Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Nostalgia for Bernie 

Doug Ireland has just posted his upcoming L.A. Weekly piece on Mike Chertoff, Bush's second choice to head up the Department of Homeland Security:
When Chertoff was named by Bush to head the Justice Department’s Criminal Division--partly because he was a skilled political hitman, who’d also raised a ton of money as financial vice-chair of Bush’s Garden State campaign in 2000-- it’s an open secret in Jersey that he squelched an indictment of [Sen. Robert] Torricelli as a reward for The Torch’s support of key Bush legislation the Democratic Party leadership opposed, including tax cuts for corporations and the very rich. (Many of the fat-cats Chertoff shook down for Bush had also been huge givers to The Torch.)

Long active in the Federalist Society--a conspiratorial brotherhood of legal reactionaries--Chertoff, at Justice, helped to write the civil liberties-shredding Patriot Act. He was John Ashcroft’s honcho in the indiscriminate grilling of over 5000 Arab-Americans after 9/11, cooked up the use of “material witness” warrants to lock up people of Middle Eastern descent and hold them indefinitely without trial, and on behalf of the Justice Department wrote a brief (in Chavez v. Martinez) arguing there was no Constitutional right to be free of coercive police questioning.

Moreover, Chertoff wrote legislation, known as the Feeney Amendment, which gutted federal sentencing guidelines -- under which federal judges were allowed to use some discretion when sentencing criminal defendants -- by preventing judges from shortening sentences--and, worse, required judges who deviated from the Feeney Amendment to have their names and actions reported to the Justice Department, thus establishing what Sen. Teddy Kennedy denounced as a judicial “blacklist.“

Why would Chertoff give up a lifetime seat on the federal bench to take a job in the hornet’s nest of problems that is the DHS? According to a top Jersey Democratic pol who knows Chertoff well, Chertoff--described as being “as cold-blooded as they come“-- has a personal agenda that includes becoming U.S. Attorney General and, eventually, grabbing a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. But there’s a problem for Chertoff with conservative Republicans--he happens to be pro-choice. So, taking the DHS job is Chertoff’s way to “make his bones,” as they say in Jersey, and grab headlines as a hard-line persecutor of “the towel-heads” to please the right and neutralize his abortion stance.
Ireland notes, damningly, that Chertoff already has the endorsement of Joe Lieberman. Elsewhere, Main Street USA has rounded up a number of older articles on Chertoff, including a Jeffrey Toobin New Yorker profile from shortly after 9/11, as well as Elaine Cassel's 2003 piece on the Zacarias Moussaoui prosecution:
Chertoff argued the government's case in the super secret hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The government is trying to block trial judge Leonie Brinkema's ruling that Moussaoui and his lawyers have access to the government's star witnesses against him. The government has refused and appealed. Judge Brinkema, who still believes in the Constitution, rightly ruled that to deny Moussaoui that access is a blatant violation of the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses . . . .

Chertoff's goal, I believe, and the goal of Ashcroft and Bush in supporting this prosecution in federal court, is to subject federal trials, as they see fit, to ad hoc exemptions of whatever laws (be they constitutional, criminal code, or rules of procedure) that will suit their purposes. Their grand scheme is to ultimately cripple and dismantle the federal courts as we know them, one brick at a time . . . .

Chertoff argued to the 4th Circuit that the Court could not order the government to produce its star witness against Moussaoui because (are you ready?) he, the witness, is out of the country at an undisclosed location. True, but the witness is in the custody of the federal government! The out-of-the country argument is a sham. This is similar to a ruling recently by the federal court that ruled that Guantanamo Bay prisoners had no access to federal courts for claims that they be charged or released because-they are out of the country! Of course, in federal custody, but that does not matter.

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