Monday, August 10, 2015

FromRoger Fitch and our friends down under at Justinian...

Fighting the unprivileged in court

Former AG Eric Holder goes back to big law ... Possible reward for failing to prosecute banks ... TPP will see Australian health care targeted by predatory US insurers ... New trend of prosecuting foreign "unprivileged" fighters in US civil courts ... Roger Fitch files from Washington 
"The government may not always say what it means or mean what it says."
- Judge Royce Lamberth in finding la guerre in Afghanistan n’est pas fini. 
THE supreme court's term has expired and, in September, so too will the life of a late litigant.
Oklahoma will get another chance to use medical experimentation on death row inmates' executions and Richard Glossip risks a cruel and unusual death, thanks to junk science gleaned from the internet.
Glossip lost his case by one vote. 
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens had some astute observations about this and other 2014 term decisions, including the marriage equality caseObergefell(explained here and here). 
*   *   *
On Wall Street, crime pays like no other place.  Now, long-time Obama Attorney General Eric Holder is returning to his old law firm, Covington & Burling, and some have unkindly suggested he'll be rewarded with work from the same banks he didn't prosecute (in fact, only one top American banker went to jail).
Meanwhile, the DoJ's "Deferred Prosecution Agreements" that allow great corporations to escape criminal convictions, save their reputations, avoid civil suits, and keep getting government contracts -  favoured by AG Holder - have attracted the favourable attention of the UK's Tory government. 
*   *   *
A health care oligopoly, predicted when President Obama chose private insurance over public, is coming to fruition: soon there will be only three major health insurers.    
The Australian health care system, with subsidised for-profit insurers like Medibank – and vulnerable non-profits - could be in the sights of predatory US insurers, thanks to the Coalition's Trans-Pacific "Partnership".  Soon Australia, too, can learn the benefits of (corporate) "managed medicine".
The big breakthrough for the US will be Australia agreeing to the horrifying ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) process, where Australian courts are cut out and government laws and policies affecting education, agriculture, health, safety and the environment - and much more - are dismantled in private courts staffed by corporate lawyers. 
The very notion of a corporation having the right to sue a government outside its own sovereign courts is a shocking one, rejected by previous Coalition governments, but it seems Tony Abbott's government accepts them, having agreed to their use in the recent China and South Korea "free trade" agreements.  
Senator Penny Wong wants these poison pill courts annulled
Meanwhile a new ANU study has found Australia's 2005 "free trade" deal with the US has not increased trade at all. More here.
*   *   *
The US has long seized and interned combatants whom they categorise as "unprivileged", although the Article 5 (prisoner status) hearings they are entitled to under the Geneva Conventions and US law have never been held. 
A few of those who dared oppose US soldiers and military operations overseas are now being brought to the US for civil trials. 
Irek Hamidullin is a Russian convert to Islam picked up in the Afghan war and brought to the US for trial in a Virginia federal court on sundry war-related charges – labelled "terrorism" - on the basis that he had been "fighting with the Taliban" – assuming, with George Bush, that Taliban fighters can't be privileged belligerents.  
The judge expressed scepticism but allowed the case to proceed. Coverage of the trial has been spotty
It may indeed be lawful for the US to prosecute military opponents in civil courts using US domestic laws, by classifying them as unprivileged and charging them with terrorism.
As previously noted (see post of Sept 2010) the authoritative Conduct of Hostilities Under the Law of Armed Conflict (2004) provides that: 
"With unlawful combatants, [the law of armed conflict] refrains from stigmatizing the acts as criminal.  It merely takes off a mantle of immunity from the defendant, who is thereby accessible to penal charges for any offense committed against the domestic legal system."
You'd think that would be the domestic legal system of the country where the war is occurring, e.g. Afghanistan prosecuting personal crimes such as murder and looting committed under cover of war, but according to the ICRC: 
"If civilians directly engage in hostilities, they are considered 'unlawful' or 'unprivileged' combatants or belligerents ... [and] ... may be prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action." 
Knowledgeable academics like Just Security's Steve Vladeck seem comfortable with the idea of US civil prosecutions for foreign battlefield actions, evidently on the assumption that the Taliban don't qualify as lawful, privileged belligerents and are thus "terrorists". 
If Hamidullin is meant to be indicative of foreign fighters who have opposed Americans, he seems an odd choice, as he didn't actually harm anyone. As his lawyer pointed out, the case was not about suicide bombings or attacking civilians, and was "the very first case of its kind". 
In fact, the US has already obtained a domestic conviction against a foreign combatant for opposing US troops on a battlefield overseas. More here on the conviction of Saddiq Al-Abbadi, achieved through a guilty plea.
The NY Times comments on the strange new trend of prosecuting foreigners in American courts for crimes - if such they be - that occurred outside the US, including many that have little or no connection to the US.
In a British case similar to Hamidullin's, and based on unprivileged combat, a UK resident, Anis Sardar, was convicted of murder for making a roadside bomb that killed a US soldier in Iraq.   
What if Sardar had been a lawful combatant? In today's warfare, is the use of a hidden roadside bomb a war crime? Does it involve treachery or an unlawful weapon?
It's being treated as a war crime in the latest Guantánamo prosecution, that of Abd al Hadi. If so, it would be - along with his alleged attacks on civilians - among the first valid war offences charged at Gitmo. 
Legal academics are meanwhile debating what to do with the Pentagon's unprivileged belligerents - those CIA operatives, who drone-kill military and non-military targets alike, assisted by mercenaries, sorry, contractors, who could also become unprivileged belligerents, but, like the CIA, receive little oversight
What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

From Roger Fitch and our Friends down under.... At Justinian.

Crimes and misdemeanours

Latest from the US Supremes ... Citizens United splits a seam ... Trade agreements and sidelining judicial oversight ... Leveraging the "no fly" list ... Terrorism prosecutions and the First Amendment ... From Our Man in Washington, Roger Fitch 
IN Ubergefell v Hodges, decided June 25, the supreme court discovered a hitherto unknown right to same-sex marriage, nestling undetected in the constitution since the 1868 adoption of the 14th Amendment.  
Scarcely two weeks later, the state of South Carolina abruptly decided it was anachronistic to have the Confederate States of America flag flying over its capitol.  
No one asked what the flag was doing there, 150 years after the end of the Civil War - further proof of William Faulkner's bon mot, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." 
*   *   *
In the court's waning days, Republican governors lost their baffling battle to defeat government-assisted health insurance in their states.
In King v Burwell, "Obamacare" survived.  
The states should have known a corporate lawyer (CJ Roberts) and former lobbyist (Justice Kennedy) wouldn't upset an implemented scheme of compulsory, subsidised health insurance worth billions to insurers, pharmaceutical companies, the "healthcare industry" and sundry corporate investors. 
Now, some of the 35 Republican governors want to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing new carbon emissions rules. 
Subsidies for insurance and pharmaceutical companies got the better of God
They've been buoyed by the last-day decision of their Republican brethren on the supreme court in Michigan v EPA, making the legal regulation of mercury pollution subject to (irrelevant) cost considerations that "burden" the offending power plants.
*   *   *
The supreme court's same-day, happier Arizona redistricting decision supported citizen initiatives to take constituency-drawing out of the hands of partisan legislatures.
It's already been cited by Florida's supreme court in a redistricting case, and may haveimplications for presidential elections.  
There's also been a refreshing break in the unrelenting setbacks for democracy flowing from the Citizens United case, with a unanimous en banc DC Circuit upholding bans on federal contractors donating to politicians who give them work. 
*   *   *
Mr Obama now has the Fast Track authority he wanted – the constitutionally questionable gift by Congress of authority to negotiate "trade" treaties which cannot thereafter be altered, except by a "no" vote on the unamended package.
An also-compromised European Parliament has tentatively backed the odious Transatlantic Trade and Investment "Partnership", and environmentalists are justly alarmed.
The TTIP is one of the three imperial treaties President Obama is simultaneously negotiating worldwide.
According to WikiLeaks, another of the treaties, the Trans Pacific "Partnership" channels a US scheme to crush the public health care systems in Australia and New Zealand for the benefit of Big Pharma and other US corporate malefactors. 
The US threat to exclude Canada for failing to roll over on agriculture leaves little doubt that Americans are the prime movers and orchestrators of the TPP. 
Trade in Services Agreement: shifting sovereignty offshore
The Trade in Services Agreement, third prong of this corporate trifecta (see June post), has been the subject of further revelations, with WikiLeaks publishing a second tranche of negotiation documents that reveal plans of the world's biggest corporations and banks to plunder at will without effective regulation or judicial accountability.  
It's a blueprint for acquiring an unfair advantage over local interests by avoiding ordinary costs of doing business such as maintaining an office and local presence, while evading compliance with environmental, labour, health and safety laws, with costs shifted onto the public. The goal?  Removing "investment" risks -previously considered an essential feature and justification of capitalism.   
The idea is to have governments sign a sort of confession of judgment, should they be so imprudent as to pass legislation, promulgate regulations or otherwise make decisions that cost corporations money - including speculative future profits.
There's more on the reckless TISA proposals here and here
In an exquisite irony, TISA has "transparency" provisions which, like all the others, are to be kept secret for four years after the adoption of the treaty or the abandonment of negotiations.
*   *   *
DC Circuit panel recently ruled that conspiracy and other US-invented offences are not, in fact, war crimes, after the Al Bahlul military commission case was remanded by the circuiten banc
FindLaw aptly headlined "Military Tribunals Can't Try Terrorists for Civil Crimes", butWashington Legal Foundation's director wrote, "Appeals Court Confounds Military Justice by Importing Foreign Law into the US Constitution", ignoring the constitution's specific reference to the "law of nations" when setting out Congress's power in Art I, sec. 8. 
Steve Vladeck comments here and here.
The NY Times praised the decision
*   *   *
Fly and spy
Running trained and professional spies is expensive, but the FBI has found a better, cheaper way to keep track of Americans deemed suspicious, ie, Muslims: the use of the no-fly list to coerce them into spying.  
Refuse to spy, you're on the list. Want off? Agree to spy.
That was the theory, but in a suit in NY federal court, the government has agreed to stop using the no-fly list to torment Muslim-Americans who refuse to spy.
Incredibly, the government, in defending against the Bivens civil damages action, arguesthere is "no constitutional right not to become an informant".  
*   *   *
It's come to this: it's news when a Muslim is not punished as a terrorist for exercising First Amendment rights that the Justice Department deems uncongenial. 
The government had sought "terrorist enhancements" of 20 years in the sentence of a man already convicted, with time served, for unrelated offences. His crime? He'd been looking at "Islamic literature" (more here).
The case reminded Fitch of the Bostonian, Tarek Mehanna, now serving 17 years fortranslating such literature
And then there's 20 years in prison for clearing your web browser. That's what DoJ is seeking in the case of a mate of the Boston bomber, charged with obstruction of justice for actions after his friend's arrest, though he had no foreknowledge of the bombing. 
There's a new book out on such "terror" prosecutions by Wadie Said, son of the late Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said.  
Meanwhile, in a major decision, the Second Circuit has ruled in favour of Muslimsindiscriminately rounded-up in the wake of 9/11.
More here and here on a case that has already lasted 13 years. 
Steve Vladeck reviews the 200 page judgment and there's more background here.  
*   *   *
And last, after a decade of lying and stonewalling, the American Psychological Associationhas finally admitted its shameful collaboration with CIA and Pentagon torture.
The Guardian and NY Times have more. 

Monday, June 22, 2015


The high price of free trade

Busy season for the US Supremes ... Huge trade agreements a boon for corporates but unhappy consequences for the democratic process ... Australian proposals for the trade in professional services ... Rarely used federal death penalty for Boston bomber ... UN's guidelines on habeas corpus ... Ukrainian jobs for US residents ... Our Man in Washington 
MAJOR supreme court cases will be decided this month, including Obergefell, the marriage equality case.
In King v Burwell, millions of Americans could lose their health insurance tax credits through a legislative drafting oversight in the Affordable Care Act. The case gives the court's conservative Republicans another shot at displacing "Obamacare".  
There's also a civil rights case pending where CJ John Roberts could set back antidiscrimination law if he chooses. 
In the next term, there's an opportunity for the Roberts Court to gut voting rights for Democrat-voting minorities in Texas, more here.
A decision requiring state senate districts to be structured differently to lower houses could help Republicans crack open one of the most intractably-Democrat states, California. 
Some enlightened decisions continue to emerge from the court, and the latest concerns aFacebook posting -scienter is still required in prosecutions for threats. Scotusblog has the story.
*   *   *
Freedom Act replaces the NSA's bulk data collection
Congress has now passed the absurdly-named USA FREEDOM (Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring) Act to ban the NSA's bulk metadata collection in future.  
A leading litigant responds here, and Georgetown Law prof David Cole comments here.
Meanwhile, it cost corporations less than $18,000 per Senator to secure the passage of a"fast track" Bill, giving President Obama the power to negotiate, without Congressional input, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. With 435 members, the House will cost more.
The TPP would remove "trade barriers", which might include environmental, labour, health, safety and other regulatory nuisances that inconvenience transnational corporations and inhibit their profits.
There's also a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership under negotiation, with similar corporate "trade" proposals. 
A UN body is worried about the impact of such "free trade" and investment agreements on human rights (more here). 
The TPP will allow trans-national corporations to redefine sovereignty
Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stieglitz is alarmed by the social consequences of letting transnational corporations decide the laws that regulate them, bypassing national democratic processes.
WikiLeaks released documents from a third set of negotiations, the highly-secret Trade in Services Agreement, which has Australia as a co-conspirator, sorry, partner.  
The TPP, TTIP and TISA form a globalisation trifecta, a corporate Trojan horse for deregulation and the reciprocal plundering of countries signing-up. Many provisions begin with "A Party [State] may not …" and are designed to take legislation off the table in signatory countries; worse, transgressions are litigated in special arbitration courts - staffed by corporate lawyers - from which there is no appeal.  
States have no corresponding right of redress, and there is no recourse to their courts.
Forbes was disturbed by provisions regulating the internet, found in the Annex on Electronic Commerce
TISA also has an Annex on Professional Services covering lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, vets and  "private education services".
Aussie lawyers may be interested in these provisions: 
4. Local presence [Australian government proposal]
(a) No Party may require a service supplier of any other Party to establish or maintain a representative office or any form of commercial presence, or to be resident in its territory as a condition for the professional services. 
- - -
5. Foreign Capital Limitations [US proposal]
No Party may, with respect to entities supplying professional services through a commercial presence limit the participation of foreign capital in terms of maximum percentage limit on foreign shareholding or the total value of individual or aggregate foreign investment.
There's also this Australian proposal:
10. Lawyers Fly-in, Fly-out (a) Where commitments are undertaken for the supply of legal services … for foreign law, a Party shall allow entry and temporary stay on a fly-in, fly-out basis without requiring the service supplier to establish or maintain a representative office or any form of commercial presence, or to be resident or domiciled in its territory, or to gain admission or otherwise qualify as a local practitioner, or to register in the Party ... 
More on TISA here and here.
*   *   *
Federal death sentence for the Boston bomber - rarely used
The US has performed badly again in the UN's annual review of its human rights record, more here.
Al Jazeera has more.
The US imposition of the death penalty has been highlighted by the conviction of the "Boston bomber", who received the federal death sentence in Massachusetts, a state strongly opposed to the penalty, and one where it has not been imposed since 1947.  
The federal death penalty has been imposed just three times in 30 years, and there is some talk that capital punishment could finally be abolished in the US.
The UN has also issued its guidelines on habeas corpus, just in time for the 800thanniversary of Magna Carta.
It's a timely issue in the US, where the habeas action of Abu Zubaydah, the CIA's first (post-9/11) torture victim, has seen an extraordinary delay of nearly seven years in DC district court. 
*   *   *
Years after his plea bargain (Fitch of October 2012), and following 13 years of gratuitous torment by successive American and Canadian governments, Omar Khadr has finally been bailed by an Alberta court, pending his appeal of fake war crime convictions at the Pentagon's dodgy Court of Military Commission Review.  
More here and here
Khadr's chances look good, as the DC Circuit has just issued its long-awaited decision in Al Bahlulstriking down "conspiracy" and other US-invented "war crimes" as offences triable by military commission. Steve Vladeck comments.  
*   *   *
Government declassifications have led to more damaging revelations by Gitmo internees of their abuse, e.g. that of Majid Khan, the "High Value Detainee" presently awaiting a military commission sentence pursuant to a plea deal, and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held
Marty Lederman explains the significance of ending the gag orders against Gitmo internees talking about their mistreatment, now that the US Senate's Feinstein Report on the same torture has been released. 
*   *   *
In the same week that the author of Boumediene, retired justice John Paul Stevens, called for reparations to some Guantanameros, the City of Chicago set-up a fund to pay the victims of past torture by the Chicago police.
US cities and towns pay out millions in civil damages and settlements every year for police negligence and misconduct, but Chicago's program will be the first systematic fund.   
*   *   *
Saakashvili: new job running Odessa
The New York lawyer and sometime Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has lounged around Brooklyn in recent years, looking for meaning in his life.  
Now, he's finally found a job: Ukraine's ruling oligarch has made him Odessa's regional governor.  
As one headline read, "Neocon Fugitive Given Ukrainian Province". 
Like Ukraine's new Finance Minister, American ex-State Department functionary Natalie Jaresko, Saakashvili has taken out citizenship.
Ukrainian law requires that dual nationals renounce their other citizenship within two years, but by then the US-EU looting of Ukraine should be pretty well complete.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

From Roger Fitch and our Friends Down Under at Justinian

Being droned to death

Show us the kill-list criteria ... New US attorney general needs to fix the FBI ... $4 million investment in judicial election paid off handsomely for litigant ... CIA whistleblower convicted ... Carrying a concealed gun is a "lifestyle" ... Fitch fails to snag a seat at crowded US Supremes same sex marriage hearing 
"It turns out I'm pretty good at killing people."– Barack Obama, in a light-hearted aside
NY Times headline, "First Evidence of a Blunder in Drone Strike", is old news.
The announcement was unsurprising, as thePentagon admits it doesn't always know who it's killing. 
More here.  
President Obama's death-by-drone policy continues to attract critics, e.g. Germans unhappy to hear it's coordinated through Ramstein AFB, one of many American enclaves still embedded in Germany 70 years after the war ended. 
Drone assassinations can still be averted by capture, as a lucky Texan discovered.  
Muhanad al Farekh was fortunate to be kidnapped in Pakistan and (irregularly) extradited to the US - he's been nominated for drone-death since 2013.
 More here and here
Meanwhile, there's a new ACLU lawsuit seeking "kill-list" criteria.
*   *   *
Three Blackwater mercenaries involved in an unprovoked 2007 massacre in Baghdad's Nisour Square have each been given 30-year manslaughter sentences in the US; the man who started it all got life in prison for murder.
The NY Times has more on the sentencing of the unrepentant men plus a back-story about the Bush Justice Department's prior efforts to botch the case against employees of a generous Republican contributor.  
Fitch previously detailed the State Department's suspicious 2007 intervention (Oct. 10, 2007). 
*   *   *
US attorney general Loretta Lynch: needs to fix FBI's forensic hair analysis
There's a new US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and one of the first things she will need to address is the poor performance of her department's investigatory arm, the FBI.
A new report finds that the FBI's forensic hair analysis was "flawed" in hundreds of cases before 2000, some involving death penalties subsequently carried out.  
Thousands of state cases also used the discredited FBI pseudo-science.
In one case, a single hair sent an innocent man to jail for 30 years; in another, a man spent 28 years in jail when a dog hair was identified as his
*   *   *
In US states – where 100 million cases are filed each year compared to 400,000 in federal courts – elected judges are increasingly for sale, according to a new study in Mother Jones.  
In one case, a mere $4 million investment in the election of a successful Illinois Supreme Court candidate led to a gratifying reversal of a $1.19 billion judgment against State Farm Insurance, and in Texas and Alabama, Republicans have apparently succeeded in bulk purchases of the supreme courts. 
*   *   *
Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan: CIA prisoner drop off
Poland, like Macedonia, has had to pay for CIA crimes in Europe.  
After a judgment against it in the European Court of Human Rights, Poland has now done the right thing and asked the US not to execute men at Gitmo who were tortured in Poland, e.g. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.  
Now the question is being asked, did the CIA drop off some of its ex-Poland prisoners in Uzbekistan for a coup de graceCraig Murray thinks it's possible, and he was the British ambassador there. 
Lithuania, also under pressure from the ECHR, is reopening its investigation of CIA torture in that country.
*   *   *
At last, an ex-official of the CIA - a director, no less - has been convicted of a crime in a US court.
In a departure from the plea bargain of retired four-star General David Petraeus, the judge imposed two years' probation and the maximum fine of $100,000 - still less than Petraeus's usual speaking fee.
The misdemeanour sentence for unauthorised possession of classified information – given to Petraeus's mistress - is light compared to that of whistleblowers, and reveals a deepdouble-standard in Justice Department prosecutions.  
Jeffrey Sterling, a black CIA officer, is facing prison after a recent conviction on nine felony counts involving the alleged (and only circumstantially proved) leaking of secrets to NY Times' James Risen, considerably less "espionage" then the acts alleged against Petraeus.
Jeffrey Stirling, CIA lawyer: guilty of leaking
Sterling has now asked that his sentence be set aside, claiming DoJ considered race and rank in its disparate handling of the two cases.
Secrecy News has more and the NYT comments here
*   *   *
For those considering a visit to the US, be warned: there are states where it's legal to carry a concealed weapon without any permit whatever. The latest victims of NRA insanity live in Kansas.
As one Republican state politician explained, "Carrying a gun is a lifestyle ... government should trust its citizens". And anyway, "Kansans already have two documents granting them the right to concealed carry: the Constitution of the United States and the Kansas Constitution ... That should be all they need." At least he didn't mention the bible.
Of course, guns or not, this may not be a good time to visit the US. The Transport Safety Administration has a new guide for spotting arriving tourists suitable for no-fly lists.
According to the Intercept, it includes telltale signs of terrorist proclivities such as yawning - not unusual after a 15 hour flight from Sydney - and other giveaways such as complaints about screening; throat-clearing; staring; "improper" attire; "excessive" grooming; whistling; and that old favourite from Shakespeare, rubbing and wringing hands.
*   *   *
US Supremes: cogitating on marriage equality
The history of gay marriage in the US is not yet complete: so far, 37 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and 22 Indian Nations have accepted it, while the Navaho are still resisting.
On April 28, in what could be the most important civil rights case in a generation, the Supreme Court heard the argument in Obergefell v Hodgesa case that will finally settle the issue of same-sex marriage laws throughout the US.   
The party briefs are here and about 150 amicus briefs (a record) are listed here.
There's a handy guide here.
Fitch failed to snag a courtroom seat, but here's a program for those who did.
Initial reports of the oral argument suggest it won't be plain sailing for the plaintiffs. 
Harvard law prof Michael Klarman has written a fascinating two-part history of the US marriage equality movement thus far, here and here, and shows why the court's decision, to be announced in late June, should be a foregone conclusion, given the change in public attitudes.
In 1996, 25 percent of Americans supported marriage equality, and now polls find that 63 percent favour it.
If only Americans could change their views on, say, the wisdom of arming everyone; the utility of foreign wars; or the efficacy of the death penalty; as quickly as they altered their attitude towards same-sex relationships.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

From Roger Fitch and our Friends down under at Justinian....

Out and proud

Four marriage equality cases go to the US Supremes ... Is there a constitutional right to gerrymander? ... Secretive lawyer society behind moves to bring downAffordable Care Act ... Shock finding - lawyers more liberal than most, but judges are more conservative ... Republican senators' undiplomatic activities ... Roger Fitch files from Washington 
Senator Tom Cotton: taking on Iran
Forty-seven Republican senators have sent Iran a brazen letter attacking Mr Obama's foreign policy powers, essentially promising that a future Republican government will break any agreement the Democrat president makes to forestall the development of nuclear weapons in Iran.
The undiplomatic note penned by Arkansas's notorious new senator, Tom Cotton is bad law and seems to violate the Logan Act'sprohibition of private correspondence with foreign governments.
Republicans have form when it comes to sedition. In 1968, they warned South Vietnam away from Lyndon Johnson's Paris peace talks, causing their collapse. In 1980, they persuaded the Iranians to hold on to the American hostages till Ronald Reagan had been elected, promising a better deal.  
But those plots were secret. With a Tea-Party Congress, it's another matter: they're out and proud.  
The Republican revolutionaries will likely go unpunished, as no one has been prosecuted under the Logan Act since it was passed in 1799.
Senator Cotton was recently promoted from his House seat with the help of nearly a million dollars from the "Emergency Committee on Israel", so his motives are open to question. 
Indeed, the real scandal lies in the fact that 47 of 100 senators are prepared to pursue the foreign policy goals of a foreign nation - in this case, Israel - as against their own government.
It's a policy that included the unilateral invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. The Israeli PM predictably used that platform to make partisan attacks on Iran and Obama, and generate video footage for his then ongoing political campaign.   
For more on the Republicans' incessant attacks on international law - eg, binding treaties and executive agreements between countries - there's a timely new book by LieberCode'sJens David Ohlin. 
*   *   *
Venezuela: posing a threat to the United States
President Obama's reconciliation with Cuba may have upset hardline Republicans - including two Cuban-American senators - but the bipartisan policy of beating-up independent-minded Latin American nations is still flourishing.
Just this month, Mr Obama warned the senate of a "national emergency" in which Venezuela posed "an extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States".
This declaration of an existential threat to the American republic was designed to trigger more pointless sanctions, and rightly drew ridicule from Al JazeeraEmptywheel's Marcy Wheeler and the NY Times.
Venezuela has reason to be wary: a representative of the misleadingly-named National Endowment for Democracy is reportedly travelling incognita in the country to meet - secretly - opposition leaders.   
*   *   *
Scalia and Thomas: travelling together
In April, the Supreme Court will consider four "marriage equality" cases from the 6thCircuit, the only circuit to rule against same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, the court continues to allow these marriages to go ahead in the circuits that have ruled them legal.
Alabama was briefly the 37th state to have gay marriage, but now there's a stand-off between the federal and state courts, reminiscent of the civil rights litigation in the 1960s. 
Clarence Thomas - joined by Nino Scalia - filed a bitter dissent in Strange v Alabama, accusing the court of "indecorous" and "cavalier" rulings.
In the midst of a busy schedule, the court still found time to knock back another Gitmo civil action, that of Abdul Al-Janko, a prisoner (now released) who experienced one of the more outrageous miscarriages of justice in the sordid history of Guantánamo Bay. 
There remain many more important cases before the Supreme Court in March, one of which involves independent commissions for determining electoral boundaries.
Australians accept an independent Electoral Commission as a sensible idea for removing politics from elections, but they're under attack in the US.
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, currently before the court, considers whether a state legislature has a constitutional right to gerrymander, unhindered by citizen-approved independent bodies. 
The court seemed sceptical of independent boards at oral argument, and with swing-justice Anthony Kennedy showing a poor grasp of US history, it seems possible the legislature will win
*   *   *
Federalist Society behind moves to bring down Obama's Affordable Care Act
A new Harvard study has found that US lawyers are generally more liberal than the average citizen, while judges are more conservative. 
Why are judges conservative? Maybe it's because more federal judges have been appointed by Republican presidents, especially during the 12-year Reagan-Bush Reich.
In the early eighties, things were more balanced, so the Republican Party set out to rectify the problem through the creation of its rightwing legal front, the Federalist Society
Today that organisation is within striking distance of bringing down the Affordable Care ActObama's health insurance scheme.
More here on King v Burwell, where there's danger in the wind as the ideological majority gets another crack at thwarting Obama's health care reforms. 
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At Guantánamo, the government has once again shown it can't be trusted to play nice at the innately unfair military commissions and the Convening Authority has resigned under pressure after adverse court rulings. 
Defence lawyers have already had to contend with FBI listening devices planted in smoke detectors of client interview rooms; government interference with and attempted co-optionof a defence team member; and even real-time censoring of court proceedings by unidentified spooks. 
Now, an interpreter offered to the counsel for the "9/11" accused has been recognised by the defendants as an alumnus of the CIA team at their torture black site.  
Confronted by the judge, the Pentagon readily admitted the interpreter was a CIA asset, but wouldn't say where. The case is proceeding without him.
There was some good news. The Kafkaesque gag order, which had prevented the defendants and their counsel from even talking about their black site and other torture by the CIA, has been partially lifted.  
One of the first prisoners to benefit will be the 9/11 defendant Mustafa Hawsawi, now free to discuss being - uh - sodomised by the CIA (see December post). 
Marty Lederman is optimistic things are improving. More here
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US Virgin Islands: the new Guantánamo
As is well known, Cuba would like the US to leave Guantánamo - it's no longer being used as a coaling station.The governor of a US territory sees an opportunity, and wants to locate America's next Devil's Island in the lovely Virgin Islands. 
Fitch can hear it now - "Fermez St Croix!"