Tag Archives: prisoners

a good day for basic human liberties

yaay habeas corpus.

Kennedy is the difference between a conservative — someone whose values I frequently dislike and disagree with, but who is in many ways a respectful person — and a proto-fascist.

For the right-wingers who like to throw the term “fascism” around, the core concept of fascism is that the State takes precedence over the Individual. Habeas corpus — the right to appeal imprisonment by the State (to another arm of the State, usually) — is the fundamental human right that distinguishes fascism from non-fascism. Other human liberties — freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of movement — are likely more germane to most of the people most of the time. But habeas corpus is the counter to the most basic power representatives of the State assert: the power to imprison individuals. It’s pretty limited as far as rights go — it boils down to a right to argue with the reasons for imprisonment. But without this fundamental check on the State’s power, every other human liberty is a hollow promise.

Roberts’ dissent — effectively, “what are they complaining about? we treat them so well!” — is the same response that can be heard in any institution that has robbed people of their liberty, from dictators to slaveholders to prison keepers to that horrid Austrian guy who said, “I could have killed my daughter” (instead of imprisoning and raping her for decades).

So yaay habeas corpus. Yesterday’s decision gives me some hope that we may yet arrest our slide into unmitigated fascism.

… a few more thoughts on reading Boumediene v. Bush:

Souter’s concurrence (joined by Ginsburg & Breyer): Souter takes on the dissent’s cries of judicial activism, which essentially argued that the case wasn’t sufficiently politically ripe — that the Supreme Court should have sat on its hands and not rushed to judgment to cut out the proper executive (read: military) procedures. I liked it a lot so I quote in full:

A second fact insufficiently appreciated by the dissents is the length of the disputed imprisonments, some of the prisoners represented here today having been locked up for six years []. Hence the hollow ring when the dissenters suggest that the Court is somehow precipitating the judiciary into reviewing claims that the military (subject to appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) could handle within some reasonable period of time. See, e.g., post, at 3 (opinion of ROBERTS, C. J.) (“[T]he Court should have declined to intervene until the D. C. Circuit had assessed the nature and validity of the congressionally mandated proceedings in a given detainee’s case”); post, at 6 (“[I]t is not necessary to consider the availability of the writ until the statutory remedies have been shown to be inadequate”); post, at 8 (“[The Court] rushes to decide the fundamental question of the reach of habeas corpus when the functioning of the DTA may make that decision entirely unnecessary”). These suggestions of judicial haste are all the more out of place given the Court’s realistic acknowledgment that in periods of exigency the tempo of any habeas review must reflect the immediate peril facing the country.
It is in fact the very lapse of four years from the time Rasul put everyone on notice that habeas process was available to Guantanamo prisoners, and the lapse of six years since some of these prisoners were captured and incarcerated, that stand at odds with the repeated suggestions of the dissenters that these cases should be seen as a judicial victory in a contest for power between the Court and the political branches. [] The several answers to the charge of triumphalism might start with a basic fact of Anglo-American constitutional history: that the power, first of the Crown and now of the Executive Branch of the United States, is necessarily limited by habeas corpus jurisdiction to enquire into the legality of executive detention. And one could explain that in this Court’s exercise of responsibility to preserve habeas corpus something much more significant is involved than pulling and hauling between the judicial and political branches. Instead, though, it is enough to repeat that some of these petitioners have spent six years behind bars. After six years of sustained executive detentions in Guantanamo, subject to habeas jurisdiction but without any actual habeas scrutiny, today’s decision is no judicial victory, but an act of perseverance in trying to make habeas review, and the obligation of the courts to provide it, mean something of value both to prisoners and to the Nation. [some internal cites omitted]

escapist reading about our “leaders”

an upsetting day. so, reading the news.

Farewell to the crown, farewell, the velvet gown, won’t you all come tumbling down? Goodbye to the crown! (Chumbawamba, “Farewell to the Crown”)

Nepal votes out their monarchy and institutes a republic. Gyanendra has to vacate the palace within two weeks or face eviction. Also, he had to start paying his own electric bills a while back. Ha ha, I love that. It is balm to my troubled soul. The palace building will be turned into a museum.

The NYT also reports that former Illinois governor George Ryan, with six years left on his prison term for racketeering and fraud, will seek executive clemency from Bush.

The lawyer, James R. Thompson (also a former Illinois governor), said any larger purpose in the conviction and sentence of Mr. Ryan, 74, had been served. “The man has gone from being the governor of the state of Illinois to being a prisoner in a federal penitentiary,” Mr. Thompson said, later adding: “His career is gone. His reputation is gone.”

Ah if only that were the standard for all prisoners. Anyway I will say that Ryan did a good thing by ordering a moratorium on the death penalty after learning of wrongful convictions.

And, finally, the NYT reports on McCain’s use of Bush for fundraising:

Despite the efforts by the McCain camp to keep at arm’s length a president with an approval rating stalled at 28 percent, it is worth remembering that that 28 percent can be fiercely loyal and often wealthy. … “He is very popular with high-dollar donors,” [conservative economist] Mr. Bartlett said of the president.

updated 5/29: Also this note on how the presidential fundraising travel expenses get billed:

By blending official events with party fundraising, Bush dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that’s charged to the political campaigns. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.

the death penalty & tookie williams

A human being who was doing valuable work, and helping to make the world better, was killed in San Quentin, California, just after midnight, Tuesday December 13. [See SaveTookie.org for details of Mr. Williams’ anti-gang and anti-violence work.] “I could find no justification for granting clemency.” [Schwarzenegger Statement following Clemency Decision, 2005/12/12.] Tookie Williams was killed because he continued to protest his innocence. “Seven percent of those whose sentences were overturned between 1973 and 1995 have been found innocent.” [“Capital Punishment in the United States”, Wikipedia (12/13).] Tookie Williams was killed because Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has earned millions depicting various bloody and violent assaults, questioned the “efficacy of Williams’ [anti-violence] message”: “[T]he continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message.” [Schwarzenegger Statement of Decision on Request for Clemency by Stanley Williams, p. 4.] Most importantly, perhaps, Tookie Williams was killed because it is politically expedient for politicians to be “tough on crime”. “Even if you assume he made the decision without political motivations, the political impact or ramifications certainly worked in his favor.” [Dan Schnur, Republican strategist, quoted in the Washington Post.]

Throughout Africa, Asia, and the United States, people face death at the hands of their own government. [Capital Punishment, Wikipedia (12/13).] Since 1976, the United States alone has put to death over a thousand people. The application of the death penalty is significantly affected by race and geography. Roughly 780 people (78% of the executions) have been killed in southern states comprising approximately a third of the United States popoulation (Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee). More than one-third of those executed in the United States since 1976 have been African-American. Most (perhaps 80%) of death penalty cases involve a white victim. As of July, 2005, over 3400 people are currently on death row in the United States. [“Capital Punishment in the United States”, Wikipedia (12/13).]

One such person is Cory Maye, a black man sentenced to death in Mississippi, for killing a white cop who entered his home after midnight while Maye and his toddler were sleeping. You can read more about Cory Maye’s case at the Agitator. And you can read more about the three thousand other death penalty cases in the US at these sites:

Amnesty International USA: Abolish the Death Penalty.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Moratorium Project (American Bar Association)
ACLU: on the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Information Center

annoying me today

So far today I am thrice annoyed:

  • Multiple Double Standards: NY Sex Offenders Get Viagra [5/23] Jesus. Get over Viagra already. What is with the guys running the guvmint? “According to [NY State Comptroller Alan] Hevesi, the problem is an unintended consequence of a 1998 directive from federal officials telling states that Medicaid prescription programs must include Viagra.” Who are these mysterious unnamed federal officials? Could they be … men? And how did they feel about birth control? Last time I looked, the federal government & states like Missouri were trying to make it harder more difficult for women to get family planning, including birth control.

    Look, I support prisoners’ rights, and adequate medical care is a right. The problem isn’t prisoners, who will get tossed to the curb by any politician trying to prove they’re tough on crime. The problem is with the double standard that treats Viagra, a recreational drug designed for men, differently (and better) than sex toys or birth control, both of which most directly benefit women.

    Ought I also point out the role of Big Pharma, which still holds viable patents on Viagra & similar drugs, but which has generic competition for many birth control formulas?

    And finally, as long as we’re on the topc of “recreational drugs”, compare: “Since it was approved by the FDA in 1998, about 16 million men have tried Viagra, according to Pfizer.” (1) and “Over 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.” (2) … And health risks: 60-120 deaths directly related to ingestion of Viagra (3, 4) vs. 0 deaths directly related to ingestion of marijuana (5).

  • The Filibuster Compromise. Salon.com’s Tim Grieve says, patronizingly, that “if we’re confused” about who won, we should look to the wingnuts frothing over the compromise to assure ourselves that the Democrats won. Well, whoop-de-fucking-doo. The Democrats did indeed win exactly what they wanted to win: preservation of the judicial filibuster. How did they win this brave victory of exactly what polls show that most Americans want? By giving up whatever principles they claimed to have had that inspired the filibusters to begin with. This leaves us exactly nowhere, except with 3 more life appointments on the bench, and a new set of “but he said” whines for the next round.

  • Double Standards, Again: In Montgomery, a Catholic HS Girl who’s pregnant was refused permission to walk with her graduating class [St. Jude Educational Institute Class of 2005], although the boy who made her pregnant was allowed to participate. She walked on her own, anyway, but her mother and aunt were then “escorted out of the church by police”. The Red Hot Chili Peppers said it best: Catholic School Girls Rule. As for the school’s actions, it’s a Roman Catholic HS, a private entity, so I sort of don’t care, but then again, I sort of do, because the double standard pisses me off.

    Now, I have it on good authority that the school system in Montgomery sucks, so I understand what might drive parents to take their children out of the public system and pay to send them to a Catholic HS. A little reminder about just why there are so many private “religious” schools in Alabama: Desegregation and racism. Once public schools were forced to integrate, many racist white folk took their children out of public schools and into a horde of new private “religious” schools. With so many white folks sending their kids to private schools, funding for public schools has never gone anywhere — Alabama continues to use its sales tax to fund its public schools, leaving that poor benighted state with one of the highest sales taxes in the nation. (School funding is shared between state & city/counties, so local governments have incentive to keep sales taxes high — in Huntsville, AL, for instance, the sales tax is up to 10%, and no exceptions for food, you uppity poor people!) Even with a ridiculously high sales tax, the school system is still really crappy & under-funded (6, 7). So you can understand parents being willing to send their children to be indoctrinated in private schools, especially Catholic schools which were usually set up independently of desegregation. So I’m sorry for the family which did the best they could for their daughter, who was then treated like shit by the backwards-ass Catholic school.

    Oh, Alabama, I mock you but you make me sad.

More blowback …

More reporting from Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker (2004-05-24 issue, posted 2004-05-15). This one begins by noting:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

And concludes with this quote from Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch:

“In an odd way,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, “the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is authorized.” Since September 11th, Roth added, the military has systematically used third-degree techniques around the world on detainees. “Some jags hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next war,” Roth told me. “We’re giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar.”