Friday, October 20, 2006

Must Be Nice...

To be a crook who can fire the cops. Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is under investigation for corruption (a Republican congressman? Corrupt? Shocking!). Lewis has spent over $800,000 in legal fees defending himself. That apparently wasn't enough for him, so he used his committee position to fire the investigators on his case. The committee got rid of 60 of its 76 investigators, some of whom were rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse (by Lewis and others), some of who were on other projects, like Katrina aid abuse. Now they're gone.

Crooked GOPers just keep on one-upping each other. It'd be impressive if it wasn't so depressing.

How Israel Does It

A couple items on the agenda. First, Martin Peretz points us to a stellar editorial by Harvard Law Professors Gabriella Blum and Martha Minow. Like Peretz, I am unfamiliar with Blum, but know (of) Minow. Her book, "Making All The Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law" ranks as one of my all time favorites, and her work on genocide and post-conflict resolution issues has been superb. All and all, she is a cutting-edge liberal legal theorist and someone with mucho credibility.

Anyway, Blum and Minow call the US out on our appalling detainee treatment bill by referring us to the example of...Israel, which is a) under a significantly higher risk of attack and b) has far, far more human rights protections for its detainees than we do. If they can abide by basic norms of procedural protections, why can't we? Blum and Minow elaborate on the Israeli policy:
Unlike the US bill , the Israeli law provides for a first hearing of the detainee before a high-ranking officer immediately upon his detention; a detainee has a right to legal representation; a first judicial review of the detention warrant has to take place in a district court no longer than 14 days after the first arrest, and every six months thereafter; and the detainee can appeal his detention before a Supreme Court judge. The court must revoke the detention order if it finds that the release of the detainee would not threaten national security or if there are other special reasons that justify it.

Regulations promulgated under the law stipulate conditions for detention. These include provisions on medical treatment, clothing, food (including the right to purchase items in a canteen), outdoor exercises, religious practices, correspondence with the outside world, and even cigarettes. Unlike the US bill, in Israel, the detainee also has a right to meet with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The chief of general staff can permit other visitors, such as family members.

The rules are slightly different for Palestinians held from the West Bank, but they too are (to quote Peretz now) "either tried by criminal courts or detained by administration detention. In either case, these prisoners' detention is reviewed every three or six months, also with a right of appeal to a Supreme Court justice."

One can argue that this isn't ideal, but it surely represents a better way of handling this situation than the Bush administration "screw rights, we talking about terrorism!" approach. Israel is in a far more precarious state than we are, and yet it managed to pass a detainee treatment law liberals here can only dream of. When it comes to detainee treatment, the left would do well to push America to emulate the Israeli model.

Second, the US is pushing Israel to relax restrictions on Arab-Americans visiting the Palestinian territories. Which is good--I am not a fan of these increased restrictions, which don't seem to be justified by whatever marginal security benefits might flow from it. The bad part is how we're phrasing the request:
"They are being treated as Arabs and not Americans," one senior official said. "They basically treat them as second-class citizens."

I see. How dare they treat these law abiding Americans as if they were Arab? The horror! The shame! No wonder Israel doesn't give them any rights. If they only knew this people were Americans this whole mess could have been avoided.

I humbly submit that all persons, regardless of race or background, should be treated like first-class citizens no matter where they live. Insofar as these restrictions are justified, they are justified applying to all persons traveling to the Palestinian territories, regardless of background (which is why blanket, race-based prohibitions are not justifiable). Certainly, there are good reasons why Israel might want to restrict some people (primarily but not exclusively Arab) from traveling to the Palestinian territories. There are plenty more people who do not fall within those "good reasons", and they should be given the chance to travel, American or not.

Finally, a New Republic article lays the groundwork for a possible emerging Saudi-Israel alliance. I've actually heard whispers in this direction myself--much of it stemming out of the surprisingly pro-Israel response that come out of the Arab nation during the start of the most recent Israel/Lebanon conflict. The article claims that a full-blown public bond is still far-fetched (but, then, it was for Israel and Egypt as well). However, both Israel and Saudi Arabia share a fear of growing Iranian hegemony, as well as a fair amount of other regional interests in common. Saudi Arabia seems ready to revive talks on their stalled 2002 peace plan, and Israel has become more vocal in its openness to talks with the country.

All of which is to say, very little concrete has manifested itself...yet. But the pieces are moving into position, and this could revolutionize Middle East politics as we've known it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Brick Wall

I never thought I'd say, but kudos to Bill O'Reilly. He questioned Bush quite aggressively about waterboarding, and didn't back down. Andrew Sullivan has the excerpt.

His superb efforts notwithstanding, O'Reilly did not get any actual information out of the obfuscator-in-chief. Bush almost comically defiant in answering O'Reilly's questions.
O'REILLY: Now Brian Ross of ABC said — reported the CIA water boarded Mohammed. That is dunked him in water, tied him down and then that broke him. Is that true?

BUSH: We don't talk about techniques. And the reason we don't talk about techniques is because we don't want the enemy to be able to adjust. We're in a war.

O'REILLY: Is water boarding torture?

BUSH: I don't want to talk about techniques. And — but I do share the American people that we were within the law. And we don't torture. We — I've said all along to the American people we won't torture, but we need to be in a position where we can interrogate these people.

O'REILLY: But if the public doesn't know what torture is or is not, as defined by the Bush administration, how can the public make a decision on whether your policy is right or wrong?

BUSH: Well, one thing is that you can rest assured we're not going to talk about the techniques we use in a public forum. No matter how hard you try because I don't want the enemy to be able to adjust their tactics if we capture them on the battlefield.

Re-read the answer to that last question. Question: How can the public judge your policy if you refuse to tell us what your policy is? Answer: "You can rest assured" we won't tell you the policy!

Gosh, I'll rest easy! That's not an answer, that's Bush telling me he won't answer and I better like it, dammit! I suppose I should thank him for the privilege that he deigned to tell me that much.

Of course, substantively, Sullivan notes that any terror suspect who hasn't figured out that waterboarding is a possibility is a moron. So Bush's refusal to say exactly what policies he is implementing "to make America safer" isn't because it's a security risk. It's because Bush has a pathological fear of oversight. And given some of the abuses that haoccurredred and have been endorsed under his watch, I'd say he has good reason to fear.

Fighting Terrorists and Dark Wizards

I know I'm not the first blogger to link to Rick Santorum's rather ludicrous "Eye of Mordor" article. I love The Lord of the Rings as much as anyone, but I'm not sure I want to create foreign policy around it. But anyway, that isn't the point. I just want to express my amazement at a particular argument I've heard made that I think has serious moral problems. Rick isn't the only one whose made it by any means, but he certainly framed it more colorfully than most:
"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

"It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.," Santorum continued. "You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."

Generally, the more sober version of the argument is the classic "better to fight terrorists in Iraq rather than here at home." (Or as a classic Doonesbury had an Iraq-deployed soldier question Bush "You really think Iraqi troops are poised to invade Yankton, South Dakota....I mean, yes, better here than in Yankton, sir!"). The problem with this line of reasoning, from a moral perspective, is it basically justifies plunging any random country into chaos and destruction so they have to bear the brunt of al-Qaeda's assualt instead of us. It effectively uses Iraqi civilians as human shields in our conflict with terrorism. If the terrorists who would have been attacking America are now attacking Iraq, then the counterfactual is that if we weren't in Iraq, the terrorists wouldn't be attacking Iraqi civilians either (because they'd be fighting us here). Now, like Garry Trudeau's soldier, I'm skeptical that Salafist radicals were poised to attack Yankton. But, under this line of argument, the reason we should be celebrating the Iraq war is because it's worthless Iraqis who are dying, not precious America lives. That's wrong morally, and utterly demolishes any claim these advocates have that we truly care about the prosperity and well-being of the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Interfaith Exchange

Well this is just precious:
A Muslim journalist facing charges of sedition for advocating ties with Israel was recently attacked and beaten by a crowd in Bangladesh that allegedly included leading officials of the country's ruling party, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the Weekly Blitz newspaper, an English-language publication based in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, was working in his office on October 5 when nearly 40 people stormed the premises.
No arrests were made, and police refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers.

As the Post first reported last month, Bangladesh is moving forward with plans to try Choudhury on charges of blasphemy, sedition, treason and espionage in connection with his articles critical of Islamic extremism and favorable to Israel.

After several delays, his trial is due to start in Dhaka on Thursday. If convicted, Choudhury faces the death penalty.

The charges stem from November 2003, when Choudhury was arrested at Dhaka's International Airport as he was preparing to board a flight on his way to Israel, where he was due to deliver a speech on promoting mutual understanding between Muslims and Jews.

There's something deliciously ironic about arresting someone for preaching tolerance. All I can say is, hopefully Keith Ellison fares better.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Keith Ellison To Visit Israel

Keith Ellison, who, if (as is expected) elected, would become the first Muslim representative in Congress, has announced he will visit Israel immediately upon election, Shmuel Rosner reports in the prestigious Israeli paper Ha'Aretz. Ellison, who is running in a Minneapolis-based district, has received the endorsement of local Jewish groups, but has been plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism and links to the the Nation of Islam (Powerline has been pushing this line rather hard). The trip to Israel can be seen as an effort to show Jewish voters he's not antagonistic to his interest. I took with particular note his rhetoric on the current status of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:
"The template set forth by the roadmap for peace currently provides the best outline for achieving a two-state solution to bringing about a lasting settlement. Right now Hamas represents the greatest obstacle to this path, and until Hamas denounces terrorism, recognizes the absolute right of Israel to exist peacefully and honors past agreements, it cannot be considered legitimate partners in this process."

That's strong (and sensible) language, and it sounds legitimate to me. Rosner notes that a Muslim congressman giving support to Israel is important--worth the trade-off even if he votes with Israel 70% of the time as opposed to 100% for an AIPAC peon. Of course, that depends on what the particular votes are (in both directions: blind support for Israeli policies--or more accurately, AIPAC's conception of Israeli interests--benefits nobody, including the Jewish community). But in general, I think it is important to build these bridges, and I hope soon-to-be Rep. Ellison can serve in that role. Certainly, his issues page on the subject is all I could ask for and more.

In a somewhat related note, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert called for peace talks with Lebanon and a face to face meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who rejected the proposal within hours. Saniora proclaimed that Lebanon would be the "last Arab state" to make peace with Israel. But assuredly, they can be trusted to disarm Hezbollah.

Schlesinger Takes The Hard Line

The three-way Connecticut Senate debate between Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman, and Alan Schlesigner just went off. Apparently the line is that Schlesigner was surprisingly strong. But I just wanted to focus on the "hard-line" approach he took on immigration:
"Alan Schlesigner is the only one on this stage who has a tough policy. I want to build the walls. I want to make sure there is no road to residency. I am the son of a legal immigrant. There are people today who attempted to come here as legal immigrants and died. Now we've got people flooding into this nation for no other reason than they want a better life for themselves...."

A better life for themselves? For shame! We must stop them at once!

Kos says this rhetoric might result in Schlesigner peeling away enough White blue-collar voters from Lieberman to give Lamont the victory. I shudder to think that criticizing the desire for a better life suddenly became a winning political tactic.

Classic Homophobia

University of Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter helps illustrate how the conservative response to the Mark Foley scandal falls into classic homophobic patterns that have been used to discriminate against homosexuals for generations. He cites Yale Law Professor William Eskridge as arguing that
anti-gay prejudice has been marked historically by three characteristics. These are: (1) "hysterical demonization of gay people as dirty sexualized subhumans"; (2) "obsessional fears of gay people as conspiratorial and sexually predatory"; and (3) "narcissistic desires to reinforce stable heterosexual identity . . . by bashing gay people." The primary historical traits of homophobia are thus hysteria, obsession, and narcissism.

And goes on to show how the Republican response to Foley illustrates all three; hysteria by trying to transport Foley's problem onto the gay community as a whole, obsession by conjuring an uber-powerful "Velvet Mafia" that tied the hands of the GOP leadership and protected Foley from punishment, and narcissism by arguing to themselves that the only way to check future Foleys is to reinforce their radical right, anti-gay agenda.

It's good stuff. H/T: VC