Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Roger Fitch Esq • October 8, 2008

Our Man in Washington

Not only is the economy unravelling at a rapid rate, but so too the well laid extraordinary legal regime of the Bush administration. All that remains are a few well worn Republican dirty tricks to rort the ballot

imageIn a manoeuvre emblematic of George Bush’s lawless approach to law enforcement, military commission charges have been referred against a Tanzanian, Ahmed Ghailani, for civil offences.

As the Miami Herald noted, there’s a valid indictment against Ghailani in US District Court in New York for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania (see my post of June 2), but the Bush administration prefers a military commission.

No doubt, it’s because the Pentagon intends to use evidence tortured from Ghailani or others.

Commissions, with their triple hearsay, suspension of due process, and jurors from a panel picked by the Convening Authority – Dick Cheney’s mate Susan Crawford – have much to commend them.

The alternative? The Federal Rules of Evidence and the US Constitution.

Diverting civil crimes to special military courts of doubtful legality and jurisdiction was also a favourite tactic of Adolf Hitler. Unlike Herr Hitler, Mr Bush enjoys an independent media that never questions the Leader’s good faith or credits him with ill motives.

However, there has been one important breakthrough. Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina has just released 17 Chinese Muslim detainees, or Uighurs, who have been held at Guantánamo in a state of limbo for seven years.

Not only that, the judge has ordered their release into the USA.

Needless to say, the administration is seeking a stay pending an appeal.

* * *

Even with military commissions, there could be problems for the US.

For instance, the professional association of the American psychologists has just sent a letter to the White House explaining why its members can no longer assist with detentions and interrogations.

It seems as though procuring raw material for Bush show trials could be more difficult in future.

A new legal opinion concluded that UK soldiers might face prosecution for handing over Iraqi prisoners to the Americans, where the detainees face mistreatment.

The Guardian has more.

imageThe Canadians are also getting restless.

The Canadian Bar Association is seeking the release of the military commission defendant Omar Khadr, and Canada’s Governor General, Michaëlle Jean (pic), is said to have also intervened.

There’s a new piece on Khadr in the Canadian online magazine Briarpatch.

All the while, extrajudicial trials for unknown war crimes continue to be set in motion at Guantánamo.

Former Chief Prosecutor Col. Morris Davis puts them in perspective in a new law review article on the history of military commissions.

Significantly, another Pentagon prosecutor has quit. He’s Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, lead prosecutor in the military commission of Mohammad Jawad.

Jawad, like Khadr, was captured when a juvenile and charged with throwing a grenade at US soldiers.

As in Khadr’s case, there’s conflicting evidence that the grenade was thrown by the defendant, with the Pentagon busily blocking defence counsel’s access to possibly exculpatory evidence.

When Col. Vandeveld made known his qualms about failing to provide such evidence to the defence, he was accused by the Chief Prosecutor of, well, fraternising with the enemy, namely Jawad’s military counsel Major David Frakt.

Col. Vandeveld reports that he was compelled to have a psychiatric assessment after his ethics outburst.

There are worse things, however, than a lawyer being sent to a shrink. Joanne Mariner worries about mentally incompetent detainees being tried, while the government conceals evidence of their mental state.

imageAnd how would one prove incompetence?

According to government pleadings in the Washington DC habeas cases, defence counsel are not entitled to see medical records of detainees.

Sadly, Chief Judge Thomas Hogan (pic) agreed.

In another DC dirty trick, the government wants to file amended habeas returns to bolster evidence it had called watertight – when it was unreviewable.

* * *

Meanwhile in Miami, a US Attorney is trying the first case ever brought under the Torture Convention Implementation Act, a 1994 law that makes it a crime for US citizens to commit torture overseas.

The defendant is Charles (“Chuckie”) Taylor Jr, son of the Liberian dictator who is facing trial in the Hague.

Time Magazine has more.

Quite sensibly, defence lawyers asked the court to use the more liberal Bush Gang definition of torture.

The activation of the Torture Act by the Bush administration would seem to be an act of pure chutzpah and dangerous hypocrisy.

Think about the precedent! Joanne Mariner has more at FindLaw’s Writ_.

* * *

The Wall Street bailout has been passed by Congress and signed by our putative president.

Apparently, members of Congress who received the most money from Wall Street were the most likely to support the bailout, and McClatchy News noted that the sum contributed by the eight most troubled companies was $64 million.

Money talks – at least it buys access. That’s what the big investment banks got on April 28, 2004 when they won SEC exemptions from the net capital rule – with dire consequences.

* * *

imageWhile the talk in Washington is all about the financial crash and the Bush Regime having brought it on, the journalism watchdog at Harvard wonders why so few media have commented on those other crashes, i.e. John McCain’s frequent involuntary conversions of US military hardware when he was a Navy pilot.

The LA Times has obliged with a report on McCain’s mishaps.

Writing off states, if not planes, has been reported: the McCain (seen here) election campaign has abandoned Michigan.

That seems a waste, as Michigan Republicans had discovered an ingenious new way to stop potential Democrats from voting – lists of foreclosed homes. The New York Times has more.

It’s all a part of “caging voters, according to a former head of the Justice Department’s moribund Voting Section.

NYU Law School’s Brennan Center has a new study on the practice of purging voter rolls for political purposes.

Naturally, voter registration organisations are targeted when it is thought they might be registering Democrats.

Federal law requires the Social Security Administration to verify new voter registrations. Accordingly, the Bush administration has helpfully arranged for the Social Security computers to go offline for three days in October during the peak voter registration period.

Meanwhile, the House of Reps is considering a Bill that would stop the disenfranchisement of students, an old favourite of the Republicans.

At the finish line, three states will be using partisan Republican-connected contractors to count the votes, an idea that must astound Australians.

* * *

The American Civil Liberties Union has just released a report on the special difficulties ex-convicts face in getting the right to vote.

The Republicans reckon most prisoners are Democrats, so they actively discourage restoration of voting rights to ex-convicts.

Maybe the Bush administration should back the ACLU on this. In future, many of the felons completing their debt to society could be Republicans.

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