Free Markets, Free People

Legal Affairs

About Those Previously Condemned Wiretaps

No surprise to some, but a complete surprise to others I’m sure:

The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.

Disclosure of information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”

The promise of transparency has been the most consistent casualty of the Obama administration. No bills thus far have been posted on the web 5 days prior to signing. The Treasury Department refuses to disclose how TARP money has been spent. And now this – something, as the EFF points out, which was unceasingly criticized by candidate Obama when the Bush administration was in power.

Now, that said, perhaps what the Obama Justice Department has discovered is argument the Bush administration was making at the time were valid. The case in question is an extension of the September case:

Like the earlier suit, the September case relies on a former AT&T technician’s declaration that he saw equipment installed at the company’s San Francisco office to allow NSA agents to copy all incoming e-mails. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the declaration, and public statements by government officials, revealed a “dragnet” surveillance program that indiscriminately scooped up messages and customer records.

The Justice Department said Friday that government agents monitored only communications in which “a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.” But proving that the surveillance program did not sweep in ordinary phone customers would require “disclosure of highly classified NSA intelligence sources and methods,” the department said.

It would appear the Obama Justice Department has examined the case and the evidence and, amazingly, has come to the conclusion that what the Bush administration claimed – that the taps were aimed only at al Qaeda and/or affiliated organizations – was correct, and is now defending that. They’ve also concluded that disclosure of the information involved in the case would be harmful to national security.

What I now wonder is if “secrecy” suddenly is ok? And since it is the Obama administration – the increasingly opaque Obama administration – saying the taps were used only on bad guys, are they now ok? And will that be enough to mollify those on the left who were so outraged when the Bush administration was accused of doing all of this?

And finally, I wonder if the NYT will devote the time and space to this defense of what it termed “illegal wiretapping” in the past as it did when it surfaced during the Bush administration?

~McQ

Do Habeas Hearings Violate the Geneva Conventions?

Ed Morrissey highlights an order of a U.S. District Court regarding detainees at Bagram AFB:

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that prisoners in the war on terror can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention at a military air base in Afghanistan.

U.S. District Judge John Bates turned down the United States’ motion to deny the right to three foreign detainees at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to challenge their detention in court. But the government had argued that it did not apply to those in Afghanistan.

Bates said the cases were essentially the same and he quoted the Supreme Court ruling repeatedly in his judgment and applied the test created by it to each detainee. It is the first time a federal judge has applied the ruling to detainees in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, I think Bates is correct here because of the ruling in Boumediene. As I pointed out in February:

Similarly, extending habeas corpus rights to prisoners detained on the battlefield is an exercise in futility. Of course, that ship sailed with the ruling in Boumediene v. Bush. I’m not sure what argument the government could make that any prisoners under the control of the U.S., regardless of where they are being held, are not entitled to some sort of habeas proceeding. And since the very procedures deemed constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court in Hamdi were struck down as inadequate in Boumediene, I don’t know what options are actually left to the Obama administration other than the unsavory prospect of field executions.

Barring a contrary ruling from the Supreme Court, I think this most recent case proves the point.

But, Ed Morrissey seems to think the Bates’ decision does much more. Where he (reasonably) finds that the foregoing is an unconstitutional interjection of the judiciary into matters delegated to the Executive, Ed also seems to think that Bates’ order violates the Geneva Conventions (his bolding applied):

Not only does this violate the separation of powers in the Constitution, it actually violates the Geneva Convention. Article 84 states clearly that prisoners of any stripe shall not get tried in civil courts:

A prisoner of war shall be tried only by a military court, unless the existing laws of the Detaining Power expressly permit the civil courts to try a member of the armed forces of the Detaining Power in respect of the particular offence alleged to have been committed by the prisoner of war.

In no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of war be tried by a court of any kind which does not offer the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality as generally recognized, and, in particular, the procedure of which does not afford the accused the rights and means of defence provided for in Article 105.

We do not try our military personnel in civil court for offenses committed in the service. Therefore, we do not have the right to try prisoners in our civil courts, either.

There are a few problems with that conclusion:

(1) The detainees are not being tried. They’re challenging their detention. Another way of putting it is that they’re the plaintiffs in such an action (habeas hearing) as opposed to the defendants (as in a trial).

(2) Civilian courts may be used under the GC where the crimes/offenses alleged are already illegal (i.e. no a bill attainder or ex post facto law) and the court procedures provide the minimum guarantees set forth in the GC (this is spelled out in the rest of Ed’s Article 84 excerpt starting with “unless”).

(3) The Boumediene decision pretty much made this ruling necessary since the SCOTUS designated anywhere under U.S. control as being “U.S. territory”, with a few exceptions. An active battlefield is one of them IIRC and the judge may have decided that Bagram AFB doesn’t qualify.

In fact, on that last point, Judge Bates specifically noted that:

… non-Afghan detainees captured outside the country and moved to Bagram for a lengthy detention should have access to the courts to prevent the United States from being able to “move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely.”

As Boumediene is written, I think Bates got it exactly right. I do think that the entire line of reasoning and case law is incorrect from both a policy and constitutional basis, but Judge Bates is required to follow Supreme Court precedent. That his ruling serves as a perfect example how reductio absurdum can happen in real life doesn’t make him wrong.

Furthermore, I don’t see how allowing detainees to challenge their detention could possibly violate the Geneva Conventions. Again, that does not mean detainees should be afforded such rights, just that such a grant does not in any way run counter to either the letter or spirit of those treaties.

And Republicans Wonder Why They’re In The Wilderness

Don’t buy or own any property in Mississippi, at least not while Republican Governor Haley Barbour is in the Governor’s mansion:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he’s vetoing a bill that would limit the use of eminent domain because it would hurt the state’s ability to lure economic development projects.

The bill would’ve prevented the government from taking land for private projects. Barbour said Monday eminent domain was needed to lure projects such as the Nissan vehicle plant in Canton and the Toyota plant in north Mississippi.

And who is on the side of private property?

The bill was filed by Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton. An attempt to override veto would have to start in the House, where Blackmon is head of the Judiciary A Committee.

Sen. Eric Powell, a Democrat from Corinth, said he voted for the bill and he doesn’t intend to change his vote.

Amazing. What in the hell happened to individual rights and small and less intrusive government among Republicans? And, at least in Mississippi, why are they ceding the fight to Democrats?

Is it any wonder the GOP is losing support at a dizzying rate? With “Republicans” like Barbour, the GOP doesn’t need any enemies.

~McQ

Constitution? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Constitution!

As the Senate takes up its version of the violation of Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, also known as the bill to tax the hell out of the AIG bonuses, one note of sanity sounds through. Sen. John Kyl:

“I don’t believe that Congress should rush to pass yet another piece of hastily crafted legislation in this very toxic atmosphere, at least without understanding the facts and the potential unintended consequences,” he said.

“Frankly, I think that’s how we got into the current mess,” he added.

Heh … ya think?

Not that it matters – this will most likely pass the Senate as well and be signed into law by “Constitutional Law Professor” and President Barack Obama, but when it ends up in court and is declared unconstitutional, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Constitution always takes a back seat to populism and CYA.

~McQ

The New Gitmo Plan – Release Terrorists In US

Al Qaeda having difficulty establishing sleeper cells in the US? Not a problem – let the Attorney General help:

European justice ministers met with Mr. Holder earlier this week and pressed for details on how many Guantanamo prisoners the U.S. planned to release domestically, as part of any agreement for allies to accept detainees. Mr. Holder said U.S. officials would work to respond to the questions European officials have over U.S. Guantanamo plans.

For “people who can be released there are a variety of options that we have and among them is the possibility is that we would release them into this country,” Mr. Holder said. “That process is ongoing and we’ve not made any determinations or made any requests of anybody at this point.”

Seriously, anyone – sound like a better option than keeping Gitmo open and these prisoners there until and unless another country can be found to take them?

~McQ

Newspeak: Pelosi Style

Up is down. In is out. Billions in earmarks are no big deal, but millions in “bonuses” merit extreme outrage. And now, per Speaker Nancy Pelosi, illegal aliens represent the height of patriotism, but enforcing American laws is “un-American”:

No I can't!

No I can't!

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently told a group of both legal and illegal immigrants and their families that enforcement of existing immigration laws, as currently practiced, is “un-American.”

The speaker, condemning raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, referred to the immigrants she was addressing as “very, very patriotic.”

“Who in this country would not want to change a policy of kicking in doors in the middle of the night and sending a parent away from their families?” Pelosi told a mostly Hispanic gathering at St. Anthony’s Church in San Francisco.

As some might say, that’s muy estúpido. But the Speaker wasn’t done:

Referring to work site enforcement actions by ICE agents, Pelosi said, “We have to have a change in policy and practice and again … I can’t say enough, the raids must end. The raids must end.

“You are special people. You’re here on a Saturday night to take responsibility for our country’s future. That makes you very, very patriotic.”

Our country? Perhaps Pelosi is unclear on the concept of illegal immigrants? Do you think she realizes that they are not part of our country?

And the idea that enforcing our immigration laws is somehow “un-American” is beyond ludicrous. Although, when you consider this is coming from the party that seems to think paying taxes is a only a patriotic duty if you aren’t working for the Democrats, then I suppose it makes sense.

In the spirit of Pelosi’s newspeak, may I just say that the Madam Speaker is clearly a thoughtful and intelligent lawmaker who is doing a fine job at her post.

[HT: HotAir HL]

One Man’s “Terrorist” Is Another’s “Law Enforcement Problem”

Is homegrown terrorism the next problem? That’s the question being asked by some:

There is an increasing threat of homegrown terror stemming from segments of a deeply isolated and alienated Somali-American community, a U.S. Senate committee hearing concluded Wednesday.

The hearing, conducted by the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, focused on the attempted recruitment of young Somali-American men by al-Shabaab, “a violent and brutal extremist (Somali) group” with significant ties to al Qaeda, according to the U.S. State Department.

“Over the last two years, individuals from the Somali community in the United States, including American citizens, have left for Somalia to support and in some cases fight on behalf of al-Shabaab,” noted the committee’s chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut.

Al-Shabaab — also known as the Mujahedeen Youth Movement — was officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in March 2008.

If you’ve been following this, Somali youths from all over the US have been “disappearing” to end up half-way around the world engaged in war in Afghanistan. This is pretty much the same model as has affected the UK (although their particular group consists mostly of Pakistanis). The obvious next step is, instead of radicalizing them and exporting them to far off places, to do what was done with the 7/7 bombers in the UK and do it here.

The recruitment is made easier by the apparent isolation of the Somali community. The extremists pick off clusters of dissatisfied youth and radicalize them. The apparent distance between the Somali culture and the American culture are so vast that some simply cannot overcome that – or so the theory goes.

This is a situation which bears very close watching (and, hopefully some remedial effects brought on by positive intervention) – this is where AQ could put together a group that could travel thorough America with little difficulty and help foment an attack or attacks.

On another terrorist front, we already have home-grown terrorists (besides William Ayers) operating here:

The recent fire-bombing of a university professor’s car here appears to be part of a trend of animal-rights activists targeting the personal lives of researchers, rather than just the labs or companies where they work. The idea is to scare the scientists into reconsidering using animals in their research work.

Despite tightening laws, California saw an uptick in attacks last year with 21 reported incidents – of 36 nationwide – ranging from vandalism to firebombs, mostly targeting University of California researchers, according to data compiled by the Foundation for Biomedical Research. By contrast, the state saw just four or five such incidents the previous two years.

“The tactics [of animal-rights activists] have changed. They’ve gotten very personal,” says Frankie Trull of the National Association for Biomedical Research, an organization that advocates for the responsible use of animals in research.

The latest incident occurred early last Saturday outside the Westwood residence of Dr. David Jentsch, a neuroscientist at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The professor’s vehicle was engulfed in flames and destroyed, though no one was hurt.

If terrorism is “the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear”, these acts fit.

So while we may have an international brand of terrorism on the rise, we already have our own domestic terrorists at work on the West Coast. My guess is, though, they’re considered a “law enforcement” problem, not one of terrorism.

~McQ

D.C. Voting Rights Bill — Still Unconstitutional (Updated)

I‘ve written about this issue before, and said all I think there is to say about it. The fact is that any bill coming out of Congress granting voting rights to D.C. sua sponte is plainly unconstitutional. What’s more, Congress is already well aware of this fact. The Congressional Research Service, the legislative analysis advisors to Congress, deduced the following about H.R. 328 (the most recent precursor to current D.C. voting rights bill):

… it is difficult to identify either constitutional text or existing case law that would directly support the allocation by statute of the power to vote in the full House to the District of Columbia Delegate. Further, that case law that does exist would seem to indicate that not only is the District of Columbia not a “state” for purposes of representation, but that congressional power over the District of Columbia does not represent a sufficient power to grant congressional representation.

In particular, at least six of the Justices who participated in what appears to be the most relevant Supreme Court case on this issue, National Mutual Insurance Co. of the District of Columbia v. Tidewater Transfer Co., authored opinions rejecting the proposition that Congress’s power under the District Clause was sufficient to effectuate structural changes to the federal government. Further, the remaining three judges, who found that the Congress could grant diversity jurisdiction to District of Columbia citizens despite the lack of such jurisdiction in Article III, specifically limited their opinion to instances where the legislation in question did not involve the extension of fundamental rights. To the extent that the representation in Congress would be seen as such a right, all nine Justices in Tidewater Transfer Co. would arguably have found the instant proposal to be unconstitutional.

Can Congress vote itself more members?

Can Congress vote itself more members?


During hearings before Congress on the constitutionality of the D.C voting rights bill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John P. Elwood provided an excellent breakdown of how legal authorities had consistently found that the only way to grant D.C. citizens the right to congressional representation was through a constitutional amendment or by admitting D.C. as a state. Simply passing a law would not suffice.

Despite all the analysis presented, however, Congress continues to press forward with an unconstitutional bill:

Debate opened Monday on a bill to give the 600,000 people of Washington D.C. a full vote in the House. A new Democratic president, Barack Obama, and heftier Democratic majorities in Congress have improved the prospects for the decades-long effort that would certainly ensure another Democrat lawmaker in Congress.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by some 4-to-1 in the capital.

In a bit of horsetrading to offset the Democratic pickup, the bill would award a fourth House seat to Republican-leaning Utah, which narrowly missed getting that extra seat after the 2000 national census. With the two new seats, the House would have 437 representatives.

The time is ripe, said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group DC Vote, to end a situation where “we are the only capital of a democracy on the planet that denies voting representation in the national legislature.”

The time is ripe because Democrats have a huge majority in both houses of Congress, and control of the White House. The fact that D.C. votes reliably, and overwhelmingly, for Democrats is the real reason for the bill’s support amongst that party, and one of the main reasons for many Republicans being against it. To overcome the opposition, therefore, Democrats have thrown a sop to Utah in the way of an extra representative, which would also appear to be unconstitutional without a census. Either way, the fact that the bill is plainly contrary to Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution seems to be merely a convenient excuse for some Republicans and a minor inconvenience to some Democrats.

Jonathan Turley has consistently echoed the above, and eloquently explains why Congress should not pass this law, and why the President should not sign it:

Like many, I believe that it is a terrible injustice for the District residents not to have a vote in Congress. As Justice Black stated in Wesberry v. Sanders: “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.” However, the great wrong done to the District residents cannot be righted through the violation of the Constitution itself.

This is not a debate about the ends of legislative action but the means. In a nation committed to the rule of law it is often as important how we do something as what we do. This is the wrong means to a worthy end.

[...]

[Our Constitution] is the world’s most successful constitutional framework because it is carefully balanced with limited powers between the three branches. It is a design that can be frustrating at times when injustices demand quick action. Yet, the very stability and integrity of our system demands that we remain faithful to its provisions, even when our principles stand in the way of our passions.

Just as there is no debate over the need for a vote for the District, there is no debate that such a vote can be obtained by other means. Indeed, there is no longer any claim to be made that the District (or the Democratic Party) lacks the votes needed to take a constitutional course. The political realities and expediencies that gave raise to this idea no longer exist. With control of both houses and the White House, the sponsors can secure a lasting and unassailable vote in the House of Representatives through either retrocession or a constitutional amendment. Indeed, some republicans have expressed their support for a constitutional amendment that would allow a voting House member for the District.

Like Turley, I am in favor of D.C. residents having a vote in both the House and the Senate. And also like him, I am fervently opposed to any extra-constitutional means of accomplishing that goal. Instead, let’s draft an amendment, or begin the process of retroceding D.C. back to Maryland. Let the Maryland officials be accused of wanting to oppress D.C.’s denizens for a while, instead of those of us who simply want to uphold the Constitution.

We know how to make it happen, and yet Congress insists on doing it the wrong way. Much of it, of course, is sheer laziness and want of expediency. But that is no excuse for elected officials to blatantly disregard their roles as stewards of the contract between the people and their government, and the very source of those officials’ power. Minor as some of these indiscretions may be, when Congress takes it upon itself to decide which parts of the Constitution are worth following and which are not, then we become a rudderless ship of fools.

However it’s done, I heartily agree that we start the process of welcoming our D.C. brothers and sisters to the circus known as Congress. In order to make that welcome worth something, however, I recommend that we go about it in the way that passes constitutional muster.

UPDATE: As it turns out, a bill has been introduced by Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX, 1st Dist.) to retrocede D.C. back to Maryland. Funny how this bill hasn’t received any news attention.

Bagram/Gitmo – What’s The Difference Again?

Promises, promises:

Detainees being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan cannot use US courts to challenge their detention, the US says.

The Justice Department ruled that some 600 so-called enemy combatants at Bagram have no constitutional rights.

Most have been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of waging a terrorist war against the US.

The move has disappointed human rights lawyers who had hoped the Obama administration would take a different line to that of George W Bush.

Prof Barbara Olshansky, the lead counsel in a legal challenge on behalf of four Bagram detainees, told the BBC the justice department’s decision not to reform the rules was both surprising and “enormously disappointing”.

Uh, just for clarification, that’s Eric Holder’s Justice Department making the ruling. The Eric Holder who works for Barack Obama.

So the big one-two this week is the declared Obama human rights policy (the US won’t let human rights get in the way of economics, the enviroment or security concerns) and detainees held by the US in Bagram (but not Gitmo).

Heh … old boss/new boss.  At least Glenn Greenwald will have something to write about for a while, won’t he?

Wow, this governing is much harder than just flapping your gums about stuff, isn’t it?

“Just words …”

~McQ

Jindal Turns Down Federal Funds Because Of Unconstitutional Mandate

That is how the headline should have been written.  

However, Think Progress chose to characterize it this way: “Jindal Rejects $90 Million In Recovery Funding That Would Have Benefited 25,000 Louisiana Residents“. Says Think Progress:

Today, however, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced his intention to oppose changing state law to allow his Lousiana citizens to qualify for the second two unemployment provisions.

So why did Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal do what he did?  Well here’s what his office says in a press release:

The Governor said the state will not use a portion of the stimulus package that requires the state to change its law to expand unemployment insurance (UI) coverage to qualify for up to $32.8 million of the federal stimulus funding because it ultimately would result in a tax increase on Louisiana businesses.

Sounds like a governor who feels he and his legislature should be deciding their law and not the federal government.

Isn’t that what he’s elected to do? Doesn’t that sound like a perfect 10th amendment defense? Someone point out to me where the Constitution specifies that the federal government can reach down and, without debate or legislative or executive input, force a change of state law as a requirement to receive the aid.

Think Progress says:

But it is not clear why participating in the expanded unemployment insurance program would result in tax increases for business. By Jindal’s own estimate, the recovery package would have funded his state’s unemployment expansion for three years, at which point the state could — if it chose to do so — phase out the program.

Here’s a better idea – pull the requirement at a federal level. Why isn’t that the Think Progress position instead?

TP quotes a real expert in this area to close out the post:

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin suggested earlier today, perhaps Jindal’s presidential ambitions are “clouding” his judgement. “I think he’s been tapped as the up-and-coming Republican to petition a run for president the next time it goes around. So he has a certain vernacular, and a certain way he needs to talk right now,” Nagin said.

Leave it to Mr. “Chocolate City” to see it that way instead of understanding Jindal’s position is the right position for his state. You have to wonder how Nagin would feel if Jindal told him the state would only pay for levee repair if he changed the law in New Orleans and did something the state required, even if it wasn’t in the city’s best interest?

We’d hear him hollering “no way” clear to Atlanta.

~McQ