Sunday, November 27, 2005

Self-imposed barriers to the prosecution of terrorists

Jose Padilla is an American citizen. He has been detained more than three years in a Federal DoJ facility without being permitted a trial in a court of law. This, in spite of the Bill of Rights stating that, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."

Senior Bush administration officials claim that Padilla conspired with al Qaeda to set off a "dirty [hydrogen] bomb" on American soil. He is alleged to have traveled to Afghanistan on a number of occasions to meet with al Qaeda officials to plot other attacks against the US. He supposedly also spoke to fellow detainees about plans to use natural gas lines to blow up apartment buildings and hotels in New York.

Padilla is such a danger to the US that president George W. Bush wrote a memo to his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, saying (among other things) that:
  • Mr. Padilla is closely associated with al Qaeda
  • Mr. Padilla possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al Qaeda
  • Mr. Padilla represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States, and detention of Mr. Padilla is necessary to prevent him from aiding al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States
Even if Padilla is a heinous man, closely affiliated with al Qaeda, who is threatening to attack the US, he is still an American citizen. Although Bush has tried for years to deny him the basic rights afforded to all American citizens -- including mass murderers, child molesters, serial rapists, and the like -- an impending showdown with the Supreme Court compelled the DoJ to finally try Padilla as a criminal in a court of law.

He is being charged with participating in a "North American support cell" by providing material support for terrorists and conspiring to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country. The indictment neither mentions Padilla's reported plot to detonate a "dirty bomb" nor his purported involvement with al Qaeda, even though those are grounds that Bush used to justify holding Padilla as an "enemy combatant." Government officials said that he is being charged with the less serious crimes because the Bush administration is unwilling to allow testimony from two senior members of al Qaeda who had been subjected to harsh questioning.

This directly contradicts Bush's claim that "We do not torture." However, the CIA inspector general found that they had subjected the man who could tie Padilla to the bomb plots to excessive "waterboarding," a technique that involves near drowning. The other al Qaeda member who could testify against Padilla is thought to be held in the CIA's secret detention system and the Bush administration doesn't want its existence to be revealed in a criminal court.

Padilla should be convicted of all the crimes he has committed, not just the less severe ones. However, the incompetent manner in which Bush is waging the war on terror is not only causing an increase in global terrorism, it's also now preventing us from being able to punish terrorists to the fullest extent of the law here at home.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Peter Drucker's legacy

'Management is about human beings.'

Can congress dispel the hex of fear?

The USA PATRIOT Act (The Act) was up for reathorization in congress this week. At first, it seemed that it was business as usual in the House, with our representatives succumbing to 9/11 hysteria. However, by the end of the week, it began to look like some semblance of rationality might be settling in, particularly in the Senate.

The Act is very intrusive on Americans' right to privacy and has proven wholly ineffective at intercepting and obstructing terrorism. Fortunately, some of the sections of The Act that are most destructive to our civil liberties are set to expire at the end of this year. Unfortunately, some of the rabid-right (ironically, since they traditionally stand for laissez faire government) would prefer that law enforcement agencies continue to have the unfettered ability to intrude on our freedoms. Therefore, they moved to eliminate the clauses of The Act that require the expiration of those sections.

This past summer, the House approved a bill to achieve these ends, believing that the dangers of terrorism warrant suspending our right to privacy (even though The Act has not led to a single conviction on terrorist-related grounds over the four years it has been in effect). Senators, on the other hand, seem to have slowly come to their senses and realized that (as Benjamin Franklin once said), "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." The Senate passed a bill that returns judicial oversight to the power of law enforcement agencies to confiscate the personal records of American citizens without their knowledge. Therefore, members of both houses met this week to reach an agreement on a bill that could pass both houses before the end of the year, when some sections of The Act expire.

Repeating the error that happened just before The Act was passed in 2001 of working out the details in secrecy, conferees met behind closed doors and came out with a bill that eliminated the safeguards to our freedoms that the Senate's version of the bill held. According to Bob Barr, former Republican representative from Georgia, "It's very similar to the process in 2001. We believe it's a very inappropriate and dangerous game to play. Politics seems to be driving this whole game. The Senate worked long and hard to fashion a compromise." Lisa Graves, senior counsel for legislative strategy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "There's been a lot of pressure by the administration and the Justice Department to refuse to go along with advances in the Senate bill. There's definitely an attempt to railroad this through."

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. By Friday, liberals and conservatives from both sides of the aisle in both houses formed a coalition to block the latest version of the bill. They did so by dropping the immediate consideration of the bill and, thereby, avoiding a filibuster in the Senate over the weekend. What this broad coalition indicates is the recognition by many different political affiliations of the serious flaws in The Act. Although some legislators are still under the spell of the terrorist tactics of the Bush administration, there are now enough legislators who have regained their appreciation for the Constitution to stymie those who would surrender our liberties. Let's hope they can do it again at the end of the year when the bill is sure to come up for a vote again before sections of The Act expire.

Monday, November 14, 2005

We do not torture

Last week, president George W. Bush met president Torrijos of Panama in Panama City. While there, they held a joint press conference. When asked if he agreed with vice president Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture, Bush's response was "We do not torture."

The presidency is notorious for having a hard time understanding advanced English vocabulary. After all, who could forget president Clinton saying, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is." Last week's press conference leaves us wondering what Bush thinks the meaning of "we" is.

First of all, the context of the reporter's question that elicited the response begs the question. Why would Cheney want the CIA to be permitted to torture detainees if we do not torture? Does the CIA, an agency which is part of the executive branch of government led by Bush, not qualify as "we"?

If the CIA does not qualify as "we," then what about the military? The events at Abu Ghraib are now infamous incidents of torture. However, the highest rank court martialed for that torture was a sergeant. Could that have been a way to distance the guilty parties from the president? The former commander at Abu Ghraib, brigadier general Janis Karpinski, makes a convincing case that she was a scapegoat of her immediate commanders, military intelligence officials, and Rumsfeld. Do none of them qualify as "we" to the commander in chief?

In fact, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld is being sued by two Iraqi businessmen. What are they suing him for? They claim they were tortured by American forces for months, violating their rights under the US Constitution and international law. This occurred after they were arrested during a business meeting in 2003, in spite of the fact that they were not part of any anti-American activity.

Iraq is not the only place where torture occurs at the hands of Bush's troops. An FBI memo documents abuses occurring at Guantanamo Bay as far back as 2002. It describes one incident in which a soldier reportedly bent a prisoner's thumbs back and "grabbed his genitals." In another, an FBI agent saw a detainee "gagged with duct tape" for refusing to stop chanting the Quran. In a third episode, a prisoner allegedly was threatened with an aggressive dog and the man was placed for three months in "intense isolation," causing him to experience "extreme psychological trauma."

But that was all in the past, right? Maybe Bush says we do not torture because things have changed. Well, according to Human Rights Watch, troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury) near Fallujah were doing the following as recently as last year:
  • routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment
  • a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee'’s leg with a baseball bat
  • detainees were forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out
  • soldiers applied chemical substances to detainees'’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold
  • detainees were stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water
Granted, there are no reports of torture being committed by Bush's own hands. Perhaps when he says we do not torture, by "we" he means anyone else in his line of authority and himself working as a tag-team.
We do not torture.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Contradictory juxtaposition

U.S. Launches Major Offensive in IraqPresident Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended
U.S. Launches Major Offensive Near Syrian Border; Two U.S. Troops Killed in Other Areas of IraqRemarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California
Nov 5, 2005May 1, 2003

Can both of these statements be true? If not, which one is the lie? Apparently, someone didn't get the News flash!