The Talking Dog

November 29, 2008, Saturday Talking Dog Blogging

You talkin to ME?

And so this long neglected segment makes its triumphant return with a look at a different kind of talking dog (specifically, the conceit that different species of animals can talk to each other, but not to people), that would be Disney's latest computer-animated blockbuster, "Bolt," which Mrs. TD, Loquacious Pup and I saw as family fare. [While I won't totally spoil it, I may say too much for those who are planning to see it, so... be advised!]

Mrs. TD provided me with a spot-on analysis of this film that reflects a level of deep-thinking so subtle that the film-makers working for Disney could not possibly have been conscious of all of it while they were making this film. In short, the movie reflects a fable: while Americans export our fantastic myth-making associated with our own omnipotence, even when stripped of those fantasies, our values and team-work (and grit and pluck... and quite often, our luck...) are still sufficiently worthy in their own right to get us through, and are worth fighting for. Calling Frank Capra, anyone!

The conceit of Bolt is that the title pooch (voiced by John Travolta... what better casting for a movie about fantasies of omnipotence than a Scientologist?) has been genetically altered to have super-powers (super-speed, super-strength, laser-heat vision, and a super-bark capable of unleashing a sonic boom) as he assists "his person," a girl named Penny (voiced by Disney's current uber-darling Miley Cyrus) in her battle against "The Green Eyed Man"(the envy of the rest of humanity, perhaps?) to recapture her father, who has been kidnapped to reveal the secrets of whatever it is he does to create super-pooches (American freakishly unnatural DNA tampering like genetically modified crops, as well as dogs?).

Alas, we learn quickly that Bolt is a television show, but with a Truman Show sensibility where the dog isn't in on it, to keep him totally motivated as an actor: the dog buys it, believing his super-powers are real (kind of like the American people).

But then, as some of the stage-villain cats taunt the dog, the dog manages to escape from his studio trailer, and gets himself trapped in a box shipped from (uber-fantasy) Hollywood to (uber-reality) New York, where he emerges. In our fair city, Bolt encounters pigeons, who direct him to a local tough-gal alley-cat, who Bolt decides is an agent of The Green Eyed Man. Bolt dragoons her on a cross-country quest to return to Penny in Hollywood (reminiscent of Trains, Planes and Automobiles and other wacky trans-con comedies), picking up a t.v.-addicted hamster in a bubble along the way in an RV park in Ohio (does it get any better than this?).

Along this trip, the alley-cat demonstrates to Bolt that, in fact, he does not have super-powers, and worse still, in service of the fantasy of omnipotence, he has actually been stripped of what it is to be even a dog: he has lost skills like begging for food (including doggy tricks like rolling over and playing dead), or the simple joys of drinking from a toilet or riding with his head out the window... things which he must re-learn under her tutelage (she herself was an abandoned house cat). Bolt is disappointed, but even when he realizes he is but an actor, his love for Penny is still worthy of continuing the mission (of returning to Penny) to completion. The hamster, meanwhile, literally in his bubble, who has seen Bolt on t.v., still buys into the fantasy. And the (reality based) cat (who happens to be black... and partially white... like our new President-elect... or is that going just too far?) stays with the mission as well... see above re:"values worth fighting for."

Without spoiling the ending, I will just say that it builds on and completes the themes beautifully: one observes the values of grit and pluck, team-work, and a love worth fighting for.

As our nation reels from being bogged down militarily ("don't start a ground war in Asia") and economically, and it is clear that our national fantasy ("the world's only super-power") is being sorely tested, it would be nice to know that under it all, under that fantasy, there really is something at our core that makes us special, that gets us through (even if our vaunted ability to inflict violence on others fails us.) Just brings a tear to the eye.

This has been... Saturday Talking Dog Blogging.

Comments (3)

November 28, 2008, Apocalypse now

My heart goes out to the people of Mumbai, India, who have endured days of an ongoing and vicious terror attack that has already killed over 100 and wounded hundreds and hundreds, and does not appear to be over.

And as if the attackers wanted us to know they had some Islamist tie-in, they managed to find and attack some of the only 30,000 or so Jews in a country of over 1.3 billion people (at least five of the dead were Israeli citizens, murdered at a Jewish community center during a raid by Indian commandos), and the attack seemed aimed at undermining Mumbai's role as an international business and cultural center, as luxury hotels often frequented by foreigners were targeted.

The likeliest groups responsible (that would be our old friends at al-Qaeda, or perhaps more likely, the Pakistani based Lashkar-al-Toiba [LaT]) certainly planned out this parade of monstrosities, featuring multiple attacks on hotels, the Jewish center, a train station, a movie theater, a hospital and police facilities, with explosions, gunfire and hostage taking (and killing). Officials in Pakistan quickly took to the airwaves to try to prevent the recent thawing in India-Pakistan relations from falling apart, which of course, would be a goal of any Islamist terror organization.

Yes, yes, we know that Joe "the Plumber Genius" Biden predicted that President Obama would be tested by a major crisis within the first six months in office (as if the financial crisis didn't already qualify)... and certainly, the possibility of a conflict between two nuclear armed nations would be... bad... but the whole point of this kind of terrorist attack is that (as those of us who went to work on a sunny September morning in New York oh seven years ago will tell you) it can occur anywhere, anytime. As with 9-11, the scale of the Mumbai attacks will doubtless cause many questions to be asked about the effectiveness of Indian intel. But then, as with 9-11, it appears that the terrorists took advantage of a reasonably open society to position themselves to inflict the most horror.

Whatever the response to these events are (and the first priority on this one has to be too end it, to finish off the last of the hold out terrorists, and to make sure there are no follow-on attacks, and to attend to the dead and wounded), the response has to be intelligent and effective; a knee-jerk attack on Pakistan, for example, might be just what the terrorists want. Don't know. The fact is, the motivations of the attackers, and indeed, the identity of the attackers... is still not known. In what I consider a good move, India has invited Pakistan's ISI intel chief to assist in the investigation. Pakistan's military and intel services are, to be sure, multi-headed hydras, but if the governments of Pakistan and India writ large can work together to clamp down on those responsible for these attacks, it can go a long way toward stabilizing a most troubled region.

Again, as horrible (and we can safely call it evil) as these attacks are, the attackers, and those who organized them, have an agenda. That agenda can be broadly understood as "instability": shaking up a status quo in a violent and nasty way to accelerate some kind of political outcome. When such attacks are targeted at India, it is often about the India-Pakistan relationship, though not necessarily. Don't know. One needn't fear that this isn't the last attack of this kind": it is a certainty that somewhere in the world, some other group will plan something equally or even more horrific in the future, if not the very near future. That's how it is, and with ever more lethal weapons ever more easily obtainable, that's how it's going to be.

It's just that the last seven years have taught us that if, if in responding to brutality and horror, we chose to betray the values of a civilized and law-abiding society, we will not only have failed to stop future attacks (as the events in Mumbai have shown, this is damned near impossible in any kind of open society as it is), but we will have given the attackers exactly what they want. My fervent hopes for an end to this particular horror, and to these horrors in general, though I acknowledge that's probably too optimistic.

Comments (1)

November 25, 2008, News from the Gulag Archipelago

The Grey Lady issues a lead editorial calling for the United States Supreme Court to take review of the Ali Al Marri case; Mr. Al Marri, you will recall from, inter alia, our interview with his attorney Jonathan Hafetz, was a lawful resident of the United States who was picked up at his home in Peoria on criminal charges, and like Jose Padilla, magically declared an "enemy combatant" and whisked off the very same brig in Charleston, SC where Padilla languished. As noted in our interview with Jonathan Hafetz, the issues and stakes are the same: it matters not under the Bush Administration position whether citizen, lawful alien or unlawful alien... the President can detain you, in camera (for motives ex cathedra), the courts be damned. With luck, the Supreme Court will take review and signal that it will reverse this outrage; if it does not, certainly this is one policy that the new President should consider undoing on his first week, if not his first day, in office, and testing Mr. al-Marri's guilt in an actual court, with actual due process of law .

And down GTMO way (h/t to Candace), it looks like Salim Hamdan is going to serve out the remainder of his sentence in Yemen (you will recall that Hitler's chauffeur bin Laden's occasional driver and motor pool mechanic was sentenced to 66 months, but given credit for nearly 60 with time served). This is an acknowledgment by the Bush Administration that, having failed to obtain the desired life sentence in its own kangaroo court, it could not disavow the sentence without toppling the entire GTMO house of cards in one fell swoop, much as it wants to hold Mr. Hamdan forever, just to show it can.

Meanwhile, near and dear to my heart, Candace tells us she has filed her latest petition for review to the Supreme Court over her client al-Ghizzawi's request for release of his medical records (which, because they would embarrass the government, are the deepest of state secrets, never to be revealed, especially to the ill detainee or his counsel.)

And finally, President-elect Obama appears poised to renominate Gulag-meister and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to another term, of which he is expected to serve at least a year. Sec Def. Gates has certainly said he's with the program on closing GTMO; we'll see if that really comes to pass. Like our friends from Missouri, I suspect you'll have to show me, on that one. We shall see.

This has been... News from the Gulag Archipelago.

Comments (4)

November 23, 2008, Voice of reason

That would be, perhaps, Daniel Gross writing at Slate, that it is not time to party like it's 1929, because it isn't 1929. Many of the institutions that exist now (as a result of the Great Depression), such as FDIC and Social Security, serve as ultimate economic shock absorbers, and further, unlike the 30's, when in one year alone over 4,000 banks failed, things are bad, but not like that. (Mr. Gross fails to mention the perennial economic demand machine known as "the military industrial complex," so I will, though of course, spending on the refurbishment of the bridge of an aircraft carrier is spending not available on refurbishment of a bridge on an interstate highway... but I digress.)

Anyway, the point is that in matters economic (most unlike, say, matters military... again, I digress!), attitude and "confidence" really do matter because (again, unlike military matters), individual decisions do add up to economic activity, one way or another. His point is that we can expect President Obama to have a tough economic hand, but as with his election, quite a few "roads to victory" that may have not been available to FDR in the 1930's, because things aren't quite so bad as the hyperbole suggests (though they are plenty bad, to be sure.)

Not that this minor proto-Depression we are in is any reason whatsoever to take away from the only important story now (and most important story in the history of the world), that being Hillary, and now, the fact that some of Team O may be questioning the boss's judgment.

Don't know. I spoke to a colleague who noted that my phrase, "Well, Barack seems to know what he's doing; who am I to question his judgment?" had been repeated to her three times in the same day, causing her, also an Obama supporter, to ask "What kind of cult does Barack have going?"

Of course... what if that's the point? Getting the press and the right wing's bile all up over Hillary and the ongoing Familia Clinton psycho-drama, so that Obama can quietly take the grand, dramatic and strategic steps necessary to restore the economy to health and the public fisc to soundness (national singlepayer health care, for example) while everyone's focus is on the Foggy Bottom Soap Opera (all while the real foreign policy is managed by himself and Joe Biden.) Surely... Obama is too much of a political naif to do anything so boldly and insanely Macchiavellian... isn't he?

Update (thought balloon): Of course, one of the names swirling around as a possible appointment to replace Senator Hillary Clinton is none other than former President Bill Clinton; such an appointment would be sheer poetry as Clinton would then join Andrew Johnson as not only the only other impeached President, but the only other President to have served in the Senate after the White House. For added fun, there would be a special election in 2010 to complete the last two years of the term... might then thirty year old Chelsea Clinton take a run at the seat? Just saying...

Comments (7)

November 20, 2008, The Constitution Strikes Back

In an unexpected (to me, anyway) ruling, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. ordered the release of 5 (out of 6 litigating) Bosnian/Algerian detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay, granting their habeas corpus petitions. Judge Leon is actually the second judge to order detainees released. Judge Ricardo Urbina previously granted an ostensibly uncontested petition by a group of Chinese nationals who the government conceded were "not enemy combatants," just that they had no rights anyway, and the government got a stay from an appellate court. [The plight of the Uighurs is discussed in my interview with Buz Eisenberg.]

Today, however, marks the issuance (by Judge Leon) of the first habeas corpus writ after the government contested the merits of the petition. Judge Leon directed the government to undertake diplomatic efforts as to where to send the detainees; the government might consider, oh, Bosnia, from where the CIA ostensibly kidnapped these men in the first place (albeit with the connivance of the Bosnian government, under a wee bit of American pressure). Just saying.

Amazingly, Judge Leon is not only "no liberal," he was a George W. Bush appointee and previously was associated with arch-villains David Addington and Dick Cheney at the House Iran Contra Committee back in the '80's; so for Judge Leon of all people to have issued this writ is even more astounding. Well, go figure.

Today's ruling and Judge Urbina's earlier ruling (the latter under appeal) means that a wee bit over 20 detainees have now been ordered released (more, of course, than the number facing military commission charges), though,of course, none have yet been released.

The team at WilmerHale is to be commended for their tireless efforts to achieve this day; now we'll see if the logjam is broken, and more of these cases proceed to writs granted, so that other lawyers working tirelessly for similar results, many of whom have been interviewed on this very blog, can also see their clients' ultimate judicial vindication and freedom.

Will the government seek more dilatory tactics to delay the freedom of these men whom it has now been adjudged to be holding wrongly? That certainly IS how you bet.

I'll get you, Kirk!

More likely (and this IS how you bet) the Bush Administration, like Kahn up there, will cry out: "From hell's heart I stab at thee."

Comments (13)

November 20, 2008, TD Blog Interview with Buz Eisenberg

Buz Eisenberg is an attorney "of counsel" to the firm of Weinberg & Garber, P.C., in Northampton, Mass. and is a professor of constitutional law and criminal justice at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass. Mr. Eisenberg represents four current or former detainess at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On November 3, 2008, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Eisenberg by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Mr. Eisenberg.

The Talking Dog: My customary first question is, where were
you on 11 Sept. 2001?

Buz Eisenberg: On September 11th I was teaching a constitutional law course. As I left the classroom, a colleague, David, saw me and stopped. David is a pilot with his own small aircraft with whom I had flown on occasion, so we have discussed the safety and the dangers inherent in flying. He asked “did you hear, apparently a small aircraft crashed into one of the world trade towers in Manhattan?” He obviously had very little information at that
point (it was maybe 9:30am.) I then went to the behavioral sciences
office to get my mail, where the Dean, Kate, was, frantically yet fruitlessly,
trying to get her sister on her cell-phone. Her sister worked in that
tower. It turned out that morning was the rare occasion in which she was
late for work, having stopped for coffee and a pastry and encountered a
long line, which Kate didn’t learn until much later in the morning. I
learned in the ensuing days that one of my clients perished on American Airlines Flight #11, and I had two other acquaintances who died in New York City that morning.

The Talking Dog: Please identify your Guantanamo Bay based
clients, by name, nationality, current location (such as "Camp 6,
GTMO", "repatriated to Algeria" or whatever applies), and any personal
details about them that my readers should know, whether of family,
personality or anything else (including whether your clients claim to
have suffered abuse at GTMO, Bagram or elsewhere while in American
custody). Also, have any of your clients remaining at GTMO been
"cleared for release" or "designated for commissions"?

Buz Eisenberg: My four clients are:

(1) Abdul-Salam Gaithan Mureef Al-Shihry; Saudi Arabian; repatriated to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in June of 2006. He was; one of the younger detainees (17 at time he was taken into custody.) His litigation remains active in order to erase the “enemy combatant”stain. The Government contends that it is mooted by transfer, and that the court now lacks jurisdiction.

(2) Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed; Algerian; Camp 6, GTMO. He has beem cleared for release or transfer on 2007 as a result of a February Adminsitrative Review Board (ARB).

(3)Mohammed Abdal Al Qadir; Algerian; transferred to the control of
Algeria on 8-26-08. LHis litigation also remains active in order to erase the
“enemy combatant “stain. The Government also contends that his habeas claim was mooted by transfer, and that the court now lacks jurisdiction.

(4) Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan; Palestinian; Camp 6, GTMO; not cleared for release or transfer.

All of these men are the victims of abuse while at Guantanamo. Without
violating the Protective Order, I can say that the holding of someone in virtual isolation indefinitely, without charges or reason for hope, by definition amounts to “abuse.” Physicians for Human Rights published a study that concluded that it meets every medical definition of “torture” per se.

The Talking Dog: As best you can from publicly available data
including CSRT reports, what is it the United States government contends your clients did to warrant their continued detention?

Buz Eisenberg: The answer to that question is "nothing". All four were alleged to have been in places where they could have been sold for a bounty, and evidently were. We have not yet seen classified habeas returns (though they are technically not yet due under Judge Hogan's rolling order requiring the government to prepare 50 habeas returns per month.)

The Talking Dog: Can you tell me the current status of your
clients' litigations (habeas proceedings, DTA petitions, appeals, etc.), and how has this status changed since the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision, and do you anticipate any resolution of this from the courts, either (1) ever, or (2) during the remainder of the Bush

Buz Eisenberg: All four men have habeas petitions pending. All four have had one or more Orders appealed by the government. Because many of these matters are under seal I cannot describe them in any more detail. Two of my four clients, al-Qadir and Al-Shahiri, as noted above, have been transferred. We have argued that their cases are not mooted by the transfers, because of the collateral consequences doctrine, and clearly, their designation as "enemy combatants" triggers liberty interests and the law is clear on this. We only filed one DTA petition, with Al-Qadir, who is now in Algeria; nothing has been done with his DTA petition, which has been held in abeyance at the moment as he has been transferred, but the intent is to remove the enemy combatant stain through the DTA petition if possible, although as you know, the DTA has been held not to be an adquate habeas substitute in the Boumediene case.

Judge Hogan's order placed everyone transferred or "cleared for release" at the back of the line for release of classified habeas returns. We are still arguing about that, but the arguments are under seal; we have not conceded that point. Our arguments are especially compelling when the detainee was transferred to a hostile country. It is horrific to have to play the interests of our clients against each other with respect to arguing for the court's attention, but that's the position we are in. Of my own clients, as noted, two have been released, and a third, bin Mohammed, has been cleared for release.

I am ever the pollyanna, and notwithstanding this being my fourth year of this litigation, I am still hopeful that we will have habeas review for these men. I am not hopeful that it will occur during the remainder of this Administration, though I am hopeful that Boumediene will apply, notwithstanding that its tenets that the delay has already gone on too long will be honored by the lower courts (the only exception being Judge Urbina's decision in the Uighurs' case, which ordered an immediate release only to be stayed by the Circuit Court). I believe that the law and facts will ultimately work in favor of most of the detainees; there are only 250 left or so, and though their day in court will come far too late, it will come.

The Talking Dog: Anything more you can tell us about your clients' specific situations?

Buz Eisenberg: One of my clients suffers from a horrible disease that has only manifested itself at Guantanamo. It is pilagra, a Medieval malabsorption disorder, whereby the body can't absorb niacin. It manifests itself in a skin condition with skin flaking off and pustules and terrible itching. It's quite painful even to look at. We have tried to evaluate it with Physicians for Human Rights to get him some treatment, only three weeks ago I last saw him, and it has manifested again; we remain concerned with this and are trying to get him adequate medical care.

Another of my clients has serious psychological issues deteriorating by his confinement.

As to my 2 transferred clients, I haven't seen them since their transfer. I haven't seen al-Qadir since July. I haven't seen Al-Shahiri since his transafer to Saudi Arabia in 2006; none of the 116 Saudi released detainees are allowed to speak to their habeas counsel so we have to rely on anecdotal evidence from a closed kingdom.

As noted, all of my clients have had to deal with unthinkable abuse.

The Talking Dog: How has work on Guantanamo litigation
affected you professionally, including how it has affected the rest of
your law practice (and did the Cully Stimson led attack on habeas
lawyers have any specific effect), and how has it affected you

Buz Eisenberg: I am a teacher, who supplements my income with a law practice. Since I've been doing this, my teaching load has been reduced to 3/4, and my law practice has dried up to nothing. I do not regret this for one second. This is what the oath requires, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it. At some points, it has caused heartbreak and disappointment to have been in the throes of our post-Constitutional era, under which the judicial branch has been all too compliant in helping to dismember the fundamental underpinnings of our democratic republic.

As we talk on the eve of the election [Barack Obama has been elected in the interim], I remain ever the pollyanna, hopeful that the rule of law, both domestic and international law, are about to become resurgent. If our system can weather this storm at this time, maybe the events of the last few years will strengthen it and some good will have come out of all this.

The Talking Dog: As of now, it looks like (my college
classmate) Barack Obama is going to be the next President. What do you
anticipate (if anything!) in an Obama Administration with respect to
GTMO issues (e.g. close GTMO, move a few detainees here for trial,
release the rest? Something else?) In the seemingly unlikely event
of a President McCain, where do you anticipate these issues going?

Buz Eisenberg: As to the simple question of "closing Guantanamo", that's just geography... yes, it's more convenient to fly to Leavenworth than to Cuba, but so what?

The Talking Dog: Though of course, as the case of the Uighurs shows, there might be some significant difference if the detainees are "admitted to the United States".... if they actually are, is there not?

Buz Eisenberg: To be sure, the judicial branch is grappling with that very question in the Qiemba (Uighurs) appeal; the government must show cause as to why the detainees were not released inside the United States, and the government moved to stay it, and doubtless there will be en banc review of that stay.

The reality remains that all we want-- all we have ever asked-- is that the detainees get a hearing. If they get a fair trial with due process, they will have had their day in court, come what may.

I'm sure that Obama's attorney general would say "we can't completely discount the CIA and military's conclusions that we are holding some bad guys", but I hope, certainly, that an Obama Justice Department stops the endless delay, and then we will see a difference in that area. Right now, 61 men have been cleared for release (59 actually as 2 have recently been transferred.) I don't see those numbers going up. I anticipate an Obama DOJ saying "let's try these cases, come what may."

As to McCain [who has been defeated since the telephone interview], he called Boumediene the worst case in the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence, and I'm sure that his Justice Department would have responded accordingly, and although I'm sure he wouldn't tolerate torture (other than the endless delay and uncertainty itself, which is itself a form of torture), he would not do much differently from the Bush Administration.

The Talking Dog: From the context of a criminal justice
professor, or a legal practitioner, or any other way you'd like to
talk about it, how similar, or different, is the Guantanamo litigation
with respect to the rest of your experience, and why? Did you have an
expectation of this when you got into it, and how did you get into

Buz Eisenberg: I live in rural Western Massachusetts. In my 29 years of litigation practice, I have been before judges who see the world differently from I do, or encountered probation or police officers offering less leniency than I think they should be at times. But everybody respects the law (with few exceptions). I could be a little naiive, everyone tries to do the right things under a Constitutional framework. Indeed, the job descriptions require following a civilized society's protocols.

To see the Department of Justice being so callous to principles that they took an oath to protect and defend, led by the attorney general himself in this regard, is just disheartening. We knew this was the case when we got involved in the GTMO litigation of course. I fancied myself as bringing the Constitution to Guantanamo, when I called the Center for Constitutional Rights and asked to be assigned a client. Some of our basic assumptions don't seem to be relevant in these people's radar screens, and this is extremely chilling.

We have had what amounts to a legal coup d'etat-- we had always thought that the people would never allow anything like this, but the guys with the guns are operating off of different principles.

I have been an ACLU cooperating attorney for 26 years. Relatively small complaints get funneled to me in my county. I had a naiivite about a police state and whether it could be imposed here, in our representative democracy. My eyes have been opened, as we have slid into it.

I am so proud of my colleagues in this, and in human rights movements here and abroad, who have taken on this work. As someone who teaches constitutional law, it has been a privilege to have a chance to fight and work for something meaningful, though on the whole, it has been chilling.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on media coverage-- local,
national, international-- on these issues?

Buz Eisenberg: Before I was involved in the Guantanamo litigation myself, I was far more likely to condemn the media for their lack of interest, (and I still do to some extent.) The media always seems more focused on celebrity or sensationalist angles, be it Lacey Peterson or Anna Nicole's baby or O.J.... those are always likely to garner more media interest.

Some journalists, notably Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, have been remarkably strong in their coverage of Guantanamo. The New York Times, for example, in a recent article by William Glaberson and Margot Williams, discussed Guantanamo and the challenge faced by the next President, and its coverage has also been strong. But these are exceptions.

We have to acknowledge that the media makes coverage decisions based on what it thinks people want to read; even quite progressive people have a limited tolerance for reading the gory details about Guantanamo. And given all the other news crying out for attention, one sees the limits of coverage of these issues.

Still and all, since I began working on the Guantanamo litigation, I have paid more attention. Eric Freedman and Candace Gorman and Sabin Willet often float news stories to each other, sometimes on a daily basis, for the last several years, and the Arab news and European media outlets have certainly covered this; there is a ton of publicity about this out there in the world media, even if not regularly found in the Boston Globe or my Sunday New York Times. I'm not talking about the MSNBCs, but certainly, the puff commercial media has not focused on this, though it creates a vicious cycle of creating interest in the celebrity and sensationalist matter and then feeding that interest.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the Al-Bahlul show trial and do you have a comment on the recent Al-Bahlul show trial and show conviction and life sentence? Do you have any broader comment on whether you ever thought that you would see the U.S. government stage anything quite like this?

Buz Eisenberg: Well, no. Certainly none of us ever expected to see the American government engage in anything like this. It leaves you feeling deceived, that your system, that was always rule-based, could devolve to this. I consider myself a highly spiritual person (if not a religious one). When your system of justice is subverted and fails, it us hurtful. My adult life has been devoted to this system, but it has already failed us all.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked
you but didn't, or anything else that my readers need to know about
this subject?

Buz Eisenberg: I have been saying, since I heard my colleague John Holland of Denver refer to our time as "the post-Constitutional era", that I realized he is exactly right: we are in a post-Constitutional era. If this period only lasts the seven years it has so far, I'll be quite relieved.

But that is where we now reside. Yes, Boumediene put a chink in that, but it has not yet, at least, been implemented by the lower courts. My hope is that we can restore our nation to a Constitutional status that had been self-defining since the founding of the Republic, but which has gone off track. I believe Sabin Willet has said it as succinctly as can be said in his letter, below:

From: Willett, P. Sabin Sent: Saturday, October 25, 2008 5:14 AM To: 'Wolfe, Kristina (CIV)'; Warden, Andrew (CIV); Subar, Judry (CIV) Cc: Manning, Susan Baker Subject: Uighur cases

Dear Kristina, Andrew and Jud:

Our Uighur clients have now been at Guantanamo for about 6 1/2 years. After years of stalling and staying and appellate gamesmanship, you pleaded no contest -- they are not enemy combatants. You have never charged them with any crime. In October a federal judge said they must be freed. They were on freedom's doorstep. The plane was at Gitmo. The stateside Lutheran Refugee services and the Uighur families and the Tallahassee clergy were ready to receive them. You blocked their release by getting an emergency stay from the Court of Appeals. Then by extending the stay. Since then we have done everything we can to try to win that release again and we have failed. And you have positioned this shrewdly. You know it will take many months to get a decision. If we win you will ask for en banc review. And if we win that you will appeal for Supreme Court review. So you know and I know what is happening here. This won't be over in one month, or in six. It will be years.

And you know another thing. No other country is ever going to take them. Not ever. Not after some genius decided, in your overnight stay papers, for the first time ever, anywhere, to call these people "terrorists." That the charge is false, that you have now backed away from it in your brief, that doesn't matter. It will never happen now.

It was never going to happen anyway. State has been trying to resettle this for four years. China has blocked it everywhere. You know it will never happen. If you win your appeal these men will spend the rest of their lives as prisoners at Guantanamo.

So now I am on my way to Gitmo to tell them all of that on Monday.

And I asked for one simple thing of you. I said let me sit down with them together, as men, without them being chained to the floor. And the Defense Department said no.

So I said, let me meet them alone, as we always do. Let me meet them in the hut where we always meet. Station MPs outside that hut, as you always do. Just permit these men one shred of human dignity. Do not chain them to the floor.

And you said no.

Yesterday the court refused to intervene. But it doesn't end there. Because this isn't about courts or who wins a motion. This is really about just who in the hell you people are. What you see when you look in the mirror. Or who your clients are and what they see in the mirror. What kind of Americans treat innocent victims with this kind of reflexive, degrading cruelty? Americans don't treat criminals this way in a federal prison. Americans are not supposed to treat enemy prisoners of war this way under the service field manuals, or the Geneva Conventions, if anyone paid attention to the field manuals or the Geneva Conventions any more. And these people aren't criminals, and they aren't the enemy and you say the department of defense will not comply even with its own service field manuals, or with any basic human decency, and carry on like a bunch of small-minded, panicked little people. As an American, I don't understand that.

And that is what I am asking for you. I am asking you to request of the base commander that he look in the mirror. Tell him I will meet these men alone, one at a time, and I will sit in that hut, and he can station a whole platoon outside to make sure it is only one at a time, and I would like him to show these Uighurs the basic human respect of not having to be chained to the floor. That is my personal request of your client. As one American to another.

And if the base commander will not do that, not even that, then I would like him to meet me and look me in the eye and explain just what in the hell kind of American he is. Because I do not understand it. Whoever the narrow-chested bureaucrat may be who makes these legal decisions sitting in some political office in Washington , however small and un-American that execrable person may be, I am still willing to bet that the base commander is better than that.

I will be there Sunday night.

Thank you.


The Talking Dog: We'll let that be the last word. I join all my readers in thanking Mr. Eisenberg for that insightful interview.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, 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, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, and with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch to be of interest.

Comments (1)

November 19, 2008, Obama taps Senate heavyweight for cabinet

No, not... her. When it comes to the real choices, and not those touted by Team Clinton to keep itself relevant and pushed by the media trying to keep hopping in a naturally slow post-election news month, the real announcements from Team Obama are made in a grown-up, non-dysfunctional, and non-drama-queen way.

And so it is with the Secretary of Health and Human Services designate, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Not dissimilar to his earlier choice of former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder to serve as the next United States Attorney General.

No need for press recriminations... No need to ask "But does she really want it?" And of course, What will Bill do? All the wonderful speculation conveniently forgets of course, that the bloody job hasn't even been offered to her. Look, I will continue saying that I may be wrong on this, but I don't see this happening. Senator Clinton has no particular need for the SecState post, which, traditionally, is rarely coterminous with the term of the President; she'd likely be out of the job in 2 or 3 years, and have given up the Senate seat to do it. And Obama will have given up the crisp, disciplined team that he seems to enjoy working with and replace it with a dysfunctional prima dona and drama queen, complete with the innate conflicts of interest associated with Bill.

A far better idea, suggested by a colleague today, would be to offer the SecState post to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and then in turn offer his vacant seat to Senator Clinton. The bipartisanship is obvious; the Reagan-appointed Kennedy has always been interested in foreign affairs and jetting around the world (and is far more likely to do what he is told)... Sen. Clinton would instantly become the all-important "swing justice," commanding Constitutional authority for the foreseeable future... all far more fun than being a put-upon Secretary of State for the 2 or 3 years she'd likely do it. It's win-win baby, and, quite frankly, it seems a better fit for everyone, all around. [In all seriousness, I would strongly suggest considering Sen. Clinton for the next Supreme Court opening. The cabinet? Not so much...]

In the meantime, I do urge everyone else to just get out of President-elect Obama's way, as he continues to put together a super-competent cabinet that in many ways greatly resembles that of the Clinton Administration... only purged of the dysfunctional Clintons themselves. I just don't see the marvelously disciplined Barack Obama messing up such a good thing with "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."

Comments (1)

November 16, 2008, Times they're a changin'

Thus sayeth Tod Lindberg, in his WaPo piece "The Center-Right Nation Exits Stage Left." Mr. Lindberg, a former Washington Times journo, a Hoover Institution fellow and an advisor to the McCain campaign, just told us... wait for it... "elections have consequences." Well, more specifically, elections appear to have some significance as a reflection of how voters are actually thinking.

In short, a 52-46 presidential win, at least 57 Senators and a double-digit pickup in the House for the Democrats leads Mr. Lindberg (and anyone without their head up their ass, i.e., those not enmeshed in the Beltway kaffeefklatschkultur) actually means the country is leaning a wee bit liberal, i.e., while previously a "center-right" nation... we are now... wait for it... a "center-left" country. Amazing.

I readily acknowledge that the polity here is skewed in many ways to lean conservative, such as intrinsic regional biases that favor smaller, rural states in the senate (and hence the electoral college)... and hence, a Democratic win of this magnitude with a ticket headed by a Black man named Barack Hussein Obama, expresses something possibly emblematic of a huge swath of voter thinking... i.e., the national center of gravity has shifted.

We will see. I am trying to tell people to adjust their expectations about the kind of "change" we can expect from the Obama Administration, particularly as it appears to be staffing up, at least in its earlier stages, with those with prior experience in the somewhat "change-averse" Clinton Administration. My problem with the Clinton Administration, btw, was never with the rather competent professionals manning the vessel, so much as with the seemingly rudderless vessel itself, and a captain who was himself remarkably light on "the vision thing." Not to mention those personal "issues." So, Obama, who strikes me as suffering neither infirmity, seems well advised with staffing up with competent public servants.

It's just that the institutional set-up is not organized for radical change, unless it's bad and destructive change, as we received from the Bush II Administration. The kind of long-range constructive reforms we will need will take longer to implement, and longer to notice they are working. I believe that THE MANDATE that Obama and the Democrats received will allow Team Obama to get good things done... don't accept for a minute the pronouncements of immediate defeat that will be forthcoming from the corporate media when "enough" things don't happen during the meaningless "first hundred days." And this would include some of my own pet causes, like closing Guantanamo; good things will happen, but will not occur nearly as soon as I would like. Hey, the perfect is the enemy of the good. So...

What do we want? GRADUAL CHANGE! When do we want it? IN DUE COURSE. Times, they are a changin'...

Comments (39)

November 15, 2008, New world order?

Don't know what to make of the announcement of significant international agreement on inter-governmental oversight of the world's financial markets at a meeting of world leaders in Washington. It seems that the group of leaders agreed to a joint statement akin to "mistakes were made [by you miserably stupid, greedy, American bastards] for which we will all have to pay for cleaning up." Or something.

But evidently, the leaders of at least the world's three most populous nations (that would be China, India and the United States) were present, with presumably the other 17 being pretty big themselves, i.e., most of the human race (in an economic sense, to be sure) was represented for these discussions, which were curiously devoid of specific substance, other than that the nations pledged "to act together in a crisis".

At least the joint statement was nice and long.

Don't know. Part of the problem is that the crappy old management that put us in this mess with its "tax cuts for the super-rich" and its free-market Stalinist orthodoxy will still be in charge on these shores for the next 66 days or so; for his part, President-Elect Obama was content to remain in Chicago, presumably working on the transition, and letting the Bushmen deal with this mess as caretakers for the coming Obama Administration, realizing, probably wisely, that no good can come of even being near President Bush. Well, yada yada yada change...

Still and all... given how powerful big money is here, in the US of A, and how desperately it wants to remain unregulated and not have its [insidious] power checked, and given how cautious and pragmatic the President-Elect is likely to be, I'm not sure we can expect any "dramatic" change, at least in the near-term. Although, maybe we will. Don't know: big change, of a throwback nature (that would be the kind we saw in, say, 1933 and 1934) will be required... will we see it? Stay tuned...

Comments (0)

November 11, 2008, Vox parvi populi

Thank goodness my hat isn't caught on his foot

Well, this was one of the rare movies that Mom took me to on one playdate, and Daddy took me to on another one. I am officially an expert on matters "HSM," and of course, getting my parents to take me to G-rated movies as many times as I want to see them (given that there are so few of them.) Daddy kept asking if the dance moves were more like the ones in Western Nights... or Subways and Rooftops... what is he talking about?

Well, we're a full week after "the Cool Guy Daddy Went to College With But Didn't Know" won the Presidential election; how come he hasn't fixed the economy yet? I ask my friends... who's the President. They answer: Obama. But Daddy is at pains to remind me that until January 20th, it's still Bush. Deep sigh.

Anyway, Daddy thanks all of you who keep coming here to see pictures of Ashley Tisdale and her dog; now you can enjoy a picture of the whole High School Musical 3 cast. Come for the teeny-bopper images; stay for the hard-hitting war on terror journalism.

This has been... vox parvi populi.

Comments (1)

November 9, 2008, What the hell do we do now?

I may be paraphrasing the last words of the Robert Redford character in The Candidate... or perhaps of Team Obama now that it holds the mantle of power; a possible laundry list of options is set forth in this Grey Lady piece, including tax cuts for the rich an economic stimulus, dealing with climate change and energy independence, expanding access to health care and numerous other matters.

With the (apologies to Yogi Berra) caveat that this blog is so popular that no one reads it anymore, I invite whatever few commenters who accidentally make it over here [probably looking for Ashley Tisdale or exotic pornography] to put in their own laundry lost-- long or short-- of things they'd like to see President Obama do in his first 90 days (like everyone else in my college class, Obama is so effective, we've reduced the usual "100 days" number by 10%).

I'll make a few suggestions of my own, in various degrees of wonkiness:

(1) Election reform:
(a) The federal government will pay for state of the art secure voting equipment for use in federal elections, including verifications and paper trails, and open software.
(b) Voting district assignments for federal elections made after census shall be done in the same manner as Iowa's, by a non-partisan commission using county lines to the extent possible in a party neutral way to ensure competitive races
(c) Same day voter registration shall be available, with liberal identification requirements, as Minnesota does.
(d) Increased criminal penalties for "voter caging," "felon purging" and similar illegal methods by which Republicans win elections before they start.

(2) Social security strengthening reform:
(a)All income in the United States, including inheritances and investment income, as well as wages, will, in addition to other income tax consequences, be subject to 1% withholding for social security and 1% withholding for Medicare.
(b) The minimum wage will automatically be increased by the same percentage as Social Security Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) every year, though Congress may increase the minimum wage by more than the COLAs, but under no circumstances, by less.
(c) All wage income with no upper cap shall be subject to social security taxes
(d) Self-employed individuals will be exempt from the employer portion of social security tax for the first $30,000 in income (indexed for inflation).

(3) Defense reform:
(a) A "Patriot Tax" on gasoline, fuel oil, etc., of 10 cents per gallon, all of which will be allocated to the Department of Defense, with the hope that eventually, a similar tax can fund the entire Department.
(b) A bipartisan commission in the manner of the domestic base closing commission shall be convened to determine which of the 163 countries our military is deployed in we should bug out from, in the interest of both saving money, and not pissing off the people of the world; I'd like to see that number come down at least to under half its current number by the end of the Obama Administration... the military industrial complex is too powerful to expect much more
(c) Close Guantanamo, charge those to be charged in federal court, release to their own country or otherwise grant asylum (preferably in Crawford, Texas, or else next door to David Addington) to the rest; ditto Bagram, Kandahar, Abu Ghraib, etc.

(4) Health care reform:
(a) Obviously, restore and expand the "SChip" program for children's health insurance
(b) All employers of 2 or more individuals will be mandated to provide a minimum health insurance policy for their employees, with a federal tax credit for the first 70% of the cost.
(c) Medicaid eligibility limits will be adjusted to capture an additional 10% of the uninsured each year, so that, all told, by the end of Obama's second term, all Americans will have health insurance in some manner.
(d) Television advertising of prescripton drugs shall be a criminal offense.

(5) Energy usage reform:
(a) The Department of Energy will have a nomenclature change to the Department of Energy and Energy Conservation
(b) No vehicle will be permitted on American roads unless it is at least 80% as fuel efficient as the most efficient vehicle available, and there will be an "inefficiency tax" on vehicles with such less efficient gas mileage
(c) Additional tax credits for investment in energy efficiency like insulation or upgraded boilers, along with "off the shelf" solar, wind and geothermal.
(d) Annual national "science fair" contests for new energy efficient/greenhouse gas reducing transportation, energy generation and building heating technology

Just a few. And note that not all of them require massive amounts of new federal money.

Obama's heart is in the right place, but he is a very cautious and pragmatic man [who, unlike Clinton, will not make a big deal about things like gays in the military (that Clinton could have just ordered as Commander in Chief, if he really valued the issue more than wanting to be liked)... or anything else that he doesn't believe he can pragmatically get done]. In part, Obama's movement of hundreds of thousands of committed volunteers can continue to be mobilized, making sure that there is far and wide consensus for some of the reforms sought.

On the whole, the nation has just undergone an 8 year hurricane from which it must clean up (a hurricane not over yet for nearly 70 days, btw). Cleaning it up will be quite a tall order. Fortunately, Barack Obama is a tall guy, with a tall vision. I'm going to bet that... yes we can.

Comments (4)

November 5, 2008, Infrastructure

President-Elect Barack Obama... man, those are some of the happiest words this blogger recalls typing in some time. Without doubt, the organization mastery and the near-perfect pitch discipline of his campaign prevailed in both a seemingly never-ending primary challenge from Hillary Clinton (take heart, ladies; our very next President may well be a woman), and then, a seemingly mad sprint-since-Labor-Day against John McCain (old white dudes, you've finally got some competition...).

But it didn't just happen since August. Indeed, it didn't even happen since January and Obama's primary roll-out (though, the fact is, the battle-testing that Hillary put him through got the organizational machine honed up for the general election.)

But somewhat forgotten in all this headiness, perhaps (though not by Al Giordano, of course) is the vaunted, yet all-too-often maligned "50-state strategy" of none other than Howard Dean.

Here is an archival entry by DNC delegate (and former AmStreet blogger) Jenny Greenleaf, outlining in part Dean's vision then in proto-form, as he positioned himself to be DNC chair, shortly after the debacle of the 2004 election. And in less than four years... the seemingly unthinkable (in a good way!) has not only happened, but dramatically so. The whole nation is now engaged in these presidential campaigns-- not just Ohio and Florida, though they too get their share of attention; those in "blue" or "red" states can engage in a nearby swing state, and what were once solidly "red" yesterday may be voting for Obama tomorrow, or in any event, the massive registration drives may help down-ballot races even if the Presidency remains a holdout. Times they are a changin'.

While we can savor this victory... and for the millions of us invested in it, I strongly suggest we do... we have to stop and remember that it was years in the making. And as we spend the next few years of hard work rebuilding and repairing what the Bush Administration and Republican sado-capitalist Neo-Victorian ideology has wrought on us, we must remember how fragile everything we hold dear is, and maybe we'll learn to actually respect freedom and justice and progress because of just how hard they really are to achieve.

Comments (1)

November 5, 2008, Yes we can. Yes we can.

The United States of America has defied the expectations of many, defied many of its own imperfections, and while it has hardly exorcized its centuries of racial-based demons, it did become the first First World country to elect a man of color to its highest office, as Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States, in a resounding electoral victory. Spontaneous celebrations are afoot here in Brooklyn, as well as the organized celebration in Grant Park, where three weeks ago, I began and finished the Chicago Marathon.

I learned much of the happy news while driving back from serving as an election monitor in a precinct in Darby Township, PA. (I was regarded as almost a Tibetan holy man after advising the locals that I was a college classmate of the Chosen One). Familia TD saw the final returns roll in at our esteemed neighbor Scott Lemieux's. I should note that the precinct I monitored had nearly total turnout... a testament to the community organizer that the Republicans chose to mock rather than try to actually out-organize. For the record, Pennsylvania's polls closed at 20 00 EST, and was called for Obama at roughly 20 01 EST. Ground game, baby.

Democrats also picked up Senate and House seats, and my fair state's State Senate is now in Democratic hands, uniting all sections of New York's government under Democrats for the first time since 1935.

Heady times.

Notice the amazingly classy concession speech by John McCain... the smug prick of the campaign (and who we are told selected Sarah Palin) nowhere in sight... fascinating. McCain noting that President Obama needs all of our support, even his, and that McCain's proudest association is that of being an American. Heady times, indeed.

While this nation has done much in the last seven years under our current regime to make all of us rightly ashamed of so many things for which our nation is responsible, I will say this: I, for one, have never before been so proud of this country.

Yes. Yes we can. We can overcome the many challenges ahead of us. And yes we will. Maybe all isn't lost, after all. This is so our day.

Comments (1)

November 3, 2008, Crunch time

And so, the Greatest Election Ever (TM) is around 36 hours or so from completion, and at least according to our friends at, a McCain surge is under say (he appears to have doubled his chances for winning over the weekend, from around 3% to 6%)... as the late Tim Russert posited in 2000 that it was "Florida, Florida, Florida" and as John Kerry moved to Ohio in 2004, in 2008, it might be "the commonwealths," Virginia and Pennsylvania (in our two other commonwealth/states, Mass. is in the bag for Obama and Kentucky for McCain). He who wins both wins the election; simple as that.

Well, well. After a disappointing finish in yesterday's ING NYC Marathon of over 5 3/4 hours [weather again a factor, this time confounding me with the cold, leading to a wardrobe malfunction!], thus effectively slowing down in all four of this fall's marathons as I get inexorably older, but at least bringing the NYC count up to 8 in a row and overall marathons at 22 (in 11 states)... And so... today, it's off to work I go, and then...

Off to suburban Philadelphia tomorrow, for my place manning the Barackades as an election monitor, where I'll be stationed from dawn to way past dusk. The things I do for my college classmate Barack... Anyway, if you haven't voted yet... get out there and vote... FOR BARACK.

That is all.

Update: Our friends at fivethrityeight revised their estimates, back to McCain under 4%, based on the polling data. Well... these things happen in The Greatest Election Ever (TM)!

Comments (4)