Shepard Smith Condemns Torture

24 04 2009

Just fascinating. Sometimes Shepard Smith just surprises me.

And this:


On Prosecuting Bush’s Team of Torture Lawyers

20 04 2009

From the New York Times Editorial page:

At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the small fry — like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the Constitution.

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

Few, except the Obama administration itself, would quibble with what the New York Times is advocating. An official investigation followed by prosecution of those who authorized the use of torture should take place. But the question is when and by whom.

After all, President Obama has an ambitious wish list of legislative priorities inspired by the weight of several crises competing for his attention. That means that pursuing a high profile and public investigation into the abuses of person would almost certainly create a Congressional atmosphere so partisan that it would jeopardize his chances of passing a climate change bill, a health care reform bill, overhauling education No Child Left Behind, immigration reform, in addition to dealing with a likely Supreme Court vacancy even as he and his team struggle to nurse an ailing economy.

Of course, this does not preclude Congress itself from conducting its own low profile investigation while encouraging more open source reporting on the matter. Nor does it prevent certain state bar associations from disbarring the very lawyers who used legal fictions to circumvent the law.

In other words, Obama could allow others to make the case for him based on the record provided thus far over the course during the next few years. Over time pressure by certain Bush officials will mount and cause some of them to flip either because of the level of scrutiny involved, their pariah status within their respective fields, or maybe their conscience will eat at them.

That way provided there’s sufficient pressure from Congress and if the public develops an appetite for prosecuting senior Bush officials, which does not quite exist yet, the Obama administration could go in for the easy kill by appointing an independent prosecutor.

At minimum, it could set the stage for the creation of a Commission of Inquiry, as proposed by Chariman of the Senate Judicary Patrick Leahy. Certain individuals intimately involved in the torture regime could cooperate with the commission’s inquiry in exchange for some immunity.

Perhaps it would not satisfy many human rights advocates who want everyone responsible prosecuted now, but it would afford us an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

Homeland Security Sees Uptick in Hate Group Recuritment

17 04 2009

A Department of Homeland Security report on the rise of right wing hate groups and extremism was leaked this week. The DHS report is called “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”

Unsurprisingly, the report found that the spike in undocumented immigration, the current economic downtown, and the election of the first African American president have spurred their efforts in winning new recruits.

Not exactly news to many of us, but its different when you see this documented by the government.

Of course, much of the controversy surrounding the report has focused on how these groups recruit disgruntled military veterans that find it difficult to readjust to civilian life, but that’s far from the report’s central focus. And anyone who takes time to read it would soon discover that himself.

But even if some civil libertarians and conservatives raising concerns about whether or not the government should be monitoring political beliefs, I think this presents many civil and human rights advocates with an opportunity to to promote greater awareness about the rise of hate crimes and their clear, though often overlooked, relationship to hate speech. That’s not to say we should go out of our way to criminalize intolerant speech, but being vigilante about countering intolerant speech can be critical to reducing hate crimes.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act, which seems like it will be introduced this session of Congress, would provide local authorities with more resources to combat hate crimes and give federal government jurisdiction over processing hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate.

In my opinion, I think the key findings in the report include:

  • Over the past five years, various rightwing extremists, including militias and white supremacists, have adopted the immigration issue as a call to action, and recruiting tool. Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent.
  • In contrast to the early 90s, the advent of the Internet and other information age technologies s has given domestic extremists greater access to information related to bomb-making, weapons training, and tactics, as well as targeting of individuals, organizations, and facilities, potentially making extremist individuals and groups more dangerous and the consequences of their violence more severe.
  • Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States. Information from law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations indicates lone wolves and small terrorist cells have shown intent—and, in some cases, the capability—to commit violent acts.
  • Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action.
  • Historically, domestic rightwing extremists have feared, predicted, and anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States. Conspiracy theories involving declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps often incorporate aspects of a failed economy.

Also, see Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano’s statement on the report here.

Justice Ginsberg on Foreign Law

13 04 2009

From Jefferey Toobin at the New Yorker:

It looks like Harold Koh, President Obama’s nominee for legal adviser at the State Department, may turn out to be the first real confirmation fight in the new Administration. The controversy has been mentioned in a handful of newspapers, but there’s plenty of Internet fire on the anti-Koh, and pro-Koh, side.

The heart of the attack on Koh, who is now the dean of Yale Law School, is that he believes in “transnationalism,” which purportedly is the notion that American courts should honor and apply the laws of other nations in our courts.

I wonder if the so-called controversy over Koh’s transnationalism can be explained away by simply saying that if citing international law is good enough for the Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, then it should be good enough for a legal adviser to the U.S. State Department. The Court has cited international law, which is not the same as being bound by it, in cases involving gay rights and the death penalty and the sky did not fall, though it did anger the right.

Adam Liptak reported in the NYT on Saturday that Justice Ruth Ginsberg thinks the debate concerning international is sorta ridiculous.

In her remarks, Justice Ginsburg discussed a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the use of torture to obtain information from people suspected of terrorism.

“The police think that a suspect they have apprehended knows where and when a bomb is going to go off,” she said, describing the question presented in the case. “Can the police use torture to extract that information? And in an eloquent decision by Aharon Barak, then the chief justice of Israel, the court said: ‘Torture? Never.’ ”

The message of the decision, Justice Ginsburg said, was “that we could hand our enemies no greater victory than to come to look like that enemy in our disregard for human dignity.” Then she asked, “Now why should I not read that opinion and be affected by its tremendous persuasive value?”

My sentiments exactly.

Side note: Toobin, apparently has not been following the battles over President Obama’s other executive nominees fight that closely, since he seems to think that Koh would be the first real confirmation fight.
Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, has come under attack from the far right for being a lawyer for NARAL at one point and her unsparing criticism of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and use of torture to extract intelligence information from detainees. Republicans are threatening to filibuster her nomination.

Another nominee, Thomas Saenz, was in the pipeline, though never formally announced, to be Obama’s top civil rights enforcer at the Justice Department until the anti-immigrant right sunk his nomination for his work on successfully challenging local ordinances banning day laborers from city streets and of California’s Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that prevented undocumented immigrants from taking advantage of certain social services.

Obama and the War on Terror

4 02 2009

Check out my post on Obama and his rejection of the Bush era war on terror frame at Deft Mag. Here’s an excerpt:

Many have welcomed Obama’s sharp break from the Bush administration as a significant shift in the posture of American foreign policy, but it should also be viewed as Obama’s desire for the rule of law, whether at home or abroad, even in the face of formidable and elusive threats.

Much of this was also affirmed in President Obama’s inaugural speech. “They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint,” he said.

This kind of specificity of purpose and principled understanding was utterly absent from George W. Bush’s definition of the war on terror and manner in which he exercised executive power.

Consider the history. George W. Bush first used the phrase “war on terror” to a joint session of Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks On September 20, 2001, Bush declared, “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Amb Susan Rice Wants to Engage

27 01 2009

At her first presser yesterday as the newly minted United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice raised eyebrows when she said she looked forward to “engaging in vigorous diplomacy, that includes direct diplomacy with Iran.” To many, this sounded as if President Obama was willing to sit down and have tea with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But this is very unlikely to be the case.

Ambassador Rice was probably referring to the need to engage Iran on a number of fronts including their support for Hamas in the Palestinian Territories, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Shiite factions in Iraq. Who knows maybe how they might be helpful in eliminating a resurgent Taliban, in Afghanistan, a persistent irritant to the government in Tehran well before the American invasion.

For his part, President Obama himself in an interview with Arab television network Al Arabiya noted that while Iran has not always behave in ways “conducive to peace and prosperity in the region” it is still important “for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are.” He also went on to say, “And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us. So, it seems for now the president is content with simply keeping the lines of communication open in laying the ground work for more robust diplomacy.

Ambassador Rice also took time to remark on the on the war in the Gaza strip. Ambassador Rice prefaced her remarks regarding the ceasefire with expressing concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza. “…with respect to Gaza, let me say that you have heard the President speak very forthrightly about his grave concern about the current humanitarian crisis,” she told the UN press corp.

Perhaps this seems small but its important to note that her comment did not begin with reiterating the already broadly accepted and frequently invoked claim that Israel has a right to self-defense. Instead she began discussing the humanitarian situation and calling for a “durable cease fire” that would ultimately lead to “border crossings to open and be available for humanitarian as well as day-to-day economic development imperatives.”

This is a striking different tune that what Bush administration has and have said. Amb. Rice’s predecessor, Bush appointee John Bolton, recently argued out-going Secretary of State Condi Rice at the UN Security Council should have vetoed instead of abstaining from voting on the cease fire measure, which would have killed its passage. Anything short of a veto would have been an abdication of our “international leadership role.”

Interestingly enough, Ambassador Rice was not asked whether or not the U.S. will participate in the World Conference on Racism, also known as Durban II or about the U.S. joining the U.N.  Human Rights Council. She was, however, asked about it at her Congressional confirmation hearing earlier this month.

According to the transcript, Senator Bill Nelson expressed his disappointment with how the Durban Conference “got sidetracked on attacking Israel rather than dealing with human rights” only to further complicate Mid-East politics in general. He also commented on how the U.S. should be prepared to reassess its participation in the Human Rights Council if certain countries are going to use that body, along with Durban itself, as “a tool to beat up on one of our allies or if it becomes an objective to undermine U.S. policy.”

In her reply, Dr. Rice astutely sidestepped making any specific remarks about Durban and simply sought to reassure Nelson that she and everyone else in the incoming administration took Israel’s security seriously. She then quickly pivoted to strongly criticizing a resolution on a Gaza cease fire that originated in the Human Rights Council, which enjoyed the support of many African and Arab countries, but not much from Western nations.

News reports say that the Human Rights Council resolution mainly focused on human rights violations in Gaza by Israel and encouraged the UN to do fact finding regarding those abuses. Rice said the resolution was “a classic example of the utterly imbalanced and reprehensible kinds of resolutions that have, too often, emerged from the Human Rights Council.”

(Note: the Human Rights resolution that passed on Jan 12th is different from the UN Security Council resolution that passed on Jan 8th almost unanimously save the lone abstention by the U.S.)

By the same token, it was clear that Rice errs on the side of engaging in the UN process even if the problems seem intractable. Referring to the outcome of the resolution, Rice said at the hearing it “just begs the question of what might have been different with U.S. participation and leadership. It seems to me hard to imagine that we would not have sought to work with, and indeed prevail upon, many of our allies to stand with Canada and with us in opposition to such a resolution.”

Obviously, engagement does not mean going along with anything member states favor at the U.N., but being apart of the process and taking it seriously.

Clearly, Ambassador Rice is optimistic about the future of U.S.-U.N. relations.  Perhaps this is the dawning of a new era of American liberal internationalist foreign policy.

Misreading the Bush Doctrine in the WaPo

26 01 2009

On Sunday, the Washington Post published a story with the following headline: “Bush Doctrine Stalls Holder Confirmation.” Now I understand that headline writers have quite a bit of leeway in deciding what they title certain articles, but there’s a difference between being creative and misrepresenting the main idea of a story.

The lead in the article says, “Even as Senate Republicans seek assurances that new leaders at the Justice Department will not prosecute former government officials over national security abuses, one of the highest-profile investigations of the Bush era is grinding to a close.” The rest of the article describes how Senate Republicans want to assurances from Eric Holder that he will not seek to investigate and prosecute those who may have tortured or otherwise abused detainees under interrogation and the destruction of tapes recording those sessions. That has nothing to do with the Bush Doctrine.

Simply stated, the Bush doctrine holds that the U.S. has a right to extinguish national security threats with the use of military force against a country or nonstate actor as preventive measure. That is to say, we may wage preventive war to anticipate threats before they blossom into full blown eminent threats. This is a radical idea because international law calls for threats to at least be eminent before claiming to wage an attack in self defense against an enemy. Otherwise, there is no way of truly distinguishing a war of choice from a war of necessity.

By contrast, the WaPo article on Senate Republicans stalling the confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General has to do with pressuring him not to investigate officials interrogating war on terror suspects, not his views on what constitute the judicious use of military force. One is a question of who to prosecute and what for, whereas the other has to do when we should go to war against or at least strike an enemy.

Its hard to imagine that the folks at the WaPo thought that making these kind of distinctions do not matter.