Sunday, April 24, 2005

Holy War Sunday

The Lousiville Courier-Journal | Editorial, Sunday 24 April 2005

At the rate things are going in American politics, next week will bring ads by the Noah's Ark Veterans for Truth claiming that the two Democrats on board were actually stowaways, whom God had intended for drowning but who snuck on cross-dressed as gayals.

That wouldn't be much more bizarre than what's planned for today: Bill Frist, the majority leader of the United States Senate, is going to Sunday meeting to preach that some deeply flawed and highly ideological judicial nominees are actually bloodied victims of religious persecution.

"Justice Sunday: Stop the filibuster against people of faith," the revival's being called.

It should be called, "Injustice Sunday: Demean the holy and foment schism for partisan gain."

Whatever you think of these nominees and the Democrats' filibuster of them, it is not the religious faith they possess, but the judicial qualities they lack -- restraint, balance, experience, respect for law -- that have brought the nation to this sorry point.

Otherwise, they would have fared just as well as the more than 200 other conservative nominees that President Bush has successfully appointed to the bench.

As you hear the Christian soldiers' trumpets of holy war and hymns of righteous rage today, keep in mind exactly who some of these nominees are.

There's Priscilla Owen, the token white woman and Texas judge whose eagerness to substitute her own values for the rule of law was too much for even Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who rebuked her for it when both served on the same court.

There's Janice Rogers Brown, the token black woman and California judge who believes that our vibrant nation of free-market capitalism -- this economy of Wal-Marts, Pfizers and Enrons and of Googles, Yahoos and Apples; this home of a pitiful $5.15 minimum wage and of a staggering 44 million people without health insurance; this land of soaring CEO pay and declining real wages for workers -- has actually been crushed by the boot of collectivism ever since what she calls the 1937 "triumph of our own socialist revolution."

There's Brett Kavanaugh, who has never tried a case, but rose from Ken Starr's impeachment crusade to become a White House operative.

There's William G. Meyers III, who also lacks trial experience but who has put in plenty of time rabidly fighting against environmental laws and in favor of mining interests.

And there's William Haynes II, whose meager courtroom work is offset by his considerable contribution, as the Defense Department's counsel, to the shameful abandonment of America's deepest legal principles regarding the treatment and rights of prisoners of war and detainees.

It's no wonder their advocates are so intent on diverting attention from their legal limitations, ideological excesses and partisan activism with claims of anti-Christian discrimination.

But religious martyrs, they're not -- nor jurists worthy of the damage their nominations are doing to both politics and religion.


William Fisher

Earlier this month, Eric Rudolph was sentenced to four life sentences without parole for the deadly 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta and attacks at two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub. In May 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. His accomplice, Terry Nichols, is currently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

But while there is general joy that these miscreants are off the streets, human rights groups and government agencies believe that ‘home grown terrorism’ remains a clear and present danger to post 9/11 America.

For example, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an advocacy organization, says that extremist groups in the US are planning events and heightened activity through the month of April, especially during the period of April 15 through April 24, at a time when they traditionally commemorate the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The ADL says national groups such as the neo-Nazi National Alliance and local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.

One reason for the growth of ‘home grown terrorism’ appears to be that fanatic extremists have now added Islam to their list of ‘targets’. Since 9/11, the Department of Justice reports a dramatic increase in hate crimes directed against people perceived to be Arabs, though Sikhs and Hindus are frequently attacked because they ‘look like’ those of Middle Eastern descent.

A second reason is the rise of religious fundamentalism in the U.S., making homosexuals, same-sex couples, abortion clinics and those who work in them – even ‘activist’ judges and their families -- likely targets. White supremacist Matthew Hale faces 40 years in a federal prison after a judge gave him the maximum sentence for plotting to assassinate a federal judge.

Another reason is that, while known individual membership in militias and other organized ‘paramilitary’ hate groups is believed to have fallen since 9/11, remaining members appear even more intensely committed to acts of violence.

Still another factor is that the Internet has made bomb-making knowledge accessible to everyone.

The bottom line is that ‘Lone Wolf’ domestic terrorists – like McVeigh, Nichols and Rudolph – are now seen as the primary domestic threats. But the US militant militia movement has been overshadowed by the threat of Al-Qaeda.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department Homeland Security (DHS) have devoted massive resources to Islamic terrorism. But the agencies deny that there has been any slackening in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, whether directed against Muslims or anyone else.

For example, the FBI, which is responsible for investigating hate crimes, reports that nearly 7,500 incidents were classified as hate crimes in the United States in 2003, the last year for which complete data is available. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), however, points out that FBI and DOJ data are based on reports voluntarily submitted by local law enforcement authorities, who do not always track or report hate crime statistics. SPLC estimates that there are probably 50,000 more hate crimes than the FBI is reporting.

More than half these crimes are motivated by racial prejudice. Intimidation and vandalism were the most frequently reported hate crimes, though there were 14 murders. Six of those murders were among more than 1,200 incidents based on sexual orientation.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it received reports of 1,019 anti-Muslim incidents during 2003 — a nearly 70 percent increase from the previous year and the highest number of civil-rights complaints from those of the Islamic faith in the nine years the group has been tracking them.

In their report, "Unpatriotic Acts," hate crimes against Muslims (Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South-Asian Americans perceived to be members of these groups) jumped 121 percent that same year.

While the DOJ and FBI claim to be applying increasing resources to combating hate crime, Arab-American and Muslim-American civil rights groups have accused the agencies of racial profiling, harassment of ‘Middle Eastern-looking’ people at airports and in other public settings, and widespread abuses in the round-ups and detention of Arabs and Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.

Law-enforcement observers agree that the membership of militant right-wing groups has decreased since the Oklahoma City bombing – from some 20,000 to perhaps a few thousand now -- but many believe that has made them all the more dangerous.
Nonetheless, the contrasting treatment given to two cases illustrate the priority given to foreign terrorism.

In 2002, federal agents arrested Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, claiming he was an Al-Qaeda operative planning to explode a ‘dirty bomb’ in the US. He was officially declared an ‘enemy combatant’, and was held virtually incommunicado in a naval brig –though the Supreme Court ruled he should be charged or released.

A few months later, federal agents in Texas arrested William Krar, who was found to have a bomb like the one used in Oklahoma City, as well as a half-million rounds of ammunition. Krar is now serving an 11-year prison term.

Padilla had no record of militant activity and had no weapon when he was arrested. Krar was known as a right-wing zealot and was heavily armed. The disparity in their treatment indicates a double standard, according to Daniel Levitas, the author of "The Terrorist Next Door," which describes indigenous American terrorist movements. He attributes this double standard simply to the government saving face.

"I think it's embarrassing to the United States to present frightening evidence that there are people in this country who are just as fanatical and murderous as Islamic terrorists halfway around the world," he said. As a result, Levitas said, the Justice Department made little of Krar's arrest, but took pains to publicize Padilla's.


By William Fisher

Rejecting the conclusions of previous investigations, a major civil rights organization is calling for appointment of a special counsel and creation of an independent commission to investigate all issues of prisoner abuse by the US.

Human Rights Watch, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in a new report, “a wall of impunity surrounds the architects of the policies responsible for the larger pattern of abuses.”

“Evidence is mounting that high-ranking US civilian and military leaders — including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — made decisions and issued policies that facilitated serious and widespread violations of the law.”

The group recommended that the US Attorney General, Alberto onzazales, “appoint a special counsel to investigate any US officials — no matter their rank or position — who participated in, ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture, or other prohibited ill-treatment against detainees in U.S. custody.”

HRW said the special counsel “is necessary because the prospect for accountability through ordinary avenues is severely compromised.” The Attorney General, “who, as head of the Department of Justice, sits atop the prosecutorial machinery, was himself deeply involved in the policies leading to these alleged crimes, and thus may not only have a conflict of interest but also he, himself, may have a degree of complicity in those abuses.”

Similarly, the group charged, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “sits atop the military justice system, thus all but ruling out accountability though that channel for policies he set in motion.”

HRW also recommended that Congress create a special commission, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission, to investigate prisoner abuse. “Such a commission would hold hearings, have full subpoena power, and be empowered to recommend the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal offenses, if the Attorney General had not yet named one”, HRW said.

It said a special commission “could also compel evidence that the government has continued to conceal, including President Bush’s reported authorization for the CIA to set up secret detention facilities and to ‘render suspects to other countries, and details on Secretary Rumsfeld’s role in the chain of events leading to the worst period of abuses at Abu Ghraib.”

U.S. Department of Justice regulations call for the appointment of a “special counsel” when a conflict exists and the public interest warrants a prosecutor from outside the government.

In its report, HRW said, “Circumstances strongly suggest that (senior military and administration officials) either knew or should have known that such violations took place as a result of their actions. There is also mounting data that, when presented with evidence that abuse was in fact taking place, they failed to act to stem the abuse.

“The coercive methods approved by senior U.S. officials and widely employed over the last three years include tactics that the United States has repeatedly condemned as barbarity and torture when practiced by others. Even the U.S. Army field manual condemns some of these methods as torture.

“Although much relevant evidence remains secret, a series of revelations over the past twelve months, brought together here, already makes a compelling case for a thorough, genuinely independent investigation of what top officials did, what they knew, and how they responded when they became aware of the widespread nature of the abuses.”

The group charged that “coercive interrogation methods were approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for use on prisoners at Guantánamo — including the use of guard dogs to induce fear in prisoners, “stress” techniques such as forced standing and shackling in painful positions, and removing their clothes — “migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were neither limited nor safeguarded,” and contributed to the widespread and systematic torture and abuse at U.S. detention centers there.

It added, “We know that some detainees…have even been ‘disappeared after entering U.S. custody: the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) continues to hold al-Qaeda suspects in prolonged incommunicado detention in “secret locations,” reportedly outside the US, with no notification to their families, no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or oversight of any sort of their treatment, and in some cases no acknowledgement that they are even being held.”

HRW’s report is also critical of the practice of ‘rendition’. It says, “100-150 detainees have been ‘rendered’ by the US for detention and interrogation by governments in the Middle East such as Syria and Egypt, which, according to the U.S. State Department, practice torture routinely.” It called this practice “a violation of U.S. and international law. In an increasing number of cases”, adding that “there is now credible evidence that rendered detainees have in fact been tortured.”

“Despite these revelations and findings, the United States has not engaged in a serious process of accountability. Officials have denounced the most egregious abuses, rhetorically reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to uphold the law and respect human rights, and belatedly opened a number of prosecutions for crimes committed against detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, however, with the exception of one major personally implicated in abuse, only low-ranking soldiers — privates and sergeants — have been called to account.”

HRW said that, “While it is true that the Pentagon established no fewer than seven investigations in the wake of Abu Ghraib, not one has had the independence or the breadth to get to the bottom of the prisoner-abuse issue.

“All but one involved the military investigating itself, and was focused on only one aspect or another of the treatment of detainees. None took on the task of examining the role of civilian leaders who might have had ultimate authority over detainee treatment policy. None looked at the issue of renditions. The CIA has reportedly also initiated a number of self-investigations, but no details have been made public.

“What is more, these investigations effectively defined detainee abuse as any treatment not approved by higher authorities. To the Pentagon’s investigators, treatment that followed approved policies and techniques could not, by definition, have been torture. With this logical sleight of hand, they thus rendered themselves incapable of finding any connections between policies approved by senior officials and acts of abuse in the field. But that does not mean such connections did not exist,” HRW’s report said.


By William Fisher

A major U.S. civil liberties group is calling on President George W. Bush to demand release of dissidents, appointment of women to municipal councils, and an end to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia when that country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, meets with the president today (April 25).

In a letter to Bush, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the president to call on the Crown Prince to immediately release three dissidents imprisoned for more than a year for petitioning for a constitutional monarchy.
HRW wrote that “Charges against the three Saudi dissidents should be dropped”, and said that their lead lawyer, who was arrested in early November, should also be released and charges against him dropped”

It also called on the president to use the occasion of Crown Prince Abdullah’s visit to “urge Saudi authorities to appoint women to the recently formed municipal councils, and to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.”

"Without freedom of expression and association, there can't be political
reform worthy of the name," said Joe Stork, Washington director of Human
Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "The Bush administration's response to the dissidents' arrest has been completely inadequate. For the sake of its own credibility, it needs to speak clearly and publicly now."

HRW said that in March 2004, Saudi authorities arrested 13 people in several cities for circulating a petition calling for a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, and signaling their intent to form an independent human rights organization. The government released 10 of them after compelling them to sign an agreement that they would cease their public petitioning.

Three of the men -- Matruk al-Falih, Ali al-Domaini, and Abdullah al-Hamid --
refused to sign the agreement, and remain in prison facing charges of "issuing statements" and "using Western terminology" in calling for reform, the organization said.

It added: “Their lead lawyer, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Lahim, one of the 10 released in March, has been detained since early November for statements he made to the press about the case.”

"President Bush should raise the cases of these dissidents by name when he
meets with Crown Prince Abdullah," Stork said. "He needs to point out that
vague proclamations of reform will be judged by what happens to people who
peacefully petition their government for change."

HRW also called on the president to raise the issue of “severe discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia. While there have been some positive developments, such as the recent denunciation of forced marriages by the country’s highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Shaikh `Abd al-`Aziz bin Al Shaikh, these statements need to be followed up with action. We urge you to ask the Crown Prince what legal measures the government plans to stop this practice.”

HRW said that official promises that women would be allowed to vote when municipal elections are held again were not reassuring, and asked President Bush to urge the Saudi leader to take "concrete, feasible steps towards ending gender discrimination" by appointing women to unelected seats on the municipal councils as well as to the national level Consultative (Shura) Council, which is wholly appointed.

“The exclusion of women as voters and candidates in the recent nationwide municipal elections for ‘logistical’ reasons raises doubts about whether the government is serious about granting women decision-making power in public life. Official remarks that women would be allowed to participate when such elections occur again are hardly reassuring, given the government’s past failure to fulfill various promises of reform.”

“If the government wishes to demonstrate good faith in this area, it should appoint a representative number of women to the unelected seats of these municipal councils, and to the national-level Consultative (Shura) Council.”

Islamists won in the municipal elections in the capital, Riyadh, and in the main eastern city of Dammam in earlier stages of the municipal elections that began in February. Conservatives were also poised to win most of the seats in Jeddah, the nation’s commercial capital. Abdul Rahman Yamani, one of the projected winners from a field of around 500 hopefuls there, said, “We are a religious people by nature, and secular people are not accepted (by society).”

HRW also urged Bush to address “the recent proliferation of judicial executions of Saudi Arabian citizens and, in greater numbers, non-Saudi residents of the country.”

It noted that Saudi Arabia “had publicly beheaded at least 40 persons since the beginning of the year, two-thirds of them from south and Southeast Asia. A number of those executed had been convicted of robbery and drug-related offenses.”

The letter asked President Bush, “in light of the absence of basic due process protections in the Saudi judicial system, to urge the Crown Prince to declare a moratorium on all judicial executions.”

Noting that “Saudi Arabia has taken some political reform initiatives, such as the partial elections to municipal councils held over the past few months”, the organization said, “improvements in human rights, where they have occurred at all, have been halting and inadequate.”

“Government proclamations regarding adherence to human rights principles have not led to changes in practices or to public access to information about violations of human rights,” HRW said.

The group urged the president “to make clear, in a public manner as well as in private talks, that the US expects to see concrete improvements in those areas that the Saudi authorities can address directly and immediately. The credibility of your administration’s emphasis on the need for political reform in the region rests in part on your readiness to address the Saudi Arabian government openly on some core issues.”

HRW said that the March 2004 arrests of dissidents occurred during then-Secretary of State Powell’s visit to the kingdom, “timing that may have been intended to signal opposition to U.S. calls for reform.” The administration’s response “has, in our view, been inadequate: Secretary Powell mildly criticized the arrest of the thirteen in public at the time, but neither the State Department nor the White House have since mentioned the continued imprisonment of these four individuals on completely specious charges.”

HRW aid it hoped that Bush “will make clear that you consider the treatment of these individuals to be emblematic of Saudi Arabia’s response to its human rights crisis, and that their continued incarceration and prosecution makes improvements in US-Saudi relations extremely difficult.”

The HRW letter was signed by Joe Stork, Washington Director for the Middle East and North Africa Division, and Tom Malinowski, the organization’s Washington Advocacy Director.