Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Spanish Inquisition Justice

Spanish Inquisition Justice

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This week, military prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty for six Guantanamo Bay detainees who are "to be charged with central roles" in the 9/11 terror attacks. One detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly "conceived the attack, got approval and funding from Osama bin Laden, and oversaw the training of the hijackers." Others aided in the training and financing of the hijackers. While the charges are serious, the detainees deserve fair trials. But under the Military Commissions Act (MCA), such justice appears unlikely. In 2006, a previous system was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, but months later, President Bush and the conservative-run Congress "resurrected the tribunals in an altered form" in the 2006 MCA. Under this system, four other defendants have been charged by the military commission; only onecriminal justice system, which, "coupled with standard military trials when necessary, has and can further law enforcement, intelligence, and prevention efforts without undermining our fundamental liberties or our long-term efforts to combat terrorism."

TORTUROUS EVIDENCE: The MCA permits the use of evidence obtained through coercion, if a judge finds it "reliable." One of the detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has been confirmed to have been waterboarded. Another was subjected to interrogations including "beatings" and "severe sleep deprivation," conditions that raise the question of whether "detainees may be so psychologically damaged that they may not be able to assist in their defense." This week, Attorney General Mike Mukasey refused to rule out the use of such evidence, saying, "What evidence gets presented at this trial is up to the prosecutors" and the "judges who handle the case." While some evidence was gleaned from FBI interrogators who did not use coercive techniques, those interrogators "set as their goal the collection of virtually the same information the CIA had obtained from five of the six through duress." Charles Swift, defense attorney in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, said the last time waterboarding evidence was used in trial was during the Spanish Inquisition. The government's position "is further compromised by the fact that we destroyed the tapes of the interrogations themselves," Swift said.

UNRELIABLE COURT SYSTEM: The military announced this week that "the six defendants will get the same rights as U.S. soldiers tried under the military justice system, including the right to remain silent, call witnesses and know the evidence against them." But the military's procedures still "fall short of all protections provided in civilian courts and under the Uniform Code of Military Justice." For example, the "Guantanamo commission rules allow for more liberal use of...information gathered second- or third-hand." Many questions are unanswered in the new system, "which has yet to begin a single trial." "When you are using an untested system," Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal said, "every single question is up for grabs and every issue is litigated." According to Swift, the Office of Military Commissions has no attorneys who are "death-penalty-qualified currently assigned." In fact, Col. Steven David, the chief military defense lawyer for the Guantanamo trials, said he did not have six lawyers available to take the cases. They "don't have the resources," Swift said.

ADMINISTRATION SPIN: In the court of public opinion, the military commissions have already failed. Asked whether the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would respect his legal rights, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband replied, "We have some concerns about that." Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the trials will carry "a taint." But the administration is already dramatizing the trials. A cable sent by the State Department to all U.S. diplomatic missions "advises American diplomats to refer to Nuremberg if asked by foreign governments or media about the legality of capital punishment in the 9/11 cases," referring to the post-World War II International Military Tribunals. The cable notes a distinction between torture and "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," saying statements made by defendants under such conditions before the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 may be considered. "[T]he administration gambled on this risky Guantanamo scheme six years ago and now with a few months left it is trying to offer one last 'Hail Mary' to that system," Katyal observed.
has pled guilty. In place of military commissions, Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress advocates the use of the

Totally Spent

Totally Spent

By Robert B. Reich

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Berkeley, California - We're sliding into recession, or worse, and Washington is turning to the normal remedies for economic downturns. But the normal remedies are not likely to work this time, because this isn't a normal downturn.

The problem lies deeper. It is the culmination of three decades during which American consumers have spent beyond their means. That era is now coming to an end. Consumers have run out of ways to keep the spending binge going.

The only lasting remedy, other than for Americans to accept a lower standard of living and for businesses to adjust to a smaller economy, is to give middle- and lower-income Americans more buying power - and not just temporarily.

Much of the current debate is irrelevant. Even with more tax breaks for business like accelerated depreciation, companies won't invest in more factories or equipment when demand is dropping for products and services across the board, as it is now. And temporary fixes like a stimulus package that would give households a one-time cash infusion won't get consumers back to the malls, because consumers know the assistance is temporary. The problems most consumers face are permanent, so they are likely to pocket the extra money instead of spending it.

Another Fed rate cut might unfreeze credit markets and give consumers access to somewhat cheaper loans, but there's no going back to the easy money of a few years ago. Lenders and borrowers have been badly burned, and the values of houses and other assets are dropping faster than interest rates can be lowered.

The underlying problem has been building for decades. America's median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Most of what's been earned in America since then has gone to the richest 5 percent.

Yet the rich devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they're rich. They already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, and thus stimulating the American economy, the rich are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

The problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found ways to live beyond their paychecks. But now they have run out of ways.

The first way was to send more women into paid work. Most women streamed into the work force in the 1970s less because new professional opportunities opened up to them than because they had to prop up family incomes. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970 - to more than 70 percent. But there's a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

So Americans turned to a second way of spending beyond their hourly wages. They worked more hours. The typical American now works more each year than he or she did three decades ago. Americans became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

But there's also a limit to how many hours Americans can put into work, so Americans turned to a third way of spending beyond their wages. They began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster from 2002 to 2006, they turned their homes into piggy banks by refinancing home mortgages and taking out home-equity loans. But this third strategy also had a built-in limit. With the bursting of the housing bubble, the piggy banks are closing.

The binge seems to be over. We're finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality and ever more concentrated wealth.

The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the wages of the bottom two-thirds of Americans. The answer is not to protect jobs through trade protection. That would only drive up the prices of everything purchased from abroad. Most routine jobs are being automated anyway.

A larger earned-income tax credit, financed by a higher marginal income tax on top earners, is required. The tax credit functions like a reverse income tax. Enlarging it would mean giving workers at the bottom a bigger wage supplement, as well as phasing it out at a higher wage. The current supplement for a worker with two children who earns up to $16,000 a year is about $5,000. That amount declines as earnings increase and is eliminated at about $38,000. It should be increased to, say, $8,000 at the low end and phased out at an income of $46,000.

We also need stronger unions, especially in the local service sector that's sheltered from global competition. Employees should be able to form a union without the current protracted certification process that gives employers too much opportunity to intimidate or coerce them. Workers should be able to decide whether to form a union with a simple majority vote.

And employers who fire workers for trying to organize should have to pay substantial fines. Right now, the typical penalty is back pay for the worker, plus interest - a slap on the wrist.

Over the longer term, inequality can be reversed only through better schools for children in lower- and moderate-income communities. This will require, at the least, good preschools, fewer students per classroom and better pay for teachers in such schools, in order to attract the teaching talent these students need.

These measures are necessary to give Americans enough buying power to keep the American economy going. They are also needed to overcome widening inequality, and thereby keep America in one piece.

Executions May Be Carried Out at Guantanamo

Executions May Be Carried Out at Guantanamo

By Michael Melia and Andrew O. Selsky

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San Juan, Puerto Rico - If six suspected terrorists are sentenced to death at Guantanamo Bay for the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Army regulations that were quietly amended two years ago open the possibility of execution by lethal injection at the military base in Cuba, experts said Tuesday.

Any executions would probably add to international outrage over Guantanamo, since capital punishment is banned in 130 countries, including the 27-nation European Union.

Conducting the executions on U.S. soil could open the way for the detainees' lawyers to go to U.S. courts to fight the death sentences. But the updated regulations make it possible for the executions to be carried out at Guantanamo.

David Sheldon, an attorney and former member of the Navy's legal corps, said an execution chamber at Guantanamo would be largely beyond the reach of U.S. courts.

"I think that's the administration's idea, to try to use Guantanamo as a base to not be under the umbrella of the federal district courts," he said. "If one is detained in North Carolina or South Carolina in a Navy brig, one could conceivably file a petition of habeas corpus and because of where they're located, invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court."

The condemned men could even be buried at Guantanamo. A Muslim section of the cemetery at Guantanamo has been dedicated by an Islamic cultural adviser, said Bruce Lloyd, spokesman for the Guantanamo Naval Station. Among those buried elsewhere at the cemetery are U.S. servicemen.

"A small area of the cemetery has been fenced off and remains ready for the burial of any Muslim who may die here and not be repatriated to another country, for whatever reason," Lloyd told The Associated Press.

When two Saudis and a Yemeni committed suicide at Guantanamo in 2006, military officers said the men could be buried at the cemetery, but the remains were instead sent back to their homelands.

Up until recently, experts on military law said, it was understood that military regulations required executions to be carried out by lethal injection at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

But in January 2006, the Army changed its procedures for military executions, allowing "other locations" to be used. The new regulations say that only the president can approve an execution and that the secretary of the Army will authorize the location.

"Military executions will be by lethal injection," the regulations say.

The last U.S. military execution was in 1961, when President Kennedy signed off on the hanging of Army Pfc. John A. Bennett for the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old Austrian girl.

Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann refused to discuss details on executions when he announced Monday the Pentagon was charging the six Guantanamo detainees and seeking the death penalty.

"We are a long way from determining the details of the death penalty, and when that time comes ... we will follow the law at that time and the procedures that are in place," Hartmann said.

Eugene Fidell, a Washington defense attorney and expert on military law, said Guantanamo Bay could be an execution site, but added that the U.S. would face an international outcry.

"It would be highly controversial because a lot of the world simply doesn't believe in the death penalty any more," Fidell said.

The Bush administration has instructed U.S. diplomats abroad to defend its decision to seek the death penalty for the six men by recalling the executions of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

A four-page cable sent to U.S. embassies and obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press says that execution as punishment for extreme violations of the laws of war is internationally accepted.

The cable points to the 1945-46 Nuremberg war crimes trials in Germany. Twelve of Adolf Hitler's senior aides were sentenced to death at the trials, though not all were executed in the end.

No death chamber is known to exist at Guantanamo, but Scott Silliman, a former Air Force lawyer and who is now a Duke University professor, said the military may decide to build one there. The 2006 Army regulations also call for a viewing room to the death chamber, where at least two news media representatives would be witnesses.

The trial for the six detainees is still months away. And given the slow pace of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, verdicts are unlikely before President Bush leaves office next January.

The accused include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of Sept. 11; Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom officials have labeled the 20th hijacker; and Waleed bin Attash, who investigators say selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers.

Many support the use of the death penalty for men blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If these guys are found guilty, I can't think of any other case more appropriate for the death penalty," said Charles "Cully" Stimson, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "An overwhelming majority of Americans support the death penalty."

Michael Khambatta of the International Committee of the Red Cross said his organization would approve the death penalty only when there are "procedural and judicial guarantees that meet international standards."

Khambatta, who is the deputy head of the ICRC's Washington delegation, declined to comment publicly on whether the ICRC considers the U.S. war-crimes trials fair.


On the Net:

US Army execution procedures:

Rules for Lawyers of Detainees Are Called Onerous

Rules for Lawyers of Detainees Are Called Onerous

By Josh White, Walter Pincus and Julie Tate

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Fair, adequate defense questioned.

The cadre of civilian lawyers representing terrorism suspects held by the military at Guantanamo Bay are not allowed to meet their clients in private, without video surveillance. All their mail and notes must be turned over to the military. Classified information cannot be shared with their clients. They are not entitled to everything the government knows about their clients.

Months before the trials of some of the detainees are set to begin, some of the attorneys say the Defense Department's regulations for their work are so onerous that they will be unable to provide a fair and adequate defense of their clients.

"How can I defend him if he is not allowed to see or hear classified information?" asked Brent Mickum, the Washington attorney representing alleged al-Qaeda operative Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaida. "He can't play a meaningful role in his own defense."

These challenges will confront the lawyers who represent the six men charged this week with conspiring to commit the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, whom the Bush administration wants to try before a panel of military officers later this year. Mickum is scheduled to meet his client, who is not one of the six, for the first time next week, but he is already worried that the secrecy rules will present a heavy burden.

Although the government says the cases against the six - five of whom were aggressively questioned by the CIA during lengthy stays at secret prisons - are now ready to proceed, defense attorneys say that the logistical challenges associated with defending such unusual clients under heavy guard on an isolated island will slow and hamper their preparations.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents terrorism suspect and Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan, said yesterday that "the real concern with the military commission process is that the evidence brought forward won't be clean but will be deeply tainted with torture" that occurred during the interrogations.

Gutierrez said she is concerned that prosecutors will cite "national security concerns and will deny the lawyers and the detainees any background about the [witness] statements that are offered. That will be a way of manipulating the process and of keeping the taint of torture secret." She is barred by the military rules from discussing anything related to her meetings with Khan.

The Bush administration, trying to shore up support for the military-trial procedures, has cabled U.S. embassies around the globe with instructions to emphasize that evidence obtained through torture will not be allowed, but that evidence obtained through treatment considered "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" is to be allowed, the Associated Press reported last night.

The four-page cable also noted that defendants can object to statements they think were coerced, with rulings to be made by the chief military judge.

The trial procedures, which were sanctioned by Congress after a lengthy legislative fight in 2006, have nonetheless been heavily criticized by European lawyers and politicians. Yesterday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on a BBC radio call-in show that "we have some concerns" about how fair the military trial will be for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the most prominent of the six newly charged defendants.

"We don't ... we would never use waterboarding," Miliband said, referring to the CIA's admission that it used that simulated drowning technique to coerce disclosures from Mohammed and two other detainees.

Chief among the defense attorneys' concerns are that details of the CIA's aggressive techniques will be shielded from the court because they are classified and that the Pentagon will be unable to compel the CIA to send its employees to testify at military commissions or produce evidence of torture.

"We are not in the position to compel any other government agency to produce information," Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, legal adviser to the convening authority for military commissions, said on Monday.

Yesterday, Army Col. Stephen David, the chief defense lawyer for military commissions, said he has appointed only one military lawyer so far to represent Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was not held in CIA custody. But he is trying to find five more defense counsels to represent the others, who were held by the CIA; getting them will nearly double the size of his office.

Civilian attorneys have not yet been appointed to represent, at the forthcoming trial, the five who were held in CIA custody. The American Bar Association, which the Pentagon had said would help arrange such representation, has refused to participate because it objects to the trial procedures. Those appointed must obtain security clearances and sign highly restrictive agreements barring them from discussing anything their clients say.

"It could take months and months to just go over the classified information," David said. He added that there are numerous logistical and legal hurdles and that there will probably be challenges to the untested process itself. "Everything is magnified. You're not growing the garden in northern Indiana; you're growing the garden on the moon. There's no perspective."

David said it is unclear what will happen if detainees choose to forgo legal representation. He acknowledged that it is inevitable that torture will be a central issue for judges to consider.

"I don't know how you avoid the waterboarding issue," David said. "I don't know how, once that occurs, you ever avoid that issue. I don't know how you prevent defense counsel from probing into that. I don't know how you ever rehabilitate waterboarding or how you rehabilitate torture, whether it's your client or others saying things against your client."

All mail from the lawyers to the detainees and from the detainees to their attorneys is screened by a Defense Department Privilege Team, whose job it is to stop anything the team determines not to be "legal mail."

Mickum said he is concerned that he cannot share any classified information about his client with other lawyers who have clearances. "Not being able to talk to each other will do away with a means we found earlier helped us determine what was true or false," he said.

White House Pushes Waterboarding Rationale

White House Pushes Waterboarding Rationale

By Dan Eggen

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Administration may be trying to shore up prosecution of terrorism suspects.

After years of refusing public comment on a particularly harsh CIA interrogation method, top Bush administration officials have suddenly begun pressing a controversial argument that it was legal for the CIA to strap prisoners to a board and pour water over their face to make them believe they were being drowned.

The issue promises to play a role in the historic military prosecution of six al-Qaeda detainees for allegedly organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in cases described by the Defense Department on Monday. One of the six detainees, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, was subjected to the technique known as waterboarding after his capture in 2003, and four of the others were subjected to different "enhanced interrogation" tactics by the CIA.

If the information the CIA collected is used in court, defense attorneys may attack it as tainted and unlawful. If the government relies instead on evidence the FBI collected in voluntary interrogations - using the CIA information as a road map - defense attorneys could still allege that the material is the "fruit of a poisonous tree" and unlawful.

The government's defense of the waterboarding episodes, laid out in congressional testimony and administration statements over the past two weeks, relies on a complex legal argument that many scholars and human rights advocates say is at odds with settled law barring conduct that amounts to torture, at any time or for any reason. It also leaves open the possibility that, under the right conditions, the CIA could decide to use the tactic again.

The strategy appears to be aimed primarily at ensuring that no CIA interrogators face criminal prosecution for using harsh interrogation methods that top White House and Justice Department lawyers approved in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Because waterboarding was deemed legal at the time by the Justice Department, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey told lawmakers, he has no grounds to launch a criminal probe of the practice.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin M. Scalia echoed the administration's view when he said in a BBC Radio interview yesterday that some physical interrogation techniques could be used on a suspect in the event of an imminent threat, such as a hidden bomb about to blow up. "It would be absurd to say you couldn't do that," Scalia said. "And once you acknowledge that, we're into a different game: How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be?"

White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters last week: "Any technique that you use, you use it under certain circumstances. It was something that they felt at that time was necessary, and they sought legal guidance to make sure that it was legal and that it was effective."

Such detailed commentary on a classified interrogation program marks a departure for the administration, which for years had refused to confirm the use of waterboarding. Officials asserted that American lives would be put at risk if information about such an aggressive interrogation method were disclosed.

Controversy quickly followed CIA Director Michael V. Hayden's confirmation last week that three al-Qaeda prisoners were subjected to waterboarding in 2002 and 2003. Hayden, Fratto and other Bush administration officials left open the possibility that President Bush could authorize the use of simulated drowning again, but conceded that recent court rulings and legislation might not allow it.

The flurry of statements prompted fierce criticism from Democrats as well as strong condemnations from abroad. Manfred Nowak, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, said last week that the administration's use of waterboarding is "unjustifiable" and "absolutely unacceptable under international human rights law."

Waterboarding usually involves pouring water over a captive's mouth and nose while he is strapped to an inclined board, with his head lower than his feet and a piece of cloth or cellophane placed over his face. Use of the tactic and its variations has long been condemned by the State Department, and it is explicitly barred by the U.S. Army Field Manual for the handling of military prisoners.

But White House and Justice Department officials have said that the CIA was acting lawfully when it used the tactic. At the time, they noted, administration lawyers, led by then-White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, had concluded that al-Qaeda prisoners were not covered by protections of the Geneva Conventions.

As a result, lawyers who reviewed the tactic at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel looked narrowly at whether the technique constituted torture, which is defined by statute as infliction of "severe" physical or mental pain or suffering on a captive.

A pair of memos by that office concluded that waterboarding was not torture, possibly because its use was monitored and limited by someone with medical training whose role was to limit the severity of the pain. Those memos, one of which is still secret, paved the way for the CIA to use waterboarding.

But as Mukasey and other officials acknowledged, the legal landscape has changed since 2003. The Supreme Court ruled in 2005, for example, that the Geneva protections apply to al-Qaeda prisoners, and subsequent legislation from Congress barred cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of captives. The net effect was to require the Bush administration, which had opposed the Supreme Court's position, to adhere to legal standards barring conduct that is less severe than torture as legally defined.

In Senate testimony last month, for example, Mukasey emphasized that while waterboarding might be prohibited under some circumstances, it might be allowed if it did not "shock the conscience." That phrase was coined by the Supreme Court in a 1952 ruling against police brutality, which provoked criticism because it imposed an inherently subjective due-process standard. But it was implicitly embraced in legislation approved last year.

Mukasey described the matter as "a balancing test of the value of doing something as against the cost of doing it," and refused lawmakers' demands that he render an absolute verdict on its legality. Fratto, in remarks to reporters last week, amplified the point by asserting that waterboarding could be legal if the government believed it was under imminent threat.

But many legal experts say that such a "sliding scale" approach applies only to proscriptions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which ranks a step below torture in U.S. and international human rights law. Philip B. Heymann, who was a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration and now teaches at Harvard Law School, said the Bush administration is "trying to act as if they have wiggle room even if they don't."

"There's a plausible argument that there's a sliding scale, but only if you have arrived at the position that it's not torture," Heymann said. "There is no sliding scale for torture."

Unlike less severe abuse, torture is clearly banned by federal statute and international treaty, a fact that Mukasey acknowledged in testimony last week. "The torture statute applies across the board," he said, adding later that the prohibition is a "bright line."

The Military Commissions Act of 2006, which governs the trial that is being sought for Mohammed and the other Sept. 11 defendants, also expressly bars the use of evidence obtained through torture. But the term is undefined in the statute, and it is unclear whether the commission would side with the Bush administration, which defends waterboarding, or the military, which forbids it.

Most human rights groups and many lawyers who specialize in interrogation and detention laws maintain that waterboarding is torture, regardless of how carefully it is done - because some pain is inflicted and victims are essentially coercively threatened with imminent death. "Virtually the entire rest of the world, including ... every legislator who has spoken to the question, has concluded that waterboarding is categorically unlawful," former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer Martin S. Lederman said in a blog posting Friday.

But David B. Rivkin Jr., a Justice Department official in the Reagan era, said officials may be justified in using the tactic to prevent terrorist attacks in a time of imminent danger. "If you do something when you've suffered a horrible attack and you are expecting another attack any day, that is a very different context than something that you do for 20 years consistently," Rivkin said.

The CIA said last week that it had been five years, almost to the day, since it last used waterboarding and that it has not been on its list of approved techniques since 2006. But the Bush administration has said it opposes bills pending in Congress to explicitly bar any future use of the tactic.

Government Bonds to Rally for 6 Months as U.S. Slowdown Spreads

Government Bonds to Rally for 6 Months as U.S. Slowdown Spreads

By Daniel Kruger

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Government bonds will rise for the next six months in the world's biggest debt markets as the U.S. economic slowdown spreads to Europe and Asia, a survey of Bloomberg users showed.

Bonds will rally in the U.S., Germany, U.K., Italy, France, Japan and Hong Kong, according to the monthly Bloomberg Professional Global Confidence Index, which canvassed more than 6,800 users from New York to Paris to Tokyo. Swiss bonds are the only debt whose yields may increase, the index indicated.

Government securities returned 2.11 percent this year as investors sought a haven from declining stock markets and losses on securities tied to subprime mortgages, according to Merrill Lynch & Co. index data. Officials from the Group of Seven industrialized nations said in a statement Feb. 9 that turmoil in financial markets may force the countries' central banks to lower interest rates to shore up the global economy.

Financial markets are forecasting ``a moderate easing cycle,'' said Jack Malvey, the chief global fixed-income strategist at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in New York, who participated in the survey. ``It's certainly not over by the middle of the year.''

Bloomberg users in Germany and Italy became less confident about the economy, saying yields will decline, after predicting in January that they would climb. The index of expectations for users in Germany fell to 43.99 from 56.82, while in Italy it declined to 45.88 from 50.74. The measure is a diffusion index, meaning a reading below 50 indicates benchmark 10-year yields will drop.

Swiss Inflation

Readings in the U.S., U.K., France, Japan and Hong Kong remained below 50 for a second consecutive month. The yield on the 10-year note has dropped 35 basis points, or 0.35 percentage point, to 3.68 percent this year, according to Bloomberg data.

The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for 2008 global growth to 4.1 percent on Jan. 29, the weakest since 2003. That's down from 4.9 percent in 2007 and below the 4.4 percent pace projected in October.

Bloomberg users in Switzerland said they expect yields to rise for a fourth consecutive month. Swiss inflation accelerated at a 2.4 percent annualized rate in January, the fastest since December 1993, the Federal Statistics Office said Feb. 8. It was the first time in 12 years that inflation exceeded the central bank's 2 percent threshold for price stability, limiting policy makers' scope to lower rates.

Franc, Yen

Users surveyed remained optimistic on the Swiss franc, saying for the fourth straight month that the currency would strengthen. The index was 60.15 on the franc in February, compared with 61.76 last month.

The franc gained 2.9 percent against the U.S. dollar this year as slowing economies prompted investors to pare holdings of higher-yielding currencies funded by loans from Switzerland.

British users expect the pound to fall against the dollar, while Italian customers are most pessimistic about the euro, registering 42 in the survey against the dollar. The reading of 46.9 in the U.S. shows users expect the dollar to fall against major currencies. Subscribers in France, Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong forecast gains for the euro and the franc.

The Japanese yen gained 4 percent against the dollar this year, the biggest rally among the 16 most widely traded currencies as measured by Bloomberg. Like the franc, the yen benefited from the unwinding of the so-called carry trade. The dollar is little changed against the euro and is up 1.2 percent against the British pound.

Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui said Feb. 8 that the central bank will use monetary policy to help the economy weather shocks at home or abroad.

``It's become clear the markets are rewarding currencies where central banks are following pro-growth policies,'' said Paresh Upadhyaya, who helps manage $29 billion in currency assets as a senior vice president at Putnam Investments in Boston. He didn't participate in the survey.

Global Confidence Weakens for Third Month on Slowdown

Global Confidence Weakens for Third Month on Slowdown

By Ben Sills and Paul Tobin

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Confidence in the global economy fell for a third month in February as the slowdown in the U.S. spread to Europe and Japan, a survey of Bloomberg users on five continents showed.

The Bloomberg Professional Global Confidence Index fell to 14.3 from 21.0 in January. Users in Asia were the most pessimistic about the global economy, with the index falling to 12.6 from 15.0. A reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment.

Global stocks have lost more than $6 trillion this year as credit dried up for some borrowers and the U.S. expansion stalled. After insisting Europe would weather the slowdown, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said last week uncertainty was ``unusually high,'' while Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui may see his interest-rate increases reversed by his successor within months.

``First credit markets collapsed and that led to a banking crisis which has affected the real economies of all regions,'' said Jose Carlos Diez, chief economist at Intermoney SA in Madrid and a participant in the survey. ``We have yet to know when the slowdown of the global economy will end and I don't expect a recovery before the summer of 2009.''

The Bloomberg Professional Confidence Survey collated the responses of 6,878 Bloomberg users from Auckland to New York on the economic health of their region and the world. The survey was conducted from Feb. 4 to Feb. 8. The investors, traders and analysts were also asked about the outlook for their currencies, bonds, stocks and rates in the next 6 months. Participants answered questions in cities including Hong Kong, Zurich and London.

Pessimistic Americans

North American users were the most pessimistic about economic growth in their region, with the index falling to 19.3 from 19.6. Home sales in the world's largest economy fell at the fastest pace since at least 1963. While users in Asia were the least pessimistic, the index suffered the sharpest deterioration, falling to 43.5 from 51.1.

``We're already getting signs that things are deteriorating, but there's fear that things are going to get worse,'' said Samra Al-Harthy, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in London.

In Europe, sentiment toward the world economy dropped to 12.9 from 17.3. Participants there also soured on their own economy, pushing the regional index down to 26.2 from 27.3.

IMF Lowers Forecast

The International Monetary Fund in January lowered its forecast for global economic growth this year to 4.1 percent, the lowest since 2003, from 4.4 percent predicted in October. The IMF said last year's increase in credit costs resulting from defaults on mortgages aimed at borrowers with poor credit histories is hurting the rest of the economy.

Financial institutions around the world face $400 billion of write-offs as a consequence of the U.S. subprime mortgage slump, according to Group of Seven estimates, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck said on Feb. 9.

UBS AG, Europe's largest bank by assets, last month posted the biggest loss ever by a bank after raising fourth-quarter writedowns to $14 billion. The world's biggest financial companies have booked more than $145 billion of writedowns and losses since the beginning of 2007, partly because of the declining value of securities backed by assets including U.S. subprime mortgages.

``The epicenter of this slowdown is clearly the U.S.,'' said Kathleen Stephansen, chief global economist at Credit Suisse in New York. Still, ``the credit crunch will be exported to Japan and, particularly, Europe.''

Lower Interest Rates

U.S. users maintained their expectations for further interest-rate reductions in the next six months even after the Federal Reserve pared borrowing costs twice in January to avert a recession. The gauge of interest-rate expectations, reflecting the view of 2,708 Bloomberg users, fell to 11.8 from 12.8.

European expectations of interest-rate cuts by the ECB surged, with the index for Germany dropping to 20.6 after 43.2. The French gauge fell to 24.1 from 32.6.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations said after a weekend meeting in Tokyo that ``downside risks persist,'' including the U.S. housing slump and tighter credit conditions. They pledged ``appropriate actions, individually and collectively.''

German users switched to expecting a decline in long-term borrowing costs, suggesting increased confidence that the ECB can lower interest rates without letting inflation accelerate. The index fell to 44.0 from 56.8. The U.S. gauge for long-term bond yields rose to 44.7 from 37.8.

``The rest of the world can grow at a fairly healthy rate provided the U.S. slowdown is short and shallow,'' Julian Jessop, chief international economist at Capital Economic Ltd. in London, said.

Respondents in every economy except Hong Kong expect to see further stock market declines. U.K. users were the most negative with the index reading 23.2 after 24.9. The U.S. gauge rose to 26.9 from 23.5. The S&P 500, the benchmark U.S. index, declined 8.1 percent this year to 1348.86 yesterday.

The next survey will be conducted March 3 to March 7.

Bernanke May Have to Lower Rate Again as Lenders Stymie Fed's January Cuts

Fed Interest-Rate Cuts Fail to Lower Borrowing Costs

By Scott Lanman

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The Federal Reserve's interest-rate cuts last month have failed to lower borrowing costs for many companies and households, increasing the chance of further reductions from the central bank.

Companies are paying more to borrow now than before the Fed reduced its benchmark rate by 1.25 percentage point over nine days in January, based on data compiled by Merrill Lynch & Co. Rates on so-called jumbo mortgages, those above $417,000, have increased in the past month, making it tougher to sell properties and risking further price declines.

``It's the clogging up of the credit markets that worries me most,'' Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein said in an interview in New York. ``The Fed has done a lot of cutting, the question is whether it's going to get the traction that it did in the past.''

Banks and investors are demanding greater compensation for offering credit as losses mount on subprime-mortgage securities and concerns grow that ratings of bond insurers will be cut. Elevated borrowing costs mean Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will have to reduce rates further to revive the economy, Fed watchers said.

``The problem is that every piece of news we're getting continues to be bad,'' said Stephen Cecchetti, a former New York Fed bank research director, and now a professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. ``They will have to ease more. It's the only thing they can do.''

`Close to 50-50'

Feldstein, who heads the National Bureau of Economic Research, the group that sets the dates for U.S. economic cycles, said the chance of a recession is ``close to 50-50.''

Traders now see a 100 percent chance of at least a half- point reduction at or before the Federal Open Market Committee's March 18 meeting, up from 68 percent on Jan. 31, when the Fed cited tighter credit conditions as a reason for lowering rates. Futures show 20 percent odds of a three-quarter point move.

Bernanke may give an update of his outlook tomorrow when he testifies before the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing on the economy and financial markets. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox are also scheduled to appear.

The extra yield investors demand to buy investment-grade U.S. corporate bonds rose to 2.37 percentage point Feb. 12 from 2.24 percentage point on Jan. 21, Merrill data show. For high- risk, high-yield securities, premiums over Treasury securities have risen a quarter-point, Merrill data show.

Yellen Frustration

``The increase in credit spreads has sort of worked against our policy,'' San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen told reporters at her bank yesterday. ``The fact that the spreads went up so dramatically really resulted in an effective tightening of financial conditions that our cuts were partly meant to address.''

Those cuts were the fastest since the federal funds rate became the principal policy tool around 1990. The Fed lowered the rate by 75 basis points on Jan. 22 in an emergency move, then by an additional 50 basis points at the regular meeting on Jan. 30. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

Beyond March, traders expect quarter-point rate reductions at the following FOMC meetings in April and June, based on futures prices on the Chicago Board of Trade.

In the market where banks lend to each other, borrowing costs have receded since the Fed began special auctions of funds in December. The three-month dollar London Interbank Offered Rate fell to 12 basis points over the Fed's target rate today, from more than 1 percentage point above it two months ago.

`Not Functioning'

Yellen acknowledged in a Feb. 7 speech, repeated yesterday, that borrowers with greater default risk are paying more for loans. The markets for securities backed by mortgages ``are not functioning efficiently, or may not be functioning much at all,'' she said.

``As long as the credit strains remain and might even still be intensifying, it certainly supports the case for continuing to ease aggressively,'' said Brian Sack, a former Fed research manager who is now senior economist at Macroeconomic Advisers LLC in Washington. ``We don't need spreads to come down. We do need them to stop widening.''

The lack of improvement may make a fiscal-stimulus plan passed by Congress last week more critical. The $168 billion package, to be approved by President George W. Bush today, would send tax rebate checks to more than 111 million households, probably beginning in May.

``It's a necessary thing given the uncertainties about both the economy and the power of monetary policy at this point,'' said Harvard's Feldstein. It will probably add 1 percentage point to economic growth, he said.

Fannie, Freddie

The bill will allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to raise the limit on purchasing ``jumbo'' loans to $729,750 from $417,000. The idea is to help struggling homeowners finance larger mortgages at lower interest rates, especially in expensive metropolitan areas such as New York, Washington and Southern California, where median home prices now exceed the $417,000 limit.

Yesterday, at a closed-door luncheon with Republican senators in Washington, Bernanke was ``very upbeat'' that the economy would avoid a recession, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley said in an interview.

Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning said in an interview that while Bernanke didn't comment on interest rates, the Fed chief said that ``they have their eye on inflation and price stability, and if the credit crunch didn't ease, obviously they are going to have to do something about it.''

IDF to step up Gaza assassinations

IDF to step up Gaza assassinations

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The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet internal security service are preparing to step up assassinations against key Hamas figures in the Gaza Strip in response to the continued Qassam rocket attacks against Sderot. The renewed campaign of targeted killings is not likely, at this stage, to include members of the Hamas political leadership.

During a meeting on security developments yesterday, and at the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel needs to continue its preparations for a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, but there is no point in rushing into one.

Olmert was steadfast against pressure from cabinet ministers to change Israel's response to the Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip.

"There are many operations against the Qassam attacks, but there is no way to put an absolute end to the terrorism in a single blow or a single air attack," Olmert later told reporters on his plane, on his way to a visit to Germany.

"Even after Defensive Shield [the operation against militants in the West Bank in 2002] terrorism continued and it took a long time to curtail it," Olmert added.

During the cabinet meeting, Olmert answered calls for retaliation for the injury of two brothers in Sderot by saying that "rage is not a plan."

Many ministers were critical of the situation in Sderot and the other communities bordering the Gaza Strip.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit was vociferous in his demands for action. "We are trying to talk in English to a population that only understands Arabic," he said, suggesting that the gloves need to come off.

"We need to target all those responsible for terrorism without asking who they are. It is not acceptable that we do not respond when we are being attacked. The IDF needs to wipe out a neighborhood in Gaza - warn the residents and then go into the neighborhood."

But on the plane, Olmert was almost nonchalant about cabinet criticism concerning the Gaza operations. "There has been fighting in the Gaza Strip for many months. We are holding regular talks on the Gaza Strip and we will have more talks. In 2007 we killed 500 militants in Gaza, so saying that we are doing nothing ignores reality."

For its part, the IDF is stepping up its preparations for the possibility of a large-scale ground operation in the Strip.

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi recently gave orders for such preparations, but army sources insist that they have not received any order to initiate an operation. Military sources said that such operation is not likely to begin for several more weeks.

Barak has reiterated that Israel will not embark on a military operation unless Israel defines its goals, "has a [political] exit plan" and prepares the ground for broad international support for its action.

For now, the IDF has been ordered to continue its current operations, but step up the intensity of activity. This will include more intensive air strikes against Hamas targets, assassinations, and limited ground operations with forces not penetrating beyond the three-kilometer mark from the border fence into the Gaza Strip.

Security sources also said that there is solid information that the terrorist organizations in the West Bank are readying to dispatch suicide bombers inside Israel.

Meanwhile, Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip did not carry out any Qassam rocket attacks against Israel yesterday.

Nonetheless, yesterday afternoon a member of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine was killed in a firefight between a group of Palestinian gunmen and an IDF patrol, near the border fence in the northern Strip.

Also yesterday, a leading Hamas militant, Mohammed Matir,23, was killed in an air strike on Rafah.

In another air strike on an installation of Hamas' military wing of Hamas

near Khan Yunis, 10 Palestinians were injured.

West Virginia: Bill Turns Traffic Cameras into Spy Cameras

West Virginia: Bill Turns Traffic Cameras into Spy Cameras

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Cameras once proposed solely for the purpose of monitoring the level of traffic on freeways may soon have a new mission in West Virginia following unanimous state House passage of the "Guardian Angel Video Monitoring Act" last Wednesday. Introduced by state House Majority Leader Joe DeLong (D), the bill authorizes the state's secretary of military affairs and public safety to take control of video recording devices whenever an Amber Alert is declared. These alerts were originally designed to enlist the help of the public in finding vehicles bearing the license plate of a suspected child kidnapper.

"Tools allowing rapid response and identification of the movements of persons suspected in a child abduction require the use all forms of developing technologies to assist law enforcement in rapid response to these alerts," the legislation states. "The use of traffic video recording and monitoring devices for the purpose of surveillance of a suspect vehicle adds yet another set of eyes to assist law enforcement."

The text of the HB 4075 requires that state police and transportation officials use "all available video recording and monitoring devices" to track motorists during an alert. It requires "at a minimum" that all state and local governments coordinate their equipment under a state-controlled surveillance program. It also authorizes negotiations with neighboring states to expand the program's reach. If approved by the state Senate and signed by the governor, an action plan would be developed by December that would describe the cost of the new equipment required. Federal funds are already being used to deploy a set of high-resolution cameras throughout the state's freeway network.

Despite its endorsement of spy cameras, the West Virginia legislature voted in 2006 to ban both red light cameras and speed cameras

West Virginia Legislature, 2008 Session
H. B. 4075
(By Delegates DeLong, Caputo, Fragale, Webster, White, Kominar and Shook)
[Introduced January 17, 2008; referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.]

A BILL to amend and reenact Section 15-3A-2 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended; and to amend said code by adding thereto a new section, designated Section 15-3A-7, all relating to use of video image recording devices in an Amber Alert activation; providing for video image monitoring during Amber Alert activations; and, directing the Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety to develop a plan to implement a video monitoring system during Amber Alerts.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:

That Section 15-3A-2 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended and reenacted; and that said code be amended by adding thereto a new section, designated Section 15-3A-7, all to read as follows:

ARTICLE 3A. Amber Alert Plan.

Section 15-3A-2. Findings and determinations relative to "Amber's Plan".

(a) The Legislature finds and determines that:

(1) Public alerts can be one of the most effective tools in combating child abductions;

(2) Law-enforcement officers and other professionals specializing in the field of abducted and missing children agree that the most critical moments in the search for an abducted child are the first few hours immediately following the abduction, asserting that if a child is not found within two to four hours, it is unlikely that child will be found alive;

(3) The rapid dissemination of information, including a description of the abducted child, details of the abduction, abductor and vehicle involved, to the citizens of the affected community and region is, therefore, critical;

(4) Alerted to an abduction, the citizenry become an extensive network of eyes and ears serving to assist law enforcement in quickly locating and safely recovering the child; and

(5) The most effective method of immediately notifying the public of a child abduction is through the broadcast media; and

(6) That in addition to public alerts, other tools allowing rapid response and identification of the movements of persons suspected in a child abduction require the use all forms of developing technologies to assist law enforcement in rapid response to these alerts and is an additional tool for assuring the well being and safety of our children. Thus, the use of traffic video recording and monitoring devices for the purpose of surveillance of a suspect vehicle adds yet another set of eyes to assist law enforcement and aid in the safe recovery of the child.
(b) The Legislature declares that given the successes other states and regions have experienced in using broadcast media alerts to quickly locate and safely recover abducted children, and, with the recent development of highway video recording and monitoring systems, it is altogether fitting and proper, and within the public interest, to establish these programs for West Virginia.

Section 15-3A-7. Providing for the use of video image recording devices for search purposes during an Amber Alert Activation.

(a) The State Police and the division of highways shall coordinate a process to utilize all available video recording and monitoring devices for the purpose of monitoring Amber Alert suspect vehicles. This program shall be called the "Guardian Angel Video Monitoring" Program.
(b) The secretary of military affairs and public safety shall also develop a plan to provide for the State Police to monitor and utilize video recording and monitoring devices during an Amber Alert. This "Guardian Angel Video Monitoring" implementation plan shall include at a minimum, the following:
(1) Utilization of any state or local video recording and monitoring devices upon agreement with the department, agency or political subdivision in control of the video recording device; and,
(2) Development of policies and initiatives relating to facilitating sharing of information with neighboring states wherein suspect vehicles in Amber Alerts may be crossing state lines.
(c) The secretary shall submit the plan to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance no later than December 1, 2008. The plan shall include an analysis of all related costs for equipping and using a statewide video recording and monitoring system during the duration of an Amber Alert and recommendations for any additional legislation or actions necessary to further facilitate the implementation of the "Guardian Angel Video Monitoring" program.

US pushes EU to shut down Iranian banks

US pushes EU to shut down Iranian banks

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The US is pushing the European Union to increase the pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme by stopping two Iranian banks from operating on European soil.

The plan to take steps against Banks Saderat and Melli - a move also backed by Paris and London - would build on a United Nations Security Council resolution that the US and the EU hope to push through this month.

So far, Germany, Italy and other European states have resisted taking EU action to ban Saderat and Melli - which Washington alleges are involved in terrorist financing and proliferation activities - because neither bank has yet been the subject of UN action.

The lack of an EU ban has left the UK, the US's closest ally, unable to prevent a branch of Saderat from operating in the City of London - a fact which blunts the effectiveness of the US's drive for international action against the banks.

The US, Britain and France last month reached agreement with Russia and China on a draft Security Council resolution that would call on UN member states "to exercise vigilance over . . . Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, and their branches and subsidiaries abroad", as well as over Iranian banks generally.

This falls short of the asset freeze the US and the EU had sought. Washington, London and Paris believe the proposed UN resolution could break the deadlock in the EU and undermine Iran's financial ties with Europe - even though the draft UN text has yet to be agreed by other Security Council members such as South Africa and Libya.

The US believes that tighter EU sanctions will put pressure on other nations that do more business with Iran - China for example - to curb their activities.

"We will be pushing the EU to go further than the Security Council," a diplomat said. "We could 'gold plate' a Security Council resolution when we implement it at the EU level, although some other EU member states may be reluctant."

A previous example of such 'gold plating' came last year when the EU implemented two previous Security Council resolutions on Iran. In similar language to the current text on Banks Saderat and Melli, the UN had called for "vigilance and restraint" concerning the movements of individuals linked to Iran's nuclear and missile programmes and members of its Revolutionary Guard. But in implementing the resolutions, the EU subjected all the named individuals to a travel ban - a much tougher measure.

The US is expecting the third UN resolution to pass regardless of the results of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency - which could be published as early as next week - which will assess whether Iran has answered all outstanding questions over its nuclear programme. Washington is calculating that Tehran will fail to comply with all the IAEA requirements.

Although the text of the UN resolution has been watered down, western powers seeking more pressure on Iran say approval of the resolution would send an important political message to Tehran - that its claims to have derailed the UN process are unfounded.

Iran declared victory after last December's US National Intelligence Estimate said that it had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. Iranian officials have said the findings suggest there is no need for further sanctions, especially given that Iran has a "work plan" with the IAEA designed to clarify past suspicious activities.

The US, however, has sought to undermine that impression. "Iran's strategic position is not as comfortable as Iran believes it to be," Nick Burns, US undersecretary of state, said Monday in a speech to London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

UN and, more importantly, US financial sanctions have hurt the ­Iranian economy but the authorities' attitude has been that the pain is manageable.

Frustrations On FISA

Frustrations On FISA

By Christy Hardin Smith

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With the Senate's failure to stand up for the rule of law today, the ball goes back to the House's court if the SSCI bill passes.

FDL and Glenn Greenwald ask you to help us push the House in the rule of law direction: please sign our petition asking House members to support the RESTORE Act, and not cave to pressure from the Senate on telecom immunity, on basket warrants and every other provision which requires careful debate on the long-term legal ramifications rather than a rubber stamp.

In a follow-up opinion (FISC Docket No.: MISC. 07-01), the FISA Court has again punted the issue of overreach by the Bush Administration on classification questions back to Congress. The ACLU's appeal of their December decision has resulted in the same answer: the Bush Administration's actions and classification justifications raise serious questions, but those must be answered by Congress. From the FISC opinion:

...The Court is aware of the ongoing congressional and public debate over extending or replacing the Protect America Act of 2007, and it acknowledges that release of the requested materials (at least in their unredacted form) could inform the public in that debate.

Nevertheless, the Court properly rejected the ACLU's request for release, and now denies the ACLU's motion for reconsideration. As noted above and in the Court's original opinion, even assuming that this Court has the discretion independently to declassify materials over the Executive's objections, the searching review requested by the ACLU of the Executive Branch's classification decisions -- over and above that conducted by a district court under FOIA -- poses unacceptable risks to the national security and to the proper functioning of the FISA process. As already explained, these risks include the heightened possibility of erroneous judicial release of properly classified materials; the forgoing of search or surveillance against legitimate targets; avoidance of the FISC in cases where the need for FISC approval is unclear; and impediments ot the free flow of information in cases that are submitted. These risks simply outweigh the potential benefits from discretionary release.

In other words, there is likely information that the public should know that exists in these classified materials, but the Congress, and not the courts, is the place in which these matters ought to be investigated. It's a strong hint from the FISA court, but they are not going to go beyond that because to do so, in their opinion, would be a violation of their role in this oversight tango. (And I have to wonder if the documents that the House is combing through< given?) been have they what beyond something it is or -- information this contain>

That the FISA Court has gone on record publicly not once -- but twice now-- on this issue screams volumes. That there is no clear resolution to these issues says a lot about where we are politically, and about the levels of frustration that is engendering among a whole host of people inside and outside the Beltway.

Back in December, after the first decision, I said this -- which is still applicable today:

In plain language, the FISA court just called the Bush Administration on its hypocritical use of classified information for its own political purposes and not properly taking national security considerations into account while using this information as a political football. Good for them.

But this also brings into stark contrast the fact that they have punted this abysmal situation back into the Congress, where oversight and legislative action are the corrective remedies for executive branch overstep. Which is exactly what we have not been seeing, as delay and capitulation to veto threats have sadly ruled the day in the face of overarching political concerns versus standing up proudly for the Constitution.

We need leadership. From every Democratic Presidential candidate, from every Democratic member of the House and Senate. From every American who cares about his or her nation as a nation of laws and not at the whim of a unilateral executive power grab. We fought one revolution in this nation against a petulant King George. It's high time we remembered the value of spine and spunk -- and it is well past time that our elected "leaders" actually exerted some leadership.

What we are facing is a crisis of leadership and character from the people we elect to be leaders. The Republican party is more interested in protecting the Bush Presidency from scrutiny and, thus, it's own party from factually sustained criticism than standing up for the rule of law. The Democratic party does not have enough members with stiff enough spines to withstand the GOP screechfest that would follow any factual assault on the Bush/Cheney illegal overreaches on legal and ethical grounds. And the numbers in both the House and Senate are so close that the votes are not there without a break in those ranks among the GOP and Blue Dogs somewhere to put the rule of law first.

In short, we are stuck in some sort of heinous purgatory wherein the interests of comity and fealty to the CYA needs of the Bush Administration come ahead of the pleas of the DFHs and libertarians and other Americans to stand upright against a unilateral executive power grab.

What we need are more people in Congress who put the rule of law ahead of their own political careers and their party interests, who are willing to stand up for what is right instead of what appears to be politically expedient in the moment. Certainly we have had folks like Feingold and Dodd and a host of others in the Senate and House who have stood with the rule of law. But lately, I have been longing for the days of Sam Ervin and Barbara Jordan and all those giants of the Watergate era who put the nation's interests as a whole first.

Members of the House, the nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

The ACLU is asking its membership to call their member of the House. You can find contact information for the House here. Talking points are:

1. Vote NO on any spying bill with telecom immunity. Lawsuits must be allowed to proceed or we'll never know the truth about what laws were broken and how many Americans rights were violated.

2. Vote NO on any spying that allows the government to spy on Americans without getting a warrant. America doesn't need a bill that needlessly expands the President's ability to spy on innocent Americans without a warrant.

3. Don't let the Senate or President Bush steamroll the House of Representatives. Any bill to regulate spying on Americans must respect the Constitution and must not let phone companies off the hook for warrantless spying.

Christy Hardin Smith is a former attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review.

Agent Orange Deforming a Third Generation in Vietnam

Agent Orange Deforming a Third Generation in Vietnam

By Tom Fawthrop

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Long after the last bullet has been fired in a war, unexploded bombs, landmines and toxic chemicals continue to maim and kill civilians. This is particularly true of the Vietnam war. Three decades after US soldiers and diplomats scrambled aboard the last planes out of Saigon in April 1975, the toxins they left behind still poison Vietnam. Relations with the United States have been normalized since the 1990s, but the denial of justice to the victims of Agent Orange remains a major bone of contention.

Not only are Vietnamese still maimed from treading on unexploded bombs, they are also victims of this insidious scourge that poisons water and food supplies, causing various cancers and crippling deformities. Eighty million liters of Agent Orange were sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam, destroying swathes of irreplaceable rainforest through massive defoliation and leaving a toxic trail of dioxin contamination in the soil for decades. The legacy of this chemical warfare can even be inflicted on the unborn, with Agent Orange birth deformities now being passed on to a third generation.

In the 3,160 villages in the southern part of Vietnam within the Agent Orange spraying zone, 800,000 people continue to suffer serious health problems and are in need of constant medical attention. Last month, members of a US Vietnamese working group reported that it will cost at least $14 million to remove dioxin residues from just one site around the former US airbase in Danang. The cost of a comprehensive clean-up around three dioxin hot spots and former US bases is estimated at around $60 million. The $3 million pledged by US Congress last year is a pathetically inadequate amount set against the billions spent in waging war and deploying weapons of mass destruction.

The recent study of one Agent Orange hot spot, the former US airbase in Danang, found dioxin levels 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits. The study confirmed that rainwater had carried dioxin into city drains and into a neighboring community that is home to more than 100,000 people.

Dr Arnold Schecter, a leading expert in dioxin contamination in the US, sampled the soil around former US airbase in Bien Hoa in 2003 and found dioxin levels that were 180 times above the safe level set by the US environmental protection agency. The US government was aware of these findings (pdf) back in 2003.

The US government's Veterans Administration officially recognizes 13 medical conditions linked to Agent Orange and provides free medical treatment to US soldiers who can prove their exposure to the herbicide. But Washington has adamantly denied all responsibility and evaded any kind of accountability for the estimated four million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who suffered far greater exposure to the dioxin than the US war veterans.

In February 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit in a New York court, against Monsanto, Dow Chemicals and 35 other manufacturers of the herbicides deployed in Vietnam. The plaintiffs and their lawyers deliberately chose the very same court that had presided over the only previous lawsuit brought against Agent Orange manufacturers, by US war veterans.

The original lawsuit was settled in 1984, when seven American chemical companies paid out $180 million to 291,000 US citizens over a period of 12 years. The out-of-court settlement was linked to a let-out clause for the chemical companies that refused to accept liability, claiming the science did not prove that Agent Orange was the cause of a diverse range of cancers, autoimmune diseases and birth deformities. In 2005, a US court predictably rejected the Vietnamese claim for massive compensation in respect of war crimes and crimes against humanity inflicted on the civilian population. It is still being appealed in the US courts.

Why has Washington been so doggedly determined to deny any compensation to Vietnamese victims, even refusing to come up with humanitarian aid? A clue can be found in the intervention of the White House counsel in the Vietnamese lawsuit against the chemical companies. The US government intervened to argue that if the court permitted the case to prosper, it would undermine national security and limit presidential options in a time of war.

In the New York Court Seth Waxman, defense counsel for the chemical companies, argued there was a lack of legal precedent for punishing those who used poisons during warfare, and said US battlefield decisions could be harmed. "This does affect our ongoing diplomacy," he said, citing the use of depleted uranium shells by US forces in Iraq.

To accept US responsibility for Agent Orange could expose Washington to claims relating to the use of napalm, phosphorous bombs and various My Lai-type massacres.

Tragically, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese victims are denied compensation because the US government and its military want no limits placed on their arsenal of weapons, and few restrictions on their methods of interrogation and torture. They are also deeply anxious to guarantee that international justice is confined to putting developing nations and other weak regimes in the dock -- Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Serbia. The US government, in refusing to sign up to the international criminal court, has ensured that they are beyond the reach of international law.

A London-born journalist, Tom Fawthrop has extensively covered the developing world. He has been working in South-East Asia for the past 25 years and is currently based in Chiangmai, Thailand.

He is co-author of Getting away with Genocide, the history of the Cambodia Tribunal.