Patterico's Pontifications

11/17/2007

The Fix Was In at CNN

Filed under: 2008 Election,Media Bias — DRJ @ 8:45 pm

[Guest post by DRJ

It looks like all six “undecided voters” who were called on to ask questions at CNN’s Democratic debate last Thursday night in Las Vegas weren’t undecided … and one may not even be a voter:

“CNN hits bottom and digs: All six questioners appear to be Democratic Party operatives. So much for “ordinary people, undecided voters”. To paraphrase Junior Soprano, CNN is so far up the DNC’s hind end, Howard Dean can taste hair gel.

In a nutshell, CNN’s six “undecided voters” were:

A Democratic Party bigwig
An antiwar activist
A Union official
An Islamic leader
A Harry Reid staffer
A radical Chicano separatist

Wow. This looks “rather” like a scandal.”

Details at the link.

— DRJ

Catch Me if You Can, Legal Edition

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 8:20 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

I thought the Leonardo DiCaprio-Tom Hanks film Catch Me if You Can was entertaining as well as intriguing because it was based on a true story – the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con man who spent four years “impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer–all before he turned 21.”

Apparently some Texas law enforcement agencies consider Mauricio Celis the legal version of Frank Abagnale, Jr.:

Mauricio Celis, a man of modest beginnings who achieved personal wealth and political clout through the legal system, was indicted Friday in Corpus Christi on seven felony counts of misrepresenting himself as a lawyer. A Nueces County grand jury also charged him with one count each of impersonating a peace officer, aggravated perjury and stealing from a client. If convicted of all charges, he could face up to three decades in prison.

Celis, 36, has owned the CGT Law Group International firm in Corpus Christi for two years. He did not study law in the United States but for nearly a decade has worked closely with various South Texas plaintiff’s lawyers, climbing the economic and political ladder to the point where he could contribute huge sums to area and state political candidates.

The indictments allege Celis represented himself as a lawyer variously licensed in Mexico, Texas, California, and Washington D.C. Celis, who has denied ever claiming to be a lawyer in Texas, did not return calls to his home and law firm today. In an earlier interview he said he was only the administrator at the law firm despite company documents that described him as a lawyer.

His rapid rise to prominence and uncanny ability to land big lawsuit cases, which he typically referred to powerful local litigators for a share of the recovery, may have led to his undoing.”

One of the rumored grand jury witnesses has an interesting history with Celis:

“The grand jury met three times before returning the indictments. It is believed to have heard testimony from [Corpus Christi lawyer Thomas] Henry’s client Paloma Steele, former sheriff Larry Olivarez who now works for Celis, an unnamed member of the CGT law firm, and a woman who briefly but famously shared a hot tub with Celis.

In that September incident, Celis allegedly attempted to “take into custody” a nude woman at 4 a.m. outside a Corpus Christi convenience store while dressed only in a bathrobe and waving a sheriff’s badge from nearby Duval County. Celis, whose peace officer license as a reserve deputy for that county had expired in 2003, now is charged with impersonating a police officer and attempting to interfere with an investigation.”

The Texas Attorney General has also sued to shut down Celis’ law firm.

— DRJ

L.A. Times Flubs Facts of Jena 6 Case

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 4:53 pm

The L.A. Times reports:

Racial trouble in Jena, La., started in September 2006 when three white students hung nooses from a tree. Six black teens who became known as the “Jena Six” were arrested on suspicion of attacking a white student accused of hanging the nooses.

Really?

That’s the first I’ve heard of that.

Justin Barker is the victim of the beating administered by the Jena 6. I have never read a single word in any article about this case that alleged that he was one of the students who hung the nooses.

Indeed, Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, concluded that there was no link between the hanging of the nooses and the Jena 6 beating. That would be quite an amazing conclusion if the victim of the beating was one of the people who had hung the nooses.

Either the L.A. Times has a major scoop on its hands, and buried the lede . . . or they screwed up.

Again.

You can guess which possibility I find more realistic.

Looks like it’s time for a correction. I have written the reporter and the Readers’ Representative.

(Thanks to Mark and Terry.)

UPDATE: I got a nice note from the reporter saying he’d take care of it. I feel kind of bad for having been snide about it in the post. (I was polite in my e-mail.) It’s a hangover from the Rutten stonewall, I think; I don’t expect these people to correct even obvious errors anymore. I need to remember that not everyone is as weaselly as Rutten is.

Blurring the Line between the Internet and Real Life

Filed under: Blogging Matters,General,Law — DRJ @ 2:56 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

An ongoing high-profile murder trial in Houston has developed an interesting complication that concerns a comment left on a Houston Chronicle blog.

The defendant in the case is David Mark Temple, a former high school football coach who was accused of killing his pregnant wife Belinda. Temple was found guilty on Thursday by a Houston jury, about 7 hours after a comment was left on a Houston Chronicle blog saying that a juror told the commenter the verdict would be announced later that day:

“Attorneys for a former high school football coach convicted in the shooting death of his pregnant wife want the Houston Chronicle to identify a reader who posted a comment about the case on the newspaper’s Web site. The thread, posted in the “reader comments” section, suggests that the juror spoke about the deliberations while the trial was still ongoing.

David Mark Temple’s attorneys issued a subpoena Friday calling for the Chronicle to appear in court Monday, with registration information the reader may have given the newspaper.

The comment was posted around 9 a.m. Thursday, about seven hours before a jury found David Mark Temple, 39, guilty of shooting Belinda Tracie Temple in January 1999. Belinda Temple, a special education teacher at Katy High School, was eight months pregnant.”

The Houston Chronicle has not decided how it will respond to the defense subpoena. As for the comment itself, the content was vague but the suggestion that the juror had talked about the case outside the jury room could be a big problem:

“In the posting, the reader, who goes by the screen name “REFster,” wrote: “Psst … My boss is on the jury. Thinks they’ll have a verdict this afternoon.” After another reader asked REFster if he knew how his boss would vote on the verdict, REFster replied: “He is playing it very close to the vest. I’m sorry to say at this point, I got nada.”

The last comment by REFster was posted about 6 p.m. Thursday. About 2,000 comments were posted about the Temple case.

Jurors are not allowed to talk about a case outside the jury room while a trial is underway, and are instructed not to discuss the case with their spouses, family members or friends. They are also ordered to avoid any media reports. Jury deliberations are also supposed to remain confidential until a trial has ended.”

The jury is scheduled to reconvene for the punishment phase on Monday. In the meantime, I predict the lawyers in this case and for the Houston Chronicle won’t be getting much sleep.

— DRJ

A Response to Armed Liberal on Waterboarding

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:05 pm

I said I was going to move away from waterboarding hypotheticals and on to reality, but Armed Liberal’s response to me has one foot firmly planted in the world of philosophical discussions about morality. I’ll try to respond to him while firmly keeping in mind the realities we face.

I find Armed Liberal’s answer particularly interesting because he answers my original KSM hypothetical “no.” (I won’t repeat the hypothetical, but if you haven’t read it, please click the link before reading further.) Armed Liberal gives his answer without the smug self-righteousness shown by some others. And nobody can question his devotion to addressing the problem of terrorism. So his “no” answer is one that carries credibility, and deserves a serious response.

Armed Liberal says:

Let me take his hypothetical a step further, and suggest that it shouldn’t be too hard to build a helmet that could be put on someone’s head, not damaging the skin, that would – when turned on – induce incredible levels of fear – or pain – inductively, acting directly in the brain. And, having switched it off, leave the person wearing the helmet unscathed except from whatever physiological reactions they had to the perception of pain or fear.

Armed Liberal says that we should not employ a technology like that if we could. Why? He says:

First, and foremost, because – as I’ve noted – using something like this moves us into the realm of being a fear-based society; one that rules on might and terror. The corrosive impact of that stance is what drives this, and on some level it’s the violation of the integrity of the person by depriving them of all their power over themselves, and by – I’m not finding the right description, but somehow erasing the integrity of their ‘self’. Prison doesn’t do that; even Joe Arpaio – who keeps his prisoners in tents, offers them no recreation and dresses them in pink – does not violate their integrity in the ways that I’m describing – they still make choices, have some responsibility as to their behavior.

Armed Liberal’s objection to torture appears rooted in the violence it does to the concepts of personal integrity and responsibility — not simply the notion that it creates a society that rules in part by “fear” or “might.” After all, some degree of fear and might are necessary to the operation of government. The threat and reality of prison — which Armed Liberal accepts as necessary — is nothing more than a way to keep criminal elements in check through fear (of going to prison) and “might” (if fear isn’t enough to keep you from committing crimes, we’ll lock you up).

In his next passage, Armed Liberal makes it clearer that his objection is to the idea that torture removes personal integrity:

Bluntly, I’d rat[h]er shoot someone than torture them harmlessly. I believe it’s more moral; I’m violating their ‘person-ness’ less through an act of outright violence than through one that seeks to break their ownership of themselves in the ways that torture does.

And on a basic level, you can’t have a free society in which people don’t have that sense of personal integrity – that sense that they ‘own’ their own behavior and person. Once you violate that and make it clear that someone – the state – owns you, the nature of the political relationship is irrevocably changed.

I am not aware of any truly effective truth serum. But what if there were? Would administering a truth serum to a suspected terrorist be an act that breaks the terrorist’s ownership of themselves? Would it be an act that makes it clear that the state owns them?

Would Armed Liberal oppose administering an effective truth serum to a terrorist?

Or, to put it in terms of Armed Liberal’s hypothetical, what if the helmet didn’t cause pain, but just told us if the terrorist was lying? Or, more coercively, made him tell the truth?

Or, for Harry Potter fans, would administering Veritaserum to Mad Eye Moody be the sort of act we could never condone in our society?

Let’s bring this into the realm of the real world. My understanding of the efficacy of a truth serum is in the subject’s belief that he can’t tell a lie. So what about administering sodium thiopental to a terrorist and telling him that it’s a 100% effective truth serum? Could we condone that under Armed Liberal’s view?

Note that, even in the law enforcement context, courts often sanction interrogation techniques designed to fool the subject into thinking the government knows more than the suspect realizes — including when he is telling the truth and when he is lying. Police may employ trickery and deceit in interrogating a suspect, as long as they don’t do anything that would make an innocent suspect confess.

As an aside: this is the main problem I have with waterboarding and other forms of torture: it’s a technique that does often cause people to confess when they are innocent, or to give up details — any details, whether or not they are true — just to make it stop. As I have discussed here before, a threat to one’s family was enough to get Abdallah Higazy to “confess” to owning a radio he didn’t own.

That’s a problem.

But the more certainty you have that the person in question is a terrorist, and the more “checkable” his information, the less I worry about these particular aspects of coercive interrogation on a moral level. (Legal issues are a different matter.) Once you achieve near 100% certainty that the fellow you have is indeed a high-level terrorist, the “reliability” issue becomes merely a matter of whether he is going to tell you the truth. And I don’t think that the chance he could lie to you is a good enough reason, by itself, to forego a form of interrogation that you have otherwise determined is justified under the circumstances. How can the morality of waterboarding lie completely within the power of decisions made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to lie or tell the truth? That makes no logical sense to me.

It’s quite a different matter when you have someone as to whom you are less certain, like, say Adballah Higazy — or countless other people we have in our custody. Which is why I have said, as a general matter, that we should not permit torture.

Getting back to the main subject, Armed Liberal makes a related but slightly different argument, in quoting a commenter as saying:

Does ‘our way of life’ better survive the deaths of thousands of innocents, or ‘the adoption of a new social order which includes torture as a legitimate tool of our government’. I would argue the former less damaging.

Many have made this argument. I am used to seeing it made with an intolerable degree of smugness — e.g. John Cole commenters who say in all sincerity that I am a greater enemy to America than the planners of 9/11, because I am a “torture apologist” (actually as you can see, I’m not), and therefore I am working to undermine our whole way of life. But the fact that many make the argument with insufferable self-righteousness doesn’t automatically make it an invalid argument. And Armed Liberal and his commenter express it in a very well-stated and non-smug way.

To me, this is a judgment call. Many people make the exact same argument about capital punishment: that empowering government to take a human life degrades our society and brings us one step closer to savagery. Armed Liberal tells me in an e-mail that he supports capital punishment. So really, this is just a question of where you draw the line. I won’t mock the people who make the argument, but for me — as a purely theoretical manner — I can’t say that society would be destroyed by 2 1/2 minutes of waterboarding similar to the waterboarding that this journalist voluntarily underwent, just for a story.

My bottom line is this: I don’t have a huge moral problem with limited waterboarding in extreme circumstances. I have several practical problems with it.

It’s somewhat similar, in fact, to my feelings on capital punishment. As a moral matter, I think the death penalty is the correct penalty, morally, for the worst murderers. As a practical matter, because so many innocent people end up on Death Row (a problem I discussed at length in this post), I have serious concerns about how it is practiced in much of the country, and I would like to see much stricter limitations placed on its exercise.

That’s not completely how I feel about waterboarding, but it’s pretty close.

I’ll leave the matter there, as I think Armed Liberal will have more to say about this.

Lawyers for Fred Thompson

Filed under: 2008 Election — DRJ @ 1:04 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Fred Thompson campaign has announced Lawyers for Fred Thompson that includes many distinguished lawyers. Interestingly, the law professors committee lists (by my count) four Volokh Conspiracy members:

Michael B. Abramowicz
Jonathan H. Adler
John S. Baker
Michael R. Dimino
Viet D. Dinh
John Fitzgerald Duffy
Brian T. Fitzpatrick
Richard W. Garnett
Orin S. Kerr
Caleb E. Nelson
Eugene Volokh
Todd J. Zywicki

It never hurts to have a few good bloggers on your side.

— DRJ

Justice O’Connor Shares Her Heritage

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 12:23 pm

[Guest post by DRJ

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was known as a swing vote during her years on the Supreme Court. Yesterday, at a new Texas Tech School of Law lecture series named in her honor, she spoke about her upbringing and her perspective on the law and the Court:

“She grew up the daughter of a cattle rancher in a land of endless horizons, where stars in the night sky felt close enough to touch, she said. Sandra Day O’Connor, 77, returned to the southwest Friday. This land, she told an audience of thousands at the United Spirt [sic] Arena, laid a foundation for her tenure as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

O’Connor — the first woman to be appointed to the high court — earned a reputation as a centrist during that quarter-century appointment.

“I treasure my link with the arid Southwest,” said O’Connor, who was raised on a ranch that straddled New Mexico and Arizona and was schooled in El Paso. “The solutions we reached on the ranch had to be practical. They didn’t have to be beautiful. They had to work,” she said. “Maybe, just maybe that’s a little bit of what I brought to the court,” she said.

O’Connor came to Lubbock Friday as the first guest of a new Texas Tech School of Law lecture series named after her. She spoke to law students in the afternoon and to residents in the evening. In her evening lecture, she stressed her identity as a West Texan and her strong faith in democracy and the rule of law. “Our best hope for world peace comes from democracy and the rule of law,” she said.

Democracy she said cultivates tolerance and diversity while combating isolation and violence. But threats to the ideology abound: Terrorism, strife between religious and ethnic groups, war, human rights abuses, she said.

Americans should protect their way of life by remembering the three branches of government must be balanced and the judicial branch must be free to operate without encroachment from the executive and legislative branches, she said. “It’s all too easy to confuse democracy with the simple right to vote,” she said.”

Justice O’Connor also stressed the need for “mandatory civics and history courses in public schools” and emphasis on teaching how government works. She also believes leaders in Washington should spend more time “building friendships” and engaging in thoughtful deliberation.

This meshes with my impression of Justice O’Connor’s tenure on the Court – courteous, caring, willing to engage with other Justices, a believer in America and democracy, and a Justice who looked for pragmatic as well as intellectual solutions.

The vast, arid desert of West Texas and Southern Arizona and New Mexico where Justice O’Connor grew up is an unforgiving environment where people quickly learn the value of helping others and finding solutions (however imperfect) to hard problems. I’ve noticed this pragmatic approach in many people from the desert Southwest, including President Bush. Perhaps all people share these traits, or maybe environment makes a bigger difference than we think.

— DRJ

Moving on to Reality

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:34 am

I’m ready to move on from hypotheticals about waterboarding to what they mean in the real world. There’s no better way to do so than to discuss the matter with three smart bloggers who answered my first hypothetical, about whether it would be worth it to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’m thinking here of Armed Liberal, and Sebastian and Katherine from Obsidian Wings.

Let me preface my discussion by saying that I have a very different view of what should happen in the real world than I do in my admittedly unrealistic hypotheticals. My general view is that we should not be torturing people — and I include waterboarding in the category of actions that constitute “torture” — as a routine matter at all. I’d be willing to bet that many people agree with that — that when we have a run-of-the-mill accused terrorist who may or may not be a terrorist, and he may or may not have information that may or may not save lives, we should not torture that person for the information.

The discussion we have been having is on the margins. It relates to the high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or (if we captured him) Osama bin Laden. Rational people accept that these people are indeed terrorists. When captured, they will almost certainly have information relating to ongoing terror plots.

What do we do with people like that?

It’s a very difficult question, with enough facets that you could probably write a book about it.

You could take the view that you torture them mercilessly and extract whatever information you can. But there are serious costs to such an approach, and the bloggers mentioned above discuss some of them. There are slippery slope arguments grounded in reality, arguments about the kind of society we want to be, arguments about the reliability of the information we get, and so on. Any confession you get is going to be unusable in court, and will interfere with any criminal prosecutions that might occur.

Or you could take the view that we treat them the same as we have treated criminal suspects in the past — read them their rights, and if they invoke their right to an attorney, then stop all questioning. There are serious costs to that approach too, including the fact that innocent people are more likely to die.

There are approaches in between as well.

It’s not an easy question, and every suggestion will run into rational counterarguments. Again, you could write a book about it.

As this post is long enough, I think I will respond to each of these bloggers in turn, starting with Armed Liberal.


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