In Promoting “Pro-Life” Talking Points, Bill O’Reilly Smears Dr. Tiller, Kathleen Sebelius, and American Women
On Monday night's (April 27th) "Reality Check" segment, Bill O'Reilly continued his smear of Dr. Tiller and Kathleen Sebelius. But it really isn't surprising given that Fox News provides a forum for the talking points of the conservative Christian right wing and the number one issue for that group is abortion. Poor Bill just can't deal with the fact that Dr. Tiller continues to perform legal, late term abortions – despite Bill's ongoing incendiary rhetoric that includes the catch phrase "Tiller the baby killer" – which is, from a legal perspective, totally erroneous as Dr. Tiller was recently acquitted of performing illegal abortions. And despite Bill's last little smear of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, her nomination for Secretary of Health of Human Services was approved, yesterday, by the Senate in a 65 to 31 vote. But in smearing Tiller and Sebelius, O'Reilly also smeared women who, for whatever reasons, opt to have late term abortions.
O'Reilly wanted to let viewers know that Sebelius recently vetoed a bill restricting late term abortions in Kansas which, according to Bill, was introduced "because of the notorious 'Tiller the baby killer' where Dr. Tiller destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000." He added that Sebelius is "one of the most pro-abortion politicians." Like the Fox News "Grapevine," this little tid-bit provided maximum propaganda with minimum fact. If Bill were a responsible "journalist," he would have provided the salient detail that Sebelius felt that the bill contained provisions that might be unconstitutional, one of which would allow a woman or immediate relatives to sue an abortion provider suspected of violating the state abortions law. She stated that "The provisions in this bill that would allow for the criminal prosecution of a physician intending to comply with the law will lead to the intimidation of health care providers and reduce access to comprehensive health care for women, even when it is necessary to preserve their lives and health. While I agree that we should try to reduce the number of abortions, it cannot be at the increased risk to the life or health of women." Ah, there's the rub, "intimidation" of health care providers – something near and dear to O'Reilly and his anti-choice zealots who want to create a climate in which fewer doctors perform abortions which would thus limit a woman's reproductive options. And intimidation does seem to be part of Bill's "journalism" playbook....(Click for remainder.)
One criticism of Arlen Specter I don't quite get, at least coming from liberals, is that his party switch reflects poorly on his character. Glenn Greenwald and Jon Chait, who don't actually agree on all that much, respectively call him "soul-less", and an "unprincipled hack".
Of course this is true, in so far as it goes. Specter has not been shifting to the left gradually over time, as one might expect from someone whose ideology was slowly "maturing". Rather, according to DW-NOMINATE data, he's actually moved slightly to the right in recent years, along with the rest of the Republican Party.
But if you're a Democrat, would you really want Arlen Specter to be anything other than a soulless, unprincipled hack? If Specter were more concerned about self-consistency -- and less about self-preservation -- he'd probably still be a Republican right now. Moreover, Democrats had better hope that Specter is as nakedly power-hungry as possible, because his best move from the standpoint of self-preservation is probably not merely to become a Democrat but to become a reasonably liberal one, along the lines of Bob Casey Jr.
There are, of course, two things you can do with a politician whose views you disagree with. The first thing is to elect him out of office; the second is to apply pressure -- whether moral, intellectual, political, or financial -- to get him to change those positions. In this case, the pressure placed upon Specter seems to have worked! True, we do not yet know exactly which positions he'll be changing along with his party label. He says he won't be changing his position on EFCA, for instance -- ironically, this is probably because he just flip-flopped that very issue last month. But the odds are very high that he'll be changing on at least some, reasonably important issues....(Click for remainder.)
By Jed Lewison
Daily Kos TV
Michelle Bachmann has said some dumb things, but this is truly impressive. As Eric Kleefeld points out:
1. There is no Hoot-Smalley. It’s Smoot-Hawley.
2. Smoot and Hawley were Republicans, not Democrats.
3. Herbert Hoover signed the legislation, not FDR.
4. Unemployment was already at 25% when FDR took office.
Crazy thing is, most wingers are thrilled to have Bachmann on their team.
The Daily Beast
The frenzy over Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties has only just begun. As usual whenever there is major political news, my email inbox explodes with reader reactions. One in particular stood out: “You are not a new face for the Republican Party. You are the problem with the Republican Party. If you'd like to be a feel-good liberal, there's a party for you. Do like Specter and stop wrecking the GOP. Your 15 minutes are about up.” (This was from Shawn in Oceanside, California.)
It’s one thing to say that about me, but it’s another to attack Sen. Specter—the longest-serving U.S. senator from Pennsylvania (he was first elected in 1980), and a man who has stood for some of the best elements of the Republican Party for decades. Granted, he has at times been a very vocal critic of conservative leaders and policies. But Specter has never shied away from putting the needs of his constituents first, nor has he ever been deterred from ruffling the feathers of some of the GOP's elite in order to do so.
For the record, less than 20 percent of my emails are negative in nature. But messages like the one I received from Shawn illustrate why Sen. Specter may have felt there was no more room for him in today's Republican Party. I certainly know the feeling. Being in the spotlight these last few months has been enlightening in so many ways. And I regularly hear from thousands of amazingly encouraging supporters, from 40-year-old mothers to 79-year-old retired Marine Corps veterans. But then there are the Shawns of the world. I don’t blame him personally for his opinion. It’s the unfortunate, still-unraveling mess left in the wake of “strategic” decisions made by conservative leaders over the last decade.
Which brings me back to the Specter incident, how it illustrates what’s wrong with the party, and why I so strongly believe that what people like me are saying matters....(Click for remainder.)
Sean Hannity, the white supremacist sympathizer, stuck up for those poor persecuted white people again on last night's (4/28/09) Hannity. In the Hannity's America segment, Hannity gloated about the "sweet" revenge soon to be wreaked on Janeane Garofalo for her "racist" comments about teabaggers. With video.
Hannity gleefully stated that Garofalo would get a "heavy dose" of sweet revenge when she appears at a comedy festival next week. Hannity didn't bother to hide his delight as he announced that "supporters" of the Boston tea party protests are planning to attend one of her performances "and they plan to give her a piece of their mind as a result of these disgraceful comments." For the zillionth time on Fox, I saw Garofalo say that the tea parties were "about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up."
I admit it's not a statement I'd make but it strikes me as a far sight less disgraceful than this statement by Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson on Hannity & Colmes last summer: "Most blacks, not all but most in Tennessee, especially in the Memphis, Tennessee area, are still living in the 50's and 60's. They are so racist that they don't even realize that white Americans have moved on." Hannity not only didn't challenge that statement, he cut off the other guest who tried to respond.
Peterson has made lots of similar comments on the air with Hannity, including these comments about a prominent black minister in NYC who said, "Go to hell, white man" to Rudy Giuliani (the two have long since reconciled). Peterson said, "Had a white Republican said that about a black man, then they would be burning down the country… White Republican conservatives are not allowed to speak out. But because these people are black, people are black Democrats, they are allowed to get away with it."...(Click for remainder.)
By Scott Horton
Judge Jay Bybee has been conspicuously absent from the discussion about his most famous opinions—not the ones he issued from the bench, but those he uttered just before leaving the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Those opinions gave the green light to the use of a series of torture techniques on specific prisoners held by the CIA. But today, Jay Bybee has spoken. He responded to questions from the New York Times:
“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.”Count me among the unconvinced. First, I believe that one consideration is guiding Judge Bybee here: self-defense. He fully appreciates the threat of a criminal investigation and demands for his impeachment. He’s a sharp enough lawyer to appreciate that with respect to criminal conduct in connection with the issuance of an opinion, he has one pillar to which he can cling: the claim that the opinions expressed were formed in good faith, whether right or wrong. If he can’t sustain that proposition, he’s in deep trouble. Hence his statements to the Times. They are utterly predictable....(Click for remainder.)
Other administration lawyers agreed with those conclusions, Judge Bybee said. “The legal question was and is difficult,” he said. “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.”
There is so much truth in this cartoon. Maybe the wingnuts on the extreme right, and the tinfoil hat crowd on the extreme left should keep this in mind.
By John Sherffius
Boulder Daily Camera
Campaign for America's Future
Grading a president after 100 days always strikes me as presumptuous. The only real grade is an incomplete. And as good teachers will tell you, letter grades—as opposed to written evaluations—are inherently arbitrary and misleading.
One thing is clear. If we're grading on a curve, Barack Obama ranks near the top, just below FDR. In changing course, getting bold things done, setting a tone, lifting our spirits and confidence, we haven't seen anything like this since Roosevelt. Even Reagan, the great communicator, had a much harder time in his early days, starting with the limousine gridlock of his inaugural. He had to get shot to move his agenda.
Rather than just grading the president, I suggest we might profitably assess our own 100 days. Obama has stormed the national and world stages in his first weeks. But how have we done—particularly the progressives who have such a large stake in the success of this president—in relation to Obama? He has demonstrated remarkable mastery of the powers of the presidency to lead the country. Have we mastered the power of the citizenry to empower the president?
There is sophisticated organizing being done in support of Obama's agenda. New organizations—most notably the 13-million person Obama for America—and old have joined together to mobilize citizens around the president's key initiatives. Major groups with large memberships—from unions to MoveOn, community and citizen action networks—have coordinated target lists, messaging and activities. Increasingly their attention is focused on herding Democrats, which will intensify as Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to switch jerseys makes Republicans even less relevant.
Similarly, on core issues—health care reform, new energy, college affordability, immigration, empowering workers—large independent efforts are underway. The unions and other progressive groups are taking on the corporate lobby over the Employee Free Choice Act. Health Care for America Now! leads a range of coalitions pushing health care reform. Environment and labor groups have been actively mobilizing around green jobs and new energy....(Click for remainder.)
By Michelle Cottle, Michael Crowley, Bradford Plumer, Noam Scheiber, and Jason Zengerle
The New Republic
The presidency isn't supposed to be easy--but the sheer tonnage of catastrophe that has been heaped on Barack Obama in his first 100 days is astounding. As Michael Crowley put it, "Two wars, economic collapse, and now a possible global pandemic. When do the locusts arrive?" Never, hopefully. But that doesn't mean that Obama's second 100 days will be any easier. Below, five TNR staffers--some cheekily, some not--speculate on what fresh hell awaits Obama as spring stretches into summer.
Michael Crowley--In an interview with "60 Minutes" last month, Obama called Iraq "the least of my problems." And, indeed, his first 100 days have been blessed by a relative calm there. But that may be changing. Yesterday's gruesome double car bombing, killing at least 41 people, was just the latest in a recent series of deadly attacks. Visiting Baghdad this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed the latest violence as "a signal that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction"--a phrase alarmingly reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld's misguided talk of "dead-enders." In fact, the recent wave of suicide attacks suggest that the Iraqi security forces may not yet be prepared to protect the country without substantial American help. And they are a reminder that peace in Iraq, such as it is, is tenuous indeed. Mammoth disputes have yet to be resolved, such as the distribution of oil revenue and control of oil-rich Kirkuk--questions over which many Iraqis are more than willing to shed blood.
Obama has pledged to have all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of August 2010, and the Iraqi government has asked America to leave the country by then. But if the country should again slide towards anarchy, that plan might well change. Iraq could plead with Obama to stay, confronting him with a grueling choice. Although Obama pledged repeatedly as a candidate to "end the war," he did so at a time when Iraq seemed like a lost cause. Now that the past year or so has demonstrated that Iraq can be stable and secure, accepting a plunge back into chaos is a different proposition. (Recent experience has also undermined Obama's past argument that U.S. troops were a root cause of instability in the country.) However, if Obama is determined to prevent Afghanistan from collapsing, he'll need tens of thousands of troops relocated from Iraq. Given the size of the military, troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are close to a zero-sum game.
Faced with this quandary--one of his own making, to be sure--George W. Bush concluded that stabilizing Iraq, with its natural resources and its strategic location, was a higher priority than stabilizing Afghanistan. Until recently it looked as though Obama could enjoy the inheritance of stability in Iraq and create it in Afghanistan. But in the months to come he may have to make the terrible choice anew....(Click for remainder.)
The Colorado Independent
A North Carolina Republican called the idea that Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay “a hoax” in the debate currently under way on the floor of the House of Representatives over legislation to expand federal hate-crimes law to cover sexual orientation.
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, speaking against the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, or the Matthew Shepard Act, called Shepard’s 1999 murder “a very unfortunate incident” committed during a robbery, despite the admission of Shepard’s killers that they lured him from a bar by pretending they were gay.
Here’s what Foxx said on the House floor:
“The hate crimes bill that’s called the Matthew Shepard bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. This — the bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”Media Matters posts the video of Foxx calling Shepard’s murder “a hoax”:
(Click for remainder.)
The Huffington Post
Today is President Obama's 100th day in office. Despite the flood of commentary this anniversary invites, the number means little because the world moves according to its own dynamic, unwedded to any calendar.
We should not forget that, although every new American president inherits headaches, President Obama inherited the entire emergency room. The list of perils includes the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes; hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; an ongoing confrontation with al Qaeda; rising nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran; a broken Middle East Peace Process; a potential flu pandemic; the lack of effective international policies on energy and climate change; and that scourge of the 21st century -- Barbary Pirates with cell phones.
The administration is called to meet these challenges despite a depleted treasury, an over-stretched military, an impatient American public, and a deeply divided world. Objectively, the president's job is impossible and certainly, success on many fronts will not be evident in the next one hundred or even the first one thousand days of his term. The fair question is whether, under his leadership, we have begun moving in the right direction.
The answer is yes. First, the president has assembled a strong and experienced national security team. Leaders such as Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton will not shy away from hard problems nor refrain from telling the president what he needs to know. Second, Mr. Obama has hit the right notes internationally by extending an open hand to every country, while showing that he is willing to maintain tough policies where required.
Third, he has made good use of his time -- sitting down with neighbors, touching base with allies, reaching out to potential adversaries, and assigning some of our nation's best diplomats to work on the globe's most complicated challenges. Fourth, he has taken steps to restore America's reputation as a leader on the environment and international law.
Finally, he has wisely avoided the trap of offering a bumper sticker slogan to characterize his approach to the world. Mr. Obama knows that success in foreign policy is usually relative, that few victories are permanent, and that lasting gains require a long term effort. In this context, a slogan can easily become a straitjacket, while the flexibility to approach each issue on its own terms is essential. Pragmatism is both a habit of mind and a strategic necessity....(Click for remainder.)
The Raw Story
President Barack Obama said unequivocally Wednesday that waterboarding is torture and violates American values, adding that ending the practice has strengthened the United States.
Asked during his “100th Day” news conference whether the Bush administration sanctioned torture, Obama said: “I believe that waterboarding was torture…That’s the opinion of many who have examined the topic.”
Obama did not say, and was not asked by reporters, whether Bush administration officials who approved so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques should be held accountable for allowing illegal actions.
He has tread carefully on the subject since ordering the release of four “torture memos” justifying the interrogation techniques earlier this month, saying that Attorney General Eric Holder would ultimately decide whether to prosecute former officials. Last week, Holder said that “no one is above the law” and that his department would “follow the evidence.”
At the Wednesday evening press conference, Obama said that the American people will eventually recognize that banning torture enhances the U.S. position worldwide. Obama said the prohibition takes away a recruitment tool for al-Qaida and puts the U.S. in a stronger position with allies.
The important point, he said, is not whether torture could yield valuable information from terror suspects, but whether that information could be obtained through other methods.
“We could have gotten this information in other ways,” he said. “In ways that are consistent with our values….In ways that were consistent with who we are.”...(Click for remainder.)
The Huffington Post
As car companies lined up in Washington, DC last November for the first round of federal bailout money - in San Francisco we announced another way - our comprehensive plan to make the San Francisco Bay Area the "Electric Vehicle (EV) Capital of the US."
Our efforts to advance electric vehicles are not limited to San Francisco. We've engaged the entire Bay Area - a region of 7.3 million people - to make our region the cornerstone of the coming market for EVs. Not just governments, but key companies, business associations, policy advocates, and international car and EV infrastructure companies are all working together to make the San Francisco Bay Area the EV Capital of the U.S.
Now our neighbors to the north, Portland are challenging us for EV supremacy. This type of competition symbolizes what is best about our region and our country. If we were able to put a man on the moon, we most certainly can create a new generation of cars that do not run on fossil fuels. We've done it before. I owned one of the EV1's from Saturn in the 1990s. Now EV companies are sprouting up all over the country from Fisker Automotive to Better Place to Bright Automotive.
Portland and San Francisco have been battling for the title of the most sustainable city for years. We welcome Portland's latest challenge and hope that this EV competition will spread across the country, creating thousands of new jobs and helping establish the United States as an EV leader. In turn this will transform our automotive industry and combat climate change by reducing green house gas emissions....(Click for remainder.)
The Financial Times
Congress on Wednesday passed a $3,400bn budget resolution that laid the foundation for healthcare reform and a series of other Democratic policy goals, handing President Barack Obama a key victory on his 100th day in office.
The plan sailed through the House and Senate with overwhelming Democratic support but not a single Republican backed the measure, highlighting deep partisan division over a budget that would sharply increase government spending and expand the national debt.
The budget resolution is a nonbinding blueprint and more tough debate remains ahead before the plan is fleshed out in final appropriations and taxation legislation over the summer.
But Wednesday’s votes demonstrated strong Democratic backing for most of Mr Obama’s budget proposals, including healthcare reform and investments in education and green energy.
”This budget was hugely important to the president. This is the starting point for everything he wants to do,” said Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
”For every one of his key priorities, reducing dependence on foreign energy, making possible healthcare reform, a focus on excellence in education, none of those things could have been pursued effectively without this budget.”
The House approved the resolution on a vote of 233-193, while the Senate voted 53-43.
In addition to every Republican, 17 House Democrats and four Senate Democrats voted against the budget plan, highlighting anxiety among party moderates over the ballooning budget deficit....(Click for remainder.)
The Colorado Independent
An impassioned U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey invoked the brutal murders of gay college student Matthew Shepard and transgender Greeley woman Angie Zapata in her remarks Wednesday afternoon supporting federal hate-crimes legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“Matthew Shepard and Angie Zapata were two victims of hate crimes in my district,” the Fort Collins Democrat said during debate on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also called the Matthew Shepard Act. “I have a duty to their memory that I take seriously.”
The bill, which adds gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crime law, passed the House on a 249-175 vote and heads to the Senate. President Barack Obama has said he supports the legislation, which has been introduced in Congress regularly since Shepard’s murder in 1999.
Markey pointed out that Shepard died in Fort Collins and Zapata, whose killer was convicted on state hate-crime charges last week, was beaten to death in Greeley. The two cities are the population centers of the sprawling 4th Congressional District, which also covers most of eastern Colorado.
Here’s Markey’s speech:
(Click for remainder.)
President Obama met with the Chinese Foreign Minister today in the Oval Office. Prior to the meeting, the Foreign Minister met with National Security Advisor Jones and also met yesterday at the State Department with Secretary of State Clinton.
During today’s meeting, President Obama and Foreign Minister Yang discussed the overall state of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, emphasizing the desire of both sides to strengthen cooperation and build a positive and constructive U.S.-China relationship.
The two also discussed other important global issues, including the international financial crisis, North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the situation in Sudan. The President also stressed the importance of raising the level and frequency of the U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue in order to avoid future incidents. General Jones had also raised the recent incident in the South China Sea with the USNS Impeccable.
On the international financial crisis, the two agreed that China and the U.S. must work closely and urgently, as two of the world’s leading economies, to stabilize the global economy by stimulating demand at home and abroad, and get credit markets flowing. The President also emphasized the need to address global trade imbalances.
On human rights, the President noted that the promotion of human rights is an essential aspect of U.S. global foreign policy. The President expressed his hope there would be progress in the dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.
On North Korea, the President expressed appreciation for the important role China has played as the Chair of the Six-Party Talks. He said we will continue to work with China and other partners in the Six-Party process to verifiably eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. The President also highlighted the risks posed by North Korea’s missile program.
On Darfur, President Obama expressed his deep concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the Government of Sudan’s decision to expel major humanitarian organizations that had been providing lifesaving assistance to the people of Darfur.
By Melissa McEwan
In which the author imagines the first 100 days of a McCain presidency in an alternate universe.
Day 1: Having spent the nearly three months between election day and inauguration day being brought up to speed by Dick Cheney on effective concealment strategies for the Bush administration's plethoric dirty secrets and giving Vice President Sarah Palin a crash-course in introduction to government, President McCain does not hit the ground running. He is stunned to find out that the September suspension of his campaign did not magically solve the financial crisis and that the fundamentals of the economy are not strong.
Day 2: President McCain nominates the only Republican willing to accept the position as secretary of the Treasury, whose appointment is fast-tracked through Congress in light of the growing economic crisis.
Day 3: Treasury secretary Ron Paul promptly disbands the department of the Treasury.
Days 4-18: The stock markets crash, precipitating a run on the banks, which in turn hastens the financial collapse. Mass chaos erupts across the country. Vice President Palin blames the economic catastrophe on University of Illinois professor William Ayers and calls for his execution. Texas announces its secession from the union. Chuck Norris is elected president of Texistan.
Day 19: President McCain tries to restore order by giving a televised speech which will later become known as the "My Friends, We're Fucked" debacle.
Day 20: Dick Cheney shoots President McCain in the face.
Day 21: President McCain apologizes to Dick Cheney for all the trouble his being shot in the face has caused the former vice president....(Click for remainder.)
Edge New England
The New Hampshire state Senate’s vote today to legalize same-sex marriage. The Senate voted 13-11, on a second reading, in favor of an amended version of a bill that had passed the House last month by a 186-179 vote.
Since the Senate voted on an amended version, the bill will return to the House again, where it is expected to pass.
The Union-Leader, the state’s major newspaper, quoted Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Deborah Reynolds, who opposed the bill, as saying voters in her district favored it. She said the added wording "gives everyone in the state the right to seek a civil marriage ... This is a compromise that is respectful to both sides in this debate and meets our shared goals of equality in state laws for all the people of New Hampshire. The people of this sate share the core values of equality for all, tolerance and acceptance regardless of our differences."
The Senate Republicans voted as a block against it, but Sen. Matthew Houde expressed the view that younger voters have accepted gay marriage as a given. "This is not a question of ’if’ for me. It’s a question of ’when,’" Houde told the Union-Leader. "We should be eager to be on the right side of this issue."
New Hampshire already allowed civil unions. That took effect a year ago.
"Just one month ago, there were only two states where same-sex couples could marry," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a statement. "Now, with this vote in New Hampshire, we are on the verge of having five states that recognize marriage equality for same-sex couples. It’s been quite a month, and we look forward to more states joining this group."...(Click for remainder.)
Howard Stern issued a strong message of support for gay people on his show today, in only the way Howard can. I've edited out some of the dirty bits, but here is some of it:
"My feeling about gay people is that we have a responsibility not only to make gay marriage acceptable and to make gays feel accepted as much as heterosexuals...Gay people are downtrodden They are beaten. They are abused for their sexuality, and it goes across race. In the white community and the black community gay people are the bastards of the world. And in order for things to change, because any one of you could have gay children, or gay relatives, or gay friends...we have a responsibility to make this acceptable, to get all this bullshit so that some gay kid going to high school doesn't get the shit beaten out of him just because he's gay...I'm as heterosexual as they come. What is this hang-up about gay marriage? Who cares? Get on with your life!"(Click for original.)
Andrew Sullivan makes what I think is a definitive point in the barbaric "debate" over whether torture "works".
Think back to a time during World War II, when thousands of British citizens were dying a bloody death every day at the hands of the Axis powers. You can't get much closer to a "ticking time bomb" scenario than that, right?
So, what dastardly measures did Churchill's chief interrogator resort to, in the face of the imminent death of hundreds of thousands of his country's citizens?
Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens was the commander of the wartime spy prison and interrogation centre codenamed Camp 020, an ugly Victorian mansion surrounded by barbed wire on the edge of Ham Common. In the course of the war, some 500 enemy spies from 44 countries passed through Camp 020; most were interrogated, at some point, by Stephens; all but a tiny handful crumbled.(Click for remainder.)
Stephens was a bristling, xenophobic martinet; in appearance, with his glinting monocle and cigarette holder, he looked exactly like the caricature Gestapo interrogator who has “vays of making you talk”.
Stephens had ways of making anyone talk. In a top secret report, recently declassified by MI5 and now in the Public Records Office, he listed the tactics needed to break down a suspect: “A breaker is born and not made . . . pressure is attained by personality, tone, and rapidity of questions, a driving attack in the nature of a blast which will scare a man out of his wits.”
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The New York Times
MADRID (AP) -- Spain's top investigative magistrate opened an investigation into the Bush administration Wednesday over alleged torture of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
Judge Baltasar Garzon said documents declassified by the new U.S. government suggest the practice was systematic.
Garzon said he was acting under Spain's observance of the principle of universal justice, which allows crimes allegedly committed in other countries to be prosecuted in Spain.
Garzon's move is separate from a complaint by human rights lawyers that seeks charges against six specific Bush administration officials they accuse of creating a legal framework to permit torture of suspects at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention facilities.
Spanish prosecutors on April 17 said any such probe should be carried out by the U.S. and recommended against it being launched in Spain. Garzon originally had that case, but ultimately it was transferred to another judge....(Click for remainder.)
Four Times Married, Drunk Driving, Drug Addicted, Tax Evading, Ex-Con Marion Berry Calls Gay Marriage Immoral
The Raw Story
Texas Governor Rick Perry’s request for the federal government to provide his state with 37,430 courses of anti-flu medication from the national stockpile has come under fire in light of his earlier resistance to accepting federal stimulus money.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was particularly scathing in an interview Monday with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about Perry’s urgency over a handful of swine flu cases in his state compared with his lack of concern for the far larger number of unemployed.
“Give me everything but unemployment insurance!” Newsom mocked. “Everything else, but not the thing that my constituencies need the most!”
“Do you feel like where the Republican Party is at ideologically hurts their leaders’ ability to do good, practical governance?” Maddow asked.
“I think it’s self-evident,” Newsome replied. “Republican registration [in California] is way down. We have a governor that, candidly, is acting more like a Democrat each and every day.”
“What’s frustrating with Perry and some others,” Newsom continued, “is I don’t think they’re dealing with the reality of the needs and the desires and the frustrations of real people ”
One conservative blogger, however, defended Perry’s request for anti-flu medications, writing that “requesting part of Texas allotment of vaccine units is sort of like asking the dry cleaners for your clothes back after a week. The clothes are yours. You’ve already paid. Now you’re just picking them up. Texas is just picking up the dry cleaning in this case, not begging for the feds to save us.”...(Click for remainder.)
By Media Matters
Chrysler may give union 55% stake instead of $10.6bn to provide healthcare after Obama administration piles pressure on carmaker.
By Andrew Clark
Chrysler's largest trade union could end up owning 55% of the ailing carmaker under a tentative deal intended to save the cash-strapped 84-year-old company from bankruptcy and possible liquidation.
With just 48 hours to go before a deadline set by the Obama administration to prove its viability, the third largest US motor manufacturer yesterday agreed the outlines of an arrangement to carve itself up between the union, the US government, lenders and its likely technology-sharing partner, Fiat.
Under the pact, the United Auto Workers Union would take a majority share in the company and would get a seat on the board – an unprecedented arrangement which would turn the firm effectively into an owner-operated enterprise.
In return for shares in Chrysler, the UAW will allow the company to cut by half the $10.6bn it is supposed to be investing in a union-run trust to provide healthcare for retired workers.
In a letter made public last night, the UAW's leadership asked members to accept changes to bonuses, overtime, job security agreements and health benefits. It warned that unless workers agreed, the US government would withdraw financial support and Chrysler faced "immediate liquidation".
"These modifications to our contract and to the [healthcare] trust are essential to securing federal loans to keep Chrysler in business so that we can keep manufacturing jobs here in the United States and, more importantly, live to fight another day," wrote the UAW's president, Ron Gettelfinger, and vice-president, General Holiefield....(Click for remainder.)
By Alan Brinkley
The New Republic
There is no very good reason to judge a new president by his first 100 days. Some of our greatest presidents accomplished little in their first months. Some of our least successful had impressive beginnings. But ever since the New Deal trumpeted the successes of its own first 100 days, it has been common to take note of what subsequent presidents have done in the same period. President Obama is aware of the history. He read books about Roosevelt's first 100 days before he took office, and some members of his team have referred often to what they hoped to accomplish in their first months. So it makes more than usual sense to consider what the new administration has accomplished in this short but significant period--one that has been less frenetic than Franklin Roosevelt's, but in some ways more productive. (For photographs from Obama's first 100 days, click here.)
Franklin Roosevelt was a dynamo of energy in his first 100 days, and the frenzy of activity that he created was itself important in building confidence and optimism in the face of growing panic. Roosevelt's inaugural address promised "action, and action now." He made liberal use of radio, the first president to have done so, to make sure that Americans were aware of what he was doing. But most of all, he passed legislation--lots of it, and not all of it good.
One of his first bills, the Economy Act, reduced government spending in such areas as veteran benefits and the salaries of federal employees--and it actually exacerbated the nation's greatest problem, deflation. The National Industrial Recovery Act, the most popular legislative achievement of Roosevelt's first 100 days, created a corporatist behemoth that also promoted deflation by artificially increasing prices without increasing incomes. Its failure was visible well before the Supreme Court struck it down in 1935.
But in those early days, Roosevelt did more good than harm. He saved the financial system from collapse, almost certainly the most important event in the first 100 days, and perhaps in the first two years, of the administration. The "banking holiday" he declared immediately after his inauguration, the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act (which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and whose repeal in 1999 is often blamed for much of our own present crisis), and the birth of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the undermining of which in recent years contributed to the financial collapse)--together, these measures helped the nation's financial institutions to survive, even if they did not immediately flourish. Other New Deal measures in these first months helped create a significant public works program, jobs for the unemployed, relief for people in need, and aid to the staggering farm economy....(Click for remainder.)
By Sen. Olympia Snowe
Op-Ed The New York Times
IT is disheartening and disconcerting, at the very least, that here we are today — almost exactly eight years after Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party — witnessing the departure of my good friend and fellow moderate Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, for the Democratic Party. And the announcement of his switch was all the more painful because I believe it didn’t have to be this way.
When Senator Jeffords became an independent in 2001, I said it was a sad day for the Republicans, but it would be even sadder if we failed to confront and learn from the devaluation of diversity within the party that contributed to his defection. I also noted that we were far from the heady days of 1998, when Republicans were envisioning the possibility of a filibuster-proof 60-vote margin. (Recall that in the 2000 election, most pundits were shocked when Republicans lost five seats, resulting in a 50-50 Senate.)
I could have hardly imagined then that, in 2009, we would fondly reminisce about the time when we were disappointed to fall short of 60 votes in the Senate. Regrettably, we failed to learn the lessons of Jim Jeffords’s defection in 2001. To the contrary, we overreached in interpreting the results of the presidential election of 2004 as a mandate for the party. This resulted in the disastrous elections of 2006 and 2008, which combined for a total loss of 51 Republicans in the House and 13 in the Senate — with a corresponding shift of the Congressional majority and the White House to the Democrats.
It was as though beginning with Senator Jeffords’s decision, Republicans turned a blind eye to the iceberg under the surface, failing to undertake the re-evaluation of our inclusiveness as a party that could have forestalled many of the losses we have suffered....(Click for remainder.)
Right-Wing Gutter Snipe, Michelle Malkin, & Pathetic Snooze-Meister, Michael Savage, Use Swine Flu to Pebble Xenophobia
By Joshua Holland
In the middle of the 14th century, the plague swept across Europe, leaving death and despair in its wake. A terrified and confused population blamed the Jews -- aliens in their midst -- for bringing the "black death" upon them.
Lacking knowledge of viruses or other microscopic organisms, they accused the Jews, a handy target, of poisoning the wells of Christian villages. The charge contributed to a series of pogroms in which thousands were burned alive.
During the more than 600 years since, our understanding of disease transmission has advanced by leaps and bounds, but the same primitive tribalism that inspired the lethal xenophobia that raged across Europe then remains on display today.
With hundreds of cases of swine flu reported in Mexico, and dozens more appearing in the U.S., anti-immigrant hard-liners wasted no time blaming their one-size-fits-all bogeyman for the disease.
They took to the airwaves and scribbled hastily on their blogs about how America's supposed "open-door policy" towards migrants from Mexico was the cause of the outbreak's appearance on this side of the Rio Grande.
According to transcripts provided by the watchdog group Media Matters, blogger and former Fox News personality Michelle Malkin took a triumphal attitude over the handful of cases that have popped up in the U.S., writing: "I've blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration."...(Click for remainder.)
Has Timothy Geithner ever had lunch with a non-megamillionaire who has lost his job or home because of the banking meltdown? I ask that question after reading the list of the treasury secretary’s luncheon dates when he was head of the New York Federal Reserve, a list that the government was forced to provide in response to a lawsuit.
During those years when he was supposed to be supervising Wall Street, he supped most often in the top-echelon dining room of some bank or at the home of one of the financial moguls who created the mess that has now bankrupted billions throughout the world. One of his frequent luncheon buddies was Sanford I. Weill, who as chairman of Citigroup lobbied successfully for the reversal of key regulations that dated back to the New Deal era. That change permitted Weill’s oligarchy to become “too big to fail.”
Another preferred dining companion was Robert Rubin, who as Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary pushed through Weill’s favored deregulation—a disastrous “reform” that lies at the heart of the current mess—and who went on to become chairman of Citigroup, where he presided over a downfall of the company that required a $45 billion taxpayer bailout. Geithner had worked for Rubin at the Treasury Department, and it was Rubin who got him his job at the New York Fed and hooked him up with Barack Obama.
Geithner has since pushed the Obama administration to approach the banking crisis not in response to the needs of destitute homeowners but rather from the side of the bankers who are seizing their homes. Instead of keeping people in their homes with a freeze on foreclosures, he has rewarded the unscrupulous lenders who conned ordinary folks....(Click for remainder.)
By Sean Scully
Democrats in Washington were quick to celebrate Republican Senator Arlen Specter's shocking announcement that he was switching parties. But in his home state of Pennsylvania, Specter's news received a much more measured reception from his newfound party colleagues. Perhaps that isn't all that surprising, considering that Specter, a longtime rival, had in one fell swoop effectively won the Democratic nomination for next year's Senate race.
"I would not have predicted what happened today, five years ago, or even five hours ago," said Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, who ran unsuccessfully against Specter in 2004. "It's bigger than Senator Specter's future, it's bigger than the fate of a couple of my friends who wanted to run against him in the Democratic primary who are kind of being rudely shoved aside ... There will certainly be Pennsylvania Democrats who will not be pleased about this, but I think people will see the greater good here," Hoeffel told TIME hours after the announcement. (See a day by day look at the first 100 days of the Obama administration.)
It's true that only a handful of relatively low profile state Democrats had actually filed their candidacies formally, including State Rep. Bill Kortz and Joe Torsella, the former director of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, who issued a statement Tuesday insisting that he intends to stay in the race. (Read Mark Halperin's report card of Obama's first 100 days in office.)...(Click for remainder.)
Associated Press via The Huffington Post
NEW YORK — The debate over torture is getting personal for two of cable TV's prime-time hosts. After Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity made a seemingly impromptu offer last week to undergo waterboarding as a benefit for charity, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann leapt at it. He offered $1,000 to the families of U.S. troops for every second Hannity withstood the technique.
Olbermann repeated the offer on Monday's show and said in an interview Tuesday that he's heard no response. He said he'll continue to pursue it.
"I don't think he has the courage to even respond to this _ let alone do it," Olbermann said.
Fox News Channel representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
The two men are on opposite poles of a debate that has preoccupied the worlds of talk TV and radio. Hannity says waterboarding is a fair and necessary interrogation technique for suspected terrorists; Olbermann calls it torture, says it's ineffective and should not be done by Americans.
Charles Grodin was challenging Hannity on the issue on Fox last week, and asked whether he would consent to be waterboarded.
"Sure," Hannity said. "I'll do it for charity ... I'll do it for the troops' families."
It wasn't exactly clear how serious the conversation was, since Grodin joked, "Are you busy on Sunday?" and Hannity laughed....(Click for remainder.)
Right Wing Watch
The New York Times' Adam Nagourney has a piece in today's paper claiming that the "the issue of gay marriage may be turning into more of a hindrance than a help" for the Republican Party.
Citing a recent poll showing that 57 percent of those under the age 40 said they support marriage equality, Nagourney says it suggests to "many Republicans that the potency of the gay-marriage question is on the decline." He then quotes three Republicans, the first being Steve Schmidt, John McCain's senior strategist during his presidential campaign.
Schmidt recently came out in favor of marriage equality, so it is no surprise that he thinks the GOP should re-examine its stance on the issue. But, as Timothy Potter of the Family Research Council put it, Steve Schmidt isn’t exactly speaking for the majority of the party these days:
Steve Schmidt isn’t the head of the GOP. But I don’t doubt that there are others in the GOP establishment who think like him, and I don’t care. The GOP should do what it thinks is best for itself. I don’t think abandoning a third of your base is necessarily a good idea.The article also contains a quote from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty:
Asked if he thought, given recent events, that Republicans were making a political mistake in emphasizing gay issues, Mr. Pawlenty, who is 48, responded: “I think it’s an important issue for our conservative voters.” But he notably did not dwell on the subject.(Click for remainder.)
My first take on Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party was rather skeptical. Although the move is undoubtedly quite psychologically damaging for the GOP, there is room to question how much it will actually change the way that the sausage gets made in the Congress. If, for example, Arlen Specter is a Ben Nelson kind of Democrat, voting against initiatives like EFCA while driving an extremely hard bargain on health care, it is hard to see how Democrats gain, since there is little to distinguish a Ben Nelson type of Democrat from an Arlen Specter type of Republican.
I've now had the chance to examine the data on party-switching in more detail. When Congressmen have changed parties in the past, this has generally been accompanied by relatively material changes in their voting patterns -- thus, Democrats have ample reason to be pleased. Nevertheless, odds are that Specter will line up squarely in the conservative half of the Democratic caucus and will probably leave room to his left for a primary challenge.
Since 1980, according to Wikipedia, 20 Congressmen (16 Representatives and 4 Senators) have switched from one party to the other. The vast majority of these switches -- 17 of 20 -- were from the Democratic Party to the Republicans, mostly among conservative Southern Democrats in the 1980s and early 90s. Only Specter, Long Island Representative Michael Forbes and Jim Jeffords have gone the other way. I classify these Congressmen, by the way, by which party they caucused with regardless of how cute they tried to get about the label attached to their name. Thus Jeffords is treated as going from Republican to Democrat even though he still called himself an independent, whereas Joe Lieberman is not classified as a party-switcher because he never ceased caucusing with the Democrats....(Click for remainder.)
The Huffington Post
Despite the anticipation that accompanies it, the marking of a president's first 100 days in office is a decidedly predictable affair. The White House, while downplaying the metric, nevertheless goes to great lengths to stress the enormity of its own accomplishments. Critics, not surprisingly, carry a diametrically different message; only this time, terms like socialist and fascist are bandied about.
That said, conservatives and progressives alike do seem to be in agreement on one aspect of the Obama presidency: one hundred days into office and a lot has been done. From new approaches to two wars to more than a trillion dollars of government spending; from pirate attacks to flu epidemics; from controversial cartoons to Senatorial defections; a full news day has not this administration lacked.
The abnormally packed cycle has had its side effects. Stories that once could or would receive front page treatment have faded fast. Indeed, some of the most consequential changes made by the president to date - affecting our nation's health care system, infrastructure, urban and foreign policy - have received modest to little coverage, either discussed but not appreciated, or reported but not in great depth. As Obama gets set to host a press conference marking his first 100 days, the Huffington Post asked administration officials as well as Democrats inside and out of government for their picks of under-appreciated stories during this time period. Here are ten of those stories.
Health Care: The Obama White House cleared an important hurdle in the health care reform debate when it appropriated $19 billion in the stimulus package to help implement an electronic medical record system. The money is paltry compared to the hundreds of billions set aside for an overhaul of the health care system in the budget. But officials inside and out of the White House say it significance is hard to understate
"We need to have health IT so we have a better idea both of what works but also... so people can share information," Zeke Emanuel, Obama's health care adviser told the Huffington Post in mid-March. "We are on our way in a way that we have never committed ourselves before."...(Click for remainder.)
The Huffington Post
Arlen Specter, the newly minted Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, let his hair down in a freewheeling press conference at the U.S. Senate today, making this comment about his former Republican colleagues: "Now I can say it: what a bunch of fucking assholes!"
Mr. Specter had a bounce in his step and lilt in his voice as he tore into members of his former party in a press appearance that appeared to set records with its body count.
"This is something I've wanted to say for years: is there a bigger dick on this planet than Mitch McConnell?" he said. "I know he thinks he's doing his job, but please, what a fucking turd."
Observers who are accustomed to the much-ballyhooed collegiality of the Senate were taken aback by the jaw-dropping profanity of Sen. Specter's parting shots, many of which were breathtaking in their anatomical crudeness.
"He must've had a lot of rage bottled up over the years," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "Suddenly he was talking like a Somali pirate."...(Click for remainder.)
Bwah ha ha ha ha ha! Stop! You're killing me! Ha Ha Ha Ha!
By Sylvia A Smith
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
WASHINGTON – Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Tuesday he will support the nomination of an Indiana University law professor to head the Obama administration’s internal law office.
He is the first Republican to publicly declare his backing for Dawn Johnsen, whose selection to head the Office of Legal Counsel has grown into a fight about abortion rights and counterterrorism practices.
Some Republicans have promised to try to block Johnsen’s confirmation either because of her support for abortion rights or because she criticized the legal justification used by the Bush administration for the torture of detainees.
Lugar’s support does not guarantee the Senate will confirm Johnsen. Sixty votes are needed to stave off a filibuster, and vote-counters say they are aware of close to 60 "yes" votes for Johnsen, but they are not declaring victory. One Democrat – Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson – has said he will vote against Johnsen.
Advocacy groups have turned Johnsen’s nomination into a high-profile tussle in Washington. On Tuesday morning, a group of 75 Hoosier law professors signed a letter asking Lugar to support Johnsen....(Click for remainder.)
The Washington Independent
A group of liberal House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would cap credit card rates at 18 percent. This should not to be confused with the push to freeze rates on existing balances, which made headlines last week — the Democrats’ cap would apply to future transactions as well.
The sponsors of the proposal — Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), John Tierney (D-Mass.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) — will offer the measure as an amendment to the Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights, which is scheduled for a House vote as early as Thursday.
“This amendment will help end the credit card trap and provide Americans with the comfort of knowing their credit card rates won’t soar to eye-popping levels while still providing credit card companies with large enough margins to enjoy a profit,” Hinchey said in a statement.
But don’t expect the provision to get very far. Though the larger bill has wide bipartisan support in the House — where it passed by a vote of 312 to 112 last September (including support from 84 Republicans) — the addition of a rate cap would likely be a deal-breaker for many lawmakers. Indeed, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chief sponsor of the larger bill, has been quick to emphasize the absence of rate caps as a key selling point of her proposal. Critics of such caps maintain that they would prevent the card companies from setting their rates based on the risk posed by the borrower — a change that would result in rate hikes for all card users....(Click for remainder.)
“This letter makes official our views on the necessary procedure in investigating those U.S. officials who allowed or actively instructed others to commit torture,” said Rep. Nadler. “Because the United States is bound by its own laws and by international treaty, we are obligated to investigate and, where necessary, to prosecute those who have violated the laws against committing torture – whether by ordering it or committing it directly. We have no choice if we are to remain a just and principled nation of laws.
“A Special Counsel is the most appropriate way to handle this matter. It would remove from the process any question that the investigation was subject to political pressure, and it would preempt any perceptions of conflict of interest within the Justice Department, which produced the torture memos. President Obama has honorably shown his commitment to the rule of law and placed this process into the hands of his able Attorney General, where it belongs. I look forward to working with Attorney General Holder on this, and with Chairman Conyers as the Judiciary Committee continues its oversight investigations.”
Text of the letter, sent today, is below.
The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Mr. Attorney General:
We write to request that you appoint a special counsel for the investigation and possible prosecution of any violations of federal criminal laws related to the interrogation of detainees in the effective custody or control of the United States in connection with counter-terrorism operations or armed conflicts in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Many of us previously asked your predecessor, Attorney General Mukasey, to do so, expressing our desire to ensure an independent investigation into serious allegations that high-ranking officials, including lawyers and others from the Department of Justice itself, approved the use of enhanced interrogation techniques that amounted to torture.
Recent events highlight the need for such an appointment. The OLC memos formally released last week provide additional details regarding the purported legal justifications provided by DOJ lawyers for various interrogation techniques, including the slamming of detainees into walls, the use of stress positions, confinement in boxes, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. The Senate Armed Services Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, declassified and released on April 21, confirms that these interrogation practices were developed at the request of and authorized by high-ranking administration officials, and that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere can be linked to these policy decisions.1 Top Bush Administration officials previously testified that at least three detainees were subjected to waterboarding,2 and the recently released OLC memos reveal that one detainee was subjected to waterboarding 183 times in a one month period while another was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in one month.3
During your confirmation hearings, you testified that waterboarding is torture, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had been denied access to detainees held at CIA secret prisons for several years, has concluded that the treatment alleged by fourteen of these detainees constituted torture.4 Earlier this year, the Bush Administration’s top official in charge of military commissions concluded that the U.S. military’s treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani “met the legal definition of torture.”5
As you are aware, Justice Department regulations provide for the Attorney General to appoint an outside special counsel when: 1) a “criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted,” (2) the “investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney’s Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department,” and 3) “it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”6 Such counsel is to be appointed from outside the government and should have the authority to secure resources for the investigation and prosecution and have full investigatory and prosecutorial powers.7
We believe that these three criteria have been met and warrant the appointment of a special counsel to investigate whether federal criminal laws were violated by individuals who authorized or participated in the interrogation of detainees. First, as noted above, there is abundant, credible evidence of torture and the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, and criminal investigation is not only warranted, it is also required. The Geneva Conventions obligate High Contracting Parties like the United States to investigate and bring before our courts those individuals “alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed” grave breaches of those Conventions.8 The war crimes act, 18 U.S.C. § 2441, creates jurisdiction in the U.S. courts whenever the victim or alleged offender is a U.S. national or member of the Armed Forces, and specifically identifies torture and cruel or inhuman treatment, as well as the conspiracy to commit those acts, as punishable war crimes. The Convention Against Torture (CAT) – signed by President Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994 – also obligates the U.S. to conduct a “prompt and impartial investigation” and “submit the case to [our] competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution” whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that torture has been committed in a territory under our jurisdiction or by U.S. nationals.9 The federal anti-torture statute, 18 USC § 2340A, criminalizes torture and the conspiracy to commit torture and creates jurisdiction in the U.S. courts whenever the “alleged offender is a national of the United States” or “is present in the United States.”
Second, a conflict of interest would be presented in having the Department investigate allegations that high-ranking Justice Department officials and lawyers provided legal guidance on and may have been involved in developing interrogation policy. For example, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel and former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the Administration and President to deny detainees the legal protection of the Geneva Conventions, and OLC lawyers wrote extensive legal memos that authorized specific interrogation techniques that likely amounted to torture. While some key individuals are no longer with the Department or Executive Branch, it is impossible to determine at this stage and before conclusion of the necessary investigation whether additional conflicts of interest might exist or arise. When Department lawyers are alleged to have been involved, we believe the Attorney General should turn to a special counsel.
Finally, there can be little doubt that the public interest will be served by appointment of a special counsel. The authorization and use of interrogation techniques that likely amounted to torture has generated tremendous concern and outrage in this country, and has harmed our legal and moral standing in the world. As a country committed to the rule of law, we must investigate and demand accountability for acts of torture committed by or on our behalf. Appointing a special counsel to undertake this task would serve the interests of the Department and of the public in ensuring that the necessary investigation is thorough and impartial, and that the United States fairly investigates serious and credible accusations of misconduct, even where high-ranking government officials may be involved.
We applaud President Obama’s efforts to assure America and the rest of the world that this Department’s investigative and prosecutorial decisions will be free from political considerations. We are confident that you and the President will uphold this critical guarantee, and will restore the Department’s independence and integrity. Yet, as you undoubtedly are aware, Americans on both sides of the political aisle worry that this issue already is mired in politics, with those who oppose investigation characterizing that possibility as a political witch hunt and those who, like us, support accountability expressing concern that the rule of law must be upheld. Given these factors, any decisions that you make regarding prosecutions will be perceived by some as political. Appointment of a special counsel insulates you and the Department from such claims, and instills confidence that the outcome of the investigation could not possibly have been predetermined or otherwise improperly influenced.
The special counsel rules provide for both accountability and transparency. An appointed special counsel would be subject to Department ethics rules and to oversight by you to prevent undue expansion of the investigation. The special counsel would report to you about any decision to prosecute or not to prosecute; you could provide that report to Congress and the public, and would have to report to Congress if the special counsel is fired or the investigation halted. Appointing a special counsel balances the need, recognized after Watergate, to ensure independent investigation of high-ranking officials with the need to avoid prosecutors with unchecked power.
Given the importance of this issue, we look forward to a response to our request at your earliest convenience.
1. Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/supporting/2009/SASC.DetaineeReport.042209.pdf.
2. Three were waterboarded, CIA chief confirms, LA Times, Feb. 6, 2008.
3. Scott Shane, Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects, NY Times, April 20, 2009.
4. ICRC Report on the Treatment of fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody, Feb. 2007, available at http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf.
5. Bob Woodward, Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official, Washington Post, January 14, 2009, A01.
6. 28 C.F.R. 600.1.
7. Id. at 600.3-600.6.
8. Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and the Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, Aug. 12, 1949, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950, 6 U.S.T. 3217, 75 U.N.T.S. 31, Art. 49http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/7c4d08d9b287a42141256739003e636b/fe20c3d903ce27e3c125641e004a92f3; Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, Aug. 12, 1949, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950, 6 U.S.T. 3217, 75 U.N.T.S. 85, Art. 50 ; Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Aug. 12, 1949, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950. 6 U.S.T. 3316, 75 U.N.T.S. 135, Art. 129; Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, Aug. 12, 1949, entered into force Oct. 21, 1950, 6 U.S.T. 3516, 75 U.N.T.S. 287, Art. 146.
9. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), Arts. 7(1), 12.