The Talking Dog

June 30, 2007, Supreme Irony

The flurry of activity at the close of the just-ended term of the United States Supreme Court just leads one to say, regardless of their ideology, "Wow!" Certainly, the overall trend is that, without the cover of the center-right Sandra Day O'Connor behind which Justice Anthony Kennedy could pretend that he too was also center-right, rather than extreme-hard-right-to-the-point-of-near-psychotic, like the Dubya appointees John "Burn-Witch-Burn" Roberts and Scam Alito, the Reagan-appointed Kennedy's true relatively right-wing leanings become more visible, and hence, the Court as a whole has shifted to the right on issues from upholding a Congressional ban on a second-term abortion procedure, in limiting school desegregation plans and striking down a law banning big-money political advertising. OTOH... the Court upheld the EPA's ability to regulate global warming. And, most recently, in a stunning structural move...

The Court, by a 5-4 vote, with Kennedy on the side of the angels, decided that it will hear, after all, challenges to the Military Commissions Act brought by GTMO detainees in the Boumediene and Al-Odah cases.

While one cynical colleague of mine suggested that the Court valued the rights of foreign terrorists over domestic Black school children... and I tend to think that Justice Kennedy wants to party like its 1953... at least he doesn't want to party like it's 1214, the year before the Magna Charta enshrined habeas corpus in English law... I am very encouraged by this decision to take review. As Gaillard Hunt just told us, only the Supreme Court seems to be showing courage in this area. And while there are, at least, private and local and state level remedies available to combat racial discrimination, and other than the banned procedure, abortion is still available, and so forth... on habeas corpus... only the government can protect us arbitrarily from the abuse of power by... the government.

Despite over 6 months in office, a feckless Democratic majority has not passed a restoration of habeas corpus in either house of Congress. I mean, what are we supposed to say to that? Fear of being called "soft-on-terrorism" justifies permitting us to be a de jure (if not quite yet de facto) dictatorship?

I suppose in an "only Nixon could go to China" thing (largely because Nixon didn't have to face being called a Red by... Nixon... thanks to digby for that)... only a Reagan appointed Justice can rein in Reagan's out-of-control ideological heir. If that's what it takes... so be it. While Justice Kennedy does many things that many people not only don't like but find incredibly offensive... he may yet prove to be the ultimate savior of our Constitutional republic.

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June 28, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Gaillard Hunt

Gaillard Hunt is an attorney in private practice in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mr. Hunt represents Pakistani national Saifullah Paracha, a businessman and father of four who was detained by American officials at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand in July 2003, where he was abducted, and in a pattern consistent with other so-called extraordinary renditions, had his clothing removed, and was thrust on a waiting plane and taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where he was interrogated for over a year, and then moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been detained ever since. Mr. Paracha suffers from heart disease requiring treatment that does not appear to be available at Guantanamo. On June 27, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Hunt by telephone. What follows are my interview notes corrected as appropriate by Mr. Hunt.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001, and as far as you know, where was your client, Saifullah Paracha?

Gaillard Hunt: I was at home in suburban Maryland that day, though I found out about the attacks right away. I don't have a good 9-11 story... I was supposed to meet someone for lunch downtown, and for quite a while, believed I could keep the appointment until it became clear that no one was going downtown. As to Mr. Paracha, I don't know exactly where he was-- though he was probably in his office in Karachi, Pakistan. I actually haven't talked to him about that. I know that he has many relatives in New York, and his nephew Tausif happened to right in the area of the World Trade Center and literally ran for his life after the attacks.

The Talking Dog: How did you come to represent Mr. Paracha? Please tell me your personal impressions of Mr. Paracha from meeting him, and your impressions of his family members (to the extent that you've met or spoken to them), and your impressions of other individuals (government personnel, including medical personnel, and otherwise) that you encountered at Guantanamo Bay?

Gaillard Hunt: I contacted a New York group called Human Rights First-- not the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been active in getting so many other prisoners' counsel. I've spoken to a number of his family members. Certainly his wife has taken this very hard, though she has rallied and tried to run the family businesses. His daugher Muneeza, who is around 24, has been very helpful. You should be aware that he also has a son who was arrested, tried and sentenced to 30 years in federal court in Manhattan for aiding and abetting terrorism.

The Talking Dog: As far as you are aware, what is it Mr. Paracha is accused of (whether from the CSRT reports or any other non-classified basis you have to answer that question)? Again, to the extent you can tell me, what is his response to that? Has Mr. Paracha either been proposed for military commissions charges, or "cleared for release"?

Gaillard Hunt: From the unclassified CSRT itself, there is a list of around 10 items... the legal position we have taken is that while they may make him guilty of arguably bad things, none of them makes him in any way a combatant or a terrorist. The CSRT accuses him of discussing where Al Qaeda could acquire an atomic bomb. His response was-- "Can you buy one off the shelf? Will Tony Blair sell me one?" His view is that it is a ridiculous question--and he denied having any such discussions.

Other allegations include having talked to Osama bin Laden and associating with people who are now "high value detainees". Well, it turns out that he did indeed talk to OBL... among Paracha's interests include being a t.v. producer in Pakistan. He was in Afghanistan for that purpose, and was trying to get a public audience with OBL to ask if his program could interview him. On one occasion when he managed to actually reach bin Laden, the response was that bin Laden would "think about it", meaning probably not.

He was also accused of having contact with three others who are now so-called "high value" detainees, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Al-Balluchi and Majid Khan. Paracha does not deny meeting them, but his response is that they approached him in Pakistan in the context of his businesses and in the course of seeking investment opportunities... They never told him of their terrorist connections, and he says he was quite shocked when he later saw that they were accused of terrorism.

The circumstantial evidence supports this. Given his general background-- he lived in the United States for 16 years himself, was generally quite out-spokenly pro-American and against terrorism... and he had visible businesses-- he would be the last person in Karachi anyone would disclose their terrorist connections or plans to.

As far as I know, he may be among the 60 or 80 detainees "designated eligible" for military commissions, though, of course, he has never to this day been charged or afforded any opportunity for a fair hearing of the allegations against him.

The Talking Dog: Please describe the circumstances of Mr. Paracha's apprehension (or rendition, or perhaps, kidnapping) into American custody, and have you investigated further the circumstances of that rendition (e.g. flight logs)?

Gaillard Hunt: As he was not picked up in Pakistan, and openly lived there for years after September 11th, this leads me to believe that the Pakistani government believed it was not appropriate to pick him up. I understand that the FBI got Paracha's business partner in New York to lure him to go to Bangkok, telling him he had to go there to meet buyers from K-Mart. Once he landed there, he was immediately set upon by a group of masked men, who grabbed him and put him through the usual rendition procedure -- hung him on hooks while they removed his clothes by cutting, did not feed him for two or three days, and flew him to Bagram Air Base.

The Talking Dog: Please describe (again, using any non-classified basis to tell me) what abuses Mr. Paracha has suffered in American custody, including but not limited to the denial of needed medical care? Has the grant or denial of care been conditioned on "cooperation" in interrogations?

Gaillard Hunt: When he was interrogated, he told them he would tell them his whole story if they'd shut up and listen to it... as a result, he was deemed "cooperative" and never out-and-out tortured. Nonetheless, his treatment was egregious.

In Bagram, he was held in a big hangar, and the detainees were held in separate pens without slop buckets, nor were they let out to use lavatory facilities, resulting in serious concerns about when and how to drink water... None of this made much sense except in the context of trying to control an overall interrogation procedure and create a sense of "powerlessness" in the detainees.

After Bagram, Paracha was moved... he's not sure where exactly, though Clive Stafford Smith has been instrumental in investigating detainee movements. Paracha, of course, was blindfolded and not told where he was being sent; we think we have pieced it together from other things: a bunch of people were released to Pakistan in September, 2004... it appeared that the plane that took them to Pakistan from Guantanamo continued on to Bagram, and then back to Guantanamo, with 6 or 7 other people aboard.

As to Paracha's medical care, that became a major issue, and still is. For that, we went through the court system first, and, unsuccessfully tried to get some relief. He has a heart condition-- a bad one. He is the youngest of ten children, and 5 of the ten have died before 65 of heart problems, and he is nearing 60. He has chest pains, and he has begun passing out. The doctors at Guantanamo say he needs a cardiac catheterization-- though at the detention camp, the best they can do is perform it on the equivalent of a kitchen table with no reasonable assurances of safe or appropriate care. The military's insists that all four limbs be shackled to the bed after the procedure is performed. The military's own cardiologists have said is not recommended, because the patient needs to be able to move around while he's recovering. Paracha has refused the catheterization there, and there is now a stand-off, as the government won't permit him to be moved for treatment anywhere else, even to another secure military facility. The government has thus far not permitted any direct statements from the military doctors... just generalized statement of his conditions. The contention that Guantanamo detainees get "better medical treatment" than they would in their home countries is absolute nonsense.

The Talking Dog: How have American courts and the military responded to efforts to afford Mr. Paracha proper medical care? Have you brought your entreaties to Congress and/or the Pakistani government, and what has happened with that?

Gaillard Hunt: The courts have not intervened; this is indicative of two stories. For one, the American people have rolled over, and let this happen... this sort of thing has happened throughout our history from time to time in the face of various events and crises. But the courts rolled over too... that is unexpected. I brought my habeas corpus petition in November 2004, and as it was one of the earliest petitions, I actually got a full factual return from the government outlining its contentions. And yet, just 3 or 4 months later-- the district judge stayed the whole thing and shut down the case, until a higher court sets the course for how these things go-- in effect, this was a judicial suspension of habeas corpus. This was Judge Friedman of the D.C. District Court-- a Clinton appointee and a well regarded judge. But the significance of this story is the complete and total absence of the courts at any level below the Supreme Court. And yet, whenever we get to the Supreme Court-- by 5-4 or 6-3 -- the Supreme Court says "the government can't do this." Why won't a District Court judge have the courage to say the same thing? I am reminded of Samuel Sewall who ran the witch trials at Salem... he eventuially acknowledged that he had made mistakes... after a few hangings... but he came around!

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on media coverage of Mr. Paracha's case in particular and Guantanamo Bay and American detention policy in the so-called Global War on Terror in general?

Gaillard Hunt: I am equally outraged and puzzled by the media coverage. Why is it reporters, and members of Congress for that matter, are willing to go to Guantanamo, even though they are told ahead of time they can't talk to detainees? What is the value of that? They are being fed government propaganda, and they treat it as "reporting" or "fact-finding". D.C.'s delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has gone down a few times... and I wonder why. And even when journalists go, they are kept on the opposite side of the Bay from the lawyers, so they can't hear the detainees' version of what's going on.

The Talking Dog: Has the reception you have received in the courts (or from the military) changed in any manner since the Hamdan case supposedly set a standard that all detainees were subject to minimal treatment as "other persons" within the Geneva Conventions? Same question, after the Military Commissions Act of 2006?

Gaillard Hunt: There has been no difference after the Military Commissions Act, because we never got anything from the courts anyway! Our habeas is still pending, and the protective order I have obtained from the earlier proceeding is somewhat better than later ones; Paracha's status is still up in the air... other people (from the Covington & Burling firm, who are assisting me on this) are going to speak to him right now. I had filed one of the first petitions under the Detainee Treatment Act, so we may be first in the judicial line, if that process gets anywhere.

The Talking Dog: Have you participated in the recent Congressional lobbying efforts by GTMO habeas attorneys?

Gaillard Hunt: On May 1st, I joined others to lobby on the Hill. I must say the general reaction of Congress has been incomprehensible... we are only trying to restore the right of habeas corpus. The Military Commissions Act is not limited to Guantanamo. It abolishes habeas corpus for all non-citizens everywhere.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the seemingly coordinated effort by the government against lawyers, from Cully Stimson's remarks encouraging retaliation against habeas lawyers to efforts to limit client visits? Has your practice been affected by this, and if you can, how has your practice been affected by your representation of Mr. Paracha?

Gaillard Hunt: I have yet to run into anyone who does not think I am anything but a knight in shining armor. I undertook this representation because I thought it would be interesting... I didn't thinnk it would be all consuming for two years, or go on this long. But in some sense, we attorneys are protecting the value of our licenses-- to protect the courts' right to decide who gets locked up. Being a lawyer is less valuable if the government can just go around and lock people up without recourse to courts and lawyers.

As to Cully Stimson, he was immediately damned in the New York Times, Washington Post and every other major media outlet... indeed, it cost him his job. And he was not a bad guy, I understand-- he had been a prosecutor in D.C., and the last time he got press, he was on the right side- arguing for leniency for a quadriplegic convicted of minor marijuana possession who the judge wanted to make an example of and send to jail for ten days... but the judge sent the man to jail and he died.

I will say that the people in the DOD Office of Detainee Affairs-- Cully's old office-- are not exactly easy to deal with, either before or since his departure.

The Talking Dog: What do you view as the ultimate "exit strategy" for GTMO, and its detainees...via the courts, or legislation, or something else... and do you see one prior to Pres. Bush and V.P. Cheney leaving office?

Gaillard Hunt: I really like that question... but I don't know the answer. I think the whole thing was originally intended to replcate North Korean and Chinese methods of interrogation during the Korean War... but once it came out in public... it seemed to all come apart. At this point, who knows why... maybe they think they have a tiger by the tail and can't let it go... but at this point, it is a stupid, self-defeating policy... even the Secretary of Defense wants to shut it down... so then, why doesn't he, and move the detainees to military facilities in this country...?

The Talking Dog: Of course, isn't it true that the Vice President wants to do this apparently simply to show that he (or the executive anyway) can?

Gaillard Hunt: Given what has come out about the Vice President in the Washington Post of late, we certainly can't discount that at this point he is the main proponent of continuing this policy.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else the American and international public needs to be aware of concerning Mr. Paracha and the subjects we discussed?

Gaillard Hunt: No, your questions have all been on the right track. The short answer is that we just have to, finally, once and for all, give these men some kind of real fair and impartial hearing. Period.

The Talking Dog: On behalf of all of my readers, I thank Mr. Hunt for that informative interview.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
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 physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, and with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo related issues to be of interest.

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June 28, 2007, Trust but verify under oath

"Trust us" has long been the Bush Administration's official mantra, on everything from its miserable failures associated with national security on and before September 11th, to its (entirely bogus) contentions of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda, to its contention that the National Security Agency's outrageously illegal and unconstitutional wire-tapping and other electronic eavesdropoping of innocent American citizens was somehow "only involving terrorists". One of the reasons so many people like me got off our duffs to give money and provide whatever support was necessary to put Democrats in the majority was to finally get some Congressional oversight over an Executive that clearly did not give a crap about the truth, democracy, the Constitution, checks and balances, or much else besides tax cuts for the super-rich and advancing its own aims for dictatorial power.

Hence, it is refreshing to see that the Senate Judiciary Committe led by the fearless Pat Leahy of Vermont has issued subpoenas for various officials concerning the NSA wire-tap program, including subpoenas directed to the White House and the Vice-President's office (whichever branch of government... or of the time-space continuum... it happens to occupy). After months (if not years) of stonewalling on this, and after the dramatic testimony of James Comey concerning the great hospital room scene in which Ashcroft refused to sign off on aspects of the program... the Committe, including three Republicans, voted to issue the subpoenas.

The White House is expected to continue to stonewall, and we'll see what happens. The usual cries (as in by an infant) of the White House of "partisanship" have been raised:

The White House, the vice president’s office and the Justice Department declined Wednesday to say how they would respond to the subpoenas.

“We’re aware of the committee’s action and will respond appropriately,” said Tony Fratto, White House deputy press secretary.

“It’s unfortunate that Congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation,” Mr. Fratto added.

Let's just say that this sort of kvetching by an Administration with approval ratings approaching those of the Atlanta TB guy... just won't resonate with anyone other than whorish Washington press corps members. As usual... that may be enough... we will see, we will see.

For today at least, while it seems a little disturbing that we have to give kudos to the Senate Judiciary Committee for doing its damned job, Senator Leahy deserves to know that we have his back. Crazy times, boys and girls. But once again, it seems, 9-11 changed everything, and we do mean everything.

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June 24, 2007, Veni vidi vice president

I'm still too busy laughing at the recent insistence of the Office of the Vice President (with the tacit blessing of the President) that Dick Cheney is above the law (as usual) to comment on it. This time, Cheney and Addington argue that OVP is above the law of handling classified information, because the office of the vice-president, which John Adams and numerous others have regarded as the epitome of a do-nothing post when they held the office-- is super-special and part of the legislative branch! Hey, whatever gets you above the law, right?

This LATimes piece, "No veep is an island", more or less summarizes the silliness of it:

Cheney's rejection of mandatory inspections required of all federal offices to make sure they are properly protecting top secret documents defies basic standards of good government and common sense. And his argument that he needn't comply because his office isn't part of the executive branch is specious. Moreover, after clashing with the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, which conducts the routine inspections, Cheney's vindictive staff reportedly tried to abolish the unit. That's like trying to disband the Internal Revenue Service for demanding a tax audit. Has the veep taken leave of his senses?

Unfortunately, Cheney's behavior is entirely in keeping with his long-standing views on executive powers, executive privilege and the divine rights of vice presidents. He also has championed policies that have shredded American privacy rights in the name of national security, with methods that have included warrantless wiretaps, e-mail and postal-mail snooping, monitoring library withdrawals, mining data on the telephone and buying habits of millions of citizens and the expanded use of national security letters. But Cheney has been vigilant in defending his own privacy rights. The vice president's office has been operating in stunning secrecy for six years.

Of course, until Congress decides to impose discipline-- such as, oh, impeachment, or cutting off funding to his office and staff, or passing a law requiring the Vice President to behave in conformity with the rest of the Government and American society... just expect more of this crap.

Or, more to the point, as my Bush Countdown Calendar tells me... 576 days to go...

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June 21, 2007, Justice is color-blind

Such is the story we get from this WaPo piece documenting the sorry saga of one Bradley Schlozman, acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights of the United States Justice Department. Schlozman removed a number of career attorneys from key civil rights functions. Those attorneys happened to be women of various ethnic minorities, only to be replaced by White males... to be fair, some of those women were Democrats... (and I understand one couldn't be trusted because she once voted for McCain). Traditionally, it was felt that "diversity" in the government agency responsible for ensuring diversity elsewhere... is a good thing.

I point out that there is no law against replacing competent career professionals with incompetent partisan hacks in those positions that don't have civil service protection; it is, of course, "icky", and traditionally not done. But then "traditionally" we didn't lock up people without charge or trial the way dictatorships do, no did we? And the second one actually is against the law, so nyah!

Anyway, WaPo buries its lede into the very last paragraph:

Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Missouri in March 2006. But Congress subsequently started looking into why he was hired without any prosecution experience, and why he brought voter-fraud charges against a liberal voting organization five days before the election in a heated congressional race. Schlozman was reassigned this past March to a job in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys.

In short, Mr. Schlozman was an integral part of the current election-theft efforts, to wit, bringing bogus federal cases against those likely to help Democrats (and giving breaks to Republicans)... THAT is they key to the US Attorney and Justice Department scandals. Replacing gender and ethnic diversity with loyal (and usually less well-credentialed) White males and religious extremists... just a bonus. Or as an ad campaign might say... "priceless".

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June 19, 2007, Cravenness (cont'd)

And so House Speaker Pelosi had to intervene against two of her Democratic denizens (Reps. John Dingell and Rick Boucher, ["D"-Auto-Industry]), and killed their proposals to load up a House energy bill with wet-dreams-for-the-auto-industry, including such measures as pre-empting California's ability to regulate auto emissions on its own, a measure that has been extraordinarily helpful in reducing air pollution there and elsewhere, and which will be helpful in California efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Well, here we go again: if you want to help Detroit's real problems, free GM, Ford and Chrysler from their killling health care costs and pension obligations by replacing them with appropriate nationalized services in both areas. If Michigan's "Democrats" were worthy of the name... they would be out front on those issues, instead of trying to worsen the environment for all Americans (and indeed, all humans).

Again, I'd have less of a problem if Republicans were doing this sort of thing: being shills and stooges of industry is, after all, their racket. But if Democrats behave exactly the same way (because all politix is local, and their politix is dependent on their local contributions and support from local industry, damn the bigger consequences... then what exactly do we need them for?

Honestly-- where are the primary challengers for Reps. Dingell and Boucher (or for that matter, Sens. Stabenow and Levin), who basically have said that they value the next few quarters of auto industry profits (as if they had any!) more than, well, the continuation of civilization as we know it (and that's barely an oversimplification). Why is it that Joe Lieberman, as loathesome as he is, got stuck with a serious primary challenge (albeit from an ultimately lightweight challenger-- though one with a personal fortune, which Democrats are always too enamored of)... whereas these auto-industry-shills get a pass for their heresies?

Obviously, there is something wrong with how our elections are financed-- because office holders appear obsessed with financing their reelection bids rather than with overall policy interests, and the interests of their broader constituents as opposed to their most short-sighted and parochial ones.

Just saying.

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June 16, 2007, White House Memo

This supposed "news analysis" from the Grey Lady, which bears a super-script heading "White House Memo"... presumably to indicate that it is on the subject of the White House, instead appears to be following the recent history of the Grey Lady's tendency to take dictation from the White House...

The apparent subject of the piece is the purported "dilemma" faced by the Congressional majority seeking to follow up on the U.S. Attorney firing scandal. There is no "dilemma"; the U.S. Attorney scandal, as Greg Palast tells us, is about nothing short of the Republican Party subverting the American electoral process in 2008 (as many believe it did in 2000 and 2004 with numerous voter suppression methods), this time, besides "caging voter rolls" and its other tried and true ethnic-minority voter suppression methods, with bogus prosecutions of Democrats and failure to prosecute Republicans... in short, the US Attorney scandal is Watergate, only on steroids.

Instead of any "analysis", the Grey Lady (which to this day has never owned up to its prior White House stenographic recordings, some of which are, IMHO, war crimes; see Miller, Judith) instead gives us still more White House talking points. These include the nonsense canard that there will be some sort of "price" if Congress does its Constitutionally mandated job, and oversees the Executive branch, particularly at a time when the Executive is running amock. We get such gems as:

“There’s a big problem for both the White House and Congress on these subpoenas, and that is that everybody looks bad,” said Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush’s first press secretary. “The White House doesn’t want to get into a visible public executive privilege court fight because it makes it look like they’re hiding something. Congress shouldn’t go down this subpoena line because they’re only cooking their own goose. It’s great for the base, but lousy for the country.”

Ari Fleischer? That's an objective source? We're not even at the "hey, we got quotes from both sides so we must be objective and fair" stage... just... Ari Fleischer... as if his partisan opinion were even relevant... let alone news. But it gets better...

Some allies of the White House say an executive privilege battle is the next logical step.

“I think they have excellent prospects of winning in court,” said David Rivkin, who served in the White House counsel’s office under the first President Bush. Mr. Rivkin said he saw no political downside to a fight: “This has become very sharply edged, very partisan. People who do not like the administration will say he is stonewalling no matter what.”

One possible way out of the impasse would be for the White House to agree to interviews with transcripts, in exchange for Democrats’ withdrawing the subpoenas.

Now, I'm not so much pissed that Mr. Rivkin would talk to "even the liberal New York Times" and not to me (when I asked him for an interview re: his role in American detention policy, I received no response... it's his right not to talk to whomever he pleases, of course). Indeed, the Times even discloses that he is a "White House ally"... No, I'm pissed that the Times purports to render "friendly advice" to Democrats in Congress (as if they needed it) of... wait for it... "cave now, opposing or confronting the President on anything will only embarrass you." Thanks, guys.

I guess, the short answer is, for "fair and balanced"... try Fox News. For "White House Memos"... apparently unredacted and untouched by human hands... try the New York Times.

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June 15, 2007, Priorities

Well, well... it seems that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was part of a surrender associated with tying conditions to Iraq war funding for troop withdrawal (even symbolic conditions and goals) lest Democrats be called for "not supporting the troops" by not working over Memorial Day weekend... has decided that Democrats shall, if necessary, work over the precious July 4th vacation "district work interval"... to pass the President's signature immigration bill. Which leads to the simple question of... wtf?

This is not a Democratic signature issue... and if it is, the solution proposed (creating a legal class of under-menschen "guest workers" and granting amnesty to the estimated 12,000,000 line jumpers already here)... will, surprise, surprise, be a nice boon for those of us in affluent neighborhoods seeking to keep down the cost of our housekeepers, restaurant delivery-persons, nannies, handymen and gardeners... while helping to further keep pressure on to suppress wages among the working and lower middle class... i.e., what had once been thought of as the core of the Democratic Party.

I've said it before: I can understand why the corporatist President would want this bill: suppressing Americans wages (and increasing the value of capital) is a traditional Republican goal (along with making sure that the lives of the average Americans are as insecure and unpleasant as possible so that they will remain dependent on their betters). The problem for the President is not a Democratic Party best symbolized by Reid's actions on this very bill as standing for nothing (it's a party that can't fillibuster a Supreme Court Justice who'll tip the balance toward criminalizing abortion, can't block the repeal of habeas corpus, won't do a damned thing about the Iraq War... and I could go on)... and yet, wants to cross party lines in the interest of pandering on an issue that it (wrongly) perceives as a measure universally supported by Latinos in the interest of holding its support among that group... at the expense of the interests of its only two solid, always reliable constituencies (African Americans and organized labor). You got all that?

So who's going to kill this insanity idiocy bill? You got it: nativist Republicans (joined by some vulnerable Democrats who need to join them and not by "core-value" Democrats because such a creature doesn't seem to exist) will see to it that this bill is shot down, because the Republican Party is now a Deep South (and Mountain West) regional party, and its constituents are motivated by... well, dislike of the kind of people who tend to be the bulk of our... housekeepers, restaurant delivery-persons, nannies, handymen and gardeners...

Anyway... you'all see my views on this bill. But frankly, why help the President, who would just as soon jail the opposition-now-in-majority as talk to them (would that he thought he could get away with it... give him time)? I mean, the President should be thwarted for the sake of getting the next Democratic President elected, period... ... besides, the SOB is at 29%... why do him any favors? And, this just happens to be a terrible bill anyway.

Of course... that's just me.

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June 14, 2007, Gaza tabula rasa

It looks like it could be a complete, clean slate (i.e., the Palestinian Authority, a/k/a the Fatah movement) may be just about ready to give up amidst fighting with Hamas in Gaza, and pull back to the West Bank, leaving Hamas in Gaza... in short, this LA Times analysis suggests the possible end of the so-called two-state solution, with Palestinians resigned to the simple reality that their procreation habits (i.e. having a lot more children than Israeli Jews) will eventually make them the majority, and eventually, the vast majority, in the population of "the neighborhood" of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Will the modern state of Israel, founded by survivors of the Holocaust, have the stomach to live with Jews as the minority in such an entity?

Which, of course, is why I (and others) have been saying for some time that Israeli policies in this area of not pulling back to (more or less) the pre-1967 borders and doing their best to subsidize and prop up the Palestinians as a viable independent state (or perhaps states) is FUCKING INSANE. Whatever political pull "the settlers" may have (and the Israeli state, btw, has subsidized and encouraged settlement policy for decades-- Labour/Avodah and Likud governments alike)... Israel simply cannot maintain itself as a democratic state and as a Jewish state, under circumstances where it will be soon outnumbered by Arabs who want no part of it; those Arabs will, simply, eventually vote Israel out of existence. And yet... Israel seems to be paralyzed vis a vis doing anything other than speeding along toward this demographic cliff. (And it doesn't much matter how much American military aid the Jewish state receives, if it finds itself outnumbered from within.) This is why the appeal of the "Palestinian state" has been so strong: hint-- it's not about the Palestinians.

Now, at least according to the LA Times analysis, some Palestinians (and a lot of Israelis) realize that the Hamas-Fatah internecine pissing contest (or more accurately, Hamas itself) renders the ultimate "two-state solution" as probably not viable; Hamas may be left in control of the Gaza shithole, and Fatah can try to make the best deal it can in the West Bank. At the moment, Israel restricts travel between the two, 20 miles apart at the closest point, to virtually non-existent, so in effect, they may as well be on different continents.

It is certainly understandable why, amidst the enmity of a neighboring "government" committed to your destruction, Israel takes a hard-line towards the religiously-pure-but-crazy Hamas. Of course, Israel also took a pretty damned hard-line towards the-secular-but-corrupt-and-inept Fatah, pretty much ensuring the rise of Hamas (an entity that Israel once encouraged and helped create as a counter-weight to Arafat). No one expects Israel to just sit there and take it when terrorist attacks or missile strikes are launched... otoh, Hamas more or less counts on Israel's heavy-handed responses... it's the best recruiting tool they have-- create more "martyrs" in a society where revenge is pretty much the coin of the realm.

Ironic, of course. It seemed that getting out of Gaza was a grand idea for Israel... but getting out without trying to prop up some stable Palestinian institutions led directly to the kind of vacuum that Hamas has stepped in to fill... violently. And that was kind of the difference between Labour's Mitzna and the still moribund Sharon (from the moribund Likud party) in the all-important pre-Iraq War 2003 election... yes, Mitzna proposed getting out of Gaza, unilaterally, but he also wanted to step up negotiations on the overall global resolution that would have led to a viable (meaning something other than Sharon's "Palestinians get a semi-gulag-archipelago on the crappiest land") Palestinian entity leading to a Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, Mitzna didn't get elected-- Labour instead got trounced, and the rest has been the history that has taken us to the present. Where it stops, nobody knows, but the default (Hamas in unfettered, untempered control of nearly a million people on Israel's Southern doorstep, with Fatah in charge in the West Bank and the unifying "Palestinian Authority" effectively gone)... is a dangerous and unpredictable position... and yet, that seems to be where this train is heading.

Unfortunately, this could all just be another part of the Wolfowitz/Feith/Lieberman (yes, it's his war too) grand vision of a wonderful new Middle East where everything is designed to make the world safe for Israel... except, of course, for the part where it has the exact opposite effect because of how insanely stupid and badly conceived the "vision" actually is.

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June 14, 2007, Cravenness is bipartisan

I think its not an irrational position to suggest that increasing fuel efficiency standards in our automobiles and trucks will have a number of salutory effects, from reducing emissions, to improving our national security by, among other things, lowering our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Which explains why the effort to thwart the recently passed increases in such standards in the House is being thwarted in the Senate by Kit Bond (R-MO) and, of course, two Democrats from Michigan (Levin and Stabenow). Naturally, the Big Three auto-makers contend that they will be at a competitive disadvantage if they are obliged to improve fuel efficiency, damn the consequences to the rest of us.

Senators Levin and Stabenow would do better not to listen to the high priced lobbyists who buy them expensive meals and send them on nice vacations junkets fact-finding trips, and look at what Detroit's real problems are: wildly out of control health and pension costs, in many cases, to former employees. A far, far better approach to solving Detroit's woes than opposing measures that will improve our national health and national security is to ween GM and Ford and Chrysler of these problems... by moving us toward socialized medicine and more secure, livable national pensions-- the same arrangements that our competitors (who are clobbering the Big Three, while also offering more fuel efficient vehicles!) in Japan and Europe have for their workers.

Plus, of course, such an agenda would be consistent with being Democrats, as opposed to be being corporate shills thinking about their next-fund-raiser, rather than the interests of most of their constituents (instead, of course, of the ones who who buy them expensive meals and send them on nice vacations junkets fact-finding trips.)

Of course, that's just me.

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June 11, 2007, Small solace

Coming as it does exactly 69 months to the day after September 11th, one of the most conservative courts in the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, issued a stinging rebuke to the Bush Administration and granted a habeas corpus petition filed by our old friend Saleh Al-Marri.

You will recall that Mr. Al-Marri is a lawful U.S. resident, native and national of Qatar, who had been living in Peoria, IL with his wife and five children when he was arrested on various charges, but then at the whim of the President hailed off as an "enemy combatant" on the same bogus premise (and held in the same very real naval brig) as Jose Padilla, and so held going on over four years, without charge or trial. We interviewed Jonathan Hafetz, one of Al-Marri's attorneys, around this time last year; Mr. Hafetz features prominently in the Grey Lady linked article.

The Fourth Circuit, in somewhat of a surprise to me as they went the other way for U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, said that our system of Constitutional law means nothing if the President has a blanket out for made-up military necessity... in short, the Court reversed the made-up "suspend the Constitution" clause that John Yoo, David Addington, and a 2-1 majority of the very same appeals court, heretofore believed existed. The Court gave the Bush Administration a number of options: release Al-Marri, transfer him to the civilian criminal justice system, deport him, or arguably, seek certiorari review in the U.S. Supreme Court, but the in camera (and ex cathedra) military detention must come to an end.

One might think the rule of law might be reasserting itself, and we might be witnessing the beginining of the end of our unfortunate era of executive overrreach. One might think that; but one doesn't bet that way. Not sure if the Supreme Court would touch this: I'd think they wouldn't, but one never knows. 589 days to go.

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June 10, 2007, More unsolicited advice

In this case, that would be former Secretary of State Colin Powell calling for the closure of the detention facility at Guantanano Bay. Powell suggested he would close it not tomorrow, but this afternoon-- immediately, and move its detainees to within the United States, with full access to the appropriate legal system, whether the federal courts or proper military courts martial. Powell correctly notes that the perception of the United States running a legal black hole undermines our standing in the world and our carrying out our strategic goals in combatting terror, and it would be better if we were back into integrity.

Of course, GOP Presidential candidate the literal-creationist Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee disputes Powell's view, suggesting that it's best that we flush our Constitution and principles down the toilet out of the irrational fear that one of the GTMO detainees may some day highjack an airplane, or something (something that absolutely none of the over 400 detainees who have been released from GTMO would ever dream of).

Although Powell will, rightly, be forever tarred for his United Nations dog and pony show about non-existent Iraq WMDs, which fooled no one present at the Security Council meeting, but went a long way to assuage a few naysayers in the American media to quiet down what little was left of effective domestic dissent to our Excellent Iraq Adventure at that time, Powell's State Department was one of the few beacons of decency in the Bush Adminsitration. Powell was constantly objecting to the torture memos, to the trashing of the Geneva Conventions and to the other evasions of law that led to GTMO, Bagram, Ghost Prisons, the extraordinary rendition morass and the other outrages of which GTMO is but one. Of course...

The President never listened to Powell when he was Secretary of State! Heck, the President's current Defense Secretary has said GTMO should be closed... I daresay... Powell's "suggestions" on this will be treated with the same deference as Powell's "suggestions" as the Secretary of State.

In short, I wouldn't expect too much GTMO wise for at least the next 590 days or so.

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June 9, 2007, Shining a little light on CIA "black prisons"

WaPo gives us this account of a recently released report from the Council of Europe and its point-man on this, Swiss legislator Dick Marty, documenting European cooperation in CIA detention/torture facilities in Poland and Romania, in which, among other things, the CIA abused NATO relationships to enable it to do these things in those venues. I think that's a little extreme; both Poland and Romania are relatively poor countries very close to the former Soviet Union who were more than eager to help out their new pal, Uncle Sam, in any way they could.

Either way, our readers are already familiar with this sordid tale, if not on their own or from our general discussions, then in detail, from our interviews with Stephen Grey and Trevor Paglen, who have been following the few publicly available threads to get to the bottom of our CIA "extraordinary rendition" program story and its rather... unpleasant implications.

Well, this is the thing with "secrecy": some secrets are just known by too many people. Things will come out, and they won't be pretty. Which is why we should all at least try to lead exemplary lives, whether as individuals, or as a nation.

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June 8, 2007, Change of Pace

Proving that his vaunted personal loyalty is about as real as his Texas accent, the President "reluctantly" acceded to the decision of Poppy, Jim Baker and the Cabal SecDef Robert Gates, and hence, Gates announced that General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will not be reappointed. General Pace kind of went over the top recently with his remarks that homosexuality shouldn't be tolerated in the military because its "immoral," and by sending in his personal recommendation letter for old Scooter Libby to get a lighter sentence... but, come to think of it, for that and for being so damned gung ho on the President's Iraq policies, you'd think General Pace should be throwing his hat into the ring for the Republican Presidential nomination!

Instead, he'll have to step aside for Gates' choice, the much more Ready for Senate Confirmation Prime Time Navy Director of Operations Admiral Mike Mullen, who has yet to be tarred with his own involvement in the Iraq fiasco, and hence, will be much easier to sail through the Senate for confirmation... one wonders why, say, John Bolton is worthy of a coveted "recess appointment" to end run the Senate... while Pace gets thrown under the bus. See above re: personal loyalty.

This could be symptomatic of an overall weakening of the President, from all the I's (well, Iraq and Immigration, anyway).

Taking us to the Grey Lady observing that as the "Grand Bargain" on immigration reform appears to have collapsed in the Senate, the President's power continues to wane... wane... and wane... Which is good, because a discussion of what was wrong with that bill would have taken years and cost millions of lives... Ironic that it is nativist Republicans who killed it, given that you'd think it would be Republicans who LIKE the idea of setting up a legally defined underclass of low wage workers unprotected by worker safety or wage/hour laws all flooding our borders to drive down the wages of American workers... whereas Democrats just might oppose the bill for these reasons... but that's not how things go anymore.

The Republicans all have to worry about being soft on swarthy people, because by and large, they are now a Deep South/Mountain West regional party, whose
constituents... just don't want them to be soft on swarthy people. Illegal migrants from Mexico will fit that bill nicely. Democrats, by contrast, you'd think would be looking out for their union-member and African American and Latino working class constituents, and not so keen to force them to compete with line jumpers from abroad... And you'd be wrong again. Because both Big-Democrats and the Bush-Lieges were playing for the marginal pander to some Latinos... all bets are off on this... and apparently on everything...

But we can agree... while the swagger isn't out of Bush's personal bearing... any further advances on his agenda (whether Pace or Race Immigration...) will actually at least have to have some popular support, for a change. Curiouser and curiouser...

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June 5, 2007, Adjust your tinfoil bonnets...

Because... after an almost inconceivable thirty month blog hiatus, one of the most original blogs in the sphere (and, btw, one of the all-time TD faves) Granny Rant... is... back!

Granny comes to us from her undisclosed location somewhere in rural Tennessee... and Granny treats us to a wake-up call to consciousness... Whether railing on matters of science, religion, politics, or the infinite variety of (only seemingly crackpot) conspiracy theories, from our seemingly almost "done deal" North American Union to chemtrails to Area 51... Gran is on a rant... and Gran is on it, and putting it in the context of our modern world, where our "leaders" use the misdirection offered by razzle dazzle and bread and circuses to keep us off-balance while they pursue their own usually sinister agenda... it's not about whether you're paranoid... it's about whether you're paranoid enough. OF COURSE SHE'S ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVES! (Indeed, in Granny's Dog Run entry, Granny is designated "Great Dane", I having by then retired the "top dog" designation, to which Granny is most entitled).

I, for one, welcome our new ant overlords Granny back to the realm of active blogging! You go, girl!

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June 4, 2007, Kangaroo Court Beaver Bench (and What Alice Found There)

The title is about the mirth and merriment coming out of Guantanamo today pertaining to Canadian national Omar Khadr (the beaver being, IIRC, the national animal of Canada). This blog was really never intended to go "All Gitmo all the time"; indeed, there are better sources for that, notably the great Guantanamo Blog and Cage Prisoners, both of which I frequently consult myself. My interest is almost at a meta-level... what interests me almost as much as the subject itself is the [obscene] lack of interest in the subject on the part of most Americans, largely driven by a feckless celebrity driven, short-term thinking American media (especially its well-nigh worthless commercial broadcast media). This lack of interest in the media has created an opening for me to talk with a good many of the principal players in this comedy tragedy. While obviously the human element is critical (which is why I invariably try to ask specific questions about those who are or have been held as guests of our own American state), to be honest with you, I have almost as much outrage about what this says about us systemically-- this "make-it-up-as-we-go-along-to-get-the-results-we-want-even-if-they-violate-every-principle-we-allegedly-stand-for" crap, whether on torture, or open-ended detention, or kangaroo courts, or spying on our citizens (and political opponents) is just not how the country whose legal system I have been proud to be a part of is supposed to behave. NOT. FREAKING. EVER. No expedient justifies it. EVER. If we have to fight our enemies with one or even both hands behind our back to ensure that our laws and principles are followed... then, so be it. Anything else is, dare I say it, cowardly.

Speaking of cowardly, handing off our dirty work to the CIA is an old story. The CIA in turn often hires contractors, such as in "the rendition program", where a contractor was hired to outfit flying torture chambers; this seems, sadly, also consistent with "traditional" American practices (not that we're proud of them, of course... but, as Trevor Paglen told us, the CIA was set up to do illegal things). Case in point... Jeppeson Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing was sued today by GTMO detainee Binyam Mohammed ... amongst whose tortures included-- I kid you not-- having his genitals sliced up by our Moroccan allies... and in such condition, his "confessions" were used to implicate, among others, American citizen "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla. But I digress... getting back to our story...

At GTMO today, the military commission set up by the Defense Department to try one Omar Khadr (one of his now former attorneys, Rick Wilson, is interviewed here) has decided to dismiss the charges concocted by the Defense Department against Omar, on the grounds that Omar is not an "unlawful enemy combatant", merely an "enemy combatant". Why would they do such a crazy thing, you say? Well, our friend Candace tells us that the Circus of the Absurd Continues, and relays an e-mail from one of Omar's lawyers Muneer Ahmad:

As you have probably seen by now, the military judge in Omar Khadr's case dismissed the charges against him on the ground that the MCA gives the commissions jurisdiction only over "unlawful enemy combatants," and the CSRT established only that he was an "enemy combatant." The government has indicated its intention to appeal this ruling--it has 72 hours in which to file a notice of appeal--but the Court of Military Commission Appeals has not been established. So, the government will be filing its appeal with a non-existent court.

Par for the course at Guantanamo.

And Candace goes on to tell us: As an astute blogger on Salon noted: "This administration even fucks up at fascism." Candace also provides a link to the Military Commission ruling here.

Ah, the irony. Like our readers know already, Omar could well have been long ago deemed a beneficiary of "belligerent privilege" (or belligerent immunity)... to wit, soldiers in a combat situation are ordinarily entitled to kill their adversaries, without being subject to murder or war crimes charges; for a little background on that, see our interview with former United States War Crimes Ambassador David Scheffer. Hence, for purposes of trying Omar, a determination that he is "merely" an "enemy combatant"... says nothing as to this question of belligerent privilege... Indeed, he might well be entitled to it, but Congress did not empower the military commissions with the power to make such determinations! Hence, Omar must first be determined to be "an unlawful enemy combatant"... which hasn't happened yet. And may never happen.

As strange as it seems, this is not an improper ruling: I have argued it, and Josh Dratel asserted it might have applied to David Hicks... and now, perhaps the military itself sees it this way.

Or, perhaps, Karl Rove has now decided that this is just not a good time for show trials, and hence, this is as good an excuse as any to throw things on the back burner, while continuing "Operation Hold People for No Reason So that the Rubes Believe We're Tough on Terror" in its course.

Hey, Omar Khadr's family isn't exactly popular in Canada, so it's not that hard to see why an Anglo like Hicks was a bigger cause celebre in Australia than Omar is or ever will be in Canada; the Maher Arar rendition case, by contrast, was a huge deal. Well, what can you say? The flying fickle finger of GTMO fate... who knows where it will point to next? The only thing we know for sure is that our ongoing national disgrace in Cuba will almost certainly be around at least another 596 days, when another ongoing national disgrace is scheduled to come to an end.

Update: The charges against Salim Hamdan were also dismissed by the military commission on the same grounds.

Curiouser and curiouser. The same week the President seems to indicate a willingness to reach a global warming deal, his military commissions behave in a manner that appears... lawful? Is this all some sort of calculated PR/political maneuver? Well, you'all know what I think...

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June 2, 2007, Sad news

Not much to add to what Julia, and Patrick, or especially what Kevin, and most of the known-liberal-blog-world has already had to say about the untimely loss of Steve Gilliard, who passed away at 41.

Familia TD met Steve at a number of gatherings of the Sinister Barbecue Cabal. Steve was always a friendly guy, and knew his s***, whatever the subject at hand... and he was also a humble guy, who, despite the success he had with his blog, eschewed things like awards. I'm glad to see that his net was cast wide, and tributes to him have come from a huge number of quarters. I'm sorry I didn't get to know him better.

The man was a mensch. He'll be missed. Our sympathies go out to Steve's loved ones, his family, and to Jen, his partner in bloggering. R.I.P., Steve.

Update: More eloquent tributes to Steve... from Jill, from Jane, and Mad (who includes an audio-link to a talk with Steve himself).

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June 2, 2007, Yesterday's news... TODAY

Regular readers know all about our nation's not-so-slow slide into the "dark side" (see, for instance, our interview with former Guantanamo (GTMO) Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, where he (more or less) confirms (albeit by qualifying that it is "his hunch") that so-called "SERE" ("Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape") training methods, i.e. abuses designed for our members of our military to prepare for the exigency of being captured by hostile forces, were used by members of our military against detainees at GTMO.)

Well now... via Bruce the Veep and Andrew Sullivan, we give you this Time report confirming that the Pentagon, after an internal review, has concluded well... the same thing: SERE techniques (and other abusive methods of interrogation and detention) were used against detainees at GTMO routinely (as well as in Afghanista, Iraq, and elsewhere). No bad apples... just policy.

Although Abu Ghraib soldiers like former Sgt. Graner (a stateside prison guard, btw) may have themselves been over the top in their particular abuses, they were acting out an integral part of a policy that came from the top... from out of control General Jack D. Ripper Geoffrey Miller, from SecDef Rumsfeld, and quite probably, from the White House itself. The mistake of Sgt. Graner, Pvt. England, et al, was allowing evidence of the abuse to exist... a mistake most other American interrogators and abusers have by and large managed to avoid.

And there you have it. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 did not have a retroactive grant of immunity of torture (for high officials, that is) gratuitously: it was understood that this was policy, and those intended to be protected stretched right up to the top echelons of the military and government.
Fortunately for some of these high ranking officials of the United States (and frequently with their assistance) an effective international system of justice has never really been permitted to develop.

Though many such officials should still consider their future international travel plans very carefully.

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