Stephen Walt has a great blog post up at ForeignPolicy.com.
I particularly appreciate how he recognizes that terrorists seek and profit from overreaction on the part of the victim state:
If our leaders react to every terrorist incident as if it's a monumental disaster, and if they hype the terrorist threat for political advantage -- as George Bush and Dick Cheney did -- the public will surely respond by demanding that we throw more resources at the problem than is prudent. Getting the opponent to react in foolish and self-defeating ways is one of the primary goals of most terror campaigns, of course, because these blunders can help the terrorists win victories that they could not achieve otherwise. We did more damage to ourselves when we invaded Iraq than Osama bin Laden accomplished on 9/11, and an open-ended commitment in Central Asia could easily compound that error.
You don't have to believe that the Bush Administration wrongly sought political advantage - they may have believed the hype or believed that hyping threats was good policy - to recognize that hyping terror threats advances terrorists' goals and damages our own interests.
The Constitution obviously does not leave Americans helpless in fighting against those who wish them ill. But it also sets standards of conduct that should not -- indeed, cannot -- be carelessly tossed aside.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay has become such an international symbol of the U.S. abandoning its principles because it reflects an anti-terrorism policy gone badly awry. First, the Bush administration was both callous and careless in imprisoning people, even paying unreliable tribal allies for captives. Second, the U.S. government created no effective and objective truth-determining process to assess guilt. Third, Washington employed torture, violating both domestic and international law.
No doubt dangerous terrorists have been incarcerated at Gitmo. But so too have many innocent people. Indeed, the claims of former State Department Chief of Staff Larry Wilkerson are particularly sobering:
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, admitted today that of the approximately 800 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay since the controversial detention center opened, only “two dozen or so” were actually terrorists. Wilkerson told the Associated Press today that “there are still innocent people there,” and that “some have been there six or seven years.”
Wilkerson made other comments earlier in the week in an internet posting entitled “Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay.” In that posting he said that “several in the US leadership became aware of the lack of proper vetting very early on and thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.”
Wilkerson also claimed that then-Secretary Powell and Richard Armitage were pressuring for the repatriation of as many detainees as possible, and that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were unphased by the fact that “among the detainees was a 13 year old boy and a man over 90,” standing in opposition to returning detainees.
Even if Wilkerson exaggerates--and he has been a credible witness so far--he points to the price America has paid for failing to live up to its principles. The U.S. has locked up many who were neither terrorists nor otherwise dangerous. Doing so undoubtedly has helped turn some people in and out of Gitmo towards violence against America. And mistreating the innocent has badly sullied America's reputation as a shining city upon a hill.
Confronting terrorism will never be easy. But violating America's principles is no way to defend the America in which we all claim to believe.
House Approves 90 Percent 'Bonus Tax'
Sparked by outrage over the bonus checks paid out to AIG executives, the House approved a measure Thursday that would impose a 90 percent tax on employee bonuses for companies that receive more than $5 billion in federal bailout funds.
Chris Edwards, Cato's director of tax policy studies, says the outrage over AIG is misplaced:
While Congress has been busy with this particular inquisition, the Federal Reserve is moving ahead with a new plan to shower the economy with a massive $1.2 trillion cash infusion — an amount 7,200 times greater than the $165 million of AIG retention bonuses.
So members of Congress should be grabbing their pitchforks and heading down to the Fed building, not lynching AIG financial managers, most of whom were not the ones behind the company’s failures.
Cato executive vice president David Boaz says this type of selective taxation is a form of tyranny:
The rule of law requires that like people be treated alike and that people know what the law is so that they can plan their lives in accord with the law. In this case, a law is being passed to impose taxes on a particular, politically unpopular group. That is a tyrannical abuse of Congress’s powers.
On a related note, Cato senior fellow Richard W. Rahn defended the use of tax havens in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, saying the practice will only become more prevalent as taxes increase in the United States:
U.S. companies are being forced to move elsewhere to remain internationally competitive because we have one of the world's highest corporate tax rates. And many economists, including Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas, have argued that the single best thing we can do to improve economic performance and job creation is to eliminate multiple taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends. Income is already taxed once, before it is invested, whether here or abroad; taxing it a second time as a capital gain only discourages investment and growth.
Obama to Stop Raids on State Marijuana Distributors
Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the president would end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that were common under the Bush administration.
It's about time, says Tim Lynch, director of Cato's Project on Criminal Justice:
The Bush administration’s scorched-earth approach to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws was a grotesque misallocation of law enforcement resources. The U.S. government has a limited number of law enforcement personnel, and when a unit is assigned to conduct surveillance on a California hospice, that unit is necessarily neglecting leads in other cases that possibly involve more violent criminal elements.
The Cato Institute hosted a forum Tuesday in which panelists debated the politics and science of medical marijuana. In a Cato daily podcast, Dr. Donald Abrams explains the promise of marijuana as medicine.
• A new video tells the troubling story of Susette Kelo, whose legal battle with the city of New London, Conn., brought about one of the most controversial Supreme Court rulings in many years. The court ruled that Kelo’s home and the homes of her neighbors could be taken by the government and given over to a private developer based on the mere prospect that the new use for her property could generate more tax revenue or jobs. As it happens, the space where Kelo’s house and others once stood is still an empty dustbowl generating zero economic impact for the town.
• Daniel J. Ikenson, associate director of Cato's Center for Trade Policy Studies, explains why the recent news about increasing protectionism will be short-lived.
• Writing in the Huffington Post, Cato foreign plicy analyst Malou Innocent says Americans should ignore Dick Cheney's recent attempt to burnish the Bush administration's tarnished legacy.
• Reserve your spot at Cato University 2009: "Economic Crisis, War, and the Rise of the State."
Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the federal government will end raids on medical marijuana distributors is terrific news.
The Bush administration's scorched-earth approach to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws was a grotesque misallocation of law enforcement resources. The U.S. government has a limited number of law enforcement personnel, and when a unit is assigned to conduct surveillance on a California hospice, that unit is necessarily neglecting leads in other cases that possibly involve more violent criminal elements.
This shift in policy is also more mindful of the constitutional principle of federalism by allowing the states to try different policy approaches, and it is more respectful of the division of opinion within the medical community about the benefits of marijuana for certain patients. This de-escalation of the drug war is good policy and is long overdue.
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the exchange student from Qatar who was detained by the FBI with alleged ties to al-Qaeda, sat for years in a military brig in South Carolina as the only domestically detained enemy combatant.
The Bush Administration used al-Marri to test a legal theory aimed at keeping suspected terrorists in military prisons indefinitely.
President Obama has reversed that ruling, and has moved al-Marri into civilian courts. The Supreme Court is no longer hearing al-Marri's appeal.
In Monday's Cato Daily Podcast, Legal Policy Analyst David Rittgers says that there's nothing that will stop future administrations from again reversing the policy.
This is creating this legal cul-de-sac where we can have military detention domestically...and the reason that they picked Al-Marri is, just as you would pick a sympathetic plaintiff to sue to overturn a law, if you want to keep a law...you would look for an unsympathetic defendant, and Al-Marri is as unsympathetic as you can get.
...He is the test case to keep this policy open.
The Cato Institute co-authored an amicus brief (PDF) at the Supreme Court supporting al-Marri's challenge to the military detention.