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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
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.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
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.
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.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration is a provision…affirm[ing] that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda….The language, part of a proposal for hearing legal appeals from detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, goes beyond political symbolism…it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say. Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration’s effort to declare anew a war footing is an 11th-hour maneuver to re-establish its broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress….“This seems like a final push by the administration before they go out the door,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a former lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency and an expert on national security law….Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, introducing a measure almost identical to the administration’s proposal. “Since 9/11,” Mr. Smith said, “we have been at war with an unconventional enemy whose primary goal is to kill innocent Americans.”(See here for a previous effort by Rep. Smith in Presidential boot licking.) The administration is determined to bury as much information as possible about its tactics, and will look to legitimize its previous criminality - think retroactive immunity - until the day it leaves office. This notably pernicious move came on a particularly distracting Friday, what with reaction to the Obama speech, McCain’s VP announcement and the gathering force of Gustav. Don’t let this one sink, folks.
Speaking of Gustav, mercenaries and the military are on their way to New Orleans. First, Moira Whelan writes “I just noticed that the daily brief customarily done in advance of a hurricane is happening because Gustov is bearing down on the Gulf Coast…but a big shift here: the briefing is being given by NORTHCOM.” Then Spencer Ackerman: “Looks like Blackwater is on its way back to NOLA.” It looks like the Shock Doctrine will be used to get us further acclimatized to a military-type presence on American soil. (We may have lost to the Rooskies after all.) And just to be clear, it won’t be anything as obvious or crude as a “soldier on every corner” scenario, but the outward appearance of normality interrupted by a flood of gun-toting feds anywhere something goes too many deviations from the norm.
Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald documented just such activity yesterday. People showing up in Minneapolis in order to peacefully assemble and engage in political protest are being detained in advance by federal agents wielding shotguns and assault rifles. They have over nine minutes of video posted of a couple of on-scene interviews, and it includes this from Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyer’s Guild:
We’re not in this country yet where we’re having mass detentions of people like this, so it really is about sending a message. I think what it really is designed to do is to send a message to people who agree with some of the viewpoints of people organizing activity and to say - you know what? You can write an email, it’s okay to write a letter, to vote, but don’t go out in the street, don’t organize public activity, because do you want us bursting into your house? Do you want to be associated with people who are getting arrested? It’s designed to somehow say these aren’t citizens engaged in the exercise of political freedom, but that they’re kooks, they’re freaks, they’re dangerous, stay away from them, don’t get involved.We acceded to aggression and the doctrine of preemption in our foreign policy; it should be no surprise when the same minds that brought us that outlook apply it domestically as well.
As further proof that what happens in Iraq doesn’t stay in Iraq, consider the latest raid ostensibly in the name of cracking down on illegal immigration (if that truly was the intent Howard Industries would be shuttered and padlocked):
In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally….Entrances to the sprawling plant, in an industrial section south of town, had been blocked off by ICE. A nearby fast-food restaurant was full of the blue-shirted agents, one of whom would say only that a “little inspection” was under way at the facility…[An ICE spokeswoman] said no lawyers were present while the workers were being interrogated.I suspect the President actually gets physically aroused by the thought of sending swarms of armed federal agents into a town and sweeping up hundreds of people indiscriminately into makeshift detention centers. Maybe it’s the only way he can get it up anymore.
You may think, I’m not an illegal immigrant so why should I care? First, it’s hard to quarantine that attitude (see above for God’s sake) and second the “if you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t have anything to worry about” philosophy is essentially authoritarian and completely antithetical to liberty. In a free society law enforcement must show it has reason to intrude on our lives; the burden properly belongs on the government, not the citizen.
If that doesn’t persuade you, then just ask yourself how close to you such activity has to come before you start to worry.
The enormous mounds of cash shoveled into the parties’ vaults got its first display this week and it appears a fabulous time was had by all. When impropriety is so glaringly obvious that even Brian Ross - Brian Ross! - can get it right you know it’s an especially shameless display.
I know I’m already running long so I’ll make this quick: You’re checking out Marcy’s place every day, right? Because if not then this week you might have missed how the US government roped the Swiss into destroying a “huge trove” of data related to an investigation of the export of nuclear technology to Iran and Libya. And you definitely would have missed some fascinating connections to some other unsavory affairs. (You knew all about Operation Merlin, right? Me neither.) Also, let me just say that Marcy must have the patience of Job. She is encouraged by stuff like this; to me it’s just another favorable ruling Congress will refuse to take seriously.
Russians were told over breakfast yesterday what really happened in Georgia: the conflict in South Ossetia was part of a plot by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, to stop Barack Obama being elected president of the United States.American media:
Bush administration officials, worried by what they saw as a series of provocative Russian actions, repeatedly warned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to avoid giving the Kremlin an excuse to intervene in his country militarily, U.S. officials said Monday.Discuss.
Via, a tiny scrap of good news: “the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit returned the Hepting v. AT&T case to the District Court.” It will more than likely come to nothing but I admire the EFF for fighting the good fight. Another good fight that’s not going well:
A court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act denied an ACLU motion Thursday that would have increased public scrutiny of how the Bush administration’s new spying law is reviewed, according to a statement released Friday.
The latest reason consolidated media ownership is bad - nonsense like this. CBS might just feel a “patriotic duty” to not do anything that might make Republicans uncomfortable, but I could also see a screeching campaign by the right against the company - boycotting TV advertisers and the like.
A series of portraits of American soldiers set to adorn roadside billboards in Minneapolis, site of next week’s Republican convention, was abruptly cancelled by the billboards’ owners, which feared they would be deemed disrespectful to the US military.Memo to Ms. Senese and particularly slow Minneapolis motorists: This is not a corpse. This is.
Jodi Senese, CBS Outdoor’s executive vice-president of marketing (CBS Outdoor, which is owned by CBS Corporation, owner of the US television network)
“We understand that ‘Soldier’ represents a political art project, and that the individuals depicted are actual soldiers…Out of context [neither in a museum setting or website] the images, as stand-alone highway or city billboards, appear to be deceased soldiers. The presentation in this manner could be perceived as being disrespectful to the men and women in our armed forces.”
Senese acknowledged in her email that the decision was based not on the artist’s intent but “how the image would be perceived by a motorist passing it in transit”.
UNPACKING JANE: That last picture was of Manadel al-Jamadi, and we still do not know who is responsible for his crucifixion. I have a lot of notes on The Dark Side, so I plan to highlight one item each week until I get through them. The death of al-Jamadi on pp. 252-5 is possibly the most disturbing episode in a book full of them. Anyone who attempts to defend or minimize the monstrous brutality described therein is simply not civilized. We still do not know what exactly happened to him, and we only know the details we do because they came out during an investigation related to stolen body armor. There is quite frankly not enough petty thievery among Navy SEALS to turn the wheels of justice, so more conventional methods are required to bring details of this and other atrocities to light. Of course, since media coverage is fixated on the endlessly fascinating and exotic Sarah Palin there are precious few resources left for assignment to lesser issues like state-sanctioned homicide.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Beginning with his nomination for Attorney General I had reservations about Michael Mukasey, and he has consistently lived down to my worst expectations. I did not like the fact that the Senate seemingly had no opportunity to give advice on the selection (beyond what appears to be secret meetings with Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein), nor did I like his apparent equanimity about brutality. The best name I heard floated was Mike DeWine, the recently-defeated Republican Senator from Ohio. He is solidly Republican and consistently voted with the President (one of the reasons he lost) so it would have satisfied the “to the victor goes the spoils” nature of these things, but he was also a known quantity to the Senate. He had worked with almost everyone there and as far as I know was well regarded. But beneath the surface something I couldn’t quite pin down was buzzing around like a mosquito, and it all fell into place last week while reading The Dark Side. Jane Mayer quotes an anonymous CIA officer on page 180 as he disparages Jose Rodriguez Jr, then-head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC): “[in the] administration, loyalty is the new competence.”
It is no secret that loyalty has been the preeminent virtue honored by the White House. In some cases it is the garden variety loyalty, which basically means making an effort to cooperate and being discreet (and flexible) about differences. When one of the parties is the President it is easy to couch it in terms of “do it for the good of the party” and have it functionally mean “do it my way.” But their preferred strain of loyalty is much more insidious. A current or former member of Congress like DeWine most likely has a decent sized network of support outside the administration. Career civil servants are likely to know their way around the bureacracy and be able to fend off all but the most determined and ferocious attacks. Any loyalty people like that have will inevitably be tempered by the influence of others.
The administration wants no such taint. Reading the description of Rodriguez’ surprising elevation to the CTC made me think also of Mukasey, and Monica Goodling, and most famously Alberto Gonzales. All of them have essentially no other connections in the capitol. “His base consists of one individual” said William Schneider of Gonzales, and others made the same observation. He was widely regarded as a hack (both as the President’s counsel and as AG) but in a sense his competence level did not matter. All that mattered was this: He had no one else to turn to. If he wanted to break with the administration, where would he go? What office could he run for? Who would sponsor such an attempt? What think tank would have him? Who would want him lobbying in their name? Mukasey was confirmed as AG with a much more accomplished record, but is in the same position. DeWine would have been more like another ex-Senator turned AG - he could have remained in town after stepping down and transitioned into a lucrative private sector position.
The White House may have realized that as well, and considered it an intolerable risk. Much has been made of the cult of personality surrounding the President (summarized best by Sara Taylor). I think a lot of people - myself included - wrongly concluded that what drove the unyielding devotion of so many was for all intents and purposes brainwashing. Hiring graduates of little regarded universities, finding someone with no history in Washington or abruptly elevating those with no demonstrated qualifications all serve the same purpose: It creates a class of workers who will be with the program regardless of whether or not they agree with it. They will work perched atop a cliff, and if they want to walk away the first step will be a long fall.
In one sense it doesn’t matter. The internal dramas of various flunkies is of concern only to them; all we care about is how it affects us and our government. But it matters in this way: People hired in those circumstances comprise a significant part of the corrosive status quo, and if our representatives and institutions rejected them in principle we could prevent them from getting in place. If the Senate said to the President, you must nominate people with existing support systems at least for the big positions (cabinet, Supreme Court, etc) or we will reject them out of hand, it might help guard against such appalling performance in the future.