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Fox News commentators mock the idea of using insects to torture prisoners, as was revealed in recently released Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the former governor of Arkansas and a 2008 presidential candidate who now has his own talk show on Fox, says, “Look, I’ve been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys faced.” Huckabee goes on to characterize the Obama administration’s version of prisoner interrogation, saying, “We’re going to talk to them, we’re going to have a nice conversation, we’re going to invite them down for some tea and crumpets.” Huckabee’s fellow commentators Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy join in the hilarity. [Media Matters, 4/17/2009; Media Matters, 4/21/2009]
Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]
Psychologists and medical ethicists react with horror to recent reports that a psychologist and various medical professionals took part in torturing prisoners—information that was revealed by recently released Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009). A psychologist, whose name was redacted from the memos but is apparently James Mitchell (see January 2002 and After), provided, as the Washington Post reports, “ideas, practical advice, and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break [detainee] Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear—all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so.” The names of other psychologists and medical practicioners were also redacted from the memos. They monitored torture victims, helped keep them alive during sometimes-brutal interrogation sessions, and sometimes, the Post writes, “actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture.” The detainees were not the only ones being monitored. Psychologists were dispatched to each secret CIA prison, or “black site,” to make sure the medical professionals involved in the daily torture “could stand up, psychologically handle it,” says a former CIA official. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA.
Debate over Ethics of Participating in Torture - Frank Donaghue of the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights says: “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology. All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” George Annas, a professor of health law and bioethics, says, “I don’t think we had any idea doctors were involved to this extent, and it will shock most physicians.” The use of doctors to monitor torture victims is “totally unethical.… In terms of ethics, it’s not even a close call.” The American Medical Association’s policy guidelines state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened,” and doctors can treat detainees only “if doing so is in their best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” Author and professor of medicine Steven Miles says the actions described in the memos are the “kind of stuff that doctors have been tried, convicted, and imprisoned for in other countries—and that’s what should happen here.” But Michael Gross, an Israeli author and professor, says if medical professionals believe particular interrogation tactics do not constitute torture, then there is no reason for them not to participate. “Physicians are faced with a hard dilemma,” he says. “They have professional obligations to do no harm, but they also have a duty as a citizen to provide expertise to their government when the national security is at stake. In a national security crisis, I believe our duties as citizens take precedence.” The American Psychological Association (APA) has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization have noted that the APA has failed to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a 2006 report, “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.”
Memos Say US Doctors' Participation Morally Distinct from Instances in Other Countries - The memos acknowledged that the participation of medical professionals in torturing prisoners posed an ethical dilemma, but contended that the CIA’s use of doctors in such interrogations is morally distinct from the practices of other countries that practice torture. One such distinction was that doctors observing interrogations could stop them “if in their professional judgment the detainee may suffer severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” In one instance, the CIA chose not to subject a detainee to waterboarding due to a “medical contraindication,” according to a May 10, 2005, memo. [Washington Post, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Frank Donaghue, American Medical Association, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington Post, Michael Gross, Steven Miles, George Annas, International Committee of the Red Cross, US Department of Justice, American Psychological Association
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden refuses to confirm information from a recently released CIA memo that shows alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). Even though the memo has been released to the public, Hayden says he believes that information is still classified. Hayden says he opposed the release of the memo and three others recently released by the White House. Even though President Obama has said that the US will never use waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation techniques” again, Hayden says: “At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information. Now, it doesn’t mean we would always go to the outer limits, but it describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond. To me, that’s very useful for our enemies, even if as a policy matter, this president at this time had decided not to use one, any, or all of those techniques. It reveals the outer limits. That’s very important.” Hayden also disputes reports that suspected terrorist Abu Zubaida revealed nothing new after being tortured; he says that after Zubaida was subjected to waterboarding and other unspecified “techniques,” he revealed information leading to the capture of suspected terrorist Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [New York Times, 4/19/2009; Think Progress, 4/19/2009] Days later, former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan will reveal information that disputes Hayden’s claims (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009).
The Obama administration sends mixed signals on whether or not to go forward with investigations and possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who may have advocated or authorized the illegal torture of detainees in US custody, as detailed in two recent information releases (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, says the White House does not favor investigations or prosecutions. But three days later, Obama contradicts Emanuel, saying he favors a Congressional investigation, and if his Attorney General, Eric Holder, believes criminal prosecutions are warranted, he would not block them. “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions,” Obama says, “I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” [Scotsman, 4/23/2009]
Responding to the news that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 18, 2009), Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reiterates his opposition to waterboarding and to torture: “One is too much. Waterboarding is torture, period. I can ensure [sic] you that once enough physical pain is inflicted on someone, they will tell that interrogator whatever they think they want to hear. And most importantly, it serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.” He adds, “The image of the United States of America throughout the world is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” However, McCain says it was a “serious mistake” for the Obama administration to release the CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), saying, “The release of these memos helps no one, doesn’t help America’s image, does not help us address the issue.” [Think Progress, 4/20/2009]
Brian Kilmeade. [Source: Chattahbox (.com)]Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, says he “feel[s] better” knowing that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). “Guess what?” Kilmeade says. “Maybe if he were so scared of caterpillars [referring to militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida’s torture by insects—see August 1, 2002]… maybe he should have thought about that before he helped plot the taking down of 3,000-plus people on 9/11.” (Kilmeade is either unaware of, or ignoring, reports that show Zubaida may not have been a member of al-Qaeda and had no involvement in the 9/11 planning—see March 28, 2002, Shortly After March 28, 2002, and April 9, 2002 and After.) Kilmeade continues: “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.… It’s unbelievable that people care more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, uh, his health, than they would about the future attacks that are being hatched.” [Media Matters, 4/20/2009]
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) tells a Fox News interviewer that he opposed the release of four Bush-era Justice Department memos approving torture (see April 16, 2009). “I thought release of the memos was a bad idea,” he says. “It wasn’t necessary. It just helps our enemies. It doesn’t really help us.” Lieberman then says that one of the tactics considered the harshest, waterboarding, should always be available to US interrogators. Asked if he believes waterboarding is torture, Lieberman replies: “Well, I take a minority position on this. Most people think it’s definitely torture. The truth is, it has mostly a psychological impact on people. It’s a terrible thing to do.… I want the president of the United States in a given circumstance where we believe somebody we’ve got in our control may have information that could help us stop an attack, an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, God forbid, worse, we ought to be able to use something like waterboarding.” Lieberman says he believes Bush officials’ claims that waterboarding worked to prevent terrorist attacks. [Think Progress, 4/21/2009] Two days later, Lieberman will write that he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding (see April 22, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” [Fox News, 4/20/2009] The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ]
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) begins an investigation of the department’s lawyers who signed off on the Bush administration’s torture policies, in particular John Yoo (see Late September 2001 and January 9, 2002), Jay Bybee (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), and Steven Bradbury (see May 10, 2005, June 23, 2005 and July 2007). The OPR investigation will determine whether these lawyers shirked their professional responsibilities in deciding that particular torture techniques were, in fact, legal; if that conclusion is reached, then prosecutors could make the case that the lawyers knowingly broke the law. Today, the press learns that the OPR has obtained archived e-mail messages from the time when the memorandums were being drafted. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has urged President Obama “not to rule out prosecutions of those who implemented the program” until the OPR report, along with a long-awaited report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see April 21, 2009), become available. Former Bush White House lawyer Bradford Berenson says he has seen a surge in “anxiety and anger” among his former colleagues, and says they should not be investigated. [New York Times, 4/22/2009] The Justice Department will refuse to bring sanctions against Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury (see February 2010).
European scientists whose work was used by the CIA and Justice Department to help justify the legality of torture methods denounce the Bush administration for misusing their scientific findings. Bernd Kundermann, a sleep specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Marburg, says, “It is total nonsense to cite our study in this context.” Paris sleep specialist S. Hakki Onen says of his sleep research: “I’m disappointed, upset, consternated, and even hurt at seeing this. To see [the research] used in this manner is upsetting because [the CIA’s] goals run counter to the therapeutic intent of our effort.… In publishing clinical findings like this, you’re aware you lose control of them, because they can be read and even abused by people who may have other objectives in mind.” Studies by Kundermann and Onen were used by the CIA in its determination of sleep deprivation tactics to be used against prisoners. British sleep researcher James Horne calls the use of his work by the CIA to justify torture “nonsense.” A 2004 study by Kundermann, which demonstrated that people deprived of sleep for a night have an increased sensitivity to pain, was cited in two 2005 Justice Department memos (see May 10, 2005 and May 10, 2005) that concluded sleep deprivation up to 180 hours (seven and one-half days) would cause increased pain but not meet the legal standard of “severe physical pain,” even when used in conjunction with other techniques such as physical beatings and waterboarding. Kundermann says his work does not justify the Justice Department’s conclusion. “We were working with healthy volunteers and didn’t deprive them of sleep for more than one day without allowing them to recover,” he says. “Even under these circumstances, certain changes can occur, such as hallucinations, depending on the individual’s condition.” The methods employed by CIA interrogators could have much more severe effects, including induced psychosis. Onen says the CIA sleep deprivation techniques far exceeded “the maximum we set for ethical purposes.” Horne writes that the CIA’s use of his study to conclude that “even very extended sleep deprivation does not cause physical pain” is seriously flawed. “Prolonged stress with sleep deprivation will lead to a physiological exhaustion of the body’s defense mechanisms, physical collapse, and with the potential for various ensuing illnesses,” he notes. “We don’t know at what point this latter phase would be reached with ‘coercive techniques,’ but to claim that 180 hours is safe in these respects is nonsense.” [Time, 4/21/2009]
Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pens a lengthy op-ed for the Huffington Post to coincide with his committee’s release of a report documenting the abuse of prisoners under Bush administration policies (see April 21, 2009). Levin calls the report “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples,’ were simply false. The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone.” Levin cites numerous statements and actions by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, among others, but the ultimate responsibility for the torture program, he writes, must lie with Bush and Cheney. Levin writes that many high-ranking officials who must be counted as supporters of the administration, such as Iraq commander General David Petraeus, opposed the use of torture and abusive interrogation methods on detainees. Levin concludes: “If we are to retain our status as a leader in the world, we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody. The committee’s report and investigation makes significant progress toward that goal. There is still the question, however, of whether high level officials who approved and authorized those policies should be held accountable.” Levin has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special investigator “to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials—including lawyers.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009] The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” [Mother Jones, 5/6/2009] Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” [MSNBC, 4/21/2009]
Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says he has no problem with certain methods of torture documented in recently released Bush administration memos (see April 16, 2009). “I don’t know what I think about waterboarding,” Fleischer says. “I think waterboarding is pretty close to the line. But I’m not an expert in it, and I think, when it comes to that, you really can’t go by what a layman has come to learn by reading newspapers.… [S]leep deprivation, I have no problem with. I think it’s all is how it’s conducted and to what extent things go (see April 21, 2009). [I]f you read those documents, it was conducted with medical people being present to make certain that it didn’t enter the area where you go from a harsh technique—and I think it’s appropriate to be harsh with people after September 11 who might be able to prevent the next attack.” Even so, Fleischer says he is not a proponent of torture. Asked by interviewer Anderson Cooper, “If it works, do you think, then, it’s justified?” Fleischer replies, “No, I don’t.” [CNN, 4/21/2009]
Democratic Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) say they intend to push for the impeachment of federal judge Jay Bybee in response to the report on torture issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009). As the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, Bybee signed off on two memos that justified the use of torture (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002). Nadler says that the purpose of the Bybee memos was never to give an honest legal analysis, but to provide legal cover for patently illegal actions in order to encourage those actions. Nadler says the charge against Bybee would be something approaching “conspiracy to abet torture.” Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he intends to hold hearings to examine the role that Bybee and other Bush administration lawyers played in crafting Bush administration torture policies. “There are some who tried to do a get-out-of-jail-free card. Obviously, there are some that that’s all they were thinking,” he says, refusing to name anyone specifically. However, he says, “We’re coming after these guys.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009] Bybee will not be impeached, though he will be found to have exhibited “poor judgment” during his tenure in the Department of Justice (see February 2010).
A newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee chronology discloses that the small group of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing the torture of enemy detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 9, 2008) did not operate on their own, but were authorized by top White House officials such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see April 2002 and After). Other top officials, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, were apparently left out of the decision-making process. Former committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) says the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions “is not complete,” and urges the prompt declassification of other Bush-era documents that, he says, will show how the Bush administration interpreted the laws governing torture and war crimes. The committee report began in the summer of 2008, at Rockefeller’s behest, and was drafted by committee staffers with heavy input from Bush officials. The entire effort was coordinated through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Bush’s National Security Council refused to declassify the report; President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, signed off on its release and the committee clears it for release today. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009; McClatchy News, 4/22/2009] The Intelligence Committee report dovetails with a report issued by the Senate Armed Forces Committee that showed Defense Department officials debated torture methods months before the Justice Department authorized such methods (see April 21, 2009). The report also shows:
The CIA thought al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was withholding information about an imminent threat as early as April 2002 (see March 28-August 1, 2002), but did not receive authorization to torture him until three months later.
Some Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the torture of Zubaida and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
CIA Director George Tenet, in the spring of 2003, asked for a reaffirmation of the legality of torture methods (perhaps this memo—see June 1, 2003). Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among the participants at a meeting where it was decided that the torture policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell were not present.
The CIA briefed Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
Administration officials had lasting concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Reactions among other senators is divided, with John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) asking Obama not to prosecute Bush officials who authorized or gave advice concerning torture, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reiterating his support for an independent “truth commission” to investigate the interrogations. [McClatchy News, 4/22/2009; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ] In 2008, Bush admitted approving of his administration’s authorization of torture (see April 11, 2008).
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Patrick J. Leahy, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, James L. Jones, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, George J. Tenet, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Council, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Guantanamo detainee Rafiq al-Hami claims to have been tortured at several CIA-operated “black sites,” or secret prisons, months before Justice Department memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002) authorized the torture of prisoners in US custody. Al-Hami’s lawyers file the lawsuit in a US District Court in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s impossible to claim that people who perpetrated torture relied on memos that didn’t exist,” says al-Hami’s lawyer Josh Denbeaux. “Rafiq was tortured before the memos authorizing torture were written.” Denbeaux and his father, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, are lawyers for the plaintiff. Al-Hami, a Tunisian, says he was arrested in Iran in November 2001 and taken to Afghanistan. From there, he was transported to three CIA “black sites” where “his presence and his existence were unknown to everyone except his United States detainers,” and his name was not included on any publicly available list of detainees. The suit alleges, “He was told that no one knew where he was; that he would be secretly detained for 20 years, perhaps until his death, and no one would ever know.” This would make al-Hami a so-called “ghost detainee.” He says he was tortured beginning in December 2001. At various times, he says, he was stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in “stress positions,” beaten with rifle butts, kicked, tormented with bright lights and music played at excruciating volumes, and exposed to extremes of temperature. Al-Hami also alleges that interrogators sprayed pepper spray on his hemorrhoids, causing intense pain. Al-Hami says the torture continued after he was transferred to Guantanamo in January 2003. He says he has no ties to any terrorist group, and was arrested by an Iranian seeking a bounty payment. The suit says that after intensive torture sessions, al-Hami “confessed” to training at an al-Qaeda camp for 10 days. Al-Hami’s lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages and names as defendants former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Navy Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, the former commander of the detention center at Guantanamo, and approximately 20 others. Josh Denbeaux says the allegations in the lawsuit were pieced together from al-Hami’s recollections, declassified documents, and information from human rights organizations. [Associated Press, 4/23/2009; New Jersey Star-Ledger, 4/23/2009] Civil rights activist Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, will write, “It’s likely that all of al-Hami’s claims are true.” Worthington will note that the arrangement between the Iranian and US governments for al-Hami’s transfer remains unexplained. In his book, Worthington will spell the name of the detainee as “Alhami,” noting that the Defense Department spells the name “al-Hami” in its documents. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 4/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Jamaat-al-Tablighi, Andy Worthington, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Rafiq al-Hami, US Department of Justice, Mark H. Buzby, Josh Denbeaux, Robert M. Gates, Mark Denbeaux
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, writes an op-ed for the New York Times about his experiences as a US interrogator. Soufan, who was one of the initial interrogators of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Late March through Early June, 2002), says he has remained silent for seven years “about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.” Until now, he has spoken only in closed government hearings, “as these matters were classified.” But now that the Justice Department has released several memos on interrogation (see April 16, 2009), he can publicly speak out about the memos. “I’ve kept my mouth shut about all this for seven years,” Soufan says. “I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these techniques were effective. We were able to get the information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] In early 2002, Soufan trained Guantanamo interrogators in the use of non-coercive interrogation techniques; a colleague recalls the military intelligence officials in the session being resistant to the ideas Soufan proposed (see Early 2002). [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
'False Premises' Underpinning Use of Torture - Soufan says the memos are based on what he calls “false premises.” One is the August 2002 memo granting retroactive authorization to use harsh interrogation methods on Zubaida on the grounds that previous methods had been ineffective (see August 1, 2002). Soufan asserts that his questioning of Zubaida had indeed been productive (contradicting earlier CIA claims—see December 10, 2007), and that he used “traditional interrogation methods” to elicit “important actionable intelligence” from the suspected operative. The harsh methods later used on Zubaida produced nothing that traditional methods could not have produced, Soufan says; moreover, those harsh techniques—torture—often “backfired” on the interrogators. Many of the methods used on detainees such as Zubaida remain classified, Soufan writes: “The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”
False Claims 'Proving' Usefulness of Torture - Some claim that Zubaida gave up information leading to the capture of suspected terrorists Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla. “This is false,” Soufan writes. “The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.”
Restoring the 'Chinese Wall' - Because of the use of torture by the CIA, the two agencies will once again be separated by what Soufan calls “the so-called Chinese wall between the CIA and FBI, similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks.” Since the FBI refused to torture suspects in its custody, “our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An FBI colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.”
Targeted Investigations - Soufan writes that any investigations into the use of torture by the CIA should not seek to punish the interrogators who carried out the government’s policies. “That would be a mistake,” he writes. “Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective, and harmful to our national security.” Soufan goes farther, adding, “It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.” The CIA itself must not be targeted for retribution, Soufan writes, as “[t]he agency is essential to our national security.” Instead, “[w]e must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
Two days after staunchly defending waterboarding as an interrogation tactic (see April 20, 2009), Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) now claims he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding. Lieberman, joined by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), writes: “We have… strongly opposed the overly coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that these [recently released Justice Department] memos (see April 16, 2009) deemed legal. We do not believe, however, that legal analysis should be criminalized, as proposals to prosecute government lawyers suggest.” [US Senate, 4/22/2009] The same day Lieberman defended the use of waterboarding, McCain, who has always opposed torture as an interrogation method, spoke out again against the practice (see April 20, 2009).
Senator John Ensign (R-NV) calls the recently released Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009 and April 21, 2009) a “Democrat partisan” report. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asks Ensign if he is shocked that those torture practices were based on techniques used by Chinese Communists to elicit false confessions from American prisoners of war (see 1957). Ensign accuses Matthews of being “inflammatory.” Matthews says he is not being inflammatory because he is reading directly from the report. At that point, Ensign says: “Chris, the reason I said it is because you didn’t preface that with saying that was a Democrat report. That was a Democrat partisan report. And you have to understand where the people who were doing that report—where their ideology comes from.” Matthews retorts: “Well, apparently, Senator John McCain [R-AZ] is part of what you call a ‘Democrat report.’ It’s the full committee report.… [I]t’s the Armed Services Committee report. It went through three months of review by the Defense Department, until its final release just yesterday. It seems to me this was vetted, sir. And you say this was some Democrat report.” Ensign responds: “The Democrats are in control of all of the committees. This was a Democrat majority report. This was not with the participation of the minority where the minority signed it, ‘Yes, we agree with these views.’” Before the interview, another MSNBC correspondent noted that both McCain and another Republican committee member, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), endorsed the report. And reporter Amanda Terkel, of the progressive news Web site Think Progress, reports that she spoke with a committee spokesman who confirmed that the full, unanimous committee released the report. When Matthews informs Ensign that McCain endorsed the report, Ensign says: “Well, I disagree with you. We had a discussion at lunch about this and many members of the [Senate Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee] completely disagreed with the report. That’s why I said it was a Democrat partisan report.” [Think Progress, 4/22/2009]
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to release a spate of Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009) was a mistake, but now that these have been released, he says the CIA should release memos which he says prove torture works. “[I]n the aftermath of 9/11 with 3,000 dead Americans, 16 acres of downtown New York devastated, a big hole in the Pentagon,” and anthrax attacks shortly thereafter, the US had to obtain “good first-rate intelligence” quickly to “prepare and defend against” future threats, Cheney tells Fox News host Sean Hannity. “That’s what we did. And with the intelligence programs, terror surveillance programs, as well as the interrogation program, we set out to collect that type of surveillance.” The upshot was, Cheney says, “It worked.” Cheney objects to what he characterizes as selective declassification on the part of the Obama White House, saying: “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is that they put out the legal memos… but they didn’t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.… There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified. I formally ask that they be declassified now.” Cheney does not specify which, if any, unreleased memos might prove his contention that waterboarding and other torture methods produce accurate and reliable information. [BBC, 4/21/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 4/21/2009] Cheney is reiterating a call he made two days ago, again on Hannity’s show (see April 20, 2009).
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity displays his angry support for torture and waterboarding on his show, in response to the controversy over the recently released Senate report on torture (see April 21, 2009). Hannity says: “Barack Obama is so weakening our defenses in every regard, sucking up to all the world’s dictators, that people are gonna die because of what Barack Obama is doing right now. People are going to die.” When a guest objects that Americans may die because of the Bush administration’s torture policies, and that American torture policies are “spawning terrorists,” Hannity accuses her of “blam[ing] America” for terrorism, and begins shouting: “They [terrorists] are not Americans! They are at war with us!” He then raises a football over his head and says, “Imagine this is [9/11 plotter] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s head.” He slams it on the table and shouts: “Dunk it in water so we can save American lives! You bet!” [Media Matters, 4/22/2009]
Fox News host Shepard Smith, clearly upset by the recent reports of torture (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), shouts his opposition to such practices during an interview with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. On the air, Smith declares: “We are America, we don’t torture! And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train! This government is of, by, and for the people—that means it’s mine. That means—I’m not saying what is torture, and what is not torture, but I’m saying, whatever it is, you don’t do it for me! I want off the train when the government starts—I want off, next stop, now!” Smith is as impassioned during the commercial break. “They better not do it,” he says. “If we are going to be Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on the Hill, we don’t get to torture. We don’t do it.” And on Fox’s online broadcast The Strategy Show, Smith allows profanity to emphasize his objection. Slamming his hand on a table, he shouts: “We are America! I don’t give a rat’s _ss if it helps. We are America! We do not f_cking torture!!” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009] In recent broadcasts, Fox contributors have either mocked the idea of torture (see April 17, 2009) or supported it outright (see April 20, 2009 and April 22, 2009).
The former US commander of Iraq prisons in 2003, retired Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, tells CBS News interviewers that she and her fellow senior officials were scapegoated by the Bush administration for the crimes and abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib prison. She says that every order concerning prisoner interrogations came from the top down. “These soldiers didn’t design these techniques on their own… we were following orders,” Karpinski says. “We were bringing this to our chain of command and they were saying whatever the military intelligence tells you to do out there you are authorized to do.” Karpinski’s interview is in response to the report just released by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which found that the torture policies carried out by the military came directly from the highest reaches of the Bush administration as early as 2002 (see April 21, 2009). The report also concludes that the Abu Ghraib abuses were a direct result of Bush administration policies, as were widespread abuses at Guantanamo Bay. After the Abu Ghraib scandal became well known, Karpinski was demoted to colonel and later retired. She says: “The line is clear. It went from Washington, DC. From the very top of the administration with the legal opinions through Bagram to Guantanamo Bay and then to Iraq via the commander from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And the contractors who were hired to do those things.” Asked about her assertion that she and the soldiers prosecuted for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005) were “scapegoated” by Bush officials, Karpinski says: “Scapegoat is the perfect word and it’s an understatement. Right now, with the hard, fast facts in those memos, the black and white proof, the administration is suggesting that those operatives should be immune from any investigations or persecution.” [CBS News, 4/22/2009]
Al Franken (D-MN), who won the recount to become the junior US senator from Minnesota but who has been blocked from taking his seat by a legal challenge filed by his opponent, Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 5, 2009 and January 7, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to expedite Coleman’s legal challenge to the recount. Coleman is appealing the recent decision by a lower court to uphold the recount findings and declare Franken the winner of the race (see April 13, 2009). Franken won the recount by 312 votes. Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug says in a court filing, “Because of the important public policy concern of ensuring that the interests of the citizens of Minnesota are properly represented in Congress, this appeal should be expedited.” Lillehaug is echoing concerns made by Franken and his campaign that Minnesota is suffering by having only one, and not two, sitting US senators. Coleman’s campaign says through a spokesperson that it will comply with a Supreme Court ruling; Coleman himself has said he wishes the process to move as quickly as possible. Franken wants oral arguments before the Minnesota high court to begin in early May, but Coleman’s lawyer James Langdon says those arguments probably will not begin until late May or early June. Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), has begun a “Give It Up, Norm” campaign prodding Coleman to concede the election. DFL official Brian Melendez says of Coleman, “If he fights this through to its bitter conclusion, he’ll be not only a sore loser but a permanent loser.” Minnesota Republican Party spokesperson Gina Countryman says, “The number that matters in this whole scenario is the number of voters that remain disenfranchised,” continuing Coleman’s argument that if the ballots were properly counted, he would have won the recount. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009]
Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” [Think Progress, 4/23/2009]
Jordan’s King Abdullah, during an interview on NBC, says the US indeed tortured prisoners during the last administration. “Well, from what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, there are enough accounts to show that this is the case,” Abdullah says. Interviewer David Gregory says: “That’s an important point. You actually do believe that the United States engaged in torture.” Abdullah responds, “What I see on the press… shows that there were illegal ways of dealing with detainees.” [Think Progress, 4/25/2009]
As calls mount for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee (see April 21, 2009), who signed off on two key Bush-era torture memos as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), some friends of Bybee’s say that he now regrets signing the memos. “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” says a fellow legal scholar who refuses to allow his name to be published. “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context—of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.” The scholar adds: “On the primary memo, that legitimated and defined torture, he just felt it got away from him. What I understand that to mean is, any lawyer, when he or she is writing about something very complicated, very layered, sometimes you can get it all out there and if you’re not careful, you end up in a place you never intended to go. I think for someone like Jay, who’s a formalist and a textualist, that’s a particular danger.” Democratic lawmakers complain that Bybee won quick Senate confirmation for his judgeship (see February 5, 2003) in part because he did not discuss the memos during his confirmation hearings. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, “If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed.” Leahy says that now, “the decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign.” ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says that whatever regrets or caveats Bybee may be experiencing are moot. “I don’t think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law,” Jaffer says. “These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They’re not objective legal memos at all.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2009; Think Progress, 4/25/2009]
The CIA tortured and brutalized prisoners for at least seven years without attempting to assess whether such tactics actually resulted in the acquisition of good intelligence, the press reports. Calls to conduct such an assessment of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” began as early as 2003, when the CIA’s inspector general began circulating drafts of a report that raised serious concerns about the various torture techniques being employed (see May 7, 2004). Neither the inspector general’s report or later studies examined the effectiveness of the interrogation tactics, or attempted to verify the assertions of CIA counterterrorism officials who insisted that the techniques were essential to the program’s results. “Nobody with expertise or experience in interrogation ever took a rigorous, systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise—to see what resulted in the best information,” says a senior US intelligence official involved in overseeing the interrogation program. As a result, there was never a determination of “what you could do without the use of enhanced techniques,” the official says. Former Bush administration officials say the failure to conduct such an examination was part of a broader reluctance to reexamine decisions made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The Defense Department, Justice Department, and CIA “all insisted on sticking with their original policies and were not open to revisiting them, even as the damage of these policies became apparent,” according to John Bellinger, then the legal advisor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referring to burgeoning international outrage. “We had gridlock,” Bellinger says, calling the failure to consider other approaches “the greatest tragedy of the Bush administration’s handling of detainee matters.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2009]
Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. [Think Progress, 4/26/2009]
Der Spiegel reports new evidence proving that the CIA ran a secret prison in Poland and tortured prisoners there. The prison is identified as the Polish military airbase of Stare Kiejkuty, about an hour’s drive north of the Szymany military airbase. One of the most well-known of the “high-value” prisoners kept there was accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was tortured (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003) and waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003) in the facility. A Gulfstream N379P jet, known to Polish investigators as the “torture taxi,” landed at least five times at Szymany between February and July 2003. According to Der Spiegel, “Flight routes were manipulated and falsified for this purpose and, with the knowledge of the Polish government, the European aviation safety agency Eurocontrol was deliberately deceived.” A witness told the public prosecutor’s office in Warsaw of seeing people wearing handcuffs and blindfolds being led from the aircraft at Szymany, far from the control tower. The witness said it was always the same individuals and the same civilian vehicles that stood waiting on the landing field. Mohammed told delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that most of the group at the airfield wore ski masks, presumably to avoid being identified. “On arrival the transfer from the airport to the next place of detention took about one hour,” he told the ICRC. “I was transported sitting on the floor of a vehicle. I could see at one point that there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet-X people.” Robert Majewski, the Warsaw public prosecutor who took the witness statement cited above, has been investigating former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s government on allegations of abuse of office. One of the issues surrounding the Miller administration is its alleged secret cooperation with the CIA, and its alleged granting of free rein to the agency over the Stare Kiejkuty military base for its extraterritorial rendition program and torture interrogations. Majewski is also investigating whether the Polish intelligence agency, WSI, made 20 of its agents available to the CIA. Recently, two Polish journalists, Mariusz Kowalewski and Adam Krzykowski, have discovered flight record books from Szymany that had been declared lost. Based on these documents, and on a number of interviews with sources, the two journalists have put together a patchwork of evidence pointing to the CIA’s use of Stare Kiejkuty for secret rendition and torture purposes. They say that they lack a final piece of proof—that CIA interrogator Deuce Martinez, one of the primary interrogators of Mohammed, was in Poland at the time of Mohammed’s detention in Stare Kiejkuty. Rumors abound of Martinez’s presence, but Kowalewski and Krzykowski lack the evidence to prove it. Much of Kowalewski and Krzykowski’s reporting has been confirmed by a 2007 investigation conducted by the special investigator for the Council of Europe, Dick Marty. A WSI official told the Marty investigators, “The order to give the CIA everything they needed came from the very top, from the president,” meaning former President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who denies the allegation. The CIA has always denied any knowledge of, or involvement with, such a facility. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Der Spiegel, Central Intelligence Agency, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Adam Krzykowski, Deuce Martinez, International Committee of the Red Cross, Dick Marty, Robert Majewski, Leszek Miller, Mariusz Kowalewski, Eurocontrol, Stare Kiejkuty, Wojskowe Sluzby Informacyjne
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Journalist Steve Benen notes that former President Bush promised that any American who performed torture on prisoners would be prosecuted (see May 5, 2004). In light of Bush’s statement, Benen writes: “‘Full investigation.’ We want to know ‘the truth.’ We believe in ‘justice.’ ‘We act’ in response to allegations of torture. We’re transparent and discuss developments ‘with the media.’ To fail to answer questions is to act like a ‘dictatorship.’ It seems to me if Democrats are looking for an excuse to do the right thing, they don’t have to say much more than, ‘We’re doing what Bush told us to do.’” [Washington Monthly, 4/27/2009]
Former prosecutor Mark McKeon, part of the international team of lawyers who prosecuted Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, writes that just as in 2001, when Milosevic was facing charges of war crimes for torturing and murdering Bosnian and Kosovar citizens, Bush administration officials must be investigated for war crimes in their advocacy and authorization of US torture of suspected terrorists. At the time, McKeon writes, “there was no doubt that Milosevic should be indicted for his responsibility for the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners. As the head of state at the time those crimes were committed, Milosevic bore ultimate responsibility for what happened under his watch.… And yet, seven years later, here we are debating whether we should hold senior Bush administration officials accountable for things they have done in the ‘war on terror.’” The evidence against Milosevic, as it was against senior officials in his government, was damning, McKeon writes. Now, he notes, the US “cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves.… We cannot expect the rest of humanity to live in a world that we ourselves are not willing to inhabit.” [Washington Post, 4/27/2009]
Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former federal judge and a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s broadcast, says: “How about floating a constitutional amendment amongst the states? Let’s rescind the 16th Amendment. That’s the income tax. If 25, 30 states start thinking about it and talking about it seriously, the Congress will take note because they will be scared to death it will starve them out of existence. And they won’t be able to regulate progressively or retrogressively how we live.” [Media Matters, 9/7/2010] The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for its repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see April 28, 1999). [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute, 2011]
Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute [Stanford University News, 1/28/2009] , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009] In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009]
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstates the case of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, overruling strong objections from the Obama administration (see February 9, 2009), which argued that the case risked revealing “state secrets.” The New York Times writes that the verdict “deal[s] a blow to efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to claim sweeping executive secrecy powers.” Five victims of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program are suing Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, for assisting the CIA with its transfer flights to and from secret overseas detention sites. The former detainees are joined in their suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A lower court had previously ruled in the government’s favor while President Bush was in office; the Obama administration supported the Bush administration’s position. The logic of the state secrets privilege, the appeals court panel writes, “simply cannot stretch to encompass cases brought by third-party plaintiffs against alleged government contractors for the contractors’ alleged involvement in tortious intelligence activities. Nothing the plaintiffs have done supports a conclusion that their ‘lips [are] to be for ever sealed respecting’ the claim on which they sue, such that filing this lawsuit would in itself defeat recovery.” The ACLU had argued that there was no compelling reason to prevent the victims from bringing suit against a government contractor who allegedly assisted in their torture. The pursuit of those claims would not necessarily endanger state secrets. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Government Asked for Immunity from Oversight, Court Finds - Repudiating the state secrets claim in the case, the appeals court adds: “The [government’s position] has no logical limit—it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government activities from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.” [Salon, 4/28/2009]
Civil Liberties Advocates Celebrate Verdict - Civil liberties correspondent Daphne Eviatar calls the decision “a huge victory, not only for the five victims themselves, but also for many civil liberties advocates.” Former civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald calls the government’s position a “radical secrecy theory” that should have been repudiated in its entirety. “Today’s decision is a major defeat for the Obama [Justice Department]‘s efforts to preserve for itself the radically expanded secrecy powers invented by the Bush [Justice Department] to shield itself from all judicial scrutiny,” he writes.
Further Actions Possible - The Obama administration has the option to ask for another appeals court hearing, ask that the Supreme Court review the decision, or accept the ruling. Greenwald is certain it will ask for another appeal. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; Salon, 4/28/2009]
Judge Jay Bybee, who authored or signed a number of memos authorizing torture while the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004), defends his actions to the New York Times. Bybee has been a federal judge for over five years (see February 5, 2003); many civil libertarians and critics of the Bush administration want him to either step down from the bench or face impeachment (see April 21, 2009), and the Justice Department is investigating his professional conduct (see Before April 22, 2009). In recent days, Bybee’s friends and colleagues have reported his “regrets” over the memos (see April 25, 2009). Now, Bybee says while in hindsight he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions, the memos represent “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the narrow divide between harsh treatment and torture. Bybee’s memos gave a legal framework for the use of illegal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and enforced isolation. In a statement, Bybee says: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” He had the support of other administration lawyers, he says. “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee’s former colleague, law professor Christopher Blakesley, says he challenged Bybee on one of the memos in 2004, shortly after it became public knowledge. “I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Blakesley recalls. Bybee refused to discuss the matter, and the two men have not spoken since. Blakesley says Bybee “has some basic flaws including being very naïve about leaders. He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what.” Some law clerks who worked with Bybee after he left the OLC recall him speaking about his involvement in some matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he doubted the administration would ever disclose them. One of the then-clerks, Nina Rabin, says she finds Bybee’s position disturbing because he suggests a lawyer can be divorced from the policies being pursued under his legal rubric. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she says, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley writes of the “interesting” statement then-President Bush made in the days preceding the US invasion of Iraq. Bush told the Iraqi military and its citizenry, “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished, and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’” (see March 17, 2003). Turley also notes Bush’s statement against torture made three months after the invasion (see June 26, 2003). According to Turley, “Bush gave a standard that showed that he and his administration knew that there is no ‘good faith defense’ in committing war crimes.” [Jonathan Turley, 4/29/2009]
Fox News correspondent Molly Henneberg, during a broadcast of Fox’s “straight news” show America’s Newsroom, repeats the false claim made by religious groups that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) would allow individuals or groups to “be prosecuted for their religious beliefs.” Some conservative religious groups have claimed that, under the proposed legislation, they could be, in Henneberg’s words, “prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well.” Henneberg fails to report that Section 8 of the bill says: “Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the Constitution,” and the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The House Judiciary Committee’s report on the bill clearly states, “Nothing in this legislation would prohibit the constitutionally protected expression of one’s religious beliefs.” Henneberg does not report the committee’s finding. Later in the broadcast, anchor Bill Hemmer notes that supporters claim “there’s nothing in this law that will stymie the free expression of any religion” (see October 13, 2009). [Media Matters, 4/29/2009]
The US Senate rejects an amendment to the US Bankruptcy Code supported by President Barack Obama that would have saved nearly 2 million homeowners facing foreclosure. Sponsored for the second time in as many years by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), the controversial amendment would have given judges the power to modify home mortgages, but strong opposition from the banking industry—as well as 39 Republicans and 12 Democrats—prevents passage. The House version of the controversial measure passed in March 2009. Called the ‘cramdown,’ the provision was supported by Obama as a final recourse for people to keep their homes. The amendment was a major priority of congressional Democrats and the Obama administration in a drive to tackle the housing crisis. “[H]ard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created—[that the banks] are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place,” Durbin said earlier in the week during an interview with Illinois radio. [ProgressIllinois.com, 4/29/2009; MinnPost.com, 4/30/2009]
ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” [ABC News, 4/30/2009; Raw Story, 5/1/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy in regards to the Bush administration’s torture policies. Rice recently told students at Stanford University that she did not authorize any torture policies, she merely forwarded the authorization for them from higher up (see April 28, 2009). Dean tells MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann that she may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy. Dean calls Rice’s comments “surprising,” and says she has mired herself in the possibility of legal proceedings. “She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean says. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.… These kinds of statements are going to come back and be interesting to any investigator.” Dean says that President Obama will stand in violation of the Geneva Conventions if he refuses to prosecute those found responsible for the torture policies. “He is indeed in violation if the United States does not undertake investigation of this, or ultimately prosecution, if that’s necessary,” Dean says. “It’s not only the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) also requires this. There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like ‘torture light.’ The world community I think is going to hold the United States responsible, and if we don’t proceed, somebody is going to proceed.” [Raw Story, 5/1/2009; MSNBC, 5/1/2009]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari held without charge for seven years by the Bush administration on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003), pleads guilty to one felony count of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Al-Marri was released from the Naval Brig in Charleston on order of the Obama administration’s Justice Department and charged with multiple counts of supporting terrorism (see February 27, 2009). He faces up to 15 years in prison. Until accepting the plea, al-Marri has always denied any connection with al-Qaeda or with Islamist terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder says of the al-Marri plea: “Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face. But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.” Lawrence Lustberg, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says his client agreed to the plea bargain “because he wanted to go home,” and because of fears that a jury trial might end up with al-Marri serving 30 years and not a maximum of 15. (Holder rejected earlier plea deals, insisting that al-Marri serve at least 15 years in prison.) Court papers show that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda agent, with close ties to alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Al-Marri admitted to attending al-Qaeda training camps between 1998 and 2001, and to coming to the US at Mohammed’s direction (see September 10, 2001). The plan was for al-Marri to stay in contact with Mohammed using code names—al-Marri was “Abdo” and Mohammed was “Muk,” apparently short for his nickname “Mukhtar” (see August 28, 2001)—and a Hotmail email account. Documents confirming this were found at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. Al-Marri’s attempts to contact both Mohammed and al-Qaeda financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi after the 9/11 attacks were unsuccessful. Al-Marri also conducted research on the effects of cyanide gas, and on potential targets for terrorist attacks, including waterways, dams, and tunnels. Al-Marri’s plea agreement says that he will be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is completed, or perhaps sooner. The judge in the case, Michael Mihm, has not yet ruled whether al-Marri will be given credit for the seven years he served in the Charleston brig. [Politico, 4/30/2009; New York Times, 4/30/2009; US Newswire, 4/30/2009]
Marcus Epstein. [Source: Pensito Review]Marcus Epstein, a “nativist” leader with close ties to numerous racist and white supremacist organizations (see October 8, 2007 and January 31, 2009), pleads guilty to assaulting an African-American woman both physically and verbally. According to court documents, on the evening of July 7, 2007, an intoxicated Epstein was walking down a Washington, DC, street and making apparently random racial imprecations. When he saw the woman in question, he called her a “n_gger” and “delivered a karate chop” to her head. He was briefly detained by the woman’s husband but managed to break away and flee. Within minutes Epstein was taken into custody by a Secret Service officer who witnessed the incident. Epstein pleads guilty to simple assault. He faces a maximum punishment of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. He is bound by a restraining order to stay away from the couple, has agreed to seek mental health treatment, complete an alcohol treatment program, write an apology to the victim, and donate $1,000 to the United Negro College Fund. Epstein consistently denies being a racist, though he writes for the overtly racist VDare.com Web site, attends racist conferences, and heads a discussion group, the Robert A. Taft Club, that regularly hosts racists as guest speakers. Epstein, who is of Korean and Jewish ancestry, has become something of a “star” in some conservative circles, particularly among groups interested in hindering or stopping immigration into America. Epstein is executive director of The American Cause, a white nationalist group headed by MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan. He also serves as executive director of Team America PAC, a political action committee run by Buchanan’s sister Bay Buchanan and founded by former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), an outspoken opponent of immigration. He is a leader of Youth for Western Civilization (YWC), a group dedicated to launching a right-wing youth movement at university campuses around the nation, and which was prominently featured at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Some of Epstein’s colleagues do not denounce him for his crime. Bay Buchanan merely calls the incident “out of character” for Epstein and explains that he was struggling with personal issues at the time of the assault. She adds, however, that he will soon be leaving Team America PAC. Tancredo dismisses the incident entirely, blaming the news coverage on the fact that a Hispanic, Sonia Sotomayor, has been nominated to the Supreme Court (see May 28, 2009). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 10/8/2007; One People's Project, 5/19/2009; Denver Post, 6/2/2009; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/3/2009] On his Web site, Epstein will claim that he has been admitted to the University of Virginia School of Law for the fall 2009 term, and thusly “will more or less suspend my political activities.” However, the law school will deny admitting Epstein, and will write that it does “not expect him to be an enrolled student in the future.” [DC Indymedia, 5/27/2009]
Entity Tags: United Negro College Fund, Robert A. Taft Club, Patrick Buchanan, Marcus Epstein, Bay Buchanan, Team America PAC, Tom Tancredo, Youth for Western Civilization, University of Virginia School of Law, VDare (.com ), The American Cause
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
John Durham, a special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the destruction of video tapes made by the CIA of detainees’ interrogations (see January 2, 2008), summons CIA officers from overseas to testify before a grand jury. “Three legal sources familiar with the case” also say that Durham wants testimony from agency lawyers who gave advice relating to the November 2005 decision by Jose Rodriguez, then chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, to destroy the tapes (see Before November 2005 and November 2005). Newsweek will say this comes as a surprise to the CIA, whose officials have “plenty to worry about.” Previously, some lawyers on the case had thought Durham intended to wind down the probe without recommending any charges be brought. However, his recent activity has made them unsure. Newsweek will speculate that Durham “might simply be tying up loose ends.” Alternatively, he may be fixing to have charges brought. [Newsweek, 5/2/2009]
The announcement that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is retiring is already sparking a tremendous fundraising effort among conservative opposition groups, according to the Congressional Quarterly. “This is a nuclear weapon for the conservatives out there,” says conservative fundraiser Dan Morgan. “When you do fundraising, there’s an emotional component in this, and boy the emotion is there magnified times 100.” President Obama is expected to choose a replacement for Souter who is somewhat left of center, a choice that will be portrayed by right-wing groups as a threat to their positions on abortion, gun rights, gay marriage, and property rights, among other “hot-button” social and legal issues (see May 26, 2009). The upshot: lots of money gathered to oppose Obama’s prospective nominee. “Although Souter may be a more difficult case to make as his voting record is center-left, it does open the door for discussion of who, and how left a replacement, President Obama may choose,” says veteran Republican fundraiser Linus Catignani. “It also gives clarity to the power of the presidency and generates lots of chatter regarding the fact that Obama may make up to four replacements in short order. That obviously paints a very scary picture for many conservatives.” Catignani says that when conservative Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito (see September 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) were nominated, Republican fundraisers used them as touchstones for their efforts to gather money—that time in the interest of promoting and defending the nominees. Democrats used their nominations to raise funds in opposition, much as Republicans are doing now, and Democrats will use the nomination to raise funds in defense of Obama’s nominee. Souter’s replacement will energize and invigorate a flagging and dispirited conservative base, says former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman. “This can be a catalyst properly handled that can get people back into a sense of stakeholdership.” It can also be used to energize Democrats to fund efforts to thwart the Republicans’ own efforts to derail the nomination. Morgan says: “The Supreme Court is great. That’s going to be mail, that’s going to be phone calls. The clients I work with are in meetings already. There are letters being written already.” [Congressional Quarterly, 5/1/2009]
Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]
From left to right: Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, and Derrick Donchak. [Source: Moral Low Ground (.com)]Two Pennsylvania teenagers who beat an illegal immigrant to death (see July 12, 2008 and After) are found not guilty of the major crimes they were alleged to have committed. The all-white jury in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, finds Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak guilty of simple assault against Luis Ramirez. Piekarsky is found innocent of third-degree murder; both are found innocent of ethnic intimidation. Friends and relatives of the two teenagers have to be restrained by court officers when they attempt to rush the defense table to congratulate the two defendants. Gladys Limon, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, calls the jury’s verdicts “a complete failure of justice.” She adds, “It’s just outrageous and very difficult to understand how any juror could have had reasonable doubt.” Piekarsky and Donchak may face federal charges over the murder of Ramirez. Prosecutors said they were two of a group of four drunken teenagers who targeted Ramirez because of his race, and beat him to death while screaming racial epithets. Piekarsky delivered the fatal blow, a kick to the head. Ramirez died of the injury two days later. Defense lawyers called Ramirez the aggressor, and called the incident a street brawl that ended badly. Jury foreman Eric Macklin says the evidence led them to acquit Piekarsky and Donchak of all but the most minor charges. “I feel bad for Luis’s friends and family,” Macklin says. “I know they feel they haven’t gotten justice.” Neither Piekarsky nor Donchak will serve more than two years in prison. Another assailant, Colin Walsh, who actually knocked Ramirez unconscious before Piekarsky began stomping him, pled guilty to a charge of violating Ramirez’s civil rights, earning four years in prison; Walsh testified for the prosecution. A fourth assailant, Brian Scully, is charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation (see May 18, 2009). [CNN, 5/2/2009; Associated Press, 5/4/2009; Philadelphia Weekly, 5/19/2009]
Hispanic Residents Say Verdict Encourages More Racial Intimidation - Shenandoah residents say after the verdict that other white teenagers apparently feel empowered by the verdict, and have issued threats against other Hispanic residents. One, high school student Felix Bermejo, is told by a group of white males that he will be the next one to be beaten to death. Residents who have spoken out against the murder are harassed and threatened. One white resident, who asks that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, tells a reporter: “It’s only gotten worse since the verdict. The whole thing has set us backwards, and if the trial had swung the other way, it would have just been the whites who were angry.” Some white residents say that the only racial tensions in Shenandoah are those sparked by the national media coverage, but some Hispanic residents say differently. Fermin Bermejo, the father of the threatened Felix Bermejo, tells a reporter, “This town is a place where people can be very kind, but there are also a lot of folks who don’t like change and they don’t like people who are different, and they make sure you know it.” The Bermejos are American citizens. Fermin Bermejo says he has tried repeatedly to get school authorities to intervene in what he calls the bullying of his son; instead, his son has been suspended for standing up to the white youths. “All we were asking the principal to do is talk to the bullies and tell them that if the accusations were true, they would be in serious trouble,” Bermejo says. Other Hispanic residents tell of being targeted by ethnic slurs and criticized for speaking Spanish in public. One Hispanic shopkeeper says his store’s front window was shattered by vandals after the verdict. [New York Times, 5/16/2009]
Federal Investigation Mounted - After the verdict, Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) calls the verdict racially motivated, and calls for a Justice Department investigation. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Rendell writes: “The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramirez was targeted, beaten, and killed because he was Mexican. Such lawlessness and violence hurts not only the victim of the attack, but also our towns and communities that are torn apart by such bigotry and intolerance.” After an FBI investigation, federal charges will be filed against Piekarsky, Donchak, and three local police officers (see December 15, 2009). [CNN, 12/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Brian Scully, Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, Edward Gene (“Ed”) Rendell, Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Fermin Bermejo, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Derrick Donchak, Gladys Limon, Eric Macklin, Felix Bermejo
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
New Republic legal correspondent Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, writes an analysis of appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, considered by many to be a leading candidate to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Rose from Poverty to Consideration for High Court - Rosen gives a brief biographical sketch of Sotomayor, whom he labels as a “compelling” candidate both for her legal accomplishments and her life story. Sotomayor is the daughter of poor Puerto Rican immigrants, grew up in the South Bronx, and graduated with high academic honors from Princeton and Yale. She has served as a prosecutor, a corporate litigator, and a judge. If nominated and confirmed, Sotomayor would be the Court’s first Hispanic member and only its third female member. She has the support of both New York senators, Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Conflicting Opinions Largely from Anonymous Sources - Rosen notes that her former clerks praise her as “demanding but thoughtful” and “commit[ted] to legal fairness,” a “rule-bound pragmatist—very geared toward determining what the right answer is and what the law dictates, but her general approach is, unsurprisingly, influenced by her unique background.” Rosen quotes several anonymous sources—“nearly all… former law clerks… or former federal prosecutors in New York”—who, he says, question “her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.” According to one former law clerk, Sotomayor is “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” egotistical, and “domineering.” In contrast, one of his named sources, fellow Second Circuit appeals court judge Jose Cabranes, said of her, “She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media.” Anonymous sources tell Rosen that Sotomayor is more apt to quibble with a colleague’s grammar and syntax rather than the focus of their legal arguments. Another former clerk praises Sotomayor for being tough-minded and “impressive.” Rosen admits that he has not read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions “to have a confident sense of them,” nor has he “talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths. It’s possible that the former clerks and former prosecutors I talked to have an incomplete picture of her abilities. But they’re not motivated by sour grapes or by ideological disagreement—they’d like the most intellectually powerful and politically effective liberal justice possible. And they think that Sotomayor, although personally and professionally impressive, may not meet that demanding standard.” Rosen concludes that President Obama would be taking an unnecessary “gamble” by nominating her to the high court. [New Republic, 5/4/2009]
Repercussions of Analysis - Rosen’s column triggers several demeaning characterizations of Sotomayor in the conservative press (see May 4, 2009 and May 5, 2009), characterizations that will intensify when she is nominated for the Court (see May 26, 2009). His use of anonymous sources to base his negative coverage will be repudiated by a number of critics (see May 5, 2009).
Mark Hemingway of the conservative National Review uses law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s analysis of prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009) to call her “dumb and obnoxious.” [National Review, 5/4/2009] Fellow Review columnist John Derbyshire responds to Hemingway’s slam by writing: “Judge Sotomayor may indeed be dumb and obnoxious; but she’s also female and Hispanic, and those are the things that count nowadays. Get with the program, Pal.” [National Review, 5/4/2009] Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009). After her nomination, Hemingway will attempt to backtrack from his characterizations of Sotomayor, claiming: “I never ‘attacked’ Sotomayor. I was only characterizing what Jeffrey Rosen wrote.” [National Review, 5/26/2009]
Bryce Lefever, a former military psychologist who worked with the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program, says the techniques reverse-engineered from the program and used to torture terrorism suspects in US custody are justified. Lefever has worked with two military psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, since 1990, developing techniques for SERE training. That training helps prepare US soldiers to resist torture if they are captured by enemy forces and interrogated. Mitchell and Jessen helped create the torture program of interrogation used by the US against suspected terrorists (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, and Mid-April 2002). Lefever himself served as a military psychologist at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where prisoners were routinely tortured and brutalized.
Patriots - Unlike many critics who have attacked the psychologists’ lack of ethics and concern, Lefever calls Mitchell and Jessen patriots. “I think the media ought to give us a big ol’ thank you for our efforts on behalf of America,” Lefever says. “There should be some recognition of the effort—the really extreme effort—that we’ve gone through to help.”
Ethically Compelled to Construct Torture Program - Lefever says the criticism of Mitchell and Jessen is unfounded and stems from a basic misunderstanding of the ethical mission of psychologists. “[T]he idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems at first blush to be something that would be wrong, because we ‘do no harm,’” he says, but “the ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people.” Because torturing a “few” prisoners might well produce intelligence that would help prevent another attack on the magnitude of 9/11, Lefever says, it was incumbent on Mitchell, Jessen, and himself to use their knowledge of SERE tactics to construct an interrogation program that might elicit such actionable intelligence. “America’s house was broken into on 9/11 and someone had to raise their hand to stop it,” he says. “And early on there was a sense of desperation in intelligence-gathering.” Lefever has no doubts that torture works to produce reliable intelligence. “You know, the tough nut to crack, if you keep him awake for a week, you torture him, you tie his arms behind him, you have him on the ground—anyone can be brought beyond their ability to resist.” Indeed, he says, it would have been unethical for him not to come forward: “America is my client; Americans are who I care about. I have no fondness for the enemy and I don’t feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs.” Mitchell, Jessen, and other military psychologists felt the same way, he says. “Anyone who wants to throw stones in this situation really needs to step back and figure out what they themselves would do in these situations and not just be ‘ivory tower’ critics,” he notes. “Most of the time they have no idea what they’re talking about.” [National Public Radio, 5/4/2009]
Accused of Abandoning Ethical Code - Psychologist Stephen Soldz, who writes for the organization Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, is highly critical of Lefever’s stance, accusing him of renouncing the psychologists’ code of ethics, and notes that Lefever implicitly acknowledges that SERE tactics were used on US detainees, an admission CIA and Pentagon officials have been loath to make. [Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, 5/4/2009]
Columnist Marc Ambinder joins in the wave of conservative criticism against prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009) triggered by an analysis in the New Republic (see May 4, 2009). Ambinder warns the Obama administration not to choose Sotomayor simply because some liberals and Hispanics want her on the bench, calls her “solid if unspectacular,” and writes, “And the respectable intellectual center… is beginning to have doubts.” Ambinder does not note who, exactly, makes up the “intellectual center” he cites. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/5/2009] Nation columnist Chris Hayes retorts: “One gossipy article from Jeff Rosen means ‘the respectable intellectual center… is beginning to have doubts.’ Really?” [Salon, 5/5/2009] Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009).
Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates lambasts law professor Jeffrey Rosen for his recent analysis of prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009). Citing Rosen’s line, “I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths,” Coates responds: “Rosen is attacking Sotomayor’s ability to do the necessary intellectual heavy-lifting, while explicitly neglecting to do any of his own. In this instance, his piece reads like a burglar’s brief against rampant criminality. Authored mid-robbery, no less.” She also slams her Atlantic colleague Marc Ambinder’s criticisms of Sotomayor (see May 5, 2009), noting, “You don’t get to be the ‘respectable intellectual center’ and then practice your craft in the gossip-laden, ignorant muck.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/5/2009] Former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald joins Coates in criticizing the early attacks on Sotomayor. Greenwald calls Rosen’s reliance on anonymous sources to attack Sotomayor’s character and professional conduct “shoddy, irresponsible, and… intellectually irresponsible,” and cites several instances where Rosen’s reporting has been countered by sources willing to go on the record. Greenwald writes of his amazement at how quickly Sotomayor has been “transformed in conventional wisdom, largely as a result of Rosen’s piece, into a stupid, shrill, out-of-her-depth Puerto Rican woman who is being considered for the Supreme Court solely due to anti-merit, affirmative action reasons.” Greenwald writes that he twice faced Sotomayor in court, and found her “extremely perceptive, smart, shrewd, and intellectually insightful.” She could be forceful, “at times unpleasantly so,” he recalls, and remembers being dressed down by her for a “substantial procedural mistake” he committed, but notes that such behavior by judges “is the opposite of uncommon.” Greenwald writes that behavior usually characterized as “tough,” “forceful,” and “authoritative” by white males is often reworked into characterizations of “domineering” and “egotistical” when the same behaviors are exhibited by women. Greenwald also notes that Rosen was one of the strongest media voices in favor of the nomination of conservative jurist John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) to the Court. [Salon, 5/5/2009] Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009).
Experts say that the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario, which is often used to justify the use of torture, is fallacious. Many novels (see 1960), movies, and television shows, most recently Fox’s 24 (see Fall 2006), routinely portray a time-critical scene where the hero of the story must torture a prisoner to obtain information needed to avert an imminent attack, usually the “ticking time bomb” planted and ready to explode. Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that such scenarios are dubious at best. “I’ve personally been told that they happen but I have to admit that in the years, in now the decade I have been told about it, I have become increasingly skeptical,” he says. “A ticking bomb becomes a default assumption which in turn becomes a legitimization or justification for torture. And in actual fact, even though people have told me about it, I have yet to see an actual documented case independently of what I was told.” Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer says that he knows of cases where torture elicited useful and critical information, but refuses to give specifics. CIA officials are unwilling or unable to provide details of the effectiveness of techniques such as waterboarding. Former military interrogator Matthew Alexander (see December 2-4, 2008) says of the CIA’s waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009), “What I get most out of the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is that any approach—I don’t care what it is—if you have to do it 183 times, it is not working,” he says. “When they did use the waterboard on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, what they were getting each time was the absolute minimum he could get away with. And that’s what you get when you use torture—you get the absolute minimum amount of information.” [National Public Radio, 5/5/2009]
Fox News chyron accusing Democrats of voting to protect pedophiles but not veterans. [Source: Media Matters]Several Fox News anchors and commentators, along with the Fox News Web site, falsely claim that House Democrats tried to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles by voting against an amendment to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA). The legislation defines as a federal crime specific acts of violence or attempted violence “because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person.” The amendment, advanced by Representative Steve King (R-IA), stated that “the term ‘sexual orientation’ shall not include pedophilia.” Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) noted that federal statutes already exclude pedophilia from the definition of “sexual orientation,” and called King’s amendment “unnecessary and… inflammatory in terms of insinuations.” Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, commentator Sean Hannity, and Fox Nation now characterize the Democrats’ successful opposition to King’s amendment as an attempt to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles. All three claim that Democrats defended pedophiles while refusing to defend veterans.
Hannity: 'Special Category for Pedophiles' - Hannity tells his viewers, “Democrats just voted to extend special legal protections to pedophiles.” He also falsely claims that the Democrats inserted a “special category for pedophiles” in the legislation. Interviewing King, Hannity says: “I want to be perfectly clear. So hate—we have a hate crimes bill, and you’re saying, all right, we should exempt pedophiles. Every Democrat says no.” King calls Hannity’s characterization “absolutely right,” and says that “on the top of that, the amendment that I offered to exempt pedophiles from a special protected status was after Tammy Baldwin, one of the lead sponsors on the bill, had argued that the sexual orientation, special protective status in the bill, only covered heterosexuals and homosexuals, so that doesn’t include a pedophile. But she opposed the amendment anyway, as did all the Democrats, as you just showed tonight.” Later, Hannity asks King, “Is it safe to say that Democrats were willing to protect pedophiles?” and King replies: “Sean, it is a matter of Congressional record. Absolutely true—beyond any doubt whatsoever.” Hannity and King then claim that Democrats refused to support another section that would create “special protection” for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. King calls the Democrats’ actions furtherance of the “agenda… of the homosexual activists.”
Hemmer: Protecting Pedophiles, Not Veterans - Fox’s “non-partisan” newscast, America’s Newsroom, runs an on-screen “chyron” that claims, “House Dems vote to protect pedophiles, but not veterans.” Anchor Bill Hemmer tells viewers that Democrats “voted to give special protection to pedophiles” (see October 13, 2009).
Fox Nation: Defending Pedophiles over Veterans - Fox Nation, which claims to be free of bias, runs a headline saying, “House Democrats Defend Pedophiles Over Veterans.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2009]
Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former federal judge and a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s broadcast, advocates repealing the 16th Amendment, something he has done previously on Beck’s show (see April 28, 2009). Beck asks about “this solution that you and I have talked about on a constitutional amendment, or a threat of a constitutional amendment.” Napolitano replies: “If two-thirds of the states ask the Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider the adoption of this amendment, which I’ll describe in a moment, as it gets closer and closer to the two-thirds necessary and Congress would be required to call the convention, you’ll see some reaction on the part of Congress to attempt to placate the states that want to call this. Now, the constitutional amendment is a simple one. It simply abolishes the 16th Amendment and states affirmatively that Congress shall have no power to tax the personal incomes of individual persons. If that were enacted, it would starve the federal government back into the original footprint that the founders intended for it. But as it gets closer to enactment, Congress will have to do something for fear that it might be enacted.” [Glenn Beck, 5/6/2009; Media Matters, 9/7/2010] The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for its repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see April 28, 1999). [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute, 2011]
FBI special agent and whistleblower Robert G. Wright Jr. wins the right to publish most of the information over which he has been fighting the FBI in court for nearly seven years (see May 9, 2002). US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rules that Wright can publish most of the information in his 500-page manuscript, all of the information in two complaints he had filed with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General regarding the FBI’s handling of terrorism investigations, and his answers to New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s questions. Kessler also rules that Wright’s colleague and co-plaintiff, FBI Special Agent John Vincent, can publish his answers to Miller’s questions.
Judge Repeatedly Faults FBI - In her 41-page memorandum opinion, Kessler repeatedly finds fault with the FBI. The preface to the opinion summarizes the proceedings and the related issues in this way: “This is a sad and discouraging tale about the determined efforts of the FBI to censor various portions of a 500-page manuscript, written by a former long-time FBI agent, severely criticizing the FBI’s conduct of the investigation of a money laundering scheme in which United States-based members of the Hamas terrorist organization were using non-profit organizations in this country to recruit and train terrorists and fund terrorist activities both here and abroad. The FBI also sought to censor answers given by both plaintiffs to a series of written questions presented to them by a New York Times reporter concerning Wright’s allegations about the FBI’s alleged mishandling of the investigation. In its efforts to suppress this information, the FBI repeatedly changed its position, presented formalistic objections to release of various portions of the documents in question, admitted finally that much of the material it sought to suppress was in fact in the public domain and had been all along, and now concedes that several of the reasons it originally offered for censorship no longer have any validity. Unfortunately, the issues of terrorism and of alleged FBI incompetence remain as timely as ever.” [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 ]
A 'Pyrrhic Victory' for Wright - Reporting on the case for Politico, Josh Gerstein will call the outcome “a pyrrhic victory for [Wright], since the passage of time appears to have diminished the market for his book.” Gerstein will quote one of Wright and Vincent’s lawyers, Paul Orfanedes of Judical Watch, as saying, “It’s a perfect example of how delaying somebody’s ability to publish is a clear violation of their rights.” Gerstein will also report, “Orfanedes said Wright’s book ‘might be made public in a reduced format,’ but that the group’s main hope now was to expose how the government system for pre-publication reviews of books by FBI, CIA, and other national security-related officials, is dysfunctional.” [Politico, 5/11/2009]
FBI Attempts to Censor Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Fails - In an ironic twist, an FBI demand for redaction of a portion of Kessler’s memorandum opinion calls attention to that portion of the text, which is easily readable due to improper redaction technique; the text under the blacked out portion can be copied and pasted. The redacted portion is an FBI argument for why a portion of Wright’s manuscript must be redacted. It reads, “[D]isclosure of the location and use of this infrastructure could allow individuals to survey, attempt to penetrate, or disrupt the activities that take place in the infrastructure.” It is unclear why the FBI believes that a general reference to sensitive infrastructure is sensitive in itself. [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 ; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009]
Ted Sorenson. [Source: Living Dialogues (.com)]Ted Sorenson, a former speechwriter and chief adviser to President John F. Kennedy, says that too many American lawyers stood idly by while the US conducted illegal torture and violated the Constitution. Sorenson, giving the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska College of Law, urges the graduates to act with courage and integrity during their own careers. Sorenson says that the use of torture and other illegal tactics actually weakens US national security. “Yes, torture gets results,” he says. “It has resulted in easier, swifter, more successful recruitment for terrorist organizations among the millions of young Islamic fanatics who are willing to use the one weapon against which an open society such as ours has no sure defense—suicide bombing. It also resulted in a sharp decline in America’s standing among allies who might otherwise have provided intelligence and other forms of help. It has cost us the respect of other countries that we enjoyed, which protected us against attacks from abroad.” Few military leaders support torture, Sorenson says: “They know that the moral authority of the United States, its traditional ability to occupy the moral high ground in an international conflict, is an important part of our security. More important than the worthless statements extracted from torture’s victims who will cry out anything to halt it.” Sorenson is harshly critical of the lawyers who facilitated the Bush administration’s torture policies: “Intellectually and morally dishonest lawyers [in the Department of Justice] disgraced not only their country but their profession” in claiming that waterboarding and other forms of torture were legal, he says. “In a country based on the rule of law, in which no man is above the law, whatever his rank or title, no man can undertake, authorize, or immunize unlawful conduct.” He advocates investigation and prosecution for those who authorized and employed torture. “Our current wonderful president cannot promise the CIA practitioners of torture that they will not be prosecuted,” he says. “With all those now exposed of complicity in torture pointing fingers of blame at each other, it is clear that the guilty include political ideologues, cowardly bureaucrats, and inexperienced psychologists, all of whom plead ignorance of the law. But what about the lawyers?” [Lincoln Journal-Star, 5/9/2009]
In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that President Bush knew of the torture program as performed under his administration. However, he again says that in his view the practices employed by the US on enemy detainees did not constitute torture (see December 15, 2008). He also reiterates earlier claims that by dismantling Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, the Obama administration is making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see January 22, 2009, January 22, 2009, January 23, 2009, February 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 20, 2009, April 21, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, and April 26, 2009), and reiterates his claim that classified documents will prove that torture was effective in producing actionable intelligence (see April 20, 2009).
Claims Documents Prove Efficacy of Torture - Cheney says: “One of the things that I did six weeks ago was I made a request that two memos that I personally know of, written by the CIA, that lay out the successes of those policies and point out in considerable detail all of—all that we were able to achieve by virtue of those policies, that those memos be released, be made public (see April 22, 2009). The administration has released legal opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel. They don’t have any qualms at all about putting things out that can be used to be critical of the Bush administration policies. But when you’ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won’t release those. At least, they haven’t yet.” Host Bob Schieffer notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has denied any knowledge of such documents, and that other administration officials have said that torture provided little useful information. Cheney responds: “I say they did. Four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency say they did, bipartisan basis. Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced.” Cheney says the memos specifically discuss “different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks [sic] about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.… What it shows is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida (see After March 7, 2003), two of the three who were waterboarded.… Once we went through that process, he [Mohammed] produced vast quantities of invaluable information about al-Qaeda” (see August 6, 2007). Opponents of Bush torture policies, Cheney says, are “prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America.”
Bush Knew of Torture Program - Cheney also acknowledges that then-President Bush knew of the torture program, saying: “I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew—he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.” Cheney concludes by saying that he would be willing to testify before Congress concerning the torture program and his administration’s handling of its war on terror, though he refuses to commit to testifying under oath. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/10/2009; CBS News, 5/10/2009 ]
Sabrina De Sousa, a CIA officer involved in the abduction of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), files a legal action against the US government. The filing results from De Sousa’s displeasure at how her case is being handled by the government. De Sousa has been named as a CIA officer in Italy and accused by prosecutors in Milan of helping the rendition. However, the US government is not helping her defense, or the defense of the other 24 CIA officers accused of the kidnapping. In the suit, De Sousa attempts to force the State Department to invoke diplomatic immunity, halt the Italian prosecution, provide her with legal counsel in Italy, and pay her legal bills and other costs associated with the case. The action follows three years of fruitless private talks. [Congressional Quarterly, 8/28/2009] De Sousa will say she knows of no other such suits by former US officials in a similar position. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/15/2009] Her request will be partially granted just before the trial ends (see August 26, 2009).
Brian Scully, a Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, teenager charged with taking part in the fatal beating of illegal immigrant Luis Ramirez (see July 12, 2008 and After), admits to taking part in the fight that resulted in him and a number of his friends kicking and stomping the unconscious Ramirez to death. Scully, charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation, is classified as a “delinquent” and ordered to spend 90 days in a treatment center. The three teenagers charged as adults in the murder were recently acquitted of all but the lightest charges in the murder (see May 2, 2009 and After). Scully says he is sorry for his actions. [Associated Press, 5/18/2009]
The Australian government announces it will invest $4.5 billion ($3.4 billion in US dollars) in developing the infrastructure necessary to generate energy from solar and wind power, and to reduce carbon emissions. It will also invest in low-emission coal technologies and in large-scale solar electricity generation projects. $465 million goes to a new governmental organization, “Renewables Australia,” intended to lead development in renewable energy research, development, and deployment. The investment plans go against years of Australian governmental policy that forbid spending funds on building clean energy infrastructure. [Breakthrough Institute, 5/18/2009]
The federal government sets a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon or more for all cars and trucks sold in the US by 2016. The rationale is that raising the fuel efficiency standards will increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The measure is projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil between 2012 and 2016, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 900 million metric tons. The measure goes into effect in 2012. President Obama says: “In the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. That is why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.” The policy was developed in a collaboration between the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s major auto manufacturers, the United Auto Workers, environmental organizations, the State of California, and other state governments. EPA head Lisa P. Jackson says: “The president brought all stakeholders to the table and came up with a plan to help the auto industry, safeguard consumers, and protect human health and the environment for all Americans. A supposedly ‘unsolvable’ problem was solved by unprecedented partnerships. As a result, we will keep Americans healthier, cut tons of pollution from the air we breathe, and make a lasting down payment on cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.” Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, says: “A clear and uniform national policy is not only good news for consumers who will save money at the pump, but this policy is also good news for the auto industry which will no longer be subject to a costly patchwork of differing rules and regulations. This an incredible step forward for our country and another way for Americans to become more energy independent and reduce air pollution.” Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, an organization which for two decades has advocated tougher mileage and emissions standards, says: “This is a very big deal. This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The measure is based in part on a 2007 application by California to put its emissions standards in effect, an application rejected by the Bush administration. The measure complements fuel efficiency guidelines set by the Department of Energy in January 2009. [White House, 5/19/2009; New York Times, 5/19/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
Conservative groups run attack ads and public relations campaigns against three of President Obama’s prospective nominees to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, even though Obama has not yet named a replacement. The three being targeted for attack are Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Court of Appeals, US Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Court of Appeals, who will eventually get the nod (see May 26, 2009). Progressive groups counter the attacks with their own ads and blog campaigns. Wood is targeted as too pro-abortion, Kagan has come under fire for not being supportive enough of the military, and in Sotomayor’s court, one ad says, “the content of your character is not as important as the color of your skin.” Tom Goldstein, who runs the influential SCOTUSblog, a non-partisan website focusing on Supreme Court issues, says: “I think that the Internet and blogs have been great in terms of being able to distribute information easily. The downside is that there is an equal leveling effect in which totally idiotic wing nuts can go off—that’s true on both the far left and far right.… So it contributes to good people being torn apart for no reason.” Gary Marx of the Judicial Confirmation Network, a conservative group that assembled the attack ads, says the spots are an attempt to properly “frame the issue.” Law professor Jonathan Adler says the ads are more about fundraising than any real attempt to derail whichever nominee Obama selects. “If you are a conservative group and you want more Republicans in the Senate, then you really harp on this issue.” Adler says the nomination process for Supreme Court choices has been locked in a “downward spiral” for more than 20 years. “I think we’re talking about the wrong things,” he says. “It can have negative effects on the judiciary. And it could steer people away from the court who are easy to demonize.” The ultimate result, he says, “is a worse judiciary and a tainted confirmation process.” Former Bush administration lawyer Bradford Berenson blames the Obama administration for the preemptive attacks, citing the White House’s choice to conduct what he calls a “lengthy, semipublic deliberation” over the nomination. That “virtually guarantees that the interest groups will mount attacks and exert both public and private pressure in an effort to influence the selection,” he says. “In some ways, that is the point of proceeding in this way—to get a feel for the strength and type of opposition particular candidates will face.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2009]
Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement. [Source: Associated Press]President Obama nominates Second Circuit Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter (see May 1, 2009). Sotomayor is a Hispanic woman from an underprivileged background with a stellar academic record and an extensive legal background, having served as a prosecutor, a corporate lawyer, and a judge for 17 years, having been first appointed to the bench by former President George H. W. Bush. She is expected to receive heavy support from Democrats. Republicans say they are waiting for more information to decide whether to mount organized opposition. Political observers say such a move would be chancy for Republicans, who need to attract more support from Hispanic and female voters. Obama calls Sotomayor a judge with an impressive intellect and a great capacity for empathy, and a jurist who renders judgments with “an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.” He notes that Sotomayor has more legal experience than any currently sitting justice had when they ascended to the high court. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Court. Sotomayor is considered more or less ideologically consistent with the moderate-to-liberal Souter, and thus would not change the court’s ideological makeup. The Obama administration says it wants Sotomayor approved in time for the Court’s October session. In her acceptance speech, Sotomayor says of herself, “I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” Of her position as a jurist, she says she is driven first and foremost by the rule of law and the principles laid down in the Constitution. “Those principles,” she says, “are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before.” Sotomayor was chosen over three other short-listed finalists: fellow appellate court judge Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. It is likely that one or more of the people on the list may become nominated to the court as well: Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 years old, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, suffers from pancreatic cancer. [Associated Press, 5/26/2009; CNN, 5/26/2009] In response to the nomination, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele says: “Republicans look forward to learning more about… Sotomayor’s thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law. Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives. Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.” [Think Progress, 5/26/2009]
Conservative activist Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as an “intellectual lightweight,” and compares her to the Bush administration’s failed nomination of White House lawyer Harriet Miers for the Court (see October 3-27, 2005). “I would point you to the Harriet Miers nomination under the second President Bush,” he tells radio listeners on WTOP. “She was also, many people felt, an intellectual lightweight, picked because she was a woman, people felt. And even though Republicans controlled the Senate, she ultimately had to withdraw. And that could happen here. This is someone who clearly was picked because she’s a woman and Hispanic, not because she was the best qualified. I could certainly see red and purple state Democrats gawking at it and she may very well have to withdraw her nomination.” [Think Progress, 5/26/2009] At the Washington Post and National Review, conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnaru attacks Sotomayor as “Obama’s Harriet Miers.” He continues to slam the nominee for asserting that judges sometimes make policy, claims—without naming names—that some Democrats believe she lacks “the intellect to be on the high court,” falsely claims that President Obama chose her because she passed “a pro-abortion litmus test,” criticizes her for having “empathy, at least for some groups” (a veiled reference to her Hispanic heritage and her gender), and claims that she has a “high reversal rate” before the Court. He calls her “the crassest of political picks.” [National Review, 5/26/2009; Washington Post, 5/26/2009]
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), a Hispanic woman, and President Barack Obama, a half-African-American male, over their race, accusing them of racism. Limbaugh tells his listeners: “So, here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might wanna say a reverse racist. And the libs [liberals] of course say that minorities cannot be racists because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist and now he’s appointed one.” Limbaugh goes on to call Sotomayor a “party hack.” [Real Clear Politics, 5/26/2009; Politico, 5/27/2009; CNN, 5/27/2009]
New Republic columnist Jeffrey Rosen, stung by criticism of his recent article using anonymous sources questioning the character and reputation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009, May 5, 2009, and May 26, 2009), attempts to backtrack from his original assertions. He writes, “Of course, Judge Sotomayor should be confirmed to the Supreme Court,” and continues: “In my view the strongest case to be made for Sotomayor is not her inspiring life story: [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas overcame similar personal obstacles, but far from giving him a sense of empathy, his background has created a sense of anger and ideological rigidity. Instead, the strongest case to be made for Sotomayor is the idea that the range of her experience—as a trial judge, appellate judge, and commercial litigator—might give her the humility to recognize that courts participate in a dialogue with the political branches when it comes to defining constitutional rights, rather than having the last word.… Conservatives are already citing my initial piece on Sotomayor as a basis for opposing her. This willfully misreads both my piece and the follow-up response. My concern was that she might not make the most effective liberal voice on the Court—not that she didn’t have the potential to be a fine justice. Questions of temperament are often overlooked, but history suggests that they are the most relevant in predicting judicial success. (Justice [Antonin] Scalia may be a brilliant bomb-thrower, but has failed in his attempts to build coalitions and bipartisan majorities.) Now is the time to think more broadly about the role Justice Sotomayor is likely to play on the Supreme Court, and I look forward to doing that in the weeks ahead.” [New Republic, 5/26/2009]
Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored numerous legally untenable memos authorizing torture and the preeminence of the executive branch (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, and January 9, 2002), writes that in the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009), “empathy has won out over excellence in the White House.” Yoo, who calls the Justice she is replacing, David Souter, an equally “weak force on the high court,” writes that President Obama “chose a judge distinguished from the other members of [his list of potential nominees] only by her race. Obama may say he wants to put someone on the Court with a rags-to-riches background, but locking in the political support of Hispanics must sit higher in his priorities.” Sotomayor’s record is “undistinguished,” Yoo writes, and “will not bring to the table the firepower that many liberal academics are asking for.” She will not be the intellectual and legal equal of conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, he says. “Liberals have missed their chance to put on the Court an intellectual leader who will bring about a progressive revolution in the law.” Conservatives should challenge her nomination, Yoo writes, because the Court is “a place where cases are decided by a faithful application of the Constitution, not personal politics, backgrounds, and feelings. Republican senators will have to conduct thorough questioning in the confirmation hearings to make sure that she will not be a results-oriented voter, voting her emotions and politics rather than the law.” [American Enterprise Institute, 5/26/2009]
Continuing the conservative lambasting of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), columnist Michael Goldfarb attacks her as an advocate of “affirmative action” for Hispanics and writes, “[P]erhaps what’s most striking is that on the issue of diversity, Obama seems to have the views of a 21-year-old Hispanic girl—that is, only by having a black president, an Hispanic justice, a female secretary of state, and Bozo the Clown as vice president will the United States become a true ‘vanguard of societal ideas and changes.’” [Weekly Standard, 5/26/2009]
The conservative National Review lambasts Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for being a “liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important that the law as written.” The Review’s Wendy Long writes: “She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one’s sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench (see October 26, 2001). She reads racial preferences and quotas into the Constitution, even to the point of dishonoring those who preserve our public safety. On September 11, America saw firsthand the vital role of America’s firefighters in protecting our citizens. They put their lives on the line for her and the other citizens of New York and the nation. But Judge Sotomayor would sacrifice their claims to fair treatment in employment promotions to racial preferences and quotas. The Supreme Court is now reviewing that decision. She has an extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed, indicating that she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.” [National Review, 5/26/2009]
Echoing and repeating his calls for President Obama to “fail” (see January 16, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, in a diatribe against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), says he wants her to fail as well. “Do I want her to fail? Yeah,” he says. “Do I want her to fail to get on the court? Yes! She’d be a disaster on the court. Do I still want Obama to fail as president? Yeah. AP [Associated Press], you getting this? He’s going to fail anyway, but the sooner the better.” [Think Progress, 5/26/2009]
Former Bush White House political director Karl Rove attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) on the grounds that she is less than intelligent. During a debate with former Clinton political director James Carville, moderator Charlie Rose notes, “She is very smart.” Rove responds, “Not necessarily.” Rose notes that Sotomayor “went to Princeton where she graduat[ed] with honors and then went on to Yale Law School,” to which Rove replies, “I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools.” Rose points out that Rove himself never graduated from college, and Rove says, “Message to the kids out there—don’t do what I did—I am the last of a generation.” [Huffington Post, 5/26/2009] In an appearance on Fox News, Rove continues denigrating Sotomayor’s intellect, saying that according to former colleagues, she was more like a “schoolmarm” than an intellectual force. Rove says: “What she would do is she would mark them up [legal opinions] like she was your English school teacher and—with your typos and misspellings and other words that she wanted to have changed and send it back to her colleagues. Not exactly the best way to ingratiate yourself with your colleagues. Rather than say, ‘Oh, I thought you had an interesting legal argument here and I’d like to talk to you more about this here,’ she was acting like sort of a schoolmarm.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009]
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for what he calls “personal bias based on ethnicity and gender.” Smith says, “Judge Sotomayor will need to reassure the country that she will set aside her biases, uphold the rule of law, and interpret the Constitution as written, not as she believes it should have been written.” Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who will vote to confirm or deny Sotomayor’s nomination as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Sotomayor has shown disrespect for the law in her time on the bench. Eleven years ago, Sessions voted against allowing her to become an appeals court judge. Sotomayor was confirmed despite Sessions’s vote. Now, Sessions says she will get a “fair and respectful hearing” before the committee, but says he and other conservatives worry about her “history of activism.” Legal analysts say Sotomayor has a history of complying with the law, and far from being a judicial activist, has usually shown judicial restraint and a deference to existing case law and judicial precedent. [Fox News, 5/26/2009] In a statement, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) questions “her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.” [Senator James Inhofe, 5/26/2009] Liberal columnist Dana Goldstein retorts that the same question could be asked of the seven white males already on the bench, and asks sardonically, “White men are raceless and genderless, haven’t you heard?” [American Prospect, 5/26/2009]
Tom Goldstein, a veteran lawyer who maintains the Supreme Court-focused, nonpartisan “SCOTUSblog,” writes that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) will be the focus of caricatures and character attacks from the right, just as Justices Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) and John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) were from the left. Goldstein’s assessment is echoed by ABC’s “The Note,” an influential daily political newsletter. Goldstein, who has argued cases before the Court over 20 times, writes that barring some serious revelation of ethical violations, Sotomayor is almost guaranteed to be confirmed by the Senate, but before that, she will be subjected to attacks from what he calls “committed ideologues.” Few “mainstream Republican politicians will vocally join the criticism,” he predicts. In a political sense, it would be disastrous for Republicans to mount serious opposition to a Hispanic woman, or Latina. “To Hispanics, the nomination would be an absolutely historic landmark,” Goldstein writes. “It really is impossible to overstate its significance. The achievement of a lifetime appointment at the absolute highest levels of the government is a profound event for that community, which in turn is a vital electoral group now and in the future.” Such attacks would comprise “a strategy that risks exacting a very significant political cost among Hispanics and independent voters generally, assuming that the attacks aren’t backed up with considerable substance.” The attacks will come from any of four major areas, Goldstein predicts. [Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Attacks Led by Conservatives outside Congress - ABC’s Jonathan Karl agrees. He writes: “At the start, Senate Republicans will likely make innocuous statements about the need to thoroughly review her record, but make no mistake, GOP leaders, with a big assist from outside conservative groups, will wage a vigorous campaign against this nomination.… Senate Republicans don’t expect to defeat the Sotomayor nomination. But they hope to raise enough questions about the nomination to make it a tough vote for Democratic senators in more conservative states. They will also use the confirmation battle as an opportunity to motivate a demoralized Republican base” (see May 1, 2009). [ABC News, 5/26/2009]
Attacks on Sotomayor's Intellect - The first series of attacks, Goldstein writes, will focus on the claim that she “is not smart enough for the job.” He writes that this is a powerful line of argument with an equally strong potential for backlash, so it will be handled carefully and obliquely. Unfortunately for this position, he writes, “Sotomayor is in fact extremely intelligent.” She graduated at the top of her class at Princeton, and her judicial opinions “are thorough, well-reasoned, and clearly written. Nothing suggests she isn’t the match of the other Justices.” Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 31, 2009).
'Liberal Ideologue and Judicial Activist' - The second line of attack will be purely ideological, focusing on the claim that she is a “liberal ideologue” and a “judicial activist.” While Sotomayor would be on the left of the Court, Goldstein writes, she is hardly a radical liberal. She is very similar to the man she is slated to replace, Justice David Souter, as a moderate, centrist liberal. Her appellate opinions as reviewed by the Court put her squarely with the left-center wing of the current Court. Karl writes, “They will call her an ‘activist’ judge intent on making law from the bench, not interpreting law.” Their predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009).
Intolerant of Positions Contrary to Her Own - The third wave of attack will claim, Goldstein writes, that she is intolerant of positions with which she disagrees. Proponents of this line of attack will focus on a decision she wrote that upheld affirmative action laws to the detriment of white firefighters, on a panel appearance in which she acknowledged that appellate judges sometimes make public policy, and a speech where she talked about the role her gender and ethnicity played in her decision-making. They will also focus, Karl notes, on a 2002 speech where she said the sex and ethnic origin of a judge can affect their decisions. Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” (see October 26, 2001). “These reeds are too thin for that characterization to take hold,” Goldstein writes. The public “is easily able to accept a judge’s recognition of the lawmaking effects of her decisions and the influences of her background. There just isn’t any remotely persuasive evidence that Judge Sotomayor acts lawlessly or anything of the sort.” Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009). [ABC News, 5/26/2009; Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Personality Characteristics - The fourth wave of attacks will characterize her as, Goldstein writes, “gruff and impersonable,” based on some excerpts from oral arguments and a few anonymous criticisms voiced in the “Almanac of the Federal Judiciary.” Sotomayor can easily quash these attacks with a few well-turned statements in the public eye. From his own experiences arguing cases before the Court, Goldstein believes Sotomayor is similar in demeanor and temperment to Justices Roberts, Souter, and Antonin Scalia. Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 27, 2009. May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009).
Missed Line of Attack - Neither Goldstein nor Karl write about the direct attacks on Sotomayor’s race and gender that some conservatives will launch (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 3, 2009, and June 5, 2009). Goldstein’s own analysis of Sotomayor’s rulings will thoroughly disprove the allegations of racial bias (see May 29, 2009).
Conclusion - Goldstein concludes, “All in all… her easy confirmation seems assured.” [Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Tom Tancredo (R-CA), a former House member and 2008 presidential candidate known for his radical isolationism and anti-immigrant views (see September 9, 2006), tells MSNBC host Ed Schultz that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is a racist. Tancredo uses a statement from 2001 that seems to suggest Sotomayor believes Latinas (Hispanic women) make better rulings than white males (see October 26, 2001) to launch his attack. “I’m telling you she appears to be a racist,” Tancredo says. “She said things that are racist in any other context. That’s exactly how we would portray it and there’s no one who would get on the Supreme Court saying a thing like that except for a Hispanic woman and you’re going to say it doesn’t matter. Well, man. Where are you coming from? How can you possibly say that? There’s plenty of stuff.” Another guest, liberal columnist Bill Press, says that Sotomayor will get no “special protection” because of her race and gender, to which Tancredo scoffs, “Oh, jeez.” Responding to Press’s reiteration of Sotomayor’s extensive judicial background, Tancredo says: “You can still be a racist and have all of those things in your background. You can be a racist and have all of that stuff in your background. One does not preclude the other.” Schultz asks his third guest, reporter Mike Allen, if he would “check out to see if she had some racist comments?” Allen responds, “No,” to which Tancredo says: “You won’t do it? You won’t check it out? There you go.… They won’t even check it out.” Tancredo also calls Sotomayor a “radical” and in the same sentence admits he knows nothing of her judicial record. Allen says of Tancredo’s remarks, “Ed, we’re getting a preview here of a lot of phony outrage, theatrics, posturing.” [MSNBC, 5/26/2009]
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity attacks the character of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), using carefully selected quotes from former colleagues who remain anonymous. Hannity tells his listeners: “[W]hat do the lawyers who have appeared in her courtroom think of her judicial temperament? Well, not much. The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary solicits commentary from practicing attorneys about our federal judges. Now here’s what some lawyers who have argued before Judge Sotomayor had to say about her. Quote, ‘She is a terror on the bench. She is overly aggressive, not very judicial. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She is nasty to lawyers.’” Hannity does not tell his listeners of some of the other comments about Sotomayor in the Almanac: “very smart,” “very intelligent,” “stern,” “an exceptional judge overall,” and “has a very good commonsense approach to the law.” One commentator wrote: “She can be tough as nails, but, in truth, I think some lawyers give her a hard time or are threatened by her. She’s very accomplished and clearly smart, and, in truth, I think they’re intimidated. She has always been decent enough to me.” Another wrote: “She’s very smart and well prepared, and she expects lawyers to rise to her level. She has very little tolerance for lawyers who can’t match her intellectually.” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009]
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says that because Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is what he calls a “Latina woman racist,” she should immediately withdraw her nomination. Gingrich bases his remark on a 2001 comment by Sotomayor in which she said she “hopes that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” (see October 26, 2001). Sending a text message on Twitter, Gingrich writes: “Imagine a judicial nominee said, ‘My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.’ New racism is no better than old racism.” He follows with another message: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Republican National Committee (RNC) media chairman Todd Herman quickly “retweets” Gingrich’s message, which usually signifies agreement with the message, but the RNC will refuse to say whether or not it officially endorses Gingrich’s comment. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replies that Gingrich is probably not the best source of information or guidance on the issue, and warns against excessive rhetoric: “I think it is probably important for any involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of the impending confirmation. I think we’re satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker that they’ll come to the same conclusion that the president did.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009; Plum Line, 5/27/2009; Washington Times, 5/28/2009] Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to align himself with Gingrich’s characterization. Asked about Gingrich’s remark, Hatch says, “No, I don’t agree with that.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] Days later, Gingrich will appear to withdraw the “racist” characterization, although he will go on to accuse Sotomayor of “betray[ing]” the “American system” of law (see June 3, 2009).
Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes that in 2006, conservative Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) made remarks about his ethnic identity influencing his decisions from the bench that are strikingly similar to those made in 2001 by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see October 26, 2001 and May 26, 2009). Sotomayor is being called a “racist” by conservatives based on her remarks (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, and May 28, 2009). In 2006, as Greenwald notes, Alito told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “[W]hen a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant—and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases—I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position. And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, ‘You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.‘… When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.” Greenwald writes, “Anyone who is objecting now to Sotomayor’s alleged ‘empathy’ problem but who supported Sam Alito and never objected to this sort of thing ought to have their motives questioned (and the same is true for someone who claims that a person who overcame great odds to graduate at the top of their class at Princeton, graduate Yale Law School, and then spent time as a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, district court judge, and appellate court judge must have been chosen due to ‘identity politics’).” [Washington Post, 1/11/2006; Salon, 5/27/2009]
National Review columnist Mark Krikorian complains that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) should not insist on her name being pronounced properly—with the emphasis on the last syllable. “Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English,” he writes, “and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to.” Krikorian continues: “This may seem like carping, but it’s not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that’s not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options—the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there’s a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.” [National Review, 5/27/2009] Two days later, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann derides Krikorian’s argument, noting: “I don’t know when your ancestors arrived in this country, Mr. Krikorian, but there was a time in which immigrants with tough-to-pronounce names were encouraged to change them, or sometimes had them changed for them at Ellis Island and elsewhere. Unless Sitting Bull is one of your ancestors, they either got here afterwards, or, like mine, they resisted this racist wall-papering pap that you are now spouting. If they hadn’t, today, your name, by your own logic, would be Mark Krik.” [MSNBC, 5/29/2009]
National Review columnist Mark Krikorian complains that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) should not insist on her name being pronounced properly—with the emphasis on the last syllable. “Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English,” he writes, “and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to.” Krikorian continues: “This may seem like carping, but it’s not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that’s not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options—the newcomer adapts to us or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there’s a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.” [National Review, 5/27/2009] Two days later, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann derides Krikorian’s argument, noting: “I don’t know when your ancestors arrived in this country, Mr. Krikorian, but there was a time in which immigrants with tough-to-pronounce names were encouraged to change them, or sometimes had them changed for them at Ellis Island and elsewhere. Unless Sitting Bull is one of your ancestors, they either got here afterwards, or, like mine, they resisted this racist wall papering pap that you are now spouting. If they hadn’t, today, your name, by your own logic, would be Mark Krik.” [MSNBC, 5/29/2009]
Fox News host Glenn Beck, speaking on his morning radio show, tells listeners that the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009) is more evidence of a Marxist “hostile takeover” of the United States. The conflict between Republicans and Democrats over the nomination is nothing more than a “game,” Beck says. “Marxism,” he says. “It is Marxism. She is a Marxist.” As proof, he notes that Sotomayor quoted Socialist philosopher Norman Thomas in her yearbook at Princeton (he does not cite the quote: “I am not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won”), a “socialist… whose quote leads her life.… It has influenced her.” He concludes by asking: “How many Marxists do we have to turn up before we say our country is being taken over? This is a hostile takeover.” [Politico, 5/27/2009; Media Matters, 5/28/2009]
Right-wing radio host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see January 30, 1973) denigrates Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009)‘s race and gender in comments on his show. Liddy refers to the Spanish language as “illegal alien,” and speculates that Sotomayor’s rulings may be influenced by her menstrual cycle. Liddy says: “I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, ‘the race’ (see May 28, 2009). And that should not surprise anyone because she’s already on record with a number of racist comments.… Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.” After making these attacks, Liddy then states his belief that the Supreme Court should not represent a diversity of Americans: “And everybody is cheering because Hispanics and females have been, quote, underrepresented, unquote. [T]he Supreme Court is not designed to be and should not be a representative body.” [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. [Source: Vosizneias (.com)]Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan calls Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) an “affirmative action candidate” for the Court. “I don’t say it’s an outrage, I say it’s affirmative action,” Buchanan says. “They were picked because she’s a woman and a Hispanic and you know it as well as I do.” His sole evidence for his claim is the fact that President Obama apparently had no males on his short list of potential nominees. When host Norah O’Donnell points out that in past nominations the list of nominees had been exclusively white males, and perhaps “there weren’t any white men who were qualified” this time around, Buchanan calls her a bigot. When guest Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer (and no relation to the host), asks if he would have raised similar objections if the list had contained no women, Buchanan refuses to answer. Think Progress correspondent Amanda Terkel notes that Buchanan has, in the past, avowed that slavery was good for African-Americans, wished for an America that was 90 percent white, and accused Hispanics of not wanting to “assimilate.” Lawrence O’Donnell says of Buchanan’s argument: “It’s like watching a dead fish flop around on the deck. You’re dead on this one, Pat. It’s all over.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] The next day, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes follows Buchanan’s lead, saying that Sotomayor is “one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.” Radio host William Bennett, featuring Barnes as his guest, replies, “Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders,” to which Barnes repeats, “One wonders.” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009]
Former White House political director Karl Rove continues his attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Rove echoes former Justice Department official John Yoo in claiming that the Obama administration chose “empathy” over capability in Sotomayor’s selection (see May 26, 2009). Rove goes one step further than Yoo in equating Sotomayor’s “empathy” with “liberal judicial activism.” “‘Empathy’ is the latest code word for liberal activism,” Rove writes, “for treating the Constitution as malleable clay to be kneaded and molded in whatever form justices want. It represents an expansive view of the judiciary in which courts create policy that couldn’t pass the legislative branch or, if it did, would generate voter backlash.” He accuses Sotomayor, and indirectly President Obama, of a “readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them.” He also accuses Obama of attempting to “placate Hispanic groups who’d complained of his failure to appoint more high profile Latinos to his administration.… Mr. Obama also hopes to score political points as GOP senators oppose a Latina. Being able to jam opponents is a favorite Chicago political pastime.” Rove advises Republicans to use Sotomayor’s nomination as an opportunity to “stress their support for judges who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply the law as written.” He notes: “A majority of the public is with the GOP on opposing liberal activist judges. There is something in our political DNA that wants impartial umpires who apply the rules, regardless of who thereby wins or loses.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/28/2009] Hours after his attack column is printed, Rove tells a Fox News audience that Republicans need to treat Sotomayor with “respect” and criticize her over her “philosophy,” not her background. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
National Council of La Raza logo. [Source: National Council of La Raza]Former House member Tom Tancredo (R-CO—see September 9, 2006) continues his attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). As in his earlier commentary, Tancredo vilifies Sotomayor over her supposed racism. On CNN, Tancredo says that her affiliation with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic civil rights group, is the equivalent of a white person belonging to the Ku Klux Klan. “If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino—it’s a counterpart—a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses,” he says. “If you belong to something like that in a way that’s going to convince me and a lot of other people that it’s got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is ‘All for the race. Nothing for the rest.’ What does that tell you?” When host Rick Sanchez attempts to redirect Tancredo from his statements about the civil rights group, Tancredo shouts: “She’s a member! She’s a member of La Raza!” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009; NewsMax, 5/28/2009] Liberal news website Think Progress notes that La Raza has been targeted by conservative critics since the 2006 immigration rallies, with some making the false claim that La Raza advocates the secession of the Western United States “as a Hispanic-only homeland,” and right-wing blogs calling the organization “an anti-white extremist group.” In reality, La Raza is the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group, focusing primarily on “civil rights/immigration, education, employment and economic status, and health.” The name “La Raza” translates to “the people,” not “the race,” as Tancredo insists. And the group’s motto is not “All for the race, nothing for the rest,” as Tancredo says, it is actually “Strengthening America by promoting the advancement of Latino families.” La Raza, or NCLR as it is officially known, points to its recognition by the Office of the Surgeon General and the Leadership Council for Civil Rights for its efforts on behalf of underprivileged Hispanic-Americans, and its work alongside Habitat for Humanity and the Heritage Foundation as a nonprofit organization working for positive social change. [National Council of La Raza, 2009; Think Progress, 5/28/2009]
John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” [National Public Radio, 5/28/2009; Politico, 5/28/2009] The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009] On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. [Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
David Duke. [Source: Hip Hop Republican (.com)]Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, continuing the attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), says that Sotomayor “brings a form of bigotry and racism to the court” similar to views espoused by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Within hours, Duke counters on his own Web site, disparaging Limbaugh’s comparison and claiming that while he believes Sotomayor is a racist, he himself has never embraced racist views. “Limbaugh, a recent addict to illegal drugs, has no business making personal attacks against me for my past,” Duke writes. “I have consistently supported true equal rights, stating again and again that I support the best-qualified person regardless of race in hiring and promotions.” Duke goes on to write that Sotomayor’s racism is “proven” by remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls her “an activist for radical-Left Mexican organizations and an enthusiastic proponent of racial discrimination against White people called affirmative action” (see May 28, 2009). He then claims that her nomination is part of an overarching Jewish conspiracy to control “any person who is influential or who may at some point in the future become influential.” [Think Progress, 6/1/2009]
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, guest-hosting William Bennett’s radio show, says that Republicans should not attack Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) over her race (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). Doing so risks damaging the Republican Party’s image, he says. Steele, who is an African-American, warns that the “liberal media,” and particularly MSNBC, will use the racially motivated attacks to paint Republicans as bigots. “MSNBC will rip everything we have to say up into shreds,” he says. “I’m excited that a Hispanic woman is in this position,” he says. Republicans should stop “slammin’ and rammin’” on Sotomayor, and instead “acknowledge” the “historic aspect” of the pick and make a “cogent, articulate argument” against her for purely substantive reasons. Steele says the party doesn’t want to “get painted as a party that’s against the first Hispanic woman” picked for the Supreme Court. Democrats have made similar attacks on conservative candidates in the past, Steele avers, and says that the “liberal media” gave Democrats an unfair advantage in such controversies. Steele does not mention two of the loudest voices in the racially-based attacks against Sotomayor, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent writes: “It’s a reminder of Steele’s predicament: He knows how badly these attacks are damaging the party and how neatly they play into the hands of Dems, but he can’t call out the leading figures launching those attacks, because that risks infuriating the base and feeding the meme that the GOP is hopelessly divided.” [Plum Line, 5/29/2009] Two weeks before, while hosting Bennett’s show, Steele had attacked Sotomayor’s intellect and personality, calling her “not a bell ringer” and “abrasive.” [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] A week later, while hosting Bennett’s show, Steele will say, “God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench” (see June 5, 2009).
Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer advises fellow Republicans not to use racial or gender-based attacks against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). Noting that barring an unforeseen incident, she will be confirmed to the high court, Krauthammer writes: “What should a principled conservative do? Use the upcoming hearings not to deny her the seat, but to illuminate her views. No magazine gossip from anonymous court clerks (see May 4, 2009). No ‘temperament’ insinuations (see May 27, 2009). Nothing ad hominem (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, and June 3, 2009). The argument should be elevated, respectful, and entirely about judicial philosophy.” The debate should focus “on her statements about the inherent differences between groups, and the superior wisdom she believes her Latina physiology, culture, and background grant her over a white male judge (see October 26, 2001). They perfectly reflect the Democrats’ enthrallment with identity politics, which assigns free citizens to ethnic and racial groups possessing a hierarchy of wisdom and entitled to a hierarchy of claims upon society.… Vote Democratic and you get mainstream liberalism: a judicially mandated racial spoils system and a jurisprudence of empathy that hinges on which litigant is less ‘advantaged.’” [Washington Post, 5/29/2009]
President Barack Obama lambasts critics of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for their attacks on her (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 29, 2009). Obama says that Sotomayor regrets her choice of words in a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), but goes on to condemn “all this nonsense that is being spewed out” by critics who have accused her of racism and belonging to racist groups. Of her speech, Obama says: “I’m sure she would have restated it. But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what’s clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through. That will make her a good judge.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says of the racial accusations: “It’s sort of hard to completely quantify the outrage I think almost anybody would feel at the notion that you’re being compared to somebody who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s amazing.” Republican strategist John Ullyot, who worked on judicial nominations as a Congressional staffer, says that “any comments politically on race or gender are fraught with peril for Republicans.” He continues: “A few conservatives from outside of the Senate, in their zeal to pick a fight over Obama’s nominee, decided to get very ugly very quickly. No one in the Senate has followed along, and that’s the loudest condemnation you can have.” Ullyot fails to mention attacks from Republican Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL—see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009]
Tom Goldstein, the veteran lawyer who maintains the nonpartisan Supreme Court watchdog Web site “SCOTUSblog” (see May 26, 2009), completes an analysis of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s (see May 26, 2009) rulings on race-related court cases. Sotomayor has come under intense fire for supposedly being a “racist” and allowing her “personal bias”—her Hispanic heritage—to influence her decisions from the bench (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). As a member of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotomayor has ruled on 96 race-related cases. One of those is still on appeal to the Supreme Court. Of those 96 cases, Sotomayor and the entire panel rejected the claim of discrimination 78 times, and agreed with the claim 10 times. The remaining eight involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 favorable rulings, nine of those were unanimous. Seven of those nine rulings involved at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided ruling, the dissent involved a technical question of whether the criminal defendent had forfeited his right to challenge the jury selection in his case. Goldstein concludes: “So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.… [I]n sum, in an 11-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of four times.… Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.” [SCOTUSblog, 5/29/2009]
The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network releases a television and Internet advertisement that attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for being “personally biased” in her rulings. The ad, which claims Sotomayor’s ascension to the high court will place “equal justice… under attack,” is based largely on comments Sotomayor made in a 2001 speech (see October 26, 2001). [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that Sotomayor made a “poor word choice” in her 2001 comments (see May 29, 2009) [Associated Press, 5/29/2009] , but both President Obama and liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress note that in that same 2001 speech, Sotomayor was firm in reiterating her belief that judges must base their decisions on the rule of law, not on personal bias or preference. And an analysis of her record shows that she has ruled against plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuits a large majority of the time (see May 29, 2009). [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] After the ad draws fire from across the political spectrum, Judicial Confirmation Network spokeswoman Wendy Long
(see May 26, 2009) backs away from the controversy, writing that the debate over Sotomayor “is turning into an argument about race and identity politics.” She adds, “Many of us in the conservative movement believe that Judge Sotomayor is intelligent, and that, at least on paper, she has professional qualifications that are certainly sufficient for occupying a seat on the US Supreme Court.” Long continues to call Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy “very troubling.” [MSNBC, 5/29/2009]
US President Barack Obama issues a terse condemnation of the murder of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) in a statement issued on the same day as the shooting. The president writes: “I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.” [White House Press Office, 5/31/2009]
Right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan continues to attack Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), this time during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. Buchanan continues his allegations that Sotomayor is an “affirmative action nominee” (see May 28, 2009), and mocks her recent discussion of her difficulties with the English language: Sotomayor told a New York Times reporter that during her first years in college, she honed her English skills by reading children’s books, practiced with lower-level grammar books, and worked with a professor who provided her tutoring in the language. Buchanan says in reference to the article: “Well I, again in that Saturday piece, she went to Princeton. She graduated first in her class it said. But she herself said she read, basically classic children’s books to read and learn the language and she read basic English grammars and she got help from tutors. I think that, I mean if you’re, frankly if you’re in college and you’re working on Pinocchio or on the troll under the bridge, I don’t think that’s college work.” The article did not characterize her outside, self-directed remedial work with English as “college work.” Amanda Terkel, a reporter for left-leaning Think Progress, will note: “Buchanan has long claimed that Hispanic immigrants are resistant to learning English and has said that it would be easier for them to ‘assimilate’ if they did so.… So basically, Buchanan yells when Hispanics are allegedly unwilling to learn English. However, when they make an attempt to do so, he mocks them as being dumb.” [New York Times, 5/30/2009; Think Progress, 6/1/2009]
Police arrest 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kansas, on the afternoon of May 31 in connection with the shooting of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller in his church that morning (see May 31, 2009). Roeder is arrested about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City after eyewitnesses to the murder provide police with the license number of the killer’s getaway car. [CNN News, 5/31/2009] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). Police say they found no weapon in his possession. Roeder’s uncle Clarence Roeder issues a statement this evening: “This is a tragedy for the Tiller family and we feel so badly about that, that Scott would murder the doctor in the Lutheran church. We are also Lutherans, and that adds a double touch of sadness and irony.” Family members say they haven’t seen Scott Roeder since 2000, and he was in and out of trouble in the 1990s. [KMBC.com, 5/31/2009] In video recorded by local TV station KMBC-TV, neighbors say Roeder was not a friendly person; a landlord says he was “trouble from the start,” and was “radical” and “strange.” His ex-wife Lindsay Roeder says: “He didn’t think of the consequences this would have for anybody. There were children in that church, children that will remember that for the rest of their lives.” [KMBC-TV, 5/31/2009] In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
TV station KMBC reports on the arrest of Scott Roeder in connection with the murder of late-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), and mentions an envelope found in the getaway car with the words “Op Rescue” and “Cheryl” and a phone number on it. [KMBC-TV, 6/3/2009] Kansas news blogger Justin Kendall finds out that the number is a direct line to Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy advisor with Operation Rescue, a hardline anti-abortion activism group. Sullenger served two years imprisonment after bombing an abortion clinic in 1988. She tells Kendall she hasn’t spoken to Roeder recently and says: “You know, he’s somebody who’s been around. My name is on the Internet. It’s on every press release. My phone number is on every press release it. It’s all over the Internet. I don’t know. He probably has lots of people’s phone numbers.” [The Pitch, 6/1/2009] Sullenger says she kept Roeder up to date on court hearings involving Tiller, who was acquitted of failing to properly justify late-term abortions in January 2009: “He would call and say, ‘When does court start? When’s the next hearing?’ I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?” [Kansas City Star, 6/3/2009] Kendall also reveals that in a May 2007 comment on an Operation Rescue forum, a “Scott Roeder” advocated attending Tiller’s church—the eventual scene of his murder—with “as many people as possible” to ask questions of church leaders and members and bring attention to Tiller. [Scott Roeder, 5/19/2007] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
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