Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Anti-Sex School for Johns?

In a novel approach to punishing men who attempt to hire prostitutes, Nashville and other cities are sending first-time offenders to a one-day class where they learn from former prostitutes, health experts, psychologists and law enforcement officers about “the risks of hiring a prostitute.”

This is a waste of time.

Prostitution is “the oldest profession” for a reason: sex is a biological imperative. A day of anti-sex school will have no effect on the demand for prostitution.

The better approach is to legalize.

Under legalization, the vast majority of men would patronize legal establishments. This would also allow quality control, since competition would encourage prostitution services to certify their employees as free from STDs and above the age of consent. Legalization would help the women who serve as prostitutes by reducing the violence they suffer from johns and pimps. In particular, legalization would mainly eliminate forced prostitution.

The claim that prostitution encourages sexual assault does not pass the sniff test. Many countries, plus Nevada and Rhode Island, allow legal prostitution to varying degrees, but no evidence suggests they have a higher incidence of violence toward women.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Why Is Marijuana Still Illegal?

According to Rasmussen Reports, a majority of Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana:

Pot or not, that is the question.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of American adults say alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 19% disagree and say pot is worse.

But 25% say both are equally dangerous. Just two percent (2%) say neither is dangerous.

Younger adults are more likely than their elders to view alcohol as the more dangerous of the two.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of women say alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, compared to 48% of men. Men by a two-to-one margin over women say pot is riskier, but women are more inclined to say both are dangerous.

Unmarried adults are more critical of alcohol than those who are married. Those with children at home think alcohol is more dangerous than those without kids living with them.

So why are pot users still being tossed into jail?

There are lots of good reasons why people shouldn’t use drugs.  But making drug use illegal only compounds the social consequences, turning a moral and health problem into a legal and criminal problem.  The result is the worst of both worlds:  all of the problems of drug use plus all of the problems of prohibition.  Unfortunately, those consequences flow overseas, further undermining fragile societies such as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico and ultimately American security objectives as well.

It’s time to call off the Drug War.

Costa Rican President Calls for New Constitution

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has joined the trend in Latin America of calling for a new constitution that would expand executive powers and get rid of “unnecessary checks” on the president’s authority. Although Arias has less than 9 months left in office and can’t run for reelection, his brother and current minister of the presidency — a primer minister of sorts — has openly said he’s interested in running for president in 2014. A new constitution with expanded executive powers would fit him just fine.

Arias’ call has been received with broad skepticism. La Nación, Costa Rica’s leading newspaper, said that trying to make the government more efficient through a constitutional convention was like “killing a mouse with cannon fire.” The newspaper also said that the idea of dismantling the checks and balances on executive power sounds like an effort to create an “imperial presidency.” Maybe we should send our colleague Gene Healy to study the case.

However, the most disturbing aspect of Arias’ call was his harsh criticism of the media. Borrowing from the script of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Arias described news outlets as “corporations interested in making a profit” that don’t necessarily pursue the “public good.” He asked the media to “tone down” its criticism of government officials, and said that journalists “should understand their role within a higher framework.” He complained that news outlets claim to represent the public interest, without any control or accountability.

That a politician with a thin skin complains about media criticism is hardly news. However, the fact that Arias did it while calling for a new constitution that would change the institutional and legal framework of Costa Rica (including the role of the media) should be interpreted as a threat to freedom of the press.

Most people outside Costa Rica see Arias as an accomplished democrat who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to Central America during the 1980s. Most recently he attempted to mediate the conflict in Honduras after Manuel Zelaya was (legally) removed from office. However, many people in Costa Rica fret about what they perceive as an increasingly controlling style of governing by Arias and his brother, intimidating the media, bullying the opposition, crowding key government posts with allies and cronies, and now hoping for a dynastical succession in 2014.

Fresh OLC Memos

The Justice Department just released some more Office of Legal Counsel memoranda. As you may already know, these legal interpretations facilitated the worst of the Bush administration’s approach toward terrorism — forget the lawful tools that we have on hand; let’s craft a whole new legal regime that tosses out barriers to executive authority and upends the rule of law. Posse Comitatus and the First Amendment got you down? No problem. Non-Detention Act preventing you from detaining American citizens as enemy combatants? Whatever. Geneva Conventions, War Crimes Act, and Convention Against Torture barring coercive interrogation? Crank it to eleven.

Jack Balkin has a good summary with some highlights. On Iraq:

On October 21st, 2002, five days after Congress authorization of the use of military force against Iraq, John Yoo explains why it was legally irrelevant that Congress authorized the Iraq War, noting that the President could have attacked Iraq without anyone’s permission. Delightfully, Yoo cites President Clinton’s use of force in Bosnia, which Yoo himself had questioned when the Republicans were out of power. But perhaps being in power gave him a different perspective.

Yoo sums up his argument this way: “There is no expression in the Constitution of any requirement that the President seek authorization from Congress prior to using military force. There is certainly nothing in the text of the Constitution that explicitly requires Congress to consent before the President may exercise his authority as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief to command U.S. military forces.” I’m glad we straightened that out.

This should not be surprising. The same claim of unitary executive authority was bandied about in the run-up to the Gulf War. Guess who said this:

It was my view at the time [that] we were absolutely committed to getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait one way or the other, no matter what we had to do. We had to have the Saudis as allies in that venture, but if no-one else had been with us if it had just been the United States and Saudi Arabia, without the United Nations, without the authorisation of the Congress, we were prepared to go ahead. I argued in public session before the Congress that we did not need Congressional authorisation. That in fact we had the Truman precedent from the Korean crisis of 1950 that the Senate and all ratified the United Nations charter. By this time the UN Security Council had authorised the use of force back in November saying that we could do it by January 15th if he wasn’t out by then and that legally and from a constitutional stand point we had all the authority we needed.

I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress to ask for an additional grant of authority.

The Founders made an inherently inefficient form of government as a check against arbitrary use of the power of the state. The President doesn’t declare war, Congress does. When we allow the government to write itself a waiver to constitutional limitations that are part and parcel of its contract with the people, it’s time for the people to let the government know who the boss is in this employer-employee relationship.

Timothy Lee’s idea is looking better all the time.

Enhanced Justification Techniques

Over the last few days the right has been trying to rehabilitate the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees, claiming that the ends justified the means. For a sample, click here, here, here, and here.

Don’t be fooled by these “enhanced justification techniques.” (H/T NonSequitur, who coined the term in response to Charles Krauthammer’s justifications for torture, something I have also fisked)

Peter Bergen breaks down the facts and chronology of what information we gleaned from Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) over at Foreign Policy.

Most interesting tidbit:

The CIA inspector general’s report on al Qaeda detainees also concluded that based on a review of KSM’s plots aimed at the United States, it “did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent,” but it did find that KSM “provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio.”

The man identified by the CIA inspector general as “Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York” who KSM supposedly gave up to his interrogator appears, in fact, to be Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was arrested on Dec. 12, 2001, in Peoria, Ill., a year and a half before KSM was captured.

I’ve written extensively about al-Marri, an Al Qaeda sleeper agent that the FBI picked up shortly after September 11, 2001. His arrest had nothing to do with KSM’s statements. This was FBI agents doing police work like we would hope they do. His indictment for credit card fraud and lying to federal agents may not be prosecution for conducting a terrorist attack, but that’s okay — if you can bust him on something else before he blows up a building, then it’s a win all around. Terrorism inherently breaks laws, and prosecuting aspiring terrorists for those crimes neutralizes them.

As former FBI counterterrorism agent Mike German says:

As an FBI agent my counterterrorism investigations never resulted in anyone being charged with terrorism. The terrorists I arrested were charged with specific criminal offenses; possessing and transferring illegal firearms and explosive devices, illegally using firearms and destructive devices, conspiring to use illegal firearms and destructive devices, and conspiring to violate civil rights. Terrorists use these crimes to accomplish their political goals. Once I had evidence of their illegal activities, I could bring charges against them. Certainly the motive behind their conduct came into play to prove they had the requisite criminal intent, but the laws I enforced had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorists’ ideology.

Al-Marri’s criminal prosecution should have been a success story that shows how law enforcement plays a critical role in counterterrorism. Instead, the Bush administration used him as justification for domestic military detention of suspected terrorists, a practice that it claimed would be lawful in the case of an American citizen apprehended on the streets of Anytown, U.S.A.

The rest of the information gained from KSM also fails to justify the blowback from exceeding the lawful limits of interrogation:

The Parachas are a father-and-son team; the former, arrested in Thailand in the summer of 2003, is being held at Guantánamo and has yet to face trial, while his son was convicted in 2005 of providing “material support” to al Qaeda.

Majid Khan was arrested in Pakistan only four days after KSM was captured, suggesting that this lead came not from interrogations but from KSM’s computers and cell phones that were picked up when he was captured.

Of the terrorists, alleged and otherwise, cited by the CIA inspector general as being fingered by KSM during his coercive interrogations, only Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris was an actual al Qaeda foot soldier living in the United States who had serious intention to wreak havoc. However, he was not much of a competent terrorist: In 2002 he researched the feasibility of bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge by using a blowtorch, an enterprise akin to demolishing the Empire State Building with a firecracker.

Bergen does a good job of putting torture in context and how little utility it actually had. Read the whole thing.

We Need a New Church Committee

The Church Committee was a post-Watergate congressional committee that investigated allegations of lawbreaking by the executive branch, including the CIA and FBI. The committee’s report was incredibly important in helping the public understand the depth and breadth of Cold War lawlessness during the previous three decades. When Cato asked me to pen the chapter on electronic surveillance in this year’s edition of the Cato Handbook on Policy, I included a recommendation that Congress should launch a modern-day successor to the Church Committee.

In the last few months, I’ve been pleased to see that people smarter than me have been having the same idea. The latest is the Nation’s Chris Hayes, who has a great cover story calling on Congress to launch a wide-ranging investigation of executive branch lawbreaking.

We have lots of evidence that members of the Bush administration broke laws related to torture, wiretapping, and the Patriot Act. But because these reports are based on press reports and heavily-redacted Freedom of Information Act requests, we don’t know the full nature and extent of these crimes. Given that Barack Obama has fallen short of the transparency pledges he made during the campaign, Congress is likely the only institution in the United States with the resources and the political clout to produce a complete accounting of the civil liberties abuses of the last three decades.

I think the most important point Chris makes is this one:

Since the committee began in the wake of Nixon’s resignation and revelations about his deceptions, abuses and sociopathic pursuit of grudges, Church and many Democrats had every reason to believe they would be chiefly unmasking the full depths of Nixon’s perfidy. Quickly, however, it became clear that Nixon was a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind. Kennedy and Johnson had, with J. Edgar Hoover, put in place many of the illegal policies and programs. Secret documents obtained by the committee even revealed that the sainted FDR had ordered IRS audits of his political enemies. Republicans on the committee, then, had as much incentive to dig up the truth as did their Democratic counterparts.

As historian Kathy Olmsted argues in her book Challenging the Secret Government, Church was never quite able to part with this conception of good Democrats/bad Republicans. Confronted with misdeeds under Kennedy and Johnson, he chose to view the CIA as a rogue agency, as opposed to one executing the president’s wishes. This characterization became the fulcrum of debate within the committee. At one point Church referred to the CIA as a “rogue elephant,” causing a media firestorm. But the final committee report shows that to the degree the agency and other parts of the secret government were operating with limited control from the White House, it was by design. Walter Mondale came around to the view that the problem wasn’t the agencies themselves but the accretion of secret executive power: “the grant of powers to the CIA and to these other agencies,” he said during a committee hearing, “is, above all, a grant of power to the president.”

A contemporary Church Committee would do well to follow Mondale’s approach and not Church’s. It must comprehensively evaluate the secret government, its activities and its relationship to Congress stretching back through several decades of Democratic and Republican administrations. Such a broad scope would insulate the committee from charges that it was simply pursuing a partisan vendetta against a discredited Republican administration, but it is also necessary to understand the systemic problems and necessary reforms.

This is a case where political expedience and justice point in the same direction. A thorough investigation will undoubtedly uncover numerous examples of abuses of power under the Bush administration. But Bill Clinton was hardly a civil libertarian himself. Thoroughly investigating abuses of power under Clinton (and under Reagan and Bush I) will serve two important purposes. First, of course, it will help to deflect spurious charges that the investigation is a partisan witchhunt. But more importantly, it will likely underscore the point that abuses of power are a bipartisan phenomenon. The problem is not just that George W. Bush was too secretive or power-hungry (although of course he was). The problem is that presidents are almost always secretive and power-hungry, and our system of government needs better checks and balances to ensure that presidential attempts to evade accountability do not succeed. The abuses of the Bush/Cheney years may provide the political momentum we need to fix the problem. But the problem is bigger than any one administration.