Tim Griffin: Rove’s US Attorney Project Comes Full Circle

Remember the entire point of Karl Rove’s plot to fire a bunch of US Attorneys and replace them with partisan hacks? It was to advance the political career of the new USAs.

Perhaps his most prominent success on that measure is Chris Christie. Though Christie abandons his state even in the face of blizzards–and then blames the resulting chaos on New Jersey’s cities–he is still (implausibly) mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential candidate.

But the true measure of Rove’s success at politicizing the DOJ comes in the form of Tim Griffin.

Griffin, you’ll recall, has a history of leading the GOP’s vote caging operations in 2000 and 2004. Seemingly to reward Griffin for doing such important dirty work–and also to boost the career of such a loyal hack–Rove pushed hardest to make sure that Griffin got the US Attorney position he wanted in his native Arkansas. And though he only stayed on the job until it became clear the Republicans were trying to “gum [his appointment] to death”–to basically run out the clock on any confirmation–he was actually only US Attorney for a matter of months.

No matter, between that and solid GOP backing, Griffin won election to Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

And now, TPMM reports, Griffin has been placed by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, the committee that spent months investigating the politicization of justice for which Griffin was the most obvious symbol.

Well, we had the equally corrupt Hans Von Spakovsky at the FEC (not to mention as head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division), so I guess we’ll survive Tim Griffin’s “oversight” of the Judiciary Department. But if you were in any doubt about Republican’s goals to continue to politicize justice in this country, Griffin’s selection for HJC should answer that question.

Obama/Bush DOJ Update to OLC Christmas Carol

Earlier I linked to and posted the oh so hilarious (if you appreciate the humor in the supposed creme de la creme of government attorneys laughing about breaking the law and violating citizens’ rights) Christmas carol drafted by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) all the way back during the Carter Administration. It seems to be making a comeback through a post at Volokh Conspiracy.

Well, through what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, our very own Mary has “discovered” the new version, as updated by the Obama/Bush OLC:

You’d better watch out,
look up in the sky,
You’d better not doubt;
Better say your good bye.
Santa Claus is droning
Your home.

He’s paying out bounties,
For kids he pays five,
He’s razoring genitals
And burying alive.
Santa Claus is beating
the prone

He hears you in your cages,
Videotapes your screams and moans,
After sharing with Senate pages,
Then he’ll freeze you all alone

So–you mustn’t believe
In Justice tonight.
On Christmas Eve
She’s lost more than her sight
The OLC will help with hiding
Your bones.

As Mary noted, “Those jokers at OLC. At least they enjoy their work”. Indeed. With “wise men” like John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steve Bradbury, what could go wrong?

State Secrets Santa and SCOTUS

Amid all the holiday hustle, bustle and, on at least some of the lame duck session accomplishments, success of Barack Obama, it is good to keep in mind what a lump of coal his administration has been on civil liberties and privacy. Nothing has been more emblematic of the cancer they have been in this regard than the posture they have relentlessly fought for on unfettered and unilateral ability of the Executive Branch to impose the state secrets doctrine to shield the government from litigation, even when it is concealing blatant and wholesale government criminality.

Just three days ago, the final judgment in al-Haramain was entered by Judge Vaughn Walker, and it was a good one. But, lest it be forgotten, the government basically refused to defend in that case, belligerently asserting that they were entitled to dismissal on the states secrets doctrine. That will be the government’s hard nosed basis for appeal to the 9th Circuit and, eventually, presumably the Supreme Court. Recently in the 9th Circuit the horrid en banc decision in Mohamed v. Jeppesen was entered granting nearly unfettered state secrets powers to the Executive and which the ACLU filed a petition for certiorari earlier this month. Both of these cases will likely hit the Supreme Court in 2011, with Jeppesen obviously further ahead in the process.

So, 2011 is going to be a busy and critical year for state secrets litigation in the Supreme Court, but those are just the two cases you likely know about; there is another case, actually two related cases combined, already racked and ready in the queue when the Supremes return to work in January. The cases are General Dynamics v. US and Boeing Company v. US, and they are not classic state secrets cases, but may well be used as a back door by the government to advance their unrestrained use of the Read more

Vaughn Walker Issues Final al-Haramain Opinion on Damages and Attorney Fees

As you may recall, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California (NDCA), who has handled two of the most critical and transcendent litigations of the last decade, Perry v. Schwarzenegger and al-Haramain v. Bush/Obama, is retiring. Today, he has issued his last big opinion left on his table pre-retirement, the ruling on damages to be awarded Plaintiff in al-Haramain, assignment of attorney fees to Plaintiffs, and whether or not to impose punitive damages against the government for their offending illegal conduct.

The government, in its brief objecting to the Plaintiffs’ proposed form of judgment, basically poked the court in the eye with a stick by continuing their obstreperous refusal to accept the court’s jurisdiction over their assertion of state secrets, continued to argue there were no facts competently of record despite Walker’s crystal clear determinations to the contrary, and denied that Plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees or punitive damages. They just say NO. The Plaintiffs went on to properly lodge their calculation of damages, detailed request for attorney fees and affidavit in support thereof. Plaintiffs al-Haramain, separately, filed a very compelling brief on why the court should award them punitive damages against the government. The government, of course, objected some more.

As lead Plaintiffs counsel Jon Eisenberg stated in the punitive damages brief:

Defendants abused the extraordinary power of the Executive Branch by committing unlawful electronic surveillance of the plaintiffs with full knowledge of, and in flagrant disregard for, determinations by top officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the surveillance lacked constitutional or other legal support. Defendants sought to put themselves above the law, in the manner of a monarch. That is a profound abuse of America’s trust. It calls for strong medicine.

And thus it all comes down to today’s decision by Judge Walker, and here is the full text of his 47 page order.

In short, Walker has ordered that Plaintiffs Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor (a-Haramain’s attorneys wrongfully surveilled) receive $20,400.00 each in liquidated damages. Walker denied damages to al-Haramain itself. In regards to punitive damages, Judge Walker has denied in full Plaintiffs’ request. As to attorney fees, the court grants the motion as to Plaintiffs Ghafoor and Belew only (again, not as to al-Haramain itself, and awards attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $2,537,399.45.

There is a lot to chew on in this order, and both Marcy and I will be coming back to do just that after chewing and digesting it further. But so far, it is clear that the court sided completely with the plaintiffs on compensatory/liquidated damages, giving Belew and Ghafoor every penny they asked for and finding the government’s opposition meritless. This passage by the court is telling: Read more

Obama Formalizes His Indefinite Detention Black Hole

Hot on the heels of the big DADT victory in Congress, which pretty much got passed in spite of Obama instead of because of him, comes this giant lump of coal for the Christmas stockings all those who believe in human rights, due process, the Constitution, and moral and legal obligations under international treaties and norms. From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is preparing an executive order that would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but allow those detainees and their lawyers to challenge the basis for continued incarceration, U.S. officials said.

The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.

This is certainly not shocking, as the Obama Administration long ago indicated there were at least 48 or so detainees they felt too dangerous to release and their cases unable to be tried in any forum, Article III or military commission. This is, of course, because the evidence they have on said cases is so tainted by torture, misconduct and lack of veracity that it is simply not amenable to any legal process. Even one of their kangaroo courts would castigate the evidence and the US government proffering it. That is what happens when a country becomes that which it once stood against.

Pro Publica fills in some of the details:

But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.

Nearly two years after Obama’s pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, more inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.

That is in part because Congress has made it difficult to move detainees to the United States for trial. But it also stems from the president’s embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.
….
“It’s been clear for a while that the government would need to put in place some sort of periodic review, and that it would want it to improve on the annual review procedures used during the previous administration,” said Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School who worked on detainee issues during the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, it does not appear as if this ballyhooed “review” amounts to anthing meaningful to the detainee. Although the detainee would have access to an attorney, it would obviously not be unfettered access, completely on the government’s self serving terms, there would be only limited access to evidence, and, most critically, the “review” would only weigh the necessity of the detention, not its lawfulness. In short, it is a joke.

So, the next time you hear Mr. Obama, or some spokesperson for his Administrations decrying the horrible Congress for placing a provision in legislation prohibiting the transfer of detainees to the US for civilian trial, keep in mind how quickly Mr. Obama rose up to take advantage of it – before the measure was even signed – and also keep in mind how Obama stood mute when he could have threatened a veto of such an inappropriate invasion of Executive Branch power by the Legislative Branch. Keep in mind that this is likely exactly what the Obama Administration wants to cover feckless and cowardly indecision and so they do not have to make the difficult political choice of actually protecting the Constitution and due process of law.

The Misplaced US Determination To Indict Assange

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. Read more

ACLU Appeals 9th Circuit Jeppesen Decision to SCOTUS

When the original three member panel opinion in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. was issued by the 9th Circuit in late April of 2009, it was a breath of fresh air. Judge Michael Hawkins authored a thoughtful, well reasoned and heartening opinion placing appropriate curbs on the ability of the Executive Branch to silence wronged plaintiffs via the interjection of state secrets. Civil liberties scholars stood up and cheered. Unfortunately, it did not last and thanks to a very unfortunate panel assignment for the en banc review in the 9th, Hawkins was reversed and an erratic and contorted decision put in its stead by Judge Raymond Fisher handing the President and Executive Branch carte blanche to assert state secrets at will, effectively even to hide government illegality and misconduct. Civil liberties adherents jeered.

Now the ACLU, who represents the plaintiffs in Mohamed v. Jeppesen, has appealed from the 9th Circuit en banc decision by petitioning the Supreme Court for certiorari. The ACLU’s full petition is here. The ACLU press release reads, in pertinent part:

The American Civil Liberties Union late last night asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court decision dismissing its lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., for the company’s role in the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. The ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California filed the lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of five men who were kidnapped by the CIA, forcibly disappeared to U.S.-run prisons overseas and tortured. Although the federal government was not initially named in the lawsuit, it intervened for the sole purpose of arguing that the case should be dismissed based on the “state secrets” privilege.

“To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in a U.S. court,” said Ben Wizner, Litigation Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The government has misused the ‘state secrets’ privilege to deny justice to torture victims and to shield their torturers from liability. The Supreme Court should reaffirm our nation’s historic commitment to human rights and the rule of law by allowing this case to go forward.”

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government could not invoke the state secrets privilege over the Read more

Durham Torture Tape Case Dies, US Duplicity in Geneva & The Press Snoozes

From the best available information as to the original destruction date of the infamous “Torture Tapes” having been on November 8, 2005, the statute of limitations for charging any general crime by employees and/or agents of the US Government for said destruction will expire at midnight Monday November 8, 2010 as the general statute of limitation is five years. By operation of law, the statute would have run yesterday were it not a Sunday. So, by the time you are reading this, it is over. Absent something extraordinary, and I mean really extraordinary, a criminal statute of limitation is effectively a bar to subject matter jurisdiction and that is that. Ding dong, the John Durham torture tape investigation is thus dead.

Last week, I wrote a letter to the DOJ and saw to it that it was delivered to the main contacts, Dean Boyd and Tracy Schmaler, as well as John Durham’s office. None of them responded. Finally, late Monday afternoon I called Durham’s office, and they acknowledged having received the letter. Although extremely cordial, there was simply no meaningful information or discussion to be had on the subject. “We have no comment” was about the size of it. I asked about the remote possibility of the existence of a sealed indictment; there was “no comment” on that either, and there is absolutely no reason in the world to think anything exists in this regard.

Oh, there was one thing; when I asked why there had been no formal response to my letter, I was told perhaps it was a “little edgy”. Apparently actually phrasing an inquiry with legal specificity and facts makes it too “edgy” for the United States Department Of Justice. Who knew? Ironically, at the same time this discussion was transpiring today, the very same Obama DOJ was in US Federal Court, in front of Judge John Bates of the DC District, arguing for their unfettered right to extrajudicially execute an American citizen, and do so in secret without explanation. But my letter asking about the dying Durham investigation was edgy. The DOJ’s priorities, morals and duties seem to be a bit off kilter when it comes Read more

Letter to DOJ and John Durham Re: Torture Tape Crimes Expiring

As you may know, in early November of 2005, agents of the United States government destroyed at least ninety two videotapes containing direct evidence of the interrogation and, upon admission and belief, torture of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see: here, here, here, here and here). The statute of limitations, for the criminal destruction of said taped evidence in the cases of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri will expire on Sunday November 7 (since the last day falls on a weekend, the statute should maintain through the next business day, which is Monday November 8). As we have heard absolutely nothing from Eric Holder, John Durham, the DOJ or the Obama Administration in relation to indictments or other results of the investigation Mr. Durham has been conducting since January 8, 2008, nearly three years, I thought a letter was in order asking just exactly what their status was. Said letter was addressed to Dean Boyd and Tracy Schmaler, official representatives and spokesmen for the Department of Justice, and reads as follows:

Dean and Tracy,

As I believe you are already aware, the statute of limitation on criminal charges including, notably, obstruction of justice for the destruction of evidence, are about to expire. The destruction appears to have occurred on or about November 8, 2005 and there is a five year statute on most all of the general crimes that could possibly be under investigation by John Durham. No competent prosecutor would have waited this long to file charges if he intended to do so, but there are still a couple of days left; what is the status?

Secondly, I would like to point out that should you be thinking about relying on some rhetoric that Mr. Durham simply cannot find any crimes to prosecute and/or that there were no proceedings obstructed, it is intellectually and legally impossible to not consider the tapes to be evidence, and as they almost certainly exhibit torture to some degree and to some part they would almost certainly be exculpatory evidence, in the cases of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri themselves. The United States government continues to detain these individuals and they have charges that will putatively be brought against them in some forum (civil or tribunal), Habeas rights and/or indefinite detention review processes that will occur in the future.

In short, there exist not just the potential, but the necessity, of future proceedings, and agents of, or on behalf of, the United States government have destroyed material, and almost certainly exculpatory, evidence. Crimes have been committed. At a bare root minimum, it is crystal clear Jose Rodriquez has clear criminal liability; there are, without question, others culpable too. What is the status?

If the DOJ does not intend to proceed in any fashion on these clear crimes, please provide me with some intellectually consistent explanation for why the US government is covering up, and refusing to prosecute, the criminal acts of its own employees and agents.

Thank you.

bmaz

emptywheel.com

If there is any worthwhile or meaningful response, I will advise.

Obama DOJ Moves 9th Circuit To Stay DADT Ban

Last night (Tuesday October 19), Central District of California Judge Virginia Phillips entered her order denying the Obama DOJ motion for stay of her surprisingly broad worldwide injunction against enforcement by US Military of the DADT policy. Here is a report from Josh Gerstein at Politico on Phillips’ decision.

As expected, the DOJ has appealed Phillips’ denial of stay to the 9th Circuit, and did so already this morning. Here is the full main brief submitted in support of the motion for stay.

Having read the brief, I will say that it is much better constructed than previous filings by the DOJ regarding the injunction, maybe they are starting to take the matter seriously. By the same token, it is also striking that the filing is much more forceful in its assertion that the policy of President Obama and his Administration is for elimination and repeal of DADT. That message is conveyed by language such as this from footnote one in the brief:

The Administration does not support § 654 as a matter of policy and strongly believes that Congress should repeal it. The Department of Justice in this case has followed its longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality.

That is positive. What is very troubling, however, is that the Administration, by and through the DOJ never – never – indicates that it considers DADT to be unconstitutional on its face. Every objection by team Obama is in favor simply of study and legislative repeal; and, in fact, they doggedly protect the constitutionality of DADT. There is a HUGE difference between the two concepts of saying it is simply something that should be fixed by Congress (increasingly unlikely, it should be added, in light of the massive gains conservative Republicans are poised to make) and saying the Administration fully believes the policy unconstitutional and invidiously discriminatory (the position Obama blatantly refuses to make).

It should also be noted that a refusal to acknowledge the fundamental constitutionally discriminatory nature of DADT is also entirely consistent with the recent history of Obama Administration conduct and statements on the issue. Whether it be Obama himself, official spokesman Robert Gibbs or Valerie Jarrett, every time the direct question on constitutionality of DADT is raised, it is deflected with a flimsy response framed in terms of Congressional repeal. At this point, you have to wonder if Barack Obama and his Administration even consider the blatant discrimination of DADT to be of a Constitutional level at all; the evidence certainly is lacking of any such commitment.

Congress should repeal DADT as Obama suggests, but the basis and harm is much deeper and more profound than Read more

image_print