David S. Cloud has what can only be described as an amazing piece in today’s Los Angeles Times on the sobering reality and cold hearted bloodlust of remote drone warfare. Cloud’s story tells, in gripping, fully fleshed from all angles, detail the story of an United States killer drone operation gone awry.
The Americans were using some of the most sophisticated tools in the history of war, technological marvels of surveillance and intelligence gathering that allowed them to see into once-inaccessible corners of the battlefield. But the high-tech wizardry would fail in its most elemental purpose: to tell the difference between friend and foe.
This is the story of that episode. It is based on hundreds of pages of previously unreleased military documents, including transcripts of cockpit and radio conversations obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the results of two Pentagon investigations and interviews with the officers involved as well as Afghans who were on the ground that day.
Before you go any further, go read Cloud’s full article. Seriously, do it now, because the details of the story – of just this one singular drone strike – are too many and Cloud lays them out to well for me to pick, choose and substitute.
Suffice it to say, by the most conservative casualty report, by the US military naturally, there were at least 16 dead and 12 critically wounded. For which General Stanley McChrystal gave a verbal apology and the oh so benevolent United States government paid blood money stipends of $2,900 for the dismembered and disfigured survivors and $4,800 for the dead. At $76,800, the combined lives of 16 innocent dead citizens, blown to bits in their own country, is about the cost of one of the Hellfire missiles fired by a Predator drone. The cold and celebratory technician soldiers at the drone pilot center in Nevada, and video review center in Florida, played their war games on video monitors that are worth more than the United States assigns as the value of a developed human life in Afghanistan.
So much of the angst (though certainly not all) from the legal liberal left, whether here at Emptywheel, from our friend Glenn Greenwald, or others, centers on promises and inferences that Barack Obama Continue reading
For all the caterwauling from the right and, stupifyingly, from the Obama Administration and Blue Dog left as well, here is the real reason the United States has the sizable deficit issues it does (well, in addition to the fact we will not tax even rich individuals appropriately either) – our biggest corporations pay no tax. Even when they make unholy amounts of profit. From a sobering article just up at the New York Times:
General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.
The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.
Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.
Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bespectacled, bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.
Read the whole article and weep for your and your children’s future. And then take a moment to consider that a competent political class, that was honest about their representation of their constituents and oath to office, would have moved the country away from this reverse Robin Hood dystopia instead of moving ever further down the black hole of elite and corporate greed, robber barons and neo-feudalism.
The proclivity of the Obama Administration to simply do as it pleases, whether it violates the Constitution, established authority or the separation of powers doctrine is beyond striking. Last week at this time they were ignoring the Constitutional right of Congress, the Article I branch, to be the determinative branch on the decision to take the country to war. Today Mr. Obama’s Department of Justice has stretched its ever extending arm out to seize, and diminish, the power and authority of the judicial branch and the US Constitution.
Specifically, the DOJ has decided to arrogate upon itself the power to modify the Constitutionally based Miranda rights firmly established by the Article III Branch, the Supreme Court. From Evan Perez at the Wall Street Journal:
New rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades.
The move is one of the Obama administration’s most significant revisions to rules governing the investigation of terror suspects in the U.S. And it potentially opens a new political tussle over national security policy, as the administration marks another step back from pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods.
The Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda ruling obligates law-enforcement officials to advise suspects of their rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present for questioning. A 1984 decision amended that by allowing the questioning of suspects for a limited time before issuing the warning in cases where public safety was at issue.
That exception was seen as a limited device to be used only in cases of an imminent safety threat, but the new rules give interrogators more latitude and flexibility to define what counts as an appropriate circumstance to waive Miranda rights.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to “exceptional cases” where investigators “conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.” Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public.
This type of move has been afoot for almost a year, with Eric Holder proposing it in a string of Sunday morning talk shows on May 9, 2010 and, subsequently, based on Holder’s request for Congressional action to limit Miranda in claimed terrorism cases, Representative Adam Smith proposed such legislation on July 31, 2010. Despite the howling of the usual suspects such as Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, etc. the thought of such legislation died in the face of bi-partisan opposition from a wide range of legislators who actually understood Constitutional separation of powers and judicial authority. They knew the proposed legislation flew in the face of both concepts. And they were quite Continue reading
I have stayed out of the WikiLeaks scrum to date, mainly because the relatively few cables published to date (only 1,269 of the more than 250,000 cables they possess have been released so far) did not provide that much new on the subjects I normally write on as opposed to just confirming or further supporting previous knowledge and/or suppositions. This is certainly not to say they have not been interesting reading or useful to many others, the WikiLeaks material has been all that.
But now comes the bellicose fixation of the United States government on criminally prosecuting WikiLeak’s editor-in-chief Julian Assange. What started out as the usual idiotic yammering of Rep. Peter King and Sen. Joe Lieberman has turned into an apparently dedicated and determined effort by the Department of Justice to charge Assange. As the following discussion will demonstrate, it will require dicey and novel extrapolation of legal theories and statutes to even charge Assange, much less actually convict him.
The interesting thing is this type of prosecution flies directly in the face of the written charging guidelines of the DOJ which prescribe a prosecution should be brought only where the admissible facts and evidence are “sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction”. As we have seen in so many instances over the last few years, the DOJ uses this requirement to decline prosecution on a whole host of matters they simply do not want to touch, even where the evidence for conviction of serious crimes is crystal clear and unequivocal. Take for instance the case on the blatant destruction of the abu-Zubaydah and al-Nashiri torture tapes for instance (see here and here), where the DOJ and John Durham used just this basis to decline prosecution because the DOJ just does not, you know, go out on limbs.
So, why would the Obama Administration be so aggressive against Assange when doing so flies in the face of their written guidelines and standard glib protocol? Is it really all about prosecuting Assange? That would be hard to believe; more likely it is not just to monkeywrench Assange and WikiLeaks, but to send a hard and clear prior restraint message to the American press. This is almost surely confirmed by the rhetoric of Joe Lieberman, who is rarely more than a short ride away from his disciple and friend Barack Obama on such matters, and who is making noises about also prosecuting the New York Times.
Never before has the Espionage Act, nor other provisions of the criminal code, been applied to First Amendment protected American press in the manner being blithely tossed around by US officials in the WikiLeak wake. Avoidance of First Amendment press and publication has been not just the general position of the DOJ historically, it has been borne out by significant caselaw over the years. If you need a primer on the hands off attitude that has been the hallmark of treatment of press entities, you need look no further than New York Times v. United States, aka the “Pentagon Papers Case”. In NYT v. US, the government could not even use the Espionage Act in a civil context against the press, much less a criminal one as they propose for Assange, without being forcefully shot down. Daniel Ellsberg is right when he says that “Every attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me”.
The Barack Obama Administration, who rode into office on a platform and promise of less secrecy, more transparency and a respect for Constitutional principles, has proved itself time and again to be anything but what it advertised. And to the uninformed populous as a whole, ill served by the American press that is being pinched in this process, Julian Assange presents an attractive vehicle for this prior restraint demagoguery by the US government. The public, especially without strong pushback and fight from the press, will surely bite off on this craven scheme. Continue reading
As David Dayen is reporting at FDL News, Judge Virginia Phillips of the Central District of California United States Federal Court has issued her injunctive order in the Log Cabin Republicans’ (LCR) Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) case, formally known as Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America and Robert M. Gates:
(1) DECLARES that the act known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” infringes the fundamental rights of United States servicemembers and prospective servicemembers and violates (a) the substantive due process rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and (b) the rights to freedom of speech and to petition the Government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
(2) PERMANENTLY ENJOINS Defendants United States of America and the Secretary of Defense, their agents, servants, officers, employees, and attorneys, and all persons acting in participation or concert with them or under their direction or command, from enforcing or applying the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Act and implementing regulations, against any person under their jurisdiction or command;
(3) ORDERS Defendants United States of America and the Secretary of Defense immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Act, or pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 654 or its implementing regulations, on or prior to the date of this Judgment.
(4) GRANTS Plaintiff Log Cabin Republicans’ request to apply for attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412; and
(5) GRANTS Plaintiff Log Cabin Republicans’ request to file a motion for costs of suit, to the extent allowed by law.
Judge Phillips’ order is being hailed far and wide as the greatest thing since sliced bread – at least on LGBT rights as they relate to DADT. I am quite decidedly not so sure about that.
I simply do not see how this judge, Virginia Phillips, has either the authority or jurisdiction to enter the sweeping injunctive mandates she has done in sections 2 and 3. The scope of those sections appear well beyond her actual authority and, quite frankly, have the patina of such an overreach that they should be appealed based upon protection of Executive Branch power and authority concerns. It is hard to see how the federal government in DC can allow a single remote District Court judge to have that type of reach over the conduct of the entire United States military across the globe.
There is little question but that the CACD had the jurisdiction to hear the case itself and to grant relief to the specific individuals within the established umbrella of the designated plaintiff “Log Cabin Republicans” within the territorial jurisdiction of the CACD. Further, there is no question Phillips has the authority to rule the DADT policy unconstitutional on a facial challenge to its constitutionality, which the government strongly argued this case was Continue reading
Todd Purdum has a pretty extensive and in depth article on John Sidney McCain III just up at Vanity Fair. Here are the take away quotes and ethos of the article:
The prevailing question about John McCain this year is: What happened? What happened to that other John McCain, the refreshingly unpredictable figure who stood apart from his colleagues and seemed to promise something better than politics as usual? The question may miss the point. It’s quite possible that nothing at all has changed about John McCain, a ruthless and self-centered survivor who endured five and a half years in captivity in North Vietnam, and who once told Torie Clarke that his favorite animal was the rat, because it is cunning and eats well. It’s possible to see McCain’s entire career as the story of a man who has lived in the moment, who has never stood for any overriding philosophy in any consistent way, and who has been willing to do all that it takes to get whatever it is he wants. He himself said, in the thick of his battle with Hayworth, “I’ve always done whatever’s necessary to win.” Maybe the rest of us just misunderstood.
Yes, no kidding, you certainly did misunderstand. Or were willfully blind because the bloated national media depiction of McCain has always been as fraudulent as he has always been.
There is a difference between facing a changed and shrunken external reality (which McCain surely now does) and changing one’s essential nature (which McCain almost certainly has not). He has always had a reckless streak, and he has repeatedly skated by after conduct that would have doomed others less resourceful, resilient, or privileged. As a navy pilot, he crashed three planes before being shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Hanoi. He spent harrowing years in captivity in North Vietnam, and parlayed that fame into a high-profile job as the navy’s liaison to the Senate, and then parlayed that—with the help of his second wife’s family fortune—into a political career in his adopted state of Arizona, first winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1982, and then taking Barry Goldwater’s Senate seat upon his retirement, in 1986.
Yes, indeed. Put more simply, McCain is a dilettante who has always relied on his blue blood and family history, and then his POW status and wife and family’s largesse, to get everywhere he has gone; he has never been a man of accomplishment of his own accord. Nice of you to finally Continue reading
The late, but great, news this fine Friday afternoon is the decision of Western District of Washington (WDWA) Judge Ronald Leighton in the case of Air Force Major Margaret Witt. Witt has been an Air Force reserve flight and operating room nurse since 1987 and was suspended from duty in 2004, just short of retirement, upon her base commanders being informed by an off base nosy neighbor that she was a lesbian.
A federal judge ruled Friday that a decorated flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay should be given her job back as soon as possible in the latest legal setback to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton came in a closely watched case as a tense debate has been playing out over the policy. Senate Republicans blocked an effort to lift the ban this week, but two federal judges have ruled against the policy in recent weeks.
Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and sued to get her job back. A judge in 2006 rejected Witt’s claims that the Air Force violated her rights when it fired her. An appeals court panel overruled him two years later, leaving it to Leighton to determine whether her firing met that standard.
This is indeed a wonderful decision, and one based upon the elevated level of scrutiny that is now clearly the standard in Federal court consideration of the rights based on sexual preference. The full text of the court’s decision is here. The critical language from the decision setting and clearing the table is as follows:
Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint on April 12, 2006. On July 26, 2006, this Court granted the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), concluding that the regulation was subject to rational basis scrutiny, and that the evidentiary hearings held, and factual findings adopted, by Congress provided a sufficient foundation to support the regulation. Plaintiff timely appealed.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with plaintiff. It held that Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S. Ct. 2472 (2003) effectively overruled previous cases wherein the Ninth Circuit had applied rational basis to DADT and predecessor policies. It held that something more than traditional rational basis review was required. Witt v. Department of the Air Force, 527 F.3d 806, 813 (9th Cir. 2008). The Circuit
Court vacated the judgment and remanded to the District Court the plaintiff’s substantive and procedural due process claims. It affirmed this Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s equal protection claim. On remand, this Court was directed to determine whether the specific application of DADT to Major Witt significantly furthers the government’s interest, and whether less intrusive means would substantially achieve the government’s interest. Witt, 527 F.3d at 821.
Now comes the interesting part of the opinion (and case as argued by the government) and it ties in directly with the Log Cabin Republicans v. USA DOD decision recently rendered in the Central District of California (I will return to that in a bit). Specifically, the 9th Circuit based at least partially upon briefing in the alternative by the government (i.e arguing multiple positions), granted the government’s argument that, at a minimum, they were at least entitled to argue that homosexuals were bad for Continue reading
Hot on the heels of a pretty spirited discussion of the Obama Administration treatment of progressive nominees, both in the blog post here at Emptywheel and yesterday on Twitter, comes the reminder by Main Justice that there are no appointed, nor confirmed, US Attorneys in all of Texas:
Career prosecutors have run the four U.S. Attorney’s offices in Texas for more than a year. Obama has made one U.S. Attorney nomination in Texas thus far: state Judge John B. Stevens Jr., who withdrew from consideration for Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney.
The Senate has confirmed 66 of Obama’s U.S. Attorney nominees. There are 93 U.S. Attorney posts.
Now the framing of the report is a complaint by John Cornyn, which I have little sympathy for, and who has undoubtedly contributed somewhat to the impasse; but that said, the facts are pretty astounding.
Over a year and a half into the Obama Presidency, and still over 30% of the US Attorney positions remain unfilled or, even worse, still under the control of Bush/Cheney appointees. The percentage is only that low due to a recent surge in investitures of US Attorneys; for most of the current Administration’s term, the situation was even far worse than it is as of today.
Which led me to wonder exactly what the corresponding status was for federal judicial nominations. It is fairly bleak. There are 103 Federal judicial vacancies and, shockingly, on 48 of them even have so much as a nominee pending. 12% of the 876 total Federal judgeships are sitting vacant. In my own little nook of the world, the 9th Circuit, there are 13 total judicial seats vacant, and only three of them have even putative nominees.
The critical importance of filling judicial vacancies is explained very nicely in a current post by Gaius Publius at AmericaBlog that expands on my Progressive Nominations/Goodwin Liu post yesterday:
This matters for several reasons. One is that the current judiciary is overwhelmingly Republican-appointed and conservative (including Movement-Conservative):
Over the last three decades, Republicans have put the appointment of conservative judges at the top of their agenda. And controlling the White House 20 of the last 30 years has allowed them to carry out their plan. By the time George W. Bush left office, 60.2 percent of the judges, including two-thirds of the Supreme Court, had been appointed by Republican presidents. The younger Bush appointed nearly 40 percent of all federal judges.
Yet Obama has been cautious to the point of weird about reversing this trend. While news stories on this subject headline his lack of judicial confirmations, stories like this one also contain tales of his caution; Bloomberg:
A lot of groups are still waiting for this president to nominate someone who will really reshape the bench,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights in Washington. The group supports expanding legal protection for blacks and other minorities.
Gaius Publius is exactly right. In fact, reshaping the Federal judiciary away from the hard conservative Federalist society bent that has been installed and Continue reading
Barack Obama was never a hard liberal nor progressive, whatever the supposed difference between the two really is. Those blinded by hope and change who thought otherwise were imprinting their own desires and beliefs on what was a relatively blank slate, which was probably easy enough to do in the despair resultant from the eight years of George Bush. By the same token, however, Mr. Obama cultivated and encouraged such beliefs; this he worked hard at, and it was critical to him being elected president.
Now if you listened to, and read Obama, and paid attention, you knew he was a centrist who worked by increment, compromise and seeking consensus as opposed to a liberal beacon that would take the country in a new and markedly different direction. Again, that said, the liberals and progressives who served as the ground force, heart and soul of Obama’s candidacy and election had every right to believe he would would at least include them at his table and utilize their talents in his Administration and appointments. There was an implicit deal made in this regard, and Obama purchased on it to his wild success. Now he has defaulted.
I first wrote significantly on the betrayal of the Obama White House toward liberal nominees in relation to the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to the critical post of head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. The scorn for, and abandonment of, the Johnsen nomination still stands out because of the fact it is clearly established that there were 60 votes cloture on a Senate floor vote for Johnsen’s nomination. It wasn’t that Johnsen could not be confirmed, she absolutely could have been and would have been; it was that Obama did not want her and would not call for a vote.
Johnsen was not only the best person for a critical job, she was a symbol to a critical part of Obama’s and the Democratic constituency. It is far more than Dawn Johnsen however it is a pattern of abuse and scorn the Obama White House relentlessly exhibits to a major portion of the base. Currently the focus of progressives is on the potential nomination of Elizabeth Warren as head of the newly enacted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Despite some public platitudes, it is quite clear the Obama Administration does not want a competent crusader for citizens like Warren and, apparently, is working through the cut out of Chris Dodd to see Warren doesn’t get the nod.
Maybe the pressure will get to the Obama White House and Warren will get the post she deserves and would be perfect for; but don’t count on it because Obama, Geithner, Summers, Rahm and the boys on the Obama bus just do not want her. And they didn’t want Christine Romer either, so they let the misogynistic, consistently wrong about everything he touches, Larry Summers push her out. It is becoming a broken record with this White House.
Most distressing to me, because I practice law in the 9th Circuit, is the complete abandonment of two critical liberal judicial nominees, Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen; you may not be aware of because Continue reading
About a month ago, the semi-irrelevant “FishbowlDC” and Tucker Carlson’s self indulgent sandbox “Daily Caller” impressed themselves by scalping Dave Weigel from his position at the Washington Post. Fresh off the closest thing to a victory these folks may ever achieve, they have attempted to replicate their recently past glory by pulling the same cheap stunt with more purloined emails from the now defunct “Journolist”, with the biggest dagger in the back aimed at Spencer Ackerman, noted national security reporter now with Wired’s Danger Room Blog and his own site Attackerman right here at Firedoglake.
It was the moment of greatest peril for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s political career. In the heat of the presidential campaign, videos surfaced of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, angrily denouncing whites, the U.S. government and America itself. Obama had once bragged of his closeness to Wright. Now the black nationalist preacher’s rhetoric was threatening to torpedo Obama’s campaign.
Watching this all at home were members of Journolist, a listserv comprised of several hundred liberal journalists, as well as like-minded professors and activists. The tough questioning from the ABC anchors left many of them outraged. “George [Stephanopoulos],” fumed Richard Kim of the Nation, is “being a disgusting little rat snake.”
In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”
Michael Tomasky, a writer for the Guardian, also tried to rally his fellow members of Journolist: “Listen folks–in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people.”
That’s it?? So this is the Daily Caller’s claim to fame? Raison d’etre? This is the best and brightest they have to offer? Apparently so, and they are proud of it since they are going to the same putrid well of long dead private emails again so eagerly. What a bunch of cowardly limp dicks.
Spencer Ackerman and his friends on Journolist saw a wrong being committed in a craven political dirty play and discussed a way to right the wrong. If Daily Caller thinks that is controversial and worthy of a featured expose, they must be awfully hard up over there.
The subject attack by the right on Jeremiah Wright during the 2008 election, just as Ackerman and his fellow journalists discussed, was indeed a malicious and dishonest Continue reading