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The press reports that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) recently submitted a voter registration form filed under the name “Mickey Mouse” to the Orange County, Florida, board of elections. Fox News co-anchors Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer, hosting the “straight news” program America’s Newsroom, mock ACORN for filing the form. Under Florida law, ACORN is required to submit all voter registration forms even if it suspects they are bogus: failure to submit a voter registration form is punishable by a $1,000 fine. Kelly reports the form submission, and Hemmer reports that the form was rejected, saying, “ACORN says they are required to turn in every application that is filled out, even if it says Mickey Mouse.” Kelly then says: “I love that, they’ve got the obligation to submit it no matter what it says. Mickey Mouse, Jive Turkey, which we saw yesterday. How are we to know?” ACORN official Brian Kettenring tells a Tampa Bay Times reporter, “We must turn in every voter registration card by Florida law, even Mickey Mouse.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters cites the pertinent Florida statute: “A third-party voter registration organization that collects voter registration applications serves as a fiduciary to the applicant, ensuring that any voter registration application entrusted to the third-party voter registration organization, irrespective of party affiliation, race, ethnicity, or gender shall be promptly delivered to the division or the supervisor of elections.” If a third-party voter registration organization such as ACORN fails to submit any voter registration form, it is liable for a “fine in the amount of $1,000 for any application not submitted if the third-party registration organization or person, entity, or agency acting on its behalf acted willfully.” Kettenring says he is not sure the “Mickey Mouse” voter registration form came through ACORN, though it bore a stamp indicating that it was collected by someone affiliated with the organization. ACORN has come under fire for problems with some of the forms submitted by its employees, including 35 voter registration forms submitted in Pinellas County, Florida, that the Pinellas Board of Elections considered questionable. Recent forms submitted by the organization in Las Vegas listed the names of the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys. Republicans are claiming that the “Mickey Mouse” submission and others are part of a nationwide conspiracy by ACORN to subvert the electoral process; Republican National Committee (RNC) counsel Sean Cairncross says that ACORN is a “quasicriminal organization” engaged in “a widespread and systemic effort… to undermine the election process.” Kettenring says that a few of ACORN’s paid voter registrars are attempting to get paid by submitting forms that are clearly not legitimate. ACORN says it fires canvassers who forge applications, citing a recent firing in Broward County of one worker who turned in applications with similar handwriting. The organization alerted the county’s election supervisor to the problem. ACORN pays $8/hour for canvassers to register votes, and does not pay bonuses for volume or a specific number of signatures. The organization says officials call each name on the forms to confirm their legitimacy, but under Florida law must submit even problematic forms. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/14/2008; Media Matters, 10/14/2008] In March 2008, Fox reporters misquoted a Washington state official regarding allegations of ACORN-driven voter fraud (see May 2, 2008). Seven days before the Fox News report, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Four days after the report, independent factcheckers will find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008). Five days after the report, a Fox News guest will accuse ACORN of causing the subprime mortgage crisis (see October 19, 2008). And in 2009, Fox News host Glenn Beck will accuse ACORN and President Obama of working together to create a “slave state” within the US (see July 23, 2009).

Entity Tags: Megyn Kelly, Bill Hemmer, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Brian Kettenring, Republican National Committee, Fox News, Sean Cairncross, Media Matters

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008). The EFF is particularly concerned with the portion of the legislation that grants retroactive immunity from prosecution to telecommunications firms that worked with government agencies to illegally conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens (see December 15, 2005). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, according to the EFF, and, the organization writes, “robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law.” The lawsuit was triggered by Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s recent submission of a classified certification in another EFF lawsuit about illegal electronic certification (see January 31, 2006) that claimed the electronic surveillance conducted on behalf of the National Security Agency by AT&T did not happen. EFF senior attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The immunity law puts the fox in charge of the hen house, letting the attorney general decide whether or not telecoms like AT&T can be sued for participating in the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance. In our constitutional system, it is the judiciary’s role as a co-equal branch of government to determine the scope of the surveillance and rule on whether it is legal, not the executive’s. The attorney general should not be allowed to unconstitutionally play judge and jury in these cases, which affect the privacy of millions of Americans.” Mukasey’s certification claimed the government has no “content-dragnet” program that surveills millions of domestic communications, though it does not deny having acquired such communications. EFF has provided the court with thousands of pages of documents proving the falsity of Mukasey’s assertions, the organization writes. EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl says: “We have overwhelming record evidence that the domestic spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law. Intelligence agencies, telecoms, and the administration want to sweep this case under the rug, but the Constitution won’t permit it.” EFF spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke tells a reporter that the FAA “violates the federal government’s separation of powers and violates the Constitution. We want to make sure this unconstitutional law does not deny telecom customers their day in court. They have legitimate privacy claims that should be heard by a judge. Extensive evidence proves the existence of a massive illegal surveillance program affecting millions of ordinary Americans. The telecoms broke the law and took part in this. The FISA Amendments Act and its immunity provisions were an attempt to sweep these lawsuits under the rug, but it’s simply unconstitutional.” EFF lawyers fear the FAA will render their lawsuit invalid. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2008; Salon, 10/17/2008] The EFF has filed a related lawsuit against the NSA and senior members of the Bush administration (see September 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Kevin Bankston, Kurt Opsahl, National Security Agency, Michael Mukasey, Rebecca Jeschke

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Court Procedures and Verdicts, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, runs an article that discusses the ACORN “voter fraud” issue in depth. It states that there is no evidence of the “democracy-destroying fraud” that Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused ACORN of, draws a distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud, and acknowledges that true voter fraud is relatively rare, citing a five-year investigation by the Bush administration Department of Justice that found no evidence of organized voter fraud. Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecutor who handled the largest ACORN voter registration case in the nation, in King County, Washington, in 2006, is quoted saying “this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting,” and “ACORN is a victim of employee theft.” In its headline and lede, however, the FactCheck article says that McCain’s Democratic rival Barack Obama is “soft-pedal[ing]” his ties with ACORN, placing this on the same level as John McCain’s statement that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” [Annenberg Political FactCheck, 10/18/2008] The article is also run by Newsweek. [Newsweek, 10/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Dan Satterberg, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, FactCheck (.org), Barack Obama, John McCain

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

John Fund.John Fund. [Source: Rightsideva]Fox News runs an interview with right-wing journalist and Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund, author of the book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, in which Fund claims that ACORN was “at the heart of the subprime mortgage crisis,” and is planning to “overload the election system, to make it so there’s such chaos at the polls that they can bring a lot of voters there.” He also calls Barack Obama “radical” and suggests that he is working in concert with ACORN on a hidden agenda to expand government and “dramatically change American society,” in ways he does not specify. On the Fox website the video is posted under the headline, “Author of book on voter fraud explains how ACORN’s actions are detrimental to Democracy.” [Fox News, 10/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, John Fund, Barack Obama, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Other, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that conservative radio host Jim Quinn, of the syndicated show Quinn & Rose, says that the US should go back to a time where only landowners could vote. Quinn says: “Originally, if you didn’t own land, you didn’t vote, and there was a good reason for it: because those without property will always vote away the property of other people unto themselves, and that’s the beginning of the end.… Now—I mean, I can hear the appeal to the masses: ‘It’s not fair, it’s not the American way that you don’t get to vote,’ but let me ask you a question: If I don’t own anything, what kind of a problem do I have with voting for a measure—a tax, a law—that takes somebody else’s property and gives it to me? I have no stake in personal property ownership ‘cause I don’t have any. Now, back in the day, when this was the law of the land, anybody who wanted to vote needed to step up to the plate, achieve, get a stake in America, and then vote.” Quinn equates non-landowners’ right to vote with what he calls “organized theft from the wealthy by the democratic masses.” [Media Matters, 10/21/2008] A day later, radio host Michael Savage says that public assistance recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008).

Entity Tags: Michael Savage, Media Matters, Jim Quinn

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that Americans who receive public assistance should not be able to vote. “Do you think a person on welfare has the right to vote?” he asks. “I don’t. Why should a person who is on public assistance maintain the right to vote? Tell me why. Where is it written that they should have the right to vote?… I support them, and they should have the same vote I do? That would be like saying an infant has the right to vote or an insane person has the right to vote. Why should a welfare recipient have the right to vote? They’re only gonna vote themselves a raise.” Savage then brings up Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: “So if you get a demagogue like Obama coming along, and he says to the welfare recipient, elect me, and I’ll make sure that we have trickle-up poverty, and the rich—so-called, that is anyone who works for a living—will give you more money, more welfare, of course you’re gonna vote for the demagogue Obama. See, if I was in charge, I’d pass a law which says, OK, you can’t support yourself for whatever reason, you’re on welfare, you lose the right to vote.… You get back on the self-sufficiency, you get the right to vote. Then we’ll have a fair election in America. Otherwise, it’s all over. We have a communist nation either now or in the very near future.” [Media Matters, 10/23/2008] A day before, radio host Jim Quinn said that only landowners should be allowed to vote (see October 21, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jim Quinn, Media Matters, Michael Savage, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

As the November 4 elections approach, data shows that 12,165 first-time Florida voters are on a list that may bar them from voting. The list has swelled from over 8,000 names on a list released on October 16. The so-called “no match” list contains names of first-time voters whose identification numbers—driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, and official state ID cards—apparently do not match their numbers as listed on their voter identification cards. The so-called “no match no vote” law (see September 17, 2007) is considered by many to be deeply flawed and prejudicial towards minority voters. If the individual voter cannot resolve the discrepancy, he will be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are likely not to be counted. The list, as did its earlier iteration, contains a disproportionate number of African-American, Hispanic, and Democratic voters, and South Florida residents. Fifty-five percent of the previous list was made up of African-Americans and Hispanics, and three-quarters of the people on the list were registered Democrats. Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark says her staff is trying to rectify mismatched voter information by calling people at night and sending up to three letters. “We don’t want to have them in pending status when they show up to vote,” she says. Some of the forms show invalid phone numbers, she adds. Republican Secretary of State Kurt Browning says the “no match” lists are necessary to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls. Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose group tried and failed to challenge the law in court (see September 17, 2007), says the figure is far too high, and the law “places an unacceptable burden on thousands of voters.” The voters having trouble matching the numbers are those without drivers’ licenses. Many of those people do not have state-issued ID cards, and they often do not carry their Social Security cards in public. He also notes that a number of newly enrolled Alachua County voters who are University of Florida students are on the “no match” list. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Adam Skaggs, (Florida) Voter Registration Verification Law of 2005, Deborah Clark, County of Alachua (Florida), Kurt Browning

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD.Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD. [Source: Amazon (.com)]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” [New York Times, 7/22/2008; Associated Press, 10/28/2008; Media Matters, 10/29/2008]
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/31/2008]
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). [Media Matters, 10/30/2008]

A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Henry H. Kennedy Jr., Electronic Privacy Information Center, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom of Information Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Terrorist Surveillance Program, ’Stellar Wind’

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota.Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]The US Senate race in Minnesota, between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN), concludes with Coleman enjoying a razor-thin margin of victory and declaring himself the victor. However, Franken (running as the candidate for the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party, or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the state Democratic Party) says he will ask for a recount, as is his right under Minnesota law. Minnesota officials say the recount could delay the final result of the race until December. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes the race between Coleman and Franken as “one of the most bitter… in Minnesota history.” The initial results show Coleman in the lead by 215 votes, though he was adjudged to lead by as much as 725 votes in early estimates. The Associated Press previously called Coleman the winner, but has now withdrawn that call, labeling the race as too close to judge. Franken says his campaign is investigating alleged voting irregularities at a number of polling places, and adds: “[A] recount could change the outcome significantly.… Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) says a recount would not begin until the middle of the month and would likely stretch into December. “No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy,” he says. The vote is split three ways, with Coleman and Franken each having 42 percent of the vote and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley having 15 percent. Exit polls show Franken rode a wave of Democrats voting for Barack Obama (D-IL) as president, including a large number of first-time voters. Minnesota delivered its electoral votes for Obama. However, Barkley drained a significant amount of votes away from Franken. Franken had trouble convincing some voters of his credibility, in light of his career as an overtly liberal comedian and author, while Coleman was hurt by being connected with the poorly performing US economy under President Bush. Franken caught up with Coleman in polling after the stock market almost collapsed in September. Franken says that like the just-elected Obama, “I believe we’re going to celebrate a victory in this race, too.” Coleman tells supporters that he “feels good” about the ultimate results. Both Franken and Coleman engaged in harshly negative campaign advertising, which drove a large number of voters to choose Barkley in the race. National Republicans called Franken “unfit for office” because of his liberalism, while Franken attacked Coleman by pairing him with Bush, telling voters that Coleman helped Bush “drive the economy right into the ditch.” The two campaigns together spent almost $50 million, making it by far the most expensive Senate race in the country. Franken was dogged by allegations that he did not pay the proper income taxes, and embarrassed by examples of “lewd” humor from his past comedy engagements, leading him to apologize for some of his humor to his supporters. Coleman dealt with questions about his payment of artificially low rent on an exclusive Capitol Hill rowhouse, and questionable contributions from wealthy benefactors. Coleman asks Franken to waive the recount in the interest of saving Minnesota taxpayers the cost of the procedure, and so that “healing” from the hotly contested race can begin. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/5/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008; Associated Press, 1/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Associated Press, George W. Bush, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Norm Coleman, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Two days after the US Senate election in Minnesota failed to produce a clear winner (see November 4-5, 2008), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) demands that his challenger, Al Franken (D-MN), concede. Franken has asked that the votes be recounted, as Coleman originally led with a razor-thin 725-vote margin of victory. (A recount is automatic under the law with a margin of victory of less than 0.5 percent, as this one is.) As ballot totals have shifted with the addition of absentee and other ballots, Coleman’s margin has shrunk even further, to 438 votes. Franken says that “a recount could change the outcome significantly,” and adds: “Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Coleman has requested that the recount not take place, and has declared himself the winner of the election. Coleman also says that a recount would cost some $86,000 to Minnesota taxpayers, a cost he describes as prohibitively high considering that he would almost certainly win the recount. Franken does not concede. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that “improbable shifts” in vote tallies are improperly favoring Coleman’s opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), in Minnesota’s Senate race. The accusation implies that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) is exhibiting partisan bias in the Senate race recount. Franken requested a recount after Coleman was declared the winner by a margin narrow enough to legally support such a request (see November 4-5, 2008). Ritchie won the office two years ago after accusing his Republican predecessor of partisan bias. He promises that his oversight of the Senate recount will be fair, transparent, and impartial. “Minnesotans have an expectation of a nonpartisan election recount,” he has said. Coleman’s initial estimate of a 725-vote margin of victory has dwindled to some 200 votes, prompting Coleman to complain of “improbable shifts” in the vote tallies that are unfairly benefiting Franken. One of Coleman’s lawyers tells a reporter, “We’re not going to sit idly by while mysterious, statistically dubious changes in vote totals take place after official government offices close.” Ritchie responds by accusing the Coleman campaign of trying “to create a cloud” over the recount and “denigrating the election process,” and says that such shifts are normal when votes are retallied after any election, when county officials verify election night tabulations reported to his office. Ritchie says the Coleman campaign is mounting “a well-known political strategy,” adding, “If people want to accuse county elections officials of partisan activity, they better be ready to back it up.” Ritchie oversaw a recent Supreme Court election that was praised by both sides as being fairly handled. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/10/2008; TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008] According to Ritchie’s office, small vote shifts after an election is called are normal. After an election, the office says: “[E]lection officials proof their work and make corrections, as necessary. It is routine for election officials to discover a number of small errors, including improper data entry, transposition of digits (e.g. entering the number 48 instead of 84), and other items that affect the reported outcome.” [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Norm Coleman

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) launches attacks on Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) in an attempt to throw the Minnesota Senate race recount into doubt. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN) ran for Coleman’s seat in the US Senate, and the results, narrowly favoring Coleman, were challenged by Franken (see November 4-5, 2008). The NRSC distributes a three-page “backgrounder” on Ritchie to reporters that implies Ritchie is letting his political background affect his conduct in administering the recount. Among Ritchie’s “suspicious” activities are his speech at the Democratic convention during the summer, and his having “led a voter registration coalition that included ACORN,” the much-vilified Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). The NRSC even attempts to imply that Ritchie is a Communist sympathizer in a piece entitled “Communist Party USA Wrote Encouragingly Of His Candidacy.” (On November 19, Fox News’s Andrew Napolitano will call Ritchie a “former Communist” and a “former member of the Communist Party,” but without advancing any proof of the allegations.) According to a report by TPM Muckraker’s Zachary Roth, “there’s no evidence that Ritchie has ever used his role as the state’s top elections administrator to advantage Democrats.” Roth writes that “the point of the GOP gambit… appears to be to cast public doubt on the integrity of the recount process, thereby bolstering Coleman’s claim that’s he’s the rightful winner and that a recount is unnecessary—just the strategy pursued by George Bush’s campaign in Florida in 2000.” [TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008; Media Matters, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: National Republican Senatorial Committee, Al Franken, Andrew Napolitano, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Norm Coleman, Zachary Roth, Communist Party USA, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008; MinnPost, 11/12/2008] The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. [MinnPost, 11/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Tim Pawlenty, Fox News, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Mark Ritchie, Wall Street Journal, National Republican Senatorial Committee

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Steve Kroft, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie (D-MN), has displayed partisan behavior on behalf of challenger Al Franken (D-MN) by announcing that his office would consider counting some absentee ballots that were not counted during the initial vote tallies. Approximately 1,000 absentee ballots were not counted in the initial tallies, and Franken’s legal team contends that most of them were wrongly rejected by election judges. The initial election results triggered a recount (see November 6, 2008); Coleman has already implied that efforts are underway to manipulate the vote in favor of Franken (see November 10, 2008), implications previously made by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (see November 11, 2008 and November 12, 2008). Coleman’s lead campaign lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the Franken campaign is engaging in “Florida-like tactics” in the absentee ballot issue (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). For its part, the Franken campaign is accusing the Coleman campaign of resorting to “baseless charges and innuendo.” Franken’s campaign is attempting to ascertain the names of the voters whose absentee ballots were rejected, with an eye to having them reconsidered. Studies have shown that rejected ballots tend to favor Democrats, leading elections expert Larry Jacobs to observe, “With the voter who tends to pull the lever for Democrats, there’s a little less dexterity.” One voter whose absentee ballot was rejected, Mark Jeranek, says his vote was set aside because he did not sign the envelope into which he placed his ballot. Jeranek voted for Franken, and has received an affidavit from the Franken campaign, which he is considering signing. “I don’t want to be a cause for revolution, but at the same time I want my vote to count,” he says. “It’s kind of neat—at least for a senatorial race—that it really does come down to every individual vote.” [Time, 11/17/2008; Weiner, 2010, pp. xviii]

Entity Tags: Mark Jeranek, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Mark Ritchie, Larry Jacobs, Norm Coleman, National Republican Senatorial Committee

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) issues a press release claiming that Coleman’s victory is “confirmed.” Coleman’s press release is erroneous. Coleman’s campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, issues a similarly erroneous statement that says: “Senator Coleman has, for the third time, been named the winner of the 2008 election. We look forward to the beginning of tomorrow’s recount, and to what we believe to be the ultimate conclusion of the final chapter of this year’s election—the re-election of Senator Norm Coleman.” Far from being confirmed, the recount procedure involving Coleman and his opponent Al Franken (D-MN) has not officially begun (see November 4-5, 2008). It is unclear what basis Coleman has for claiming victory, and no official entity has confirmed Coleman’s victory in the race. Franken’s campaign also issues a release announcing that the recount procedure is about to commence, noting accurately that the State Canvassing Board has refused to certify a winner and stating the campaign’s intention to support the recount. [Minnesota Independent, 11/18/2008; New York Times, 11/18/2008] MSNBC reports that Coleman “is trying to look the part of the winner [in order to be able to] call into question any lead taken by Franken in the recount.” [MSNBC, 11/19/2008] Three days later, liberal reporter Eric Hananoki will write that Coleman is going beyond taking “premature victory laps” by demanding a halt to the recount, “float[ing] false voter fraud stories,” and “smear[ing] election officials” (see November 10, 2008, November 11, 2008, and November 12, 2008). [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Eric Hananoki, Al Franken, Cullen Sheehan, MSNBC

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The recount process to determine the winner of the US Senate race in Minnesota begins. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has a narrow lead over challenger Al Franken (D-MN), who requested the recount as permitted in Minnesota law when the results of a race are so close. The state Canvassing Board met on November 18 to certify the unofficial results, thus allowing the recounts to begin at almost 100 county and city election offices throughout the state. The procedure entails an appointed recount auditor examining each ballot by hand to determine the voter’s intent, monitored by representatives from each candidate’s campaign. Auditors will sort each ballot into the appropriate stacks. According to the 2008 Recount Guide issued by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.” Ballots that are in dispute will be sent to the five-member Canvassing Board, which includes Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices, and two Ramsey County district court judges, who will make final decisions as to the validity of disputed ballots. KARE-TV has reported that as many as 6,000 ballots may have been missed by the optical-scan machines because of improper markings. Ramsey County elections head Joe Mansky says that around 2 percent of ballots are mismarked in each election. If the intention of the voter is clear, he says, those votes will be counted. Law professor David Schultz says the process reminds the observer of the election debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and notes that Minnesota has a long tradition of not penalizing voters for failing to fill out ballots properly if their intent can be determined. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008] The Canvassing Board says it will not make a decision just yet on whether to count disputed absentee ballots. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of the five members of the board, says of the decision to table the absentee ballot issue: “I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it. Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?” Franken wants the absentee ballots in dispute to be counted; Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug tells the board: “These people are real people who did everything right. They wanted to participate in our democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can’t we all agree that they shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?” Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak calls Lillehaug’s arguments “bothersome,” and says the board should not consider and count rejected absentee ballots. [Minnesota Public Radio, 11/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Joe Mansky, David Lillehaug, Al Franken, David Schultz, G. Barry Anderson, Mark Ritchie, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guant├ínamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).

Entity Tags: Reprieve, Bensayah Belkacem, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Lakhdar Boumediene, Zachary Katznelson, US Supreme Court, Richard J. Leon, US Department of Justice, Robert Kirsch

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) denies saying that US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN), currently locked in a recount with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see November 4-5, 2008), “stuff[ed] the ballot box” to stay abreast of Coleman in the Senate race. Bachmann made the comments on MSNBC’s Hardball just before the election. Fox News co-host Alan Colmes of Hannity and Colmes offers to show Bachmann a video clip of her making the statement, but Fox terminates the segment with Bachmann before the clip can be aired. In the same appearance, Bachmann accused President-elect Obama and some Democrats in Congress of being “anti-American,” and suggested the media investigate her claim. She denied making that statement also (see October 17-22, 2008). On Hannity and Colmes, Bachmann says that Franken “wants to stuff the ballot box with rejected ballots,” and this “calls into question what the record is and who’s watching the books.” Bachmann now says that Hardball host Chris Matthews baited and trapped her into making her remarks, and an “urban legend” about what she said quickly sprang up. “What I said was, ‘Do your job,’” she tells Colmes. “That’s what I said.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Al Franken, Alan Colmes, Norm Coleman, Chris Matthews, Fox News, Michele Bachmann

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

As the recount in the US Senate race in Minnesota (see November 19, 2008) wears on, incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) gains a number of votes in the preliminary results, widening his lead to 180 votes from a previous total of 120. Coleman’s campaign observers are challenging many of the ballots granted to challenger Al Franken (D-MN) during the recount, forcing those ballots to be set aside and considered by the state Canvassing Board at a later date. Some mistakes were made in Duluth precincts, slowing the results from St. Louis County, including the discovery that several duplicate ballots were missing from one precinct. In Minneapolis, over 100 people are working in a warehouse building to count votes. Franken is leading Coleman by wide margins in almost all Minneapolis precincts. Coleman campaign observer Corlyss Affeldt says she is volunteering as an observer because “I want to make sure it’s right.… That seems to be the prevailing motivation right now.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Corlyss Affeldt, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights

Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” [Associated Press, 12/2/2008; Reuters, 12/2/2008] Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).

Entity Tags: Joseph Hoar, Barack Obama, Lee Gunn, Obama administration, US Central Command, Fred Haynes, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

One hundred and thirty-three ballots, stored in a single envelope, are missing from the warehouse containing the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Minnesota during the November elections. The ballots are part of a statewide recount (see November 19, 2008) to determine the winner of the US Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN—see November 4-5, 2008). Minneapolis officials are diligently searching for the missing ballots, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak (D-MN). The recounts are supposed to be finished today, but Minneapolis has been granted an extension to find the ballots. Franken’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, issues the following statement: “Find the ballots.… The outcome of this election might be at stake.” The Coleman campaign is alleging ballot tampering. “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are,” says Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak. He goes on to say that because Rybak, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and many Minneapolis city officials are Democrats, there could be some kind of orchestrated effort to suppress votes to favor Franken. However, “It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue,” he adds. Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert says there is no evidence of any sort of “foul play” concerning the missing ballots (see November 12, 2008). Official recount tallies show Coleman with a 205-vote lead, but this number is not current and Franken is expected to gain votes, especially if the missing ballots are found and tallied. The missing ballots are from a precinct largely populated by college students, considered a group that generally favors Franken. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/5/2008] Four days later, Minneapolis declares the ballots to be irretrievably missing, ending the state’s counting of ballots and moving the recount process into the next phase—canvassing the results and considering ballots challenged by the two campaigns. Ritchie says that the canvassed and audited election-night results from the precinct can be counted in lieu of the missing ballots, though it takes four more days for the Canvassing Board to come to the same conclusion. Counting the ballots adds 36 (later reported as 46) to Franken’s total. Coleman’s campaign says that there may be other reasons for the ballot issue, with a spokesman saying, “We would hope further review of these other scenarios will be conducted, rather than just accepting the political spin of the Franken campaign.” The Coleman campaign is also protesting some counties’ decision to review initially rejected absentee ballots. Franken is expected to gain votes if the absentee ballots in question are counted. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/9/2008; TPM Election Central, 12/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Marc Elias, R.T. Rybak, Mark Ritchie, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejects a lawsuit by Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN), who argued that absentee ballots should not be counted in the vote tallies that are giving his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), an edge in the recount for the Senate seat both are vying for (see November 4-5, 2008). The Coleman campaign, alleging that many of the votes were counted twice, has asked that vote tallies in 25 selected precincts should be reverted to their Election Night totals, which would blot out Franken’s lead in the vote count. The Minnesota high court rules that a question such as this should be reserved for post-recount proceedings, and says that the Coleman campaign’s theory of double-counted ballots is not supported by evidence. Currently, Franken leads by a narrow 47-vote margin. According to press reports, the lawsuit was Coleman’s last, best shot at winning the seat; with the high court’s decision, a Franken victory is “nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.” Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the decision “virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest,” indicating that the Coleman campaign is not yet ready to concede defeat and may well be planning further litigation. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that one senator will be seated on January 6th,” Knaak says. Franken campaign spokesperson Andy Barr says: “We win in Supreme Court. The process can move forward despite attempts to halt its progress and cast doubt on the result.” [TPM Election Central, 12/24/2008; MPR News, 12/24/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/24/2008]

Entity Tags: Minnesota Supreme Court, Al Franken, Andy Barr, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voting Rights

The Bush administration updates the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government during disasters. Federal emergency responsibilities are consolidated within the White House Military Office, a move designed to simplify the government’s response procedures. Under the changes, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration take over parts of the program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the New York Times, “Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary ‘shadow government’ in a crisis.” According to the Times, the move comes after “months of heated internal debate about the balance of power and the role of the military” in a time of crisis. “Supporters of the plan inside the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, saw the erratic response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a mandate for streamlining an emergency response process they considered clunky because it involved too many agencies.” Officials opposed to the plan argue the new structure places “too much power in the hands of too few people.” They also perceive the changes to be “part of the Bush administration’s broader efforts to enhance the power of the White House.” Supporters of the plan originally wanted to take the changes further, but according to the Times, “concerns about the perception of growing military influence in the emergency process set off an internal struggle, and the White House decided not to move ahead with a more ambitious proposal to give the power of the purse to the military arm, rather than FEMA, for budgeting the emergency operations, one official said.” A spokesman for the Pentagon will later describe the changes as a “minor tweaking” of the system. The changes are authorized by President Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), which was signed in May 2007 (see May 9, 2007). [New York Times, 7/27/2009]

Entity Tags: White House MIlitary Office, Bush administration (43), Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. [Bloomberg, 1/5/2009; Associated Press, 1/6/2009; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009] Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).

Entity Tags: Dean Barkley, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Minnesota Supreme Court, Tony Trimble, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Elias

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights

Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). [Wired News, 1/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Vaughn Walker, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Asim Ghafoo, Jon Eisenberg, Bush administration (43), Wendell Belew, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Obama administration

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Arne Carlson, Mark Ritchie, Fritz Knaak, Marc Elias, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly, Dick Morris, Joe Conason, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Scott Johnson, Rush Limbaugh, Richard Mellon Scaife

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Thomas Tamm, Bob Spickelmier, ’Stellar Wind’, Bush administration (43), Newsweek, Harvey Jay Goldstein, Leonard Kliff, US Department of Justice, Peter Craig, Joseph Clark

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009] The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. [MinnPost, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Supreme Court, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voting Rights

Darrel Vandeveld, in a photo from 2001.Darrel Vandeveld, in a photo from 2001. [Source: Go Erie (.com)]Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union’s position that Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad should be released. Vandeveld was the lead prosecutor on the military commission trying Jawad, who has been held for over six years. Vanderveld says in a declaration that there is “no credible evidence or legal basis” to justify Jawad’s detention or prosecution. “There is, however, reliable evidence that he was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo,” says the declaration, which Vandeveld files in a Washington court in support of the ACLU’s habeas corpus petition. Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 16, was accused of throwing a hand grenade at two US soldiers and their interpreter. Jawad and fellow detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, are the last two detainees to face charges based on acts they allegedly committed while they were juveniles. The ACLU maintains that Jawad was tortured to force him to confess. Vandeveld resigned from the military commissions in September 2008, saying he could not ethically proceed with Jawad’s case. In his declaration, Vandeveld says the “chaotic state of evidence” in the military commissions “make it impossible for anyone to harbor the remotest hope that justice is an achievable goal” (see January 20, 2009). [Agence France-Presse, 1/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Omar Khadr, American Civil Liberties Union, Mohammed Jawad, Darrel Vandeveld

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Sparked by the official confirmation that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani was tortured (see January 14, 2009), Amnesty International calls for the incoming Obama administration and Congress to launch an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the “war on terror.” In a press release, Amnesty International writes: “Torture is a crime under international law. The USA is obliged as a party to the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) to investigate ‘wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.’ The same treaty requires it to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution. The treaty, and international law more generally, precludes the invocation of exceptional circumstances or superior orders as justification for torture. Anyone who has authorized, committed, is complicit, or participated in torture must be brought to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office. Yet the public acknowledgement that the USA has tortured al-Khatani was not accompanied by any news of efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” Such a government commission “must not be used to block or delay the prosecution of any individual against whom there is already sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. A criminal investigation into the torture of Mohamed al-Khatani is already long overdue.” The incoming president, Barack Obama, has already acknowledged that waterboarding, one of the “harsh interrogation techniques” used against Guantanamo detainees, is torture. “Next week, then, the USA will have a president who considers that torture has been committed by the USA,” Amnesty writes. “He will be under an obligation to ensure full individual and institutional accountability. There must be no safe havens for torturers.” As for al-Khatani, Amnesty believes the US should either release him or try him “in accordance with international fair trial standards in an independent and impartial court—not a military commission. No information obtained under torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be admitted in any proceedings, except against the perpetrators of any such treatment as evidence that it occurred.” [Amnesty International, 1/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Amnesty International, Obama administration, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), New York Times, Walter Dellinger, Jay S. Bybee, Jack Balkin, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Michael Hayden, in the last days of his position as CIA director, defends the agency’s use of secret prisons and extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists. Hayden claims the techniques and practices helped prevent new terrorist attacks, though he refuses to provide evidence of this claim, and says that they were done “out of duty, not out of enthusiasm.” Hayden says the CIA detainee program should not be subject to a public investigation, because the program was made legal by secret Justice Department memos (see January 28, 2009) and some members of Congress were informed of the program’s existence. In addition, a public investigation could possibly damage the careers of CIA officers and the agency’s espionage operations. “We are asked to do things routinely that no one else is asked to do, that no one else is allowed to do,” Hayden says. “You can’t do this to these people.” Asked if he was concerned that Attorney General-designee Eric Holder unequivocally termed waterboarding as torture, Hayden responds, “It’s an uninteresting question to the Central Intelligence Agency.” He continues: “We don’t do that. We haven’t done it since March 2003, and we don’t intend to do it. What the agency has done in the past, what it is doing now, what it will do in the future is based on the best legal counsel it has at the time.” Hayden says he was “heartened” by President Obama’s recent remarks that the nation must “move beyond” the Bush years. [McClatchy News, 1/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Eric Holder.Eric Holder. [Source: New York Times]Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will defend the US’s warrantless eavesdropping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005) in court, based on Congress’s passage of legislation immunizing US telecommunications companies from lawsuits challenging their participation in the government spy program (see January 5, 2009). Holder makes this statement during Senate hearings to confirm his selection as attorney general. “The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress,” Holder says. “Unless there are compelling reasons, I don’t think we would reverse course.” President-elect Obama, while a senator, opposed granting immunity to the telecommunications firms, but voted for immunity because it was included in a broader surveillance bill that gave the Bush administration broad new powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. [Wired News, 1/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

The lawsuit filed by former Senator Norm Coleman to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) is scheduled to begin on January 26. A three-judge panel will consider Coleman’s case and whether to reverse the findings of the state Canvassing Board, which declared Franken the winner (see January 5, 2009). [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Neal Katyal.Neal Katyal. [Source: PBS]Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal is to be named the Justice Department’s deputy solicitor general. Katyal successfully argued for the defense in the landmark Hamdan v. Rumsfeld trial before the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006). Legal Times reporter Joe Palazzolo writes, “Katyal’s appointment is another strong signal of President-elect Barack Obama’s intentions to depart sharply from the terrorist detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration.” The Hamdan case, “which marked Katyal’s first appearance before the high court, was a stinging rebuke to [President Bush’s] broad assertion of wartime power.” Katyal’s boss, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, was named earlier in the month. Katyal was incoming Attorney General Eric Holder’s national security adviser in the Justice Department from 1998 to 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general for the Clinton administration. Katyal also served as one of the co-counsels for Vice President Gore in the Supreme Court election dispute of December 2000. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. [Legal Times, 1/17/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Elena Kagan, Neal Katyal, Joe Palazzolo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Jon Eisenberg, Asim Ghafoo, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Eric Holder, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Susan Crawford, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Geoff Morrell, Obama administration, Darrel Vandeveld

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Classification

Marty Lederman.Marty Lederman. [Source: Georgetown Law School]Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, familiar to legal scholars and progressive bloggers for his work on the legal blog “Balkinization,” joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as assistant attorney general. Lederman has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policies on warrantless wiretapping and torture. Lederman’s boss, OLC chief Dawn Johnsen, has been a frequent “guest blogger” on Balkinization, as well as a contributor to Slate’s legal blog “Convictions.” Lederman’s colleague Jack Balkin writes: “Needless to say, I am very pleased for the country by Marty’s new job. I do not exaggerate when I say that Marty is one of the finest lawyers I know, and there is perhaps no better time to put his remarkable talents to use in helping to reform a Justice Department that so badly needs reform.” Lederman is taking the position formerly held by lawyer John Yoo during the first few years of the Bush administration. [Think Progress, 1/20/2009; Balkinization, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Balkinization, Jack Balkin, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Dawn Johnsen, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes

As one of his first official acts as president, Barack Obama orders that all military prosecutions of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be suspended for 120 days. The order comes during the inaugural ceremonies, and is issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Cabinet holdover from the Bush administration. “In the interests of justice, and at the direction of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense, the government respectfully requests the military commission grant a continuance of the proceedings in the above-captioned case until 20 May 2009,” the request reads. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 1/21/2009] Obama promised repeatedly during and after the presidential campaign that he would close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Naval Base. This request does not go that far, but it does bring to a halt the planned prosecution of 21 detainees currently facing war crimes charges, including 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Jamil Dakwar, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the base, calls the request “a good step in the right direction.” Gabor Rona, an observer for Human Rights Watch, also calls the order “a first step.” Rona continues, “The very fact that it’s one of his first acts reflects a sense of urgency that the US cannot afford one more day of counterproductive and illegal proceedings in the fight against terrorism.” Dakwar says the ACLU believes all charges against the prisoners should be dropped. “A shutdown of this discredited system is warranted,” he says. “The president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.” Major Jon Jackson, the lawyer for one of the 9/11 defendants, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002), says, “We welcome our new commander in chief and this first step towards restoring the rule of law.” Approximately 245 detainees are currently housed at the camp; some 60 detainees have been cleared for release, but no country has agreed to take them. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009] Michele Cercone, spokesman for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, says the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.” The request is accepted the day after (see January 21, 2009), and the Los Angeles Times writes that it “may be the beginning of the end for the Bush administration’s system of trying alleged terrorists.” [Associated Press, 1/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Jon Jackson, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Gabor Rona, Jamil Dakwar, Los Angeles Times, Robert M. Gates, Michele Cercone, Human Rights Watch, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Constitutional lawyer and author Bruce Fein, a former official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, writes that if President Obama wants to “restore the rule of law and to prevent future wrongdoing by high-level government officials,” he “should investigate, among others, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former White House political adviser Karl Rove. The crimes to be investigated should include complicity in torture, illegal surveillance, illegal detention, perjury, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress. Prosecutions should follow if the evidence convinces a grand jury to indict.” Fein states that “[t]he best way to deter government criminality and to teach citizens the rule of law is to punish the perpetrators who are unanimously found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by independent and impartial jurors.”
FBI, CIA Feared Prosecution for Torture - He notes that the FBI refused to participate in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, for fear of being charged with war crimes. And the CIA required specific legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department—the so-called “golden shield” (see August 1, 2002)—and specific presidential authorization before it would allow its agents to torture detainees. And the White House ordered an end to waterboarding after it was warned that such tactics left its officials open to charges of torture and war crimes.
Attorney General Feared Prosecution under FISA - He goes on to note that Justice Department officials such as acting Attorney General James Comey “balked at approving… Bush’s warrantless surveillance program without modification in March 2004 probably because he feared criminal prosecution under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (see 1978).
'Unpunished Lawlessness by Government Officials Invites Lawlessness Generally' - Fein asserts that “unpunished lawlessness by government officials invites lawlessness generally.” He quotes former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” The best way to deter criminal behavior, he says, is to prosecute alleged criminals, and that process must start with government officials. [Washington Times, 1/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Bruce Fein

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Lindsey Graham.Lindsey Graham. [Source: Boston Globe]Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says that some detainees currently held in Guantanamo should be imprisoned indefinitely, without legal recourse. Graham is responding to President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo within a year (see January 22, 2009). On Fox News, Graham says, “I do believe we can close Gitmo, but what to do with them [the remaining detainees]?” He says there are three options: “Repatriate some back to other countries makes sense, if you can do it safely. Some of them will be tried for war crimes. And a third group will be held indefinitely because the sensitive nature of the evidence may not subject them to the normal criminal process, but if you let them go, we’ll be letting go someone who wants to go back to the fight.… So we’ve got three lanes we’ve got to deal with: repatriation, trials, and indefinite detention.” Civil liberties expert Ken Gude is critical of Graham’s position: “US courts have tried some of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known, and done so while both protecting classified information and the rights of the accused to ensure the verdict is fair, legitimate, and accurate.… Of course these prosecutions will not be easy, but the admissibility of classified evidence is not an insurmountable obstacle to trials of Guantanamo detainees.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Lindsey Graham, Barack Obama, Ken Gude

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Omar Khadr. The photo, presumably taken in 2001, was given to Canadian reporters by his mother, Maha Khadr, after a 2005 press conference.Omar Khadr. The photo, presumably taken in 2001, was given to Canadian reporters by his mother, Maha Khadr, after a 2005 press conference. [Source: Maha Khadr / Associated Press]Colonel Patrick Parrish, a military judge in the Guantanamo prosecutions, orders that the trial of Omar Khadr be suspended. President Obama has asked for all trials of Guantanamo detainees to be suspended for 120 days (see January 20, 2009). Other trials are almost certain to be suspended as well, including the trial of five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 attacks. Khadr is accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade during a firefight in 2001. Khadr, who was 15 at the time, was captured shortly thereafter. He has been in detention ever since. Military prosecutors say it is “in the interests of justice” to freeze the trials until about May 20 to give the new administration time to evaluate the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution. Obama has repeatedly promised to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp; it is not clear what will happen to the approximately 245 detainees currently housed there. While officials of the former Bush administration have said they planned to bring some 80 detainees to trial, as yet only three trials have been held. [Reuters, 1/21/2009] Prosecutor Clay Trivett says all pending cases should be suspended because a review of the military commissions system may result in significant changes. Khadr’s defense lawyer, Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, says the suspension “has the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever.… This military process and the charges Omar faced are dead.” Kuebler says Khadr should either be returned to his native Canada or tried in a civilian court. “He’s anxious, he’s nervous,” Kuebler says. “Let’s hope this creates the process… that will take Omar back to Canada.” The de facto leader of the five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, tells court officials he opposes the delay. “We should continue so we don’t go backward, we go forward,” he says. [Associated Press, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Omar Khadr, Patrick Parrish, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, William Kuebler, Clay Trivett

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

President Barack Obama issues an executive order limiting the ability of former presidents to block the release of records from their time in the White House. Obama’s order overturns an executive order from former President Bush (see November 1, 2001) that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit, and was found in part illegal by a federal judge in 2007. Obama’s order invalidates Bush’s order entirely. Obama’s order allows former presidents to ask the National Archives to keep certain documents private, but strips their power to compel the Archives to do so. The order also covers former vice presidents and the families of deceased presidents. “It’s a great signal to send on the president’s first day in office,” says Scott Nelson, a lawyer with the civil liberties group Public Citizen, which led the challenge to Bush’s order. Nelson says the order will make it easier for researchers to gain access to White House records.
Strips Power from Former Executives - Under the Presidential Records Act, former presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. Bush’s order extended that restriction indefinitely, and gave former vice presidents and even the families and heirs of deceased presidents the same power to restrict documents. Obama’s order limits claims of executive privilege to records concerning national security, law enforcement or internal communications; it also specifies that only living former presidents may request that papers not be made public, and gives them 30 days to say so once they get word of the archivist’s intention to release records. The order gives the Obama administration and the National Archives, not the former executives, the final decision-making power. Under Obama’s order, former Vice President Dick Cheney can no longer block access to records from his records during his eight years in the White House. Cheney is engaged in a lawsuit to block access to his vice-presidential records. [Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Wide-Ranging Impact - Experts agree that the executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on a number of issues relating to the Bush administration. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor and an expert on executive privilege, says the order could strongly impact current battles over Bush’s records, “whether it be the dismissal of US attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like.” It could also affect investigations into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the Bush administration’s efforts to precipitate a war with Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 1/22/2009] Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration, says he believes the Obama order is specifically designed to pry loose information from the Bush administration about such issues. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” he says. In a sense, Eggleston continues, it is an order to the National Archivist: “It says, ‘Archivist—if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.’” [TPM Muckraker, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: National Archives and Records Administration, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Presidential Records Act, Douglas Kmiec, Scott Nelson, Neil Eggleston

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Freedom of Speech / Religion

In an interview for the German television program Frontal 21, broadcast on ZDF, Professor Manfred Nowak, the United Nations rapporteur responsible for torture, states that with George W. Bush’s head of state immunity now terminated, the new government of Barack Obama is obligated by international law to commence a criminal investigation into Bush’s torture practices. “The evidence is sitting on the table,” Nowak says. “There is no avoiding the fact that this was torture.” Nowak cites the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which obligates a signatory country such as the US to criminally prosecute anyone who tortures a person, or extradites a person to a country which will torture him. “The government of the United States is required to take all necessary steps to bring George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld before a court,” Nowak says. Nowak headed a 2006 study of conditions at Guantanamo that concluded the practices used at that facility and approved by the Bush administration violated human rights norms and constituted torture. ZDF also interviews attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, who brought charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before German prosecutors. The Obama administration is “off to a good beginning” with its explicit renunciation of torture, Kaleck says, but has yet to show how it will hold Bush, Rumsfeld, and others accountable for their crimes, nor has it demonstrated its legally obligated duty to provide compensation to torture victims. Lastly, law professor Dietmar Herz confirms that Bush bears personal responsibility for the introduction and use of torture. Herz confirms that once Bush lost his immunity from prosecution as a head of state, the US is obligated to prosecute him for crimes against humanity. [Harper's, 1/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Wolfgang Kaleck, Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama, Convention Against Torture, Dietmar Herz, Manfred Nowak, George W. Bush, United Nations

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes

An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Abdul Salam Zaeef, Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, Amina Masood Janjua, Barack Obama, Obama administration, Lal Gul Lal

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. [Financial Times, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, Tom Malinowski, Dennis C. Blair

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Law professor Brandt Goldstein recommends that President Obama not rely on an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo detention facility, as he has ordered (see January 22, 2009), but work with Congress to pass a federal statute that will forever outlaw the use of the base as a prison. Goldstein notes that Guantanamo was used to house Haitian refugees in the early 1990s, when President George H. W. Bush used it to detain around 300 HIV-positive dissidents who were fleeing Haiti after a military coup. The Justice Department created the legal rationale that Guantanamo, because it is not within the US territorial boundaries, does not fall under Constitutional restrictions, even though the prison is on a US naval base. President Bill Clinton released the last of the Haitians in June 1993, but his administration managed to overturn a court decision that prohibited the federal government from housing detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely. President George W. Bush used the detention facility to house hundreds of terror suspects from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Goldstein writes: “[T]wice in recent times, the temptation to use Guantanamo as an offshore, extralegal prison camp has mired a presidential administration in legal and moral muck. It’s high time we cut off Guantanamo as an option for this sort of mess—forever. An executive order won’t do that.” Such an order can be vacated by the next president, or even Obama himself should he choose to change his mind. “If Congress passes such legislation,” Goldstein writes, “and Obama signs it into law, then not only will he be bound by its prohibitions, but future presidents will be bound by it as well. The political will is there to deal with this issue. Now is the time to do it.” Goldstein adds, “Some conservative policy scholars won’t like this idea. They’ll wring their hands about closing off options regarding situations we cannot foresee. The answer to that is simple: Some options should be off the table, and experience indicates that using Guantanamo as a prison camp is one of them. Of course, if a future president believes that new circumstances make it truly necessary to use Guantanamo as a detention facility, that future president can go to Capitol Hill and try to convince the House and Senate to change their minds on the matter.” [Huffington Post, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Brandt Goldstein, Barack Obama, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Dennis Blair.Dennis Blair. [Source: US Navy / Public domain]Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says she intends to push for Congressional legislation mandating a single standard for military and CIA interrogators that would in effect ban the use of torture. Feinstein says she applauds President Obama’s executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), but notes that Obama or a future president could overturn that order at any time. “I think that ultimately the government is well served by codifying it, by having it in law,” Feinstein says. Some liberal and civil rights organizations support Feinstein’s drive for a Congressional ban on torture; they also press Feinstein, Obama, and other Democrats to engage in a full investigation of the detention and torture programs under the Bush presidency. [New York Times, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

David Kris.David Kris. [Source: Brookings Institution]President Obama picks as his nominee to lead the Justice Department’s National Security Division an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s legal justifications for warrantless wiretapping. David Kris served as a senior Justice Department official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations before accepting a position at Georgetown University’s law school, and is considered an expert on intelligence law. After the New York Times revealed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005), Kris wrote a 25-page legal analysis describing the rationale for the program as “weak” and probably invalid. When he was at the Justice Department, Kris advised his then-boss, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, not to sign a batch of wiretapping warrants—results of the warrantless wiretap program—because intelligence officials would not reveal how the information in the wiretaps was obtained. If confirmed by the Senate, Kris will not only oversee intelligence and national security law, but may be responsible for the dispensation of the detainees in the Guantanamo prison camp (see January 22, 2009). [New York Times, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), David Kris, New York Times

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Federal judge John Bates gives the Obama administration until February to tell him whether it wants to change the legal definition of the term “enemy combatant.” Several detainees held at US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan are challenging their classfication as “enemy combatant,” which the Bush administration defined as having virtually no legal rights in the US judicial system. The Obama administration has until February 9 to make a decision on behalf of the Guantanamo lawsuits, and until February 20 for the Bagram lawsuits. “The new presidential administration may wish to review the government’s current position regarding the appropriate definition of ‘enemy combatant’ to be used in these and other habeas cases,” Bates says. Bates adds that Obama’s orders to close Guantanamo Bay (see January 22, 2009) and to outlaw torture (see January 22, 2009) indicate “significant changes to the government’s approach to the detention, and review of detention, of individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay.” He notes, “A different approach could impact the court’s analysis of certain issues central to the resolutions of [Bagram] cases as well.” [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), John Bates, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Obama administration, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” [New Yorker, 1/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Paul Eaton, Dave Maddox, Charles Krulak, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Greg Craig, Human Rights First, Jane Mayer, Joseph Hoar, John D. Hutson, Obama administration

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, 2006 US Attorney Firings

The lawsuit filed by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) begins badly for Coleman, with the three-judge panel stopping Coleman’s lawyers from reading off the names, counties, and categories from some 5,500 rejected absentee ballots that they say were improperly rejected. The copies of ballot envelopes the Coleman campaign wanted to admit into evidence weren’t clear enough to be considered proper evidence, the panel rules. Many of the copies were of poor quality and had markings and notes from Coleman campaign officials written on them. Judge Denise Reilly asks one witness, “If I look at these exhibits, how do I know what was put on there by the voter… or the election judge or someone else?” If the Coleman campaign wants to enter the ballots into evidence, it will have to secure the originals from 87 counties, a difficult task. The ruling leaves Coleman’s lawyers at ends for the remainder of the day, with one lawyer saying the team had no plans to go forward without the facsimiles being admitted into evidence. The rejected absentee ballots are a critical element of the Coleman case, which states that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly rejected or were considered with stricter standards than ballots that were counted. One hundred and seventy-six votes out of Franken’s 225-vote margin of victory came from recounted absentee ballots, and the Coleman campaign wants more absentee ballots counted, contending that the rejected ballots would give Coleman the victory. Franken’s attorneys say Coleman is merely fishing for votes, and producing arbitrary reasons to get more ballots into the count. Coleman’s lawyers also contend that some ballots, mostly for Franken, were “double-counted,” and cite results from the town of Eagan as “proof.” Eagan election officials say they have gone through their ballot counts and have found no evidence of any double-counting. Eagan City Clerk Maria Petersen says: “We’re confident, based on the information available to us, that no votes were counted twice. They were counted only once.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Maria Petersen, Denise Reilly

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asks the Obama administration to publicly release some 50 secret Bush Justice Department memos that were written to justify the Bush administration’s interrogation and domestic spying programs. The Bush White House consistently refused to release the memos, citing national security, attorney-client privilege, and the need to protect the government’s deliberative process. The ACLU request comes after President Obama rescinded a 2001 executive order that gave government agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests (see January 21, 2009). Obama has asked agencies to be more transparent in deciding what documents can and cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act; the ACLU intends to put Obama’s words to the test. “The president has made a very visible and clear commitment to transparency,” says Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We’re eager to see that put into practice.” Many see the Justice Department memos, written by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, as the “missing puzzle pieces” that will help explain the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies. Critics of the Bush administration say that the memos may help determine whether officials of the former administration should be held accountable for legal opinions that justified waterboarding and other illegal interrogation practices. “We don’t have anything resembling a full picture of what happened over the last eight years and on what grounds the Bush administration believed it could order such methods,” says Jaffer. “We think the OLC memos are really central to that narrative.” The ACLU is aware of the memos’ existence, but not much else. Jaffer says: “There are about a dozen memos where we just have one or two lines about the subject matter and that’s it. When you put it all together you realize how much is still being held secret.” [McClatchy News, 1/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Classification

Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Geoff Morrell, James L. Pohl, Jennifer Daskal, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, US Department of Justice, Kirk Lippold, Robert Gibbs, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Barack Obama, American Enterprise Institute, Wall Street Journal, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Detainee Treatment Act

Several Republican senators plan to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and report their findings. They are expected to continue their calls for keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Mel Martinez (R-FL) decided to make the trip after President Obama issued an executive order mandating that the prison be closed within a year (see January 22, 2009). “I’ve always looked at [the prison] as being a real valuable asset,” says Inhofe. He admits he does not “have a solution to what we’re going to ultimately do” with the prisoners deemed most dangerous. “I’m not addressing that problem,” he says. Inhofe says Obama’s order to close the prison “failed to take into consideration the implications of closing [Guantanamo]—what happens to current detainees, what the military will do with detainees held in other military prisons around the world and what judicial process is going to be used.” Obama has asked for a “comprehensive interagency review” to settle those questions. [Daily Oklahoman, 1/30/2009; Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009] Burr says that he is “so far unconvinced that moving trained terrorists to the United States is in the best national security interests of our nation.” And Vitter notes that he is “very disappointed in President Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.” He continues: “This facility should not be closed, and these individuals should not be released until we can determine the extent of their potential involvement in terrorist activities. And we most certainly should use every available measure to ensure that they do not make their way into the United States if in fact they are released.” [Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009]
Worry about Housing Detainees in US Prisons - Like Inhofe, Roberts is concerned that some Guantanamo inmates will be transferred into prisons in his home state. Kansas is the home of Fort Leavenworth, which houses a large Army prison. “I am especially concerned with ridiculous speculation that Ft. Leavenworth is equipped to handle these detainees, some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world,” he says. “I am convinced these terrorists cannot and will not be housed in Kansas.” [KansasCW, 1/30/2009]
Advocating Continued Detentions without Trials - In an interview with Fox News, Vitter goes further than his Senatorial colleagues, saying that he favors continuing to detain some suspects without trials. “We need the ability to deal with these folks adequately,” he says. “To me, that has to include the ability to detain some—without trial—to continue proper interrogation.… I’d like to have Gitmo stay open. But certainly, we need detention facilities where we can detain dangerous terrorists without trial, continue to interrogate them.” [Think Progress, 1/30/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has already made the same recommendation (see January 21, 2009).

Entity Tags: Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham, James M. Inhofe, David Vitter, Barack Obama, Mel Martinez, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, US Supreme Court, George J. Tenet, National Security Council, John Bellinger

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret

Two senior Bush administration officials reflect on the executive order denying any Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees (see February 7, 2002). Jack Goldsmith, formerly head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, says: “To conclude that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply—it doesn’t follow from that, or at least it shouldn’t, that detainees don’t get certain rights and certain protections. There are all sorts of very, very good policy reasons why they should have been given a rigorous legal regime whereby we could legitimatize their detention. For years there was just a giant hole, a legal hole of minimal protections, minimal law.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls: “Based on what the secretary and [State Department legal adviser William] Taft were telling me, I think they both were convinced that they had managed to get the president’s attention with regard to what they thought was the governing document, the Geneva Conventions. I really think it came as a surprise when the February memo was put out. And that memo, of course, was constructed by [Cheney chief counsel David] Addington, and I’m told it was blessed by one or two people in OLC. And then it was given to [Vice President] Cheney, and Cheney gave it to the president. The president signed it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Jack Goldsmith

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder says that if he is confirmed, he intends to review current litigation in which the Bush administration asserted the so-called “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), and that he intends to minimize the use of the privilege during his tenure. “I will review significant pending cases in which DOJ [the Justice Department] has invoked the state secrets privilege, and will work with leaders in other agencies and professionals at the Department of Justice to ensure that the United States invokes the state secrets privilege only in legally appropriate situations,” he writes in a response to pre-confirmation questions. (Shortly after Holder’s testimony, the Justice Department again asserts the “state secrets” privilege in a case involving a Guantanamo detainee—see February 9, 2009). Holder adds: “I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government. Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law.” To a related question, he asserts his belief that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) must disclose as many of the opinions it generates as possible: “Once the new assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel is confirmed, I plan to instruct that official to review the OLC’s policies relating to publication of its opinions with the [objective] of making its opinions available to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns.” [Federation of American Scientists, 2/2/2009; Senate Judiciary Committee, 2/2/2009] Weeks later, the Justice Department will release nine controversial OLC memos from the Bush administration (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, State Secrets

George W. Bush’s former political guru Karl Rove echoes incorrect statements made by former Bush lawyer John Yoo. In an op-ed, Yoo claimed that President Obama’s prohibition against torture, and the mandate for US interrogators to use the Army Field Manual as their guide, prevents interrogators from using long-established, non-invasive techniques to question prisoners (see January 29, 2009). In an address at Loyola Marymount University, Rove tells his listeners: “The Army Field Manual prohibits ‘good cop, bad cop.’ All that stuff you see on CSI—the Army Field Manual prohibits it.… If you stop collecting that information, you begin to make America more at risk.” [Torrance Daily Breeze, 2/3/2009] Both Rove and Yoo are wrong. The Army Field Manual explicitly permits many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo and Rove claim it bans. [Army, 9/2006]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

PBS’s Nova series broadcasts “The Spy Factory,” an examination of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. The program is crafted by author and national security expert James Bamford with PBS producer Scott Willis. One portion of the broadcast shows a representation of the enormous data flow of Internet communications entering the US from Asia at Morro Bay, California, and then goes to a small AT&T facility in San Luis Obispo. “If you want to tap into international communications, it seems like the perfect place is San Luis Obispo,” Bamford narrates. “That’s where 80 percent of all communications from Asia enters the United States.” However, the NSA taps into the AT&T datastream much farther north, in AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco (see October 2003 and Late 2003). According to former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), the NSA would have far more access to domestic communications by tapping into the dataflow at the San Francisco facility. He will later write, “This fact belies the government’s claims that they’re only looking at international communications.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 50-51; PBS, 2/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, James Bamford, Public Broadcasting System, National Security Agency, Scott Willis

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Media Involvement and Responses, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, repudiates former Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the US is less safe under Obama (see February 4, 2009). Panetta says: “I was disappointed by those comments because the implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of the United States wants to abide by the law and the Constitution. I think we’re a stronger nation when we abide by the law and the Constitution.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

Leon Panetta.Leon Panetta. [Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon Panetta, says that the CIA will not carry out “extraordinary renditions” under his tenure. Sparked by recent claims that the Obama administration intends to continue such extraordinary renditions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Panetta during his Senate confirmation hearings, “Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?” Panetta says, “No we will not.” He adds, “[B]ecause under the executive order signed by the president (see January 22, 2009), that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values—that has been forbidden by the executive order.” Panetta goes on to note the difference between “extraordinary rendition” and law enforcement rendition. [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, Dianne Feinstein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, is asked by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) if a president has the authority to order torture. Panetta responds, “No one is above the law.” He continues: “I understand the powers that the president has under Article II [of the US Constitution], and they are broad powers, but nobody is above the law. Nobody is above the law. And I think that even the president of the United States has to abide by the statutes and by the laws passed by the Congress. So yes, he has broad authority under Article II, but I do not think he can violate the laws of this country.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Burr, Barack Obama, Leon Panetta, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Upon his return from a brief tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see January 30, 2009), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivers a speech on the floor of the Senate recommending that the facility remain open, despite President Obama’s decision to close it (see January 22, 2009). Inhofe says, “The military detention facilities at GTMO meet the highest international standards and are a fundamental part of protecting the lives of Americans from terrorism.” He says “[t]he detainees are being treated humanely,” there are “two lawyers for every detainee that has been charged or had charges preferred against them,” and there is one health care professional for every two detainees, ensuring that they receive the highest level of medical care (see April-May 2002, August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Guantanamo “is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the US,” Inhofe insists. “It is a secure location away from population centers, provides the maximum security required to prevent escape, provides multiple levels of confinement opportunities based on the compliance of the detainee, and provides medical care not available to a majority of the population of the world.” He goes on: “Furthermore, GTMO is the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror. This intelligence has prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives in the past and continues to do so today (see Summer 2000 and November 30, 2008). New intelligence is continually being collected from detainees at GTMO and is being used to fight terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe.” Since the US “will continue to capture, hold and detain enemy combatants,” he says, “we require a location to safely detain and care for these detainees.” [US Senate, 2/5/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who joined Inhofe on the tour, agrees, saying that the Guantanamo facility is “well thought out and in keeping with our nation’s highest ideals.” Burr adds that it is the US guards, not the prisoners, who are being mistreated: “If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force. They must endure frequent verbal and physical attacks from detainees while maintaining the highest standard of care for those same individuals.” [US Senate, 2/2/2009] Neither Inhofe nor Burr address the hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees, nor the allegations that prisoners are being force-fed and beaten (see February 8, 2009). Satyam Khanna of the left-leaning website Think Progress notes: “It is unclear how Inhofe and his conservative colleagues failed to see 50 detainees on hunger strike, some near death, while touring the prison. Conveniently, none of the senators alerted the public to these facts upon their return.” [Think Progress, 2/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Burr, Barack Obama, James M. Inhofe, Satyam Khanna

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Binyam Mohamed.Binyam Mohamed. [Source: Independent]A lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee demands the release of her client because he is near death. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is in London to ask that her client, British resident Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who is still in Guantanamo even though all charges against him have been dropped (see October-December 2008), be released. Through Bradley, Mohamed claims that he has been repeatedly tortured at the behest of US intelligence officials (see April 10-May, 2002, May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). Bradley says that Mohamed is dying in his cell. Mohamed and some twenty other detainees are so unhealthy that they are on what Bradley calls a “critical list.”
Hunger Strike, Beatings - Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including Mohamed, are on a hunger strike, and are being strapped to chairs and force-fed; those who resist, witnesses say, are beaten. Mohamed has suffered drastic weight loss, and has told his lawyer that he is “very scared” of being attacked by guards after witnessing what The Guardian describes as “a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth.” Bradley is horrified at Mohamed’s description of the state of affairs in the prison. She says: “At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. SWAT teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening. It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or three-hour period to digest food through a feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs the guards are having to force-feed them in shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being beaten it scared him and he decided he was not going to resist. He thought, ‘I don’t want to be beat, injured or killed.’ Given his health situation, one good blow could be fatal.… Binyam is continuing to lose weight and he is going to get worse. He has been told he is about to be released, but psychologically and physically he is declining.”
Demanding Documents to Prove Torture, Rendition - Bradley is also demanding documents that she says will prove her client was tortured, and may also prove British complicity in Mohamed’s treatment (see February 24, 2009). An American court in San Francisco is also slated to hear evidence that Mohamed was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA, where Mohamed and other prisoners were sent to other countries that tortured them. That lawsuit was originally dismissed when the Bush administration asserted “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953), but lawyers for Mohamed refiled the case hoping that the Obama administration would be less secretive.
US Intelligence Wants Mohamed Dead? - The Guardian also notes that “some sections of the US intelligence community would prefer Binyam did die inside Guantanamo.” The reason? “Silenced forever, only the sparse language of his diary would be left to recount his torture claims and interviewees with an MI5 officer, known only as Witness B. Such a scenario would also deny Mohamed the chance to personally sue the US, and possibly British authorities, over his treatment.” [Guardian, 2/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Yvonne Bradley, Binyam Mohamed, Bush administration (43), Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

A Justice Department official says that the Obama administration will continue to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) in a lawsuit filed by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see February 8, 2009). In the case Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc, Mohamed and four former detainees are suing a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for cooperating with the CIA in subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition,” flying them to foreign countries and secret overseas CIA prisons where, they say, they were tortured. The case was thrown out a year ago, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has appealed it. According to a source inside the Ninth US District Court, a Justice Department lawyer tells the presiding judge that its position has not changed, that the new administration stands behind arguments that the previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The lawyer says the entire subject matter remains a state secret. According to Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, “It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Reynolds that the privilege not ‘be lightly invoked.’” Miller adds that Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting a review of all state secret privilege matters. “The Attorney General has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the State Secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” Miller says. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. The Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know. This administration will be transparent and open, consistent with our national security obligations.” The ACLU’s Anthony Romero says that the Obama administration is doing little besides offering “more of the same.” He continues: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition, and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for Mohamed and the other plaintiffs, adds: “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.” [ABC News, 2/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Binyam Mohamed, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Ben Wizner, US Department of Justice, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Central Intelligence Agency, Matthew Miller, Jeppesen Dataplan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, State Secrets, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The Justice Department is holding back on publicly releasing an internal department report on the conduct of former department officials involved in approving waterboarding and other torture techniques. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), led by H. Marshall Jarrett, completed the report in the final weeks of the Bush administration. The report probes whether the legal advice given in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to knowledgeable sources, the report harshly criticizes three former department lawyers: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, all former members of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, objected to the draft. Filip wanted the report to be “balanced” with responses from the three principals. The OPR is now waiting on the three to respond to the draft’s criticisms before presenting the report to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The matter is under review,” says Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. The OPR report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against any or all of the three. But Bush-era officials feel the probe is inherently unfair. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice Department attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” says a former Bush lawyer. Mukasey criticized the report, calling it “second-guessing” and says that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury operated under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, and offered “their best judgment of what the law required.” OPR investigators looked into charges by former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith and others that the legal opinions provided by the three were “sloppy,” legally dubious, and slanted to give Bush administration officials what they wanted. [Newsweek, 2/14/2009; Newsweek, 2/16/2009] Some of the report is later leaked to the press (see February 22, 2009).

Entity Tags: Jay S. Bybee, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice, Matthew Miller, Office of Professional Responsibility, Mark Filip, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Steven Bradbury, H. Marshall Jarrett

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Bush administration (43), US Supreme Court, Obama administration, Jonathan Hafetz, Larry Craig, John Bellinger

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

In the case of Kiyemba v Obama the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously blocks a judge’s order to free 17 Chinese Uighurs (see September 17, 2006 and June 30, 2008) from detention in Guantanamo. [New York Times, 2/18/2009; Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Not a Threat to the US - The Uighurs, members of a small Muslim ethnic and religious minority, have been in detention for seven years after being captured in Pakistan; they insist they were receiving training to resist Chinese oppression, and never harbored any ill will towards the US or had any intention of participating in attacks on US or US-allied targets. Judge Ricardo Urbina concurred in an October ruling. Even Bush officials had decided not to try to prove the 17 men were “enemy combatants”; instead, they said that they would continue imprisoning them because they had “trained for armed insurrection against their home country” in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. The Obama administration can choose to release the Uighurs if it can find a country—the US or another nation—to accept the detainees for resettlement. Obama officials do not want to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities for fear that they will be imprisoned and tortured.
Two Rulings, One on Release, One on Habeas Corpus - All three appellate judges agree to overturn Urbina’s order to release the Uighurs, but split 2-1 on a separate question: whether detainees such as the Uighurs have habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention. Two, Judges Arthur Randolph and Karen Henderson, say that the law, as decided by the Supreme Court in the June 2008 Boumediene v Bush case (see June 22, 2008), does not give judges the right to release detainees into the US. “Never in the history of habeas corpus,” the majority opinion finds, “has any court thought it had the power to order an alien held overseas brought into the sovereign territory of a nation and released into the general population.” Judge Judith Rogers dissents, writing that the ruling “ignores the very purpose” of the writ of habeas corpus, which is, she writes, to serve as “a check on arbitrary executive power.” If the court has no legal right to release the Uighurs into the US, Rogers writes, the Boumediene ruling has no meaning. A lawyer for the Uighurs, Susan Baker Manning, says the ruling means innocent people “can spend the rest of their lives in prison even though the US knows it’s a mistake.” [New York Times, 2/18/2009]
Civil Rights Organization 'Disappointed' in Ruling, Calls for Release - Sharon Bradford Franklin of the Constitution Project, a civil rights organization, writes: “We are disappointed by today’s DC Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year. President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the US. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States. The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.” [Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Sharon Bradford Franklin, Susan Baker Manning, US Supreme Court, Judith Rogers, Constitution Project, Barack Obama, Arthur Randolph, Karen Henderson, Obama administration

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. [Public Record, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Bush administration (43), Office of Professional Responsibility, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), H. Marshall Jarrett, Alberto R. Gonzales, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft, Jay S. Bybee

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

A federal appeals court rejects the Obama administration’s assertion that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department had requested an emergency stay in a case brought by a defunct Islamic charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006). Al Haramain has asked that classified information be made available to the court to prove its case that the electronic surveillance brought to bear against it by the government was illegal; Justice Department lawyers contend that the information needs to remain classified and unavailable to the court, and cite the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) as legal justification. Although the court rejects the request for the stay, Justice Department lawyers say they will continue fighting to keep the information secret. “The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” says a filing made by the Justice Department in regards to the ruling. A lawyer for Al Haramain, Steven Goldberg, says: “All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we’re finally going to get our day in court. This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by the executive branch which is extraordinary.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ann Brick says the court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which “national security isn’t put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009] Days later, the Justice Department will file a brief announcing its intention to refuse to honor the appeals court’s decision (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Ann Brick, Steven Goldberg, US Department of Justice, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, State Secrets, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), John Dean, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush, Keith Olbermann

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The Justice Department defies a recent court order (see February 27, 2009) and refuses to provide a document that might prove the Bush administration conducted illegal wiretaps on a now-defunct Islamic charity. The Justice Department files a brief with a California federal district court challenging the court’s right to carry out its own decision to make that evidence available in a pending lawsuit. Even though the document is critical to the lawsuit, the lawyers can obtain the necessary top-secret clearances, and the document would not be made public, the Justice Department claims that the document cannot be entered into evidence. The lawyers for Al Haramain, the Islamic charity and the plaintiffs in the suit, calls the Justice Department’s decision “mind-boggling.”
Government's Position - For its part, the Justice Department writes in a brief that the decision to release the document “is committed to the discretion of the executive branch, and is not subject to judicial review.” The document has been in the possession of the court since 2004, when the government inadvertently released it to the plaintiffs. In the same brief, the Justice Department writes: “If the Court intends to itself grant access to classified information directly to the plaintiffs’ counsel, the government requests that the Court again provide advance notice of any such order, as well as an ex parte, in camera description of the information it intends to disclose, to enable the government to either make its own determination about whether counsel has a need to know, or to withdraw that information from submission to the Court and use in this case. If the Court rejects either action by the government, the government again requests that the Court stay proceedings while the government considers whether to appeal any such order.” The statement is an implied threat that the Justice Department lawyers will themselves physically remove the document from the court files if the judge says he has the right to allow Al Haramain’s lawyers to see it.
Response from Plaintiff's Attorney - Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, says in an e-mail: “It’s a not-so-thinly veiled threat to send executive branch authorities (the FBI? the Army?) to Judge [Virginia] Walker’s chambers to seize the classified material from his files! In my view, that would be an unprecedented violation of the constitutional separation of powers. I doubt anything like it has happened in the history of this country.” Eisenberg says that the Obama administration, through the Justice Department, “seems to be provoking a separation-of-powers confrontation with Judge Walker.”
Administration's Second Use of State Secrets - This is the second time the Obama administration has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to keep information secret (see February 9, 2009). Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “In the Bush administration, the state secrets doctrine was used to buttress the power of the president and make it difficult if not impossible to contest such issues as presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping in the United States. We would think that when such disagreements occur, it’s properly before the judiciary to resolve them. But the Bush administration asserted the state secrets doctrine for the purpose of making it effectively impossible for courts to review the matter.” The Al Haramain case is significant because of “the apparent willingness of the Obama administration’s Justice Department to carry further that same argument in federal court. It is of great concern.” [Washington Independent, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Jon Eisenberg, US Department of Justice, Marc Rotenberg, Virginia Walker

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, State Secrets, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Some of the Justice Department memos released today.Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Jennifer Daskal, Patrick J. Leahy, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jameel Jaffer, Kate Martin, John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Scott Horton, Steven Bradbury, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Bush administration (43), Defense Intelligence Agency, John C. Yoo

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Time columnist Michael Scherer, writing about the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009), notes: “I know I am late on this, but every American should take note of the incredible neo-Orwellian, near-totalitarian powers that President Bush’s Justice Department granted the White House in the days after September 11.… They are certainly not based on a ‘conservative’ limited government reading of the constitution. They are, by almost every account, of doubtful constitutional merit. And if we wish to continue to teach our children that freedom and liberty are the bedrock of the American form of government, we should as citizens take care to make sure they do not become a precedent for future presidents to use in responding to attacks on the homeland.” [Time, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Scherer

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Columnist and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the recently released Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the enormous power Bush attempted to gather for himself (see March 2, 2009) mandates a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration’s criminal activities. He notes, “[T]here is almost certainly a whole slew of other activities that remain concealed, and very well may remain undisclosed for years” because of the apparent reluctance of the Obama administration to give serious consideration to such an investigation, or, as Greenwald writes, “a new administration that seems bizarrely desperate to keep concealed the secrets of the old one.” Greenwald continues: “The most vital point is that all of the documents released yesterday by the Obama [Justice Department] comprise nothing less than a regime of secret laws under which we were governed. Nothing was redacted when those documents yesterday were released because they don’t contain any national security secrets. They’re nothing more than legal decrees, written by lawyers. They’re just laws that were implemented with no acts of Congress, unilaterally by the executive branch. Yet even the very laws that governed us were kept secret for eight years. This is factually true, with no hyperbole: Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our ‘laws’ were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the president (see March 3, 2009). Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?” But, he writes: “If our political class had its way, even the bits and pieces we’ve now seen would continue to be hidden in the dark. Most of the specific individuals who initiated these measures may no longer be in power, but the institutions and the political and media elites who enabled all of it haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now actively working to keep as much as possible concealed and to insist that nothing should be done about any of it.” [Salon, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Glenn Greenwald

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Orin S. Kerr, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Balkin, Walter Dellinger, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

By a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court narrows the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and July 27, 2006), ruling in Bartlett v. Strickland that the VRA does not require state governments to draw electoral districts favorable to minority candidates in places where minorities make up less than half the population. The Court rules that race must be considered only in drawing boundaries where a “geographically compact group of minority voters” make up at least 50 percent of a single-member district. Law professor Richard Hasen says that because of the Court’s ruling, 50 percent is now a “magic number.” The decision makes it more difficult for minorities to challenge redistricting efforts that they believe may dilute voting rights after the upcoming 2010 census. Writing for the plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “There is an underlying principle of fundamental importance: We must be most cautious before interpreting a statute to require courts to make inquiries based on racial classifications and race-based predictions.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito join with Kennedy’s opinion; Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas file a concurring opinion that claims no minorities should ever be able to go to court with complaints about minority vote dilution. The four moderate/liberal justices on the Court dissent. Hasen says that Kennedy’s opinion makes it likely that he will join the Court’s right wing to further limit the VRA in upcoming cases: Hasen says Kennedy seems open to interpreting the VRA “in ever stingier ways.” However, Kennedy also writes: “Racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.” The case hinges on a decision by the North Carolina legislature to enhance minority representation by creating a voting district that crosses county lines; the Court strikes down the district and rejects arguments that the district is needed for North Carolina to comply with the VRA. Instead, Kennedy writes, only districts where minorities made up more than 50 percent are protected under the VRA. Justice David Souter, writing the four-justice dissent, says that such “crossover districts” are sometimes needed to fulfill the goals of the VRA, and that the Court’s finding will “force the states to perpetuate racially concentrated districts, the quintessential manifestations of race consciousness in American politics.” It will require states “to pack black voters” into districts in which minorities make up the majority, Souter writes, “contracting the number of districts where racial minorities are having success in transcending racial divisions.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009; Washington Post, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: David Souter, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Richard L. Hasen, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Barack Obama orders a review of former President Bush’s signing statements. Bush often used signing statements to instruct administration officials how to implement, or to ignore, Congressional legislation and other laws (see Early 2005, January 13, 2006, and September 2007). Obama has sent memos to numerous federal agencies directing them to review Bush’s signing statements. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that other presidents have used signing statements to note potential problems and conflicts, and says Obama will continue that practice. But, Gibbs says, Obama will not use signing statements to disregard Congress’s intent in its legislation. [Associated Press, 3/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Signing Statements

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter tells a New York Times reporter that the editorial staff of the Times—which she brands the “Treason Times”—should have been executed for treason for revealing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Coulter responded to a set of questions e-mailed to her regarding her upcoming debates with political satirist Bill Maher. Asked if she believes she speaks for the conservative movement, for her own fan base, or someone else, she answers, “I think I speak for all Americans who think newspaper editors who print the details of top secret anti-terrorist intelligence gathering programs on page one in wartime should be executed for treason.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ann Coulter, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Freedoms, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar.Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, William H. McRaven, Joint Special Operations Command, George W. Bush, George Little, Central Intelligence Agency, Walter Mondale, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Howard Fineman, John Dean, Keith Olbermann, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).

The Obama administration’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, is endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the committee Democrats vote to endorse her, and all but one Republican committee member vote against her; Arlen Specter (R-PA) abstains. After the endorsement, Senate Republicans use a variety of parliamentary procedures to delay or block her appointment. Legal expert and columnist Scott Horton writes, “The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance that would clip the wings of the imperial presidency.” Johnsen formerly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), earning her the enmity of social conservatives who have made her the target of a massive opposition campaign. Anti-abortion groups call her a “radical, pro-abortion activist.” However, Horton notes, observations from Republican officials and opinion leaders show that the GOP’s real concern is not over Johnsen’s support for abortion, but for her apparent intent to roll back Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless surveillance. Even worse, Horton writes, is her intention to reveal secret information from the Bush years about those subjects. But it is politically difficult to attack Johnsen on these issues, Republicans say, so instead she is being targeted for her views on abortion. President Obama’s choice of Johnsen’s two deputies—Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman (see January 20, 2009)—are, like Johnsen, experienced in both academia and politics, and have been vehement critics of the OLC during the Bush years. [Daily Beast, 3/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Arlen Specter, David Barron, Dawn Johnsen, Scott Horton, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Obama administration, Martin (“Marty”) Lederman

Category Tags: Other

The New York Times, in an unsigned editorial, warns of the possible ramifications of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was argued on March 15, eight days before the Web publication date of the editorial (see March 15, 2009) and nine days before the editorial is published in print; it is unclear in retrospect why the editorial is written as if the arguments have not yet taken place, or whether the dates of the published version are accurate. The Times sums up the case—a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United (CU), planned to air a 90-minute film that was highly critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the days before 2008 presidential primary elections, in violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or “McCain-Feingold”—see March 27, 2002) that bans “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election. CU was aware of the law, and filed a suit claiming that the law unconstitutionally violated its First Amendment rights. “The Supreme Court should affirm that ruling,” the Times states. The CU briefs “mak[e] a wide array of claims,” the “most dangerous” of which is a request to overturn the 1990 Austin Court decision (see March 27, 1990) that banned corporations from using monies from their general treasuries. The Times states: “If Citizens United prevails, it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 3/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, US Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton, New York Times

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

Baltasar Garzon.Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Presidency of Argentina]A Spanish court begins preliminary work towards opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former top Bush administration officials may be guilty of war crimes related to torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Spanish law allows the investigation and prosecution of people beyond its borders in the case of torture or war crimes. Investigative judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and has overseen the prosecution of numerous terrorists and human rights violators, wants to prosecute former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, former Defense Department officials William Haynes and Douglas Feith, and David Addington, the former chief of staff to then-Vice President Cheney. Many legal experts say that even if Garzon’s case results in warrants being issued, it is highly doubtful that the warrants would ever be served as long as the six potential defendants remain in the US. Spain has jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents have claimed to have been tortured at Guantanamo; the five faced charges in Spain, but were released after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained through torture was inadmissible. Garzon’s complaint rests on alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers with the assistance of experts in Europe and America, and filed by the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, a Spanish human rights group. Lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who filed the complaint, says that Gonzales, Yoo, and the others have what he calls well-documented roles in approving illegal torture techniques, redefining torture, and ignoring the constraints set by the Convention Against Torture. “When you bring a case like this you can’t stop to make political judgments as to how it might affect bilateral relations between countries,” Boye says. “It’s too important for that.” Boye adds: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate, and cover up torture.” The US is expected to ignore any extradition requests occuring from the case. [New York Times, 3/28/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2009]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Jay S. Bybee, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Gonzalo Boye, Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, Alberto R. Gonzales, Baltasar Garzon, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Frances Townsend, Seymour Hersh, US Department of Defense, Wolf Blitzer, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Joint Special Operations Command, John Hannah

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo (R-Metarie) introduces legislation in the Louisiana State House of Representatives that would require all new applicants for state welfare to submit to drug testing. Those who fail would be denied benefits until they completed a required counseling program. Currently, Louisiana screens applicants through interviews and questionnaires. Those suspected of being drug users are tested, and they can still get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as long as they comply with the state-paid treatment program. They are denied benefits only if they refuse the counseling-treatment program or when they fail to meet its requirements. LaBruzzo triggered a storm of criticism last year when he suggested paying welfare recipients to be sterilized (see September 23, 2008); the ensuing controversy cost him the vice chairmanship of the House Health and Welfare Committee. That idea was quickly shelved, and LaBruzzo now calls it “one of several ideas” from a “brainstorming session” on how to reduce public assistance rolls. “I never intended to draft legislation,” he says. LaBruzzo has said that Louisiana is losing tax revenues because people receiving government aid reproduce at a faster rate than wealthier, better-educated people who pay more in taxes. He calls his idea of drug-testing all welfare applicants a “sensible way” to trim the number of households on assistance, and says it will “prove that welfare recipients in Louisiana are not criminals,” by giving taxpayers assurance that anyone on assistance is drug free. His idea would mandate the Department of Social Services (DSS) to outsource the testing program to a private firm. LaBruzzo also says that anyone convicted of a drug felony should have to wait 10 years before receiving public assistance. Currently, the law mandates a one-year waiting period. In 2008, about 14,000 families received a total of $17 million in assistance. The monthly benefit to a qualifying parent with two children is about $250. LaBruzzo incorrectly says Louisiana already spends $40 million on testing and treatment programs, but DSS spokesperson Trey Williams says the actual figure is a tenth of LaBruzzo’s claim—$4.1 million. LaBruzzo also claims that Louisiana is suffering from a “growing problem of welfare,” though the number of recipients has been much lower since 1996, when President Clinton signed a federal law that limited recipients to a cumulative five years of benefits. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Trey Williams, John LaBruzzo, Louisiana State House of Representatives, Louisiana Department of Social Services

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy

Former Bush defense official Douglas Feith claims he had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s torture policies. Feith makes his remarks in response to a recent announcement that a Spanish court would consider filing criminal charges against him and five other former Bush officials “over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo.” Appearing on Fox News, Feith says he never approved any torture policies: “I’m being criticized for a position that I never advocated. And so the facts are just wrong.” Feith says he merely gave President Bush “advice” and had no role in “directing” torture policy: “But there’s also a broader point of principle here, which is what the Spanish authorities are considering doing is indicting people, former US government officials for giving advice to the president. And the idea that a foreign official can disagree with advice given to the president, they’re not talking about action. And they’re not even talking about directing people to take action. They’re talking about people who were advising the president on policy and legal questions. This is an effort to intimidate US government officials.” [Think Progress, 3/31/2009] But Feith has bragged before of his influence on Bush administration torture policies, telling British author and law professor Phillippe Sands that he played a key role in ensuring that Geneva Convention policies did not apply to detainees (see Early 2006).

Entity Tags: Phillippe Sands, Douglas Feith, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

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