Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 28th, 2009

Blast from the past

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Via ThinkProgress:

And how about this one:

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 3:05 pm

Arlen Specter on the need to roll back Presidential power-grabs

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In the NY Review of Books, Sen. Specter writes:

In the seven and a half years since September 11, the United States has witnessed one of the greatest expansions of executive authority in its history, at the expense of the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. President Obama, as only the third sitting senator to be elected president in American history, and the first since John F. Kennedy, may be more likely to respect the separation of powers than President Bush was. But rather than put my faith in any president to restrain the executive branch, I intend to take several concrete steps, which I hope the new president will support.

First, I intend to introduce legislation that will mandate Supreme Court review of lower court decisions in suits brought by the ACLU and others that challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush after September 11. While the Supreme Court generally exercises discretion on whether it will review a case, there are precedents for Congress to direct Supreme Court review on constitutional issues—including the statutes forbidding flag burning and requiring Congress to abide by federal employment laws—and I will follow those.

Second, I will reintroduce legislation to keep the courts open to suits filed against several major telephone companies that allegedly facilitated the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Although Congress granted immunity to the telephone companies in July 2008, this issue may yet be successfully revisited since the courts have not yet ruled on the legality of the immunity provision. My legislation would substitute the government as defendant in place of the telephone companies. This would allow the cases to go forward, with the government footing the bill for any damages awarded.

Further, I will reintroduce my legislation from 2006 and 2007 (the "Presidential Signing Statements Act") to prohibit courts from relying on, or deferring to, presidential signing statements when determining the meaning of any Act of Congress. These statements, sometimes issued when the president signs a bill into law, have too often been used to undermine congressional intent. Earlier versions of my legislation went nowhere because of the obvious impossibility of obtaining two-thirds majorities in each house to override an expected veto by President Bush. Nevertheless, in the new Congress, my legislation has a better chance of mustering a majority vote and being signed into law by President Obama.

To understand why these steps are so important, one must appreciate an imbalance in our "checks and balances" that has become increasingly evident in recent years. I witnessed firsthand, during many of the battles over administration policy since September 11, how difficult it can be for Congress and the courts to rally their members against an overzealous executive.

1. The Terrorist Surveillance Program—Act I

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 2:03 pm

Good news: Appeals Court Reinstates Torture Case Previously Dismissed on ‘State Secrets’ Grounds

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Despite the Obama administration’s surprisingly vigorous arguments that the case had to be dismissed to prevent disclosure of “state secrets,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today reinstated the case of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, in which five victims of the CIA’s notorious “extraordinary rendition” (transfer to torture) program sued Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, for assisting the CIA with the rendition flights.

The three judge panel reversed the lower court’s decision, which had accepted the government’s argument (then made by the Bush administration) that allowing it to move forward would endanger national security.

The logic of the state secrets privilege, the appeals court panel writes (pdf), “simply cannot stretch to encompass cases brought by third-party plaintiffs against alleged government contractors for the contractors’ alleged involvement in tortuous intelligence activities. Nothing the plaintiffs have done supports a conclusion that their ‘lips [are] to be for ever sealed respecting’ the claim on which they sue, such that filing this lawsuit would in itself defeat recovery.”

In other words, as the the American Civil Liberties Union had argued on behalf of the five victims, there is no reason to prevent the victims from having their day in court against a government contractor that they claim knowingly assisted in their torture. Pursuing those claims don’t have to reveal any secret evidence about the CIA program that could be dangerous to disclose.

This is a huge victory, not only for the five victims themselves, but also for many civil liberties advocates. The Obama administration first asserted the “state secrets” privilege in January, upsetting many of the president’s supporters who had hoped that his earlier promises of more open government would put an end to unnecessary secrecy.

Although the Obama administration didn’t change its mind, the federal court has now taken that argument out of its hands.

It remains to be seen whether Justice Department will seek re-hearing from the full court of appeals, or review by the Supreme Court.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 1:56 pm

Interesting broadcast

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Amy Goodman:

The Story of Mitchell Jessen & Associates: How a Team of Psychologists in Spokane, WA, Helped Develop the CIA’s Torture Techniques

We broadcast from Spokane, Washington, less than three miles from the headquarters of a secretive CIA contractor that played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s interrogation methods. The firm, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, is named after the two military psychologists who founded the company, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Beginning in 2002, the CIA hired the psychologists to train interrogators in brutal techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and pain. We speak with three journalists who have closely followed the story. [includes rush transcript]


Mark Benjamin, National correspondent for

Katherine Eban, Investigative reporter and writer for several national publications. Her July 2007 article for Vanity Fair, “Rorschach and Awe.”

Karen Dorn Steele, a local investigative reporter who covered Mitchell and Jessen for The Spokesman-Review. She won a George Polk Award for a 1994 newspaper series on squandered money in the $50 billion Hanford Nuclear Reservation cleanup, the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site.

Rush Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Spokane, Washington, less than three miles from the headquarters of a secretive CIA contractor that played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s interrogation methods. The firm, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, is named after the two military psychologists who founded the company, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

Beginning in 2002, the CIA hired the psychologists to train interrogators in brutal techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and pain. Both of the men had years of military training in a secretive program known as SERE—Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape—which teaches soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics taught in SERE training for use on prisoners held in the CIA’s secret prisons.

The declassified torture memos released last week relied heavily on the advice of Mitchell and Jessen. In one memo, Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee wrote, quote, “Based on your research into the use of these methods at the SERE school and consultation with others with expertise in the field of psychology and interrogation, you do not anticipate that any prolonged harm would result from the use of the waterboard.”

Well, today we’re going to take a detailed look at Mitchell Jessen’s role. We’re joined now by three journalists who have closely followed this story. Katherine Eban joins us from New York. Her 2007 article in, “Rorschach and Awe,” gave a detailed account of the role of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mark Benjamin joins us from Washington, DC, national correspondent for He wrote about Mitchell and Jessen in his 2007 article called “The CIA’s Torture Teachers.” And here in Spokane, I’m joined by Karen Steele. She is a former reporter at The Spokesman-Review, where she covered this story.

We called Mitchell Jessen & Associates, based here in Spokane, not far from these studios, to invite them on the show, but, well, we did not hear back from them. Mitchell and Jessen have avoided speaking to the media for years. Two years ago, they released a statement to Vanity Fair that read, quote, “We are proud of the work we have done for our country.”

Well, why don’t we begin first with Mark Benjamin in Washington. How did you first hear of Mitchell and Jessen, Mitchell Jessen & Associates?

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 1:40 pm

African-American farmers seek fair treatment

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From Obama Foodorama:

The National Black Farmers Association is calling for President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to re-open the Pigford settlement, a 1999 agreement between a group of black farmers and the federal government. Pigford was a monetary settlement that attempted to compensate black farmers for decades of racially discriminatory USDA lending and credit practices. But thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline to apply, because they weren’t aware a lawsuit even existed. Since 1999, black lawmakers have sought to reopen the suit.

Last year, while still a Senator and on the campaign trail, President Obama was among a group of lawmakers who got $100 million added to the 2008 farm Bill, to be distributed to those farmers who had been locked out of the original Pigford settlement, even though the estimated amount for full compensation is closer to $4 billion. The Justice Department has recently filed to cap total payments to black farmers at the $100 million, which is causing outrage among black farmers and leaders. In a meeting last Wednesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on the Obama administration to hold meetings to discuss the issue. Aides have responded, indicating that the black farmers will get their grievance addressed.

And Ag Secretary Vilsack has indicated a willingness to work with NBFA, too; he’s made correcting the discriminatory practices of USDA a priority. In a memo sent to USDA employees Tuesday, Vilsack said the department would work with Justice to resolve late Pigford claims “fairly and expeditiously.”

“We agree more needs to be done not only on this particular issue but on civil rights in general. We are working internally at USDA as well as with the Department of Justice to ensure that people are treated fairly,” Vilsack wrote…

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 1:27 pm

Putting paid to a stupid notion

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One tack the torture fans have taken is that waterboarding et al. can’t be torture because they’re part of  SERE training and thus done to American troops. This is so wrong-headed that it sets some sort of record: being subjected to a the "stress interrogation techniques" by your comrades, with the knowledge that you will have to experience it only once, and that at the end of the day you’re free—that’s rather different than being in the hands of your enemies in some remote location, with the chance of rescue falling to zero, and being subjected to the torture for weeks. Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Anyone following the twists and turns of the increasingly cacophonous torture debate knows by now that one way the Office of Legal Counsel justified its many “extreme” interrogation methods — simulated drowning, slamming prisoners’ heads into walls, prolonged sleep and food deprivation, confinement boxes with insects, etc. — is by saying that all of this was proven not to cause any harm, physical or mental. These claims are based on the techniques’ use on U.S. soldiers undergoing SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] training.

So on a Federalist Society-sponsored conference call with reporters this morning, David Rivkin, a corporate defense lawyer and former Justice Department official under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, reiterated the point that SERE trainees were never really hurt by their training; therefore, neither were suspected terrorists.  Accordingly, the techniques cannot possibly have violated domestic or international law forbidding torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“It’s in this area that SERE research is so compelling,” said Rivkin. “Researchers went back at frequent intervals and analyzed large numbers of people” who underwent this training, and there was “no evidence to show that SERE training caused mental pain and suffering.”

OK, let’s set aside for a second that the memos also noted that interrogators in real-life situations at CIA black sites probably weren’t following the same laboratory-controlled conditions that SERE trainers follow on a U.S. military base, and, as Spencer has pointed out, that the trainers themselves acknowledged that such practices violate international law.

Focusing purely on the psychological impact of the techniques:  if you’re a soldier undergoing training under carefully monitored conditions, isn’t your experience of those SERE techniques going to be completely different than if you’re a prisoner captured by a foreign country and subjected to them by people trying to extract information from you? Isn’t the whole point of using “extreme interrogation techniques” to terrify the subject, so they will cough up useful information?

In other words, if we’re talking about the psychological impact of the techniques, it’s unclear to me how the impact of SERE training on U.S. soldiers even relevant to gauging the impact of those same acts by hostile interrogators on prisoners labeled “enemy combatants.”

As every lawyer knows, the lawfulness of any action depends heavily on its context. It’s a bit odd how easily some conservative lawyers are ignoring this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 1:23 pm

Interesting: CDC trying to do a little cover-up

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CDC needs some serious help with budget, personnel, and mission. But that’s no reason to hide things. Alison Young in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have generated about 4,000 pages of documents assessing risks to the agency’s reputation posed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s reporting.

But the CDC is keeping those records secret, despite directives from the Obama administration that federal agencies presume government records are open to the public under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Release of the CDC records “would interfere with the agency’s deliberative process and have a chilling effect on employee discussions,” CDC freedom of information officer Lynn Armstrong said in a letter sent this month to the AJC.

The AJC asked for the documents in January 2007, after the newspaper learned that the agency was conducting risk analyses of this reporter’s news-gathering rather than releasing information of interest to the public. At the time, the AJC was pursuing stories about morale problems and an exodus of key scientists from the Atlanta-based agency, CDC’s chaotic response to Hurricane Katrina, lab animal welfare violations and costly taxpayer-funded construction projects at the agency’s campus on Clifton Road.

For complex document requests, the CDC reports that its median processing time is just 38 days (and just 11 days for simple requests). But several AJC requests have been pending for a year; some for more than two years…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2009 at 12:28 pm

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