Saturday, May 23, 2009

Orwellianism of the day: "Preventive Detention"

President Obama continues down the Cheneyite path with a new proposal for "preventive detention" of people he deems dangerous or threatening. This man used to be a Con Law professor. I went to law school too, and one of the things they taught me there -- though they didn't have to, because I had already learned it in middle school civics class -- is that the bedrock of our country's criminal jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence; that is, a person is presumed to be innocent until that person is proven to be guilty in a court of law.

But take a look at this passage from Obama's speech on Thursday and tell me how it can be squared with that principle:
[T]here may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans.
We are talking about people who "pose a threat" to our security. People who have "expressed their allegiance" to bin Laden (or presumably to any other person or ideology that may be in disfavor at any given time). People who "want to kill Americans". There are a lot of people who fall into these categories, both inside and outside the United States. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on who, exactly, is making these determinations.

And notice that these are people who "cannot be prosecuted". Why can't they be prosecuted? Well, one reason might be that they haven't actually done anything illegal. Having an "intent" to do harm is not a crime. "Wanting" to commit a crime is not a crime. Being "trained" to commit a crime is not, ordinarily, a crime. Unless we are talking about thoughtcrime, which didn't used to be an actual crime for which you could be punished -- and make no mistake, depriving a person of his or her liberty permanently or for extended periods of time is a severe punishment, whether or not that time is spent, for example, subjected to extreme heat or cold, folded into a small dark box, or standing with arms shackled to the ceiling.

And let's not forget that there are very good reasons why we have a legal system with such things as "habeas corpus" and "rights of the accused" and "trials". Anglo-Americans long ago recognized the importance of this. The English knew it at least as early as 1215. American colonists knew it all along, but formally (and finally, they thought) sanctified it in 1791.

But these, the seminal events in Anglo-American jurisprudence, happened a long time ago. Before there were dangerous terrorists, or scary threatening people who intended to do harm. So maybe, as Obama intends, it is time to do away with these inconvenient safeguards, which only serve to get in the way of efficient defending us from thoughtcriminals. This break with the wisdom and traditions handed down to us over the centuries may be hard for some of us to swallow, at least for a time, but persnickety legalists and their insistence on abstractions like "rights" and "due process" can be rather easily counteracted by accompanying such policies with soaring rhetoric in praise of the same wisdom and traditions we are simulatenously doing away with -- a neat tactic for making sense of the world otherwise known as doublethink.

I leave you with IOZ:
... Cheney is nonetheless straightforward in his advocacy of a military exemption to the laws and statutes of the United States. Obama on the other hand is arguing that we must forgo legality in pursuit of security while giving the convincing appearance that we are not doing precisely that. We should abandon the legal structures that have governed the trial and prosecution of wrongdoing for over half a thousand years now, but we must do so while making glorious noise about American principles and what America stands for and all that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bush dead-enders applauding Obama

As a follow-up to the post below, check out the Wall Street Journal's uber-right-wing editorial page praising Obama's anti-terrorism policies. First graf:
President Obama's endorsements of Bush-Cheney antiterror policies are by now routine: for example, opposing the release of prisoner abuse photographs and support for indefinite detention for some detainees, and that's just this week. More remarkable is White House creativity in portraying these U-turns as epic change. Witness yesterday's announcement endorsing military commissions.
From the last graf: "[Obama] has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney."

If there was any doubt that Obama was on the wrong course with this stuff, then that ought to be evidence enough. WTF?

continuing Bushism

The New York Times has an article today describing the Obama administration's "new" rules governing the military commissions which will try Guantanamo detainees. As the article makes clear, these New and Improved Military Commissions (TM) will be very much like the old Bush Military Commissions, but with a genuinely new marketing spin. You see, these rules governing military commissions are being promulgated by the Obama administration, rather than the Bush administration, so they are, therefore, much improved -- despite being virtually identical.

For example, Bush's rules mandated that detainees would be represented by counsel chosen from "military defense lawyers appointed by the Pentagon and assigned to a special office of military defense lawyers for Guantánamo." Under Obama's rules, however, detainees will be represented by "a lawyer 'of the accused’s own choosing'", so long as -- you guessed it -- "the requested lawyer [is] assigned to the Pentagon’s office of military defense lawyers for Guantánamo." See? Lots better. Of course, someone acquainted with the jurisprudential traditions of the United States might well ask: under what possible justification are these accused criminals not allowed to choose whatever lawyer they want?

But that's not all! Act now, and you can be convicted based on hearsay evidence which would not be admissible in any federal court: "Mr. Obama’s statement on Friday said that 'the use of hearsay will be limited.' But the filing showed that military prosecutors would continue to rely extensively on hearsay evidence that might be barred in federal court." And the admissibility of hearsay evidence "remains much broader than in domestic courts". Here, thankfully, we are treated to an actual justification for continuing this Bush-devised rule: "senior administration officials said that although federal courts bar many kinds of hearsay evidence, 'the hearsay rule is not one of those things that is rooted in American values.'" Notice that this is so completely, self-evidently wrong that these "senior administration officials" are unwilling to put their names to such a statement, but sheepishly insist on anonymity. The hearsay rule is centuries old, not some invention by "activist judges" during the Warren era. In fact, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of defendants to confront the witnesses against them. To say that this rule is not "rooted in American values" is a blatant lie. Something along the lines of Alberto "Judge" Gonzales opining that the Geneva Conventions are "quaint" or that the Constitution does not explicitly provide for the right of habeas corpus.

The article goes on to quote two military lawyers currently representing detainees (a Navy Commander and an Air Force Major). These folks, unlike the unnamed "senior administration officials", were actually willing to put their names to these statements. The Navy Commander said: "We’re going to end up with trials with evidence that is the product of coercion and secret hearings." The Air Force Major said the Obama administration’s alterations to the Bush administration’s system were “minor cosmetic changes.”

If we intend to railroad these people by doing away with the centuries-old protections we have traditionally afforded to accused criminals -- because we "know" they are guilty -- then just get on with it. Do it in secret, hang them from a tree, announce that they are dead, and get back to transferring tax dollars to the Ivy League banking cabal (or whatever else it is we are considering Important Issues these days). But stop insulting my intelligence with this disenguous happy-talk about how we are "grant[ing] detainees expanded legal rights" in order to "uphold[ ] our deeply held values". Horseshit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

how can we investigate if we don't know all the facts?!?

I apologize in advance for basically cutting and pasting this guy's entire blog post (sorry!), but he shoulda written a longer post by putting in some less-good filler so that I could "excerpt" it without stealing the entire thing. But maybe you could click through the link just to make me feel better? Huh...?

Ok, well anyway:
It’s funny that when torture was all the fault of poor, ugly hillbillies of the sort David Brooks writes about in his Adventure Stories for Young Aristocrats, we had to throw the book at the evil-doers. Now that important figures in Washington have admitted to directly ordering more and worse, however, the question of even investigating whether some sort of crime may perhaps have taken place is fraught with all sort of beard-tugging brain-twisters which no man can untangle, even with the help of modern computer technology. How can we investigate if we don’t know all the facts? How dare we enforce laws against things which might possibly be permissible in some highly artificial thought experiment? What if ‘24′ is FOR REALS?!? These are the sorts of questions which need to be shrugged at for 50 billion news cycles before we can even think about OH MY GOD A SHARK ATE A WHITE LADY AT HER WEDDING!!!!! We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.

Religion Fail, ctd. -- batshit crazy wingnuts with nukes edition

UPDATED: now enhanced with actual link to the shit I was complaining about...

Whatever one might say about Obama (see below, for example), we can be reasonably certain we won't see any of this type of shit. (make sure to click through and see the slideshow -- prepare to be horrified, nauseous, and exultant, all at the same time.)

I think we were all pretty sure that, at some level, the Bushies saw the Iraq conflict, and the GWOT more generally, as a mandate from The Lord to bring the souls of those dirty Muzzlums to Jesus Christ, but I confess to being surprised that they were ever quite this upfront about it, even amongst themselves in private.

I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the United States under the Bush Administration had quite a lot in common with the Taliban and other religious fanatics against whom we were struggling.* The main difference, being, of course, the ability to project devastating military power into any corner of the globe.

*But just to be clear, I do remember September 11, and there's no question that we were justified in going after the evil bastards who did that to us; it's just that many of the things that were done afterward, in service of "bringing them to justice" (kidnapping, torture, indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, adoption of dictatorial policies, and invasion, occupation, and wholesale destruction of a country with no connection to the original crime) are so appalling, so contrary to what this country stands for, that it is becoming harder and harder to dispute, with no reservations, that we may in fact have come to resemble the terrible, imperialistic, hegemonic power we were portrayed to be by those same evil bastards -- in other words, though they may have been wrong then, can we say with certainty that they aren't right now?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

what happened to the guy I voted for?

Obama is losing me. It's been building for a while, and today I think might have been the last straw.

As a candidate, Obama said most of the right things about most of the right issues. In his candidacy there was the promise of something different. Different from most politicians. Different from all recent presidential candidates. Different, in any event, from Bush and Cheney.

But it is becoming increasingly obvious that, at least in the ways that matter most to me, Obama is just another office-seeker. Just another slick politician who knows how to speak to his audience. I can't say I'm particularly surprised. Just very disappointed.

President Obama has made it clear that certain of his "aspirational goals" (i.e., things he purported to consider important during the campaign) must take a backseat to other priorities. These things, we are told, would impede his "agenda" by removing "focus" from it and going "off message". This, of course, is political double-speak for "I never really cared that much about Issue X in the first place, and, in fact, come to think of it, I'm not sure I really agree with you on Issue X after all."

First case in point: Teh Gay. Most if not all gays in America voted for Obama. Not that many of them would have otherwise voted for McCain, but Obama did reach out to teh gays in a few different ways. He claimed to support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even if they are duly sanctioned by a state), he promised to lift the HIV travel ban (the U.S. is one of a handful of countries that has an official policy of discriminating against persons with HIV in customs and immigration matters), and he promised to do away with the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Needless to say, he has done none of these things, and in fact just this week he fired a West Point grad stationed in Iraq (a fluent speaker of Arabic), for being gay. Implementing any "change" in DADT policy would be a "distraction" from Obama's other important agenda items.

Second Case in Point: Iraq. Candidate Obama ran on a clear policy of withdrawing our military from Iraq. Our military has not been withdrawn from Iraq, and -- as far as I have been able to tell -- no steps whatsoever have been taken toward a withdrawal from Iraq. I mean seriously, WTF? I know it has only been 4 months, but this was a major, huge issue in the campaign. Has there been one single action taken by this administration that might remotely be seen as evidence of a withdrawal? An imminent withdrawal? A pending, conditional, gradual, future withdrawal? Anything? Other than pretty words, I mean.

Third Case in Point: Transparency. And torture. Candidate Obama railed strongly and eloquently against Bushism, which I define here as cruelty, secrecy, and lack of accountability. And yet President Obama has estabished, in just a few short months, a clear pattern of obfuscation and shielding from any accountability the multifold abuses of law, civil rights, and human rights perpetrated by Bush and Cheney. To the point where he can now be said to be complicit in their misdeeds by virtue of covering them up. I don't have the energy to catalogue the extensive examples of this, but you can read this Greenwald post (and follow the links) if you don't want to take my word for it.) This, in particular, is Obama's most recent effort in this category. And it is disgusting.

Despite an explicit agreement by the Obama DOJ to comply with a court order (granted in response to a years-old ACLU FOIA lawsuit) to release pictures showing graphic images of Bush era torture, Obama today decided to rescind this agreement and appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. To explain this reversal, Obama (and his inept spokesman, Robert Gibbs), used the tried and true, one-excuse-fits-all, trademark Bush bullshit reason of "The Troops!".

Yes, releasing pictures of Our Troops cruelly abusing random Arabs kidnapped off of streetcorners will endanger Our Troops. You know this line of reasoning has merit, after all, because Liz Cheney made this very same argument this morning, prior to Obama's reversal (maybe they saw her Fox News appearance!), when she said:
I have not seen the pictures, I don't know what is in them. But clearly what they are doing is releasing images that show American military men and women in a very negative light. And I have heard from families of service members, from families of 9/11 victims, this question: When did it become so fashionable for us to side, really, with the terrorists? For us to put information out that hurts American soldiers.
Got that? These images "show American military men and women in a very negative light." Gee, ya think? A picture of an American soldier sodomizing some poor Afghani tribesman with a golf club or shitting on his koran? That shows our military in a negative light? No shit, you stupid fucking bitch. Maybe they should have thought of that before they decided to take pictures of themselves gleefully and sadistically torturing helpless Arabs. And guess what, you shit-for-brains fucktard? It isn't the fucking pictures that show us in a negative light, it is the fact that WE DID THE THINGS IN THE PICTURES. Oh, yeah, and the fact that we are covering it up and refusing to take any responsibity for it or to hold anyone accountable for it.

Which brings us back to Obama. His spokesperson spewed a bunch of doublethink in an A.M. press briefing (read the transcript here, and see if you can make heads or tails of it). This convinced no one, so the President came out later and had this to say:
[T]his is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.
"Appropriate actions have been taken." We're not going to tell you what actions have been taken, or what, exactly, those actions were in response to. We'll leave all those pesky details a mystery. But rest assured, folks, everything was appropriate, so don't you worry. You can trust us. We're the good guys.

He continues:
It's therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.
A "small number of individuals". No need to get them involved, or let you know who they are or what exactly they did. But they've been dealt with. And knowing any more than that, what I just told you, is DANGEROUS. We are keeping it a secret for your protection. And, of course, to protect The Troops.
Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse. And obviously the thing that is most important in my mind is making sure that we are abiding by the Army Manual and that we are swiftly investigating any instances in which individuals have not acted appropriately, and that they are appropriately sanctioned. That's my aim and I do not believe that the release of these photos at this time would further that goal.

Again with all the "appropriateness" of everything. I'm sure it's all very appropriate, i.e., what the Bush DOD did to "punish" this "small number of individuals" who "have not acted appropriately" (i.e., engaged in criminal abuse and torture).
Now, let me be clear: I am concerned about how the release of these photos would be -- would impact on the safety of our troops. I have made it very clear to all who are within the chain of command, however, of the United States Armed Forces that the abuse of detainees in our custody is prohibited and will not be tolerated. I have repeated that since I've been in office, Secretary Gates understands that, Admiral Mullen understands that, and that has been communicated across the chain of command.
Oh sure, sure. You've made very clear, blah blah blah. Fine. I guess the point here is that if we have graphic evidence of sick, sadistic behavior on the part of The Troops against helpless, bound, and gagged Afghan poppy farmers, then certain people in the part of the world where The Troops happen to be right now might be offended, or pissed off, even, and might attempt to take some kind of revenge. Ok. Let's try that one out: (1) it has been my understanding that The Terrorists hate us and try to kill and maim us (including The Troops) at every possible opportunity, whether or not there happen to be any incriminating photographs being broadcast on CNN at any given time, (2) Arabs other than The Terrorists are well aware that we, as a country, have routinely engaged in kidnapping and torturing random Arabs, and the Arabs who might be, uh, dissatisfied with this state of affairs don't need any more incriminating evidence to spur them into action, but (3) what might actually prevent them from being spurred into action is an actual demonstration of how we, as a country, don't tolerate this type of behavior by Our Troops, and when we become aware of it, we expose it and make damn sure that it is punished harshly and in a very public way, and furthermore (4) if you are that fucking concerned about the safety of the troops vis-a-vis a bunch of angry Arab natives in the Middle East, then here's a novel suggestion for you: GET THEM THE FUCK OUT OF THERE.