Last month, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pronounced in an interview with the BBC that it was "extraordinary" to think that "so-called torture" might be prohibited by the Constitution.
Well, to the quotes from that memorable interview ("You can't come in smugly and with great self satisfaction and say 'Oh it's torture, and therefore it's no good'" and "Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the constitution?") you can add this, from Scalia's speech at the University of Central Missouri yesterday:
Of torture, Scalia said: "Itâs a bad thing to do. But not everything that is bad is unconstitutional."
I guess torture is different from "so-called" torture. So to review your lesson in Scalia jurisprudence for the day: so-called torture, i.e. face-smacking, "sticking something under the fingernails," and one presumes, waterboarding, inducing hypothermia, and the like -- that's OK. Not only is it Constitutional, it's "absurd" to say you can't do it. Torture, on the other hand, is "a bad thing to do" -- presumably because it's against the law. But still A-OK by the Constitution. Class is adjourned.
The Canadian government is no longer using evidence gained from CIA interrogations of a top Al Qaeda detainee who was waterboarded.
According to documents obtained by NEWSWEEK, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country's national-security agency, last month quietly withdrew statements by alleged Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah from public papers outlining the case against two alleged terror "sleeper" operatives in Ottawa and Montreal....
Asked why the statements from Zubaydah had been dropped from the dossiers..., Bernard Beckhoff, a spokesman for Canada's public safety ministry, which oversees CSIS, said he could not comment on developments in either case because they are both still before the courts. But he then added, pointedly: "The CSIS director has stated publicly that torture is morally repugnant and not particularly reliable. CSIS does not knowingly use information which has been obtained through torture."
It's worth recalling that the Canadians aren't the only ones with a problem with Zubaydah's credibility. There's also the FBI.
FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted to Congress yesterday that his agency had improperly spied on Americans through the use of administrative subpoenas called national security letters. According to Mueller, a Justice Department report will soon document the agency's recurring invasion of Americans' privacy in 2006. An FBI audit shows that the FBI potentially violated laws or its own policies on more than 1,000 occasions from 2003 to 2005. (Washington Post)
The newly proposed Office of Congressional Ethics, if enacted into law, will only be allowed to initiate new investigations during July and August. Moreover, any investigation that OCE pursues must be approved by the House ethics committee but that committee is notorious for its glacial movement. One GOP aide notes that âitâs interesting Democrats have devised an âethics reformâ bill that basically guarantees that investigations are punted until after Election Day." It's also interesting that Democratic leaders failed to rally support for their own measure and bring the bill to a vote (sub. req.) yet again. (Politico, Roll Call)
President Bush seems intent on securing a conviction of a Guantanamo Bay detainee (other than that of the Australian prisoner who made a plea deal) before his term expires. With new charges just filed against another Guantanamo prisoner, the trial calendar is full and resources for defendants are scarce. This appears to be an effort to set "up dry runs of the untested legal process that will be used to prosecute self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and five other "high-value" prisoners later this year." (LA Times)
On February 1st of this year, National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) abruptly released a statement about recently discovered "irregularities in our financial audit process." That was it: no details about whether money might have been stolen, just word that they'd seen fit to bring in the federal authorities.
The details, as they've come, have been embarrassing for the committee, which works to get Republicans elected to the House (which was already hurting in comparison to its Democratic counterpart before all this began).
According to The New York Times this morning, it all began to unravel when Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), a CPA, asked to meet with the audit firm that was supposedly checking the NRCC's books, an idea that apparently no one had had for several years. Christopher Ward, then the NRCC's treasurer, finally relented, but then chickened out 30 minutes before and fessed up that there actually hadn't been any audits.
It was ultimately discovered that Ward had been faking the audits since 2003. The Politico, which laid out this general outline of events early last month, reported that Ward had forged everything, including the letterhead. So when it came time to actually talk to the people who'd supposedly written those fake reports, it all unraveled.
The FBI is currently investigating, and it's not clear yet why Ward was so keen to hide the real numbers. But as the Times reports this morning, the signs are not good. NRCC internal audits since Ward's discovery show that "hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing and presumed stolen." And it gets worse: there are apparently indications that "the financial irregularities might extend beyond the national committee to the campaign funds of individual Republican lawmakers who also worked with Mr. Ward, a longtime party operative."
Ward had been with the NRCC since 1993 and worked for dozens of Republican campaign committees, political action committees, and other organizations. It'll be interesting to see what the FBI turns up.
A Swiss bank has dropped its lawsuit against Web site Wikileaks.org for posting sensitive customer data.
Lawyers for Bank Julius Baer filed court papers Wednesday in San Francisco that officially ended the case.
Remember that a judge initially went along with the bank's request to block access to the site, an order that was broadly criticized as unconstitutional. And when a bunch of journalism and civil liberties groups got involved, the judge threw up his hands.
It was a landmark ruling by any measure. On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and that it had to act. The justices made the choice clear: the agency had to determine whether greenhouse gases contribute to climate change or not. Environmental groups exulted that, after several years of stalling, the administration would finally be forced to do something.
Except that they didn't. Nearly a year after that ruling, which required the EPA to make a decision, the agency still hasn't. And with Administrator Stephen Johnson at the helm, there's no sign that it's going to happen anytime soon.
This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Johnson, in blocking California's attempt to regulate greenhouse gases, has made it clear that the EPA considers them pollutants. As Georgetown Law professor Lisa Heinzerling, who wrote the lead brief in the Supreme Court case, Massachusetts v. EPAargues, "Johnson concluded that California's problems aren't "compelling and extraordinary" because they're no worse than the very bad problems the rest of the country faces as a result of climate change." That reasoning, she says, made explicit the EPA's view "that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare." That leaves Johnson with no choice, she writes.
But Johnson is a stubborn opponent. Yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Johnson a simple question during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing: How many staff at the EPA does he have working on this? Johnson, a Zen master of digression, mind numbing minutiae ("gobbledygook"), and generally thwarting questioners, never gives a simple answer. Here's the video:
After a digression covering Judge Antonin Scalia's minority opinion and all the other things that the EPA is considering ("I can go on and on"), Feinstein had had it.
"Let me ask you this... all right let me ask you this question. How many personnel right now are working on the endangerment finding?"
If you're a staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency, you might have found yourself wondering what the point is. As EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson likes to put it, the final decision is his to make. And he has a history of disregarding the recommendations of EPA staff when he makes them.
Unionized EPA workers are withdrawing from a cooperation agreement with the political appointees who supervise them over controversies including the agency's refusal to let California regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.
Nineteen union local presidents representing more than 10,000 Environmental Protection Agency employees signed a letter to Administrator Stephen L. Johnson last Friday accusing him of "abuses of our good nature and trust."...
The union locals involved represent the vast majority of EPA workers around the country. Signers included William Evans, president of the EPA headquarters chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Evans said that the purpose of the Clinton-era National Labor-Management Partnership Council was for senior agency officials and workers to deal with workplace and other issues before the decision stage.
Instead, "what we found is decisions are being made and they're being presented to us," said Evans.
You can read the letter from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility here.
As you can see, the union senses a pattern in Johnson's leadership. Scientific standards get junked they say, "whenever political direction from other federal entities or private sector interests so direct." Johnson's denial of a waiver for California's greenhouse gas rules, of course, being a prime example.
This month, President Bush is expected to veto a Senate bill that would restrict the CIA to using interrogation techniques approved by the Army Field Manual. That would unequivocally outlaw waterboarding, the inducement of hypothermia, sensory deprivation, and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques that have been in the CIA's arsenal.
The veto is likely to survive an attempt by Senate to override because ever since 9/11, the administration and Republicans (including Sen. John McCain) have preferred to keep legal restraints on CIA interrogators loose.
But the FBI, which, unlike the CIA had ample experience with interrogation, took a different tack. During today's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked FBI Director Robert Mueller why:
LEAHY: And you have a policy, as does the military, the military handbooks, not to use coercive techniques like waterboarding. Why do you have that policy?
MUELLER: There are a number of reasons that probably contributed to the development of that policy years ago. Generally, our questioning has been, in the past, done in the United States, and the results of our questioning often end up in a court. Whereas, you and other who have been prosecutors know the question of voluntariness is at issue for the admissibility of information you have.
And, consequentially, the policy was established, I would imagine, given our particular unique mission here and the operation under the Constitution, the applicable statutes and the attorney general guidelines.
It also is a result, I believe, of the analysis of our Behavioral Science Unit as to effective use of particular techniques where we believe that the rapport-building technique is particularly effective.
Mueller also acknowledged that the "rapport-building" approach apparently was quite successful with Saddam Hussein.
Remember that down in Guantanamo Bay, FBI and military interrogators (the "Clean Team") had to re-examine detainees because the techniques used by CIA interrogators meant that the testimony would not hold up in court. Not that the director of national intelligence has any doubt that "enhanced interrogation" techniques produce reliable information ("we can tell in minutes if they are lying"). I guess it's just a different way of doing things.
The Politicogets the temperature of the current negotiations on the surveillance bill and stresses the "unknowns." So while the signs tend towards the final bill somehow containing retroactive immunity for the telecoms against those vicious lawsuits, it's still not a sure thing.
But there was this choice section, where Senate intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) expresses befuddlement that Republicans have boycotted talks on a compromise bill. The president and leading GOPers have said that it's the Senate bill or nothing so there's no use negotiating. From The Politico:
Rockefeller supports the immunity provision the administration wants, but he said he was perplexed by the fact that the White House has skipped the meetings the Democrats have tried to hold. âI donât understand why the White House hasnât been more active in pushing the solution they want,â he said.
âItâs very strange.â
Of course, the Republicans and the administration have been pushing with all their might (I guess Rockefeller missed this ad... and Bush's every public appearance for the past month). They just see no reason to go to the table, figuring that if they push enough, they'll get what they want.
Did CBS Alabama affiliate WHNT just have really rotten luck with its equipment during 60 Minutes' segment on ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D), or did the station actually try to censor the story on Republicans' alleged attempts to use the Justice Department to take out a political opponent?
Michael Copps, a Dem appointee on the Federal Communications Commission, has already begun pushing for an investigation. Chairman Kevin Martin has been noncommittal.
But Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, wants Martin to know that he'll be keeping an eye on things. In a letter to Martin today, he asks that Martin share whatever findings emerge from an investigation, and adds "I will be monitoring this situation closely."