Elizabeth Warren: Trump v ‘Equal Justice Under Law’

This is an important half-hour speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“Donald Trump chose racism as his weapon, but his aim is exactly the same as the rest of the Republicans: pound the courts into submission for the rich and the powerful.”–Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren Remarks at American Constitution Society Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren harshly criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his comments against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel who’s overseeing a lawsuit against the now defunct Trump University. Warren called the real estate mogul a “thin-skinned, racist bully” and a “wannabe tyrant” who should never be president of the United States.

She lays out a Republican attack on the U.S. judiciary system, reminding that judges cannot publicly defend themselves against attack. So the rest of us must defend them. She gave these comments at the annual national convention of the American Constitution Society in Washington, D.C. The ACS is a progressive legal organization formed in 2001 in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the Gore-Bush election.

(FYI: She got a standing O.)

For the full video, go to CSPAN.

Guantanamo: ‘If I Had My Way, I’d Tear This Building Down’

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay Indefinite Detention Center, January 2012
Blind Willie Johnson had it right back in 1927 when he sang, “If I had my way, I’d tear this building down.” The U.S. concentration camps on Guantanamo Bay turn 10 years old on Wednesday. As Americans — and as people of faith — we should tear those buildings down.

I’m not naive about who some of the prisoners are being held there. But if there’s one thing the U.S. does extremely well, it’s prisons. We’ve got lots of them. There’s no reason why the men and boys held at Guantanamo can’t be moved into stateside prisons – military or civilian – and held accountable under a clear rule of law.

I want to be part of the civilian team of Americans — with families of international victims — who come to Guantanamo this year with hammers in our hands. It is time to dismantle these concentration camps.

Read below for Abraham’s haggling with God about punishing the innocent with the guilty and further down read Murat Kurnaz’ reflections five years after his release from Guantanamo.

Abraham approached the Lord and asked, “Are you really going to destroy the innocent with the guilty? If there are fifty innocent people in the city, will you destroy the whole city? Won’t you spare it in order to save the fifty? Surely you won’t kill the innocent with the guilty. That’s impossible! You can’t do that. If you did, the innocent would be punished along with the guilty. That is impossible. The judge of all the earth has to act justly.” –Genesis 18:23-25

I left Guantánamo Bay much as I had arrived almost five years earlier – shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, and ankles to a bolt on the airplane floor. My ears and eyes were goggled, my head hooded, and even though I was the only detainee on the flight this time, I was drugged and guarded by at least 10 soldiers. This time though, my jumpsuit was American denim rather than Guantánamo orange. I later learned that my C-17 military flight from Guantánamo to Ramstein Air Base in my home country, Germany, cost more than $1 million.

When we landed, the American officers unshackled me before they handed me over to a delegation of German officials. The American officer offered to re-shackle my wrists with a fresh, plastic pair. But the commanding German officer strongly refused: “He has committed no crime; here, he is a free man.”

I was not a strong secondary school student in Bremen, but I remember learning that after World War II, the Americans insisted on a trial for war criminals at Nuremberg, and that event helped turn Germany into a democratic country. Strange, I thought, as I stood on the tarmac watching the Germans teach the Americans a basic lesson about the rule of law.

How did I arrive at this point? This Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the detention camp at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am not a terrorist. I have never been a member of Al Qaeda or supported them. I don’t even understand their ideas. ….

… a number of American and German intelligence documents from 2002 to 2004 [that] showed both countries suspected I was innocent. One of the documents said American military guards thought I was dangerous because I had prayed during the American national anthem.

Now, five years after my release, I am trying to put my terrible memories behind me. I have remarried and have a beautiful baby daughter. Still, it is hard not to think about my time at Guantánamo and to wonder how it is possible that a democratic government can detain people in intolerable conditions and without a fair trial.

New York Times (8 January 2012) Notes from a Guantanamo Survivor by Murat Kurnaz

Clarification of Thought: New Gay Marriage Ruling in California

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker (AP Photo)

This week, in the nation’s first federal trial on same-sex marriage, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection (Judge Strikes California’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage, Proposition 8).

Judge Walker’s ruling is very important for further study. I found his legal brief to be extremely cogent. Whether you are “for” or “against” gay marriage, it is worth the read to gain deeper understanding in what the state’s interest is in marriage – and how that interest has changed over time.

If you are involved in faith-based political organizing, I would also highly recommend reading the brief. There were more than 1700 religious organizations allied in support of Proposition 8 and the judge makes very clear that their arguments were insufficient when it came to the law. There is much in the case that’s instructive on what is the proper role of religion in society and what is not. It explores the narrow area where church meets state.

If you want to know why gay people want to get “married,” rather than just getting “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions,” the testimonies of the witnesses are very compelling.

If you think that “loving the sinner and hating sin” has no negative repercussions, then read the section on how religion is a leading indicator in hate crimes against gays and suicide by gays.

Below I’m including a series of excerpts that I found worthy of further study. As many continue to weigh, test, study, and form our consciences on this issue, reading this ruling will aid in what deeper clarification of thought. (You can read the original ruling here or scroll to the very bottom.) Let me know what you think.

Religious Beliefs and the State
“The state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose.” – U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, on unconstitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (4 August 2010)

State’s Interest in Marriage
“The court posed to proponent’s counsel the assumption that “the state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. [Doc. 228 at 21.] Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” [ID]but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.” [ID at 23.]

Continue reading “Clarification of Thought: New Gay Marriage Ruling in California”

Obama Defends Closing Guantanamo and Cleaning Up Bush-Cheney Mess

breakingthesilence_dianna_fCleaning up the Bush-Cheney mess will take some time and take careful and responsible work by this new administration. They must be guided by humanitarian principles and the clear separation of powers and protection of citizen’s rights outlined in the Constitution.

If you haven’t preached a sermon on what’s wrong with torture, I suggest you get on it! (Read Back to Basics: T is for Torture to understand why we need to teach from the pulpit that torture is a sin.)

Preach with the lectionary in one hand and President Obama’s national security speech in the other. Consider using Psalm 1, if you’re using the Revised Common Lectionary:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

Or Ephesians 1:20-21, on this Christ who was tortured, if you are using the Ascension readings:

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

Following is an exerpt from the text of President Obama’s speech this morning on national security issues, as released by the White House.

We’re currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers — especially when it comes to sensitive administration — information.

Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the “state secrets” privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It’s been used by many past Presidents — Republican and Democrat — for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that’s why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.

On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it’s uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.

Read his whole speech here.

Waterboarding is “Tip of the Iceberg” says U.S. Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley

Yesterday on CNN Live, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley outlined how waterboarding is only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to torture by U.S. military and paramilitary contractors.

Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 and tell President Obama to not back down on closing Guantanamo.

Last February, before Binyam’s release, Bradley wrote a piece for The Guardian outlining in greater detail her experience representing Binyam. Here’s an excerpt:

I am a lawyer and a soldier, and I act for [UK citizen] Binyam Mohamed, who is currently on hunger strike in Guantánamo Bay. …

The Joint Task Force, which runs Guantánamo Bay, gives me no information about Binyam. When I called to enquire about his condition, they said first, that they would look into it and then that they would tell me nothing and that I should make a Freedom of Information request, which would have taken months to process. Therefore, whenever I want information about Binyam, I have to make the 5-hour trip to Guantánamo. Each time, he asks why he is still there.

It is worth bearing in mind that all charges against Binyam have been dropped and that Binyam’s chief prosecutor resigned, citing the unfairness of the system.

I profoundly hope that he is not being kept in Guantánamo to avoid information surrounding his rendition and torture coming out.

Read Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley’s full commentary in The Guardian.

Read the transcript of Clive Stafford Smith and Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley’s address to a UK Parliament subcommittee on “extraordinary rendition” about the Guantanamo prisoners the two are representing.

Atwitter with Prop 8

The California Supreme Court is at this moment debating the Constitutional integrity issues raised by the Prop. 8 ballot initiative.

I find the Twitter version of Constitutional law fascinating – inalienable rights in 140 characters or less:
tweet-displayjpg
Justice George asked wasn’t the scope of Prop 8 smaller than the rights given by the court in the in marriage cases

Justice Kennard: Assuming this court were to uphold Prop 8, you have the right to go to the people. Wouldn’t you have that right?

Justice Kennard: Is it still your view that gays and lesbians are left with nothing?

Justice Kennard: Would you agree that Prop 8 did not take away … bundle of rights that this court articulated in marriage cases

(At this rate I could get a law degree in 140 minutes!)

I appreciated Logan Laituri’s recent commentary on The Sad State of Dialogue on Civil Unions. As a nation, we need educate ourselves toward a more complex understanding and language around democracy, rights, human dignity, moral authority, and the common good than we currently have. What is too simple dies because it can’t adapt to change.

Here’s an excerpt from Logan’s piece:

Ever since the November elections, I have been unable to turn my attention from the issue of civil unions and same-sex marriage. My interest was piqued when I heard of my own home state of California’s passage of Proposition 8. So when I received an invite by Facebook to a public hearing before Hawaii’s House Judiciary committee to discuss House Bill 444 (HB444), I enthusiastically clicked “will attend.”

Basically, HB444 extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union. For the most part, I am still undecided about how I feel concerning same-sex marriage, but that may be due to my diminished view of the state’s role in sanctioning marriage in general. It seems to me that renaming a legally recognized intimate relationship to allow the religious-industrial-complex to retain its continued hold on the title “marriage” could be a decent compromise in the eyes of the law. I was (and admittedly may remain) very uninformed on the rationale for supporting or opposing the measure, so I was expecting an invigorating debate.

What I got was something much less. The opponents of the bill relied primarily on a 1998 vote to amend the state’s constitution, which defined marriage as being between a man and woman. Furthermore, at least two opponents stated it was simply against their party’s platform to approve civil unions (way to think for yourselves, folks).

Read the rest of Logan’s post here.

Waxing the Waterboard?

There’s an important conversation happening now at the tail end of the Bush-Cheney administration about whether or not to prosecute President Bush and Vice President Cheney on criminal charges for illegal acts they committed during their administration.

Abu Ghraib series by Fernando Botero
Abu Ghraib series by Fernando Botero

Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York has urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior Bush administration officials for violations of the law relating to the torture of prisoners in US custody. Nadler is the chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Read his letter to the Attorney General here.

Over at JosephRoss.net, my compatriot Joe is raising similar questions. He writes:

George W. Bush is a president who approved torture, allowed the CIA to fly prisoners to other countries for torture, who repeatedly stated that the U.S. does not torture and then it was proven that we do. We just didn’t call it that. As long as it’s called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “stress positions” it’s alright and legal. This is also a president whose vice-president, just last week, admitted that he approved of “waterboarding” which is against the law. Recall that the U.S. has actually prosecuted other countries for “waterboarding.” Now we’re suddenly not sure it’s torture?

We have  all been looking on as our president romantically remembers all the good times he had as president. He is photographed looking reflectively out windows, goes on talk shows describing what he will miss, gives interviews like an entertainer whose concert tour has come to an end. This politeness ought to be more than Americans will tolerate.

I’m certain the last thing the Obama Administration wants is to investigate a former U.S. president and perhaps find him or others in the Bush Administration guilty of breaking both U.S. law and international law. Yet, what is to stop a future U.S. president from doing equally immoral and illegal acts if we do not hold the present one accountable?

Read the whole post here.

There’s always an argument made to “let by-gones be by-gones” at the end of a presidency. The incoming administration doesn’t want the next one to turn around and investigate them! Understandable, but WRONG when it comes to preserving the Constitution and now allowing laws to be broken with impunity.

“This shocking admission by Vice President [Cheney that he was aware of the waterboarding program and “helped get the process cleared”] demands at a minimum a federal investigation and,” Congressman Nadler says, “if necessary, the pursuit of criminal charges. No one is above the law and, if the Vice President admits he broke the law, then he must be held responsible.”

In one of the first acts of the 111th Congress, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts – National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties- to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers,” including torture of detainees and warrantless wiretaps.

Lest any of think that “warrantless wiretaps” only happen to “other people,” I suggest reading the story Spying on Pacifists, Environmentalists, and Nuns (LA Times, December 7, 2008) about the Maryland State Police sending undercover agents to infiltrate the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance and Marylanders Against the Death Penalty. It’s a prime example of how “them” is now “us.”