Daily Archive: 03/06/2013

Mar 06 2013

U.S. Implicated In Iraqi Police Torture

Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres

Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith, The Guardian

Wednesday 6 March 2013 11.13 EST

The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq, that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.

Colonel James Steele, then 58, was a retired special forces veteran nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, according to an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic. After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the membership of the Special police commandos was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups like the Badr brigades.

A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman (now 59) worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding. Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq between 2003 – 2005, and kept returning to the country through 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.



“They worked hand in hand,” said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. “I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there … the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture.”

Additional reporting by the Guardian confirmed further details of how the interrogation system worked. “Every single detention centre would have its own interrogation committee,” claimed Samari, who has for the first time talked in detail about the US role in the brutal interrogation units. “Each one was made up of an intelligence officer and eight interrogators. This committee will use all means of torture to make the detainee confess like using electricity or hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails, and beating them on sensitive parts.”



The Guardian has learned that the Special police commandos unit’s involvement with torture entered the popular consciousness in Iraq when some of their victims were paraded in front of the television audience on a TV programme called “Terrorism In The Hands of Justice.” SPC detention centres bought Canon video cameras, funded by the US military, which they used to film detainees for the television show. When the show began to outrage the Iraqi public, Samari remembers being in the home of General Adnan Thabit – head of the special commandos – when a call came from Petraeus’s office demanding that they stop showing tortured men on television.



Thabit is dismissive of the idea that the Americans he dealt with were unaware of what the commandos were doing. “Until I left, the Americans knew about everything I did; they knew what was going on in the interrogations and they knew the detainees. And even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them – they are lying.”

Just before Petraeus and Steele left Iraq in September 2005, Jabr al-Solagh was appointed as the new minister of the interior. Under Solagh, who was closely associated with the violent Badr Brigades militia, allegations of torture and brutality against the commandoes soared. It was also widely believed that the unit had evolved into death squads.

There is a 5 minute digest of a 50 minute video attached to this piece.  The 50 minute video is titled James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq and autoplays.

Who is this ‘good’ guy, Colonel James Steele?

From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads

Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena, Teresa Smith, Ben Ferguson, Patrick Farrelly, Guy Grandjean, Josh Strauss, Roisin Glynn, Irene Baqué, Marcus Morgan, Jake Zervudachi and Joshua Boswell, The Guardian

Wednesday 6 March 2013 11.16 EST

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion the allegations of American links to the units that eventually accelerated Iraq’s descent into civil war cast the US occupation in a new and even more controversial light. The investigation was sparked over a year ago by millions of classified US military documents dumped onto the internet and their mysterious references to US soldiers ordered to ignore torture. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a 20-year sentence, accused of leaking military secrets.

Steele’s contribution was pivotal. He was the covert US figure behind the intelligence gathering of the new commando units. The aim: to halt a nascent Sunni insurgency in its tracks by extracting information from detainees.

It was a role made for Steele. The veteran had made his name in El Salvador almost 20 years earlier as head of a US group of special forces advisers who were training and funding the Salvadoran military to fight the FNLM guerrilla insurgency. These government units developed a fearsome international reputation for their death squad activities. Steele’s own biography describes his work there as the “training of the best counterinsurgency force” in El Salvador.



But the arming of one side of the conflict by the US hastened the country’s descent into a civil war in which 75,000 people died and 1 million out of a population of 6 million became refugees.



It was in El Salvador that Steele first came in to close contact with the man who would eventually command US operations in Iraq: David Petraeus. Then a young major, Petraeus visited El Salvador in 1986 and reportedly even stayed with Steele at his house.

But while Petraeus headed for the top, Steele’s career hit an unexpected buffer when he was embroiled in the Iran-Contra affair. A helicopter pilot, who also had a licence to fly jets, he ran the airport from where the American advisers illegally ran guns to right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. While the congressional inquiry that followed put an end to Steele’s military ambitions, it won him the admiration of then congressman Dick Cheney who sat on the committee and admired Steele’s efforts fighting leftists in both Nicaragua and El Salvador.



In June 2004 Petraeus arrived in Baghdad with the brief to train a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency. Steele and serving US colonel James Coffman introduced Petraeus to a small hardened group of police commandos, many of them among the toughest survivors of the old regime, including General Adnan Thabit, sentenced to death for a failed plot against Saddam but saved by the US invasion. Thabit, selected by the Americans to run the Special Police Commandos, developed a close relationship with the new advisers. “They became my friends. My advisers, James Steele and Colonel Coffman, were all from special forces, so I benefited from their experience … but the main person I used to contact was David Petraeus.”

With Steele and Coffman as his point men, Petraeus began pouring money from a multimillion dollar fund into what would become the Special Police Commandos. According to the US Government Accounts Office, they received a share of an $8.2bn (£5.4bn) fund paid for by the US taxpayer. The exact amount they received is classified.

With Petraeus’s almost unlimited access to money and weapons, and Steele’s field expertise in counterinsurgency the stage was set for the commandos to emerge as a terrifying force. One more element would complete the picture. The US had barred members of the violent Shia militias like the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army from joining the security forces, but by the summer of 2004 they had lifted the ban.



The commandos used the most brutal methods to make detainees talk. There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman took part in these torture sessions, but General Muntadher al Samari, a former general in the Iraqi army, who worked after the invasion with the US to rebuild the police force, claims that they knew exactly what was going on and were supplying the commandos with lists of people they wanted brought in. He says he tried to stop the torture, but failed and fled the country.

“We were having lunch. Col Steele, Col Coffman, and the door opened and Captain Jabr was there torturing a prisoner. He [the victim] was hanging upside down and Steele got up and just closed the door, he didn’t say anything – it was just normal for him.”



General Muntadher fled after two close colleagues were killed after they were summoned to the ministry, their bodies found on a rubbish tip. He got out of Iraq and went to Jordan. In less than a month, he says, Steele contacted him. Steele was anxious to meet and suggested he come to the luxury Sheraton hotel in Amman where Steele was staying. They met in the lobby at 8pm and Steele kept him talking for nearly two hours.

“He was asking me about the prisons. I was surprised by the questions and I reminded him that these were the same prisons where we both used to work. I reminded him of the incident where he had opened the door and Colonel Jabr was torturing one of the prisoners and how he didn’t do anything. Steele said: ‘But I remember that I told the officer off’. So I said to him: ‘No, you didn’t – you didn’t tell the officer off. You didn’t even tell General Adnan Thabit that this officer was committing human rights abuses against these prisoners’. And he was silent. He didn’t comment or answer. I was surprised by this.”

According to General Muntadher: “He wanted to know specifically: did I have any information about him, James Steele? Did I have evidence against him? Photographs, documents: things which proved he committed things in Iraq; things he was worried I might reveal. This was the purpose of his visit.

“I am prepared to go to the international court and stand in front of them and swear that high-ranking officials such as James Steele witnessed crimes against human rights in Iraq. They didn’t stop it happening and they didn’t punish the perpetrators.”

Steele, the man, remains an enigma. He left Iraq in September 2005 and has since pursued energy interests, joining the group of companies of Texas oilman Robert Mosbacher. Until now he has stayed where he likes to be – far from the media spotlight. Were it not for Bradley Manning’s leaking of millions of US military logs to Wikileaks, which lifted the lid on alleged abuses by the US in Iraq, there he may well have remained. Footage and images of him are rare. One video clip just 12 seconds long features in the hour-long TV investigation into his work. It captures Steele, then a 58-year-old veteran in Iraq, hesitating, looking uncomfortable when he spots a passing camera.

Mar 06 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Katrina vanden Heuvel; It’s Time to Tax Financial Transactions

On Friday at midnight, the sequester kicked in, triggering $85 billion in deep, dumb budget cuts that sent “nonessential personnel”- such as air traffic controllers – packing.

Not to worry, though: Wall Street’s day was pretty much like any other. Billions of dollars in profits were made off of trillions of dollars in financial transactions. And the vast majority of those transactions were conducted tax-free.Moral of the story: What else is new?

Crash the economy? Free pass. Prevent planes from crashing? Pink slip.

We don’t need a team of policymakers to tell us this isn’t good policy, or that it needs changing. But on Thursday, we heard policymakers propose exactly that: a change.

Jessica Valente: Battling Feminist Burnout

Feminists got two great pieces of news on the violence against women front this week. First, the Violence Against Women Act was passed-and not the watered-down Republican one either! This version of VAWA contained protections for the LGBT community and allows Native American courts to prosecute non-Native perpetrators on tribal land. [..]

But in the same week we got this great news, a rape survivor at the University of North Carolina was threatened with expulsion for “intimidating” her rapist by becoming an anti-rape activist, there was another attack on Planned Parenthood, a Kansas bill moved forward that would allow doctors to lie to pregnant women in an effort to prevent them for getting abortions and a 9-year-old girl of color-a child-was called a “c*nt.” One step forward, twenty steps back.

It reminds me of a question I get asked a lot when I speak to younger feminists: How do you continue to do this work when it’s just so depressing?

Heidi Moore: Dow Jones high should not be mistaken for growth in the US economy

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a new high today, but don’t trust the Dow – it doesn’t have your best interests at heart

There is only one thing you need to know about finance: the stock market is not the economy. [..]

Most Americans know that the Dow is composed of a basket of 30 industrial stocks that are largely impervious to the struggles of ordinary Americans. If you separated these stocks, their rise would not be exciting. It’s hard to picture a family driving back from the food bank – poverty is also at all-time highs in America, by the way – chanting “three cheers for Alcoa! Let’s hear it for Caterpillar!” Americans, no matter how patriotic, don’t pull out the pom-poms when it’s a good quarter for Cisco. We just wait quietly for the riches to trickle down, for the companies to start hiring and for the rest of us to feel rich.

Karen Finney: Expand Section 5

Across the country, newly gerrymandered districts and redistricting schemes – such as the Shelby County proposal that would have cut the proportion of African-American voters from more than two-thirds to just one-third – threaten to dilute the electoral impact of increases in minority voter registration and turnout. In 2012, the Voting Rights Act not only helped to protect the rights of minority voters from Texas to Pennsylvania, from Florida to Alabama, from Mississippi to Wisconsin, but also contributed to record minority turnout in the presidential election. All of which suggests that the question Roberts and others should be asking is: Why Section 5 shouldn’t be extended to all 50 states going forward?

Nan Hunter: Will the Supreme Court Be Left Behind on Gay Marriage?

In case you haven’t noticed, the biggest question facing the Supreme Court when it decides the gay marriage cases this spring has become whether it can rise to the level of LGBT rights ferocity already achieved by American business leaders, moderate Republicans and the Obama administration. By the end of last week, when all the amicus briefs in support of striking down California’s Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had been filed, support for marriage equality seemed to have been transformed into the new normal-at least outside the confines of the Court.

In fact, judging from the press coverage of the briefs, if the justices don’t rule in favor of gay marriage, it is the Court that will look bad. This perception is an incredible achievement, a brilliant exercise in political framing by the lawyers and legal organizations behind the two cases, who mobilized the amicus show of force. The business brief and the Republican brief, especially, are clearly designed to provide political cover for the Court’s five conservative Justices.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins: Clean Air, Safe Communities, and Good Jobs? It’s Ours If We Want It.

Throughout history, nearly all of the progress we’ve made toward a more just and peaceful world has started with seeds of discomfort with the status quo, and the growing sense that a better way is possible.  That feeling is what gave birth to bold, audacious visions that have fueled our greatest gains over the past century-from child labor laws to the Civil Rights Movement.

Today, there is a growing dissatisfaction in America-and concerns about our economy and our health and safety are among the biggest sources. More and more of us find ourselves sharing the same fears-even when our daily lives couldn’t be more different. The out-of-work veteran coal miner in Pennsylvania knows the anxiety of the 22-year-old debt-laden college grad who can’t find a decent job. Just as the Hurricane Katrina survivor knows the agony and loss of the super storm Sandy victim.

Mar 06 2013

Yes, the Sequester is President Obama’s Fault. These are facts.

This won’t be FP material everywhere, but it’s the truth. That is, unless one just hasn’t paid attention to the events and Congressional deals facilitated by this administration in response to said events that led up to the sequester. If one did pay attention, this conclusion is undeniable. The sequester was basically an invention of Gene Sperling and Jack Lew.

In case we all need a refresher, Gene Sperling was and still is the Director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama. In case the denial is too thick with regard to Jack Lew, Jack Lew was head of Obama’s Office of Management and Budget when the first grand betrayal was written only to be fall apart by John Boehner’s doing in 2011. For that, and his time on Wall St helping Citigroup as OCC crash our economy while denying that deregulation was a problem, he is insultingly being rewarded with a post as our next Treasury Secretary.

These are the people that were hired by and work in the Obama administration that wrote the damn Sequester! It’s pretty hard to deny, but some will try.

This was during the debt ceiling debacle many of us warned about but were ignored in favor of 11th dimensional chess. In reality, this is a vile violent rigged chess game that makes seniors starve to death through lack of meals on wheels. This form of deficit terrorism also threatens many of my friends and their relatives through layoffs and furloughs while slowing all essential government operations down.

Mar 06 2013

Well, this is not at all encouraging.

Ships to sail directly over the north pole by 2050, scientists say

John Vidal, The Guardian

Monday 4 March 2013 15.00 EST

(B)y 2050, say Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson at the University of California in the journal PNAS on Monday, ordinary vessels should be able to travel easily along the northern sea route, and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to take the shortest possible route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, passing over the pole itself. The easiest time would be in September, when annual sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is at its lowest extent.



“The prospect of common open water ships, which comprise the vast majority of the global fleet, entering the Arctic Ocean in late summer, and even its remote central basin by moderately ice-strengthened vessels heightens the urgency for a mandatory International Maritime Organisation regulatory framework to ensure adequate environmental protections, vessel safety standards, and search-and-rescue capability,” it adds.

Mar 06 2013

Corporate Welfare

A Stealth Tax Subsidy for Business Faces New Scrutiny

By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH and LOUISE STORY, The New York Times

Published: March 4, 2013

(T)he ability to finance a variety of business projects cheaply with bonds that are exempt from federal taxes – has not only endured, it has grown, in what amounts to a stealth subsidy for private enterprise.



In all, more than $65 billion of these bonds have been issued by state and local governments on behalf of corporations since 2003, according to an analysis of Bloomberg bond data by The New York Times. During that period, the single biggest beneficiary of such securities was the Chevron Corporation, which issued bonds with a total face value of $2.6 billion, the analysis showed. Last year it reported a profit of $26 billion.



In 2005, Congress created a similar program to spur rebuilding in areas of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The Times’s data shows that much of the bond proceeds went to the oil and gas industry, or to showcase projects like hotels or the Superdome. In 2008, Congress passed the Heartland Disaster Tax Relief Act, a bond program to help 10 Midwestern states hit by flooding and tornadoes. The goal was to help businesses rebuild their destroyed property. But by the time the program was set to expire at the end of last year, the criteria had been expanded to include new businesses.

One of those businesses was Orascom Construction Industries of Egypt, which raised $1.2 billion of tax-exempt bonds to build a fertilizer plant in Iowa. Another was the Fatima Group of Pakistan. In December, a Fatima subsidiary raised $1.3 billion, tax-exempt, to build a fertilizer plant in Mount Vernon, Ind.

But weeks later, Indiana received alarming news: Pentagon officials said that fertilizer from Fatima’s operations in Pakistan had been turning up in Afghanistan, in homemade bombs used against American troops.

Mar 06 2013

Banksters Jailed!

Not here obviously.

Afghan Court Convicts 21 in Kabul Bank Scandal

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and AZAM AHMED, The New York Times

Published: March 5, 2013

In total, 21 defendants were found guilty on Tuesday of crimes for their roles in the failure of the bank, which investigators have described as little more than a Ponzi scheme.

Its main function was to funnel depositors’ money to its own shareholders and their cronies, and its owners masked their theft for years by creating fictitious companies, phony books and even smuggling cash out of the country in the food trays of a commercial airliner they owned.



According to Afghan and Western investigators, the regulators were actively deceived by the bank’s owners, who kept double books and engaged in other ploys to cover up their deceit. The owners even created fictitious companies, including fake letterheads and rubber stamps to leave a paper trail that would appear legitimate. The Karzai administration also stymied the regulators’ work, the investigators said before Tuesday’s verdicts. They had characterized the prosecutions as an effort to seek retribution.



Once celebrated by American and Afghan officials as a cornerstone of the Western project to rebuild Afghanistan, Kabul Bank was taken over by regulators in August 2010 after becoming perilously insolvent. At the time, 92 percent of its loan portfolio – $861 million, or about 5 percent of Afghanistan’s annual economic output at the time – had gone to 19 people or companies, according to a forensic audit by Kroll Associates, an international investigative firm.

All were part of a clique that was tied to Mr. Karzai’s government. Bailing out the bank cost the financially struggling Afghan government roughly $825 million, a sum that at that time represented most of the government’s annual revenues. Estimates of how much has been recovered from those who received loans vary from $200 million to $400 million, Afghan and Western officials have said.

Critics say Afghan court was lenient in bank corruption case

By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

March 5, 2013, 7:19 a.m.

The case was a major test for Afghanistan’s justice system, which had never before tried such a massive fraud case, or one that implicated powerful men with ties to President Hamid Karzai and other top officials – and critics judged the results to be disappointing. They noted that the three-judge panel convicted Farnood and Ferozi on a lesser charge of breach of trust, which carries a lighter sentence and didn’t include an order to confiscate millions from the disgraced executives’ offshore bank accounts.

Prosecutors had sought convictions for money laundering, embezzlement and other more serious crimes, which would have faciliated recovery of the stolen funds and together could have carried a maximum jail sentence of 20 years.



Executives and top shareholders looted the private Kabul Bank of $935 million – including some squirreled out of the country in food trays of a now-defunct airline – sparking one of the largest bank failures ever. The theft amounted to some 6% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, financed shopping sprees and overseas villas for leading shareholders while leaving ordinary account holders broke, and dealt a huge blow to international confidence in the country’s fledgling public institutions.

Mar 06 2013

Untouchable

Untouchability is the social-religious practice of ostracizing a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. The excluded group could be one that did not accept the norms of the excluding group and historically included foreigners, house workers, nomadic tribes, law-breakers and criminals and those suffering from a contagious disease such as leprosy. This exclusion was a method of punishing law-breakers and also protected traditional societies against contagion from strangers and the infected. A member of the excluded group is known as an Untouchable.

Fallout from ‘Untouchables’ Documentary: Another Wall Street Whistleblower Gets Reamed

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: March 4, 2:31 PM ET

A great many people around the county were rightfully shocked and horrified by the recent excellent and hard-hitting PBS documentary, The Untouchables, which looked at the problem of high-ranking Wall Street crooks going unpunished in the wake of the financial crisis. The PBS piece certainly rattled some cages, particularly in Washington, in a way that few media efforts succeed in doing.



There are people out there still willing to argue that the government somehow “forced the banks to lend” to unworthy applicants. In reality, it was unscrupulous companies like Countrywide that were cranking out loans en masse, knowing that these loans would be unloaded down the line, first to banks and then to sucker investors like pension funds and foreign trade unions, almost as soon as they were created.

Winston was a witness to all of this. Eventually, he would be asked by the firm to present false information to the Moody’s ratings agency, which was about to give Countrywide a negative rating because of some trouble the company was having in working a smooth succession from one set of company leaders to another.

When Winston refused, he was essentially stripped of his normal responsibilities and had his corporate budget slashed. When Bank of America took over the company, Winston’s job was terminated. He sued, and in one of the few positive outcomes for any white-collar whistleblower anywhere in the post-financial-crisis universe, won a $3.8 million wrongful termination suit against Bank of America last February.

Well, just weeks after the PBS documentary aired, the Court of Appeals in the state of California suddenly took an interest in Winston’s case. Normally, a court of appeals can only overturn a jury verdict in a case like this if there is a legal error. It’s not supposed to relitigate the factual evidence.

Yet this is exactly what happened: The court decided that the evidence that Winston was wrongfully terminated was insufficient, and then from there determined that the “legal error” in the original Winston suit against Bank of America and Countrywide was that the judge in the case failed to throw out the jury’s verdict.



A number of people in positions of power wanted to know just what “experts” people like Breuer had consulted with before deciding not to press charges in certain cases. Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, specifically, sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter asking a number of questions.

Among other things, the two Senators wanted to know if certain companies had been designated “Too Big to Jail.”



Well, at the end of last week, on February 27th, the Department of Justice sent Brown and Grassley a letter in return. The letter is, to describe it very generously, not terribly informative.



On those questions, the DOJ would say only that “it is entirely appropriate for prosecutors to hear from subject matter experts at relevant regulatory authorities”.



That is one hell of a slippery piece of language. It’s great that the Department of Justice is not paying, say, HSBC to consult with them on the question of whether or not HSBC should be prosecuted. What a relief! But that doesn’t mean they’re not paying someone else for that kind of advice.

The DOJ similarly blew off naming any individual experts and they refused absolutely to turn over information about any compensation they may have paid out to whomever it is who is whispering in their prosecutorial ears.



The Department of Justice is now saying that it misunderstood the two Senators, that it didn’t know that they were asking for the actual names of those experts. Moreover, the Department claims it is working on answers to those queries.

In the meantime, Eric Holder is appearing before the Judiciary Committee this Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see how he handles questioning from Senator Grassley. It may get ugly before the answers actually come out, but it seems that someone is finally determined to get some real information.

Mar 06 2013

On This Day In History March 6

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 6 is the 65th day of the year (66th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 300 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1857, the US Supreme Court hands down its decision on Sanford v. Dred Scott, a case that intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery.

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens. The court also held that the U.S. Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattels or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process. The Supreme Court’s decision was written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Although the Supreme Court has never overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases of 1873 that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868:

   The first observation we have to make on this clause is, that it puts at rest both the questions which we stated to have been the subject of differences of opinion. It declares that persons may be citizens of the United States without regard to their citizenship of a particular State, and it overturns the Dred Scott decision by making all persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction citizens of the United States.

The Decision

The Supreme Court ruling was handed down on March 6, 1857, just two days after Buchanan’s inauguration. Chief Justice Taney delivered the opinion of the Court, with each of the concurring and dissenting Justices filing separate opinions. In total, six Justices agreed with the ruling; Samuel Nelson concurred with the ruling but not its reasoning, and Benjamin R. Curtis and John McLean dissented. The court misspelled Sanford’s name in the decision.

Opinion of the Court

The Court first had to decide whether it had jurisdiction. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that “the judicial Power shall extend… to Controversies… between Citizens of different States….” The Court held that Scott was not a “citizen of a state” within the meaning of the United States Constitution, as that term was understood at the time the Constitution was adopted, and therefore not able to bring suit in federal court. Furthermore, whether a person is a citizen of a state, for Article III purposes, was a question to be decided by the federal courts irrespective of any state’s definition of “citizen” under its own law.

Thus, whether Missouri recognized Scott as a citizen was irrelevant. Taney summed up,

   Consequently, no State, since the adoption of the Constitution, can by naturalizing an alien invest him with the rights and privileges secured to a citizen of a State under the Federal Government, although, so far as the State alone was concerned, he would undoubtedly be entitled to the rights of a citizen, and clothed with all the rights and immunities which the Constitution and laws of the State attached to that character.

This meant that

   no State can, by any act or law of its own, passed since the adoption of the Constitution, introduce a new member into the political community created by the Constitution of the United States.

The only relevant question, therefore, was whether, at the time the Constitution was ratified, Scott could have been considered a citizen of any state within the meaning of Article III. According to the Court, the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks as

   beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

The Court also presented a parade of horribles argument as to the feared results of granting Mr. Scott’s petition:

   It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.

Scott was not a citizen of Missouri, and the federal courts therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear the dispute.

Despite the conclusion that the Court lacked jurisdiction, however, it went on to hold (in what Republicans would label its “obiter dictum”) that Scott was not a free man, even though he had resided for a time in Minnesota (then called the Wisconsin Territory). The Court held that the provisions of the Missouri Compromise declaring it to be free territory were beyond Congress’s power to enact. The Court rested its decision on the grounds that Congress’s power to acquire territories and create governments within those territories was limited. They held that the Fifth Amendment barred any law that would deprive a slaveholder of his property, such as his slaves, because he had brought them into a free territory. The Court went on to state – although the issue was not before the Court – that the territorial legislatures had no power to ban slavery. The ruling also asserted that neither slaves “nor their descendants, were embraced in any of the other provisions of the Constitution” that protected non-citizens.

This was only the second time in United States history that the Supreme Court had found an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. (The first time was 54 years earlier in Marbury v. Madison).

Mar 06 2013

Holder: The President Can Kill You

I’m not a fan of Rand Paul, the Tea Party backed Republican Senator from Kentucky but I have to give him credit for pushing for an answer to his question “whether the president has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil.” Sen. Paul sent three letters to CIA director nominee John Brennan and finally got his answer from Brennan and from Attorney General Eric Holder. The answer, in so many words, yes, he can and on American soil without due process.

Holder Letter photo c9584ea7_o_zps9cc6a2ca.png

Click on image to enlarge

The Obama administration has asserted that it believes that “under an extraordinary circumstance,” it has the power to assassinate an American citizen on American soil using lethal force.

…It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001…

Sen. Paul was appalled at Mr. Holder’s response,  “The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

At FDL’s The Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola had his observation about the letter:

Though Holder noted the country’s “long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located” in America “who pose a threat to the United States” and he contended “the use of military force” would be rejected “where well-established law enforcement authorities in the country provide the best means for incapacitating the terrorist threat,” the mere fact that his answer was a yes is outrageous. However, it fits the framework for fighting a permanent global “War on Terrorism” without any geographical limitations, which the Obama administration has maintained it has the authority to wage.

Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald, speaking at the Freedom to Connect conference, said today, “There is a theoretical framework being built that posits that the US Government has unlimited power, when it comes to any kind of threats it perceives, to take whatever action against them that it wants without any constraints or limitations of any kind.

Paul had to send three letters to Brennan and the question had to be raised by someone in a Google+ chat with the president before the Obama administration would give something resembling an appropriate answer because, as Greenwald suggested saying “yes” would “illustrate the real radicalism that the government has embraced in terms of how it uses its own power.” If they said “no,” it would “jeopardize this critical theoretical foundation that they very carefully have constructed that says there are no cognizable constraints on how US government power can be asserted.”

As it turns out, Holder, the Justice Department and the wider Obama administration opted to not jeopardize the framework.

What Charles Pierce said

This is that into which we have rendered ourselves. As a democracy, we now debate only what kind of monsters we may decide we have to be.

Mar 06 2013

In Memoriam: Hugo Chavez 1954 – 2013

Hugo Chavez photo imagesqtbnANd9GcQKVr6bXWlFx7SxZgpgP_zps07654e05.jpg Popular Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer today in a hospital in Caracas ending his 14 years as the leader of the oil rich South American country.

The flamboyant 58-year-old had undergone four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011. His last surgery was on December 11 and he had not been seen in public since. [..]

Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death will devastate millions of supporters who adored his charismatic style, anti-U.S. rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums.

Pres. Chavez was certainly controversial but it was through his economic and social policies that Venezuela reduced the poverty level from a low of 55.44% in 1998 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty fell by 72%. He increased access to health care and education. In 2003, he made food security a priority by opening a nation wide chain of supermarkets and setting price ceilings for basic staple foods.

Pres. Chavez’ human rights record was somewhat mixed:

In the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, 116 of 300 articles were concerned with human rights; these included increased protections for indigenous peoples and women, and established the rights of the public to education, housing, healthcare, and food. It called for dramatic democratic reforms such as ability to recall politicians from office by popular referendum, increased requirements for government transparency, and numerous other requirements to increase localized, participatory democracy, in favor of centralized administration. It gave citizens the right to timely and impartial information, community access to media, and a right to participate in acts of civil disobedience.

However, as recently as 2010, Amnesty International has criticized the Chávez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests. Freedom House lists Venezuela as being “partly free” in its 2011 Freedom in the World annual report, noting a recent decline in civil liberties. A 2010 Organization of American States report found concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism, press freedom, threats to democracy, as well as erosion of separation of powers, the economic infrastructure and ability of the president to appoint judges to federal courts.

Born Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías into a working-class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, he is survived by two ex-wives, Nancy Colmenares and Marisabel Rodríguez, and four children – Hugo Rafael, María Gabriela and Rosa Virginia by his first wife and Rosinés by his second.

Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns