Eliot Spitzer Watches the Magicians’ Hands

It’s always nice to have a reminder that the smoke and mirrors are a distraction calculated to prevent us from seeing what’s really going on (h/t):

Everybody is rushing to condemn AIG’s bonuses, but this simple scandal is obscuring the real disgrace at the insurance giant: Why are AIG’s counterparties getting paid back in full, to the tune of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars?

For the answer to this question, we need to go back to the very first decision to bail out AIG, made, we are told, by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, then-New York Fed official Timothy Geithner, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last fall. Post-Lehman’s collapse, they feared a systemic failure could be triggered by AIG’s inability to pay the counterparties to all the sophisticated instruments AIG had sold. And who were AIG’s trading partners? No shock here: Goldman, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and on it goes. So now we know for sure what we already surmised: The AIG bailout has been a way to hide an enormous second round of cash to the same group that had received TARP money already.

[snip]

The appearance that this was all an inside job is overwhelming. AIG was nothing more than a conduit for huge capital flows to the same old suspects, with no reason or explanation.

Eliot Spitzer, you may remember, knows Wall Street well. As a prosecutor, he made their lives hell. He’s definitely a man worth listening to as these companies scramble for every last cent they can wring from taxpayers. He sees them for what they are.

Read the whole thing. Screw your outrage to the sticking place, and then start shouting before 10am Eastern. We can turn their smoke-and-mirrors into a conflagration. We can turn the magicians’ tricks against them.

Sheriff Joe Will Look So Pretty In Pink

Good thing he’s already measured himself up for some nice government-issue underwear, there. He’s likely to need it soon:

Now, I know that Sheriff Joe told Glenn Beck he “welcomes” any investigation into his bordering-on-fascist rule in Arizona’s Maricopa County. But I bet that nonetheless, he wasn’t smiling yesterday:

The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil-rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office after months of mounting complaints that deputies are discriminating in their enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Officials from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division notified Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday that they had begun the investigation, which will focus on whether deputies are engaging in “patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures.”

An expert said it is the department’s first civil-rights probe related to immigration enforcement.

… The Justice Department frequently receives racial-profiling complaints against police departments, but investigations are rare, said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and racial-profiling expert.

“The fact that this has come to their attention and they have announced their intent to investigate is highly significant,” Harris said. “It says there is enough there to be investigated. It’s not an iffy case that (can be ignored).”

Harris said this is the first civil-rights investigation stemming from immigration enforcement. The probe could last several months.

You can read the notice here. [PDF file]

Sheriff Joe, of course, is a first-rate fucknugget. He won hard Arizona hearts with his tent city and his pink underwear, but he’s way overstepped bounds by turning Maricopa County into his own little fascist fiefdom.

I do hope they consider throwing them in his own tent city. And I hope the investigation’s wrapped up sometime this July.

Why, yes. Yes, I am evil. Whyever do you ask?

Get Your Truth On


Time for some truth and reconciliation, with possible jail time to follow:

There’s a new poll out from Gallup and USA Today which one is headlining as showing there’s “no mandate for criminal prosecutions” and the other is headlining as showing that “most want an enquiry” into whether Bush’s anti-terror policies broke the law.

Those headlines aren’t mutually incompatible. There’s a hard core of around 30% of Americans who still cleave to Bush as a hero, an unsung genius who can do no wrong and think that a president can just declare actions legal and be done with it. There’s a slightly larger core of those who want America to return to the fold of the rule of law, presidential accountability and humanity. They’ve done some homework and realise that anti-terror tactics during the Bush Years were built upon the kind of deliberately twisted legal reasoning that got Nazi lawyers hanged at Nuremberg. And there’s a group – the undecideds – who want to know more before they make their minds up, and would understandably prefer the evidence to come from official governmental sources rather than liberal blogs and human rights groups. They want to trust their government and want that government to bring the facts out in the open. That’s just human nature and trying to spin the two different headlines about results of this poll as some liberal conspiracy is just being dishonest.

So give the people a Truth Commission. Let the evidence be made public in official hearings rather than tucked away in little-read reports from human rights groups about the Defense Department’s co-operation in running CIA secret prisons or in obscure blog posts citing studies showing the military have “disappeared over 24,000 video tapes of detainee interrogations. Let’s not rely on whether foreign officials and judges bow to blackmail in hoping to get details of why someone had his penis repeatedly sliced because he once read a satirical article online. Let’s get those Bush officials who have admitted their administration engaged in torture up on the witness stand, under oath.

When all of those nasty little details come out, the turnaround from “let’s put the past behind us” to “let’s put the bastards in jail!” could be fairly dramatic. Even if it doesn’t lead to a public outcry, however, it will at least serve as a sharp, humiliating reminder to certain individuals that there are consequences for war crimes.

Patrick Leahy’s all about that. He’s trying to deliver what 2/3 of the American public want: the truth. Head on over and show him some love. The more of us who sign on to the idea, the more likely it is the oblivious dimwits in Congress will realize we can’t just wave buh-bye to Bush and pretend it’s all over.

It won’t be over until the jailbird sings.

Why Extraordinary Rendition’s Not Always Eevviilll

So the L.A. Times reports that Obama’s keeping rendition on the table, and suddenly everybody loses their heads. Without looking, I can tell you how this will play out: the Cons will crow that Obama recognizes the need for torture, and the progressives will howl that he’s becoming Bush III.

Neither of which is true. Ask Dr. Rendition (aka Hilzoy):

Since the publication of the LA Times story about rendition yesterday, I’ve noticed some confusion about the topic. So Dr. Rendition will try to make things easy.

Q: What is rendition?

A: Rendition is the act of transferring a person into a different jurisdiction.

Q: “It occurs to me that this more benign definition of rendition as transferring someone to another criminal justice system, used to be called extradition. Can someone explain the difference to me?”

A: Extradiction is one form of rendition, as you can see from Lawyers.com’s Glossary of Legal Terms, which defines ‘Rendition’ as “extradition of a fugitive who has fled to another state.” Here’s a nice example of the term’s normal usage from a hundred-year-old case:

“Among the powers of governors of territories of the United States is the authority to demand the rendition of fugitives from justice under 5278 of the Revised Statutes, and we concur with the courts below in the conclusion that the governor of Porto Rico has precisely the same power as that possessed by the governor of any organized territory to issue a requisition for the return of a fugitive criminal.”

That was just the first case I found when I looked. There are lots more.

Q: But extraordinary rendition means sending someone off to be tortured, right?

A: No. Extraordinary rendition is rendition outside normal legal frameworks. (Extradition is a form of “ordinary” rendition.) It includes sending people off to countries where we have reason to think that they will be tortured. But it also includes things like catching Osama bin Laden in another country and bringing him to the United States to stand trial. What makes something a case of extraordinary rendition is the way the person is transferred from one jurisdiction to another, not what happens to that person once s/he arrives.

Q: But don’t most people who talk about ‘rendition’ just mean ‘sending people off to other countries to be tortured’?

A: Probably. That’s the kind of rendition that became famous when Bush was in office. But remember: lawyers are not most people. They use all sorts of words in peculiar ways (besides using words like ‘estoppal’ that normal people don’t use at all.) To them, this is a technical term. They use it accordingly.

Glenn Greenwald, who is certainly no fan of torture, extralegal methods, and all that rot, puts forth a hypothetical that basically illustrates what extraordinary rendition’s supposed to be used for: extracting dangerous, horrible people from the countries where they’ve gone to ground and bringing them to a country that will prosecute. We’ve used this method many times in the past, and so have other countries, taking such people as Adolf Eichmann and Mir Aimal Kansi from their hidey-holes and delivering them to courts that tried, convicted and sentenced them for their crimes. The U.S. Department of State has a handy little chart showing folks who were either extradicted or renditioned between ’93 and ’99, back before “rendition” became a synonym for “snatch, disappear and torture the possibly innocent bastard.” Keeping the door open to rendition doesn’t mean Obama’s sliding down the slippery slope to Jack Bauer Fantasyland. Sorry, wingnuts, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for validation.

But what’s to keep rendition from becoming a dirty practice again? We all know there’s a dark side to it, just as there is whenever you get into gray areas of the law. Cujo359 once again comes through with a sensible proposal:

My own feeling is that the act of rendition itself may be necessary for some time, since there’s no way of enforcing any edict of the World Court or other international justice system in a country that doesn’t agree to abide by it. Perhaps in the long run, though, the only acceptable way of doing this will be to go through an international court to obtain a warrant. Messy as that idea sounds, it’s probably better than letting everyone do it on his own.

That begs the question of what would happen if the World Court declined to issue such a warrant in a case that clearly merited it, but it would be at least a step closer to bringing extralegal actions under the scrutiny of a court, where abuses could be minimized, and a judicial eyeball kept on rendition to ensure that renditioned people aren’t simply shipped off to be warehoused and tortured without legal recourse.

Even without such warrants, we can ensure that our own practice of rendition is restricted to bringing suspected criminals to trial in regular courts. It’s not a get-into-Guantanamo-free card. And considering Obama’s closing Gitmo and doing all sorts of things to show that yes, really, truly, he’s serious about this no-torture stuff, I imagine that’s exactly what’s going to happen when he revamps the rendition option. If not, enough of us screaming at him should do the trick.

John Dean Warms My Heart

I loves me some John Dean. For those of you who don’t know who the fuck I’m talking about, he’s the author of Conservatives Without Conscience, a FindLaw columnist, and former White House counsel to none other than Tricky Dick. There is no one on earth who can wield the Smack-o-Matic 3000 like a former Republican who had his ideals utterly shattered by the president he served.

His columns are always an education. Today, it was also a delight. John begins with a solid whack to Con bottoms that put a grin on my face from ear-to-ear:

Remarkably, the confirmation of President Obama’s Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, is being held up by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who apparently is unhappy that Holder might actually investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials who engaged in torture. Aside from this repugnant new Republican embrace of torture (which might be a winning issue for the lunatic fringe of the party and a nice way to further marginalize the GOP), any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work.

Isn’t that gorgeous? “A nice way to further marginalize the GOP.” I loves it.

But that’s not the blood and the bone of this column. No, he’s talking about the potential for prosecutions, and it’s looking good:

Bush’s Torturers Have Serious Jeopardy

Philippe Sands, a Queen’s Counsel at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International law at University College London, has assembled a powerful indictment of the key Bush Administration people involved in torture in his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. He explains the legal exposure of people like former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney’s counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, the former Department of Defense general counsel Jim Haynes, and others for their involvement in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA secret prisons.

After reading Sands’s book and, more recently, listening to his comments on Terry Gross’s NPR show “Fresh Air,” on January 7, 2009 I realized how closely the rest of the world is following the actions of these former officials, and was reminded that these actions appear to constitute not merely violations of American law, but also, and very literally, crimes against humanity – for which the world is ready to hold them responsible.

Go, world! Woot!

The following is my email exchange with Professor Sands:

QUESTION: When talking to Ms. Gross you said you were not calling for such international investigations because we all need more facts. Given the fact that Judge Susan Crawford has now made clear that torture occurred, do you – and others with your expertise and background – have sufficient information to call for other countries to take action if the Obama Administration fails to act?

ANSWER: Last week’s intervention by Susan Crawford, confirming that torture occurred at Guantanamo, is highly significant (as I explain in a piece I wrote with Dahlia Lithwick: “The Turning Point: How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture”). The evidence as to torture, with all that implies for domestic and foreign criminal investigation, is compelling. Domestic and foreign investigators already have ample evidence to commence investigation, if so requested or on their own account, even if the whole picture is not yet available. That has implications for the potential exposure of different individuals, depending on the nature and extent of their involvement in acts that have elements of a criminal conspiracy to subvert the law.

Heaven. I think I’m in… heaven.

QUESTION: Do you believe that a failure of the Obama Administration to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute, those involved in torture would make them legally complicit in the torture undertaken by the Bush Administration?

ANSWER: No, although it may give rise to violations by the United States of its obligations under the Torture Convention. In the past few days there have been a series of significant statements: that of Susan Crawford, of former Vice President Cheney’s confirming that he approved the use of waterboarding, and by the new Attorney General Eric Holder that he considers waterboarding to be torture. On the basis of these and other statements it is difficult to see how the obligations under Articles 7(1) and (2) of the Torture Convention do not cut in: these require the US to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution”.

This is sublime. If we don’t take these fuckers down, other countries could very easily do so. And I hope to fuck they have the political will. I count it a good sign Britain’s already got an investigation going.

Look, world. Don’t worry about the politics of this thing. Just apply some judicious pressure. Insist we try the war criminals. Poor Obama, he didn’t want to engage in “looking back,” but, y’know, there were those laws we have and the treaties we signed and all that pesky legal stuff, so we kinda sorta had to prosecute the fuckers who turned America into a nation of torturers. Darn the luck.

Really, it’ll be just devastating if you force us to hold our leaders accountable, but we’ll cope somehow.

And hey, aren’t you really doing Bush et al a big ol’ favor? Cuz they’re under a cloud and stuff, and like John says:

One would think that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Gonzales, Yoo, Haynes and others, who claim to have done nothing wrong, would call for investigations to clear themselves if they really believed that to be the case. Only they, however, seem to believe in their innocence – the entire gutless and cowardly group of them, who have shamed themselves and the nation by committing crimes against humanity in the name of the United States.

Just so. On to the Hague!

This Is Why We Limit Police Powers

One of the common arguments amongst the law-and-order crowd is that we don’t have to worry about giving law enforcement agencies unfettered surveillance powers because they’ll only use them against the guilty. “If you’re innocent, you have nothing to worry about!” some perky authoritarian will chirp. “We can’t tie their hands!” Which sounds great and reasonable until news like this brings the kumbaya chorus to a rude end:

In July, the Washington Post reported on undercover Maryland State Police officers conducting surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents. Today, we learn that the monitoring was worse, and more pervasive, than first believed.

The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored — and labeled as terrorists — activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a “security threat” because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

One of the possible “crimes” in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: “civil rights.”

And people wonder why “civil-liberties types” worry about government abuse when it comes to surveillance of Americans.

Isn’t there some old police saying that states, “Everybody’s guilty of something?” Apparently, the MD state police took the next logical step and decided that they could make everybody guilty of something. The kumbaya chorus should keep this in mind the next time they’re prattling about how the police would never ever target the innocent.

The best law enforcement officers tend to take a jaundiced view of humanity. The worst tend to employ their police powers to enact their sadistic authoritarian fantasies. American history is full of mad, bad and simply mistaken policemen abusing their powers. This is why we can’t give them power without limits, which is something Antonin Scalia seems to have a difficult time understanding. If the above case doesn’t provide a wake-up call, Ed Brayton has another:

Ever since Justice Scalia declared that there was no more need for a rule against no-knock raids because there was a “new professionalism” among police, Radley Balko has been mocking that claim with example after example of corruption and incompetence by the police. Here’s a perfect one to add to the list. Jonathan Turley has the story:

Police in Galveston, Texas are being sued for allegedly arresting a 12-year-old Dymond Larae Milburn outside of her home as a prostitute in 2006. The girl did not realize that the plainclothes officers were police and fought back as she screamed for her father inside the house. She was reportedly beaten by the officers and ended up with sprained wrist, two black eyes, a bloody nose, and blood in an ear. Weeks later, the police arrested her for resisting arrest.

Sgt. Gilbert Gomez and Officers David Roark and Sean Stewart have insisted that their conduct was entirely appropriate.

The police were responding to a report of three white prostitutes working in the area, but some how ended up arrested and roughing up a 12-year-old black girl in front of her house.

The honor student was then arrested at her middle school on a charge of resisting arrest — but a mistrial prevented further prosecution.

Because it’s really easy to confuse a 12 year old black girl in her front yard for 3 adult white prostitutes on a street corner. And by the way, she was several blocks from where the prostitutes were allegedly at.

[snip]

This is a perfect example of Scalia’s new professionalism. An amateur would have been fooled by her clever disguise as a middle school honors student of an entirely different race far from the scene of the alleged crime. But not these professionals.

div.blogMain p.newMeta2 a {display: block; float: left; margin-right: 24px; padding: 3px 0 3px 24px; background-position: 0 50% ! important; background-repeat: no-repeat;} Oh, yes. Beating a young black female. Uber professional, that is. We might as well throw the laws limiting police power and behavior right out the window, because they’d obviously never abuse their authority.

Police these days are so super-professional, in fact, that you can’t find stories of them killing people with the enthusiastic over-use of tasers here, here, here, here, here, and here. Oh, and a nice story about police shooting a man who took a Taser here. Oh, and did I mention that was all during the month of December? I especially liked the one about the man in diabetic shock getting shocked, didn’t you?

I’m not going to spend the next paragraph being fair-and-balanced and saying how much I wuv da police. Anyone who’s read this blog for a long time knows I respect and appreciate the vast majority of our policemen and women. Calling for clear and strict rules for them to follow, laws that restrict their behavior, and limits on their power doesn’t diminish that appreciation. Corruption and beatings and killings do. Things like that stain the reputations of the officers out there doing the job right. They make it harder for good officers to do their jobs.

For their sakes, let’s make it harder for law enforcement to go to such ridiculous extremes.

Adam Walsh’s Case Finally Closed

This is tremendous news for John and Reve Walsh:

A serial killer who died more than a decade ago is the person who decapitated the 6-year-old son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh in 1981, police in Florida said Tuesday. The announcement brought to a close a case that has vexed the Walsh family for more than two decades, launched the television show about the nation’s most notorious criminals and inspired changes in how authorities search for missing children.

“Who could take a 6-year-old and murder and decapitate him? Who?” an emotional John Walsh said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We needed to know. We needed to know. And today we know. The not knowing has been a torture, but that journey’s over.”

Walsh’s wife, Reve, at one point placed a small photo of their son on the podium.

Police named Ottis Toole, saying he was long the prime suspect in the case and that they had conclusively linked him to the killing. They declined to be specific about their evidence and did not note any DNA proof of the crime, but said an extensive review of the case file pointed only to Toole, as John Walsh long contended.


They’ll never put this behind them. There’s no such thing as “closure” for the family of a murdered child – not in the sense that most people mean by that word. But at least that not knowing won’t be eating them alive.

John Walsh has always been one of my heroes. I’m glad he finally got the justice he’s worked so hard to help others find.

The Lives They’ve Saved

A glass of the premium stuff is tipped heartily in the direction of the ATF this morning:

Federal agents have broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree, the ATF said Monday.

In court records unsealed Monday, federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads. Agents said the skinheads did not identify the school by name.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the two men planned to shoot 88 black people and decapitate another 14. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The men also sought to go on a national killing spree, with Obama as its final target, Cavanaugh told The Associated Press.

It can be easy, when police departments are used to crush peaceful demonstrators, when the entire Justice Department is rotting away from the inside due to partisan plants, and when the FBI is haring off after ACORN, among other stupid law enforcement tricks, to forget that these men and women perform a ridiculously hard job. It’s easy to forget the good they do on a daily basis.

The ATF just prevented two fuckheads from murdering a great many people. They’re out there keeping these violent hate groups from making bloody statements. With the frenzy that’s been whipped up lately, and the Republicons pulling resources away so they can go chase voter fraud chimeras, the pressure on agencies like the ATF has got to be insane.

So I want to extend my sincere appreciation to them, and to the Secret Service: all of the officers who work to ensure that Obama doesn’t end up a Kennedy, who bust their asses keeping our abundant supply of domestic terrorists from succeeding in their plots to murder and maim our citizens, and who walk that fine line between democracy and repression with due caution. Muchos gracias, mis amigos.

Salud.

A Valuable Synopsis of the U.S. Attorney Firings Scandal

On Monday, the Office of the Inspector General released a report on the politicized firings of several United States Attorneys by the Bush Regime. Talking Points Memo brings the whole sordid saga together in one easy-to-read, essential report. Some highlights:

Almost since the scandal broke early last year, there have been clear signs that the plan to fire U.S. attorneys as a means of advancing the Bush administration’s political goals was being driven by the White House. That impression has been strengthened as top current and former White House officials, including Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, have consistently stonewalled efforts to look into the matter.

[snip]

The White House’s active involvement in the firings, as depicted in the [OIG] report, can be divided into two broad categories: First, its role in initiating and promoting the overall plan to remove an unspecified number of U.S. attorneys — traditionally treated as apolitical prosecutors who operate independently from the political agenda of the administration — deemed insufficiently committed to the Bush agenda. And second, its apparent work in pushing specifically for several of the most high-profile dismissals.

[snip]

Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ then chief of staff at DOJ, and the point man on the firing plan, told OIG investigators that, some time after the 2004 election, White House counsel Harriet Miers asked him whether the administration should try to get all 93 U.S. attorneys to resign, as part of a plan to replace all political appointees for the new term. Sampson said he argued against this idea.

[snip]

Still, the White House seems to have kept pressing. In January 2005, Sampson received an email from a Miers deputy, which said: “Karl Rove stopped by “to ask … ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ ” [Quotation marks rendered as in the report]. A few days later, Sampson replied: “If Karl [Rove] thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I.”

The following month, Sampson told OIG, Miers followed up, asking him for a list of possible U.S. attorneys to get rid of. Sampson dutifully responded with his first list, which contained the names of four USAs who ultimately were axed, as well as ten who weren’t.

[snip]

The dismissal in which the White House played the greatest role was that of Bud Cummins, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Cummins, the report makes clear, was removed not because of shortcomings in his own record, either political or performance-based, but because the White House wanted to move a GOP political operative, Timothy Griffin, in to the job.

[snip]

The White House’s role in the firing of David Iglesias as U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico appears to have been less direct than that of Cummins – but the report makes clear that it was involved nonetheless.

[snip]

At a November 15 White House meeting, Wilson put in another complaint to Rove about Iglesias. This time, he told her: “That decision has already been made. He’s gone.” But as the report notes, the first list from Sampson to include Iglesias’ name would not be sent to Miers until a few hours later. In other words, Rove’s knowledge that Iglesias was to be fired suggests this wasn’t a decision made solely by DOJ.

Read the whole thing. It paints a concise and terrifying picture of a White House determined to create an army of U.S. Attorneys slavishly loyal to them.

Law enforcement is too powerful and too essential to a civilized society to politicize. Police, attorneys and judges need to be loyal to the law, not partisian ideology. Democracy can’t survive when the long arm of the law is wielded by a political party.

We need to push for the truth in this, and we need to ensure that the partisan hacks who were installed during Bush’s rule are bunged out on their ears.