Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Evils of P.C.

Hearing-impaired. Verbally-challenged. Vision-depleted. This is the state of our nation regarding the practices of torture by the administration -- deaf, dumb, and blind:

News coverage of the torture issue began in proper terms after the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs. There were a handful of reports that predated this, such as notice of the first two deaths in Bagram Air Base. At the time the Abu Ghraib photographs appeared, I had completed a major study by the NYC Bar Association looking into legal standards governing interrogation practices. This study had been directly inspired by information the Bar had received from its JAG members to the effect that unlawful torture techniques were being used. Specifically, the following techniques were the focus of our concern: waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia, sleep deprivation in excess of two days, the use of psychotropic drugs and the sensory deprivation/sensory overload techniques first developed for the CIA at McGill University. Each of these techniques has a long history. Each had historically been condemned as “torture” by the United States when used by other nations. Each was clearly prohibited under the prior U.S. Army Field Manual. And each was now being used.

I discovered that when I gave interviews to major media on this subject, any time I used the word “torture” with reference to these techniques, the interview passage would not be used. At one point I was informed by a cable news network that “we put this on international, because we can’t use that word on the domestic feed.” “That word” was torture. I was coached or told that the words “coercive interrogation technique” were fine, but “torture” was a red light. Why? The Administration objected vehemently to the use of this word. After all, President Bush has gone before the cameras and stated more than three dozen times “We do not torture.” By using the T-word, I was told, I was challenging the honesty of the president. You just couldn’t do that. [emphasis added]

For all the supposed left-wing media bias, the media seems to be doing a perfectly good job of rolling over for this administration.

Simply put, if you put a person in a position where he legitimately thinks he's going to die (water-boarding) ; where he loses all presence of mind (sleep deprivation); or is put in a condition where his health is threatened (hypothermia) -- it is not a "coercive interrogation technique" -- it's TORTURE.

Thus, if the U.S. doesn't torture, those tactics should be banned yesterday.

Via Daily Dish.

Taking Mukasey to Task

Here in Wonky World, op-eds are the bread and butter of our daily lives. We scan them every day to see what other wonk-types say, comment on them on our personal or institutional blogs, and every once in awhile we get our shot at the big-time -- getting published in a major U.S. newspaper or even showing up on TV.

But, more often than not, the op-eds themselves are pretty mediocre fare. Oh, sure, some research assistant got the author some juicy stats on crime figures or Ag subsidies, but most just fall into the recesses of your mind after you read them. Nothing against the authors, mind you. The nature of the game is just rigged for boredom: editors love stats in spite of the fact that normal people's eyes glaze-over when the letters "GDP" appear in print.

This L.A. Times piece by GW Law professor Jonathan Turley, on the other hand, stands out:

In his twisting of legal principles, the attorney general has succeeded in creating a perfect paradox. Under Mukasey's Paradox, lawyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president -- and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers.

Such a perfect paradox is no easy task. Most attempts fall apart because of some element of logical consistency. The closest example to Mukasey's Paradox is the Grandfather Paradox: If you go back in time and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother, you would not be conceived and therefore you could not go back to kill your grandfather. That one can play real tricks with your head.


Now some have pointed to other paradoxes in Mukasey's tenure. There is, for instance, the "paradox" that his confirmation was saved by Democrats -- who thereby allowed the president to avoid a confrontation on torture. There is the "paradox" of Mukasey insisting that courts should not investigate the Justice Department's failure to preserve the CIA torture tapes because the Justice Department should be allowed to investigate its own failure to previously investigate.

Yet these are not real paradoxes -- they're merely political ironies. A paradox is a statement that seems true but yields a contradiction or a dual truth. When reduced to its purest form, Mukasey's Paradox is that government officials cannot violate the law -- but that because executive privilege is also a law, it's sometimes necessary to violate the law in order to uphold the law.

Honestly, the idea of trying to logically breakdown the actions of government is enough to make any sane person's head hurt. To do it so coherently and cleverly most certainly points to many nights staring at C-SPAN with a copious amount of mind-altering substances and a laptop -- and/or a very good working relationship with a grad student in the Philosophy Department.

In all seriousness, 'Mukasey's Paradox' is a troubling but all-too-real tactic to execute the Administration's end-runs around the law. The examples in Turley's article show that justice is being circumvented to protect potentially guilty people. However repugnant to our sensibilities that may be, it is demonstrably worse when it is used to punish potentially innocent people, as in the case with detainees of the "War on Terror."

The Justice Department's arguments in the habeas cases currently before the Supreme Court assert that the detainees, as foreign citizens, do not get Constitutional protection. This is not unusual in American jurisprudence. However, because they are not regular, uniformed combatants -- i.e., prisoners of war -- neither do they get Geneva Convention protection.

Basically, the detainees are foreign -- but not the right kind of foreign as to give them basic human or even procedural legal rights. This loophole essentially makes them non-entities as far as American law is concerned and the government is free to do with them as they please, according to DOJ logic.

Look, the visceral reaction to September 11, 2001 should have long passed. I want to be tough on terrorists too, and if they ever catch Osama bin Laden alive, I don't think too many people would weep if some awful thing happened to him in U.S. custody. That said, we are holding people, specifically in the Boumediene case, that have already been released from foreign prisons for lack of evidence. Ironically, the United States has become a place where other nations -- like the bulwark of freedom known as Bosnia -- send people when their own courts say it is unlawful to detain them. (It is a sad, sad day when Bosnian judges have a better concept of human rights than our Justice Department and Federal judges.)

Hopefully, Justice Anthony Kennedy will side with the liberals in the habeas cases and restore at least some semblance of legal accountability to this Justice Department run amok.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A New Low for Louisiana Corruption

Louisiana is notorious for its blatant history of political corruption. But this episode might just take the cake:

With an annual salary of more than $96,000, Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price would hardly seem to require help from a charity at Christmas.

Yet in December 2006, the mayor received a $500 Wal-Mart gift card from the Mandeville Police Citizen Service Fund, informally known as Toys for Tots because it distributes Christmas gifts to needy children.

Price received another $500 Wal-Mart card from the fund in 2005 and a $300 card in 2003, according to fund records. Gift card lists for 2004 were not available. The fund was also used to buy the mayor a $735 hunting bow, including case and accessories, one year and a gun cabinet another year, though the money for the bow apparently was later reimbursed.


Price was not the only city employee to receive gift cards courtesy of the Citizen Service Fund. In each of the six years except for 2007 for which the city provided records to The Times-Picayune, the fund was used to purchase Wal-Mart gift cards for as many as 20 Police Department and City Hall employees and once for Police Chief Tom Buell's mother-in-law. Most of the gifts were for $100 or more.

I think the Grinch may run for mayor next election cycle.

Via Fark