US Refusal To Investigate Torture Lets Other Countries Do It For Us


The Supreme Court's refusal this week to hear the claims of Maher Arar, a Canadian sent to Syria to be interrogated under torture in 2002, is appropriately being condemned as another example of the U.S. avoiding any legal or moral responsibility for government- sanctioned torture.

What seems to shock and outrage people about the Arar case in particular is that the facts are not in dispute. Canada, whose security services were complicit in his rendition to Syria, has publicly acknowledged its responsibility, compensated Arar,and launched a criminal investigation of U.S. and Syrian officials. The United States, on the other hand, has still neither admitted its role nor held any U.S. officials accountable. And, it hasn't paid Arar a dime.

The United States' refusal to acknowledge its role in the torture of terrorism suspects even when faced with overwhelming evidence of U.S. involvement has become an unfortunate pattern. But it's heartening to see that other countries aren't dropping the matter.

On Monday, the European Court of Human Rights announced that it would hear the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen seized by Macedonian authorities at the request of the United States. El-Masri was beaten and abused during interrogations in both Macedonia and the notorious "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan. Authorities unceremoniously dumped him on a roadside in Albania without charging him with any wrongdoing.His case against U.S. officials was dismissed by a federal court on the grounds that it would reveal "state secrets." The Bush and Obama Administrations have both invoked State Secrets to stop the disclosure of evidence that may reveal government misconduct.

And last year, an Italian court convicted 21 alleged CIA operatives and a US air force operator for their role in the kidnapping and rendition to Egypt of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric who was already under surveillance by Italian authorities, who suspected him of having ties to al Qaeda. Omar claims he was held incommunicado and tortured in an Egyptian prison for seven months. He was eventually released without charge.

The Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that it wants to look forward, not backward, and so has refused to examine the role of senior U.S. officials in the torture of terrorism suspects. In adopting that position, the government is reneging on its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which demands both that torturers be held accountable and that victims receive remedies.

Until the U.S. lives up to those responsibilities, its past practices and officers will continue to be scrutinized by foreign governments and justice systems. Those verdicts will cast judgment not only on the past administration's conduct, however. To the extent that foreign governments have to intervene to bring justice to victims of U.S. policies, they will reveal the extent of the United States' current respect for the rule of law as well.


Weekly Pulse: SCOTUS Nominee Kagan a Cipher on Choice

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated solicitor general Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Kagan’s nomination has raised eyebrows among progressives. Despite a long career in legal academia, Kagan has published very little. She seems to have studiously avoided taking a stand on almost any controversial issue. Ruth Conniff of the Progressive calls the Kagan pick “a triumph of the bland.”

“Partial Birth Abortion” ban

As a White House aide, Kagan wrote a memo urging President Bill Clinton to support a ban on so-called “partial birth abortion.” At the time, the House had passed a sweeping late-term abortion ban with no exceptions for the life and health of the mother. Clinton asked Kagan whether he should throw his support behind a more moderate Senate version of the same bill. She recommended a “compromise”—a ban with a maternal health exemption. In the end, Congress passed the extreme version and Clinton vetoed it.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones characterizes the memo as “more indicative of a political strategy than a legal argument.” In other words, Kagan was giving strategic advice to the president about what would be politically feasible, not legal advice about the government’s powers to regulate abortion. Kagan argued that the president should support the “compromise” position even though the Justice Department thought it was unconstitutional, according to Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check.

At TAPPED, Monica Potts argues that the memo gives us little indication of how Kagan would vote on abortion as a justice.

No Harriet Miers

There’s no question that Kagan is possessed of a formidable intellect. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones quotes one of her former law school students, Elie Mystal, sharing his experience with Kagan on the blog Above the Law:

Like Frodo on Weathertop, there are some wounds that never fully heal. Professor Kagan massacred me intellectually, and brutalized my pride. I got some form of a B in her class (I honestly don’t remember if there was a modifier — I’ve tried to suppress those memories). Kagan was a frightening professor for those who wanted to match wits with the brightest legal minds in the world. For people like me, people who just wanted to get through law school with minimal mental damage, Kagan was nothing short of terrifying.

That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.

Kagan has never been a judge, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker in itself. As Steve Benen points out at the Washington Monthly, over a third of the 111 justices of the Supreme Court have had no previous judging experience.

A missed opportunity

Scott Lemieux argues in the American Prospect that Obama is wasting a rare political opportunity to confirm a more liberal justice. Right now, the Democrats still have a sizable, though not filibuster-proof, majority in the Senate. Lemieux argues that Obama is almost certain to get another Supreme Court pick before the end of his term. Then again, he points out, the Democrats are likely to lose Senate seats in the midterm elections.

If Obama were ever going to get a strong liberal on the bench, this would have been the time. No date has been set for a confirmation hearing. Kagan is in Washington today, courting lawmakers.

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What Do Hamid Karzai, Lindsey Graham, and the Stock Market Have in Common? (And Some Great WV Elections!)

I haven't put out a diary in awhile, and therefore it makes me sad.  So in celebration of the end of my hiatus amongst the blogosphere, I have a diary of quality substance with several different stories chocked into one...hopefully.

Anyway, to answer the question posed by the title of this diary now.  What Do Hamid Karzai, Lindsey Graham, and the Stock Market all have in common?  If you answered that they were all mentioned by the media as potential SCOTUS nominees, you may partially be correct... but not for the context of this diary.  Though this title doesn't really pertain to the actual substance of the diary, I just wanted to point out that all three are incredibly moody.  I wish to see the day where Karzai and Graham both have Facebook and update their statuses with how great their day went, then 10 minutes later put up an emo status about how much their lives suck and how they really don't think its time to push that climate bill or "I'll just haul myself over to Taliban HQ and see what America thinks of THAT!"

Okay....  so now for real substance, sorry I just figured some lame comic-relief was needed.

Election day is today in West Virginia and I personally can't wait.  I will cast my vote, and not reveal who it is I am voting for.  The first Congressional district is up for grabs and it should indeed be an exciting race!  State Senator Michael Oliverio is up for the Democratic Party's nomination, against incumbent virtuoso Alan Mollohan (D-WV). I haven't found any recent reliable polls so the race is pretty up in the air.  The winner of this primary challenge will face the winner of a slew of Republican candidates.

In West Virginia's 1st Congressional District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., faces state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, for the Democratic nomination to the seat. The nominee will face the winner of the Republican primary in the Nov. 2 general election. The six GOP hopefuls include Cindy Hall, Patricia VanGilder Levenson and David B. McKinley of Wheeling, Sarah Minear and Mac Warner of Morgantown and Thomas Stark of Parkersburg.

Source:  Wheeling Intelligencer

In my opinion, I think the district will stay blue regardless however it will be a battle.  

Not in the national spotlight but still an awesome story, is a race in the West Virginia House of Delegates.  David Eplin, a Democrat from Logan County, set out in a unique way to file his candidacy for House of Delegates.

When David Eplin traveled from Logan County to Charleston to file paperwork at the secretary of state's office this week, he took the typical route: U.S. 119.  But the 23-year-old says he trekked the 40-some miles by foot.

Eplin, a Chapmanville resident, is running for a seat in the House of Delegates 19th District. The Democrat works as a warehouseman at the Pepsi Bottling Group in Logan.

He wanted to prove his dedication to potential constituents, he said. So he walked -- and sometimes ran -- to the Capitol.

Source:  Charleston Gazette

A unique, and dedicated, way to file your candidacy and show the voters of your district that you care about them and want to serve them well.  This should come as now surprise, the citizens of West Virginia are among the most caring and thoughtful individuals this state has to offer.  Election day is going to be an exciting day, and I look forward to bringing a full report once results come in.


The Elena Kagan Reader

With the President presumably set to nominate Elena Kagan, the current Solicitor General and former Dean of Harvard Law School, to Supreme Court here are a number of articles, negative as well as positive or neutral, that I've read over the past few days.

Glenn Greenwald in Salon argues against the nomination of Elena Kagan in his post entitled The Case against Elena Kagan. His key observation:

The prospect that Stevens will be replaced by Elena Kagan has led to the growing perception that Barack Obama will actually take a Supreme Court dominated by Justices Scalia (Reagan), Thomas (Bush 41), Roberts (Bush 43), Alito (Bush 43) and Kennedy (Reagan) and move it further to the Right. Joe Lieberman went on Fox News this weekend to celebrate the prospect that "President Obama may nominate someone in fact who makes the Court slightly less liberal," while The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus predicted: "The court that convenes on the first Monday in October is apt to be more conservative than the one we have now." Last Friday, I made the same argument: that replacing Stevens with Kagan risks moving the Court to the Right, perhaps substantially to the Right (by "the Right," I mean: closer to the Bush/Cheney vision of Government and the Thomas/Scalia approach to executive power and law).

University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos writing in the New Republic bemoans that Kagan is essentially a blank slate whose legal views remain largely unknown and should the President nominate her he would be "taking a very big risk."

Another critical piece is by Harvey Silvergate and Kyle Smeallie in the alternative news weekly The Boston Phoenix who find that "Kagan’s record indicates an ideological departure from Justice Stevens, who authored watershed detainee-rights opinions and organized the five-justice majorities that struck down other Bush administration power grab." They examine Kagan's tenure as Solicitor General and conclude:

Ultimately, Kagan leaves us with more questions than answers. That fact alone should give pause to liberals and civil libertarians, wary after eight years of the Bush administration’s detaining suspects without trial, wiretapping citizens without warrant, and interrogating detainees without regard to international-war conventions. And the unavoidable reality is that Obama has quietly — and sometimes not so quietly — continued some of Bush’s most controversial assertions of executive power. Earlier this month, the Obama administration authorized the targeted killing of a US citizen — entirely without due process or, it appears, any process either legislative or judicial — who is thought to be assisting terrorists in Yemen. President Bush never invoked such authority, the New York Times reported.

Whether life begins at conception, or whether gay citizens are entitled to the equal protection of the law — issues on which Kagan’s views are clear and well-known — will likely be the focus of scrutiny in the event Kagan is nominated. It’s too bad that this dog-and-pony show will detract from the real question that needs to be asked — namely, whether Kagan thinks executive authority trumps liberty and individual rights when they conflict in either the national security or law-enforcement arenas.

More supportive is Duke Law professor Walter Dellinger who wrote in a rebuttal to Greenwald's complaints arguing that Kagan's "views are fundamentally progressive." Still, one of Dellinger's readers flatly accused him of being misleading posting a long rebuttal. It should be noted that Dellinger and Kagan worked together in the Clinton White House. Campos, too, found Dellinger's evidence for Kagan's progressive values to be scant:

The sum total of Dellinger’s evidence consists of the “Presidential Administration” article and a 2007 commencement speech in which Kagan criticized John Yoo’s torture memos. Given the uncontroversial nature of the Harvard Law Review article and the fact that the torture memos have been repudiated by the Bush administration’s own lawyers, this is pretty thin evidence for Kagan’s supposedly “progressive” inclinations.

There's more...

NBC News: Elena Kagan Tapped for Supreme Court

Minutes ago on MSNBC, Pete Williams reported that Barack Obama has selected Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the United States Supreme Court. If confirmed, Kagan would be just the fourth ever woman to serve on the high court. More as we hear it...

UPDATE by desmoinesdem: The Above the Law blog saw several "clues" over the last few days that the president would pick Kagan.

Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald laid out a devastating case against Kagan last month, and he supplemented that on Sunday with more links and commentary.

[UPDATE by Jonathan]: A couple quick points I'd like to hit on:


  1. Some might hit Kagan for not having prior judicial experience. It's worth noting, however, that more than a third of Supreme Court Justices in history (38 of 111) have come to the high court without any prior judicial experience. It is also worth noting that Kagan would have come to the court with such experience had Senate Republicans not blocked her confirmation to a lower court more than a decade ago.


  2. Some say that Kagan doesn't have a paper trail, or that she hasn't written anything monumental. I haven't read everything she has written, but I do know that her seminal administrative law article, which was named the year's best article by the American Bar Association’s Section on Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, is taught in law schools.

More thoughts later...


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