Tales from the Trail

Bin Laden’s death relieves U.S. of tough decision about legal prosecution

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is probably relieved that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed during the military operation in Pakistan rather than being captured.

A year ago, Holder drew some scrutiny when Republicans in the House of Representatives questioned him about how bin Laden would be prosecuted if captured, whether in a traditional federal criminal court or a special military court.

Republicans and even some Democrats have opposed federal trials for the foreign terrorism suspects because they would be afforded all traditional U.S. legal rights. Military courts have more relaxed standards for allowing certain evidence to be used during trials and do not require that suspects be advised of their legal rights, such as the right to a lawyer or to remain silent.

Holder has been criticized for attempting to have some of the accused Sept. 11 suspects prosecuted in a federal criminal court and had to back down in the face of intense fury from politicians.  A year ago Texas Republican Representative John Culberson questioned whether bin Laden was similar to convicted mass murderer Charles Manson and thus eligible for full U.S. legal rights.

“Well granting Osama bin Laden the right to appear in a U.S. courtroom, you are clothing Osama bin Laden with the protections of the U.S. Constitution. That’s unavoidable,” Culberson said.

ACLU gives Obama mixed first year rights grade

obamaU.S. President Barack Obama has taken some bold steps on civil rights during his first year in office, such as ordering an end to torture and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison, but his overall record is mixed, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday. 

The civil rights group said Obama had acted on more than a third of 145 recommendations it made to him when he was elected. The recommendations focused on steps  the president could take on his own without a vote by Congress.

“The Obama administration has made some significant strides toward restoring civil liberties and the rule of law,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero in a statement.

Is swine flu vaccine going to Guantanamo? Define “going”

GERMANY/Conservative politicians and commentators got up in arms this week after the Pentagon said it would send doses of hard-to-get H1N1 swine flu vaccine to terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.

The White House denied it on Tuesday, emphatically, but also carefully — saying there is no vaccine at the U.S. military prison, or going there … now.

“There is no vaccine in Guantanamo and there’s no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said when queried about the burgeoning controversy.

Performers angry their music used in Guantanamo interrogations

Interrogators at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay liked to blast rock ‘n’ roll music at inmates to try to induce them to talk.

Now some of the folks that made that rock ‘n’ roll music are blasting back.

Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Rosanne Cash, Bonnie Raitt, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and other musicians have joined the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo.
The newly formed campaign, led by retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard and retired Brigadier General John Johns among others, is increasing pressure on the Obama administration to move ahead with the president’s pledge to close the prison.

Battle brewing over Guantanamo and its Chinese Muslim prisoners

A big battle is brewing over the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Chinese Muslim inmates held there.

GUANTANAMO/The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it would decide whether federal judges have the power to order the release of the ethnic Uighur prisoners into the United States.

The White House and Congress argue the inmates have never been admitted into the United States under U.S. immigration laws, and judges should not be making those sorts of decisions.

from Summit Notebook:

Napolitano defends bringing Guantanamo detainees to U.S.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the Obama administration's plans to bring terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States -- countering critics who questioned whether it would create security risks.

"There's no question in my mind that those detainees who would be moved to the United States would be held in such a fashion that they would not be any threat to public safety, and I say that as a former prosecutor," Napolitano said in an interview during the Reuters Washington Summit. She served as a U.S. attorney in Arizona during the Clinton administration.

President Barack Obama has pledged to close the controversial prison by Jan. 22, 2010, including bringing some of the terrorism suspects to U.S. soil for trial in military commissions or U.S. criminal courts. There have been questions and doubts about whether his goal can be achieved because of political, legal and logistical complications.

The First Draft: Will Cheney spill the beans about Bush?

USA-SECURITY/CHENEYHow would you spend the dog days of summer, if you were a former vice president? If you were Dick Cheney, you would be ensconced in your new office above the garage in McLean, Virginia (just down the road from the CIA!), writing your memoir of the administration of George W. Bush. But would you tell all?

The Washington Post indicates Cheney might. In a front-page story that was one of the paper’s most-viewed online, unnamed sources say the former veep was frustrated with Bush, especially in the second term.

When Cheney was asked at an informal meeting to discuss his memoirs if he had any regrets, one meeting participant told the Post: “(Cheney) said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took … The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney’s advice. He’d showed an independence that Cheney didn’t see coming. It was clear that Cheney’s doctrine was cast-iron at all times — never apologize, never explain — and Bush moved toward the conciliatory.”

What if a Gitmo detainee is acquitted? It’s hypothetical …

The Obama administration doesn’t want to talk about what might happen if a New York court acquits a Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspect.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, Tuesday became the first Guantanamo prisoner sent to the United States for trial. He pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court.

Ghailani is accused of conspiring to bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, killing 224 people. He had been held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba since 2006.

His transfer to New York was seen as a test case for President Barack Obama’s effort to close the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

The First Draft: Now he’s talking!

CHENEY/Dan Quayle played golf in Arizona. Al Gore taught journalism in New York. But Dick Cheney is breaking with the tradition that former vice presidents quietly leave Washington and the public eye when they exit the White House. Even Cheney’s ex-boss, George W. Bush, has refrained from criticizing the Obama administration, saying the new team deserves his silence. But Cheney was positively gabby on a Sunday talk show.

While many in official Washington were recovering from Saturday evening’s White House Correspondents Association dinner — where President Barack Obama got off some memorable one-liners and comedian Wanda Sykes took aim at radio talk jock Rush Limbaugh, among others — Cheney gave a lengthy interview to “Face the Nation” on CBS television. The replay of clips from that chat were still reverberating on Monday’s morning shows on CNN, NBC and ABC.

On waterboarding terror suspects, which critics say doesn’t work in getting useful information — aside from it being torture — Cheney disagreed. “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed … an evil, evil man that’s been in our custody since March of ’03 … did not cooperate fully in terms of interrogations until after waterboarding. Once we went through that process, he produced vast quantities of invaluable information about Al Qaeda.”