Tag Archives: Mark Kleiman

The Oscar Grant Verdict: Trouble In O-Town

Joe Eskenazi at San Francisco Weekly:

Ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant.

The jury could have convicted Mehserle of either second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter — both charges that would have required the jury to believe that Mehserle intended to kill grant. That was evidently too much for the jury, which declared its belief that the former policeman didn’t intend to kill the man he shot via its involuntary manslaughter conviction. This carries a sentence of two to four years; a potential gun enhancement could bump that to five-to-14 years .

Heather MacDonald at Secular Right before the verdict was read:

It is true that death at the hands of a representative of the state–in this case, the BART police officer–has an entirely different meaning than death at the hands of a common criminal and produces a far greater sense of injustice.  That sense of injustice is compounded for blacks by the shameful history, now largely corrected, of police abuse.   Still, this one tragically-mistaken killing—BART officer Johannes Mehserle entered a scene of chaos at Oakland’s Fruitvale station on a night in which several guns had already been found along the subway line and thought, according to his testimony, that he was firing his Taser to subdue a resisting, possibly gun-wielding Oscar Grant—stands out from the tidal wave of cold-blooded murders in Oakland by the fact that Mehserle did not intend to murder an unarmed civilian.  Like many urban areas, Oakland has been seeing a retaliatory shooting pattern around vigils for shooting victims.  On June 21, for example, a 17-year-old was shot at an Oakland bus stop; just after midnight the next day, two gunmen sauntered up to a vigil for the bus stop victim and killed a 19-year-old girl and seriously wounded five other teenagers who were attending the vigil.  None of these and the hundred or so other murders a year in Oakland provoke the spectre of riots if their perpetrators are not convicted; indeed, it is often hard to find anyone to cooperate with the authorities in bringing the killers to justice.   The thousands of black-on-black killings a year nationally are treated as a matter of course; so, too, are killings of police officers.

Let’s hope that Oakland residents heed the many calls from community leaders to accept the jury’s verdict peacefully and defeat the sad, but not irrational, expectations of Bay Area law enforcement.

J. Peter Nixon at Commonweal:

I work in downtown Oakland, where many businesses were concerned that the announcement of the verdict would bring a repeat of the civil violence that accompanied the original shooting.  Shortly before the verdict was to be announced, we were asked to evacuate our office building.  I will confess I felt a great deal of ambivalence about this, but as a manager I felt responsible for the safety of our employees.  So I encouraged people to leave.

As I walked to the BART train entrance, the sidewalks were filled with office workers essentially fleeing the city.  I began to feel a sense of shame about this.  It was “white flight” on a concentrated and graphic scale.  I got in line to pass through the BART gates and even had my card out when I just stopped and got out of line.  “I can’t do this,” I thought.

I am probably the least spontaneous person you will ever meet.  The white board in my office has a “do list” ranging across three columns.  I don’t take a vacation without a carefully planned daily itinerary.  And yet there I was, making a last minute decision to remain in downtown Oakland at a time when many (white) commentators were convinced the place was about to explode in civil unrest.

I wish I could tell you it was an act of heroic virtue.  The truth is that I was seized by something outside myself, an irresistible prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I just couldn’t muster the energy to fight against it and keep my legs moving toward that gate.  So I climbed the staircase out of the rail station and walked back down the street against the human tide.  I called my wife to tell her of my decision. She, of course, understood perfectly.

My first destination was the Cathedral, which stands next to my office building.  My hope was that others would be naturally drawn there as a place to keep prayerful vigil while awaiting the verdict.  I’m sorry to say I was disappointed.  It was deserted except for the security guards.  I prayed for a just verdict, not even sure in my own heart what a just verdict would be in this case.  I prayed for a peaceful response, whatever the outcome.  In the Cathedral, an enormous image of Christ in judgment is depicted on the window behind the altar.  I contemplated the image, and prayed that whatever the imperfections of human justice, the city would be able to trust in the ultimate judgment of Christ.

Shortly after 4pm I flipped on my Blackberry and got the news: the verdict was involuntary manslaughter.  It was the least serious offense available to the jury, although it still represents—to my knowledge—the only case to date where a police officer has been found criminally liable in a case of this nature.

I wondered whether I should go downtown and join the demonstrators, who I knew would be deeply angry about the verdict.  The truth was that my own heart was conflicted about the justice of the verdict.  But I felt strongly that the place of a Christian that night was to be present in the midst of the city, not absent from it.  In the Psalms of the Office we pray “the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”  Did I believe these words or not?

San Francisco Chronicle:

There was outrage, there was looting and there were skirmishes between police and protesters, but that wasn’t the whole story of how Oakland reacted to the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

The trouble Thursday boiled down to a racially diverse mob of about 200 people, many bent on destruction no matter what, confronting police after the day’s predominantly peaceful demonstrations ended.

Sporadic conflicts were quelled quickly early in the evening, but by late night at least 50 people – and maybe as many as 100 – had been arrested as small groups smashed windows, looted businesses and set trash bins on fire.

The violence was contained for much of the early evening within a one-block area near City Hall by an army of police officers in riot gear, but around 10 p.m. a knot of rioters broke loose and headed north on Broadway toward 22nd Street with police in pursuit.

They smashed windows of shops including the trendy Ozumo restaurant, and one building was spray painted with the words, “Say no to work. Say yes to looting.”

A boutique called Spoiled was spared. It had a sign outside and pictures of Oscar Grant with the words, “Do not destroy. Black owned. Black owned.”

On  the verdict, Kevin Drum:

I hardly even know what to say about this. I wasn’t in court and I wasn’t on the jury, so I didn’t hear all the evidence. But for chrissake. Look at the video. Mehserle didn’t look confused and modern tasers don’t feel much like service revolvers. And it’s not as if he was acting under extreme duress. At most there was a brief and perfunctory struggle, after which Mehserle calmly raised himself up while Grant was pinned to the ground, drew his revolver, and shot him. The only thing that even remotely makes Mehserle’s story believable is that doing what he did is just flat out insane. It doesn’t make sense even if he were a stone racist and half crazy as well.

The jury can say what it wants, but it still looks to me like Mehserle decided on the spur of the moment to shoot Grant. I don’t know why, and no explanation really makes sense. But he’s a white cop and the jury apparently concluded that Grant was just black riffraff. The whole thing is just appalling.

Mark Kleiman:

Kevin Drum is upset by the verdict, which he regards as a finding of “semi-guilty.” He joins the victim’s family, the National Lawyers Guild, and a host of the usual suspects in thinking that the officer should have been convicted of second-degree murder instead. As usual, there will be an attempt to organize riots in protest, because of course burning down the stores of black shopkeepers is an excellent way to attack the white power structure.

I haven’t followed the case closely, but when I heard the story my first reaction was “involuntary manslaughter,” which is what the jury decided on. To bring in second-degree murder, the jury would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that an ill-trained very junior cop, operating at 2am on New Year’s, didn’t make the unforgiveable error of drawing his handgun thinking it was his taser. They would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that instead he decided at random to murder someone he’d never met before, in front of a big crowd of people and several other police officers.

It’s good to see the people who otherwise condemn the pointlessness of harsh retributive justice making an exception in this case. Perhaps retribution is actually a legitimate function of punishment after all? And of course the silence from the usual denouncers of the criminal-coddling criminal justice system, now that the criminal being coddled is a white cop who killed a black parolee, is deafening.

UPDATE: Via Patrick Appel at Sully’s place, Radley Balko at Reason

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

Julianne Hing at Colorlines

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Memento Mori, Moratorium

Charlie Savage at the NYT:

A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday blocked a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling projects that the Obama administration had imposed in response to the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House swiftly said the administration would appeal the decision.

In a 22-page ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a May 28 order halting all floating offshore drilling projects in more than 500 feet of water and preventing the government from issuing new permits for such projects.

Citing the economic harm to businesses and workers in the gulf caused by the moratorium, Judge Feldman — a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan — wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for the sweeping suspension, which he characterized as “generic, indeed punitive.”

He wrote that “the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

Roger Pilon at Cato:

A quick review of Judge Feldman’s 22-page opinion indicates that the injunction was granted, under the Administrative Procedures Act, because the plaintiffs “would likely succeed in showing that the [Interior Department’s] decision was arbitrary and capricious. An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.”

Judge Feldman took particular note of the Interior secretary’s May 27 Report, from which its moratorium order followed: “Much to the government’s discomfort and this Court’s uneasiness, the Summary also states that ‘the recommendations contained in this report have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.’” As has been widely reported, those “experts” never signed off on any such moratorium.

As the court went on to say, “After reviewing the Secretary’s Report, the Moratorium Memorandum, and the Notice to Lessees, the Court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium. …[T]he blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

Needless to say, the Obama administration is filing an immediate appeal. But for now, its sweeping moratorium is on hold.

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:

A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday sided with the oil industry, striking down the temporary moratorium on new offshore exploration and deepwater drilling the Obama administration imposed last month. That judge, it turns out, has in recent years had interests in Transocean—the world’s largest offshore drilling company and the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig—as well as other energy companies engaged in offshore oil extraction.

According to the most recently available financial disclosure form for District Court Judge Martin Feldman, he had holdings of up to $15,000 in Transocean in 2008. He has also recently owned stock in offshore drilling or oilfield service providers Halliburton, Prospect Energy, Hercules Offshore, Parker Drilling Co., and ATP Oil & Gas. Feldman was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Obama’s six-month moratorium put the brakes on the approval of new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended work at 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf. A group of oil and gas companies, with the support of the state of Louisiana, asked the court to throw out the moratorium so they can continue drilling. Feldman heard two hours of arguments Monday on whether grant an injunction to lift the moratorium before rendering his decision today. Describing the moratorium as “arbitrary and capricous,” Feldman wrote in his opinion: “If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed, and rather overbearing.”

Steve Benen:

It hardly inspires confidence. Indeed, Ian Millhiser recently explained, “Industry ties among federal judges are so widespread that they are beginning to endanger the courts’ ability to conduct routine business. Last month, so many members of the right-wing Fifth Circuit were forced to recuse themselves from an appeal against various energy and chemical companies that there weren’t enough untainted judges left to allow the court to hear the case.”

Mark Kleiman:

This ruling is potentially a Godsend to the Obama Administration on a level with Joe Barton’s “apology.” Any opportunity to act aggressively against oil spills ought to be gratefully grasped.

Every one of those deep-water permits was issued in response to an application that included a plan for dealing with a blow-out. The BP fiasco demonstrated that those plans weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, even before the oil execs admitted they’d just Xeroxed them all from the same worthless source. (Listing a biologist who’s been dead for several years as a key resource was sort of a give-away.)

So if the permits can be revoked en bloc, why not revoke them one-by-one? It’s certainly not arbitrary or capricious to say that the drillers shouldn’t be allowed to go ahead and run the risk of accidents they don’t know to either prevent or cure, or continue to be rewarded for filing fraudulent documents.

And unless the (petroleum-soaked) Fifth Circuit steps in right away, why not a legislative fix? I’d love to see the Senate Republicans filibustering on behalf of the oil companies.

Nicolas Loris at Heritage:

While the effects on the price of gasoline from a drilling ban would be marginal, the economic effects felt by the Gulf would dump salt into the wound of a region coping with not just the spill but the recession in general. The American Petroleum Institute forecasts that if the drilling ban continues, more than 120,000 jobs could be lost in the Gulf Coast and key resources abandoned or moved elsewhere.

In fact, the Washington Times reports that “Oil company executives told Congress last week they would have to move their rigs to other countries because they lose up to $1 million a day per idle rig, and said there are opportunities elsewhere.” And let’s not forget the president’s pro-offshore drilling announcement included new bans on access to American energy, such as in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where some lease sales were already pending.

Those who support the ban on offshore drilling warn about the risks of another disaster, but that’s why Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had his list of recommendations for the president reviewed by the seven experts from the National Academy of Engineering. Their recommendation?

“A blanket moratorium is not the answer. It will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation’s economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill. We do not believe punishing the innocent is the right thing to do.”

The White House promised they would appeal right away. But they shouldn’t. The moratorium is unnecessary will have significant adverse economic impacts. Why take more jobs away from a region that is already struggling to manage a crisis?

Michelle Malkin

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey

John Cole

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The Past Is Not So Past, After All

Shaila Dewan at NYT:

In late April in a courthouse in Madison County, Ala., a prosecutor was asked to explain why he had struck 11 of 14 black potential jurors in a capital murder case.

The district attorney, Robert Broussard, said one had seemed “arrogant” and “pretty vocal.” In another woman, he said he “detected hostility.”

Mr. Broussard also questioned the “sophistication” of a former Army sergeant, a forklift operator with three years of college, a cafeteria manager, an assembly-line worker and a retired Department of Defense program analyst.

The analyst, he said, “did not appear to be sophisticated to us in her questionnaire, in that she spelled Wal-Mart, as one of her previous employers, as Wal-marts.”

Arguments like these were used for years to keep blacks off juries in the segregationist South, systematically denying justice to black defendants and victims. But today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.

In the Madison County case, the defendant, Jason M. Sharp, a white man, was sentenced to death after a trial by a jury of 11 whites and one black. The April hearing was the result of a challenge by defense lawyers who argued that jury selection was tainted by racial discrimination — a claim that is difficult to prove because prosecutors can claim any race-neutral reason, no matter how implausible, for dismissing a juror.

While jury makeup varies widely by jurisdiction, the organization, which studied eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — found areas in all of them where significant problems persist. In Alabama, courts have found racially discriminatory jury selection in 25 death penalty cases since 1987, and there are counties where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.

An analysis of Jefferson Parish, La., by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center found that from 1999 to 2007, blacks were struck from juries at more than three times the rate of whites.

Ashby Jones at Law Blog at WSJ:

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if a pattern of discrimination emerged in a lawyer’s use of peremptory challenges during jury selection, a judge could require the lawyer to give a race-neutral reason for why the juror was dismissed.

But is that ruling, Batson v. Kentucky, and those that followed it, doing enough to keep racism out of the jury-selection process?

That’s the fundamental question asked in this NYT article out Wednesday, which examines the prevalence — and absence — of blacks on juries in the South.

According to the story:

[T]he practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.

Part of the problem, reports the NYT, concerns a opinion following Batson in which the Supreme Court said that the nonracial reasons for peremptory strikes don’t have to be “persuasive, or even plausible.” Rather, it is up to the judge to decide if there was deliberate discrimination.

That is a high bar, defense lawyers say. In Tennessee and North Carolina, for instance, there has never been a successful reversal based on Batson.

“Anybody with any sense at all can think up any race-neutral reason and get away with it,” said Stephen B. Bright, a capital defense lawyer in Atlanta.

bmaz at Emptywheel

Jamelle:

It’s incredibly depressing to know that in large swaths of the country, the basic mechanisms for enforcing Jim Crow — voter disenfranchisement, targeted policing of majority-black areas, and jury stacking — are alive and well. For a huge number of African-Americans, the criminal justice system exists mainly as a blunt object of social control. Moreover, because convicts are thoroughly stigmatized in the eyes of the public, it is frustratingly hard to do anything about it.

Mark Kleiman:

Hard to say which is the more distressing aspect of the latest study on Southern prosecutors’ abuse of the peremptory-challenge process to create all-white, or nearly all-white, juries: the fact that official racial bias is still a fact of Confederate life, or the fact that prosecutors – officers of the court, sworn to uphold the Constitution – routinely cheat, lie about it, and get away not just without having convictions thrown out but without any sort of professional stigma. In some offices, junior prosecutors get explicit training in how to successfully violate the Constitution and deceive the court (which seems, too often, more than willing to be deceived.

In theory, prosecutors pursue justice within the constraints of the law; too often, in practice, they’re just looking to carve notches in their briefcases.

Matthew Yglesias:

One way of dealing with these results would be to more strictly define what a “race-neutral” reason for rejecting a juror is, especially in those jurisdictions or with those prosecutors where the juries really are especially skewed in favor of white jurors. But the system we have, where prosecutors and defense attorneys have a huge role to play in jury selection isn’t necessarily the right one, or the one that other countries use. As Kevin Drum suggests, we could just pick 12 people at random and let judges ensure that no one has a really blatant reason for not serving.

This is just another weird part of our justice system — like electing judges, widespread use of exclusionary rules, the existence of for profit bails bondsmen, our huge number of prison inmates or one-sided expert witnesses — that we take as totally normal, but are actually pretty weird in the international context. Alas, I hardly see legal reformers using “but they do it differently over there” as a successful rallying cry.

Kevin Drum:

Most racially-inspired problems are hard to solve, but in this case there’s a pretty easy solution: just eliminate the voir dire process entirely. Pick 12 people at random, let the judge interview them and eliminate anyone who’s obviously unqualified or has a conflict of interest, and that’s that. You have your jury. Not only would this eliminate the most obvious source of racial bias, but it would have plenty of other positive effects too. It would reduce the number of jurors that courts need to summon, for example. And it would speed up trials. I sat on a drunk driving case once where the jury selection process took nearly as long as the trial itself because the defense attorney was desperately trying to eliminate anyone who might not be entirely sympathetic to a middle-aged guy who got behind the wheel after he’d had a few too many and started weaving around the road. It was a waste of our time, a waste of the judge’s time, and a waste of taxpayer money. (And we convicted the guy anyway.)

This is the way jury selection works in Britain, and guess what? Justice seems to be served just fine. The only downside, I think, is that John Grisham wouldn’t have been able to write his best book. I can live with that.

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She Was There For The Original J’Accuse

Sam Stein at The Huffington Post:

Longtime White House scribe Helen Thomas caused more than a few eyebrows to perk up when video surfaced on Friday of her declaring that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland.

Captured by Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com, the footage made the rounds on mostly conservative and neoconservative sites, with some private complaints that her comments weren’t getting wider play.

Thomas on Friday apologized in a written statement, saying she deeply regretted the comments — which were offered, ironically, during the White House’s Jewish Heritage Celebration.

But even as she was trying to walk back the remarks, calls for her firing mounted. Among the more vocal was former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who claimed to have a close relationship with Thomas when he was manning the daily briefings.

“She should lose her job over this,” Fleischer said in an email. “As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling.”

“She is advocating religious cleansing. How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs.”

Tim Graham at Newsbusters

Allah Pundit:

It must be sincere. She’s never betrayed any anti-Israel sentiment before, has she?

Helen Thomas issued the following statement today: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

I’m satisfied. Who among us hasn’t innocently stumbled into a statement of support for ethnic cleansing when we didn’t really mean it? In fact, that might explain Jake Knotts’s slur on Nikki Haley. He meant to say, “I welcome followers of the Sikh faith to South Carolina,” and it came out “f***ing raghead.” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, my friends. (Just make sure to cast it at a Jew!)

Rep. Michele Bachmann at Big Government:

Once again the liberal media has shown its true colors! The White House media dinosaur, also known as Helen Thomas has called on Jews to leave Israel and move back to Poland and Germany. This anti-Semitic sentiment has no place in our public discourse. I call upon her employer, Heart Corporation to dismiss her at once! The White House needs to revoke her press credentials immediately.

Her apology is not sufficient, considering her many previous negative sentiments against Israel. Her language is offensive, vulgar and intolerant.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Helen Thomas has been a White House correspondent for decades; how many decades, I can’t even guess. She is a hard-core left-winger who thinks Barack Obama is nowhere near radical enough. She is also, frankly, an idiot, and has been humored by White House press secretaries for about as long as I have been alive.

Thomas revealed her lunacy once again last week, when she confided that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go “home” to Germany and Poland. Here is the clip; as usual, Thomas gives hags a bad name[…]

The apology is insincere, of course. Like so many left-wingers, Thomas has a long history of Israel-bashing. Her astonishing historical ignorance is also par for the course on the Left.

I read a news story a year or two ago to the effect that someone was going to make a movie about Helen Thomas’s life. I don’t think it’s ever happened, thank goodness, but here is the funny part: who do you suppose was signed to play the hideous Ms. Thomas? Michelle Pfeiffer. Being a liberal means, I guess, getting your fantasies indulged forever.

UPDATE: A reader writes, “I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t manage to use the word ‘hagiography’ anywhere.” Touche.

Gateway Pundit

Jason Arvak at Moderate Voice:

When Trent Lott was caught saying things that implied admiration for the racist past of Strom Thurmond, he quickly apologized and began the normal ritual of damage control. Nonetheless, critics hounded him out of office, his apologies ignored.

But now when Helen Thomas is caught saying things that imply the crudest kind of anti-Semitism, her apologies are quickly accepted by some of the same people who refused to even consider apologies from Lott. And the same people who kept pointing out that Lott had apologized now mock it from Thomas.

Why the different treatment? The obvious answer is that Helen Thomas is a heroine of the same side of the ideological divide that loathed Lott. The same pattern can be found over and over in political debates — the same statements or actions that get Republicans harshly condemned get a pass when done by Democrats. If the partisan dominance of the media and blogosphere were reversed to favor Republicans, there is no doubt that the same double standards would run in that direction as well. And what that does is bring into sharp relief the continuing role that double standards have in corrupting and debasing political and social debates.

I suggest a thought experiment. Imagine that Sarah Palin had said exactly the same thing that Helen Thomas did. Would you accept Palin’s apology? Do you think those that are accepting Thomas’ apology would accept Palin’s? Do you think those that are demanding Thomas’ head would demand Palin’s?

The answer to the first question differentiates the principled from the unprincipled. And the answers to the last two show the total lack of accountability from many of those who set themselves up as today’s opinion leaders.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Helen Thomas’s front-row presence in the White House press room is an honor bestowed by her colleagues, in recognition of her long-time service. She retired as a reporter about a decade ago–and now, at the age of 89, she writes a column for Hearst Newspapers. She is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants and her general views on the Middle East have long been known. Her specific views about Jews became a bit better known last week, when she told them to leave Israel and go back to Europe. This is odious, obviously.

Thomas is a vestigial member of the White House Correspondents Association, an organization that mostly consists of those who cover the White House on a daily basis; most columnists–people like me, for example–are not members, although a smattering of opinion-mongers, even from obscure publications, have somehow managed to get themselves credentialed over the years. So it’s not unprecedented for journalists with odious views to have access to the press room. What is unprecedented is for such a journalist to have a front-row center seat. Thomas should no longer have that privilege. The front row should be occupied by working reporters, not columnists. The WHCA should sanction Thomas by sending her back to the cheap seats. This would accurately reflect her current status as a journalist while preserving her First Amendment right to be as obnoxious as she wants.

UPDATE: Craig Crawford at CQ Politics

Patrick Gavin at Politico

More Stein

UPDATE #2: Helen Thomas retires. Sam Youngman and Emily Goodin at The Hill

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Matt Welch at Reason

UPDATE #3: Mark Kleiman

Dana Milbank in WaPo

Roger Cohen in WaPo

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Filed under Israel/Palestine, Mainstream, Religion

And Nobody Mentions The Lead Paint

Frank James at NPR:

There’s been a much-observed tendency to link periods of rising economic distress with increasing crime rates.

But we may have to rethink that, given the pattern in the national data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2009, for the third straight year and during the Great Recession, crime rates fell.

The FBI reports that its preliminary numbers indicate the national violent crime rate fell 5.5. percent. Meanwhile, the property crime rate fell by 4.9 percent. You would think the lack of jobs would mean more burglaries or strong-arm robberies as some people turned to crime to get money. But that just hasn’t been the case.

Mark Kleiman:

Good news: crime is down again, by a substantial amount (7.5% for homicide). Aside from a blip up in 2006, the decline has now been going on for a decade and a half, and the overall decline is now greater than 50%.

Better news: the incarceration rate has finally stopped growing; this year it will probably decline. Less public hysteria about crime might support more intelligent – more effective and less pointlessly cruel – crime control policies. (Someone ought to write a book about that.

Bad news: The Times hed is “U.S. Crime Rates Fell Despite Economy.” Reporters still can’t get it out of their minds that crime naturally rises and falls with the unemployment rate. It doesn’t. (Update: Peter Yost of AP makes the same mistake: he credits the decline with “bucking a historical trend that links rising crime rates to economic woes.” But that “trend” is entirely imaginary. The Roaring Twenties were a high-crime period; the Great Depression was mostly peaceful. The economically stagnant Eisenhower era had crime rates at historic lows; the Kennedy-Johnson boom in economic growth accompanied an explosion in crime rates. The Great Crime Decline didn’t pause for the recession of 2000-2001. The idea that crime and economic activity move in opposite directions is what Mark Twain called “a vagrant opinion, existing with no visible means of support.”

Adam Serwer at Tapped on Kleiman:

In his book, When Brute Force Fails, Kleiman explains that a number of historical and social factors combined to create the crime boom of the latter part of the 20th century, the biggest factor was demographics.

“People commit most of their crimes between the age of 15 and 30, and so periods of time when there are more people in that age range have more crimes,” Kleiman explains. “In addition, a particularly big birth cohort like the Boomers, and to some extent, the Echo Boomers, tend to have a higher individual per-person crime rate.”

This, Kleiman says, also happens to explain some of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. “That’s why the baby bombers brought us sex, drugs and rock and roll while the 1950s teenagers didn’t. The 1950s teenagers were outnumbered by their elders, the ’60s teenagers outnumbered their elders.”

That’s not to say that public policy is irrelevant. More sensible enforcement strategies and less draconian corrections policies would go a long way toward alleviating the economic and social costs of mass incarceration, and subsequently the predictable cycle of criminal recidivism.

Daniel Griswold at Cato:

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

John J. Miller at The Corner:

Several prominent police chiefs warn that Arizona’s illegal-alien law will hurt crime control. The police chief of Prince William County in Virginia worried about the same thing three years ago, when county supervisors approved a policy that is a forerunner to Arizona’s action. Today, however, crime rates are at a 15-year low inPrince William County. My article in the current issue of NR describes the Prince William experience.

As it happens, crime rates have been going down for a long time in Prince William County. The latest numbers are part of a trend that started long before the county took a stand against illegal immigration. One thing is certain: The county’s current policy has not led to more crime, which is what the chiefs of Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are now predicting for Arizona.

Bob Goldsmith:

But the bigger question is why are crime rates dropping in a recession? You’d think more unemployed people would mean more theft, robbery and other economic crimes plus more frustration, and perhaps more violent crime as well. Yet crime statistics from the 20th century show that the Prohibition era of the 1920’s was far more violent than the Depression in the 30’s. Experts do not have many well accepted theories on what causes crime rates to rise and fall. Some scholars have suggested such theories as: greater numbers of immigrants, who tend to keep a low profile; as opposed to this, others assert more illegal immigration increases crime rates; public housing policy dispersing the poor may decrease rates; legalized abortion (so fewer unwanted children are born) may decrease; the crack epidemic in the 1980’s was thought to increase crime ; and changes in age distribution–e.g., the baby boom in the late 60’s and 70’s and the boomlet in the late 80’s and 90’s effect rates of crime..

The age distribution theory is probably the one most accepted. That is, crime rates tend to flow with the number of young males at a given time; the higher the proportion of young men in the population, the higher the crime rates since young men are by and large the biggest group of offenders. In fact, there is no strong statistical correlation between stricter law enforcement and longer sentences and the rise and fall of crime rates. See: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200808/when-crime-rates-go-down-recidivism-rates-go This just serves to show that politicians who emphasize ‘law and order’ as an issue may be just blowing smoke..

One interesting theory on why crimes rates might decline during a recession is it pulls families together, and this cohesion inhibits crime. More young people may move back home and are less influenced by their impulsive peers as well. There is also less economic activity in a recession so there is less interaction and opportunity for crime. Ironically, crime rates went up during the prosperity of the 1960’s and one theory is that with rising wealth, the havenots and the people left out are more bitter and turn to crime. In contrast, when everyone’s boat is sinking with the economic tide, there is more empathy, less jealousy and hence less crime. Of course none of this has been proven..

Finally, there are theories that smarter, better policing may reduce crime rates. For example, declining crime rates in New York City and Los Angeles are often ascribed to increases in the number of police on the streets, better computers for tracking crime, making precinct commanders accountable for managing crime in their districts, and an aggressive policy of searching people on the streets for guns. To be sure, the latter policy may deter crime, but makes it harder to obtain convictions if the Fourth Amendment is violated. Like many other factors, these claims of improved policing are unproven. Another possibility is that the increased use of very long 3 strikes sentences and federal mandatory sentences have cut back on the recdivist population. But that would not necessarily explain the drop from 2008-2009..

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

The New York Times begins its story by saying, “Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crimes rates fell significantly across the Unites States in 2009.” Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, “That’s a remarkable decline, given the economic conditions.”

Actually, it’s not all that remarkable. Crime rates, for example, fell significantly during the Great Depression. As David Rubinstein of the University of Illinois has pointed out, if you chart homicide beginning in 1900, its rates began to rise in 1905, continued through the prosperous 20s, and crested in 1933. They began to decline in 1934, as the Great Depression began to deepen. And between 1933 and 1940, the murder rate dropped by nearly 40 percent, while property crimes revealed a similar pattern. One possible explanation is that times of crisis, including economic crisis, create greater social cohesion.

The drop in all levels of crime since the early 90s has been staggering and counts as a truly remarkable success story. There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology. But surely advances in policing deserve a healthy share of the credit. As William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York has said: “We’ve gotten better at spotting crime trends more quickly. We can respond much more quickly.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that at a time when faith in many public institutions, including government and the media, is almost nonexistent, two institutions that command public trust are the military and law-enforcement officials. It’s no surprise, either, as they have impressive results to show for their efforts — from the battlefields in Iraq to the streets of New York.

One final thought: one of the things that characterized the 70s was a deep distrust of authority and of symbols of authority. Animus and disrespect were directed against our military and our cops. The former were accused of war crimes because of their service to our country in Vietnam; the latter were called pigs. Today the situation is dramatically reversed and dramatically better. In that sense, and in many other respects, our nation is a great deal better off than in the 70s.

We certainly have our share of social challenges. But in addressing them, we shouldn’t forget about the progress we have made, both practically and in terms of some of our social attitudes.

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Filed under Crime, Economics, Immigration, The Crisis

They Shoot Doggies, Don’t They?

Radley Balko:

In February, I wrote the following about a drug raid in Missouri:

SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family’s pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.

They found a “small amount” of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.

So smoking pot = “child endangerment.” Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone’s safety.

Just so we’re clear.

Now there’s video, which you can watch below. It’s horrifying, but I’d urge you to watch it, and to send it to the drug warriors in your life. This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid. There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime.

But Jonathan Whitworth won’t be smoking that pot they found in his possession. So I guess this mission was a success.

Mike Riggs at Daily Caller:

Daily Tribune reporter Brennan David submitted a public information request for the video immediately after the charges were filed in February and was denied because the video was being used in criminal proceedings. “I knew that SWAT video was available and that SWAT teams use video. The deputy chief told me that he had watched it a few times,” David said.

He requested the video again after Whitworth pleaded down to possession of paraphernalia and paid the possession fine earlier this month. David says his request was granted within 72 hours and that it does not show the corgi being shot.

Columbia PD spokeswoman Jessie Haden told David on Monday that an ongoing investigation of the use of firearms inside an occupied home is “expected to be completed within the next two weeks,” and that “Internal Affairs is conducting the review because the incident involved multiple shots and was inside an occupied residence. This allows Internal Affairs sergeants to review the incident independent from the SWAT command.”

According to the Tribune’s first report in February, “SWAT members encountered a pit bull upon entry, held back and then fatally shot the dog, which officers said was acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner.”

John Cole:

This is what happens when you give a bunch of cowboy assholes heavy weapons and fill them with a God complex. Although I’m sure Joe Lieberman would suggest we strip this family of their citizenship.

Oddly enough, I doubt the tea partiers screaming about individual liberty will notice this. After all, it isn’t like the cops were going to raise their taxes or provide them with affordable healthcare coverage. They were just shooting his dogs in front of his family and then made up some bullshit excuse to try to take away the kid. No big deal.

Mark Thompson at The League:

What is so remarkable about this video is precisely that it is so unremarkable, depicting something that happens up to 40,000 times a year.  Indeed, perhaps nothing proves how common this is more than the calm, cool, and thoroughly routine manner in which the agents of tyranny carry out their task, quickly disposing of the family dogs (one of which was a corgi) and filling the victim’s home with bullets within, literally, moments.  All in front of what looks to be the victim’s six or seven year old son.

The cops did recover a “small” amount of marijuana though, which was apparently enough to charge the parents with child endangerment.  Somehow, the people who riddled that child’s home with bullets, killed that child’s pets, and forcibly removed that child’s father – all while the child was looking – were not charged with child endangerment.

When the government has the right to bust into tens of thousands of homes in the middle of the night, unannounced, with guns drawn and in full military armor, to take the life of beloved family members, and to menace 6-year old children, all because the homeowner is believed to possess a few grams of a plant or a non-explosive substance, tyranny cannot be said to be on the way.  It’s already here.  And President Obama wasn’t the one who created it, either.

I will believe that conservatives and the American Right view the words “liberty” and “tyranny” as something other than politically effective platitudes when they make putting an end to 40,000 raids like this a year a higher priority than whether they are taxed to provide someone else with health care or the unrealized hypothetical consequences of cap and trade.

Tim Lynch at Cato:

In America today, lawmaking is discussed much too casually.  The consequences are not seriously considered.  We allow agencies to issue regulations without having a formal vote in the legislature.  “Too cumbersome.”  Compliance is automatically assumed.  Few want to consider whether the use of brute force can be justified against someone who resists, or the danger that might be created for the innocent who get swept up in investigations.   We now have thousands of rules and regulations on the books.

We suffered through the painful lessons of liquor prohibition, but have been slow to see the parallels in the drug war.  A few years ago, Cato published a report on these paramilitary raids, called Overkill. The author of that study, Radley Balko, has been vigilant about highlighting these raids and dispelling the idea that they are just a few “isolated incidents.”

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

The longer I’m around, and the more I despair about movement conservatism as a whole, the more I’m impressed by two right-leaning organizations, Cato and Reason, for bankrolling the important work done by Mr. Balko, Julian Sanchez on surveillance, and other staffers too numerous to mention here, whose output I don’t just respect, but judge to be vital. The same goes for the Institute for Justice’s work on asset forfeiture, and a few other organizations on the right whose work often overlaps with left-leaning folks at the ACLU and similar organizations.

Health care and cap and trade are important issues, and the policy choices made do have implications for personal and political freedom, but one effect of demagoguery about “liberty and tyranny,” and the supposed embrace of statism by the whole left, is that it obscures or even poisons alliances between right and left against actual abuses that are going on now, and all that is gained are cheap, largely inconsequential political points on issues that at most concern predicted abuses at the end of a slippery slope that we aren’t yet careening down.

I don’t know if Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson can succeed at their very-much-worth-trying liberaltarian project, but I wish that one way or another, liberty-minded folks on right and left can refrain from demonizing one another about their disagreements enough to cooperate on drugs, prison, detainee policy, and all other matters related to wars without end.

Von at Obsidian Wings:

Put aside the wisdom or morality of the drug war.  Balko and Sullivan both pivot that way.  I want to talk about something different.  Something a bit larger.  Folks talk about the banality of evil.  It’s one of those cliches that you hear from time time.  But I don’t think that folks stop very often to think about what that phrase means.  Or what it looks like in action.  Evil becomes banal when people — good people — stop recognizing it, stop appreciating it, and come to accept it as normal.  When evil becomes so routine that good people accept it as the way of doing business.

I am not comparing the cops in the video to Nazis (whence the phrase comes).  But it’s hard for me to see their actions, here, as anything other than evil.  Maybe I’m overly influenced by having kids; maybe I’m not thinking straight.  But my reaction to watching these cops, dressed to kill, bashing down a door and shooting two dogs (a pit bull and a corgi) in front of a seven year old child all because his father had a little bit of pot … well, my initial reaction was shock.  This video literally took my breath away.  Followed, quickly, by anger.  This kid could easily have been killed for nothing; he certainly will be scarred.

The second greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince folks that being good, and having good intentions, means that you can’t do evil.  That is bullshit.  These cops are likely good people who do a lot of good in their community. But this was a cheorographed raid.  They had overwhelming force.  There was no resistance.  This wasn’t a war.  They weren’t being shot at.  The target was clear.  Their acts were premeditated.  This wasn’t stupidity, or error, or chance.  No conceivable hypothetical — no matter how outlandish — justifies the behavior of these men. There was no ticking time bomb.  (They were simply looking for “a large amount of marijuana at the location.” Which wasn’t there.)

This is what evil looks like.  On this night, these cops decided to be thugs.

Mark Kleiman

Andrew Sullivan

Megan McArdle:

This is our nation’s drug enforcement in a nutshell.  We started out by banning the things.  And people kept taking them.  So we made the punishments more draconian.  But people kept selling them.  So we pushed the markets deep into black market territory, and got the predictable violence . . . and then we upped our game, turning drug squads into quasi-paramilitary raiders.  Somewhere along the way, we got so focused on enforcing the law that we lost sight of the purpose of the law, which is to make life in America better.

I don’t know how anyone can watch that video, and think to themselves, “Yes, this is definitely worth it to rid the world of the scourge of excess pizza consumption and dopey, giggly conversations about cartoons.”  Short of multiple homicide, I’m having trouble coming up with anything that justifies that kind of police action.  And you know, I doubt the police could either.  But they weren’t busy trying to figure out if they were maximizing the welfare of their larger society. They were, in that most terrifying of phrases, just doing their jobs.

And in the end, that is our shame, not theirs.

Kevin Drum:

CPD Internal Affairs continues to investigate whether this was an appropriate response to the “tip” they received that started all this.

UPDATE: Radley Balko at Reason

E.D. Kain

John Cole

Dan Riehl

UPDATE #2: Scott Horton at Harper’s

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Filed under Crime, War On Drugs

And These Visions Of Miranda That Conquer My Mind

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

Naturalized American citizen Faisal Shahzad, arrested late last night for the failed car bomb in Times Square, is in U.S. custody. Should he be read his Miranda rights? The question has a complicated recent history in U.S. policy.

In December, the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized after his failed attempt to blow up a U.S. flight, which provoked outrage among some Republican legislators. Critics insisted that the Miranda reading made Abdulmutallab less likely to share intelligence, although administration officials say he continued speaking openly. The current rift among some conservatives over Shahzad’s Miranda rights reveals a tension within the party between two core issues: Civil liberties, which is emphasized by those saying Shahzad’s rights as a citizen must be respected, and national security, which some Republicans say is better served by not Mirandizing.

Conservatives For Mirandizing

Glenn Beck: Read Him His Rights On Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck said, “He’s a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens.” Fox New’s Brian Kilmeade pushed back, calling Shahzad “a threat to the country.” Beck sighed, “So are a lot of citizens. If you’re a citizen, you obey the law and follow the Constitution. He has all the rights, under the Constitution.” He added, “We don’t shred the Constitution when it’s popular. We do the right thing.” Kilmeade suggested that Beck’s approach could risk the lives of his family.

[…]

  • Sen. John McCain: ‘Serious Mistake’ Appearing on the radio show Imus In The Morning, McCain warned, “Obviously that would be a serious mistake…at least until we find out as much information we have. … Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about.”
  • Rep. Peter King: Should Have Talked to Intelligence Community First The New York Republican worries, “Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still. … I hope that if they did read him his rights and if they are going for an indictment as opposed to a tribunal that he did discuss it with the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, all the component parts of the intelligence community.”
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman: Remove His Citizenship Appearing on Fox News, the Connecticut Independent suggested a process to strip “American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorists” of their U.S. citizenship, which would presumable include their Miranda rights. He asked “whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship, and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act.”

Mark Kleiman:

John McCain, who might have been elected President last year, thinks that according American citizens their constitutional rights is a “terrible mistake.” Presumably he still thinks so despite the fact that Faisal Sharad, after being given the Miranda warnings, promptly spilled his guts. Not merely did he confess, he apparently gave up the names of at least eight associates who have now been arrested by Pakistani police.

The fervent desire on the extreme right wing – which is to say, at the center of the Republican Party – to allow terrorists to bluff us out of our way of life ought to seem puzzling. The world is full of third-world dictatorships where the secret police get to hold enemies of the state incommunicado and torture them. I have no desire to live in such a place. If John McCain’s tastes are different, no doubt Saudi Arabia would be delighted to have him as a subject.

Steve Benen:

Look, I know McCain’s in a tough primary and has to prove himself to the far-right, but this Miranda-related demagoguery is growing stale.

Najibullah Zazi was Mirandized, and the entire case went beautifully. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized, and the results have been excellent. When shoe bomber Richard Reid was taken into custody, the Bush/Cheney administration read him his rights five minutes after he was taken off the plane he tried to blow up, and McCain never said a word. It’s been standard practice, especially with American citizens upon their arrest, for years — spanning administrations of both parties.

Can’t McCain just let the grown-ups do what they do without offering suggestions from the peanut gallery? The Joint Terrorism Task Force caught the suspect 48 hours after the attempted bombing; the frequently-confused Arizonan should probably trust them to know how best to proceed.

John Cole:

“I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did discuss this with the intelligence community. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still,” King told POLITICO.

“I know he’s and American citizen, but still” really says it all, doesn’t it?

Half our political leadership wants a banana Republic, and our media is just treating it like it is another opinion. At what point do we start calling these people what they are?

And I just don’ know what to say about the obviously insane John McCain. You would think that someone who spent half a decade in a cage with no rights whatsoever in the defense of this nation and our laws and legal tradition and way of life, would have the slightest bit of respect for the rule of law. You would, of course, be wrong.

Moe Lane at Redstate:

Anyway, this isn’t a case of a non-citizen captured overseas as an illegal combatant, or even one of a non-citizen captured here: there are existing Constitutional mechanisms in place. Including this one:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Of course, that assumes that this administration will seek to have this man charged and tried with what is unambiguously a capital crime. I leave it to the reader to contemplate the implications of a refusal to do so.

Ed Morrissey:

Shahzad is an American citizen, arrested by law enforcement in America. As a US citizen, Shahzad has the right to remain silent. In that sense, he differs from the EunuchBomber, who attempted to enter the country (our airspace) to conduct a sabotage mission for an enemy of the US. Ambdulmuttalab should have immediately been taken into custody by military and intelligence agencies, not the FBI, in order to make his status as an enemy combatant clear.

Rick Moran:

First of all, it is never a “mistake” to follow the law. Mr Shahzad is an American citizen, and even if he had murdered thousands, he would still be entitled to the protections guaranteed under our Constitution.

And yet, this is one instance where the “ticking bomb” scenario might very well be a reality. Newsweek reports there may be a connection between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud:

A prominent expert on Jihadist media says there is an apparent link between the new video message in which Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, once thought to have been killed, proclaims he is still alive, and a message posted overnight Saturday in which the Pakistani Taliban appears to claim credit for the failed Times Square car bomb attack.

Rita Katz, founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private organization that monitors and translates extremist Web postings, late on Monday outlined a timeline her organization put together that suggests that the Hakimullah video and the U.S. attack claim were both posted, at least on some sites, by the same person or persons.

Terrorists are notoriously full of bombast but just for the record, Meshud made some bloodthirsty threats toward America in his latest video:

In the videos, Hakimullah Mehsud vows attacks on U.S. cities, which he says his suicide bombers have penetrated. The videos provide the first solid evidence that he survived the missile strike, and they come after the Pakistani Taliban’s widely dismissed claim of responsibility for the failed attack in New York’s Times Square. In that case, authorities were zeroing in on a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan. A suspect was arrested late Monday, though reports of his ties to extremist groups in Pakistan could not be substantiated.

Might there be other terrorists in other major American cities waiting to strike as I write this? And would that be a good enough excuse for the government to arbitrarily waive Mr. Shahzad’s Constitutional rights, designate him an “enemy combatant,” and interrogate him using all legal means at our disposal (I take it as a given that President Obama has rejected “enhanced interrogation” as an option)?

For some on both sides of the argument, this is an easy question to answer in the affirmative or negative. However, knee jerk ideological reactions from civil liberties absolutists or bloodthirsty right wingers are just not good enough in this situation.

The threat is real and immediate. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of American lives may be at stake. Wouldn’t it be easier just to forget the Constitution in this one instance and treat this terrorist as the enemy he himself claims to be?

It would be easier. But would it be the right thing to do? I daresay if there is another terrorist attack – this one successful – and we followed the law to the letter by allowing the suspect to remain silent despite the fact that it is later revealed he could have given us information that would have stopped the attack, the political ramifications would be severe. And the fact that our police obeyed the Constitution would give cold comfort to the families of those who lost a loved on in a preventable attack.

It’s an easy choice – unless you lose someone because of that choice. Then it becomes a little more complicated, yes? Or, on the other side of the coin, if Mr. Shahzad knows nothing of any other attacks and precious little about his overseas connections, violating his constitutional rights would be seen as dramatic overkill. The law would have been violated for, what in retrospect, would be seen as no good reason.

You might argue that postulating outcomes is a fool’s game and that holding fast to Constitutional principles or making the exception in Shahzad’s case is a decision for the moment and no thought should be given to relative consequences. I disagree. This decision would be all about “relevant consequences.” If we violate the suspect’s Constitutional rights and the information we are able to wean out of him prevents an attack, is that justification for tossing the Constitution aside? Or if he has no information relevant to accomplices or other plots, must we automatically assume that what was done was a travesty?

Herein lies the conundrum over Mirandizing Shahzad. Whether we do or don’t, our actions will have profound consequences.  Even if no other terrorist attacks are being planned, finding that out is almost as important as discovering another plot to kill Americans. And as with any other decisions made by policymakers, the potential harm must be weighed against any positive outcome to their actions.

James Joyner:

First off, we can’t designate American citizens as “enemy combatants.”  The Supreme Court has made that quite clear, in case it wasn’t absolutely obvious upon reading the Bill of Rights.  Second, while the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact, it is supposed to limit government’s powers over its citizens.  Rule of law and all that.   Third, lest we forget, Shahzad is merely accused of a crime.   The government not infrequently accuses the wrong people.  Even, it turns out, for terrorism.

Now, I suppose, if the president or the attorney general felt strongly enough about the matter, they could order their subordinates to flout the law.  But that would mean that Shahzad would be much harder to jail.  And it would mean possible criminal charges against those ordering the unconstitutional acts and those carrying out those unlawful orders.

But let’s be clear:  Just as I didn’t trust President Bush, for whom I voted twice, to decide when to deprive citizens of their rights, I don’t trust his successor.  And neither should you.   That is, after all, the very definition of absolute power.  And we all know what that does.

UPDATE: John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute

Conor Friedersdorf on Thiessen

UPDATE #2: Orin Kerr

UPDATE #3: Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner

Andy McCarthy at The Corner

More Ponnuru at The Corner

Matthew Yglesias

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Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security