Patterico's Pontifications

5/8/2010

NY Times Profiles Anwar al-Awlaki

Filed under: Obama,Terrorism — DRJ @ 9:15 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The New York Times profiles Anwar al-Awlaki, the American Muslim living in Yemen who reportedly counseled the Fort Hood shooter and Northwest Flight 253’s underwear bomber, as well as inspired last week’s NYC car bomber. The article explores whether al-Awlaki was a convert to extremism or an al Qaeda sleeper:

“There are two conventional narratives of Mr. Awlaki’s path to jihad. The first is his own: He was a nonviolent moderate until the United States attacked Muslims openly in Afghanistan and Iraq, covertly in Pakistan and Yemen, and even at home, by making targets of Muslims for raids and arrests. He merely followed the religious obligation to defend his faith, he said.

“What am I accused of?” he asks in a recent video bearing the imprint of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “Of calling for the truth? Of calling for jihad for the sake of Allah? Of calling to defend the causes of the Islamic nation?”

A contrasting version of Mr. Awlaki’s story, explored though never confirmed by the national Sept. 11 commission, maintains that he was a secret agent of Al Qaeda starting well before the attacks, when three of the hijackers turned up at his mosques. By this account, all that has changed since then is that Mr. Awlaki has stopped hiding his true views.”

The article recounts al-Awlaki’s evolution from early statements condemning terrorism to his current embrace of jihad:

“Jihad,” Mr. Awlaki said in a March statement, “is becoming as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea.”

However, there are several examples that suggest al-Awlaki was radicalized well before 9/11 and may have had advance knowledge:

“One day in August 2001, Mr. Awlaki knocked at the door of Mr. Higgie, his neighbor, to say goodbye. He had moved the previous year to Virginia, becoming imam at the far bigger Dar al-Hijrah mosque, and he had returned to pick up a few things he had left behind.

As Mr. Higgie tells it, he told the imam to stop by if he was ever in the area — and got a strange response. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on you’ll find out why,’” Mr. Higgie said.

The next month, when Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington, Mr. Higgie remembered the exchange and was shaken, convinced that his friendly neighbor had some advance warning of the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Not convinced? There’s more:

“In fact, the F.B.I. had first taken an interest in Mr. Awlaki in 1999, concerned about brushes with militants that to this day remain difficult to interpret. In 1998 and 1999, he was a vice president of a small Islamic charity that an F.B.I. agent later testified was “a front organization to funnel money to terrorists.” He had been visited by Ziyad Khaleel, a Qaeda operative who purchased a battery for Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, as well as by an associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheik, who was serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York landmarks.

Still more disturbing was Mr. Awlaki’s links to two future Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi. They prayed at his San Diego mosque and were seen in long conferences with the cleric. Mr. Alhazmi would follow the imam to his new mosque in Virginia, and 9/11 investigators would call Mr. Awlaki Mr. Alhazmi’s “spiritual adviser.”

The F.B.I., whose agents interviewed Mr. Awlaki four times in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, concluded that his contacts with the hijackers and other radicals were random, the inevitable consequence of living in the small world of Islam in America. But records of the 9/11 commission at the National Archives make clear that not all investigators agreed.

One detective, whose name has been redacted, told the commission he believed Mr. Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” An F.B.I. agent, also unidentified, said that “if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been” the cleric, since “someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused.”

The 9/11 commission staff members themselves had sharp arguments about him. “Do I think he played a role in helping the hijackers here, knowing they were up to something?” said one staff member, who would speak only on condition of anonymity. “Yes. Do I think he was sent here for that purpose? I have no evidence for it.”

The separate Congressional Joint Inquiry into the attacks suspected that Mr. Awlaki might have been part of a support network for the hijackers, said Eleanor Hill, its director. “There’s no smoking gun. But we thought somebody ought to investigate him,” Ms. Hill said.”

Apparently there was some follow-up since al-Awlaki was imprisoned without charges in Yemen, but American officials did not object. The solitude kept him from inspiring jihadists directly but it gave him time to immerse himself in anti-Western rhetoric.

The article suggests al-Awlaki emerged from prison in 2007 more bitter and intent on planning, rather than just inspiring, jihad. He has undoubtedly followed through on that intent since earlier this year, President Obama authorized his assassination.

— DRJ

Tommy Chong Campaigns in Pennsylvania

Filed under: Politics — DRJ @ 6:45 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Entertainer Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong is campaigning in a Pennsylvania political race:

“Drug-themed comedian Tommy Chong returned to Pittsburgh to help local Democrats raise money to oppose the Congressional campaign of the woman who prosecuted him for selling bongs over the Internet.

Chong did nine months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in 2003 to charges sought by Mary Beth Buchanan, who resigned as U.S. attorney last year. She’s running in the Republican primary in hopes of opposing U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., in November.

During an appearance at a union hall Wednesday night, Chong said he wanted to thank Buchanan “for jump-starting my career again” before also calling her “a liar and a thief.”

Most politicians like celebrity endorsements but this may be the exception that proves the rule.

Pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht is also campaigning for Buchanan’s opponent, apparently because Buchanan prosecuted him as well.

— DRJ

Incumbent Senator Ousted in Utah

Filed under: Politics — DRJ @ 6:27 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

At the GOP Convention, no less. He didn’t even make it to the Republican primary:

“In a humiliating end to his career, Senator Bob Bennett of Utah couldn’t get enough of his own party’s delegates at the Utah GOP convention to get past the second round of balloting for his re-election bid. After coming in third in the first two rounds, Bennett was automatically eliminated for the third round of voting. Earlier, he had pleaded with delegates to give him a second chance after coming under fire for supporting the TARP bailouts.”

Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater will face off in a June 22 GOP primary, while Claudia Wright will challenge Jim Matheson in the Democratic race.

— DRJ

Another Example of the Failure of Intentionalism As Applied to Legal Interpretation: That Hellish 2000 Presidential Recount

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 3:39 pm

As another example of why unexpressed intent cannot govern legal interpretation, I present to you: the 2000 presidential recount.

Until now, we have dealt mostly with theoretical problems with using the speaker’s intent to determine the proper legal interpretation of laws. But the practical problems are a doozy, and should not be ignored.

I assume most of you remember the hell that was the Bush/Gore recount. The debate there was between the liberals, who wanted to scrutinize ballots for hints of voter intent, and the conservatives, who wanted a clear rule in place for determining whether a vote was a vote.

The intentionalists tell us that signs — marks that are imbued with intent — necessarily carry the intent of the person who created the signs. So they would say: no matter how you mark your ballot, your vote actually means what you intended it to mean. So, to an intentionalist, if a voter meant to vote for Gore, the following ballots are indeed votes for Gore:

  • A clearly punched hole next to Gore’s name.
  • A hanging chad next to Gore’s name, no matter whether it is hanging by a single corner or three corners.
  • A lightly marked dimple next to Gore’s name.
  • A ballot with no markings on it whatsoever.
  • A clearly punched hole next to Bush’s name, together with a handwritten note that says: “I will never vote for Gore in a million years!!!!!”

To the intentionalist, each of these is a vote for Al Gore — as long as we assume that the ballot was actually cast with the intent of voting for Gore.

But having answered this linguistic question, there is still a practical question: if the ballot itself gives no hint of the voter’s intent to vote for Gore, should it be counted as a vote for Gore?

I say no. And part of the reason is that, in real life, evidence of intent is too easy to manufacture — either by the speaker, or worse, by a biased audience. And so, when it comes to legal questions, we have to stick to clear, objective, conventional expressions of intent — ESPECIALLY when the speaker knows that his unconventional expression may be misinterpreted by a reasonable audience.

To illustrate, let’s go back in time to the year 2000, and remind ourselves just what hell that recount was.

In one of my favorite posts at this site, I responded angrily to Paul Krugman’s assertion that dimpled ballots and hanging chads reflected a “clear” voter intent:

At the risk of giving you flashbacks that may send you into paroxyms of rage once again, let’s take a very close look at just how “clear” dimples are. All we need to do is consult the very same April 5, 2001 Miami Herald story we just quoted. This is where it gets ugly, and the bad, bad memories start to resurface. Remember, as you read this, that Krugman is saying dimpled ballots can be “clear”:

[A]s the recount battle went to court again and again, and the canvassing board members saw dimpled ballot after dimpled ballot, the basis for judging a vote evolved.

In both counties, board members started looking at the whole ballot rather than just the presidential chad in an effort to determine voter intent. In Palm Beach, the canvassing board counted dimples as votes if the rest of the ballot bore similar marks instead of clean punches.

Generally there had to be some pattern that this was how the person voted,” said Judge Charles Burton, the chairman of the Palm Beach board. “Out of 22 votes if you just had two little dings, we wouldn’t necessarily count that.”

Broward canvassing board members Robert W. Lee and Gunzburger tended to view a dimple as a vote if there were other marks on the ballot for candidates of the same party. Lee, a Democrat and county court judge, even made a list showing which punch-card numbers corresponded to Democrats and which ones corresponded to Republicans. A quick glance at the list and the ballot would show whether the voter appeared to choose a straight ticket.

“There had to be a pattern of two or three dimples in the Democratic field for me to feel comfortable to count a dimple for Gore,” Lee said.

. . . .

Even canvassing board members acknowledge they could not be 100 percent consistent over the long days. “I’m sure there’s a few [ballots] in there now that if I went back and looked, I’d say these are votes, and if I went through the votes, I’d say some are not votes,” Burton said.

Take a deep breath, folks — we’re still not done:

The order in which ballots came before the canvassing board was another variable. If the board saw a dimpled ballot and called it for Gore, they might call the next dimpled ballot for Bush. But if a similar ballot came three hours later, it might be discarded.

“At 10 a.m. a person might be a little more conservative, and by 10 p.m they may be a little more liberal,” said LeMieux of the Broward GOP.

Oh my God. Are you remembering the horror of watching this all unfold? It’s all coming back to me, and it’s not pleasant.

So why am I putting you through this pain? Yes, I’m being cruel — but there’s a reason: we all need a reminder of just how “clear” voter intent is when punch-cards are merely dimpled — and why the Supreme Court was dead right to find an equal protection violation due to the standardless recounts at issue in Bush v. Gore. When the people responsible for counting the votes “tended to” view dimples as votes depending upon their subjective analysis of other votes on the card; when they say things like “we wouldn’t necessarily count that”; when they say that a ballot they would have counted as a vote on one day, they wouldn’t have counted as a vote the next; when the standards evolve while the count is going on — well, then, Mr. Krugman, that is not what I call “clear.”

So as we read paeans to how intentionalism saves us from people rewriting our speech, let us remember the above passages. There is plenty of havoc that can be wreaked by those who choose to apply intentionalism as their default method for deciding how to enforce legal documents (such as ballots, contracts, or statutes).

The intentionalist will argue that difficulty in ascertaining intent does not change the fact that only intent can govern the meaning of speech. But in my posts, I have taken pains to distinguish between meaning (as an intentionalist would characterize it) and the effect that this meaning should be given by a judge.

And such evidence of intent as was present in 2000 simply cannot be given legal effect by a judge trying to conduct a ballot count. It is just too subjective. Like a contract signed by a thief, or a law passed by a legislature that didn’t read the law, a ballot cast by a numbskull who can’t express his intent honestly or intelligibly cannot be interpreted according to subjective evidence of intent. A judge should require clear text (in the case of contracts and statutes) and clearly punched ballots (in the case of votes).

If the contracting party, lawmaker, or voter can’t handle this, they don’t deserve to have their intent given legal effect.

So says me.

Mountain Bike Crimes

Filed under: Crime — DRJ @ 2:34 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Two Colorado mountain bikers face criminal charges for perpetrating a fraud to win the Leadville Trail 100 bike race. Later they admitted what they did, but the authorities said it was too late:

“”But the situation cannot be rectified,” Chlouber said. “You can’t go back in time and give those ladies who should have podiumed their time in the sun. That’s gone.”

I wonder if there’s also a tort claim for lost podium time?

— DRJ

MORE: Ex-Pat Ex-Lawyer Laura Victoria posted much more on this story at her blog. Check out her post and look around.

California Principal Regrets Decision

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Education — DRJ @ 2:29 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Morgan Hill, California, principal whose assistant principal kicked out five high school students for wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo now says he is sorry for the action:

“Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez threw the students out for wearing what he called “incendiary” apparel on Cinco de Mayo.

Turns out, school officials just acted too “quickly.” Perhaps even without thinking.

Live Oak High School Principal Nick Boden accepted the blame while apologizing Friday, saying, “In this situation, I may have moved too quickly in drawing the line of when to take preventative action.”

Officials had cited concerns that fights between students could erupt because of the “incendiary” images of the U.S. flag on the holiday.

“This was never about whether students were allowed to wear patriotic clothing on our campuses. They can. It was about ensuring that our high school campus was orderly and safe,” Wesley Smith, superintendent for Morgan Hill Unified School District, said Friday at a press conference.”

The same Top of the Ticket link also includes Roger Ebert’s reaction, if you care.

— DRJ

Get a Job. Any Job.

Filed under: Economics,Education — DRJ @ 2:23 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Ben Bernanke is Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, the central bank of the United States. One of the duties of the Federal Reserve is to conduct monetary policy “in pursuit of maximum employment.” Thus, Chairman Bernanke wants to see Americans employed, but that’s not easy given the current job situation. This is especially true for young people ages 18-24, for whom college enrollment rates are at record highs and unemployment is alarmingly high.

Chairman Bernanke is scheduled to speak today to graduates at the University of South Carolina. Not surprisingly, his prepared remarks include advice about money and jobs:

“We all know that getting a better-paying job is one of the main reasons to go to college. … But if you are ever tempted to go into a field or take a job only because the pay is high and for no other reason, be careful!” Ben Bernanke said in his commencement address.

“Having a larger income is exciting at first, but as you get used to your new standard of living and as you associate with other people in your new income bracket, the thrill quickly wears off,” he said.”

Before becoming Fed Chairman in 2006, Bernanke was an economist and author in academia who taught at Princeton. He owns total assets valued at $1.12 million-$2.41 million, with income from his investments of $136,500-$318,000. In addition, his salary as Fed Chairman is $186,600 a year, and his wife receives salaries from the two Washington, D.C., schools. Perhaps he has sacrificed to take a government job but, if so, it’s not by much.

Bernanke’s remarks suggest his message to students is: Don’t worry about money. Be satisfied with any honest work. That isn’t a bad message, nor is it a surprising message given the challenging jobs outlook. However, while I agree with living frugally and within one’s means, I also believe each American generation should strive to surpass the last in technology, living standards, and earnings. The outlook for that is bleak now and Bernanke’s words imply he sees that, too.

Not everyone can have Bernanke’s life but how many of today’s graduates will come close?

— DRJ

A New Era in U.S.-British Relations

Filed under: International,Obama — DRJ @ 12:39 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

Voters in Britain went to the polls yesterday and while it’s not clear how the next government will be formed, Tory David Cameron may end up as Prime Minister. Getting a head start on his customary relations with America’s closest ally, President Obama has already questioned Cameron’s competence:

“According to tomorrow’s New Statesman, Barack Obama was unimpressed by his encounter with David Cameron earlier this year and commented: “What a lightweight!”

According to James Macintyre’s report, Cameron’s attempt to stress his pro-American and Eurosceptic credentials did not meet with Obama’s approval. According to Macintyre’s diplomatic sources, the Democratic candidate was “distinctly unimpressed” and labelled Cameron a lightweight.”

I think President Obama is eminently qualified to know a lightweight when he sees one.

H/T Allahpundit, of course.

— DRJ


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