Political MoJo

Judge to Saddam: "You Are Not A Dictator"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 1:16 PM EDT

There was I, waxing sentimental about Saddam's trial and the sight of a Kurd taunting the big guy. But now we slide from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Questioning a Kurdish witness Thursday, Saddam said, "I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?"

The judge interrupted: "You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator."

"Thank you," Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.

I'm no lawyer, but that judge strikes me as less than fully objective.

Saddam and six others have been accused of genocide and other offenses committed in the 1980s. The prosecution alleges that about 180,000 Kurds died.

Saddam also vowed to Kurdish witnesses to "crush your heads" after listening to them tell of the horrors allegedly committed by his regime.

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This Film Is Not Yet Rated

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 8:09 PM EDT

That's the title of a new documentary by director Kirby Dick, whose latest project exposes the irrational, incompetent, secretive, and downright bizarre goings-on at the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.

Dick, who was interviewed by Terry Gross on the NPR show, Fresh Air, said that the names of the board members are kept secret, so he hired a private detective to find out who they were. Once he knew their identities, he said that some of the facts about them did not match the demographics publicized by the MPAA. He also said that none of the rating board members is given any training, and that no one on the board has any expertise in film or child development. In fact, during his tenure as president of the MPAA, Jack Valenti went out of his way to exclude such experts as child psychologists from being part of the process.

Dick studied various films that had been given restricted ratings because of sexual content, and discovered that, though two films may show exactly the same sex scenes, the ones with homosexual characters receive more restrictive ratings. Not surprisingly, there is also evidence that violent scenes are not scrutinized nearly as carefully as scenes containing sex.

In order to understand the secretive ratings system, Dick submitted his documentary for a rating, then took the rating to the secretive appeals board, whose members are all highly ranked motion picture industry executives. At the meeting, everyone wore a number or her or his lapel--including Dick--and when he tried to introduce himself, each appeals board member turned and walked away.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is being released, as you may imagine, without a rating.

P.S.: It's also reviewed in the current issue of Mother Jones.

House Republicans Aren't Giving Up On Immigration

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 5:49 PM EDT

House Republicans prove that fear of terrorism isn't the only card they have to play this fall. Back by popular demand -- and despite talk that it would reced as an issue -- it's...fear of immigrants!

House Republicans said Tuesday that they're preparing a package of tough border security initiatives that they hope will satisfy constituent demands for a crackdown on illegal immigration before they face voters in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

The initiatives, which are expected to include more Border Patrol agents and unmanned aerial vehicles and possibly hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S-Mexico border, will be unveiled this week amid fading prospects for more comprehensive legislation embracing President Bush's call for an immigrant guest-worker program. [...]

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Tuesday reiterated the House leadership's position that Congress must first take aggressive action to "stop the bleeding" at the border before considering a guest-worker program. "We've got to get the border fixed first," he said.

Hastert presided over a roundtable conference of House committee and subcommittee chairmen who held 22 hearings in 13 states during the August recess to reinforce the House leadership's call for tough border enforcement. The hearings also were aimed at spotlighting what lawmakers saw as shortcomings in the Senate bill, which many House conservatives have denounced as "amnesty" that rewards illegal behavior.

"Stop the bleeding" at the border, eh? Nice Freudian slip.

Guantanamo a "Shocking Affront to the Principles of Democracy"

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 5:28 PM EDT

The highest-ranking official in the British legal system says how he really feels about US detention policy:

Guantánamo Bay is a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy" and a violation of the rule of law, the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, said today. ...

Lord Falconer said Washington was "deliberately seeking to put the Guantánamo detainees beyond the reach of law" and that "use of torture by a state is contrary to fundamental human rights law".

"Democracies can only survive where judges have the power to protect the rights of the individual," he said.

Of course, Falconer has about as much pull with the Bush administration as...hmm...Tony Blair, so don't expect this to have much effect. But it's an indication that the pressures brought to bear on administration policies--which contributed to last week's (very) qualified climbdown on secret prisons--is unlikely to let up.

Kurd to Saddam: "Congratulations! You Are in a Cage."

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 5:05 PM EDT

Without getting into whether it's "worth" all the blood that's been spent over the past three years, I do think it's pretty great that such a thing as this can happen (Los Angeles Times).

A Kurdish villager mocked Saddam Hussein in court Tuesday as the man recalled the disappearance of his relatives during a 1980s military campaign in northern Iraq.

"Congratulations! You are in a cage," said the witness, Ghafour Hassan Abdullah, addressing Hussein and his six codefendants seated behind metal grates in the courtroom.

Worth reading also for the nutball utterances of the former dictator himself. ("When I am right I cannot be scared, and I don't think there is a power on Earth that can shake even one hair of my mustache." etc. etc.)

An Indictment of Our Long-Term Counterterror Strategy

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 3:35 PM EDT

Okay, so we've got a deadly spike in violence in Afghanistan, a terror attack in Syria and a deteriorating situation in western Iraq. Terror experts are saying this kind of thing:

Dan Benjamin, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the surge of violence in Afghanistan shows a familiar pattern. "It is clearly the case that tactics pioneered elsewhere, such as Iraq, particularly suicide bombing, have been taken up in Afghanistan," he said.

"There is no question that there is a global circuit now. Technology and strategy and tactics are being shared among different groups in different theaters," Benjamin added.

Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said episodes like the increase in violence in southern Afghanistan, western Iraq and the bombing attempt in Syria show things are getting worse, not better. "It's an indictment on our long-term counterterror strategy that we haven't had any great success in reducing the long-term trends toward more terrorism," he said. (AP)

And, as noted earlier, a new poll says the American people, who a week or so ago trusted the Democrats more to keep us safe, now, after an all-out fear-mongering offensive by the administration, have more faith in Republicans to fight terror. Right, then.

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Texas Court to Reconsider DeLay Conspiracy Charge

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 3:05 PM EDT

AP reports that Texas's highest criminal appeals court said today it would consider reinstating a conspiracy charge against Tom DeLay, further delaying his felony money laundering trial. As a reminder:

Prosecutors accuse DeLay and the two consultants of violating state law by funneling $190,000 in illegal corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which then donated the same amount to Texas candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money can't be directly used for political campaigns.

DeLay and the consultants, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, say the transaction was legal.

The dispute over the dismissed charge centers on whether the conspiracy statute applied to the state's election code in 2002. DeLay was accused of conspiring to violate the election code, but his attorneys say that transaction was not illegal at the time. DeGuerin says the dropped charge accuses DeLay of conspiring to violate the election code as it stood in 2003.

The other conspiracy count DeLay faces accuses him of conspiring to launder money.

ABC Poll: Public Trusts Republicans More on Terror

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 1:24 PM EDT

Via the Note. It would be nice if people weren't so...well, you know.

"Terrorism has inched up in importance in the 2006 midterm elections and Republicans have regained an edge in trust to handle it, helping George W. Bush's party move closer to the Democrats in congressional vote preference," writes ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer.

"The Republicans lead the Democrats in trust to handle terrorism by 48-41 percent among registered voters in this ABC News poll, a flip from a seven-point Democratic advantage last month. And 16 percent now call terrorism the top issue in their vote, a slight five-point gain."

"The Republicans' edge on handling terrorism is still vastly below their 35-point lead on the issue heading into the 2002 midterm elections. But it's still their best issue, the one Bush rode to re-election. And part of their gain is among independents, the key swing voters in any election: They now split between the parties in trust to handle terrorism, after favoring the Democrats by nine points last month."

Bush's Great Awakening (And Great Smelling of Coffee)

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 4:15 AM EDT

Don't miss Peter Baker's story about Bush telling conservative reporters that the nation is going through a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion as a result of the war on terror. This will come as news to some historians who believe we're already due for the Fourth or the Fifth in the Great Awakenings series. Then again, there's Robert William Fogel, the University of Chicago Nobel laureate who maintains that we're witnessing the political consequences of the Fourth Great Awakening, the rise of charismatic, evangelical, and pentecostal expressions of faith in the second half of the 20th century. The thrust of this movement includes, according to Fogel, an "attack on materialist corruption; rise of pro-life, pro-family, and media reform movements; campaign for more value-oriented school curriculum; expansion of tax revolt; attack on entitlements; return to a belief in equality of opportunity." Among Fogel's devotees, it seems, is Karl Rove. Now for that "return to a belief in equality of opportunity" part...

Torture Insurance: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 3:50 AM EDT

CIA officers are getting--and the government is paying for--insurance to cover their legal costs and any civil judgments should they get sued by people alleging they were abused in secret agency prisons (or, presumably, not-so-secret facilities like Baghram and Abu Ghraib). Granted, so far the only CIA-related case along those lines was that of David Passaro, a private contractor found guilty of killing an Afghan detainee who died after being severely beaten with a flashlight. But many at Langley are worried, reports the Washington Post, that a Justice Department that encouraged them to stretch the law won't be there for them when the hammer comes down from the courts or Congress (something our own Jim Ridgeway suggests could happen on a number of scores).

"There are a lot of people who think that subpoenas could be coming" from Congress after the November elections or from federal prosecutors if Democrats capture the White House in 2008, said a retired senior intelligence officer who remains in contact with former colleagues in the agency's Directorate of Operations, which ran the secret prisons.

"People are worried about a pendulum swing" that could lead to accusations of wrongdoing, said another former CIA officer.