Tags: anti-nuclear, anti-war, Criminal Justice, dissent, doj, eric holder, fran quigley, greg boertje-obed, megan rice, michael walli, non violence, nuclear, nuclear weapons, oak ridge, pacifism, peace, peace protestors, ramsey clark, roger hollander, swords into plowshares
Roger’s note: if this doesn’t send a chill up the spine of anyone with spine enough to peacefully challenge US war mongering, then I don’t know what will. This case is Lewis Carroll, Orwell and Kafka rolled up into one. Don’t fail to realize that this is happening under a president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism. Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.
Here is how it happened.
In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property. Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.
“The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
- Sr. Megan Rice
Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus for over sixty years. Greg Boertje-Obed, a married carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota. Michael Walli, a two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.
In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had signs stating “No Trespassing.” The signs indicate that unauthorized entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
No security arrived to confront them.
So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.
Still no security.
So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF. Still no security arrived. They began praying and sang songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace is Flowing Like a River.”
When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.
The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Frank Munger, an award-winning journalist with the Knoxville News Sentinel, was the first to publicly wonder, “If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant’s core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant’s security against more menacing intruders.”
On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security. The “security stand-down” was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court for a pretrial bail hearing. The government asked that all three be detained. One prosecutor called them a potential “danger to the community” and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial. The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.
Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action in protest of nuclear weapons. “But we had to — we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation,” Rice said. She also challenged the entire nuclear weapons industry: “We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars,” she said. “The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
Then the government began increasing the charges against the anti-nuclear peace protestors.
The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code Section 1363.
The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war. Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building.”
Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one felony and up to six years in prison.
But the government did not stop there. The next week, the charges were enlarged yet again.
On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace activists to three counts. The first was the original charge of damage to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years in prison. The second was an additional damage to federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.
Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the protestors started to receive national and international attention.
On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice on page one under the headline “The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum.” Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their actions “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”
At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at Y-12. Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated that the three were able to get as far as they did because of “multiple system failures on several levels.” The cited failures included cameras broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal monitors. The report concluded that “Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important “wake-up” call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site.”
On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against the U.S. government, a much more serious charge. Over 3000 people signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to charge them with sabotage.
But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the protestors. Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage. Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Counts two and three were the previous felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to fifteen more years in prison.
Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass. Now Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.
In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.
The government also successfully moved to strip the three from presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a document they called “Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in Support of Certain Justification Defenses.” In this motion, the U.S. asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy regarding nuclear weapons.
Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the Court ruled against defendants.
Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.
The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2012. The three peace activists were convicted on all counts. Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they did it. The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.
As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the protestors because they had been convicted of “crimes of violence.” The government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.
The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had been approved by their parole officers.
The three were immediately jailed. In its decision affirming their incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism. Since the charges carry potential sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.
These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2012.
In ten months, an 82 year old nun and two pacifists had been successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.
Tags: Abdulrahman, aclu, anwar awlaki, assassination, constituion, Criminal Justice, democracy, doj, drone missiles, due process, eric holder, extrajudicial killings, glenn greenwald, global battlefield, john brennan, obama hit list, presidential assassination, roger hollander, samir khan, terrorism, war on terror
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The president’s partisan lawyers purport to vest him with the most extreme power a political leader can seize
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.
Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama’s top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president’s power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title “disposition matrix”.
When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama’s hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying “he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president”. When the existence of Obama’s hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, she wrote that the “list includes three Americans”.
What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.
In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama’s first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that “the Bush Administration’s excessive reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”
But when it comes to Obama’s assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He’s maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.
Last night, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff released a 16-page “white paper” prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama’s power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama’s kill list – that is still concealed – but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.
This new memo is entitled: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”. It claims its conclusion is “reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen”. Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.
I’ve written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat – see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder’s statements before obtaining power – and won’t repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:
1. Equating government accusations with guilt
The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to “terrorists” when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.
Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out “against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force.”
This ensures that huge numbers of citizens – those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true – will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That’s the “reasoning” process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death.
But of course, when this memo refers to “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida”, what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.
This is the crucial point: the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.
Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.
(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an “associated force” of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo “authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law”.)
The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo – and the entire theory justifying Obama’s kill list – centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.
They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That’s why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can’t be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.
2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor
The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president’s power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US” where capture is “infeasible”, it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: “This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful.” Instead, as the last line of the memo states: “it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation” – not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.
Critically, the rationale of the memo – that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and “associated forces” – can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn’t apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.
3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield
The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the “battlefield” is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited “battlefield”. That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president’s powers are basically omnipotent on a “battlefield”. There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.
This “world-is-a-battlefield” theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world”.
But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama’s assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That’s because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can’t defend the application of “war powers” in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a “battlefield” and the president’s war powers thus exist without geographic limits.
This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, “retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities“. In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional “feasibility of capture” element, no geographic limits to the president’s authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.
4. Expanding the concept of “imminence” beyond recognition
The memo claims that the president’s assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”. That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it’s similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the “imminence” of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.
But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of “imminence”. Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future“. The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.
Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of “imminence”. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning”. Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer’s objection “an understatement”, noting that the memo’s understanding of “imminence” is “wildly overbroad” under international law.
Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo’s reasoning – that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces – then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an “imminent” threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.
The only reason to add these limitations of “imminence” and “feasibility of capture” is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president’s assassination power. As the ACLU’s Jaffer says: “This is a chilling document” because “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen” and the purported limits “are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts
This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one’s lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.
Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic – getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president’s conduct is legal – was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:
“validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble.”
Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That’s all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party’s leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.
That’s why courts, not the president’s partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn’t want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.
That’s all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this – secret memos from partisan lackeys – has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president’s conduct.
6. Making a mockery of “due process”
The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. It provides that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law”. Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.
The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: “Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person’s interest in his life.” But it nonetheless argues that a “balancing test” is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: “while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”
Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president’s assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:
“Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them.”
It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what “due process” requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ’s core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes “judicial encroachment” on the “judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force”. And then it cites the Bush DOJ’s mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.
The reason this is so fitting is because, as I’ve detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.
Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed – and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.
DOJ White Paper
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Hope: A Message to the Movement July 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: bureau of prisons, Criminal Justice, doj, father roy, incarceration, k, Latin America, Latin America military, prisoner of conscience, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, soa, soa watch, theresa cusimano, torture
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A Letter from Theresa Cusimano, SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience
Last week I walked out of federal prison, flew home, and was greeted by my smiling parents at the airport gate. Unlike most other prisoners, I didn’t have to take a 14 hour Greyhound bus; or use my bright red, inmate ID card; nor wear my prison clothes en route. My privilege returned to me the moment of my release. Friends picked me up and drove me to the Westin hotel for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream. Although it was July 11th and there was a heat wave burning through the country, I was still cold from my incarceration.
I entered prison because, like all of you, I believe torture is wrong and should not be a global export or a domestic product. The violence I survived during my six month stay in the five federal “holding” facilities confirmed my conviction. The United States’ Department of Justice likes to aggressively flex its muscles like a violent, bully when it comes to poor, sick and people of color. We spend our privileged fortunes on building expensive cages for them to fail in, without even providing clean drinking water. The Bureau of Prisons does not belong as a branch of the Department of Justice, but rather belongs in the Department of Defense, where torture and mass murder are their specialties. I saw no signs that the Department of Justice was in the business of holding olive branches, as their branding suggests. But they do know how to use the sharp, arrows that the eagle of their logo clutches in its left talon. I’m lucky to still be alive, their arrows nearly killed me.
My body gave out under the stress of being moved to four different facilities in two weeks’ time. My kidneys shut down without water or nutrition. My legs could no longer stand. The darkness of my 44 day seclusion, a “gift” to me from the feds on my 44th birthday, broke me. I lost hope when I was disconnected from all of you and your generous solidarity.
The strength of your collective prayers began to carry me out of the darkness of that rabbit hole. They shot me in the ass like a horse, to silence me. My eyes lost their ability to focus. They made me beg for my food and crawl, naked on concrete because I was unable to walk. You gave me hope that there are people who want to live a different way of life, centered on love. I wish to formally seek political asylum and live in your world.
As Father Roy faces excommunication from the church, and our first African American president fights for his second term…I hope you’ll show up at the November vigil or sponsor someone to attend in your place. This is our time to raise our voices. This is our time to extend our olive branches and request our country do the same. Peace is possible if we commit to nonviolence. When we surrender our fear of death, amazing things can happen. I am living proof and you are the reason I am still alive. Let us all live to rebuild peace in our worlds. See you on November 16-18. We will close the SOA. I owe you a hug.
SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience
On January 13, 2012, Theresa Cusimano was sentenced to 6 months in prison by Judge Stephen Hyles for her nonviolent action for crossing onto Fort Benning. She was released from Carswell Federal Medical Center on July 11. Read more about SOA Watch Prisoners of Conscience here.
Obama Justice and medical marijuana April 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: Criminal Justice, doj, drugs, glenn greeenwald, justice department, medical marijuana, president obama, roger hollander, rule of law, war on drugs
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Cannabis plants grow at Northwest Patient Resource Center in Seattle, Wash. (Credit: Reuters/Cliff DesPeaux)
The President’s justification for his crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries has to be heard to be believed
President Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner this week and was asked about his administration’s aggressive crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, including ones located in states where medical marijuana is legal and which are licensed by the state; this policy is directly contrary to Obama’s campaign pledge to not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Here’s part of the President’s answer:
I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books” . . . .
The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do.
Aside from the fact that Obama’s claim about the law is outright false — as Jon Walker conclusively documents, the law vests the Executive Branch with precisely the discretion he falsely claims he does not have to decide how drugs are classified — it’s just extraordinary that Obama is affirming the “principle” that he can’t have the DOJ “turn the othe way” in the face of lawbreaking. As an emailer just put it to me: “Interesting how this principle holds for prosecuting [medical] marijuana producers in the war on drugs, but not for prosecuting US officials in the war on terror. Or telecommunications companies for illegal spying. Or Wall Street banks for mortgage fraud.”
That’s about as vivid an expression of the President’s agenda, and his sense of justice, and the state of the Rule of Law in America, as one can imagine. The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription.
The Obama DOJ and strip searches April 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
Tags: albert florence, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, doj, glenn greenwald, obama administration, obama doj, progressives, roger hollander, strip searches, supreme court
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Tuesday, Apr 3, 2012 3:51 PM 12:04:34 EST, www.salon.com
Progressive commentators rightly lambast the Supreme Court’s horrible ruling, but omit the DOJ’s support for it
Albert Florence, the plaintiff in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders
Numerous progressive commentators are lambasting the Supreme Court for its 5-4 ruling yesterday in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, and rightfully so. The 5-judge conservative faction held that prison officials may strip-search anyone arrested even for the most minor offenses before admitting them to the general population of a jail or prison, even in the absence of a shred of suspicion that they are carrying weapons or contraband. The plaintiff in this case had been erroneously arrested for outstanding bench warrants for an unpaid fine that he had actually paid, and was twice subjected to forced strip searches; he sued, claiming a violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In essence, the Florence ruling grants prison officials license to subject every single arrested individual entering the general prison population to humiliating and highly invasive strip searches (that’s 13 million people every year, with hugely disproportionately minority representation), based on the definitive police state mentality — one that has been applied over and over — that isolated risks justify the most sweeping security measures. This policy has been applied to those arrested for offenses such as dog leash laws, peaceful protests, and driving with an expired license.
What virtually none of this anti-Florence commentary mentioned, though, was that the Obama DOJ formally urged the Court to reach the conclusion it reached. While the Obama administration and court conservatives have been at odds in a handful of high-profile cases (most notably Citizens United and the health care law), this is yet another case, in a long line, where the Obama administration was able to have its preferred policies judicially endorsed by getting right-wing judges to embrace them:
In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that in the interest of security, prisons could conduct visual body cavity searches of all detainees after they had contact with outsiders. For years after that ruling, lower courts ruled that the prison had to have a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee was concealing contraband before subjecting him to a strip search upon entering the facility.
But in recent years, some courts have begun to allow a blanket policy to strip search all arrestees.
The Obama administration is siding with the prisons in the case and urging the court to allow a blanket policy for all inmates set to enter the general prison population.
“When you have a rule that treats everyone the same,” Justice Department lawyer Nicole A. Saharsky argued, “you don’t have folks that are singled out. You don’t have any security gaps.”
As The Guardian said yesterday: “The decision was a victory for the jails and for the Obama administration, which argued for an across-the-board rule allowing strip-searches of all those entering the general jail population, even those arrested on minor offenses.” Civil rights lawyer Stephen Bergstein added:
This evidence suggesting that minor offenders are not smuggling contraband into jails was not good enough for the Obama administration, which is asking the Supreme Court to endorse the restrictive strip search policy in Florence. At oral argument, a lawyer for the Obama Justice Department told the Supreme Court that “[p]rotesters…who decide deliberately to get arrested… might be stopped by the police, they see the squad car behind them. They might have a gun or contraband in their car and think hey, I’m going to put that on my person, I just need to get it somewhere that is not going to be found during a patdown search, and then potentially they have the contraband with them.” This position would probably be identical to that advanced by a Republican presidential administration.
What makes the Obama DOJ’s position in favor of this broad strip-search authority particularly remarkable is that federal prisons do not even have this policy. As The New York Times‘ Adam Liptak explained, “the procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures.”
It’s rather strange to so vehemently condemn the ruling in this case as a warped, sadistic police state excess, and not even mention that the Obama DOJ vigorously advocated for this very result. The position taken by the DOJ is not dispositive: the Court is free, of course, to rule the opposite way. But the U.S. Government’s position before a federal court is definitely influential in general (which is why I wrote earlier today that the Obama DOJ deserves credit for refusing to defend the constitutionality of DOMA), and in a case like this specifically, it matters a great deal that the U.S. government is insisting that this broad strip-search authority is necessary for prison security. Yes, the five-judge conservative majority is to blame for this outcome, but so, too, is the Obama administration, which advocated and urged it.
When I first started reading liberal blogs and then when I began participating in their conversations, they were principally devoted to two types of critiques: (1) the establishment media was far too deferential to Bush/Cheney policies and political leaders in general; and (2) the Democratic Party was far too accommodating of GOP policies, either out of misguided conviction or political fear. Even as it remained faithful to the notion of still supporting the Democrats in general elections, that activist template offered a vital push-back against the Democratic Party from the left. By contrast, the right-wing blogosphere back then was typically mocked as irrelevant — even by GOP politicians — because it was nothing more than a subservient cog in the RNC and right-wing noise machine, with no purpose other than to faithfully disseminate the Bush administration’s message of the day.
This is why it’s been so disappointing, and I think destructive, to watch that push-back model, with some exceptions, basically evaporate during the Obama presidency. In a speech to the Associated Press today, President Obama boasted that his signature domestic policies were basically conservative (he labeled them “centrist”): his individual mandate, he said, was pioneered by conservatives and the Heritage Foundation; his cap-and-trade policy was first proposed by Bush 41; federal spending is lower now than it was during any year of the Reagan administration, etc. Even the successes most touted by his supporters — the Detroit bailout, TARP, the withdrawal from Iraq — were started by Bush 43. Obama’s foreign policy and civil liberties assaults also, of course, were largely shared by his predecessor and are frequently praised by the Right.
What is needed most — a strong countervailing force to these policies coming from a place other than the neoconservative Right and corporatist oligarchs — is exactly what is missing. That there is such vehement condemnation over this strip-search ruling, almost all of which ignores the fact that the Obama administration was fully on board with it and helped to bring it about, is — as this VastLeft cartoon suggests — a microcosm for how and why that has happened.
Steve Jobs and Drug Policy October 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: Criminal Justice, doj, drug policy, drug use, eric holder, glenn greenwald, harm reduction, medical marijuana, psycheldilics, roger hollander, steve jobs, steve jobs lsd, victimless crime, war on drugs
Saturday, Oct 8, 2011 8:43 AM 17:12:54 CDT
By Glenn Greenwald
It’s fascinating to juxtapose America’s reverence for Steve Jobs’ accomplishments and its draconian drug policy with this, from the New York Times‘ obituary of Jobs:
[Jobs] told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.
Unlike many people who have enjoyed success, Jobs is not saying that he was able to succeed despite his illegal drug use; he’s saying his success is in part — in substantial part — because of those illegal drugs (he added that Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once”). These quotes (first published by a New York Times reporter) have been around for some time but have been only rarely discussed in the recent hagiographies of Jobs: a notable omission given that he himself praised those experiences as an integral part of his identity and one of the most important things he ever did. A surprisingly good Time Magazine article elaborates on this Jobs-LSD connection further:
The paradoxes of love have perhaps never been clearer than in our relationships with Apple products — the warm, fleshy desire we feel for such cold, hard, glassy objects. But Jobs knew how to inspire material lust. He knew that consumers want something that not only sparkles and awes, but also feels accessible, easy to use, an object with which we want to merge and to feel one and the same. . . .
Not coincidentally, that’s how people describe the experience of taking psychedelic drugs. It feels profoundly artificial yet deeply real, both high-tech and earthy-crunchy, human and mystically divine — in a word, transcendent. Jobs had this experience. . . . As attested by the nearly spiritual devotion so many consumers have to Jobs’ creations, the former Apple chief (and indeed many other top technology pioneers) appeared to have found enduring inspiration in LSD. Research shows that the psychedelic experience is, in fact, long lasting: a new study published last week found that people who took magic mushrooms (psilocybin) had long-term personality changes, becoming more open, more curious, more intellectually engaged and more creative. These personality shifts persisted more than a year after taking the drugs.
America’s harsh prohibitionist drug policies are grounded in the premise that the prohibited substances have little or no redeeming value and cannot be used without life-destroying consequences. Yet the evidence of its falsity is undeniable. Here is one of the most admired men in America, its greatest contemporary industrialist, hailing one of the most scorned of these substances as integral to his success and intellectual and personal growth. The current President commendably acknowledged cocaine and marijuana use while there is evidence suggesting the prior President also used those substances. One of America’s most accomplished athletes was caught using marijuana at the peak of his athletic achievements. And millions upon millions of American adults have consumed some or many of those criminally prohibited substances, and themselves will say (like Jobs) that they had important and constructive experiences with those drugs or know someone who did.
In short, the deceit at the heart of America’s barbaric drug policy — that these substances are such unadulterated evils that adults should be put in cages for voluntarily using them — is more glaring than ever. In light of his comments about LSD, it’s rather difficult to reconcile America’s adoration for Steve Jobs with its ongoing obsession with prosecuting and imprisoning millions of citizens (mostly poor and minorities) for doing what Jobs, Obama, George W. Bush, Michael Phelps and millions of others have done. Obviously, most of these banned substances — like alcohol, gambling, sex, junk food consumption, prescription drug use and a litany of other legal activities — can create harm to the individual and to others when abused (though America’s solution for drug users — prison — also creates rather substantial harm to the drug user and to others, including their spouses, parents and children: at least as much harm as, and usually substantially more than, the banned drugs themselves). But no rational person can doubt that these substances can also be used responsibly and constructively; just study Steve Jobs’ life if you doubt that.
Jobs’ praise for his LSD use is what I kept returning to as I read about the Obama DOJ’s heinous new policy to use the full force of criminal prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries in California. In October, 2009, I enthusiastically praised Eric Holder and the DOJ for appearing to fulfill Obama’s campaign promise by refraining from prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries in compliance with state law (a “rare instance of unadulterated good news from Washington,” I gushed). As I wrote:
Criminalizing cancer and AIDS patients for using a substance that is (a) prescribed by their doctors and (b) legal under the laws of their state has always been abominable. The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing.
Yet now, U.S. Attorneys in California will expend substantial law enforcement resources to persecute medical marijuana dispensaries that sell to consenting adults even though those transactions have been legalized by the voters of California and 16 other states (to see what a complete reversal this is of everything Obama and Holder previously said on this subject, see here).
Progressives love to point out the hypocrisy of social conservatives who righteously rail against (and demand legal sanction for) the very same sexually sinful behavior in which they enthusiastically engage — and rightly so. But what about a society that continues to imprison millions of human beings for using substances that vast numbers of people in the nation have secretly used and enjoyed, or which empowers people with the Oval Office, or reveres people like Steve Jobs, who have done the same? The DOJ claims dispensaries are now masking non-medical marijuana sales, leading to this question: even leaving aside the rather significant (and shameful) fact that drug laws are enforced with overwhelming dispropritionality against racial minorities, what possible justification is there for putting someone in a cage for using a substance they choose to use without any evidence that they’ve harmed anyone else or even risked harm to anyone else?
All of this becomes even more incomprehensible when one considers the never-ending preaching about the need for “austerity,” which means: depriving poor and middle class citizens of services and financial security. In this environment, how can it possibly be justified to expend substantial sums of money investigating, arresting, prosecuting and then imprisoning large numbers of people for doing nothing more than consuming marijuana or selling it in states where it is legal to sell it to other consenting adults? That makes about as much sense as deploying a State Department army of 16,000 for a permanent presence in Iraq at the same time political and financial elites plot cuts to Social Security and Medicare. I genuinely don’t understand why a policy that single-handedly sustains America’s status as World’s Largest Jailer — and that consigns huge numbers of minorities and America’s poor to prison and permanent criminal status for no good reason, in the process breaking up families at astonishing rates (to say nothing of the inexorable erosion of civil liberties) — isn’t a higher priority for progressives.
But just like the senseless and monumentally wasteful Endless military War, America’s Drug War feeds the pockets of a powerful private industry: the growing privatized prison industry, which needs more and more prisoners for profits, gets many from drug convictions, and thus vehemently opposes and lobbies against any reform to the nation’s drug laws as well as reform of harsh criminal sentencing. That, combined with self-righteous, deeply hypocritical anti-drug moralizing and complete obliviousness to evidence, has ensured not only that the Drug War and its prison obsession endures, but that it remains outside the scope of what can even be discussed in mainstream political circles. And as the Obama DOJ’s newly intensified attacks on marijuana demonstrate, the problem is, in many respects, getting worse, even as most of the world moves toward a much more restrained and health-based (rather than crime-based) approach to dealing with drug usage.
* * * * *
In 2009, I produced a study on the overwhelming success of drug decriminalization in Portugal, published by the CATO Institute. That study has been widely cited and discussed in numerous places, including receiving a critical response from the White House Drug Control Policy Office. I’m now working on an update to that report which I will present at this excellent Conference on Ending the Drug War, to take place on November 15, in Washington D.C., featuring former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Castañeda, the Speaker of the Uruguayan House of Deputies Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou and several others. The Conference is open to the public and tickets can be obtained at the above link.
UPDATE: In The Los Angeles Times today, a former Deputy Chief of the L.A.P.D. details how drug prohibition “has cost our country more than $1 trillion in cash and much more in immeasurable social harm”; “the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition“; and “that ending today’s prohibition on drugs — starting with marijuana — would do more to hurt the [drug] cartels than any level of law enforcement skill or dedication ever can.” In sum:
There’s no doubt that the violence, the growth of cartels and gangs, the overpopulation of our prisons and the squandering of our police resources would not occur if we eliminated illegal drug profits and implemented a non-criminal approach to regulating drugs. We did this once with alcohol, and there’s no reason we can’t do it with other drugs today.
There may be no reason we can’t do it, but there are plenty of reasons we don’t do it, beginning with the large number of government and private factions that benefit in countless ways from this ongoing war.
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald. More Glenn Greenwald
Jose Padilla and how American justice functions September 20, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, War on Terror.
Tags: ashcroft, Criminal Justice, cruel and unusual, dirty bomber, doj, enemy combatant, glenn greenwald, habaes corpus, jose padilla, national security, presidential power, roger hollander, rumsfeld, solitary confinement, troture, war on terror
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(updated below – Update II)
The story of Jose Padilla, continuing through the events of yesterday, expresses so much of the true nature of the War on Terror and especially America’s justice system. In 2002, the American citizen was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, publicly labeled by John Ashcroft as The Dirty Bomber, and then imprisoned for the next three years on U.S. soil as an “enemy combatant” without charges of any kind, and denied all contact with the outside world, including even a lawyer. During his lawless incarceration, he was kept not just in extreme solitary confinement but extreme sensory deprivation as well, and was abused and tortured to the point of severe and probably permanent mental incapacity (Bush lawyers told a court that they were unable to produce videos of Padilla’s interrogations because those videos were mysteriously and tragically “lost”).
Needless to say, none of the government officials responsible for this abuse of a U.S. citizen on American soil has been held accountable in any way. That’s because President Obama decreed that Bush officials shall not be criminally investigated for War on Terror crimes, while his Justice Department vigorously defended John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld and other responsible functionaries in civil suits brought by Padilla seeking damages for what was done to him.
As usual, the Obama DOJ cited national security imperatives and sweeping theories of presidential power to demand that Executive Branch officials be fully shielded from judicial scrutiny (i.e., shielded from the rule of law) for their illegal acts (the Obama DOJ: “Here, where Padilla’s damage claims directly relate, inter alia, to the President’s war powers, including whether and when a person captured in this country during an armed conflict can be held in military detention under the laws of war, it would be particularly inappropriate for this Court to unnecessarily reach the merits of the constitutional claims” (emphasis added)). With one rare exception, federal courts, as usual, meekly complied. Thus, a full-scale shield of immunity has been constructed around the high-level government officials who put Padilla in a hermetically sealed cage with no charges and then abused and tortured him for years.
The treatment Padilla has received in the justice system is, needless to say, the polar opposite of that enjoyed by these political elites. Literally days before it was required to justify to the U.S. Supreme Court how it could imprison an American citizen for years without charges or access to a lawyer, the Bush administration suddenly indicted Padilla — on charges unrelated to, and far less serious than, the accusation that he was A Dirty Bomber — and then successfully convinced the Supreme Court to refuse to decide the legality of Padilla’s imprisonment on the grounds of “mootness” (he’s no longer being held without charges so there’s nothing to decide).
At Padilla’s trial, the judge excluded all evidence of the abuse to which he was subjected and even admitted statements he made while in custody before he was Mirandized. Unsurprisingly, Padilla was convicted on charges of “supporting Islamic terrorism overseas” — but not any actual Terrorist plots (“The government’s chief evidence was an application form that government prosecutors said Mr. Padilla, 36, filled out to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000″) — and then sentenced to 17 years in prison, all above and beyond the five years he was imprisoned with no due process.
Not content with what was done to Padilla, the Bush DOJ — and then the Obama DOJ — contested the sentence on appeal, insisting that it was too lenient; Padilla also appealed, arguing that the trial court made numerous errors in excluding his evidence while allowing the Government’s. Yesterday, a federal appeals panel of the 11th Circuit issued a ruling, by a 2-1 vote, rejecting each and every one of Padilla’s arguments. It then took the very unusual step of vacating the 17-year-sentence imposed by the trial court as too lenient and, in effect, ordered the trial judge to impose a substantially harsher prison term:
Padilla’s sentence is substantively unreasonable because it does not adequately reflect his criminal history, does not adequately account for his risk of recidivism, was based partly on an impermissible comparison to sentences imposed in other terrorism cases, and was based in part on inappropriate factors . . . .
As the dissenting judge explained, this decision is extraordinary because trial judges — not judges sitting afterward on appeal — are the ones who hear all the evidence and thus have very wide discretion to determine the appropriate sentence. But more so, in this case, a sentence less than the full maximum was warranted because “the trial judge correctly concluded that a sentence reduction is available to offenders who have been subjected to extraordinarily harsh conditions of pre-trial confinement.” About that point, the dissenting judge documented:
Padilla presented substantial, detailed, and compelling evidence about the inhumane, cruel, and physically, emotionally, and mentally painful conditions in which he had already been detained for a period of almost four years. For example, he presented evidence at sentencing of being kept in extreme isolation at he military brig in South Carolina where he was subjected to cruel interrogations, prolonged physical and mental pain, extreme environmental stresses, noise and temperature variations, and deprivation of sensory stimuli and sleep.
In sentencing Padilla, the trial judge accepted the facts of his confinement that had been presented both during the trial and at sentencing, which also included evidence about the impact on one’s mental health of prolonged isolation and solitary confinement, all of which were properly taken into account in deciding how much more confinement should be imposed. None of these factual findings, nor the trial judge’s consideration of them in fashioning Padilla’s sentence, are challenged on appeal by the government or the majority.
Thus: American officials who are responsible for this “inhumane” and “cruel” abuse of detainees act with full impunity, as usual. Those who are its victims are not merely denied all redress (though they are), and do not merely have the courthouse doors slammed in their faces in the name of secrecy, national security and presidential power (though they do), but they are also mercilessly punished to the fullest extent possible.
It should be said that part of what happened here is just the typical politicization of the judiciary, as the two-judge majority was comprised of a hard-core right-wing Reagan/Bush 41 appointee from Alabama (Joel Dubina), while the other was one of Bush 43′s most controversial appointees, the former Alabama Attorney General who was filibustered by the Democrats and allowed onto the bench only by virtue of the “Gang of 14″ compromise (William Pryor). Meanwhile, the dissenting judge was born in Mexico to Syrian parents and, after moving to Miami at the age of 6, became the first female judge (as well as the first Hispanic and Arab American judge) on the Florida Supreme Court (rising to Chief Justice), and was a Clinton appointee to the federal appeals court (Rosemary Barkett); Barkett, incidentally, dissented from an 11th Circuit ruling denying a habeas petition to Troy Davis, the African-American death row inmate scheduled to be executed by the State of Georgia this week despite mountains of evidence showing his innocence. So this episode highlights one of the few genuine differences that remain between the two parties that can truly impact people’s lives: their judicial appointments.
But the overriding theme is what we have seen time and again, that which — as it turns out — is the subject of my book to be released next month: America is plagued by a two-tiered justice system in which political and financial elites enjoy virtually absolute immunity for even the most egregious of crimes, while ordinary Americans (and especially fully stigmatized ones like Padilla) are subject with few defenses to the world’s largest and one of its most merciless systems of punishment. Thus do Jose Padilla’s lawless jailers and torturers walk free and prosper, while no punishment is sufficiently harsh for him.
* * * * *
Almost immediately after I published this, it was announced that Troy Davis’ last chance for clemency has been denied, virtually assuring that a likely innocent man will be killed by the State of Georgia tomorrow. Obviously, everything I just wrote applies in abundance to that event.
UPDATE: As usual, America’s propaganda-spreading, government-serving establishment media spouts blatant falsehoods to justify all this; from ABC News:
Padilla was never even charged with, let alone convicted of, having anything to do with a “dirty bomb.” “Dirty Bomber” was the villain nickname given to him by Bush officials and mindlessy repeated by its media to justify the treatment to which he was subjected. The U.S. Government gave up long ago using this accusation to demonize him (NYT on his conviction: “The dirty bomb accusations were not mentioned during Mr. Padilla’s three-month trial here“), but their lying “watchdog media” servants continue unabated. Who would possibly object to a longer prison term for A Dirty Bomber who tried to detonate radioactive weapons in American cities? The fact that not even the Government charged with him that is no deterrent to its media continuing to claim he did.
UPDATE II: Padilla was consigned to the SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado to serve his 17-year sentence. The New York Bar Association last week issued a comprehensive study of America’s SuperMax system and concluded:
But 17 years in a torture system like that — on top of the 5 years of abuse he endured — is insufficient: “too lenient.”
Tags: Abu Ghraib, cheney, cia prisons, convention against torture, detainees, doj, eric holder, george busy, george tenet, Guantanamo, hrw, human rights, International law, justice department, naseema noor, olc, rendition, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, torture memos, waterboarding
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Published on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON – Senior officials under the former George W. Bush administration knowingly authorized the torture of terrorism suspects held under United States custody, a Human Right Watch (HRW) report released here Tuesday revealed.
Titled “Getting Away with Torture”, the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others. (photo: pantagrapher)
Titled “Getting Away with Torture”, the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others.
Newly de-classified memos, transcriptions of congressional hearings, and other sources indicate that Bush officials authorized the use of interrogation techniques almost universally considered torture – such as waterboarding – as well as the operation of covert CIA prisons abroad and the rendition of detainees to other countries where they were subsequently tortured.
HRW also criticized the United States under the current Barack Obama administration for failing to meets it obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other inhumane treatment.
“President Obama has defended the decision not to prosecute officials in his predecessor’s administration by arguing that the country needs ‘to look forward, not backward,’” said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth. “[He] has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime.”
To date, both the Bush and Obama administrations have successfully prevented courts from reviewing the merits of torture allegations in civil lawsuits by arguing that the cases involve sensitive information, which, if revealed, might endanger national security.
Last year, Bush defended the use of waterboarding on the grounds that the Justice Department deemed it legal. In 2002, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel had drafted memos approving the legality of a list of abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. However, HRW documents evidence that shows senior administration officials pressured the politically-appointed lawyers to write these legal justifications.
“Senior Bush officials shouldn’t be allowed to shape and hand-pick legal advice and then hide behind it as if were autonomously delivered,” Roth said.
HRW further recommends that Congress establish an independent, nonpartisan commission to examine the mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and compensate victims of torture, as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
“Without [a commission], torture very much remains within the toolbox of accepted policies. People are not going to back away from it until there is accountability,” Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security and author of “The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days”, told IPS.
In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate detainee abuse, but limited the mandate to only “unauthorized” acts, which effectively excluded violations like waterboarding and forcing prisoners to maintain stress positions that were approved by the Bush administration.
But on Jun. 30 of this year, the Justice Department announced that it would continue probing only two of nearly 100 allegations of torture. The open cases involve the deaths of two men – Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi, and Gul Rahman, an Afghan – in CIA custody.
Human and civil rights group criticized the narrow scope of the torture investigations, while HRW said they failed to address the systematic character of the abuses.
“The U.S. government’s pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from acts of individuals who broke the rules,” Roth said. “It resulted from decisions made by senior U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast aside the rules.” If the U.S. does not pursue criminal investigations, HRW is urging other countries to exercise universal jurisdiction under international law and prosecute the aforementioned officials.
A number of former detainees have already taken this step by filing criminal complaints in courts outside of the U.S.
In February 2011, alleged victims of torture living in Switzerland planned to file a suit against Bush, causing him to cancel his trip there.
Another investigation is underway in Spain, where the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights requested a subpoena for a former commander of the Abu Ghraib prison to explain his role in the alleged torture of four detainees.
Washington’s failure to investigate its own citizens for abuses like torture ultimately undercuts its efforts to hold other governments accountable for human rights violations, according to HRW.
“The U.S. is right to call for justice when serious international crimes are committed in places like Darfur, Libya, and Sri Lanka, but there should be no double standards,” Roth said.
“When the U.S. government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice,” he added.
Failing to prosecute ultimately sends the message that “if you are powerful, you can get away with even torture,” Greenberg said.
Torture Crimes Officially, Permanently Shielded July 1, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, antonio taguba, black sites, bush cheney torture, bush lawyers, CIA torture, Criminal Justice, doj, eric holder, geneva conventions, glenn greenwald, International law, mccaffrey, obama torture, rendition, roger hollander, rule of law, torture, torture deaths, toture regime
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In August, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder — under continuous, aggressive prodding by the Obama White House — announced that three categories of individuals responsible for Bush-era torture crimes would be fully immunized from any form of criminal investigation and prosecution: (1) Bush officials who ordered the torture (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld); (2) Bush lawyers who legally approved it (Yoo, Bybee, Levin), and (3) those in the CIA and the military who tortured within the confines of the permission slips they were given by those officials and lawyers (i.e., “good-faith” torturers). The one exception to this sweeping immunity was that low-level CIA agents and servicemembers who went so far beyond the torture permission slips as to basically commit brutal, unauthorized murder would be subject to a “preliminary review” to determine if a full investigation was warranted — in other words, the Abu Ghraib model of justice was being applied, where only low-ranking scapegoats would be subject to possible punishment while high-level officials would be protected.
Yesterday, it was announced that this “preliminary review” by the prosecutor assigned to conduct it, U.S. Attorney John Durham, is now complete, and — exactly as one would expect — even this category of criminals has been almost entirely protected, meaning a total legal whitewash for the Bush torture regime:
The Justice Department has opened full criminal investigations of the deaths in CIA custody of two detainees, including one who perished at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The decision, announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., means continued legal jeopardy for several CIA operatives but at the same time closes the book on inquiries that potentially threatened many others. A federal prosecutor reviewed 101 cases in which agency officers and contractors interrogated suspected terrorists during years of military action after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but found cause to pursue criminal cases in only two. . . .
The two token cases to be investigated involve the most grotesque brutality imaginable: they apparently are (1) a detainee who froze to death in an American secret prison in Afghanistan in 2002 after being ordered stripped and chained to a concrete floor, and (2) the 2003 death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib whose body was infamously photographed by Abu Ghraib giving a thumbs-up sign. All other crimes in the Bush torture era will be fully protected. Lest there be any doubt about what a profound victory this is for those responsible for the torture regime, consider the reaction of the CIA:
“On this, my last day as director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us,” said a statement from CIA Director Leon Panetta, who will take over as defense secretary on Friday. “We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency’s history” . . . . At CIA headquarters on Thursday, Holder’s announcement was greeted with relief. . . .
Consider what’s being permanently shielded from legal accountability. The Bush torture regime extended to numerous prisons around the world, in which tens of thousands of mostly Muslim men were indefinitely imprisoned without a whiff of due process, and included a network of secret prisons — “black sites” — purposely placed beyond the monitoring reach of even international human rights groups, such as the International Red Cross.
Over 100 detainees died during U.S. interrogations, dozens due directly to interrogation abuse. Gen. Barry McCaffrey said: “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who oversaw the official investigation into detainee abuse, wrote: “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Thanks to the Obama DOJ, that is no longer in question. The answer is resoundingly clear: American war criminals, responsible for some of the most shameful and inexcusable crimes in the nation’s history — the systematic, deliberate legalization of a worldwide torture regime — will be fully immunized for those crimes. And, of course, the Obama administration has spent years just as aggressively shielding those war criminals from all other forms of accountability beyond the criminal realm: invoking secrecy and immunity doctrines to prevent their victims from imposing civil liability, exploiting their party’s control of Congress to suppress formal inquiries, and pressuring and coercing other nations not to investigate their own citizens’ torture at American hands.
All of those efforts, culminating in yesterday’s entirely unsurprising announcement, means that the U.S. Government has effectively shielded itself from even minimal accountability for its vast torture crimes of the last decade. Without a doubt, that will be one of the most significant, enduring and consequential legacies of the Obama presidency.
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy. His next book is titled “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.”
The always-expanding bipartisan Surveillance State May 20, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
Tags: aclu, bipartisan, civil liberties, democracy, doj, eric holder, free speech, glenn greenwald, justice department, national security, obama administration, olc, patriot act, roger hollander, state secrets, surveillance state, war on terror, whistel blowers, whistle-blowers, whistleblowers
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When I wrote earlier this week about Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the passage I hailed as “the single paragraph that best conveys the prime, enduring impact of the Obama presidency” included this observation from Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin: “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state.“ There are three events — all incredibly from the last 24 hours — which not only prove how true that is, but vividly highlight how it functions and why it is so odious.
First, consider what Democrats and Republicans just jointly did with regard to the Patriot Act, the very naming of which once sent progressives into spasms of vocal protest and which long served as the symbolic shorthand for Bush/Cheney post-9/11 radicalism:
Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, the controversial law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that governs the search for terrorists on American soil.
The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner calls for a vote before May 27, when parts of the current act expire. The idea is to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government. . . .
From its inception, the law’s increased surveillance powers have been criticized by liberals and conservatives alike as infringements on free speech rights and protections against unwarranted searches and seizures.
Some Patriot Act opponents suggest that Osama bin Laden’s demise earlier this month should prompt Congress to reconsider the law, written when the terrorist leader was at the peak of his power. But the act’s supporters warn that al-Qaida splinter groups, scattered from Pakistan to the United States and beyond, may try to retaliate.
“Now more than ever, we need access to the crucial authorities in the Patriot Act,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This will be the second time that the Democratic Congress — with the support of President Obama (who once pretended to favor reforms) — has extended the Patriot Act without any changes. And note the rationale for why it was done in secret bipartisan meetings: to ensure “as little debate as possible” and “to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government.” Indeed, we wouldn’t want to have any messy, unpleasant democratic debates over “the expanded power the law gives to the government.” Here we find yet again the central myth of our political culture: that there is too little bipartisanship when the truth is there is little in Washington but that. And here we also find — yet again — that the killing of Osama bin Laden is being exploited to justify a continuation, rather than a reduction, in the powers of the National Security and Surveillance States.
Next we have a new proposal from the Obama White House to drastically expand the scope of “National Security Letters” — the once-controversial and long-abused creation of the Patriot Act that allows the FBI to obtain private records about American citizens without the need for a subpoena or any court approval — so that it now includes records of your Internet activities:
White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity
The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.
The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. . .
Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.” . . .
To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is “incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting,” said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.
The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. “You’re bringing a big category of data — records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information — outside of judicial review,” said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.
So first they conspire with the GOP to extend the Patriot Act without any reforms, then seek to expand its most controversial and invasive provisions to obtain the Internet activities of American citizens without having to bother with a subpoena or judicial approval — “they” being the Democratic White House.
Most critically, the government’s increased ability to learn more and more about the private activities of its citizens is accompanied — as always — by an ever-increasing wall of secrecy it erects around its own actions. Thus, on the very same day that we have an extension of the Patriot Act and a proposal to increase the government’s Internet snooping powers, we have this:
The Justice Department should publicly release its legal opinion that allows the FBI to obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process, a watchdog group asserts.
The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel violated federal open-records laws by refusing to release the memo.
The suit was prompted in part by McClatchy’s reporting that highlighted the existence of the memo and the department’s refusal to release it. Earlier this year, McClatchy also requested a copy and was turned down.
The decision not to release the memo is noteworthy because the Obama administration — in particular the Office of Legal Counsel — has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration was. By turning down the foundation’s request for a copy, the department is ensuring that its legal arguments in support of the FBI’s controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept secret.
What’s extraordinary about the Obama DOJ’s refusal to release this document is that it does not reveal the eavesdropping activities of the Government but only its legal rationale for why it is ostensibly permitted to engage in those activities. The Bush DOJ’s refusal to release its legal memos authorizing its surveillance and torture policies was unquestionably one of the acts that provoked the greatest outrage among Democratic lawyers and transparency advocates (see, for instance, Dawn Johnsen’s scathing condemnation of the Bush administration for its refusal to release OLC legal reasoning: “reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”
The way a republic is supposed to function is that there is transparency for those who wield public power and privacy for private citizens. The National Security State has reversed that dynamic completely, so that the Government (comprised of the consortium of public agencies and their private-sector “partners”) knows virtually everything about what citizens do, but citizens know virtually nothing about what they do (which is why WikiLeaks specifically and whistleblowers generally, as one of the very few remaining instruments for subverting that wall of secrecy, are so threatening to them). Fortified by always-growing secrecy weapons, everything they do is secret — including even the “laws” they secretly invent to authorize their actions — while everything you do is open to inspection, surveillance and monitoring.
This dynamic threatens to entrench irreversible, absolute power for reasons that aren’t difficult to understand. Knowledge is power, as the cliché teaches. When powerful factions can gather unlimited information about citizens, they can threaten, punish, and ultimately deter any meaningful form of dissent: J. Edgar Hoover infamously sought to drive Martin Luther King, Jr. to suicide by threatening to reveal King’s alleged adultery discovered by illicit surveillance; as I described earlier today in my post on New York’s new Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer was destroyed in the middle of challenging Wall Street as the result of a massive federal surveillance scheme that uncovered his prostitution activities. It is the rare person indeed with nothing to hide, and allowing the National Security State faction unfettered, unregulated intrusive power into the private affairs of citizens — as we have been inexorably doing — is to vest them with truly awesome, unlimited power.
Conversely, allowing government officials to shield their own conduct from transparency and (with the radical Bush/Obama version of the “State Secrets privilege”) even judicial review ensures that National Security State officials (public and private) can do whatever they want without any detection and (therefore) without limit or accountability. That is what the Surveillance State, at its core, is designed to achieve: the destruction of privacy for individual citizens and an impenetrable wall of secrecy for those with unlimited surveillance power. And as these three events just from the last 24 hours demonstrate, this system — with fully bipartisan support — is expanding more rapidly than ever.