Mojo - March 2005

The man behind the madness

Wed Mar. 16, 2005 8:45 PM EST

As was widely noted last week, the Bush administration has decided to yank the US out of the optional protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The convention guarantees that when states arrest one another's nationals, they notify one another and inform the arrested person of the right to contact a consulate; the optional protocol requires that disputes between nations under the convention be resolved by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and it makes the decisions of that court binding upon the signatory states. By withdrawing from the protocol, the United States refuses to be bound by ICJ rulings related to the convention.

At the time, the decision seemed rather out of the blue. After all, just in February, Paul D. Clement, Bush's pick for solicitor general, wrote a brief to the Supreme Court announcing that the administration would accept a 2004 ICJ ruling that found the US in breach of the Vienna convention. The specific case at issue involved a Mexican man being held in Texas who argues that his death sentence is invalid because American officials failed to notify the Mexican consulate of his arrest and sentencing in the United States.

Turns out we shouldn't be surprised. The folks over at SCOTUSblog gave the brief a close reading and found that, in it, Clement actually hints that the US was planning to junk the protocol. "Even if a Nation decides to comply with the decision in a particular case," he wrote, "it retains the option of protecting itself from further decisions based on the legal principles of that case by withdrawing from the Optional Protocol." And so it was done (though there is still debate as to whether the withdrawal is either legal or effective immediately).

You may recall Clement from previous cases such as Padilla, Moussaoui, and Hamdi; he's one of the lead lawyers behind the administration's tricky legal strategy in the "war on terror." As Federal Public Defender Frank Dunham Jr. recently put it, "[Clement] can make the unreasonable sound reasonable" -- a skill that should serve him well -- from the government's point of view -- in his new job as the administration's top advocate in the Supreme Court.

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Wolfowitz for World Bank?

Wed Mar. 16, 2005 8:15 PM EST

The Los Angeles Times nominated Bono to be the next World Bank president, and Bono nominated Colin Powell. But that all turned out to be one big rhetorical exercise, because the Bush administration has just made its choice: Paul Wolfowitz. This may come as a bit of surprise given that only a few weeks ago, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita suggested that Wolfowitz would be staying on at his current job. Even current World Bank president James Wolfensohn didn't think Wolfowitz was a serious contender. When asked whether he thought Wolfowitz met the criteria to be a solid World Bank president, Wolfensohn quipped, "I submitted the name of my son and I think they got it mixed up."

There are plenty of arguments against the nomination of Wolfowitz to this job. Check out here for the roundup. My main hesitancy applies less to Wolfowitz personally than to the Bush administration's intention of pressuring out Wolfensohn, who has pushed the World Bank in a distinctly humanitarian direction, while replacing him with a guy who thinks that manhandling countries into democracy is the key to promoting world peace. It's also hard to figure out the intent behind pushing John Bolton and Wolfowitz into global positions—either it's a way of getting these guys out of Washington, or a chance to push the neoconservative agenda even further.

Clear-cutting public participation

Wed Mar. 16, 2005 6:33 PM EST

Under the leadership of Mark Rey, the former timber lobbyist turned Undersecretary of Agriculture, the Forest Service has effectively rolled back the rules that have, for the last 25 years, formed the foundation of forest ecosystem management. The agency's vague new guidelines regarding the management of 192 million acres of national forest and grasslands are dually destructive. First, they hack away old ecological standards that: limit the extent of clearcutting; mandate 100-foot buffer zones to protect riparian areas; and require that the Forest Service maintain habitats that support "viable populations" of species. As well, the new regulations will now only "consider" rather than rely on the best available science to determine what counts as appropriate management. "Our new regime of national forest management will be ruled by lack of regulation," said Earthjustice's Trent Orr. "In the end, there are really no standards of any sort."

Even more egregious, the Forest Service slipped these new regulations through under the radar last September. By classifying the changes as an "interpretive rule," the agency exempted them from public notice and comment requirements, even though the new regulations have to do with public lands making up eight percent of the country's collective landscape. The final rule (PDF), without any form of public input, was published in the Federal Register on January 5 of this year.

In the late '90s, the Forest Service under Clinton also relied on administrative changes rather than legislative ones. Only they went the other direction, convening a committee of scientists and forcing the agency to focus more on ecological sustainability. The Bush administration's new regulations, by contrast, represent a "paradigm shift" in forest management, as the rules themselves proudly proclaim.

A lawsuit (PDF) is in the works against the new regulations, filed by a coalition of heavyweight environmental groups who argue that the Forest Service was not merely clarifying the regulations, as it claims, but actually making new law, without any legislative oversight. Unfortunately, suing the government is the only recourse citizens have left at this point. As Orr said, "The public is being left behind, and they're not going to have many opportunities to influence the process at all."

Why Jordan matters too...

| Wed Mar. 16, 2005 2:07 PM EST

Headline after headline has tracked the progress of reform in Iraq, in Egypt, in Lebanon, among the Palestinians. And yet, we've heard nothing about Jordan—one of our key allies in the region—recently. Should we have? In a word, yes. Over the past few weeks the Jordanian government has cracked down on the press, the police have broken up demonstrations in the street, and the executive and legislative branches are engaged in a deadlock over whether to ban political activity among Jordan's professional associations. Freedom is taking a few giant steps back. And yet, yesterday, when Jordan's King Abdullah visited Washington, nothing was said. The president offered only platitudes: "His Majesty leads a great country in the midst of a part of the world that is changing, changing for the better." And the press corps, aside from Peter Jennings, didn't bother asking any tough questions on the issue. As Abu Aardvark describes it:

Not a word about the temporary laws, the struggle over the professional associations, the crackdown on political opposition, or anything else. Not a question, nor a cautious word of concern for the political parties, professional associations, and civil society activists protesting in the streets and fighting in parliament. You'd never know that Jordanian civil society feels under siege and that the battle is heating up. You wouldn't know that Jordanian protestors are trying to adopt Lebanese and Egyptian style tactics - waving the national flag, peaceful protests, using the language of democracy and freedom. Instead, just a full endorsement of King Abdullah's decidely illiberal and anti-democratic program of promoting economic reform and deferring democracy.

Now it's true that Jordan isn't the most repressive country in the Middle East, in the sense that dissidents are more likely to lose their jobs or have their passports confiscated than get beaten across the feet with thick cables. (Though there's still plenty of torture to go around.) But Jordan's not a democracy by any stretch, and one of the main impediments here is King Abdullah, who often rules by fiat over a dysfunctional parliament. President Bush had the perfect opportunity to press Abdullah on political reform yesterday, to urge him not to step back but to go forward with the promising "decentralization" platform announced by the king in January. But by all accounts, Bush did not.

This may have been because President Bush had Israel-Palestine on his mind. It's worth noting that those professional associations the Jordanian government wants to restrict are largely controlled by Islamists, and increased political participation on their part could scuttle Jordan's steady support for the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Meanwhile, it's also potentially true that rapid reform in Jordan could destabilize the country, though this is even more true in places like Syria, where Bush has called loudly for reform. And that's part of the problem. The president's gentle touch with Jordan only fuels the perception that the U.S. demands reform solely from its enemies—in other words, that democracy-promotion is just power politics by other means, rather than an actual, serious agenda.

Who's doing PR for Sinn Fein? They should be, um, fired!

| Tue Mar. 15, 2005 5:36 PM EST

Quick, somebody get some PR help to Sinn Fein, right now. First the IRA, its armed wing (and fallback/bargaining chip in extremis), brutally murders a guy, Robert McCartney, in a bar. Then, in what was intended as a sweet goodwill gesture toward the man's family, it offers to brutally murder the murderers! (And deliver them, gift-wrapped, to the McCartney household, one wonders?).

Now along comes Martin McGuiness, Sinn Fein's number two, and himself a former IRA man, to warn the McCarntey sisters, who have mounted a stunningly effective shame campaign against "the Ra" and Sinn Fein, essentially to back off. Think about it: how do these words sound, coming from a former high-ranking IRA soldier whose political party is still backed by the IRA's (famously un-decomissioned) guns: "The McCartneys need to be very careful. To step over that line, which is a very important line, into the world of party political politics, can do a huge disservice to their campaign." To which I'd reply, Or what, Martin?

This would all be comical if it weren't so disgusting. One bright spot, though -- and I say this as both a Brit who grew up in the bomb-happy 1980s and a longtime sympathiser, within limits, with the Republican cause -- is that it makes Sinn Fein's cynical use of the IRA virtually untenable -- Bush is absolutely right to revoke Gerry Adams' standing invitation to Washington -- and shows, if anyone doubted it, that the IRA has devolved irretrievably into a criminal gang.

Multicultural Europe? Not so much.

| Tue Mar. 15, 2005 3:13 PM EST

The EU has just come out with a report on European attitudes toward immigration. Bottom-line, and predictable, message: they don't like it. Among the findings:

  • 60 percent in the former EU of 15 states and 42 percent in the 10 mainly east European states that joined the EU last year believed there were "limits to multicultural society."
  • nearly 40 percent across the EU opposed granting legal immigrants full civil rights.
  • 50 percent expressed "resistance to immigrants."
  • 58 percent saw a "collective ethnic threat" from immigration, meaning they answered yes to questions including whether immigrants threaten jobs and a country's culture, add to crime problems and make a country a worse place to live.

None of this is very surprising, of course. Nor is it news that such views are on the upsurge. It just confirms the commonplace that Europe's biggest challenge in the 21st century, bar none, will be the assimilation of immigrant populations, whether from Muslim countries or the ten new member states. And this isn't merely, or even primarily, a moral issue. As a matter of brute economics, Europe needs immigrants. The native- born population of the Western European countries is aging at an alarming rate, and retiring workers, if they're going to be replaced, will have to be replaced by immigrants. Unfortunately, what this poll, and others, show is that no politician is likely to be rewarded for the kind of clear-headed, far-sighted engagement this challenge is crying out for. Far easier to raise the drawbridge.

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Laws are for the weak...

Tue Mar. 15, 2005 2:39 PM EST

Remember when a federal judge ruled that Jose Padilla needed to be either charged or released? Well, the Justice Department begs to differ. They have requested (PDF) that the judge postpone the decision to release Padilla. The justifications they put together are worth quoting at length, at least to note the irrelevance of the their arguments:

the government will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay of the court's order. The President—as Commander in Chief of the armed forces…has determined that petitioner [Padilla] 'represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States' and that his military (as opposed to civilian) detention is 'necessary to prevent him from aiding al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States or its armed forces, other government personnel, or citizens'

The argument is that the administration should be able to hold Padilla in military detention until it sees fit (if it sees fit) to try him. The DoJ implies that if Padilla is held in civilian detention rather than military, he will be a "present and grave danger to the national security of the United States…civilian detention will not suffice to ensure the Nation's security." It's difficult to see how Padilla would be terrorizing the nation from a prison cell rather than a naval brig.

The sad part is that this is the most pertinent argument presented in the whole nine page document. The rest reads like a good old-fashioned threat, albeit couched in legal terms. As it reaches its dramatic close, the Justice Department writes,

The order, if not stayed, would preclude the President from exercising a power he believes to be necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks. In the event that the court of appeals or the Supreme Court vindicates the President's authority and reverses this Court's decision, any lapse in the President's ability to exercise his constitutional authority would plainly amount to irreparable injury.

You might be asking yourself, how does charging Padilla with a crime, or detaining him in one detainment facility over another prevent the president from stopping future terrorist attacks? Legal experts are wondering the same thing.

The Justice Department further accused the court of overturning the president's determination of Padilla's status. Given that the determination of Padilla as a bad guy is based on an expanded military order never approved by Congress, you'd think the judge would have perfectly solid ground on which to question this. But the thing is—he's not even doing that. The judge simply said that President Bush had to charge Padilla or release him. The Justice Department is simply making the leap in logic that simply by President Bush calling someone an "enemy combatant" that necessarily implies that he is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, guilty of terrorism.

This assumption may be what kicks this case up to Supreme Court. It will pose the question of what power and justification the administration wields in its assessment of who is an "enemy combatant" and what that means. Let's hope this is answered sooner rather than later as the administration will most likely continue its questionable conduct in the name of our national security. As the Justice Department motion in the Padilla case concludes, "with respect to judgments about foreign policy and national security, it must be presumed that the President acts with the public interest in mind." Yet the administration, when called upon to justify its behavior, has failed to provide legal grounds to support this presumption.

A small victory, a larger defeat

Mon Mar. 14, 2005 2:56 PM EST

On Saturday afternoon, a district judge temporarily blocked the Pentagon's transfer of 13 Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to other countries until the detainees' lawyers can challenge the transfers in District Court. The presiding judge in the case, Abdah v. Bush, will hear the legal challenge on behalf of the Yemenis on March 24th. This marks a small victory for the legal community representing Guantanamo detainees. If the detainees are sent to other countries (apart from the potential for being further tortured), they would lose the ground they have so far made in their pending legal challenges to being detained by the U.S. in the first place.

Sunday afternoon saw the same judge (Rosemary M. Collyer) ruling in a similar case—John Does 1-570 v. Bush. This case encompasses the Guantanamo detainees who still remain unknown to the legal community. The attorneys requested that Judge Collyer prevent any transfers of detainees until they can obtain legal representation. Collyer refused, claiming that there was not sufficient evidence that the "John Does" were at risk of imminent transfer. I beg to differ. If Pentagon officials are telling the New York Times that they have plans to move over half the prisoners from Guantanamo, it seems a fair bet they're going to do what they say—especially given the legal pressures bearing down on them (what if the latest Supreme Court appeal turns out in favor of Judge Green's ruling?). It's well within the Bush administrations' interests to make these prisoners disappear before lawyers find them, represent them, and bring the administration long-lasting litigation and bad PR.

Will DeLay finally topple?

| Mon Mar. 14, 2005 1:51 PM EST

Over at Daily Kos, a diarist tries to straighten out House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's rather tangled trail of lobbyist money, ethics violations, and other general misdoings. The whole thing harkens back to the good old days, some ten years ago, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich was being investigated (by Mother Jones among others) for his own shady dealings. Even then, it took a good number of years between the time the allegations surfaced and the time Gingrich finally resigned. (And Gingrich, it seems, was forced out mostly because disgruntled Republicans, unhappy with their losses in the 1998 midterms, threatened to go public with the Speaker's sex life. Ethics violations had only a little to do with it.)

Nowadays, on the other hand, Democrats have virtually no leverage and no way to kick-start a full-fledged investigation against DeLay—especially now that House Republicans, via a cute little rule change, have made it more difficult to investigate ethics violations. Though according to the Washington Post the minority party is still intent on trying every trick in the book:

Democrats opened their protest Thursday, at the ethics committee's first meeting under its new leadership, by preventing the panel from organizing. The committee must adopt rules to function, and those were voted down by a 5 to 5 party-line vote, leaving the House with no mechanism for investigating or punishing members.

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), the committee's top Democrat, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he will not release his freeze on committee action unless the House undoes the rule changes, and he said he has begun recruiting Republicans to back him. He said he may use a tactic known as a discharge petition, which could force a bill to the floor if enough Republicans back him.

You have to wonder how far this will get, though, considering that at least two members of the House Ethics Committee also happen to be key contributors to Tom DeLay's legal defense fund. Quite the tangled web Delay's got there.

New look MoJoBlog!

| Sat Mar. 12, 2005 8:22 PM EST

As you've no doubt noticed, our web staff has redesigned the MoJo Blog and added some useful new features. There's a new URL -- www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/ -- and permalinks are now much easier to use. We've also added comments, which simply require a rather painless TypeKey registration, as well as a working RSS feed here for newsreader folks.

Oh, and another handy feature worth mentioning: the site now has a category-based archive of past Mother Jones articles, grouped by subject. (So, for instance, you can find all of our "Environment" stories from decades past.) Enjoy!