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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/26/09

Our Political Prisoners

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Did you know the United States has in recent years prosecuted hundreds of people for political reasons? This is a crime, or rather a crime wave, that has thus far been addressed primarily by ignoring it. You can read a lot about it from bloggers like Larisa Alexandrovna or Scott Horton. But you won't hear the president mention it on TV.

In an attempt to convince the corporate media that this issue ranked right up there with governors' sex lives and celebrities' deaths, a group of notable speakers, judges, attorneys, victims, and witnesses, gathered and spoke on Friday morning at the National Press Club. You can watch the whole forum on C-Span. You won't find it anywhere else. Below is what I blogged from the event:

8:00 a.m. Don Siegelman (former governor of Alabama and victim of a politically motivated prosecution) had to go back to Alabama and won't be here. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers may not make it either. But everybody else is milling and chatting. Some people, I'm not supposed to say are here. I spoke with Scott Horton about Spain. He thinks they're going to spend 1.5 years on the 6 lawyers and prosecute and convict 'em. He also thinks Italy will soon convict the CIA agents and report them to Interpol and end their traveling.

8:11 John Edward Hurley, President, Sarah McClendon Group, opening, welcoming.

8:31 Andrew Kreig, journalist, author & attorney, says Siegelman was here yesterday but had to get back to Alabama for a filing of new evidence with his attorney.

8:36 Kreig says the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined an invitation to participate in today's forum.

8:37 Scott Horton: prosecutorial misconduct is the topic. Prosecutors wield incredible powers. Abuse must be held in check by Justice Dept itself. [Isn't that a weakness?] Horton quotes Robert Jackson on danger of targeting people rather than taking up important cases, of picking individuals to find a crime for rather than picking crimes and finding the guilty parties.

8:42 Horton notes that as attorney general, Michael Mukasey gave one speech on corruption and claimed to know of none, at the same time that stories of former attorney general John Ashcroft's corruption were in the news. Mukasey claimed that for the 14 months he headed DOJ there was no evidence of politically motivated prosecutions. Yeah? What about Don Siegelman, Sen Walker, Paul Minor, and many others? And what about all of the cases of refusing to prosecute Republicans or sabotaging possible prosecutions of Republicans, like Renzi, as exemplified by yesterday's report by Murray Waas -- a story documenting sabotage of a case by a man then appointed as director of public affairs by Mukasey? Mukasey repeatedly promised in Congress to look into the Siegelman case but never did. The current DOJ says it has inherited a mess (detentions, torture, etc.) but there is another mess. Holder did the right thing in the Stevens case. But what about all of these other cases?

8:51 Nan Aron, President, Legal Director, Alliance for Justice, introduces Elliot Mincberg, Head Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, speaking in place of Chairman Conyers who has to stay on the hill and vote this morning. Mincberg refers to reports like this one and this one. Committee is still investigating 2006 firing of US attorneys and has already demonstrated clear political motivation in firings, based on which prosecutors were too aggressive or insufficiently aggressive in going after Republicans or Democrats respectively. Mincberg recounts holding Miers and Bolten in contempt, and says settlement has given the committee more White House documents and that the terms of the settlement will be revealed after interviews, and there may be hearings. Second, the political hiring and firing, the testimony of Monica Goodling ... but we now have a new AG. [So what?] Holder might reconsider prosecuting Brad Schlossman. Third, the torture [he doesn't use the word]. Mincberg stresses the importance of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report, and says Conyers will hold hearings with Yoo, Bybee, Bradbury, and "hopefully a representative of the DOJ" after that report is released? [Why must this town shut down until that report is released? Who will enforce the subpoenas? Will Conyers use the Capitol Police? Why can they not subpoena a representative from DOJ?] Fourth, the warrantless spying (also waiting for a report). Fifth, today's topic: selective prosecution. We held LOTS of hearings, claims Mincberg and found extensive evidence of political prosecutions. Just the percentage of prosecutions of elected officials that were against Democrats had a 1 in 10,000 chance of being coincidence. A couple of cases in WI and PA have now been thrown out. But what about all the troubling activity by Republicans not prosecuted, such as the Republican voter registration firm in Nevada tearing up registrations of Democrats. See report on HJC website. Sixth, deferred prosecutions - Ashcroft. Seventh, abuse by FBI of Natl Security Letters (warrantless search warrants). Eighth, state secrets abuse. This is area where Mincberg admits great disappointment with the current DOJ and cites its sovereign immunity claim. Says committees in House and Senate are waiting [absurdly] for the DOJ's statement prior to marking up the State Secrets Protection Act. Ninth, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) had been turned into an office that told the White House what it wanted to hear. Tenth and final, voting rights was dealt with politically -- we held hearings, John Tanner - chief of civil rights division - resigned. [To Mincberg's credit he says a lot more a lot faster than Conyers would have.]

9:14 Q&A: Scott Horton asks Mincberg about settlement but he says he can't give details but that they have received new documents and that the White House continues to claim privilege to withhold other documents.

Go to 1:06:12 in the C-Span video, and watch what I ask Mincberg and how he answers. The camera is on me when I'm asking the question, and I wish it had been on him. Another camera in the room may have been on him. You'll notice that partway through my question I stop and ask him what he thinks is funny. What had happened was that I had asked whether the House Judiciary Committee would ever use the Capitol Police to enforce its subpoenas. The very idea of thus defending the powers of the first branch of our government made Mincberg giggle nervously. The notion that one might assert such power completely apart from the decrees of the emperor always disturbs congress members and their staffers.

9:20 I asked Mincberg why in the world his committee would delay subpoenaing Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury until the OPR report and whether they would use inherent contempt if subpoenas are violated, and why in the world not impeach Bybee. He said he really does believe that the OPR report will be out soon, although Holder recently said otherwise if you use the word "soon" the way I do. Mincberg also said that every subject of every OPR report is permitted to submit comments, even though Senator Whitehouse has said this is unprecedented - allowing Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury to submit edits. Mincberg thought that inherent contempt was funny and claimed that they had done better going through the courts, a claim that the public cannot judge except by saying there have been no hearings and no public satisfaction, and it's hard to imagine what secret outcome could have been BETTER than compelling all the recalcitrant witnesses to appear and testify. Mincberg said the House had just impeached Kent and probably would impeach another judge soon, and so was very busy, apparently too busy to impeach Bybee.

9:21 Mincberg says an interview with Rove has been scheduled but not occurred. No straight answer as to whether Rove will be put under oath. But every word will be transcribed and made public and under 18 US Code Section 1001 Rove cannot legally lie. In other words, the BETTER outcome than locking Rove up until he testified is this: he will testify in secret and not under oath, and he has still, years later, not yet done so.

9:28 End of Q&A. And speaking of abuses of justice, check this out: Proposal Offers Specifics On Preventive Detention.

9:30 We're running 30 mins behind schedule. Kreig introduces Hon. U.W. Clemon, Shareholder, White, Arnold & Dowd, former Chief U.S. District Judge, Alabama's Northern District (1981-2009). He says Siegelman case in May of 2004 didn't just spring up, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes it had an earlier existence. Two years earlier Dr Phillip Bobo convicted of Medicaid fraud and narrowly defeated in reelection. Siegelman was leading in polls for his reelection. 11th Circuit Appeals reversed conviction of Bobo. But Bobo was reindicted with Siegelman and an aide to him added as part of a conspiracy. And prosecutors were already shopping for a Republican judge and had requested a Judge Johnson to recuse herself. Then a Bush Sr.-appointed judge recused himself. Then a Clinton-appointed judge Smith was lobbied to recuse himself although Siegelman had no complaint and he saw no reason to recuse himself - but he did so. Then a Bush Jr.-appointed judge got the case and Bobo was doctor to this judge's children. Siegelman objected. So then the case came to Judge U.W. Clemon. A dishonest campaign in the media sought to disqualify Clemon. Clemon denied double jeopardy claim by Bobo but granted motion to disqualify Siegelman's lawyers. Justice Dept still sought to have Clemon removed and sought to poison the jury pool through the media. Clemon found no conspiracy. Government moved to dismiss and Clemon granted. Prosecutor said she was untroubled because a new indictment of Siegelman would come in a different district. DOJ was focused on the man, not the crime. It was the most unfounded case Clemon ever saw. (Of course, that new indictment did come.)

Q&A: Clemon answered a question by saying that Holder last week told him the DOJ was looking into Siegelman case. [Believable?]

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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