A good part of the reason I started blogging was because I went to a history conference at a UT branch up between Dallas and Fort Worth and found that, contrary to belief, many well known academic historians have found community history projects to be invaluable because of their focus and details. Photos rated high. Photos with details rate high. Interviews with participants in events rated high. Interviews with older people rated high if you cover their experience and perspective.
- Prairie Weather


“Protest works. Just look at the proof”


The last place you will hear about the new American labor movement is in big American outlets.

Via lambert, via susie. See them, their blogrolls, Twitter hash tag #1u and just about any other outlet where citizens can get the word out.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Via.


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This Week in Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post


Special “Vote Suppression/Disenfranchisement” edition:
  • In Michigan (via):
    The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Mich., a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the coming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.
  • In Mississippi (via):
    [F]ormer Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, has been running close to Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, in the polls. Mr. Wicker was appointed to the seat by Governor Barbour in late December after Trent Lott stepped down. Mississippi election law clearly states that federal elections must go at the top of ballots. And the secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, plans to list the state’s other Senate race — incumbent Thad Cochran is running far ahead of his Democratic challenger, Erik Fleming — where it belongs, right below the presidential contest. But Mr. Hosemann argues that because the Wicker-Musgrove race is a special election to fill the remainder of Mr. Lott’s term, he is free to place it at the bottom, below state and county races.
  • In Florida:
    State elections officials will resume enforcement of a controversial state law that requires Floridians to have their identification match up with a state or federal database in order to register to vote. Secretary of State Kurt Browning sent notice to the state’s 67 supervisors of elections on Friday that the 2006 law, which has been on hold for the last year pending court rulings, would take effect again Sept. 8. The result is that voters whose identification doesn’t match with state files on Election Day will be given a provisional ballot and two days to prove their identity for their ballot to count. Voting rights activists, who had unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the law, blasted the decision, saying it allows the state to rely on what they consider error-prone databases in the month before voter registration ends on Oct. 6. “This 11th-hour decision is an ill-advised move to apply a policy the state has never enforced in its current form, at a time when registration activity is at its highest”, said Alvaro Fernandez of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, a plaintiff in the case along with the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.
  • In Wisconsin (via):
    A state election official said today a lawsuit by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen would affect more than 1 million voters, four times as many voters as the Department of Justice had estimated. Also today, critics accused Van Hollen - a Republican serving as the state co-chair of John McCain’s presidential campaign - of filing the suit for partisan gain and trying to purge legitimate voters from poll lists.
  • Ohio appears to be lining up some suppression:
    The National Voter Registration Act prohibits any state from purging names from the voting rolls within 90 days of an election. The law doesn’t, however, preclude mass partisan challenges on or shortly before Election Day - known as voter caging - based on the same returned envelopes from state-sponsored mailers like the ones in Ohio and others going out across the country.
  • Washington D.C. is using voting machines that are exhibiting some…unusual behavior (via) (by the way, we need to start calling bullshit on the “it wouldn’t have changed the outcome” argument):
    These are voting machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems, whose systems have failed in many recent elections. Their Edge touch-screen system, with its Verivote paper-trail printer, was featured in a video released this week by the UC Santa Barbra Computer Security Group. The video from the scientists at UCSB offers step-by-step instructions on how a single person can hack such a voting system, in about two-seconds, resulting in a county-wide flipped election that even a full post-election hand count of the systems paper trails would not reveal.
  • Indiana now has the Supreme Court’s blessing to go ahead with its new voter ID. Let’s review what kind of criminal scum it worked its magic against on the first time out:
    A dozen nuns and an unknown number of students were turned away from polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana’s stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. The nuns, all residents of a retirement home at Saint Mary’s Convent near Notre Dame University, were denied ballots by a fellow sister and poll worker because the women, in their 80s and 90s, did not have valid Indiana photo ID cards.

Digby has since updated the Wisconsin situation, suggested how this all may have been coordinated from the Justice Department, shown how the American media (motto: As Useless As Tits On A Bull) was not only scooped on the story by the BBC but studiously ignored it afterwards, and offered to be a point of contact for all vote-related appearances of impropriety in a single wonderful post. And yes, Ohio Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner should be making more of an effort to educate people on the additional wrinkles in absentee voting and bending over backwards to accommodate what appear to be good faith mistakes. Aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do (which is sufficient), all it takes is a single instance of invalidated ballots on the left for conservatives to start screaming “it’s all politics!” The overwhelming pattern is for Republicans to try lots of different methods to prevent voters from voting. These are not to be euphemistically called “challenges.” They are attempts to subvert the proper functioning of our democratic process. Doing so erodes the public’s faith in it and casts doubt on the legitimacy of those selected by it. Those who engage in it are traitors.

A while back (sorry, couldn’t dig up any links) Avedon had a series of posts on the importance of counting every vote. It’s a measure of how socialized I’d become to the brave new world of unauditable electronic voting (recounts using the same machine that provided the initial count is like repeatedly hitting the “=” button on a calculator) that I thought a manual sample of the vote would be an acceptable cross check on the vote. Avedon, if you’re reading this - I was wrong; you were right to insist on the manual counting of every single vote. If you have those posts handy you might want to start linking to them again, and please keep reminding us of why - especially when elections approach.


If you are not yet a card-carrying member of the ACLU here is a good reason to sign up:
The ACLU filed the first legal challenge to the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act Friday, criticizing the law as a infringement of U.S. residents’ right to privacy….”The FISA Amendments Act allows the mass acquisition of Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The administration has argued that the law is necessary to address the threat of terrorism, but the truth is that the law sweeps much more broadly and implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind. The Fourth Amendment was meant to prohibit exactly the kinds of dragnet surveillance that the new law permits.”
Pound the pavement and man the phone bank for your candidate of choice, but send your money to these folks. When the next July 9th comes around you know they’ll be on the right side.
Sarah Palin: Theory of unitary executive applies to governors too:
An Alaska state investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin’s firing of her public safety commissioner is turning into a power struggle between the state’s executive and legislative branches.
She’s as bad as the current crew. Want four more years of that, folks?
The current crew. Remember them? Sure you do (via):
Months before the Bush administration ends, historians and open-government advocates are concerned that Vice President Cheney, who has long bristled at requirements to disclose his records, will destroy or withhold key documents that illustrate his role in forming U.S. policy for the past 7 1/2 years. In a preemptive move, several of them have agreed to join the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in asking a federal judge to declare that Cheney’s records are covered by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and cannot be destroyed, taken or withheld without proper review….The goal, proponents say, is to protect a treasure trove of information about national security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, domestic wiretapping, energy policy, and other major issues that could be hidden from the public if Cheney adheres to his view that he is not part of the executive branch. Extending the argument, scholars say, Cheney could assert that he is not required to make his papers public after leaving office.
Words fail.
The current crew. Remember them? Sure you do (via):
The administration of President George W. Bush has over its seven and one half years to date exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government’s policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources. It continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress. We have been made less secure as a result and the open society on which we pride ourselves has been undermined and will take hard work to repair.
Actually, words don’t fail: These people simply, flat-out do not believe in America as described in its founding documents and practiced by its citizens from 1776 until 2000.

Via:

The Bush administration still is resisting a congressional subpoena seeking testimony from former White House counsel Harriet Miers on the firing of nine federal prosecutors in 2006, taking the unprecedented executive privilege battle to the U.S. Court of Appeals. A three-judge appeals court panel – two Republican judges and one Democrat – granted the White House a stay of a lower-court order that would have required Miers to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The judges set deadlines this week for submitting arguments in the case. The administration’s continued resistance to permitting the testimony – even in the face of a July 31 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, who called the White House position “entirely unsupported by existing case law” – shows how President George W. Bush can thwart congressional oversight with delaying tactics.
That motto I mentioned above for the American media? Applies to Congress too.
Lambert pointed me to a speech by Obama this week where he said “There should be no conflict between keeping America safe and secure and respecting our Constitution.” He appears to only have been so quoted by a wire service I no longer recognize, so you can either take my word for it or track it down yourself. I will happily link to a Washington Post story (via) of the same speech:
“My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, take him out,” Obama said. “Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take ‘em out.” But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus [sic] corpus. Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.’” The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don’t always have the right person.”
It is pretty astonishing that anyone needs to make these basic points, and actually attempt to persuade people of their correctness. I hope he keeps hitting it, and if he wins I hope he acts on it.
The Justice Department now wants to be able to investigate you as though you were a terrorist (via the Nightowl)

The U.S. Justice Department unveiled proposed new rules on Friday for FBI investigations, changes a civil liberties group criticized for giving agents powers to investigate Americans without proper suspicion. In its first major change in years, the Justice Department proposed a consolidated set of guidelines for domestic FBI operations, seeking to apply the same rules for criminal and terrorism cases, and for collecting foreign intelligence. The guidelines were first adopted in the 1970s following disclosures that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had run a widespread domestic surveillance program that spied on civil rights activists and political opponents….The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern the rewritten rules had been drafted in a way to allow the FBI to begin surveillance without factual evidence to back it up. It said that under the new guidelines, a person’s race or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes will institute racial profiling as a matter of policy. ACLU Washington legislative director Caroline Fredrickson said, “Agents will be given unparalleled leeway to investigate Americans without proper suspicion, and that will inevitably result in constitutional violations.” Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, said, “Issuing guidelines that permit racial profiling the day after the 9/11 anniversary and in the midst of a historic presidential campaign is typical Bush administration stagecraft designed to exploit legitimate security concerns for partisan political purposes.”

Ben Franklin must be rolling in his grave.
Carol Rosenberg on the latest from Guantánamo:
Canadian captive Omar Khadr’s terror trial won’t go forward as scheduled on Oct. 8, a military judge said Thursday. He did not set a new trial date. Army Col. Patrick Parrish disclosed the delay in pretrial hearings while attorneys at the war court argued over what evidence would be available to the defense at trial. At issue, in part, is whether the judge will order the government to fund and authorize independent mental health experts working for the defense to meet with Khadr at the prison camps. A military panel, including an Army psychiatrist, certified Khadr competent to stand trial. But Khadr refused to cooperate with the team, in part because they were American military officers…Lawyers want a retired Army brigadier general, who is a psychiatrist, and a New York psychologist, who has worked with victims of torture, to meet with Khadr with an eye toward mitigating factors at trial. “The evidence suggests that the accused was involved in an incident in 2002, was severely injured, has been held in custody since then and was 15 years old at the time of the alleged offenses,” the judge said. “I think those circumstances alone merit some consideration about assistance. These are a fairly unusual set of circumstances that you don’t find in the other cases.” Moreover, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler said this week that the Canadian has refused to speak with his attorneys and wants “expert assistance to help bridge that gap.” Khadr, now six-foot-two with a full beard, has grown to adulthood behind the razor wire of Camp Delta and appeared oblivious to the proceedings around him Thursday as he sat in the tribunal chamber.
Rosenberg and the Herald have done a magnificent job covering the gulag of our time. They even have a section of their site dedicated to it.
Reality check from Juan Cole:
The Surge was a dirty war. It was a vast effort at identifying, finding and assassinating the leaders of the Sunni Arab resistance…Crowing about the success of Surge wouldn’t look so pretty if you were actually celebrating an assassination campaign.

Last week Charles wrote:
As a general rule, I don’t ask for any credit…because all I usually do is aggregate news. Sometimes I do analysis of the kind that engages special talents, but rarely. It’s people like Lindsay Beyerstein and Amy Goodman who do the real journalism, putting their bodies, their liberty, and occasionally their lives on the line so that others can know what happened.
Which I thought of when I read (via) this about the media:
They fill this new role through the methods storytellers have always used to tell stories: the repetition of certain key themes and characters, which creates continuity between one day’s events and the next and helps the audience understand which parts to pay attention to.
Reporting a story is obviously the first and most difficult step, but those of us who care about these issues can play an important role as well. We can highlight and continually remind our readers of the ones that matter most to us. Otherwise those who find them inconvenient will be happy to see them make brief, unheralded appearances and disappear without a trace. “Mere” aggregation matters, too. None of us should quickly dismiss it. Speaking of which….

UNPACKING JANE: From pp 225-6:

A measure of the pro-administration mood occurred inside the New York Times, where Carlotta Gall, a British stringer based in Afghanistan, filed a story on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of [falsely accused and innocent taxi driver called] Dilawar and another Afghan detainee….Her story, [media analyst Eric] Umansky found…was “the real deal. It referred to homicide. Detainees had been killed in custody. I mean, you can’t get much clearer than that”….Eventually, the paper finally ran the story, buried on page fourteen. “If it had run on the front page, it would have sent a strong signal not just to the bush administration but to other news organizations” [NYT investigative editor Doug] Frantz said.
Identifying the important stories and keeping them alive matters too.

Living In the Shadow of the Bomb Thrower

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Tuesday marked the ten year anniversary of Independent Counsel (IC) Kenneth Starr sending the report of his investigation to the House. The deafening silence on the occasion speaks volumes. Why haven’t Republicans marked it with great ceremony and made sure everyone had the chance to recognize their heroic defense of the Rule Of Law? Going to such great lengths and taking such extreme measures to attempt to rein in the rampant criminality of the Clinton administration had to have been a truly selfless act of public service, no?

Of course not. The fact that the right so studiously ignores mentioning anything about it is an implicit admission that it was a shrill, undignified, hyperpartisan snipe hunt that was undertaken out of pure spite. At this point no one seriously argues impeachment was warranted. It did, however, showcase one of emerging strategies by the GOP: Hopelessly politicize everything to do with government, and thereby render it useless. Grover Norquist’s goal of drowning it might not have been realized, but it functions as poorly as if it had. Citizens increasingly do not expect it to act in their interest, and even question its ability to function in that capacity.

The IC law is as clear an example as you could ask for. Giving the legislature the power to delegate authority to an IC sounds like a good idea in principle. I understand the argument that Congress should not be delegating anything, but engaging in investigations directly. On the other hand it makes sense to be able to have someone outside the normal pressures of constituents and lobbyists to follow leads wherever they go. You could argue that the Democrats abused the statute and allowed Lawrence Walsh to go overboard with the Iran-Contra investigation, but again look at the circumstances. Congress forbade the Reagan administration from funding the Contras, so Reagan simply bypassed Congress and set up a shadow foreign policy - and one that involved selling weapons to the same people that had taken Americans hostage just a few years earlier. To me, that is exactly the kind of lawbreaking and abuse of power that an IC ought to be thoroughly examining.

The Republicans instead implemented a perverse concept of equivalence: When Democrats controlled Congress they had an IC running investigations, so logically when Republicans take over they get to have their own - regardless of merit. By the time Starr was finished everyone was perfectly happy to let the authorization lapse. There is an argument for reauthorization but in the current environment it would just repeat the cycle: Creation - politicization - cynicism - obsolescence.

Some people peg the problem back to 1988 and Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton/pledge of allegiance brand of content-free campaigning, but to be fair we have a long history in that regard. I trace it to Newt Gingrich, possibly the single most damaging figure in American politics for the last twenty years. He started out simply as a back bencher, but the 1994 elections put him into an actual leadership role - and he was entirely unequipped for it. Remember, he campaigned not just on the Contract With America but on a list of words for his GOP colleagues to use while campaigning (and “‘sick,’ ‘pathetic,’ ‘bizarre,’ ‘traitors’ and ‘corrupt’ were some of the choicest”). He also compared Democrats to then-notorious child murderer Susan Smith. It went beyond making fun of foibles, focusing on trivial patriotism narratives or using anecdotal evaluations of policy. Instead he resorted to wholesale attacking the fundamental decency of an entire party by using the crudest terms and vilest comparisons. Unfortunately, becoming Speaker of the House did not moderate his behavior, and he continued to indulge in temper tantrums and breathtaking hypocrisy as though he was still doing nothing more than thunder before an empty chamber.

The undeniable success of his unrepentant demonization set the tone for what was to follow. Karl Rove would not have succeeded without Gingrich’s precedent . And when his ideological cousins made it to the White House there was nothing left to hold back the worst excesses of their approach to governance. We have had the great misfortune of living in a time when the party in power believes that every tactic is acceptable and every event - even the most traumatic ones - are fodder to be used in the pursuit of electoral advantage. And we also have a perpetually timid opposition party that refuses to assert itself. Our system can deal with one but not both. Nothing can force restraint on the former or stiffen the spine of the latter. So until this entire generation of leadership is replaced, discussions on the working of government - on the relative value of a proposed reauthorization of the IC statute, for example - will necessarily be purely academic.

This Week in Tyranny

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post


Lindsay Beyerstein and Charles & Phoenix Woman at Mercury Rising did a great job last week documenting the security overreactions in the Twin Cities. Here is a good place to start with the latter, and of course keep in mind Phoenix Woman’s caveat that in at least one instance: “Nothing I saw indicated that the police were really overstepping their bounds. I think the force they used was a little excessive at the end, but not completely out of line.” By the way, a week ago I barely knew who Amy Goodman was. I have since learned that she is a great American journalist, and a patriot.


Prairie Weather pointed me to a commentary by Nat Hentoff that begins:

In his last months, President Bush is working to ensure that his successor will have the greatly expanded power of the executive branch - unprecedented in American history - that Bush instituted after 9/11. His chief enabler in this ever-increasing surveillance of American citizens is Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and ranking minority member Arlen Specter are aware of Mukasey’s plan for new FBI guidelines that could begin national security and criminal investigations of racial and ethnic groups without any evidence of wrongdoing.
I covered this a couple of weeks ago but it’s good to see other folks making some noise about it as well.


Lambert caught the following from Reuters. It went down the memory hole pretty quickly:

The Polish prosecutor’s office is investigating allegations that there was a CIA prison in Poland where al Qaeda suspects were questioned and guards might have used methods close to torture, the prime minister’s top adviser said on Friday.
At Corrente commenter DamonMI observed:
These governments (if this is true) chose to participate. I find too often that we blame other government’s involvement in the “War on Terrorism” on Bush and his influence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the “Well, Bush was a bad influence of Tony Blair” argument. Fact of the matter is that these leaders are responsible for their own decisions, ultimately, and some countries/leaders refused to play along.
A few bad apples, you might say.


In the comments to my Thursday post Kristen pointed out the following from Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech:

Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay … [Obama] wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights?
Kristen: “I thought here we go again — another irrational opponent of habeas corpus.” Yup. It sounds like the only change she would bring to the White House would be an extra X chromosome. And I was going to let this pass, but since I went to the trouble of finding the text of her speech I may as well point it out:
To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.
My immediate reaction was, what will you do - cheer from the stands at the Special Olympics? (UPDATE: Samantha Henig has much more over here. I’m not the only one wondering about specifics.) Republicans have mastered the art of making the right noises for public consumption and doing nothing afterward. The “you’re on your own” part of the Obama campaign might be its most effective attack. Governor Palin, please name one way special needs children will be better off for your having been Vice President. In fact, Name One could be an effective companion message to You’re On Your Own: Name One form your advocacy will take. Name One Way you are different from the President on a major issue. Name One liberal who has launched sexist attacks against Palin. We don’t need comprehensive lists or detailed position papers, just Name One. And repeat it over and over.


The bloggingheads video between Ann Althouse and Jane Hamsher linked above also includes dismissive comments from Althouse about the Alaska state trooper firings. Don’t believe the attempts to downplay it - if it turns out to be true it is by itself sufficient reason to vote against McCain-Palin. Remember that the USA firing scandal was originally waved off (via) as an “overblown personnel matter”. Let’s be very clear: Palin’s actions are minor in that she only had the opportunity to allegedly pursue vendettas as the governor of a smaller state. The prospect of her bringing that point of view to Washington (change from what?) after the last seven years is all any sane observer should need to know.


Another note on the bloggingheads video. There is a fascinating discussion on the treatment of crimes by the President here below. It’s about 12 minutes long but if you have the time, watch them go through it. To her great credit Hamsher stayed focused on the relevant details and didn’t get distracted by the usual talking points (e.g. the You Can’t Litigate Everything argument, as though we’re talking about a traffic ticket or something):

The reward for her persistence - that, my friends, is a pit bull in lipstick - was the following exchange that literally made my jaw drop (I also admire her for limiting her reaction to a single blink of astonishment):

HAMSHER: If you lied a country into war and there are 4,000 American soldiers lying dead because you lied, that is a criminal act!

ALTHOUSE: No it’s not. We’re not going to - let’s move on to another topic, I think we’ve nailed that one down…

That is as fine a summation as you could want of the intellectually and morally bankrupt state of the contemporary GOP. Monstrous.


Speaking of persistence, Andrew keeps asking and asking and asking. Think he’ll get an answer?


Some local news unrelated to executive power:

A union-backed group said Thursday it will pull a ballot issue that could have made Ohio the first state to require employers to provide paid sick days for their workers. The group, Ohioans For Healthy Families, cited Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s support for a federal paid sick day bill as one of the reasons for pulling an initiative from the November 4 ballot.
The mention of Obama really got my attention. I could easily envision (this is all speculation obviously) the Obama campaign putting pressure on an allied (or ordinarily friendly) organization to withdraw a ballot item it fears will drive Republican support in a crucial state. Maybe he really does support a federal paid sick day bill as stated, but the bottom line is that a version already on the ballot was withdrawn on the basis of a promise of a wider one somewhere down the road. That may well be true, but then again it might not. Bottom line - the bird in the hand was let go. (And by the way, isn’t this the kind of fight you’d think Democrats would dive into headfirst?) Obama proved on July 9th that he is willing to barter away issues that his base is passionate about. We need issue advocacy because it does not connect to a particular officeholder. Even the most charismatic and inspiring politicians react to their own perceived best interests first. Keeping a bit detached and a foot outside the camp keeps you from putting all your eggs in one basket.


UNPACKING JANE: On page 203 she relates a (secondhand) claim concerning Major General Geoffrey Miller when he was in charge of Guantánamo Bay. An officer serving him quotes Miller as saying, “If the Torture Statute says 80 degrees is bad, we will set the thermometer at 79.9 degrees.” That kind of literalism concerning torture amounts to an admission of engaging in it because it doesn’t even stand up to cursory scrutiny. For instance:
  • Torture is not scientific and cannot be precisely quantified in terms of temperature, duration and the like.
  • Torture statutes do not attempt to quantify the ways in which different kinds of unpleasant treatment can become torture if enough are strung together in succession.
  • Torture is ultimately quantified by its effect on victims, and methods that might edge up to the line for one individual might go flying over it for another.
In short, guidelines like the ones mentioned in the Torture Statute are not meant as measurements for sadists to set their instruments a hair’s breadth below, but a guide for those in possession of a conscience. It appears America’s morality in detainee treatment has been set more by the former than the latter.

The Doctrine of Preemption Comes Home

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In the last two weeks we have seen multiple examples of what civil liberties advocates have been warning about over and over again. The infrastructure of the police state, put together behind the scenes and with secret rooms and fusion centers, was put on display in a number of different places.

In the decades before 9/11 we became accustomed to being a nation with a law enforcement mindset, meaning that almost everything that happened domestically - even terrorist attacks against us (both foreign and domestic) - were treated as crimes The response was to use all legal resources at our disposal to find, detain, try and convict those responsible. And by the way, it worked. After 9/11 our leaders made it clear (via) that the old ways no longer were effective because it caused us to ignore threats while they gathered. They claimed we were therefore geared towards prosecuting crimes after the fact instead of preventing them in the first place. This is the Original Lie in the War on Terror. In fact, “we” were not being complacent at all. There were government agencies tracking terrorist activity and in some cases frantically trying to get the attention of the White House. The American intelligence bureaucracy was performing well enough to identify threats and send word of them through the proper channels. The problem was not the blinkered outlook of the CIA or FBI but that of the President.

Such catastrophic negligence should have been the end of the his tenure. His abdication of responsibility was the highest of crimes, but he did not have enough honor to say “the buck stops here”, accept the blame and let the chips fall where they may. Instead he brazened it out. He used the immediate national impulse to rally together and support our leaders as an opportunity to create a new paradigm, one not founded in law but in might. In the name of preemption - which everyone but our top levels of leadership had already been engaged in - he urged us to accept a new America that would prioritize striking out at those who would kill us before they could complete their work. Which, again, our agencies already had.

So the administration went below the surface and began to secretly capture, hold and torture those who were thought to be enemies. The important wrinkle here was not that we were going after them - we had been doing so for years - but that we now did so behind the scenes, with no regard for domestic or international law. (Please note: Lying about an affair during a deposition and wholesale repudiation of treaties, conventions, the Constitution and fundamental morality are entirely different species of contempt for the law.) They approach the legal system not with hostility but indifference, the way an agnostic regards God. All they want is to be told they can do whatever they want. As Jane Meyer quoted an anonymous former Justice Department lawyer (p. 224), “[t]hey didn’t want serious legal advice. They liked the answers they were getting.” They undertake a course of action with not the slightest thought of whether or not it is legal, or whether our system of justice can effectively process the results later. We will never get a satisfactory disposition for those locked away in our secret places because there was never any intent to expose them to the legal system.

The problem is, an attitude like that is hard to keep quarantined. The torture and cruelty that started on the battlefields of Afghanistan didn’t appear in Guantánamo by coincidence; it was by design. The use of the same reverse engineered SERE tactics in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib is not some fantastic synchronicity like Newton and Leibniz simultaneously developing the principles of integral calculus. Instead it was created and spread almost instantaneously because once you have hijacked the Office of Legal Counsel do nothing more than dispense golden shields you have functionally done away with the law; and where law does not exist there is no external obstacle to barbarity.

We did not insist on a full accounting after 9/11, and those in charge were emboldened. We did not insist on transparency when post-9/11 abuses started to come to light, and our leaders realized how powerful fear could be. We have averted our eyes every time we have been told we needed to for our own safety, and each time the lawlessness grew. It now is visible in the wildly disproportionate show of force in Minnesota and its conflation of peaceful assembly with riot, in the Blackwater mercenaries paid to roam the streets of New Orleans and in the makeshift detention facilities of Mississippi and Iowa. And yet we continue to look away, and continue to submit.

Gustav

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Lambert pointed me to the McClatchy page for Gustav.  Yesterday I saw weather reports predicting a Category 5 landfall, and now I’m seeing a forecast of Cat 3.  Good news, but of course Katrina hit at that level too.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gulf Coast today.  Like many other Americans I have the day off today (hence the extra time to post) and will have the strange and helpless experience of watching the storm blast through a big chunk of my country from the comfort of my living room.  It seems like there’s been a much more thorough evacuation than there was three years ago.  That’s good, and I hope every last straggler has vacated that spectacularly unfortunate area.

Athenae pointed to an unbelievably insensitive article on this by Politico.  Feel free to contact the authors if so moved.  I sent the following to each:

You wrote “The unexpected disaster also offers the GOP a do-over on the Bush administration’s disastrous response to Katrina three years ago. If the government can do a much better job of responding to a natural disaster this time around, it can only help the GOP.”  While I understand the raison d’etre of Politico is to reduce all events in America to political scores that are awarded to or deducted from various individuals and groups in Washington, it tends to work best for trivial, manufactured narratives wholly contained inside the capitol.  When this model is applied to large scale disasters involving widespread death and destruction it tends to come across as grotesque.  Going forward it would be nice to see you address catastrophes in a way that masks your majestic indifference, or even better just keep your goddamn mouth shut.