Thanksgiving 2010 Reflections on Our Political Prisoners

Thanksgiving is an apt time for those of us enjoying family and freedom to reflect about those being prosecuted in the United States primarily for political purposes.

Let’s examine the Justice Department’s crusades against former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, a Republican, and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, his state’s leading Democrat. They are among those in the nation’s two million under lock-and-key who are punished far out of proportion to any offense. Victims include Siegelman’s Alabama co-defendant Richard Scrushy, shown at a right in a family photo of a visit at prison. The former HealthSouth CEO is a Republican businessman and father of nine imprisoned on a seven-year term solely because he donated in 1999 and 2000 to Siegelman’s favorite non-profit, the Alabama Education Foundation.

Recent developments in the Kerik and Siegelman/Scrushy cases last week underscore the Obama administration’s shameful efforts to torment defendants, their families and whistleblowers at vast taxpayer expense, thereby extending and covering up previous abuses.

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News Roundup: DOJ Absolves Stevens Prosecutors

The Justice Department’s investigation of prosecutorial misconduct in the 2008 trial of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, left, on corruption charges has found no basis for criminal contempt charges against the prosecutors, according to National Public Radio.

Henry Schuelke, a Washington attorney named by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan as special counsel to probe the case, and the Justice Department declined immediate comment after the report Nov. 15 by NPR’s DOJ correspondent Carrie Johnson. The investigation was prompted by Sullivan, who became outraged that veteran prosecutors withheld evidence required to be submitted to the defendant in advance of his trial.

NPR’s Johnson reported further:

Separately, department ethics watchdogs at the Office of Professional Responsibility have completed their own report into alleged prosecutorial failings in the Stevens case. The OPR review took a broader look at problems among the trial team and supervisors.

But the two sources said OPR did not make misconduct findings against William Welch, who led the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit at the time of the trial, or his deputy, Brenda Morris, who joined the Stevens prosecution team only weeks before the trial. Welch and Morris recently appealed to erase a civil contempt finding by Judge Sullivan. That proceeding is pending and could take some time to complete. Another government lawyer, Ed Sullivan, also emerged from the investigation without major trouble. Ed Sullivan took a back seat during the Stevens trial.

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New York Times Reveals Justice Report On Nazis

A recently exposed Justice Department report about how the United States created a “safe haven” here for Nazis after World War II shows a secret double-standard: The government invited some elite Nazis to help U.S. Cold War military programs after the war but aggressively expelled others beginning a quarter century later.

On Nov. 13, the New York Times revealed highlights of a secret Justice Department report about its so-called Nazi Hunt, which I covered closely during its first years in the 1970s. The Times said:

WASHINGTON — A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.

The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades. (See details here.)

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DOJ Probe of CIA Torture Evidence: Another Whitewash?

Here’s why the Justice Department’s halt to its probe of CIA obstruction of justice involving torture looks like another whitewash.

The DOJ compromised its probe from the beginning in 2008 by assigning it to Connecticut federal prosecutor John Durham, whom courts have twice implicated in suppressing evidence. In one of those cases, a federal judge rebuked him also for what she described as "severe misconduct" during cross-examination.

As background on this week's case, the DOJ announced Nov. 9 that it would not file obstruction of justice charges against CIA personnel for destroying 92 videotapes showing CIA interrogation of terrorism suspects in 2005 using waterboarding.

"This decision is stunning:There is ample evidence of a cover-up regarding the destruction of the tapes,'' commented ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.  "The Bush administration was instructed by a court of law not to destroy evidence of torture, but that's exactly what it did.''

No one should be surprised.

In today's exclusive report, the Justice Integrity Project reveals that U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton in New Haven found Durham was part of a prosecution team that failed to turn over evidence to the defense in a gun possession case. Her 57-page ruling also said Durham then engaged in "severe misconduct" during an "incendiary cross-examination" of a key defense witness. As a result, the government dropped its charges against the defendant, Anthony Washington.

Another of Durham's controversial cases was the prosecution of Connecticut businessman Charles Spadoni on corruption charges. The case also compromises the credibility of Durham's Connecticut colleague Nora Dannehy, whom the DOJ entrusted to probe potential misconduct by her colleagues in orchestrating the DOJ's notorious political purges in 2006. 

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Prez Seeks License To Kill U.S. Citizen 'Terror' Suspect

Illustrating the fragility of our constitutional rights, attorneys for the Obama administration argued Nov. 8 for a presidential power to protect national security by ordering the death without trial of a dual-nation U.S. citizen who advocates killing Americans. Obama and his staff seek to kill or capture Anwar al-Aulaqi (sometimes spelled “Awlaki”), 39, a Muslim cleric in Yemen born in New Mexico, because of mostly secret evidence. In response, civil liberties attorneys retained by the target’s father urged U.S. District Judge John Bates, at right below, to enjoin the government’s plan against the former chaplain at George Washington University in the nation's capital.

The three-hour debate that occurred in the huge ceremonial room of the federal courthouse in Washington, DC illustrates how vague our society’s vaunted constitutional protections might become. Virtually all modern societies, whether Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia’s or today’s Iran, have laws, courts and citizen rights, at least in theory. But it’s primarily Anglo-American systems that have created and largely preserved for hundreds of years until now a strong tradition protecting free speech and due process in court, even when the central government seeks to inflame the public against the accused with secret evidence of public danger. These traditions are increasingly endangered, as such conservative legal scholars and Reagan Republican political appointees as Bruce Fein and Paul Craig Roberts argue, by the unprecedented concept of worldwide “war” with scant defined targets that requires abandonment of core legal protections.

“If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state,” similarly argued Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It's the government's responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.” The ACLU and co-counsel from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have further argued that the Obama administration’s request for court-permission to kill without due process sets a precedent that endangers many future citizens in many future situations under his successors.

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What’s Next For Justice After 2010 Elections?

Intrigue, wishful-thinking and silly speculation are flourishing in the nation’s capital, as elsewhere in policy circles, now that the U.S. election results are (mostly) confirmed.

The leadership line-up for key congressional committees is a solid starting point to understand what’s next for our Justice Integrity Project’s core mission. The big change will be at the House Judiciary Committee, where the top-ranking Republican minority member Lamar Smith of Texas, left, will switch places with Chairman John Conyers of Michigan.

Smith is a 1969 Yale College classmate of former President George W. Bush who represents a gerrymandered district that is mostly rural but contains small parts of his state capital of Austin and of San Antonio.

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