Posts Tagged ‘CPAC’
Thursday, February 25th, 2010

A leader of the Patriot movement said federal appeals court judge Jay Bybee once rejected him for a clerkship.

Stewart Rhodes, president of Oath Keepers, which critics have called part of a newly resurgent militia movement, told Main Justice he considered former Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel chief Bybee’s memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques to be “dangerous.”

Oath Keepers President and Founder Stewart Rhodes (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

“I disagree with him very strongly about some of the doctrines of detention and some of the things he wrote justifying torture, but in particular the stuff that he wrote and John Yoo wrote justifying applications of the laws of war even on American citizens. I find that very dangerous,” Rhodes said in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.

The Yale Law School graduate suggested his views worked against him in his 2003 interview with Bybee, who sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. “Of course I didn’t get the clerkship, but I didn’t want it anyway,” Rhodes said.

The CPAC conference last week laid bare divisions between mainstream conservatives and what might be called the “Tea Party” conservatives, the libertarian-leaning movement against big government, public deficits and the perceived erosion of civil liberties.

To the left, Bybee has become a symbol of a right-wing ideologue willing to craft legal arguments to justify torture.

Rhodes isn’t far from that view. His group falls within the “Patriot” wing of the Tea Party movement, which emphasizes Second Amendment gun rights and the U.S. Constitution, and often takes positions so far to the right that they loop back around to the left.

A spokeswoman for Bybee’s office declined to comment on Rhodes or whether he applied for a clerkship, saying the office did not comment on personnel matters.

Oath Keepers describes itself as a non-partisan organization comprised of currently serving and retired military, Reserves, National Guard, peace officers and fire fighters who “will not to obey unconstitutional (and thus unlawful) and immoral orders, such as orders to disarm the American people or to place them under martial law.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks extremist organizations, described Oath Keepers as “a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival” in a 2009 report. Rhodes disputed the SPLC report and emphasized the orders that members of group will not obey are already part of the oath they take to uphold the Constitution.

Rhodes denied Oath Keepers is a militia. “We not a militia - we don’t train, and we’re not out in the woods or any of that stuff,” said Rhodes.

In the 1990s, the Patriot and militia movements were energized by incidents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, that to them symbolized an oppressive federal government. In Ruby Ridge, federal agents shot at the family of Randy Weaver, who had white supremacist ties and was suspected of having a weapons cache. In Waco, agents stormed the compound of a religious sect called the Branch Davidians, leaving dozens dead.

Yet the Oath Keepers’ creed is similar to that of militia members. Among the orders Oath Keepers will not obey: “any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps” and “any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.”

Before consenting to an interview, Rhodes pulled up the Main Justice Web site on his Blackberry and assessed it for political bias, saying he has been “burned” by reporters before. After agreeing to be interviewed, he asked an assistant to record the exchange, saying he did not want to be misquoted.

A former Army paratrooper, Rhodes said he worked for a year as a volunteer on the 2008 presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), an Iraq war critic who garnered a near fanatical following and surprised pundits with the strength of his fundraising. (Paul also won a straw poll of activists at CPAC last week for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.)

The 44-year-old Rhodes is a constitutional lawyer. He started Oath Keepers last spring. According to the magazine Mother Jones, Rhodes’ 2004 Yale Law School paper, “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status,” won the award for best paper on the Bill of Rights. He is now working on a book tentatively titled “We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic.”

Several federal law enforcement agents, including employees of the Department of Homeland Security, are members of the Oath Keepers, Rhodes told Main Justice. He said he was not sure whether any FBI agents were members of the organization and said he suspected the organization is under surveillance.

Rhodes dismisses the criticism of his organization as right wing. “I don’t care if it’s a person on the political left or a person on the political right, so called Democrats and Republicans left and right, I don’t care who they are, if they violate the constitution, I’m going to opposed it, and I always have. So I don’t understand, a lot of liberals nowadays say ‘Where were you guys during Bush?’ and I say well, I was over here writing about all these things,” citing his blog.

Friday, February 19th, 2010

John Ashcroft (photo by Ryan J. Reilly)

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft got a mixed reaction at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, where some libertarian-leaning attendees booed his anti-terrorism policies, arguing they had violated the privacy of American citizens.

“There’s nothing honorable about taking away peoples’ rights,” shouted a woman in the crowd. Ashcroft responded that his time was up and he thought that woman’s was, too.

President George W. Bush’s first Attorney General received a standing ovation for his speech, but at other points, Ashcroft was jeered. One crowd member called him a fascist.

Today, Ashcroft told The Huffington Post that it was right to Mirandize suspected terrorists arrested on American soil. “When you have a person in the criminal justice system, you Mirandize them,” Ashcroft said.

His defense of the criminal justice system went against the current line of attack by President Bush’s last Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, who has been critical of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to put the alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber in the civilian justice system rather than in military custody.

During his speech, Ashcroft said, “We have the duty, from time to time, to respond [to terrorists] with the mechanisms and capacities of war rather than put our heads in the sand and think that we’re not at war or fail to consider whether we’re at war because we’re so in love with the vocabulary of the civil-justice system.”

He also said that a “range of opportunities” need to be available to deal with terrorists. He did not rule out the use of civilian courts - which the DOJ under Ashcroft and other Bush administration leaders used frequently to prosecute alleged terrorists and terrorism-related offenses.

Ashcroft was presented with the “Defender of the Constitution Award” in the afternoon. The introduction from radio host Scott Hennen was a bit incongruous, given Ashcroft’s position on those arrested on American soil. “Sadly, elections have consequences, and now we have Eric Holder and Mirandizing terrorists,” he said.

Ashcroft later came out to conclude a debate moderated by Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice on the topic of whether security trumps freedom.

Panelists Bob Barr, a former U.S. attorney and Republican member of Congress from Georgia, and Jim Gilmore of the Free Congress Foundation represented the libertarian view. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Viet Dinh, a former Assistant Attorney General who served as an architect of the Patriot Act, defended the mechanisms in the name of security.

“We ought to be very careful, very careful about what we do in defense of this country,” said Ashcroft. “We ought to recognize that the courts of the United States do oversee us, and they have the final word, and I don’t think that there are any things in the United States Patriot Act that aren’t supervisable by the judicial branch of the United States.”

On his way out of the speech, Ashcroft posed for photos with members of the armed forces but ignored questions from reporters and declined to take a pamphlet offered to him by a man wearing an Obama Joker mask.

Video of Ashcroft’s speech is available at C-SPAN. It starts about 66 minutes in.

Main Justice’s Video of John Ashcroft’s speech after the debate is embedded below.

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Bob Barr (photo by Ryan J. Reilly)

Bob Barr, who said at a Conservative Political Action Conference panel today that waterboarding is torture, told Main Justice that it is appropriate for the Justice Department to open investigations into CIA agents who used waterboarding.

“Is it appropriate to look into those who violated the law? Sure!” Barr told Main Justice as he left the stage after the panel.

Barr is a former federal prosecutor (U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-90) who also served as a member of the House of Representatives from Georgia from 1995-2003. He was the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2008.

Separately, conservative commentator Ann Coulter told Main Justice that Attorney General Eric Holder’s first year in office is “about what I expected.”