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Sunday, March 5, 2006

Bush's secret courts

If this doesn't worry you a lot, I'll see you in the gulag.

UPDATE, 1:56 p.m.: And how many secret trials and nondocketed criminal cases have gone down here in Oregon? Maybe our crack journalist corps could take a break from asking local politicos about their underwear choices and ask our U.S. attorney how much of this she's in on. And where the heck is Ron Wyden (R-Oregon)? At the Plaza Hotel eating crumpets with the other super-rich, I guess.

Comments (16)

Isn't it just a natural progression from the increasing tolerance of the exercise of arbitrary power in many, many contexts?

Who are the judges who are perpetrating this?

Oh please. Showing up at your door with guns drawn at 1 in the morning? Whisking you away to an unmarked detention facility. Denying you the use of a telephone so you can alert your family. That could never happen. Not in this country!!!!

Oh wait.....

The list of very worrisome interactions between this administration and the law is already extremely long, and growing every week. Future generations are going to have some tough questions as to why we didnít respond more energetically back when President Bush seized control of our legal system, turning himself into the law. And we wonít be able to claim that the information was unavailable, either. Werenít we supposed to be ever vigilant and guard against threats to our democracy - threats like President Bush?

This is part of the legacy of the Patriot Act. Here's a section from a speech I've been making for the last four years:
. Section 412 of the Act authorizes non-citizens suspected of aiding terrorist organizations to be detained indefinitely without meaningful judicial review. Two months after 9/11, the government said that it had detained 1,182 persons under this provision of the law, but it has not released any numbers since then, so we do not know the number of people who have been detained or how many have been released; we donít know where they were held; we donít know what the charges are; we donít know if they were allowed to see lawyers or have visits from family members; we donít know their names. We know none of these things, because the government has refused to release any of this information.

There has been one exception to the wall of secrecy surrounding these detainees. It resulted from a mistake made by a court clerk in Miami, who inadvertently listed the name of one of them on a public docket sheet for a few hours before he noticed his mistake and removed it. Mohammed Bellahouel was the name on that docket; he is an Algerian-born waiter who was detained, in secret, after 9/11. He was eventually charged with violating his student visa Ė his only crime.

Except for that inadvertent disclosure by the court clerk in Miami, there was no public record that his case ever existed. Every hearing was held behind closed doors, every document was filed under seal Ė and his case brought to public attention the fact that federal courts all across the country are maintaining entirely separate dockets of non-public cases, whose very existence is being kept secret from the public.

As I said over on the nads! recently:

patriotism n : impeaching the President for lying about receiving an extra-marital hummer [syn: rule of law]

partisanship n: opposing the President for long-term, widespread abuse of power [syn: politics of personal destruction]

The sixth amendment guarantees the right to a public trial. It says: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ..." Is someone saying that there are secret criminal trials, without a waiver by the defendent? I would like to see the proof. If it is happening, it is dead wrong. But, I want to see the proof.

Here's another story, from that lying, radical hippie rag The Christan Science Monitor.

BTW, if somebody at the NSA could e-mail me a receipt for this thread for my records, I'd appreciate it.

Joel, closure of at least portions of criminal trials is not uncommon in the federal system. The most recent example in reported cases came in January of this year, in U.S. v. Abu Marzook, 2006 WL 250008 (N.D.Ill. 2006) The defendant is charged with giving material support to Hamas. The court ruled that testimony of Israeli agents would be closed to the public.

I mentioned the Bellahouel habeas corpus case in my earlier post (admittedly, not a criminal prosecution -- that had already occured). The amicus brief filed in the US Supreme Court by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in that case is on line. It describes some of the secrecy in federal courts after 9/11. (The Supreme Court denied review.)


Horrific. Of course, here in Oregon, someone is sure to say it's the welcome result of the farsighted court efficiency reforms of the 1980s:).
Joel raises an interesting inquiry: the question of proof when the record is sketchy or doesn't exist. And I think Ron's rhetorical question is a good one.


Thank you. I know that you are a true expert in this area.

Was the story posted by Jack saying or implying that some, whole criminal trials are being kept secret? Could that be true? The Sixth Amendment would not allow that, would it?

Joel, Joel!
These are just amendments. First, Fourth, Sixth, who's counting? If they were really important, wouldn't the founding fathers have put them in the constitution in the first place?
I mean, of course, except for the Second.

I'm betting that the argument will be over one of two things: what "public" means and how far it extends (any word in the Constitution can be parsed within an inch of its life), or whether that provision of the Sixth Amendment applies to people who aren't American citizens (9/11, war on terror, blahdeblah, normal rules don't apply). "But the Constitution, as written, doesn't appear to allow that!" is not an argument that is likely to stop this administration's Department of Justice. Maybe if the Supreme Court flat-out says that the Constitution in fact forbids it, they'll stop. But not before, and maybe not even then.

Oh please! This is the District of Oregon, normal cases don't get prosecuted here. The US Attys Office can't even keep up with their regular case load. The stats for prosecutions here in Oregon are weak compared with districts that actually enforce the law.

Besides every conspriacy nut knows the defendants in the "shadow" cases you are talking about are picked up by black helicopters and taken to the 5th Circuit.

Anyone who listened to Gonzalez's testimony heard him artfully say 'communications' rather than 'phone calls' when pressed for details. Sure enough, they've admitted it's a much wider net, even exclusively domestic-to-domestic communications. You say he wasn't under oath? Ya don't say...

So, can we start a people-initiated talking-point int the media?: "Congressmen/women, it's on your head if you choose inaction. History will not look kindly on you for allowing unmitigated destruction of our core legal values." Putting party before country is too common and too destructive.


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