Daily MoJo


Enemy of the State
Who cares about due process? Evidently not the White House.

Still ‘Dodgy’
As London scrambles to cover for shoddy intelligence, that damn ‘dodgy dossier’ just won’t go away.

Mystery Meats
The GOP tries to overturn legislation that lets consumers know where their burgers were born and raised.

Decoding O’Connor’s Decision
Affirmative action is still around, but neither side is completely happy with the court’s opinion.

Enemy of the State
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, an alleged Al Qaeda operative, had less than a month to go before his day in federal court, where he was set to stand trial for credit card fraud and lying to the FBI.

Then the Bush administration pulled the rug out from under him. Earlier this week, al-Marri was designated an “enemy combatant” and shipped off to a military brig in South Carolina. Now, he has the same rights as the nameless hundreds in detention at Guantanamo Bay, or as Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber” — in other words, none at all. That is to say, the Qatari student now has no right to trial by a jury, no access to a lawyer, and no right to an appeal if convicted, even if he is sentenced to death.

Officials cited “national security” concerns for al-Marri’s sudden transfer. Not likely, critics say. As Human Rights Watch points out, simply removing people from the criminal justice system and throwing them into limbo sets a frightening — not to mention wholly unconstitutional — precedent.

“‘The Bush Administration has once again done an end run around the criminal justice system … It is invoking the laws of war in the United States to justify locking people up without charge and without access to a lawyer.

The government is claiming a virtually unlimited power to deprive people of their liberty and hold them incommunicado based only on the president’s say-so.'”

So why is al-Marri, who was held for roughly a year before prosecutors got around to charging him, being treated this way? After all, criminal trials were good enough for the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, 1998’s African embassy bombings, and Timothy McVeigh. As George Paine opines on the liberties watchdog site Warblogger.com, the government’s case just wasn’t any good.

“Why is al-Marri persona non grata? Because the FBI screwed up the investigation. Because it became apparent that the Department of Justice could not convict him in a court of law where the United States Constitution applied. Because it became clear that this man was, if not innocent, not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Many believe the government’s intention is to set a precedent. Zacarias Moussaoui, whom prosecutors dub the “20th hijacker,” is doing a surprisingly good job of defending himself within the system, in the run-up to his terror trial. If al-Marri’s transfer goes off without a hitch, the New York Times‘ Eric Lichtblau reports, Moussaoui may be the next in line. Others, though, charge that al-Marri is being punished for refusing to play ball with prosecutors, and his designation as an “enemy combatant” is meant as a warning to other uncooperative terrorist suspects.

“By declaring Mr. Marri an enemy combatant, the administration also sends a message to other terrorist suspects now in the criminal system about what could happen if they do not cooperate with investigators, officials said.

Defense lawyers for some criminal defendants in terrorism cases in Lackawanna, N.Y., and elsewhere have complained that prosecutors used the threat of enemy combatant status to coerce pleas. Justice Department officials have denied such a tactic, saying it would be unethical.

But a senior F.B.I. official said today that the Marri decision held clear implications for other terrorism suspects. ‘If I were in their shoes, I’d take a message from this,’ the official said.”

Still ‘Dodgy’
The British House of Commons has launched an investigation into whether the British government exaggerated their claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell, was on the defensive. Campbell was responsible for commissioning a now infamous “dodgy dossier” of intelligence. Evidently, this key intelligence was actually pulled from the Internet. Campbell says he had no idea that some of the dossier’s sources were so dodgy until the issue was reported in the media. Last September aides in the Blair administration pulled material from Dr. Ibrahim alÐMarashi’s 12-year old Ph.D. thesis while researching Iraq’s WMD status. The information was then included in an official state dossier, which not only failed to credit Marashi, but supposedly embellished upon his work. In Wednesday’s hearing Campbell (like Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a previous hearing) tried to dismiss accusations that the document was a substantial piece of the administration’s WMD evidence. Instead he insisted the dossier was primarily a briefing paper for journalists, despite the fact that the dossier was cited by both Tony Blair and Colin Powell . The same dossier was also placed in the library of the House of Commons. That’s practically royal treatment for a supposedly insignificant briefing paper, which Campbell still insists had no influence on the Prime Minister’s decision to go to war.

Many in the British government can’t seem to forget Prime Minister Blair’s grave warnings about Iraq’s WMDs — which he claimed could be activated in less than one hour. In September Blair told the House of Commons that intelligence reports gave real proof of Saddam Hussein’s WMD capacities:

“It [the intelligence] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population; and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability….

The empty-handed weapons inspectors and the confirmation of government plagiarism are creating a proper British row in the parliament. Donald Anderson, a Labour MP, told Campbell that, “in your zeal to make the case [for war] you embellished the evidence to the point of misleading parliament and the public at a vital time relating to peace and war.”

Instead of facing the accusations head-on, Campbell danced around the real issue of whether he “sexed-up” evidence in favor of war, and instead claimed he was actually diminishing the evidence.

“In one area — and I know the accusation is that I sexed it up, I think this is actually sexing it down — in the passage on human rights, for example, there were some very graphic descriptions of the nature of the regime which the draft described as vivid and horrifying. ”

No one who listened to Bush and Blair’s pre-war rants is likely to forget that, gasp, Saddam used weapons against his own people. But reminding the world of Saddam’s crimes is not necessarily going to distract the British people from crimes the Blair administration may have committed. As Janet Daley from the Daily Telegraph points out: This latest scandal is only further diminishing Tony Blair’s dwindling image.

Mystery Meats
Consumer groups and farmers are up against House Republicans and the meat and grocery lobby in a fight to get food labeled by country of origin. Country of Origin legislation (COOL) was passed in 2002 and was supposed to take effect in October 2004, reports Dan Morgan of the Washington Post, but is now in jeopardy. COOL mandates that all meat sold in the US be labeled.

Yesterday, the House GOP reviewed the agricultural appropriations bill, which includes a provision to undo the mandates of COOL. Fears of added costs, time, and organization have the meat and grocery industry up in arms. Heads of industry argue that labeling and tracking imported foods could cost them tremendous money and energy, and fear that products, especially meats, with a foreign label would discourage consumers and cut into profits. Carol Ness of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that meatpackers’ hesitance also stems from the sometimes dubious origin of some meats — some cattle are born in one country, raised in another, and even slaughtered elsewhere, especially in the countries of the US, Canada, and Mexico. “This is an industry that’s used to being able to call meat domestic, even when entire carcasses are actually imported but cut into pieces here,” Ness writes. Additionally, some meats, like hamburger, are produced from the meat of several animals — and the meat industry finds it tedious to produce a label with the origins of every animal for every pound of burger meat.

South Dakota Rep. Tim Johnson (D) led efforts to stop the House from rescinding the labeling legislation, lambasting the US department of Agriculture for meeting only with the bill’s three most vocal and powerful opponents — the National Meat Association, the National Food Processors Association and the National Pork Producers Council. Americans for Country of Origin Labeling, a consumer advocacy group, cited an independent study conducted by 5 economists that calculated the costs of implementing COOL at 90 to 95 percent lower than the USDA’s calculated costs.

But perhaps, as Bruce Taylor Seeman reports for the Oregonian, the Food and Drug Administration, bolstered by the USDA, simply isn’t so keen on letting consumers know what’s in their food. Seeman reports that “a ‘free-range’ tag on [a poultry product] doesn’t necessarily mean the birds spent significant time outdoors; it merely means outdoor ‘access’ was given for an undetermined time each day.” And separate studies by the American Heart Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest both found that the saturated fat content reported on the labels of several meat products accounted for less than half of what the sample rib-eye and strip steaks really contained.

Maybe fat weighs less in Canada.

Decoding O’Connor’s Decision
Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, has been getting a lot of attention since she wrote the majority opinion for the court in two affirmative action cases from the University of Michigan.

In her decision, O’Connor delivered the opinion of the court which abolished University of Michigan’s undergraduate policy of using a point system to achieve a diversified student body — calling it “too mechanical” and legitimized the Law School’s enrollment of a “critical mass” of students of color through the use of a more individualized, non-quantified policy review. In other words, the law school uses race as “plus factor” for admission but doesn’t automatically allot a certain amount of points for students of color. According to the New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse, Justice Clarence Thomas, who is a beneficiary of affirmative action, wrote the dissent for the court in which he claims that affirmative action further stigmatizes students of color:

“Who can differentiate between those who belong and those who do not?” he continued: “The majority of blacks are admitted to the law school because of discrimination, and because of this policy all are tarred as undeserving. This problem of stigma does not depend on determinacy as to whether those stigmatized are actually the `beneficiaries’ of racial discrimination. When blacks take positions in the highest places of government, industry or academia, it is an open question today whether their skin color played a part in their advancement.”

He added, ‘The question itself is the stigma – because either racial discrimination did play a role, in which case the person may be deemed `otherwise unqualified,’ or it did not, in which case asking the question itself unfairly marks those blacks who would succeed without discrimination.”

Critics of affirmative action and the majority’s opinion claim that while it may be a way in for students of color, it’s an unfair exclusion of white students (the most privileged group of students in the country). The Washington Post’s Michael Kinsley writes:

“[D]oes the law school admissions policy favor minorities? Well, since you insist, yes: ‘The policy does . . . reaffirm the Law School’s longstanding commitment to one particular type of diversity,’ i.e., ‘racial and ethnic diversity.’ But O’Connor’s opinion immediately sinks back into a vat of fudge, trying not to acknowledge that ‘racial and ethnic diversity’ means that some people will be admitted because of their race and others will be rejected for the same reason — exactly as in the undergraduate admissions system the court finds unconstitutional. By ignoring the similarities, the court avoids having to explain coherently why it sees such profound differences.

The New York Post’s John Podhoretz goes so far as to call O’Connor’s decision illogical and outright preposterous:

“Here’s the logic: If you say race can be used as a positive factor, you might as well assign it a point value. What’s the difference between a point value and, say, writing an applicant’s name in red ink on a form in which the white kids’ names are written in blue ink?

There’s no difference, no matter what kind of Talmudic hair-splitting O’Connor and Breyer want to try here. They’ve embarrassed themselves in perpetuity with their illogic, which is the only happy outcome of yesterday’s preposterous exercise in judicial cowardice and racial condescension.”

But the right, as The New York Observer’s Joe Conason writes, claim that their desire to abolish affirmative action comes from their concern for students of color, who they believe are being further stigmatized by the decision. Yet their attempts to eradicate racial inequality have been at best, lackluster:

“The problem that Mr. [Clint] Bolick and his conservative comrades consistently fail to acknowledge is the persistence of racism in American life. If their dismay about the application of ethnic criteria by universities and other institutions is sincere — and not merely an appeal to divisive emotions — they ought to be devising other, better means to eradicate inequality. Yet their feeble gestures in that direction, notably school vouchers and enterprise zones, are consciously designed to achieve other conservative goals, such as busting teachers’ unions or cutting corporate taxes.”

Although most proponents of affirmative action support O’Connors decision, others are not as happy about it. Alternet’s Tim Wise, warns that the abolished point system is a blow to racial equity among the undergraduate students. As Wise points out, there are other unspoken point systems universities utilize that benefit white students which are unavailable to most students of color:

“On the other hand, the Court struck down Michigan’s undergraduate policy, which also sought to enroll a critical mass of students of color, but did so by establishing a point-system, whereby members of the above-mentioned underrepresented groups would receive 20 extra points, on a 150-point scale, similar to the 20 points offered to all low-income students (including white ones), and the 16 points offered to students from Michigan’s mostly white Upper Peninsula, among others.

I was not surprised to see the point system invalidated by the Court. Yes, the points for students of color paled in comparison to the points available mostly to whites (such as those for AP courses, having attended ‘highly competitive’ high schools, having a parent who attended the University, and the Upper Peninsula points referenced previously); nonetheless, the fact remained that this Court was always likely to view the point system as an indirect quota, while conveniently ignoring the overwhelming whiteness of the other preferences. “

Most people agree on one thing: As Conason points out, racism persists in American life. And as the Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild writes, affirmative action is still around, so hopefully O’Connor’s decision will open more doors for students of color:

“So for the time being, affirmative action lives on. This decision should help the country withstand the racial assaults from the right, and it should foster a richer, more tolerant society not only in universities, but in the work world, as well.

Doors remain shut to minorities in this country because of racism. Sandra Day O’Connor has preserved one key to unlocking some of those doors.

Hers was a judicious decision.”