Poland Allowed it (The US Did it)

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Poland had violated the rights of two terrorism suspects by allowing their transfer to a secret detention center run by the C.I.A. in Poland, where the two men were tortured .. and in doing so became  ” the first court anywhere to publicly confirm the existence of the secret prisons operated by the C.I.A. in Europe.”

Amrit Singh of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a rights advocacy group that brought the case on behalf of Mr. Nashiri, said the ruling ended the impunity for those engaged in abuses connected with the rendition program. The group emphasized that the court had ordered Poland to secure assurances from the United States that Mr. Nashiri would not be subject to the death penalty.

“In stark contrast to U.S. courts that have closed their doors to victims of C.I.A. torture,” Ms. Singh said, “this ruling sends an unmistakable signal that these kind of abuses will not be tolerated in Europe, and those who participated in these abuses will be held accountable.”

See here for a a detailed report on the rendition program.

Here’s the press release from the European Court of Human Rights.


As of yet, no warrants issued for the perpetrators who continue to reside comfortable on their US ranches….

One Small Victory at the Supreme Court

In a week when ideology trumped law at the Supreme Court not once but thrice with the Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision opening the door to endless disputes about ‘sincerely held’ and ‘closely held,’ the McCullen v Coakley decision allowing abortion protesters to intimidate right in the face, and  the Harris v Quinn decision enabling free-riders in union negotiated wages and benefits one small ruling, if only a ‘decline to hear,’ can be applauded.

An attempt to block one of California’s key climate change regulations, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from fuel, failed Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The regulation, known as the low-carbon fuel standard, requires oil companies to reduce the emissions associated with the fuels they sell in California, lowering emissions 10 percent by 2020. It has provoked fierce opposition from an unlikely alliance – the oil industry and Midwestern ethanol producers.

SF Gate: Baker

Court of Appeals Lifts the Curtain on Rogue Judge

Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, of Montana, sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths, liberal political leaders, and some emails contained inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found.

 Many of the emails also related to pending issues that could have come before Cebull’s court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues, the council found in its March 15, 2013, order.
Cebull retired at the end of last March, after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals council, showed him their findings.  Once off the bench, the record was sealed — leaving the public without knowledge of years of very very injudicious behavior.

That prompted Judge Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, to file a petition with the national Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, asking the committee to review the council’s work and publish the original March 15 order.

Judge McKee argued that the 9th Circuit council’s subsequent rulings inappropriately concealed its original findings.

Good for Judge McKee and good, belatedly, for the council.  It turns out that

…hundreds of other inappropriate messages [were sent] from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday.

SF Gate: Matt Volz/AP

The Voting Rights Act

In case the recent Supreme Court ruling eviscerating Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act left you shrugging your shoulders, it should not have.  Bad, very bad stuff.  For a good summary of the cauldron from which the most important civil rights legislation ever passed came from see Louis Menand’s New Yorker (July 8 & 15) article.

There were, in the end, three marches from Selma. Each was momentous. King was not present at the first, which took place on March 7, 1965—“Bloody Sunday.” Some six hundred marchers, led by John Lewis, of sncc, and Hosea Williams, of the S.C.L.C., set off from Brown Chapel and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge (Pettus was a Confederate general, later a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan), over the Alabama River. At the far end, they found arrayed before them more than a hundred and fifty armed men: state troopers, under Lingo’s command, and Sheriff Clark’s posse, some on horseback. Wallace had ordered Lingo to take “whatever steps necessary” to stop the march. The troopers wore gas masks and carried nightsticks; Clark’s men were armed with clubs, whips, and cattle prods. One carried a rubber hose wrapped in barbed wire. A number of white Alabamans had come out to watch the sport.

So had the press. It’s all on film. The marchers halt fifty feet from the line of troopers. They are told that they have two minutes to turn around and go back to their homes and churches, but, well before two minutes have passed, the troopers charge into the line, beating everyone in sight. They are followed by Clark’s men on horseback, then by the tear gas.

Forty tear-gas cannisters were fired that day. The marchers were chased for a mile back to Selma. Troopers fired tear gas into the Carver housing project; posse men rode their horses up the steps of Brown Chapel. That evening, forty-eight million television viewers watching “Judgment at Nuremberg” on ABC had the movie interrupted for a fifteen-minute film of the attack. There was no voice-over. The only sounds were the thuds of clubs, reports of tear-gas cannisters being fired, the rebel yells of Clark’s posse, and the constant, hysterical screams of the victims.

At least ninety marchers were wounded, and Lewis had a fractured skull, but the effect was achieved. The film left no room for hairsplitting about provocation. Unarmed men and women on a highway were set upon by uniformed men wearing gas masks and riding horses. The Pettus Bridge was a turning point in American race relations and American history.

The majority of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roberts, argued that the times had changed, that the pre-clearance needed to change voting rules or requirements , as spelled out by Section 4, was based on old data, that the South (11 states) was New, and could not be singled out for long-ago perpetrations.

Immediately, Texas announced it would put into place changes in voting requirements which the pre-clearance had not allowed.


FISA Enlarges, in Secret, the Range of NSA Secrets

Among the many troubling things about who is spying on whom, for what reasons, for how long, the most troubling of all is the clever structure of law and regulation that makes talking about it a secret.  It is turning out that the meta-data collection of US phone calls was not the operation of a rogue President or a basement ad-hoc group in the CIA or FBI but has been approved by all sorts of elected representatives.  Judicial over-sight has been built in — just what a democracy should expect.  The problem is, as the latest Eric Lichtblau piece reveals, that the FISA court,  [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] has operated under such layers of secrecy that no one has tracked what new terrain it is plowing, deciding on the basis of a secret line of  rulings to allow NSA spying  not just to skim off terrorism leads but in multiple other areas.

— In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving theNational Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

NY Times: Lichtblau

Let the conversation begin.  It may well be that nuclear proliferation should be watched for, or the potential for cyberattacks, but allowing 11 persons, even respected judges with long records of impeccable judgement, to make such decisions and then to hide that such decisions are being made, make it impossible for Senators to talk about it,  is a recipe for unintended catastrophe.

As far as I’ve read no one has been dragneted into a police holding cell because meta-data collection shows conversations with prostitutes, gun dealers, cigarette smugglers, or anything at all.  The concern is not that some individuals have been illegally fished, but that the water is rising and, inevitably, once it IS possible to fish in such pools of data, someone WILL.

And another article, complementing Lichtblau’s at the Wall Street Journal. 

Supreme Court Rules Human Genes May Not be Patented

The occasional good news surfaces


The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision that could shape the future of medical and genetic research and have profound effects on pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

It’s not a full bore win.  Synthetic DNA is patentable, but the ACLU, which brought the case, is celebrating.

The case arose when a group of medical researchers, associations and patients – represented by the American Civil Liberties Union – filed suit in 2009, saying human genes, including synthetically produced material, should not be patented.

They challenged seven patents owned by or licensed to Myriad on two genes – called BRCA1 and BRCA2 – linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision, and the case landed at the Supreme Court.

“Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation,” said Sandra Park of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Myriad did not invent the BRCA genes and should not control them. Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued.”  Reuters

The Constitution and Equality

William Forbath, a professor of law and history takes liberal legal scholars to task for yielding to the right-wing re-interpretation of the constitution and forgetting the necessary arguments linking democracy itself to material equality.

In the face of the court’s new constitutional offerings to the assault on the welfare and regulatory state, liberals must remind Americans of the constitutional promises and commitments that led us to create that state in the first place. They must remind lawmakers that there are constitutional stakes in attending to the economic needs and aspirations of ordinary Americans, their dread of poverty and their worries that mounting inequalities are eroding our democracy and its promises of fairness and opportunity.

The Constitution on this account promises real equality of opportunity; it calls on all three branches of government to ensure that all Americans enjoy a decent education and livelihood and a measure of security against the hazards of illness, old age and unemployment — all so they have a chance to do something that has value in their own eyes and a chance to engage in the affairs of their communities and the larger society. Government has not only the authority but also the duty to underwrite these promises.

As he says, “the gist of the argument is simple:”

…you can’t have a republican government, and certainly not a constitutional democracy, amid gross material inequality.

I wish he had drawn the lines of argument more sharply but the piece is worth a read and more work by all of us who see what is happening in the high court.

Only In The Movies

In George Stevens’ 1942 “Talk of the Town” law professor Michael Lightcap (Ronald Coleman) holds off a lynch mob going after local agitator Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) with the revelation of the truth about a supposed arson and these words.

This is your law, your finest possession. It makes you free men in a free country. Why have you come here to destroy it? If you know what’s good for you take those weapons home and burn them, and then think. Think of this country. The law that makes it what it is. Think of a world crying for this very law. Then maybe you’ll understand why you ought to guard it. Why the law has got to be the personal concern of every citizen, to uphold it for your neighbor as well as yourself. Violence against it is one mistake. Another mistake is for any man to look upon the law as just a set of principles, just so much language printed on fine heavy paper, something he recites and then leans back and takes it for granted that justice is automatically being done. Both kinds of men are equally wrong! The law must be engraved in our hearts and practiced every minute –to the letter and spirit! It can’t even exist unless we are willing to go down into the dust and blood and fight a battle every day of our lives to preserve it for our neighbor as well as ourselves!

In one of those startling education-by-juxtaposition moments, I heard these words last night just after reading the latest revelations about the Gonzalez Department of Justice. In a secret opinion in February 2005, reversing a previous public opinion, torture was declared to be legal.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

Then, when Congress later in the year tried to outlaw “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, this same Department of Justice secretly wrote another opinion which declared that none of the then-in-use interrogation methods of the CIA violated the proposed standard.

Secret Approval for Torture

Some Department of Justice lawyers objected. In fact there were rumors of mass resignations. James Comey, the Deputy Attorney General, told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it. But then he left. Quietly.

As in so many cases during the run up to the war and the years following those who “are willing to go down into the dust and blood and fight a battle every day of our lives to preserve the law for our neighbor as well as ourselves,” have not appeared. People who knew and who had the information and standing to make a difference — did not.

Perhaps these sentiments of law as the bed rock of democracy and of heroes arising to fight for it are only to be found in the film scripts of left-wing writers [Sidney Harmon, Irwin Shaw, Sidney Buchman]. If so, we are in trouble far more than we know.

If such dreams and beliefs are deeper and are truly part of the American character then it is time to bring them out of the descending darkness.

It is time to say to everyone, those with great power and those with single voices, the great shut-up is over.

It is time to find courage.

It is time to take the fight to the law breakers, to those who believe only in power released from all constraints.

It is time to understand how far our leaders have strayed from our foundational beliefs.

It is time.

Gonzales Post Mortem

It was a terrible and wonderful day yesterday. For reasons beyond the scope of this post I was able to listen to the full day grilling of a man with the name of Alberto Gonzales who mysteriously is called the Attorney General of the United States of America. As one commentator said, next to the Secretary of Defense the Attorney General holds the most important Cabinet post in any administration. And yet, there sat a man holding a job that is so far over his head he was walking on the bottom, drowning, hearing nothing, saying little and understanding nothing — of his job, most of all.

As I commented yesterday, “Gonzales recalls so little it seems to me he has a mental condition serious enough that he should be relieved of his duties in order to enter long term therapy.”

It’s hard to describe the sensation of listening to hour after hour of questions being given non-responses hour after hour. And yet Gonzales does not come across as malevolent, or agressive in a Rumsfeldian way, though at times he protested what had been said about or imputed to him. He just seemed far away, unaware. I don’t think English has a word for what one feels witnessing this; it’s like empathetic appalled pity with a thick icing of fear. This guy has incredible power over us!

Not only didn’t he recall, he just didn’t seem to know. The Judiciary Committee came ready to pound him and wound up pitying him. It was worse to watch than the recent American Idol shows with Sanjaya’s malperformances. Schumer and Feinstein were out-eyerolling Simon Cowell. But this was not just a silly show.

Alberto Gonzales is still Attorney General. He is still running a department with oversight of 103,000 (p. 32) people! For all the “mistakes” he admitted to he still thinks the firings were correctly done,and that those retained apparently meet his criteria — which at no point could he articulate. Actually to say he “fired” them himself is to stretch the definition of the word. He actually simply went along with the recommendations of his barely 30 year old Chief of Staff, Kyle D. Sampson, though that was not even clearly stated. He was asked repeatedly: Who made the decisions? Based on What? He couldn’t answer.

Gonzales’ boss, the ex Major League Baseball Owner, George W Bush, called his employee’s performance “fanatastic.”

The New York Times print edition on Friday properly headlined the appalling news. The San Francisco Chronicle turned over their top of the fold to the sports page with news about the local professional basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, which made the playoffs after 12 years. Gonzales was relegated to the bottom left corner of the front page. If the placement were out of embarrassment we could understand it, but the danger revealed by his testimony really ought to be more important than the trickiness of Warrior’s coach Don Nelson. [Neither on-line site offers print edition layouts so you’ll have to take my word for it, or check the discards at the coffee shop….]

Gonzales on Hot Hot Seat

Updates below 1,2,3,4

Thursday morning. Attorney Generalissimo Alberto Gonzales is being grilled by a very heated Republican Arlen Specter.

Says Jeffry Toobin on CNN: “The Attorney General has GOT to hang on to the Republicans today and he’s NOT off to a good start.”

The show is on C-Span3, however the internet link is bollixed. Too many hits is my guess. [Update 1: I’ve got it streaming now.]

Update 2: Seems like KQED radio is broadcasting the hearings with a time-delay. At 9:20 or so the opening statements are being read…

Update 3: BlueState is live-blogging the hearings. I didn’t hear the disruptions he reports but I did hear Leahy admonishing the audience to behave.

CNN is showing clips of the grilling but it and the other cable channels still have a stash of murder-porn from Cho Seung-Hui and need to show it, bad.

Senator Feinstein is asking WHO is making these decisions? Three times yesterday you said that you “accepted” the decisions of the staff.

She is really blistered over his firing of Carol Lam in San Diego and is reading a list of her accomplishments. “No one ever talked to her, about any concerns!” Gonzales is replying, Feinstein is furiously silent.

It strikes me that Gonzales is Bush’s fraternal twin brother: amiable, un-curious, unthoughtful, willing to do what he perceives the powerful want…

Republican John Cornyn of Texas is softballing Gonzalez now and slides off onto unrelated matters, adding that Clinton fired all 90 USAttorneys and wasn’t questioned. (All US Attorneys are always replaced at the end of Presidential terms — at least in recent decades. What is contentious is firing them mid-term. Leahy just clarified this to Mr. Cornyn.)

Senator Feingold is not happy.

Gonzales recalls so little it seems to me he has a mental condition serious enough that he should be relieved of his duties in order to enter long term therapy.

Senator Schumer is not happy. He is bringing up Carol Lam. He and Feinstein are tag-teaming on Gonzales. ~Carol Lam has testified she was not aware of DOJ concerns about her performance. Kyle Sampson testified DOJ said nothing to Carol Lam. You, Mr. Attorney General, with a month to prepare for this hearing, say she was acutely aware of concerns about her. Who is telling the truth?~

Update 4: Kevin Drum reveals an anonymous letter from Concerned Justice Department Employees.

The list for proposed interns at the Justice Department was culled by political leanings. Full letter here (pdf).

More on the politicization of the Department of Justice to increase the number of voter fraud cases.

For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President Bush’s popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a midterm battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

McClatchy: Voter Fraud in GOP