Mojo - October 2011

Tennessee Hotel "Now Under Shariah Law," Anti-Shariah Activist Says

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 4:26 PM EDT

If you didn't buy your plane tickets yet to November's Preserving America Conference in Nashville, you might want to wait a little while. The Veterans Day conference is dedicated to combatting the very, very stealth threat posed by Islamic Shariah law in the United States. But on Thursday, the hotel that was scheduled to host the shindig announced that it was cancelling the contract and asking organizers to find a new location. That's too bad, because Central Tennessee—where local activists (with some help from GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain) have been pushing to halt the construction of a mosque they believe is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood—seemed like a natural place for the conference. Per the Tennessean:

Steve Eckley, senior vice president of hotels for Amerimar Enterprises, said he wasn't fully aware of the topic or the people involved when he booked the event in Nashville, and now he fears that resulting protests could turn violent. As well, the hotel's other clients that day expressed concerns.

William Murray, chairman of the Preserving Freedom conference, responded: "The Hutton Hotel is now under Sharia law."

Devastating. Given that these kinds of events go off without incident all the time in the United States, it's hard to see why the hotel was so concerned about violent protests. As the Murray's reaction suggests, the only real consequence of the cancellation will be to further the organizers' perception that their views under siege, and the Caliphate is one step closer to being realized. Anyway, according to the conference's website, the event will be headlined by Center for Security Policy's Frank Gaffney (who believes Grover Norquist's American Conservative Union has been infilitrated by the Muslim Brotherhood), blogger Pamela Geller, former congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik, and—not making this up—"Gopher" from Love Boat:

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Iraq On $256 Million a Day

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 3:04 PM EDT

Last Friday, President Obama announced that the remaining American troops in Iraq will leave the country by the end of 2011, fulfilling an agreement signed by the Bush administration in 2008. As the war winds down, here's a quick reminder of the war's price tag. 

So far, the war has cost taxpayers around $7.8 billion a month, or $256 million a day. According to the Congressional Budget Office (PDF), from 2003 through 2012 the war will cost the United States a total of $823.2 billion, including military operations, reconstruction, and veterans' medical costs.

 

 

 

 

 

DOJ: Secret Record? What Secret Record?

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 1:17 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder.

Here's a thought experiment: If you've requested a national security-related document through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but the Justice Department says it doesn't exist, could it exist anyway? Under a sweeping set of new rules proposed by the DOJ, the answer could soon be yes. 

Current FOIA law allows the government to withhold information—lots of it. Typically, such withholdings come with a simple explanation called a "Glomar denial," which says that the government can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the records in question. But, as ProPublica reports, the new rules "would direct government agencies to 'respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist'"—meaning that the government can just pretend away your request, along with the information in question.

The DOJ first published the revised rules in March. At the request of open-government organizations, it allowed them to file comments on the law until October 19. And comment they did: The American Civil Liberties Union, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and OpenTheGovernment.org wrote a letter to the DOJ, writing that the rule would "dramatically undermine government integrity by allowing a law designed to provide public access to government to be twisted to permit federal law enforcement agencies to actively lie to the American people." They also argue that the new rule's restrictive wording is unnecessary:

[T]he government can craft a response to FOIA requests for records that fall within section 552(c) exclusions that is truthful and informative, yet does not confirm whether excludable records exist. We suggest that when DOJ determines that a requester is trying to obtain information excluded from FOIA under section 552(c), the agency should simply respond that "we interpret all or part of your request as a request for records which, if they exist, would not be subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to section 552(c), and we therefore will not process that portion of your request." This response requires no change to the current FOIA regulation.

The open government groups' comment doesn't even suggest rolling back the law; instead, it asks only that the DOJ not mislead FOIA filers. People requesting the protected information can, as a last resort, sue to obtain those records. But since the new rule makes it seem as if the records in question don't even exist, the ACLU, CREW, and OpenTheGovernment argue that requesters are unlikely to pursue that course and give up altogether.

This would seem to fall right in line with the Obama administration's vigorous anti-transparency agenda, which The New Yorker's Jane Mayer and others have reported on. But although this latest rule may be true to form, it seems to break new ground. The DOJ is essentially saying that something that it knows exists, doesn't—giving itself some pretty broad authority to lie with impunity.

Instead of wrestling with individuals and organizations seeking sensitive public information, the DOJ apparently prefers to pretend information seekers away, along with the information they're asking for. And the fact that the ACLU, et. al's, comment doesn't actually seek to undo the the new rule—only re-phrase it—seems to suggest that they're picking their battles judiciously.

Libyan TNC Chairman: We're Investigating Gaddafi's Death

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 12:30 PM EDT
Moammar Qaddafi.

The Libyan Transitional National Council has ordered an investigation into the death of former Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, the New York Times reports. TNC Chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil has raised the possibility that Qaddafi had been killed not by rebels, but by loyalists who wanted to silence him:

"Let us question who has the interest in the fact that Qaddafi will not be tried," he said. "Libyans want to try him for what he did to them, with executions, imprisonment and corruption. Free Libyans wanted to keep Qaddafi in prison and humiliate him as long as possible. Those who wanted him killed were those who were loyal to him or had played a role under him, his death was in their benefit."

Last week's celebrations following Qaddafi's death appeared to drown out concerns about the manner of his demise. But there is a growing volume of evidence that the dictator was not killed during or as a result of wounds sustained in combat, but instead summarily executed by his captors. Several videos obtained by the media showed Qaddafi captured alive. Videos taken later show Qaddafi lifeless with a fresh bullet wound to the head. Although the videos do suggest that the dictator was killed post-capture, there isn't much there to suggest he was killed by current or former loyalists as some sort of cover-up.

Human Rights Watch offers more disturbing news from Sirte, the town near where Qaddafi was ultimately found:

"We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings. "This requires the immediate attention of the Libyan authorities to investigate what happened and hold accountable those responsible."

Human Rights Watch saw the badly decomposed remains of the 53 people on October 23, 2011, at the Hotel Mahari in District 2 of Sirte. The bodies were clustered together, apparently where they had been killed, on the grass in the sea-view garden of the hotel.

The summary execution of captives is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. And although it might be tempting to dismiss Qaddafi's death as a single capricious act by people who experienced unimaginable suffering at the hands of a tyrant, the other bodies at Sirte suggest a level of pattern or practice that can't be as easily brushed away.

There was some consternation in response to Abdel-Jalil's speech over the weekend declaring that Libya will "strive for a state of the law, for a state of prosperity, for a state that will have Islamic sharia law the basis of legislation." The TNC's original draft constitution stated that the "principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)," so this isn't exactly news. Libya is an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim country, so it follows that a government responsive to Libyan public opinion will reflect that. The answer to the possibility of illiberal democracy in mostly-Muslim nations is not endless iron-fisted rule by American-backed strongmen.

But the nature of Qaddafi's death and the evidence of other unlawful killings in Sirte raise another, more disturbing possibility: that Libya's future will be governed by the rule of the gun, not the rule of law, Islamic or otherwise.

Senate Dems: Mandatory Military Detention Is "Dangerous"

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 10:28 AM EDT

A group of Senate Democrats sent a letter to majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last Friday slamming the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act as "undue and dangerous":

Section 1032 would require that certain terrorism suspects be held in the custody of the Armed Forces, which could disrupt vital counterterrorism operations. For example, if these controversial provisions are enacted, the FBI might have to hand over a terrorism suspect captured in the U.S.—like Najibullah Zazi—to the military in the middle of an interrogation, even if the individual is providing usefl intelligence to the FBI about an unfolding terrorist plot. In addition, under these sections, a suspected terrorist captured abroad—such as Ahmed Warsame—may have to be kept in military custody, even if potential charges against the suspect are available only in Federal criminal courts and not military commissions. In sum, mandatory military custody is unwise and will harm our national security.

The letter was sent a day after a mostly party line vote on a Republican amendment adding even more onerous restrictions on detention to an unrelated spending bill. Months ago, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed on a "compromise" in the NDAA that would have mandated military detention for non-citizens suspected of al-Qaeda related terrorism unless the Secretary of Defense explicilty approved a transfer to federal court.

The Obama administration objected, arguing that the provision would interfere with the president's ability to deal effectively with terrorism, and Reid has been holding up the bill while another compromise is negotiated. In response, Senate Republicans along with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), voted for an amendment put forth by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that was even more restrictive, mandating military detention of suspected non-citizen terrorists with no exceptions. Ayotte's proposal had previously been voted down in the Armed Services Committee, so the vote was basically a way for the GOP to tell Reid and the administration to go take a hike.

The sad thing is that in the name of being "tougher" on terror, most Republicans and some Democrats have agreed to detention provisions that would actually make it harder neutralize terrorists. It's pretty much the definition of culture war counterrorism.

Lobbying Blitz Barrages Budget-Cutting Super Committee

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 9:19 AM EDT
Supercommittee co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.).

A Thanksgiving deadline to deliver a plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget looms larger every day for Congress' 12-person "super committee," split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Failure to reach consensus will trigger across the board cuts to the Defense Department, Medicare, and plenty more federal agencies and programs. But as the super committee heads into its final month of negotiations, often conducted in secret, they've felt the full force of Washington's special interest machine.

According to Politico, the super committee has been lobbied by almost 200 special interest groups and companies seeking to influence the panel's budget-slashing prescriptions. Those interests include everyone from American Indian tribes and the airline industry to powerful health insurance companies such as WellPoint.

This lobbying onslaught is, in part, an attempt to pierce the layer of secrecy surrounding the super committee, which often meets behind closed doors and has kept the public mostly in the dark about any potential agreements or breakthroughs. Here's Politico:

"During my 42 years in Washington, this is the most closed-mouth committee that I have seen," said Gerald Cassidy, veteran K-Streeter of Cassidy & Associates.

Members of the supercommittee and their staffers have largely kept a lock on what is being discussed. Even in private meetings with other lawmakers, their lips are sealed. Mark Prater, the panel’s staff director, and his deputy had dinner with bipartisan Senate chiefs of staff at Bistro Bis on Capitol Hill last week, and divulged little.

The little that’s known is not promising for a major deal. Both sides, according to aides familiar with the discussions, still cannot come to agreement on basic principles to guide discussions.

For good government and transparency advocates, the activities of the super committee and its members have been a worry since the committee emerged out of the debt ceiling deal forged between the White House and Congressional leaders this summer. In mid-September, 14 different groups—such as the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Public Citizen, and the Sunlight Foundation—urged the members of the supercommittee to disclose all meetings with and donations from lobbyists during their time on the supercommittee. Failing to do so "will reinforce the public's mistrust of the deficit reduction process and risk delegitimizing the Committee's work," the groups wrote to members of the committee. Several members of Congress also introduced legislation to force super committee members to disclose donations they receive while on the committee, but those efforts failed to gain any traction.

At least one lawmaker agreed with the advocates and concerned lawmakers. Last month, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he would not raise any money during his time on the super committee, canceling all fundraisers between September and Nov. 23.

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What Will Michele Bachmann Do Next?

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 8:52 AM EDT
High five! Michele Bachmann celebrates in happier times.

At this point, a combeback seems pretty nigh impossible for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). On Friday, the GOP presidential candidate was informed during a radio interview that her entire New Hampshire campaign staff had quit. That came at the end of a week in which her former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, told National Review Online he wished he'd Googled her before he took the job, and the latest polls in Iowa put her at 4 percent—33 points behind front-runner Herman Cain, who had not visited the state in two months before this weekend.

You can blame Rick Perry for taking away Bachmann's momentum after the Ames Straw Poll, and Cain for ensuring she never got it back. But most of the blame must lie with Bachmann herself, who has run a bizarre celebrity-style campaign and done little to convince conservatives she's best prepared for the most powerful job in the world. Her first book comes out in November, so she'll likely stick it out until then at least, but given her weak finances, Bachmann's a good candidate for an early exit from the presidential race. For the Minnesota congresswoman, it's time to start thinking about what comes next.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 24, 2011

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

US Army personnel help provide security Oct. 17, 2011 while Afghan and coalition security force leaders speak with village elders from the Sahak Triangle area of Zormat district. Photo by Sgt. Joseph Watson.

The Right-Wing Media Assault on Occupy Oakland

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 7:00 PM EDT

Nearly two weeks ago, demonstrators in Oakland pitched tents at a plaza outside City Hall to express solidarity with the month-long Occupy Wall Street protests in Manhattan. The encampment's population has since expanded to several hundred people at peak hours, with more protesters at a second location a few blocks away in a public park. The occupation has also become a convenient target of conservative rabblerousers, who have pointed to scattered incidents of violence and other reported problems to paint the Occupy Wall Street movement as a lowlife collection of drug addicts, communists, and militant anarchists. On Friday afternoon, the city posted notices saying those who don't leave the occupation will be subject to arrest.

Right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart and his associates have helped lead the charge against Occupy Oakland, highlighting unflattering local news reports to cast the occupation as a "rat-infested squalor with complaints of vandalism, public urination, sexual harassment, and sex in public." Breitbart alleged that a female TV newscaster was told by an occupier suspicious of the media that "we shoot white bitches like you around here." Blogger John Sexton pointed to an Oakland Tribune report of one man putting a substitute teacher in a chokehold and another who later had to be subdued with a board to the head after wielding a large knife. Others jumped on reports of complaints from the city about a rat problem. Occupy Oakland, Sexton declared (update: quoting the words of one police officer), had descended into a real-life "Lord of the Flies."

While there is truth to many of these reports, the reality of Occupy Oakland is less bleak. As a tall, red-bearded young man who introduced himself as Roger told me, "We didn't set up in a nice park in the middle of New York City. We set up in Oakland." And that's just it: The occupation is an experiment in self-governance; its problems are reflective of the problems of the city at large. The camp is open to all, and it attracts all kinds. Roger said he wished the media would focus more on its community-building successes, like the free food and clothing it provides and the sense of safety it's given the homeless living in an environment that might otherwise be even rougher.

Senate "Compromise" On Domestic Military Detention Deteriorating

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 4:13 PM EDT

On Thursday night, the Senate voted down a Republican-backed amendment that would have completely banned federal criminal trials for terrorism suspects believed to be associated with al-Qaeda.

The 52-47 vote on New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte's amendment was largely along party lines. The Senate GOP's libertarianish contingent, represented by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against the proposal, while Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted with the GOP. The vote is the latest blow to the problematic bipartisan "compromise" on domestic military detention reached earlier by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That compromise measure would have made military detention the default option for terrorism suspects believed to be part of al-Qaeda but would have left open the option for federal trials as long as the Secretary of Defense gave explicit approval. As I wrote last week, the compromise detention provision—a rule that even former Bush administration officials criticized for limiting the president's options for dealing with terrorism suspects—would make it far less likely that someone like convicted underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab would be tried in federal court. (The now-defeated Ayotte amendment, of course, would have banned such trials outright.) Early this month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), at the Obama administration's request, held up the entire defense authorization bill over the detention provisions.

"Senator Reid remains committed in working with Republicans, but he stands firm in his position on the detainee provisions," said a Senate Democratic aide, who added that Reid was hoping to reach a compromise on the detention issues "by the end of the year."

Chris Anders, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes both the amendment and the compromise provision, says Democrats should no longer feel obligated to compromise.

"It should be clear now that the bipartisan... detention 'deal' is a farce," Anders says. "It's like if I tell you that I won't run you over with my red truck if you give me a 1,000 dollars, then after you pay me, I go out and find a blue truck to try to run you over."