Thursday, April 24, 2008

Whose authority?

By Carol Gee

The United States Department of Justice is the nation's highest center of law enforcement. And the Attorney General inevitably sets the tone for how the laws are enforced in Washington, D.C. and around the country. Under what authority can the Attorney General mislead Congress?

Attorney General Michael Mukasey was confronted by House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers for making false claims regarding foreign intelligence gathering. According to Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com, last week Mukasey "acknowledged (because he was forced to) that the call he claimed originated from an "Afghan safe house" into the U.S. was fictitious, but he nonetheless vaguely asserted that his underlying point -- that FISA unduly restricted pre-9/11 eavesdropping and prevented detection of those attacks -- was somehow still accurate." The FBI is under the authority of the DOJ. The FBI Director, however, has a degree of independence because he is appointed for a set term of 10 years.

FBI Director, Robert Mueller, was confronted by members of the House Judiciary Committee on the question of the legality of torture. Evidently, the FBI did not have the authority to enforce the laws within the executive branch, if a "higher authority?" had intervened. Such interrogation techniques were approved by the Justice Department and used by the CIA. The current Director of the CIA, General Mike Hayden, claims that those techniques are no longer practiced by the CIA. Lara Jakes Jordan covered this story for the AP yesterday: " FBI: Interrogation tactics might be inappropriate." To quote from the story:

FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday recalled warning the Justice Department and the Pentagon that some U.S. interrogation methods used against terrorists might be inappropriate, if not illegal.

FBI protocol "wouldn't engage in torture," said Rep. Stephen Cohen, D-Tenn. "But if you find out that other agencies may engage in torture, that you believe is illegal — does your protocol include informing those agencies that you believe their actions are illegal?"

"Yes," Mueller answered.

"Who did you inform?" Cohen asked.

"At points in time, we have reached out to DoD, DoJ, in terms of activity that we were concerned might not be appropriate, let me put it that way," Mueller said. DoD refers to the Department of Defense and DoJ to the Department of Justice.

. . . Asked how the Justice Department and Pentagon responded to the FBI's advice, Mueller declined to discuss it publicly, citing concerns about releasing classified information. He also referred to the Justice Department's legal guidance at the time that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods were legal as long as they did not result in organ failure or death.

Former head of the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft was confronted by DailyKos' "Elsinora", a co-ed member of his Knox College audience, on the question of the legality of torture. He bristled at having his authority questioned by a young female recently and rather came unzipped for all to see. To quote the author,"Earlier today, I promised you Kossacks an eyewitness account of John Ashcroft's speech on "Leadership in Troubled Times" at Knox College this evening, which I just got back from attending. So, while it's still fresh in my mind, here's how it went--including the question I asked that made him lose his cool completely. " (Hat tip to Blue Texan at Firedoglake).

"Operation Sudden Impact" was confronted here at The Reaction Monday by my co-blogger Libby Spencer on the question of our emerging police state. The FBI leads Joint Terrorism Task Forces in over 100 cities around the country. Recently three states conducted massive sweeps. To quote:

Radley Balko . . . tells us, "Last week, federal, state, and local police in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas conducted a massive sweep, including raids of businesses, homes, and boats; traffic roadblocks; and personal body searches."

. . . So in other words, our law enforcement authorities spent at least tens of thousands of dollars on a quasi-military sweep and busted a few low level drug users and a whole bunch of bad drivers. No terrorists were reported to be injured or arrested in the shakedown. This is how 9/11 changed everything. Our own government terrorizes us to "keep us safe" under the aegis of "fighting terrorism." But here's what should raise alarm bells with every civil libertarian:

Even though Memphis hasn't suffered a terrorist attack, the city is using federal grants to fight crime, which might lead to the discovery of a terrorist suspect. Other cities are using federal money with similar programs.

This is just the beginning of a new trend in domestic law enforcement. As far as they're concerned, we are all terrorists now. To paraphrase the old saying, just because you haven't done anything wrong, doesn't mean they won't come looking for you.

Libby was echoed here today by Michael, who confronted the question of a recent SCOTUS ruling foreshadowing "The United Police State of America." To quote from the latter:

Now, the ruling was technical insofar as the case involved the relationship of state law to the Fourth Amendment, a relationship that is muddled. Still, what is clear is that the Supreme Court has pushed the United States ever closer to being an authoritarian state in which the police, and those who rule, have the "prerogative" to search and seize as they please.

Another sudden impact -- Blogger "profmarcus" (hat tip to betmo) confronted the question of a recent set of mass surprise raids on Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants in five states. Headlined "'Papers, please' -- getting people used to the idea of suprise law enforcement raids and 'disappeared' people," the post begins and ends with these chilling paragraphs:

news flash... it ain't just about immigration... first of all, note the first paragraph... that's right... it's now expanded to include identify theft and document fraud... you don't have the proper papers...? what a shame... it's off to the detention center for you... what's that you say...? your children are in daycare and there'll be no one to pick them up or care for them...? what a shame... it's off to the detention center for you...

[snip]

just wait... your turn is coming... the horror of the "disappeareds," a tactic pioneered and tested by the u.s. in latin america (see "los desaparecidos" and operation condor), is coming back home... i've posted on this many times before (see here), but it's important to realize that we are being slowly but surely led to an acceptance of such treachery in our very own country... make no mistake... it IS happening...!

Until something changes, the United States appears too frequently to be a nation of men above the law if they choose to be, rather than a nation of laws under which all men must operate. The current news does not bode well for a positive trend towards protection of the people rather than those in power over the people.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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