Archive for October, 2007

Imperial Justice Safe With Mukasey

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

We waited all day for this question: “Judge Mukasey, there’s every reason to believe the last attorney general and the president have violated federal laws, precipitating a crisis of confidence in the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law itself. What are you going to do about that?”

Turned out the fix was in. The senators of the judiciary committee had met with the worthy judge in private and had all their fondest hopes fulfilled and all their worst fears dispelled. He must have assured them he would be a modest caretaker for the remainder of the Bush term. On the record, he was cautioned in the most respectful terms to be independent and not to repeat the missteps of his predecessor. There was a lot of hoping among Democrats on the committee. Mukasey promised nothing in the way of justice.

Patrick Leahy recited with due gravity a litany of criminal offenses committed by employees of the justice department and higher levels of the executive branch, urging the nominee and all of us to “acknowledge wrongdoing.” Leahy made generous reference to various hearings on Iraq, U.S. Attorneys, Blackwater, and other instances of executive malfeasance, but it was a modest call for reform and Leahy demanded no accounting. The ranking member Arlen Spector expressed mild dissatisfaction over abuses of executive authority that the senator considers “necessary because we are at war.”

These men should not need to be reminded that when government attorneys misbehave, that’s a crime. The attorney general and his employees hold the scales of justice in hand. When they are corrupted, a crime is committed against the USA.

You would think, at a time when justice department employees and other executive officials have committed notorious abuses of authority that amount to racketeering, that a hearing on the confirmation of an attorney general would make reference to the enforcement of the criminal laws the leaders violated. You would be wrong. Commandeering the Department of Justice for political ends is a crime, and Leahy accused somebody of doing it, but he didn’t call for a criminal accounting. Is it now not politically correct to prosecute high-ranking officials or even mention their criminal culpability, or “wrongdoing,” as Leahy would toothlessly have it?

Introducing the nominee, Senator Lieberman offered a fond reminiscence of his and Mukasey’s days together at Yale Law School, and Senator Schumer, who talked to some mutual friends from the ruling class, was confident of the nominee’s probity and suitability. I can almost hear the buzz in the Oval Office after somebody said, “Let’s get a Jew! With a Jew you get Spector, Schumer, Lieberman, like half the Democrats on the committee.” Make it a New York right-winger. Win-win, as they say.

The members of the committee took up most of their time on this first day of questioning to air select grievances against the Justice Department or get commitments of support for favored programs. They didn’t put many substantive questions to the nominee. Typically, the senator says what he expects of an attorney general and expresses a hope that Mukasey will live up to expecations. The nominee counters with what he hopes he can, indeed, do. His were not the answers of a lawyer. Law is. The role of the attorney general is to bring the rule of law to the executive, restraining it whenever necessary. We don’t hope we can do it. We do it.

To the rare substantive questions that were put to the nominee, the answers he gave were the answers you would expect from a mob lawyer. He never made a pronouncement of loyalty to the rule of law that didn’t have an escape clause. “To the extent possible” and “as far as I am able” are lethal qualifiers in the parlance of organized crime, which this is. Mukasey’s tone and pace were trance-inducers, and the content of his answers was pure pablum. Nobody in America, not any senator and not any citizen, heard the latter part of any of his answers.

Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat, asked Mukasey directly whether the US government should close the prison at Guantanamo. He seemed content with the response that the attorney general will get the best advice available and act on that. Kohl allowed Mukasey to bloviate on what the feds can do to stem gang violence and on the advantages of having more cops on the street, especially under programs that benefit Kohl’s loyal patrons. Kohl and the other senators were deferential at a time when deference is altogether inappropriate.

Accountability, in the committee’s view, will take the form of “restructuring” and “assembling a top-flight staff.” The new regime will emphasize merit hiring, and they will no longer be taking calls from politicians. Never mind that the calls already received from politicians were felonies, and the new attorney general would be the guy charged with the prosecution of people like Rove and Domenici, to name just two callers. The senators couldn’t even name two. Among the bunch of them, they couldn’t think of two public officials who committed crimes and aren’t being prosecuted for them, or even one. I can name 50.

“They’re new! They’re novel!” That was Lindsay Graham’s triumphal declaration in reference to legal theories rationalizing imprisonment without trial and torture as a means of interrogation. Truer words were never spoken. Lawyers used to employ precedent, but torture and denial of legal process are without precedent, and the legal theories advanced to promote these practices are new, novel, and phony. As Lindsay Graham knows. He’s a lawyer and he knows he’s not allowed to endorse legal tripe of this sort, and so he challenged the nominee. He wanted to know whether it wasn’t better, on balance, to afford prisoners the benefits of notice and an opportunity to be heard. Graham thought he could get Mukasey to assent to this modest commitment to fundamental human rights.

Forget about it. Mukasey vowed to respect fundamental human rights but only if it doesn’t impede the gathering of intelligence. In response to Graham’s question, the nominee acknowledged being “uncomfortable” with what used to be called water torture. He didn’t give a suitable answer to any of Graham’s questions. Graham’s conclusion: “I have every confidence you will do a good job.” Senator Graham could have asked whether the government lawyers who advanced legal theories rationalizing torture and imprisonment without trial should be disbarred, but he didn’t. None of the senators did.

As nearly as I could discern, the proceedings were to an empty chamber, at least on the committee’s side of the table. C-SPAN tried not to let on, but every so often that naughty cameraman, the one that picks out the best-looking people in every room and puts them on just for art’s sake, that guy shot the empty row of seats. It was Leahy along with whoever was at bat and whoever was on deck.

Evident from the nominee’s evasions was a guarantee that he will be able to lend his imprimatur to just about any executive usurpation. Like most of the villains who would be a party to such corruption, he’s a vainglorious twit who has been seduced to a position of power beyond his mother’s wildest dreams. This is not his fault. This is our fault. We allow totalitarians like this nominee and the senators who pet him to prosper.

This confirmation process looks like a sham, a deal that was concluded in private. The guy’s a totalitarian, and the senators know it. They are going to give him the job not in spite of his fascist tendencies but because of them. They have his pledge to preserve the imperial courts for the Democrats, if they can win them. The “unitary executive,” which has no existence in traditional legal doctrine, is the main point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans, and this attorney general, who hopes to uphold the Constitution and may choose to heed the rule of law if it doesn’t get in the way of intelligence gathering, is just the man to make it happen.

Turkey on House Menu

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Are they merely pandering to Armenian-Americans in a few key states, or are House Dems really trying to sabotage the president’s military adventure by impairing his relations with Turkey, one of his first-tier facilitators? Turks threaten to interrupt U. S. access to their air and land if Congress issues a condemnation of Turkey’s treatment of Armenians while Europe was busy with World War I.

Giving official recognition to an atrocity committed by people that have been dead for 50 years is not going to do much to improve Americans’ quality of life, and the sanctimony of the whole exercise, coming as it does from public officials who have personally reduced two countries to rubble for no reason, is enough to make you gag.

It can’t be that the Democrats (along with their loyal acolytes in the embedded mass media) are unaware that the move to condemn the Ottoman Empire comes a bit late for the people of the USA. We have worries more immediate than the events of 1915, a bloody year the world over, and our own history as a champion of human rights is spotty. Three hundred years of black slavery and the extermination of the indigenous peoples of a vast continent may disqualify us to pronounce on the genocides of others.

If the purpose of this empty resolution is to damage relations with Turkey and thus deny Bush a staging area for operations in Iraq, it’s not a sound or reliable way to end the occupation. The way to end the occupation is the way we ended the occupation of Vietnam: by cutting off the money. If 218 Dems in the House or 51 Dems in the Senate refuse to vote for money to continue the occupation, the occupation will end promptly.

Passing futile measures provoking Turkey to play hardball with Bush is a corrupt and dangerous course, and Dems should be held accountable for it.

High Court Repudiates Rule of Law

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Now official: the right not to be imprisoned without legal process, guaranteed by the Constitution, is unenforceable when evidence in the case is deemed a state secret. That’s the implicit message of the U. S. Supreme Court in declining to review the judgment in El-Masri v. United States. El-Masri sued for damages, claiming he was imprisoned and tortured by U. S. officials in violation of our laws. The government got the case dismissed without a trial on the claim that the evidence was a state secret. The high court refused without comment to disturb that ruling.

In foreclosing the fundamental right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, the Supreme Court has effectively repealed the rule of law itself. The power to imprison people permanently, beyond the reach of legal review, is an indispensable tool of tyranny. In liberating the lower courts from any lingering doubt that the government has this power–the state secret privilege derives from a single case decided 54 years ago–this ruling gives a boost to totalitarians the world over.

The court’s silence on this case leaves a gaping logical breach in the rationale for a state secret privilege. Since the high court recognized the privilege in 1953, it’s been used repeatedly to cover up official malfeasance. These days, the privilege is invoked as a matter of routine against victims of violence at the hands of military and civilian agencies. The laws now seem to hold that wrongful, injurious acts committed in furtherance of war or espionage are by definition state secrets. The worst acts that a government can commit against a person–the ones committed clandestinely and illegally–are rendered legal by this privilege, as it is applied today.

Also worth noting: if the government can take your liberty without legal process, they can also take your life and property, which are part of the same “due process” clause that the high court refused to enforce. Officials of our government now have the same right to jail and murder you and confiscate your belongings as the Gestapo once had over citizens of the Third Reich. Tell your survivors not to bother bringing suit. The evidence will be a state secret.

The justices who voted not to hear the case will see their treachery justly rewarded, just as the judicial facilitators of Nazism did. If the government is not bound by laws, neither are the people. Eventually, we turn out lawless governments by whatever means are available to us, and this government will be no exception. It might take a generation–the last revolution did–but it will get done. Oil the hinges in the gallows floor.

Censored Satire Fails to Satisfy

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

I guess all America is wondering, as I am, what happened to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They used to be iconoclastic. They used to express public outrage. They used to be funny. Viacom, jewel of the embedded mass media and employer of these two peformers, must have said something, because they have both quit saying anything.

They still mock public officials, but they don’t challenge them. On the contrary, they indulge them. Stewart no longer dares to confont misbehaving members of the ruling class but comes to them as a supplicant. Colbert doesn’t visit Congress anymore. Stewart humanizes fascists like Pervez Musharaf and Vicente Fox while Colbert trades pleasantries with the likes of Kissinger and O’Reilly.

Most of Colbert’s material is aimed at Colbert, and Stewart mainly picks on people who are already being kicked around by the media. Iran receives a generous share of derision, but Israel is never mentioned on either show. The two brainy comedians practice a postmodern brand of satire that afflicts the afflicted and comforts the comfortable. Their audience will soon lose interest, and they will be justly shuttled into trite cinema, Hollywood’s refuge for prostituted satirists.

Examining Your Member

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

I’m trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with John Larson, member of Congress from my district, to ask him a dozen questions. (more…)

Congress, Media Legalize Torture

Friday, October 5th, 2007

The criticism of the Justice Department torture memos from Congress and the press is so muted as to be inaudible. (more…)

The Empire Is in Play

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

The ongoing presidential campaigns are about who shall wear the crown and wield the sword of the empire. Unless there’s some sort of revolution, an emperor shall be selected and a court shall be assembled to carry out the will of the emperor and the imperial lords and ladies. (more…)