Thursday, November 17, 2005

A very scary Virginia terrorism case

I had vaguely rememberd hearing about this case a while ago. A US citizen of Jordanian descent was in Saudi Arabia at a religious school, was arrested by Saudi authorities accused of terrorism, held there for 2 years where he confessed to joining al Qaeda and plotting terrorist acts (including to kill President Bush), before being turned over to US authorities, extradited and tried here for terrorism.

Sounds like a straight forward terrorism prosecution, right?

Oh, yeah, and he claims that he was tortured into giving a confession there.

Huh, tortured in Saudi Arabia? Our close allies there would never do that, would they? Come now, torture people, in Saudi Arabia? Isn't that a humane place where a primacy is placed on human rights, where punishment is only meted out grudgingly and after maximum consideration? Uh, no, that would not be Saudi Arabia.

So, how on earth is our government prosecuting someone for a confession, apparently made without any corroborative evidence of his membership or actions, made in a Saudi prison? Am I missing something here? One of the world's more repressive governments gets a confession from someone while they're imprisoned for 2 years? Isn't that presumptively tortured? Can't we assume for the sake of an argument that just about any statement that comes from a person held in a Saudi jail is elicited through torture, that the Saudi government could probably get Michael Jordan to deny ever playing basketball, to get Martha Stewart to sing the virtues of using your fingers at a fancy meal, to get George Bush to admit making an error? Our government is now prosecuting people in our courts using only testimony extracted from Saudi police?

Am I missing something here? I hope. Tell me that there is more to this than a Saudi confession. Yes, I know US doctors examined him and say that the 4-10 lines down his back (4 if your a government doctor, 10 if you're his doctor) are consistent with not only torture, but just as likely of being scratched on the back with someone's nails, or something benign like that. But, haven't these repressive governments become good at torturing people with things like electric shocks to the genitals, so that they don't leave marks? Alright, I realize that FBI doctors were permitted to visit him, and they thought he was not being tortured, but he was there for 2 years. Did they visit him daily, weekly, 2 times the whole time he was there? And didn't the Nazis manage to clean up a couple of the ghettos before walking the Red Cross through them just enough for the Red Cross to say that they were not terrible places to be?

Give me a break, I really hope that there is more to this case than has been reported. If not, the jury had better come back not guilty (although, understand that they brought this case in Alexandria, Virginia for a reason, they're far more likely to get a conviction there). And regardless, what does this say about our fight for freedom around the world that we're stooping to this level to prosecute people? This is the freedom we're fighting for? Bring me back some of the old tyranny of the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Arnold's Special Election Flop

I've tried to keep bare-knuckled politics out of my blog, meaning that I could easily blog for hours about every political situation here, but then my blog would be no different than the multitude of political blogs out there, only far less in-depth and not nearly as good. People who do observe this blog would quickly abandon me completely (those who haven't already, due to my recent dearth of posting). However, some stories that are political of the "bare-knuckle" sort, impact directly on my life as a public defender. Those stories usually relate to political fights over judicial appointments and the Supreme Court, but here in California, the recent special election had special resonance for Public Defenders, and all other public employees statewide.

This special election we just had in California was only partially over the issues specifically named in the 6 "Republican" propositions. What it was really over was an attempt by Arnold and the Republican establishment to strip working people and unions of their power in Sacramento so that corporate interests could take control. One of the propositions that did not make it on the ballot because it was so poorly written would have ended the whole notion of defined benefit pensions, as most government employees presently have (yours truly included). There has been an assault on defined benefit pensions for a few years now, starting at the top, in Washington (attempts to turn social security into a 401k plan), and Arnold continued it here in California.

Defined pensions have become less popular over the years, in part due to very poor management of them by corporations (with corporate defined benefit pensions), state governments, and the employees who have received huge benefit increases in lieu of pay raises, knowing that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation would cover any future losses.

Arnold almost put a proposition on the ballot here in California that would have done that for all new public employees, but failed when the terribly written proposition was found to also have stripped survivor benefits police and firefighter pensions. As I've always written on this site, if you want to fight a losing political battle, fight it against firemen and cops, because they rule the state and local governments (anyone in uniform with guns makes a perfect political prop - in the state and local government it's cops and firemen, ditto for federal officials, with the addition of the military). Arnold just messed up by going after the men in uniform (and nurses too, they are mildly popular, but not nearly as much so as police and firemen).

Public Defenders in much of California are tied in with the District Attorneys (so maybe those clients who say we are just DAs in other clothes are right? - Just kidding, of course not), so we make the same money. This makes sense, we work for the same agency, doing much of the same work (although I would contend that our job is much more difficult), under the same conditions. Defined benefit pensions are just one compensation for the fact that, as attorneys, we could easily go out and make much more money in the private sector than we do here, but we don't, in large part out of idealism. The compensation of a defined benefit pension is one of the carrots that keeps us in the county for a long time, rather than having a frequent mill of people moving in and out of the office, and thus having to constantly retrain people to do the job (an expensive prospect). Furthermore, our pensions are in large part self-sustaining, so that in good times, the county dips into our pensions to pay off their general fund, while in bad times the county has to fund our pensions through additional payments beyond what we already pay into the system. However, in our relatively well-run county (in contrast to someplace like San Diego), our pension system is doing very well without any need for a county bail-out on the horizon.

So, the rejection at the polls of Arnold's initiatives was a huge victory for Public Defenders, as well as for much of the rest of the working people of the state. I believe that if public employee unions could not as easily give large sums of money to political causes, then the only voice that would be heard in state and local jurisdictions (as well as the federal government) would be corporate voices, which already outspend public employee unions by huge amounts. Since the interests of union workers is generally the same as the working middle class and lower classes everywhere, the large amount of worker's interests are covered when public employee unions are heavily involved politically. Squeezing out that voice would result in the squeezing out of regular people who cannot donate $25,000 per person to sit with the governator, and would squeeze out their interests as well.

California's recent election results were a vindication of the working person, and since public defenders are squarely in that group, it was a victory for us as well.