Extremists and history

Last week I caught a snippet of news about a state legislator in Oklahoma who wanted to redo the Advance Placement History syllabus to emphasize the speeches of Ronald Reagan.  I gather he was also not interested in any multicultural aspects of our history.  And he also didn’t understand that changing AP history would keep students from getting college credit for the class – one of the reasons kids take AP classes.  According to CNN, Oklahoma is only one state that doesn’t like the new framework for history under the Common Core.  I don’t think that everyone will ever agree on what should be included in our history class.  For example, the internment of the Japanese Americans into camps during World War II was never taught in my high school history class.  I took care of that by doing a report on my grandparents.  History is such a huge subject and these classes are designed to touch on a few highlights.  And a framework is just that, a framework.  Students and teachers can hang a lot of information within that framework.

What frightens me is that some of the same people who think they know better than historians what should be taught in high school history are the same people who are also religious fundamentalists.  Many in our fundamentalist Christian movement want to make Christianity the state religion.  Forget that the U.S. Constitution prohibits establishment of a state religion. These folks like to carry around pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, but I don’t think they have actually read it.  Will their next fight be to teach only about Christianity and not other religions and cultures?


There is sickening news out of Iraq and Syria.  This is the part of the world that we learned about in world history class as the “Cradle of Civilization”.  Yes, it was mostly Western Civ, but the Mesopotamian influence was far-reaching.  I was watching MSNBC when they ran the video of men taking sledge hammers and drills to 7th century B.C. statues destroying them forever.  The New York Times wrote this

The limestone sculptures, statues and reliefs smashed by militants in northern Iraq provided valuable historical insights into kingdoms that flourished thousands of years ago and were crucial in the formation of early Arab identity, experts say. The destruction took place in Mosul, in one of the most important museums in the Middle East.

On Friday, archaeologists and historians in Iraq and around the world studied a video posted by the Islamic State showing millenniums-old artifacts being smashed by sledgehammers, seeking to come to terms with what artistic and historical riches had been lost in an exercise clearly meant to promote the militants’ extreme beliefs and project their power.

As with all news programs and video, the pictures ran again and again.  I could only watch once.

The World Post (from the Huffington Post) quotes one of the destroyers

The region under IS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites and the militants appear to be out to cleanse it of any non-Islamic ideas, including library books, archaeological relics, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous.

“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” a bearded man tells the camera as he stands in front of the partially demolished winged-bull.

“The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices,” he added, referring to groups that that left their mark on Mesopotamia for more than 5,000 years in what is now Iraq, eastern Syria and southern Turkey.

“Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations,” the man in the video adds. The video bore the logo of the IS group’s media arm and was posted on a Twitter account used by the group.

But this is only the most recent destruction of history.

In January, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul, smashing the locks and taking around 2,000 books — leaving only Islamic texts. Days later, militants broke into University of Mosul’s library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.

The day after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops in April 2003, looters burst into the Iraqi National Museum in the Iraqi capital, making off with scores of priceless artifacts and leaving the floor littered with shattered pottery. The U.S. was widely criticized at the time for failing to protect the site.

Yes, we are also complicit in failing to protect world heritage.

But it is the ransacking of the library and the burning of the books that leads me to a comparison to the fundamentalist Christians in this country.  They have in common with ISIS a tunnel vision that allow only for one point of view.  One religion.  One way of thinking.  It seems to me that all fundamentalists have a common root:  To destroy that which is other or different.  I am not comparing that Oklahoma legislator to an ISIS terrorist, let me be clear about that.  What I am saying is that while the manifestation of their beliefs may be different, they share a desire to make everyone adhere to what they know is best.  It is done through terror and killing in Syria, Iraq, and Africa and stupid legislation in the United States, but the end goals seem to me to be the same.

Photograph:  AP

Dean Smith and Carolina basketball

My mother, Marii Hasegawa, loved Atlantic Coast Basketball, but she really loved the Tar Heels the best.  Even after my sister got her Masters degree from Duke, my mother refused to root for them when they played North Carolina.  I have only been to one Final Four, but it was in 1982 and I got to see North Carolina win it all.

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

My mother was happy; my aunt who favored Georgetown, was not.

Richard Goldstein writing the obituary in the New York Times points out that while Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach he should be remembered for a great deal more.

Smith’s 879 victories rank him No. 4 among major college men’s basketball coaches, and his teams won two national championships. He turned out a host of all-Americans, most notably Michael Jordan, perhaps basketball’s greatest player, but he emphasized unselfish team play. He was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a four-time national coach of the year.

Like most successful coaches, Smith was adept at diagraming plays on a blackboard. But unlike many, he ran a program that was never accused of N.C.A.A. violations, and some 97 percent of his players graduated.

President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in November 2013, presenting it to his wife, Linnea, who represented him at a White House ceremony.

In addition to citing Smith’s achievements on the court, Mr. Obama praised his “courage in helping to change our country” through his progressive views on race relations.

He drew on a moral code implanted by his parents in Depression-era Kansas to break racial barriers in a changing South. He challenged segregation and recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first starring black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“My father said, ‘Value each human being,’ ” Smith recalled in “A Coach’s Life” (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. “Racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

Smith’s parents instilled a sense of racial tolerance in him, in a highly segregated state, long before the modern civil rights movement. His father [a high school basketball coach] put a black player named Paul Terry on his 1933-34 team, which won the state championship, though Terry was barred from playing in the state tournament by Kansas sports officials.

I remember hearing a lot of players say they made decisions well into adulthood only after consulting with Coach Smith.  I remember when Michael Jordan wanted to leave UNC early some of the announcers saying that Jordan was leaving only after promising his mother and Coach Smith he would get his degree.  He did.

The Charlotte Observer has this anecdote.

Smith the innovator also was Smith the motivator. But he didn’t give rah-rah pep talks. He typically explained what they needed to do to win and the significance of the moment.

Once at Maryland, however, he did promise to sing “Amen” – the Terps’ late-game theme song – if the Tar Heels beat Lefty Driesell’s club. Carolina won and Smith fulfilled his vocal promise, but according to reports, he would not have won the “American Idol” title.

“He was not much as a singer,’’ recalled guard Ged Doughton.

Many will write about Dean Smith’s contributions to the game of basketball.  For example, his “Four Corners” offense made the shot clock necessary.  But I want to remember him for his views off the court also.  In an article from 2013, Barry Jacobs wrote

Smith was periodically approached about running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina as a Democrat. But the publicity-shy coach disdained the glad-handing involved in soliciting votes and raising money. Besides, he said, “I’d never get elected if people in North Carolina realized how liberal I am.”

He was probably right. Over the years Smith spoke in favor of a nuclear freeze and for gay rights. He opposed capital punishment. He joined a Chapel Hill street protest against the war in Vietnam. When President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 1991, Smith asked: “Why can’t the United States band together for some other good thing like (fighting) poverty? If you want to kill somebody, then everybody’s for it.”

 My mother loved Carolina basketball and she admired Dean Smith.  If they had ever met I think they would have had a lot to say to each other.

Photograph:  Pete Leabo/Associated Press


Ryan’s Budget and the 2012 Election

 Dan Wasserman sums up the Ryan Budget.


President Obama called the Ryan Budget “Social Darwinism” quoting that wise Republican, Newt Gingrich.  Mitt Romney called it “marvelous”.  Paul Krugman calls it “Pink Slime Economics”

Here is Krugman

And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit — but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.

And we’re talking about a lot of loophole-closing. As Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That’s a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close?

None. Not one. He has, however, categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefits the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital. (That’s the loophole that lets Mitt Romney pay only 14 percent of his income in taxes, a lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families.)

This budget fight and the election to come are about what we want the country to be.  The Republicans have that much right.  Will we become a country with the rich hiding in gated communities and getting richer or will we a a country where everyone has a chance to succeed, where the less fortunate get help, and where there is a robust middle class?  Democracies thrive in countries with an educated middle class.  Look at the driving forces behind the Arab Spring.  The choices this election will be clear. 

The budget fight is also about whether or not a deficit is important right now.  Yes, we can’t continue to grow the deficit indefinitely, but it seems to this non-economist, that the way to deal with the deficit is not through draconian cuts to the domestic budget, but spend on things that result in jobs.  When people work they pay taxes and the deficit can begin to come down.  But cutting food stamps, unemployment insurance, job retaining programs, aid to education, are all key to growing jobs or helping those who can’t find them.

Andrew Rosenthal put it better in today’s New York Times.

He ticked off some of the budget’s most near-sighted assaults: financial aid cuts to nearly 10 million college students; 1,600 fewer medical grants; 4,000 fewer scientific research grants. Starting in 2014, it would cut around 200,000 children from the Head Start program and 2 million mothers and their young children from a food assistance program. “We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food that we eat,” he said.

Medicaid would be gutted, Medicare would be turned into a voucher program – but the Republicans would still cut taxes by $4.6 trillion over the next decade. The cuts, as usual, would mostly benefit the wealthy.

Mr. Obama noted that the stated purpose of the Republican budget is to reduce the federal budget deficit, but he called it a Trojan horse and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” The real purpose is to cripple government. And he said, because it guts “the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last – education and training, research and development, our infrastructure – it is a prescription for decline.”

The Republican response to Mr. Obama – that the nation is in a debt crisis and the president doesn’t get it – just made his point for him. We don’t have a debt crisis. We have a medium- to long-term budget problem, driven largely by rising health costs combined with an aging population. Health care reform is an honest attempt to deal with that. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire, starting with the high-end ones, would be an honest attempt to deal with that. Then there’s our lack of jobs, lack of income growth, diminishing prospects and dwindling opportunities.

And we shouldn’t forget that George W. Bush told us we didn’t need to raise taxes to pay for the war in Iraq because it would pay for itself through oil revenue.  He cut taxes for the 1% instead and created a deficit.  This probably wouldn’t have been so catastrophic except that the economy collapsed in 2008.  Here is a link to a nice chart.

So the Ryan Budget will be at the heart of the election this fall – especially if Paul Ryan is Romney’s VP.  It will be interesting.


Obama’s Holiday Scorecard

I may be stretching the “holiday” a bit, but since Congress is still on vacation, I will use the term to talk about my tally of his most recent almost 10 days.

First, the pluses.  The recess appointments, the cuts to the defense budget and his continuing feisty attitude.  The negative is the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The negative first.  Alexander Cockburn’s analysis in the Nation is the best I’ve seen.  He explains

The change came with the whisper of Barack Obama’s pen, as he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual ratification of military Keynesianism—$662 billion this time—which has been our national policy since World War II bailed out the New Deal.

Sacrificial offerings to the Pentagon aren’t news. But this time, snugly ensconced in the NDAA came ratification by legal statute of the exposure of US citizens to arbitrary arrest without subsequent benefit of counsel, and to possible torture and imprisonment sine die. Goodbye, habeas corpus.

We’re talking here about citizens within the borders of the United States, not sitting in a hotel or out driving in some foreign land. In the latter case, as the late Anwar al-Awlaki’s incineration in Yemen bore witness a few months ago, the well-being or summary demise of a US citizen is contingent upon a secret determination of the president as to whether the aforementioned citizen is waging a war of terror on the United States. If the answer is in the affirmative, the citizen can be killed on the president’s say-so without further ado.

This is the latest disappointment on civil liberties.  I had such high hopes for a reversal of the Bush II trend after we elected a Constitutional expert.  In the sum, Obama has been almost worse.  ratifying decisions made by W and going further.


The President at Shaker Height HS

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)


On the positive side, the New York Times says

On Wednesday, after waiting until the dust in Iowa had settled, clearing out space in newspapers and on television, Mr. Obama delivered another jab, announcing four recess appointments, including that of Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection agency, despite Republican opposition. On Thursday, the president went to the Pentagon and outlined a new military strategy that embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to what is a Republican sacred cow, and made it clear that American ground forces would no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cuts in the defense budget are a welcome change.  I have thought since the days when I demonstrated at the Pentagon against the War in Vietnam.  Let’s face it, the last 3 groundwars we have engaged in have been disasters.  Maybe the Bush I war to repel Iraq from the invasion os Kuwait can be counted as a success. But Bush 1 knew when to stop.

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)
In an unusual appearance at the Pentagon briefing room on Thursday, Mr. Obama outlined a new national defense strategy driven by three realities: the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran.

A fourth reality, not mentioned in the briefing room, was Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign and the chorus of Republican presidential candidates who have sought to portray him as decimating the Pentagon budget and being weak in his response to Iran.

Mr. Obama, who spoke surrounded by a tableau of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in dress uniforms and with chests full of medals, underscored the national security successes of his administration — the ending of the Iraq war, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya — before declaring that the United States would downsize to a smaller ground force, get rid of “outdated cold war-era systems” and step up investments in intelligence-gathering and cyberwarfare.

The new strategy document finally defines away the Defense Department’s historic requirement to have the ability to fight and win two wars at once — a measure that one official said “has been on life-support for years.”

The strategy released under Mr. Obama in 2010 said the military was responsible for “maintaining the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors.”

In contrast, the strategy released Thursday said the military must be able to fight one war, but is responsible only for “denying the objectives of — or imposing unacceptable costs on — an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”

Senior Pentagon officials said that viewing military requirements through something as static as the two-war model had become outdated, and that the true measurement was whether the Pentagon could field a force capable of carrying out a wide range of military actions to protect the nation’s interests.

Pentagon officials made it clear that the department’s priorities in coming years would be financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

I have never agreed with 100% of what any politician does, but this scorecard isn’t bad.  It will be interesting to see what the impact of all this is on the President’s re-election.


Leaving Afghanistan

Last night, President Obama announced that 10,000 American soldiers will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year with about 20,00 more gone by the end of next summer.  This leaves about 70,000.  These will in the President’s own words,  “…continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. ”  OK then.  But why wait until 2014?  Do we expect things to be any different by then?  Or are our troops in Afghanistan there to stabilize the border with Pakistan?  Can’t really tell.

Soldiers watch Obama's speech from Afghanistan.

           (AP Photo of Soldiers in Afghanistan watching the speech)

According to my rudimentary math, we are going to take a year to move out 30,000 soldiers and it appears that the President’s “steady pace” is 30,000 a year. (70,000 over 30 months.)  I think the Russians left faster but they were on the same continent and I think we can say they were in retreat while we are claiming, if not victory, than mission accomplished. 

Here is link to a graphic from the New York Times about troop levels.

Meanwhile it looks as if we will be working on a political solution.  An excellent idea, but why are we waiting until next May to “shape the next phase of this transition”?  Is NATO too busy?  Maybe bombing Libya.?

If Afghanistan is the “good” fight, we still have about 47,000 troops in Iraq, the “bad war”.  They are all coming home beginning this summer.  According to this story in the Huffington Post

The United States has been in Iraq since 2003, and there are currently about 47,000 U.S. troops still in the country. Withdrawal, set to seriously go into effect by late summer, involves not only removing U.S. forces, but also pulling 63,000 contractors, closing 100 bases and getting rid of one million pieces of equipment.

This is supposed to happen by the end of this year.  I point this out in part to show that withdrawing more that 30,000 troops a year is logistically possible and in part to provide some good news.

Almost everyone seems to want us to stop fighting in the entire region (the Middle East and Northern Africa).  Even the United States Conference of Mayors wants money spent on our own infrastructure and deficit reduction.  And my only quarrel with the President is timing.

I think no one will be happy with this speech.  Those that want us to stay and fight will be unhappy that we are actually starting to leave.  Those that want us to leave will be unhappy with the pace of withdrawal.  And those of us who want to use the money elsewhere will find that we are still going to be spending money in Afghanistan for a long time to come.

As Eugene Robinson said

I doubt the speech will please either hawks or doves. From his frankly uninspiring, let’s-all-eat-our-peas delivery, I have to doubt whether the president even pleased himself.

Gordon Brown, Tory Madrasas, and the British Elections

I listen to BBC radio sometimes at night before I go to sleep and was surprised a couple of days ago to hear story that Gordon Brown and the Labour party may actually do well in the upcoming elections.  Then I read this story in today’s Washington PostAnthony Faiola writes

Only a few months ago, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown seemed a figure living out a Shakespearean tragedy. An ill-tempered Caesar surrounded by disloyal aides, an out-of-touch King Lear about to lose his throne. But Brown may not yet be ready to make his curtain call.

In fact, the dour Scotsman is staging an unlikely comeback, with his Labor Party rebounding in opinion polls only weeks ahead of a general election. Depending on the poll, Labor is clawing back from a 20 percentage-point deficit last year to within two to six points of the opposition Conservative Party, led by the eloquent and fresh-faced David Cameron.

Though Labor is still trailing in the polls, the party’s defeat after 13 years in power is no longer a foregone conclusion here. And Brown, long seen as far more clumsy and ham-handed than his flashy predecessor, Tony Blair, has recently been garnering rare praise. On Friday, pundits said Brown was more empathetic and politically skilled in answering tough questions before a high-level inquiry on the Iraq war here than Blair was when he appeared before the commission in January.

Yet the biggest reason for the new momentum of the incumbent party in Britain may hearten the Democratic Party in the United States. More than anything else, analysts attribute Labor’s recent rebound not to Brown himself but to the nascent economic recovery here.

There seems to be agreement that Brown also helped himself and Labour with his testimony yesterday before the British panel looking into the Iraq War.  The Guardian story by Patrick Wintour was a bit surprised at Brown’s performance.

Gordon Brown took a major political gamble yesterday by describing Tony Blair‘s decision to go to war in Iraq as “the right decision for the right reasons” and insisting that “everything that Mr Blair did during this period, he did properly”.

Dogged by a reputation for disowning unpopular decisions, Brown used his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war to deliver a firm defence of Britain joining the US-led invasion, a decision taken and executed when Blair was prime minister and Brown was chancellor.

In his most prolonged inquisition on Iraq since the invasion seven years ago, Brown accepted he had been fully involved in the run-up to the invasion, underlined the gravity of going to war, praised the military and, unlike Blair, expressed his sadness at the huge loss of civilian life in Iraq. His only major equivocation was regret at the way in which he had failed to persuade the Americans to handle the aftermath differently.

The New York Times offers essentially the same facts with a little more color

The hearing was billed as a defining opportunity for Britain to get some answers on the war from Mr. Brown, who as finance minister was the most senior member in the cabinet of his predecessor, Tony Blair. But he kept an even keel and dodged the type of knockout blow that could have hurt him in the national elections widely believed to be coming in May. He reaffirmed the rationale for entering the war while taking care to pay respects repeatedly to the dead and rebuffing critics who accused the Treasury of underfinancing the military during the war.

After his final statement, Mr. Brown let loose with a rare public smile, apparently sending a message that he had nothing to hide and had done nothing to apologize for. As he walked out the front door of the conference center, he took care to shake the hand of a security guard — a marked contrast to an embarrassing moment a year ago when he failed to shake hands, as President Obama had, with a guard at the door of 10 Downing Street. His appearance also contrasted sharply with that of Mr. Blair, who entered the building in secret during his hearing this year to avoid the many protesters who blamed him for Britain’s involvement in the war.

While Brown is busy rehabilitating his dour Scots image and helping Labour, the Conservative candidates are busy studying at a Tory Madrasa according to the Guardian. 

Tory parliamentary candidates have undergone training by a rightwing group whose leadership has described the NHS [National Health Service] as “the biggest waste of money in the UK”, claimed global warming is “a scam” and suggested that the waterboarding of prisoners can be justified.

At least 11 prospective Tory candidates, an estimated seven of whom have a reasonable chance of winning their seats, have been delegates or speakers at training conferences run by the Young Britons’ Foundation, which claims to have trained 2,500 Conservative party activists.

The YBF chief executive, Donal Blaney, who runs the courses on media training and policy, has called for environmental protesters who trespass to be “shot down” by the police and that Britain should have a US-style liberal firearms policy. In an article on his own website, entitled Scrap the NHS, not just targets, he wrote: “Would it not now be better to say that the NHS – in its current incarnation – is finished?”

Blaney has described the YBF as “a Conservative madrasa” that radicalises young Tories. Programmes have included trips to meet neo-conservative groups in the US and to a shooting range in Virginia to fire submachine guns and assault rifles.

The group’s close ties to the Tories were cemented this week when the Conservative party chairman, Eric Pickles, and the shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, spoke at the annual YBF parliamentary rally at the House of Commons, which was chaired by Blaney.

I wonder what David Cameron, the Conservative leader, thinks.

Eric Pickles at the Tory conference

The picture is of the Conservative Party Chairman, Eric Pickles, speaking at a Young Briton’s rally, kinda like Cantor or Boehner at a tea party I think.  I had to include his picture because he reminds me of Karl Rove even though he is their Michael Steele.

The elections have to be called for sometime before June and it should be interesting.  Democrats take heart – and pass Health Care Reform.

Justice and War

The question of how people should be punished for acts committed during war is a thorny one.  We have the example of Nurenburg which extablished the principles of crimes against humanity and that following orders is an insufficient defense.  More recently, there have been reconciliation commissions instead of prosecutions and the establishment of the world court.

Two recent events have brought all this to mind.  First, there was the dismissal of the case against the Blackwater employees who murdered Iraqi civilians.  Then, there is the uproar in some circles over the criminal charges brought against Omar AbdulMutallab, the would-be Christmas Eve bomber.

In the Blackwater case, Justice Department lawyers screwed up the case.  It is that simple.  Makes me wonder if everyone at the Bush Justice Department was incompetent.  According to the story in the New York Times

The issue was that the guards, as government contractors, were obligated to give an immediate report of what they had done, but the Constitution prevents the government from requiring a defendant to testify against himself, so those statements could not be used in a prosecution.

Less than two weeks after the shootings in Nisour Square in Baghdad in September 2007, lawyers at the State Department, which employed the guards, expressed concern that prosecutors might be improperly using the compulsory reports in preparing a criminal case against them, according to the decision.

The prosecutors were also concerned, even using what they called a “taint team” to try to prevent information in the guards’ compulsory statements from influencing the investigation, according to the 90-page ruling by Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington. The judge said the prosecutors had failed to take “common sense precautions” to avoid the problem.

The ruling led to disappointment in the United States as well as in Iraq.

Judge Urbina’s ruling states in his introduction

From this extensive presentation of evidence [during a 3 week hearing beginning in October 2009] and argument, the following conclusions ineluctably emerge.  In their zeal to bring charges against the defendants in this case, prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation. …. The Government used the defendant’s compelled statements to guide its charging statements, to formulate its theory of the case, to develop investigatory leads, and, ultimately, to obtain the indictment in this case.

I guess the argument that Jack McCoy always uses on “Law and Order” that the discovery of the evidence was inevitable, didn’t work.

According to the Times story

But the judge’s decision alludes to at least two routes through which the government could reinstate a prosecution.

Although the specifics of the guards’ statements cannot be used against them, the guards could be prosecuted for willfully providing false information in those statements.

In statements, the guards gave detailed information about what kinds of weapons they had used, including a sniper rifle and a grenade, and said they had believed that they were under attack and that they were taking small-arms fire. Investigators did not find physical evidence of an attack by Iraqis, the judge’s decision said.

The decision also points out that at one point, the government considered bringing obstruction of justice charges against Blackwater managers. It is not clear whether such charges are still being considered.

The rules limiting the use of the statements, the judge noted, are not intended to protect defendants from conviction, but to guarantee the integrity of the judicial system.

There is also going to be a civil suit on behalf of the families.  But the sloppy prosecution in this case reminds me of the way the Bush administration did a lot of things:  Action without much thought for the consequences or without much evidence to support the action.  It is another example of impulsiveness.

Then posted on Politico yesterday was this

The ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, said Sunday the Obama administration made a mistake by putting terror suspect Omar AbdulMutallab into the criminal justice system, where he has an attorney and the right to remain silent.

“As soon as they got a lawyer, he lawyered up,” Bond said.

Did Senator Bond ever stop to consider that maybe we will have a more successful prosecution if AbdulMutallab has a lawyer from the beginning?  And isn’t this really a criminal matter? 

I’m beginning to think that the Republicans don’t have a lot of faith in either their ability to prosecute cases or in the criminal justice system generally.

War Crimes and Henry T. King, Jr.

Henry T. King, Jr. who died on May 9 was one of the three American prosecutors at Nuremburg still alive.  His obituary appeared in the New York Times.

Mr. King, along with Whitney Harris and Benjamin Ferencz, both of whom survive, were the last three of about 200 American prosecutors who helped bring dozens of Nazi leaders to trial from 1945 to 1949.

Half a century later, the three joined forces to help shape the creation of the International Criminal Court. When delegates from 131 nations met in Rome to establish the criminal court in 1998, their original draft placed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide under the court’s jurisdiction. The delegates did not include wars of aggression as war crimes, as opposed to those fought in self-defense or authorized by the United Nations. The three prosecutors traveled to Rome and lobbied to reshape the draft.

“They used their moral authority; they were persistent, and ultimately the delegates included a reference to the crime of war of aggression in the court’s statute,” said Michael Scharf, the director of the International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The I.C.C. is the first permanent international criminal court in history. (The United States has not ratified the I.C.C. treaty.)

Mr. King was 26 when he stepped off a train in war-ravaged Nuremberg. All about him were the rubble of bombed-out buildings and people begging for food.

“As I walked to the courthouse for the first time, I said I’m going to dedicate my life to the prevention of this,” he said at a conference on genocide held last August by the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y.

In 1945 and 1946, the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union had joined in the prosecution of 21 Nazi officials. Among them were Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, and Albert Speer, who as minister of war production was in charge of all German industry. Eighteen of the 21 were convicted; on Oct. 16, 1946, 10 were hanged. Speer, the only one to express remorse, spent 20 years in prison; he died in 1981.


One of the most interesting aspects of his life what his on-going relationship with Albert Speer.  (Pictured with Mr. King in the photograph.  Mr. King is on the right.)

To gather evidence for the Milch case, Mr. King interviewed some of those already convicted, including Speer. It was the start of a long relationship, one in which Mr. King could never quite comprehend the contradictions in the seemingly contrite Speer.

For more than 30 years, Mr. King corresponded with Speer and visited him. He kept a photograph of Speer by his bedside. Still, he said, he was not taken in by the war criminal.

“Speer closed his eyes to the world of humanity, and thus, a concern for human ethics never intruded on his relentless drive as armaments minister,” Mr. King wrote in a 1997 memoir, “The Two Worlds of Albert Speer.” “In a technological world, the magic concoction for evil consists of blind technocrats such as Speer led by an evil and aggressive leader such as Hitler.”

The United States should agree to participate in the International Criminal Court.  We know the reason the George W. Bush administration refused:  They had a fear of prosecution.  With the growing tide of relevations, their fears were probably justified.  We did fight a war of aggression in Iraq. 

But fear that former leaders will be prosecuted should not stop the United States from doing the right thing.  I believe that courts in Europe will indict many of them in any case.

The Torture Memos Released

President Obama did the right thing by releasing the Bush Justice Department memos providing a legal justification of torture and in deciding not to prosecute the interregators.  The ones who should be prosecuted are the memo writers who, rather than upholding the Constitution, international law, and basic American values, caved in to people like Vice President Cheney – and perhaps even Cheney, Rice, Rumfeld and Bush.

In his statement accompanying the release, President Obama said

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

It will no doubt be argued that this may, in fact, leave President Bush and other high ranking members of his administration open to prosecution in international criminal courts such as the one in Spain which as already begun an inquiry.  These, memos, people will argue, only add fuel to the fire.  We can’t have our elected officials held accountable for actions they thought were legal they will argue.

To them I say:  The high ranking officials in Hitler’s government also thought they were acting under the cover of law.  Maybe they didn’t have Justice Department lawyers writing the justifications, but those brought to trial at Nuremburg did not believe they had done anything wrong either.    This is why we now have United Nations Convention on Torture

  1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
  2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

I haven’t read the entire test of the memos, but did not we commit war crimes?  Certainly the international agreement about torture was violated.

If we are a great nation, and I believe we are, we must lead not only by words, but also deeds.  I understand the political reasons why President Obama cannot be seen as bringing members of the previous administration to trial, but I see no reason why others, like Congress,  cannot do the ground work and present evidence to prosecutors and the courts.  It is probably better to do it ourselves than to leave it to Spain. 

At the very least, none of those Bush officials can travel outside of the United States without risking arrest.  Oh, I forgot, they better not set foot in Vermont either.

Why so negative?

Let’s see.  Barack Obama has been President for 50 days today.  Only 50 days. During that time he has outlined a plan for economic recovery and gotten it passed, he has outlined plans to end the war in Iraq, and he has proposals to help some homeowners faced with foreclosures.  He is studying what to do about Afganistan and Guantanamo.  He has said we won’t torture, removed the ban on federal funds to groups who perform and/or counsel about abortion, removed prohibitions on stem cell reseach and etc., etc.  At the one month point, I quoted Eugene Robinson who called this ” an administration on steroids”. 

Politico writes of the first 50 days

It’s been a busy stretch. Obama revisited Bush-era policies on torture and the Guantanamo Bay prison, proposed to remake U.S. health care by year’s end, offered new rescue efforts for the housing and financial services sectors, expanded government stakes in Citigroup and American International Group, put forth a $3.7 trillion budget and announced his education policy Tuesday.

As president, Obama has signed a total of six bills. The most notable was the $787 billion stimulus legislation. He also signed a bill expanding children’s health insurance coverage and another making it easier to file suits alleging gender discrimination in the workplace. Another bill he signed was a so-called continuing resolution continuing temporary funding for federal agencies still awaiting a final appropriation for the current fiscal year. The two other measures were a bill to rename a post office in Illinois and legislation postponing the national conversion to digital television for about four months.

So why is everyone so negative?  Paul Krugman is worried we haven’t done enough.  Some Congressional Democrats are making noises about not wanting to spend any more.  The Republicans are on a vote no kick and want to go back to Bush economics – tax cuts and more tax cuts.  The left thinks he hasn’t done enough about about prosecuting W. and his pals and certainly isn’t withdrawing from Iraq fast enough.  The right thinks he is overturning the entire universe.

I’m certainly not happy with everything that President Obama has done so far.  I think the Tim Geithner appointment is a disaster and he also needs to lose Larry Summers.  I do like Orszag and Christine Rohmer. I don’t think we are planning to withdraw fast enough from Iraq and I’m worried about Afganistan.  I worry that some of the government programs are too complicated for local governments and non profits to administer.  But I’m not negative yet.

Everyone seems to be whining about something without giving things a chance to work.  If we want a large bank to fail – one, Leaman Brothers, already did and it didn’t help the economy much.  We had lots of tax cuts under W. and it didn’t stop the economy from tanking.  So let’s see what happens.  In a few more weeks most of us will get a few bucks more in our paychecks.  The Recovery funds will start hitting the street and projects will be underway in a month or so. 

We can’t let pundit negativity make us lose sight of the fact that is has only been 50 days today.  Give the guy a chance and don’t let negativity become a self-fulling prophecy.  So take a deep breath, relax a bit and notice that the market went up today.