Archive for the 'Counter-Terrorism Policy' Category

How Syria is Iran’s route to the sea

Posted by on Oct 24 2012 | Counter-Terrorism Policy, Iran, Israel, National Security, Presidency, Press, Terrorism

“Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” So said Mitt Romney at the Monday debate. The Associated PressThe GuardianThe Telegraph, New York, U.S. News,  Brad DeLong, Rachel Maddow’s Maddowblog,  Comedy Central, and The Daily Kos promptly seized the opportunity to show off their superior geographical knowledge, pointing out that Iran has a coastline. The explicit or implicit explanation was that Romney does not even know basic geography. “Romney Flubs Geography” announced the A.P. headline on the Washington Post website. Readers in search of more sophisticated coverage  might have turned to Yahoo! Answers:

Q. Why did Romney say that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea”? …when 1) Iraq stands between Syria and Iran, and 2) Iran already has the Persian Gulf, not to mention the Indian Sea?

A. Romney was speaking in the context of the debate topic on foreign policy and the sanctions restricting the finances and trade of Iran. Although Iran is indeed located on the seacoast of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the international trade sanctions have restricted and impeded its ability to transport armaments and other goods through its own seaports. To defeat these trade sanctions, Iran has resorted to using its air transportation to transport goods through an air corridor in Iraqi airspace into Syria and its seaports, such as Latakia.

Fact-checkers who actually investigate the facts might have started with expert websites such as StrategyPage. A 2006 article titled Syrian Delivery System for Iranian Nukes details the extensive seaborne smuggling operations carried out by Syrian companies operating out of Syrian ports. The article concludes:

Iran was generous with its “foreign aid” because Syria provided support for terrorists Iran backed. Now Iran is keen on getting nuclear weapons. The first ones Iran will get will be large and delicate. The only feasible intercontinental delivery system will be a ship. A ship that is accustomed to moving illicit goods.

Stratfor, which is an outstanding site for the collection and analysis open source intelligence, has the following reports involving Syria/Iran sea-related collaboration: An Iranian ship at the Syrian port of Tartus (also spelled “Tartous”) picked up Syrian oil for delivery to China, to evade the economic sanctions on Syria (Mar. 30, 2012). Iran warships docked at the port of Latakia in early 2012 (Feb. 18, 2012), and in early 2011 (Feb. 22, 2011; Feb. 24, 2011). During the 2011 visit, the Iranian navy’s commander, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, announced that Iran was ready to help Syria improve its port facilities, and to collaborate on technical projects with Syria. (Feb. 26, 2011). (All the Stratfor articles are behind a paywall.)

So in short, Syria is Iran’s route for the projection into the Mediterranean Sea (and from there, the Atlantic Ocean) of conventional naval power, and, perhaps soon, of nuclear weaponry.

Post-debate, the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler at least made a start towards a serious factcheck of the Romney quote. He published an updated and condensed version of a longer piece he had written last April about Romney’s repeated use of the phrase.

In the April piece, Kessler wondered what difference Syria made, since Iranian ships can enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. True, but anyone with even a mild knowledge of naval affairs could explain the utility of a Mediterranean port, as a opposed to a Persian Gulf port, for ships operating in the Mediterranean. In April and in October, Kessler wrote:

We also checked with other experts, many of whom confessed to being puzzled by Romney’s comments.  [DK: Kessler should have named all the "other" experts, and should also have included the explanation of at least one of the experts who was not among the "many" were were confused.] Tehran certainly uses Syria to supply the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, but that has little to do with the water. The relationship with Syria could also effectively allow Iran to project its power to the Mediterranean and the border with Israel. But does that really mean, “a route to the sea”?

The last two sentences are really the buried lede of the story: Romney is raising a very important issue (Syria as the base for the projection of Iranian naval power), but Romney is not explaining himself in a manner which the less well-informed members of the public (e.g., the sources linked in the 1st paragraph of this post) can understand. If Romney were a better communicator, he would have laid out the facts in greater detail, as Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill did in their own time, when warning their countrymen about the military dangers of aggressive totalitarian regimes. As Kessler wrote in April, “If Romney is elected president, he will quickly learn that words have consequences. Precision in language is especially important in diplomacy, and here Romney used a phrase that left people befuddled as to his intent and meaning, especially since he did not even make a distinction between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas.”

If you’re a journalist or a commentator, there’s no reason be ashamed just because a Washington Post writer reported a story much better than you did. But when you find yourself being outclassed by Yahoo! Answers, perhaps it’s time to rethink your assumptions that you’re much smarter and better informed than Mitt Romney.

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President Obama versus the Constitution

Posted by on Apr 02 2012 | congress, Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Constitutional Theory, Counter-Terrorism Policy, Executive Branch, federalism, Growth of Government, Habeas, Health Care, History, Individual Mandate, Jefferson, Judicial Power, obama, Presidency, Public Opinion, supreme court, Uncategorized, War on Terror

President Obama today fired his opening salvo in an unprecedented attack on the Constitution of the United States. Regarding the impending Supreme Court ruling on the health control law, the President said, “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

His factual claims are false. His principle is a direct assault on the Constitution’s creation of an independent judicial branch as a check on constitutional violations by the other two branches.

It is certainly not “unprecedented” for the Court to overturn a law passed by “a democratically elected Congress.” The Court has done so 165 times, as of 2010. (See p. 201 of this Congressional Research Service report.)

President Obama can call legislation enacted by a vote of 219 to 212 a “strong” majority if he wishes. But there is nothing in the Constitution suggesting that a bill which garners the votes of 50.3% of the House of Representatives has such a “strong” majority that it therefore becomes exempt from judicial review. To the contrary, almost all of the 165 federal statutes which the Court has ruled unconstitutional had much larger majorities, most of them attracted votes from both Democrats and Republicans, and some of them were enacted nearly unanimously.

That the Supreme Court would declare as unconstitutional congressional “laws” which illegally violated the Constitution was one of the benefits of the Constitution, which the Constitution’s advocates used to help convince the People to ratify the Constitution. In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton explained why unconstitutional actions of Congress are not real laws, and why the judiciary has a duty to say so:

There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid. . . .

Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.

Because Hamilton was the foremost “big government” advocate of his time, it is especially notable that he was a leading advocate for judicial review of whether any part of the federal government had exceeded its delegated powers.

Well before Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court recognized that the People had given the Court the inescapable duty of reviewing the constitutionality of statutes which came before the Court. The Court fulfilled this duty in cases such as Hylton v. U.S. (1796) (Is congressional tax on carriages a direct tax, and therefore illegal because it is not apportioned according to state population?); and Calder v. Bull (1798) (Is Connecticut change in inheritance laws an ex post facto law?). The Court found that the particular statutes in question did not violate the Constitution. (The ex post facto clause applies only to criminal laws; the carriage tax was an indirect tax, not a direct tax.) However, the Court’s authority to judge the statutes’ constitutionality was not disputed.

It would not be unfair to charge President Obama with hypocrisy given his strong complaints when the Court did not strike down the federal ban on partial birth abortions, and given his approval of the Supreme Court decision (Boumediene v. Bush) striking down a congressional statute restricting habeas corpus rights of Guantanamo detainees. (For the record, I think that the federal abortion ban should have been declared void as because it was not within Congress’s interstate commerce power, and that Boumediene was probably decided correctly, although I have not studied the issue sufficiently to have a solid opinion.) The federal ban on abortion, and the federal restriction on habeas corpus were each passed with more than a “strong” 50.3% majority of a democratically elected Congress.

As a politician complaining that a Supreme Court which should strike down laws he doesn’t like, while simultaneously asserting that a judicial decision against a law he does like is improperly “activist,” President Obama is no more hypocritical than many other Presidents. But in asserting that the actions of a “strong” majority of Congress are unreviewable, President Obama’s word are truly unprecedented. Certainly no President in the last 150 years has claimed asserted that a “strong” majority of Congress can exempt a statute from judicial review. President Lincoln’s First Inaugural criticized the Dred Scott majority for using a case between two private litigants for its over-reaching into a major national question, but Lincoln affirmed that the Court can, and should, provide a binding resolution to disputes between the parties before the Court. And in 2012, the government of the United States is one of the parties before the Court. (And the government is before the Court in part because the government filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to ask the Court to use its discretion to decide the case.)

Alone among the Presidents, Thomas Jefferson appears as a strong opponent of judicial review per se. Notably, he did not propose that Congress be the final judge of its own powers, especially when Congress intruded on matters which the Constitution had reserved to the States. Rather, Jefferson argued that in such a dispute the matter should be resolved by a Convention of the States, and the States would be make the final decision. Given that 28 States have already appeared as parties in court arguing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, we can make a good guess about what a Convention would decide about the constitutionality of the health control law.

President Obama, however, wants Obamacare to be reviewable by no-one: not by the Supreme Court, not by the States.  You can find professors and partisans who have argued for such lawlessness, but for a President to do so is unprecedented.

The People gave Congress the enumerated power “To regulate Commerce . . . among the several States.” According to the Obama administration, this delegation of power also includes the power to compel commerce. Opponents contend that the power to regulate commerce does not include the far greater power to compel commerce, and that the individual mandate is therefore an ultra vires act by a deputy (Congress) in violation of the grant of power from the principal (the People). Seventy-two percent of the public, including a majority of Democrats, agrees that the mandate is unconstitutional. Few acts of Congress have ever had such sustained opposition of a supermajority of the American public.

President Obama today has considerably raised the stakes in Sebelius v. Florida. At issue now is not just the issue of whether Congress can commandeer the People and compel them to purchase the products of a particular oligopoly. At issue is whether the Court will bow to a President who denies they very legitimacy of judicial review of congressional statutes–or at least those that statutes which garnered the “strong” majority of 219 out of 435 Representatives.

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Defense bill will allow President to indefinitely detain American citizens

Posted by on Nov 30 2011 | Counter-Terrorism Policy, obama, Terrorism, War on Terror

H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, has already passed the House, and is currently before the Senate. One section of the bill gives the President the authority to detain indefinitely American citizens, picked up on American soil, because they are allegedly supporting the enemy:

SEC. 1034. AFFIRMATION OF ARMED CONFLICT WITH AL QAEDA, THE TALIBAN, AND ASSOCIATED FORCES.
Congress affirms that—
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 23 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who—
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 11 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Yesterday the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would have stricken the detention provisions, and required the Executive branch to submit a report (within 90 days) on the the legal and practical issues involving detention, and required Congress to hold hearings on the detention within the next 45 days after receipt of the report.

The bill also includes provisions to prevent civilian trials of prisoners currently held at Guantanamo. The Obama administration is threatening to veto the bill, although the objections appear to involve Guantanamo-type issues, and not the expansion of the executive’s detention powers. [Note: The bill version quoted above is the version as passed by the House and sent to the Senate. It is the latest version available on Thomas. The numbering for some sections may be different in earlier versions of the bill.] Kudos to Senator Udall, one of the few genuine civil libertarians in Congress, for taking the lead on this issue.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that, according to Senator Carl Levin, it was the Obama administration which told Congress to remove the language in the original bill which exempted American citizens and lawful residents from the detention power. See the C-Span video of the debate on the floor of the Senate, at 4:43:29. This is not the Obama I caucused for in Feb. 2008.

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Kopel on the Patriot Act

Posted by on Sep 15 2011 | Civil Rights, Counter-Terrorism Policy, Kopelization, PPC, Terrorism

Our resident Constitutional Law and Second Amendment expert Dave Kopel weighed in on the hot issue of personal liberty vs. national security in this issue of La Voz (Colorado’s #1 Hispanic publication). With the passing of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just days ago, the Patriot Act has taken center stage once again. Take a look at what Dave thinks about the national security measures we’ve taken in the last 10 years.

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The Bernardine Dohrn of the early 20th century: The terrorist professor at U of Texas law school

Posted by on May 24 2010 | Academia, congress, Constitutional History, Counter-Terrorism Policy, Criminal Law, Economic LIberties, education, guns, History, Law schools, Legal professor, Militia, Rehabilitating Lochner, William Simkins

(David Kopel)

My DU colleague Thomas Russell, who used to teach at the University of Texas Law school, has a written a paper, available on SSRN, which urges the University of Texas Law School to rename Simkins Hall, a law and graduate male student dormitory named for William Stewart Simkins. Simkins taught equity, contracts, procedure, and related topics at UT for three decades in the early 20th century. He was also a founder of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida, and every year at UT he gave a formal speech extolling the Klan.

Most of Russell’s paper concentrates on Simkins’ career at UT, as well as the 1954 decision (five weeks after Brown v. Board was announced) to name the dormitory after him. I was curious to learn more about Simkins had actually done with the Florida Klan, so I read Michael Newtown’s book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida.

The Florida KKK organized in 1867–68. Simkins later described himself at the Klan leader in Taylor, Madison, and Jefferson counties. These three contiguous counties are part of the eastern panhandle, east of Tallahassee. As far as the record shows, Simkins never claimed that any Klan actions in those counties had been carried out contrary to his orders, or that he regretted anything the Klan did in those counties. Accordingly, it is plausible to hold Simkins personally responsible Klan activity there.

Federal troops were withdrawn from Florida in July 4, 1868. From July 8 through 14, five blacks were murdered by “white regulators.” In mid-July through October 1868, the Madison County KKK murdered seven more blacks, including Randall Coleman, a leading Republican.

In Taylor County, “masked night riders paraded with KKK flags and threatened farmers who refused to join the Klan.”

Florida’s Governor Reed had purchased two thousand muskets for the state militia. On the night of November 5, 1868, while the train carrying the muskets had stopped at the Greenville station in Madison County, Klan raiders removed all two thousand muskets–destroying some, and keeping the rest. Simkins later bragged that “Every telegraph operator, brakeman, engineer and conductor on the road was a Ku Klux.”

The Jefferson County Klan coerced white farmers into refusing to sell land to freedmen, or to taking the money, and then having the Klan drive the freedmen off his new freehold.

According to Newton, Madison County was the second-worst county in Florida for Klan violence, with 25 murders from 1868–71. The victims were always members of the Republican party.

On the night before the November 7, 1870, election, “armed riders invaded” the town of Madison, “harassing black voters.” On election day in Monticello, Jefferson County, “Georgia Klansmen joined the local mob and hundreds of shots were fired in a rioutous demonstration of white solidarity,” intended to frighten blacks against voting.

The election results left the state government weakly in reconstructionist hands. The store belonging to Madison County Sheriff Montgomery was burned on December 17.

Congress passed a new, stronger Enforcement Act in April 1871, and in November, a congressional subcommittee held four days of hearings in Tallahassee about Klan crimes. Even so, another Republican’s store was torched on November 6, 1871. However, President Grant’s October declaration of martial law in nine South Carolina counties had a chilling effect on the Klan, and by 1873, Florida Klan supporters were denying that there have had been a Klan in Florida, or were claiming that if there had been one, it was no longer active.

Simkins himself happened to leave Florida for Texas in either 1871 or 1873. (Sources conflict.) He particpated in two 1894 U.S. Supreme Court cases, Reagan v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. and Reagan v. Mercantile Trust Co. He supported the Texas Attorney General’s argument that the judiciary had no power to review the reasonableness of railroad rates which had been established by the Texas Railroad Commission. The Supreme Court, in an unanimous opinion by Justice Brewer, disagreed.

That Simkins was an advocate of the unreviewable power of unreasonable government economic regulation should be no surprise. As David Bernstein explains in his book Only One Place of Redress: African-Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal, the caste system of Jim Crow was founded on government power to prevent black and white people from freely choosing to engage in economic relations.

Last Friday, the University of Texas announced the formation of a special working group which will issue a report on the Simkins naming controversy by the end of June.

Simkins should have been denied admission to the Florida bar in 1870, based on his admitted role in the theft of firearms from the militia of the state of Florida, and his role in organizing and leading a terrorist organization which appears responsible for numerous homicides and many other violent felonies. In 1870, the Florida Supreme Court did not know of the evidence regarding Simkins’ terrorist crime spree in 1868–70,  but the 2010 working group will have more information.

Of course the fact that a person is an unrepentant, retired, terrorist is not necessarily a bar to being a professor at a prestigious law school–not for William Stewart Simkins at Texas in the early 20th century, or for Bernardine Rae Dohrn at Northwestern in the early 21st century.

Readers who are interested in more on the Simkins controversy may enjoy the blogging thereon at The Faculty Lounge, which has been covering the story since Russell released his paper.


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