Mojo - March 2010

Storming "Little Gitmo": Lawsuit Challenges Restricted Units in Federal Prisons

Wed Mar. 31, 2010 11:35 PM PDT

The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in D.C. on behalf of five prisoners held in solitary confinement in the “Communications Management Units” (CMUs) of two federal prisons. The “experimental” units were supposedly designed to hold high-risk inmates, including terrorists, whose crimes warrant heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications. But the reality, the CCR asserts, is that many prisoners end up in the CMUs ”for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.”

The two CMUs, at the federal prisons in Marion and Terre Haute, now hold about 70 men. They were secretly created by the federal Bureau of Prisons during the Bush Administration, in 2006 and 2007, and have remained intact since the Obama Administration came to power. 

Inmates in the CMUs are subject to isolation which in some respects exceeds even that of federal supermax prisoners. According to the CCR:

Prisoners in the CMU, alone out of all general population prisoners within the federal system, are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. To further their social isolation, the BOP has placed severe restrictions on their access to phone calls and work and educational opportunities.

What’s more, unlike most supermax prisoners, those assigned to the CMUs are not even accused of any disciplinary violations that might warrant their segregation–for example, attacks on guards or other inmates, or other violations of prison rules. And they receive not even a pretense of due process before being placed--and held permanently--in these extreme conditions. As CCR explains:

All five men confined in the CMU have been classified as low or medium security, but were designated to the CMU despite their relatively, and in two cases perfectly, clean disciplinary history. Not a single one has received discipline for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor any significant disciplinary offense.

Like all CMU prisoners, the men received no procedural protections related to their designation, and were not allowed to examine or refute the allegations that led to their transfer. They are also being held indefinitely at the CMU without any meaningful review process. They expect to serve their entire sentences in these isolated and punitive units.

Predictably, the lack of procedural protections has allowed for an unchecked pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory designations to the CMU. Rather than being related to a legitimate penological purpose or based on substantiated information, our clients’ designations were instead based on their religious and/or perceived political beliefs, or in retaliation for other protected First Amendment activity.

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Tee Purtiers Knead Spelchek

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 2:55 PM PDT

Our friends over at BoingBoing turned us on to this wonderful Flickr slideshow of misspelled Tea Party signs. (Catchy headline, too: Teabonics!)

As MoJo intern Tim Murphy learned in Searchlight, Nevada, recently, the Tea Partiers are folksy enough—and I'm sure that plenty of them can spell well enough, too. But if you truly care about your cause, and your cause is that Americans should speak English only, then get it right, for Chrissake!

 

 

Judge: Warrantless Wiretaps Were Illegal

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 2:25 PM PDT

The National Security Agency's program to spy on Americans without warrants was illegal, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. The ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker (PDF) was a win for civil libertarians, and a major victory for the plaintiffs in this case, Al-Haramain, an Islamic charity that was wiretapped, along with its lawyers, in 2004.

Groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have tried out numerous legal strategies in a years-long effort to challenge the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The Al-Haramain case represents the first time that plaintiffs who claim they were wiretapped have been able to get around the so-called "state secrets" clause, which acts as a sort of "get-out-of-court-free" card for the government in many national security cases. Al-Haramain's win could be temporary, though: the Obama administration will almost certainly appeal the decision. (Update: Marcy Wheeler disagrees.)

In 2006, Al-Haramain sued then-President George W. Bush and other top officials after the government mistakenly provided the charity with classified documents that supposedly prove it had been illegally surveilled. A district court judge initially ruled that Al-Haramain could use those documents in its case. Eventually, however, the courts decided that the "state secrets" clause precluded the charity from using the classified documents at trial—a defeat that some observers thought would be fatal to the lawsuit.

Instead of giving up, Al-Haramain and its lawyers tried a different tack, gathering ten times as much unclassified evidence as they had previously submitted. The government, in a tiff, refused to submit evidence contradicting the plaintiffs' claims, and even tried to claim that it didn't have to. Walker didn't like that argument too much: Because the government refused to submit any evidence calling the plaintiffs' case into question, he simply granted summary judgment—a sort of TKO.

Count this round for the civil libertarians.

Climate Hacking 101

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 11:05 AM PDT

Can the climate be hacked to keep the Earth's surface temperatures manageable? Can we get away with hijacking natural cycles (emulating volcanoes, pumping nutrients into the oceans, tinkering with the solar reflectivity of clouds) without radically screwing up weather patterns—or starting a war? Or is it a cop-out even to talk about this, rather than focus on kicking ass and taking names on the carbon emissions front?

Huh? Did he say "war"? Well, since climate heeds no human boundaries, any serious intervention by scientists could require a level of global cooperation that makes Copenhagen look like a cakewalk—and we all know how that turned out. If any country were to start testing this stuff unilaterally on a big scale, let's just say it would not be terribly popular.

But all the technical, cultural, and political roadblocks didn't dissuade leading geoengineering researchers from attending last week's big powwow at the Asilomar Conference Center—a longtime science haven and site of a similar meeting on genetic engineering back in 1975. Like that historic meeting, this one's ostensible purpose (activists envision something more nefarious) was for the scientists to discuss possible ground rules for future experimentation and for navigating, well, the technical, cultural, and political roadblocks. And like that meeting, this one has been criticized as an attempt to legitimize a potentially dangerous area of science.

Not to say the attendees were all gung-ho to put their ideas into practice. As climate scientists deeply concerned about human contributions to global warming, most were somewhat wary about the implications of climate hacking. That's one thing reporter Jim Rendon learned when we sent him to Asilomar to check out the scene. His dispatches below, and their links to our past geoengineering coverage, will give you a sort of Climate Hacking 101. Considering the world's inaction on addressing the most pressing problem of our time, you'll need it. We're all going to be hearing a lot more about human volcanoes and so on in the not too distant future.

Dispatch 1: Geoengineering Bad Fixes for Worse Problems
As climate-intervention scientists meet, fans see a Plan B where critics see a delay tactic.
Dispatch 2: Who Eats Geoengineering Risk?
Any large-scale test would require true international cooperation.
Dispatch 3: Do We Test Geoengineering?
Any meaningful field run would be a contentious, high-risk venture.
Dispatch 4: Geoengineering for Fun and Profit
Should scientists—or anyone—be allowed to cash in on high-risk climate fixes?

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Obama: The "First Gay President"?

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 10:47 AM PDT

Judging from the Family Research Council's official bio of its vice president Tom McClusky, you'd think the guy was a pretty mild-mannered, if conservative, politico. He's worked for Bush the Elder, Jack Kemp, and George Allen, among others—not your typical Tea Party rabble—and he's written lots of anti-tax policy papers. He appears like the sort of staid, quiet guy who'd say something like this to Fox News: "It seems like for only six months, every two years—right around election time—that we're even noticed."

Fortunately for the good-humored progressive, McClusky fills that down time with highly entertaining ramble on a blog for the right-wing, "family values"-oriented FRC. It's called the Cloakroom—not to be confused with a closet, for it is here that McClusky details the evils of homosexuality...as well as women's rights, homeland security (when it's Democratic-run), and the like. And few of his Cloakroom rambles are as fun as the one he posted yesterday calling Barack Obama gay. The First Gay, in fact. Wrote McClusky:

A Long War: Did Bush Mislead US into Iraq?

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 9:28 AM PDT

Last week I noted that Karl Rove, Ross Douthat, and Peter Wehner had so far declined my challenge to a duel—that is, to respond to an article I had written (in response to their claims that George W. Bush had not misled the American public into the Iraq war) that listed a sampling of false Bush administration statements that went far beyond good-faith reliance on faulty intelligence. But a day later, Wehner, a PoliticsDaily.com columnist who worked in the W. White House, took a stab at it in an article addressing the false assertions I had highlighted. One problem: Wehner ignored several of the extreme and significant Bush misrepresentations I had listed. Thus, regrettably, I had to reply to his reply:

Let me remind readers -- those who are not weary of all this -- about the statements Wehner declines to confront. In August 2002, as the Bush White House was ramping up its sales campaign for war in Iraq, Cheney delivered a high-profile speech in which he declared that there was "no doubt" that Saddam Hussein was "amassing" WMDs "to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." Yet a few months earlier, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency had testified to Congress that Saddam was only maintaining "residual" amounts of WMDs (which, as it turned out, was itself an overstatement). Perhaps more important, at the time of Cheney's speech, there was no intelligence indicating that Hussein intended to use WMDs against the United States, which would have been suicidal. In fact, intelligence reports suggested he was not interested in a WMD showdown with Washington. That is, there was no factual basis for Cheney's dramatic statement. No wonder Wehner avoids dealing with it.

Wehner also ducks addressing Bush's pre-war attempt to link Hussein to al-Qaeda. That was a key part of the administration's pitch for war. On Nov. 7, 2002, Bush proclaimed that Hussein "is a threat because he's dealing with al-Qaeda." Yet as the 9/11 Commission later noted, there was no intelligence confirming an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, in March 2003, Cheney insisted that Hussein had a "long-standing relationship" with al-Qaeda. Moreover, Cheney again and again tried to tie Hussein to al-Qaeda by referring to an unconfirmed intelligence report indicating that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague. The CIA and FBI, though, had discounted this report, and the 9/11 Commission later said that it was indeed bogus. So here was the vice president of the United States pushing phony information, after his government's own intelligence experts had said there was no confirmation for it. How reckless was that? It's not surprising that Wehner ignored this part of the challenge.

And Wehner overlooks one of Bush's biggest whoppers. At a Dec. 31, 2002, press conference, Bush maintained, "We don't know whether or not [Hussein] has a nuclear weapon." This comment suggested that Hussein -- oh my God! -- might already possess these dangerous weapons. The faulty intelligence available at the time had errantly declared that Iraq was "reconstituting" its nuclear weapons program, but it had also concluded Iraq would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon for years. There was no basis for Bush to say that Hussein already could be nuclear-armed. Clearly, Bush was doing so to rile up the public. Wehner is silent on this point.

So Wehner has nothing to say about (1) Cheney hurling an intelligence-free claim that Saddam was developing WMDs so he could attack the United States; (2) Bush and Cheney hyping the connection between Saddam and the mass murderers of 9/11; or (3) Bush resorting to scare-'em rhetoric about a nuclear Iraq that had no foundation in the available intelligence. On these fronts, Bush, Cheney, and their aides exhibited a reckless disregard of the facts as they tried to whip up public support for their war. But none of that is on Wehner's radar screen. Which calls into question his entire attempt to beat back the proposition that Bush bamboozled the public.

As for those statements Wehner does attempt to address, he mostly ends up defending Bush-Cheney spin. That's not surprising. If you care about the back and forth, I unwind all this spin here. And I note that Wehner side-steps a fundamental point:

I closed my [original] column with a question:

Can Wehner, Rove and Douthat state that Bush carefully reviewed the intelligence in order to present to the public an accurate depiction of what was known and not known about the WMD threat possibly posed by Saddam?

It's telling that Wehner does not attempt to concoct a response to that query.

...The bottom line is undeniable: Bush and Cheney repeatedly issued false statements to guide the nation to war, and they made no concerted efforts to guarantee that they were providing the public with the most realistic depiction of the threat. They were not interested in an honest debate; they wanted war.

The Bush gang will wage this battle for years to come—until their dying days, I presume. But no matter how hard they try to explain away all of the false assertions Bush made to sell this war, they simply cannot argue that he met his first obligation as commander in chief: to take great care in assessing a potential threat to the United States before sending Americans overseas to kill and die for their country.

Michele Bachmann, Wrong Again

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 8:43 AM PDT

The indispensable PolitiFact.com has a great story about how Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tried to claim that an unscientific email survey conducted by "the Medicus Firm, a physicians recruiting service" was actually "released" by the prominent and well-regarded New England Journal of Medicine. The survey (remember, it was unscientific) found that 22 percent of respondents "would try to retire early" and 8 percent "would try to leave medical practice even if not near retirement age" if health care reform without a public option was passed. Bachmann characterized that as a survey "released" by NEJM that found that  "over 30 percent of American physicians would leave the profession if the government took over health care." NEJM, of course, doesn't publish or peer-review unscientific email surveys:

[Medicus] wrote an article about the survey results, which was first published on the firm's Web site. The article was later reprinted in Recruiting Physicians Today, an advertising newsletter put out on the NEJM's Career Center Web site. The Medicus Firm neither paid to have the article published, nor was it paid for the article.

It was never published in the actual New England Journal of Medicine.

But it's easy to see how someone might have been confused. Although the small print explains that the survey was done by the Medicus Firm, the article prominently states at the top, "From the publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine" and carries the NEJM seal.

There are two lessons here. One is that the all publications have to be very careful about how they attach their names to advertising supplements and promotional inserts. Readers need to be able to easily distinguish advertising from actual editorial content.

The second lesson is that no matter how careful you are, someone will probably find a way to misrepresent the truth. Bachmann's spokesman told PolitiFact that all this is really NEJM's fault, but that's a bit too precious. The NEJM put a disclaimer on its website explaining that the survey didn't represent its views a full 10 days before Bachmann made her claim to the contrary. Even if you accept Bachmann's explanation that the confusion about the survey's source is NEJM's fault, that's not the only problem with her statement. As PolitiFact emphasized, Bachmann didn't simply get the source of the survey wrong. She also "sensationalize[d]" the results. Some people just can't handle the truth.

Top GOPer Disavows Wall St. Bill

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 7:41 AM PDT

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a top GOP negotiator in the Senate's financial reform battle, told the Wall Street Journal that he "absolutely cannot support" the Senate's Wall Street overhaul, a thousand-plus-page bill largely crafted by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). Dodd is the chairman of the banking committee, which recently passed a financial reform bill on a 13-10 party-line vote; Corker is a member of the committee as well, who'd closely negotiated with Dodd for weeks on the bill. "I couldn't support the bill in its current form," Corker told the Journal. "I am absolutely not throwing in the towel. I have no plans to support the current legislation. I hope we'll get back to the negotiating table."

Corker had more recently made headlines as a potential defector from the Republican camp to side with Democrats on financial reform. (The Huffington Post exclaimed, in a blaring headline, that Corker was "going rogue.") In remarks at the US Chamber of Commerce last week, Corker criticized the GOP's decision to not negotiate financial reform in committee, instead saving the inevitable battle for the Senate floor. The Tennessee senator called this decision "a major strategic error" by Republicans.

Now, however, top GOP brass appear to have reined Corker back in with a party that largely opposes the financial reform bill as it stands. The Republicans have clashed with Democrats on a number of issues in the bill, including an independent consumer protection agency, the creation of a council to guard against too-big-to-fail, and greater shareholder input on executive compensation. The potential loss of Corker could be a blow to Democrats, who need at least one Republican vote to pass the bill. The Senate plans to begin negotiations on financial reform when they return from recess in mid-April.