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Change We Can Believe In, XVI

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Fear Trumps the Rule of Law

I’m a little late getting to this, because of our trip to New York, and by now what needs to be said has been said widely elsewhere.

On Monday, Attorney General Holder announced

that the Obama administration “will prosecute Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other people accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks before a military commission and not a civilian court, as it once planned. …

[This shift] marked a significant moment of capitulation in the Obama administration’s largely frustrated effort to dismantle counterterrorism architecture left behind by former President George W. Bush. President Obama, in one of his first initiatives, had announced his intention to close the Guantánamo prison in a year, a goal that he failed to fulfill.

Mr. Holder said Monday that he stood by his judgment that it made more sense, based on the facts and evidence of the case, to try Mr. Mohammed, described as the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and the four others in a federal court.

The NYT editorial page didn’t pull its punches the next day, in an editorial titled Cowardice Blocks the 9/11 Trial:

On Monday, Mr. Holder’s dream for demonstrating the power of the American court system crumbled when he announced that the trial would take place not in New York City or anywhere in the United States but before a military commission at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp.

That retreat was a victory for Congressional pandering and an embarrassment for the Obama administration, which failed to stand up to it.

The wound inflicted on New York City from Mr. Mohammed’s plot nearly a decade ago will not heal for many lifetimes, yet the city, while still grieving, has thrived. How fitting it would have been to put the plot’s architect on trial a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, to force him to submit to the justice of a dozen chosen New Yorkers, to demonstrate to the world that we will not allow fear of terrorism to alter our rule of law.

But, apparently, there are many who continue to cower, who view terrorists as much more fearsome than homegrown American mass murderers and the American civilian jury system as too “soft” to impose needed justice. The administration of George W. Bush encouraged this view for more than seven years, spreading a notion that terror suspects only could be safely held and tried far from our shores at Guantánamo and brought nowhere near an American courthouse. The federal courts have, in fact, convicted hundreds of terrorists since 9/11. And federal prisons safely hold more than 350 of them.

. . . Monday’s announcement represents a huge missed opportunity to prove the fairness of the federal court system and restore the nation’s reputation for providing justice for all.

Shortly after Holder’s announcement, Jane Mayer wrote:

Today’s news that K.S.M. is slated now for a military commission in the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, rather than facing a criminal trial in the civilian justice system that Holder believed was more fitting, may indeed be the defining moment for the Obama Justice Department, defining it, unfortunately, as incapable of standing up to to the political passions still stirred by the threat of terrorism.

Holder and some of the smartest prosecutors in the country had prepared what they believed was the strongest case possible against K.S.M. Lawyers involved in the effort told me they had spent years on it, and had files filled with killer evidence, just waiting for trial. Careers had been devoted to compiling an impeccable case. By using the civilian justice system, Holder had wanted to send several important messages, among them that terrorists are criminals, not some new breed of super warrior, and that the U.S. legal system is the strongest, fairest, and most credible system in the world. A guilty verdict arrived at in front of the world, in a public trial, with ordinary citizens sitting in judgment of K.S.M., would be internationally accepted as legitimate, in a way that no military tribunal ever will be. Or so the thinking went.

Despite Holder’s defiant reiteration today of his preference for trying K.S.M. in the federal courts, human-rights advocates were critical. “The administration has gone to great lengths to defend its authority to make these decisions, but has done little to exercise it,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said. “Holder’s defense of executive prerogative today is stirring, but it comes too late without White House backing. The administration had months to act before Congress tied its hands on this. It failed to do so. There’s no substitute for leadership on this issue—and it has to come from the top. Without it, you get what we have today: capitulation to the agenda of fear.”

Obama left Holder high and dry, choosing the politics of fear over the rule of law.

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Categories: Law, Politics, War

TV Sports Idiocy

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This idiocy is an old theme, but one we west coasters don’t pay the price for. I paid the price this past week, though, what with flying into New York on Saturday, the day of the NCAA men’s basketball final four round, and then being in New York Sunday for the women’s final four and Monday for the men’s championship game.

The idiocy? Games that start at 9:20 PM or 9:30 PM eastern time. For the semi-final rounds, that was the start time of the second games. And on Monday night, the championship game started around 9:30.

It’s not like I actually care all that much, but believe me, I don’t care enough to stay up that late. On the other hand, we did just get in from Seattle, so we weren’t exactly on eastern time. Which is to say, I did catch the end of the UConn-Kentucky men’s semi-final Saturday. As for Texas A&M’s upset of the UConn women on Sunday, I missed that one. And the UConn men beating Butler Monday? Well, I was reading, but still awake, so I turned it on to catch the end. However, if I lived in the eastern time zone and were going to work the next day, I would have skipped it.

By Tuesday, I was fully adjusted to east coast time, but that was our night to fly home, so we would be missing the the women’s championship. Plus, with our 8:00 PM flight delayed and our arrival in Seattle scheduled for near midnight PDT (or 3:00 AM EDT), I mostly wanted to sleep. As it turned out, I could have watched the entire game, since a selection of TV stations was available via satellite on the small screens in the airplane seat backs, but this didn’t even occur to me. After a late dinner, I went to sleep. When I awoke somewhere around 2:00 AM EDT, I turned my screen on for the first time and stumbled on the game highlights on ESPN.

I watched about as much of the basketball as I wanted to. It remains a mystery to me why the powers that be think it’s in anyone’s interests to have games end at 11:30 on weeknights. Or later. I’m just thankful that I’m usually here in the Pacific time zone.

Categories: Sports, Television, Travel

Travel Nightmare, 2

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, okay, it wasn’t really a travel nightmare, but it wasn’t such a great experience either, and my last post was called Travel Nightmare, so this seems like as good a title as any for this one.

That last post described the start of our trip to New York early last Saturday morning. This one is about our return trip Tuesday night. We were on an 8:00 PM flight out of JFK, with an announced delay earlier in the day of at least 15 minutes, and we were through security around 6:30 PM. With time to kill, we headed to the Delta lounge, for which we had privileges, and found a corner with three seats. Joel settled in and plugged in his phone. We headed over to check out the snack options — crackers and cheese, a packaged hummus spread, celery and baby carrots — and I grabbed a couple of the baby carrots as Gail moved on to the bar. As I caught up with her, I started chewing a carrot, and suddenly I bit into something really hard, like a small stone.

I didn’t quite know what to do. I didn’t want to swallow it, but had no napkin to spit it into. And anyway, a carrot? What could be stone hard in a carrot? As Gail ordered something to drink, I deposited the contents of my mouth in my hand, then threw it out. I then got some water, picked up some hummus spread and crackers on the way back to our seats, sat down, and wondered just what it was that I spit out. A clue was that something sharp in the back of my mouth was stabbing my tongue. A little investigation and I realized my tooth had acquired a sharp point. That stone must have been some dental work, or part of the tooth itself.

What it was exactly would stay a mystery for a while. I determined that the troublesome tooth was #18, the one in front of my rear left wisdom tooth. Fortunately, it wasn’t yet 4:00 back in Seattle, so the dentist office would be open. I called and made an appointment for the next day, yesterday.

The plane we were flying home on was late into JFK from Las Vegas. We boarded some 45 behind schedule, but thanks to weak headwinds and the enormous padding built into the schedule (what was once scheduled for 6 hours was scheduled for 6 hours and 40 minutes), we were just a few minutes late, landing a little before midnight Seattle time. Yesterday morning, I was off to the dentist.

The diagnosis — the carrot broke off part of my tooth. I spent the next 1 3/4 hours in the dentist’s chair. When I got home, the left side of my mouth was so numb, and my tongue so uncomfortable, that I could hardly talk. Gail thought I was over-doing it a bit with my mumbling. And I couldn’t eat comfortably either. I tried to eat some cheerios, but gave up. For the next hour, I was convinced some cheerios had lodged under my tongue, but I couldn’t move them out with the tongue and couldn’t feel them with my fingers. Every 5 or 10 minutes, after abandoning the preceding effort and figuring I just had to wait for the anesthetic to wear off, I’d try once again to find those elusive cheerios. There had to be a reason my tongue was so uncomfortable, talking or eating so difficult.

Finally, around 3:00 in the afternoon, I made one more effort and hit paydirt. There was something in there for sure. I grabbed hold, pulled, hoped my mouth wouldn’t turn inside out, and out came one of those hard cylindrical cotton rolls dentists stick in mouths. Relief! I could talk again. My tongue felt normal. Maybe I could even eat again.

But carrots? Forget it. I’m done with them.

Categories: Food, Travel