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Last month, Democrats, with the help of a few crossover Republicans (but not Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)), passed a bill that would have limited the CIA's interrogation techniques to those authorized by the Army Field Manual. Waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques (use of hoods or duct tape over the eyes, inducing hypothermia, etc.) would have been specifically and unambiguously outlawed.

President Bush, as promised, vetoed that bill, saying that restricting CIA interrogators "could cost American lives." An override vote failed in the House.

Now Senate Democrats are going to try again. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she'll introduce the measure as an amendment to 2009's Senate intelligence authorization bill, because "at the time [of the veto] we vowed to come back - again and again if necessary - to ensure that torture by U.S. intelligence agencies is outlawed for good." Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are also sponsoring the amendment. Over the weekend, Wyden released correspondence from the Justice Department showing how lawyers there dealt with current ambiguity in the relevant laws. What counted as an "outrage upon personal dignity," a DoJ official wrote, depended on whether "an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) knew he was going to get a fight. And he's getting one.

Earlier this month, he scheduled a hearing for next week on the administration's authorization of torture, and along with John Yoo, has invited former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former CIA Director George Tenet, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Chief of Staff to the Vice President David Addington, and former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin.

Yesterday Conyers released some of the correspondence he's been having with lawyers for Addington, Yoo, and Ashcroft. As expected, none of them want to testify, and they're not short on reasons.

Both Yoo and Ashcroft say that they have not been authorized by the Department of Justice to discuss the context of the key torture memos, internal discussions about them, and the like. And both say that they are the subject of lawsuits, and so it would be "inappropriate" to testify.

But it won't surprise anyone that the letter from Kathryn Wheelbarger, Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel, is the real masterpiece. It is by now common knowledge that Addington is by far the most powerful and influential lawyer in the administration, particularly with regard to the controversial counterterrorism policies such as torture and the warrantless wiretapping program. But Wheelbarger says that Conyer's got the wrong guy. If you're looking to discuss presidential powers in war time, then you really ought to be bugging a presidential aide, she writes. And if it's interrogation you want to talk about, then "the Director of National Intelligence or his designee and the Secretary of Defense or his designee, respectively, would be the appropriate witness." From there, it's on to an argument about how the power of Congress to investigate is limited, so Addington cannot be compelled to show. And then on to an argument about how Addington, due to privilege concerns, wouldn't be able to say much even if he did show voluntary.

So to sum up, that's: You're asking the wrong person, but even if you were asking the right person, you couldn't make him show up, and even if he did show up, he wouldn't say anything.

As for Conyers, he says he will issue subpoenas to those who do not agree to appear by this Friday.

Soldiers coming back from World War II were greeted with the GI Bill, giving opportunity and promise to begin anew. Now over 800,000 young men and women are returning from war fronts looking to make their own fresh start, but they are finding the modern version of the GI Bill is insufficient, barely covering half of today's skyrocketing college tuition. (Washington Post)

By allowing outside influence to affect policy and protocol,the Bush administration has severely watered down the clout of the Environmental Protection Agency, reports a Government Accountability Office finding. The EPA's duty of assessing cancerous hazards in chemicals, specifically, has been curbed by non-scientific reviews and involvement from White House budget officials, the Energy Dept, and the Pentagon to name a few. (Associated Press)

Ashley Dupre, known as "Kristen" to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, is now suing the founder of the video franchise "Girls Gone Wild" for $10 million. Dupre was featured in one of the company's videos during a drunken spring break foray in 2003. She says she was only 17 at the time, too young to sign a binding agreement to use the footage of her. Dupre "did not understand the magnitude of her actions ..." at the time, her lawsuit claims. (LA Times)

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Just another day at Guantanamo, I guess.

On the witness stand was the former chief prosecutor for the tribunals, Col. Morris Davis. Called to testify by defense lawyers, he told the court what he'd told the press -- that he'd quit after becoming convinced that the political appointees overseeing the system were about politics first and justice second, that he was told "we can't have acquittals," and that he was pushed to land indictments or plea deals before the election. He also said that his superiors saw no problem with using confessions obtained through torture, including waterboarding. Everything is "fair game," he says he was told, "let the judge sort it out."

And then there's Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the alleged driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan's lawyers say that interrogators beat him and sexually humiliated him, among other things, and are arguing that he's unfit to stand trial because he's essentially been driven crazy by spending 22 hours in solitary confinement for the past several years. His lawyers say "he is suicidal, hears voices, has flashbacks, talks to himself and says the restrictions of Guantánamo 'boil his mind.'"

Nevertheless, Hamdan was there yesterday -- sort of:

But Hamdan, during the morning session, also appeared to show some evidence of mental deterioration, which his attorneys have ascribed to mistreatment and lengthy solitary confinement. He seemed in a daze as he was led into court in his khaki detention uniform.

He then engaged in a short, subdued rant to Allred about how he believes he is not being afforded human rights and would like to use the bathroom without soldiers watching him. He also tried at one point to get up from the defense table to leave the room. "I refuse participating in this, and I refuse all the lawyers operating on my behalf," Hamdan said. He returned for the afternoon session in traditional Yemeni garb and a sport coat and agreed to continue.


And just to complete the context for the scene, the Post notes, is the fact that the Supreme Court is nearing "a decision on whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that laid the legal foundation for these hearings violates the Constitution by barring any of the approximately 275 remaining Guantanamo Bay prisoners from forcing a civilian judicial review of their detention." In the meantime, the ugliness of Gitmo is on full display.

Last week, prosecutors in the trial of Tony Rezko revealed that a government witness would testify that Rezko had said he was plotting to get U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald canned. His buddy and Republican bigwig Robert Kjellander was in talks with Karl Rove, the story goes.

Both Rove and Kjellander denied ever speaking of canning Fitzgerald, and the plot did seem to fall somewhat short. The alleged plotting happened back in 2004, right when Fitzgerald was in the thick of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. As I said last week, it would have been an unbelievably bold move even for Rove. Nevertheless, it does appear that Kjellander would have been looking for any opening to get rid of Fitzgerald.

Today the Rezko trial brought another aspect of the somewhat hapless plot:

Tony Rezko associate Elie Maloof just testified that when he received a grand jury subpoena, Rezko told him not to talk to the feds. Why?

"The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor," Maloof just testified that Rezko told him. What did Rezko mean, prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked.

"That Patrick Fitzgerald would be terminated and Dennis Hastert will name his replacement. The investigation will be over."

Maloof said Rezko told him of Fitzgerald's replacement: "That they will order the prosecutor to stop the investigation."


Unfortunately for Rezko, four years later Fitzgerald is still plugging away.

Last week, Robert Coughlin, the former chief of the criminal division at the Justice Department pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges. Filings by prosecutors showed that Coughlin served as an inside man for Jack Abramoff's associate Kevin Ring.

As part of his plea deal, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors in the continuing investigation. But it wasn't clear from his plea whom Coughlin might be able to finger. Legal Times reports that prosecutors are looking elsewhere in the Justice Department:

A source familiar with the Abramoff probe says the Justice Department is continuing to investigate other former Justice officials. Coughlin and at least two other unnamed Justice officials helped secure a $16.3 million grant for Ring's client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, court documents say. A deputy assistant attorney general had previously approved $9 million for the tribe. One unanswered question is which official at the department overruled that decision, giving the tribe the full amount.

It looks like the Pentagon is just in a lesson-learning mood lately. While they're busily reviewing whether the carefully-orchestrated use of military analysts was improper, the Army is reviewing whether it should have known better than to award a $300 million contract to supply arms to the Afghan security forces to a company run by a 22 year-old.

As The New York Times reports, the key lesson seems to be that if a contractor's price seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

The Pentagon was shocked by what it read in the paper last Sunday.

From Stars and Stripes:

The Defense Department has temporarily stopped feeding information to retired military officers pending a review of the issue, said Robert Hastings, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs....

Hastings said he is concerned about allegations that the Defense Department's relationship with the retired military analysts was improper.

"Following the allegations, the story that is printed in the New York Times, I directed my staff to halt, to suspend the activities that may be ongoing with retired military analysts to give me time to review the situation," Hastings said in an interview with Stripes on Friday.

Hastings said he did not discuss the matter with Defense Secretary Robert Gates prior to making his decision. He could not say Friday how long this review might take.

"We'll take the time to do it right," he said.

Family members of Iraqis murdered by workers of defense contractor Blackwater have sued the company for wrongful death. Now lawyers for the Iraqis are claiming that Blackwater has shredded documents vital to federal investigations of the company. There is no word yet on an investigation by the Justice Department into the matter. (USA Today)

Defense lawyers of clients living overseas, but barred from the U.S. due to accusations of supporting terrorism, assume that the U.S. government is monitoring their e-mail or phone correspondence with the clients. These assumptions are causing lawyers rigorous travel and expense to meet with exiled clients. (New York Times)

After backing legislation last year calling for campaigns to pay charter rates on flights in an effort to level influence of lobbyists, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been found to have used his wife's corporate-owned jet last summer at about one-third the cost when his own campaign was strapped for cash. The Federal Election Commission tried to close the loophole McCain used to justify his actions, but the agency has been in turmoil since losing the required number of commissioners to enact such rules. (New York Times)

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Finally, the country will be rescued from its long nightmare struggle with voter fraud! And if certain voters find it harder to get their ballot cast, then so be it.

From the AP:

The Supreme Court has ruled that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights. The decision validates Republican-inspired voter ID laws.

The court vote 6-3 to uphold Indiana's strict photo ID requirement. Democrats and civil rights groups say the law would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots.


As those who have followed this issue will remember, this is not a surprise. As Jeffrey Toobin put it early this year:

As a general matter, in recent years the Court has been reluctant to find what is charged in this case: a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. (The notable exception, to belabor the issue, was for a plaintiff named George W. Bush.) In the end, though, it will not be the judiciary that rescues democracy; whatever the obstacles, the problems with the ballot box must be solved at the ballot box.


A little more detail in an update from the AP:

The law "is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting 'the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'" Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented....

"We cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters," Stevens said.

Stevens' opinion suggests that the outcome could be different in a state where voters could provide evidence that their rights had been impaired.

But in dissent, Souter said Indiana's voter ID law "threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting rights of tens of thousands of the state's citizens."


Update: Here are excerpts from the opinions from the AP.

Update: Some thoughts on the decision by voting law expert Rick Hasen.

Update: And here's Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) response:

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