29 January 2010

Why George Ryan will not win the Peace Prize

Earlier this month, Francis A. Boyle, professor of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Illinois, nominated former Illinois Governor George Ryan for the Nobel Peace Prize. While Governor, Ryan had declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois and commuted all death sentences in that state, literally emptying Illinois' death row. This was Boyle's seventh such nomination.

In a blog post for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writer Kevin McDermott noted that "Ryan's actions sparked a revival of the national debate over executions, a debate that continues today," and "[i]f capital punishment ultimately falls out of use in the U.S., there's little doubt that Ryan's role will be credited as key."

But then McDermott gives us a reality check, pointing out that Ryan was subsequently convicted of "bribery, fraud, and other crimes of corruption (for which he is currently serving a six-year sentence.)"

Given that the Nobel Committee has rejected Boyle's previous nominations of Ryan, there is no reason to expect that they will think any differently this time. After all, as McDermott points out, "the Nobel Committee has honored imprisoned political leaders before -- but generally not those imprisoned for accepting envelopes full of cash."

That, I suppose, is only fair. And, while Ryan's actions against the death penalty were heroic, it would take many more good deeds on Ryan's part to redeem himself to the point where the cloud of corruption no longer overshadows the good things he did while in office.

Such is how it is with humanity.

But then, of course, no one is perfect.

28 January 2010

Plenty of money for the Pentagon, but not for the sick or the poor

President Obama was good last night. In his State of the Union Address, he said the right things most of the time. But we always knew that he is good at speechmaking. And I remain cynical, because I've had so many disappointments in the past year.

I will not use this blog post to editorialize on the entire speech. I will leave that to the other pundits. For now, I want to talk a bit about an issue that has been bothering me since I first learned about it earlier this week, and which Obama brought up to a very limited extent last night (just enough to try to spin the positive while ignoring the negative).

Obama, you see, is now bowing to the deficit hawks and calling for a three-year plan, beginning in 2011, to freeze "discretionary" spending for some domestic programs.

At the same time, he assures the war hawks that money will still flow freely to the Pentagon for war and occupation of foreign lands.

Yes, there's still plenty of money to fund death and destruction, according to Obama. We just need to freeze the money that goes to government departments like Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development -- you know, the ones that help people (especially the poor, the sick, and other vulnerable members of our society).

This is how Obama has arranged his priorities, apparently. Is he really that far removed these days from the South Side of Chicago?

This is not the kind of change I can believe in.

27 January 2010

In criticizing Hillary, China shoots the messenger

Chinese officials have been criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her condemnation of China's Internet censorship.

This comes on the heels of Google's announcement earlier this month that it is "no longer willing to continue censoring [its search] results" on its Chinese service.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry fired back and claimed that "China's [I]nternet is open."

It went on to say, "We urge the US to respect facts and stop attacking China under the excuse of the so-called freedom of [I]nternet."

So-called freedom indeed.

China seems to be implying that Google and Clinton are making baseless accusations -- even though Google has admitted that it has been censoring its search results in China for years to comply with the Chinese government's requirements.

As is common amongst the guilty, China's criticism of Secretary Clinton amounts to shooting the messenger.

The truth is still the truth. And I bet they'll be censoring this blog post.

>> Read more about censorship in China from Amnesty International.

26 January 2010

Justice Dept. calls for injustice at Gitmo -- and Amnesty fights back

Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that a task force led by the U.S. Justice Department "has concluded that nearly 50 of the 196 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial."

The Post goes on to explain that the administration considers these detainees "too dangerous to release but unprosecutable because officials fear trials could compromise intelligence-gathering and because detainees could challenge evidence obtained through coercion."

So these dozens of prisoners are trapped in legal limbo because of problems resulting from the Bush administration's misguided detention and interrogation policies -- which are now the Obama administration's misguided policies. Some of these people could very well be innocent. But, if that task force gets its way, we might never know for sure. This is outrageous.

In a recent email to members, Amnesty International responded as follows:
"We're stunned that the Department of Justice would act in such flagrant and direct violation of civil liberties, human rights, and a Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that confirmed Guantanamo detainees' rights to habeas corpus.

"However it's also the clearest proof we've seen yet that in order to truly resolve the heinous policies and practices taking place at Guantanamo, we're going to need to look to outside sources to challenge the status quo. Holding people without charge, trial or clear process for reviewing their case is unacceptable.

"The White House and Congress must intervene and establish a new kind of task force -- a commission of independent, bipartisan experts to examine, report, and come to their own informed conclusions about the policies and actions related to the detention, treatment, and transfer of Guantanamo detainees.

"We've got to fight fire with fire - only an independent, bipartisan commission can help untangle the human rights mess created at Guantanamo."
How you can help:

Call on the White House and Congress to establish a new kind of independent, bipartisan task force to take a deeper look at the flawed policies at Guantanamo.

25 January 2010

A giant leap towards fascism

On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that some are calling the Court's biggest blunder since the Dred Scott Decision.

In the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled that corporations may spend unlimited amounts of money at any time to influence elections.

This seems to redefine the meaning of democracy in this country. After all, the average citizen does not have the financial resources to compete with the likes of ExxonMobil, Walmart, or Wall Street. And, while some might point out that our elected officials are already bought and sold by corporate America, it is now official U.S. law. And that should scare anyone but the most greedy, heartless CEOs and lawmakers.

The Court decided this case by a 5-4 margin. Dissenting in part were Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. In his dissent, Justice Stevens wrote:
"The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution."
Justice Stevens elaborates:
"In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process."

So what we have now is not government of the people, by the people, and for the people. What we have now is government of the people, by the corporations, and for the corporations.

And that is exactly how Mussolini defined fascism.

According to Mussolini, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

This, it seems, is what our Supreme Court has interpreted to be the law of the land.

Forget about health care reform. The health insurance industry is now unrestricted in buying and selling our politicians.

Forget about curbing global warming. The nation's biggest polluters are also the nation's richest corporations, and now they can freely spend all their profits on electing equally irresponsible government officials.

And forget about peace, human rights, and international law. KBR and Blackwater have much more money than you.

I have a feeling that our nation's Founding Fathers are now spinning in their graves.

22 January 2010

Happy birthday, Roe v. Wade

Today, January 22, 2010, marks the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. In doing so, the Court recognized a woman's right to sovereignty over her own body, based on the right to privacy as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

And it has held up all these years, empowering women despite the still-vocal anti-choice crowd who would rather be the ones controlling our bodies.

Here's to another 37 years of reproductive freedom -- many times over!

21 January 2010

Does the Massachusetts election outcome really matter?

On Tuesday, the voters of Massachusetts elected a Republican to replace Ted Kennedy. Gone is the 60-seat Democratic supermajority in the U.S. Senate.

But I'm thinking that it doesn't really matter, since they already had Joe Lieberman messing things up for the Democrats. And they let him.

20 January 2010

Supremes throw Abu-Jamal case back to appeals court

I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that famed Pennsylvania death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal may be running out of legal options. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which had rescinded Abu-Jamal's death sentence because of flawed jury instructions in his original trial. The issue involves how jurors were to weigh various mitigating factors that may have resulted in a sentence other than the death penalty.

The Supremes ordered the appellate court to reconsider its decision in light of a recent similar case in Ohio, in which the high court had reinstated the death sentence, saying that jurors do not need to agree unanimously on mitigating factors.

For years, rights groups have been speaking out against Abu-Jamal's death sentence. A 2000 report by Amnesty International noted that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings." Amnesty expressed concerns about judicial bias and hostility, police misconduct, and the apparent withholding of evidence from the jury. Amnesty called for a new trial "in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia."

And, last year, the 95th annual convention of the NAACP passed an emergency resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the cases of Abu-Jamal and some other prisoners.

But it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

According to USA Today, "[t]he 3rd Circuit could still order a federal trial court to consider Abu-Jamal's case anew on other still-pending defense claims." I hope that they will, rather than succumb to the pressure from the higher court to just kill him and be done with it.

Stay tuned.

19 January 2010

Will today's election seal the fate of health care reform?

In a special election today, voters in Massachusetts will choose a new U.S. Senator who will complete the late Ted Kennedy's term. Unfortunately, it appears to be a very tight race. And, if Republican Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley, the Dems will lose their 60th vote in the Senate -- the number needed to stop a filibuster.

This would mean that the health care reform bill would probably need to be watered down even more in order to win the support of Olympia Snowe or another moderate Republican senator if it's to move forward.

Indeed, a Republican win in Massachusetts today could bring virtually all progressive reform to a halt in the Senate.

That is, of course, unless the Dems find ways around the Republican roadblocks. But I'm not convinced that they have the stomach to act so strongly.

18 January 2010

Realizing the dream - one step at a time

Today, the third Monday of January, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S. -- a day set aside each year to honor the birth, life, and legacy of the great civil rights leader. And, as I think about Dr. King and his legacy, I regret that he did not live to see the inauguration last year of the first African-American President of the United States of America.

In his famous "I have a dream" speech, Dr. King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

On November 4, 2008, we the people of the United States of America elected our first African-American president. Barack Obama was elected for what we the voters believed to be the content of his character. That was a significant step forward towards a post-racial America.

But still, racism continues to plague this country, and a truly post-racial America remains just a dream. In fact, a spring 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that the number of hate groups in the U.S. has actually been rising.

So it is clear that we still have much work to do. In the meantime, let's honor Dr. King today by celebrating the victories, large and small, that we have achieved since his death.

Every step counts, as long as it's in the right direction.

17 January 2010

No excuse for racial profiling

The failed attempt on Christmas Day to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane has some people calling for racial profiling. In fact, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows that an alarming majority of Americans support ethnic profiling. However, I contend that this is a misguided reaction that can actually be counterproductive. And the attempted Christmas bombing is no excuse for it.

First of all, what kind of profile are we supposed to be concerned about? After 9/11, people looked suspiciously at Middle-Eastern-looking individuals. But the would-be Christmas bomber was a black man from Nigeria. He and many other high-profile terror suspects have fallen short of the Middle-Eastern profile, as Bruce Schneier recently pointed out in a New York Times blog post:
"Terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of crowds by computers. They’re European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, male and female, young and old. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British with a Jamaican father. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American. The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. Timothy McVeigh was a white American. So was the Unabomber. The Chechen terrorists who blew up two Russian planes in 2004 were female. Palestinian terrorists routinely recruit 'clean' suicide bombers, and have used unsuspecting Westerners as bomb carriers.

"Without an accurate profile, the system can be statistically demonstrated to be no more effective than random screening."
In fact, racial profiling can make us less safe. Multiple studies have shown that when police focus on factors such as race, they tend to pay less attention to actual criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend that can inhibit effective law enforcement and ultimately endanger the lives of all persons who depend on law enforcement for protection.

Furthermore, a 2004 report by Amnesty International provides overwhelming evidence that racial profiling is not only ineffective and counterproductive in finding the real criminals, but that it also encourages hate and undermines national unity. The report was based on six public hearings nationwide and more than a year of intensive research.

My dear friend Talat Hamdani, a Pakistani American whose police cadet son died while attempting to save lives at the World Trade Center on 9/11, sums up the issue this way: "Profiling generates anger and mistrust, the leading causes of violence."

Yes, anger and mistrust lead to violence, which leads to anger and mistrust, which lead to more violence. And so on.

Therefore, just as racial profiling has failed in the "war on drugs", it is likewise doomed to fail in the "war on terror". We will be much better protected if law enforcement and security personnel focus more on what people are doing, and not on what they look like or whether they worship in a church or a mosque.

15 January 2010

Dr. Tiller's murder was not "justifiable homicide"

Pre-trial proceedings are under way for Scott Roeder, who is accused of the cold-blooded murder last year of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller. And they're not off to a good start.

Earlier this week, a judge said that he might allow the jury to consider what amounts to a "justifiable homicide" conviction rather than first-degree murder, which could allow Roeder to argue that he killed Dr. Tiller in order to save unborn babies. This could allow him to walk free after just four years if convicted.

Just think of the slippery slope that this could create.

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), called the ruling a "dangerous and potentially deadly precedent."

The following are O'Neill's astute and insightful comments on the matter:
"Judge Wilbert's ruling allows Roeder, in effect, to make out a claim of justifiable terrorism -- that is, that Roeder was justified because of his religious ideology. Murder driven by ideological zealotry is a form of terrorism. What's really disturbing about Judge Wilbert's irresponsible ruling is that it could easily encourage other religious extremists to attack health care providers as a justifiable means of stopping women from obtaining abortions.

"This trial is about the murder of Dr. Tiller -- a family man, a father, a husband, and a caring and compassionate physician. Allowing the defense to make this trial about Roeder's abortion views is not just demeaning to the memory of a brave doctor, but also creates real danger for providers around the country. Roeder's act was voluntary all right -- but he shouldn't be rewarded with a 4 to 6 year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. He should be tried for premeditated murder."
Kari Ann Rinker, president of the Kansas state chapter of NOW, added the following points:
"The court failed to send the message that religious fanaticism has no place in a defense against a murder charge. Mr. Roeder has already made his malicious intent toward Dr. Tiller clear through his repeated jail house confessions to the press. Kansas NOW urges Judge Wilbert to listen to the evidence however it may be presented and urge the jury to try Mr. Roeder for the crime of first degree murder."

14 January 2010

Google gets a conscience?

It appears that Google might finally be reconsidering its support of the Chinese government's censorship of the Internet. The last straw was apparently a cyber-attack on the Gmail accounts of some human rights activists. The attack originated in China.

So now Google is saying that it is "no longer willing to continue censoring [its search] results" on its Chinese service.

While I applaud Google for taking this step, it doesn't forgive the fact that Google had been censoring its search results in China for years. (Revenue trumps rights, you see.) So I have to remain suspicious that Google's newfound appreciation for human rights might be more about retaliation for the Chinese cyber-attack.

I hope I am wrong.

>> Read more about Google in China -- with a focus on the human rights implications -- from Amnesty International USA.

13 January 2010

How to help earthquake victims in Haiti

As you probably know by now, a major earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday afternoon.

Several relief agencies are on their way to provide aid, but they need funding.

Below are some reputable organizations that you might want to consider helping out with a few of your charity dollars. Click the link for each organization for info on what they're doing and how to donate.

American Red Cross


Doctors Without Borders

International Committee of the Red Cross

International Medical Corps

Mercy Corps


Save the Children

UN World Food Programme


Or donate $10 instantly from your cell phone:

From the U.S. State Department website: Simply text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.

The homophobia will not be televised

Originally it had been agreed that the court proceedings in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which challenges the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, would be broadcast via delayed video postings to YouTube.

However, on Monday, January 11 -- the first day of the trial proceedings -- the Supreme Court intervened and ordered a stay on the distribution of the video recordings.

The stay will expire today (January 13). And, as of this writing, it's anyone's guess what will happen next in this latest legal drama.

In the meantime, it is interesting to note that it was the supporters of Prop 8 -- who rallied so hard and successfully overturned Californians' right to same-sex marriage in 2008 -- who were the ones who actually requested the stay. They were so publicly vocal in their homophobia in the lead-up to the 2008 elections, but now suddenly they don't want to be seen on camera.

That seems to speak volumes.

12 January 2010

Prop 8 goes to court

Yesterday, the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which challenges the constitutionality of Proposition 8, got under way in U.S. district court in San Francisco. Proposition 8, as you may recall, was a California ballot initiative that passed in November of 2008 and thereby outlawed same-sex marriage in that state.

I don't sense a lot of optimism in the LGBT community regarding this court case, but I nonetheless hope that the court will decide against the clearly discriminatory Prop 8.

In any event, the ruling will likely be appealed, so the fight for marriage equality in California will not be over any time soon.

In the meantime, it should be an interesting ride.

For an interesting in-depth article on the case, check out this piece in The New Yorker by Margaret Talbot: "A Risky Proposal"

11 January 2010

Gitmo isn't closing, it's just moving to Illinois

January 11, 2010, marks the eighth anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It's an anniversary that no American should be proud of. Still, far too little is being done about it.

One of Barack Obama's earliest presidential actions was to order the closure of Gitmo by January 2010. Now, a year later, it's clear that this deadline will not be met. And, even though Obama is working on transferring many of the Gitmo prisoners to the maximum-security Thomas Correctional Center in Illinois, some of the human rights issues regarding U.S. detention of terror suspects remain unaddressed.

Gitmo, you see, is not closing. It's merely moving to Illinois. Many of the detainees will still remain in legal limbo.

Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, explains:
"If President Obama is simply moving detainees from one Guantanamo to another, he has done nothing to honor his pledge to close the prison camp. The vast majority of detainees remaining at Guantanamo will never be charged with anything. Yet the president has made clear that he believes he can continue to hold these men, most of whom have already been in Guantanamo for eight years and should never have been detained in the first place, for as long as he wants without any trial whatsoever.

"Moving the Guantanamo system onshore is not change. Whether in Thomson, IL, at Guantanamo, or elsewhere, the very idea that we would toss aside our founding constitutional principles and allow any executive the power of kings to imprison someone forever without a trial is anathema to democracy.

"The Obama administration has already cleared for release at least 116 of the 210 men who remain at Guantanamo. Many of them have nowhere to go because they are from countries that routinely engage in torture and other human rights abuses. Will they now be subject to inhuman conditions of solitary confinement in a maximum security facility despite the fact that they will never be charged with anything and have been approved for release? For them Thomson, Illinois, may be worse than Guantanamo.

"While the fear-mongering over bringing any of the men to the U.S. is opportunistic and entirely political, we cannot support this latest move merely to shut down the symbol of Guantanamo without dismantling the injustice of Guantanamo. A change of scenery does nothing to restore the rule of law."
In other words, this is not any kind of change we can believe in.

10 January 2010

Marriage vs. civil unions: Separate is never equal

The New Jersey State Senate recently rejected a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the Garden State.

Some people try to justify this state-sponsored discrimination by saying that same-sex marriage isn't necessary in New Jersey because that state offers civil unions for gay couples who want to enjoy similar benefits.

But they don't want to call it marriage. They want to maintain a heterosexual monopoly on the word "marriage". It's "separate but equal", they might say. But I contend that separate is never equal.

Having a separate institution for committed same-sex couples is no more equal than were the black alternatives to the whites-only facilities of the Jim Crow era. True equality is just not possible where you have an "us" vs. "them" dichotomy.

Many people cite religious reasons for opposing marriage equality for same-sex couples. They say that the Bible condemns homosexuality. It's the word of God, they say, and as good "Christians" they must live by it. However, the Bible also condones slavery, and forbids working on the Sabbath under punishment of death. I have yet to see the homophobes in recent decades give equal time to these other "words of God".

But that should be a moot argument anyway in this nation. You see, the religious apologists fail to recognize -- or refuse to recognize -- the fact that the U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation. They conveniently ignore the language of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly prohibits the government from establishing a religion, and which protects each person's right to practice -- or not practice -- any faith without government interference. In other words, you cannot impose your own religious beliefs on others. So religion is not a sound justification on which to judge the validity of civil marriage.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage like to repeat the tired old talking point that allowing gay couples to wed would destroy the institution of marriage. But they can't really answer the question of how. Anyone who feels that his own heterosexual marriage would be threatened if gays could marry obviously has some very deep personal issues that cannot be fixed through legislation. I know a number of gay couples in loving, monogamous relationships that have lasted much longer than my heterosexual marriage did. Could this be what really scares the bigots?

Why can't the homophobes just live and let live? Why must they point a finger at others and judge what their neighbors can and cannot do in the privacy of their own relationships? How would those homophobes feel if the shoe were on the other foot and someone tried to tell them whom they may or may not marry?

And so I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes on the subject, by James Carville: "I was against gay marriage until I found out I didn't have to have one."

08 January 2010

New Philly DA is less bloodthirsty than the last

On January 4, Seth Williams was sworn in as Philadelphia's first African-American district attorney.

He's the first new DA that the city has seen in almost two decades. And we've been ready for a change.

Williams's predecessor, Lynne Abraham, had earned the nickname "Queen of Death" because of the very high rate of death sentences that her office sought through the years.

Fortunately, Williams seems to see the death penalty as less of an imperative. In December, Williams told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his office would pursue the death penalty in fewer cases. "My overall philosophy is that we have to use the death penalty more judiciously, not just as a bargaining chip," he said.

While this is not as good as a full moratorium on death sentences would be, at least it will be an improvement. Hopefully.

07 January 2010

Cheering for the big blue insurgents

Something to keep in mind as you plan your weekend:

I recently saw James Cameron's latest masterpiece, Avatar, in digital 3-D. I recommend it very highly.

The movie has something for everyone -- action, adventure, a love story, Sigourney Weaver, and some very impressive special effects. Political wonk that I am, I zeroed in on the film's storyline in which Earth's military-industrial complex launches a fiery shock-and-awe-style war of aggression on the once peaceful planet of Pandora in pursuit of a mineral called unobtainium. The earth desperately needs this mineral to meet its energy needs in the 22nd century. The Na'vi, a race of very tall, blue-skinned humanoids who inhabit Pandora, band together to defend their planet from the aggressors.

Substitute oil for unobtainium. Substitute Iraq for Pandora. Substitute brown-skinned people for the blue-skinned Na'vi, and, well, you get the idea.

But Cameron gets the point across without being preachy. In fact, some hard-core Republican hawks just might find themselves cheering for the Na'vi without even recognizing the irony in their doing so. And that, it seems to me, points to a root of the problem here on Earth today in the 21st century: Whether it's happening on the movie screen or halfway around the world, it's just an abstract story for so many people. And, whether you're dealing with the "towelheads" in Iraq or Afghanistan, or with the "savages" (as the movie's military commander calls the Na'vi) on Pandora, you can dehumanize them with labels and thereby justify all manner of sins.

Unfortunately, the story remains timeless.

That said, please don't stay home and wait for the DVD. Avatar needs to be seen on the large screen, in all its 3-D glory. (You'll see what I mean.)

06 January 2010

CCR denounces decision to suspend transfer of Gitmo prisoners to Yemen

In the wake of the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day by a man who was allegedly trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen, the Obama administration has decided to suspend the previously arranged transfer of more than 80 Guantanamo prisoners to Yemen.

According to BBC News, "[o]fficials fear many could re-join militant groups if sent back to Yemen."

But, of course, al-Qaeda has cells all over the world. So is the U.S. going to keep everyone locked up -- even those who are determined to have no ties to terrorist groups -- just as a precautionary measure to prevent any revenge that a handful of them might be tempted to seek?

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has represented a number of Gitmo detainees, and yesterday they spoke out strongly against the administration's decision.

Here is the CCR's official statement on the subject:
Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government's Guantanamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts. Many are about to begin their ninth year in indefinite detention.

Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable. It will also effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantanamo, which President Obama has repeatedly argued will make our nation safer.

As we approach the eighth anniversary of Guantanamo and the president's failed deadline for its closure, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the men at Guantanamo should never have been detained in the first place, and that over 550 have been released and are peacefully rebuilding their lives. Most of the nearly 800 men who were brought to Guantanamo were not captured by the American military on any battlefield, but seized in broad sweeps during the chaos of the Afghan war or in other locations around the world and sold to the U.S. in exchange for substantial bounties. We know from the military's own records that most of the detainees at Guantanamo have no link to terrorism.

When he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama said, 'We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.' What he said in December should be just as true a month later.

There is no excuse for continued preemptive detention of these individuals, who have been cleared for release, just because of what they might decide to do later. Or did the Obama administration suddenly become the Thought Police?!

Obama needs to recognize that the war on terrorism doesn't have to be a war on human rights.

05 January 2010

U.S. troop deaths move from Iraq to Afghanistan

The mainstream media have been trumpeting the fact that there were no U.S. combat-related deaths in Iraq during the month of December 2009. This was the first month since our invasion and occupation of Iraq that we suffered no combat-related deaths there.

While that certainly sounds like good news, there is another fact that we need to consider:

In Afghanistan, 2009 was by far the bloodiest year for U.S. troops since the war began in late 2001.

So don't go popping the corks just yet.

Our troops haven't stopped dying. The deaths have merely moved from Iraq to Afghanistan.

I think I'll wait and celebrate once they're all back home.

04 January 2010

Philly's first black DA takes office today

History will be made today as former assistant prosecutor Seth Williams will be sworn in as Philadelphia's first African-American district attorney.

Congratulations to Mr. Williams on this historic occasion.

02 January 2010

Obama's New Year's resolutions (in my dreams)

This is the time of year when everyone is making their New Year's resolutions. As far as I can tell, the White House has not released President Obama's list of resolutions for 2010. So I offer the following resolutions for him to consider, unlikely as they are to be adopted:

• Amend our policy in Afghanistan to cut our losses and bring our troops home by the end of 2010. This is where a flip-flop would be easily forgiven. Our tax dollars have been wasted on propping up the corrupt Karzai government for long enough.

• Follow up on the Copenhagen climate change conference using all your strength and diplomatic skills, and lead the way to establish a more effective international policy to address the threat of climate change.

• Transfer all Gitmo detainees to U.S. federal prisons and try them all in the federal court system, as we did so effectively with so many pre-9/11 terror suspects. No more indefinite detention without due process. Remember the Constitution, on which you, as a Constitutional attorney, are supposed to be an expert. We are supposed to be a nation of laws. So prosecute them under those laws, for heaven's sake. Otherwise, are we any better than the aforementioned Karzai government?

• Work with Congress to do what it takes to get DOMA and DADT repealed during 2010. Remember that so many of our gay and lesbian citizens worked very hard to get you elected in 2008. Please don't make them want to stay home in 2012.

• Sign the International Mine Ban Treaty, which in November you refused to do. There is no good reason not to sign that ban, as landmines are notorious for killing and injuring innocent civilians, including children.

• Stop throwing our tax dollars at Wall Street and other big corporate interests. They haven't paid their share, but yet they reap the rewards at the expense of Main Street. Keep in mind that it was Main Street -- not Wall Street -- that elected you to the presidency. And it's our tax dollars at play. Meanwhile, they get their multi-million-dollar bonuses while we see more layoffs and foreclosures.

• Give up on the bipartisan dream. It is an unachievable myth, as you should have learned by now, given the current cast of characters in Congress. Work with your Chief of Staff to make the 60-vote Senate Democratic Caucus recognize the -- um -- benefits of party unity. And then give us a public health care option. Otherwise we risk the possibility that this will be a happy new year only for the special interests.