Voice Columnist Nat Hentoff Honored As One Of 100 Outstanding Journalists Of Last 100 Years

Congratulations are in order for longtime Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, who was honored yesterday as one of the 100 outstanding journalists of the last 100 years by New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Hentoff’s column has appeared in the Voice for more than 50 years. Unlike many of the other journos honored on NYU’s list, Hentoff — at 87 years old — still writes. Check his latest Voice column — about Governor Andrew Cuomo and a “ceaselessly overreaching government” — here.

Hentoff’s columns focused on civil liberties, music, and politics. He’s described by the Washington Post as “a foremost authority in the area of First Amendment defense. He is also
an expert on the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court, student rights and

Hentoff’s listed with fourth estate heavyweights like Ben Bradlee, Truman Capote, Walter Cronkite, and Ernest Hemingway.

The list was announced yesterday at a reception for the 100-year anniversary of NYU’s journalism school.

Click here to see the complete list — and congrats, Nat!


Joining the War Over the Constitution

Two months after the 9/11 attacks, 25 teachers, retirees, lawyers, doctors, students, and nurses—none of them professional civil libertarians—formed the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton, Massachusetts. They knew the Bush-Cheney war on the Constitution had begun.

That October 25, the White House had terrified Congress into rushing the Patriot Act into law. In the Senate, only Democrat Russ Feingold—accurately predicting the continuous rape of the Bill of Rights—voted against it, disobeying Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who desperately wanted to avoid the Republicans tarring the Democrats as unpatriotic.

The unintimidated 25 citizens of Northampton convinced more than 1,000 of their neighbors to sign a petition that, by the following May, motivated the Northampton City Council to unanimously pass a resolution mandating local police to inform the people when federal agents of Attorney General John Ashcroft were enforcing the Patriot Act in the town and its environs.

In the spirit of this nation’s founders, the resolution boldly directed: “Local law enforcement continues to preserve residents’ freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and privacy; rights to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures even if requested or authorized to infringe upon these rights by federal law enforcement acting under the . . . Patriot Act or orders of the Executive Branch.”

General Ashcroft was later to tell the House Judiciary Committee: “The last time I looked at September 11, an American street was a war zone.” Anyone on those streets could be the enemy.

As additional Massachusetts towns and the city councils of Ann Arbor and Denver took Northampton’s lead and passed similar resolutions, BORDC founder and director Nancy Talanian put together a masterful website to synchronize a growing national movement— (on which I click every morning to find out the cities, towns, and states creating new committees)—and news stories from around the country on further administration raids on the Constitution. By now, more than 400 cities and towns—and eight states—have passed BORDC resolutions and continue to monitor local and state police and their congressional representatives.

This truly grassroots movement is a 21st-century revival of the Committees of Correspondence started in Boston by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty in 1767, which became a news network throughout the colonies. Those committees reported the growing abuses by the King’s transplanted governors, customs officials, and troops of the Colonists’ individual rights, which were rooted deep in English history. In a 1773 secret meeting in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other rebels committed a hanging offense by starting such a committee in their state.

In 1805, an American historian of the rise of the revolution, Mercy Otis Warren, wrote: “Perhaps no single step contributed so much to cement the union of the colonies, and the final acquisition of independence, as the establishment of the Committee of Correspondence.”

As I have often reported here over the years, the BORDC, while not igniting a revolution, has strengthened the resistance—locally, regionally, and nationally—to our own king’s war on the Constitution. And some references in the Congressional Record show that members of Congress are aware of BORDC members among their constituents.

But the war on the Constitution continues. While the Patriot Act has been somewhat watered down, and there are continuing American Civil Liberties Union lawsuits to bring deeper changes, much of the Patriot Act—not to mention a noxious stream of Bush executive orders—keeps the war on the Constitution thriving. For example, I’ll soon be reporting on efforts by Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller to return to J. Edgar Hoover’s methods, with expanded FBI power to begin terrorism investigations of Americans without any evidence of wrongdoing.

Talanian, as the BORDC’s equivalent of Paul Revere, says: “These years of grassroots action to restore constitutional protections have led to increased oversight . . . but they have fallen short of the full restoration of constitutional rights and liberties.”

Therefore, a new BORDC “People’s Campaign for the Constitution” will “continue local organizing with a focus on the lawmakers in Washington—rather than city and county councils and state legislatures.” As Talanian emphasizes: “The new president, new Congress, and the 2009 expiration of Patriot Act provisions offer the best opportunity we have had . . . to change the direction our nation is taking.”

In a future column: the structure, organization, and resources (including a toolkit and database) of this BORDC rescue of the Constitution, as well as ways to get involved. Meanwhile, there is now available an essential, concise, and accurate blueprint, Talanian points out, “of how key anti-terrorism laws and policies enacted since September 11, 2001, affect Americans’ constitutional rights.”

The sizable booklet, The “War on Terror” and the Constitution, is organized around the Bush laws and policies—corresponding to sections of our Constitution—that directly affect our lives and those of others. Shown on each page are the breakdowns of what the Bush Tories have done to each part of the Constitution: For example, “Fourth Amendment: Right to Privacy: the Provisions of the Patriot Act/What They Say, What They Change/How Each One Can Affect You” is included as well as illustrative stories of the sneaky ways the Act is being used.

Take Section 206 of the Patriot Act: roving wiretaps by the FBI under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. How can that affect you? “There is no requirement that the FBI tap the line only if it knows that the intended target is present at the location . . . [this] allow[s] conversations of innocent bystanders who may be using the device to be wiretapped.” At their office. Or anywhere they use a phone or a computer.

Also included are key Supreme Court rulings on these laws and executive measures, with detailed notes that lead to more information. This publication should be in every place of learning, including graduate schools, and, as the new Congress begins, on the desk of every member.

To get a copy ($3, and wholesale prices for quantities), contact the Bill of Rights Defense Committee at or 413-582-0110. You can order one online at or download a printable order form at It’s a sequel to Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense.”


Consider the Constitutions of Obama and McCain as You Choose Sides

On the blessed day when George W. Bush leaves office, he will have left behind a largely hidden parallel government within this nation, a rogue apparatus that allows a President to be the law, with a holy patriotic mission to ignore the Congress and the courts when decisive action is needed.

And if the other branches of the visible government act up—brandishing the separation of powers inscribed in the Constitution—this president-czar works, mostly in secret, to maintain his authority.

The next president, to restore the Constitution and shred the Bush legacy of shadow law—and, in the process, repair our deeply scarred reputation in the world—must begin to root out the inner machinery of Bush’s parallel government.

But once he’s elected, who is more likely—McCain or Obama—to avoid being seduced by the intoxicating powers of the Oval Office? As you leap to an answer, keep in mind the cautionary historical warning by Oberlin College professor David Orr in “Refitting the Presidency to the Constitution” (, May 18): “Unless explicitly repudiated by the next president and prohibited by law, the precedents of the Bush presidency will stand. The expanded powers of one president typically are carefully guarded by their successors . . . Republican or Democrat.”

Let us suppose that Barack Obama is the next president and is impelled to extirpate the seeds of tyranny that Bush, Cheney, et al. have planted.

The odds are strong that the Democrats will then have larger majorities in both branches of Congress. But the odds are also strong that the current Democratic leadership—Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi—will remain in place. Neither has shown sufficient interest, let alone the passion, to resuscitate the Constitution.

Would Obama, after only a short time in the Senate, have the sustained determination, leverage, and organizing ability necessary to bypass Reid and Pelosi and create a new majority for the Constitution in both houses?

Let us further suppose that Obama has the grit to accomplish that, energizing even Democrats without safe seats so that they will spend less of their time raising money for their next campaign. Obama’s resurrection of our individual liberties, however, can still be overruled by a Supreme Court dominated by Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative allies on the bench—Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia—with the uncertain swing vote of Anthony Kennedy.

And here is a crucial difference when considering the two candidates: The new president may well have several vacancies on the High Court to fill during his term, particularly if re-elected. Bill of Rights protector John Paul Stevens is 88, still plays tennis, and long may he do so. Another part of the so-called “liberal” bloc, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is 75. Stephen Breyer is 69.

David Souter, 68, though expected to join the court’s right wing when George H.W. Bush nominated him, has proved an infuriating disappointment to conservatives. Souter replaced Justice William Brennan, an inspiring believer in the Constitution as a living, evolving guarantor of personal liberties. After retirement, Brennan befriended and influenced his successor. But the ungregarious Souter doesn’t enjoy Washington and its social life: Unlike the other justices, he doesn’t spend his summers teaching in foreign climes, preferring instead his rural New Hampshire home. Brennan enjoyed being the chief dissenter on the Rehnquist court, but if the Roberts court turns even more conservative, Souter might not stay.

John McCain has already given us his models for filling vacancies on the Supreme Court: Roberts, Alito, and the late William Rehnquist.

None of these men displayed much alarm over the Bush-style authoritarianism that has led to the establishment of CIA secret prisons and other “special powers”; the ever-expanding surveillance of Americans at home, including warrantless eavesdropping on our e-mails and phones; and the summary closing of our courts any time the administration invokes the “state secrets” privilege that prevents terrorism suspects from even mounting a defense.

In this month’s National Review Online, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a primary adviser to John McCain, makes it entirely clear that, as president, McCain would shape the Supreme Court with appointments intended to uphold the vast reach of Bush’s so-called unitary executive.

Appropriately, that letter to the National Review expounding McCain’s views— one that the senator himself has not disavowed—was spread around the world on the front page of the June 6 New York Times by Charlie Savage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in The Boston Globe exposing Bush’s abundant use of “signing statements” to exempt his administration from the laws he’d just signed. To quote Savage’s piece, McCain believes “that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international calls and e-mails without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that require court oversight of surveillance.” (Emphasis added.)

Barack Obama voted, as a U.S. senator, against the confirmation of Roberts and Alito, saying of the latter that his record revealed “extraordinarily consistent support for the powerful against the powerless” and “for an overreaching federal government against individual rights and liberties.”

Obama, moreover, has been mocked by such conservative columnists as Linda Chavez for having said—in the spirit of Justices Brennan and William O. Douglas—that he would be guided in his judicial nominations by his conviction that “[w]e need somebody who’s got the heart . . . the empathy to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.”

In all of the polling of the American electorate and its anxieties and hopes in the coming election, concerns about the Supreme Court and the filling of future vacancies do not rank very high.

But the identities of those nine deciders should be kept very much in mind when you vote. Because on any number of issues—whether you’re worried about winding up in some government database as a “person of interest,” or simply concerned about the future of health care—you won’t escape the power that the Supreme Court has in our lives.

On June 12, the Supreme Court did, however, rebuke both Bush and McCain by declaring the military commissions at Guantánamo unconstitutional!


Will the Latest Jerusalem Bloodshed Be Followed By Talks or Intifada?

The late Ala Abu Dhaim was a 25-year-old deliveryman in Jerusalem. A Palestinian Arab with Israeli citizenship, he lived with his family in East Jerusalem, and so was free to travel into West Jerusalem, where, on the night of March 6, he used his Kalashnikov assault rifle to shoot to death eight Israeli students attending a yeshiva, a religious school.

In his neighborhood, he was known as a gentle fellow who was looking forward to getting married this summer. But his family says that the recent retaliatory Israeli attacks in Gaza, which killed nearly 120 Palestinian Arabs, including children, had infuriated him.

Dhaim’s revenge seemed at first to be a solo operation, but on March 7, Hamas—after initially simply congratulating him—stepped forward to claim credit for the executions, according to a Reuters report. Whatever the truth of the case, with many Israelis now fearful that a third Palestinian intifada could soon begin, ushering in a new wave of suicide bombings, it’s clear that this first major murderous assault inside Jerusalem in four and a half years could well forebode many more human body parts strewn on the city’s streets.

When I first heard of the killings of the mostly teenage Israeli students, I remembered the worldwide shock and revulsion in February 1994, when an Israeli settler on the West Bank, Baruch Goldstein, rushed into the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and shot to death 29 Muslims as they were deep in prayer.

In his new book, A History of Modern Israel (Cambridge University Press), Colin Shindler, a historian at the University of London, notes that the Goldstein atrocity “radicalized more Palestinian Arabs and persuaded Hamas to extend its campaign into Israeli proper [with] suicide bombers.”

And some radical Jews, venerating Goldstein’s willingness to sacrifice his life for a Greater Israel, were strengthened in their own extremism by his example—including young Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for being “soft” on the Palestinians. (On Amir’s bookshelf was a collection of essays honoring Baruch Goldstein; Rabin had shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yasir Arafat and Shimon Peres for their attempts to reach a peace agreement.)

After Goldstein’s barbarous killing of Muslims at prayer, he was reviled by just about every sector of Israeli society, including those most unforgivingly hostile to Israelis working for peace.

This year, after Ala Abu Dhaim cut off the brief lives of those eight yeshiva students, there was jubilation in the streets of Gaza, with thousands of Palestinians celebrating and shooting off their guns in satisfaction. And at the mourning tent in Dhaim’s East Jerusalem home, waving over the heads of more than 100 grieving Arabs, were the green flags of Hamas.

Yet despite the burning anger among Israelis, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—resisting the inflamed demands of some Israelis that he send the full punitive force of the Israeli army into Gaza—insists that he will not abandon his negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. In a fierce contrary obbligato, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Israelis shouted “Death to the Arabs!” outside the yeshiva on the night of the murders—and Rabbi David Shalem, the director of the Institute of Talmud Studies at the yeshiva, yelled to the press outside (including a New York Times reporter): “Let the government go to hell! Write that down! Let the government go to hell!”

All of this brought me back to when I was a child in Boston—some 20 years before Israel was established in 1948 as a Jewish state. Almost as soon as I could walk, I joined other Jewish boys on the streets of my neighborhood carrying a blue-and-white tin container, collecting donations to plant trees in Palestine, which would somehow hasten the coming of a Jewish homeland. (Soon the Nazis would try very hard to remove the need for such a place.)

I had no idea back then, knocking on my neighbors’ doors with my little container, of the continuous bloodshed that would be generated by the ever-perilous existence of the Jewish state. Over the years, I’ve read the histories by advocates on both sides, as well as the revisions of history (by Israelis as well as Arabs)—and I have come to understand certain deep grievances that have been spawned by “the Occupation,” as have the Israeli Supreme Court and Israeli human-rights organizations.

Despite the new festering wounds in Gaza and Jerusalem, I am now somewhat encouraged by the wrenching realism—as reported in The Economist (March 8)—of “those Israelis who favor talks with Hamas,” as loathsome as the prospect may well be to both sides. They include “former heads of all three of Israel’s fabled and often deadly intelligence services: Ephraim Halevy [Mossad] . . . Shlomo Gazit [military intelligence] . . . and Ami Ayalon [Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic-security network].”

As I indicated last week, there are also Palestinians—including some in Gaza who are not celebrating the murders of the yeshiva students—who want all the killing to stop. And there are Arab governments who fear that a wildfire of Israeli-Palestinian violence could begin to engulf them all, inciting Muslim fundamentalists and other resisters to rebel against the authoritarian governments in those states. Egypt, for instance, has met with a Hamas delegation to try to work out a cease-fire in Gaza.

There is also a potential scenario that The Economist calls “fanciful” at present, even though it “may become more realistic” over time: an agreement between the bristlingly hostile Hamas and Fatah organizations “to let Mr Abbas continue to negotiate with Israel, [while] both Palestinian parties would agree to hold new elections—and to respect their results.”

More in line with the present grim reality is the reaction by Israeli citizen Moshed Harel, whose 15-year-old son was inside the Jerusalem yeshiva when Ala Abu Dhaim began firing randomly in the library. After waiting an agonizing half-hour to learn that his son was safe, Harel said heavily: “It’s a long war. It didn’t start today. It won’t end tomorrow.”

Across the street, a 19-year-old rabbinical student, Chaim Schur, told The Washington Post: “We just want to stop. We don’t want to go on killing kids in Gaza. It’s not our fault.”

Some years ago, I was told that the trees we Boston kids helped to plant in Palestine—in the hopes of seeing a Jewish homeland there one day—have survived. For the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, I hope they remain standing.


Will Christine Quinn Stand Up to Commissioner Kelly?

In her State of the City speech on February 12, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn—an undeclared but highly likely contender as our next mayor—warned the incumbent, Michael Bloomberg, that she wouldn’t stand for his proposed cuts in school funds, “because we cannot sacrifice educational quality in the face of fiscal responsibility.” But she didn’t say a word about what her likely main opponent in the next election, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, is doing to destroy the quality of life for students in those schools, with the NYPD’s School Safety Agents and regular police rampaging through corridors and classrooms, handcuffs at the ready.

Kelly will be hard for Quinn to beat: Maurice Carroll, the director of the Quinnipiac University Poll and a Kelly booster, reports in “Ray of Hope” (Daily News, October 14) that the police commissioner “is the star of the Bloomberg team every time [I ask] New Yorkers to rate their officials.”

Unless she ends her chronic silence about how the Kelly gang is teaching students to fear the NYPD, Quinn may find it hard to counter the commissioner’s image as Bloomberg’s “star.”

And Quinn certainly knows what’s going on. When the New York Civil Liberties Union’s executive director, Donna Lieberman, testified before the City Council last October 10, she quoted from a letter that Kelly wrote to Robert Jackson, head of the council’s committee on education: “There are more than 5,000 School Safety Agents [with the power to arrest] in the schools. There are approximately 200 armed police officers in the schools.”

And the NYCLU has also noted, in its determined effort to bring these official vigilantes under control, that “this massive presence would make the NYPD’s school safety division the fifth largest police force in the country—larger than [those of] Washington D.C., Detroit, Boston, or Las Vegas.”

Back in October, Lieberman told the City Council and Speaker Quinn that ever since the NYPD had taken over control of school safety in 1998, the “police officers and SSAs brought into the schools the thuggishness and aggressiveness of the street corner. In this respect, the police presence in the schools . . . undermined the very sense of security and the safe learning environment that they were brought into the schools to protect.”

And in this world-renowned center of democracy in action, the great city of New York, there is, the NYCLU emphasizes, “no effective mechanism to hold School Safety Agents accountable for this misconduct” (emphasis added)—to say nothing of the uniformed police.

“Misconduct”? The NYCLU is being too kind. In this largely segregated school system, as I’ve documented in previous columns, the brunt of this criminal police behavior falls mainly on what used to be called “minorities.”

The NYCLU hasn’t just been leading the efforts to expose this shame of New York City; it has also proposed the Student Safety Act, a piece of legislation designed to compel Mayor Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and the star himself, Police Commissioner Kelly, not only to ensure school safety but to stay on the right side of the law themselves.

Last month, in addition to the NYCLU, a coalition of organizations—including Advocates for Children, the Correctional Association, Teachers United, the Urban Youth Collaborative, and the Children’s Defense Fund–New York—all urged the City Council to enact the law.

This same City Council hearing also dealt with an issue directly related to the overpolicing of our schools: a student-suspension rate that has increased by 76 percent from 2000 to 2005 (the most recent year for statistics). In a later column, I’ll delve further into the consequences of these extensive suspensions, which involve more students here in those five years than the entire student population of New Haven or Camden, New Jersey.

As Lieberman testified, students who have been suspended are three times more likely to drop out of school, which also makes them more likely to be pulled into the school-to-prison pipeline. Years ago, reporting inside a high-security juvenile prison, I found that the overwhelming percentage of inmates had been school dropouts.

As for the Student Safety Act, it gives students the right to file complaints against School Safety Agents (who are hired and “trained” by the NYPD) with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. These complaints can be made for “excessive use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or use of offensive language.”

Moreover, this legislation encourages prosecution by the state of those SSAs who retaliate against students for filing complaints against them.

The act also requires that the NYPD and the Department of Education report to the City Council four times a year about the number of criminal-incident reports (including handcuffing, arrests, etc.) by the SSAs in each school. The act also mandates reports “on the race/ethnicity, age, sex and special education status of students involved in any of these incidents—and against whom any police action is taken.” And more specifically: “The type of police action taken in each incident (arrest or summons)—and the class of each crime (felony, misdemeanor or violation).”

The Department of Education, which has scandalously and wholly abdicated its responsibility for school safety to Commissioner Kelly, will have to report four times a year to the City Council on “the number, length and cause of every suspension in the city.” Until now, the DOE hasn’t had to provide specific information on which students are barred from school and why. Now, the DOE will also have to report four times a year on “the race/ethnicity, age, sex and special education status of all students who are suspended, expelled, or removed from a classroom by a teacher.”

Which means that if this legislation is actually introduced in the City Council—are you listening, Speaker Quinn?—there may finally be transparency regarding what the NYPD and its School Safety Agents are doing in this city’s schools.

The next step should be to hold the mayor, the police commissioner, and the schools chancellor specifically accountable for their nonfeasance in making this legislation so necessary. That would provide the students in this proud city with a valuable lesson: that no one—however high in status—is above the law.


Getting Our Reputation Back

Last April at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, a Democratic presidential candidate said of the present incumbent that “by condoning torture, kidnapping, and the operation of secret prisons, he has made us less safe from tyranny and terrorism. And by spying on American citizens and detaining individuals without access to courts, he has undermined our national values.”

That presidential aspirant dropped out of the race after Iowa. During his many years in the Senate, he has acquired more hands-on foreign-affairs experience than all the other candidates combined. He is also a constitutional scholar and still teaches constitutional law as an adjunct professor at Widener Law School in his home state. And he has introduced legislation to restore the Constitution and our reputation in the world. (It still languishes in committee.)

But the press and the voters paid little attention to Joe Biden’s candidacy. While campaigning, he also pointed out that “our enemies have used Abu Ghraib to recruit additional terrorists,” going so far as to declare: “We should raze Abu Ghraib.”

On January 12, the Associated Press reported that Lt. Colonel Steven L. Jordan, “the only officer court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib scandal,” has had his conviction thrown out by the Army—thereby ending the four-year investigation into the shocking treatment of Iraqi prisoners that the infamous photos exposed to the world. Yet despite that photographic evidence, “no officers or civilian leaders will be held criminally responsible. . . . ”

Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Justice and Defense Department lawyers who authorized those crimes can now breathe easier—along with Dick Cheney and the commander in chief in the Oval Office.

Biden, trying to awake the electorate, also condemned Guantánamo Bay—that parody of American due process—on the hustings: “Nations around the world view Guantánamo not as a facility necessitated by the war on terror, but as a symbol of American disregard for the rule of law.”

The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has come to the same conclusion. Speaking to a handful of reporters during a visit to Guantánamo on January 13, Mullen said: “I’d like to see it shut down.” Asked why, he responded: “More than anything else, it’s been the image—how Gitmo has become around the world, in terms of representing the United States. . . . I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us, that it’s been pretty damaging.” But Mullen also added: “I’m not aware that there is any immediate consideration to closing Guantánamo Bay”—perhaps because Dick Cheney, the vice-president for disregarding the rule of law, will not allow it.

I doubt that many Americans are aware of how people around the world—not the jihadists, but those who used to regard us with a measure of respect and even some longing to be here—feel about us now. In the January-February issue of American Prospect, John Shattuck—often a valuable source for this column as an ACLU official in the ’70s and ’80s—reveals the following:

“A poll published in April 2007 by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showed that in 13 of 15 countries—including Argentina, France, Russia, Indonesia, India, and Australia—a majority of people agreed that U.S. cannot be trusted to act responsibly in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

Al Qaeda’s strategists must have had a good chuckle over that.

In his article, titled “Healing Our Self-Inflicted Wounds,” Shattuck attempts to provide a prospectus on how Bush’s successor “can restore the rule of law to U.S. foreign policy—and rebuild American credibility and power.” He further demonstrates the steep challenge facing the next president and Congress:

“A survey conducted in June 2006 by coordinated polling organizations in Germany, Great Britain, Poland, and India found that majorities or pluralities in each country believed that the U.S. has tortured terrorist detainees and disregarded international treaties . . . and that other governments are wrong to cooperate with the U.S. in the secret ‘rendition’ of prisoners.”

Since 2006, there has been a continuing investigation by the European Parliament—one that has been watched closely by the press there—on the degree of complicity by European intelligence agencies and heads of state in the CIA’s kidnapping of citizens off their sovereign streets.

These suspects are sent by us to be interrogated in countries condemned by the State Department’s annual reports on human rights for habitual “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishments.” One of those countries is Egypt, which has been condemned by the State Department not only for the “abuse of prisoners” but also for “the [Egyptian] Emergency Law [that] empowers the government to place wiretaps . . . without warrants.”

Just like our government here at home.

Shattuck, presently the CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and, from 1993 to 1998, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, suggests that one way for the next administration to lawfully combat terrorism and restore our credibility internationally is “[t]o provide assistance to other countries for counter-terrorism operations that comply with basic human-rights standards.” He knows, of course, that we first have to show that we are willing to comply with those standards.

And, as Shattuck also points out, there are countries who now cite our methods—the methods that Joe Biden condemned—as a justification for their own brutalities. “Fighting terror has become a convenient excuse for repressive regimes to engage in further repression, often inspiring further terrorism in an increasing cycle of violence. . . . ”

Among these brutal nations are Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and Cuba, whose foreign minister, Felipe Pérez Roque, gloats that “Bush authorized torture at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and is [an] accessory to the kidnapping and disappearance of people as well as . . . clandestine prisons. ” (See my column, “How We Delight Our Enemies,” in the November 13, 2007, Voice.)

Shattuck urges that this country “should take the lead in drafting a comprehensive treaty defining and condemning terrorism within a framework of human rights,” thereby helping to “counter the claim that differences in cultural values, religious beliefs, political philosophies, or justifiable ends make it impossible to define the crime of terrorism.”

But who among the presidential candidates is most capable of leading the effort to create such an international human-rights consensus: Barack Obama? John McCain? Would either make Joe Biden our new secretary of state?

And if we have a Democratically controlled Congress next year, of what use in restoring our global reputation will the clueless Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi be? Maybe Biden can find time to tutor them.


Is Obama’s Constitution Strong Enough?

The morning after the historical surprise in Iowa, people from all kinds of backgrounds were feeling good about themselves, welcoming the real possibility—whether or not they intend to vote for him—of a black American President. I felt that way, too.

Even at the Daily News, not known as a liberal bastion, the lead editorial was headlined “Obama’s Shining Moment,” and the hosanna ended: “We are witnessing the first serious black candidate for the U.S. presidency.”

After the primary results in New Hampshire, however, the need for new history textbooks is no longer certain. But Obama, with customary vigor, is continuing what is essentially his “change will bring us together” campaign. The day after his “shining moment” dimmed, he was stirring a large crowd in Jersey City with his standard stump speech: education, global warming, variations on The Audacity of Hope.

In that book, subtitled “Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,” there is a chapter I was glad to see, “The Constitution,” in which he rails against the Bush White House for opposing “any suggestion that it was answerable to Congress or the courts.”

Obama did make one colossal mistake in that chapter, though, writing of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that “the outlines of Madison’s constitutional architecture are so familiar that even schoolchildren can recite them.”

Ask the first 100,000 schoolchildren you meet who James Madison even was—or whether they know that the Founders were so fearful of a king-like president that they locked in (or so they thought) a separation of powers among three branches of government—and you will be disappointed by their answers.

With his contagious spirit, Obama could be a powerful educator not only of American schoolchildren, but also much of the rest of the citizenry, about why this is the oldest constitutional democracy in the world—and what it will take to keep it. And he could show, forcefully, that the Bush-Cheney administration is dangerous proof that the Constitution is not self-enforcing.

Once in a while, Obama makes a passing reference to our diminishing individual liberties, but hardly ever in his stump speeches. At an early-morning rally the day of the New Hampshire vote, he told some 300 students at the Dartmouth College gym: “My job this morning is to be so persuasive . . . that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack.” One of the reasons to vote for him, he continued, was his pledge to end the Bush-Cheney era of “wiretaps without warrants.”

He didn’t add that Bush wants to make this spying on us permanent. And when he’s not in front of a roomful of students with the television cameras on him, Obama hardly ever shows the urgent passion for restoring the Constitution that he exhibits on other issues. Hillary Clinton also invokes “change” as if it’s a medicine to cure all ills, but she too largely ignores the incremental disappearance of the Bill of Rights—including the last rites for our guarantees of personal privacy.

The intersecting precedents this administration has created for what Commander in Chief Bush calls “the unitary executive” will not vanish after he does. This overturning of the very structure of the Constitution can continue for many years to come, under Republicans or Democrats.

So what are Obama’s plans to restore the Constitution—especially regarding the activities of our domestic and international intelligence agencies? And in view of Bush’s legacy with the Roberts-Alito Supreme Court, what would President Obama’s criteria be for filling any vacancies during his time in office? It would help if he would tell us now which Supreme Court justices, past and present, he most respects, and why.

It would also be useful if somebody on Obama’s campaign would give him the Freedom Pledge that Bruce Fein, chairman of the Washington-based American Freedom Agenda, has asked all of the presidential candidates to sign.

Fein, a conservative and a constitutional scholar, was in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, and he is a searing critic of this administration’s subversion of what it calls “American values.”

In my conversations with him, and in an October 28 letter in The New York Times, Fein has listed the powers that a presidential candidate should absolutely renounce if he or she intends to root out the noxious, lawless changes that Bush, Cheney, and their accomplices have imposed on our nation, and on what we represent to the world:

“Torture, presidential signing statements [which give the president power to ignore the bills he signs]; indefinite detentions of American citizens as enemy combatants; military commissions that combine judge, jury and prosecutor; spying on American citizens in contravention of federal statutes on the president’s say-so alone . . . kidnapping; imprisoning and torturing suspected terrorists abroad; executive privilege to shield the executive branch from Congress; prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act for exposing national security abuses [The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest had been threatened with such prosecution]; listing organizations as terrorist groups based on secret evidence; suspending the writ of habeas corpus during the conflict with international terrorism; and invoking the state- secrets privilege to deny victims of constitutional wrongdoing any judicial remedy.”

Senator Clinton, says Fein, has refused to sign this pledge. In fact, the only candidate to do so thus far has been Representative Ron Paul, the insistently singular Texas libertarian.

Barack Obama used to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and in his chapter on the Constitution in The Audacity of Hope, he emphasizes that “if there was one impulse shared by all the Founders, it was a rejection of all forms of absolute authority, whether the king, the theocrat, the general, the oligarch, the dictator, the majority. . . . George Washington declined the crown because of this impulse. . . . ”

Is Obama ready to commit himself to bringing that “impulse” back to our government? Although he insists that his candidacy will be an engine of change, to paraphrase Duke Ellington, it won’t mean a thing if ain’t got that constitutional swing. He quotes Martin Luther King on “the fierce urgency of now”: Show that where it most counts, Barack.


What the CIA Had to Destroy

So what was on those videotapes destroyed by the CIA? Let’s put a face to it. Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and, after being shot in the groin while trying to escape, was sent to recover in a CIA secret prison. He would be the first of the CIA’s many “ghost prisoners”—and also the first to test the value of what the president has often described as an “alternative set of [interrogation] procedures . . . that are safe and necessary.”

As described by Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
, Zubaydah—held in an ice-cold cell—was denied medication for his wounds, threatened with death, prevented from sleeping, incessantly blasted with pounding rock music (by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others), and, at last, waterboarded. After 30 seconds of feeling that he was on the verge of drowning, he was more than eager to answer any questions.

In a September 6, 2006, speech, George W. Bush triumphantly called Zubaydah “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.” After the application of those “alternative” interrogation procedures, which the president described as “designed to . . . comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations, [and which] the Department of Justice reviewed extensively and determined to be lawful,” the detainee “disclosed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [to be] the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks” and “also provided information that helped stop a terrorist attack being planned for inside the United States.”

But, Suskind added, two weeks before Bush’s words of praise for these “coercive” interrogations, Dan Coleman—the FBI’s leading expert on Al Qaeda—asserted that Zubaydah was “insane, certifiable, split personality,” and that he wasn’t the top operative he was made out to be. The CIA was informed of Coleman’s assessment, and it was, “of course, briefed to the President and Vice President.” Undaunted, Bush made his congratulatory speech and then surreptitiously said to CIA director George Tenet: “I said he was important. You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?”

After his involuntary contribution to the advanced arts of interrogation, Zubaydah became a resident of our penal colony at Guantánamo Bay, which the president has made an entirely law-free zone, much like the CIA’s secret prisons. But after two Supreme Court decisions contradicted the commander in chief in his assertion of unfettered war powers, the Bush administration reluctantly set up a transparently prosecutorial kangaroo court there.

In April of last year, appearing before a status-review tribunal to determine whether he had been accurately designated as an enemy combatant, Zubaydah testified, as reported in the New York Times, that as a Palestinian, and because of American support for Israel, “I have been an enemy of yours since I was a child.”

However, he insisted that as a longtime adherent of “defensive jihad”—and despite what he’d said after being waterboarded—”I disagreed with the Al Qaeda philosophy of targeting innocent civilians like those at the World Trade Center. . . . I never conducted nor financially supported, nor helped in any operation against America.”

He explained that he’d made false statements while being tortured by the CIA. Asked by the president of the tribunal, an Air Force colonel, “Can you describe a little bit more about what those treatments were?”, Zubaydah obliged.

Not surprisingly, his answers are not part of the transcript. I expect that Attorney General Michael Mukasey would consider those waterboarding details to be “state secrets” involving highly classified “sources and methods.”

Paul Gimigliano, a professional Pinocchio (i.e., spokesman) for the CIA, said that however Zubaydah described his treatment, “The United States does not conduct or condone torture. The agency’s terrorist interrogation program has been implemented lawfully, with great care and close review.”

If you have any doubts, just ask Attorney General Mukasey, whose department is conducting a close review (but close for whose sake?) of the destroyed CIA interrogation tapes starring Abu Zubaydah. But the Justice Department says that it cannot tell us how long this inquiry—which is being conducted in conjunction with the CIA—will take.

That’s not surprising in view of the intricate tapestry of cover-ups woven by both agencies and by the White House. With so little time remaining before the next administration takes over, a special independent prosecutor must be appointed before more criminal evidence disappears.

According to a December 30 investigation by The New York Times, as “interrogations of Abu Zubaydah had gotten rougher” in the CIA secret prison, “each new tactic [had to be] approved by cable from headquarters.”

CIA headquarters? Justice Department headquarters? White House lawyers? Names, please!

There’s another crucial dimension to uncovering the effects of what Zubaydah— terrified that he was about to drown— allegedly revealed during those “rougher” interrogations: There are several cases of purported terrorists before our courts who are being prosecuted on the basis of Zubaydah’s desperate testimony in that CIA black site.

For example, American citizen José Padilla was arrested at O’Hare Airport in 2002, after allegedly conspiring with Zubaydah and Al Qaeda to set off a “dirty bomb” in the United States. Padilla—himself relentlessly tortured while being held for years as an “unlawful enemy combatant”—first appeared in court on those charges before none other than Michael Mukasey, at the time a federal judge in New York. Mukasey ordered him imprisoned on a material-witness warrant, based in part on the information that had been proffered by Zubaydah under waterboarding. Then, suddenly, Padilla was taken out of the federal-court system by order of George W. Bush and vanished for years without even a hearing or charges or access to a lawyer.

Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, says: “It is not clear whether Mukasey knew Zubaydah’s statements were obtained by torture. But since he issued the warrant, Mukasey has a real or apparent conflict of interest” as one of the heads of the current investigation into the CIA- destroyed torture videos. Mukasey has appointed a career federal prosecutor to head the investigation and report back to him.

Cohn adds: “[Mukasey] has said it is premature to appoint an outside special counsel. But like the Nixon administration, the Department of Justice cannot be trusted to investigate itself. Congress should be pressured to pass a new independent-counsel stature.”

There are bipartisan constitutional lawyers beginning to apply that pressure, but there will be passionate resistance from Congressional Republicans. Do you think that Democratic Congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will give a damn?


50 Years of Pissing People Off

Sometime in the late ’80s, during a typical internecine squabble at the Voice, I took a cheap shot, in the form of a letter to the editor, at Nat Hentoff. There were many such squabbles back then, and an amazing number centered around Hentoff. Nat had a way of pissing off the writers and editors of two generations of lefties (by which, not to put too fine a point on it, I mean just about everyone who came of age from the Vietnam era on) that was unmatched by anyone I know of.

Suffice it to say that the spat had to do with something Hentoff had written about abortion, and my letter, which earned me pats on the back from some of my friends at the Voice, made liberal use of the word “fascist.” (We were young and passionate then and slung such words as “fascist,” “zeitgeist,” “subversive,” and “existential” the way Giuliani uses “9/11.”) I had also shown our disdain for Hentoff by briskly passing by his office door and refusing to ask him if he had gotten any good jazz records in the mail, which hurt me a lot more than it did him.

A few days later, I got my reply. In my mail slot, I found a reissue of a Pee Wee Russell album with a note taped to it: “Hey, give me a break. You may need it yourself some day. P.S. Listen to this. It might clear your head out.” What an asshole. Instead of jumping into the argument with pettiness and personal acrimony, he sought to create a dialogue with reason, tolerance, and jazz. What can you do with a guy like that?

Well, for one thing, you can read him, and—to borrow André Gide’s advice—do him the favor of not understanding him too quickly. It took me over 25 years to understand Nat Hentoff, and I’m still in the process of clearing my head.

I came to The Village Voice from Alabama in the early ’80s. (My first feature was a grudging appreciation of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, about which Hentoff said to me, “I’m not sure what the hell you were writing about there, but I loved it.”) I arrived in New York burdened with a concept of liberalism that time and experience have painfully stripped away. Our idea of liberalism—by which I mean most of my friends and colleagues—was grounded in sensitivity: We were determined not to give offense to any but those who weren’t as liberal as we were. More than one editor in chief (though not you, Marty Gottlieb) made us feel as though they were looking over our shoulder as we wrote. Nat Hentoff was fearless, never afraid to remind management that he wasn’t obliged to take a poll on something before coming to his conclusion. (“When I want your opinion,” I once heard him say to another Voice editor during a verbal debate, “I’ll ask Tom Hayden for it.”)

This caused resentment among those of us who lacked his courage, but that didn’t stop us from using his catch phrases: “crisis journalism,” for instance, about publications that descend on a story en masse when the shit hits the fan, but who ignored the issues before they exploded; the “tyranny of majoritarianism,” referring to activist groups who suppress dissent in their own ranks; “flash journalism,” exhibited by publications like New York Magazine—and all too frequently, he felt, The Village Voice—that stressed sensation over content; and my own personal favorite, “Free speech for me, but not for thee,” which I had to stop stealing when he used it for a book title.

“An intellectual,” said Camus, “is someone whose mind watches itself.” Nat Hentoff was and is an intellectual. Moreover, he is a liberal intellectual, out of a liberal tradition that predated my generation’s, one grounded not in sensitivity but in tolerance, a word I once snickered at but which—at a time when the right has adopted much of the prickliness and busybodiness of the left—is starting to look pretty darned good to me.

His politics, Hentoff once wrote, are “libertarian socialism,” two words that in theory seem to be as compatible as the NRA and ACLU, but in practice could have much of interest to say to each other. Because Nat Hentoff has never allowed his thought to harden into ideology, he’s never lost his talent to agitate us and make us rethink our own positions—to make sure that our minds watch ourselves. And if he’s contradicted himself occasionally, very well then, he’s contradicted himself. His note to me, I would find out over the years, made good sense. In giving him a break, I learned to give them to a lot of people and thus earned a few for myself. God knows, I’ve needed them. And the Pee Wee Russell record wasn’t bad, either.


Waterboarding the White House

In 2002, the year of the now-notorious CIA torture videos filmed in the agency’s secret prisons, high-level Justice Department lawyers told Alberto Gonzales, then the counsel to the president, and Bush himself that the commander in chief could ignore the Geneva Conventions’ prohibitions on the torture of prisoners.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an angry letter to Gonzales, immediately warned that this radical reversal of longtime U.S. policy would have a “high cost . . . in negative international reaction . . . and make us more vulnerable to domestic and international legal challenge. . . .”

Although ignored by the president, Powell’s predictions were spot-on. However, in this country, no CIA torturers—let alone their superiors, White House lawyers, administration officials, or the president himself—have been held to account for their involvement in these war crimes under our own laws and international treaties.

Last year, Italy issued arrest warrants for CIA agents who had kidnapped an Italian citizen and “rendered” him to be tortured in another country. (Though these CIA agents won’t be extradited to Italy by the Bush administration, they’d better not plan to vacation there for a long time.) Also last year, Donald Rumsfeld, in forced retirement, had to avoid a NATO conference in Germany and then hurriedly left Paris to avoid being charged, in both countries, with violating international war-crimes statutes.

But in the continuing furor here over the no-longer-secret 2005 destruction of these videotapes of waterboarding and torture, there is evidence of apprehension in the Oval Office and among other administration officials about the increasing pressure for an independent prosecutor to be appointed. Such a prosecutor would be empowered to find out whether there was administration involvement in this clear obstruction of justice by the CIA, since those tapes had been requested by federal judges and the 9/11 Commission.

It has already been disclosed by The New York Times on December 19 that between 2003 and 2005 (when the incriminating videos vanished), at least four leading White House lawyers were debating whether that incendiary evidence should be whacked out of existence.

The president claims that no one said anything to him about those dramatic waterboarding sequences until just recently, when CIA director Michael Hayden broke the news to him.

The four White House lawyers debating a coverup of CIA war crimes were Alberto Gonzales; John Bellinger, then with the National Security Council; David Addington, the fearsome former counsel to Dick Cheney and now his chief of staff; and Harriet Miers, one of Bush’s closest daily advisers, later ludicrously and unsuccessfully nominated by him to the Supreme Court.

Is it conceivable that none of these august administration officials, while deliberating the fate of the tapes, ever mentioned a word about them to the boss?

Tom Raum of the Associated Press noted on December 19 that “the very vision of White House officials sitting around a table talking about such an inflammatory course of action evokes echoes of Nixon and Watergate.” Raum also quoted New York University public- policy professor Paul C. Light: “It brings up the schooling that the Nixon administration received regarding the destruction of the secret White House tapes.” That “schooling” eventually flunked Richard Nixon out of office. That won’t happen with the present incumbent, but it still could lead to a special prosecutor subpoenaing the commander in chief to ask him what he knew regarding this smoldering case of obstruction of justice on his watch.

After all, while he was still in office, President Bill Clinton appeared before a grand jury to answer questions on what his Republican opponents alleged were very serious questions of potential perjury and obstruction of justice—and the destruction of these torture videotapes is a good deal more important than the president having oral sex. Says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center: “There is a presumption against the destruction of records involving potential or alleged government misconduct. But when there is a judicial preservation order in place, the destruction of such records raises far-reaching concerns.”

If President Bush occasionally reads the newspapers, he must know by now that there was indeed a June 2005 preservation order by U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy in Washington, which instructed the Bush administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay.”

But did that order cover the CIA’s secret prisons? We can’t realistically expect Attorney General Michael Mukasey to be a credible judge of that, since his Justice Department was deeply involved—through Alberto Gonzales and other administration lawyers—in discussions about whether to destroy these videos in the first place. (The videos went missing soon after Judge Kennedy’s order to preserve evidence was issued.)

Also, Bush loyalist Mukasey has already shown that he supports the president’s assertion of supreme powers in matters of national security. For example, the attorney general told an American Bar Association panel last month that the telecommunications companies who cooperated with Bush’s warrantless spying program on our phone calls should be protected from prosecution and even civil lawsuits!

Ordinarily, it’s the attorney general who appoints a special prosecutor. At present, Mukasey has selected only a career prosecutor at the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into this case—one who will not have the independence, coupled with the expansive authority of the attorney general, that a true special prosecutor would have.

On another note, I’m grateful for the attention in this current issue to my 50 years at the Voice. I have remained here this long because no one—editor or owner—has told me what I could or could not write. As for my ever retiring, my view is that of Duke Ellington. He and his orchestra often made long, arduous overnight trips for gigs—from Toronto, say, to Dallas. Seeing him look very tired one day, I told him: “You don’t have to keep doing this. You can retire on your ASCAP income from all the hits you’ve written.”

Duke looked at me as if I’d just hit a very bad note. “Retire?” he said. “Retire to what?”

As long as it’s up to me, I’m not leaving the Voice.