Friday, October 26, 2007

Are you on the list?

The "terror watch list" has grown to more than 755,000 names. Are you on it? While a large number of people who are on "the list" are undoubtedly actual terrorists or suspected terrorists, how many people are on it simply because they've voiced discontent for the actions of the Bush administration? Author and activist Naomi Wolf is on it. I wonder how many people who will be marching in the upcoming "Constitution Days" rallies will be added to the list? Maybe those events will drive it past the 1 million mark.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Democrat quickly loses newfound spine

(Updated below)

Democratic Congressman Pete Stark from California surprised and excited Democrats everywhere last week when he provided indications of being a vertebrate during the S-CHIP debate in Congress when he said,

"You don't have money to fund the war or children, but you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."
Smelling salts were subsequently disbursed to revive fallen Republican Congressmen from their fainting couches after bearing witness to Stark's harsh, untoward, and ungentlemanly language. When pressed by dismayed Republicans for an apology, Stark went on to say,
"I have nothing but respect for our brave men and women in uniform and wish them the very best, but I respect neither the commander in chief who keeps them in harm's way nor the chickenhawks in Congress who vote to deny children healthcare."
Coming as it did on the heels of last month's irresponsible and ghastly criticism by MoveOn.org of General David Petraeus, otherwise known as The Man Whose Opinion Cannot Be Questioned, Republicans saw this as an opportunity to divert public attention away from both their opposition to the popular S-CHIP program and the president's failed occupation of Iraq by introducing a resolution to censure Rep. Stark. Though the censure resolution ultimately failed, Rep. Stark's newfound spine melted into a puddle of gelatinous goo at the threat, and he groveled before Congress and President Bush, begging to be allowed to return to the dark pit of irrelevance from whence he came. Another "Mission Accomplished" for our brave Republican Congressmen.

So to summarize, a Democrat spoke the truth, but was later "forced" to apologize for offending the delicate sensibilities of Congressional Republicans.

How rich. We're talking about the Republican Party here. These are the same people whose champions are Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter. This is the party of "Mean" Jean Schmidt, who had the nerve to call true life war hero John Murtha a coward. This is the party of George W. Bush, who won reelection by employing phony "values" and fear mongering, and by trashing the military service of another actual war hero, John Kerry. And they have the unmitigated gall to complain when someone points out their hypocrisy? Boo frickin' hoo, cry me a river. For some reason, though, Democrats tremble in fear at this phony sanctimony and keep allowing themselves to get punked.

The LA Times article linked above goes on to state:
The move to censure Stark marked the second time Republicans have taken to the House floor to chastise Democrats for statements the GOP deemed offensive to the U.S. military.
Someone please explain to me how Stark's words were offensive to the military? What should be offensive to the military is that their commander in chief used his daddy's political connections so he could avoid combat during the Vietnam war by getting a cushy assignment to the Texas Air National Guard from which he went AWOL to advance his political career so he can now pretend to be Winston Churchill.

Here's another question: Why do Democrats always feel the need to preface anything having to do with the occupation of Iraq with some statement espousing their everlasting love for the military? Disparaging the president in no way insults the military especially since the president had every opportunity to serve his country in a time of war, yet chose to weasel out of it. Republicans are the ones who have been screwing our soldiers every chance they get, from extending their tours of duty, to not providing them adequate equipment and training, to providing substandard care when they are wounded in action. Republicans and their minions are the ones who attack soldiers whenever they criticize the president's Glorious War on Islam. Yet Democrats are the ones who sound apologetic every single time they talk about any subject that involves the military! What gives?

What will it take for the Democrats to understand that their low approval ratings are entirely due to not living up to their promises to stand up to the president? We're sick and tired of being represented by wimps, Republican lites, and proxies for corporate interests. The hole they have helped President Bush dig this country into can only get so deep before we will be unable to get ourselves out.

Update: Digby wrote about this same issue in a post titled, The Art of the Hissy Fit. Give it a read.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Haven't we heard this song before?

From CNN:

The Bush administration on Monday asked for an additional $42.3 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the 2008 request for total war funding to $189.3 billion.

The request comes on top of $147 billion already sought for in the wars. Most of the money goes to Iraq, which is costing the Pentagon an estimated $2 billion a week.

"Parts of this war are complicated, but one part is not -- and that is that America should do what it takes to support our troops and protect our people," President Bush said in an appearance with members of veterans groups at the White House.

[...]

Minutes after Bush spoke, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, warned the president not to expect Congress to "rubber-stamp" the latest request.

"In the coming weeks, we will hold it up to the light of day and fight for the change of strategy and redeployment of troops that is long overdue," Reid said.

He said the new request means the overall cost of the widely unpopular war now approaches $650 billion since the March 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"The entire war in Iraq is being paid for with borrowed money," Reid said.
Blah, blah, blah...no blank check...blah, blah, blah...change course in Iraq...blah, blah, blah. Where have we heard this before? Oh, yeah. Nancy Pelosi said it when she took over as Speaker of the House back in January, and Harry Reid repeated it this past April. And what did they do? They wrote Bush another blank check to stay the course in Iraq. So what's changed between then and now besides a lot more death and destruction, and the federal deficit growing by a few hundred billion dollars? Why should we think the outcome will be any different this time around? I mean, it's not like Congress is trying to pass bills to provide retroactive immunity to Big Telecoms for illegally assisting the Bush administration in its warrantless spying program or anything. And they spent all that time and effort to restore Habeas Corpus. No, wait...that's not right.

I'm sorry, but I've totally lost faith in the current Democratic party and will not believe anything they say until they show some actual results. Why the hell are they wasting time on a non-binding resolution to condemn something that happened in a foreign country almost 100 years ago while ignoring the huge problems we're facing today? The fact that Democrats can't pass popular legislation like S-CHIP despite overwhelming support from the people indicates a serious leadership problem. I will continue to vote for Democratic candidates until the Republican party is a footnote in the history books (or the United States is, whichever comes first), but the Democrats I will vote for will be the ones who stand up for the people.

The effectiveness of coercion and torture

Yesterday I wrote what many of us have known for a long time: that torturing people to extract information does not make us more safe. This post by Steve Bergstein provides actual proof. Here is an extended excerpt from his post:

In addition to this blog, I also maintain a legal blog covering the civil rights decisions of the United States Court of Appeals in Manhattan. Last week, my eyes lit up when I checked the daily decisions and saw that one case involved a guy who claimed he was forced to confess to a crime that he did not commit. This scenario surfaces from time to time for murders and other crimes, but this case was different because it involved the crime of the century: the 9/11 hijackings which launched this country into a new era.

The long and the short of it was that an Egpytian national, Abdallah Higazy, was staying in a hotel in New York City on September 11 and the hotel emptied out when the planes hit the towers. The hotel later found in the closet of his room a device that allows you to communicate with airline pilots. Investigators thought this guy had something to do with 9/11 so they questioned him. According to Higazi, the investigators coerced him into confessing to a role in 9/11. Higazi first adamantly denied any involvement with 9/11 and could not believe what was happening to him. Then, he says, the investigator said his family would go through hell in Egypt, where they torture people like Saddam Hussein. Higazy then realized he had a choice: he could continue denying the radio was his and his family suffers ungodly torture in Egypt or he confesses and his family is spared. Of course, by confessing, Higazy's life is worth garbage at that point, but ... well, that's why coerced confessions are outlawed in the United States.

So Higazy "confesses" and he's processed by the criminal justice system. His future is quite bleak. Meanwhile, an airline pilot later shows up at the hotel and asks for his radio back. This is like something out of the movies. The radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazy, and Higazy was free to go, the victim of horrible timing. Higazi was innocent! He next sued the hotel and the FBI agent for coercing his confession. The bottom line in the Court of Appeals: Higazy has a case and may recover damages for this injustice.

As I read the opinion I realized it was a 44 page epic, too long for me to print out. I blogged about the opinion while I read it online and then posted the blog as I ate lunch. Then something strange happened: a few minutes after I posted the blog, the opinion vanished from the Court of Appeals website! I had never seen this before, and what made all the more strange was that it involved a coerced confession over 9/11. What the hell was going on?

I let some other legal bloggers know about this, particulary the How Appealing blog and Appellate Law and Practice. They both ran a commentary on the missing opinion. Then someone sent How Appealing a PDF of the decision (probably very few of them were floating around since the opinion was posted for a brief period of time) and How Appealing posted the decison.

Then things got even stranger. The Court of Appeals actually phoned How Appealing to request that he remove the opinion from his website since it contained classified information. The Court said that a revised opinion would come out the next day without the classified information. How Appealing actually refused to remove the opinion. Through it all, hundreds of people came to my legal blog to see my summary of the opinion. It was either my blog or printing out and reading a 44 page epic.

The next day, the Court of Appeals reissued the Higazy opinion. With a redaction. The court simply omitted from the revised decision facts about how the FBI agent extracted the false confession from Higazy. For some reason, this information is classified. Just as the opinion gets interesting, when we are about to learn how an FBI agent named Templeton squeezed the "truth" out of Higazy, the opinion reads at page 7: "This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy's statements were coerced."

So the opinion, while interesting, is much less interesting because now we don't know how the FBI extracts false confessions from people. Looking at things from another angle, we don't know how the FBI gets suspected terrorists to tell the truth. Except that we do know this, because the opinion is still available from the How Appealing website. The horse is out of the barn, and the classified portion of the opinion is embedded in the Internet for all eternity. Not only is this decision not to remove the premature opinion now a subject of debate (people tend to think that How Appealing did the right thing in keeping the opinion available), but now we can see the part of the ruling that the Court redacted:

Higazy alleges that during the polygraph, Templeton told him that he should cooperate, and explained that if Higazy did not cooperate, the FBI would make his brother “live in scrutiny” and would “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” Templeton later admitted that he knew how the Egyptian security forces operated: “that they had a security service, that their laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country where they don’t advise people of their rights, they don’t – yeah, probably about torture, sure.”

Higazy later said, "I knew that I couldn't prove my innocence, and I knew that my family was in danger." He explained that "[t]he only thing that went through my head was oh, my God, I am screwed and my family's in danger. If I say this device is mine, I'm screwed and my family is going to be safe. If I say this device is not mine, I’m screwed and my family’s in danger. And Agent Templeton made it quite clear that cooperate had to mean saying something else other than this device is not mine.”

Higazy explained why he feared for his family:

The Egyptian government has very little tolerance for anybody who is —they’re suspicious of being a terrorist. To give you an idea, Saddam’s security force—as they later on were called his henchmen—a lot of them learned their methods and techniques in Egypt; torture, rape, some stuff would be even too sick to . . . . My father is 67. My mother is 61. I have a brother who developed arthritis at 19. He still has it today. When the word ‘torture’ comes at least for my brother, I mean, all they have to do is really just press on one of these knuckles. I couldn’t imagine them doing anything to my sister.

And Higazy added:

[L]et’s just say a lot of people in Egypt would stay away from a family that they know or they believe or even rumored to have anything to do with terrorists and by the same token, some people who actually could be —might try to get to them and somebody might actually make a connection. I wasn’t going to risk that. I wasn’t going to risk that, so I thought to myself what could I say that he would believe. What could I say that’s convincing? And I said okay.

That's how they do it, folks. If a foreign national is suspected of terrorist activity, the FBI will threaten to have a brutal foreign government punish his family. And punishment in a place like Egypt is not like punishment here. Punishment here consists of solitary confinement and a very long prison term. Punishment over there is torture.

Now granted, physical torture was not applied in this case. The FBI did not go to work on Higazy with pliers and a blowtorch, but the results would have been the same if they had instead of just threatening to torture his family. What would you have done if you had been in this situation? Imagine if you were separated from your family and repeatedly told that your son was going to have his toenails ripped off, holes drilled through his hands with an electric drill, or his genitals crushed in a vice if you didn't say what your captors wanted to hear. What would you have confessed to? I know what I would've done.

Coercion and torture will make almost anyone confess to being the Easter Bunny. People will say and do anything to make the pain stop or to eliminate the threat. They will say whatever the "interrogator" wants to hear, whether it is the truth or not. Obviously, this does not help further our national interests on many levels. This is the lesson that our intelligence community should have learned from the Soviets and East Germans. Instead, they learned new and exciting techniques for applying pain.

So after the FBI went through all the effort to coerce Higazy into making a false confession, we find that they wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent tracking down real leads. I'll say it again for the hard of comprehending: torture does not make us safer. In the entire history of the world, the "ticking bomb" scenario that the wingnuts love to postulate has probably never happened. The assumption is that the person being tortured actually knows something pertinent, which we can see by the example above is patently false. Jack Bauer is a fictitious character in a television show and should not be used as a role model.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Tristero nail it

Valerie Plame Wilson will be down at the Lake tomorrow to discuss her new book, "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House". This undoubtedly has something to do with the timing of Tristero's newest post at Hullabaloo today.

There is a widely-held myth that liberals have no place in their worldview for serious consideration of national security issues. Two seconds of thought should be enough for anyone to realize that is an insane myth. Of course we care deeply about keeping our families and communities secure. Who wouldn't?

[...]

All of this is by way of introduction to the notorious Plame affair, notorious only because Novak and members of the Bush administration colluded in betraying their...No. Let's not talk about something as "abstract" as an entire country, where you see an ocean of faces, rather than individuals. Let's talk about that betrayal in the personal terms in which it should be discussed.

These unspeakable bastards - Novak, especially - betrayed your parents, your friends, and all your neighbors. Through their criminally irresponsible behavior, they quite literally made my daughter's life far more precarious than it had to be. And these scumbags are walking the streets, unpunished, unrepentant. And they dare to lecture me on my values, my patriotism, and my seriousness in protecting what I love.
This is something that the traditional media just can't seem to grasp. Suspending habeas corpus; kidnapping people and sending them to foreign countries to be tortured in secret prisons; illegally spying on citizens; starting preemptive wars based on lies against countries that pose no threat; and exposing critical top secret espionage operations for political payback do not make us more safe. How can 30 percent of the population not understand this?

We on the Angry Left are angry because we expect our elected officials to live up to their oath to defend and protect the Constitution. This is not tantamount to supporting terrorism by any definition. Each and every one of us Dirty F'in Libruls cares deeply about our country. This is why we are all so outraged to see the Bush administration doing everything in its power to turn it into the new Soviet Union.

Gonzales may be prosecuted?!?

It looks like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' little problem with the truth may be coming back to haunt him. According to the Spokesman Review,

The U.S. Inspector General may recommend criminal prosecution of departed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the conclusion of an investigation, possibly as early as next month, the fired former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, [John McKay], told a Spokane audience Friday.

[...]

Gonzales “lied about” reasons for the firings when questioned under oath in July by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now has hired a lawyer and is refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General, McKay said.

The White House said McKay was fired for poor performance ratings of his office, but the ex-U.S. attorney said he and his office got exemplary reviews just three months before he was fired.

“The chief law enforcement officer for the United States should not lie under oath,’’ McKay told the bar association.

It was reported last week that Gonzales has now retained a high-profile defense lawyer, and apparently is refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General, which could signify the investigation is nearly complete, McKay said.

“When it lands … it is going to be an extremely negative report on President Bush’s Justice Department,’’ McKay told the packed conference room, which included federal prosecutors and judges.

I was wondering if anything would ever come of the investigations into Gonzales. Most third graders are better liars than he is. Better stock up on popcorn, things could get interesting soon. Assuming that the fired US Attorneys are speaking the truth about the reasons they were fired, one has to wonder what the remaining 80+ did in order to keep their jobs.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Money well spent?

I was introduced to a cool site today. OpenSecrets.org tracks political contributions. A little browsing yields some interesting results. Take a look at where some of your favorite politicians get their money.

The site provides different ways to slice and dice the data. One view allows you to see what some individual corporations have spent. For instance, AT&T "contributed" more than $38 million to political campaigns between 1990 and 2006. In the same period, Verizon "contributed" more than $15 million, and BellSouth more than $14 million. In total, Telephone utilities have contributed over $106 million to political campaigns between 1990 and 2006.

Look through some of the aggregations and notice how some industries, like tobacco and pharmaceutical manufacturing, contribute to mostly Republican candidates while others, like labor unions, contribute almost exclusively to Democrats. The amount of money given to political campaigns by special interests is simply staggering. Just what do you suppose all that money buys? (Yes, I know that's a rhetorical question.)