Saturday, December 29, 2007


By William Fisher

The year is racing to a close. Lamentably, it’s going out with a Bhutto Bang.

Almost as pathetic as this cruel assassination is the wisdom spewed out by our presidential wannabees. Funny how they all morphed into instant Pakistan Pundits to continue their endless pandering to those who will bundle themselves up to venture out into the chill air of Iowa and New Hampshire to cast their primary ballots.

My vote for the most pathetic goes to Mike Huckabee, who was in charge of Arkansas’ foreign policy during his years as the Republican governor of this historically Democratic state. Rev. Huckabee suggested that after Bhutto’s assassination the United States should, “have an immediate, very clear monitoring of our border, and particularly to make sure, if there’s any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country. We just need to be very very thorough in looking at every aspect of our own security internally.”

Right on, Mike. Gotta watch those Paki terrorists turning up in California to pick lettuce.

That comment struck just the right tone to end a year filled by consequential events too numerous and too depressing to catalog here. Suffice it to say that, for a journalist, 2007 was a very good year. “If it bleeds, it leads,” was the year’s press mantra. And there was more than enough bleeding to keep all of us scribblers very busy.

During 2007, I wrote several hundred pieces of news and opinion. Almost all of them reported bad news – imperial wars, government incompetence and intransigence, thousands of dead civilians, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, tens of thousands more seriously wounded, poverty ignored, populations displaced, preventable diseases not being prevented, the toxic extremism of fundamentalist clerics and their followers of all faiths. And on and on. You get the picture.

But, at the risk of being called a Pollyanna, let me give you the good news.

And, yes, for Americans at least, there was some good news.

Despite our government’s efforts to re-create 1984, we Americans continued to live in the freest country in the world. Free to think, write, speak, organize, get involved, associate with whomever we wish, worship or not worship.

Our courts may be filled with judges we disagree with, but Chief Justice Roberts is not under house arrest.

Our legislators may be the world’s most talented Kabuki dancers, but they still read our letters and take our phone calls, and occasionally even do what we pay them to do.

Our president may think he’s King, but next year, he’ll leave office peacefully and say nice things about his successor.

We should be grateful for all these blessings, but they are all macro blessings. The really good news happens and keeps happening at a totally unreported, but far more meaningful, level: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Like my 60-plus cousin-in-law, who learns to knit so he can make a blanket for his first grandchild.

Like the mother of a friend’s cleaning lady, who works three jobs so her daughter can get to college.

Like the neighbor who just shows up year after year to plow the snow off a friend’s driveway and never asks for a penny.

Like the friend who organizes farmers to get our town to appreciate the benefits of local agriculture.

Like the local psychotherapist who gives up her Thanksgiving Day to distribute food to our less fortunate neighbors.

Like the hundreds of volunteers who show up to work phone banks or lick postage stamps to support their chosen candidates for town supervisors, local judges or county commissioners.

Like the retired UN official who turns her acreage into a refuge and recovery center for our county’s orphaned, abandoned, abused or injured wildlife.

Like the retired college profs who spend hours mentoring kids who have no role models.

Like the management consultant who shares her “happy gene” with a depressed widower and gives him a new life.

There are millions of these kinds of acts of kindness. They happen every day in every American town and city. We rarely hear about any of them. They are the acts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They are the real threads that hold the fabric of our country together.

As long as they continue, we can be hopeful.

As long as they continue, 2008 may yet turn out to be a good news year.

Monday, December 24, 2007


By William Fisher

The year was 1951. The Korean “police action” was raging. I was a draftee NCO in a military police unit safely nestled in a major American city. But my comrades and I lived each day under the long, dark shadow of being shipped out to fight in a frozen country most of us couldn’t find on a map.

Like most army units, my company had a “welfare fund” – money collected from our fellow troops, to be used for their benefit: for Christmas parties, summer barbeques, gifts for newly married buddies, and suchlike.

The fund had to have a treasurer –someone to collect, hold and account for the money. But no one wanted the job. More paperwork was exactly what none of us needed.

But one of us had a brilliant idea. We would go sell the idea to the private we all referred to as “The Idiot.” We would persuade him that being “The Treasurer” would get him known and enhance his chances of promotion.

The Idiot was good kid, but strange. I mean really strange. His buddies thought he was “a little crazy.” He was alternately depressed and euphoric, pastoral and warlike. He would arrive back at our base after a three-day pass with a big wide toothy grin and enough doughnuts for the whole company. Five minutes later he would be on the brink of apoplexy, raging against the army, the draft, his parents, the Koreans. Five minutes after that he would be sitting alone in a corner of our barracks, staring morosely at his boots for an hour, seemingly oblivious to things going on around him. After that hour, we would see him ebulliently bounding down the aisle between the beds, trumpeting some brilliant new idea to remake the military. And five minutes later, he would be smashing furniture and throwing boots and chairs at his comrades. The Idiot’s behaviors were as unpredictable as they were bizarre.

But he was our only candidate. Long story short: We got him to take the treasurer’s job, and he dutifully gave us a monthly accounting of how much money was in our welfare fund, receipts for what was spent, and a report on likely future expenses.

The rest of us, if we thought about it at all, were happy with our solution. We thought we’d pulled off a coup. Until December, that is, just before our company Christmas party. It was then The Idiot told us we couldn’t have a Christmas party that year, but that this was really a good thing because he’d spent our money buying toys for poor kids.

The Idiot was court martialed, spent a year in the stockade (Army-speak for jail), and dishonorably discharged.

I haven’t thought about that episode in more than half a century. But that’s where my mind went as I read the harrowing story of 1st Lieutenant Elizabeth Whiteside.

Though described by one of her Iraq comrades as “A Soldier’s Officer,” Lt. Whiteside may finally learn this week whether she will be treated for severe mental illness and given the appropriate benefits to pay for her care – or court-martialed and face the possibility of life in prison.

The charges now being considered against her: Attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.

The military prosecutor, Maj. Stefan Wolfe, argues that, even after seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist should be court-martialed. Under military law, soldiers who attempt suicide can be prosecuted because their action affects unit order and discipline and discredits the armed forces.

In Whiteside’s case, prosecutors consider her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct. But the military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined her after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound have diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone.

The prosecutor has warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense. But a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed, asked to justify his diagnosis of severe mental illness, responded angrily: "I'm not here to play legal games. I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that's breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let's treat her as a human being, for Christ's sake!"

At one point, Whiteside requested that she be allowed to resign to avoid a court-martial. But the result of that course would mean having to spend the rest of her life explaining why she didn’t receive an honorable discharge, living with the still-present stigma being mentally ill – and probably losing her medical care and benefits.

Walter Reed’s commander, Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, a physician and now Army surgeon general, agrees. He said, "This officer has a demonstrably severe depression which manifested itself . . . as a psychotic, self-destructive episode. . .. Resignation in lieu of court-martial eliminates all of the benefits of medical support this officer deserves after seven years of credible and honorable service."

But many other members of the uniformed military involved in the case take the opposite view. One of them said, "Although the sanity board determined that at the time of the misconduct she had a severe mental disease or defect, she knowingly assaulted and threatened others and injured herself."

Whiteside, who is now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, ran a medical unit at the very same hospital until 2006, when she volunteered to deploy to Iraq. She told the Washington Post that seeing so many casualties at Walter Reed made her feel she was not bearing her full responsibility.

The bare details: In Iraq, she was assigned as a platoon leader in a medical company at the Camp Cropper detainee prison, which housed 4,000 suspected terrorists and insurgents, and included such high-security prisoners as Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali."

Whiteside supervised nine medics who worked the night shift at the prison, ate one meal a day and worked seven days a week, dispatching drivers, medics and support staff to transport sick and wounded Iraqis and U.S. troops. Her superiors credit her with her unit's success.

Given the radio handle "Trauma Mama," the high school valedictorian and ROTC grad told the Washington Post, "I loved our mission because it represented the best of America: taking care of the enemy, regardless of what they are doing to us."

Sometime after Hussein’s execution, a nurse in Whiteside’s unit reported that Whiteside was "freaking out." The nurse found Whiteside sitting on her bed, mumbling and visibly upset.

When comrades tried to help, Whiteside resisted and told them to leave. At one point, she fired her pistol into the ceiling. Later, she pointed the weapon at one of her colleagues, yelling that she wanted to kill them. When she opened her door she saw armed soldiers approaching. She slammed the door shut and fired her weapon once into her stomach. She was still in serious condition when she arrived at Walter Reed a few days later.

There are many more details I’m not going to try to cover here. The Washington Post first told Lt. Whiteside’s story in a brilliant report by Dana Priest and Anne Hull in the December 2 paper. It’s well worth reading, at

The point of all this is that, despite monumental advances in mental illness diagnosis and therapy, and endless pronouncements from the White House and the Pentagon about how deeply concerned they are about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other combat-related psychological problems, the Army doesn’t seem to have moved very far from “The Idiot” of my 1951 MP unit.

Back then, doctors knew virtually nothing about how to diagnose, much less treat, his psychological disorder. His buddies thought of him as a little crazy. So The Idiot was tried, jailed and dishonorably discharged.

But today, both diagnosis and treatment are real options – and they are happening every day. They happen when mental health professionals, not military prosecutors, get listened to and believed.

This week we may find out whether the Army has been listening.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


By William Fisher

A former U.S. Department of Justice ethics adviser who came to prominence as a whistleblower after she objected to the government's treatment of John Walker Lindh -- the "American Taliban" captured during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan – has joined leading members of the U.S. legal community in calling on Congress to investigate the destruction of tape recordings of interrogations carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Jesselyn Radack told a news teleconference last week that the destroyed tapes are “part of a pattern.” She said, “There are some 5 million missing White House e-mails. No one knows where the hit lists are from the U.S. Attorney massacre. And now the CIA interrogation videotapes have been erased. This is criminal.”

She added, “Remember when the Justice Department prosecuted Enron and Arthur Anderson for destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice? Now the Justice Department is trying to block congressional oversight and legal proceedings involving this latest scandal.”

Radack’s comments came during the launch of a new campaign, “American Lawyers Defending the Constitution.” The effort is backed by a statement signed by more than 1,300 lawyers and law students around the country, including former New York governor Mario Cuomo, former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein, leaders of legal organizations and more than 100 law professors in the U.S.

Their statement calls on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to hold wide-ranging hearings to investigate “unconstitutional and potentially criminal activity by the Bush Administration.”

The “TapeGate” furor erupted after the New York Times revealed in early December that the CIA in 2005 had destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, “a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.” An announcement was subsequently made by the CIA.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terrorism suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in CIA custody — to severe interrogation techniques. In a message to his staff, CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden reportedly said the tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks. He also said the tapes no longer had intelligence value.

The destruction of the tapes has raised questions about whether CIA officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.

The CIA program that included the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects began after the capture of Mr. Zubaydah in March 2002. The CIA has said that the Justice Department (DOJ) and other elements of the executive branch reviewed and approved the use of a set of harsh techniques before they were used on any prisoners, and that the DOJ issued a classified legal opinion in August 2002 that provided explicit authorization for their use.

Other participants on the telephone press conference included Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group, and Marjorie Cohn, president of the 6,000-member National Lawyers Guild.

Ratner, whose organization has played a major role in providing defense lawyers for detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, underscored the importance of congressional action. He said, “For far too long Congress has been the handmaiden of the Bush administration’s undermining and subversion of basic constitutional rights. The right to be free from torture; warrantless wiretapping; jailing without habeas corpus; and disappearances into secret sites. Principles going back to the Magna Carta are at stake.”

He called on Congress to “do its job: defend the Constitution from its enemies. Its enemies are the Bush administration.”

Ratner said, “Just announcing that investigations will be held and subpoenas will be issued is terribly insufficient unless Congress is willing to enforce the subpoenas by issuing contempt citations. Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee the activities of the executive branch and our entire system of government is threatened when Congress simply folds before an obstinate executive.”

Cohn, author of the recently published book, “Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law”, told us, “From the illegal war in Iraq to the illegal torture of prisoners in U.S. custody to the illegal destruction of evidence by the CIA, the Bush administration has become an institution of lawbreakers. Congress must hold hearings to investigate this lawbreaking, and should authorize the appointment of an independent prosecutor since Michael Mukasey cannot be counted to conduct an impartial investigation.”

Radack rose to prominence as a major whistleblower in the John Walker Lindh case. In the course of Lindh's criminal prosecution, the court ordered all documents associated with his interrogation to be turned over. After some documents were turned over, Radack was asked about the existence of more documents. At that time, she looked through the files and discovered that the bulk of her work was missing and had not been turned over. Radack was able to reconstruct much of her work, and informed her supervisor that her department had not complied with the court order.
She was forced to resign before the documents were turned over. A criminal investigation into Radack’s actions was eventually closed with no charges, but her case was referred to the state bar of Maryland, which eventually cleared her of all wrongdoing. She has never been called to testify before Congress.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it had no knowledge that Lindh was represented by a lawyer prior to his interrogation, but this position appears to be contradicted by material in Radack's files.

Radack told the news conference, “My e-mails documented my advice against interrogating Lindh without a lawyer, and concluded that the FBI committed an ethics violation when it did so anyway. Both the CIA videotapes and my e-mails were destroyed, in part, because officials were concerned that they documented controversial interrogation methods that could put agency officials in legal jeopardy.”

In a related development, one of America’s leading constitutional scholars said White House involvement in the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes documenting severe interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists could constitute as many as six crimes.

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University law school in Washington appeared on CNN to discuss a report by the New York Times that four White House attorneys, including then-White House counsels Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, participated in discussions with the CIA about whether or not the tapes should be destroyed.

Turley said, "There are at least six identifiable crimes here, from obstruction of justice to obstruction of Congress, perjury, conspiracy, false statements, and what is often forgotten: the crime of torturing suspects.

He added, "If that crime was committed it was a crime that would conceivably be ordered by the president himself, only the president can order those types of special treatments or interrogation techniques."

The American Lawyers Defending the Constitution statement, along with the list of 80 original signers, is available at .

The American Freedom Campaign (AFC) is a joint project of AFC, the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, the Alliance for Justice, the Equal Justice Society, and the American Freedom Agenda.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


By William Fisher

As human rights lawyers sought to block U.S. Government efforts to stop a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary accused of flying detainees to ‘black sites’ where they were tortured, a legal advocacy group published the first testimony of a victim of the Central Intelligence Agency’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program.

In the first-ever report of its kind, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law released a first-hand account of a survivor of enforced disappearance and torture at several Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ‘black sites’. The 63-page report, "Surviving the Darkness: Testimony from the U.S. 'Black Sites'," is an in-depth account of a former CIA detainee's experience in his own words.

The bone-chilling narrative tells the story of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni national who spent more than a year and a half in the CIA's secret detention program. He was never charged with a terrorism-related crime.

The full report can be found at

The CHRGJ charges that Bashmilah was “illegally detained by the Jordanian intelligence service in October 2003, tortured into signing a false confession, and then handed over to an American rendition team.”

The group says he spent the next eighteen months in the U.S. secret detention network -- in sites believed to be in Afghanistan and possibly Eastern Europe. In May 2005, he was transferred to the custody of the Yemen government, which held him in proxy detention at the behest of the U.S. until he was put on trial and finally released in March 2006.

Bashmilah’s story was made public as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed legal papers opposing the CIA’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. for its participation in the CIA’s "extraordinary rendition" program.

The ACLU charged that the U.S. government is improperly invoking the "state secrets" privilege to avoid judicial scrutiny of this unlawful policy.

Steven Watt, an attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, told us, “Five men have been brutally abused with the help of a U.S. corporation, and they are entitled to their day in court." He added, " Jeppesen must not be given a free pass for its profitable participation in a torture program. And the government should not be allowed to use the national security defense as a way to cover up its mistakes or, worse, its egregious abuses of human rights.”

The ACLU filing comes in a lawsuit brought on behalf of five victims of the rendition program who were kidnapped and secretly transferred by the CIA to U.S.-run overseas prisons or foreign intelligence agencies where they were interrogated and tortured.

According to the lawsuit, Jeppesen knowingly provided flight planning and essential logistical support to aircraft and crew used by the CIA for the clandestine rendition flights.

After the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. government intervened to seek its dismissal, contending that further litigation of the case would be harmful to national security. But the ACLU contends that the information needed to pursue this lawsuit, including details about the rendition program, is already in the public domain.

It adds, “Jeppesen’s involvement in the program is also a matter of public record. It has been confirmed by extensive documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony, including the sworn declaration of a former senior Jeppesen employee, which was submitted in support of the ACLU filing.

In recent years, the government has asserted the once-rare “state secrets” claim with increasing regularity in an attempt to throw out lawsuits and justify withholding information from the public not only about the rendition program, but also about illegal wiretapping, torture, and other breaches of U.S. and international law. It has been 50 years since the United States Supreme Court last reviewed the use of the "state secrets" privilege. The Supreme Court recently refused to review the "state secrets" privilege in a lawsuit brought by Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen also represented by the ACLU, who was kidnapped and rendered to detention, interrogation, and torture in a CIA "black site" prison in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, more than 250 people once held in Iraqi prisons, including Abu Ghraib, have filed suit against a U.S. military contractor for alleged torture of detainees. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages against CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Virginia.

The complaint alleges that CACI interrogators who were sent to Iraqi prisons directed and engaged in torture between 2003-2004. The lawsuit charges that the detainees were repeatedly beaten, sodomized, threatened with rape, kept naked in their cells, subjected to electric shock and attacked by unmuzzled dogs, among other humiliations.

The court action also names two CACI employees — Stephen Stefanowski, known as Big Steve, and Daniel Johnson, known as DJ — accusing them of participating in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The suit alleges that the two CACI contractors directed corporal Charles Graner and sergeant Ivan Frederick. Graner was sentenced to 10 years in prison for this role in the Abu Ghraib scandal; Frederick is serving an eight-year jail term.

“These corporate guys worked in a conspiracy with those military guys to torture people,” said Susan Burke, the lead attorney in the case.

“And now the military have been held accountable, but the company guys and the company have not been,” she said.

The legal status of U.S. private contractors in Iraq and elsewhere abroad remains cloudy. The Iraqi Government says they should be subject to Iraqi law, a position rejected by the U.S. It remains unclear whether they are subject to U.S. law. No American court has yet decided a relevant case, though lawsuits have been brought against a number of contractors, including Blackwater, whose employees are accused of killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in a shooting incident in September.

In the CACI case, to the surprise of some legal observers, the government did not intervene on behalf of the contractors and the court ruled that the litigation could go forward.

In a related development, the New York Times reported Wednesday that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, “apparently trying to avoid acknowledging an elaborate secret detention system, have quietly set free nearly 100 men suspected of links to terrorism, few of whom were charged.”

Human rights groups in Pakistan say those released are some of the nearly 500 Pakistanis presumed to have disappeared into the hands of the Pakistani intelligence agencies cooperating with Washington’s fight against terrorism since 2001.

The Times reported that no official reason has been given for the releases. But it quoted Pakistani sources as saying that as pressure has mounted to bring the cases into the courts, “the government has decided to jettison some suspects and spare itself the embarrassment of having to reveal that people have been held on flimsy evidence in the secret system.”

Among those pressing to bring the cases into court was the chief justice of Pakistan’s supreme court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. He was dismissed by President Pervez Musharraf and remains in detention, although Musharraf last Saturday lifted the state of emergency he imposed in November.

The Times reported that the prisoner releases were “particularly galling to lawyers” because Musharraf had accused the courts of being soft on terrorists, and had used that claim as one justification for imposing emergency rule.

Monday, December 17, 2007


By William Fisher

As Karen Hughes, the close confidante of President George W. Bush, gives up her mission to improve America’s image abroad – amid dedicedly mixed reviews of her performance – her replacement is already facing criticism for his support of the Iraq war and a number of alleged ethical lapses.

Hughes, a key advisor to the president since his days as governor of Texas, resigned her post as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy last week after just under two years in the post to return to private life in Texas. President Bush has nominated James Glassman as her replacement.

Glassman is currently chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the organization responsible for conveying America’s messages through television and radio to the Middle East, Iran, Cuba, and other troubled areas around the world. Washington-watchers have speculated that Glassman was nominated because he had already been confirmed by the Senate for his BBG post.

Glassman’s critics point to his early and enthusiastic support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In an article he wrote in 2003, Glassman said, “….the anti-war protesters remain clueless. They're still planning their marches. Instead, they should be apologizing. Before the war, they told us that 500,000 Iraqis would be killed in Dresden-like bombing, that we would precipitate an eco-catastrophe by pushing Saddam to set fire to his oil wells, that millions of people would flee the country, that thousands of our own troops would be killed, that the Arab ‘street’ would rise up, that terrorist attacks would resume ferociously on our homeland, that Iraqis would tenaciously resist our colonization of their land, that we would become bogged down in urban warfare, and on and on.”

Glassman continued, “In fact, none of that has happened. It has been a war unmatched in history, with relatively few civilian and allied casualties and the prime objectives - control of the capital and the destruction of Saddam's regime - achieved in only a few weeks. Conscientious opponents of the war should say they were wrong, wrong, wrong - on all counts.”

A year later, after the Abu Ghraib detainee scandal hit the headlines, he wrote, “Recent events in Iraq, especially in Abu Ghraib prison emphasize once more the dire need for serious, strategic and properly funded public diplomacy -- the promotion of the national interest by informing, engaging and influencing people around the world.”

Like Ms. Hughes, Glassman has little Middle East experience. He was a member of an aadvisory group on public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World, chaired by former Ambassador Edward Djerejian, who has been one of Hughes’ supporters.

Hughes, who played a key role in crafting the pre-Iraq invasion “message” to American voters, was a Texas television reporter before becoming one of George W. Bush’s most trusted advisors.

Glassman, a former syndicated columnist, is perhaps best known for his prediction that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would reach 36,000 during the last bull market. A Resident Fellow at the right-wing think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), he is the founder and long-time "host" of Tech Central Station (TCS) , an Internet opinion site published by the Republican firm, the DCI Group. Sponsors of TCS include fast-food giant McDonald’s and the oil company, Exxon Mobil.

Glassman has been accused of a number of ethical breaches reportedly committed on behalf of the DCI Group. In 2006, St. Petersburg Times reporter Bill Adair revealed that Glassman’s had used TCS and his syndicated column to champion the interests of the Website’s corporate sponsors without disclosing these relationships.

Adair cited Glassman as one of those who profit from this practice. He said Glassman denounced “Super Size Me,” a 2004 movie critical of McDonald's nutritional policies, but failed to disclose that “McDonald's is a major sponsor” of Glassman’s Website. The film said McDonald's was partly to blame for the nation's obesity epidemic.

Glassman used the TCS Website and his syndicated newspaper column to launch an aggressive effort to discredit the film. In his weekly column, Glassman called the movie "an outrageously dishonest and dangerous piece of self-promotion."

Glassman takes on his new State Department post at time when most reliable polls are finding American credibility abroad lower than it has ever been. He faces an overseas environment increasingly hostile to the U.S. due to such factors as the “marketing” of post 9/11 fear of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, failure to seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo scandals, and revelations of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, CIA renditions, and “black sites” where detainees become “ghost prisoners.”

Samar Jarrah, A Florida-based Palestinian-American who is a radio talk show host and the author of “Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts,” summed up the feelings of many ordinary Middle Easterners. She told us, ""If the U.S. asks me to take Karen Hughes' or James Glassman's job tomorrow, I would fail too. What do I tell people in the Arab and Muslim world when they ask me why did you go to war in Iraq knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no connection to 9/11, and you did you have any plans for the day after? Any attempt on my behalf to answer these questions truthfully will lead to my firing!”

Jarrah added, “Karen and Jim assume that Arabs and Muslims do not read and do not have a clue! Can you imagine what my answers can be when I am asked about Israel, Iran, supporting torturous dictators in the Arab World? Any one is doomed to fail. I bet you a million dollars that it is Karen who got a lesson or two from her job and this is why she quit. It is a dead end job."

Hughes’ departure as America’s chief spokesperson abroad has been greeted with mixed assessments of her performance. While she successfully pushed for substantial budget increases, experts say there has been little substantive change, and few new ideas, in U.S. public diplomacy during her tenure. Her so-called “listening tours” of contentious areas, including the Middle East, have brought charges of “cultural insensitivity.”

One assessment comes from Patricia H. Kushlis, a former career Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Information Agency from 1970-1998, and co-author, with Patricia Lee Sharpe and Cheryl R. Rofer, of WhirledView, a widely respected foreign affairs and public diplomacy blog.

On the positive side, Kushlis told us, “I think that Karen Hughes' basic accomplishment was remaining in office for more than a year. True, she increased the budgets for exchanges -- particularly for bringing foreigners here -- and restored portions of core public diplomacy functions, like media reaction or rapid response units, which had been allowed to lay fallow since the demise of USIA in

On the negative side, Kushlis told us that “Hughes apparently failed to recognize or act upon the central problem -- a bifurcated and under-funded public diplomacy effort is an anemic approach to solving much more fundamental public diplomacy issues both in terms of policy and structure. Clearly, if Hughes did understand the problems she did not use her proximity to President Bush to initiate the fundamental structural changes that could and should have happened.”

She added, “As for James Glassman's appointment to replace her, it seems to me that he will be a ‘place holder’ at best. It's far too late in this administration's day -- even if its luster were still there -- for Glassman or anyone else to accomplish much of anything - if indeed - he has any interest in doing so.”

Friday, December 14, 2007


By William Fisher

So George W. Bush’s Texas pal, Karen Hughes, is out as America’s chief shill to the world, soon to be replaced by a fellow named Jim Glassman.

It’s illuminating to understand how much these two have in common. As Karen Hughes took on the job of winning the hearts and minds of people overseas – particuarly in the Muslim world -- America’s reputation abroad was at an historic low. But those people were a lot savvier than the president ever acknowledged – or understood.

Quite accustomed to the unending propaganda spewed forth by the own governments, they knew all about the Bush Administration’s cynical marketing of post 9/11 fear of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, its mindless invasion and then incompetent occupation of Iraq, its failure to seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, “enhanced” interrogation techniques, CIA renditions, “ghost” detainees and black sites, cozying up to such stalwart democrats as Pervez Musharraf and Hosni Mubarak – all played out against the backdrop of Washington misinformation, disinformation, spin, non-stop dissembling by the president and his loyal Bushies, the arrogance of American exceptionalism, the administration’s incessant saber-rattling, and its inability to ever own up to a mistake.

So what’s changed for Jim Glassman? Zilch!

Only the amount of money our country spends on “public diplomacy.” Yet despite the substantial increase in funding, every credible poll taken since 2003 tells us our policies are creating more jihadists than we’re killing. They tell us the “Arab Street” views the Annapolis conference as more a search for legacy than for Israeli-Palestinian peace. They tell us most Iraqis want us out of their country. They tell us folks are not watching our TV broadcasts or listening to our radio programs – or watching but not believing. They tell us our credibility abroad is lower than it’s ever been in the history of our country.

Hughes and Glassman have something else in common: Each is uniquely un-equipped to take on this arguably impossible job. Hughes, the president’s confidante and pal, was a Texas TV reporter, hardly a venue likely to lead to knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, cultural sensitivity to the byzantine ways of the Middle East.

Glassman, currently chairman of the scandously inept Broadcasting Board of Governors -- which is responsible for our government’s radio and television broadcasts to various parts of the world -- is best known for his prediction that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would reach 36,000 during the last bull market. A Resident Fellow at the right-wing think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), he is the founder and long-time "host" of Tech Central Station, a corporate-sponsored, Internet opinion site published by the Republican firm, the DCI Group. At AEI, he researches Social Security, economics, technology, politics, federal budget, interest rates, stock market, taxes, and education.

The sum total of his “Middle East experience”? He was a member of the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World, chaired by former Ambassador Edward Djerejian. That group’s report was highly critical of the state of public diplomacy and urged significant changes. Endorsed by many in Congress, the press and some elements of the administration, it was greeted with deafening silence by the White House.

Like Hughes, who played a major role in crafting the Administration’s pre-Iraq-invasion sales campaign to our citizens, Glassman brings a lot of baggage to his new job.

Here’s what he said in 2003: “….the anti-war protesters remain clueless. They're still planning their marches. Instead, they should be apologizing. Before the war, they told us that 500,000 Iraqis would be killed in Dresden-like bombing, that we would precipitate an eco-catastrophe by pushing Saddam to set fire to his oil wells, that millions of people would flee the country, that thousands of our own troops would be killed, that the Arab "street" would rise up, that terrorist attacks would resume ferociously on our homeland, that Iraqis would tenaciously resist our colonization of their land, that we would become bogged down in urban warfare, and on and on. In fact, none of that has happened. It has been a war unmatched in history, with relatively few civilian and allied casualties and the prime objectives - control of the capital and the destruction of Saddam's regime - achieved in only a few weeks. Conscientious opponents of the war should say they were wrong, wrong, wrong - on all counts.”

A year later, he persisted in promulgating the myth that simply doing a better job of carrying public diplomacy was the answer. “Recent events in Iraq, especially in Abu Ghraib prison, ” he said, “emphasize once more the dire need for serious, strategic and properly funded public diplomacy -- the promotion of the national interest by informing, engaging and influencing people around the world.”

He added, “The United States is not making a serious effort to tell its story, to convince both its enemies and its friends of our cause -- to change minds.”

I suppose he was also just trying to “change minds” in his vigorous defense of the scientifically-challenged Republican Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, who said at the recent climate change conference in Bali, "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

Is this hope springing eternal? Or ideologically-driven wishful thinking? Or some kind of parallel reality?

When the world keeps telling you “it’s the policy, stupid,” what exactly is “serious, strategic and properly funded public diplomacy”?

We’ll probably never know because the cast of characters is the same and still in denial mode, the rhetoric is if anything more bellicose and more uninformed, and not even the cosmetics of the policies have changed.

Poor Mr. Glassman! He has only little more than a year to change all those millions of hearts and minds. So much to do and so little time to do it. Good luck!

Being America’s conveyor belt to hearts and minds during this Administration is, and always was, an arguably un-doable job. Karen Hughes’ performance only made it worse.

But not to George W. Bush. At Hughes’ farewell ceremony, the president said, "She is a consequential person. And I am confident that she has begun a cultural change throughout our State Department that will stand in good stead; it'll help the country."

But, as Dan Froomkin pointed out in the Washington Post, “Hughes wasn't hired to create cultural change inside the State Department; she was hired to improve America's image abroad. And she failed miserably at that task, at least in part because she failed to use her close relationship with Bush to get him to stop doing the things that made her job so impossible.”

There is a painful irony in the reality that the country that invented modern marketing fails to understand that a flawed product won’t sell for long, if at all. I’m told that Jim Glassman is a smart guy. But if he’s so smart, why did he take this thankless job in the first place?

At the end of the day, it won’t matter. The “product” just doesn’t work. So the U.S. will continue to fail in its public diplomacy campaigns until wiser, better informed, and perhaps more humble heads occupy the Oval Office.

Back in 1928, the man most regard as “the father of public relations,” Edward L. Bernays, coined the phrase “the engineering of consent.” By which he meant that, through effective propaganda, people could be persuaded to embrace ideas or actions based on deception.

Bernays was famously successful, but he lived in a different time and in a simpler world. My guess is that if he had the U.S. as a client today, he’d resign the account.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


By William Fisher

Maybe the story is apocryphal, maybe not, but here it is anyway, courtesy of the Republican National Convention blog:

When Dana Perino was six years old, she stood on a milk crate in her Denver house, held up an American flag, and told her parents, "I'm gonna work in the White House." By third grade, she and her father, Leo Perino, were debating the news of the day at the dinner table.

"He wanted me to have read the newspapers and to have picked out one or two articles to discuss by the time he got home and then we always watched the evening news together and my Dad and I would always watch the Sunday shows as well," said Perino.

Which makes it even more bizarre that the president’s press secretary never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After all, she’s an educated person -- Ponderosa High School, the University of Southern Colorado, grad school at the University of Illinois, work on the Hill, and so forth.

And the event she says she never heard of isn’t some arcane happening from ancient history. It played out only ten years before she was born. And it wasn’t just any ordinary event. It was arguably the Cold War’s scariest threat of Mutually Assured Destruction, also known as M.A.D. It was the time when U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev faced off over Soviet ballistic missiles being stationed in Cuba, 90 miles from the Florida coast. Long story short: Nikita blinked first and M.A.D. was averted.

Now, not to be uncharitable, none of us can know everything. And Ms. Perino’s cluelessness is nowhere near as egregious as the President not knowing that there are Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs before he invades a country where both groups live.

But the Perino deficit strikes me as emblematic of much that’s wrong in the Bush Administration:

A secretary of defense who knows nothing about military history, military strategy, or how the military works. An assistant secretary of state who is a defeated candidate for a governorship with no refugee experience put in charge of dealing with the millions fleeing from Iraq. An undersecretary of state charged with resurrecting America’s “image” abroad whose preparation for the job was as a Texas TV reporter. Another put in charge of immigration and border security with no relevant experience whatever. A pro-consul in Iraq with no Middle East experience, much less languages, filling Green Zone jobs so long as the applicants vow to repeal Roe v. Wade. And, of course, that heck-of-a-job guy who ran FEMA. The list goes on and on.

At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was a young, eager, and very low-level functionary in the Kennedy Administration (I was thrilled that someone higher up thought enough about me that they assigned me a secret spot in a secret tunnel in a secret mountain in North Carolina – in case the entire government had to relocate).

The Kennedy Administration certainly wasn’t perfect. The White House, for example, could have made good use of a few people with gray hairs and knowledge of how you talk to a senator. But the huge preponderance of the president’s 3,000-plus political appointees were people who had spent their entire adult lives preparing for the jobs they got. They really knew what they were doing. JKF’s best and brightest were neither ideologues nor political hacks, though there were a few of both. By and large, they were dedicated and they were competent.

I fear that history will look back on the time of George W. Bush not only as a time of American arrogance, American exceptionalism, and America’s abandonment of its most dearly treasured principles. I also fear that the judgment of history will serve to strengthen right-wing canards about government not being able to do anything right.

My hope is that the next administration will choose people who can get it right.


By William Fisher

A coalition of more than 130 religious organizations has joined the growing chorus of individuals and groups calling for appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate allegations regarding the CIA's destruction of videotapes and its use of "harsh" interrogation techniques.

In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) reminded the nation’s top law enforcement officer of his testimony during confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

“A key point of controversy during your confirmation process involved your statement that one particular ‘harsh’ interrogation technique (namely, waterboarding) was not necessarily torture,” the group wrote, adding: “It is possible that top Justice Department officials may have been involved in counseling the CIA about both the techniques used and the handling of the tapes.”

For these reasons, the group wrote, “We believe it is necessary for you to appoint a Special Counsel, independent of the normal Justice Department chain of command, to conduct this investigation. We believe a Special Counsel is critical to achieve the confidence of the American people in the outcome of such an investigation.”

NRCAT’s letter cited a December 7 New York Times article, in which several officials said that "the tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks." Furthermore, there appears to be credible evidence that requests for the tapes by a federal court at the time such videotapes were intact may have been ignored by the CIA. These two allegations, if true, would be evidence of the use of illegal interrogation tactics by U.S. personnel and an effort to cover-up that fact.”

These allegations, it said, “raise serious concerns that must be fully and fairly addressed in order to retain the trust and confidence of the American people in our intelligence and justice systems.”

The NRCAT letter was signed by Executive Director Rev. Richard Killmer, a Presbyterian minister, and the organization’s president, Linda Gustitus. Gustitus is former chief of staff to Illinois Democratic Senator Carl M. Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

NRCAT’s founder, Rev. George Hunsinger of the Princeton University Theological Seminary, told us, “The destroyed videos reportedly depict waterboarding in action. To acknowledge that waterboarding is torture is like conceding that the sun rises in the east.”

He added, “After World War II Japanese soldiers who practiced it were prosecuted as war criminals.”

In an online interview, Hunsinger asked, “Why must our public officials and would-be office-holders persist in evading the elementary truth about a technique used by monsters like Pol Pot and Pinochet, and that is being used against Buddhist monks today – to say nothing of our own secret prisons? All the dissembling in high places that makes these shocking abuses possible must be brought to an end. But they will undoubtedly continue unless those responsible for them are held accountable. Clearly a joint probe by the Justice Department and the CIA -- agencies that are both seriously compromised -- is not enough. A Special Counsel is an essential first step.”

Following Judge Mukasey’s confirmation testimony, NRCAT wrote the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing deep concern about the Mukasey’s responses on the subject of torture and urging the committee members to "approve a nominee as Attorney General who is unequivocal in his or her stance against the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Mukasey wrote the Committee saying that he found waterboarding “personally abhorrent” but declined to say whether the practice constituted torture.

Gustitus and Killmer told the committee that Judge Mukasey's answers "leave open the door to the use of techniques by the U.S. government that would be cruel, inhuman and degrading and that could amount to torture."

Referring to the period when Alberto Gonzalez was Attorney General, Gustitus and Killmer said, "It is time to turn a new page. It would be tragic to allow an individual, despite his or her legal training and ability, who has not clearly rejected the illegal and immoral practices of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to become the leading law enforcement officer of our nation."

NRCAT's members include representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Quaker, Muslim, and Sikh communities. More than 18,000 individuals have signed NRCAT's "Statement of Conscience" against torture.

NRCAT is generally categorized as a “progressive” organization. More conservative religious organizations have largely remained silent on the “TapeGate” controversy.

The issue exploded into the headlines on December 7, after Central Intelligence Director (CIA)Michael V. Hayden announced that the CIA made videotapes in 2002 of its officers administering harsh interrogation techniques to two al-Qaeda suspects but destroyed the tapes three years later. Hayden said the action was taken to protect CIA employees from possible criminal prosecution.

The CIA’s top lawyer reportedly advised against the tapes’ destruction and similar counsel is said to have come from then White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

The tapes showed the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and a second high-level al-Qaeda member who was not identified. Zubaydah has been identified by U.S. officials, who spoke to the press on condition of anonymity, as one of three al-Qaeda suspects who the CIA subjected to "waterboarding," a technique that simulates drowning.

The tapes were destroyed on the order of Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the CIA's director of clandestine operations. They were destroyed after the Justice Department (DOJ) told a federal judge in the case of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui that the CIA did not possess videotapes of a specific set of interrogations sought by his attorneys.

The CIA also failed to turn the tapes over to the 9/11 Commission despite their request. The Commission demanded all documentation related to its work and largely used on classified interrogation transcripts to construct its account of the events of that day. The Commission was Congressionally mandated to investigate the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The recordings were destroyed despite orders from judges that required the government to preserve records related to its interrogation programs. The judges’ rulings came in connection with lawsuits filed by Guantanamo detainees who went to court to challenge the basis of their detention.

Multiple investigations of the tapes’ destruction are already underway. The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), and ranking Republican Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) yesterday announced that the panel will conduct its own investigation. The lawmakers said that Hayden's assertion that the committee had been "properly notified" of the destruction "does not appear to be true." It is likely the Senate Intelligence Committee will also investigate the matter, and the Justice Department (DOJ) and the CIA inspector general's office have already begun a preliminary inquiry into the tapes' destruction.

At the White House daily press briefing Monday, Press Secretary Dana Perino announced she was “not allowed” to discuss the issue because it might compromise ongoing investigations.

Monday, December 10, 2007


By William Fisher

A coalition of more than 200 not-for-profit human rights and social justice organizations charged today that the Bush Administration is contributing to racial, religious and ethnic discrimination in the U.S. – and attempting to cover up its violations in a report to the United Nations they term “a complete whitewash.”

The charges are contained in a “shadow report “ timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day, today, and designed to rebut a far more positive picture of American racism painted by the U.S. State Department (DOS). State’s report, quietly submitted to the U.N. last spring and posted without publicity on the Department’s website, was a requirement under the world body’s “International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)”, to which the U.S. is a signatory.

The shadow report was prepared by the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN), a large group of non-governmental organizations ranging from Amnesty International to the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund.

It charges that the U.S. Government has failed both by action and inaction to promote racial and ethnic justice in a host of areas, including voting rights, health care, housing, education, homelessness, police brutality and fairness in the criminal justice system.

It says the government report “misrepresents and/or cherry picks data demonstrating ongoing racial disparities and discrimination” and “suffers from glaring gaps clearly aimed at covering up the most egregious examples of persistent racism and racial discrimination in the U.S. today.”

USHRN’s Executive Director, Ajamu Baraka, told IPS, “This report is an important effort to correct the historic record as it relates to the failure of the Bush Administration and previous administrations to address the ongoing crisis of racial oppression and discrimination in the U.S.”

Next March, the U.S. will be required to defend its record on race relations, persistent racial inequalities, and ongoing racial discrimination, before a panel of UN experts.

The USHRN highlights a number of areas where it says the Government report fails to confront the facts.

For example, said a USHRN spokesperson, the Government’s report highlights training and outreach programs for law enforcement agencies to encourage sensitivity to Arab and Muslim communities developed in the aftermath of 9/11, “while completely failing to acknowledge widespread racially and ethnically targeted law enforcement practices such as the special registration program and aggressive round-ups and interviews of thousands of non-citizen Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.”

The USHRN report says, “Since September 11, 2001, new federal laws and policies have limited non-citizens’ access to due process rights, while at the same time creating an atmosphere of elevated fear and mistrust of those who are foreign-born, as well as those who are perceived to be of a particular religious or ethnic background.”

It adds, “In an increasingly anti-immigrant climate, authorities have collaboratively advanced hundreds of measures denying immigrants and refugees access to employment and a living wage, labor protections, access to public benefits, health care, and education, and adequate public safety.”

The USHRN warns that “the humanitarian crisis at the border has reached new heights as migrant deaths hit record numbers and the federal government pours billions of dollars into militarizing the region. In the interior, workers are increasingly subject to violent and disruptive immigration raids at their workplaces and in their homes, typically targeting a population of ethnic minorities that is hugely disproportionate to the number of people actually charged with violations.”

It says that discrimination against migrants, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers of color “is increasingly fueled by legislation, administrative regulations and enforcement policies framing immigration as an assault on the public purse, and immigrants as illegitimate interlopers rather than substantial contributors to the nation's economy.”

The report highlights a number of issues relating particularly to women. It charges that the U.S. government’s claim that “substantial progress has been made in addressing disparities in . . . access to health care has been made over the years” is belied by persistent and dramatic racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality rates, life expectancy, and prevalence and survival rates of cancer, HIV-AIDS, and heart disease shocking in a country of the United States’ wealth and resources.”

“African American women are nearly four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women and 24 times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS,” the report says. It attributes these disparities to “a range of government actions and inactions, from the failure to address high rates of uninsured women of color to restrictions on public funding for sexual and reproductive health services.”

Women of color, it says, “are more economically disadvantaged than white women and more likely to rely on government funded health insurance, are disproportionately impacted by federal and state policies that restrict access to and public funding for sexual and reproductive health care.”

The efforts cited by the U.S. government as evidence of progress fail to address “systemic factors driving health disparities, including obstacles to access to health care, such as lack of health insurance, unequal distribution of health care resources, and poor quality public health care,” the report says.

It also faults the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for
failing to reopen public health care facilities in the Gulf Coast communities devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, thereby contributing to
“an increase in the number of deaths due to the lack of medical services.”

Housing discrimination is another area underlined in the USHRN report. It says the government “has not adequately responded to private acts of housing discrimination. African Americans and Latinos frequently encounter discrimination when attempting to rent or purchase a home, or when attempting to secure funding or insurance for a home purchase.”

The report also links race with predatory and subprime lending. “The subprime mortgage market clearly adversely impacts members of minority groups seeking mortgages within the U.S. Women of color have been victimized by subprime lending abuses more than any other group of homeowners.”

The culprits, it says, include “federally regulated depository institutions, state regulated institutions, non-regulated independent mortgage bankers and brokers, secondary market institutions, private investors, rating agencies, and appraisers.”

The report singles out police brutality and the negative experiences of racial and ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system as examples of racist practices. It says, “Disparities generated by racial profiling and concentration of law enforcement efforts in communities of color are exacerbated by racially discriminatory exercises of broad prosecutorial discretion in charging, plea bargaining, and prosecution of criminal offenses.”

Law enforcement officers “known to have engaged in even the most egregious forms of racist police torture and violence often go unprosecuted and unpunished, and lack of transparency and effectiveness in complaint and disciplinary mechanisms allows widespread abuses to go undeterred,” the report says.

It accuses the Department of Justice (DOJ) of taking “no action to launch a comprehensive investigation into the abusive treatment of hurricane evacuees by law enforcement and military personnel, which has been documented by law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations. Federal courts have dismissed claims associated with these events without reaching the claims’ merits.”

It points out that “Disadvantages faced by defendants of color are aggravated by profound failures in the fragmented, patchwork public defense system in the U.S. Notwithstanding the U.S. government’s claims that the right to counsel is guaranteed to all without discrimination based on race, public defense services in most parts of the United States, disproportionately relied up on by people of color, are dramatically under-funded and lacking in oversight. The federal government provides minimal to no financial support for indigent defense in state courts.”

Education is another target of USHRN’s criticism of the government report. It says, “More than five decades since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education the U.S. has failed to provide equal educational opportunity and a high quality, inclusive education to all students. Public schools today are more segregated than they were in 1970.”

It says that major factors contributing to racial inequality in educational opportunities include “under-performing, poorly financed schools that perpetuate minority students’ underachievement due to lower teacher quality, larger class size, and inadequate facilities; student assignment policies that promote segregation.”

It adds, “The legislative and executive branches of the federal government have all but abandoned school integration and diversity as a matter of policy. The public school system has become an entry point into the juvenile justice system, in particular for youth of color. It says this ‘school to prison pipeline’ is fed by “historical inequities, such as segregated education, concentrated poverty, and racial disparities in law enforcement. Racial disparities exist in suspension, expulsion and arrest rates in school which contribute to disproportionately high dropout rates and referrals to the justice system.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Perturbing the Judiciary? Hurting the Country’s Image? Shame on You!

By William Fisher

By now, most of us have heard the sickening story of the “Girl of Qatif” – the 20-year-old Saudi woman who was gang-raped at knifepoint by seven men and then sentenced to jail time and 200 lashes because she was alone in a car with a male who was not a relative.

Her plight has now become well known through extensive worldwide media coverage. The “Girl of Qatif” – her hometown – is only one of hundreds of others we’ll never hear about. She has become the poster child for much of what we in the West find incomprehensible about the way many Islamic countries define the “rule of law.”

But there is another victim here: The rape victim’s lawyer, a 36-year old named Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem. As if to magnify its incomprehensible sentence, the Saudi court has revoked his license because of "belligerent behavior, talking to the media for the purpose of perturbing the judiciary, and hurting the country's image." He faces a disciplinary hearing tomorrow, December 5, to determine the length of his suspension.

The victims in this bizarre case were originally sentenced to 90 lashes and the rapists were sentenced to between 10 months and five years in prison. Doing what we would expect any good defense lawyer to do, Lahem appealed the sentences. He asked for harsher sentences for the rapists and called the ruling against his client unjust. The court obliged by increasing the sentences of the two victims to six months in prison and 200 lashes, and nearly doubling the rapists’ sentences. The court told the woman her punishment was increased because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."

Lest we forget, Saudi Arabia is one of America’s best buddies. It’s the place where we buy much of the oil we import. And, as President Bush incessantly reminds us, it’s a staunch ally in the “Global War on Terror.”

But here we have another kind of terror: Terror in the Courtroom. It is a kind of terror that violates the most basic tenets of what America is supposed to stand for: the rule of law. It is a terror that springs from the Saudi Kingdom’s strict Wahhabe interpretation of Islamic, or Sharia, law.

This is not to say that American jurisprudence should be the model for the entire world. Our justice system is replete with gross miscarriages, witness our despicable performance at Guantanamo Bay, our courts’ frequent failures to appoint competent lawyers to represent poor defendants, our Kafkaesque sentencing guidelines, and the reluctance of too many of our judges to report prosecutorial misconduct to their state bar associations.

But, though it is not altogether unknown, our judges don’t often go after defense lawyers simply for being tenacious. They applaud them. They and we believe a robust defense is at the very heart of our adversarial system of justice.

Our judges expect defense lawyers to be "belligerent” – while respectful of the court. They may not like it, but they expect lawyers to talk to the media. And they expect to be “perturbed.” For most judges, this is water off a duck’s back. It goes with the territory.

And as for these kinds of issues damaging the country’s image, we have to wonder what could be more damaging than meting out a jail sentence and 200 lashes to a rape victim.

Monday, December 03, 2007


By William Fisher

In the aftermath of the Annapolis peace conference, foreign policy analysts and human rights advocates are finding considerable irony in Israel’s Arab neighbors pressing for freedom for Palestinians while their own citizens continue carry a heavy burden of unrelenting political repression.

Most of those representing Middle East and North African nations at the conference appear to endorse the idea of a “two-state solution” to the decades-old conflict: a separate and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

But Arab delegates to Annapolis -- including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen – have had little to say about the nature of the state that may emerge from negotiations set to begin soon between Israel and the Palestinians.

Critics of Israel’s neighbors point out that, with a few exceptions, the governments of these countries are unelected, authoritarian, often corrupt, and willing to use any means to stifle dissent. In most of these countries, a free press has been silenced, journalists and bloggers jailed, peaceful demonstrations disrupted by police and participants beaten and arrested, political parties effectively banned, elections rigged or non-existent, and citizens detained by security authorities without charges or lawyers and often tortured or simply “disappeared.”

Many of these observers see the absence of press freedom as emblematic of a broader freedom deficit in most of the Arab countries represented at Annapolis. In most Middle East and North African states, both the media and its messages are state-controlled. Many are state-owned. All have extensive and expensive programs designed to block satellite television and a wide range of Internet websites.

Critics point to Egypt and Saudi Arabia as among the worst offenders. Both countries are seen as close allies of the U.S. The Saudi Kingdom is the source of much of the oil consumed by Americans. And Egypt is second only to Israel in the amount of U.S. aid it receives each year – its reward for making peace with Israel in 1979.

In Egypt – which has lived under draconian “emergency laws” for more than 25 years – President Hosni Mubarak promised in 2006 a long-delayed press law reform designed to give journalists more freedom by decriminalizing media offences. But, according to Reporters Without Borders (FWB), a journalism advocacy organization, the new law “turned out to be just a show.” It says, “The media were quickly disillusioned by the many restrictions on their activities contained in the amendments to it. At least seven journalists were arrested during the year and dozens threatened or physically attacked.”

The group says Egyptian journalists “can now be jailed for up to five years for ‘publishing false news’, defaming the president or foreign heads of state or ‘undermining national institutions’ such as parliament and the armed forces.”
TV and print journalists attempting to cover public events are routinely harassed, arrested, threatened or beaten.

The Mubarak regime also continues its crackdown on Internet freedom. Hundreds of websites have been blocked, and at least seven cyber-dissidents jailed. The courts ruled that authorities could block, suspend or shut down websites considered a threat to “national security.” A number of bloggers have been jailed. One was detained for posting criticism of Islam and is still in prison. Another was jailed for four years after he used his weblog to criticize the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university, and President Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

Saudi Arabia also remains high on the list of countries that have aggressively cracked down on press freedom. The Saudi regime maintains very tight control of all news and self-censorship is pervasive. According to RWB, “Enterprising journalists pay dearly for the slightest criticism of the authorities or the policies of ‘brother Arab’ countries. The tame local media content means most Saudis get their news and information from foreign TV stations and the Internet.”

The Al-Jazeera TV channel is banned and was not allowed to cover the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for the fifth consecutive year. Like Egypt, Saudi Arabia also blocks more than a thousand Internet websites.

Two journalists were dismissed for going beyond the limits set by the
dominant ultra-conservative religious authorities. A writer for a government
daily, Arab News, was dismissed for writing about the atrocities perpetrated by Indonesia,a Muslim country, during its 1975-99 occupation of East Timor. The
editor of another government daily, Al Watan, was forced to resign as the paper’s editor after reporting that US troops were using the country’s military bases. The privately-owned daily Shams was closed for a month and its editor dismissed
for reprinting some of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed first carried by a
Danish paper in 2005.

Blogs are also becoming a growing problem for Saudi censors, who maintain a “blacklist” said to contain hundreds of personal websites. In 2005,
authorities tried to completely bar access to the country’s main blog-tool,, but gave up after only a few days because of the ubiquity of the blogosphere. Today, government censors blogs they object to.

In the Reporters Without Borders annual survey of press freedom, Egypt
ranked 146th and Saudi Arabia 147th, out of a total of 169 countries worldwide.
Israel, including the occupied territories, ranked 44th.

Human rights groups have also been highly critical of Middle Eastern and
North African governments for imposing press restrictions, as well as for
other numerous and widespread human rights abuses.

Looking forward to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations emerging from the
Annapolis conference, Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA is urging both
sides to respect the basic human rights of the other. She told us, “The parties should agree to the deployment of international human rights monitors in Israel
and the Occupied Territories, with a mandate to monitor and report publicly on compliance and on violations by either party of their commitments under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

But given the consistently flawed human rights records of Israel’s neighbors, critics wonder how eager any of the Annapolis delegates will be to endorse this proposal.

This is the question raised by the Egyptian-born journalist and lecturer
Mona Eltahawi, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the American University
in Cairo,who has lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

She told us, “When I was a Jerusalem-based Reuters correspondent in 1998, many Palestinians would tell me they wanted a future Palestinian state to be like Israel. They meant an open and democratic country. I thought it was ironic that their ‘role model’ state was the one occupying them.”

Ms. Eltahawy, who is a contributor to the Washington Post’s “On Faith” series, charged that the late Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian officials “modeled a nascent Palestinian state on Egypt, Jordan and other repressive Arab neighbors. Arafat introduced military trials and Palestinians were horrified to discover that the Palestinian Authority, and not just Israel, also detained and tortured Palestinians with often little reason. I would hear from Palestinians that it was worse for them when their fellow Palestinians were the ones doing the torture.”

She added, “After years of struggle and sacrifice for Palestine, Palestinians deserve a free and democratic state. I hope they insist it be nothing like the Arab states that have fought several wars with Israel ostensibly in the name of such a Palestinian state.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


By William Fisher

I’m shocked! No, outraged!

Ann Coulter, the extreme right-wing motormouth who insults everyone left of Ghengis Kahn, is being harassed.

A greeting card delivered to her home that read, “You self-aggrandizing sociopath! The only thing left after a nuclear war are you and cockroaches.” A phone message saying, “Hey, Ann, now that you’ve moved to Florida and you’re in your 40s, did you know that you can join the Florida National Guard? You love war until you have to put your own a** on the line. I don’t call that patriotism. I call it cowardice.”

And more. You get the idea.

So upset by all this was the Goddess with the flaxen hair that she’s had the local property appraiser remove the address of her $1.2 million home in Palm Beach, Florida, from public records.

According to that fount of scholarly discourse, Newsmax, Coulter’s is one of 2,674 properties in Palm Beach County whose owners are confidential in property appraiser records. Homeowners seeking anonymity must submit an affidavit stating why they believe they require it. Exemptions are made for people in occupations that could make them targets — including police officers, judges, prosecutors, and child abuse investigators — and for victims of domestic violence, stalking, or harassment.

I guess “harassment” would be Annie’s beef.

Oh, the shame of it all! To think that such things could happen in a country that so values reason and civil discourse! Whose politics are steeped in the laudable tradition of listening respectfully to views not our own, of making that special effort to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Surely, there can be no more perfect poster child for our devotion to these values than Annie-Get-Your-Gun Coulter. No better example of reason on steroids.

One has only to quickly peruse the titles of Annie’s books to confirm her dedication to walking the high road: "If Democrats Had Any Brains They'd Be Republicans,” “Godless: The Church of Liberalism,” “Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism,” “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).”

Or read some of the quotes from her recent columns and speeches:

On Jews: "We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say." --arguing that it would be better if we were all Christian.”

On terrorists: Or, in responding to terrorists "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

On women: "I think [women] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote. No, they all have to give up their vote, not just, you know, the lady clapping and me. The problem with women voting -- and your Communists will back me up on this -- is that, you know, women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it. And when they take these polls, it's always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care."

On Liberals: "With their infernal racial set-asides, racial quotas, and race norming, liberals share many of the Klan's premises. The Klan sees the world in terms of race and ethnicity. So do liberals! Indeed, liberals and white supremacists are the only people left in America who are neurotically obsessed with race….”

On John Edwards: “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.”

Predictably, I don’t agree with Ms. C. all that often. And my guess is that she wouldn’t agree with too many of my views either. Except one: The free speech part of the Constitution.

Because without it, she wouldn’t be living in a confidential Palm Beach mansion.

Monday, November 26, 2007


By William Fisher

Civil liberatarians are worried that a little-known anti-terrorism bill now making its way through Congress with virtually no debate could be planting the seeds of another USA Patriot Act, which was hurriedly enacted into law after the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001.

The “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act,” co-authored by the former chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Jane Harmon (D-California), passed the House by an overwhelming 400-6 vote last month, and will soon be considered by the Senate.

The bill’s co-author is Congressman David Reichert (R-Washington). The Senate version is under construction by Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is chaired by the hawkish Connecticut independent, Sen. Joe Lieberman. Harmon is chair of the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee.

Civil liberties groups including the American Civil Liberties Uinion (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) say the measure could herald a new government crackdown on dissident activity and infiltration of universities under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The CCR’s Kamau Franklin, a Racial Justice Fellow, told IPS, “This measure looks benign enough, but we should be concerned about where it will lead. It may well result in recommendations for new laws that criminalize radical thought and peaceful dissent, posing as academic study.”

Franklin added, “Crimes such as conspiracy or incitement to violence are already covered by both State and Federal statute. There is no need for additional criminal laws.”

He speculated that Congress “may want to get this measure passed and signed into law to head off peaceful demonstrations” at the upcoming Republican and Demoncratic Party conventions. “And no Congress person of either political party wants to vote against this bill and get labelled as being soft on terrorism.”

Harman’s bill would convene a 10-member national commission to study
“violent radicalization” (defined as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change”);and “homegrown terrorism” (defined as “the use, planned use, or threatened, use of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States […] to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”).

The bill also directs the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to designate a “center of excellence,” a university-based research center where academics, policy-makers, members of the private sector and other stakeholders can collaborate to better understand and prevent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. Some experts are concerned that politics will unduly influence which institution DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will designate.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Chertoff was head of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ), and played a key role in implementing the Department’s roundup of hundreds of Muslims who were detained without charge, frequently abused, and denied access to legal counsel.

Critics of Harmon’s bill point out that Commission members would all be appointed by a high-ranking elected official. Those making these appointments would include the President, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Speaker and ranking member of the House, the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate, and senior members of the House and Senate committees overseeing homeland security.

Critics also fear that the bill’s definitions of “extremism” and “terrorism” are too vague, its mandate too broad, and government-appointed commissions could be used as ideological cover to push through harsher laws.

Congressional sponsors of the bill claim it is limited in scope. "Though not a silver bullet, the legislation will help the nation develop a better understanding of the forces that lead to homegrown terrorism, and the steps we can take to stop it,". Harman told Congress.

But the bill's purpose goes beyond academic inquiry. In a Nov. 7 press release, Harman said, "the National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent."

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Commission “will focus in on passing additional federal criminal penalties that are sweeping and inclusive in criminalizing dissent and protest work more surveillance on thought rather than on actions. Further, this bi-partisan attempt can set the ground for an even more acquiescent Congress to Presidential power, never wanting to look weak on terrorism.”

The Commission would be tasked with compiling information about what leads up to violent radicalization, and how to prevent or combat it with the intent to issue a final report with recommendations for both preventative and countermeasures to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence in the United States.

At the end of its 18-month term, it would cede its work to one of the Homeland
Security Department’s university-based Centers of Excellence. The bill also
includes the creation of a new such center -- or the designation of an existing
one --for the study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the
United States.

Implementing the bill would likely cost some $22 million over the 2008-2012 period, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But critics point out that the bill would duplicate work already being done in and out of government. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) already has a domestic terrorism unit; the U.S. intelligence community monitors the homegrown terrorists and overseas networks that might be reaching out to U.S. residents; and many universities and think-tanks are already specializing in studying the subject.

But Harman argues that a national commission on homegrown terrorism could benefit the country in much the same way as the 9/11 Commission, the Silberman/Robb Commission or other high-profile national security inquiries.

The bill defines “violent radicalization” as the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.”

But groups like the CCR are asking, “What is an extremist belief system? The term is left undefined and open to many interpretations -- socialism, anarchism, communism, nationalism, liberalism, etc. -- that would serve to undermine expressions that don’t fit within the allowable areas of debate. A direct action led by any group that blocks traffic can be looked upon as being coercive.”

The bill says the Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization,
ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the U.S. by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related
propaganda to U.S. citizens.”

While civil liberties groups agree that focus on the internet is crucial, they fear it could set up far more intrusive surveillance techniques, without warrants, and the potential to criminalize ideas and not actions could mean penalties for a stance rather than a criminal act.

The bill also uses the term “ideologically-based violence, meaning the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.”

But the CCR and other groups ask, “What is force? Is civil disobedience covered under that, if arrested at a protest rally and charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, or even assault, does that now open you up to possible terrorist charges in the future?”

Rep. Harman emphasizes that the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to protect the constitutional and civil liberties of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. But critics point out that it also “directs the DHS to write its own rules to protect civil rights and puts the Department’s office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in charge of making the rules for the commission and the research center as well as administering the audits.”

Some of the most egregious terrorist attacks in U.S. history have been carried out by American citizens, including the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


By William Fisher

The Bush Administration's legal justification for continuing to hold prisoners without charges at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be back in the U.S. Supreme Court - again - early next month.

And the decision of the nine Justices could bring the entire Bush Administration's detention policy down in flames - or not.

On December 5, the High Court will hear oral arguments in a case known as Boumediene v. Bush and al-Odah v. USA. Boumediene and al-Odah have been held in indefinite executive detention at Guantanamo since 2002 without charge or trial.

Boumediene and al-Odeh are Algerian-born Bosnian citizens who were detained in Bosnia in 2001 on the basis of a diplomatic note delivered by the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo to the Bosnian government. Though the note did not allege any supporting evidence, it asked the Bosnian government to arrest the men because of fears that they were involved in a plan to attack the Embassy. After an extensive investigation yielded no evidence to justify the arrests, the Bosnian Supreme Court ordered the men released for lack of evidence. But they were then immediately arrested and were transferred to Guantánamo.

Their case has been bouncing around the U.S. courts ever since. Earlier this year, after a series of lower court losses, the detainees sought review of their case by the U.S. Supreme Court. In April, the high court declined to review the case. But two months later, in an unusual action taken only three times since the founding of the US, the Supreme Court reversed its own decision, agreeing to hear the case -- the third time the High Court will consider a case concerning the rights of detainees.

The core issue before the Court is whether the Military Commissions Act (MCA), hurriedly pushed through the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2006, violates the U.S. Constitution by stripping the courts of jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus petitions from the Guantánamo detainees.

The government will tell the high court that current law provides "is a fully adequate substitute for habeas corpus in this extraordinary wartime context."

Habeas corpus, or "The Great Writ," is one of the most fundamental protections of individual liberty guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It has its origins in common law dating back to the time of the Magna Carta in 1215, and is a remedy that protects fundamental human rights, including the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, secret detention, arbitrary detention, unlawful transfer, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Several U.S. presidents have suspended this ancient right, including Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War. But it has always been restored by the judicial branch of government.

Embedded in the controversy over the Military Commission Act is the legality of executive bodies known as Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), which were established to determine whether the detainees held at Guantanamo were "properly detained" as "enemy combatants". The CSRTs were authorized by an order from the then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in 2004 -- some two and a half years after detentions began at Guantánamo.

Combat Status Review Tribunals consist of panels of three military officers who can consider any information, including information that is hearsay, classified, or that has been obtained under torture or other ill-treatment, in making their determinations. The detainee, held thousands of miles from home (or any battlefield) and virtually cut off from the outside world, does not have a lawyer or access to any classified evidence used against him. Critics charge that there is a presumption in favor of the government's information presented to the tribunal.

The CSRTs were established following one of the Bush Administration's major legal defeats. In 2004, in a case known as Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. courts had jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of the Guantánamo detainees.

The Bush Administration's prisoner detention policies have suffered a number of other legal setbacks. Arguably the most important case was known as Hamdan v Rumsfeld. In 2004, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the captured and detained former driver for Osama bin Laden, filed suit for a habeas corpus hearing in U.S. court. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hamdan.

The aggregate result of these various legal setbacks is that to date none of the more than 300 detainees still held in Guantánamo has had his detention reviewed in court. None of the over 400 detainees freed from the base to release or further custody in their own or other countries was transferred by judicial order. And there have been no trials of detainees. There has been one "conviction", based on a plea deal by an Australian detainee, who was quickly transferred back to his home country.

The CSRT process has also come in for harsh criticism by an Army reserve officer who served as a member of one such panel. In an affidavit, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Abraham said the process is deeply flawed, relying on vague evidence prepared by poorly trained personnel, and is subject to undue pressure from the military chain of command.

Under the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), passed by Congress in 2005, judicial review of CSRT decisions is limited to a single court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Many in the legal and human rights communities see the upcoming arguments as potentially the first step in restoring one of America's founding tenets -- the rule of law - even to those whose goal might be to destroy the country.

Prof. David Cole of Georgetown University Law Center told IPS, "If our detentions of enemy combatants are ever to be accepted as legitimate by the rest of the world, we must be willing to conform our actions to basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness. Thus far, we have failed."

Cole's view is echoed by Prof. Peter Shane of the University of Ohio Law School. He told IPS, "When President Bush issued his November 2001 'Notice,' which set in motion the military commissions at Guantanamo, the Administration plainly hoped that the approach would provide a rough-and-ready version of 'Adjudication Lite' that, without anyone's interference, could provide the appearance of adhering to the rule of law without treating too fastidiously the rights of Guantanamo detainees."

Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild, expressed a similar opinion. She told IPS that the Supreme Court should "determine that the judicial review of the decisions of CSRTs do not provide an adequate substitute for constitutional habeas corpus."

Brian J. Foley, visiting associate professor at Drexel University College of Law, agrees. He told IPS that the CSRTs serve "no purpose other than to expand executive power. The CSRT simply rubberstamps the executive's earlier decision to imprison and interrogate suspects, by making it practically impossible for a prisoner to prove he is not an 'enemy combatant'."

The overwhelming view of the human rights community was expressed by Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA. She told IPS, "The current system of legal tribunals suggests a lack of independent review, no guarantee of legal counsel, use of secret evidence that may be been obtained through unlawful methods such as torture, and no meaningful way for a defendant to confront the government's case against him. It's a no-win situation."

Some legal observers think there is another factor that might result in a ruling against the government. One source, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to comment on the issue, told IPS, "The Supreme Court has an institutional aversion to being told by Congress or by the President which cases it can consider and which ones it can't. It's in the high court's DNA."