crap out of them if not outright torturing them, in violation of Geneva Conventions and American law (not to mention... the bounds of human decency... whatever that is.). And no one cares.
At this point, the evidence mounts that Gitmo is just a colossal cock-up: as released detainees have gone on to lead guerrilla movements, others found completely innocent even by the military's own flawed combatant status review tribunals are nonetheless still held (if not shipped to Albania), even as the military's own documentation (as ably compiled by the Seton Hall report, one of whose authors Joshua Denbeaux is interviewed here) shows that the overwhelming majority of those detained are not even accused of having engaged in hostile acts.
Which leads me to ask this question, now that Gitmo itself has finally generated its own body count: after nearly five years, what possible intelligence value does the place possess any more? Its detainees have been totally out of the loop the entire time-- cut off from the outside world. Any "intelligence value" they have is completely stale. Also, after nearly five years, we should know, by now, what, if anything, these fellows are guilty of. So why haven't they been tried, let alone not even charged? Or, if they were "picked up on the battlefield", why are at least some of them not properly prisoners of war (suggested by, among others, former United States war crimes ambassador David Scheffer in my interview with him.) Or, forgetting the possible or probable illegality and immorality of it all... why are we wasting the resources on these old, forgotten bastards, instead of pursuing fresh leads and angles that might actually thwart still existing plots against us?
Gitmo was already a stain on the honor of this nation; we will look back on this along with the Japanese detentions of World War II as one of our less than finest hours. Now some blood has been added to that stain.
Update: The Saudi government has released the names of its two nationals: Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani. Neither is on the list of ten detainees charged with war crimes. The Yemeni government has not yet released the name of its national.
It appears that all three of these detainees were at Camp One, supposedly the most restrictive (and most monitored) of the detention facilities at Guantanamo; guards found them in their cells, having hanged themselves, and efforts at medical treatment were unsuccessful.
Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha has announced his intention to run for the position of House Majority Leader, should the unthinkable happen, and the Democrats take back the House.
I guess from where I sit, this looks like a great move; he'd leapfrog over current House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a guy who makes Joe Lieberman look like the Daily Kos in terms of his giving deference (and succor) to the Bush Administration. Plus, Murtha actually stands for something with respect to the Iraq War, to wit, ending it, and won't do the usual Democratic two-step: when they talk about something pressing to the voters (like national security or immigration reform) we'll talk about something pressing to our consultants (like health care). I assume Murtha would be more of an in-your-face kind of Majority Leader... like that Bugs guy (who "retired" today).
Still, we're all getting a little ahead of ourselves in planning the victory celebration and division of spoils. But running for the proposition that a Democratic House means that John Murtha will be its Majority Leader... just might bring it a step or two closer to fruition. This certainly makes things interesting.
Well, well... Republican efforts (supported by some Democrats) for outright repeal of the nation's fairest and most efficient tax, that on estates that doesn't really kick in until estates reach around $2,000,000, failed to overcome a "cloture" (or "filibuster") vote in the senate.
In part, this issue is a result of a failure of Democratic discipline (see "Baucus, Max") in two ways. The first is holding its members in line against any asinine deficit-expanding repeals, until we have some semblance of overall budget sanity, there's no call for making things yet worse. Second, the proponents of repeal have had the day calling the estate tax "the death tax", when it should rightly be called the estate and gift tax, or better, "the Paris Hilton tax". Because it's only paid by (quite literally) estates of millionaires-- and multimillionaires at that.
I understand that in a battle of the 1% vs. the 99%, the 1% has every advantage... but that's why Democrats are supposed to step up and play fair.
Looks like the tough rules of the filibuster have made that happen.
Now, let's just see about declaring those troublesome senators who stood in the way of the death tax repeal as unlawful combatants...
What a week this has been for
the GOP AMERICA! Today's spectacular news is that terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed in an airstrike north of Baghdad. This was "confirmed" by the Iraqi government, but actual confirmation appears on the Islamist web-site of his "organization", "Al-Qaeda in Iraq". In short, it might actually be true. There is no doubt that this will be the greatest day in the long march toward winning the key battle in Iraq in the global war against swarthy-people's extremism since the fall of Saddam, or the toppling of his statue, or the deaths of Qusay and Uday, or the capture of Saddam, or the battle of Fallujah, or the first election, or the second election, or the naming of al-Maliki.
This comes on top of the defeat of insurgent California school board member Francine Busby in the global struggle taking place in California's 50th Congressional district.
Take that, you dirty jihadists! You've been SERVED!
Oooohhh!!! All hail the latest urinating contest between the United States' outspoken ambassador to the United Nations (and advocate of its destruction) John Bolton and the United Nations Secretariat, notably Mark Malloch Brown of Britain, the U.N. Undersecretary General.
Malloch Brown gave a speech suggesting that the United States "plays" the U.N. by convincing the moron masses in the heartland that the U.N. is utterly irrelevant and to be despised while engaging with it from Bosnia to East Timor to Kosovo to Pakistan to Palestine to Iraq, etc. Worst of all, he suggested that people who listened to Rush Limbaugh were not likely to be getting the truth about much of anything.
Bolton immediately rose to the defense of Rush, insisting that truth is no defense, and the U.N. must apologize because, well... BECAUSE!
Talk about "rhymes with witch"! Hillary Clinton is forced to take to the floor to condemn the latest rhetorical outrage by Ann Coulter, whose latest literary atrocity refers to four particularly outspoken 9-11 widows as "the witches of East Brunswick", and insisting that the ladies "were enjoying their husbands' deaths".
Condemning 9-11 widows for having the audacity to speak out against the government whose incompetence killed their husbands and rendered their children fatherless.
This is the "kindler and gentler" nation that Poppy Bush envisioned. This is the "compassionate conservatism" of George Dubya Bush at its best. Only a fool would think it was anything else. Say this for Ann the Man: there is no mistaking her for anything that she is not.
Such as a human being.
Bruce the veep forwards us this LA Times piece, discussing plans that are afoot in the Department of Defense to change the Army Field Manual to delete that part about avoiding degrading and humiliating prisoners (a/k/a compliance with the Geneva Conventinos on some things), in the interest of "flexibility" to "interrogate" terrorist suspects.
The State Department, which has to deal with other countries, is duly outraged. The JAG Corps of military attorneys are apoplectic. But the Vice-President's office wants these changes, and damn the torpedoes. Look for tortured-while-a-prisoner-of-war Senator John McCain, who introduced an anti-torture bill that became an "inadvertent" suspension of habeas corpus... to say nothing. Look for Democrats... to say not too much.
Let me make a pragmatic argument here about torture: its not particularly effective as a means of extracting information.
So we're throwing away our laws, our principles, our treaty obligations, and all semblance of moral authority (and the safety of our own military personnel, btw)... for Dick Cheney's jollies, and a not-particularly-effective means of information extraction.
Yup. George W. Bush is still in charge.
And so, with OBL (who?) still out there now four years and nine months after 9-11, with the war in Iraq generating over two thousand dead American service personnel, tens of thousands wounded, untold thousands of dead Iraqis, and hundreds of billions in costs of the war, with the federal deficit at record levels and only poised to get worse (as Congress debates eliminating the "Paris Hilton" tax, a/k/a the fairest, most efficient tax on the books, i.e., the estate tax), with National Guard troops being rushed to our Southern border, with terrorists apparently operating just north of our Northern border... the most burning national issue available as far as the President and Senate are concerned is, of course, amending the Constitution to prevent same-sex marriage.
This stuff writes itself. Yes, New York's Court of Appeals has a case before it on this issue, entirely a matter of state law (absent this proposed federal constitutional amendment which, of course, is going nowhere) which might make the Empire State join Massachusetts as the only two states to legalize same sex marriage (California's courts are also wrestling with this, but not quite the highest court yet, I don't believe.) Massachusetts has single sex marriage, of course, and a Republican governor, and life seems to have gone on there, without the Apocalypse, or frankly, much change in life in general. Funny, that. (Few understand that the issue is a matter of simple fairness and the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution: numerous governmental goodies and rights are tied to marriage, and courts are now finding that the prevention of members of a committed couple from obtaining these goodies and rights solely on the basis of gender violates this provision.)
The traditional Republican base (i.e. before Ronald Reagan perfected Nixon's "Southern Strategy") of "small government conservatives," if any of its members still existed (or dared show themselves) would doubtless be outraged at this needless intrusion into the private lives of Americans by an aggressively intrusive big federal government. Ah, but the religious right base of big-government social conservatives couldn't be happier... as usual, they fail to realize that they are being played for fools, because yet again, all they are getting is lip service on their pet social issues, while their individual members, generally not members of the super-rich, are being f***ed economically, and yet play on just so they can get lip-service to their pet social causes... An amazingly destructive deal for all but the super-rich and the ruling class, all things told, but then, no one ever went broke (or got thrown out of office, apparently) by underdestimating the intelligence of the American people... (naturally, too stupid to realize that Rush Limbaugh personally benefits from tax cuts to himself at the expense of higher state and local taxes and reduced services to the rubes and zombies that listen to him.)
Thing is, though, the wedge act seems to be wearing a bit thin. The Presidential approval rating is now in the 20's, with no particular reason absent something both unforeseen and extraordinary, to improve much. And it is the President's party fighting to hold onto its majority (which it probably will; see above.) But frankly, if the best that Grand Old Party can do is trot out last election's pet social wedge issues... well, you really start to wonder if maybe they've run out steam... Indeed, this shtick is so old and so stupid, that even "the base" might see through it for the transparent load of useless bunk that it is.
That's not how you bet, of course.
Eric Boehlert, a regular contributor to Salon and the Huffington Post, as well as to Rolling Stone, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush", an exigesis of documented instances in which the Mainstream Media (MSM) has defaulted on even the pretense of fairness and objectivity, as demonstrated most clearly by the contrast between the picayune obsessions with seemingly minor scandals of the Clinton Administration versus the extraordinary deference shown to the current Bush Administration under virtually any and all circumstances. On June 1, 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Eric Boehlert, by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, as corrected where appropriate by Mr. Boehlert.
The Talking Dog: The first question I ask (my own answer being "across the street from the WTC") is where were you on September 11, 2001?
Eric Boehlert: I was in the backyard of my house in Montclair, New Jersey, with my then one year old son. I had come back from taking my daughter to pre-school. It was a clear, beautiful day. A neighbor came out to tell me that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I went back inside and spent the rest of the day glued to CNN.
The Talking Dog: Let me say I think you've done an incredible service by documenting the sometimes quite apparent and sometimes quite blatant biases of the Main Stream Media ("MSM"), particularly in disparities in coverage between this Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration, that many of us have been observing for years. My question, though, is kind of a meta-question, to wit, since the MSM, i.e. television and radio (including cable) and newspapers are profit making businesses whose survival is dependent on the goodwill of advertisers, is it particularly surprising that such institutions have an intrinsic bias toward whatever political party is likely to have a pro-business orientation? To continue my longwinded question, isn't it true that Democratic candidates have ALWAYS gotten a tougher time from the profit-making media than Republicans (I'm reminded of the line from Citizen Kane-- you supply the prose and I'll supply the war)? Or would you submit that the current cycle is particularly worse than things have been historically?
Eric Boehlert: Before 2004, when a long tradition was broken, more Republican candidates got the endorsements of newspaper editors than did Democratic candidates, certainly for President. As to the issue of business interests, I really don't think that the press has to lay down for Republicans just because they are a business. They should be more dogged. I just don't think the business perogative and the need to make a profit is any sense inconsistent with the press being objective and seriously doing their jobs. You could certainly see that the press was capable of being dogged and aggressive, as they were in the Clinton era when any scandal no matter how minor or even real was pursued, as opposed to the Bush era.
The Talking Dog: Why this difference?
Eric Boehlert: Mostly, the media has a tremendous fear of the liberal bias charge... there seem to be rabbit ears up trying to detect anything like that. Conservative carpings about this over the years have paid dividends. Journalists now bend over backwards to show that they don't have a liberal bias, and they have certainly proved it during the Clinton years, and again, during the Bush years...
The Talking Dog: But this isn't a totally new phenomenon... I mean, for example, Carter was treated much more harshly by the press than Reagan was, wasn't he?
Eric Boehlert: Certainly, after Nixon, there was this big concern among the press that they maybe they were too hard on Nixon... But certainly the press seemed just as dogged in pursuing Carter, though under Reagan, the press bent over backwards to prove that they weren't liberal... just as they later proved it by how much they despised Gore and mocked Kerry... as I said, the "liberal bias charge" has paid its dividends and been very effective at getting the press to be concerned over this...
The Talking Dog: So Richard Mellon Scaife and others have been effective in doing this...
Eric Boehlert: Tens of millions of dollars have been spent setting up what has been called "the Noise Machine". It has been very successful, and everyone inside the elite press corps seems to know the rules and guidelines... For example, President Bush is uniformly and universally described as "charming", and "authentic" and the White House message is always "disciplined". The words "lie" and "Iraq" are never, ever to be spoken together. Again, that liberal bias charge has provided benefits to conservatives. It's most ironic, of course, as the liberal bias charge isn't true! There is a notion that there is a far reaching conspiracy among journalists to slant the news... it's not just one of the kookiest conspiracies out there... of course, it's not true.
The Talking Dog: You are, of course, a regular contributor to the on-line media (Salon and Huffington Post, of which I'm aware). What are your favorite blogs?
Eric Boehlert: That would include the Huffington Post, Daily Howler, Eric Alterman's Altercation, Romenesko, Fishbowl NY and DC, James Wolcott, Americablog, Tapped, and others...
The Talking Dog: Bloggers have an awful tendency to be snarky and picayune on some things... so... let me just tell you that in the course of your litany of (well-documented) challenges to the accuracy of the reporting of others, that your own book (at p. 5) contains a factual error, to wit, Joseph Wilson was not U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, as you said, but rather was US Ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome e Principe; in Iraq, he was Deputy Chief of Mission and Acting Charge D'Affaires, but not actually the ambassador... assuming, as I do, that you've got a best-seller on your hands, how would you respond to the inevitable attacks (and they're coming) that this factual error undermines your objectivity and ability to act as a fair media critic?
Eric Boehlert: Well, certainly Joe Wilson was the acting ambassador, and met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate for the protection of American citizens and others... I certainly feel bad about any errors in the book, including spelling errors or anything of that nature, and I certainly take responsibility for it. The book was produced very fast-- there are events in the book from as late of March of this year, and it hit bookstore shelves in May, which is almost unprecedentedly fast. In any event, I would argue that I am not suggesting that the press is reckless or makes spelling or factual errors. I am arguing that the press has fallen down on the job against people in power, and that the people in power are no longer held responsible for their activities, and that this has been caused by a Republican long term process to infect the process with fear of a liberal bias, and as such, that error is of no moment to that argument.
The Talking Dog: Let me commend you on pointing out that a certain network news anchor and Sunday talkshow host has a brother who was George W. Bush's business partner, and served in such important Ambassador posts. This seems kind of a significant fact. I'm sure there are other similar cozy relationships out there (besides Andrea Mitchell being married to Alan Greenspan... or even counting that)... I saw a suggestion that you might consider a sequel to pursue this particular angle of the unnaturally close and incestuous media/government relationship... How about that? How would you comment on this issue?
Eric Boehlert: In the classic model of an objective press, we would not want to see a socially intertwined relationship between politicians and the elite journalists who cover them. Of course, this is nothing new. Now, if journalists had made friends with officials in the Clinton Administration, just as they have with officials in the Bush Administration, we might argue that there is less of the double standard... But this explanation doesn't seem to explain the press corps actions between Clinton; they were not friends with the Clinton officials and are friends with the Bush officials. There is most definitely a double standard, and maybe it is explanatory of a good deal. For example, the example you note, Bob Schieffer, got some key exclusive interviews with Bush, with whom Bush has gone golfing, gone to minor league baseball games with, his brother is a business partner and ambassador... in Schieffer's book, he noted that Bush gave him "a wonderful interview" around the New Hampshire primary, whereas Schieffer actually mocked Gore for the interview Gore gave him. No one ever seems to talk about this...
The Talking Dog: Do I recall correctly, or didn't Schieffer even moderate a debate in which Bush was involved? Where were the Kerry people on this?
Eric Boehlert: I think Schieffer did indeed moderate a debate, and again, even the Kerry people didn't talk about this, Another example I cite is the friendship between Colin Powell and Ted Koppell-- no one talks about it. But on Nightline in three exclusive interviews with Powell, Koppell ignored the famous U.N. presentation made by Powell--ignores it. When a man as smart as Ted Koppell does something like that, it certainly makes you question whether their personal friendship has something to do with it. And again, no one talks about this.
The Talking Dog: You thoroughly document L'Affaire Kenneth Tomlinson, the embattled and disgraced Bush Administration appointment to head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. By your account, the MSM appears to have actually covered that matter reasonably objectively, and Tomlinson himself was duly drummed out for his own financial improprieties. Now... even though Tomlinson's own motives ("to get Bill Moyers") may have been jaundiced, isn't that an example of the press actually functioning reasonably? The fact is, despite the intended pressure, both PBS and NPR remain trusted-as-objective organizations, do they not? How would you respond to my suggestion that this is the case because they are NOT profit-based institutions (despite their big corporate grants)?
Eric Boehlert: Polls show that PBS and NPR are not merely the most trusted sources of news and information, but other than national defense, they are invariably at the top of the list of the best use of taxpayer money. They are held in very high regard by most of the public. It would be nice if they didn't have to worry about these things, but public broadcasting is also perennially worried about the liberal bias charge... while they don't have sponsors, they worry about Congressional budget cutting. Hence, PBS and NPR end up suffering from the same timidity as most of the press... their reporters also bend over backwards trying not to give credence to a "liberal bias", lest they trigger Congressional cuts in funding.
The Talking Dog: Similarly, on L'Affaire Terri Schiavo, let me preface my question this by saying that in my personal view (which I submit is worth exactly nothing, as, btw, is the personal view of everyone with the opposite opinion) Michael Schiavo is probably a bad guy; I also think Florida's rule is monstrous-- but it is the rule; it led to a monstrous outcome. WITH ALL THAT, I STILL think Congress and the President (not to mention JEB Bush and the state legislature) overreached in feigning the authority to pass a private bill designed to change the outcome in one case without changing the underlying rule on which the case was decided, because that kind of direct political intervention in the judicial process is, aside from unauthorized constitutionally, most unwise politically; we want to give judges the rules, and they get to decide cases based on them. If the legislature doesn't like the outcome of a case, it can change THE RULE. In the Schiavo case, both the state and national legislatures thought they could have it both ways-- by not changing any basic rule (such as requiring living wills in this kind of case, for example) but insisting they could change the outcome. This is outrageously dangerous and arbitrary, of course, and I think most people get that. My question (if you're still here!) is whether, in fact, that IS the story-- and, despite the press's asinine "horse-race" coverage here (making it "the husband" vs. "the parents") based on the poll numbers you present showing that the overwhelming evidence that most people opposed the political intervention, the public "got it". Or, put another way... isn't the ultimate outcome of how Schiavo was covered "good news" in the sense that the public "got" that the Republican Congress and President overreached to try to overturn a specific court case for the crassest of partisan political reasons?
Eric Boehlert: Certainly, the Schiavo coverage was a debacle on so many levels. You are correct: the big issue of the uniqueness of legislators attempting to overturn the result of one case, and the President cooperating in it, was completely overshadowed by the coverage. In this case, the press was spooked by fear of the "anti-religion" charge. When polls were done, every result showed that the American people did catch on: strong majorities thought that the legislative intervention was unfathomable, and even stronger majorities--including majorities of self-identified conservatives-- believed that the Schiavo intervention was being done for political interests ALONE. So yes, I agree that the public did pick up what happened, amidst awful coverage-- that our courts should not-- cannot-- be overruled by the legislature just because the legislature doesn't like the outcome of one case. Of course, the press didn't acknowledge the polls. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times made almost no mention of the polls during their first week of Schiavo coverage. Instead, seemingly spooked by the anti-religion charge, they insisted that there was a genuine "national debate", instead of a politically motivated opportunistic intervention. How could there be a national debate when most of the country was in heated agreement that Bush had wildly over-stepped his authority?
The Talking Dog: Doesn't this give one some cause for hope, because of the public's ability to cut through b***s*** as presented by the press and its filters?
Eric Boehlert: I would say that this is a false hope-- a hope that the American people can, time and time again on every issue, get through a misleading presentation. Certainly, on Schiavo, as on the Clinton impeachment, the public figured out the Republicans' clear political motives, despite sloppy journalism. But journalism has a function: it is supposed to educate. We are not suposed to get to the point where things get so bad that people have to figure things out on their own.
The Talking Dog: Following up on the last question, one of my own hobby-horses is thematic, to wit, the government's (specifically the president's) abuse of power-- exceeding the constitutional limitations on it to declare himself judge, jury and jailer at his sole discretion for example. I've noted, for example, a remarkable reticence to cover Guantanamo, leaving an opening for myself, for example, to represent a not insignificant part of the world's journalism on that subject... and there seems to be no coverage at all of similar detentions at Bagram in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, and the CIA ghost prisons, for example. Again, do you think this is because the media is too biased to open up this can of worms and risk the wrath of Rove, because they fear the public writes everyone we detain off as terrorism and the press doesn't dare be controversial, or simply, it's none likely to garner ratings for the profit-making media entities, or something else... especially fear of being called "soft on terrorism"? And again, aren't the Democrats somewhat complicit in this by having not made this an issue on their own?
Eric Boehlert: There is no question that there is a fear of being perceived as "soft as terrorism". Certainly after September 11th, and especially after the Iraq war, there has been a whipped up patriotic fever, and the press was expected to retreat in the face of that. In some sense, we can say the press did their job-- that's what led us to even find out what has been happening with Guantanamo and the enemy combatants... The same thing for Abu Ghraib, the press deserves some credit for breaking the story. But after breaking the story, we find that the press is very uncomfortable-- it just doesn't have the stomach to press the issue-- it fears being called for having an anti-American bias or being against the soldiers... But yes, Guantanamo, but for the press, would still be a secret. Indeed, the other facilities you mention would also be completely silent but for some degree of attention from the press. There is timidity out there-- the so-called war culture, and the press "understands its job"... But taken as a whole-- including newspapers, cable and the network news-- the media seems to have no stomach or interest in dealing with the tougher questions, for example, such as torture, at all.
The Talking Dog: Let me commend you on your discussion of President Bush's National Guard service; despite viewing column inches, yards and miles on the subject, I had not before reached the critical issue you succinctly arrived at, to wit, the missing year (which we of blog-world all knew about) but your addition of the "make-up time" in Texas for that period Bush went missing from his service in Alabama (or "AWOL" as many bloggers would offer) was not authorized by military regulations, and almost without doubt, strings were pulled that were sui generis to then Lieutenant Bush to get him his sanitizing "honorable discharge"... My question is this... While the TANG story was outrageously under-covered in the critical 2000 Election cycle, by the time 2004 rolled around and Mary Mapes and Dan Rather decided this was a story again, the public had long since factored this in to their assessment of Bush (i.e. most people already assumed that like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush pulled everything he could to avoid service in Vietnam)... In short, while 60-Minutes was sitting on an Abu Ghraib story (and I'm told sat on a Guantanamo story as well), the "hard-hitting" story it chose instead was stale, irrelevant to most people, and frankly, nothing new (unlike your coverage). As such, in my view, Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and the rest, at least those responsible for the decision to go with this story, anyway helped finish off Kerry by handing such an easy sideshow to the MSM (i.e. their own lack of professionalism in the course of an attempt at a Bush "hit-piece"). How would you comment on that? (I realize that you believe that given how the war was handled, Bush's Guard service may have been more important in substance, but my point is that it was less important to the voters than the perception of "toughness"...)
Eric Boehlert: CBS botched the story. They couldn't authenticate the memos. Dan Rather... lost his job for that story. Indeed, the entire 60-Minutes II program is now off the air... gone. There are unspoken rules out there: do a story critical of Bush, if things get tough and blow up, you may lose your job, and your show may be canceled. I submit that this was still big news in 2004. Iraq was invaded on the backs of National Guard members-- many parents and even grandparents were sent to fight a war having been turned into full-time soldiers, really for the first time ever that such dependence on Guard troops was this big an element of a war. So, Bush's own service in the Guard is highly relevant. Yes, people certainly thought this was old news, but of course, it had not been properly dealt with in 2000 when it first broke. In 2000, Walter Robinson had numerous on the record conversations about Bush's service record and details, and the story ran in May 2000 in the Boston Globe; the New York Times didn't acknowledge the story for five weeks... and this despite clear evidence that Bush didn't show up to his Guard service for a full year. Rather, in the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof did a dozen lengthy profiles of Bush, never addressing how or why Bush walked out on his Guard duty... the matter was just dropped! The press seemed to miss the point on the CBS story... the Memos became the story, blowing up in CBS's face... and the rest of the press ran from the story after that, as people saw their careers flash before their eyes.
The Talking Dog: Are there any other questions on these themes that I should have asked you, or anything else my readers, your readers and the public need to know on these subjects?
Eric Boehlert: The only other point I'd make would be to note the mainstream media's utterly predictable reaction to the book which has been to either (a) ignore it. (The Washington Post was very quick to tell my publisher it had not plans on reviewing the book.) Or (b) announce there's nothing new here; to keep on moving folks, the press is doing a great job. There's absolutely no desire, or even willingness, to look back on the last five years and face the extraordinarly journalistic lapses that I catalog in the book.
The Talking Dog: Thank you for that most enlightening interview, and I commend all interested readers to take a look at "Lapdogs" by Eric Boehlert.
Happy birthday to TD Mother-in-law, who is now 75 years young.
The facts are far from in, and in the end, as horrible as the events that took place in the Iranian town of Halitha (where it is alleged that American Marines massacred at least two dozen Iraqi civilians last November), we really don't yet have a full picture of what has happened, and let's just say in the fog of war, there are lots of grey areas...
Still and all, new Iraqi PM Maliki has no choice but to demand a full investigation of the American forces even as they are propping his fragile government up, which he did... Needless to say, the actions of American Marines, whatever they were, are not helping Mr. Maliki hold his coalition together, as he tries desperately to keep the place together amidst a maelstrom of bad s**t. (Our own President said he was "troubled" by the allegation and has promised appropriate punishment against any American military personnel who have acted improperly in this affair by "breaking the law", at least, once he was actually informed of the allegations.)
Needless to say, Maliki, probably for his own domestic political purposes, has used very strong terms to condemn the actions of the American military, including what he has called "habitual atrocities." Certainly, if the version of the story whereby the Marines gunned down unarmed civilians proves true, then this will be a most troubling event... most troubling.
This should all be a cliche by now (especially as our nation's time in Iraq comes close to that spent fighting World War II, and its real monetary costs are approaching the ballpark of that war), but war sucks; it is not to be entered lightly or flippantly precisely because it is so damaging-- damaging not just to those who are injured or killed from the fighting, but even to those who just participate in it. While there may ultimately prove to have been some justification for what took place at Halitha (or perhaps there won't be), no one will have emerged from it undamaged. Just another one of the innumerable costs of this war that were (and will continue to be) flippantly dismissed with "Would you rather have SADDAM still in power?" Needless to say... let's not answer that one.