Answering questions submitted by users on YouTube Monday afternoon, President Barack Obama said that “pretty rank politics” were delaying the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“One of the things that we’ve had to try to communicate to the country at large is that, historically, we’ve tried a lot of terrorists in our courts; we have them in our federal prisons; they’ve never escaped,” said Obama. “And these folks are no different. But it’s been one of those things that’s been subject to a lot of, in some cases, pretty rank politics.”
Obama said his administration will “work through both in Congress but also with public opinion, so that people understand that ultimately this is the right thing to do. By closing Guantanamo, we can regain the moral high ground in the battle against these terrorist organizations.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has been facing increasing criticism for his decision to hold civilian trials for some of the Guantanamo detainees. The proposed Justice Department budget released yesterday included $237 million to buy and upgrade an Illinois prison to hold Guantanamo detainees as they await trial.
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) plans to introduce a bipartisan bill to block funding for civilian trials of five alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Graham said that eight other GOP senators and Democrats Jim Webb of Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, as well as independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, supported the measure.
But Obama said that his administration had reviewed each case individually “in a way that stands up to our standards of due process and legal scrutiny.”
“There’s been no bigger propaganda weapon for many of these extremists than pointing to Guantanamo and saying that we don’t live up to our own ideals,” said Obama. “And that’s something that I strongly believe we have to resist, even if it has some costs to it, and even if it’s not always the most politically popular thing to do.”
More than 11,000 questions were submitted to the White House by YouTube viewers, according to Politico, and more than 640,000 people voted on the questions. The questions were submitted via video or text and Most of the queries, submitted by video or text, were about the economy, health care, energy, job creation, foreign policy and Wall Street, Politico said.
Video of the exchange is embedded and the transcript is available below.
From the White House:
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Number one, you’ve got a whole bunch of individuals in Guantanamo, some of whom are very dangerous, some of whom were low-level fighters, some of whom the courts have determined should never have been put there in the first place. We’ve had to evaluate each of those cases, hundreds of cases, one by one, to determine what these various categories are, and do it in a way that stands up to our standards of due process and legal scrutiny.
Then we’ve got to figure out, if we’re closing Guantanamo, where are we going to put them? And we have proposed that there are a number of options on the continental United States where you could hold these people as trials either in military commissions or in Article 3 courts are pending. But unfortunately, there has been a lot of political resistance, and, frankly, some of it just politically motivated — some of it people being legitimately scared about, well, if we’ve got somebody who we’ve been told is a terrorist in our backyard, will that make us a target?
One of the things that we’ve had to try to communicate to the country at large is that, historically, we’ve tried a lot of terrorists in our courts; we have them in our federal prisons; they’ve never escaped. And these folks are no different. But it’s been one of those things that’s been subject to a lot of, in some cases, pretty rank politics.
And we’ve got to work through that process because Congress ultimately controls the purse strings in creating new facilities. If Congress makes a decision that they are going to try to block the opening of a new facility, it potentially constrains what our administration can do. And so this is something that we’ve got to work through both in Congress but also with public opinion so that people understand that ultimately this is the right thing to do. By closing Guantanamo, we can regain the moral high ground in the battle against these terrorist organizations.
There’s been no bigger propaganda weapon for many of these extremists than pointing to Guantanamo and saying that we don’t live up to our own ideals. And that’s something that I strongly believe we have to resist, even if it has some costs to it, and even if it’s not always the most politically popular thing to do.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit Friday by an advocacy group seeking to force the government to reveal whether its clients were wiretapped during the Bush administration.
The Center for Constitutional Rights filed Wilner v. National Security Agency to determine if the attorney-client privilege between Guantanamo Bay inmates and their lawyers was compromised by warrantless wiretapping of their communications.
The Obama administration has no position on the legality of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which ended three years ago, a government lawyer said, according to Reuters.
Kathryn Sabbeth, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law, said in a statement: ”No argument could be made that targeting American lawyers on American soil to obtain information about their clients was legal, and indeed when counsel for the government was pressed for an explanation he offered none.”
The CCR went to court after the government failed to release information requested in a 2005 FOIA request. A district court ruled the National Security Agency was within its rights not to reveal the requested information because doing so would “reveal information about the NSA’s capabilities and activities,” a CCR news release said.
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After nearly 30 years, the Department of Justice has finally nabbed one of its most-wanted. Famed film director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) has being fleeing U.S. authorities since his arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old in 1978. He was taken into custody in Zurich Sunday morning and faces extradition to Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, the L.A. Times has the best coverage, including his life in photos (nice one with Sharon Tate circa late 1969). He was arrested as he arrived in the Swiss city to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival.
Polanski’s attorneys are reportedly shocked, shocked.
“We absolutely were not expecting such an arrest, in so far as he regularly goes to Switzerland, and he’s done so for several years,” lawyer Herve Temime told Le Figaro, adding that Polanski “even owns a chalet situated in the Gstaad,” a Swiss ski village.
His extradition could take months. U.S. authorities have 60 days to file formal papers requesting his extradition. Polanski can ask the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice to reject those papers, and, if he is denied, appeal to a higher court, the Federal Court of Justice.
Back at Main Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has pledged to revitalize the civil rights division with a renewed focus on minority-discrimination cases, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
Under the Bush administration the civil rights division was “destroyed,” John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told the Post. Instead of the traditional civil rights focus, the Bushies expanded the agenda to include complaints of religious discrimination and human trafficking, they also hired lawyers who shared their conservative ideology – some with little to no civil rights experience – for career jobs.
It’s all about Obama’s legacy. Holder has pledged to make the division “’his crown jewel’ by returning its focus to protecting minorities against discrimination,” the Post reports. “What becomes of these cases, and others like them, will help determine the meaning of justice in the Obama administration.”
Rebuilding the civil rights division seems like a cakewalk compared to the legal gauntlet Obama is running when it comes to closing Gitmo.
One of Obama’s biggest obstacles to closing Gitmo by January is determining where to send about 100 Yemenis, the largest single group of prisoners by nationality, Bloomberg reports.
The U.S. wants many of them to go to a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are refusing to take them and Yemen’s president wants them sent back home. The U.S. wants to avoid that for security reasons.
The Justice Department on Saturday announced that they had agreed to send one former Gitmo detainee back to Yemen and two others to the government of Ireland. The move will leave about 240 detainees remaining at the prison, which the administration conceded this week it may not be able to close by January.
The New York Times weighs in with profiles of the two latest terrorism suspects, one, a Jordanian teenager who allegedly plotted to blow up a Dallas skyscraper, and the other, a U.S. citizen who was targeting a federal building in Springfield, Ill.
Are these two just nice young men or U.S.-hating, cold-blooded terrorists? Friends say each were each extremely helpful to them. A pal of Michael Finton, the suspect in the Illinois plot, even called him a “role model.” But others say Finton, who went by the nickname Talib Islam (student of Islam), “didn’t like America very much” and “thought we needed more rules, so that people would behave.”
Authorities started watching Finton’s every move after a search of his car turned up a letter about his dreams of being a martyr and a document about waiting for a “return letter” from John Walker Lindh.
Friends painted an even more complex portrait of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi. He drove a single mother to the grocery store, lent her money when she didn’t have enough to feed her two children – even gave her a cell phone when hers broke and got her a job as a cashier and drove her to work.
But the criminal complaint reveals a dark side. An agent posing as a senior member of an al Qaeda sleeper cell befriended Smadi, and he responded to the call. He pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, saying “I love him as I love my father,” expressed anger over the invasion of Gaza by the Israelis and vowed he was “ready for the jihadi life.”
According to Politico, Republican Rep. Aaron Schock’s district office in Springfield was on of the targets of Finton’s planned terrorist attack.
The evidence against Finton and Smadi seems pretty solid (Finton was caught in a sting operation while driving a van he thought was loaded with explosives to the Paul Findley Federal Building. He even allegedly parked the car and made phone calls he believed would trigger a blast killing or injuring people inside the building!)
But a new study says federal agencies are only prosecuting about one out of four terrorism suspects and suggests federal agencies can’t even agree on who is a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.
People charged with terrorism often go free because the evidence wasn’t strong enough to bring them to trial, says the study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research group at Syracuse University, the AP reports.
“According to the data, U.S. attorneys reported that the cases brought to them by investigators were often based on weak or insufficient admissible evidence, lacked criminal intent or did not constitute a federal offense.”
Of course, the Justice Department disagrees with TRAC’s analysis and conclusions. A spokesman said the report omits some statistics and uses data that differs from the agency’s information.
Numerous organizations across the federal government – the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – just to name a few – enforce the laws associated with terrorism while federal prosecutors determine which cases will be brought to court.
All have different ways of identifying terror-related crimes – and TRAC found that about one-third of the defendants charged with a terrorism offense were not categorized as having a connection to terrorism. The findings led TRAC to conclude that the government must do a better job defining and focusing its terrorism enforcement.
The New York Times also ran a piece about the plummeting Supreme Court docket. In the early 1980s, SCOTUS decided more than 150 cases a year. These days it decides half that many.
What gives? Is SCOTUS getting lazy? The Supreme Court advocacy clinic at Yale Law School held a conference to explore the mystery of the shrinking docket.
“Participants blamed the newer justices, others their clerks. Some blamed Congress for not cranking out enough confusing legislation. And some blamed the Justice Department, which is filing fewer appeals,” the Times reported.
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The Obama administration is fighting a provision of the 2010 defense authorization bill that would prevent contractors from conducting detainee interrogations and mandate that all interrogations be videotaped, The Hill reports.
Today, the Office of Management and Budget and the White House press office simultaneously issued a statement of policy.
In some limited cases, a contract interrogator may possess the best combination of skills to obtain critical intelligence and this provision, therefore, could prevent U.S. forces from conducting lawful interrogations in the most effective manner.
Although the administration is open to studying a possible video recording requirement, implementing a mandatory requirement at this time would be imprudent, unduly burdensome, and could risk significant unintended consequences in current and future military operations.
The administration is pressuring Congress to rewrite the bill, now being debated in the Senate, so that the rules and regulations that apply to military interrogators would also apply to those under contract so that contractors would be allowed to interrogate detainees.
The 2010 defense authorization bill passed by the House contains language requiring the videotaping of military interrogations.
The other day, we wrote about the lack of published Obama-era legal memos from the Office of Legal Counsel. (The office has published approximately one since he took office.) We gave OLC the benefit of the doubt: It’s early in the administration; Dawn Johnsen, the nominee to head the office, is stuck in the mud; and several OLC lawyers have departed recently. But today The Wall Street Journal has the scoop on another as-yet unpublished OLC memo.
The Justice Department has determined that detainees tried by military commissions in the U.S. can claim at least some constitutional rights, particularly protection against the use of statements taken through coercive interrogations, officials said.
A DOJ task force has been considering ways to try prisoners by military commission. According to the WSJ, the task force asked OLC which constitutional rights, if any, would apply if the trials were held in the U.S. David Barron, the acting assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 4 memorandum that there is a “serious risk” that federal courts would take a constitutional due process approach when evaluating the trials.
Mr. Barron advised that federal courts were unlikely to require strict adherence to Bill of Rights provisions spelling out specific procedures, such as the Sixth Amendment speedy trial right, or the Miranda warning, which the Supreme Court imposed in 1966 to ensure compliance with the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.
But Mr. Barron advised that courts were likely to view the use of coerced statements to convict and punish defendants as violating any definition of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which courts have cited in establishing a baseline of fundamental rights. As a result, some officials believe a legislative fix to the Military Commissions Act should include additional rights for defendants in order to lower the chances courts would strike it down.
The Obama administration has published 13 previously secret Bush-era legal memos by the OLC. We hope Barron lives up to the “Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel” he signed along with Johnsen in 2004. No. 6 on the list of principles: “OLC should publicly disclose its written legal opinions in a timely manner, absent strong reasons for delay or nondisclosure.” Timely. Manner.
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President Obama will be announcing later today that he will keep the military commission system used by former President George W. Bush to try suspected terrorists. The president will ask Congress to significantly expand the rights afforded to detainees. Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), John Warner (Va.), and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) proposed legislation in 2006 that could serve as a template for that expansion. The proposal, among other things, banned evidence obtained through torture, established tough criteria for admitting hearsay evidence, and give detainees the ability to pick their own lawyers. The president will request a 120-day delay in nine pending hearings before commissions so that they can change its policies and provide detainees due process. Read the full NYT article here.