Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

The Strategic Corporal

Retired Generals Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar have an op-ed over at the Miami Herald making some important arguments against using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Krulak served as Commandant of the Marine Corps and Hoar served as CENTCOM Commander. CENTCOM is short for Central Command, the regional military command responsible for the Middle East.

Krulak and Hoar endorse the Interrogation Task Force’s recommendation that all future detainee interrogations be conducted within the guidelines in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation. In doing so, they make a point that may be difficult to see unless you have been a leader in the military: condoning torture, or any mistreatment of prisoners, erodes discipline in a military organization.

Rules about the humane treatment of prisoners exist precisely to deter those in the field from taking matters into their own hands. They protect our nation’s honor.

To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed.

Krulak is no stranger to this topic. In a 1999 article, The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War, Krulak highlighted the difficulty of deploying to low-intensity conflicts and the challenges that enlisted Marines (and soldiers) will face. In a single conflict, a unit could be engaged in humanitarian aid on one block, quelling a riot on the next, and fighting pitched urban combat on the third. Small units led by a corporal may have to take on captain-sized problems. Krulak stressed the importance of leadership and character at the lowest level so that when an officer is not present, low-level leaders will act with the necessary initiative and decision-making skills. The cornerstone for all of this is character.

Honor, courage, and commitment become more than mere words. Those precious virtues, in fact, become the defining aspect of each Marine. This emphasis on character remains the bedrock upon which everything else is built. The active sustainment of character in every Marine is a fundamental institutional competency – and for good reason.

Torture apologists may be found aplenty inside the Beltway, but those who have worn the uniform know better.

NYT: We Don’t Deserve First Amendment Protection!

I assume others have pointed this out already, but there’s something very odd about a Tuesday editorial in The New York Times arguing that campaign finance regulations that stifle the political speech of corporations must be upheld in the Citizens United case currently under consideration before the Supreme Court:

The question at the heart of one of the biggest Supreme Court cases this year is simple: What constitutional rights should corporations have? To us, as well as many legal scholars, former justices and, indeed, drafters of the Constitution, the answer is that their rights should be quite limited — far less than those of people.

In that case, surely it’s time to revisit some of the 20th century’s seminal free speech rulings. The idea that public figures cannot use libel law to squelch criticism unless they can prove an attack is intentionally or recklessly false, for instance, comes to us by way of New York Times Company v. Sullivan—a case in which the so-called “protected speech” was a paid advertisement run by a filthy corporation!  And what about the celebrated Pentagon Papers case, in which the Court found that only in the most extreme cases can the government resort to “prior restraint” of speech? Why that’s New York Times Company v. United States. In both cases, of course, the speech in question had political significance—perhaps even the potential to affect elections. In the Pentagon Papers case, by the way, the counsel for the Times was famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who also argued Citizens United.

Don’t worry, though, it’s only corporations like The New York Times that will lose speech protections.  If you, as a brave individual, want to say something controversial on your blog—though you’ll probably want to do it on a server you own personally, just in case—you’re totally in the clear. And if the federal government decides to sue, you’ll be totally free to use as much of your personal savings as you want to fight back.

State Secrets, State Secrets Are No Fun

Despite Barack Obama’s frequent paeans to the value of transparency during the presidential campaign, his Justice Department has incensed civil liberties advocates by parroting the Bush administration’s broad invocations of the “state secrets privilege” in an effort to torpedo lawsuits challenging controversial interrogation and surveillance policies. Though in many cases the underlying facts have already been widely reported, DOJ lawyers implausibly claimed, not merely that particular classified information should not be aired in open court, but that any discussion of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” of detainees to torture-friendly regimes, or of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, would imperil national security.

That may—emphasis on may—finally begin to change as of October 1st, when new guidelines for the invocation of the privilege issued by Attorney General Eric Holder kick in. Part of the change is procedural: state secrets claims will need to go through a review board and secure the personal approval of the Attorney General. Substantively, the new rules raise the bar for assertions of privilege by requiring attorneys to provide courts with specific evidence showing reason to expect disclosure would result in “significant harm” to national security. Moreover, those assertions would have to be narrowly tailored so as to allow cases to proceed on the basis of as much information as can safely be disclosed.

That’s the theory, at any rate. The ACLU is skeptical, and argues that relying on AG guidelines to curb state secrets overreach is like relying on the fox to guard the hen house. And indeed, hours after the announcement of the new guidelines—admittedly not yet in effect—government attorneys were singing the state secrets song in a continuing effort to get a suit over allegations of illegal wiretapping tossed. The cynical read here is that the new guidelines are meant to mollify legislators contemplating statutory limits on state secrets claims while preserving executive discretion to continue making precisely the same arguments, so long as they add the word “significant” and jump through a few extra hoops. Presumably we’ll start to see how serious they are come October. And as for those proposed statutory limits, if the new administration’s commitment to greater  accountability is genuine, they should now have no objection to formal rules that simply reinforce the procedures and principles they’ve voluntarily embraced.

An Open and Honest Debate About Drug Policy in El Paso, Texas

El PasoLast January, the city council of El Paso, Texas, unanimously approved a resolution urging the federal government to support “an honest, open, national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” Soon afterwards, the mayor of El Paso received a call from Washington, DC demanding that he veto the resolution, otherwise his city would be cut off from some federal money. He did. However, the city council approved a new resolution calling for a conference assessing U.S. drug policy and the War on Drugs.

That led to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) organizing a two-day conference on the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs with leading experts from all over the world in the field of drug policy. The event was heavily attended by students, journalists and people interested in the subject. I had the chance to speak on the first panel, addressing the “History, Successes and Failures” of the War on Drugs. Not surprisingly, I failed at pointing out a single success from the current prohibitionist approach to drug policy. A summary of that first panel is available here.

Unfortunately, two Obama czars (on border and drugs) called off their participation just days before the conference. It was a missed chance to find out if there’s any change going on with the new administration regarding drug policy. In his opening remarks, Beto O’Rourke, the city councilman who introduced the original resolution that was later vetoed, said that he never imagined that calling for an “open and honest debate” on drug policy was going to be so controversial.

El Paso is at the crossroads of the War on Drugs. One of the safest cities in the Unites States, it’s just across the Rio Grande from one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, where so far this year more than 1,000 people have died in drug related violence. El Paso is not isolated from this carnage. Both cities are deeply intertwined economically, culturally and by blood ties. “Todos somos juarences” (we are all Juarezians) was the most common phrase from residents of El Paso expressing concern about the situation in their sister city.

Needless to say, the participants at the conference were highly critical of the War on Drugs. Some speakers focused on the empirical evidence coming from countries with flexible drug laws, such as the Netherlands and more recently Portugal. Luis Astorga, a professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) gave an interesting presentation on the history of drug cartels in Mexico. Other presentations dealt with the social consequences of prohibition, and how the War on Drugs is affecting communities in Mexico and the United States.

As I’ve written earlier, in Latin America there have been growing calls in recent months to reconsider the War on Drugs. It is about time that this discussion also takes place in the United States. Kudos to UTEP and the city of El Paso for taking that step.

Cato Supreme Court Review on the Road

With last week’s Constitution Day conference behind us (watch it here) – and the release of the 2008-2009 Cato Supreme Court Review – I can finally escape the office where I’ve been holed up all summer.  Yes, it’s time to go on the road and talk about all these wonderful legal issues we’ve learned about over the past year, as well as previewing the new Supreme Court term.

To that end, below the jump is my fall speaking schedule so far.  All these events are sponsored by the Federalist Society (and in some cases co-sponsored by other organizations) and all are open to the public.

If you decide to attend one of the presentations after learning of it from this blog post, please feel free to drop me a line beforehand, and do introduce yourself after the event.

Sept. 24 at 11:50am - DePaul Law School, Chicago - Debate on the Second Amendment post-Heller

Sept. 24 at 4:30pm - Chicago-Kent School of Law - Panel on Rule of Law in Iraq

Sept. 29 at 5:00pm - University of Cincinnati Law School - Rule of Law and Economic Development

Sept. 30 at 12:00pm - Capital University Law School (Columbus, OH) - Review of October Term 2008/Preview of October Term 2009

Sept. 30 at 3:30pm -  Ohio Northern School of Law (Ada, OH) - Debate on Ricci and Affirmative Action in Employment

Oct. 1 at 12:00pm - University of Toledo Law School - Debate on Ricci and Affrimative Action in Employment

Oct. 1 at 5:00pm - Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Auburn Hills, MI) - Immigration and the Constitution

Oct. 5 at 12:00pm - University of Pennsylvania Law School - Debate on the Use of Foreign Law in Constitutional Interpretation

Oct.6 at 5:30pm - Blank Rome LLP in Philadelphia (Federalist Society Lawyers Chapter; small admission fee) - Panel on Rule of Law in Iraq

Oct. 8 at 1:00pm - Penn State-Dickinson Law School (University Park) - October Term 2009 Preview

Oct. 13 at 5:15pm - George Mason University Law School (Arlington, VA) - October Term 2009 Preview

Oct. 26 at 12:00pm - Florida International University Law School (Miami) - Topic TBA

Oct. 27 at 12:30pm - University of Miami Law School - Topic TBA

McCarthy’s World

The NYC/Denver terrorism investigation has Andy McCarthy all riled up.

In this article at National Review, McCarthy says that the risks associated with terrorism require a domestic preventive detention regime where investigators can go to a court with something less than probable cause and detain individuals without charge until they can gather the evidence for an indictment.

This is a pretty bold proposition, given the fact that he lays out in this post on The Corner the power that investigators already have to detain material witnesses while gathering evidence. Not to mention the power to detain allegedly dangerous individuals picked up on relatively minor charges such as lying to federal agents, the current disposition of the NYC/Denver suspects.

Then McCarthy comes full circle in this post, claiming that if this is the fault of a “law enforcement” mindset in counterterrorism, it may be time to consider a domestic intelligence agency akin to Britain’s MI-5. He also blasts the use of non-coercive interrogation “that the Left insists are just as reliable in a ticking-bomb situation as the CIA’s coercive methods.”

There are several problems with this take on domestic counterterrorism.

The first is that the decision to involve a New York imam in the investigation, a step that compromised the operation and forced investigators to make early arrests before all of the co-conspirators could be identified, was made by an intelligence organization, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. This is not the cops of the Counterterrorism Bureau, the law enforcement officers that work with the FBI in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but a separate intelligence department run by a former CIA official who is openly hostile to the Bureau. The same type of folks that McCarthy wants to put in charge of domestic counterterrorism.

Second, McCarthy’s plug for coercive interrogation is the path advocated in the early years of the Bush administration. This has the deleterious effect (beyond statutory bans on torture and constitutional rights prohibiting the same) of making anything you get from the “third degree” inadmissible in court. To get around this you would have to ask courts to generate a doctrine that allows for evidence collected as a result of coercive interrogation to be admitted in spite of clear constitutional violations. I don’t see any way that this does not seep into general law enforcement, where any potential future crime justifies beating information or confessions out of suspects. This is rolling back civil liberties a hundred years or so.

Third, a domestic prevention regime is destined to run into the problems that the British encountered in Northern Ireland. IRA detainees that were subjected to “special interrogation techniques” and held without charge staged a hunger strike to protest being treated as criminals instead of detainees; their jailers had taken away their civilian clothes and made them wear prison uniforms. As former FBI Agent and counterterrorism expert Mike German says in his book, Thinking Like a Terrorist:

The reasons for the hunger strike reveal much about the IRA and about terrorists in general. They didn’t strike over the anti-Catholic discrimination that led to the civil rights movement. They didn’t strike over the RUC’s police abuse or the stationing of British troops in Northern Ireland. They didn’t strike over being arrested without charges, interned, and tortured. They didn’t strike over indefinite detentions or even over Bloody Sunday. They knew all those things helped their cause. They went on hunger strike because the British government was going to make them look like criminals.

If you fear Islamic terrorists, let investigators do their job and find the people who would harm the public. This is a problem that will be solved over decades of diligent investigation, sitting on wiretaps, infiltrating cells, and prosecuting dangerous people. Distorting the domestic criminal justice system out of hysteria over potential attacks will make martyrs out of detainees and torture victims and encourage a broader spectrum of people to violence.

This Is Your Brain on Torture

We’ve all heard the argument that a subject under torture—or whatever this week’s euphemism is—may begin fabricating whatever they believe the interrogator wants to hear just to get the agony to stop.  Now neuroscientists are suggesting that inflicting too much pain and stress on a subject may not just induce them to lie; it may cause them to lose track of what’s true and false altogether:

Fact One: To recall information stored in the brain, you must activate a number of areas, especially the prefrontal cortex (site of intentionality) and hippocampus (the door to long-term memory storage). Fact Two: Stress such as that caused by torture releases the hormone cortisol, which can impair cognitive function, including that of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Studies in which soldiers were subjected to stress in the form of food and sleep deprivation have found that it impaired their ability to recall personal memories and information, as this 2006 study reported. “Studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred,” notes O’Mara. “Water-boarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.”

Stress also releases catecholamines such as noradrenaline, which can enlarge the amygdale (structures involved in the processing of fear), also impairing memory and the ability to distinguish a true memory from a false or implanted one. Brain imaging of torture victims, as in this study, suggest why: torture triggers abnormal patterns of activation in the frontal and temporal lobes, impairing memory. Rather than a question triggering a (relatively) simple pattern of brain activation that leads to the stored memory of information that can answer the question, the question stimulates memories almost chaotically, without regard to their truthfulness.

In brief, the subject may lose genuine memories, and come to believe that their confabulations are authentic ones. The full literature review, from Trends in Cognitive Science, can be downloaded in PDF form here.