Why I can’t get excited about impeaching Trump

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This doomed effort won’t even make for good TV.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has begun an impeachment inquiry into President Trump for asking Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. I get that there is a strong desire for many Americans to be rid of what they see as the national nightmare of Trump’s presidency. But I urge caution for several reasons.

First, this impeachment inquiry will not succeed in getting rid of Trump. To win, a supermajority of the Senate must vote for impeachment. This will not happen. Even if the inquiry clearly shows that Trump withheld military aid to pressure President Zelensky to give him dirt on Joe and Hunter, the inquiry will also expose the sleaziness of the Bidens.

After the successful overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government in 2014, Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month to sit on the board of Ukraine’s biggest gas producer, Burisma Holdings. While this shady deal might not provide a legal defense to Trump, an impeachment inquiry is political, not criminal, and the behavior of the Bidens will at least muddy the waters enough to assure that Trump will survive impeachment.

Second, the mere fact that our corporate-controlled Congress is willing to take up the impeachment inquiry guarantees that it will produce no major reforms to better the lives of most Americans. Keep in mind that our national politics is dominated by two political parties that are beholden to the interests of big-money donors. Sure, there are a few members of Congress who don’t rely on big donors, but they are the exception, and they do not control the agenda of their parties. Thus, rest assured that the big donors to Congress—big pharma, fossil fuel extractors, Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, agribusiness, big insurance, and for-profit health care—approve of its spending six months debating impeachment. Big business believes this impeachment inquiry will not threaten corporate profits or its ability to continue exerting control over government policy.

A dozen years ago, Speaker Pelosi rejected calls to begin an impeachment inquiry against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for lying us into the war in Iraq. The evidence there was clear and unambiguous. Bush and Cheney told the American people that there was “no doubt” that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. In fact, as the Bush team knew, the evidence of Saddam’s WMDs was highly dubious. It was based on the word of a paid informant named Curveball, and on a crudely forged invoice purporting to show Saddam buying uranium from Africa. Both Curveball and the invoice were exposed as frauds, but Bush and Cheney continued lying to sell the war.

Bush’s lies resulted in the deaths of at least a million innocent people, the destruction of a country, and the creation of ISIS. He and Cheney committed monstrous crimes, similar to crimes resulting in the execution of German generals at Nuremberg after World War II. Why then did Speaker Pelosi announce in 2006 that impeachment was “off the table” for Bush? Because the big corporate donors didn’t want impeachment hearings over the Iraq war. Rather, the arms manufacturers, fossil fuel extractors, and other war profiteers want our presidents to be free to lie us into wars without any negative repercussions for the president, such as criminal penalties or impeachment.

The third reason I can’t get excited about impeachment hearings is that they won’t even be good entertainment. Back in October 1998, when Congress launched impeachment hearings against Bill Clinton relating to sex with an intern—another issue that was not in any way threatening to corporate profits—there were at least sordid details about a cigar and a stained dress that made it worthwhile turning on the TV.

To be sure, there are sordid details to the Ukraine story that could be exposed. After the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the sovereign government, not only did Hunter Biden get a seat on the gas company board, but agricultural giant Monsanto got a big contract in Ukraine. Just last month, Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, was forced to resign after it came out that he was advocating sending lethal tank-busting Javelin missiles, manufactured by Raytheon Co., to Ukraine, while Volker also worked for a lobbying firm and a think tank with financial ties to Raytheon.

These revelations about Ukraine could help expose the deep-seated and longstanding corruption of U.S. foreign policy, which includes overthrowing elected governments to serve the interests of corporations that then support the campaigns of lawmakers and presidents, producing the endless cycle of wars that are bankrupting our nation and accelerating the destruction of the planet. But this part of the Ukraine story would be very threatening to corporate profits. So don’t expect to hear much about it during the coming months of impeachment inquiries.

Leonard C. Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense attorney and co-owner of the newly independent Reader.

Drone Justice is Blind

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in “In These Times”, April 10, 2013.

There’s no way President Obama can fairly review each drone strike.

To whom did each targeted person pose a threat? Were they a threat to U.S. military bases or CIA installations located within their country? Were they a threat to corporate interests located within their country? Were they a threat to the regime that governs their country and allows us to fly the drones?

For the first time in history, the United States government has proclaimed its legal right to assassinate any person, anywhere on the globe, as long as our chief executive believes that person to be a terrorist. President Barack Obama has said that most of the people we are incinerating are “al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Precise numbers are hard to come by, due to the secrecy under which the drone program operates. But the various groups that track drone strikes agree that since Obama took office, more than 350 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have killed at least 2,400 people. This means, outside of Afghanistan, U.S. drones are killing on average at least 47 people a month. If you include drone strikes in Afghanistan, the numbers are much larger.

The administration’s claim as to the legality of these strikes relies on the fiction that a rigorous review of evidence takes place before a “terrorist” is targeted. However, no matter how smart and reasonable Obama might be, he is not personally reviewing the evidence against most of the people we are killing. In fact, according to CNN, at least half of drone strike deaths have been the result of “signature strikes,” in which drone operators decide, based on visual evidence of suspicious behavior, to fire on people whose identities they don’t even know. As one government official told the New York Times, to the CIA, “three guys doing jumping jacks” looks suspiciously like a terrorist training camp.

We are told that drone killings neutralize imminent threats to America, but we need only consider the numbers to know we are being lied to. There cannot be 50 people every month who were on the verge of launching an attack on the U.S. until they were “neutralized” by a drone. We therefore must ask: To whom did each targeted person pose a threat? Were they a threat to U.S. military bases or CIA installations located within their country? Were they a threat to corporate interests located within their country? Were they a threat to the regime that governs their country and allows us to fly the drones?

As new details emerge about the drone program in Pakistan, the administration’s official explanations begin to unravel. We now know, as Mark Mazzetti reported in the April 6 New York Times, that the first strike occurred in June 2004, when the United States used a Predator drone to assassinate Nek Muhammad, a Pashtun tribesman, at the request of Pakistan. The drone also killed two boys, ages 10 and 16. In return for this killing, Pakistan allowed the CIA to deploy Predator drones in its airspace.

And as reported by the McClatchy newspapers based on a review of classified intelligence reports, under President Obama, the drone program has continued to target and kill not just senior al-Qaeda leaders, but also “hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified ‘other’ militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area.”

In the rare cases in which Obama does personally review evidence and approve a drone strike, he is hearing only one side of the story. Just as criminal suspects always seem guilty after a briefing by law enforcement, Muslim men living in remote and lawless regions of Pakistan or Yemen will always seem like terrorists to Obama after a CIA briefing. Moreover, much of the information used for drone targeting comes from informants, who are notoriously unreliable. For example, agent “Curveball” composed elaborate drawings of Saddam’s mobile weapons labs that existed only in Curveball’s head, but were nevertheless used to justify the Iraq War.

Our founding fathers valued an adversarial system of justice because they understood that government officials, even smart and well-meaning ones, are not always right.

Law enforcement agents and prosecutors might find it convenient never to have anyone oppose or even question their evidence, but the good ones also recognize the inherent danger of such an unbalanced system.

I recently defended a murder case in Charleston, Ill. If you spoke only to the prosecutors and detectives, you would have heard how three witnesses observed my client, Chris Oliver, kicking and stomping a developmentally disabled man to death, and you would have been easily convinced that Oliver is a killer.

But because Oliver had a defense lawyer and an investigator on his side, we were able to show the jury that two of the prosecution’s witnesses were severely mentally ill, had given numerous conflicting stories and had been pressured by the police to implicate Oliver, and that the third witness had himself been implicated in the beating and named Oliver only after cutting a deal with the state. We also introduced time sheets and cell phone records overlooked by the police, which showed that Oliver was not even present for the attack but was called to the scene after the beating to care for the victim. After hearing both sides of the story, the jury in Charleston quickly acquitted Oliver of murder.

Sadly, all we will ever know about the thousands of humans incinerated by our drones is that the CIA believed them to be terrorists.

View this article online at inthesetimes.com

Cell Phones in Police Stations: A Cautionary Tale

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in “Illinois Lawyer Now”, Spring 2013 edition.

In March of 2011, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office sent shock waves through the Chicago criminal defense bar when it indicted Attorney Sladjana Vuckovic for doing something many criminal defense lawyers have done – bringing a cell phone into a police station interview room.

At the time of her alleged crime, Ms. Vuckovic was doing what many lawyers do: representing people who cannot afford legal counsel. She was a volunteer with First Defense Legal Aid, a not for-profit organization that provides lawyers for indigent people at Chicagoland police stations. Its mission is to “protect civil rights by offering free 24-hour legal representation and advice to any individual taken into Chicago Police Department custody.” It provides a toll-free hotline to call when a family member or friend is taken into police custody. A volunteer lawyer is assigned, who determines where the person
is being held and whether the matter is serious enough to require a station visit. If the lawyer learns that the person is under investigation for a serious felony and has not yet been charged, the lawyer goes to the police station, visits the client, and provides advice about his/her legal rights.

A licensed attorney since 1995, Ms. Vuckovic worked mostly in the area of civil litigation. In 2010, she was employed by the Chicago Transit Authority, representing bus and rail operators in tort suits. But once a month for more than a decade she also volunteered for First Defense, spending dozens of Saturday nights and often Sundays at area police headquarters visiting indigent clients held by police as suspects in serious crimes.

Ms. Vuckovic’s career as a First Defense volunteer and licensed Illinois attorney nearly ended as a result of occurrences on a weekend in November 2010. Her Saturday night shift for First Defense began at 6 pm. At 7, a man called the hotline; his 19-year-old brother had been arrested and taken into custody by Chicago police for questioning regarding the slayings of two police officers. The call was transferred to Ms. Vuckovic, who learned that the person she was asked to represent was being held at Area Two South police headquarters on East 111th Street. According to her contemporaneous Activity Log, Ms. Vuckovic arrived at Area Two shortly after 8 pm. A detective escorted her upstairs to the area headquarters, unlocked the room where she met her client, whose right wrist was shackled to a ring on the wall. The detective switched offmthe video monitoring equipment — Illinois law required the police to record their interrogation of suspects in all murder investigations – and left Ms. Vuckovic and the client alone in the room. As was her custom, Ms. Vuckovic carried a shoulder bag containing her First Defense notebook, pens, wallet and cell phone. The detective did not object to Ms. Vuckovic bringing in her bag, nor did he inspect its contents. There were no signs or oral warnings given to Ms. Vuckovic to inform her that she was not allowed to have her cell phone during the interview, or that bringing a phone into the room was a felony. There was a sign posted in the room advising, as required by Illinois law, that: “Persons who are arrested shall have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice and a member of their family by making a reasonable number of telephone calls or in any other reasonable manner.”

During the hour-long visit, Ms. Vuckovic told the client that his brother had called the First Defense hotline, and she was assigned to be his lawyer until he was released from custody, or until he was formally charged with a crime, which usually occurs within 48 hours from the time of arrest. She explained that if and when he was charged, she would no longer act as his lawyer; instead, he would be taken to court and a public defender would be appointed to represent him in her place. In the meantime, he had a constitutional right to have her present during police questioning, and that if the police sought to question him during the next 48 hours, he should tell them to contact her before they began.

Ms. Vuckovic allowed her client to use her cell phone to make several calls in her presence to his family and friends, to let them know where he was, that a lawyer was with him, and that he was in good health. She instructed him not to talk about the case during these calls, and he complied with her admonition. Phone records and trial testimony reflect that although a number of calls were attempted, most did not go through or were not accepted. At the end of the visit, Ms. Vuckovic put her cell phone back into her bag, promised to return the next day (Sunday), and said that if in the meantime he was charged with a crime, she would inform his family where they could see him at the bond court.

The next morning, Ms. Vuckovic called Area Two and was told that her client was still there and had not been charged. At 1 p.m., she returned to the station. A police video shows her entering the interrogation room with her shoulder bag and a bag containing food she had purchased. A detective unshackled the client, and then left them alone in the room. As before, she was not told she was not allowed to bring her cell phone into the room. She again allowed her client to use her phone to talk to family and friends, first repeating her instruction not to talk about the case.

About 2 p.m., a police sergeant entered while the client was using the phone, and said to Ms. Vuckovic: “You know you’re not supposed to let him use the phone;” Ms. Vuckovic replied that she was not aware of any such prohibition. He did not say she was not allowed to bring the phone into the room; rather, he told the client to stop using the phone, whereupon the client returned the phone to Ms. Vuckovic. The sergeant instructed her to leave the police station. Sheput the phone back into her bag and left the room and the station. Later that day, she wrote in her FDLA Activity Log: “[Got] kicked out at 2 p.m. Sergeant
[name] upset I have been allowing the client to use my cell phone.”

Ms. Vuckovic had no further contact with the young man, because on Monday he was charged with two homicides, and on Tuesday he was taken to bond court where a Cook County Public Defender was appointed to represent him. That same day, while she was at work, three police detectives served her with a search warrant for her cell phone as potential evidence in connection with the murder investigation; she readily gave the cell phone to them. Three months later, in March 2011, Ms. Vuckovic learned she was to be charged with a Class One felony, and face up to 15 years in prison and potential disbarment for bringing her cell phone into the room at the station.

On March 24, 2011, Ms. Vuckovic was indicted for the crime of Bringing Contraband into a Penal Institution, in violation of 5/31A-1.1(a)(1), the cell phone allegedly being the contraband, and the interrogation room the penal institution. The prosecutors relied upon a 1997 amendment to the Illinois statute which expanded the definitions of “Contraband” to include cellular phones, and “Penal Institution” to include a “police detention area…for the incarceration or custody of persons…under
arrest for an offense.” 720 ILCS 5/31A-1.1(c)(1) and (c)(2)(xi). Ms. Vuckovic voluntarily “surrendered” at the State’s Attorney office, where she was handcuffed, fingerprinted, processed, and then released on bail.

This indictment of Ms. Vuckovic was the first of its kind in the nation – no other lawyer had ever been prosecuted for bringing a cell phone into a room in a police station to meet with a client who was in custody but not charged with a crime. She pleaded not guilty, and demanded trial by jury. The case went to trial in November 2012 at the Leighton felony court building on Chicago’s west side. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, the “unusual nature of the charge [drew] a curious audience of defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges, who packed Judge Evelyn Clay’s courtroom.” Although the charge related solely to Ms. Vuckovic’s bringing a phone into the room when she met with her client, the prosecutors repeatedly invited the jury to speculate that the client’s calls were used to obstruct justice in the murder investigation. Beginning in opening statement, the prosecutor said, “The police will never know who [the defendant] was talking to or what was being said” or “how he was using that phone to advance his own case.” In fact, the police had interviewed each recipient of the client’s phone calls, and were well aware that the phone was used only as Ms. Vuckovic had directed — to reach out to friends and relatives, and not to discuss or advance his case.

The prosecutors called as witnesses the two detectives who accompanied Ms. Vuckovic to the room at Area Two. Both admitted they did not caution her about having a phone, that they did not examine the contents of her bag, and that no signs were posted warning against possession of phones in the room. The detectives and a lieutenant commander of Area Two violent crimes all testified that when Ms. Vuckovic was asked to leave, she was not arrested, and she was allowed to leave with the phone. This testimony gave rise to the inference that none of them believed – as the State’s Attorney belatedly contended in the indictment several months later – that her bringing the cell phone into the room constituted a crime, or that the phone was “contraband” and therefore subject under Illinois law to immediate seizure by the police. Testifying in her own defense, Ms. Vuckovic said she did not realize it was against Illinois law to have a cell phone when meeting in police stations with uncharged clients referred by First Defense, and that she had no intention of obstructing the police investigation. She said she had made “more than a hundred”client visits at Chicagoland police stations with her cell phone in her bag, and never had she been told by any police officer that she was not allowed to bring a cell phone with her during client interviews.

Two former top ranking law enforcement officials testified as expert witnesses on Ms. Vuckovic’s behalf. Thomas P. Sullivan, who had served as United States Attorney in Chicago, and Richard J. Brzeczak, who had been Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, testified that until contacted about Ms. Vuckovic’s case, they were not aware that the Illinois statute had been amended to include cell phones within the definition of “contraband,” or that the definition of “penal institution” had been expanded to include a “place for incarceration or custody [of a person] under arrest for an offense.” Mr. Brzeczak agreed that an interrogation room could be considered a “place for custody,” but so could a squad car, or even a sidewalk on which an arrested person is temporarily detained. Mr. Sullivan testified that, in his opinion, when a room in a police station “is used by a lawyer to … interview the client, … it is not a place of detention… it is an interview room.” During cross examination, Mr. Sullivan emphasized a basic principle of constitutional law that the State cannot criminalize “honest mistakes, because of lack of knowledge of what the law is. The Supreme Court of the United States long ago says you can’t make that a crime and waste time when we’ve got real crime going on out in the streets.” He added that several years earlier, he went to the Evanston, Illinois police station to represent a young client who was held in police custody, took a cell phone into the room where the client was being held, and permitted him to use it to call his mother.

The jury quickly acquitted Ms. Vuckovic. One juror told the Tribune that “the consensus on the panel was that prosecutors failed to prove Ms. Vuckovic knew she was not allowed to bring a cell phone into the police interrogation room with her.”


Leonard C. Goodman represented Ms. Vuckovic in this case.

Article my be viewed online here.

In Questioning Brennan, Intelligence Committee Showed Little

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. March 15, 2013.

The Senate watchdogs of the CIA played dumb on drones–again.
It should be noted that half of the committee, including its chair, Feinstein, take campaign contributions from CIA contractors such as Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, all three of which manufacture drones.

In 1976, followIng revelations of CIA abuses during the Nixon Administration (including spying on domestic dissidents), Congress created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) to oversee the CIA’s covert operations and protect the American people from its excesses.

During the past 15 years under SSCI’s watch, the budget of the National Intelligence Program (which includes the CIA) has tripled and the CIA has morphed from an intelligence gathering operation into a paramilitary force that has assassinated thousands of alleged terrorists, including American citizens, in countries far from any U.S.-declared war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia.

On February 7, Americans got a picture of SSCI oversight in action during the confirmation hearings of John Brennan for CIA director, televised on C-SPAN. A 25-year veteran of the agency, Brennan has overseen the massive escalation of the drone war under President Barack Obama. Before that, under President George W. Bush, Brennan oversaw extraordinary renditions—i.e., sending captives to “black sites” in foreign countries to be tortured.

At his confirmation hearing (described by the mainstream press as a grilling), Brennan assured the SSCI that the executive branch uses lethal drone strikes only as a “last resort to save lives when there’s no other alternative.” Brennan was not asked about a leaked government memo that invents new, watered-down definitions for phrases like “imminent threat” and “capture infeasible,” effectively giving the president legal cover to kill anyone. Nor was Brennan asked about “signature strikes” in which drone operators fire on people based only on visual evidence of suspicious behavior.

Although the CIA assassinated three American citizens in Yemen in the fall of 2011, including a 16-year-old boy named Abdulrahman, the committee only asked Brennan about the killing of the boy’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki, described by the U.S. as a senior al Qaeda leader—a claim vehemently contested by Yemen experts. At the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sought to put al-Awlaki on trial posthumously, apparently to assure the public that their government only kills American citizens who are bad people.

Did al-Awlaki have a connection to the attempted bombing of a commercial airliner over Detroit or to the Fort Hood shootings? Feinstein asked. Brennan was “not prepared” to say. But he did “believe” that another terrorist once told interrogators “that he was inspired by alAwlaki.” In the end, Brennan agreed with Feinstein that al-Awlaki is not “an American citizen of whom anyone in America would be proud.”

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) did raise the crucial question of whether the CIA’s drone warfare is creating more terrorists than it is killing. While in the past, Brennan has stuck to the line that al Qaeda is being “decimated” by drones, he conceded that al Qaeda is “metastasizing now across northern Africa and other parts.” Yet he saw no reason to change course.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) expressed concern over the CIA’s practice of producing faulty intelligence and then classifying any reports that would expose the deception. A case in point: Brennan himself has said publicly that the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) produced “valuable intelligence” that “saved lives.” But when the SSCI reviewed more than 6 million pages of intelligence documents and produced a report in December 2012, it concluded, according to Udall, that the EIT program was “brutal,” “severely flawed,” and “did not work.” Of course, we don’t know how the committee came to those conclusions because the report has yet to be declassified.

It should be noted that half of the committee, including its chair, Feinstein, take campaign contributions from CIA contractors such as Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, all three of which manufacture drones.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Brennan asked each senator who sits on the committee to protect the American people from CIA abuses, to instead be “an ardent advocate, proponent and defender of the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency.” It appears likely that Brennan will get his wish.

To original article may be found here.

‘A Giant Sucking Sound’

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. October 30, 2012.

Presidential contenders Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been spending a lot of time in Ohio, promising the swing-state voters they’ll bring back middle-class manufacturing jobs by getting tough on China. Obama says he’ll continue to haul China before the World Trade Organization for unfair export subsidies, while Romney wants to officially label the country a “currency manipulator.”

Both candidates recognize that a healthy middle class—workers with high-wage jobs who can afford to support a family, buy a home or a car, take a vacation, etc.—brought us out of the Great Depression and fueled a half-century of economic growth. The federal government, with programs such as the G.I. Bill, was once a true champion for the American middle class.

But as manufacturing plants have closed over the last three decades, millions of middle-class Americans have lost their well-paying jobs—along with their homes—and have fallen into poverty. Both Republicans and Democrats bear responsibility for this catastrophe through their support of tax and trade policies that encourage corporations to increase profits by outsourcing middle-class jobs to low-wage countries.

These policies were not inevitable. Other countries, such as Germany, support their workers and have managed to maintain a middle class. Nor were the consequences of these policies and the demise of the middle class unforeseeable—remember Ross Perot’s warning about the “giant sucking sound” we would hear as our jobs moved south after the passage of NAFTA?

Yet while the two candidates speechify, behind the scenes they continue to push policies that favor corporate profits over middle-class workers. For example, both candidates strongly support the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), which is sold as a “free trade” agreement for the Pacific Rim and is being pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top lobbying group for American corporations.

The terms of the TPP have been kept secret from the public for two years and only made available to the negotiators and a select group of corporate partners. However, a draft of the agreement that was leaked in June reveals the TPP would bestow radical new powers upon multinational corporations, including one provision that would protect the pharmaceutical industry from generic competitors and others that would allow companies to override domestic protections for the environment and for workers. New TPP investment rules aim to eliminate “Buy American” preferences for U.S. manufacturers.

Obama’s support for these secret corporate-friendly policies directly contradicts the Democratic platform he ran on in 2008, just as it contradicts his 2012 campaign rhetoric about fighting for the middle class.

To add insult to injury, American taxpayers, including the downwardly mobile middle class, have been forced to finance the bailouts of corporations that were unable to maintain profitability in the economy they helped sink. Every year, the federal government borrows and spends about $1 trillion that the American people are obligated to repay with interest. That works out to new personal debt of about $3,000 per year for each of us 300 million Americans.

While deficit spending may sometimes be necessary to stimulate a bad economy, it must be directed at fixing actual problems rather than protecting the powerful. Misdirected deficit spending only digs us deeper in the hole.

Most of that $3,000 per year is not being used to support new industries, new schools, our crumbling infrastructure or our great cities. Rather, the money is being used to prop up the corporations that own our government—including a war industry that is making us less safe and a financial services industry swindling us out of our homes and our savings.

So why then should we elect Obama to a second term? Because the policies of his opponent appear to be even worse for what’s left of the American middle class. Obama’s avoid-the-disaster-of-a-Romney-presidency message may get him re-elected; it’s just not as inspiring as his hope-and-change message of 2008.

Oh, for a real choice in November.

The original article may be found here.

Legislate First, Ask Questions Never

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. September 30, 2012.

The comments that Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) made in August about legitimate rape helped expose a sad truth about modern-day Washington, D.C.—it has become entirely disconnected from the people it is supposed to represent. People are shocked that a six-term Congressman could be unaware that the abortion policies he and his party support would require rape victims to carry the rapist’s child. But we all must share responsibility for the ignorance of our leaders.

First, we have not stood up against disastrous federal policies whose pain is borne by the working poor. As former vice president and stalwart abortion foe Dan Quayle once explained during a rare moment of candor, if his daughter ever became pregnant, it would be her “decision” whether or not to have an abortion. Wealthy Republicans can go along with a platform to overturn Roe v. Wade because they know that their daughters will always have the option to travel someplace that has liberal abortion laws.

And because we did away with the draft after Vietnam, today’s wealthy can support disastrous but profitable wars knowing that the fighting and dying will be done by other people’s kids. Just like the wealthy can go along with our draconian and destructive war on drugs, knowing that only the poor will be targeted to serve mandatory 20-year sentences. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) thus could publicly support a federal death penalty for drug dealers, but when his own son got caught transporting nearly eight pounds of marijuana from Texas to Indiana in 1994, federal prosecutors politely looked the other way.

Perhaps the best example of this disconnect is the federal war on drugs. American taxpayers spend about $50 billion per year to finance this war. It has resulted in skyrocketing incarceration rates with no dampening effect on the availability or consumption of illegal drugs. Nonetheless, the war rages on, into its fourth decade.

But this was not Washington’s first attempt at using federalpower to control the nation’s consumption of intoxicants. In 1919, the federal government attempted to solve the nation’s booze problem with harsh federal criminal penalties. Ten years later, the murder rate had skyrocketed, the country was awash in corruption, and America’s consumption of booze was largely unchanged. In response to this disaster, President Hoover assembled a panel of experts to study the policy of alcohol prohibition. This study revealed a catalog of failure that set the stage for repeal.

Today’s leaders have learned an important lesson from the prohibition experiment. If a policy is politically advantageous—whether it be a war on drugs, a war on terror, or a war on women—never authorize a study of its effectiveness.

In December 1993, then-Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders dared to suggest that the federal government “study” the idea that legalizing drugs might help reduce crime. A year later, Elders was forced to resign.

The greatest pressure for a change in U.S. drug policy has come from the states. Many states, burdened by the high cost of incarcerating drug offenders, have sought to at least carve out an exemption for medical marijuana. But the federal government continues to assert that marijuana “has no accepted medical uses,” and in 2005, the Supreme Court found, in Gonzales v. Raich, that the feds can continue putting users and growers of medical marijuana into federal prison despite the conflicting policies of the states in which they reside.

In this opinion, the Supreme Court noted that medical marijuana users and growers had introduced a large amount of scientific evidence as to the therapeutic value of marijuana, citing a study that pointed to its potential use for “pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation.” In contrast, the official U.S. policy that marijuana has “no accepted medical uses” is supported by no science, only by the pharmaceutical lobby, which asserts no homegrown substance can be a medicine.

The Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich accurately summed up the situation as follows: Any change in U.S. policy will have to wait until “the voices of voters … may one day be heard in the halls of Congress.” It could be a long wait.

Making Obama’s Kill List

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. July 11, 2012.

In 1995 Albie Sachs, then a member of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, helped abolish capital punishment, explaining that his goal was to disable the post-apartheid government from “any temptation in coming years to attempt to solve grave social and political problems by means of executing opponents.”

Sachs understood that reasonable minds can differ as to whether a person who commits a heinous crime deserves to die, but no one can dispute that rulers given extraordinary powers—such as the power to decide who lives and who dies—will sooner or later abuse those powers. Sachs had reason to distrust government. During the apartheid regime, he was held in solitary confinement for his political activism on behalf of the African National Congress; later, he had his arm and eye blown off when government agents tried to assassinate him with a car bomb.

Sachs’ warnings about unchecked power came to mind recently when I read the New York Times article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane about President Obama’s “kill list.” According to Becker and Shane, Obama meets every Tuesday with his advisers to help decide who should be assassinated by killer drones in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. A February poll by ABC News/Washington Post found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s use of drones to kill terrorist suspects abroad.

In contrast, support for the death penalty here in the U.S. is declining, with five states voting to abolish it in recent years. Americans have come to accept that the state can’t be trusted with the machinery of death. So why do we trust our elected officials to assassinate terrorists on foreign soil, where they act as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner?

The likely reason for the difference in public opinion is access to information. Our government says that its drone strikes are “crippling al Qaeda” and only rarely killing civilians. But we the people cannot evaluate this claim because the Obama administration has classified all the evidence, only releasing information at its own discretion. As David Sirota recently noted, Congress is focused not on overseeing the assassination program, but on punishing those who leaked it to the press. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is aggressively prosecuting the whistleblowers who reveal information about the disreputable acts it wants kept secret.

Under the Constitution, Congress should be overseeing the drone program and keeping the administration honest. But this system of checks and balances has broken down in favor of a system in which the political branches of government seek campaign cash from the industries they are charged with regulating—in this case, the corporations making our weapons of war.

Available evidence reveals what Congress might find if it did its job. The New York Times reports that Pakistan and Yemen are becoming less stable and more hostile to the United States. The Washington Post reports that in Yemen, videos of dead children and furious tribesmen holding up American missile parts have flooded YouTube, breeding anger at the United States and sympathy for al Qaeda. The fact that the drone war keeps expanding—from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to the Philippines—also suggests that the strikes are not “crippling al Qaeda,” as we are told.

In a functioning representative democracy, these issues would be investigated and debated. Such an investigation would be useful to the American people who pay for these wars. But it would not be useful to the military-industrial complex, which wants to see the drone war expanded, not curtailed.

While the administration won’t say what evidence it requires to place a name on the kill list, we can glean something from three of the administration’s most celebrated drone kills: Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan and Abu Yahya al-Libi. These men were reported to be clerics and scholars rather than warriors, and appear to have been targeted mostly for their anti-U.S. rhetoric and their ability to influence others.

That raises a question which might be posed by Judge Sachs: What future outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy might qualify for the kill list, should they dare travel somewhere within the ever-expanding drone-war battlefield?

The original article may be found here.

The U.S. Department of Double Standards

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. May 16, 2012.

On April 21, The New York Times reported that Wal-Mart de Mexico paid $24 million in bribes to local land use officials in exchange for allowing the company to build stores in virtually every corner of the country, and to make environmental objections vanish. Although its top executives apparently approved of and helped conceal the bribery scheme – in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – the chances that any of them will face criminal prosecution is remote.

It’s not that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn’t criminally prosecute people who pay bribes to avoid land-use restrictions on their property. Rather, the feds prefer to bring such cases against people who don’t have access to corporate lobbyists – or even to private lawyers. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, just one in five felony defendants has private counsel.

Consider the case of Dumitru Curescu, a former janitor who recently faced two federal trials for the crime of paying $10,000 to an expediter for help obtaining a permit to build two additional garden apartments in his 13-unit building on Chicago’s North Side. Curescu, an immigrant from communist Romania who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1988, was advised by his architect in 2006 to hire the expediter Catherine Romasanta, when he did his first renovation project. But when he called her again in 2007, she was working as an informant for the feds and recording their calls.

In the fall of 2007, Curescu paid Romasanta the agreed-upon fee and received his building permit. Seven months later, with the renovations nearly complete, federal agents arrested Curescu and his wife Lavinia and seized their building. The feds charged both husband and wife with five counts of bribery and conspiracy.

Financially ruined, the couple chose to fight the case; I was Curescu’s court-appointed counsel. During a three-week jury trial, federal prosecutors played tapes of Curescu’s negotiations with Romasanta and argued to the jury that he and Lavinia knowingly passed a bribe through Romasanta to a city official to get around Chicago’s zoning restrictions.

The jury acquitted Lavinia on all charges but failed to reach a verdict on her husband. The government decided to try again. At the retrial, the prosecutors elicited false testimony from Romasanta about the number of apartments Dumitru Curescu had added during his first renovation project in 2006, thereby making a tape-recorded comment by Curescu about the fees he had paid her sound like a comment about a bribe payment. The prosecutors then falsely argued to the jury that this comment was proof that Curescu knew that his expediter bribed officials. Curescu was convicted on two of five counts and sentenced to six months in prison.

On March 21, Curescu’s appeal was denied. In a groundbreaking opinion authored by Judge Richard Posner, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that federal prosecutors may present false testimony to prove their case “hoping the error would not be caught” as long as they can establish on appeal that the “error [did not] reduce the defendant’s likelihood of being acquitted.” “Judges are not to use reversal to punish governmental misconduct,” Posner declared.

New York Times columnist James B. Stewart has written extensively about corporate executives at companies such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods, which regularly pay bribes to avoid troublesome regulations. In his recent column about the Wal-Mart scandal, Stewart reports that he “couldn’t find a case of an executive at a major American-based, publicly traded company who was successfully prosecuted and sent to jail.”

Yet the feds spared no expense or ethical restraints to make sure that Curescu went to jail, despite the testimony of his architect that the former janitor had “no knowledge” about the permitting process.

On April 2, after two lengthy and expensive federal trials and an unsuccessful appeal, Curescu entered a federal prison in Oxford, Wis. Three weeks later his bank sent notice that it is foreclosing on the Curescus’ home where Lavinia lives with their three children. Meanwhile, in a recent SEC filing, Wal-Mart predicted its bribery scandal will not have a “material adverse effect on [its] business … or cash flows.”

The original article may be found here.

A Broken Writ, a Kangaroo Court

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. March 5, 2012.

On New Year’s Eve, President Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes the indefinite detention without trial of alleged al-Qaeda terrorists–including American citizens, if the president so chooses. President Obama issued a signing statement promising not to use these new powers against Americans, which–as comedian Stephen Colbert pointed out–might be comforting if Obama passed another law declaring that no one besides him can ever be president.

Even our current Supreme Court, unduly concerned with the rights of corporations, might find that a law stripping Americans of their constitutional rights based on mere allegations violates the nation’s founding document.

Or perhaps not. The Court was called on once, in 2004, to rule on the legality of holding Chicagoan José Padilla without charges in solitary confinement at a naval brig in South Carolina, but it ducked the constitutional issue and dismissed Padilla’s habeas petition on a technicality.

One of the leading proponents of NDAA, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), assures Americans that habeas corpus will prevent the president from holding people without cause. But Levin should have checked to see what remains of the “great writ” after 10 years of efforts by government lawyers to weaken it in order to justify the indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees.

As an attorney for one of the 171 remaining Guantánamo detainees, I can offer a firsthand account of how the writ of habeas corpus has been transformed, at least in “terrorism” cases, from the once-great bulwark against arbitrary detention into a Kafkaesque farce.

My client, Shawali Khan, is an uneducated Afghan man who grew up on an orchard outside of Kandahar. In 2002, Khan was captured by Afghan warlords and turned over to the Americans. At that time, the U.S. government was paying bounties of about $10,000 to Afghans who turned in al-Qaeda fighters. No actual evidence or corroboration was required.

Khan was sent to Gitmo in 2003, based on the word of a single informant. At his habeas hearing in 2010, the government called no witnesses but merely introduced “intelligence reports” indicating that an unidentified Afghan informant had told an unidentified American intelligence officer that Khan was an al-Qaeda-linked insurgent.

Federal appellate courts have ruled in other Guantánamo cases that the government’s evidence must be presumed accurate, thus putting the burden on Khan’s volunteer lawyers to establish that the informant is unreliable. First we demanded the informant’s file to see how much he was paid and what his reputation was for truth telling. But the government said the file was not “reasonably” available. So we asked for the informant’s name so that our Afghan investigator could investigate. But the government refused to declassify the informant’s name.

When the habeas judge requested some corroboration for the allegations against Khan, the government lawyers said that at the time of capture, Khan possessed a highly incriminating hand-written note relating to explosive devices. We demanded to see the note, given that Khan was functionally illiterate. But the note had not been preserved. So we asked to see the “intelligence” report which accused Khan of having the note. But this report had been classified above the security level of Khan’s two attorneys. So we proposed that our colleague, Joe Margulies, who has the highest level security clearance, would sign on as co-counsel to review the report about the note. The government lawyers then provided Khan’s attorneys with a “summary” of its secret report. The judge accepted this summary as sufficient corroboration, and denied Khan’s habeas petition.

The government’s “summary” of the secret intelligence report describing the missing handwritten note is still classified, but I can report that when, in April 2011, WikiLeaks released Khan’s official Pentagon file, it established that the government’s summary was false.

This past September, we filed a motion demanding Khan’s release based on the fact that the government submitted false evidence to justify his indefinite detention. We await a ruling. Perhaps the judge is struggling to reconcile the rule that says the government is presumed to always tell the truth about suspected terrorists with clear proof that it has lied about Khan.

The original article may be found here.

Assassinating the Rule of Law

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailBy Leonard Goodman. Published in In These Times. November 25, 2011.

Of all the promises made by candidate Barack Obama, it was his promise to end the lawlessness of the Bush years by closing Guantanamo, ending torture and restoring the United States’ reputation for justice that got me out in the streets and knocking on doors. And it is President Obama’s failure to keep these promises that makes it impossible for me to support him again.

President Bush’s foreign policy was roundly criticized by most of the world and by candidate Obama. Following 9/11, Bush’s foreign policy was simple: If my administration decides that you are a terrorist or a terrorist supporter, we reserve the right to invade and occupy your country, kill you or send you halfway around the world to a prison camp.

To implement this policy, administration lawyers wrote memos making it all legal for their masters. First, Bush’s lawyers declared that the one-sentence “Authorization for Use of Military Force” enacted by a frightened Congress one week after September 11, 2001, authorized undeclared wars and the mass incarceration of terror suspects.

But Bush’s team wanted still more power–they wanted legal authority to torture suspects. So Bush’s lawyers wrote memos stating that torture under the president’s command would not violate federal law (which proscribes “torture”), or the U.N. Convention Against Torture, as long as the torturer lacks the intent to cause “prolonged mental harm” or “death or organ failure.” One of these memos, authored by Office of Legal Councel attorney Jay Bybee, included a convenient section called “Interpretation to Avoid Constitutional Problems.”

Bush’s lawyers also wrote memos authorizing the incarceration of U.S. citizens suspected of terror links without charge or trial. But here the Supreme Court drew the line. In the case of U.S. citizen Yaser Hamdi, a terror-suspect born in Louisiana, raised in Saudi Arabia, captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo, government lawyers argued that it would be “constitutionally intolerable” to require the government to submit any evidence to support its claim that Hamdi is a terrorist. The Supreme Court disagreed. While the court permitted the government to strip Hamdi of most of his constitutional rights, it nevertheless ordered the government to give Hamdi a hearing at which it must present some minimal amount of evidence. But because the government had no evidence that Hamdi was a terrorist, it sent him back to Saudi Arabia–on the condition that he renounced his citizenship.

Obama has carried on where Bush left off. Realizing that captured American-born terror suspects must be given a hearing, Obama decided it would be more convenient to kill them. And he asked the lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel to write memos stating that killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Muslim cleric living in Yemen, would not violate the Constitution or federal statutes banning murder and assassinations. Once again, the lawyers set aside the most fundamental rules of legal ethics to serve their master.

The Obama administration has not released these assassination memos, but it did leak an outline of the memos’ legal reasoning to the New York Times. Their analysis is every bit as shoddy as that found in the torture memos. Obama’s lawyers concluded that the administration could legally kill al-Awlaki so long as the CIA says he is playing an operational role in al-Qaeda and that it was not feasible to capture him. The lawyers don’t actually analyze any of the evidence against al-Awlaki–they just declare that Obama may accept the word of the CIA, which is able to bury evidence so it can never be second-guessed.

Al-Awlaki was killed September 30 by a drone strike in Yemen. Presumably his executioner was a CIA agent rather than a soldier in uniform, but the Obama lawyers said that this would also be lawful. The drone strike also killed a second American named Samir Khan, who had produced a jihadist web magazine titled Inspire. Two weeks after killing al-Awlaki and Khan, the administration used its newfound powers to kill another American: al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. This strike also killed eight other human beings.

As of this writing, the administration has not come forward with any explanation for the killing of the American juvenile or his companions. Presumably, an unprincipled government lawyer is at work on the justification memo right now.

The original article may be found here.

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