Archives for the 'Civil Liberties' Category

More Soto on Executive Power

Charlie Savage, your go-to source on this issue, has an article in the NYT on the subject today, paying particular attention to a speech Sotomayor gave in March 2003.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor expressed skepticism in March 2003 about the expanded government surveillance powers in the USA Patriot Act, citing what she referred to as its broader authority “to impose nationwide wiretaps with little judicial supervision” and to monitor Internet use in search of terrorists.

On the other hand,

Judge Sotomayor did seem to indicate that some policies were on firmer legal footing. For example, she said that “one can certainly justify” detaining enemy combatant suspects “in secret” and giving them different legal rights than criminals “under precedents and current law.”

All in all, recognizing that the speech was given in March ’03 (Iraq War month, a time when crazy hung heavy in the air) I still see some reasons for cautious optimism on this issue.

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Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Executive Power | 11 Comments

Panic on the Streets of Wichita

Here’s yesterday’s Examiner column on terrorism panic, liberal edition:

The liberal overreaction to the crimes of two despicable “lone nuts” demonstrates that the Left is just as susceptible to terrorism panics as the Right. But maybe liberals are right that there’s a “teachable moment” for conservatives here, even if it isn’t the lesson Rich and Kos intend.

It’s worth thinking about how much worse off we’d be in the midst of a burgeoning “militia panic,” had the Bush administration’s radical view of executive power become the law of the land.

After 9/11, George Bush and Dick Cheney argued that the president could do what he deemed necessary to fight terrorism, and any laws to the contrary could be nullified by his Magic Scepter of Inherent Authority. Most conservatives backed the president, insisting that civil liberties at home wouldn’t suffer if we allowed him unlimited power in foreign affairs.

But the Bush team always maintained that those powers could be used on the home front as well. In congressional testimony in 2006, then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales suggested that the president had inherent authority not only to wiretap international calls without a warrant, but also to listen in onAmericans’ domestic communications.

….

Conservative defenders of so-called “enhanced interrogation” are rarely able to identify the “ticking time bomb” scenarios they insist make torture necessary. But last week, Scott Roeder, Dr. Tillman’s murderer, told reporters that “similar events” were being planned even now. Might a little waterboarding loosen his tongue?

Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Executive Power | 1 Comment

Sotomayor: Presidential Power Skeptic?

…that’s my DC Examiner column for this week. Excerpt:

The Second Circuit, Sotomayor’s home for the last 11 years, gets few national security cases. But what we can glean from three key cases she’s participated in suggests she agrees with former Justice Sandra O’Connor that the War on Terror “is not a blank check for the president.”

A Justice Sotomayor is unlikely to move in lockstep with the ACLU in this area. In Cassidy v. Chertoff (2006), she rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to post-9/11 security searches conducted by a ferry operator acting at the behest of the Bush administration.

But in 2008’s Doe v. Mukasey, she joined two colleagues to strike down provisions of the Patriot Act related to National Security Letters (NSL). NSLs allow the FBI to seize private customer information from ISPs and other businesses, and place the recipient under a “gag order,” preventing disclosure of the demand.

Still before the Second Circuit is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen sent to Syria under the U.S. government’s extraordinary rendition program and tortured there. At oral argument last December, Sotomayor questioned the administration’s lawyer sharply: “So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, it is the government’s position that that is a license to torture?”

A thin record, but one more promising on these issues than Roberts’ or Alito’s. Incidentally, Clarence Thomas–who’s otherwise libertarians’ favorite Justice, and for pretty good reasons–is the worst of the worst on executive power issues. His dissent in Hamdi alone puts Scalia ahead of him as “least bad Supreme Court Justice.”

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Posted on Jun 9, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Executive Power | No Comments

Sotomayor

The Sotomayor nomination isn’t a week old yet, and I’m already bored with reading about it. I don’t see what people are so exercised about, pro or con. Yeah, I don’t like the comment about “wise Latina woman” making better decisions, and I don’t think it’s defensible (or at least I haven’t read any compelling defenses of it). Otherwise, I can’t see why this particular choice merits all the screeching. (Also, conservatives whose favorite justice is Clarence Thomas shouldn’t be heard to complain about Sotomayor’s lack of qualifications. No doubt her ethnicity was, as with Thomas, a but-for cause of her selection, but she has more experience on the bench and a more distinguished academic record than Thomas did).

As Ezra Klein points out “the Sotomayor fight” is a misnomer:

The last nominee to actually be defeated — Harriett Miers was withdrawn, remember, and withdrawn due to conservative unrest — was Robert Bork. And he was a conservative choice facing a Senate with 55 Democrats. Sotomayor is a Democratic president’s nominee who will come before a Democratic Senate. She won’t be “Borked” because, where Bork began 5 votes down, she begins 10 votes up. If Bork had enjoyed 15 more easy votes, he’d be Justice Bork today.

As such, there are certain safe predictions we can make: Barring imperfect vetting on the part of the majority, the final nominee will be pro-choice. Will be sympathetic to labor. Will be sympathetic to the federal role in regulation. Will be, in sum, the sort of Justice you’d expect from a left-of-center president and a left-of-center Senate.

I don’t like any of that stuff. And Richard Epstein provides reason to believe she may be worse than the average Democratic judicial nominee on property rights. That aside, the numbers in the Senate make it clear that, no matter what, we were always going to end up with a Justice who’d make conservatives and libertarians unhappy.

But there are other areas on which the average Democratic nominee is likely to be better than the average Republican, areas like criminal procedure and executive power. In those areas, from a libertarian perspective, maintaining a 5-4 conservative/liberal balance on the Court, is a good thing. I always thought that “getting more judges like Roberts and Alito” was a lousy reason to pull the lever for the Rs in November, particularly if you care about checks on executive power.

In his terrific book Takeover, Charlie Savage suggests that there was method behind the apparent madness of the Miers nomination:

why did Bush nominate Miers? The conventional wisdom was that the fiasco was simply the result of Bush’s feckless enjoyment of the power his office gave him to reward his friends. But in fact, Miers was a sound pick by the Bush-Cheney administration on an issue about which they cared deeply: executive power. Bush needed to pick a female justice for political reasons, but executive branch experience was almost nonexistent in the resumes of the female conservative appeals court judges and state supreme court judges favored by conservative legal activists. Miers, however, could be counted on to embrace Bush’s expansive view of presidential powers.

So too with Chief Justice Roberts. Savage reviewed an enormous trove of documents prepared by Roberts when he worked in the Reagan Justice Department, and found that Roberts was an even more enthusiastic supporter of executive power than one would naturally expect to find in Reagan’s DOJ. Tasked with analyzing the Presidential Records Act, the post-Nixon reform establishing that presidential documents are the people’s property, and allowing public access to such documents, Roberts “made clear that he loathed [the Presidential Records Act], believing it to be an unconstitutional infringement on the presidency’s power to keep information secret.” Savage writes that Roberts also

pressed to expand the president’s ability to govern in secret, pushing to roll back the Federal Advisory Committee Act… [and] warn[ed] against even appearing to endorse the idea of ‘freedom of information,’ lest it be construed as suggesting that the Freedom of Information Act was a good thing. He opposed issuing any presidential documents in connection with the War Powers Resolution that were worded in such a way as to concede that Congress had a role in deciding when military hostilities could begin or end.

There’s no denying that from a libertarian/constitutionalist perspective, McCain’s prospective nominees would have been better on some issues than either Obama’s or Clinton’s. McCain’s judges would likely have been better on campaign finance reform and the thus-far fruitless effort to restore limits on Congress’s power to regulate using the Commerce Clause. Despite Roberts’s vote in the Oregon Right-to-Die case, they would probably be better on federalism, depending on whose ox is getting gored.

There is little question however, that they would have been far worse than Democratic appointees on questions like, can the president carry out a wiretapping program in defiance of federal law, and forever shield the details of that program behind the State Secrets doctrine?

As Robert Schlesinger points out, the latter issue may well end up before the Supreme Court. We don’t know where Sotomayor stands on that issue, but I’m guessing she won’t be as bad on it as another Roberts or Alito.

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Posted on May 28, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Executive Power, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Neoconsensus

Since Rich Lowry, Karl Rove, and Charles Krauthammer have all admitted that Obama’s anti-terror policies are substantially the same as Bush’s, I assume they’ll refrain from arguing that Obama’s making the country less safe, and they’ll hold off on blaming him if and when there’s another terrorist attack.

Posted on May 22, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Foreign Policy and Defense, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Narcissism of Small Differences

So we just got dueling Obama/Cheney speeches on the War on Terror, each consistent with each man’s respective style. Obama’s cool, professorial, methodical–and crediting the American people with a longer attention span than we’ve got. Cheney’s gruff, clipped, and forceful. He mentioned 9/11 25 times and even got a shot in at the New York Times. As I argue here, Cheney and Obama have developed a weird, codependent relationship:

the claim that Obama has abandoned “essential tools” in the fight against terror is wearing pretty thin. Real civil libertarians aren’t fooled by Obama’s “kinder, gentler” rhetoric, but Obama knows that civil libertarians are a miniscule voting block. His aim is to convince Democratic voters that he’s kept his promises to change Bush’s draconian approach to the war on terror.

In this, Dick Cheney is an enormous asset to the president. As Obama quietly adopts the Bush policies, Cheney gives him cover by loudly insisting that there’s a meaningful difference here.

It’s a very Washington sort of partnership: an argument so grating that you could be fooled into thinking there’s some great difference of principle here. Sort of like the Carville-Matalin marriage.

Posted on May 21, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Cult of the Presidency | 6 Comments

“After” the Imperial Presidency?

Jonathan Mahler has a smart, informative feature on executive power in this week’s New York Times Magazine. I object only to the title, “After the Imperial Presidency.” As Mahler’s piece makes clear, the title could have used a question mark, at the very least.

Mahler writes:

Come January, the current administration will pass on to its successor a vast infrastructure for electronic surveillance, secret sites for detention and interrogation and a sheaf of legal opinions empowering the executive to do whatever he feels necessary to protect the country. The new administration will also be the beneficiary of Congress’s recent history of complacency, which amounts to a tacit acceptance of the Bush administration’s expansive views of executive authority. For that matter, thanks to the recent economic bailout, Bush’s successor will inherit control over much of the banking industry. “The next president will enter office as the most powerful president who has ever sat in the White House,” Jack Balkin, a constitutional law professor at Yale and an influential legal blogger, told me a few weeks ago.

Some prominent commentators–Jack Goldsmith and Jeffrey Rosen among them–have noted the “irony” that an administration monomaniacally committed to the growth of presidential power has allegedly weakened the presidency with its unilateralism and contempt of Congress. Given the powers the office retains and continues to accrue, that’s an irony that’s hard to savor. As Mahler notes, “it’s worth keeping in mind that in the final year of Bush’s presidency — while facing a Democratic Congress and historically low approval ratings — he was able to push through a federal bailout bill that vested almost complete control over the economy in the Treasury secretary (who reports to the president), not to mention a major rewriting of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that will make it easier for the White House to spy on American citizens.”

Indeed, Mahler documents how political realities–and in Obama’s case, perhaps, the prospect of actually taking power–led both candidates to move away from their early criticisms of Bush-style “deciderism,” and flip flop on torture (McCain) and wiretapping (McCain and Obama).

In explaining the post-9/11 growth of executive power, Mahler properly focuses on the twin problems of congressional cowardice and poisonous partisanship. In the Bush years, all too many congressional Republicans put party unity over institutional responsibility. That’s a common vice under unified government, which may be why Mahler hardly sounds optimistic when he quotes Senator Levin: “When I asked Levin what needs to happen for Congress to take back the rest of the ground that it ceded to the executive branch during the Bush years, he replied predictably, ‘We need a Democrat in the White House.’”

For further reasons to doubt that the Imperial Presidency is behind us, check here and here.

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Posted on Nov 9, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Executive Power | 9 Comments

Abuse of Power, Big Time

This week, the Washington Post ran two excerpts from Barton Gellman’s new book Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, which describes the fight over warrantless wiretapping in greater detail than we’ve had before. We still don’t know the precise reach of the original (pre-2004) program, nor do we have the classified legal analysis prepared by John Yoo. But Gellman’s account makes you wonder just how far the program and the legal theory went, given that it horrified men like Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy A.G. James Comey, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith–all staunch conservatives who were perfectly comfortable with ambitious theories of executive power, all of whom (along with FBI Director Robert Mueller and sundry other top Justice officials) were ready to resign over the original warrantless wiretapping program. (Marty Lederman made a similar point last year, when Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee).

Ashcroft’s record on civil liberties and executive power is fairly well known. And keep in mind who Goldsmith and Comey are. Goldsmith says plainly that he’s “not a civil libertarian,” and he got the OLC job on John Yoo’s recommendation. And as a US Attorney in New York, James Comey was quite comfortable with pushing the law to its limits and beyond. He prosecuted Martha Stewart for misleading federal investigators about behavior that wasn’t a crime, and he even seriously considered pursuing mail and wire fraud charges against disgraced reporter Jayson Blair for the hitherto unknown crime of making stuff up in the New York Times (Bill Kristol, beware). But the original program was a bridge too far even for them.

Gellman describes a “come to Jesus” meeting orchestrated by David Addington, Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney, to get the Justice Department to reauthorize the surveillance program:

Comey, Goldsmith and Philbin found the titans of the intelligence establishment lined up, a bunch of grave-faced analysts behind them for added mass. The spy chiefs brought no lawyers. The law was not the point. This meeting, described by officials with access to two sets of contemporaneous notes, was about telling Justice to set its qualms aside.

The staging had been arranged for maximum impact. Cheney sat at the head of Card’s rectangular table, pivoting left to face the acting attorney general. The two men were close enough to touch. Card sat grimly at Cheney’s right, directly across from Comey. There was plenty of eye contact all around.

This program, Cheney said, was vital. Turning it off would leave us blind. Hayden, the NSA chief, pitched in: Even if the program had yet to produce blockbuster results, it was the only real hope of discovering sleeper agents before they could act.

“How can you possibly be reversing course on something of this importance after all this time?” Cheney asked.

“I will accept for purposes of discussion that it is as valuable as you say it is,” Comey said. “That only makes this more painful. It doesn’t change the analysis. If I can’t find a lawful basis for something, your telling me you really, really need to do it doesn’t help me.”

“Others see it differently,” Cheney said.

There was only one of those, really. John Yoo had been out of the picture for nearly a year. It was all Addington.

“The analysis is flawed, in fact facially flawed,” Comey said. “No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it.”

Gonzales said nothing. Addington stood by the window, over Cheney’s shoulder. He had heard a bellyful.

“Well, I’m a lawyer and I did,” Addington said, glaring at Comey.

“No good lawyer,” Comey said.

Bonus Angler revelation: Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey suggests that Cheney lied to him to keep Armey from going all wobbly on the Iraq War vote:

The threat Cheney described went far beyond public statements that have been criticized for relying on “cherry-picked” intelligence of unknown reliability. There was no intelligence to support the vice president’s private assertions, Gellman reports.

Armey had spoken out against the coming war, and his opposition gave cover to Democrats who feared the political costs of appearing weak. Armey reversed his position after Cheney told him, he said, that the threat from Iraq was “more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large.”

Cheney said, according to Armey, that Iraq’s “ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear,” had been “substantially refined since the first Gulf War.”

Cheney linked that threat to Hussein’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda, Armey said, explaining “we now know they have the ability to develop these weapons in a very portable fashion, and they have a delivery system in their relationship with organizations such as Al Qaeda.”

“Did Dick Cheney . . . purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue?” Armey said. “I seriously feel that may be the case. . . . Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed [the war] resolution right to the bitter end.”

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Posted on Sep 17, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Executive Power | 2 Comments

Cult Reviewed in National Review

Claremont Institute fellow Michael M. Uhlmann has a dismissive review of The Cult of the Presidency in the current issue of National Review: “It’s Not Just the Executive,” September 15, 2008. (Here it is if you get NR Digital, otherwise it’s available in the print edition). It seems to me that the review largely consists of inaccurate characterizations, unsupported assertions, and non sequiturs. But I’m understandably biased, so check it out and judge for yourself.

Uhlmann writes that “The bulk of Healy’s book is devoted to various sins, offenses and negligences of the Bush administration.” That’s a bizarre statement, given that the book has nine chapters and an introduction, and only three of those chapters cover GWB’s tenure. In fact, the “bulk of the book” is devoted to demonstrating that, as I write in Chapter Two, “the problems of the modern presidency did not begin when George W. Bush emerged victorious from 2000’s seemingly interminable Battle of the Chads” and that–despite what some on the Left seem to believe–those problems will not vanish in January 2009 when he heads back to the ranch to cut brush.

The book is a history of the presidency’s transformation from the important, but constitutionally limited office the Framers designed to an extraconstitutional monstrosity charged with moving the masses and saving the world. But by beginning his review with a discussion of “unhinged” Bush critics, and mischaracterizing the book’s contents, Uhlmann has undoubtedly left NR readers with the impression that The Cult of the Presidency is yet another partisan screed against the current administration. Move along, nothing to see here.

That’s a shame, because conservatives could surely benefit from reexamining their decades-long affinity for strong presidencies. There’s nothing particularly conservative about investing vast unchecked power in the hands of whichever professional politician manages to claw his way to the top in a modern presidential contest. As Russell Kirk put it, “Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite—these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order.” And if principled reasons aren’t good enough, the fact that Republicans, let alone conservative Republicans, are unlikely to dominate the electoral college in the coming decades ought–like the prospect of a hanging–to concentrate the mind somewhat.

Uhlmann is willing to concede that the Bush administration’s claims of uncheckable authority over the detention and treatment of terrorist suspects “entail arguable legal propositions.” Which is gracious of him. But he provides very little argument for his view that the Framers envisioned a president with anything like the powers the current president–or others before him–have claimed. What arguments he provides often consist of offering innocuous and uncontroversial historical claims about 18th-century Americans’ views of executive power–as if those claims establish that the modern presidency is the constitutional presidency. In each case, he falls a few premises short of a syllogism.

Yes, the Federalist suggests, as Uhlmann notes, that “legislative excess is the danger chiefly to be guarded against in a republic.” But that was so, as Madison explains in No. 48, because the government the Constitution envisioned would be fundamentally different from one in which “numerous and extensive prerogatives are placed in the hands of a hereditary monarch.” Legislative power was more to be feared precisely because under the American Constitution “the executive magistracy is carefully limited, both in the extent and the duration of its power.”

Yes, the Framers sought to avoid some of the mistakes made in some of “the state constitutions adopted between 1776 and 1787″ and to create a relatively vigorous and independent executive. But there’s quite a distance between that fact and the current administration’s claims that Congress cannot restrain the president from ordering torture and that the president has the power to permanently imprison American citizens without charges or legal process. (Uhlmann treats these issues at greater length in an extensive essay on presidential powers in a recent edition of the Claremont Review, in which, it seems to me, the verbiage-to-evidence ratio is also fairly high.)

Then there’s Uhlmann’s painfully obvious argument that “It’s Not Just the Executive” that’s a problem in our modern welfare-warfare state. Well, yes. It’s not clear who Uhlmann’s arguing with when he points out “the size and arbitrariness of government in general” are intertwined with concerns about a powerful presidency, and that the growth of presidential power would not have been possible without the collaboration of Congress and the judiciary. I make the same points repeatedly and at length throughout the book.

But the book focuses on the presidency because the president has become the focal point of Americans’ dangerously unrealistic expectations about what government can deliver, at home and abroad. As the political scientist Theodore Lowi explained (and as I discuss in the book), the post-New Deal state pledged itself to the constant delivery of goods and benefits, with the public looking most of all to the president to meet the key test of the new regime’s legitimacy: “service delivery.” The emerging “Second Republic of the United States” was one in which, as Lowi sums up, “the system of government had become an inverted pyramid, with everything coming to rest on a presidential pinpoint.”

So the presidency is important. It merits special attention, perhaps especially from conservatives, given their longstanding myopia about the dangers of presidential power. For too long the Right has been wedded to the odd proposition that next to the “Imperial Congress” and the “Imperial Judiciary”, the executive branch–the branch with guns–is the least dangerous branch. I’m glad that NR reviewed the book, and I didn’t expect an uncritical embrace of my perspective. But I would have preferred a serious discussion of the issues the book raises.

Posted on Sep 6, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense | 9 Comments

The Dark Side

I recently finished Jane Mayer’s excellent new book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. I thought I couldn’t read another thing about Addington, Yoo, and company, but Mayer’s book drew me in, and taught me a lot. There’s a lot I’d like to highlight from the book and blog about, but probably won’t have time to get to. But here’s an interesting detail she mentions in passing. You may recall this exchange between John Yoo and John Conyers when Yoo was called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee recently:

Conyers: Could the President order a suspect buried alive?
Yoo: Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive. . .

Conyers: I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the President could order a suspect buried alive.

Yoo: Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a President . . . no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.

Conyers: I think we understand the games that are being played.

I took Conyers’ question to be (useful) hyperbole, intended to draw out the virtually limitless theory of presidential power Yoo’s perspective entails–much like Professor David Cassell’s earlier question to Yoo: “If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” Yet in the course of discussing acting OLC head Dan Levin’s attempt to draft a replacement memo for Yoo’s repudiated August 2002 torture memo, Mayer writes:

“Levin refused, however to give the administration carte blanche. He had heard rumors that his predecessor, John Yoo, had orally approved especially questionable CIA practices, including the use of mind-altering drugs and mock-burials.” (Emphasis added).

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Posted on Sep 3, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Executive Power | 3 Comments

Heller Good

Congrats to my friends Alan Gura, Bob Levy, and Clark Neily for, against the odds–and with no help from the NRA–making the country a little freer today.

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Posted on Jun 26, 2008 in Civil Liberties | 13 Comments

Garrison Town

A colleague ripped out a page of the Washingtonian and left it in my mailbox. The item he flagged was from “Capital Comment,” the magazine’s equivalent of the New York Post’s Page Six, except without sex or pretty people. It reads as follows:

Spotted: …. The man who was almost House majority leader, Roy Blunt, shopping with his wife at the “social” Safeway in Georgetown amid a phalanx of security officers. One reporter observed, “If he only wants a basket of groceries, wouldn’t it make sense to send one agent in to get it rather than securing the whole store?

Maybe Roy Blunt knows something I don’t, and if he’s received a specific, credible threat, I apologize, but… is he really a high-value target? Or is this just an ostentatious demonstration of his supposed importance? As a longtime Washington hand observed in 1992:

One thing that is harmful and destructive to the way our system works is the system of security…. It has grown enormously since I went to Washington in the fifties. It happens incrementally. …. There is something about the total number of people in your entourage that defines your importance. That is wrong. It is unhelpful to everyone. It inhibits communication.

That was once and future SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. No sign that he did anything to fight this tendency during his second tour of duty.

Melanie Scarborough wrote a nice briefing paper for Cato on the post-9/11 paramilitarization of DC.

Posted on Jun 2, 2008 in Asides, Civil Liberties | 8 Comments

New Cory Maye Video

…over at Reason.tv. See here for background on the Cory Maye case. Very well-produced, powerful stuff–you’d have to be one numb SOB not to be angry by the end of it. Watch it and spread the word.

Posted on May 9, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Domestic Policy | 10 Comments

Eternal Vigilance, Inc.

The Style section of today’s Washington Post features a terrific article about the National Security Archive, the nonprofit group dedicated to unearthing goverment secrets. The privately funded group, about 35 strong, uses the Freedom of Information Act to collect about 75,000 documents a year, which staffers analyze and then post on the website. The Archive’s greatest hits (see, e.g., here and here) demonstrate that as Patrick Henry put it, one should “never depend on so slender a protection as the possibility of being represented by virtuous men.” Don’t trust: verify.

One of my favorite documents on the site is the Operation Northwoods Memo, prepared by the Pentagon in the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster:

titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba” [the memo] was provided by the JCS to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, as the key component of Northwoods. Written in response to a request from the Chief of the Cuba Project, Col. Edward Lansdale, the Top Secret memorandum describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba. These proposals – part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose – included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage.

Sounds like tinfoil-hat stuff, I know, but thanks to FOIA and the National Security Archive, you can check for yourself [.pdf]. But if Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had had their way, you couldn’t. As top aides to Gerald Ford 34 years ago, they urged the president to veto amendments strengthening FOIA (he did, and Congress overrode his veto). The Archive has the documents on that too.

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Posted on May 8, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Domestic Policy, Executive Power | 8 Comments

Hosanna in the Highest

I’m back in DC in front of a computer again, and I see that George W. Bush recently returned to Greensburg, Kansas to speak at a high-school graduation, a year after he’d been there the first time. Greensburg, you may or may not recall, got pretty hard by a tornado a year ago. On his 2007 post-tornado visit(ation?), Bush declared:

I bring the prayers and concerns of the people of this country to this town of Greensburg, Kansas…. My mission is to — today, though, is to lift people’s spirits as best as I possibly can and to hopefully touch somebody’s soul by representing our country, and to let people know that while there was a dark day in the past, there’s brighter days ahead.

For years, I’ve been hearing conservatives say how “down to earth” the president is. But would a regular guy talk about himself as a prayer-bearing soul-toucher? Or maybe when they say “down to earth” they mean literally descended from on high?

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Posted on May 5, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy | 6 Comments