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Published: Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2018 19:58:58 -0400


Trump Is More Like Recent Presidents Than Anyone Wants To Admit

Mon, 12 Mar 2018 14:05:00 -0400

The flipside of Trump Derangement Syndrome, whose strongest form argues that the president is an "extinction-level threat" to democracy itself, is Trump Exceptionalism Syndrome, which holds that Trump is the greatest leader since Winston Churchill, the biblical kings David and Cyrus, or whomever. Recent events reveal something more mundane: Trump is all too much like the other recent inhabitants of the White House. We are neither living through the End Times nor at the start of New Dawn. Instead of entering some sort of political Singularity, we're still stuck in the Regularity. Trump is not a transformative character. Once we accept that, we can support the good things he does (supporting school choice, cutting corporate tax rates and regulations) while criticizing the bad (waving away due process, throwing in with white supremacists, and deporting immigrants, among other things). Trump's decisions to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum clearly fall into the bad category. They are idiotic, indefensible, economically counterproductive, and...not so different than similar policies levied by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Both of those guys pulled similar tricks on steel, after all. Bush did the same on Canadian timber, as Trump also did last year to much less fanfare than the current plan is getting. Hot and bothered that Trump isn't listening to his economic advisors? Back in 2009, Obama waved away concerns that slapping a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires would hurt U.S. workers. His administration took credit for saving 1,200 domestic jobs, even though later analyses found that the tariffs cost domestic consumers an extra $1.1 billion and actually pink-slipped over 3,000 workers on net. So when it comes to trade, Trump is doing exactly what recent presidents—conservative and liberal, Republican and Democratic—have done. It's lamentable, but FFS, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is out there saying she's "not afraid of tariffs" and that we need to chuck over free-er trade because it helps the corporations. She's also protecting her brand, so she's refusing to say whether she supports Trump's tariffs, his pullout from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or his renegotiation of NAFTA. But she plainly does, right? She just can't admit it, because it would screw up the narrative to admit that she and Trump—and Bush and Obama—actually share the same views on a bunch of stuff. As a presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ran on explicit promises to protect U.S. industries from "unfair" competition. If you're a free-trade, more-open-borders libertarian like myself, such broad, transpartisan agreement about letting in fewer goods (not to mention people) from abroad is actually a bigger problem and a tougher nut to crack than simply ascribing Trump's random policy choices to insanity, ignorance, and narcissism. When it comes to foreign policy, Trump isn't staking out bold new pathologies, either. The establishment has been flipping out because Trump agreed to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. There's no question that Kim is a despicable human being, even if various Americans were willing to walk a mile in his shoes when his goons arrested and tortured American college student Otto Warmbier for being a "frat bro." And there's no question that Trump doesn't seem to have any idea of what he's doing. Yet it seems more than a little overwrought to argue, as my friend Eli Lake does at Bloomberg View, that Trump "shouldn't waste his time negotiating with the dictator of North Korea." After all, it didn't work for Madeleine Albright during the last years of the Clinton administration, right? Instead, counsels Lake, Trump could go back to his instincts from the State of the Union speech this year when he told the story of dissident Ji Seong Ho's heroic escape from Kim's gulags. Trump said Ji's journey to freedom was "a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom." Helping North Koreans achieve this basic human yearning is much harder than meeting with their tyrant. It's also more prom[...]

The Guantanamo Defense Lawyers Quit Because They Found Microphones in Their Office Walls

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 13:10:00 -0500

The team of lawyers defending the accused USS Cole bomber resigned because they discovered their client meeting room was bugged, according to a report yesterday in The Miami Herald. Attorneys for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the Saudi man charged with orchestrating the 2000 attack on the U.S. Navy destroyer, quit the case in protest back in October and have refused multiple orders from the presiding judge to return to the commission. Up to now, the exact motivation for their departure has been unclear, beyond that it was related to a dispute over attorney-client confidentiality. But a prosecution filing obtained by Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, the only journalist continuing to cover the trial's proceedings, gives a fuller account of the events that have sent the 17-year-old effort to try the case grinding to a halt. Those events began last August, when the defense team discovered that there were a number of microphones built into the walls of the room designated for them to meet with al Nashiri, who is being held in Guantanamo's mysterious Camp 7 under undisclosed conditions of confinement. The defense team asked to raise the issue of the microphones before the judge presiding over the military commission, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath. They also wanted to get discovery regarding whether anyone had listened in on their meetings. But Spath wouldn't even allow them to specify their complaint in open court, and he denied the discovery motions. The three civilian attorneys then resigned, arguing that Spath had made ethical representation impossible. Those resignations set off a bitter feud between Spath and the defense team as he attempted to get them to return to the case. When the Marine general in charge of the defense team refused to order their attendance at the commission, Spath held him in contempt and sentenced him to home confinement before being overruled by officials at the Department of Defense. Then, apparently in a moment of intense frustration, Spath instructed the military prosecutors to draw up arrest warrants for the recalcitrant attorneys—even as he observed that their arrest would probably impede the proceedings even further by jeopardizing their security clearances, and thus their ability to keep representing al Nashiri. Spath later thought better of his order, declining to arrest the lawyers but suspending the proceedings entirely instead. In a lengthy monologue that betrayed intense emotional distress, Spath said from the bench that the case had caused him to consider retiring from the military. The stress and uncertainty had made him unable to sleep, the judge said, and he had resorted to running on the treadmill all night. Without instructions from a higher court, he couldn't keep hearing the case. "We're done until a superior court tells me to keep going," he said. "We are in abatement. We're out." Prosecutors are now asking the U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review, the intermediate appellate court for court-martial proceedings, to order Spath to resume the case. They claim the microphones were left over from previous unrelated interrogations conducted in the room, and that they were never turned on during al Nashiri's meetings with the defense.[...]

Florida School Shooting Resurrects Terrible Plan to Prevent People on the No Fly List from Buying Guns

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 13:25:00 -0500

A bipartisan group of senators is again attempting to restrict gun rights on the basis of inclusion in federal watchlists used to keep people suspected of terror ties from boarding planes. "No fly, no buy" is back. In response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) announced a bipartisan push to resurrect the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act to keep people from legally buying guns on the basis of being on a pair of federal watchlists. "Our bipartisan bill is based on one simple principle: if you are considered to be too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you should not be able to buy a firearm," Collins justified in a statement earlier in the week. Several other legislative sponsors, including Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) included their own statements. Flake added, "Terrorists shouldn't have access to guns, and this legislation has the teeth to make sure they don't." The statements by other senators are all in a similar vein: The government has already declared these people are too dangerous to be on planes, so they shouldn't have guns. The problem with these comments is that we are expected to accept that the inclusion on a secret government list is an appropriate way to declare somebody to be a "terrorist" absent any actual conviction for criminal activity. These are people on government watchlists for suspicion of terrorist ties. But that suspicion is not always based on accurate assessments. The federal government has been sued over these secretive no-fly lists. The suits have argued that people placed on these lists are deprived of due process. People who are on watchlists have trouble getting off of them even after demonstrating they have no ties to terrorism. In one notable case, a person ended up on the watchlist entirely because an official literally checked the wrong box, and it took a lawsuit to uncover. So the problems that existed when legislators pitched this back in 2016 remain. This bill uses lists that often deprive people of due process and deny them their right to travel freely in order to further deprive people of due process and further deny them an additional right to self defense. And there's no evidence that this bill would actually stop any mass shootings. The slightly good news is that there's an expedited appeal process in the bill that would allow a person denied permission to buy a gun under this bill to go to the courts to have the refusal overruled. But it also allows the attorney general to keep information secret for classified or national security purposes, and it gives federal authorities permission to use information gathered secretly via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as justification. That matters because Congress and the president recently just renewed and expanded Section 702 of the FISA Amendments that authorizes the government to access data collected secretly domestically about Americans in connection with certain crimes. Collins says that the two lists include fewer than 3,000 Americans. Respecting citizens' due process shouldn't be dependent on some arbitrary threshold of the number of people affected, but no doubt it makes it easier to sell to the "Do Something" crowd while at the same time reducing the number of people who have a personal stake in the outcome who would resist. Yesterday, President Donald Trump said he thinks due process should be secondary to the goal of seizing guns from whoever the government or law enforcement officials deem bad. During the 2016 campaign he actually endorsed "Don't fly/don't buy" regulations, but later walked that position back. A spokesperson from the American Civil Liberties Union tells Reason the organization is still evaluating this current proposal, but in 2016 opposed an amendment by Collins to use the no fly list as a mechanism for denying gun purchases. They noted back then: The government contends that it can place on the No Fly List American citizens who have never been charged let alone convicted[...]

‘Peace Through Strength’ Is a Racket

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 08:00:00 -0500

Donald Trump has embraced the popular "peace through strength" doctrine (PTSD) with his characteristic panache: "I'm going to make our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody—absolutely nobody—is gonna to mess with us," Trump has said. On other occasions he's said similar things: "We want to defer, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military strength" (same link) and, a year ago, "Nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody. It will be one of the greatest military build-ups in American history." I will acknowledge that the PTSD has surface appeal. Why not show the world the United States is so awesomely powerful that no one in his right mind would even think to get on its wrong side? It seems to make sense in a practical sort of way. Once people believe that, of course, they are softened up to accept unlimited military spending and the concomitant deficits and debt. As John T. Flynn used to say, military spending is a favorite of big-government types precisely because the conservatives won't object. Conservatives rail against even small amounts of so-called foreign aid and welfare, but they drool over monstrous sums for the armed forces and spy agencies. (Thankfully, some conservatives don't.) Progressives, by the way, are not immune to the allure of military spending. When a Pentagon budget cap was debated a few years ago, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina), a leading progressive and a Black Caucus leader, opposed it because he feared losing jobs in his district. Military spending thus has something for nearly everybody: strength for conservatives; economic stimulus for progressives. The conservative Keynesians like both justifications. It takes only a few minutes to see that the "peace through strength" doctrine is a racket intended (by some of its advocates at least) to gull the unsuspecting populace into supporting whatever the war party and the Pentagon want. It is handy for parrying the antimilitarist' charge that its espousers are dangerously reckless, if not outright warmongers. "We're not warmongers," they can reply. "A military second to none will prevent war and promote peace. We're the peaceniks. You doves are the promoters of war." They are also likely to quote (without knowing the source) Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus's De re militari, "If you want peace, prepare for war." Brilliant!—but the doctrine encases a racket just the same, much as "war is a racket," as the highly decorated U.S. Marine Maj. Gen Smedley Butler put it. I'd like to meet the grifter who thought it up. At least one thick book could be written on the flaws in the doctrine. I can sum them up by invoking the law of unintended consequences and the law of perverse incentives, by which I mean the well-established public-choice problems regarding policymaking and voter interest. People may have the best intentions in supporting the PTSD, but they have absolutely no reason to believe the policy would be carried out as they envision. We must expect the worse, or as David Hume charmingly wrote, "Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, … every man ought to be supposed a knave." Had we listened to Hume, many fewer things would have gone awry. Trump's deployment of the PTSD suggests that the U.S. military isn't already powerful enough to deter an attack. But that is balderdash. The government now spends more on the military than the next 12 countries combined. The recent increase alone was bigger than Russia's entire military budget. But that is an understatement because the Pentagon budget is far from the total amount the U.S. government spends on "national security." Robert Higgs wrote in 2007: Hardly anyone appreciates that the total amount of all defense-related spending greatly exceeds the amount budgeted for the Department of Defense. Indeed, it is roughly almost twice as large…. Lodged elsewhere in the budget, however, other lines identify funding that serves defense [...]

In Civilian Court, Terrorist Sentenced After 17 Months; At Guantanamo Tribunal, Still No Trials After 17 Years

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 14:12:00 -0500

Tuesday saw two major developments in America's efforts to prosecute accused terrorists. Between them, they undermine an argument about the alleged need to try terror suspects in military courts. The first development was the sentencing of Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the so called "Chelsea Bomber," who detonated three homemade bombs in New York and New Jersey in September 2016. A judge in the Federal District Court in Manhattan sentenced Rahimi to two life terms yesterday, just 17 months after Rahimi's arrest. It's hardly the first time our civilian courts have taken care of a terror case with such efficiency. "Shoe bomber" Richard Reid was sentenced in January 2003, just over two years after he was arrested. Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov, the ISIS-inspired Uzbek who allegedly drove a truck through a crowd of pedestrians in downtown Manhattan last Halloween, was in federal court within 24 hours, and he has already offered to plead guilty on the weight of the evidence against him. A jury found Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a Libyan national involved in planning the 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, guilty of terrorism charges last November. These cases have at times required some deviations from standard federal criminal procedures, largely to protect U.S. foreign intelligence sources. But they have been conducted, for the most part, in the same manner as the many other criminal prosecutions heard in federal courts every year, and they aren't taking dramatically longer to resolve than other criminal cases. Yesterday's second development, however, is rather less impressive. The military commission at Guantanamo Bay is currently attempting to try Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Yesterday an Air Force judge, Col. Vance Spath, ordered U.S. marshals to arrest two civilian attorneys who had resigned in protest from the team of lawyers attempting to represent Nashiri. More than 17 years after the Cole bombing, a trial date has still not been set. A complete description of the events which have led to this latest showdown could probably fill several volumes, but the short version is that the two civilian attorneys, employed by the Department of Defense, said they could no longer ethically represent al-Nashiri after Spath ruled that their communications with him were not entitled to confidentiality. They received permission to withdraw from the case from their military supervisor, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker. This upset the judge, who declared Baker guilty of contempt and sentenced him to 21 days of confinement when Baker refused to order the lawyers back to the tribunal. After higher-ups at the Pentagon overturned Baker's sentence, Spath ordered the two back himself. They also refused. Thus the arrest warrants. This ongoing tragedy of errors will not be altogether unfamiliar to those who have followed the ad hoc military courts that hawks insist are essential to bringing terrorists to justice. Similar drama has swirled around the other high-profile trial attempt at Guantanamo Bay—that of the six detainees accused of helping plan the 9/11 attacks. That case has been bogged down in years of pre-trial bickering between defense, prosecutors, judges, and the Pentagon. The Obama administration tried to transfer the case to federal court in 2009, but was blocked when Congress outlawed the transfer of Gitmo detainees onto U.S. soil. The case was sent back to Guantanamo, but efforts to take it to trial there were derailed when it turned out the CIA had hijacked the court's audio censorship system, meant to prevent the inadvertent broadcast of classified material to the court's spectator area, and was blocking audio without the judge's approval. We supposedly needed those military tribunals because ordinary criminal legal procedures were insufficient to address terrorism. But boring old federal courts keep running up the score against military justice.[...]

CNN’s Patty Hearst Docuseries Shows Surprising Depth

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:01:00 -0500

The Radical Story of Patty Hearst. CNN. Sunday, February 11, 9 p.m. Not to be flippant, but I sometimes think Patricia Hearst—the kidnapped heiress turned bank robber turned brainwash victim, not necessarily in that order—has been my personal full-employment program. I've been writing newspaper and magazine stories about her almost from the moment she was kidnapped in 1974, a stream of assignments that shows no sign of ending. I am, however, small economic potatoes compared to CNN's Jeffrey Toobin. After buying 150 boxes of research materials from one of Hearst's kidnappers—defense files compiled for their criminal trials, including secret FBI documents and reports from private investigators—he leveraged it into a series of blockbuster media properties: A book! A podcast! A movie! A TV series! The film was deep-sixed by a timid studio, at least temporarily, when an angry Hearst played the #MeToo card. (Satiate unfulfilled longing for a big-screen treatment with all those Patty-porn flicks from the 1970s or even Paul Schrader's lacerating 1988 film Patty Hearst.) But the TV show has arrived. Toobin's six-part documentary, The Radical Story of Patty Hearst, kicks off on CNN with back-to-back episodes Sunday. And somewhat to my surprise, there is still considerable life in the story, despite who is telling it. Hearst, an heiress to the Hearst media fortune, was an apolitical 19-year-old college kid when she was grabbed by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a band of semi-literate and fully crazy "urban guerrillas" who had already killed an Oakland school superintendent for his imagined fascism. (He wanted to introduce student IDs to the school system.) They threw her into a closet for six weeks, raped her, and threatened to kill her, reading her to sleep at night with the works of Stalin. When Hearst emerged two months later, she declared she had switched sides—"I have chosen to stay and fight"—and was now at war with the "pig Hearsts." What followed was a lunatic rollercoaster ride of bank robberies, shootouts, and bombings that ended with most of the SLA members dead and Hearst in the custody of the FBI, claiming to be brainwashed. As I wrote when Toobin's book American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst appeared in 2016, "It is not easy to botch an account of the Hearst case, which overflowed with primal cultural fears, political nutballery, criminal bang-bang, and lurid sexual subtexts." Toobin, however, proved himself equal to the task, managing to somehow produce a text with the batty lynch-mistress vehemence of his former CNN colleague Nancy Grace that was nonetheless as dull as the Stalinist semiotics the SLA loved. With barely a few sentences about real-life instances of what psychologists called coercive persuasion that might lend weight to Hearst's brainwashing defense—American POWs in North Korea who confessed to preposterous accusations of biological warfare, the bank-robbery hostages so smitten by their captors that they prompted the coining of the phrase "Stockholm syndrome," the hundreds of members of Rev. Jim Jones' doomsday temple in Guyana who let him talk them into mass suicide—Toobin blithely declared Hearst a thrill-seeking rich kid invoking class privilege who belonged in jail. There was no reason to expect anything different from The Radical Story of Patty Hearst. But, startlingly, Toobin proves himself a much better storyteller when the medium is video, at least for the first five hours or so. A large part of that is due to the surprising presence of a couple of long-silent participants in the Hearst drama. One is Steven Weed, Hearst's fiancé (and, ahem, former high school math teacher) at the time of her kidnapping. To many of the Americans following the case, Weed seemed a sketchy character from the beginning, a sexual wastrel in search of teenage nookie and a lifetime lunch ticket from a rich daddy. The impr[...]

Judge Says Defense Department Can't Transfer U.S. Citizen Without Her Permission

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 12:20:00 -0500

(image) Somewhere in Iraq, an unnamed American-Saudi dual citizen has been accused of fighting for ISIS and put into U.S. military detention. After winning a protracted legal fight just to get into federal court, he has initiated a habeas corpus suit for his release. The Pentagon says it can transfer him to another country's custody, and thus out of the court's jurisdiction, at any time. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled last night that no, actually, it can't.

The new permanent order (which coincided with the expiration of an interim order barring transfer for five days) was a limited victory for civil libertarians, who have long opposed the military's claim of broad authority to detain terror suspects overseas with limited access to judicial review.

In this case, the government has argued that broad "national security and foreign relations concerns" preclude the courts from reviewing the military's decisions about what to do with terrorism suspects incarcerated abroad, even if they are U.S. citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing the prisoner, countered that the government must specify a "positive legal authority" (such as an extradition request pursuant to an established treaty) for transferring a military prisoner, and that a court has the power to review and possibly reject a claim of such authority.

Chutkan largely sided with the ACLU. Her order does not, however, grant the ACLU's request for a complete ban on transferring the man into foreign custody. Instead, it orders the Department of Defense to notify the ACLU at least 72 hours before it plans to move the prisoner to another country, providing an opportunity to contest the transfer at that time.

Ostensibly a compromise between the two parties' positions, this resolution is a deft handling of the case's complex procedural position. Because the government has not specified where it wants to send the man (or indeed, whether it actually wishes to transfer him at all) a blanket ban on any transfer would likely be rebuked as overbroad on appeal. Under current Supreme Court precedent, a valid criminal extradition request would likely provide valid legal basis for a transfer.

But by merely requiring notice prior to transfer, the judge has preserved the ACLU's ability to argue that transfer to whatever country the government may eventually specify as the intended recipient is unauthorized by existing laws or treaties. In this way, Chutkan has effectively frustrated the government's desire to do as it wishes with the detainee without any kind of judicial scrutiny.

The order has no effect on the merits of the imprisoned man's ongoing claim that his detention by the U.S. military is unjustified. Absent an approved transfer out of U.S. jurisdiction, the ACLU says they will continue to pursue those claims on his behalf in the coming months. Although the government's legal basis for the detention has not been publicly specified at this time, it is likely that the controversy will focus on whether the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed immediately after 9/11 extends to the ongoing military operations against ISIS in the Middle East.

The TSA Is Still Really Bad at Evaluating Risk

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 10:45:00 -0500

As millions of Americans get a friendly holiday pat-down on their way to Grandma's house, here's a not-so-comforting reminder: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is still really bad at the one thing it's supposed to do. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concludes, yet again, that the TSA does a poor job of assessing risk and allocating resources appropriately. Though the agency is most obvious (and most obnoxious) at airports, the TSA also plays a regulatory role in the security of America's train lines, mass transit systems, and pipelines. You're not going to see X-ray machines installed at your local metro stop—thankfully—because surface transportation operators have the primary responsibility for securing their systems. The TSA, meanwhile, employs "surface inspectors" to enforce security regulations for freight and passenger rail. According to the GAO, the agency has not updated its comprehensive risk assessment since 2009. "Given that TSA spends only about 3 percent of its budget on surface activities, it is crucial that the agency have complete information on how resources are being used in order to best allocate these limited federal surface transportation security resources," the auditors write. Even with the information it has, the TSA makes poor decisions. One mode of surface transportation deemed the lowest risk by TSA (the report does not specify which mode) accounts for 6 percent of domestic risk, but it received between 35 and 45 percent of the agency's attention between 2013 and 2016. "TSA officials could not provide documentation of how and why they selected certain work plan activities to address lower risk modes, or how they monitored the extent to which implemented activities aligned with or addressed risks," the GAO finds. "As a result TSA could continue to prioritize its limited resources to lower risk surface modes, leaving fewer resources available for higher risk modes." Remember: Assessing and countering terror risks is literally the TSA's only job. Terrorism, even the threat of it, is scary. But it is unrealistic to expect any government agency—espescially one that routinely fails to catch knives and other weapons being smuggled through its own airport security apparatus—to stop all determined attackers. There simply aren't enough resources to cover all the potential targets and stop all potential threats. That's why risk assessment is critical, and it's why understanding of risks must evolve as threats and terror tactics do. Bureaucracies are not exactly famous for their ability to evolve quickly. The TSA's problem likely goes well beyond the simple fact that it has not updated its comprehensive risk assessment guidelines in eight years—something the agency says it will start doing shortly. The deeper problem is that it is a sprawling, calcified government operation that was created to counter a very specific method of attack in the wake of 9/11. Terrorism today looks quite different. If the TSA cannot keep up, Congress should consider some alternatives. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

Trump and Associates Can't Stop Scapegoating Immigrants

Sun, 17 Dec 2017 07:06:00 -0500

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna displayed an odious hostility to liberty at a press briefing last week when he tried to associate immigration with terrorism. "If you have immigrant visa programs where the eligibility criteria are low to nonexistent or even an outright lottery," Cissna, "you're not selecting for the types of people that we [sic] want in this country, according to criteria, that will ensure their success in our nation. That will ensure that they will assimilate well." I can think of one type of person I'd rather not have in the country—people like Cissna. Who the hell is he or anyone else to participate in a coercive process to "select[] for the types of people" who can live in the territory called the United States? What gives anyone the right to set criteria for that? The country is not a country club requiring membership criteria. Individual property owners of course should be free to set any criteria for selecting who lives or works on their property. If someone wants to exclude people from other countries, they should be free to do so without government permission or interference. But such freedom would necessarily assure that criteria will differ among property owners. Owners with more liberal criteria should also be free to welcome—to their homes, rental properties, and businesses—people from other countries. Those property owners also should not be required to have government permission or be subject to interference. "Anything that's peaceful," as Leonard Read put it. It should not be the government's prerogative to define and ensure immigrants' "success" and assimilation. We have zero reason to be confident in the ability of politicians and bureaucrats to predict success, however defined. And whether people assimilate is not the government's business. The last thing we should want is politicians and bureaucrats managing the culture. We are all immeasurably richer—in all kinds of ways—because many past immigrants did not assimilate, despite bigoted pressure, official and private. Cissna specifically criticized the lottery, or diversity, visa and chain, or family, migration. Cissna did so because two recent terrorism suspects entered the country through those programs in the immigration law. (For the record, I oppose immigration law because I favor open borders.) The diversity visa program opens immigration to people with "at least a high school education or at least two years of work experience in an occupation which requires at least two other years of training or experience" who originate in "countries with low rates of immigration to the United States in the previous five years." Ending the program would condemn even more people to lifelong poverty than now occurs because of U.S. immigration restrictions. Cissna says the "low" criteria for qualifying for the lottery make it prone to fraud by terrorists. Of course, he had no data to show the program is a major threat because it isn't. He would not say that a recent terrorism suspect had something in his background that should have barred his entry. (Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov came to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010.) Cissna instead dismissed well-documented studies showing that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born citizens. Lottery visa immigrants aren't exempt from vetting, though demagogues like Cissna want us to think they are. (For Trump's own ignorance on display, see this.) His critique of chain migration is equally flawed. (Akayed Ullah came from Bangladesh in 2011.) , First, it's a "'contrived term' that seeks to put a negative light on a phenomenon that has taken place throughout the history of the country," writes immigration champion Stuart Anderson. Moreover, entry through this program is in no way expedited. "The wait times for sponsoring a close fa[...]

A U.S. Citizen Suspected of Joining ISIS Has Been Held for Months Without Charges or a Lawyer

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:10:00 -0500

(image) An American citizen has been held in Iraq as an enemy combatant for several months, and the federal government has refused to reveal his name or to give him access to a lawyer.

According to the government, the man in question is a United States citizen who went to Syria and joined the Islamic State. Kurdish forces captured him in September, and he was handed over to the U.S. military on September 14. The authorities refuse to identify the man, and he has not been before a judge or in a courtroom since his detention.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is attempting to intervene on the man's behalf. Yesterday U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan took a dim view of the Department of Justice's excuses for keeping the man hidden at a secret prison in Iraq.

The government is being secretive about the man's identity for a reason: The Justice Department is trying to push away legal challenges to his detention by claiming that nobody has legal standing to represent him. Nobody outside the feds knows who he is, therefore nobody could claim to represent him in court. That the government itself is the reason why we don't know his identity is just the icing on the cake.

The Washington Post describes Chutkan's reaction to the Justice Department's arguments:

"How on earth is the man to exercise his habeas rights," and contest being held, Chutkan at one point asked attorneys for the government at an hour-long hearing. The judge said their position suggested "an end-run" around the Constitution by saying in effect "You don't get to exercise your habeas rights until we decide what to do with you."

ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz called the government's position "Kafkaesque" and "a direct assault" on the authority established by the U.S. Supreme Court during George W. Bush's presidency for U.S. citizens suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to challenge detentions after being captured on the battlefield.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 in Hamdi v. Rumsefeld that U.S. citizens being held as enemy combatants still retain the right to due process and to challenge their classifications as combatants. The Pentagon has disclosed (after being ordered by this judge to do so) that the man has requested a lawyer. That attorney has not yet been provided.

The behavior here by the Pentagon and Department of Justice is pretty repulsive, but the fact that the case involves a U.S. citizen who has apparently joined ISIS means it's not likely to inspire much public outrage. Nevertheless, the purpose of due process is to guarantee the rights of those accused of even the most egregious of crimes. This guy has a right to a lawyer and a court hearing.

Read more about the case from the ACLU here.

Can You Trust Trump to Use Domestic Terrorism Resources to Go After White Supremacists?

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:42:00 -0500

If you think Donald Trump coddles white supremacists, would you trust his Department of Justice to go after white supremacist violence? The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) seems to. The same SPLC that has warned of a Trump advisor downplaying white supremacist violence, the same SPLC that says the president is responsible for a resurgence in white supremacism, is pushing the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Mich.) that would provide more resources for the FBI to investigate domestic terror. The bill's introductory findings refer to a spate of right-wing violence, but by and large the provisions themselves are up to the FBI to interpret. The FBI, meanwhile, seems far more likely to go after "black identity extremists" (BIEs), a term it created this year to cover what it perceives as politically motivated anti-police violence by African Americans. "The problem isn't that the FBI doesn't have enough laws on the books or resources to tackle white supremacist violence, it's that they choose to disproportionately investigate BIEs or eco-terrorists instead," says Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. "Therefore this bill might not change the equation as the senators intend, but only provide more resources for abusive and wasteful surveillance and investigations of political dissent and protest activity." There are a few measures in the legislation that could be useful, if the FBI made a good-faith effort to implement them. Its data reporting provisions, for example, could help illuminate how the bureau uses its resources. And the bill would require the feds to assess the threat posed by "White supremacist infiltration and recruitment of law enforcement officers and members of the Armed Forces." Such infiltration is a serious problem: A classified 2015 FBI report found that there were often links between the law enforcement community and white supremacists under terror investigation. But you have to balance those measures against the FBI's long and storied history of targeting dissent under the guise of counterterrorism. German notes that the agency spent years claiming eco-terrorists were the top domestic terror threat, "even though there are no U.S. deaths appropriately attributed" to any environmental activist group. Yet while many Democrats, and even some Republicans, insist they understand the threat President Trump poses to democratic norms, they continue to support measures that accumulate power in the executive branch. Meanwhile, the Senate is trying to make it easier for the feds to spy on Black Lives Matter (or "black identity extremist") activists, teen sexters, and all other kinds of boogeyman. The latest Section 702 "reauthorization" is actually an expansion of warrantless surveillance powers. The bill passed committee by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Lawmakers worried about how Trump could abuse his authority ought to be limiting, not expanding, the power that makes the person who occupies the presidency so dangerous. And they ought to understand that authoritarianism flourishes in the name of fighting terrorism, abroad as well as at home.[...]

Murderers Slip Through the Screen

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Last week Sayfullo Saipov, who was approved as an immigrant in 2010, used a pickup truck to murder eight people on a bike path in Manhattan. This week Devin Kelley, who was repeatedly approved as a gun buyer in recent years, used a rifle to murder 26 people at a church in a small Texas town. The deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since 9/11 and the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history illustrate the limits of screening as a defense against violence. We would like to think that the right combination of exclusion criteria and background checks can reliably prevent mass murder, but experience tells us otherwise. Responding to Saipov's attack, Donald Trump promised on Twitter that "the United States will be immediately implementing much tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures," because "the safety of our citizens comes first!" But it is hard to imagine what procedure could have predicted Saipov's seven-year journey from eager immigrant to Islamic terrorist. According to the Uzbek government, Saipov was raised in Tashkent by an affluent family and never had any trouble with the law or gave any indication of extremism. As the winner of a diversity lottery visa, he underwent background checks, security screening, and interviews before entering the United States. Saipov, who had worked as an accountant for a hotel in Tashkent, hoped to get a job in the hospitality industry despite his limited English skills. Instead he ended up working as a truck driver, moved around a lot, and became increasingly embittered and alienated over the years. Although Saipov was not very observant at first and did not know much about his religion (according to a local imam), he was drawn to Islamic extremism. The path he followed was shaped by his post-immigration experience, and he might never have been radicalized if he had landed the sort of job he wanted or if the trucking businesses he started had been more successful. Kelley, by contrast, showed clear signs of violent tendencies years before he opened fire on parishioners at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. As an airman in 2012, he was convicted of beating his wife and son by a general court martial, which punished him with 12 months of confinement, a reduction in rank, and a bad conduct discharge. Under federal law, Kelley was triply disqualified from buying a gun: His assault on his wife was the equivalent of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence, his aggravated assault on his son was the equivalent of a felony, and his separation from the Air Force, since it was ordered by a general court martial, was the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge. But the Air Force did not report Kelley's convictions to the National Crime Information Center, so they did not show up in the FBI's background checks when he bought his weapons. The Air Force is investigating what went wrong in this case and promises to improve its reporting, which until now seems to have been limited almost entirely to dishonorable discharges. But even an improved database cannot be expected to have much of an impact on mass shootings, since the perpetrators of such crimes typically do not have disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records. The idea that screening can prevent mass shootings is nevertheless powerfully appealing. After the October 1 shooting that left 58 dead in Las Vegas, Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), who argues that Congress is complicit in gun violence because of its failure to "do something," told CNN's Jake Tapper "the most important intervention is background checks." Murphy wants to require background checks for all gun transfers, not just those involving federally licensed dealers. But as Tapper pointed out, the Las Vegas shooter "passed his background checks" because "there didn't s[...]

Would Extremer Vetting Have Stopped This Week's Attack in Manhattan?

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 12:50:00 -0400

In response to this week's terrorist attack in New York City, Donald Trump promised that "the United States will be immediately implementing much tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures," because "the safety of our citizens comes first!" But the more we learn about Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek immigrant accused of running down pedestrians and bicyclists with a pickup truck in Manhattan on Tuesday, the harder it is to see how extreme vetting, extremer vetting, or even extremest vetting could have stopped him. Last night ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, and Saipov has said the group inspired him. But so far there is no evidence that he was directly recruited or instructed by ISIS, contacts that might have offered an opportunity to catch him before he carried out his plan. More to the point, when Saipov immigrated to the United States in 2010, there was no reason to think he would one day murder eight innocent people in the name of Islam. The New York Times, citing the Uzbek government, reports that Saipov "grew up in a well-off family who practiced traditional Islam and never embraced extremism." The government said he never did anything that raised his neighbors' suspicions and never had trouble with the police. When he entered the United States after winning a diversity-lottery visa, Saipov, who had worked as an accountant at a hotel in Tashkent, hoped to get a job in the hospitality industry, despite his limited English skills. Instead he ended up working as a truck driver, moved around a lot, and became increasingly embittered, alienated, and angry over the years. Although he was not very observant to begin with and did not know much about his religion (according to a local imam), he was drawn to Islamic extremism. In particular, Saipov cited a video in which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asked what Muslims in the United States were doing in response to the killing of their coreligionists in Iraq. Investigators found several other ISIS videos on Saipov's phone, and he made an effort to closely follow the group's published guidelines for terrorist attacks. Contrary to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' claim that recipients of diversity visas come to this country with "no screening," Saipov would have been interviewed and undergone background checks before entering the United States. One can always argue that screening should be more thorough, but it is hard to imagine what procedure or criterion could have identified Saipov as a future terrorist seven years before the fact. How could anyone have predicted the path he would follow between then and now, which was contingent not only on his personality but on his post-immigration experience? For all we know, Saipov never would have turned violent if he had landed the sort of job he wanted or if the trucking businesses he started had been more successful. I do not know what Trump means by "much tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures." I am not sure he knows. But unless those procedures involve psychics or time travel, they cannot rule out the possibility that seemingly moderate and eager immigrants will become radicalized years after arriving in the United States.[...]

While Politicians Call for Restricting Freedom After NYC Attack, This Immigrant Has Been Fighting For Yours

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Since Tuesday's attack in New York City, our politicians have mostly bickered about who was most responsible for failing to end the Diversity Visa Lottery program that allowed alleged rental truck killer Sayfullo Saipov into the country. President Donald Trump blamed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.)—who had initially proposed diversity visas back in 1990—calling the Diversity Visa Lottery a "Schumer beauty." Schumer and others have scrambled, saying they tried to end the program years ago. "It's obviously reactionary to just immediately say, 'OK, so we should end this program',"Carla Gericke says. The Diversity Lottery Program gives opportunities to hundreds of thousands of people like her to "come and contribute to the American economy." Gericke is a former president of New Hampshire's Free State Project, a long-time libertarian activist (who has been interviewed by Reason more than a few times) and a Diversity Lottery winner. Her perspective on the lottery is shaped by her politics and her personal experience. Gericke used the lottery to come to the United States from her native South Africa in 1996. She first applied when she was a 20-year old law student in Pretoria. "I remember I got home from school, and there was this giant envelope on my front mat," she tells Reason, "I opened it up and it was like, 'You have won the lottery'." Nearly 10 million people enter this visa lottery every year. Of those, somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 are then given permission to apply for a visa like Gericke. All applicants must go through a vetting process, which includes submitting required documentation (birth certificates, medical examinations, court records), followed by in-person interviews at a U.S. consulate, and a background check. The process took Gericke two years, and one intense grilling by State Department staff at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg. In 1996, she and her husband emigrated to California. "We were excited to be here," says Gericke, who found work as a lawyer for Silicon Valley tech firms. At the time, says Gericke, she was not much one for economics or politics, apart from what she describes as "small-time anti-Apartheid" activism in her youth. But then, the Dot-com bubble burst and Gericke and her husband lost their jobs. "Being naturally curious, I asked what happened? How was there this bubble, then this giant implosion," says Gericke. "That led me to Austrian economics, the Free State Project, and then Ron Paul, and life in New Hampshire." Gericke is no nativist's boogeyman. She has worked tirelessly to expand the libertarian movement. While serving as Free State president, she helped the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival to grow. She was even the plaintiff in a landmark First Amendment case that affirmed the right to film police officers. Terrible attack aside, statistics show that typical immigrants are much more Gericke than Saipov. According to the academic literature, immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, are incarcerated at a lower rate, and actually help to increase the wages of Americans. Though most are not fire-breathing libertarians, their political views are mostly indistinguishable from those whose families have lived in the country for generations. Indeed, if we are really concerned about protecting American freedoms, we might want to put fewer restrictions on immigrants and more on native-born politicians. In the wake of Tuesday's attack, President Trump has advocated for eliminating the Diversity Visa Program and more "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R–S.C.) has been throwing a fit about Saipov not being immediately shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, far away from a lawyer or due process righ[...]

What is the Diversity Visa Lottery Donald Trump is Blaming for Yesterday's NYC Attack?

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:15:00 -0400

Reports that Sayfullo Saipov—the Uzbek-born terror suspect in yesterday's attack in New York City that killed 8 people and wounded 11 others—entered the country thanks the State Department's Diversity Visa Lottery have set off a wildfire controversy about the little-known program. President Donald Trump in a tweet quickly pinned the blame for the attack on the visa program and demanded "merit based immigration." The terrorist came into our country through what is called the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program," a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017 Others, like Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), have hit back, pointing out Schumer supported getting rid of the Diversity Visa Lottery as part of a 2013 immigration reform effort. Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there — Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 1, 2017 Missing from this political Twitter-based tit-for-tat an explanation of what exactly the Diversity Lottery Program is. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program was created by the 1990 Immigration Act, and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) did sponsor the original proposal to create a "diversity visa" as a way of increasing immigration from countries that send comparatively few migrants to the United States through other channels. Schumer's proposal was later rolled into the 1990 bill. The program has been controversial. Bills to undo the Diversity Immigration Visas were introduced in 2005, 2007, 2009. The 2013 "Gang of 8" immigration reform bill, which would have allowed for greater immigration in many instances, included a provision eliminating the program, as does the restrictionist 2017 RAISE Act. Conservatives have long opined that the program allows low-skill immigrants into the United States, and that the program is susceptible to fraud. Every year, 50,000 visas are made available through a lottery to "low admission" countries, defined as those that have sent fewer than 50,000 people to the United States in the past five years. The Attorney General is responsible for determining which countries count as low admission. Those hoping to gain admission under the program must have a high school education (or its equivalent), or have worked for two years in a job that requires a further two years of experience or training. Migrants that meet these qualifications submit their names each year into an electronic lottery run by the U.S. State Department, which then selects winners. Nearly 10 million qualified entrants entered the lottery for the 2015 draw (the last year for which statistics were available), and 125,514 were selected to apply for a Diversity Immigration Visa. The visa application process includes an in-person interview with State Department staff at a consulate or embassy. Visa applicants must provide a birth certificate, records of a medical examination, as well as any court, police, or deportation records that might exist for the applicant. State Department staff then confirm this documentation, and issue visas to the 50,000 to lucky winners. Family members of winners are allowed access to the United States as well. The diversity lotteries began in 1995, meaning roughly 1.1 million have entered the country since through the program. As a result yesterday's grisly attack in New York City by a lottery recipient, and the president's finger-pointing at the program, calls to eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery will only grow louder.[...]