NDN Blog

Attorney General Gonzales v. Senator Specter

This is really incredible.  We've written about the Bush Administration's decision to strip foreigners of their Habeas Corpus rights before, and Simon just linked to Glenn Greenwald's excellent analysis.  But it is worth reading the actual exchange to see the Attorney General, the highest legal authority in the land, say that he doesn't believe that Habeas Corpus is a guaranteed right, and to see Senator Specter rebuke him.  Make sure to read to the end, Specter definitely saves his best critique for last...

SPECTER: Where you have the Constitution having an explicit provision that the writ of habeas corpus cannot be suspended except for rebellion or invasion, and you have the Supreme Court saying that habeas corpus rights apply to Guantanamo detainees — aliens in Guantanamo — after an elaborate discussion as to why, how can the statutory taking of habeas corpus — when there’s an express constitutional provision that it can’t be suspended, and an explicit Supreme Court holding that it applies to Guantanamo alien detainees.

 GONZALES: A couple things, Senator. I believe that the Supreme Court case you’re referring to dealt only with the statutory right to habeas, not the constitutional right to habeas.

 SPECTER: Well, you’re not right about that. It’s plain on its face they are talking about the constitutional right to habeas corpus. They talk about habeas corpus being guaranteed by the Constitution, except in cases of an invasion or rebellion. They talk about John Runningmeade and the Magna Carta and the doctrine being imbedded in the Constitution.

 GONZALES: Well, sir, the fact that they may have talked about the constitutional right to habeas doesn’t mean that the decision dealt with that constitutional right to habeas.

 SPECTER: When did you last read the case?

 GONZALES: It has been a while, but I’ll be happy to — I will go back and look at it.

 SPECTER: I looked at it yesterday and this morning again.

 GONZALES: I will go back and look at it. The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it’s never been the case, and I’m not a Supreme —

 SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

 GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by —

 SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.


The Attorney General testifies

The Attorney General testified yesterday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Glenn Greenwald was there, and he is, as always, worth reading. 

Reid on South America Trip: An Opportunity Within Our Grasp

Below is a press release from Senator Reid's office discussing the delegation he led to South America, an area we should all be paying more attention to.


Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement today regarding the bipartisan Congressional delegation trip (CODEL) of U.S. Senators he led to South America. The delegation visited Bolivia, Ecuador, and Perú, from December 27 through January 2. Following are excerpts from his remarks as prepared for delivery on the Senate floor earlier today. All six senators who participated in the CODEL gave speeches on the Senate floor this morning on their visit to South America.

“Madame President, like my colleagues, I am very pleased to discuss our recent CODEL to the Andean region of South America. I am grateful to Senators Conrad, Gregg, Salazar, Bennett and Durbin for taking the time to join me and speak on the floor today about this important trip.

“With America’s attention focused on the Middle East, South America does not get the attention that it deserves, particularly the three countries we visited – Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.

“There is no doubt that there are serious problems in the region. There is also no question that the Bush Administration has neglected the region, and its lack of a comprehensive policy has contributed to this current trend towards the left. Venezuela and Cuba have been filling this vacuum left by the Administration. But I do not think we should be deterred by this trend. We have much to gain through increased engagement with South America – and much to lose if we retreat from our obligations to the region. We can and must do more.

“On our trip, we had productive meetings with the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Most importantly, we came away from our visit with an appreciation for the people of these three important nations, and an awareness of the key issues confronting them.

“Going forward, we must remember that the U.S. and South America will continue to have its ups and downs. But all relationships do. The six of us took this trip because we know that existing relationships must be cultivated and tended to in order to keep them healthy and strong.

“There is so much more we can do here at home. Our delegation intends to meet with the Secretary of State in the coming weeks to relay to her the small things the U.S. Government can do to improve our position in the region. For example, I believe:

* We should be doing more with IMET assistance, which in addition to the training program, proves so valuable to developing longstanding relationships between military officers the United States and the IMET beneficiary;

* We need to increase the USAID budgets for these nations. We learned that Ecuador’s aid budget will be cut considerably, and I believe that is a mistake. One thing we learned is how far a few U.S. dollars can go;

* We also need to do more micro-lending to support the counter-drug efforts of the Andean region, in order to keep cocaine off the streets of the United States. I was disturbed to learn that the State Department is contemplating significant cuts to the Andean Counter-drug Program. That too would be a serious mistake, and I plan on raising the issue with the Secretary of State.

* Finally, I think it is important to extend the trade preferences for Ecuador and Bolivia. I also know that Peru is eager to get its Free Trade Agreement finalized, and this is something that Congress needs to address in the coming year.

“Through increased trade, more robust aid and exchange programs, and stronger diplomacy to this region, the United States can help lift many people out of poverty and improve economic conditions, which would have a significant impact on illegal immigration to the United States. We would also help counteract the region’s shift to the left. In short, Mr. President, the people of this region want stronger ties with the United States, and that’s what we should aim to deliver.”


Conservatism in retreat

You often hear from Republicans these days something along the lines that they may been voted out of office, but their values, their principles, their views are still ascendant, that this is in effect still a “center-right” nation.  After watching the events of recent weeks I think we have to now classify that argument as “spin,” as it hard to describe their values as anything other than in a swift and profound retreat.   2007 is becoming the year of the repudiation of the Bush era, and the type of politics and ideology he espoused.   

The 100 Hours.  We just saw substantial numbers of Republicans voting for core Democratic priorities.  Minimum wage, Stem-cell funding, the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, ethics and lobbying reform, rescinding tax breaks for the oil industry and using the money to help speed the development of alternative energy, prescription drug negotiating authority for CMS.  All blocked these last few years by the Republican leadership, all passed now with substantial Republican support.  Even Republicans are now abandoning the agenda of the Bush age.

The President’s new plan for the Middle East.  Republican criticism of the President has been fierce.  Story after story tells of how shocked the Administration has been with the opposition of Republicans.  A vote on the President’s plan will be taken next week, the day after the State of the Union.  Expect substantial Republican defections.  Early predictions expect at least 10 GOP Senators going with the Democrats.  Polls show overwhelming opposition to the plan.  Remarkably, the resolution to be voted on next week is a bi-partisan one, with Senator Chuck Hagel joining Senators Biden and Levin as chief co-sponsor.  Republican Congressman are already working to block the President from attacking Iran.

FISA.  While some argue that the “changes” made by the Administration on the oversight of their wiretapping program to be more cosmetic than substantive, there is no question that the Administration is now in retreat on what was an ideological holy grail for them these last few years.

The State of the Union pre-leaks from the White House.  Traditionally the White House spends weeks leaking major elements of their State of the Union, road testing and building support for their program.  Where are the leaks this year? There aren’t any.  Why, because what exactly can the President say about this agenda, the legacy of his years in office, working with Democrats?  This is certainly shaping up to one of the most interesting State of the Unions in years.

The New House Senate Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  Finally, Speaker Pelosi yesterday announced the creation of a new select committee, one that bring Members together from different Committees, take develop a long-term strategy for combating global warming and climate change.  What a strong and bold move, what a thoughtful and powerful way of signaling that a new day has arrived, and that the Bush era, and the era of what we call the era of conservative ascendancy, has come to an end.

The Bush years, and its failed government, have done grave damage to conservatism.  It is no longer ascendant in America, nor is it a coherent and effective governing approach.  It has been deeply discredited. And with early Presidential polls showing substantial leads for Democrats in the Presidential race, it is clear we are a center-right nation no more, and that conservatism, the political philosophy that has done so much to drive America politics over this past generation, is in a remarkable and profound retreat. 

More on rising Sunni-Shiite tensions in the Middle East

The Times had a remarkable story the other day on rising Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East.  Make sure you read all the way down to the part about a television show in Egypt, our "ally" in the Middle East, glorifying the heroic Sunni insurgency's killing of Americans in Iraq:

And while political analysts and government officials in the region say the spreading Sunni disillusionment with Shiites and their backers in Iran will benefit Sunni-led governments and the United States, they and others worry that the tensions could start to balkanize the region as they have in Iraq itself.

“The reality of the current situation is that we are approaching an open Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region,” said Emad Gad, a specialist in international relations at the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “And Egypt will also be a part of it as a part of the Sunni axis. No one will be able to avoid or escape it.”

This changing dynamic in the region, described by many scholars, analysts and officials in recent days, is a result not only of the hangings, the Iraq war and the Lebanese political struggle. It has also been encouraged by Sunni-led governments like those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and some Sunni religious leaders alarmed by the rising influence of Iran, the region’s biggest Shiite power..


Sunnis make up a vast majority of the Islamic world. Shiites, who lead Iran and the Iraqi government, are the next largest sect. The two split over who would lead Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

While the two have theological differences — and similarities — the gathering conflict is being stoked by a determination by Sunni leaders to preserve, or reinvigorate, their waning influence in the region — while emboldened Shiites have pressed for more influence.

After the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Shiite leaders seemed to reach their zenith as an antidote to a Sunni Muslim leadership widely viewed as corrupt, impotent and stooges of the West, analysts said.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Sheik Nasrallah of Hezbollah, each won wide followings across the region for their willingness to defy the United States. Hezbollah and its allies pressed for more power in Lebanon and when rebuffed, began demonstrations intended to topple the government.

Now, fueled by state controlled media in many Sunni Muslim states, a divide, or at least an estrangement, is growing across the Middle East between Sunni Muslims and Shiites. Egyptians, for example, are inundated nearly daily with headlines, commentaries and television reports alleging Shiite transgressions.

An Egyptian-government controlled satellite service, called Nilesat, has been broadcasting across the Arab world Al Zawraa, a television station that shows what is billed as heroic footage of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, American soldiers being killed and wounded, and unflattering images of Shiite leaders.

“Raising the ugly face of Shiites, expanding Iranian influence in the region,” read a headline in a recent edition of Rose el-Youssef, a pro-government Egyptian newspaper.

In December, a top religious leader close to the Saudi royal family, Abdul Rahman al-Barak, said that Shiites, whom he called rejectionists, were worse than Jews or Christians.

“By and large, rejectionists are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels,” he wrote.

And yes it was the United States who put these rejectionists, worse than Christians or Jews, in charge of an Arab country for the first time in the 1300 year history of the Muslim Middle East.  As I've written before, it is hard for me to believe that in any war-gaming of the post Iraq Middle East that what is happening there today was not seen as the most likely outcome of our installing a Shiite-led, Iranian-friendly team in charge of Iraq. 

Once we accept that even our "allies" in the Middle East are promoting the killing of American troops in Iraq, it is unwise for the US to simplify this complex emerging regional politics into a demonization of Iran. The vengence and anger of those who killed Saddam that night was not funded or fueled by Iran.  It was fueled by over a 1000 years of Sunni oppression of Shiites and was a long, long time coming. 

Our actions in the Middle East have unleashed a new, powerful and unpredictable dynamic into the region, one that we need to better understand before taking swift and decisive action like attacking Iran.  For just a few months ago it seemed as if another band of Sunni insurgents, Al Qaeda, were our primary enemy.   

Novak: Iraq is dooming the GOP

Prominent conservative columnist has a remarkable column today, one that once again shows how out of step with even his own Party President Bush now is:

The sense of impending political doom that clutches Republican hearts one week after President Bush presented his new strategy on Iraq to the nation is stoked by the alarming intelligence brought back from Baghdad by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and passed around Capitol Hill.

In a pre-Christmas visit to Iraq, Coleman and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida met with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. Coleman described their astounding encounter in a Dec. 19 blog entry: Dr. Rubaie "maintains that the major challenge facing Iraq is not a sectarian conflict, but rather al-Qaeda and disgruntled Baathists seeking to regain power. Both Senator Nelson and I react with incredulity to that assessment. Rubaie cautions against more troops in Baghdad."

Rubaie denied the overriding reality of sectarian violence in Baghdad because his government is tied to the Shiite belligerents in that conflict. While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pays lip service to Bush's demand that he crack down on Mahdi Army commander Moqtada al-Sadr, U.S. officials recognize that Maliki's political support depends on the Shiite militia leader. Thus, Maliki's government is in denial about sectarian conflict. Maliki did not show up for a news conference in which he was scheduled to comment on Bush's new strategy, and he personally remains silent about the plan at this writing.

This hastens the desire of Republicans, who once cheered the Bush Doctrine in the Middle East, to remove U.S. forces from a politically deteriorating condition as soon as possible. "Iraq is a black hole for the Republican Party," a prominent party strategist told me this week. What makes his comments so important is that he is not a maverick Republican in Congress but one of Bush's principal political advisers.

As they adjust to the 2006 election returns, Republicans recognize that this was no isolated bump in the road. The loss of about 320 state legislative seats across the country to the Democrats classifies last year's election as a midrange electoral disaster.

The internal Republican debate concerns how much Iraq contributed to this outcome. The White House and Republican members of Congress who voted for intervention in Iraq contend that many issues led to their defeat: incompetent management of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, widespread cases of corruption and abandonment of spending restraint. But Republicans at the grass roots tell me that Iraq was the central problem and must be erased as an issue.....

Cubans hesitant to show reactions over Castro

According to this article from the Miami Herald, Cubans understand the reported health status of Fidel Castro and how complications arose, but are keeping their reactions to themselves. Laura Pollán, the wife of a jailed dissident, was interviewed for the Herald article from Havana and had the following to say:

"In Cuba, lots of people have seen or heard about the news reports, but comments are kept at a whisper. People realize that [Castro] is in bad shape and wonder what will happen when he dies.''

''There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety but, as of yet, reaction does not go beyond that,'' Pollán said

The only Cuban commentary that comes close to addressing this uncertainty comes from an article in Trabajadores, the Cuban newspaper . The Herald offers this general overview of the article:

The commentary, titled ''In Cuba, there is enough Fidel and revolution for a while,'' says that Washington should not expect any major changes after Castro's death and warns against a military intervention.

Latest Pew study shows 60 million Americans using the Internet for politics

The latest report of the Pew Internet and American Life Project came out and shows the inexorable shift of voters towards using the web to engage politics. The news was in most newspapers today and the highlights can be seen bouncing around the web.  The San Francisco Chronicle’s article highlighted the New Politics Institute’s take at the top of the piece and the bottom. I include the top:

Sen. Barack Obama updated the world on his presidential aspirations this week by posting a video to his new Web site, where the online response to the Illinois Democrat has been "overwhelming," aides said Wednesday.

The move was strategic, as well as a means to reach Web-savvy supporters. Not only could campaign handlers tightly control Obama's image better in the three-minute video, they also could pad their online address book of supporters with those who visited the site.

It all made for a fine illustration of how new media tools are reshaping politics by disseminating information and involving citizens in campaigns quickly and efficiently.

 "If he had called a press conference in Washington to say he was announcing an exploratory committee, he might have been seen for a few seconds on the evening news," said Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a San Francisco think tank at the forefront of incorporating new media into politics.

 By releasing it online, Leyden said, viewers could pass the video around, "and people could have it come at them from all different directions. Plus, the mainstream media reported on it.

 "You're going to see a lot more of this in 2008," Leyden said. "Candidates aren't going to be buying as much advertising time on broadcast television. "

For more on the story, including how we wrap up the analysis, see the actual story itself. Or if you want all the data, go to the Pew website.

Peter Leyden

Democrats Move on Climate Change

After years of conservative obfuscation and inaction, there are finally signs of progress on climate change.  And it can't come too soon, in a week when the "Doomsday Clock" has been moved two minutes closer to midnight, in part because of the catastrophic threat of climate change. 

Bob Dylan once sang "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."  And you know the winds are changing in Washington when Presidential candidates are sponsoring climate change bills, electrical utility CEOs are appearing at Democratic press conferences on carbon caps, leaders in the scientific and religious communities are committing to "fight the causes of climate change and the public confusion on the subject," and ABC News uses a "breaking news" banner to announce:

Senate Republicans Block Ethics and Lobbying Reform Bill

Yesterday, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) inserted a "poison pill" amendment into the bipartisan supported Senate version of the lobbying and ethics reform bill, making immediate passage virtually impossible.  And Majority Leader Harry Reid is livid:

"It's as obvious as the sun coming up somewhere in this world that they tried to kill this bill," a furious Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said last night in an interview. "And all 21 Republican senators up for reelection are going to have to explain how they brought down the most significant reform ever to come before this Congress. They brought this baby down."

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