Homeland Security


I am against torture. Torture is what the Gestapo did in World War II. Torture is what the Japanese did in the movie “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.” Torture is what they did in the Middle Ages. Remember the rack?

President Bush said repeatedly that America doesn't do torture. Well, in my book, putting somebody in a little box and filling it up with insects is torture. Waterboarding is torture. You can’t parse your way out of that one. Sorry.

We lose the moral high ground when we condone torture. And I believe that the moral high ground is a useful space to occupy.

'Man-Caused Disasters'

I have refrained until now from being overly critical of the Obama administration as it completes its early days in office. Back in 2001, I remember, it took us a few months to get the kinks out and streamline our operations in the Bush administration, so I've afforded Obama's team a certain level of professional courtesy.

Now, however, I'm wondering if they have any idea what steps must be taken to secure the country from those who seek to harm us. Lost in the discussion of the stimulus bill, the pork-laden omnibus bill and President Obama's new budget is the lack of focus on national security issues. Why is the president seeking to cut funding to the military when every other domestic pork project seems to prosper under his watch?

Immigration Without Representation

The twin specters of terrorism and tough economic times have brought the immigration debate to the forefront of American politics in a big way. The average citizen sees the flood of immigrants entering the country as a symbol of the lack of border security in the midst of a particularly dangerous time for America. In addition, the growth in illegal immigration is seen as diluting the value of citizenship, cheapening the labor pool and leading to a lower standard of living for actual citizens.

Some of the rhetoric surrounding the debate has unfortunately resorted to ethnic bigotry, but the fundamentals come down to jobs and security. Thus, the reaction to the current wave of immigration has been similar to those of prior waves of migration: The new lumps in our stew froth and steam, and sometime bubble over, in the melting process that is American society.

A Picture on My Wall

There’s a picture on my wall of me with my former boss, Denny Hastert, surrounded by a group of reporters. I am on his left shoulder, listening in. As it turns out, the reporters were listening in, too. Hastert was talking to three ladies who weren’t registered lobbyists, who weren’t elected representatives, and weren’t reporters. They were three concerned citizens who had petitioned Congress to enact legislation that they thought would make America safer.

One of those ladies was Beverly Eckert. She was one of the ringleaders of the so-called “9/11 widows.” She badgered the Speaker and the Congress to allow a full investigation of what actually happened on one of the worst days in the nation’s history. Without Beverly, there probably wouldn’t have been a 9/11 Commission.

More Than a Symbol

With the stroke of a pen, President Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge this week, closing within the year the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison facility and the apparent abuses carried out under the Bush administration.

The symbolism of this gesture is powerful, for it stands as a reminder that Americans value the sanctity of the rule of law and judicial review. But now the cold reality sets in — what are we going to do with the remaining 250 detainees?

It’s not a question that’s easily answered. We sure can’t bring them to our nation’s shores. As much as we want to give them their legal rights, it doesn’t mean we should bring dangerous suspected terrorists to, say, Kansas.

Safety vs. Freedom

As George Bush departs the presidential stage, he leaves behind many detractors and one rather large accomplishment that they either ignore or undervalue.

Since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, not one terrorist has been successful in attacking America. Not one Islamic terrorist, not one domestic terrorist. In the days following 9/11, nobody would have believed that more than seven years later, the terrorists would have struck out.

There are a lot of reasons for that. First, Bush created a whole separate battlefield for the Islamic extremists to fight. That battlefield was in their backyard, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Thank You, Mr. President

The most poignant message of President George W. Bush's farewell address will endure and become stronger over time. He has earned credit, but it has not yet been given. I believe history will ensure that he is awarded his due for doing what most of us feared, just over seven years ago, was impossible, or at least highly unlikely.

Reflecting on our nation in the months and years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the president noted, "Most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe."

Why is Obama Emasculating Intelligence?

President-elect Obama’s new head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, Dawn Johnsen, called the legal reasoning that gave the president broad powers to authorize “rough” interrogation of terrorists “shockingly flawed … bogus … outlandish.” She said it allowed “horrific acts” and demanded to know, “Where is the outrage? The public outcry?”

This is the person who will decide how to interrogate terrorists. If she errs on the side of weakening methods of questioning, there’s no chance her boss, Eric Holder, the new attorney general, will reverse her. He approved of the Clinton/Reno “wall” preventing intelligence from finding out what criminal investigators had found out and took the lead in pardoning the FALN terrorists.

What To Do with Whistleblowers

Tattletales and snitches are objects of opprobrium, in high society and low. People generally dislike folks who tell on others. But whistleblowers have a different image. They are perceived as heroic because they sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose — stopping government misconduct or preventing corporate misdeeds. We don’t treat them as heroes, however. I’ve counseled some in my law practice, and they usually have paid a great price for their sacrificial behavior. Whistleblowers are subjects of glorifying movies, but I share their pain. Few have launched successful careers after their “heroic” acts.

The Dec. 22, 2008 Newsweek cover story about Thomas Tamm’s excruciating experiences deciding to and eventually disclosing the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping practices is a classic example of the whistleblower’s dilemma. Tamm is not a flaming liberal critic of government. He is a product of it — the son of a high-ranking FBI official and member of a family invested in law enforcement and, as Newsweek reported, “a least likely suspect” to be a national security leaker. When he tried to remedy what he saw as illegal activities by law enforcement officers, Tamm was told, “Don’t go there.” Others knew what was going on, but feared to act.

Who Watches the Watchers?

I had to re-read it, to make sure I read her message right. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sympathizes with government officials who violate laws and the United States Constitution because they have a “good faith” (how can she use this term in this context?) belief that their actions are necessary to preserve the country. For this, she gets the Ollie North Award for official vigilantism, to be presented at Vice President Cheney’s hidden bunker. Cheney and Rumsfeld and their Iago-like lawyers might be pardoned for their lawless incarceration and interrogation and investigatory excesses, Marcus muses. She was, when younger, “revolted” by comparable bad behavior by government officials, but now she is sorry, at some level, for the actors. She should have followed her early reactions.