Monthly Archives: September 2005

Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Abuse Photos

In a lengthy, detailed, and at times passionate opinion, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, U.S. Army, JAG Corps, 1957-1960, has ruled that the government must release photos taken by one of the US guards at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. The pictures show gross abuse of the detainees.

The government had two main arguments against releasing the photos. The first was that the release would violate the Geneva Convention. The judge made short work of that.

The second was that the release might endanger our troops, by inflaming public opinion in the Arab Muslim world. Here, minus citations, is what the court said to that:

The government argues that the terrorists will use the re-publication of the photographs as a pretext for further acts of terrorism. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, provide the declaration of a scholar on the Middle East who states that, in his opinion, “there is nothing peculiar about Muslim culture in Iraq or elsewhere that would make people react to these pictures in a way different from other people’s reactions elsewhere in the world.” In addition, Professor Famhy suggests that there is a large group of Iraqis, and of Muslims generally, who respond favorably when we show the openness of our society and the accountability of our government officials, and that we would suppress those values and that favorable response by preventing the publication of the Darby photographs.

Our nation does not surrender to blackmail, and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument to prevent us from performing a statutory command. …

The terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan do not need pretexts for their barbarism; they have proven to be aggressive and pernicious in their choice of targets and tactics. … [M]y task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government.

The interests at stake arises from pictures of flagrantly improper conduct by American soldiers–forcing prisoners under their charge to pose in a manner that compromised their humanity and dignity. … the pictures are the best evidence of what happened, better than words, which might fail to describe, or summaries, which might err in their attempt to generalize and abbreviate. Publication of the photographs is central to the purposes of FOIA because they initiate debate, not only about the improper and unlawful conduct of American soldiers, “rogue” soldiers, as they have been characterized, but also about other important questions as well– for example, the command structure that failed to exercise discipline over the troops, and the persons in that command structure whose failures in exercising supervision may make them culpable along with the soldiers who were court-martialed for perpetrating the wrongs; the poor training that did not create patterns of proper behavior and that failed to teach or distinguish between conduct that was proper and improper; the regulations and orders that governed the conduct of military forces engaged in guarding prisoners; the treatment of prisoners in other areas and places of detention; and other related questions.

Suppression of information is the surest way to cause its significance to grow and persist. Clarity and openness are the best antidotes, either to dispel criticism if not merited or, if merited, to correct such errors as may be found. The fight to extend freedom has never been easy, and we are once again challenged, in Iraq and Afghanistan, by terrorists who engage in violence to intimidate our will and to force us to retreat. Our struggle to prevail must be without sacrificing the transparency and accountability of government and military officials. These are the values FOIA was intended to advance, and they are at the very heart of the values for which we fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a risk that the enemy will seize upon the publicity of the photographs and seek to use such publicity as a pretext for enlistments and violent acts. But the education and debate that such publicity will foster will strengthen our purpose and, by enabling such deficiencies as may be perceived to be debated and corrected, show our strength as a vibrant and functioning democracy to be emulated.

In its most recent discussion of FOIA, the Supreme Court commented that “FOIA is often explained as a means for citizens to know what ‘their Government is up to.’ The sentiment is far from a convenient formalism. It defines a structural necessity in a real democracy.” As President Bush said, we fight to spread freedom so the freedoms of Americans will be made more secure. It is in compliance with these principles, enunciated by both the President and the highest court in the land, that I order the government to produce the Darby photograph that I have determined are responsive and appropriately redacted.

Posted in Torture | 6 Comments

Free Country Datum VII: Routine, or Routine Meanness?

via Informed Comment:

September 27, 2005

Office of the Chief
United States Park Police
Dwight E. Pettiford
1100 Ohio Drive S.W.
Washington, D. C. 20242

Dear Chief Pettiford:

I am writing to request information regarding the treatment of individuals arrested on September 26, 2005 in front of the White House and processed at the United States Park Police Anacostia Station.

Yesterday 384 protestors, including peace activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested outside the White House and were brought to United States Park Police Anacostia Station. I was very surprised to learn that many of those arrested were kept handcuffed in vans and buses for up to 12 hours before they were charged and released. Some of those were released at 4:30 in the morning after being arrested at 4:00 the previous afternoon. Many of those held captive the longest were grandmothers and senior citizens. Those released after midnight were unfamiliar with Washington, DC and had no means to travel back to their hotels once the metro had closed. Anacostia is not frequented by taxicabs after midnight.

I have the following questions regarding the treatment of those arrested yesterday:

1. Why was the Anacostia Station chosen as the sole location to process all 384 arrestees when there were several other Park Police stations in the greater Washington, DC area?

2. In what other circumstances have arrestees been detained by U.S. Park Police for periods exceeding twelve hours before being charged with a crime?

3. In what other circumstances have arrestees been detained by U.S. Park Police, and kept handcuffed on buses for periods exceeding ten hours?

4. What is the established U.S. Park Police procedure for processing large numbers of arrestees in the Washington, DC area?

Please respond to the Judiciary Committee Minority Office at 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, telephone number 202-225-6504, fax number 202-225-4423.


John Conyers, Jr.

Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary

In despotic countries protesters get a one-way trip to the cells. Even in most democracies, you don’t expect cops arresting protesters to treat you with kid gloves. In our country, even though there’s not a shadow of a reason to think you are dangerous, we handcuff you for hours then release you after midnight in a ghetto with no transport.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 3 Comments

Joy In Mudville

As the whole world probably knows by now, a Texas grand jury indicted Majority Tom Delay this afternoon. Not only did I read about on a gazillion blogs, one more triumphalist than the next, but someone here came by and dealt me a photocopy of the indictment from a little stack.

I agree the public information makes the guy look guilty, but can I just be a dissenting voice here and say that there is something about the chortling that I don’t like. Even really vile politicians are entitled to a fair trial. As private citizens we are allowed to rush to judgment — only officialdom must act on the presumption of innocence — but there’s still something to the idea that we should leave our minds open to the idea of innocence. (And I’ve never liked conspiracy prosecutions without a charge for an underlying offense, and I’m not minded to start liking them now, even when the cause is jurisdictional rather than lack of evidence.)

The other thing that bugs me even more about this is the casual way in which everyone seems to accept the idea that this conspiracy prosecution is necessary because the local Texas DA who would have sole jurisdiction over the underlying election law finance offenses would never prosecute them. Seems that as of a couple of weeks ago at least, the district attorney in Fort Bend County, John Healey Jr., has never investigated DeLay or TRMPAC, and had no plans to do so. Many articles on the subject blandly reported that this was because Healey, a Republican, has no desire to harm the head of the state GOP. (If anything has changed recently, I can find no sign of it.)

Even Florida DAs are not quite that brazen about their political loyalties and fears. Where’s the outrage?

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 9 Comments

Richter Library Has (Had?) a Blog

Googling for a phone number to call to ask for help with a balking online journal collection (the last page of EVERY article was missing!), I stumbled on Richter Library Web Services Dream Design, a blog with this great mission statement:

This weblog focuses on the University of Miami Richter Library’s website and strategies for thinking about ‘visionary’ possibilities for web services. It encourages ‘dreaming’ about ‘academic library’ information architectures so that dreams become reality and Richter sets the model for a next generation of academic library web services.

It’s a real pity it hasn’t been updated since last April, because I think this is the sort of thinking-out-loud that user-centered service-oriented institutions like libraries (and law schools!) should be doing.

Posted in U.Miami | 1 Comment

Plenty of Blame to Go Around (V)

Read Escapable Logic on a TV reporter’s insidious attempt to play the blame game by the old rules — which are now the wrong rules. It’s powerful stuff, with quotes from and links to many other worthies, notably David Weinberger’s facts as cudgels, which was probably the place I first saw this incident dissected.

Can it really be that sometimes a truth is greater than the facts on which it was said to rest? It’s very rare, but yes — so long as there are other relevant and supportive facts.

Ordinarily, of course, we rely on the facts to set us free from the chains of falsehood. For example, that hype about anarchy rape and murder in the Superdome? Dead bodies everywhere? Not.

Posted in Unspeakably Awful (Katrina) | 2 Comments

He Just Drank the Kool-Aid

Note to media: This report in a tabloid is false. Even my brother calls it “utterly scurrilous”. And it bears no connection whatsoever to this sartorial incident.

Note to all: Having looked at a video of the speech, I don’t think the photo of Bush’s mis-buttoned shirt linked to above is a photoshop job. But as regards the Bush-is-drinking-again story, the Enquirer is not to be trusted. Even if it did break the Monica Lewinsky story. Or, maybe, especially since…

Note to lawyers and law students: On the other hand, if you would like a good lawyer’s hypothetical, try Dwight Meredith at Wampum on the poor fit of the XXVth Amenment to problems of substance abuse in the White House. Nice exam question for someone.

Posted in Politics: Tinfoil | 4 Comments