2013/6/19

Talk of secret prisons, indefinite detention, and force-feeding can sound tendentious (though it’s all uncontested public record!). Americans have a deep faith in the rule of law and have not proven receptive to the argument that truly innocent people will find themselves placed in the “terrorist” category by accident.

There is a tendency among those who grew up under the rule of law to treat it like the Rock of Ages, an immovable substrate in which all the institutions of the state are forever anchored. And so even ordinarily skeptical people tend to assume that the government obeys its own laws when no one is looking. To an astonishing extent, and to the great credit of American civic life, this is actually true.

But I think a better metaphor for the rule of law is that it is the soil in which democratic institutions take root. Like the soil, it can be depleted. And once depleted, it is not easily replenished.

Secrecy erodes the rule of law because it makes democratic accountability impossible. Secrets can’t be held too broadly, so secrecy concentrates responsibility and asks too much of human nature. That is why every intelligence agency, unless given rigorous outside oversight, commits terrible excesses.

Maciej Cegłowski - Persuading David Simon

2013/4/26

2013/4/23

The important security issue isn’t convicting Dzhokhar but finding out what he knows that might prevent a future attack or break up a terror network. This is where naming him an enemy combatant would be useful. Such a designation allows for extensive, long-term interrogation without a lawyer. Especially because President Obama has barred enhanced-interrogation techniques, such long-term psychological pressure can be crucial to learning if the brothers worked with anyone else, if they received terrorist training, and more.

Wall Street Journal - Enemy Combatants in Boston

I have difficulty expressing how much disgust and loathing I feel towards the views expressed in this article. A major America newspaper and several sitting Senators are calling for the torture of a 19-year old boy because they are too scared of terrorists, but these same spineless cowards tell us that requiring gun licenses (which is plainly consistent with the “well ordered militia” clause of the Second Amendment) would be an impermissible infringement of liberty. Sickening. If anyone listens to these snakes, democracy is as good as dead. (Via AmeCon)

2013/2/21

The New Yorker - Can a President Use Drones Against Journalists?

Yes, it has come to this.

Doesn’t a journalist working abroad who is about to release classified information about a war crime—thus committing a crime—that will provoke retribution or a break with allies—endangering Americans—fit this definition of a target?

The answer is that the President can kill anyone if we let him, and no one if we don’t.

The New Yorker - Can a President Use Drones Against Journalists?

Yes, it has come to this.

Doesn’t a journalist working abroad who is about to release classified information about a war crime—thus committing a crime—that will provoke retribution or a break with allies—endangering Americans—fit this definition of a target?

The answer is that the President can kill anyone if we let him, and no one if we don’t.

2013/2/05

Gawker - We the Targets: Obama’s Combat Lawyers and a Fairy Tale of Law


  Obama and crew are all making that kind of technocrat wunderkinder mistake that if the person who writes the rules is just smart and thoughtful enough, the rules will become ironclad and binding upon all. And the great ugly irony is that they employ this process to pervert and circumvent a Constitution held up reverently in the American consciousness as the most perspicacious binding document ever crafted by—a room full of technocrats.
  
  They think they can come up with a fairly calibrated set of rules, then pass them on to the next administration and be sure that whomever occupies the Oval Office will play by them with more faith than they paid to the Bill of Rights. This isn’t just an Obama problem: it’s a bipartisan problem, and a problem that threatens to become permanent now that Democrats have pardoned this policy to support “their” guy. It’s a problem that merits a serious discussion on both sides of the aisle, from leftists worried about overreach in war and the same sort of conservative elements who even now see national assault weapons registries as an existential threat to both liberty and life.

Gawker - We the Targets: Obama’s Combat Lawyers and a Fairy Tale of Law

Obama and crew are all making that kind of technocrat wunderkinder mistake that if the person who writes the rules is just smart and thoughtful enough, the rules will become ironclad and binding upon all. And the great ugly irony is that they employ this process to pervert and circumvent a Constitution held up reverently in the American consciousness as the most perspicacious binding document ever crafted by—a room full of technocrats.

They think they can come up with a fairly calibrated set of rules, then pass them on to the next administration and be sure that whomever occupies the Oval Office will play by them with more faith than they paid to the Bill of Rights. This isn’t just an Obama problem: it’s a bipartisan problem, and a problem that threatens to become permanent now that Democrats have pardoned this policy to support “their” guy. It’s a problem that merits a serious discussion on both sides of the aisle, from leftists worried about overreach in war and the same sort of conservative elements who even now see national assault weapons registries as an existential threat to both liberty and life.

2012/5/31

The method we have built, over a couple of hundred years, for sorting out questions of guilt and innocence and probable cause, is due process. And that may be the most degraded phrase of all.

The Obama Administration has sought and killed American citizens, notably Anwar al-Awlaki. As the Times noted, “The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.” In other words, it’s due process if the President thinks about it. One wonders how low the standard for “internal deliberations” are—if it might be enough if Obama mulled it over while walking his dog. And if an American whom the President decides is a threat can be assassinated in Yemen, where Awlaki was hit, why not in London, or Toronto, or Los Angeles? (Awlaki’s teen-age son, an American citizen who had not been accused of anything, died in a separate strike.)

The New Yorker - The President’s Kill List (The CIA has always been the President’s personal army. Praetorian guards signal the coming end of liberty.)

2012/5/03

They tortured men at military bases and detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, and in U.S. Navy bases on American soil; they tortured men in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe specifically to terrorize and torture prisoners; they sent many more to countries with notoriously abusive regimes and asked them to do the torturing. At least twice, after the torturers themselves concluded there was no point to further abuse, Washington ordered that the prisoners be tortured some more.

They tortured innocent people. They tortured people who may have been guilty of terrorism-related crimes, but they ruined any chance of prosecuting them because of the torture. They tortured people when the torture had nothing to do with imminent threats: They tortured based on bad information they had extracted from others through torture; they tortured to hide their mistakes and to get confessions; they tortured sometimes just to break people, pure and simple.

And they conspired to cover up their crimes. They did this from the start, by creating secret facilities and secrecy regimes to keep what they were doing from the American people and the world. They did it by suppressing and then destroying evidence, including videotapes of the torture. They did it by denying detainees legal process because, as the CIA’s Inspector General put it in a 2004 report [pdf], when you torture someone you create an “Endgame” problem: You end up with detainees who, “if not kept in isolation, would likely divulge information about the circumstances of their detention.”

They managed all this, for a time, through secrecy—a secrecy that depended on the aggressive suppression of two groups of voices.

Over and over again, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, in secret CIA black sites and at CIA headquarters, in the Pentagon, and in Washington, men and women recognized the torture for what it was and refused to remain silent. They objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and immoral interrogations. While the president and his top advisers approved and encouraged the torture of prisoners, there was dissent in every agency, at every level.

Slate - How America Came To Torture Its Prisoners via Eve Tushnet

2012/4/19

The Onion - Four American Troops Tragically Killed Along With 23 Afghanis

This is the most true thing I’ve seen in months. Watch it to the end, the final gag is great and soul crushing.

I want a tattoo that says, It does not make sense.

2012/4/06

In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

n+1 - Raise the Crime Rate (Ugh, America, when will you stop making me want to quote Langston Hughes poems at you?)

2012/4/03

2012/2/21

Via the New Yorker:

The Caging of America; Why do we lock up so many people?


The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of  American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at  Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons  or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see  no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a  day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and  then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will  have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than  seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely  held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject  is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being  threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on  television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The  normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about  watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our  descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of  people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking  directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners.  Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple  tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a  hidden foundation for the country.


Definitely must-frown reading.

Via the New Yorker:

The Caging of America; Why do we lock up so many people?

The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.

Definitely must-frown reading.

2012/1/25

Quick: How many countries was America at war with last year?

If you accept the old fashioned notion that to drop a bomb on a country is to be at war with it, the answer is, oh, half a dozen or so. As Peter W. Singer points out in a New York Times opinion piece, since the beginning of last year we’ve conducted drone strikes in six countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia… and… and… well, Singer doesn’t list them, so I’m not sure what the sixth one is.

Robert Writght - America’s New Strategy: Endless War(s) (P.S. Libya.)

2012/1/18

2012/1/12