Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Cheney vs. Obama: Tale of the Tape

In case you missed it, President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke separately today on terrorism and national security. Like two boxers at a pre-fight press conference, they each touted their strength over their opponent. They espoused deep differences in their views on national counterterrorism strategy.

The Thrilla in Manilla it ain’t. As Gene Healy has pointed out, they agree on a lot more than they admit to. Harvard Law professor and former Bush Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith makes the same point at the New Republic. Glenn Greenwald made a similar observation.

However, the areas where they differ are important: torture, closing Guantanamo, criminal prosecution, and messaging. In these key areas, Obama edges out Cheney.

Torture

Cheney:

I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do.

Obama:

I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured.

Torture is incompatible with our values and our national security interests. When we break our own rules (read: laws) against torture, we erode everyone’s faith that America is the good guy in this global fight.

Torture has been embraced by politicians, but the people who are fighting terrorists on the ground want none of it. As former FBI agent Ali Soufan made clear in Senate hearings last week, it is not an effective interrogation technique. Senior military leaders such as General Petraeus, former CENTCOM commanders Joseph Hoar and Anthony Zinni, and former Commandant of the Marine Corps Charles Krulak all denounce the use of torture.

If we captured Al Qaeda operatives who had tortured one of our soldiers in pursuit of information, we would be prosecuting them. Torture is no different and no more justifiable because we are doing it.

Closing Guantanamo

Cheney:

I think the President will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.

Obama:

[I]nstead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

This is an area where Cheney is disagreeing not just with Obama but with John McCain. We would be having this debate regardless of who won the last Presidential election. Get over it.

The current political climate gives you the impression that we are going to let detainees loose in the Midwest with bus fare and a gift certificate for a free gun at the local sporting goods store. Let’s be realistic about this.

We held hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war in America during World War II. The detainees we have now are not ten feet tall and bulletproof, and federal supermax prisons hold the same perfect record of keeping prisoners inside their walls as the detainment facility in Guantanamo Bay.

Criminal Prosecution

Obama basically said that we will try those we can, release those who we believe pose no future threat, and detain those that fit in neither of the first two categories. That’s not a change in policy and that pesky third category isn’t going away.

Obama and Cheney do have some sharp differences as to the reach of war powers versus criminal prosecution.

Cheney:

And when you hear that there are no more, quote, “enemy combatants,” as there were back in the days of that scary war on terror, at first that sounds like progress. The only problem is that the phrase is gone, but the same assortment of killers and would-be mass murderers are still there.

Obama:

Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee - al-Marri - in federal court after years of legal confusion. We are preparing to transfer another detainee to the Southern District of New York, where he will face trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania - bombings that killed over 200 people.

I have written extensively on al-Marri, the last person to be detained domestically as an enemy combatant. The FBI did everything right when it investigated and indicted this Al Qaeda sleeper agent masquerading as an exchange student, only to have the Bush administration remove those charges in order to preserve the possibility of detaining domestic criminals under wartime powers. This claim of governmental power is a perversion of executive authority that Obama was right to repudiate.

The man being indicted in New York is Ahmed Gailani. If he is convicted for his role in the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, he will join his co-conspirators Wadih El-Hage, Mohammed Odeh, Mohammed al-Owhali, and Khalfan Mohammed in a supermax.

This is also where we hold 1993 World Trade Center bombers Ramzi Yousef, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”), Mohammed Salameh, Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Ahmed Ajaj.

Not to mention would-be trans-pacific airline bombers Wali Khan Amin Shah and Abdul Hakim Murad.

Al Qaeda operatives Mohammed Jabarah, Jose Padilla, and Abu Ali will share his mailing address.

Let’s not forget American Taliban Johnny Walker Lindh, Shoe Bomber Richard Reid, Al Qaeda and Hamas financier Mohammed Ali Hassan Al-Moayad, Oregon terrorist training camp organizer Ernest James Ujaama, and would-be Millenium Bomber Ahmed Ressam.

That’s a lot of bad guys. It’s almost like we’re checking names off a list or something.

Messaging

Cheney:

Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy. Apparently using the term “war” where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated.

Obama: no quote is necessary here. The differences in narrative between Obama and Cheney are clear and woven into what Obama says.

Terrorism is about messaging. America finds herself in the unenviable position of fighting an international terrorist group, Al Qaeda, that is trying to convince local insurgents to join its cause. Calling this a “War on Terror” can create a war on everybody if we use large-scale military solutions for intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic problems.

We have to tie every use of force or governmental power to a message: drop leaflets whenever we drop a bomb, hold a press conference whenever we conduct a raid, and publish a court decision whenever we detain someone. Giving the enemy the initiative in messaging gives them the initiative in the big picture.

Conclusion

Once we get past the rhetoric, the differences are few but worth noting. I take Obama in the third round by TKO.

Tom Tancredo Says: Legalize Drugs!

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo is no libertarian.  After all, he made his name attacking immigration.  But the former member is now speaking politically painful truths.

Yesterday he spoke to a local Republican group in Denver:

Admitting that it may be “political suicide” former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said its time to consider legalizing drugs.

He spoke Wednesday to the Lincoln Club of Colorado, a Republican group that’s been active in the state for 90 years. It’s the first time Tancredo has spoken on the drug issue. He ran for president in 2008 on an anti-illegal immigration platform that has brought him passionate support and criticism.

Tancredo noted that he has never used drugs, but said the war has failed.

“I am convinced that what we are doing is not working,” he said.

Tancredo told the group that the country has spent billions of dollars capturing, prosecuting and jailing drug dealers and users, but has little to show for it.

“It is now easier for a kid to get drugs at most schools in America that it is booze,” he said.

He said the violent drug battles in Mexico are moving north. A recent ABC News report profiled how easy it has become for violent drug cartels to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Drug enforcement officials told ABC that Denver is a hub city for distribution.

It’s time for politicians like Tancredo to start telling the truth while they are still in office.

Who’s Scared of the Guantanamo Inmates?

Many debates in Washington seem surreal.  One often wonders why anyone considers the issue even to be a matter of controversy.

So it is with the question of closing the prison in Guantanamo Bay.  Whatever one thinks about the facility, why are panicked politicians screaming “not in my state/district!”?  After all, the president didn’t suggest randomly releasing al-Qaeda operatives in towns across America.  He wants to put Guantanamo’s inmates into American prisons.

Notes an incredulous Glenn Greenwald:

we never tire of the specter of the Big, Bad, Villainous, Omnipotent Muslim Terrorist.  They’re back, and now they’re going to wreak havoc on the Homeland – devastate our communities – even as they’re imprisoned in super-max prison facilities.  How utterly irrational is that fear?  For one thing, it’s empirically disproven.  Anyone with the most minimal amount of rationality would look at the fact that we have already convicted numerous alleged high-level Al Qaeda Terrorists in our civilian court system (something we’re now being told can’t be done) – including the cast of villains known as the Blind Shiekh a.k.a. Mastermind of the First World Trade Center Attack, the Shoe Bomber, the Dirty Bomber, the American Taliban, the 20th Hijacker, and many more – and are imprisoning them right now in American prisons located in various communities.  

Guantanamo may be a handy dumping ground for detainees, but it has become a symbol of everything wrong with U.S. anti-terrorism policy.  Closing the facility would help the administration start afresh in dealing with suspected terrorists.

The fact that Republicans are using the issue to win partisan points is to be expected.  But the instant, unconditional Democratic surrender surprises even a confirmed cynic like me.

The Courts Are Right to Intervene

daniel-hauserThe Daniel Hauser standoff, in which a child’s parents are refusing chemotherapy to treat their son’s cancer,  is a classic case pitting the right of parents to oversee the religious practices of the family against the interest of the state in the well-being of children.

The presumption is with parents, but it is not irrebuttable. Just as the state may interfere in family matters in the case of spousal or child abuse, so too it may in a case like this, where the scientific evidence is overwhelming that the long-term interests of the child are being ignored by a parent.

Will there be close calls in such cases? Of course. But on the facts presented here, this case does not appear to be a close call.

Roxana Saberi Was Released

This is fairly old news, but in the event anyone had been hearing about the story only at C@L, I failed to note that last week the U.S. reporter I’d been posting about was released from prison in Iran.  She has left the country, flying to Austria with her family.

Interesting back story on the circumstances surrounding her arrest here.  Whatever the details, it’s good news that she was released.

Cops Gone Wild

Terrific editorial over at the Washington Times.

Excerpt:

The bad behavior of these police officers exposes a double standard. As one Nationals fan, who is a lawyer, told us: “There’s no way those cops could pass a street sobriety test right now. Just imagine how we’d get treated if they pulled us over having consumed half of what they’ve drunk tonight - and they’re packing heat.”

We don’t begrudge police officers having a little fun, but they need to abide by the same laws they enforce on the rest of us. When they go out for a few beers, they might want to leave their uniforms and guns at home.

The idea of a National Peace Officers Memorial Week is a fine idea but it is regrettable that the memorial and event is in Washington, D.C.   Just reinforces the wrongheaded notion that the federal government must be involved in everything.

Gun Free School Zone Follies

As I have noted before, “gun free” zones are an exercise in fantasy. To some, a place without guns sounds like a great place to live.  Unfortunately, others think they sound like a great place to plunder.

Some recent developments highlight the ability of armed citizens to defend themselves and how localized gun bans near schools or on universities make victims of law-abiding citizens.

A group of Georgia college students at a birthday party owe their lives to the fact that one of them had a gun. (H/T Of Arms & the Law) Two gunmen burst in to the apartment and separated males and females into different rooms. The gunmen began discussing whether they had enough bullets to kill everyone at the party. One of the students pulled a gun from his backpack and shot at the home invader holding the men, chasing the gunman out of the apartment. The armed student went to the next room, where the other gunman was preparing to rape his girlfriend. The student shot the second gunman, killing him.

If the birthday party had been in a dorm, the student probably would have left his gun at home because of the Georgia statute that bans guns on campus.  The students would likely be dead as a result.

A second story comes from Wisconsin, one of the two states with no provision allowing for concealed carry. A man on a bicycle was hit and thrown to the ground by four young men. The bicyclist was carrying a handgun openly, a practice approved by the Wisconsin Attorney General. The bicyclist drew his revolver, pointed it in the air and yelled, “gun!” The four assailants fled. The bicyclist flagged down a police officer to report the incident.

The positive outcome to this story is countered by the fact that the bicyclist was accosted within 1,000 feet of a school. His possession of a gun is criminalized by both Wisconsin and federal statutes.

Although the local district attorney said that the bicyclist will not be prosecuted, the Milwaukee police chief and other Wisconsin law enforcement officials have promised to focus additional scrutiny on persons who openly carry a firearm.

All of this highlights the folly of “gun free” school zones. Using the law to target citizens who will not be protected by the police is a perverse policy. It gives thugs every incentive to focus their criminal activities in the areas around the schools the legislation intends to protect.