Political MoJo

Going Postal on George Allen

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 4:12 PM EDT

Here's an, um, unique response to the allegation that the young Sen. George Allen stuck a severed deer's head in the mailbox of a black family. "George Allen hates the U.S. Mail," according to Letter Carriers for Truth, which is proposing that the postal service go after Allen for vandalizing federal property, i.e., a mailbox. Or as LCT puts it, "This mailbox belonged to you and me ... the federal taxpayer ... and frankly I don't like it when people go around sticking severed heads in my slot."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Presidential Signing Statements Revisited

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 3:45 PM EDT

There's an interesting new report [PDF] from the Congressional Research Service (leaked to the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News) on presidential signing statements, a practice introduced by James Monroe and now used by George W. Bush to keep his fingers crossed while signing bills into law. CRS confirms the Boston Globe scoop that counted more than 700 examples of presidential pushback on specific legal provisions. But as the CRS points out, Bush's objections seem to be less about constitutional principle than the (questionable) assertion of presidential preeminence:

... the large bulk of the signing statements the Bush II Administration has issued to date do not apply particularized constitutional rationales to specific scenarios, nor do they contain explicit, measurable refusals to enforce a law. Instead, the statements make broad and largely hortatory assertions of executive authority that make it effectively impossible to ascertain what factors, if any, might lead to substantive constitutional or interpretive conflict in the implementation of an act. The often vague nature of these constitutional challenges, coupled with the pervasive manner in which they have been raised in numerous signing statements could thus be interpreted as an attempt by the Administration to systematically object to any perceived congressional encroachment, however slight, with the aim of inuring the other branches of government and the public to the validity of such objections and the attendant conception of presidential authority that will presumably follow from sustained exposure and acquiescence to such claims of power.

Translation: Dubya issues signing statements because he can. It's part of the big ol' executive power play cooked up by Cheney, Addington, Yoo et al. And as today's headlines make clear, in the absence of opposition, the power's there for the taking.

The CRS report also contains a couple of tidbits that hint at how the Supreme Court might line up if this issue winds up there: Back when he worked for Reagan, Samuel Alito argued for signing statements' "rightful place in the interpretation of legislation." And in a 1991 decision, Antonin Scalia heartily affirmed the president's "power to veto encroaching laws ...or even to disregard them when they are unconstitutional."


All of which raises a question that no one has answered to my satisfaction yet: If a president thinks a law is unconstitutional—or wants to puff out his chest at Congress—why not simply veto it? Or has Bush rendered the veto—like other bothersome checks and balances—obsolete?

Al Qaeda in Iraq: Calling all Weapons Experts

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 3:44 PM EDT

iraqi_scientist.jpg

AP reports:

In a new audio message Thursday, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq called for explosives experts and nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war against the West. "We are in dire need of you," said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri — the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

"The field of jihad (holy war) can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases (in Iraq) are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them."

Very much apropos, check out this piece by Kurt Pitzer in Mother Jones about how the U.S. refused to secure Iraq's only real WMDs, its nuclear and bioweapons scientists, with the result that they're now dispersed and more dangerous than ever.

Nobody knows how many Iraqi scientists may have been lured over the borders into Iran, Syria, or beyond. Nobody knows because no one is keeping tabs. But several observers agree that so little attention is being paid to Iraq's scientists, the war may actually have increased the chances of nuclear capabilities proliferating beyond the country's borders. Between its unemployed scientists and the disappearance of large amounts of WMD-related materials from former weapons sites, Iraq now poses a nightmare scenario, according to Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years analyzing intelligence for the CIA and afterward cofounded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. "The danger is much more acute, both from the proliferation side and the terrorism side," McGovern says. "Before we invaded, there was no evidence that Iraq had any plan or incentive to proliferate. They didn't even have a current plan to develop WMDs. They just hadn't been doing it. Now, my God, we have a magnet attracting all manner of foreign jihadists to a place where the WMD expertise is suddenly unprotected. It just boggles the mind."

The Fine Print in the Military Tribunals Bill

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 11:23 AM EDT

The House passed the Bush administration's military tribunals legislation yesterday, which clarifies the rules for how terrorism suspects can be interrogated and tried, and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. The bill, which was rushed through Congress as the legislative session comes to a close, includes a host of troubling provisions. Among them, the bill, for the first time, defines the meaning of "illegal enemy combatant" and it does so in a very broad way. As The New York Times notes in an editorial: "...The bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted."

As The Baltimore Sun reports, this under-the-radar provision would also "for the first time legally endorse the fight against terrorism as equivalent to war," which would "give the fight against terrorism the legal status of an armed conflict." "Does it allow the president to basically define the war on terrorism as broadly or as narrowly as he wants?" Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat, told the Sun. "The answer is yes."

Another provision, dealing with the rights (or, in this case, lack of them) of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in federal court, would effectively "strip green-card holders and other legal residents of the right to challenge their detention in court if they are accused of being 'enemy combatants,'" according to the Boston Globe.

The part of the bill that worries advocates for immigrants most is the one stating that "no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination."...

In the original bill, the section banning "habeas corpus" petitions applied only to detainees being held "outside the United States," referring to the roughly 450 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. But in recent days, the phrase "outside the United States" was removed.

Yet another provision makes "coerced evidence" admissible in court proceedings "if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant," according to the Times. Further, "coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses."

And that's just for starters.

Hurricane W

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 2:32 AM EDT

Climate science censorship, Chapter MMCVIII: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reviewed the latest hurricane science and, like everyone else in the universe, has concluded that the data suggest that climate change is creating bigger and worse storms. But the White House, reports Nature (via the AP) feels the report is too "technical" and has blocked its release.

Nuff said.

Update: Whistleblower Sisters Sued By Their Company

| Wed Sep. 27, 2006 8:57 PM EDT

Kerri Rigsby and Cori Rigsby, the independent insurance adjusters who blew the whistle on State Farm Insurance's allegedly fraudulent practices following Hurricane Katrina, have been sued by a company that contracts with State Farm.

E-A Renfroe and Company, a Birmingham-based adjusting company, alleges that Rigsby and Rigsby broke the law when they turned over State Farm documents to an attorney. The Rigsby sisters also turned these documents over to state and federal authorities.They are now accused of violating the Alabama Trade Secrets Act, as well as breaching confidentiality with the company.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Turn Up the Propaganda, Please

| Wed Sep. 27, 2006 11:35 AM EDT

Apparently not satisfied that U.S.-funded broadcast services including Radio Farda and the Voice of America are targeting Iran with a sufficient level of propaganda, a Pentagon report, prepared at the behest of an interagency committee known as the Iran Steering Group, has charged "that U.S. international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime," according to McClatchy Newspapers.

The report appears to be a gambit by some officials in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office and elsewhere to gain sway over television and radio broadcasts into Iran, one of the few direct tools the United States has to reach the Iranian people.

U.S. broadcasting officials, according to McClatchy, view the report as a power play intended to usurp the independence of U.S.-sponsored news outlets. They also say the report is filled with errors. As Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, put it, "The author of this report is as qualified to write a report on programming to Iran as I would be to write a report covering the operations of the 101st Airborne Division."

That brings us to the author of the report, who sources told McClatchy is a Pentagon official and Iran specialist named Ladan Archin. Back in May Laura Rozen identified Archin as one of three officials who previously worked in the notorious Office of Special Plans, a clearinghouse for manipulated intelligence on Iraq, and are now working in the Pentagon's recently established Iran directorate. (Read Kevin Drum's take on all of this here.)

In recent months, the U.S. has stepped up so-called democracy promotion campaigns targeting Iran as a means to bolster the opposition and undermine the regime, including an $85 million State Department program to prop up dissident groups and ramp up anti-Iran propaganda efforts. As the U.S. and Iran continue on a collision course, expect the propaganda war to heat up.

What Will Karl Rove Do This Time?

| Tue Sep. 26, 2006 9:44 PM EDT

Well...

White House and Senate Versions of Detainee Bill Permit Common Types of Rape and Sexual Assault

| Tue Sep. 26, 2006 7:41 PM EDT

Rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are mentioned twice in the bill that George W. Bush is trying to rush through Congress, with loopholes to spare. The bill, which deals with the jailing, interrogation and trying of terror suspects, defines rape as "forced or coerced genital or anal penetration." That's it. As the New York Times points out, sex without consent--the type that prisoners undergo frequently--is not mentioned at all.

Similarly, the bill's definition of sexual abuse is quite narrow, requiring physical contact. That means that prisoners could be ordered to strip and dance, as they were in Rwanda, or strip and wear underwear on their head or get into a body pile, as they were forced to do at Abu Ghraib.

According to Rhonda Copelon, a law professor at CUNY, the bill, in its current forms, would not permit rape to be classified as a form of torture because there must be specific proven intent in an act of "torture," and specific proven intent is very hard to prove in cases of rape.

The fight to protect women under international law has been a long and difficult one. It wasn't until the 1990s that the more "progressive" human rights organizations finally included female genital mutilation as a human rights issue, having preferred to call it a "cultural difference." That the Bush White House would permit the sexual assault of women (and men) is not a surprise. Sadly, it is not a surprise for some of us that our own Senate would do likewise.

Neither Sen. Lindsey Graham nor Sen. John McCain, the bill's authors, responded to questions from the New York Times about these issues.

(Via truthout)

Unexploded Cluster Bombs Left Behind in Lebanon

| Tue Sep. 26, 2006 6:34 PM EDT

Israeli troops may be quitting southern Lebanon, but they're leaving behind about a million unexploded cluster bomblets, nearly half the number they fired or dropped during the recent conflict. They're stuck in the ground and scattered "in bushes, trees, hedges and wire fences," representing a serious threat to human life and delaying the return home of about 200,000 people displaced by the war by up to 2 years. The UN last month called Israel's use of the bombs "immoral," though their use is legal under international law.