Political MoJo

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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

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.

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)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

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.

UN: Gaza Crisis Intolerable

| Tue Sep. 26, 2006 2:50 PM EDT

BBC reports:

Standards of human rights in the Palestinian territories have fallen to intolerable new levels, says a UN expert on the Mid-East conflict.

John Dugard said Israel was largely to blame for turning Gaza into "a prison" and "throwing away the key".

But he also criticised the US, Canada and Europe for withdrawing funds to the Palestinian Authority, run by Hamas militants who do not recognise Israel.

Dugard also said, "If ... the international community cannot ... take some action, (it) must not be surprised if the people of the planet disbelieve that they are seriously committed to the promotion of human rights," and that "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key."

Remember the Anthrax Investigation?

| Tue Sep. 26, 2006 10:52 AM EDT

Remember the anthrax investigation? The probe into the individual (or individuals) responsible for sending a wave of anthrax-laced letters through the mail just days after 9/11? After the initial flurry of media attention died down little was written about the case, but the FBI has quietly continued to investigate the attacks. Now, The Washington Post, among other news outlets, is reporting that there's been a new -- and somewhat discouraging -- development in the case:

Five years after the anthrax attacks that killed five people, the FBI is now convinced that the lethal powder sent to the Senate was far less sophisticated than originally believed, widening the pool of possible suspects in a frustratingly slow investigation.
The finding, which resulted from countless scientific tests at numerous laboratories, appears to undermine the widely held belief that the attack was carried out by a government scientist or someone with access to a U.S. biodefense lab.

It was originally believed that the agent used in the attacks was a rare, weaponized variety of anthrax known as the Ames strain, which could only be found in a handful of labs, among them the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) on the Fort Detrick base in Frederick, Maryland. "In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I'm one of them," former U.N. bioweapons inspector Richard O. Spertzel said in 2002. "And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good."

The alleged grade of the material and the significant expertise needed to refine it led the FBI to zero in on government biodefense researchers, in particular Steven J. Hatfill, a former researcher at USAMRIID who the Bureau designated a "person of interest" in the case. (Hatfill has sued The New York Times and Vanity Fair for defamation and the Justice Department for violating his constitutional rights in leaking confidential information to the press.)

Now, according to the Post:

The prevailing views about the anthrax powder, meanwhile, have been coalescing among a small group of scientists and FBI officials over several years but rarely have been discussed publicly. In interviews and a recently published scientific article, law enforcement authorities have acknowledged that much of the conventional wisdom about the attacks turned out to be wrong.
Specifically, law enforcement authorities have refuted the widely reported claim that the anthrax spores had been "weaponized" -- specially treated or processed to allow them to disperse more easily. They also have rejected reports that the powder was milled, or ground, to create finer particles that can penetrate deeply into the lungs. Such processing or additives might have suggested that the maker had access to the recipes of biological weapons made by the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

If this is true, then it complicates the investigation significantly and makes the list of potential suspects much longer. The FBI, for its part, has described its suspect list as "fluid." This development also begs the very important question of how so many experts could have been so wrong for so long.

Gordon Brown: Too Different From Blair...and Too Similar

| Mon Sep. 25, 2006 4:37 PM EDT

Poor old Gordon Brown. You might expect that the British people would've grown a little wary of "charisma" and "personality" in recent years, and that they'd welcome Brown's overdue ascent, given that he's an eminently qualified politician who lacks only the sheen of his boss/colleague/nemesis, Tony Blair. But no.

The 55-year-old Scot won plaudits from Labour politicians for his speech to the party's annual conference, but may find it hard to attract the middle class, which Blair managed to win over to Labour in 1997 -- the first of his three election victories.

Polls show many voters think David Cameron, youthful leader of the Conservatives, is more likeable and would make a better premier than Brown, who lacks Blair's charisma. ...

Labour's standing has been damaged by feuding this month that forced Blair to say he would quit within a year and sparked fierce attacks on Brown's character. ...

John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University, described Brown's speech as the "most Blairite" speech he had made. He said this may disappoint voters looking for a break with the Blair years.

The speech will not dispel concern about Brown's personality, Curtice told Reuters. "The public are not suddenly going to find Gordon Brown a wonderful, happy, attractive character," he said.

Okay, so voters hold it against Brown that he lacks Blair's flash; and that he's politically "Blairite." Blair is the guy who pretty much single-handedly dragged the country into a war a majority of the British people opposed and there is concern over Brown's character? So this is the famous British irony?