Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How seriously do we take domestic terrorism?

As used in this chapter... (5) the term "domestic terrorism" means activities that - (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended - (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

FindLaw: Title 18 - Part I - Chapter 113B

Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller at church in Wichita, KS, last Sunday. To restate the obvious, this was an act dangerous to human life, a violation of the criminal laws of the United States, and appeared to be intended to intimidate a civilian population (providers or possibly recipients of abortion services) and to influence the policy of a government by intimidation (that policy being related to current laws concerning abortion). The murder happened in the United States. Thus, domestic terrorism. I'm glad we've cleared that up.

Now, when it comes to terrorism, there are all sorts of legal subtleties that are beyond me. (a) This is a definition used in laws at the federal level, but there are a couple of dozen states that also have terrorism laws that may differ. (b) I don't know what role legal definitions play in the decision to charge someone with a crime. (c) The legal definition doesn't match everyone's everyday understanding: Edgar Morales, a New York City gang member, was convicted on terrorist charges when he fired a gun into a crowd in 2002, murdering a young girl. (d) The notion that some acts are terrorism because they appear to be intended to intimidate strikes me as having too many untestable qualifications. (e) And so forth. But let all that go--I think Roeder's actions fall pretty clearly within the scope of the definition.

Here's the strange thing: Roeder has not been charged with terrorism. In contrast, Abdulhakim Muhammad, who murdered Private William Long just a day later outside an Army-Navy Career Center in Little Rock, AK, has been charged as a terrorist. The difference in treatment may be due to the legal complexities I've alluded to above; I don't know. But I found it strange to read this in the Washington Post today:

The man charged with murdering a high-profile abortion doctor claimed from his jail cell Sunday that similar violence was planned around the nation for as long as the procedure remained legal, a threat that comes days after a federal investigation launched into his possible accomplices.


Scott Roeder called The Associated Press from the Sedgwick County jail, where he's being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller one week ago. "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.

Consider: We capture a man who has just committed a high-profile murder, on the face of it an act of domestic terrorism, and a week later he's calling the news media from jail to publicize "similar events" planned for the future. Is this an indication of how seriously we take domestic terrorism?

Glenn Greenwald

The NYT's nice, new euphemism for torture

(updated below)

In today's New York Times, William Glaberson describes a proposal being circulated by the Obama administration to enable Guantanamo detainees to be put to death upon a mere guilty plea, i.e., without the need for a full-blown trial. The article describes the purpose of the proposal this way:

The proposal would ease what has come to be recognized as the government’s difficult task of prosecuting men who have confessed to terrorism but whose cases present challenges. Much of the evidence against the men accused in the Sept. 11 case, as well as against other detainees, is believed to have come from confessions they gave during intense interrogations at secret C.I.A. prisons. In any proceeding, the reliability of those statements would be challenged, making trials difficult and drawing new political pressure over detainee treatment.

The primary reason to avoid trials upon a guilty plea is to prevent public disclosure of the details of the torture we inflicted on these detainees. Despite that, the word "torture" never once appears in this NYT article. Instead, according to the NYT, detainees in CIA black sites were merely subjected to "intense interrogations." That's all? Who opposes "intense interrogations"?

This active media complicity in concealing that our Government created a systematic torture regime -- by refusing ever to say so -- is one of the principal reasons it was allowed to happen for so long (though see Jake Tapper's imperfect though still far superior formulation today on his ABC News blog about an Obama DHS appointee who just withdrew his nomination because of his possible "knowledge of and role in approving brutal interrogation techniques -- some of which qualify under international law as torture -- used by CIA officials against detainees").

The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as "torture" -- even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantanamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word "torture" to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries -- reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks. These are their governing principles:

There are two sides and only two sides to every "debate" -- the Beltway Democratic establishment and the Beltway Republican establishment. If those two sides agree on X, then X is deemed true, no matter how false it actually is. If one side disputes X, then X cannot be asserted as fact, no matter how indisputably true it is. The mere fact that another country's behavior is described as X doesn't mean that this is how identical behavior by the U.S. should be described. They do everything except investigate and state what is true. In their view, that -- stating what is and is not true -- is not their role.

The whole world knows that the U.S. tortured detainees in the "War on Terror." Yet American newspapers refuse to say so.

UPDATE: As the excellent blog NPR Check routinely documents, NPR is one of the worst offenders of using obfuscating language to white-wash what the Bush administration did, as illustrated by one routine NPR report last week regarding Obama's efforts to suppress photographic evidence of torture (h/t archtype):

The contortionists at NPR are mighty busy these days being super, extra careful not to use the word torture to describe - well - torture. Keeping the English language in such painful stress positions leads to some rather interesting remarks. On ATC Wednesday I caught Bob Siegel stating,

"The infamous Abu Ghraib photos served as early evidence of harsh treatment of detainees. Today the White House announced its decision to fight against the release of other similar photos. The photos show the alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan."

It's all merely "alleged," and it's everything but "torture." And then there's this:

Liane Hansen has a little chat with "Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of the ground forces in Iraq when some of those techniques were used at the Abu Ghraib prison." During the interview Sanchez relates the following:

"We got a little bit of an insight into what they [CIA] were doing when they did drop off what came to be known as Iceman at Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003....we clearly understood that they were using some very, very aggressive techniques, and in fact had wound up with this man dead in the course of an interrogation....he was brought to Abu Ghraib and handed off to my conventional forces there at the prison, and we eventually wound up repatriating him to his family to be taken care of and interred."

HOLY CRAP! Sanchez is describing the fact that the CIA and US forces tortured a man to death. Hansen doesn't express shock, disgust, surprise...anything. She manages a brief interruption to ask who "Iceman" was, but that's it.

Another chapter in the banality of evil.

As governments have long recognized, language is very potent, and euphemisms can thus mask and even justify the most heinous and barbaric acts. But in our country, our leading media institutions use these methods at least as vigorously as political officials do in order to obscure, rather than illuminate, what our government does.

Liz Cheney Thinks It's Unfair if Andrea Mitchell Fact Checks Her Statements

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After Liz Cheney claims that her father never tried to tie Saddam Hussein to 9-11, while trying to tie Saddam Hussein to 9-11 herself, Mitchell stops her in her tracks for playing fast and loose with the facts. Mitchell then follows with this.

Mitchell: Well, I'm going to go back, I'll do my homework, invite you back so we can talk about this more because I think that there were if not explicit, implicit connections suggesting at various points along the way..one..

Cheney: Well that's not...that's actually not fair Andrea because I think that, you know after 9-11 the issue of Saddam, you know, became a critically important issue for our national security because of his connections to terrorists and because we believed he had stockpiles of WMD. We knew and he did continue to have the technology that he could share with the terrorists. That's a very different thing than saying he was connected to 9-11.

Break out the waaaambulance. Heaven forbid Cheney would want to allow something like a few facts to get in the way of her spin. I don't think we're going to see that follow up interview any time soon.

Republicans Seize Control of State Senate

State Senate revoltRob Bennett for The New York Times; Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times Two state senators — Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens — moved to defect to the Republican side, which would end Democratic control of the chamber.

Updated, 6:20 p.m. | ALBANY – Republicans apparently seized control of the New York State Senate on Monday, in a stunning and sudden reversal of fortunes for the Democratic Party, which controlled the chamber for barely five months.

A raucous leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., with two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, joining the 30 Senate Republicans in a motion that would displace Democrats as the party in control.

In a news conference in the early evening, Senator Malcolm A. Smith of Queens, leader of the Senate Democrats, insisted that the Republican-engineered vote was illegal and violated parliamentary procedure. He said the vote was illegal because it had already taken place after the meeting was already brought to an end.

Dean G. SkelosGiovanni Rufino for The New York Times Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, is expected to become the new majority leader.

It was a noisy and acrimonious scene on the floor of the Senate as Senator Thomas W. Libous, a Republican from Binghamton and the party’s deputy leader, shouted for a roll-call vote, while Democrats attempted to stall the vote by asking to adjourn the session.

All 30 Republicans stood with their hands raised, signaling a vote for a change in leadership. Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate joined them, each raising his hand. Republicans won the vote by a 32-to-30 margin. The Senate will now be governed under a new joint leadership structure, with Mr. Espada serving as the president pro tempore, and Senator Dean G. Skelos, of Long Island, as the new majority leader.

After the results of the vote were read aloud, the in-house television station that carries Senate proceedings live in the Capitol went dark. All that appeared on the screen was a still photo of the Senate chamber and the words “Please stand by.”

Senate Republicans quickly claimed that they were on the verge of controlling the chamber. “A new bipartisan, coalition is being established that is bringing real reform to the Senate right now,” Republicans said in a statement emailed to reporters at 3:20 p.m.

As the events were unfolding on the floor, Mr. Smith huddled in the hall just off the Senate chamber and consulted with his staff. When asked what was occurring, he responded, “I’m trying to find out right now.”

Mr. Smith held a news conference in the early evening, denouncing the Republican maneuver as “scurrilous” and insisting that the Democrats were still in charge. He insisted the vote was illegal because it had taken place after the session had already been adjourned.

“It’s sad that the Republicans would chose to disrupt the business of this house,” he said. “We have many crucial issue that are important to us that has to get done, some of which are expiring, and obviously for them it was all about politics and not about the 19.5 million people in the state of New York. And I would hope that the public is outraged. I hope that the public will call their senators, the Republican senators, and say, ‘How dare you?’”

Mr. Smith added: “Let’s just be very clear, very clear, that the Senate majority is still in Democratic hands and will be in Democratic hands. And we will finish our business and we will adjourn and go home at the appropriate time.”

Earlier, at 4:44 p.m., Mr. Smith’s office released a statement insisting that control of the Senate had not changed hands.

“This was an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate and reverse the will of the people who voted for a Democratic majority,” Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Mr. Smith, said. “Nothing has changed. Senator Malcolm A. Smith remains the duly elected temporary president and majority leader. The real Senate majority is anxious to get back to governing, and will take immediate steps to get us back to work.”

Also, Hank Sheinkopf, an adviser to Mr. Smith, denounced the senators behind the revolt. “This is obviously an attempt by a couple of people to get personal power at the expense of the taxpayers,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. “It disrupts the Senate at a critical period, when issues like mayoral control are yet undecided. And the taxpayers are going to remember these guys by first and last name next year.”

Until January, Republicans had controlled the State Senate for more than four decades. Democrats won a majority of Senate seats in the November elections, but only after three dissident senators who were being courted by Republicans, including Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate, agreed to elect Mr. Smith.

Why Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate suddenly defected on Monday afternoon was not immediately clear. Both men are under investigation by the authorities. The state attorney general’s office is investigating a health care agency, Soundview HealthCare Network, that Mr. Espada ran until recently. And Mr. Monserrate, who was indicted on felony assault charges in March stemming from an attack on his companion, would automatically be thrown out of office if convicted.

If Mr. Monserrate is convicted, the Senate would be evenly split between the parties, 31 to 31. But with the lieutenant governor’s office vacant until the 2010 elections, there would be no tie-breaking vote in the chamber unless one or more other senators changed sides.

The coup could also complicate prospects for Gov. David A. Paterson, who is fighting to build a record on which to run for re-election and who requires a functioning Senate in order do so.

One source of contention among Democrats recently has been Mr. Smith’s support for same-sex marriage. Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., a Democrat from the Bronx, has been outspoken in his insistence that legislation allowing gay couples to marry not be allowed to come to a vote. Some had speculated he might leave the Democratic Party if Mr. Smith were to allow a vote.

But Mr. Díaz did not join Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate in the leadership vote on Monday. It was not immediately clear whether the same-sex marriage legislation played any role in the leadership dispute.

One person backing the revolt to put Republicans back in charge was Tom Golisano, the Rochester businessman and founder of Responsible New York, a political action committee that gave thousands of dollars to Senate Democrats last year to help them take control of the Senate, but who has become increasingly critical of the party. Mr. Golisano recently announced that he was moving his legal residence to Florida out of anger about the budget deal crafted in April by Democratic leaders in Albany, which included an increase in taxes on high earners.

Mr. Golisano played a role in negotiating original deal under which Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate — along with Mr. Díaz and Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn — gave their support to Mr. Smith. Steve Pigeon, his aide de camp, has been a frequent presence in Albany in recent weeks, and said Monday that Mr. Golisano felt betrayed by Mr. Smith because the Democratic leader had not delivered the overhaul of Senate rules he had promised upon taking power.

“He feels very strongly that he backed Malcolm Smith, and Smith didn’t keep his word, and didn’t make the changes he said he would,” Mr. Pigeon. “What you will see now is power-sharing, real reform.”

The apparent change of power sent shock waves in political circles across the state. At City Hall, in Lower Manhattan, stunned members of the New York City Council walked into the press room to watch the news unfold on local television. “I’m floored,” said Vincent M. Ignizio, a Republican city councilman and former state assemblyman from Staten Island.

To balance its budget for the next year, the City Council needs Albany to approve two proposed sales tax increases. “This will turn the budget process on its head,” Mr. Ignizio said.

Ex-Gitmo prisoner: US tortured me with needles, IV tubes

A former prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay says he was never interrogated about the reason the US said they’d arrested him for — even after seven years in captivity.

He also provided a graphic account of new elements of what may be considered “ad-lib” torture — guards inappropriately using hypodermic needles and IV tubes intended for forced feeding during hunger strikes.

He further said he was kept awake for 16 days straight — which was often done by splashing detainees eyes with cold water when they nodded off in their cell under bright lights. The account was published by ABC News.

The former detainee, Lakhdar Boumediene, is now in France with his family. He was never charged. Was it torture? an ABC News reporter asked.

“I don’t think. I’m sure,” he replied.

“Boumediene described being pulled up from under his arms while sitting in a chair with his legs shackled, stretching him,” an ABC News interview account Monday reported. “He said that he was forced to run with the camp’s guards and if he could not keep up, he was dragged, bloody and bruised.

“He described what he called the ‘games’ the guards would play after he began a hunger strike, putting his food IV up his nose and poking the hypodermic needle in the wrong part of his arm.

“You think that’s not torture?” he quipped. “What’s this? What can you call this? Torture or what?” he said, indicating the scars he bears from tight shackles. ‘I’m an animal? I’m not a human?’”

Boumediene was first captured and accused of being part of a plot to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo. But charges against him were dropped by the Bosnian government. Subsequently, however, they turned him over to the US military.

The charges were dropped, and the Bosnian courts ordered him and five others freed. But under pressure from the Bush administration, the Bosnian government handed him over to the U.S. military. He was shackled and transported by military plane to Cuba.

Two weeks later, in his State of the Union address, President Bush touted the arrests in Bosnia to show early progress in the war on terror.

“Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy,” Bush said in his address. To this day, officials of the Bush administration have provided no credible evidence to back up that accusation.

Boumediene said the interrogations began within one week of his arrival at the facility in Cuba. But he thought that his cooperation, and trust in the United States, would serve him well and quicken his release.

“I thought America, the big country, they have CIA, FBI. Maybe one week, two weeks, they know I am innocent. I can go back to my home, to my home,” he said.

But instead, Boumediene said he endured harsh treatment for more than seven years.

The full interview can be read here.

This video is from ABC’s Good Morning America, broadcast June 8, 2009.

Download video via RawReplay.com

Democrats Weigh Health Mandate as Obama Urges Taxing Wealthy

June 7 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama wants Congress to consider taxing the wealthy instead of workers to pay for a health-care overhaul, as House Democrats discuss a plan to require health insurance for most Americans.

The Obama administration stepped up efforts to influence health-care legislation today as advisers David Axelrod and Austan Goolsbee appeared on television talk shows to discuss the issue.

The president is trying to avoid broad-based levies such as a Senate proposal to tax some employer-provided health benefits Axelrod said. Instead he is urging lawmakers to reconsider limiting all tax deductions for Americans in the highest tax brackets.

“He made a very strong case for the proposal that he put on the table, which was to cap deductions for high-income Americans, and he urged them to go back and look at that,” Axelrod said on the CNN’s “State of the Union.” Goolsbee, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said Obama is “mindful” about how “ordinary Americans are able to foot the bills” and never proposed taxing employee benefits.

House Democrats are weighing a new proposal in response to Obama’s call for legislation to be enacted by August. An outline of the plan obtained by Bloomberg News would require Americans to have insurance with some exceptions.

It would probably exempt those who can prove they can’t find an affordable policy. There could be a tax penalty for those with adequate financial resources who don’t elect to get insurance, according to the outline.

Group Rates

The outline suggests consumers who have individual health insurance policies that they like could keep them. Still, it says that “by and large” the nation’s market for individually purchased health insurance policies would move to a new federally operated exchange. It would permit both individuals and employees of small firms to buy policies at less expensive group rates.

“States will have the option to run a state exchange but the default will be a national exchange,” according to the outline.

Karen Lightfoot, a spokeswoman for House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat whose panel is working on a proposal, said the document that is circulating is not the official work of the committee.

All House Democrats will be briefed June 9 on the details of a single piece of legislation that three House committees will work on, with the House slated to act by the end of July. The proposal is part of a broader push by Democrats in Congress to complete a revamp of the U.S. health-care system by an early fall timetable set by Obama.

Kennedy’s Approach

In the Senate, health committee chairman Edward Kennedy has an early draft of legislation that also includes a so-called “individual mandate,” and would require all employers to supply health insurance for workers or contribute to the cost of a plan.

Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, would also create a public health plan to compete with private insurers, a priority of Obama’s that is opposed by Republicans, and would bar insurers from limiting coverage.

The effort to overhaul health-care would affect a sector that makes up 17 percent of the U.S. economy. The goal of Democratic supporters is to provide insurance to most of the nation’s 46 million uninsured, and lower the soaring cost of care. A key challenge is the potential impact of legislation on an already rising U.S. budget deficit that may reach $1.8 trillion this year.

Axelrod, speaking on CNN today, said the ultimate goal of legislation is to reduce costs.

“We have to bring down the cost of health care,” he said. “If we do that and make it affordable, people are going to buy it, mandate or no mandate.”

Burdens on Business

Google Inc. Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, speaking on Fox, said reducing costs would also ease burdens on business.

“The only way to really address this is to address the combination of coverage and cost,” Schmidt said. “So anything that the Congress and the president does has to do that. And from my perspective, the sooner the better.”

“You won’t fundamentally solve the problems in business until you solve the problem of spiraling health-care costs, which is driving everybody crazy,” he added.

Lawmakers have a plethora of proposals to raise the hundreds of billions estimated to be needed for an overhaul, including new taxes on soda, beer, and wine, and a partial tax on employer-provided health insurance for the first time. The tax-free nature of employer-provided insurance is the biggest tax expenditure in the federal budget.

Taxing Cap Deductions

Obama’s own proposal would set a 28 percent cap on tax deductions for items such as mortgage interest, investment expenses and charitable gifts for Americans in the two highest tax brackets, which would be 36 percent and 39.6 percent under his proposals. Without the cap, they would be able to deduct 36 cents and 39.6 cents on the dollar for those expenses, respectively.

Obama also proposes new taxes on securities dealers and life insurers, and to raise revenue by prohibiting certain estate-planning techniques.

House Democrats intend, like Kennedy, to include a new government program to provide health-care to a portion of the uninsured who don’t already qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, according to the outline.

While the lawmakers continue working out the details, they intend the new program to operate through the exchange and for both the public program and private insurance policies to have the same basic benefits.

Helping the Poor

House Democrats want to improve the Medicaid health-care system for the poor, including a uniform benefits package and “improved” provider payments. They are weighing whether to add people who are near the poverty level to Medicaid or to provide subsidies to allow them to purchase their own policies.

The plan would place new restrictions on private insurers, including a bar on excluding coverage for those with “pre- existing conditions.”

The legislation would seek to get some cost savings from Medicare and Medicaid, including incentives for doctors to coordinate their care and get bonuses for improving quality, according to the outline.