Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

January 29, 2012

Arresting the Witness Instead of the Criminals

By David K. Shipler

Does this make sense? The Obama administration is prosecuting a former CIA analyst for allegedly telling reporters the names of two interrogators, but it is not prosecuting interrogators who committed torture.

Sometimes the law collides with morality. When that happens, prosecutorial discretion is supposed to reflect a certain wisdom and perspective, not a narrow agenda of expediency. But here we have the United States misreading its national security interest and misunderstanding what constitutes a threat. It was the torture itself that damaged America’s global influence, not the disclosure of a couple of names to journalists. If any repair to American moral authority is possible now, it would come by bringing to trial those who authorized and carried out the torture—a federal crime much more serious than the victimless crime of which the analyst, John Kiriakou, is accused.

January 21, 2012

Imagining Terrorism: Bombs Not Nukes, Guns Not Germs

By David K. Shipler

After 9/11, we blamed ourselves for lacking the imagination to think that hijackers might drive jetliners into buildings. To compensate for this failure, we expanded our imagination to picture terrorism by nuclear, chemical, and biological means. Now a carefully researched study concludes that weapons of mass destruction are unlikely to be used by jihadi terrorists. Their goals are more attainable with explosives and firearms, and the skill and equipment needed to mount an unconventional attack are far beyond the reach of existing terrorist groups.

January 11, 2012

The Silver Lining of Super PACs

By David K. Shipler

Here’s a surprise: So far, super PACS have actually enhanced the political debate. They have used big money to inform voters about the checkered pasts of Newt Gingrich in politics and Mitt Romney in business, prompting mainstream news media to focus on legitimate issues that had received scant attention.

This is the first, not-so-bad impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) granting First Amendment rights to corporations, unions, and other groups. The negative effects may be felt in the months ahead, but for now it is easy to see why the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief supporting this outcome.

January 6, 2012

Obama Toys With the Constitution

By David K. Shipler

President Obama has adopted one of George W. Bush’s most troubling tactics, roundly denounced by liberals when a conservative Republican used it, but now generally excused by liberals when employed by a Democrat in the White House. It is the “signing statement,” a litany of reservations and reinterpretations of a bill, issued by a president as he signs it into law.

Obama did this on the last day of 2011 to soften the immediate effect of the military detention powers he had just been awarded by Congress. He said he would “not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” as the new law allows—but he signed a bill empowering any president to do so anyway. He rejected the statute’s requirement that foreign suspects be held by the military, saying he would use his option under the law to waive the mandate broadly, both for individuals and for “appropriate categories of cases.” Nevertheless, he signed a bill that would impose no such restraint on any president.