October 30, 2006

Bilal's Imprisonment and Blitzer's Dismay

Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory is required reading for anyone who cares about individual rights and constitutional law. He has two posts today that are very much in keeping with recent pieces that have appeared here, and that are well worth absorbing.

The first, What the Bilal Hussein Detention Reveals About the Bush Administration, recounts the circumstances surrounding the indefinite detention in Iraq of an Associated Press photographer who has been held without charge for the last 14 months. It amplifies themes covered in articles that have appeared here recently, including The Abyss Stares Back, The Disappeared and Hotel California, and details the near total capitulation of the press in allowing his imprisonment to stand.

The second, Wolf Blitzer's Shock Over Lynne Cheney's Attack describes a dynamic within the top ranks of the press corps that further weakens American reportage, and that dovetails with the direct confrontation and media consolidation policies pursued by the Bush Administration described in Vigilance Required.

October 28, 2006

Vigilance Required

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
In 2002, Reporters San Frontiers (RSF, or "Reporters Without Borders," in English) created an index of press freedom designed to rank freedom of the press in each of the world's nations . Each year since then, RSF has updated the index, and the United States, initially pegged as having the 17th-most free press in the world, has slipped further down the ranks every year since. Alarmingly, this year's index puts the U.S. at number 53, behind former communist bloc countries like Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as other nations with histories of authoritarianism like El Salvador, Bolivia, Chile and South Africa.

RSF acknowledges that armed conflict is always the bane of a free press, even in countries with a traditionally strong Fourth Estate, but adds:
Relations between the media and the Bush Administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 U.S. states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.
The RSF index serves to call attention to the most direct assaults on press freedom, such as reporter intimidation and imprisonment, but it explicitly states that the freedom rankings should in no way be considered a measure of the quality of the press in each country that is evaluated. As important as the current administration's assault on the First Amendment is, it is not the whole story. Of at least equal importance is the role of increasingly consolidated media ownership that followed in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the further consolidation of information power that has been championed by the Bush White House.

Originally intended to spur innovation and competition, benefitting consumers through the resultant drop in prices, the Telecom Act was heavily influenced by lobbyists, and it is media companies that have been the biggest beneficiaries (from Common Cause):
  • Currently, six major companies control most of the media in the United States. Disney owns 10 television stations, 50 radio stations, ABC, ESPN, A&E, the History Channel, Discover magazine, Hyperion publishing, Touchstone Pictures, and Miramax Film Corporation. Viacom owns 39 television stations, 184 radio stations, CBS, The Movie Channel, BET, Nickelodeon, TV Land, MTV, VH1, Simon & Schuster, Scribner, and Paramount Pictures. General Electric owns 13 television stations, NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, and Bravo. News Corporation owns 26 television stations, Fox Broadcasting, FX, Fox News Channel, TV Guide, The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, DirecTV, HarperCollins, Twentieth Century Fox and MySpace.

  • Since 1995, the number of companies that own commercial television stations has declined by 40 percent, and three media giants own all of the cable news networks. Comcast and Time Warner serve 40% of cable households, and cable television rates have climbed 40 percent since the 1996 Telecom Act.

  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed restrictions on the number of radio stations that can be owned by a single entity, leading to significant consolidation. Where previously, one company could not own more than 40 radio stations nationwide, today, Clear Channel Communications alone now owns almost 1,200 stations across the country.

  • Major corporations, including Time Warner, The New York Times, CNN, ABC News and USA Today dominate the top Internet news sites.
In 2003, then-Federal Communications Chairman (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell attempted to sneak even less restrictive media ownership rules into place that were in clear and direct opposition to the legal relationship between the public and broadcasters (under which the latter must serve the public interest in return for licenses granted by the former):
  • Single-company ownership of media in a given market would have been permitted to rise to 45% from 35 percent, and restrictions on single-company ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same market would have been removed.

  • All TV channels, magazines, newspapers, cable, and internet services would be counted and weighted, based on the public's "tendency" to find news on that medium. Concurrently, news content for a given channel would no longer be considered when evaluating the percentage of a medium owned by a single entity. In other words, it would now be possible for two companies to each own as much as 45% of all the newspapers, local television stations, national TV networks, and local radio stations in any given market, so long as other companies owned properties such as shopping channels, educational television, and at least 10% of other non-news outlets.

  • Finally, and perhaps in the most direct conflict with the importance of an informed populace to a functioning democracy, public-interest considerations would have been removed from requirements for periodic review of ownership licenses.
Despite the highly questionable connection between the interests of the citizenry and these proposed changes, Powell held just one public hearing on the matter, and only after significant outcry. Despite overwhelmingly negative reaction to the new rules, the Powell-led FCC pushed through the rule changes and refused to open them to public comment. Powell's end-around was quashed however, when Congress overruled his changes in the face of outrage from its constituents.

Today, new FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has restarted the efforts of his predecessor to revise the nation's media ownership rules. While he has promised significant public input this time around, it is difficult to discern how further consolidation would benefit anyone other than media owners. If anything, media ownership rules should be made more restrictive than allowed by the 1996 Telecom Act, not less.

Significant censorship by broadcasters has occurred on numerous occasions in the past several years, and it has almost universally favored the Bush Administration and its supporters. In 2003, several stations refused to air ads by Arianna Huffington's Detroit Project; in 2004, CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad from MoveOn.org that criticized the exploding federal budget deficit; and later that year, both CBS and NBC denied access to the airwaves for an ad from the United Church of Christ touting their acceptance of gays and lesbians. All of these advertisements were simply deemed "too controversial" by the media owners, and quashed by fiat.

Perhaps most famously however, several radio stations owned by Cumulus Media, the second-largest owner of radio stations in the country, along with a number of Clear Channel affiliates, banned the Dixie Chicks from their playlists because of critical comments about President Bush made by lead singer Natalie Maines in the run-up to the Iraq War, with Cumulus even going so far as to organize a Dixie Chicks CD burning.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the owners of private companies working to ethically maximize profits within the law. Broadcast media outlets however, are not strictly private companies, as they depend on a public asset, and the law is more than clear about the responsibilities of those using seeking license to use the airwaves.

The citizenry has left little room for doubt that it believes that further consolidation would be bad for the country on a number of fronts, and it is supported in that view by a host of organizations that advocate good government. Even the Walt Disney Company has recently submitted comments that it "is not advocating and does not seek any relaxation of the Commission's Broadcast Ownership Rules."

Given widespread public resistance, a history of congressional opposition, and now, diminishing advocacy from media companies themselves, it almost without question that attempts at further consolidation are nothing more than elements of the current administration's quest to accrue power to the presidency and its wholesale assault on civil liberties. It is important then, to recall the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1969 case Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC:
It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the Government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.
Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and attempts to abridge it - whether through direct intimidation or through control by interests aligned with the government - must always be combated. Vigilance - and action - are required.

October 23, 2006

Hotel California

MSNBC reported today that the Pentagon will bring only 70 of the 775 men that have been interred at Guantanamo Bay before a military court:
Out of roughly 775 detainees who have come to Guantanamo, former leaders of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force said they were able to develop credible criminal cases against only about 100.

And some of those have been released. The investigators said that some criminal suspects against whom they had good evidence have been among the 340 detainees released, because they were citizens of Great Britain or other cooperating countries who made diplomatic deals with the United States.

Of the 435 who remain in the prison camps, the Pentagon says, another 110 have been labeled as ready to release, but the United States has not been able to find a country willing to take them under terms such as continued confinement or monitoring.

Of the remaining 325, how many will face trial?

At this point, “more than 70,” the Pentagon says.

Of those 70, only 10 have been certified by the president as al-Qaeda members or supporters eligible for trial. The trials, called military commissions, will allow the detainees some rights, such as advice of an attorney, but will allow evidence that wouldn't be permitted under the rules in U.S. criminal courts. They are expected to begin next year at the earliest.

That leaves about 250 men who are not scheduled for any kind of trial, who will not be released to another country, and who, it is likely, will never be free again. The recently enshrined Military Commissions Act places the United States under no obligation to provide any of these men, snatched by a foreign government and now imprisoned for years, with any kind of hearing or trial. In fact, some military insiders, well aware that these men will simply remain imprisoned with no hope for release, have in turn nicknamed Camp Delta "Hotel California" after the eponymous Eagles song which contains the lyrics "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

Under the impression that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once put it, "the worst of the worst," most Americans have probably been losing little sleep over this situation, but as has proven the case repeatedly with statements from the Bush Adminsitration, all is perhaps not as it has been represented. The Associated Press, for instance, has reported on one prisoner in particular whose case is particularly tragic. Abdul Rahim, a Syrian of Kurdish extraction, apparently fled to Afghanistan to escape his overbearing father, but has seen his situation spiral out of control:

Arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan in January 2000, Rahim says al-Qaeda leaders burned him with cigarettes, smashed his right hand, deprived him of sleep, nearly drowned him and hanged him from the ceiling until he "confessed" to spying for the United States.

U.S. forces took the young Kurd from Syria into custody in January 2002 after the Taliban fled his prison. Accusing him of being an al-Qaeda terrorist, U.S. interrogators deprived him of sleep, threatened him with police dogs and kept him in stress positions for hours, he says. He's been held ever since as an enemy combatant.

There is also Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese hospital administrator arrested in Pakistan in 2002, who was imprisoned apparently because some of his co-workers at the charity where he worked harbored terrorist ideals. A U.S. Army major with access to both the secret and public evidence against Hamad termed his imprisonment "unconscionable," yet he still he remains behind American bars. Likewise, Nazar "Chaman" Gul, a 29-year-old Afghani accused of being a member of a terrorist group, was shipped off to Gitmo because his lawyers state, he has been mistaken for a commander of that group, also named Chaman Gul. Ironically, despite strong character witnesses from his supervisor at the fuel dump where he worked, and the fact that the real Chaman Gul is also imprisoned at Camp Delta, Nazar Gul remains incarcerated.

Chillingly, those who have been swept up by the American dragnet, and against whom no solid case can be built, are paying dearly for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even for wearing the wrong kind of clothing:
Fallon said two detainees were suspected in a rocket attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The evidence against them was that they were found wearing dark olive green jackets similar to the one worn by the attacker. "I’ve been to Kabul," he said. "That’s the only color jacket I’ve seen."
It should be emphasized that it is unlikely that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are innocent of having acted against the United States. Undoubtedly, there are men held there who mean this country and its people harm. That said, if we, as Americans, are going to incarcerate people without any sort of due process, we are selling our country's soul for a quick fix that accomplishes little except the erosion of our standing as a nation of laws. What matters most right now is not whether the men at Camp Delta are guilty, but that, for the vast majority who remain within its walls, no one will ever know one way or the other. In the words of Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift:
It‘s not whether they deserve it or not. It‘s how we conduct ourselves. It has to do where if we say that our opponent can cause us not to follow the rules anymore, then we‘ve lost who we are. We‘re the good guys. We‘re the guys who follow the rule and the people we fight are the bad guys and we show that every day when we follow the rules, regardless of what they do. It‘s what sets us apart. It‘s what makes us great and in my mind, it‘s what makes us undefeatable, ultimately.
As details trickle out about the loose criteria, lack of rigor and absence of accountability used in imprisoning people indefinitely without trial, the Bush Administration's fervor for the full frontal assault on the Bill of Rights that is the Military Commissions Act becomes more clear. The president of the United States, under the Act, now has the legal authority to continue doing exactly what he has been doing at Camp Delta since its construction: violate the very individual rights that are the foundation of the United States of America.

Until that changes, we have, in fact, lost who we are. And we are no longer unconquerable, because we are rotting from within.


[For more on the treatment of American prisoners, see
American Values Under the Bush Administration at Unclaimed Territory.]

October 18, 2006

A Legacy of Despotic Power

Yesterday, President George W. Bush deepened his betrayal of the Constitution he swore to preserve, protect and defend by signing into law the Military Commissions Act, legislation he sought vigorously and enthusiastically.

As detailed extensively in Systematically Destroying What It Means to be American, this new law grants the the president power to label anyone he chooses - including American citizens - "illegal enemy combatants,” and imprison them without trial, access to counsel, or even the right to see all of the evidence brought against them. It provides him the ability to decide - on his own - what "harsh" interrogation methods he considers permissible, while distinctly narrowing the types of physical abuse that are defined as torture, and it allows evidence that has been coerced to be admitted against those unlucky enough to find themselves in the legal black hole that is already forming.

The United States has a checkered past with regard to laws like the Military Commissions Act, but in some ways that is what makes this particular piece of legislation so alarming and so tragic. Only a president willfully disconnected from both reality and history could ignore the lessons of John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts, Woodrow Wilson's Espionage Act, and Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, each of which were touted as necessary for the protection of Americans, but which all fulfilled to terrible effect the potential for abuse they promised.

And the leading ranks of the abuse that will surely follow the passage of the Military Commissions Act are already visible on the horizon.

Today, federal investigators told a judge they wanted to question convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid - who is nearly as famous for his ineptitude as for his efforts to blow up an airliner with explosives hidden in his sneakers - without a lawyer or anyone else present. Despite the fact that no credible link between Reid and al-Qaeda has ever been established, and the additional fact that he has been in prison for five years, the government claims that he "may have knowledge of additional terrorist plots."

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Farmer went so far as to say that they want to talk to Reid alone in order "to develop a 'personal rapport,' which would be difficult to do with an attorney or any third party in the room." While Richard Reid is a terrorist duly convicted of attempted murder, until proven otherwise, this rapid and enthusiastic embrace of the new latitude allowed interrogators by the Military Commissions Act can only be regarded as ominous for anyone mistakenly or unjustly in custody.

Keith Olbermann has previously covered the elimination of habeas corpus that is so central to the Military Commissions Act, but tonight, he delivered a particularly empassioned and strongly-worded special comment on the topic. The depth to which President Bush's corruption of American values affects Mr. Olbermann shines through, and I share every ounce of his outrage, anger, and utter disgust with our current president and the potentially irrevocable damage he is doing to our once-proud nation.

The Military Commissions Act's elimination of habeas corpus only strengthens the well-established and well-deserved opinion that George W. Bush is a corrupt liar and an ignorant, callous fool worthy of no one's trust or respect. Too weak to perform the duties of his position within the bounds of either the Constitution or objective reality, he consistently seeks the easy way out, blind to the consequences of his actions and dependent on a worldview largely detached from fact. History will deservedly judge him in the harshest of lights.

Adams, Wilson and Roosevelt all accomplished great things, which - while unquestionably stained by their missteps - marked them as men who, in the final reckoning, made postive contributions to these United States. Mr. Bush can claim no such thing. The legacy of his presidency will be little more than a swath of lives ruined and lost in the wake of a quest to accrue power to an office he was too inept and untrustworthy to fill.

George W. Bush is a national embarrassment of the first order, and as we work in the coming decades to undo the chaos and destruction he has wrought on not only our nation's reputation, but its very foundation, we must never forget the heights of his conceit, the depths of his stupidity, or the role of the public's fear in keeping him in power.

Olbermann's commentary is below:

October 16, 2006

The Disappeared

Ali Partovi
"The Disappeared" is a term translated from the Spanish "Los Desaparecidos." It refers to people who have undergone "forced disappearance," either through murder or kidnapping, and although it is now used in reference to (too) many other parts of the world, it is most often associated with the thousands of Argentine and Chilean dissidents who simply vanished, never to be heard from again, during the 1970's and eighties. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) made forced disappearance a crime against humanity, beginning in 2002.

The Bush Administration has stated that the United States will not be party to the ICC, ostensibly because of concerns that Americans could be prosecuted for political reasons. As the world's sole super power, this anxiety may not be unreasonable; there are undoubtedly nations that would seek to take advantage of the institution as a means of thwarting U.S. interests. Unfortunately, however, there is an undercurrent to this policy that is more sinister.

As it has demonstrated through the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the establishment of the "detainment camp" at Guantanamo Bay, the wholesale internment of Arab and muslim immigrants immediately after September 11th, and the recently passed Military Commissions Act, the Bush White House prefers to be unencumbered by concerns or legal restrictions regarding the rights of individuals. Jose Padilla, for instance, an American citizen imprisoned without trial or access to counsel, is only now grinding haltingly through the justice system because of the tireless work of third parties.

At least in Mr. Padilla's case, he has not been lost in the system. By contrast, the Associated Press today reported on Ali Partovi, an Iranian seeking political asylum in the United States, who has not been so lucky. One of roughly 1,200 Middle Easterners swept up under Attorney General John Ashcroft's "aggressive detention" policy in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, he has been incarcerated ever since.

In 2002, he completed a 175-day sentence for attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through Guam using a fake Italian passport - apparently as the only means he could think of to get close enough to American soil for an asylum request - but today, he still sits in a cell in an Arizona immigrant detention center, neither charged with, nor a suspect in, any crime, and considered no danger to society. Mr. Partovi claims he has been repeatedly abused by his jailers - from being punched and kicked while his hands were bound, to having hot coffee poured on his skin - and given the horrific abuse at Abu Ghraib, those claims cannot be dismissed.

What is important about the cases of Padilla and Partovi is not their guilt or innocence. What matters is that both men have been denied any avenue to state their case in an open forum, and until very recently, have been denied contact with the outside world. While they are now visible, they were once desaparacidos, and of perhaps even greater concern, there remains no record for more than one third of the 1,200 September 11th detainees (from the AP story):
There were still at least 438 other individuals who were not accounted for. Most of those individuals, said Justice Department officials, were released within days. But at least 93 were charged with federal crimes and processed through the courts, and an unknown number were deemed material witnesses.
What this boils down to is that more than 400 people taken into forced detention by the United States government for potential anti-American acitivities, have essentially vanished.

With the Bush Administration's established disregard for habeas corpus and the alarmingly low threshhold required for internment by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and even the military, this should be of great concern to those who vocally oppose President Bush's continued assault on the Constitution. If that statement strikes you as hyperbole, consider this: documents recently released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicate that:
... military officials labeled as “potential terrorist activity” events like a “Stop the War Now” rally in Akron, Ohio, in March 2005.

The Defense Department acknowledged last year that its analysts had maintained records on war protests in an internal database past the 90 days its guidelines allowed, and even after it was determined there was no threat.

A department spokesman said Thursday that the “questionable data collection” had led to a tightening of military procedures to ensure that only information relevant to terrorism and other threats was collected. The spokesman, Maj. Patrick Ryder, said in response to the release of the documents that the department “views with great concern any potential violation” of the policy.

“There is nothing more important or integral to the effectiveness of the U.S. military than the trust and good will of the American people,” Major Ryder said.

A document first disclosed last December by NBC News showed that the military had maintained a database, known as Talon, containing information about more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” around the country in 2004 and 2005. Dozens of alerts on antiwar meetings and peaceful protests appear to have remained in the database even after analysts had decided that they posed no threat to military bases or personnel.

Most often, fundamental changes to the structure of society do not happen in one fell swoop. There are incremental movements, each seemingly innocuous, away from core values and principles, that together, add up to a massive shift in the way people live their lives and the manner in which the government affects them. It is important then, to be clear:
  • The American government has monitored peaceful, democratic dissent as an adverserial activity.
  • The government has labeled peaceful, democratic dissent as a threat to national security.
  • The government cannot be depended on to protect the welfare - or even to know the location - of anyone imprisoned in, or by, the United States.
  • Those imprisoned by the government are no longer guaranteed the opportunity to prove their innocence.
  • American citizens can be imprisoned without any access to the outside world and denied access to counsel, all at the whim of the President.
The attacks of September 11th, in addition to making terrorism a central element of all policy and discussion from that day onward, have been the excuse for the establishment of an imperial presidency. Like our terrorist adversaries, this imperial presidency threatens our very way of life, as evidenced by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Padilla, Partovi, the Talon database and the missing detainees.

Unlike the terrorists however, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have been able to continue their assaults on what it means to be American since 9/11. Those assaults continue to this day, and in the long run, they damage our nation in ways of which Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda can only dream.

October 13, 2006

Gutting the Bill of Rights

Keith Olbermann's take on the impact of the recently-passed Military Commissions Act is below. As he correctly points out, habeas corpus - which is eliminated in many cases by this bill - is the lynchpin of the U.S. Constitution, and without it, the Bill of Rights is left an empty shell.

As the case of Jose Padilla has amply illustrated, no one should feel secure that the government can be trusted to do the right thing, or that it has the rights of the individual at heart. There is a reason that its power was curtailed by the founding fathers, and vigilance over our elected officials is as vital to maintaining our freedom as a strong military and an active diplomatic corps are to defending it.

October 11, 2006

The Abyss Stares Back

Jose Padilla
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 89, quoted at the beginning of
the argument section in the motion to dimiss charges against Jose Padilla

Jose Padilla is not a hero. At minimum, he is a man with a troubled, criminal past and a history of violence; at worst, he may be a radical Islamist terrorist bent on inflicting pain and death on the people of this country. But he is also a man whose fate will have profound impact on this nation and the way in which we act to protect - or diminish - human rights, and his case is worth re-examining with the recent passage of the Military Commissions Act.

In 2002, Padilla was accused of plotting to detonate a dirty bomb on U.S. soil. President Bush declared that he represented "a continuing, present, and grave danger to the national security of the United States," and designated him an "enemy combatant." An American citizen, he was imprisoned for three and a half years in a navy brig with no access to an attorney, and it was only when the Supreme Court indicated it was prepared to rule on that fact that he was even charged with a crime.

By 2005, allegations against Padilla - who was originally touted as having communicated with the top ranks of al-Qaeda - had dwindled to accusations that he had merely traveled across the Middle East and communicated with terrorist fundraisers. More recently, the government's last remaining terrorism count was thrown out, and the prosecution has struggled to provide substantial evidence against the accused. Now, Padilla's lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds of "outrageous government conduct." The basis for the motion is twofold: Jose Padilla was imprisoned without access to counsel; and he was tortured repeatedly during his incarceration.

This should be repeated: Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was locked up without access to an attorney and tortured for three and a half years.

Clearly, this violates every precept of the American judicial system. Habeas corpus, the right to a speedy, public trial is enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, within the Bill of Rights:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
The account of Padilla's treatment contained in the motion is harrowing, and there are extensive excerpts at David Markus' Southern District of Florida Blog. Knowing that this has taken place in the United States, and that this very behavior has been sanctioned by new legislation should be gut-wrenching to anyone who cares about this country. As a police officer commenting at Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory concluded in her outstanding post :
If they are right and I am wrong then being American is little more than being situated in a certain place on the globe with no claim to moral authority beyond what can be enforced through bullets and bombs. Then we are little more than a street gang with assertions of control over our turf. Then we are truly lost.
In the end, it doesn't matter if Jose Padilla is a nice guy, the kind of man you'd like to date your daughter, or someone you'd welcome as a neighbor. What matters is that he is an American citizen, and more importantly, a human being. He is a human being who was denied the rights for which the founders of this nation went to war against colonial rule, and about which they stated in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
These unalienable rights are the basis for the United States of America, and they embody what has been honest and fair and great and uplifting about this nation. If Jose Padilla can be held against his will without recourse - in violation of everything for which we are supposed to stand - then so can anyone else.

As a people, we are judged by how well we live up to the principles we expound and to which we aspire, not just when it is easy to do so, but when it is hardest. By allowing our government to unjustly imprison and torture in our name we fail our nation and ourselves.

It is that simple.

October 9, 2006

A Job Too Well Done

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift
The Miami Herald reported Sunday that Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, the Navy attorney who handed the Bush Administration a major defeat when he successfully challenged its policies toward Guantanamo Bay detainees, will be forced to retire in April after two decades of service to his country. Swift, who represented the defense in the landmark Hamdan case, was passed over for promotion and will have to leave the Navy's under its "up or out" policy.

Swift is being pushed out of the armed forces despite being named as one of the nation's top 100 lawyers by the National Law Journal in June, and earning consistent, high praise from his peers for his work and dedication. From the Herald story:

In the opinion of Washington, D.C., attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, Swift was ''a no-brainer for promotion,'' given his devotion to the Navy, the law and his client.

But, he said, Swift is part of a long line of Navy defense lawyers ''of tremendous distinction'' who were not made full commander and "had their careers terminated prematurely.''

''He brought real credit to the Navy,'' said Fidell. "It's too bad that it's unrequited love.''


"Charlie has obviously done an exceptional job, a really extraordinary job," said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, the Pentagon's chief defense counsel for Military Commissions.

Sullivan added it was "quite a coincidence" that Swift was passed over for a promotion "within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion."

Quite a coincidence indeed.

Lieutenant Commander Swift's performance was outstanding, so the only conclusion that remains to be drawn is that he simply did his job too well by representing Hamdan to the best of his ability. As in the case of Ian Thomas, a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency who contradicted official assertions that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling would not have a significant impact on the area's wildlife, Swift has been punished for doing the right thing.

With the deck newly stacked against prisoners in the President's "War on Terror" by the Detainee Treatment Act, Swift's ouster is one more nail in the coffin of the American justice system. It further diminishes any hope that military commissions might be something more than kangaroo courts designed to convict rather than to try, and it offers yet more proof that if the Bush Administration doesn't get the result it wants, it will change the rules.

Lieutenant Commander Swift has stated that he will attempt to continue representing Hamdan as a civilian - if it is ruled that he can even do so under the new restrictions on habeas corpus for detainees - but the circumstance of his forced retirement is an affront to anyone who believes that the rule of law is at the heart of what made the United States a great nation. Charles Swift is exactly the type of man who should be moving up the ranks of the Navy; it is a measure of how far we have fallen that that is in direct conflict with the aims of President George W. Bush.


If you'd like to know more about Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, be sure to check out this post over at Mountain Philosopher.

October 6, 2006

Statements of Cowardice and Contempt

On Wednesday, President Bush signed into law H.R. 5441, the Homeland Security appropriations bill for 2007. In so doing, Mr. Bush brought into force two provisions which placed what would appear to be very reasonable - and minor - limitations on certain actions he, or any of his successors to the Oval Office, might choose to take.

The first stipulation simply stated that no one other than the privacy officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could change, delay or forbid the release of the mandatory annual report on that department's activities affecting privacy, including complaints. The second, clearly aimed at avoiding the cronyism that saw Michael "Heckuva Job Brownie" Brown appointed to head FEMA - only to implode under the weight of his inexperience and incompetence during the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - requires that any future head of that agency have a minimum of 5 years of relevant experience.

And then the other shoe dropped.

As he has with more than 750 other laws to date, President Bush promptly - albeit stealthily - made it known that, unlike every other citizen of this country, he was not bound by the provisions of the very bill he had just signed into law. Perhaps more imporantly, he indicated that he would continue to oppose any restrictions on the office of the President of the United States, however minor, however sensible, and however justified by past events. To accomplish this, Mr. Bush did what he has done far more than any other chief executive this nation has ever had, attaching signing statements to H.R. 5441 declaring not only that he will ignore the minimum qualifications to lead FEMA if he feels it is necessary, but that he reserves the right to not only withhold, but also edit annual DHS reports.

What this means is that, unchastened by the utter meltdown that was Michael Brown's tenure at the wheel of FEMA, the President feels there is no need to improve the standards by which that position is filled. By ignoring the qualifications provision, he is saying that he demands the freedom to hire someone that the rest of the country would deem inept. It also means that the oversight provision of the Department of Homeland Security has been thoroughly gutted. Now, if citizens come forward with complaints about illegal violations of privacy by DHS and those complaints are included in the annual report, Mr. Bush has given himself the right to alter the language of that document to make it more favorable, or even to delete those complaints altogether.

There is a mechanism under the Constitution by which the President may reject acts of Congress with which he disagrees; it is called a veto. Exercising that power however, would expose the policies and aims of this administration to the scrutiny with which it is so clearly uncomfortable, and the oversight from the legislature and the citizenry for which it so obviously feels nothing but disdain. It is a measure of both the cowardice of the Bush White House and its contempt for the American people that George W. Bush has issued more than 110 signing statements, and only one veto.

As Keith Olbermann puts it in his most recent special commentary (see below), the Bush Adminstration, despite its best efforts at obfuscation, has shown itself to be constructed of lies on top of lies, on top of other lies. It is indeed form without substance, but it is also beginning to strangle on the public's increasing awareness of its utter lack of loyalty to anything but power and self-perpetuation. Unfortunately, the ineptitude and dishonesty of this president and his inner circle place us all in jeopardy; internationally because of their obvious deficiency, and domestically through the abridgement of our rights and their desecration of the Constitution.

Because of these threats, it is not enough that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Republican control of Capitol Hill are removed as quickly as possible. Looking forward, we must make every effort to ensure that whomever is chosen to lead this country - no matter what political party they represent - is capable, competent, and possesses a basic understanding of - and allegiance to - our form of government.

In the meantime, the liars and cowards we currently suffer can't be gone soon enough.

[Click on image for video at Crooks and Liars]
Keith Olbermann's 10/05/2006 Special Commentary

October 4, 2006

Notes From the Luxury War

In several interviews this year, including one in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and another on NPR, Major General John Batiste has noted the following about the manner in which the Iraq War impacts life in the United States:
It shocked me that the country was not mobilized for war," he says. "It was almost surreal." For some Americans, "the only time they think about the war is when they decide what color magnet ribbon to put on the back of their car.
A seemingly innocuous piece of low-cost automobile adornment, the "Support Our Troops" magnet is, for many Americans who backed it, their sole concession to our invasion and occupation of another nation. As such, it is a hallmark of the hypocrisy that has permitted the deaths of more than 2,700 U.S. service people since the beginning of the invasion, and the wounding of nearly 21,000, while the homefront carries on as if that were both normal and acceptable. It is the symbol of crass indifference that has allowed the killing of more than 48,000 Iraqis - almost all civilians - to pass with so little impact within our borders. And it is the emblem of the self-centered detachment that has empowered George W. Bush to wreak havoc on everything for which the United States is supposed to stand.

The conflict in Iraq is one that significantly affects only those Americans who are in the armed forces themselves, or who have a family member serving in the military. The public's fundamental insulation and disconnection from the horrific impact of war is the foundation upon which a "pre-emptive" invasion was built, and which makes the continued mismanagement of the occupation possible.

It is a luxury war.

But perhaps there is hope. The United States is threatening to cut off funding for Iraq's police force because of its failure to punish people responsible for torture. Now that basic human rights are no longer sanctified in this country, it might only be a matter of time before the Bush Administration itself is found guilt of violating the Leahy Law. (Of course, the Leahy Law is only designed to target foreign violations of human rights, so this is probably wishful thinking of the thinnest kind.)

In any case, to honor apathetic America, the following are presented: The first is Sunday's Opus by the legendary Berkely Breathed; the second is a video from Austin's Asylum Street Spankers. (Note: The content of the video is for mature audiences.)

[Click on image for larger view]
Opus: Sunday, October 1, 2006© 2006, Berkely Breathed

October 2, 2006

One Man, One Vote... Mostly

This November's midterm elections are crucial to our nation in a way that such non-presidential polls often are not. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are potentially up for grabs, and there is a good chance that Democrats will rest control from the GOP in at least one of them. Achieving such control is crucial to stopping the tide of corruption, falsehood, mismanagement and criminal negligence emanating from Washington in the wake of unchallenged Republican power, and the importance of voter participation cannot be over-emphasized.
During the reign of George W. Bush, Congress has been little more than a rubber stamp for the over-reaching, radical ideology of the current administration. Failure to restore congressional oversight through an opposition majority in at least one house of the legislature means that President Bush will be free to continue doing as he wants, unconstrained by any concerns about keeping Congress Republican for the rest of his term.
And make no mistake; while national disgraces like the recently-passed Military Commissions Act are victories for this imperial president, Mr. Bush has been constrained. As bad as the President's decisions and policies have been for this country, it is only renewed congressional oversight that will keep it from getting much, much worse. That oversight requires strong Democratic gains.

Given the President's abyssmal approval ratings, the solution would seem to be a simple one: mobilize the Democratic base and get it to vote, and if there are more ballots cast for Democratic candidates, more of them will be elected. Unfortunately, in the United States of George W. Bush, nothing is simple.

To whit: last month, the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University published an independent study entitled Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine. While not blessed with the catchiest title, this is a document with implications vital to the 2006 elections. From the study:
The Diebold AccuVote-TS and its newer relative the AccuVote-TSx are together the most widely deployed electronic voting platform in the United States. In the November 2006 general election, these machines are scheduled to be used in 357 counties representing nearly 10% of registered voters. Approximately half these counties — including all of Maryland and Georgia — will employ the AccuVote-TS model. More than 33,000 of the TS machines are in service nationwide.
Why is this important? In 2004, then-CEO of Canton-based Diebold, Walden "Wally" O'Dell, wrote in a letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." President Bush, in fact, carried Ohio in that election, and the Buckeye State turned out to be his margin of victory. O'Dell resigned from Diebold in 2005, following unrelated fraud allegations, but there were numerous accounts of irregularities in the Ohio poll, ranging from organized disenfranchisement to mysterious transfers of votes cast for John Kerry on eVoting machines to Bush's total. Unfortunately, much of this was treated as Democratic paranoia, and little effort was made to follow up.

As it turns out however, those pointing out problems with electronic voting machines in Ohio weren't part of the tinfoil hat crowd. In the most recent Maryland primaries for example, Diebold machines and implementation of electronic voting contributed significantly to widespread election day chaos, leading the governor to call for a return to paper balloting. The main findings of the Princeton study amply illustrate that Diebold voting machines can be manipulated, as does the accompanying demonstration video of a successful hack:
  1. Malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection. The malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss. We have constructed demonstration software that carries out this vote-stealing attack.
  2. Anyone who has physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install said malicious software using a simple method that takes as little as one minute. In practice, poll workers and others often have unsupervised access to the machines.
  3. AccuVote-TS machines are susceptible to voting-machine viruses — computer viruses that can spread malicious software automatically and invisibly from machine to machine during normal pre- and post-election activity. We have constructed a demonstration virus that spreads in this way, installing our demonstration vote-stealing program on every machine it infects.
  4. While some of these problems can be eliminated by improving Diebold's software, others cannot be remedied without replacing the machines' hardware. Changes to election procedures would also be required to ensure security.
Between the Princeton study and the bedlam observed in eVoting-heavy primaries, common sense demands that something be done to safeguard the American franchise. That safeguard comes in the form of HR 550, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, sponsored back in February by Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, and now co-sponsored by more than 200 other members of Congress, as electronic voting issues are given more credence. Among its provisions, HR 550 mandates that electronic voting machines produce paper receipts that can be used in a recount, and calls for eVoting vendors to offer greater transparency to their software.

Unfortunately - although perhaps predictably - the Committee on House Administration did not send HR 550 to the floor of the House during this session of the legislature, and Congress has adjourned until after the November 7th election. By keeping the bill from the floor for a vote, the Republican-led committee ensured that it would be impossible to audit midterm ballots cast on electronic voting machines. Constituents may reasonablly ask then, with a reform bill effectively buried through parliamentary procedure and the risk of their votes disappearing - or even being tallied for another candidate - should they simply stay home?

Absolutely not.

Electronic voting machines still serve only a small minority of the country, and while there are all manner of ways in which votes can be suppressed by those in charge of elections, high voter turnout and heavy polling for Democrats will make obscuring or altering the results more difficult, even if it is attempted electronically. More importantly, there is nothing more quintessentially American than exercising one's right to vote. Not only are there big picture implications for the transfer of power and the hobbling of the thugs and hacks currently squatting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - in addition to a chance to install a legistlature that will work to rectify electronic voting issues - but the simple act of casting a ballot is a victory over the creeping authoritarianism of George W. Bush.

Key races across the country are heating up, with Democrats suddenly competitive in areas that were thought to be safely Republican, and leading outright in others. This is our last, best chance to mitigate the damage that George W. Bush is doing to our country. So vote, volunteer, encourage like-minded individuals to do the same, whatever.

Just do something. Your country needs you.


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