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Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) announces that he is amending the state’s Rules of Executive Clemency, in concert with the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, to permit convicted felons who have lost their right to vote to have their votes automatically restored once they have completed their full sentences and subsequent sentencing requirements such as parole, probation, and/or restitution. Previously, the law required that a convicted felon must demonstrate five “crime-free” years after release before such restoration could take place. The new law applies mainly to non-violent offenders; some citizens convicted of violent crimes must still submit to a hearing before the Clemency Board before reinstatement can take place. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]
A federal court of appeals overturns the conviction of former Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson, who was convicted of two felony counts of manipulating a state bidding process to favor a Wisconsin travel agency whose executives had made campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see June 13, 2006). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the conviction and orders Thompson released from jail (see September 22, 2006) immediately. US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, says he will most likely not appeal the decision. The three-judge panel finds Thompson was wrongfully convicted after oral arguments were presented by both Biskupic’s office and Thompson’s attorney, not waiting for written submissions. Judge Diane T. Wood called the evidence submitted by Biskupic “beyond thin,” telling prosecutors: “I have to say, in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that’s a pretty thin set of facts to show some sort of tight political relationship. Am I missing something?” Judge William Bauer wondered why others were not prosecuted, asking why, if prosecutors felt Doyle and others were complicit in the alleged crimes, only Thompson was left to “carr[y] the sack.” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook noted Adelman Travel had the lowest bid and assailed math used to score competing bids. “Because they flunked high school math doesn’t mean a felony was committed,” he said. Doyle, a former state attorney general, says the court did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release. Decisions like this usually take weeks or months to be rendered. Doyle says Thompson did nothing wrong, calls her “an innocent woman who was used as a political football,” and says she deserves her job back and to be awarded back pay. “She was doing her job, and then she got caught up in all of this,” he says. Doyle defeated gubernatorial challenger Mark Green (R-WI) in the November 2006 elections; Green attempted to make the Thompson “Travelgate” affair a centerpiece of his campaign, and repeatedly accused Doyle and his administration of corruption. Thompson’s attorney, Stephen Hurley, argued in oral presentations that Thompson did not personally profit from the contract going to Adelman Travel, contending that her actions did not constitute “dishonest gain,” a criteria many courts have applied to corruption cases. Hurley says that as a result of her conviction, she lost “her job, her life savings, her home, and her liberty; and it cost Georgia her good name.… At sentencing, the government urged a longer period of incarceration because Georgia did not accept responsibility. Today, the government ought to accept responsibility for the consequences of its acts.” Wisconsin Republican Party director Mark Jefferson says Thompson’s exoneration means nothing, and the Doyle administration should still be investigated regarding the contract process. [Associated Press, 4/5/2007; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007] Wisconsin lawyer Chris Van Wagner later says of the appeals court’s decision: “That is more than a legal ruling; it’s a slap in the face. This, no question about it, is a major affront to the government in many ways. Most significantly, it said you should have never brought this case.… Two or three cases out of 100 are vacated. This case wasn’t just vacated and sent back for a retrial, but rather the judges ordered an acquittal.” [Christopher T. Van Wagner, 4/2007] Law professor Michael O’Hear agrees that the decision is unusual. “If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they’re saying is it’s unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months,” he says. [Wisconsin State Journal, 4/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Frank Easterbrook, Diane T. Wood, Adelman Travel, William Bauer, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Michael O’Hear, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Georgia Lee Thompson, Mark Jefferson, Chris Van Wagner, Mark Andrew Green
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007] Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” [Federal Document Clearing House, 4/10/2007]
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).
Entity Tags: David Travis, Andy Gussert, Tammy Baldwin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Stephen Hurley, Russell D. Feingold, Steven M. Biskupic, Patrick J. Leahy, Herbert Kohl, Georgia Lee Thompson, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Michelle Jacobs, Karl C. Rove, Peg Lautenschlager, Mark Andrew Green
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Convicted felon Lewis Libby decides not to ask for a new trial (see March 6, 2007), but says he intends to appeal his conviction to a federal appeals court. [CBS News, 1/25/2007]
An editorial by Adam Cohen in the New York Times concurs that Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. Thompson’s conviction on corruption charges was recently overturned (see April 5, 2007), and critics are now alleging that state Republicans used the Thompson case to help defeat incumbent Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who defeated a Republican challenger in November 2006 (see April 7-10, 2007). “The entire affair is raising serious questions about why a United States Attorney put an innocent woman in jail,” Cohen writes. Cohen implies that US Attorney Steven Biskupic of Wisconsin may have pursued the Thompson allegations in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Members of Congress should ask whether it was by coincidence or design that [Biskupic] turned a flimsy case into a campaign issue that nearly helped Republicans win a pivotal governor’s race,” he writes. The appeals court that overturned Thompson’s conviction was “shocked,” Cohen writes, at the lack of evidence against Thompson. Moreover, Biskupic, the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, took over the case even though it originated in Madison, in the Western District. And he spoke to reporters about the investigation, in apparent defiance of Justice Department guidelines saying federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. Cohen says the scheduling of the prosecution “worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election.” While Biskupic has denied that the timing of the prosecution was “tied to the political calendar,” it was, says Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke, “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race. Cohen then writes: “Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States Attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure. Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all.” President Bush lost Wisconsin by a vanishingly small margin of 12,000 votes in 2004, and by an even narrower margin in 2000. Wisconsin politicians say that Karl Rove, the White House’s political chief, told them Wisconsin was his highest priority, because he believed that having a Republican win the 2006 gubernatorial race would help Republicans win in the 2008 presidential election. Cohen concludes by pointing out the irony of one element of the prosecution: Biskupic charged that Thompson committed the alleged crime to obtain “political advantage for her superiors” and to improve her own “job security.” Cohen writes, “Those motivations, of course, may well describe why Mr. Biskupic prosecuted Ms. Thompson. [New York Times, 4/16/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of attorneys under consideration for removal.
Former CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who ran the agency’s “rendition” program that sent suspected terrorists to foreign nations to be interrogated for information in the late 1990s (see Summer 1995 and 1997), says during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the assurances of Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria that a suspect will not be tortured are not “worth a bucket of warm spit.” Scheuer tells the assembled lawmakers that he knows of at least three mistakes that the CIA has made in its overseas rendition program, including the capture and subsequent torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002 and October 10, 2002-October 20, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 149-150; US Congress, 4/17/2007 ]
In a 5-4 decision splitting the court between conservatives and moderate/liberal justices, the Supreme Court upholds the 2003 ban on so-called “partial-birth abortions.” The Court rules that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. [CBS News, 4/19/2007]
Microsoft logo. [Source: Your Logo Collection (.com)]The National Security Agency (NSA) reveals plans to build an enormous new data center in San Antonio, Texas, three months after Microsoft announced plans to build a $550 million data center in the same area. [National Security Agency, 4/19/2007] The NSA previously acknowledged building a similar data storage facility in Colorado (see January 30, 2006). Reporter and author James Bamford will later write in his book The Shadow Factory that “[t]he timing of the move was interesting,” because the NSA had leased a building in San Antonio in 2005, but had not done anything further. The NSA only announces plans to move forward with the data center after Microsoft revealed plans to build a 470,000 square foot cloud data center that would handle Internet search data, emails, and instant messages. Bamford will quote Bexar County judge Nelson Wolff’s statement to the San Antonio Express-News, “We told [the NSA] we were going to get Microsoft, and that really opened up their eyes,” and write, “For an agency heavily involved in data harvesting, there were many advantages to having their miners next door to the mother lode of data centers” (see 1997, February 27, 2000, February 2001), Spring 2001, April 4, 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, and December 15, 2005). Microsoft’s operation will be largely automated and employ only 75 people. In contrast, the NSA’s facility is to be the same size, but employ 1,500. Bamford will write that this is “far more than was needed to babysit a warehouse of routers and servers but enough to analyze the data passing across them.” [Data Center Knowledge, 1/19/2007; San Antonio Express-News, 4/18/2007; Bamford, 2008, pp. 317-318] Former senior AT&T technician and warrantless surveillance whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) will reference Bamford’s book and agree that this “suggests a massive data mining operation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 41]
Anti-abortion activist Paul Ross Evans plants a homemade bomb in the parking lot of the Austin Women’s Health Center in Texas. The local bomb squad disarms the device, which contains two pounds of nails (used as “shrapnel” and capable of killing or maiming). The bomb is defused without incident. [Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
Congress passes a $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill that would provide funds for the continued occupation of Iraq, but require that a majority of the troops be withdrawn by the end of the year. The bill, if signed into law by President Bush, will set a number of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, including the creation of a program to disarm militias, the reduction of sectarian violence, the easement of rules (see May 16, 2003) that purged the government of former Baath Party members, and the implementation of a law that would govern the development of the country’s oil sector (see February 15, 2007). If the Iraqi government fails to meet these requirements, the US would begin pulling out its troops on July 1. If it does meet the benchmarks, the withdrawal would be delayed until October 1, with the pull-out being completed no later than April 1, 2008. Some troops would remain in Iraq to protect US facilities and diplomats, fight US-designated terrorist groups, and train Iraqi security forces. [Washington Post, 4/26/2007; US Congress, 4/26/2007 ] President Bush will veto the bill on May 1. [Washington Post, 4/26/2007]
Facing a Congressional investigation into the practice of hiring conservative ideologues for the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD—see Fall 2002 and After and Spring 2007), the Department reverses its 2002 decision to give political appointees the power to decide who will be hired as career CRD lawyers. Such hiring now reverts to a committee of career civil servants, as has been the case for decades. Skeptics say that the reversal means little, as the career ranks are now packed with inexperienced conservative ideologues instead of the traditional veteran, highly experienced career lawyers. William Yeomans, a 24-year CRD veteran who accepted a 2005 buyout, says the Bush administration attempted to go farther than previous conservative administrations such as Nixon and Reagan. To make changes permanent, Yeomans notes, one has to entirely reshape the CRD bureaucracy. “Reagan had tried to bring about big changes in civil rights enforcement and to pursue a much more conservative approach, but it didn’t stick,” Yeomans says. “That was the goal here—to leave behind a bureaucracy that approached civil rights the same way the political appointees did.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 300]
The Maryland legislature repeals the state’s lifetime voting ban for convicted criminals, including the three-year waiting period that ensues after completion of sentence for some offenders. The new policy automatically restores voting rights for all convicted criminals when their sentences are complete. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]
Germany rejects a fresh bid from Spain to extradite Mamoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian businessman who associated with 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah and is suspected of helping the 9/11 plot (see October 9, 1999 and Spring 2000). Germany had rejected a previous extradition request (see July 18, 2005), but German law had been amended and the Spanish, who had indicted Darkazanli on terrorism charges, tried again. The justice ministry in Hamburg was apparently in favor of extradition, but the move was blocked by the federal justice ministry, which said Germany had already investigated Darkazanli and found no grounds to prosecute him. Apparently, they could not find evidence that he supported the 9/11 plot and being a member of al-Qaeda only became illegal in Germany in 2002, so he cannot be extradited. It appears no action can now be taken against Darkazanli, and a spokesman for the justice department in the city-state of Hamburg says, “We now assume that the Darkazanli case is closed for us.” [EUbusiness(.com), 4/30/2007; Agence France-Presse, 4/30/2007]
Fahad al-Quso. [Source: New York Times]Fahad al-Quso, implicated in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Yemen in 2004 for his role in that bombing (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). He attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in which the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The US maintains a $5 million bounty for him. However, around May 2007, al-Quso is secretly freed. Since 2002, the Yemeni government has had a program of “reeducating” al-Qaeda prisoners and then releasing them (see 2002 and After). The US learns of al-Quso’s release in February 2008, but takes no known action in response. Al-Quso apparently remains free. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
The Secret Service, reacting to credible threats, grants presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) protection—the earliest by far any presidential candidate has ever been granted Secret Service protection. The protection is warranted, as the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies will thwart at least four assassination attempts on Obama’s life (see June-December 2008). [Time, 9/30/2010]
President Bush vetoes a bill (see April 26, 2007) that would have specified dates for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Bush claims the bill would set “a deadline for failure.” He says, “Members of the House and Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders.” The Democratic-controlled House will fail to muster the two thirds majority vote that is needed to override a presidential veto. [Reuters, 5/1/2007]
Russell Feingold. [Source: Flickr.com]Four senators—Russell Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)—send letters objecting to the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation against terrorism suspects after receiving a briefing from CIA Director Michael Hayden on the subject. Though lawmakers are bound by secrecy oaths from revealing the nature of the classified briefings on secret interrogation subjects, in November 2007, Feingold will breach that oath, complaining that the Bush administration is mischaracterizing the level of Congressional support for what administration officials call “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see November 7, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
US Justice Department official Craig Donsanto, the director of the election crimes branch, sends an email to a colleague expressing his incredulity that the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, Steven Biskupic, brought a case against Wisconsin procurement official Georgia Thompson. Thompson was released in April by an appeals court which overturned her conviction and found that Biskupic’s prosecution was based on extraordinarily sketchy evidence (see April 5, 2007). Many critics now believe that the case was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). “Bad facts make bad law. How in heck did this case get brought?” Donsanto writes in an email to Justice Department official Raymond Hulser. The press will not report on Donsanto’s consternation until September 2007, when it will be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, involved in an investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) will say in a statement: “This email demonstrates that even Justice Department insiders thought the Thompson case was seriously flawed. This only underscores the need for further investigation into the administration’s alleged role in politicizing prosecutions.” Biskupic was once named on a list of US Attorneys to be fired (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later testify that he does not know why Biskupic was considered for removal or why he was taken off the list. [Associated Press, 9/6/2007]
Daniel Kopelman (l) poses with conservative activist David Horowitz (r) at a 2004 Young Republicans function in Arapahoe County. [Source: Denver Metro Young Republicans]The press learns that Daniel J. Kopelman, a technology manager for the elections division of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, was caught selling Colorado voter data to Republican political candidates. Kopelman is responsible for oversight and maintenance of Colorado’s master voter registration database. He was found to be offering “GOP campaign help” on the Web site of his privately-owned company, Political Live Wires. Kopelman’s help was comprised of voter and fundraising lists drawn from the master voter database. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R-CO) issues a statement saying that his office had no knowledge of Kopelman’s activities, which Coffman calls Kopelman’s “side business,” and says Kopelman’s activities constitute a “conflict of interest” with his job. Coffman spokesperson Dana Williams says Coffman feels it was “inappropriate for an employee to be both overseeing and selling voter lists.” After learning of Kopelman’s Web site, Deputy Secretary of State William A. Hobbs directs Kopelman to take the site down. The office is opening a formal investigation into Kopelman’s activities. However, Coffman’s claims of being unaware of Kopelman’s “side business” are in doubt. Coffman’s campaign expenditure reports from the fall of 2006, when Coffman was running for the office, show multiple expenditures to Political Live Wires and to Kopelman for services including “consulting” and “software expenses.” In 2006, Kopelman apparently worked for Coffman, then the state treasurer, as a systems analyst, and provided both political consulting and software engineering for him, both personally and through his firm. Kopelman also mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Arapahoe County treasurer that year; Coffman supported that campaign, as did US Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and former Senator Bill Armstrong (R-CO). After the story breaks in the press, Political Live Wires, registered as a trade name since January 1, 2004, is no longer available on the Web. And after the press begins reporting on the incident, Coffman releases a second statement that reads: “Dan Kopelman took a leave of absence last fall from his job at Treasury to help with my secretary of state’s campaign. He asked to be paid for his time under the name of the entity in question [Political Live Wires]. I was not aware that he was engaged in soliciting the sale of voter lists or that he maintained a Web site. The voter lists for my secretary of state’s campaign were purchased from Tactical Data Solutions.” [ePluribus Media, 5/4/2007; Crooks and Liars, 5/6/2007] According to a personnel letter to Kopelman from Hobbs, the investigation will conclude without finding evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and Kopelman will retain his job pursuant to his following all relevant state laws, terminating outside employment without the State Department’s authorization, and continuing to keep the Political Live Wires Web site inactive. [William A. Hobbs, 5/30/2007 ]
President Bush issues a classified presidential directive updating the nation’s secretive post-disaster “National Continuity Policy.” The highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) and Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans are designed to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency. Bush’s presidential directive, officially titled National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51)/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (HSPD-20), is described by the Boston Globe as a “special kind of executive order that can be kept secret.” The non-classified portion of the directive is posted quietly on the White House website, with no explanation. The document states, “It is the policy of the United States to maintain a comprehensive and effective continuity capability composed of Continuity of Operations and Continuity of Government programs in order to ensure the preservation of our form of government.” The directive orders executive branch officials to establish a wide range of special protocols to keep the government running during an emergency. The directive stresses the importance of relocating to alternative facilities, delegating powers to emergency leaders, and securing and allocating the nation’s vital resources. According to NSPD-51, the special emergency plans should be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and incorporated into the daily operations of all executive departments and agencies. The special emergency protocols are designed for any “catastrophic emergency,” which NSPD-51 defines as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the US population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.” Incidents falling into this category would not be limited to hostile attacks, the document makes clear, but would also include “localized acts of nature” and “accidents.” The new plan centralizes post-disaster planning in the White House, and appears to limit the powers of the legislative and judicial branches in times of emergency. The directive creates the position of national continuity coordinator, which is to be held by the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. The secretary of homeland security and the national continuity coordinator are to oversee the development and implementation of the continuity plans. [Washington Post, 5/10/2007; US President, 5/14/2007 ; Progressive, 5/18/2007; Boston Globe, 6/2/2007]
Conservative Commentators Warn of 'Dictatorial Powers' - Conservative commentator Jerome Corsi says the directive appears to give the president a legal mechanism to seize “dictatorial powers” since it would not require consultation with Congress about when to invoke emergency powers, or when to relinquish them. It is also noted that the new plan does not explicitly acknowledge the National Emergencies Act, which gives Congress the authority to override the president’s determination that a national emergency still exists. James Carafano, a homeland security specialist at the Heritage Foundation, says that the lack of an explanation for the unexpected directive is “appalling.” [Boston Globe, 6/2/2007]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Bush officials are battling a lawsuit filed against them by former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, according to a report by the Associated Press. Plame Wilson is suing (see July 13, 2006) four Bush administration officials—Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 7-8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003)—for deliberately disclosing her identity as a CIA official to the public for political gain. Cheney’s lawyer calls the lawsuit “a fishing expedition” and accuses Plame Wilson of making “fanciful claims.” Plame Wilson says her constitutional rights were violated by the defendants. Armitage’s lawyer says the suit is “principally based on a desire for publicity and book deals.” Plame Wilson’s lawyer counters by saying the case is “about egregious conduct by defendants that ruined a woman’s career.” Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, arguing on behalf of all four defendants, says that none of the officials deliberately disclosed classified information, specifically the information of Plame Wilson’s covert status in the CIA. The defendants’ lawyers claim that they should not be sued personally for actions taken as part of their official duties. And a Justice Department lawyer claims that Cheney should have much the same legal immunity as President Bush. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] The lawsuit will soon be dismissed (see July 19, 2007).
Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]
Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Patrick Fitzgerald, who successfully prosecuted former Bush administraton official Lewis Libby for perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements (see March 6, 2007), recommends 30 to 37 months in prison for Libby’s jail sentence. In a court filing with Judge Reggie Walton, Fitzgerald notes that the Libby defense called Libby’s prosecution “unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics,” and Libby’s supporters (see February 21, 2006) continue to do so.
Libby Chose to Lie - To address this charge, Fitzgerald goes back through the investigation and notes that Libby, a lawyer himself, fully understood his obligations as a government witness. “He, of course, could have told the truth, even if, as was the case for many other witnesses, doing so risked the possibility of criminal prosecution, or personal or political embarrassment,” Fitzgerald writes. “He also could have declined to speak to the FBI agents, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights before the grand jury, or challenged any lines of inquiry he believed improper. And the evidence at trial showed that Mr. Libby had access to counsel and had adequate time to review relevant documents and contemplate his conduct before he testified. Regrettably, Mr. Libby chose the one option that the law prohibited: he lied. He lied repeatedly to FBI agents and in sworn grand jury testimony, and he lied about multiple facts central to an assessment of his role in the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s CIA employment. He lied about when he learned of [Valerie Plame Wilson’s] CIA employment, about how he learned of her CIA employment, about who he told of her CIA employment, and about what he said when he disclosed it. In short, Mr. Libby lied about nearly everything that mattered.” Libby’s choice to lie, Fitzgerald goes on to note, made it impossible to discover “the role that Mr. Libby and those with whom he worked played in the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s information regarding CIA employment and about the motivations for their actions.… Mr. Libby’s lies corrupted a truth-seeking process with respect to an important investigation, and on behalf of which many others subordinated important public, professional, and personal interests. To minimize the seriousness of Mr. Libby’s conduct would deprecate the value that the judicial system places on the truthfulness of witnesses, and tempt future witnesses who face similar obligations to tell the truth to question the wisdom and necessity of doing so.” Fitzgerald notes that Libby “has expressed no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility, and no recognition that there is anything he should have done differently—either with respect to his false statements and testimony, or his role in providing reporters with classified information about Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA.”
Justifies Libby's Prosecution when Other Leakers Not Prosecuted - Fitzgerald counters the arguments that because only Libby, and not all three proven leakers (see October 2, 2003 and February 2004), was prosecuted, his prosecution was somehow invalid. The other leakers, Richard Armitage and Karl Rove, eventually admitted to leaking Plame Wilson’s name to the press. Libby consistently lied about his leaks. “To accept the argument that Mr. Libby’s prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage,” Fitzgerald writes, “one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the vice president. To state this claim is to refute it. Peremptorily closing this investigation in the face of the information available at its early stages would have been a dereliction of duty, and would have afforded Mr. Libby and others preferential treatment not accorded to ordinary persons implicated in criminal investigations.”
States that Prosecution Knew Plame Wilson Was Covert from Outset - Fitzgerald also says what he was unable to say directly in the trial, that “it was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute… as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.” Fitzgerald explains that he chose not to charge Libby with outing a covert intelligence agent in part because Libby’s lies, and presumably the obfuscatory and contradictory statements of other Bush administration officials, made it difficult to prove beyond doubt that Libby knew Plame Wilson was a covert agent when he exposed her as a CIA official. “On the other hand, there was clear proof of perjury and obstruction of justice which could be prosecuted in a relatively straightforward trial.”
No Justification for Leniency - “In light of the foregoing,” Fitzgerald writes, “the assertions offered in mitigation are consistent with an effort by Mr. Libby’s supporters to shift blame away from Mr. Libby for his illegal conduct and onto those who investigated and prosecuted Mr. Libby for unexplained ‘political’ reasons (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007). The assertions provide no basis for Mr. Libby to receive a reduced sentence.… While the disappointment of Mr. Libby’s friends and supporters is understandable, it is inappropriate to deride the judicial process as ‘politics at its worst’ on behalf of a defendant who, the evidence has established beyond a reasonable doubt, showed contempt for the judicial process when he obstructed justice by repeatedly lying under oath about material matters in a serious criminal investigation.… Mr. Libby’s prosecution was based not upon politics but upon his own conduct, as well as upon a principle fundamental to preserving our judicial system’s independence from politics: that any witness, whatever his political affiliation, whatever his views on any policy or national issue, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck to earn a living, must tell the truth when he raises his hand and takes an oath in a judicial proceeding or gives a statement to federal law enforcement officers. The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby; Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/30/2007]
Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison - Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007), but will have his sentence commuted before he serves any time (see July 2, 2007).
Writing in anticipation of a judicial sentence for convicted felon Lewis Libby, columnist Byron York publishes a column in the conservative National Review criticizing the sentencing recommendation made by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Though Libby could theoretically be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for his four felony convictions (see March 6, 2007), Fitzgerald is asking Judge Reggie Walton to sentence him to 30-37 months in jail (see May 25, 2007), appropriate, Fitzgerald says, because of the seriousness of the investigation which he obstructed. York argues that Fitzgerald never proved anyone in the White House violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, but in his recommendation Fitzgerald argues that his grand jury “obtained substantial evidence indicating that one or both of the… statutes may have been violated.” York states that Fitzgerald is asking Walton to sentence Libby as if he had indeed committed such a violation: “Because the investigation defendant was convicted of endeavoring to obstruct focused on violations of the IIPA and the Espionage Act, the court much calculate defendant’s offense level by reference to the guidelines applicable to such violations.” York argues that because Fitzgerald was never able to prove that any violations of either the IIPA or the Espionage Act were committed, Walton cannot sentence Libby in light of his obstruction of that investigation. York says that a pre-sentencing report poses a different view: As quoted in Fitzgerald’s brief, the report states, “The criminal offense would have to be established by a preponderance of the evidence [but] the defendant was neither charged nor convicted of any crime involving the leaking of [Valerie Plame Wilson’s] ‘covert’ status.” The pre-sentencing report therefore supports a lighter sentence. Fitzgerald continues, “The reasons why Mr. Libby was not charged with an offense directly relating to his unauthorized disclosures of classified information regarding Ms. Wilson included, but were not limited to, the fact that Mr. Libby’s false testimony obscured a confident determination of what in fact occurred, particularly where the accounts of the reporters with whom Mr. Libby spoke (and their notes) did not include any explicit evidence specifically proving that Mr. Libby knew that Ms. Wilson was a covert agent.” [National Review, 5/29/2007] Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007), but will have his sentence commuted before he serves any time (see July 2, 2007).
J. William Leonard, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) of the National Archives, testifies before the House Oversight Committee that David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, attempted to eliminate ISOO in retaliation for its request that Cheney’s office report its classification activities (see 2003 and January 9, 2007). Since 2003, Cheney’s office has said that it is not required to follow a brace of executive orders mandating annual disclosure of information about its classification activities to the ISOO. According to Leonard, Addington tried to have the executive orders rewritten to abolish the ISOO and to exempt the Office of the Vice President (OVP) from oversight. Leonard says that those proposed changes were rejected. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ; New York Times, 6/22/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Friends of convicted felon Lewis Libby fear that when Judge Reggie Walton sentences Libby (see June 5, 2007), Libby will be sent directly to jail. A member of the Libby Legal Defense Trust (see February 21, 2006) says, “I think that he will get some jail time and probably be sent away that day.” [US News and World Report, 5/30/2007]
Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demands that former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson explain what he calls “differences” in her various accounts of how her husband, Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to secretly buy uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003).
Plame’s differing versions have furthered “misinformation” about the origins of the case that roiled official Washington beginning in July 2003, Bond says. A recently released CIA memo from February 2002 said Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip. Bond says this is at odds with Plame Wilson’s March 2007 testimony before Congress, where she said a CIA colleague first suggested her husband for the trip (see March 16, 2007). In Bond’s version of events, Plame Wilson has told three different versions of events: in 2003 or 2004, she told the CIA’s Inspector General that she suggested Wilson; in 2004, she told committee staffers that she wasn’t sure if she had suggested Wilson (see July 9, 2004); in her March testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she said that a colleague had first suggested Wilson for the trip. A spokeswoman for Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the committee chairman, says she is not sure whether Rockefeller is interested in having committee investigators interview Plame Wilson, but Bond says he has asked the CIA for permission to re-interview her. Melanie Sloan, the attorney representing Plame Wilson, says her client has “always been very consistent that she is not the person responsible for sending Joe Wilson” to Africa. Instead, Sloan says, trying to impugn Plame Wilson’s truthfulness is an attempt to draw attention from the “real wrong here—a White House that outed a covert operative and undermined national security.” [USA Today, 5/30/2007] The Senate Intelligence Committee did report that Plame Wilson recommended Wilson for the trip, but that report was based on somewhat inaccurate information provided in a State Department memo; both in her March 2007 testimony and her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that a young records officer first suggested that Wilson be sent (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005).
The lawyers for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) submit their recommendations for Libby’s upcoming sentencing. After quoting “over 160 heartfelt letters submitted to the court on his behalf” (see May 31, 2007) describing Libby as “distinguished… generous… selfless [and] devoted,” the brief lauds Libby’s career as a government official “dedicat[ed] to promoting freedom abroad and keeping Americans safe at home,” and recommends Libby be granted probation without any jail time. Libby’s public service, and his devotion to his children and family, warrant such a light sentence, the lawyers argue. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/31/2007 ; Associated Press, 5/31/2007] The lawyers also argue that the sentencing recommendation of 30-37 months in prison, as provided by the government (see May 25, 2007), is “wrong as a matter of both fact and law.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/31/2007 ] Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison by Judge Reggie Walton, the low end of the sentencing recommendation provided by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see June 5, 2007).
Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see March 6, 2007), says in the interest of transparency he will release the more than 150 letters he has received regarding Libby’s upcoming sentencing (see May 25, 2007 and June 5, 2007). He will release the letters after sentence is passed. Many of the letters are from current and former Bush administration officials pleading for leniency on Libby’s behalf. Libby, through his attorney William Jeffress, opposes the letters’ release, saying the letter writers never expected their words to be made public. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2007] The letters are released after Libby’s sentencing. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote of Libby, “I know Mr. Libby to be a patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being.” Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state in the Nixon administration and an informal Bush administration adviser, wrote: “I would never have associated the actions for which he was convicted with his character. Nor do I believe that they will ever be repeated. Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it is to recall precisely a particular series of events.” [Raw Story, 6/5/2007] Others who submitted letters include General Peter Pace, former Clinton administration peace negotiator Dennis Ross, and former Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not submit letters on behalf of Libby. [PBS, 6/5/2007] Jeffress actively solicited letters from Libby’s friends and associates asking Walton to either give Libby a light sentence or no real sentence at all. In Jeffress’s filing asking that the letters remain private, he writes, “Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the Internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.” Marcy Wheeler, who spearheaded a team of bloggers that provided in-depth coverage of the Libby case (see February 15, 2007), derides Jeffress’s fears of being mocked by bloggers, but says there are far more compelling reasons to release the letters than to discomfit the letter writers. Wheeler notes that a lighter sentence would dissuade Libby from testifying against his former boss, Cheney, who is widely suspected of orchestrating the Plame Wilson exposure. Moreover, some of Libby’s supporters themselves have reason, she writes, “to be thankful that Libby successfully obstructed the investigation” and are anything but neutral. Finally, she writes: “[T]his sentencing, now scheduled for June 5, takes place against the background of the Bush administration’s purge of at least nine US attorneys, in at least one case at the behest of Republicans who complained that the US attorney didn’t file charges against a Democrat before an election. We have every reason to suspect that Bush’s supporters have inappropriately intervened in the administration of justice. Without seeing those letters, how can we be sure the same isn’t happening here?” [Guardian, 5/29/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Dennis Ross, George W. Bush, John R. Bolton, William Jeffress, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry A. Kissinger, Reggie B. Walton, Peter Pace, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Norman Pearlstine. [Source: Norman Pearlstine.]Norman Pearlstine, the former editor of Time magazine and the person who made the final decision to cooperate with the prosecution in the Lewis Libby perjury trial by turning over notes from former Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 1, 2005), writes a column for Time outlining how he feels the trial of Libby (see January 16-23, 2007 and March 6, 2007) did serious and possibly permanent damage to the mainstream media, much of that damage self-inflicted. Pearlstine begins by echoing many conservative writers in saying that “[w]hile the administration’s behavior was tawdry, there was no proof that intelligence laws had been broken or that an investigation was necessary.” Unlike many conservative pundits and publications, Pearlstine does not lambast special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, instead observing that “once convinced that Libby (but not [White House political strategist Karl] Rove) had lied under oath, the prosecutor argued that he had no choice but to indict, charging Libby with perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice.” Pearlstine says that whatever Fitzgerald’s intentions, he incited a “First Amendment showdown” with the press: “By issuing subpoenas that required reporters to betray their sources, Fitzgerald created the showdown.” Pearlstine says that because Fitzgerald won the court battles to force journalists to testify about their sources, “[s]ome ugly truths emerged about one of the biggest problems with Washington journalism—a symbiosis between reporters and sources in which the reporters often think that it is their first job to protect their sources and that informing the public comes second.” Pearlstine is critical of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than reveal her sources to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see July 6, 2005). It was clear during Miller’s testimony that her record-keeping was sloppy and disorganized (see January 31, 2007), and that she was all too willing to cooperate with Libby to the possible detriment of her reporting, as when she agreed to obfuscate his identity by identifying him as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a senior White House official (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Pearlstine writes, “It was a telling example of her willingness to breach journalistic ethics in order to coddle close sources.” Pearlstine concludes by observing that because Fitzgerald was so successful in compelling journalists to reveal their confidential sources, other lawyers will seek to do the same. “Journalism and the public interest will suffer,” he writes. Pearlstine advocates the legislative passage of a federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources. [Time, 5/31/2007]
James Reston Jr. [Source: James Reston, Jr]James Reston Jr., a member of David Frost’s research team for the famous Nixon-Frost interviews (see Early 1976), publishes his book, The Conviction of Richard Nixon, about those debates and their echoes in the actions of the Bush administration. Reston writes that “it might be argued that the post-September 11 domestic abuses find their origin in Watergate. In 1977 the commentators were shocked when Nixon said about his burglaries and wiretaps, ‘If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal’ (see April 6, 1977).… These brazen words… come eerily down to us through the tunnel of the last thirty years.”
Presidential Immunity - Reston writes: “In the area of criminal activity, Nixon argues, the president is immune. He can eavesdrop; he can cover up; he can approve burglaries; he can bend government agencies like the CIA and the FBI to his own political purposes. He can do so in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘executive privilege.’ And when these acts are exposed, he can call them ‘mistakes’ or ‘stupid things’ or ‘pipsqueak’ matters. In the 21st century, Nixon’s principle has been extended to authorizing torture, setting up secret prisons around the world, and ignoring the requirement for search warrants. A president can scrap the Geneva Convention and misuse the Defense Department and lie about the intelligence analyses. He is above the law. This is especially so when the nation is mired in an unpopular war, when the country is divided, when mass protests are in the streets of America, and an American president is pilloried around the world. If Nixon’s words resonate today, so also does the word Watergate.”
Echoes of Nixon and Watergate - Reston continues: “Again the nation is in a failing, elective war. A Nixon successor is again charged with abuse of power in covering up and distorting crucial facts as he dragged the country, under false pretenses, into war. Again secrecy reigns in the White House, and the argument is made that national security trumps all.… In 2007 the issue has returned with a vengeance. And one can become almost wistful in realizing that the period after Watergate brought an era of reform. A campaign finance law was passed; Congress reasserted its control over intelligence activities; and moral codes were enunciated for public officials. National security, the New York Times editorialized after the interviews, was no longer ‘the magic incantation’ that automatically paralyzed inquiry. After September 11, the incantation became magic again. And so, people have asked, after the Bush presidency, who will be his David Frost? It is hard to imagine that there will be one.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 9-10, 180]
A judge says that the designation “enemy combatant,” used to label detainees held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, is meaningless, throwing proceedings for hundreds of the men into what the Guardian describes as “chaos.” Tribunals had been held in Guantanamo Bay to determine whether detainees held there were “enemy combatants,” and it was thought that such designation was a necessary preliminary step to putting them on trial. However, the judge, Colonel Peter Brownback, says that it is not enough to designate a detainee as an “enemy combatant,” and that a tribunal must be proceeded by a designation that a detainee is an “unlawful enemy combatant,” as this is the wording used in the Military Commissions Act, which established the tribunals. Colonel Brownback throws out cases against detainees Omar Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, alleged to have been Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur, saying that a person “has a right to be tried only by a court that has jurisdiction over him,” and the court does not have that right. The ruling means that none of the other hundreds of detainees can be brought before the tribunals, because the incorrect designation was applied to all of them. However, the ruling is without prejudice, and the US can still try to re-designate detainees “unlawful enemy combatants” and bring them before tribunals. Defense attorney Kristine Huskey calls the situation a “shambles,” and says, “It’s another example of how everything has been so ad hoc. The Military Commissions Act was just not done thoughtfully.” Another defense attorney, Colonel Dwight Sullivan, comments, “The system right now should just stop… The commission is an experiment that failed and we don’t need any more evidence that it is a failure.” [Guardian, 6/5/2007]
Former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, found guilty of four felonies in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see March 6, 2007), is sentenced by Judge Reggie Walton to 30 months in jail, fined $250,000, and given two years’ probation. The sentence is at the low end of the 30-37 month recommendation provided by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see May 25, 2007). Libby’s plea for leniency is denied. An appeals court will refuse to allow Libby to remain free while he appeals the convictions. [National Review, 5/29/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] “Many defendants are first offenders, most defendants have family. We need to make clear that the truth matters and one’s station in life does not matter,” says prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. “We had to… chase down rabbit holes that he took us down by lying to us… [the jury had] to sort through this fun house of mirrors.” Libby’s attorney Theodore Wells argues that because of the “public humiliation” caused to Libby by the trial, and because of Libby’s “exceptional public service to the nation,” he should be given no jail time. Libby’s co-counsel, William Jeffress, continues to insist that Plame Wilson was not covert, a position long since disproven (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, September 6, 2006, and March 16, 2007), and attempts to assert that Libby did not actually expose her as a CIA agent, an argument again debunked during the proceedings. For himself, Libby speaks briefly, thanking the court for treating him kindly, and says he is ready for the sentence: “Now I realize fully the court must decide on punishment, and I hope the court will consider my whole life,” he says. In pronouncing sentence, Walton says: “I’ve watched these proceedings with a sense of sadness because I have the highest respect for government servants. It is important that we expect and demand a lot of people who are in those situations. They have a certain high level obligation when they occupy that situation. In this situation Libby failed to meet the bar.” [Raw Story, 6/5/2007] Libby will spend no time behind bars (see July 2, 2007).
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a leader of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), is arrested during a protest in Bellevue, Nebraska. Today, as is her practice, Phelps-Roper wears an American flag around her waist, which she allows to drag the ground, and allows her son to stand on another American flag. Phelps-Roper is charged with desecrating the flag, negligent child abuse, disturbing the peace, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Three years later, the flag desecration and contributing to delinquency charges will be dropped, in part because a federal judge will have found the flag desecration statute unconstitutional. Bellevue will also pay Phelps-Roper $17,000 in return for her dropping of a lawsuit against the city. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]
Legal analysts call Vice President Dick Cheney’s publicly expressed desire for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) to be freed “unusual” and “troubling.” They note that while Cheney and President Bush are friends and former colleages of Libby, they are also officials sworn to uphold the law and run the branch of government that prosecuted Libby. “It’s a disappointment whenever a person who occupies a high office and takes an oath doesn’t respond to a demonstrated serious criminal event in a serious governmental way,” says former Iran-Contra prosecutor John Barrett. “It’s an adversary process and I understand the personal dimension, but the United States is the side of the case that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are on. Those are their jobs.” Attorney Lance Cole, who worked with Democrats on the Senate Whitewater Committee, says, “Libby’s lies derailed the investigation, and Cheney’s role has never been fully explained; the comments of the president and especially the vice president are troubling in this context” (see May 25, 2007). Presidential scholar Stanley Kutler, author of The Wars of Watergate, a famous book on the Watergate scandal, says Cheney’s statement is unusual in a historical content. “I know of no time in Watergate where someone who was convicted got the warm embrace of those in power,” Kutler says. He calls allegations that Libby’s political activity was unfairly criminalized “spurious.” [Associated Press, 6/6/2007]
Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi. [Source: Public domain]Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and four other organizations file a US federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking information about 39 people they believe have “disappeared” while held in US custody. The groups mentions 39 people who were reportedly captured overseas and then held in secret CIA prisons. The US acknowledges detaining three of the 39 but the groups say there is strong evidence, including witness testimony, of secret detention in 18 more cases and some evidence of secret detention in the remaining 18 cases. In September 2006, President Bush acknowledged the CIA had interrogated dozens of suspects at secret CIA prisons and said 14 of those were later sent to Guantanamo Bay (see September 6, 2006). At that time it was announced that there were no prisoners remaining in custody in US secret facilities (see September 2-3, 2006). However, the groups claim that in April 2007 a prisoner named Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo, demonstrating the system is still operating (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). The groups also claim that in September 2002 the US held the two children of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), then aged seven and nine, in an adult detention center. KSM was later captured and is now held at Guantanamo; it is unknown what happened to his children. [Reuters, 6/7/2007] Some of the more important suspects named include:
Hassan Ghul, said to be an important al-Qaeda courier. In 2005, ABC News reported he was being held in a secret CIA prison (see November 2005). Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader. The same ABC News report also mentioned him. Al-Libi was secretly transferred to Libya around 2006 (see Between November 2005 and September 2006) and will die there in 2009 under mysterious circumstances (see (May 10, 2009)).
Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, a son of the Blind Sheikh, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The same ABC News report also mentioned him. He was reportedly captured in Pakistan in 2003 (see February 13, 2003).
Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al Azdi. He is said to be a candidate 9/11 hijacker who was held back for another operation. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported he was in US custody.
Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed. Wanted for involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings, he was reportedly captured in Somalia in March 2003. Witnesses claim to have seen him in two secret US prisons in 2004.
Yassir al-Jazeeri. Said to be a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader, he was reportedly captured in Pakistan in March 2003. Witnesses later saw him in a secret CIA prison (see March 15, 2003).
Musaad Aruchi, a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He was reported captured in Pakistan in June 2004 and then taken into CIA custody (see June 12, 2004).
Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Wanted for a role in the African embassy bombings, there were various reports he was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and taken into US custody (see July 11, 2002). However, it appears these reports are false, because he will allegedly be killed in Pakistan in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Anas al-Liby, also wanted for a role in the African embassy bombings. He was reportedly captured in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002) and it is suspected the US has handed him over to Egypt. [Human Rights Watch, 6/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Pacha Wazir, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed, Yassir al-Jazeeri, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Human Rights Watch, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, Amnesty International, Anas al-Liby, Hassan Ghul, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, Musaad Aruchi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
A federal appeals court rules that “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007) must be released from military custody. “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians,” writes Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution—and the country.” She adds, “We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007] Motz continues, “The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention.”
Military Commissons Act Does Not Apply - The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) does not apply to al-Marri, the court rules. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007] Motz writes that the MCA does not apply to al-Marri and the court also rules that the government failed to prove its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), gives President Bush the power to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] Motz also notes that even though the government says the MCA applies to al-Marri’s case, it did not follow its own guidelines under that law. The MCA requires all such detainees to be granted a Combat Status Review Tribunal (CRST) determination; all Guantanamo-based detainees have been given such a procedure. Al-Marri has not. The government did not suggest the procedure for al-Marri until the day it filed its motion to dismiss al-Marri’s case. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007] The case, al-Marri v. Wright, was filed against Navy Commander S.L. Wright, who oversees the Charleston military prison that houses al-Marri. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Government Arguments Repudiated - The 2-1 decision of the US Court of Appeals in Richmond was written for the majority by Motz. Al-Marri is the only person held on the US mainland as an enemy combatant, and has been held in isolation for four years (see August 8, 2005). The government has alleged since 2002 that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent sent to the US to commit mass murder and disrupt the US banking system (see June 23, 2003). Motz writes that while al-Marri may well be guilty of serious crimes, the government cannot sidestep the US criminal justice system through military detention. The al-Marri ruling apparently does not apply to enemy combatants and other detainees held without charges or legal access at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The dissenting judge, Henry Hudson, writes that President Bush “had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent” because “he is the type of stealth warrior used by al-Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.” Hudson is a Bush appointee. Motz and Judge Roger Gregory, the concurring judge, were appointed by former president Bill Clinton. Motz orders the Pentagon to issue a writ of habeas corpus for al-Marri “within a reasonable period of time.” The Pentagon may release him, hold him as a material witness, or charge him in the civilian court system. Al-Marri “can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely,” she writes, “But military detention of al-Marri must cease.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007; Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Democracy Vs. 'Police State' - Hafetz says: “We’re pleased the court saw through the government’s stunning position in this case. Had it not, the executive could effectively disappear people by picking up any immigrant in this country, locking them in a military jail, and holding the keys to the courthouse.… This is exactly what separates a country that is democratic and committed to the rule of law from a country that is a police state.” [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007]
Justice Department to Challenge Decision - The Justice Department intends to challenge the decision (see June 11, 2007 and Late October-Early November, 2007). The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court, and may help define what authority the government has to indefinitely detain terror suspects and to strip detainees of their right to challenge the legality and conditions of their detention. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] For the time being, al-Marri will remain in military custody in the Charleston naval brig. [Cincinnati Post, 6/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Diana Gribbon Motz, Combat Status Review Tribunal, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, US Department of Justice, Henry Hudson, US Supreme Court, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Defense, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, S.L. Wright
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Amnesty International logo. [Source: Amnesty International]The human rights group Amnesty International hails an appeal court decision to release alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 11, 2007) from military detention. Executive director Larry Cox says in a statement: “Today’s decision strikes down a fundamental premise of the Bush administration’s ill-advised and immoral detention regime: the president’s assertion that he can decide who to detain, and how to detain them, without any judicial review. The Fourth Circuit has affirmed al-Marri’s fundamental human right to challenge his detention. This and other recent developments are an indictment of the Bush administration’s detention regime. It’s now up to Congress to act. They should seize this opportunity to reverse their ill-considered decision last year to strip habeas rights from non-citizens in US custody. This decision restores constitutional habeas rights to those arrested on US soil. However, that is only a tiny subset of the many individuals whose rights have been trampled in the name of the war on terror. Today’s ruling is plain common sense: the president can’t seize civilians in the United States, hold them in military custody, and deny them habeas rights. It’s a sign of how bad things have gotten that the decision comes as such a welcome glimmer of hope.” [US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the administration is “disappointed” in the decision to void Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s “enemy combatant” status (see June 11, 2007), and will ask that the full appellate court re-hear the case (see Late October-Early November, 2007). “The president has made clear that he intends to use all available tools at his disposal to protect Americans from further al-Qaeda attack, including the capture and detention of al-Qaeda agents who enter our borders,” Boyd says. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007; US Newswire, 6/11/2007]
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald urges Judge Reggie Walton not to delay convicted felon Lewis Libby’s 30-month jail sentence (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007). Libby’s lawyers have argued that Libby should not have to begin his jail term until his appeal has concluded (see June 19, 2007). Fitzgerald has argued that the evidence against Libby was overwhelming, and the appeal is likely to bear little fruit. If Libby is ordered to jail, his lawyers are expected to ask the appeals court to put the sentence on hold. [Associated Press, 6/12/2007] Walton will not delay jailing Libby (see June 14, 2007), but President Bush will commute Libby’s sentence, sparing him the need to actually go to jail (see July 2, 2007).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes a set of three non-classified documents secured from telecommunications giant AT&T by former AT&T technician and current whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein has used the documents to prove his assertions that AT&T colluded with the National Security Agency to illegally eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). The EFF has sued AT&T for violating its customers’ privacy, and Klein and the documents are key elements of its case (see February 23-28, 2006). After years of opposing their public disclosure and attempting to force their return (see April 6-8, 2006), AT&T acquiesced to the documents’ disclosure earlier this week after the EFF threatened to take the corporation to a federal appeals court. The documents were released in part by Wired News over a year ago against AT&T’s wishes (see May 17, 2006), and PBS also made them public as a part of a Frontline documentary. The Justice Department considered classifying the documents, then rejected the idea (see Late March - April 4, 2006). According to EFF’s Cindy Cohn, AT&T agreed to the disclosure of those portions to escape the embarrassment of arguing that documents available on the Internet for more than a year were secret. Wired’s Ryan Singel writes: “There are no surprises in the AT&T documentation… which consist of a subset of the pages already published by Wired News. They include AT&T wiring diagrams, equipment lists, and task orders that appear to show the company tapping into fiber-optic cables at the point where its backbone network connects to other ISPs at a San Francisco switching office. The documents appear to show the company siphoning off the traffic to a room packed with Internet-monitoring gear.” The EFF also releases a formerly sealed, signed declaration by Klein (see February 23-28, 2006) and a written analysis of the documentation by Internet expert J. Scott Marcus (see March 29, 2006). Marcus’s analysis, which had previously remained largely under court-ordered seal, is “the most interesting” of the releases, Singel writes. Marcus said the AT&T technical configuration allowed the NSA to conduct “surveillance and analysis of Internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic,” and found it probable that AT&T had “15 or 20” secret facilities around the country, not just the few facilities of which Klein was aware. AT&T, with the Justice Department, is trying to prevent EFF’s lawsuit from continuing, insisting that such a trial would expose “state secrets” (see April 28, 2006 and May 13, 2006). Judge Vaughn Walker has already considered and dismissed that claim (see July 20, 2006); AT&T and the government hope an appeals court will find in their favor. Cohn tells Singel she hopes the documents will show the public that their case is based in fact and not speculation, and that the government’s claim of a national security risk is overblown: “It really paints them into a corner, how unreasonable their claims of state secrets are. I’m hoping [the document release] demonstrates we are right and know what we are talking about and that we don’t need much more to win our case. We are much closer than people think.” [Wired News, 6/13/2007]
Convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) is told by Judge Reggie Walton he cannot delay starting his jail term (see June 5, 2007) while he appeals his conviction. Libby’s lawyers say they will seek an emergency order delaying Libby’s prison sentence. They are also appealing Libby’s conviction. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Libby will spend no time behind bars (see July 2, 2007).
Former Reagan Justice Department official and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald applaud the recent ruling requiring the government to overturn alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s military detention status (see June 11, 2007). Fein writes that the decision “rebuked President Bush’s frightening claim that the Constitution crowned him with power to pluck every American citizen from his home for indefinite detention without trial on suspicion of preparing for acts of international terrorism.” Other terrorist acts, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993), “were tried and punished in civilian courts,” Fein notes, adding that Bush bypassed the USA Patriot Act to classify al-Marri as an enemy combatant, although the Patriot Act “provides a specific method for the government to detain aliens affiliated with terrorist organizations who are believed likely to engage in terrorist activity.” Al-Marri was denied that procedure due to his classification as an enemy combatant. [Washington Times, 6/19/2007] Greenwald writes, “How extraordinary it is—how extraordinarily disturbing it is—that we are even debating these issues at all. Although its ultimate resolution is complicated, the question raised by al-Marri is a clear and simple one: Does the president have the power—and/or should he have it—to arrest individuals on US soil and keep them imprisoned for years and years, indefinitely, without charging them with a crime, allowing them access to lawyers or the outside world, and/or providing a meaningful opportunity to contest the validity of the charges? How can that question not answer itself?… Who would possibly believe that an American president has such powers, and more to the point, what kind of a person would want a president to have such powers? That is one of a handful of powers that this country was founded to prevent.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/17/2007]
House Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not accept that his office is an “entity within the executive branch,” then taxpayers should not finance his executive expenses. Cheney has refused to comply with executive branch rules governing disclosure of classification procedures by claiming that the vice president is part of the legislative branch as well as the executive (see 2003). Cheney needs to make up his mind one way or the other, Emanuel says, and live with the consequences. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride retorts that Emanuel “can either deal with the serious issues facing our country or create more partisan politics.” In response to a letter from Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, that charges Cheney with refusing to obey a 2003 executive order requiring that all executive offices detail the number of documents they classify or declassify (see June 21, 2007), President Bush has already said that reporting requirements do not cover either his office or Cheney’s. And McBride says that because of Bush’s decision, the question of whether the office is part of the executive or the legislative branch is irrelevant. “The executive order’s intent is to treat the vice president like the president, rather than like an agency” within the executive branch, McBride says. Many Democrats disagree. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) calls Cheney’s position “the height of arrogance,” and says Emanuel’s proposal “might not be a bad idea.” [USA Today, 6/24/2007]
John Kerry. [Source: Peace Corps]Senator John Kerry (D-MA) writes to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, challenging Cheney and Addington’s claim that the Vice Presidency is not part of the executive branch (see 2003). Kerry tells reporters, “It comes as no surprise that the ‘imperial president’ and his vice president are once again trying to dodge scrutiny with a ridiculous claim that Dick Cheney is not part of the executive branch of government. This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history, and undermines the integrity of executive power and the Executive Order as an institution.” In the letter, Kerry writes of his concern: “[Cheney] self-designated his position as part of neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch, and is therefore not accountable to the laws that govern either branch.… This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history and does not keep good faith with the hierarchy of government. While I appreciate that the Vice President has authority as President of the Senate, this does not exclude him from the executive and its oversight. Claiming to be party to neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch only serves to evade a standing executive order and bring secrecy to the Office of the Vice President.… The Vice President has routinely operated as a member of the executive branch and all the benefits and responsibilities that comes with that position. To propose that all this time the Vice President did not believe he was functioning as a member of the executive branch is disingenuous.” Kerry demands the reasoning behind Cheney and Addington’s assertions, and, in light of Cheney’s refusal to comply with reporting requirements of the National Archives as to how it treats classified documents, demands “to know what steps the Office is taking to protect classified information. This is our nation’s most sensitive information and it is critical that it is kept protected which is why the Archives does this oversight.” [John Kerry, 6/25/2007]
Dana Perino. [Source: Associated Press]White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacts with confusion to Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertions that the vice president is neither wholly part of the executive nor legislative branches (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Perino says in response to reporters’ questions: “I’m not a legal scholar… I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making… I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.” Reporter Keith Koffler remarks, “It’s a little surreal,” to which Perino replies, “You’re telling me.” Koffler presses, “You can’t give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not? It’s a little bit like somebody saying, ‘I don’t know if this is my wife or not.’” Asked if President Bush believes Cheney is part of the executive branch, Perino sidesteps, calling it “an interesting constitutional question.” After further dodging, reporter Helen Thomas says, “You’re stonewalling.” Reporter Jim Axelrod suggests Perino is denying “sky-is-blue stuff” and points out that Cheney’s assertion revises “more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship.” Koffler continues, “He can’t possibly argue that he’s part of neither [branch], and it seems like he’s saying he’s part of neither.” Perino finally surrenders, “Okay, you have me thoroughly confused as well.” Cheney’s current position—he will not comply with an order governing the care of classified documents because the vice presidency is not “an entity within the executive branch”—contradicts his 2001 argument that he would not cooperate with a Congressional probe into the activities of his Energy Task Force because such a probe “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”
'Neither Fish Nor Fowl' - The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes, “Cheney has, in effect, declared himself to be neither fish nor fowl but an exotic, extraconstitutional beast who answers to no one.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees, saying: “The vice president’s theory seems to be one almost laughable on its face, that he’s not part of the executive branch. I think if you ask James Madison or Benjamin Franklin or any of the writers of the Constitution, they’d almost laugh if they heard that.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007] Interestingly, Perino does assert that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has no standing to investigate the compliance of the vice president’s office with the executive order. “The executive order is enforced solely by the president of the United States,” she says. “I think this is a little bit of a non-issue.” The government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) retorts that, if Cheney and Perino are to be believed, then the Office of Senate Security, the counterpart to Waxman’s committee, should investigate Cheney’s office. “By claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan asks. “The Security Office’s standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate.” [Raw Story, 6/24/2007]
The Supreme Court, ruling in the Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission case, finds that some political advertisements can be exempted from the “electioneering communications” provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act (see March 27, 2002). The case stems from attempts by an anti-abortion advocacy group, Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL), to run ads asking viewers to contact their senators and urge them to oppose filibusters of judicial nominees. WRTL tried to run its ads during the 30 and 60-day “blackout” periods before the upcoming 2004 elections, but because it accepted corporate contributions and was itself incorporated, the McCain-Feingold restrictions prevented the ads from running. WRTL argued that the ads were not targeting candidates, but were strictly issue-related (see Mid-2004 and After). The case was initially dismissed, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision and remanded the case back to the lower courts. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) argued that the ads were intended to influence US Senate elections in Wisconsin, and thusly should be regulated by McCain-Feingold. A district court disagreed, ruling against the FEC and finding that the ads were “protected speech” (see January 30, 1976), though it limited its findings solely to the WRTL ads and specified that its ruling was not to apply to other cases. The FEC appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision finds that the district court’s ruling is valid. Chief Justice John Roberts writes the majority opinion, which establishes broad exemptions for advertisements that could be “reasonably” interpreted as being about legislative issues and not directed on behalf of, or against, a particular candidate. As long as “issue ads” do not contain the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy for or against a candidate, the Roberts opinion holds, and the advertisements are legal. The ads involve “core political speech” that is protected by the First Amendment, Roberts finds: “We give the benefit of the doubt to speech, not censorship.” Justice David Souter writes the dissenting opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas write a concurring opinion that joins them with Roberts and the other two conservative justices, but in their concurrence, they say they would overturn the McCain-Feingold law in its entirety. [Connecticut Network, 2006 ; Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2007; FindLaw, 2011; National Public Radio, 2012; Oyez (.org), 7/1/2012] Roberts is careful in the language of his majority opinion, writing that “the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.” He does not directly advocate for the overturning of the McCain-Feingold law, but referring to the 2003 McConnell decision that upheld the law (see December 10, 2003), he writes, “We have no occasion to revisit that determination today.” In 2012, reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write of Roberts’s use of the word “today,” “To those who know the language of the Court, the Chief Justice was all but announcing that five justices would soon declare the McCain-Feingold law unconstitutional.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin is referring to the 2010 Citizens United decision that will overturn most of the law (see January 21, 2010).
Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Civil libertarian Aziz Huq writes that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim that his office is not part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to compliance with executive orders (see 2003 and June 21, 2007) is a genuine constitutional crisis. Huq writes, “The term ‘constitutional crisis’ is much abused, invoked generally whenever Congress shows some life. Confrontations on war funding and Congressional subpoenas, to cite recent examples, are in fact as old as the Republic. They are but healthy sparks from a constitutional confrontation of ‘ambition against ambition,’ precisely as the Framers intended. But the true crisis is hidden in plain sight—the existence of an office in the Constitution—the Vice President’s—with no real remit and no real limits, open to exploitation and abuse.” It is nonsensical, Huq writes, for Cheney on the one hand to claim that as a member of the executive branch he has access to the most secret of classified documents, and on the other hand he is not subject to oversight because he is not a member of the executive branch. Cheney receives these documents as a senior member of the executive branch, not of the legislative. Yet, as president of the Senate, Cheney is not subject to the strict Senate rules on handling classified documents—rules far stricter than those imposed on senior members of the executive branch. Cheney’s arguments create what Huq calls a “legal black hole (another one!) where classified documents can disappear without a trace.” Huq finally asks, “Why should addition of legislative duties trigger the subtraction of executive obligations? In lawyerly terms, the 2003 order applies to ‘any’ entity within the executive branch. Having another label doesn’t stop Cheney from being one of those ‘any’ entities.” Huq says, “If it weren’t so frightening, the irony would be delicious: A Vice President who has done more than any other to push the envelope on executive privilege at the expense of the courts and Congress takes the position that his office has both legislative and executive functions so as to avoid accounting for the use of classified materials. Any veneer of intellectual legitimacy that executive power defenders have caked on their vision of a monarchical executive evaporates in the glare of this naked opportunism.… Cheney and [chief of staff David] Addington will go down in history as the most aggressive and successful advocates of executive powers in this nation’s history.… They grounded their vision of executive power on the prerogatives exercised by the British kings who were overthrown by the American Revolution.” Huq recommends that Congress clarify the situation with legislation that would clearly create a system for handling classified documents that would be binding on the entire government, including the Office of the Vice President. [Nation, 6/26/2007]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, disputes Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that he is not strictly part of the executive branch (see 2003). The dispute relates to reporting of document classification—Cheney argues his office does not have to report on its classification activities, partly because it is not a fully-fledged member fo the executive branch. In a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Waxman also criticizes the administration’s handling of classified information and security issues. White House staffers regularly block inspections by security officials checking for compliance with security rules, Waxman writes, but also regularly ignore security breaches reported by the Secret Service and CIA, and mismanage the White House Security Office for political reasons. And President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, recently had his security clearance renewed even though it was prohibited under guidelines signed by Bush. Rove is believed to have leaked classified information in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. [CBS News, 6/27/2007]
Responding to a letter from Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that challenges Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not part of the executive branch of government (see 2003 and June 25, 2007), Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington seems to imply that the OVP is indeed part of the executive branch. Addington writes that the executive order in question (an order Cheney says his office does not have to follow because of the OVP’s unique status) “makes clear that the vice president is treated like the president and distinguishes the two of them from ‘agencies,’” which are explicitly covered under the order. Addington notes that on June 22, President Bush affirmed that the order does not apply to either the office of the president or the OVP. After this tacit admission that the OVP is part of the executive branch, Addington lectures Kerry on the appropriateness of his questions: “Constitutional issues in government are best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise instead of in theoretical discussions.…[I]t is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency.” [David Addington, 6/26/2007 ] The Politico’s Mike Allen writes that Addington’s letter amounts “to throwing in the towel on the claim that the vice president is distinct from the executive branch, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity, and the White House has no plans to reassert the argument.” Kerry calls Addington’s letter “legalistic” and a continued attempt to “duck and dodge on agency scrutiny, classified documents.” He calls the entire argument “Orwellian.” Two senior Republican officials say that the claim originated from OVP lawyers and not Cheney himself. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who has led a move in the House to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding (see June 27, 2007), says the reversal shows that the White House “told Cheney that he would have to come up with another excuse—that this was not sustainable in the public arena.” Emanuel says that regardless of what arguments the OVP makes, it needs to comply with National Archives regulations. [Politico (.com), 6/27/2007]
After saying that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not consider himself entirely part of the executive branch, then taxpayers should not fund his executive branch office (see June 24, 2007), House Democrats led by Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) move to strip federal funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP). Cheney has said that because the vice president is not strictly part of the executive branch, therefore he and his office are not subject to an executive order mandating disclosure of how many documents his office has classified. President Bush has said that neither his office nor Cheney’s is subject to that order. Emanuel notes that, five years ago, Cheney claimed executive privilege in refusing to release information about oil industry executives during meetings of his Energy Task Force. “Now when we want to know what he’s doing as it relates to America’s national security in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and after the fact, the vice president has declared he is a member of the legislative branch,” Emanuel says. Therefore, “we will no longer fund the executive branch of his office and he can live off the funding for the Senate presidency.” As vice president, Cheney presides over the Senate. [CBS News, 6/27/2007] The federal government, through the executive branch, pays about $4.8 million a year to fund the OVP. [Politico (.com), 6/27/2007] After Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington tacitly admits that Cheney is, after a fashion, part of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007), the Democrats drop their proposal to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding.
Convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), sentenced to 30 months in federal prison (see June 5, 2007), becomes federal inmate No. 28301-016. Libby’s inmate number is assigned by the US Bureau of Prisons, which is determining which facility he will be assigned to serve his time at. As a non-violent, first-time offender, Libby will likely be placed in a minimum-security prison camp. [Associated Press, 6/28/2007] Libby will not serve any jail time (see July 2, 2007).
Congress Daily reporter Keith Koffler writes an article saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s own words contradict his assertions that the vice president is not a true member of the executive branch (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Cheney once did note he is “a product of the United States Senate” and has no “official duties” in the White House—but those words were intended as a joke. According to Knoffler, on more serious occasions Cheney has repeatedly insisted that he is a fully-fledged member of the executive branch (see April 9, 2003 and April 14, 2004). Just after assuming office, President Bush asserted the same thing (see Late January, 2001). Knoffler finds that the White House Web site notes, “To learn more about the executive branch please visit the president’s Cabinet page on the White House Web site.” Clicking on the “Cabinet page” shows Cheney to be a member of the Cabinet. The Senate Web page, on the other hand, reads: “During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the vice president’s role has evolved into more of an executive branch position, and is usually seen as an integral part of a president’s administration. He presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed.” [Congress Daily, 6/29/2007]
In October 2007, the New York Times will report that in July, “after a month-long debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques—the details remain secret—and officials say the CIA again is holding prisoners in ‘black sites’ overseas.” The executive order is said to have been reviewed and approved by Steven Bradbury, head of the Office of Legal Counsel. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In late 2005 the Justice Department issued a secret memo declaring all aggressive interrogation techniques used by the CIA legal (see Late 2005), so apparently this mostly reconfirms the gist of that earlier ruling. It has been clear since April 2007 that the secret CIA prisons are still operating (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Hours after the new executive order is issued, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a secret memo to his CIA employees: “The President’s action - along with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - gives us the legal clarity we have sought. It gives our officers the assurance that they may conduct their essential work in keeping with the laws of the United States.” One senior Bush administration official will later hint that the order does allow sleep deprivation to be used but does not allow exposure to extremes of hot and cold. [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] Intelligence officials also later say that the order not to allow the use of waterboarding. [New York Times, 12/7/2007]
General Thomas Hartmann allegedly interfered with Guantanamo Bay prosecutions. [Source: US Air Force]A new legal adviser to military commission hearings for detainees in Guantanamo Bay, General Thomas Hartmann, interferes with prosecutions, angering lead prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis (see September 29, 2006). Davis says that Hartmann’s position as adviser to the convening authority for the trials means he should stay neutral, but instead Hartmann requests detailed information on pending cases, defines the sequence in which they will be brought, and gets involved in “nano-management.” A Pentagon review partially supports Davis, advising Hartmann that he should “diligently avoid aligning himself with the prosecutorial function so that he can objectively and independently provide cogent legal advice” to the official in charge of supervising the commissions. Hartmann also supports using classified evidence in closed court sessions, which Davis wants to avoid, because it might taint the trials in the eyes of international observers and make it seem that the trials are stacked against defendants. Davis also objects to all elements of the military commissions being put under the Defense Department’s general counsel, as he thinks this could lead to a conflict of interest, and this causes him to resign in October (see October 4, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007]
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously refuses to delay convicted felon Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007). Unless President Bush intercedes, there is no further impediment to Libby going to prison. Libby argued that he should not have to go to jail because he has a good possibility of winning his appeal (see June 19, 2007). [Associated Press, 7/2/2007] Hours after the appeals court hands down its ruling, Bush commutes Libby’s sentence (see July 2, 2007).
Ending weeks of speculation, President Bush commutes the sentence of convicted felon and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007), calling the sentence “excessive.” Libby is now a free man, though he is still due to serve two years’ probation period and pay a $250,000 fine. Many Libby supporters, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have called upon Bush to pardon Libby [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] , but Bush stopped short of issuing a full pardon. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] White House press secretary Tony Snow says that the White House did not bow to pressure from Republicans and conservative pundits to pardon or commute Libby’s sentence. “This has nothing to do with political pressure,” Snow says. “It has everything to do with justice.… The president is doing the right thing for a principled reason. For once, it might be refreshing for people to consider that principle tends to be governing in this White House and not polls. He’s laid out some highly defensible reasons and he takes his powers very seriously. If you take a look at pardons and commutations, they’ve been done very carefully in this White House. Not every White House has done that.” [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bush says in a written statement that he decided to “respect” the jury’s conviction of Libby, but adds that Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down last month was “excessive.” Bush notes that he had previously promised not to intervene until Libby had exhausted all of his appeals, but because an appeals court denied Libby a delay in beginning his prison sentence (see July 2, 2007), Bush decided to act: “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.… The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells says in a statement that Libby and his family “wish to express their gratitude for the president’s decision today,” and says Libby will continue to pursue an appeal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges Bush’s power to commute Libby’s sentence, but disputes the characterization of Libby’s sentence as excessive, saying: “An experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.” [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Libby's Commutation Allows Refusal to Testify before Congress - Author Laura Rozen will note that by commuting Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning Libby, Bush allows Libby to retain the ability to refuse to testify before Congress on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. Thusly, Libby can avoid not only testifying about his own actions in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak affair, but about the roles of his former bosses, Bush and Cheney. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 388]
Split Reactions - The reactions to Libby’s commutation are split along largely partisan lines, with many Democrats and their supporters expressing their outrage over the decision to spare Libby from serving prison time (see July 2, 2007).
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. [Bush commutes Libby prison sentence, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” [New York Daily News, 7/8/2007]
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. [Politico, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Fred Thompson, Curt Smith, Valerie Plame Wilson, Douglas Berman, Charles Schumer, Barack Obama, Roy Blunt, Nancy Pelosi, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph C. Wilson, Hillary Clinton, John Conyers, Harry Reid, Joseph Biden, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Edwards
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Judge Reggie Walton, whose 30-month sentence of convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007) was obviated by President Bush’s commutation of the sentence (see July 2, 2007), declines to comment on Bush’s action. In an email, Walton says, “To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday’s events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president’s commutation decision, which would be inappropriate.” [Canadian Broadcasting Company, 7/3/2007]
Convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007) pays his $250,000 fine, plus a $400 special assessment fee. With the commutation of his jail sentence by President Bush (see July 2, 2007), Libby is only required to serve two years’ probation to complete his sentencing requirements. [CBS News, 1/25/2007]
Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, writes a letter to President Bush asking him to allow his top White House officials to explain why he commuted convicted felon Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007). Conyers says Bush should “waive executive privilege and provide relevant documents and testimony” about the decision. [CBS News, 1/25/2007] As far as is known, Conyers receives no reply from the White House.
Wired News reporter Ryan Singel examines the documents released as part of the FBI’s probe into the possibly illegal use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by its agents (see Before Mid-March, 2007). Singel finds that all of the letters originate from the same room in the FBI’s Washington headquarters, Room 4944. Almost all of them refer to a “Special Project,” and the only name on any of the letters is Larry Mefford. At the time the letters were written, Mefford was the Executive Assistant Director in charge of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division. His job primarily focused on preventing domestic terror attacks. Having Mefford’s name on the letters adds another layer of interest, Singel writes: “… Mefford’s name is on documents that requested personal information on Americans. Some of those requests included information known to be false to the agents signing them. That’s a federal crime, according to one former FBI agent.” It is unclear what the “Special Project” is, outside of its existence within the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit (CAU), which issued the NSLs in question. Why some of the NSLs requested over two pages of phone numbers as part of a single request is also unclear. Singel observes, “The documents also show that these ‘exigent letters’—essentially end runs around the rules set up to keep the FBI from trampling on citizens rights—weren’t devised by some rogue Jack Bauer-style agent [a reference to the popular TV action drama 24.]. The form letters originated from inside FBI Headquarters and in some cases, bear the name of a senior level FBI official who should have been aware of the letters’ legal grey status and possibility for abuse.” [Wired News, 7/10/2007]
Former KBR subcontract administrator Anthony J. Martin pleads guilty to violating the Anti-Kickback Act. Martin admits to taking bribes from a Kuwaiti company in 2003 in return for granting a $4.67 million contract to the firm. Although the Justice Department does not identify the Kuwaiti firm, other court documents subsequently name the firm as First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (see September 21, 2007). Martin worked from February 2003 through February 2004 in Kuwait, where he solicited bids from prospective subcontractors under KBR’s largest contract with the US Army, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP III). Martin’s conviction is part of a much larger investigation mounted by the Justice Department in Rock Island, Illinois, investigating corporate fraud in the provision of logistics to the US military deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see October 2006 and Beyond). Martin has admitted to accepting $10,000 from the managing partner of First Kuwaiti, Lebanese businessman Wadih Al Absi. He was to receive almost $200,000 more, but testified in his plea bargain agreement that he felt guilty about taking the $10,000 and subsequently refused to take any more. Martin faces up to ten years in prison and possible restitution. [PR Newswire, 7/13/2007; Associated Press, 9/21/2007]
Justice Department official Patrick Philbin testifies in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on the subject of interrogation tactics. Philbin testifies that each of the 24 approved interrogation tactics used by US personnel to interrogate terrorist suspects are “plainly lawful.” He notes that laws such as the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice define, to an extent, what is and is not torture, and prohibit excessive interrogation methods that might come under that rubric. He also notes that the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which defines torture broadly as the intentional infliction of “severe pain or suffering” by anyone acting in an official capacity. He insists the US has done nothing to violate this treaty, nor the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions, or Fifth and the Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution. Although terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and “extragovernmental” organizations such as the Taliban do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, Philbin argues that the US continues to follow its guidelines in its treatment of prisoners from those groups “to the extent consistent with military necessity…” [House Intelligence Committee, 7/14/2007 ] However, in 2004, a classified report by the CIA’s Inspector General concluded that some of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA probably did violate the Convention Against Torture (see May 7, 2004).
Entity Tags: War Crimes Act, US Department of Justice, Uniform Code of Military Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, House Intelligence Committee, Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Bush administration (43), Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Charles A. Samuels, Henry A. Waxman, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Hawkins, Red Cavaney
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
A federal district court in Washington dismisses the lawsuit filed by Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson against four current and former White House officials (see July 13, 2006). Judge John C. Bates finds that while the lawsuit, asking for punitive damages against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Lewis Libby, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for violating their rights in outing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, may have merit, and the actions of the defendants were “highly unsavory,” there is no constitutional remedy for their claims. The Wilsons’ allegations pose “important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials,” but the claims are dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. “Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted,” Bates finds. “This court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims for public disclosure of private facts.” The Wilsons will appeal the decision; their lawyer, Melanie Sloan, says in a statement: “While we are obviously very disappointed by today’s decision, we have always expected that this case would ultimately be decided by a higher court. We disagree with the court’s holding and intend to pursue this case vigorously to protect all Americans from vindictive government officials who abuse their power for their own political ends.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 305; Bloomberg, 7/19/2007]
President Bush signs Executive Order 13440, which authorizes the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh” interrogation methods against anyone in US custody suspected of being a terrorist, or having knowledge of terrorist activities. The order relies on, and reaffirms, Bush’s classification of “al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces” as “unlawful enemy combatants” who are not covered under the Geneva Conventions. The order also emphasizes that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) “reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The order does not include “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments… other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment… any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited” by law. It also precludes acts of extreme humiliation “that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [or] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield.” The order also excludes acts that denigrate a detainee’s religion or religious practices. [White House, 7/20/2007] The order does not apply to the Army, which has numerous interrogators operating at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. [Social Science Research Network, 3/18/2008] CIA Director Michael Hayden says, “We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined.” Administration officials say that because of the order, suspects now in US custody can be moved immediately into the “enhanced interrogation” program. Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are much less enamored of the new order. Human Rights Watch official Tom Malinowski says, “All the order really does is to have the president say, ‘Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal—trust me.’” [Washington Post, 7/21/2007] In January 2009, President Obama will withdraw the order. [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Tom Malinowski, Taliban, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Military Commissions Act, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
A Rapid City Journal article uses interviews with the families of three soldiers to illustrate the harm and suffering inflicted on military personnel and their families by the Army’s controversial stop-loss program (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). One of the three soldiers is Sergeant Mason Lockey, who has been forced to redeploy to Iraq due to stop-loss. Lockey saw his daughter Brianna for the first time about three weeks after her birth, in November 2006; he took part in her delivery via cell phone from Iraq. He had planned on returning home on July 19, 2007, a year after his deployment, in time to help her learn to speak and walk. Instead, under stop-loss, Lockey is forced to remain in Iraq until at least October 15, and perhaps longer.
Three Sons in Service - Deb Halen-Boyd, whose two sons served in Iraq as Army troops, calls the stop-loss program an example of the government breaking faith with its soldiers. “You fulfill your obligation, you should be done,” she says. “They’ve done what they’ve signed up to do.” One of Halen-Boyd’s sons has had to remain in Iraq due to stop-loss. She had a third son in the Army who died in a truck accident in Minnesota; her fourth son has now enlisted in the National Guard, with the government’s promise that he wouldn’t be deployed. But Halen-Boyd doesn’t believe the government will keep its word. “Nothing with the Army is a guarantee,” she says.
Missing Daughter's First Three Years - Barb Pierce, whose son Ryan served in Kosovo and twice in Iraq as a member of his Army unit, agrees. “It should be fair.… They’ve done their part. Let them come home.” Sergeant Ryan Pierce has been forced to remain in Iraq due to the stop-loss policy until at least January 2008. Pierce missed the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife’s grandmother and aunt. He was unable to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He has missed every wedding anniversary. He has missed two of his daughter’s three birthdays.
No Re-enlistments, Anger at Government - None of the soldiers cited in the Rapid City Journal article plan on rejoining the Army after they are finally allowed to come home. Vanessa Lockey, whose husband has six more years to go on his re-enlistment, says, “Mason and I are strong Republicans, but it is hard to support a government that is willing to do this to a family. How is it fair?… Mason’s very supportive of the military. We grew up military, we love the military lifestyle, and we were very pro-Bush and that, but the more you see them acting like these soldiers are nothing but a game to them… it’s just hard to support that and know that’s who you’re defending.… It really does feel like they forgot about us.… I’ll support [President] Bush when he sends his daughters to Iraq.” Barb Pierce echoes Halen-Boyd’s sentiments. She is proud of her son’s service as she is of other soldiers’ service. She is proud to be an American, she says. But, “I want to be proud of my country, too. And right now I’m not.” Halen-Boyd wears a bumper sticker on her car that reads, “‘We Love Our Troops. Bring Them Home.” [Rapid City Journal, 7/24/2007]
Larry King. [Source: Newsday]After backing down from a confrontation with Congress over his assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is separate from the executive branch (see 2003 and June 26, 2007), Dick Cheney again implies that the OVP is a separate entity. In two separate media interviews, one with CNN’s Larry King and another with CBS’s Mark Knoller, Cheney makes the argument that as vice president, “I have a foot in both camps, if you will.… The job of the vice president is an interesting one, because you’ve got a foot in both the executive and the legislative branch.” He tells King, “The fact is, the vice president is sort of a weird duck in the sense that you do have some duties that are executive and some are legislative.” To Knoller, he says, “The vice president is kind of a unique creature, if you will, in that you’ve got a foot in both branches.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007]
After alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces in July 2007 (see July 2007), he is soon transferred to a secret CIA prison. He is held in the CIA’s secret prison system until March 14, 2008, when he is transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008] It is not known when he is captured or handed to the CIA exactly, but a newspaper report on August 2, 2007, indicates he is already in US custody. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007]
Secret CIA Prison System Still Operational - It is also not known where he is held exactly. In September 2006, President Bush announced that the CIA’s secret prisons had been emptied, at least temporarily, and the remaining prisoners had been transferred to Guantanamo (see September 6, 2006 and September 2-3, 2006). Since then, there has only been one instance of anyone held in secret CIA custody, and that was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, held by the CIA from autumn 2006 until April 2007 (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Rahim’s custody indicates that the CIA prison system is still being used, although Rahim may be the only prisoner held in it at this time. [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008]
Is Rahim Interrogated Using Legally Questionable Methods? - In August and November 2007, an unnamed prisoner in a secret CIA prison is forced to stay awake for up to six days straight. This is almost certainly Rahim. The US State Department considers this treatment torture when other countries do it (see August and November 2007).
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
An unnamed prisoner held in the CIA’s secret prison system is kept awake for up to six days straight. According to documents made public in 2009, in August 2007, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) gives CIA interrogators permission to keep an unnamed prisoner awake for five days straight. The prisoner is kept awake by being forced to stand with his arms chained above the level of his heart. He is forced to wear diapers, so he can stay continuously chained without bathroom breaks. Then in November 2007, interrogators ask for and receive permission to keep a prisoner awake for another day. A prisoner is kept awake for six days straight.
Is It Torture? - According to the Associated Press: “Sleep deprivation beyond 48 hours is known to produce hallucinations. It can reduce resistance to pain, and it makes people suggestible. The State Department regularly lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture in its annual report on human rights abuses. Recent reports have noted Iran, Syria, and Indonesia as engaging in the practice.” The US-based Center for Victims of Torture considers 96 hours (four days) of sleep deprivation to be torture. One director of the organization says: “It’s a primary method that is used around the world because it is effective in breaking people. It is effective because it induces severe harm. It causes people to feel absolutely crazy.”
Who Is Interrogated? - The name of the prisoner is blacked out in documents. However, the Associated Press suggests that the most likely candidate by far is alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani. Rahim was arrested not long before, in July 2007 (see July 2007), and he is the only known prisoner in the CIA’s secret prison system at this time (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008). Furthermore, the US government will later declare him a “high value” detainee, most likely because he is said to have been in contact with Osama bin Laden as a translator and facilitator in recent years (see March 14, 2008).
Guidelines Exceeded? - At the time of the prisoner’s sleep deprivation, the Bush administration is reducing its use of severe interrogation techniques. Sleep deprivation is still allowed, but six days without any sleep exceeds existing guidelines. Amrit Singh, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, says these incidents are “particularly disturbing” because they occur “even after the Supreme Court held that these prisoners were entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions and after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act to specifically prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” When the Obama administration takes power in early 2009, it will issue new rules that state all prisoners must be allowed to sleep at least four hours during every 24-hour period. [Associated Press, 8/27/2009]
FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Boston Globe, 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee, 9/18/2007 ] Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” [Salon, 6/19/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 86-87]
Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Joseph Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, Jane Harman, Jerrold Nadler, Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Jan Schakowsky, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
During the Senate debate over the controversial Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) says that the threat from terrorism is so dire, and so imminent, that lawmakers should pass the law and then get out of Washington as soon as they can to save their own lives. (Congress goes into recess in a few days.) Lott says that Congress needs to pass the PAA, otherwise, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.” He continues, “I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th.” Lott provides no information about any predictions of an imminent terrorist attack on Washington or anywhere else. [Roll Call, 8/2/2007]
Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 ; Slate, 8/6/2007]
The Center for National Security Studies (CNSS) issues a warning about the Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007). The PAA lets the NSA conduct warrantless surveillance against US citizens “without any meaningful judicial oversight,” the CNSS writes, and gives the NSA almost unlimited access to almost all international communications that originate in, pass through, or terminate with a US citizen, again without oversight. According to the CNSS, the administration refused to countenance any suggestion that the NSA should be restricted to focusing on foreigners, terrorist targets, or conducting surveillance that could be construed as necessary to national security, as well as refusing to allow any meaningful judicial or Congressional oversight. [Center for National Security Studies, 8/5/2007]
Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The American Civil Liberties Union registers bitter disapproval of the newly passed Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), which it disparagingly labels the “Police America Act.” It writes: “[The act] allows for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts. It contains virtually no protections for the US end of the phone call or email, leaving decisions about the collection, mining and use of Americans’ private communications up to this administration.” The Attorney General can issue warrants for domestic surveillance of international communications without court review, and can order surveillance of people outside of the US for a year, all without any review by the FISA Court. The PAA “cut[s FISA] out of the process, leaving the executive branch unchecked.” Any telephone or e-mail communications from US citizens “caught up in the dragnet” can be examined at the government’s leisure, the ACLU says, without any privacy considerations or respect for Constitutional rights. The law leaves “the administration to decide how to collect, store, datamine and use Americans’ private communications.” The ACLU says that the court review provisions of the PAA are a sham. The Attorney General need not explain how US citizens’ communications are handled once they are intercepted. The FISA Court “will have no information about how extensive the breach of American privacy is, nor the authority to remedy it.” The provisions for Congressional oversight are equally meaningless, the ACLU says, because the Attorney General is not required to disclose any information about what domestic communications the government has intercepted or what is being done with those intercepts. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/7/2007]
Ryan Singel. [Source: Wired]According to Ryan Singel of Wired, the new Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) gives the Bush administration “the power to order the nation’s communication service providers—which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks—to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.” He adds: “These outposts need only to have a ‘significant’ purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation. Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.” In addition, Singel says the PAA redefines any monitoring of US citizens’ telephone and Internet communications “reasonably believed” to be outside the country as not surveillance, allows telecommunications firms to target both foreign and domestic parties for surveillance, and forces those firms to give assistance in secret, without informing Congress or the targeted parties. [Wired News, 8/6/2007]
Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that provide evidence of a possible cover-up of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American personnel in 2003. The documents detail US Army Office of Inspector General investigations by three high-ranking Army officials: Major General Barbara Fast, then the top intelligence officer in Iraq (see December 2003); Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and former CENTCOM head Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The documents suggest that these three flag officers failed to act promptly when informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They also show that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at the Iraqi prison qualified as torture. “These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in US custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” says ACLU official Amrit Singh. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” The documents also show that Major General George Fay (see August 25, 2004) found the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib to be torture: “[W]hat was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were—those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s—actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.” Fay also noted in the document that a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a ‘mindset’ in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He noted that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo (see August 25, 2004), not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg enters the courtroom. [Source: Wired News]The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco hears two related cases: one a government appeal to dismiss a case brought against AT&T for its involvement in the National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic wiretapping program (see July 20, 2006), and the other a challenge to the government’s authority to wiretap overseas phone calls brought on behalf of a now-defunct Islamic charity, Al Haramain (see February 28, 2006). The AT&T lawsuit is brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see January 31, 2006). Among the onlookers is AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who has provided key documentation for the EFF lawsuit (see Early January 2006).
Government Lawyer: Court Should Grant 'Utmost Deference' to Bush Administration - Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, arguing on behalf of the US government, tells Judge Harry Pregerson, one of the three judges presiding over the court, that allowing the EFF lawsuit against AT&T to go forward would result in “exceptionally grave harm to national security in the United States,” even though a previous judge has ruled otherwise (see July 20, 2006) and the government itself has admitted that none of the material to be used by EFF is classified as any sort of state secret (see June 23, 2006). Pregerson says that granting such a request would essentially make his court a “rubber stamp” for the government, to which Garre argues that Pregerson should grant the “utmost deference” to the Bush administration. Pregerson retorts: “What does utmost deference mean? Bow to it?” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Klein will later accuse Garre of using “scare tactics” to attempt to intimidate the judges into finding in favor of AT&T and the government. [Klein, 2009, pp. 79]
Government Refuses to Swear that Domestic Surveillance Program Operates under Warrant - Garre says that the goverment’s domestic surveillance program operates entirely under judicial warrant; he says the government is not willing to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect. Reporter Kevin Poulsen, writing for Wired News, says that Garre’s admission of the government’s reluctance to swear that its domestic surveillance program operates with warrants troubles all three judges. AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg argues that AT&T customers have no proof that their communications are being given over to the government without warrants, and therefore the EFF lawsuit should be dismissed. “The government has said that whatever AT&T is doing with the government is a state secret,” Kellogg says. “As a consequence, no evidence can come in whether the individuals’ communications were ever accepted or whether we played any role in it.” EFF attorney Robert Fram argues that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows citizens to challenge electronic surveillance by permitting courts to hear government evidence in chambers. He is careful, Poulsen writes, to note that EFF does not want specific information on the NSA’s sources and methods, and says that EFF already has enough evidence to prove its assertion that AT&T compromised its customers’ privacy by colluding with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Government Mocks Whistleblower's AT&T Documentation - Garre mocks Klein’s AT&T documents, saying that all they prove is that the NSA’s secret room in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see Late 2002-Early 2003, January 2003, and October 2003) “has a leaky air conditioner and some loose cables in the room.” Fram counters that Klein’s documentation is specific and damning. It proves that the NSA housed a splitter cabinet in that secret room that “split” data signals, allowing the NSA to wiretap literally millions of domestic communications without the knowledge of AT&T customers (see February 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, and Late 2003). Fram says Klein’s documents, along with other non-classified documentation EFF has presented, proves “the privacy violation on the handover of the Internet traffic at the splitter into the secret room, which room has limited access to NSA-cleared employees. What is not part of our claim is what happens inside that room.” Klein’s documentation proves the collusion between AT&T and the NSA, Fram states, but Judge M. Margaret McKeown questions this conclusion. According to Poulsen, McKeown seems more willing to grant the government the argument that it must protect “state secrets” than Pregerson.
Government Argues for Dismissal of Al Haramain Case - As in the AT&T portion of the appeal hearing, the government, represented by Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Brody, argues for the Al Haramain lawsuit’s dismissal, saying, “The state secrets privilege requires dismissal of this case.” Even the determination as to whether Al Haramain was spied upon, he argues, “is itself a state secret.” The Top Secret government document that Al Haramain is using as the foundation of its case is too secret to be used in court, Brody argues, even though the government itself accidentally provided the charity with the document. Even the plaintiff’s memories of the document constitute “state secrets” and should be disallowed, Brody continues. “This document is totally non-redactable and non-segregable and cannot even be meaningfully described,” he says. A disconcerted Judge McKeown says, “I feel like I’m in Alice and Wonderland.” Brody concludes that it is possible the Al Haramain attorneys “think or believe or claim they were surveilled. It’s entirely possible that everything they think they know is entirely false.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007]
No Rulings Issued - The appeals court declines to rule on either case at this time. Klein will later write, “It was clear to everyone that this panel would, if they ever issued a ruling, deny the ‘state secrets’ claim and give the green light for the EFF lawsuit to go forward.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 79-81] Wired News’s Ryan Singel writes that the panel seems far more sympathetic to the EFF case than the Al Haramain case. The judges seem dismayed that the government fails to prove that no domestic surveillance program actually exists in the EFF matter. However, they seem far more willing to listen to the government’s case in the Al Haramain matter, even though McKeown says that the government’s argument has an “Alice in Wonderland” feel to it. Singel believes the government is likely to throw out the secret document Al Haramain uses as the foundation of its case. However, he writes, “all three judges seemed to believe that the government could confirm or deny a secret intelligence relationship with the nation’s largest telecom, without disclosing secrets to the world.… So seemingly, in the eyes of today’s panel of judges, in the collision between secret documents and the state secrets privilege, ‘totally secret’ documents are not allowed to play, but sort-of-secret documents—the AT&T documents—may be able to trump the power of kings to do as they will.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Wired News’s David Kravets notes that whichever way the court eventually rules, the losing side will continue the appeals process, probably all the way to the US Supreme Court. The biggest question, he says, is whether the NSA is still spying on millions of Americans. [Wired News, 8/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Supreme Court, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bush administration (43), Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, AT&T, David Kravets, Ryan Singel, Thomas Brody, National Security Agency, Mark Klein, Kevin Poulsen, M. Margaret McKeown, Gregory Garre, Harry Pregerson, Robert Fram, Michael Kellogg
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) says it is not part of the Executive Office of the President. It had previously argued it was not part of the executive branch at all (see 2003 and June 21, 2007), but had abandoned that claim two months before (see June 26, 2007). In a letter from Vice President Cheney’s counsel Shannen Coffin to Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Coffin asks for more time to produce documents related to the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. In her letter, Coffin writes that the “committee authorized the chairman to issue subpoenas to the Executive Office of the President and Department of Justice, but did not authorize issuance of a subpoena to the Office of the Vice President.” [Office of the Vice President, 8/20/2007 ] Leahy responds, “The administration’s response today also claims that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the Executive Office of the President. That is wrong. Both the United States Code and even the White House’s own web site say so—at least it did as recently as this morning.” [US Senate, 8/20/2007] The National Journal’s Jane Roh writes, “Any constitutional lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you this line of argument ends badly for Cheney.” [National Journal, 8/21/2007]
Author and reporter Charlie Savage observes that the Bush administration went far beyond the Reagan-era vision of a “unitary executive” (see April 30, 1986). He writes that the administration decided early on—perhaps before taking office in January 2001—to combine the “unitary executive” theory with the older concept of the “inherent powers” of the presidency (see 1901-1909 and June 30, 1950). Savage writes: “The new and improved Unitary Executive Theory said that Congress could not regulate any executive power, but the theory said nothing about the potential scope of such power. When fused, the two theories transformed any conceivably inherent executive power into an exclusive one. The president could do virtually anything, without any check by Congress.” Savage notes that most legal experts from across the political spectrum have roundly rejected both theories, as has the Supreme Court (see June 2, 1952 and June 1988). “The Bush-Cheney administration legal team regularly ignored the existence of such precedents in its secret advisory opinions” (see November 16-17, 1987 and September 25, 2001). The Bush administration also used an unusual reading of Alexander Hamilton’s discussion of the executive branch’s “unity” in the Federalist Papers, article 70, in which Hamilton advocated that the president’s powers should not be limited by a body of lawmakers. As Savage points out, most legal scholars call this reading “extremely misleading,” and note that Hamilton was writing about the Founding Fathers’ decision to have a single president instead of an executive committee. In fact, Hamilton explicitly repudiated the idea of a “unitary executive” in Federalist 69. Savage writes: “Over and over again, the presidentialists’ most important legal writings failed to make any mention of Federalist 69, even as they selectively quoted tidbits of Federalist 70—and quoted them out of context—as proof for their power to act beyond the limits of statutes passed by Congress.” Conservative law professor Richard Epstein calls the Bush administration’s legal theory “just wrong,” and its lawyers’ failure to acknowledge Federalist 69 “scandalous.” Epstein says: “How can you not talk about Federalist 69? All you have to do is go on Google and put in ‘Federalist Papers’ and ‘commander in chief,’ and it pops up.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 124-127]
President Bush has abused his prerogative to issue “signing statements” that state the White House’s interpretion of Congressionally passed laws (see Early 2005), according to former White House counsel John Dean and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.
History - Signing statements have no weight in law, but presidents have traditionally used them to state their belief that a particular legislative provision is unconstitutional, and on rare occasion (before the current president) to state their refusal to enforce that provision. Since Jimmy Carter’s administration, various Justice Department officials have said presidents can refuse to enforce a particular provision of signed, legally binding legislation. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116] A group of young conservative lawyers in the Reagan administration decided that signing statements were a powerful, and stealthy, way to expand presidential power.
Dean: Bush's Use of Signing Statements 'Extraordinary' - However, Dean says that Bush has used signing statements far more extensively than any president before him. Dean notes that, while presidential signing statements themselves are not illegal or inherently wrong, “[i]t is Bush’s abuse of them that is extraordinary.” Dean writes there has been no concerted effort to find out if Bush is just saying he will not comply with the inordinate number of legislative provisions he has objected to, or if he is refusing to comply with them in practice. If the latter is the case, Dean writes, “he should be impeached immediately… because it would be an extraordinary breach of his oath” of office.
Tribe: Bush's Signing Statements 'Bizarre,' 'Reckless' - Dean cites Tribe, who said in 2006, “[W]hat is new and distressing [about Bush’s use of signing statements] is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views—and the suspicion that the president either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won’t be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches—declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007] Political science professor Christopher Kelley agrees. Kelley, who studied the Bush administration’s use of signing statements, says: “What we haven’t seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House. That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration.”
Signing Statements Supplanting Vetoes - In another disturbing trend, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, Bush is using signing statements to supplant the traditional presidential veto. By mid-2007, Bush had vetoed just two bills. In contrast, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, vetoed 37 bills. George H. W. Bush vetoed 44, and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Legal experts studying Bush’s signing statements conclude that Bush and his legal team are using signing statements to function almost as line-item vetoes, a power the president does not have. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Founding Fathers wanted the president to either accept a Congressional bill or reject it entirely, and if Congress overrode the veto, then the president had no other recourse than to follow the new law. But now, Savage writes, “the Bush-Cheney administration had figured out that if a president signed a bill and then instructed the government to consider selected provisions null (see December 30, 2005), he could accomplish much the same thing. Moreover, it was an absolute power because, unlike when there is a regular veto, Congress had no opportunity to override his legal judgments.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 230-231]
Andrew Warren, chief of the CIA’s station in Algeria, allegedly date-rapes an Algerian national with German citizenship. When Warren is later confronted with the allegations, he will admit having sex with the woman, but deny raping her. The woman is invited to a party at Warren’s residence by US embassy employees. Although she does not know Warren, he makes her a whiskey and coke, which is prepared out of her sight. During the evening, she drinks several such beverages, and begins to feel the effects of the alcohol. While having her last drink, she feels a sudden need to vomit and runs to the toilet. According to a witness, while the woman is vomiting in the bathroom, Warren stands at the door and says she should stay the night at his house. The woman will say she does not remember anything after this, and the witness will say all the other guests depart at this time, leaving only the alleged victim, the witness, and Warren in the house. The woman will later say she wakes up alone and naked on a bed with a headache and a pain in her vaginal area, making her think she recently had sex, although she cannot remember it. She also notices a condom with what appears to be sperm inside it on the floor by the bed. She calls the witness on her cell phone and tells her to come quickly. When the witness arrives, the woman shows her the condom and the two women then quickly leave the house. The witness will also later say that she recalls Warren using a video camera during the party and that he was recording the victim. Another witness will recall the woman being at the party and getting drunk there. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/2008 ] The witness will subsequently complain to the embassy (see June 1, 2008) and date rape drugs will be found in a search of Warren’s house (see October 13, 2008).
Brennan Center for Justice logo. [Source: Red Alert Politics (,com)]A coalition of civil rights groups files a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Florida’s new voting registration law blocks tens of thousands of legitimate would-be voters. The Voter Registration Verification Law, passed in 2005, is sometimes called the “No Match, No Vote” law because it forces first-time voters to provide identification numbers—driver’s license, official state ID, or Social Security numbers—to match those on their voter ID cards. If the numbers do not match, the citizens are not allowed to vote. Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the groups filing the lawsuit, says of the law, “Any number of things can go wrong in that process, and the fact that they do is why we’re in court.” The Brennan Center for Justice is joined in the lawsuit by the Florida branch of the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. Levitt says Florida’s State Department has provided files showing some 20,000 voter registration cards were rejected in 2006 because of the law. The lawsuit shows evidence that after California passed a similar law, rejection rates reached as high as 44 percent. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning says in a statement, “While it is not my policy to comment on pending litigation, I will reiterate that it is the intention of the Department of State to make sure that every eligible voter in the state of Florida has the means and the opportunity to register to vote and to cast a ballot.” The law merely works to comply with federal verification requirements, Browning says, and is “supported” by the US Department of Justice, which is reviewing Florida’s amended registration laws. The Brennan Center for Justice is also involved in another lawsuit challenging state rules which make it more difficult for independent organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Levitt says the new law will only exacerbate an already-difficult situation for voters in 2008. “Given the way that registration picks up heavily in an election year, we really fear it’s going to pick up in 2008. As forms flood in before the deadline, there will be less time to deal with them,” Levitt says. [WTSP-TV, 9/17/2007; Florida Independent, 10/22/2010] The lawsuit will not succeed. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/28/2008] In 2008, the law will effectively disenfranchise almost 8,000 voters, the majority of whom are African-Americans and Hispanics, and over three-quarters of whom are registered Democrats. [Florida Independent, 10/22/2010]
First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting, the Kuwaiti firm building the US embassy in Baghdad, is accused of agreeing to pay $200,000 in kickbacks in return for two unrelated Army contracts in Iraq. According to now-sealed court documents, First Kuwaiti worked with a manager for KBR, the US contracting firm that handles logistics for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The document is based on grand jury testimony from the former KBR manager, Anthony J. Martin, who pled guilty in July to taking bribes from First Kuwaiti in 2003 (see July 13, 2007). The US government has tried to keep First Kuwaiti’s name out of public records related to Martin’s case. Martin told the grand jury that he took part in a bribery scheme with Lebanese businessman Wadih Al Absi, the controlling official of First Kuwaiti. That firm has done a large amount of work for US government entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Marine Corps. It is under investigation by Congress for its allegedly illegal labor practices, and the Justice Department is investigating the firm for alleged contract fraud on the embassy project. J. Scott Arthur, one of Martin’s defense lawyers, says the US government is improperly withholding evidence about Martin and his relationship with Al Absi and First Kuwaiti. Martin has said that he took kickbacks in return for his awarding a $4.6 million contract to First Kuwaiti to supply 50 semi-tractors and 50 refrigeration trailers for six months. A month later, Martin awarded First Kuwaiti an additional $8.8 million subcontract to supply 150 more semi-tractors for six months. In return, First Kuwaiti agreed to pay him $200,000. Martin says he took $10,000, then refused to take any more money. Martin will testify in the trial of former KBR procurement manager Jeff Mazon (see June 2003). First Kuwaiti denies any wrongdoing, and KBR says through a spokesperson that it “in no way condones or tolerates unethical behavior,” adding, “We have fully cooperated with the Department of Justice.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2007]
The Justice Department’s Brian Benczkowski answers Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)‘s request for clarification of the terms “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” as it applies to suspected terrorists in US custody. Benczkowski writes that the government uses the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) and a recent executive order, Order #13440 (authorizing the continued use of harsh interrogation methods—see July 20, 2007) to determine how the US will comply with the Geneva Conventions. Benczkowski writes that Order 13440 and the Army Field Manual, among other guidelines, ensure that any interrogations carried out by US personnel comply with Geneva.
Geneva Does Not Clearly Define 'Humane Treatment' - He goes on to note that the term “humane treatment” is not directly defined by Geneva, but “rather provides content by enumerating the specific prohibitions that would contravene that standard.” Common Article 3, the statute in the Conventions that specifically addresses the treatment of prisoners, expressly prohibits “violence” including “murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” It also prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity,” including “humiliating and degrading treatment.” Benczkowski writes that there is no accepted international standard as to what is defined as “humane treatment” and what is not, outside of the basic provisions of food, water, clothing, shelter, and protection from extremes of temperature. Given this standard, he writes, the Bush administration does ensure that “all detainees within the CIA program shall be treated humanely.”
Defined by Circumstances - He goes on to note that Geneva seems to grant some leeway for interpretation as to what complies with its standards, particularly in the area of “outrages upon personal dignity.” Citing a previous international tribunal, he writes, “To rise to the level of an outrage, the conduct must be ‘animated by contempt for the human dignity of another person’ and it must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that must be universally condemned.” None of the methods used by US interrogators contravenes any of these standards as the Justice Department interprets them, Benczkowski concludes. As for the question of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” or as he abbreviates it, “CIDT,” Benczkowski writes that such treatment is prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. However, circumstances determine what is and is not CIDT, he writes; even “in evaluating whether a homicide violates Common Article 3, it would be necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the act.” The CIA interrogation program fully complies with Common Article 3, various statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and the Bill of Rights, Benczkowski asserts. [US Department of Justice, 9/27/2007 ]
A jury in the case of Snyder v. Phelps awards $11 million to Albert Snyder, finding that the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), its leader Fred Phelps, and six other members had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the Snyder family and violated its privacy. Snyder is the father of a slain Marine, and the members of the WBC had picketed his son’s funeral with signs featuring stick figures engaged in sex acts and messages such as “Semper Fi Fags,” and posted derogatory statements about them on the WBC Web site (see March 10, 2006 and After). The WBC has a history of picketing the funerals of dead American soldiers, claiming the soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance for homosexuality (see June 2005 and After). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] The judge will later reduce the judgment against the WBC to $5 million (see April 3, 2008).
Air Force Colonel Morris Davis resigns his position as the lead counsel for the military commissions trials at Guantanamo after complaining that his authority in prosecutions is being usurped for political purposes (see October 19, 2007). In particular, Davis complains about interference by Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, a legal adviser at Guantanamo (see July 2007), and Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes (see October 4, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Davis planned on prosecuting as many as 80 of the Guantanamo detainees. There have been no trials so far, because the Supreme Court ruled the trials unconstitutional until they were reauthorized by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Davis has made headlines with outspoken support of the trials and his colorful characterizations of Guantanamo detainees. In March 2006, he compared detainees who challenged the trial system to vampires afraid of the harsh sunlight of US justice: “Remember if you dragged Dracula out into the sunlight, he melted? Well, that’s kind of the way it is trying to drag a detainee into the courtroom,” he told reporters. “But their day is coming.” [Miami Herald, 10/6/2007]
Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes assumes command of the military prosecutions at Guantanamo, a decision that infuriates lead prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. Haynes is promoted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England; Haynes, a civilian lawyer, was blocked in his bid for a seat on an appellate court because of his connection to the now-infamous torture memos (see November 27, 2002). Davis, who opposes the use of such techniques as waterboarding and other “extreme interrogation techniques,” resigns within hours of Haynes’s promotion. Davis will later say that Haynes’ expanded powers were a key reason for his decision (see October 4, 2007).
“[T]he decision to give him command over the chief prosecutor’s office, in my view, cast a shadow over the integrity of military commissions,” he will write in a December 2007 op-ed explaining his decision (see December 10, 2007). Davis will also write that he has no confidence that military commissions can be used for fair trials if “political appointees like Haynes and [convening authority Susan] Crawford” are in charge: “The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sen[ators] John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it’s time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2007] In 2009, one of Davis’s subordinates, prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, will confirm Davis’s story (see January 18, 2009). He will recall Davis complaining of “being bullied by political appointees in the Bush administration.” Vandeveld will write that Davis resigned rather than bring prosecutions before they were ready to proceed, especially since, as Davis believed, the prosecutions were for political purposes. [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]
After almost five years in US custody, Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002) is charged with attempted murder in violation of the law of war and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Jawad is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade into a US military vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, but denies the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
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