Thursday, January 25, 2007

Statements an Attempt to Blackmail Lawyers for Pro-Bono Work

My latest column, digesting the reaction in online legal commentary to Cully Stimson's remarks (discussed here) is now online at the Legal Intelligencer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Coercing law firms to drop pro bono Guantanamo cases

Many of the largest law firms in the United States are contributing resources pro bono to defend the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. As Michael Froomkin relays at, however, the feds will soon be pressuring these firms' largest clients to pressure the firms to drop the Guantanamo cases:

This radio interview with Cully Stimson, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, heralds the start of an organized campaign by the White House to encourage major law firm clients to pressure those firms to drop their pro-bono representation of Guantanamo detainees.

The Washington Post had a forceful editorial about this today, which says almost everything that needs saying.

Disgusting, but not as surprising as it should be.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Not just Escalation -- Expansion too

Bush was very clear last night that he isn't just planning to escalate the Iraq war by sending 21,500 more troops. No, he intends to expand the war into neighboring countries, Iran and Syria, too. He could not have been more clear:
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
On that note, Digby has some further reading on our plans for Iran.

Here's some more sobering news from Think Progress:
Also today, the White House released a Powerpoint presentation with details about the president’s new policy. “Increase operations against Iranian actors” was listed in the “Key Tactical Shifts” section.

The New York Times notes, “One senior administration official said this evening that the omission of the usual wording about seeking a diplomatic solution [to the Iranian nuclear stand-off] ‘was not accidental.’”
Glenn Greenwald lists other recent indications that there is serious movement toward a new war with Iran.

Ominously, we have news this morning that the U.S. military just raided an Iranian consulate in the Kurdistan area of Iraq, detaining six.

But not so fast: Juan Cole is skeptical that Iran and Syria are the real targets. He sees Bush planning a frontal assault on the Mahdi Army, which "will cause enormous trouble in the Shiite south."

Update (1/11/07 @ 7:45 p.m.):

We could be in even more trouble than we know. Steve Clemons at the Washington Note is reporting on rumors that Bush has already signed a secret order for war with Iran and Syria:
Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.
Obviously, rumors are just rumors, but the President put quite a bit of fuel on the fire with his statement about "disrupting" and "interrupting" support from Iran and Syria to Iraqi partisans. Senator Biden appears to be taking the idea seriously, informing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that confronting Iran without congressional approval will provoke a "constitutional confrontation." Senator Hagel agreed:
Some of us remember 1970, Madame Secretary, and that was Cambodia, and when our government lied to the American people and said we didn't cross the border going into Cambodia. In fact we did. I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee.

So, Madame Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous. Matter of fact, I have to say, Madame Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it -- (interrupted by applause.)
Max Speak You Listen draws the parallel between last night and April 30, 1970, when Nixon "offered his case for expanding the war to Cambodia" but "in the context of a commitment to disengage." He also offers this food for thought:
Others will take the time to debunk the raft of distortions served up in the speech. I only want to highlight one fundamental piece of illogic to which some Democrats are susceptible. This idea that leaving would be a disaster, therefore the U.S. should try anything.

If leaving would be a disaster, dicking around for nine months and then leaving would be somewhat more of a disaster. The question remains, what are the chances of success resulting from a prolonged occupation. If the value added is negligible, it doesn't offset the sunk cost. The war is over. Now we're just debating how bad it's going to be.
If you missed Keith Olbermann's show last night before the President's speech, here's the link to his review and analysis of the President's record of credibility. (hint: there isn't any)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Congress Can Stop Bush's Iraq Escalation

The President's choices on continuing and escalating a war are not absolute.

Congress has the power to overrule the President's decisionmaking on Iraq if it only has enough votes to override a veto. Even without a supermajority, if an appropriations bill amenable to Congress cannot be passed, as a practical matter, a war (or escalation) must end if no appropriations are made to support it.

Obviously, Congress has the power of the purse, its primary power. An appropriation bill that denied funding for the Iraq War or an escalation of it would be within that power and have long precedent. Congress also has broad powers to regulate the armed forces. Article I, Section 8 sets forth the Powers of Congress, and among these are the following: the Power to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;” “To declare War;” "To raise and support Armies;" "To provide and maintain a Navy;" “To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;” and, of course, “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” These are some considerable powers over the waging of war.

As Prof. Marty Lederman discusses here, Senator Joe Biden is wrong in his recent statement that Congress lacks the power to compel Bush to stop his course.

Lederman ends with this:
Imagine a hypothetical situation in which an armed conflict has gone disasterously awry, resulting in a devastating and spiraling civil war in a major Middle Eastern nation and profound harms to both U.S. troops and our nation's long-term foreign interests. Over 70% of the U.S. public concludes that the President's proposal to escalate the conflict will only make the disaster worse, and is for that reason a terrible mistake. Over two-thirds of each House of Congress -- supermajorities that include numerous members of the President's own party -- are willing to vote to forbid him from taking such a fateful step.

Is it really imaginable that any reasonable constitution-writers -- let alone our own Framers, suspicious as they were of unchecked executive military power -- would disable the legislature from correcting the Executive's mistake under such circumstances?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Top 10 Congressional Investigations

Obviously, you could expand this list (post-Katrina waste and mismanagement?), but the Editors at the Poor Man Institute for Freedom and Democracy and a Pony has posted his Top 10 Most Anticipated Congressional Investigations for 2007.

Number 8 is the forgotten terror attack: the anthrax letters from over five years ago that were mailed to Senator Daschle, Tom Brokaw, Senator Leahy and others, killing five people and injuring seventeen. A less important but more amusing investigation to us denizens of Philadelphia would be number 9: Bush's lie about his alleged preference for cheez whiz on his cheesesteak (he actually likes American) in the wake of Senator Kerry's gaffe ordering his with swiss. What will we tell the children!?

I definitely second number 1, the long-promised but constantly "delayed" so-called "Phase 2" investigation on how the pre-Iraq War intelligence was used/skewed/manufactured by the Administration to serve its political ends.

Particularly, I still want to know -- who was responsible for the creation and distribution of the forged documents concerning uranium from Niger?

Legislative Inaction following Katrina

Matt Stoller is hosting a video over at MyDD where Rep. Barney Frank, the incoming Chair of the Financial Services Committee, alleges that the neglect of the housing situation in Louisina following Hurricane Katrina is "ethnic cleansing through inaction." As Stoller notes, "he said in clear language that doing nothing for New Orleans residents is an intentional strategy to make Louisiana richer, whiter, and more Republican. It's not a huge secret."

Intentional or not, the almost total inaction (particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward) for over a year is an embarrassment to the whole country, and to the do-nothing 109th Congress in particular. Hopefully the 110th Congress (which begins today) gets to work on returning the diaspora to their homes.

Back in February, five months after the hurricane, Senators Reid, Landrieu and Clinton strongly criticized President Bush for his inaction and noted how the federal government should be doing much more in rebuilding and prevention:
“It is nearly six months since Katrina, but the residents of the Gulf Coast are still waiting for the government to act,” said Senator Reid. “Right after the storm, President Bush promised action, but so far all we’ve had is talk. It is time for this Administration to keep its word and get behind reform instead of pushing a budget that will sell out these people when they need our help the most.”

“More Americans were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita than any event in our history, save the American Civil War,” Senator Landrieu said. “The people of the Gulf Coast are ready and willing to rebuild, but we need the President to fulfill his pledge to do ‘what it takes.’ It is time for the federal government does its part, because the only way we can build a better, stronger Gulf Coast is by working together.”

“What we are seeing now several months after the hurricane struck is equally troubling as what we saw in the hours and days after Katrina struck. People are being kicked out of their hotels, trailers are not getting delivered, development is not moving forward and there are still several hundred people reported missing or unaccounted,” said Senator Clinton. “We will not rest until the victims of Hurricane Katrina get the help they need and deserve. We need to fix the problems at FEMA and restore it to Cabinet-level, independent status. And we need to do everything we can to make sure that the mistakes that were made never happen again by creating an independent Katrina Commission.”

The Administration recently rejected a bipartisan rebuilding plan developed by Congressman Richard Baker and Senator Mary Landrieu while refusing to provide an alternative, and President Bush devoted one paragraph – 165 words out of 5,339 – to Gulf Coast recovery. Democrats believe we can do better. Gulf Coast residents deserve more than to be ignored.
Now, they have the power to do something about it themselves. Let's get out of Iraq and into New Orleans.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bush claims yet more extra-constitutional powers; what else is new?

Here's yet another story about Bush claiming the powers of a king. This time, he claims he has the power to open Americans' mail without warrants.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

French Protest the New Year

This is fantastic:
Parodying the French readiness to say "non", the demonstrators in the western city of Nantes waved banners reading: "No to 2007" and "Now is better!"

The marchers called on governments and the UN to stop time's "mad race" and declare a moratorium on the future.

The protest was held in the rain and organisers joked that even the weather was against the New Year.

The tension mounted as the minutes ticked away towards midnight - but the arrival of 2007 did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm.

The protesters began to chant: "No to 2008!"

(via Gilliard)

Suskind's Underappreciated Scoop re: "the Reality-Based Community"

Great article at Pressthink from Jay Rosen, "Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop":

In Without a Doubt (subtitled “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush”) Suskind was not talking about an age old conflict between realists and idealists, the sort of story line that can be re-cycled for every administration. It wasn’t the ideologues against the pragmatists, either. He was telling us that reality-based policy-making—and the mechanisms for it—had gotten dumped. A different pattern had appeared under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The normal checks and balances had been overcome, so that executive power could flow more freely. Reduced deliberation, oversight, fact-finding, and field reporting were different elements of an emerging political style. Suskind, I felt, got to the essence of it with his phrase, the “retreat from empiricism.”

Which is a perfect example of what Bill Keller and others at the New York Times call an intellectual scoop. (“When you can look at all the dots everyone can look at, and be the first to connect them in a meaningful and convincing way…”) Over the last three years, and ever since the adventure in Iraq began, Americans have seen spectacular failures of intelligence, spectacular collapses in the press, spectacular breakdowns in the reality-checks built into government, including the evaporation of oversight in Congress, and the by-passing of the National Security Council, which was created to prevent exactly these events.

This is itself a puzzling development which as far as I know has not been apprehended by our professional students of politics, whether they write columns, run campaigns, work in think tanks, or teach about government in universities. None, so far as I know, has tried to explain why we saw a retreat from empiricism under Bush and how we could actually go to war that way

. . .

Mine would begin this way: The alternative to facts on the ground is to act, regardless of the facts on the ground. When you act you make new facts. You clear new ground. And when you roll over or roll back the people who have a duty to report the situation as it is—people in the press, the military, the bureaucracy, your own cabinet, or right down the hall—then right there you have demonstrated your might. (See my essay called Rollback.)

The contrast I would draw is between the actions of Bush, a political innovator, and the behavior of previous presidents, Republican and Democrat. (The distinction between action and behavior is originally Hannah Arendt’s.) In everything bearing on national security, the Bush Government has been committed to action first, to making the world (including the map of the Middle East) anew, to a kind of audacity in the use of American power. It simply does not behave as previous governments have behaved when presented with the tools of the presidency, which includes the media, and the greatest public address system in the world: the White House podium and backdrop.

This is what the press—which is generally full of behaviorists—has been reluctant to apprehend about the Bush government. But Suskind was onto it.

Read the rest here.

Surveying the damage

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate runs down the Top Ten Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations of 2006.