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The Noose Tightens

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and other top Bush officials could soon face legal jeopardy.

By Jonathan Tepperman
Newsweek.com

The United States, like many countries, has a bad habit of committing wartime excesses and an even worse record of accounting for them afterward. But a remarkable string of recent events suggests that may finally be changing—and that top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse committed under their watch in the war on terror.

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration's extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo. Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld's behavior a "direct cause" of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—"we don't do torture," he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples.

High-level charges, if they come, would be a first in U.S. history. "Traditionally we've caught some poor bastard down low and not gone up the chain," says Burt Neuborne, a constitutional expert and Supreme Court lawyer at NYU. Prosecutions may well be forestalled if Bush issues a blanket pardon in his final days, as Neuborne and many other experts now expect. (Some see Cheney's recent defiant-sounding admission of his own role in approving waterboarding as an attempt to force Bush's hand.)...(Click for remainder).

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Three Questions About Rick Warren's Role in the Inauguration

If we must have an officiating priest, surely we can do better than this vulgar huckster.

By Christopher Hitchens
Slate.com

It is theoretically possible to make an apparently bigoted remark that is also factually true and morally sound. Thus, when the Rev. Bailey Smith, one of the deputies of the late Jerry Falwell, claimed that "God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew," I was in complete agreement with him. This is because I do not believe that there is any supernatural supervisor who lends an ear to any prayer.

In the same way, if someone publicly charges that "Mormonism is a cult," it is impossible to say that the claim by itself is mistaken or untrue. However, if the speaker says that heaven is a real place but that you will not get there if you are Jewish, or that Mormonism is a cult and a false religion but that other churches and faiths are the genuine article, then you know that the bigot has spoken. That's all in a day's work for the wonderful world of the American evangelical community, and one wishes them all the best of luck in their energetic fundraising and their happy-clappy Sunday "Churchianity" mega-feel-good fiestas. However, do we want these weirdos and creeps officiating in any capacity at the inauguration of the next president of the United States?

It is a fact that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., was present at a meeting of the Aspen Institute not long ago and was asked by Lynda Resnick—she of the pomegranate-juice dynasty—if a Jew like herself could expect to be admitted to paradise. Warren publicly told her no. What choice did he have? His own theology says that only those who accept Jesus can hope to be saved. I have just missed the chance to debate on CBS with one of Warren's leading allies and defenders, the Dallas preacherman who calls himself Dr. Robert Jeffress. In the opinion of this learned fellow, even though Mitt Romney "talks about Jesus as his lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity."...(Click for remainder).

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What the Justice Department is Hiding

By Scott Horton
The Daily Beast

When a former Alabama governor was convicted for selling public offices, it set off an investigation into improper conduct at the Justice Department that leads directly to the White House.

The most dramatic political prosecution in the 21st century—involving a former governor in Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Bush White House and Justice Department—has been rocked by incriminating new disclosures by a knowledgeable career Justice Department staff member who has provided information charging serious misconduct by the prosecutors.

Among other disclosures shattering the credibility of the case, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary’s “recusal” for conflict of interest is revealed as a sham. Moreover, The Daily Beast has learned, the matter has touched off concerns within the Justice Department over efforts to sweep accusations of unethical conduct under the carpet.

With the Obama transition in full swing, the Justice Department is rushing to conclude a number of internal probes dealing with serious questions about the conduct of political appointees. One of the most troubling of these comes out of Montgomery, Alabama, where a U.S. Attorney with close ties to Karl Rove and her husband, then advising a Republican candidate for the Alabama statehouse, undertook one of the most audacious political prosecutions in recent history: knocking off the Democratic opponent, former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman.

Before his prosecution and conviction on federal charges, Siegelman was the most successful Democrat on Alabama’s political stage in the era after George C. Wallace. He was convicted more than two years ago on political corruption charges after a jury deliberated nine days and was initially deadlocked. Siegelman is now set to argue his appeal in Atlanta on December 9.

But even before the appeal is argued, the prosecution’s key evidence has been broadly attacked as unreliable and false and the prosecution itself has become the target of a Congressional probe and is the subject of demands for disciplinary action. Remarkably, however, the Bush Justice Department has reacted by covering-up the prosecutorial misconduct, which has connections that lead straight to the Bush White House....(Click for remainder).

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Karl Rove Destroyed My Life

By Paul Alexander
The Daily Beast

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman blames Republican dirty tricks for the nine months he spent in prison. He talks to the Daily Beast’s Paul Alexander about clearing his name, anger at Rove—and mopping prison floors. Plus, read Scott Horton’s piece on What the Justice Department is Hiding.

Last week, Al Gore sent an email message urging supporters to give money to Don Siegelman’s legal defense fund. Gore is the latest in a string of high profile supporters to suggest Siegelman, the former Governor of Alabama, was the victim of a Republican plot when he was found guilty of bribery, conspiracy and fraud in 2006, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Now, in the waning days of the Bush administration, Siegelman is trying to win back his freedom—not to mention his good name—in a courtroom in Atlanta. Earlier this year, an appeals court granted his release after he had served nine months, saying the Governor’s appeal had raised “substantial questions” about the case against him. Siegelman’s cause was helped by a bipartisan group of 54 former state attorneys general from across the country who filed a federal appeals brief supporting his bid to overturn the conviction. Republican insiders have also come forward to say Siegelman was unfairly targeted by Rove and his circle.

Siegelman’s appeal was heard earlier this month and the verdict will determine whether he returns to prison to finish out his sentence, or goes free.
How did a former governor—and a rising star in the Democratic Party—end up in a situation like this?

On June 29, 2006, Siegelman and Richard Scrushy, the CEO of HealthSouth, a chain of medical rehabilitation services with facilities both in the United States and abroad, were found guilty by a jury in Montgomery, Alabama, of federal bribery charges. A year later, Judge Mark Fuller, who had clear conflicts of interest in the case—a company in which he holds a major stake received a $175 million government contract at one point during the legal proceedings—sentenced Scrushy to almost seven years in prison. Siegelman got 88 months....(Click for remainder).

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