Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nixon redux: "It's not a crime if nothing was done about it..."

Back in the halcyon days of Tricky Dick, we had this nugget of jurisprudence from one lawyer:
[Nixon, to David Frost]: "Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal."
Now, our esteemed Attorney General Michael Mukasey, lauded prior to confirmation for his judicial temperament and experience, has taken on his new job with gusto, and refined this 'logic'.

First, he's declined to decide whether waterboarding is torture on the grounds that we're not doing it any more (for the time being):
Mukasey said in the letter that waterboarding -- a simulated drowning meant to coerce disclosures by a resisting prisoner -- is not part of a "limited set of methods" being used by CIA interrogators. Mukasey said he has found the current methods, which he did not specify, to be legal.

"I understand that you and some other members of the (Judiciary) Committee may feel that I should go further in my review, and answer questions concerning the legality of waterboarding under current law," Mukasey wrote to Leahy. "I understand the strong interest in this question, but I do not think it would be responsible for me, as attorney general, to provide an answer."

(see also my post below)

Of course, should the preznit decide that the CIA should do waterboarding again, we'll just have that same convenient "grey area", to be filled with shredded OLC memos, blathering about the vagueness of statutes and treaties, and "reasonable people can disagree"....

Next on the agenda, warrantless wiretapping:

In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Mike Mukasey refused to answer whether Bush had violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Under questioning from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Mukasey said he “can’t contemplate” a situation where President Bush would assert “Article II authority to do something that the law forbids.”

Specter shot back, “Well, he did just that in violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act…didn’t he?” Mukasey continued to hedge:
MUKASEY:I think we are now in a situation where [that issue] had been brought within statutes, and that’s the procedure going forward

SPECTER: That’s not the point. The point is that he acted in violation of statutes, didn’t he?

MUKASEY: I don’t know whether he acted in violation of statutes.
(h/t to Think Progress)

That's all just "water over the cellophane wrapped over the mou..." -- umm, sorry, "... over the damned". That's sooooooooo 'yesterday'. Can't we just move on?!?!? After all, it's now "been brought within statutes" (thanks, spineless Democrats afeerd of the Republicans calling them "Osama bin Forgotten's little helpers"), and no one's breaking the law any more. Kind of like, "Don't put me in jail, I'm good now, I promise, and won't do any more axe murders...." Why should the Department of 'Just Us' prosecute the maladministration (see: "Nixon" and "not illegal")? And while we're at it, seeing as the DoJ can only thwart criminal actions, let's pass a law to give amnesty to the telecoms as well, so that we can prevent even citizen action in civil court that might hold lawbreakers actually accountable for their illegal actions....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Someone needs to read their job description

Thanks to the spineless and craven Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein (and a supporting cast of dozens of Dubya-sycophantic Republican foamers), we're treated to this spectacle:
"I understand that you and some other members of the (Judiciary) Committee may feel that I should go further in my review, and answer questions concerning the legality of waterboarding under current law," [recently confirmed Attorney General] Mukasey wrote to Leahy. "I understand the strong interest in this question, but I do not think it would be responsible for me, as attorney general, to provide an answer."
"... After all, I'm just the preznit's consigliere, not the 'top law enforcement officer of the United States'. What do you want me to do? Say that the preznit's henchmen have been breaking the law or sumptin'?!?!?"

Just in case you're feeling better already because we've allegedly stopped waterboarding, there's also this nugget:
Mukasey said in the letter that waterboarding -- a simulated drowning meant to coerce disclosures by a resisting prisoner -- is not part of a "limited set of methods" being used by CIA interrogators. Mukasey said he has found the current methods, which he did not specify, to be legal.
So Mukasey's not completely unable to make legal determinations, as long as the answer is, "It's OK, just fraternity hazing".

Yes, indeedy, we've found other ways now, of course all perfectly legal, to get the answers we need (and which protected us so well before):

Al-Libi has been identified as the primary source of faulty prewar intelligence regarding chemical weapons training between Iraq and al Qaeda that was used by the Bush Administration to justify the invasion of Iraq. Specifically, he told interrogators that Iraq provided training to al-Qaeda in the area of weapons of mass destruction. In Cincinnati in October 2002, Bush informed the public:
"Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases."
This claim was repeated several times in the run-up to the war, including in Colin Powell's speech to the U.N Security Council on 5 February 2003, which concluded with a long recitation of the information provided by al-Libi. Powell's speech came less than a month after a then-classified CIA report concluding that the information provided by al-Libi was unreliable and about a year after a Defense Intelligence Agency report concluded the same thing.

Al-Libi recanted these claims in January 2004 after U.S. interrogators presented to him "new evidence from other detainees that cast doubt on his claims", according to Newsweek. The DIA concluded in February 2002 that Libi deliberately misled interrogators. Some speculate that his reason for giving disinformation was in order to draw the U.S. into an attack on Iraq, which al Qaeda believes will lead to a global jihad. Others suggest that al-Libi gave false information because of the use of excessively harsh interrogation methods. Al-Libi is believed to have been one of the high value detainees who prompted the Bush administration to initiate interrogation methods of questionable morality and legality. These critics suggest it wasn't hard for al-Libi to figure out what his interrogators were sure he knew, and that they wouldn't stop, until he told them what they wanted to hear.
But you can bet your boots that Mukasey won't tell you what these new "methods" are. That would reveal secrets, damage nash'nul securitah and be ... "irresponsible". Do you want the Terra-ists to win?

(h/t to Think Progress)


Now we're getting somewhere. The Muck is reporting that Biden's method of questioning is producing results:
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) said that he'd been getting the impression that Mukasey really thought about torture in relative terms, and wanted to know if that was so. Is it OK to waterboard someone if a nuclear weapon was hidden -- the Jack Bauer scenario -- but not OK to waterboard someone for more pedestrian information?

Mukasey responded that it was "not simply a relative issue," but there "is a statute where it is a relative issue," he added, citing the Detainee Treatment Act. That law engages the "shocks the conscience" standard, he explained, and you have to "balance the value of doing something against the cost of doing it."

So we've got our "TTB" scenario again.... What "shocks the conscience" for Mukasey is not getting a good deal for your torture.

(h/t to TPM Muckracker)

Update 2:

Prof. Marty Lederman has posts up on this subject as well at Balkinization, here, here and here.

From the "Do you want the Terra-ists to win" bin, Prof. Lederman puts forth this 'logic':
It would, Mukasey insists, "tip off adversaries" to define "the limits and contours of generally worded laws" that circumscribe U.S. interrogation policies.
Of course, "the limits and contours" of our laws need to secret, or the Terra-ists will have won. If there's not room for some slop when needed, why, we might even have to break the law on occasion, as the occasion may require. See my "TTB" link above for more on that.

But just to clarify things a bit, I'd note that "our laws" apply to everyone, not just those people whose missions and jobs are Tippy-Top, Sooper-Dooper, Hush-hush, Secret, such as soldiers, police, etc. I guess that such people will just have to guess as to the "contours", and do the best they can. There's always a preznitential pardon from Dubya for the luckless left in the dark....

Update 3:

Looks like someone else agrees with my title for this post:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., accused Mukasey of taking an overly narrow view of his responsibilities as attorney general and said he appeared to be acting as a corporate lawyer "unwilling to look back and dredge up past unpleasantness and risk potentially creating liability for the corporation."

"You are the top law-enforcement officer of the United States," Whitehouse said. "And prosecutors do look back. They do dredge up the past in order to do justice."
Mukasey was not chastened, though:
Said Mukasey: "I wear one hat. It says attorney general of the United States. There are a number of duties under that, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no divided responsibility or divided loyalty. There is one responsibility."
"... and that responsibility is to be "loyal", to do the preznit's bidding, and to cover the preznit's a$$."

Well, at least we've got that clear. Thank you, Chuck and Dianne.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain joins the Galaxy Quest cast

So our ever-so-reasonable, "moderate", maverick Republican John McCain shows his stuff:
"We will never surrender but there will be other wars.”
Move over, Dubya, we've got a new Commander Taggart....

"Never give up, never surrender!"

By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Warvan, I'm gonna hurl.... Can we get rid of all these 'politicians' that do foreign policy by TV show?

(h/t Think Progress)

Monday, January 28, 2008

The sad legacy of the Writer's Guild strike

From the Doofus-in-Chief of the maladministration, we get this crapola:
"We need to know who our enemies are and what they are plotting...."
Rrrrrrriiiiigggghhhtt. Like this: "Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday the evidence is 'overwhelming' that al Qaeda had a relationship with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and he said media reports suggesting that the 9/11 commission has reached a contradictory conclusion were 'irresponsible.'"
"... And we cannot afford to wait until after an attack..."
"... that comes in the form of a mushroom cloud."

I just can't wait for the Hollywood screen writers to resolve the strike. The damn reruns are getting to be soooooooooo tiresome....

(h/t to ThinkProgress)

Friday, January 25, 2008

A place where the faculty is doing the smokin'....

Down the river from where I used to live (and where my words were broadcast from on Tuesday mornings as well when the school carried WWUH shows when they weren't producing their own), the students seem to have a lot of sense.
WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) - Some students at Choate Rosemary Hall, the prestigious prep school attended by John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson, are protesting the choice of former presidential adviser Karl Rove as this year's commencement speaker.

Some plan to walk out, while others are trying to bring comedian Stephen Colbert to campus for an alternate speech. The campus newspaper has urged the school to reject Rove.

But, you have to wonder, WTF is the staff smoking there?!?!?:
Mary Verselli, Choate's director of strategic marketing and communications, said Rove was invited to talk about broader issues, not deliver a political speech.
Does she have any idea who Rove is, or what he's done his entire life? You know, like, scheme, smear, and lie his a$$ off for a living?


Rove's been scrubbed for the commencement (but he'll still talk). Good on 'em (the Rosemary Choate students, that is). Maybe they can give him a "warm" reception too....

Update 2:

The "state secrets privilege" raises its ugly head:
The media have been barred from covering a speech by former presidential adviser Karl Rove to students at a prestigious prep school on Monday.

Mary Verselli, spokeswoman for Choate Rosemary Hall, said Headmaster Edward Shanahan and Rove decided mutually to exclude the media.
Due to a recent (but secret) OLC opinion, any public testimony by Karl Rove is barred in the interest of nash'nul secur'tah under the "state secrets" doctrine.

(h/t to ThinkProgress)

Friday fishblogging

Posted by Picasa

Darth Cheney in his latest undisclosed location.

For reference, scrawled cowfish, Barbados, December 16, 2007, Nikon D70s with twin Ikelite DS-125 strobes, 105mm macro Nikkor lens, 1/125th @ F/16 [click picture for larger image]

For those looking for more Barbados fishblogging from the December dives, I'm looking for a bigger site more suited to displaying lots of HQ pictures (and uploading them easily). I'll let you know when I get one set up.... But feel free to come back for the fine commentary here. ;-)

Do we have a nomination for "Stoopidest Preznit Ever"?

This really takes the cake (h/t Think Progress and Digby):
Fox News reporter Bret Baier “was granted unprecedented access by George W. Bush” to put together a one hour documentary that reflects back on his presidency. The documentary will air this Sunday night.

Baier previewed his documentary — “George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish” — on Fox News this afternoon. He said that what surprised him from the interview was the President’s repeated efforts to link himself to Abraham Lincoln:
We talked a lot about President Lincoln. And there’s going to be a lot of people out there who watch this hour and say, is he trying to equate himself with Lincoln?

I tell you what — he thinks about Lincoln and the tough times that he had during the Civil War. 600,000 dead. The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.

And the President reflects on that. This is a President who is really reflecting on his place in history.
... yes, as Lincoln was "leaving office", his blood spilling on the Ford Theatre floor. Digby follows up with some speculation on what happened here (well, outside of total cluelessness at FauxSnooze):
Update: A number of readers have written in to point out how odd it is that Bush characterizes Lincoln as being hated when he was "leaving office," as if he doesn't know that Lincoln had actually just been reelected in a landslide, was despised only by those in the defeated south and was well ... shot.

It makes you wonder if Bush even knows the sixth grade level history of Lincoln's term. Of course, he does have a degree in history from Yale so it's a little bit hard to believe that, but it's been a long time and maybe he forgot.

As I wrote to one of the readers, I suspect that this whole Lincoln thing is something some sycophant told him in passing and he's adopted it as his coping mechanism: "don't worry Mr President, Lincoln was despised when he left office and he's now known as America's greatest president. You will be too!"

As poppy would say, "nah guh happen."
To be sure, I don't really think I can suggest any explanation for the psychopathology exhibited here; my only question is "Who will be the one to do the responsible thing and invoke the 25th Amendment?"

As for even being "despised" by those in the South, I'd just point out that certain people down there weren't asked much for their opinions at the time, much less allowed to vote, so it may be a bit hard to measure the popular sentiment there....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free translations ... Getchyour free translations ...

Along with the execrable performance of Senators Reid and Rockefeller on handing immunity out like candy to their campaign contributors, the telecom companies, we have this little nugget from the battle in the Senate over the FISA bill:
The Bush administration is trying to persuade the House to agree to retroactively shield from liability those companies that helped the government eavesdrop on Americans without the approval of the FISA court. About 40 such civil lawsuits are pending against telecommunications firms, and the administration says if the cases go forward they could reveal information that would compromise national security. It also contends that the companies could be bankrupted if the lawsuits are successful.
Hmmmmm.... "[The maladministration] contends that the companies could be bankrupted if the lawsuits are successful." Because the statutory penalties are on a per-violation basis, this sentence, translated from Republican into English, means:
"The telecoms, on our urging, did a whole sh*tload of warrantless snooping, maybe millions of such violations."
And unless you really think there's millions of Terra-ists roaming around in the U.S., that means that they've likely been snooping on the likes of you and me.


From the article above:

In a move to resolve the immunity issue, the key impasse on the legislation, the White House ended months of resistance Thursday and agreed to give House members access to secret documents about its warrantless wiretapping program.


Reyes and Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House intelligence panel, requested access to the White House documents in May. House Democrats say they will not support telecom immunity without seeing them first. Some senators were given access to the documents last fall.

The documents include the president's authorization of warrantless wiretapping, Justice Department legal opinions going back to 2001, and the requests sent to the telecommunications companies asking for their assistance.

One of the reasons that the maladministration claimed that the telecoms should be given immunity is that supposedly all this stuff is supposedly Sooper-Dooper tip-toppy-secret hush-hush, and the telecoms would be prevented from using such documentation in their defence in court because of this imposed secrecy, and thus wouldn't be able to defend themselves properly. So now the maladministration is releasing this documentation. There goes that excuse. Ooops.....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Unintentional forthrightness and the GOP

TalkingPointsMemo's TPMMuckracker and Paul Kiel find one of the GOP's stalwarts up to the usual, but curiously honest about it this time. Starts out innocently:
A couple of days ago, a group called Citizens United Not Timid filed papers with the IRS as a "527" organization. Then we saw that Roger Stone had signed on as the group's "assistant treasurer." Uh oh.

Stone, regular TPM readers know, is a Republican operative who prides himself as something of an elder statesman of GOP dirty tricks. He went to work for Richard Nixon at age nineteen, making him the "youngest Watergate dirty trickster." He continues to idolize the man, even sporting a tattoo of Nixon's face between his shoulder blades. On his website, the StoneZone, he proudly touts Nixon's endorsement of him as "one of the very few excellent political professionals."
So what's Stone's new 527 up to? The Weekly Standard is kind enough to fill us in:
Stone calls the meeting to order, as he taps the ash of a thick cigar into a Club Habana ashtray. "Dominican," he says, by way of identification. West, a Deadhead to the last, smokes something that's not a cigar and that smells sweeter. "Hawaiian," he tells me. Stone opens with an old groaner about why the woman he calls "Miss Queeny of Bossy-land" can't wear miniskirts. Scotty and Noodles like it. Miss Moneypenny, not as enthusiastic, tells him he'd benefit from a rimshot. "After half his life," adds West.

Stone wants everyone to understand the mission of the organization, simply and elegantly captured in its artwork, which Stone shows us. It features a red inverted triangle at the bottom of which, is a blue triangle with a white star in the middle. At first glance, it kind of looks like the Puerto Rican flag, or Captain America's martini glass. Stone designed it himself, and on second glance, it's meant to whisper, not scream, "special flower."

The text underneath it reads "Citizens United Not Timid, a 527 Organization To Educate The American Public About What Hillary Clinton Really Is." The artwork and text are, it turns out, the entirety of the "education." Stone says the website will feature an attractive model in the organization's T-shirt, which can be yours for a "donation" of $25 or more. And it will also feature a rolling tally of people who agree with the statement that's not quite stated, something like "the population billboard in Times Square that's constantly increasing because some baby is born in Botswana."

In addition to this website being blast-emailed to hundreds of thousands of addresses that Stone and West have accumulated over the years (working off over 170 different email lists of everyone from opinion-makers to political activists to industry associations), Stone is counting on T-shirt sales to further serve as "billboard education." He figures the whole thing will end up taking on a viral nature, thanks to the yuks factor.

"The more people go to the site, the more people buy the T-shirts," Stone explains to the troops. "The more people buy the T-shirts, the more people wear the T-shirts. The more people wear the T-shirts, the more people are educated. Consequently, our mission has been achieved." Though neither the word itself nor even the acronym is ever mentioned, "it's one-word education. That's our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym."
[emphasis added]

The acronym? Here's the group's web site; you figger it out:

Stone also came up with the 'cute' graphic so loosely described above [translated from Republican into English: "cute": (adj) tasteless, replete with sixth-grade humour], which I won't reprint or link, those fascinated by automobile wrecks can go look for themselves.

But some help for "Mr." (and I use the word loosely) Stone: That's spelled "deliberate", not "unfortunate".

But I'm quite sure that Stone's "viral message" will capture new converts to the Republican party in droves, particularly from the distaff side.

(h/t to the inestimable Digby for this story)

Monday, January 21, 2008

The State Department doing its job....

There's danger to U.S. citizens from getting too involved with U.S.-sponsored torture while in Belgium: []
Sent: 10 January 2008 11:43
Subject: Warden Message
Importance: High

Warden Message
20080110 Warden Message - Demonstrations - January 10, 2008

Spontaneous demonstrations take place in Belgium from time to time in response to world events or local developments. We remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possible escalate into violence. American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. American citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Upcoming demonstration information follows:

According to Belgian police, a demonstration is scheduled to take place on Friday, January 11, 2008 on rue Guimard, across from the U.S. Embassy, between 2:30 - 4:00 PM. The demonstration is being organized by Amnesty International to protest against Guantanamo prison. The demonstration will encompass approximately 100 protestors. American citizens are urged to avoid the area if possible and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. This Warden Message expires on January 11, 2008.
(h/t BuzzFlash)

I can understand how U.S. citizens might be in danger in the Netherlands, but Belgium?!?!? C'mon....

The best single line written on the Iraq war

From an excellent Op/Ed piece, this line by Andrew Bacevich writing in the Washington Post stands on its own to illustrate the absurdity of the pro-war faction:
Hawks who had pooh-poohed the risks of invasion now portrayed the risks of withdrawal as too awful to contemplate.
Can't really sum things up any better than that.

Hey, I've got an idea....

Canada put the United States on a "torture watch" list of nations that practise torture:

It notes specific "U.S. interrogation techniquies," which include "forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation." The U.S. has repeatedly denied allegations by international groups that it tortures prisoners captured in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. However, U.S. officials have refused to comment on the Canadian list.

But international observers say they are heartened by the specificity of the Canadian list. Alex Neve of Amnesty International says he is surprised that Canada would risk offending allies by naming countries that potentially torture prisoners.

"These are countries where, sadly, the record is clear -- torture and ill treatment happens," said Neve.

Of course, the Effin' Yoo Ess of Aye wasn't going to stand for that, and leaned on Canada for their impertinence:
The Canadian foreign minister has apologised for including the US and Israel on a list of states where prisoners are at risk of torture.

Maxime Bernier said the list, which formed part of a manual on torture awareness given to diplomats, "wrongly includes some of our closest allies".

Mr Bernier insisted the manual was not a policy document and did not convey the official views of his government.

The listing was criticised by the US and Israel, who demanded it be changed.

"We find it to be offensive for us to be on the same list with countries like Iran and China. Quite frankly it's absurd," said the US ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins.

I've got an idea: If the U.S. doesn't want to be put on a list of countries that torture people, how about if they just stop torturing people?!?!?

(h/t to ThinkProgress amongst others)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Atrios nails it

Sez Atrios:
On The Side Of Torturers

Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense.
Congress has reached a compromise with the White House over a defense authorization bill provision that had drawn complaints from the Iraqi government.

Those complaints prompted President Bush to veto the defense bill last month. He complained that a provision in the bill that allowed victims of terrorism to be awarded compensation from frozen foreign assets of state sponsors of terror could have crippled the fledgling Iraqi government with billions of dollars in liability.

Under the compromise, Iraq is excluded from the provision, but other state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran and Syria, could see frozen assets used as compensation. The compromise is likely to leave American victims taken hostage and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s regime during the first Gulf War without recourse in U.S. federal court.
Yes, when you think about it, it is quite obvious why this should be: After all, back when Saddam was gassing Kurds and Iranians, attacking other countries, and running the original Hotel Abu Ghraib, he was our boy!!! Some clever defence attorney might seek to add in the U.S. gummint in impleader.

"Whiner of the month" awards....

... and in stong contention, John Yoo, in some silly screed he put in an op/ed in the Philly Inquirer.

Lots of lowlights, but this is real whining:
My situation is better than most, since I am a lawyer with many lawyer friends (that is not the oxymoron it seems). I can fend for myself; fine attorneys have volunteered to represent me, and the government may defend me. But what about the soldiers, agents and officers who have to respond to the next 9/11 or foreign threat? They will have to worry about personal liability, hiring lawyers.

Would we have wanted President Abraham Lincoln to worry about his personal liability for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves (done on his sole authority as commander-in-chief)?

President Lincoln, I'm quite sure, wouldn't have given a damn as to whether anyone sued him for that.....