Friday, June 09, 2006

Endo v. Bush

Over at his blog, Eric Muller has been hosting a mini-symposium on Mitsuye Endo and her Supreme Court case that ended the nightmare of the Japanese American internment. The whole series was excellent, with Greg Robinson's thoughtful disquisition a real highlight.

But I was particularly struck by something Jerry Kang wrote in his excellent contribution:
Why does this interpretive dispute matter? First, in the law reviews, Endo is being remembered more triumphantly than Gudridge intended, as an example of the Supreme Court checking Executive Branch excesses, even during times of war. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Supreme Court should be blamed for its machinations, not praised for its backbone.

Second, in judicial opinions, Endo is being remembered without irony. Endo is now being cited for the "clear statement rule"--that in order to detain American citizens, the political branches must authorize such detention unambiguously. The argument goes like this: Just as the internment was not authorized back during World War II, see Endo, detention has not been authorized in the global war on terror. But this reinscribes a falsehood. FDR and Congress did authorize the internment camps. It's just that the Court declined to see to this inconvenient fact.

As a matter of history, Endo should be understood as dodging accountability. [emphasis mine] As a matter of doctrine, Endo should be treated in the same way that we treat Korematsu. Even nonlawyers know that the Korematsu case created the foundations of "strict scrutiny," which remains a critical component of our equal protection jurisprudence. In other words, as an abstract legal rule, Korematsu remains good law. However, how this rule was applied to the facts is universally disdained. Endo's abstract legal rule, demanding a clear statement, can also be preserved as good law. However Endo's application to the facts in World War II should be sharply rejected as deceitful.

If we don't, what will prevent the use of Endo to dodge accountability again? After horrific tortures in some detention camp are brought to light, low-level soldiers will be prosecuted but high-level officials will be absolved. After all, there was never any "clear statement" authorizing quite this sort of barbarism. See Endo.

This brings us to something I discussed regarding the Korematsu case, which, as Kang argues, must be seen in a similar light:
Put simply, the deference of the Court to the executive branch in wartime that Korematsu exhibited [particularly in its failure to hold the Roosevelt administration accountable for its actions] was predicated on deceptiveness from the Justice and War departments that in turn sought to obscure the nakedly racist nature of the claim of "military necessity." That is to say, when the Courts so abjectly defer to such wartime powers, the executive can expand all its powers to unimaginable heights simply on its say-so, whether truthful or not.

Probably the definitive word on this was Justice Robert Jackson's dissent in Korematsu:
The limitation under which courts always will labor in examining the necessity for a military order are illustrated by this case. How does the Court know that these orders have a reasonable basis in necessity? No evidence whatever on that subject has been taken by this or any other court. There is sharp controversy as to the credibility of the DeWitt report. So the Court, having no real evidence before it, has no choice but to accept General DeWitt's own unsworn, self-serving statement, untested by any cross-examination, that what he did was reasonable. And thus it will always be when courts try to look into the reasonableness of a military order.

In the very nature of things, military decisions are not susceptible of intelligent judicial appraisal. They do not pretend to rest on evidence, but are made on information that often would not be admissible and on assumptions that could not be proved. Information in support of an order could not be disclosed to courts without danger that it would reach the enemy. Neither can courts act on communications made in confidence. Hence courts can never have any real alternative to accepting the mere declaration of the authority that issued the order that it was reasonably necessary from a military viewpoint.

Much is said of the danger to liberty from the Army program for deporting and detaining these citizens of Japanese extraction. But a judicial construction of the due process clause that will sustain this order is a far more subtle blow to liberty than the promulgation of the order itself. A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. Even during that period a succeeding commander may revoke it all. But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.

A lack of accountability is the key, as with FDR, to the Bush administration's mad power grab in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. At every step, the administration has short-circuited any serious scrutiny of its actions through a series of steps: badgering the Republican Congress into submission, threatening its critics and accusing them of treason and anti-Americanism, and, as Glenn Greenwald has exquisitely illuminated, avoiding any kinds of court challenges to its sweeping assertion of executive powers.

I'm especially enamored of Greenwald's new book, How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok, which traces the origins of the NSA surveillance matter back to the Bush's decision to expand executive powers from his first days in office, but taking off with a vengeance under the banner of 9/11.

Most of all, Greenwald's book is a call to action in defense of bedrock American values -- values that are, in fact, endangered by the Bush administration's vision of a corporate America run by an all-powerful executive. It is a vision that is fueled and enabled by the environment of fearfulness, particularly a fear of amorphous terrorism, that Bush, with the full complicity of the media, has proven extraordinarily adept at fostering.

The folks at Firedoglake hosted two excellent discussions of the book, both of which are well worth reading for the many additional insights. And it was encouraging to read how many other people are becoming aware of the dangers posed by Bush's power grab.

In the comments, I noted one caveat with Greenwald's thesis:
I was very interested in Glenn's description of how he came to be concerned about the Bush administration's post-9/11 behavior, especially since he says he "was among those who strongly approved of his performance" after the attacks.

I have to admit I was far more skeptical initially. After all, it was my belief from having tracked Bush's record on antiterrorism work before 9/11 that his atrocious handling of the issue was not likely to change afterward. I too supported the decision to invade Afghanistan, but felt that even that was badly mishandled, and when the focus shifted to Iraq, I knew we were in trouble in terms of making serious headway against terrorism.

Still, I think my red flags went up at the same time as Glenn's (pp.2-3):

What first began to shake my faith in the administration was its conduct in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in May 2002 on U.S. soil and then publicly labeled "the dirty bomber." The administration claimed it could hold him indefinitely without charging him with any crime and while denying him access to counsel.

I never imagined that such a thing could happen in modern America -- that a president would claim the right to order American citizens imprisoned with no charges and without the right to a trial. In China, the former Soviet Union, Iran, and countless other countries, the government can literally abduct its citizens and imprison them without a trial. But that cannot happen in the United States -- at least it never could before. If it means anything to be an American citizen, it means that we cannot be locked away by our government unless we are charged with a crime, given due process by the court, and then convicted by a jury of our peers.

I was alarmed by the Padilla case as well, and for the same reasons -- but from a somewhat different perspective.

I had spent much of the previous ten years researching the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the results of which I published in my book Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community. And what I knew, all too well, was that American citizens have been imprisoned with no charges and without the right to a trial; I knew that the United States government had in fact abducted its citizens and incarcerated them without a trial, it had locked them away without being charged with a crime.

And it was all done, in fact, under the same circumstances the Bush administration was now claiming gave it free rein, namely, its powers as a wartime executive.

Before Strawberry Days was published, I explored this in some detail at American Street, using some of the material that later was published in the book:

What the Japanese-American internment revealed for the first time was a hole in the traditional checks and balances of constitutional powers. In wartime, the total deference to the executive branch would lend it nearly comprehensive powers. The post-Sept. 11 response has opened another dimension to this: If wartime — as in the "War on Terror" -- becomes itself a never-ending enterprise, then the executive branch's power becomes potentially illimitable.

Up to the edge of that hole in the Constitution, the Bush administration has driven a large bus called "enemy combatant status" and parked it. It now sits, idling.

As reporter Charles Lane explained in the Washington Post, the Bush administration's creation of this status actually created a parallel legal system with secret courts that ultimately are only accountable to the president himself: "For example, under authority it already has or is asserting in court cases, the administration, with approval of the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, could order a clandestine search of a U.S. citizen's home and, based on the information gathered, secretly declare the citizen an enemy combatant, to be held indefinitely at a U.S. military base. Courts would have very limited authority to second-guess the detention, to the extent that they were aware of it."

Ultimately, the president himself would be the person making the call on just who qualifies as an "enemy combatant." And what would be the Bush administration's criteria for making these decisions?

"There won't be 10 rules that trigger this or 10 rules that end this," explained Solicitor General Theodore Olson in the Post. "There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different from day to day, depending on the circumstances."

As Olson went on to explain in the Post piece, the only thing to restrain the president is the prospect of losing re-election:
Administration officials, however, imply that the main check on the president's performance in wartime is political -- that if the public perceives his approach to terrorism is excessive or ineffective, it will vote him out of office.

"At the end of the day in our constitutional system, someone will have to decide whether that [decision to designate someone an enemy combatant] is a right or just decision," Olson said. "Who will finally decide that? Will it be a judge, or will it be the president of the United States, elected by the people, specifically to perform that function, with the capacity to have the information at his disposal with the assistance of those who work for him?"

I explored this a little bit further in the American Street series:
The Padilla case remains in limbo -- though the public was recently given some insights into the government's reasoning in the case, thanks to a Wall Street Journal piece by Bradford A. Berenson, who served as associated White House Counsel under Bush. The key to the reasoning lies in this paragraph, and directly reflects Solicitor General Ted Olson's contention that the "enemy combatant" designation could be made at the whim of the president:

The president's power as commander in chief to do what is necessary to protect the nation in time of war is, as it must be, exceptionally flexible and robust. He can engage and subdue the enemy in any way he sees fit. There is no judicial check on his authority in this vital and sensitive area because there cannot be: As the Framers expressly recognized in the Federalist Papers, the 'decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch' that are the hallmarks of unitary executive power are ‘essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks.'

As Arthur Silber observed in response:

[I]f this idea were to be established and accepted, it would provide the framework -- in principle -- for an absolute dictatorship. No, that dictatorship would not arrive overnight, but history demonstrates that dictatorships can arrive slowly, by degrees and by increasingly authoritarian steps. It need not happen all at once. But under this "reasoning" and in principle, every United States citizen could be imprisoned for a lifetime. End of story.

I think this is the summation of the Bush Theory of the Executive: as a wartime president, he gets to call the shots, at his whim.

It's all about the Imperial Presidency. The principle -- just as it was for Nixon -- is the power of the president and his advisers to lie, fumble, and even break the law without consequence. Just because he's president.

In this case, we're not simply repeating history; Bush's initiatives exceed any historical precedent. But by remembering where the nation went wrong, once before, in granting the president extraordinary wartime powers, we can find ways to prevent it from happening again. It took real bravery to oppose it then; it may take equal doses of courage today.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Divorce Amendment

MEMO: Saving the Godly Institution of Marriage
TO: Gen. J.C. Christian
FROM: Lt. Col. C. LeMay Thumper


I know you've been watching with interest the progress of the ongoing valiant efforts to defend the sacred institution of marriage from pollution at the hand of vile homosexuals, and as your right-hand man (so to speak), I know how bitterly disappointed you must have been after its defeat by Satanic forces in the Senate.

Of course, we cannot be totally downcast. After all, our comrade-in-arms in the House, Majority Leader John Boehner, is going to bring it to a vote there. Perhaps their valiant example will inspire the Senate to reconsider. It might also help drive out the homo-Satanic element from within the ranks of God's Own Party as well and eventually leads us to the Promised Land of a Christian Nation.

However, I've also been pondering the bigger picture. It seems to me that that the gay-marriage ban is simply a defensive measure, designed to stop any further erosion in the War Against Marriage as a Sacred Institution. It only stops further decay -- but the War rages on.

Why not go on the attack? Why not try to do something about the real threat to the Institution of Marriage?

That's right: Divorce.

I realized this while poring through the Scripture and trying to unearth any obscure references to how Our Lord most assuredly hates the idea of "gay marriage," and how the Bible prohibits such a thing. I have to admit that such a thing was hard to find, though I did notice that some of the old prophets had twelve wives and a number of concubines as well, which sounds like not an altogether bad proposition. But anyway.

On the other hand, the subject of divorce seems to come up a lot, especially with the Big Kahuna Himself, right there in the New Testament:
"So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." [Matthew 19:6]

"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." [Matthew 5:31-32]

"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." [Matthew 19:3-9]

"And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him...And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." [Mark 10:2-12]

"Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." Luke 16:18

Now I realize that this leaves a "fornication" exception, and some later Scripture from St. Paul left a little more wiggle room:
"To the married I give this ruling, which is not mine but the Lord's: a wife must not separate herself from her husband (if she does, she must either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband), and the husband must not divorce his wife." [1Cor.7:10-11]

All of this, in keeping with America as Christian Nation, is something that should be written into law immediately. I propose we start a 50-state campaign urging President Bush to sponsor a Divorce Amendment, marshalling all the forces of righteousness to ward off this real threat to the institution of marriage by banning it altogether, as the Lord Himself would want us to do.

Of course, it could be written to include the "fornication" exception, as well as Paul's exception for separation. Hell, I would also be in favor of an "if your wife turns into a fat dumpy nag" exception, but I haven't yet dug up the Scriptural justification for it. Give me some time, I'm sure I can.

As you know, I'm proposing this as a divorcee myself. But it has always been my feeling that if, you know, society prohibited divorce, and she had known that the consequences would include death by stoning, my ex would never have run off that hunky guitar player in the first place.

This is why I believe a Divorce Amendment is so vital. Otherwise, how will healthy white males, well within the Viagra Years, manage to retain the purity of our bodily functions? It's become much too easy for women whose minds have been polluted by the Satanic Feminist Movement to kick us out the door like dogs on the slightest of pretenses, including the normative husbandly need for relief of our precious bodily fluids on demand.

Time to marshal the Army, sir! Victory against the real forces of evil awaits.

Yours in manly Christianity,

Lt. Col. C. LeMay Thumper

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The targets of the psy war

Craig Unger has a must-read piece in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair about the psy-ops component of the run-up to the Iraq war:
For more than two years it has been widely reported that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of intelligence failures. But in fact it is far more likely that the Iraq war started because of an extraordinary intelligence success—specifically, an astoundingly effective campaign of disinformation, or black propaganda, which led the White House, the Pentagon, Britain's M.I.6 intelligence service, and thousands of outlets in the American media to promote the falsehood that Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program posed a grave risk to the United States.

The Bush administration made other false charges about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.)—that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges, that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda, that he had mobile weapons labs, and so forth. But the Niger claim, unlike other allegations, can't be dismissed as an innocent error or blamed on ambiguous data. "This wasn't an accident," says Milt Bearden, a 30-year C.I.A. veteran who was a station chief in Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and Germany, and the head of the Soviet–East European division. "This wasn't 15 monkeys in a room with typewriters."

In recent months, it has emerged that the forged Niger documents went through the hands of the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare), or operatives close to it, and that neoconservative policymakers helped bring them to the attention of the White House. Even after information in the Niger documents was repeatedly rejected by the C.I.A. and the State Department, hawkish neocons managed to circumvent seasoned intelligence analysts and insert the Niger claims into Bush's State of the Union address.

By the time the U.S. invaded Iraq, in March 2003, this apparent black-propaganda operation had helped convince more than 90 percent of the American people that a brutal dictator was developing W.M.D.—and had led us into war.

Unger's report is important because it confirms, from the inside, something that some of us observed from the outside fairly early on:
We have in fact known from even before the outset that the war against Iraq would prominently feature psychological warfare. Most people have assumed that this warfare would be directed against the enemy and the subject citizens. They have not stopped to consider that, by definition, it would also be directed toward the American public as well.

This reality raises a serious concern about the fragility of democracy during wartime. Because under the aegis of a seemingly eternal war, the American government has clearly been involving the public in its psychological combat, and has hijacked the nation's press in the process. The entire meaning of the Iraq war -- and by extension, the "war on terrorism" -- is inextricably bound up in the psychological manipulation of the voting public through a relentless barrage of propaganda.

This is why the both the runup to the war and its subsequent mishandling have been so replete with highly symbolic media events -- many of them played repeatedly on nightly newscasts -- that have proven so hollow at their core, from the declarations of imminent threat from Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, to phony images of Saddam's statue being torn down, to flyboy antics aboard airline carriers, to meaningless "handovers" of power. It also explains why certain important and humanizing symbols of wartime -- civilian casualties, the returning flag-draped coffins -- have been so notably absent from our views of the war.

The role of the media in this manipulation cannot be understated. The abdication of the media's role as an independent watchdog and its whole subsumation as a propaganda organ bodes ill for any democracy, because a well-informed public is vital to its functioning.

But the fact that the military establishment, in the context of the "war on terror," clearly views the American public as the subject of a psychological combat operation should give us all pause regarding the ability of democracy to withstand this kind of assault.

The intelligence expert Sam Gardiner made similar observations in Salon with a harder base of evidence:
The Army Field Manual describes information operations as the use of strategies such as information denial, deception and psychological warfare to influence decision making. The notion is as old as war itself. With information operations, one seeks to gain and maintain information superiority -- control information and you control the battlefield. And in the information age, it has become even more imperative to influence adversaries.

But with the Iraq war, information operations have gone seriously off track, moving beyond influencing adversaries on the battlefield to influencing the decision making of friendly nations and, even more important, American public opinion. In information denial, one attempts to deceive one's adversary. Since the declared end of combat operations, the Bush administration has orchestrated a number of deceptions about Iraq. But who is its adversary?

... The White House is also using psychological warfare -- conveying selected information to organizations and individuals to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately behavior -- to spread its version of the war. And the administration's message is obviously central to the process. From the very beginning, that message, delivered both directly and subtly, has been constant and consistent: Iraq = terrorists = 9/11.

The president tells us that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here in the United States. But I know of no one with a respectable knowledge of the events in Iraq who shares that view. My contacts in the intelligence community say the opposite -- that U.S. policies in fact are creating more terrorism.

As I observed at the time:
Nonetheless, the American public is largely oblivious to this fact, instead seeing Bush's "strong and resolute" actions as making headway against terrorism. As Gardiner explains, the "repetition of the terrorist argument is utterly consistent with the theory that one can develop collective memory in a population through repetition." This hardly the only time this technique has been used by the conservative movement, either; how many times have we heard talking points reiterated ad nauseam by conservatives (from "It's not the sex, it's the lies" to "Al Gore invented the Internet" to "Kerry is a flip-flopper") until they eventually become accepted as truth?

... It would be one thing if all this manipulation were actually for the benefit of the American public. But it has occurred in fact solely for the benefit of the conservative movement and its agenda -- an agenda that, at its core, is profoundly anti-democratic.

The danger of placing the capacity for employing these techniques in the hands of a movement whose entire raison d'etre is the acquisition of power through any means could not be more apparent. After all, we've seen it happen before, with disastrous -- even apocalyptic -- results.

The key to all of this, of course, is the behavior of the media, its reliance on storylines, and the dissemination of the information, all of which reflect an elitist, top-down model of communications. I think it's easy to predict that Unger's revelations will receive less discussion on the airwaves than the "immigration debate" and Bill and Hill's sex life, because it doesn't fit readily into the well-established storyline that the Bush administration is "well meaning."

Which leaves it up to us Webfolk to start talking about it.

The Coulter cloaca

Look, it's not as if Ann Coulter hasn't already revealed the quivering sac of pus she has for a soul, multiple times. And always, just when you think she can't crawl any lower, she turns around and does exactly that.

So her latest schtick in promoting her newest liberal-hate screed (titled Godless: The Church of Liberalism) really isn't any kind of surprise at all. It just means it's just time to fumigate again.

What she's doing is attacking the widows of the 9/11 victims who had the temerity to question Preznit Bush and, more horrifically, support John Kerry in the 2004 election. In the book, she writes:
These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process. These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much.

Coulter's Bizarro World Reverse Projection Mirror is on display here, to wit:

This self-obsessed woman seems genuinely unaware that there was a flesh-and-blood human toll taken on 9/11, people to whom it really happened, and vicarious watchers like Ann Coulter, whose experience of it came from watching it on TV, act as if it happened to them too. In fact, the entire country voluntarily marinated in their exquisite personal agony; the families had no choice in the matter. Apparently, granting Bush the status of a demigod, and accusing anyone -- including the actual victims and their families -- who dared question him of "treason," was part of the closure process for people like Coulter. More than that, it made her a ton of dough. But now she's a millionaire, lionized on TV and in Time cover stories, reveling in her status as a celebrity and stalked by cream-pie throwers, all because she can attract attention to herself by impugning, in the ugliest fashion, the motives of people who lost their husbands, wives, parents and children on 9/11. In fact, as long as they don't have to confront people like the family members, people like Coulter (see also Michelle Malkin) positively love to talk about 9/11 and the victims ad nauseam as justification for every little jot and tittle of their right-wing enterprise; indeed, I have never seen such a cluster of soulless hags and cads enjoying other people's deaths so much. (Can anyone say "trifecta"?)

The projection on Coulter's part, in this case, couldn't have been made more clear than in the fact that what the 9/11 families fought the Bush administration over -- having an independent commission investigate the intelligence failures of 9/11 -- was precisely the opposite of self-absorbed grief, and was in fact predicated on the crazy idea that maybe the government should look at what it did wrong in order to prevent another similar terror attack. So who, exactly, is self-absorbed here?

As ThinkProgress [via Atrios] reports, Coulter was on NBC's Today show with Matt Lauer today, and he tried to pin her down on this passage. Of course, she deflected by accusing Lauer of losing his cool, which he didn't, but Coulter is a master of avoiding the question:
COULTER: To speak out using the fact they are widows. This is the left’s doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we are allowed to respond to. No. No. No. We have to respond to someone who had a family member die. Because then if we respond, oh you are questioning their authenticity.

LAUER: So grieve but grieve quietly?

COULTER: No, the story is an attack on the nation. That requires a foreign policy response.

LAUER: By the way, they also criticized the Clinton administration.

COULTER: Not the ones I am talking about. No, no, no.

LAUER: Yeah they have.

COULTER: Oh no, no, no, no, no. They were cutting commercials for Kerry. They were using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding.

LAUER: So if you lose a husband, you no longer have the right to have a political point of view?

COULTER: No, but don't use the fact that you lost a husband as the basis for being able to talk about, while preventing people from responding. Let Matt Lauer make the point. Let Bill Clinton make the point. Don't put up someone I am not allowed to respond to without questioning the authenticity of their grief.

Actually, what galls Coulter about people like the 9/11 widows is that her standard response to Matt Lauer and Bill Clinton or anyone else who might possess the audacity to question in any fashion the Bush administration or conservatives generally is to accuse them of "treason" or, at worst, of "having forgotten what happened on 9/11." And that response, of course, doesn't work so well when you're talking about families of the victims.

So let's just find a way to lash them anyway. Paint them as they did Cindy Sheehan, as a left-wing, self-serving kook.

Coulter's not the first to do this; Rush Limbaugh, you'll recall, attempted a similar smear job against the widows.

What all of this obscures, of course, is the reality: that what the 9/11 families succeeded in doing was making the 9/11 Commission happen. That was the extent of their "treason." That, and backing John Kerry.

Moreover, I noted some time back, their story isn't one of partisan hackery. Several of the widows, including leader Kristin Breitweiser, were in fact Bush-voting Republicans on, and immediately after, 9/11. What turned them against Bush was how hard his White House fought even having a 9/11 investigation, as they explained when they came out for Kerry:
Gathering at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday, the widows announced their endorsement of the Massachusetts Democrat for president, a move made "in good conscience and from our hearts," as former Bush supporter Kristen Breitweiser told the news cameras. "In the three years since 9/11, I could never have imagined I would be here today, disappointed in the person I voted for, for president," she said. Added fellow Jersey Girl Patty Casazza: "It was President Bush who thwarted our attempts at every turn."

The widows made this political turn for one reason only: Bush fought the formation of the 9/11 commission for a year, and continued to fight its work throughout. Moreover, their intimacy with the details of the commission's findings led them to recognize the Iraq war for the abomination it is:
"Unfortunately, before the work in Afghanistan was complete ... this administration moved our most precious resources, America's sons and daughters, into Iraq, without the support of our allies. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and that is what we learned from the 9/11 commission's final report," said Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick, N.J. "Sept. 11 was an enormous intelligence failure, and yet nothing was done to fix our intelligence after 9/11, and that same intelligence apparatus took us into Iraq. So it's doubly frustrating to learn that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11."

There was an added reason, beyond their bipartisan background, that the 9/11 families had so much credibility: they had been extraordinarily persuasive in their testimony to Congress, which was built not on emotional appeals but a devastating factual case regarding intelligence failures:
On Sept. 18, 2002, when much of the public was still sympathetic to the Bush administration position that the attacks could not have been foreseen or prevented, Breitweiser gave a statement before the joint House-Senate investigation into intelligence lapses; it may have changed the course of history.

In a concise, straightforward manner, she laid out the facts far more effectively than had any senator or representative on the panel. She asked how, for example, the CIA could fail to locate hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, who had entered the United States despite being on a terrorist watch list, when one was listed in the San Diego phone book and both roomed with an undercover FBI informant. The day after her presentation, the White House -- once firmly against an independent commission -- reversed itself and endorsed the idea. And it was the 9/11 commission that would later find no operational ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, one of the key reasons Bush gave for invading Iraq.

Breitweiser posts occasionally still at Huffblog, including a devastating retort to Karl Rove for his Coulteresque attack on liberals last year:
Karl, you say you "understand" 9/11. Then why did you and your friends so vehemently oppose the creation of a 9/11 Independent Commission? Once the commission was established, why did you refuse to properly fund the Commission by allotting it only a $3 million budget? Why did you refuse to allow access to documents and witnesses for the 9/11 Commissioners? Why did we have to fight so hard for an extension when the Commissioners told us that they needed more time due to your footdragging and stonewalling? Why didn't you want to cooperate so that all Americans could “understand” what happened on 9/11?

Since the release of the 9/11 Commission's Final Report, have you helped bring to fruition any of the commission's recommendations? Have you truly made our homeland safer by hardening/eliminating soft targets? Because, to me rebuilding a tower that is 1,776 feet tall where the World Trade Center once stood seems to be only providing more soft targets for the terrorists to hit. Moreover, your support for the use of nuclear energy seems to be providing even more soft targets. Tell me, while you write your nifty little speeches about nuclear power, do you explain to your audience how our nuclear plants will be protected against terrorist attack or infiltration? What assurances do you give that nuclear waste will not find its way into terrorist's dirty bombs and onto our city streets? And, how do you assure your audience that the shipment of radioactive material will not become a terrorist target as it rolls through their own backyards?

No wonder the Coulters of the world hate people like this. They have a tendency to shatter their Bizarro World anti-realities.

I'd kind of like to see Ann Coulter up on a stage with Kristin Breitweiser, but I'm afraid it might signal the end of the universe or something, sort of like anti-matter and matter: anti-reality meeting with reality. The problem is that Coulter, no doubt, would then just call out her thugs.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Border crossings

This is a picture of the Canadian border near Blaine, Washington, not far from where the Minutemen have been holding border watches this spring. As you can see, the border itself consists of an eight-foot-wide grassy ditch between two parallel country roads. Crossing it entails taking a short leap over the ditch.

It's in a remote part of the county and, though Border Patrol vehicles can be seen driving past from time to time, it's the kind of place where someone with a well-laid plan could easily slip over late at night.

There are a lot of places like this along the U.S.-Canada border, which at about 4,000 miles is more than twice as long as the 1,500 miles or so we share with Mexico. What's even more common, in sparsely populated regions of the Northwest especially, is large tracts of wilderness and open range where security is nearly nonexistent at worst and widely sporadic at best.

In other words, there are many more multiple opportunities for Islamist terrorists to enter the United States from Canada than there are from Mexico. Crossing the Canadian border in untracked areas, unlike the Mexican border, is neither terribly hazardous nor even particularly daunting.

However, most terrorism experts will tell you that terrorists prefer to travel incognito with fake papers and are most likely to try crossing through a regular port of entry with those papers. Remote border crossings are a real risk for such operatives because they become more exposed out in the open, rather than simply mingling in with the thousands who cross borders legally every day.

Perhaps more to the point, the presence of Al Qaeda cells in Mexico is virtually unknown, but the presence of Al Qaeda in Canada is very well established indeed, as the Ahmed Ressam case demonstrated vividly.

In other words, if you're genuinely concerned about terrorists crossing our borders, you'll increase funding for port-of-entry security and for monitoring open areas -- on the Canada border primarily.

So it seemed altogether fitting that on the day that the National Guard began its photo op, er, security mission on the Mexican border, the news from Canada came once again to remind us that, when it comes to the issue of border security as an aspect of the "war on terror," our top priority has to be the northern border, not the southern one:
Police said Monday more arrests are likely in an alleged plot to bomb buildings in Canada, while intelligence officers sought ties between the 17 suspects and Islamic terror cells in the United States and five other nations.

A court said authorities had charged all 12 adults arrested over the weekend with participating in a terrorist group. Other charges included importing weapons and planning a bombing. The charges against five minors were not made public.

The Parliament of Canada, located in Ottawa, was believed to be one of the targets the group discussed.

[Michael Stickings has more on the arrests.]

As I asked previously:
Why, if post-9/11 border security is such a suddenly serious concern, aren't we sending the Guard to the Canadian border? -- It is, after all our longest and most porous border, and its many open spots do not entail dangerous and potentially lethal desert crossings. Perhaps more to the point, the one terrorist who did try to sneak into the USA with explosives as part of a plot to attack a major metropolitan area was caught on the Canadian border.

The Ressam case was particularly revealing when it came to the presence of terrorist cells in Canada:
Ressam's plot was ultimately foiled on December 14 by Diana Dean, a U.S. border employee, but his capture would reveal that operatives were also inside America waiting to liaise with their counterparts across the Canadian border. Algerian and Brooklyn resident Abdelghani Meskini was the man supposed to meet Ressam in Seattle and was arrested a few days after the latter's capture.

On December 19, Canadian Lucia Garofalo was also arrested trying to smuggle an Algerian at a remote border crossing in northeastern Vermont. Garofalo was found to have contacts with Atmani and Meskini as well as high-ranking members of GIA cells in Europe. [7] Another Algerian with links to Meskini, Abdel Hakim Tizegha, was arrested on December 24 in Seattle, accused of being part of Ressam's group. In the weeks that followed, a number of Algerians were stopped and questioned in major cities and border regions across the United States and Canada.

Of course, the answer for dealing with this problem doesn't entail building fences, or placing National Guardsmen on the Canadian border, or setting up citizen border watches. Hell, we could place "moats, fiery moats and fiery moats with fire-proof crocodiles" on both the borders and it wouldn't work.

It entails giving the Border Patrol both the manpower and the surveillance technology it needs to adequately monitor the borders and stop foreign terrorists effectively and professionally -- instead of cutting their budget as the Bush administration has done.

So when the Minutemen and their fellow nativists start citing Sept. 11 and their fears about border security as the reason why they're really mounting their Mexico border watches -- surely, it has nothing to do with the fears about the loss of white "culture" that so many of them seem to want to talk about -- it couldn't hurt to remind them that what they're doing is far more likely to dilute a serious effort to bolster antiterrorist security where it counts the most.

And the practical effect of the nativists' border campaign so far? It isn't pretty:
It was early on a May morning, still dark, when Border Patrol agent Dan McClafferty first smelled death, its rich odor piercing the desert bouquet of sage, salt cedar and creosote. Following the beam of his flashlight, McClafferty looked under the thorny branches of a paloverde tree and found what he was looking for.

The body of the 3-year-old boy lay still, covered with a jacket and his arms crossed over his chest. His mother, found wandering along a desert highway hours earlier, had carried him there as she had tried to cross into the United States illegally.

The sad discovery was not unique. Since 1993, when the Clinton administration began a crackdown on border crossings in San Diego and El Paso, more than 3,500 people have died trying to cross into the United States through desert. And, as officials work to put more patrols and fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, immigrant advocates fear there will be more deaths among the tens of thousands who attempt the trip.

Most of the deaths so far -- 959 since Oct. 1, 2001, according to local government statistics and the Mexican government -- have been in Arizona, where the landscape comprises mountains, ranches, Indian reservations, military proving grounds and endless miles of cactus-filled desert. The boy, who was found on May 16 and whose name could not be ascertained from U.S. or Mexican officials, was one of the latest additions to the list.

This is why the current "immigration debate" is so misbegotten. As with most outbreaks of right-wing extremism in the mainstream, its eventual toll is unfailingly, inexorably, a litany of human misery and injustice.