At Guantánamo, Blackstone Has Left the Building

November 13, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Liza Goitein

An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal notes that Republicans in Congress are questioning the Obama administration’s decision to transfer some Guantánamo detainees to Europe. Fresh off their success in preventing any further transfers to Yemen, these members are now trying to “Yemenize” countries like Spain, Germany, and France, raising the specter that these countries—all of which are targets of Al Qaeda themselves—somehow lack the will or the ability to keep tabs on former detainees. According to the article, “Republicans cite an estimate from the Pentagon that some 20% of the detainees released under President Bush have returned to the fight. They say Mr. Obama should abandon the release policy in light of that figure.”

Leave aside, for the moment, the flaws in the reporting of the Defense Department’s numbers (when the DoD’s numbers are read accurately, it appears that a much smaller percentage of released detainees—perhaps only 4%—have returned to terrorism). And leave aside the fact that these same members of Congress never uttered a peep when President Bush released hundreds of detainees from Guantánamo. The real story here is the lawmakers’ comfort with continuing to imprison a group of men indefinitely when prior experience suggests that most of them—historically, 80% or more—would pose no danger if released.

Remember that these detainees are not convicted criminals, whose sentences serve, in part, as punishment and deterrence to others. Under the law of war, the sole justification for holding the Guantánamo detainees is to prevent their return to battle. In traditional wars between nations—as I’ve written previously—such return is a near certainty, as soldiers are bound by the laws of their countries to fight. The low 20% figure reported by DoD should thus cause Republican (and Democratic) lawmakers to question whether the law of war detention framework applies at all to the non-traditional war we’re now fighting—not to seek greater use of that framework.

There’s also the little matter of whether the detainees were ever combatants in the first place. There can no longer be any serious dispute that some of the individuals held at Guantánamo were erroneously detained. Indeed, it would be surprising if that were not the case, given the manner in which many detainees were apprehended: they were sold to allied forces for a bounty after the U.S. air-dropped leaflets over Afghanistan promising thousands of dollars to anyone who turned in a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The courts have now granted more than two thirds of the Guantánamo habeas petitions that have come before them.

But Republican lawmakers are apparently uninterested in this detail. If 20% of released detainees supposedly returned to terrorism, then “Mr. Obama should abandon the release policy,” period—regardless of whether that means continuing to detain some people who are not terrorists and never were. It is a stark reversal of the maxim, first penned by English jurist William Blackstone, that has characterized this country’s approach to justice for two and a half centuries: “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

Of course, this principle generally finds expression in the context of the criminal justice system, not wartime detention (and some lawmakers’ commitment to this principle was thin to begin with). But here’s a thought experiment: suppose that Guantánamo’s innocent included American Christians hailing from places like Bismarck or Colorado Springs—victims of mistaken identity or bureaucratic error. (It’s far-fetched but not impossible, given the government’s claim that it can hold U.S. citizens apprehended in the U.S. as enemy combatants.) Would these same Republican lawmakers insist that the innocent be held along with the guilty, in order to protect the rest of us? Or is detaining the innocent an acceptable price to pay only when the innocent are comprised of grim-faced, bearded Muslims hailing from places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen?

Liza Goitein is Senior Counsel, Liberty and National Security Project, The Brennan Center for Justice. You can reach her by e-mail at goiteine at


Abbas Is Right!: Mideast Peace Is More Important Than Settlement Building

November 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Abbas understands the importance of peace:

Achieving Middle East peace is more important than building more settlements, Israel Radio quoted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as saying on Thursday, urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to seize the opportunity to strike a final-status deal.

Now that Abbas has made clear that he understands the paramount importance of peace-and that Middle East peace is more important than settlements-we can assume that Abbas also knows:

  • Middle East peace is more important than inciting hatred towards Israel
  • Middle East peace is more important than teaching hatred of Israel in West Bank schools
  • Middle East peace is more important than refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state
  • Middle East peace is more important than delegitimizing Israel
  • Middle East peace is more important than co-opting Jewish religious sites
  • Middle East peace is more important than honoring terrorists who murdered Israelis
  • Middle East peace is more important than denying Jewish history
  • Middle East peace is more important than waiting 9 months into a 10 month moratorium on building in the West Bank before having to be dragged to the peace talks

Abbas claims to know how important it is to achieve Middle East peace.
It is long overdue for Abbas to demonstrate that he really believes it.

Hat tip: DF

Technorati Tag: and .

Daled Amos

Beltway Sniper Vet To FBI: Don’t Get ‘Tunnel Vision’ On Military Building Shooter

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

A former federal government official who was involved in the 2002 Beltway Sniper case told TPMMuckraker that it is important for investigators trying to identify the individual behind a string of shootings at empty military buildings to not narrow their focus and filter out alternate motives or suspects.

Michael Bouchard, a former official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives who was involved in the Beltway sniper case, told TPMMuckraker that it was important not to be blinded to alternative suspect profiles or possible motives.

“Profilers and behavioral scientists are just one tool that investigators use. Oftentimes when profilers do their analysis, there are a lot of unknowns,” Bouchard said. “The investigators just take that information and use it to the best of their ability, but it isn’t an absolute.”

“One thing that people shouldn’t do is, just because people say that’s probably why the person is doing it, you can’t have tunnel vision, because if you have tunnel vision and focus in on one possible motive, you could be missing five or six other motives,” Bouchard said. “Investigators need to have an open mind, and not focus in on who they think it might be.”

Bouchard said the Beltway Sniper was a perfect example of a case in which officials limited their scope and shut out other investigative options. Officials in that string of deadly shootings became convinced that the suspect was driving a white panel van, but it turned out that the men ultimately convicted of the crimes, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, had been driving a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office did not have any updates on the recent spree of shootings targeting military buildings, spokesman Andy Ames told TPMMuckraker on Monday.

Authorities have made a public plea for the culprit to communicate with them. The suspect he is an ex-Marine who had a falling out with the Corps. Authorities had similarly publicly appealed to the Beltway Sniper for him speak with them in the days before he and his accomplice were apprehended.

The shooter “is trying to express some unhappiness, presumably with the military, but has stopped short of harming anyone, and I draw some positive analysis out of that,” Gary Noesner, a former chief of the FBI’s crisis negotiation unit, told the Associated Press. “Hopefully, that will remain the case.”

The Coast Guard had shut down recruiting stations in the D.C. area last week following the shooting. Last Tuesday’s incident at a U.S. Coast Guard recruiting center in was just the latest in a string of incidents which have also twice targeted the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Pentagon and a U.S. Marine recruiting center.


Israel announces East Jerusalem building plans as Netanyahu visits U.S.

November 8, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 


The Israeli government has announced that construction will proceed on more than 1,300 housing units in East Jerusalem. The announcement comes while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is in the U.S. The U.S. has duly expressed its “disappointment.”

Our readers will recall how incensed the Obama administration became when, during Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, the Israeli Interior Minister unveiled plans to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. The timing of that announcement apparently was mistake, for which the Israelis apologized. President Obama nonetheless took deep offense and attempted to humiliate Netanyahu when he visited the White House.

The timing of the latest announcement, which comes in advance of a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, surely was premeditated. Presumably, the timing was intended, at least in part, to demonstrate that Israel is not concerned about the prospect of additional attempts at bullying by Obama administration.

As I suggested last night in connection with Netanyahu’s statement to Biden about Iran, in the aftermath of the American voters’ rebuke to the Obama administration, the one-sided nature of Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu looks like it’s going to change.

Power Line

Celebrating a historic week for building energy codes

November 7, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Today’s guest bloggers are Cliff Majersik and Caroline Keicher from the Institute for Market Transformation.

Sweeping changes to Congress in the mid-term elections may have slammed the door shut on major climate legislation, yet there is still reason to celebrate.

Last week, members of the International Code Council (ICC) approved changes to building energy codes – the CAFE standards of the buildings world – that will require new and renovated homes and commercial buildings to use 30 percent less energy than those built to current standards.

The votes are truly historic. Never in the history of the ICC have such enormous gains in energy efficiency been made in such a short time.

The changes, which will occur in the 2012 version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), leverage sensible and cost-effective strategies to reduce energy, such as increasing insulation levels and lighting efficiency, improving the air-tightness of buildings and ductwork, and requiring check-ups known as commissioning in new commercial buildings, where mechanical systems are prone to underperform. The energy efficiency proposals that were approved were endorsed by a diverse coalition of government officials, business associations and product manufacturers, including the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the American Institute of Architects, the Consumer Federation of America, Cardinal Glass and the National Housing Institute.

Homes and buildings account for more about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption and two-thirds of U.S. electricity usage. American consumers spend more than $ 200 billion each year paying for energy – that’s more than the total GDP of the nation of Chile.

The changes to the IECC are poised to make an impact across the country. An average home that’s 30 percent more energy-efficient than the current standard returns more than $ 500 annually in energy cost savings to homeowners even after factoring in the capitalized cost of the improvements, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s money in the pockets of homeowners. About 10 billion square feet of commercial and residential space is built or renovated every year in the United States and will soon be subject to the new codes. The IECC is the basis for the energy code in 47 states and the District of Columbia. The next time you walk into any relatively new home, apartment building, office, grocery store, Wal-Mart or most any other type of building, be aware that some part of the IECC was likely referenced when it was built.

The Institute for Market Transformation, working with the broad-based Energy-Efficient Codes Coalition and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, helped educate local government officials on the 2012 IECC code proposals. More than 60 governmental voting member representatives from the DC metro area – a tremendous showing – traveled last week to Charlotte, NC, to make their voices heard at the code hearings.

But that’s not all IMT is doing to advance building energy codes. The fight isn’t over after changes to energy codes are approved – the codes still need to be adopted, implemented and enforced by states and jurisdictions.

IMT partners with jurisdictions to help them adopt the latest versions of the IECC, and to educate and train local code officials to make sure energy efficiency provisions are enforced. The task is enormous. Throughout most of the United States, building code development, implementation, training and enforcement have long been severely underfunded, with funding for energy codes the most neglected. As a result, many new and renovated homes and buildings do not comply with codes and require far more energy and money to operate than they should.

What’s more, nearly every state pledged to ratchet up local energy code compliance to 90 percent in the coming years as a precondition to accepting stimulus funding for energy projects.

Working with a coalition that included the Building Codes Assistance Project, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Alliance to Save Energy, IMT recently identified the funding need for states to comply with code compliance targets. We also measured the benefits of better energy code compliance, and our findings were overwhelmingly positive: Every dollar spent on energy code compliance yields $ 6 in energy savings for consumers, and compliance activities will create more than 20,000 jobs every year.

IMT is also involved in making sure energy efficiency improvements to homes and buildings can be financed. Our recent work has focused on mortgage underwriting and home appraisal, where energy efficiency incentives aren’t aligned with standard industry practices.

US Homeowner Costs GraphThere are many costs of homeownership that are accounted for in mortgage underwriting. These include real estate taxes, home insurance, credit card debt, car loan payments, even lost income from maternity leave. Incredibly, energy costs are not on this list, even though the average homeowner spends more than $ 2,000 annually in utility costs, which is more than the average annual cost of taxes or insurance.

Because energy costs aren’t factored into mortgages, there’s no way for energy savings to be accounted for. In other words, people living in energy-efficient homes that save hundreds of dollars each year in utility costs are not considered safer borrowers than people living in homes where utility costs can be more than twice as high. Mortgage lenders aren’t offering financial products that encourage borrowers to buy efficient homes that save money and energy.

In addition, home appraisers aren’t including the value of efficiency in their appraisals. Standard appraisal forms do not encourage efficiency valuation and appraisers often don’t have access to information that would allow them to compare the benefits of efficiency between homes.

Those are unacceptable disincentives for people to buy efficient homes or make energy upgrades, and for builders to build efficient homes. That’s why IMT has helped put together a proposal known as the SAVE Act.

The SAVE (Sensible Accounting to Value Energy) Act would correct this energy “blind spot” in mortgage underwriting and home appraisal. It would require federal loan programs that are involved through guarantees and other means in more than 90 percent of all new mortgages to assess the expected energy cost savings of homes, and would reform the home appraisal process to begin factoring in energy efficiency value. Consumers will be able to finance the purchase of energy-efficient homes and builders will be incentivized to construct homes far beyond the energy efficiency levels called for in model codes, including the 2012 IECC.

The SAVE Act is endorsed by leading homebuilders and energy efficiency and green building advocates. It is likely to be introduced soon in the U.S. Senate.

The 2012 IECC is a critical first step to make our homes and commercial buildings more efficient, but we must continue making progress in other areas – including code compliance, workforce training, energy transparency and efficiency financing – to achieve market transformation. All of these elements must work together. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The road to a better energy future is before us. The result of last week’s code hearings in Charlotte was impressive, and hopefully a steppingstone to many more successes, even without a climate bill.

Cliff Majersik is executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation. Caroline Keicher is a program associate with the Institute for Market Transformation.

Climate Progress

Hamas building a newer, bigger mall in Gaza

November 5, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

Firas Press reports that Hamass is planning to build Gaza’s largest mall in the heart of Gaza City.

It will be built on a 44 dunam (10 acre) site in the Saraya compound, which was a Hamas (formerly Fatah) police/military base that was blown to smithereens during Cast Lead.

Of course, as everyone knows, the mall will be filled with products but empty of customers. While the old Gaza meme was one of of starvation and humanitarian crisis,  the new meme is that there are plenty of goods in Gaza, no one can afford to buy them. Gaza is apparently filled with really dumb shop-owners who keep buying products that they cannot possibly sell.

Elder of Ziyon

Sharron Angle has left the building

October 25, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The circus in Vegas:

As the event was coming to a close, a campaign staffer in a car near the assembled press reportedly spoke loudly into his cell phone, saying: “She’s Ready? She’s coming out now?”

Two women then got into his car, while Angle apparently went out a side door, avoiding TV cameras altogether.

The press, thinking Angle was still inside the building, stayed outside for another half hour until one intrepid reporter begged Microsoft staff to let her in to use the restroom. (No, folks it wasn’t me.) The reporter then confirmed that Angle had already left the building.


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Ben Smith’s Blog

Indonesia: Muslims oppose building of churches

October 14, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Why no hand-wringing about “intolerance” and “religious freedom”? Of course, in Indonesia few people are concerned about such things, and if anyone makes a comparison with the resistance to the construction of Islamic supremacist mosques in the U.S., someone will be quick to pipe up and say, “Are you saying that the U.S. should imitate Indonesia (or Saudi Arabia, etc.) in its intolerance?”

Of course not. The differences in the two situations need to pointed out and brought to public attention. Non-Muslims oppose the mosque at Ground Zero because it will be regarded in the Islamic world as a triumphal mosque, and because of the duplicity of its organizers. They oppose other mosques elsewhere because of their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is dedicated in its own words to “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.” Muslims in Indonesia, in contrast, oppose the building of churches out of the Islamic supremacist notion that non-Muslims in Muslim countries must “feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).

“Muslims in Bekasi, Indonesia Oppose Another Church Building,” from Compass Direct News, October 13 (thanks to Twostellas):

JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 13 (CDN) — Islamic organizations have mounted a campaign against the planned construction of Mother Teresa Catholic Church in West Java Province, where Christian leaders report 20 other churches have faced Muslim hostility since 2009.

Muslim leaders said plans for the Mother Teresa church in the Lippo Cikarang property project in the Cikarang area will make it the largest church building in Bekasi City. Adang Permana, general chairman of the Bekasi Islamic Youth Movement, said Bekasi area Muslims oppose the church building because they fear it will become “a center of Christianization,” according to the Islamic website

“This church will become the center of apostasy and clearly disturb the faith of Bekasi citizens, who are mostly Muslims,” Permana said, according to the website. “In addition to rejecting this parish church, we also call for the disbanding of all unauthorized churches in Bekasi Regency [City],” he stated. A church leader, however, said area residents had approved the presence of the church.

Adang said opposition to the church was based in the Islamic roots of the city.

“Historically, sociologically, and demographically, Bekasi cannot be separated from Islam, with the cleric K.H. Noer Ali as one of the founders and developers of the city,” Adang told “Because of this, we reject the church.”

H.M. Dahlan, coordinator of United Muslim Action of Bekasi, also expressed fear that the church would become a center of Christianization in Bekasi.

“Bekasi Muslims reject the presence of this church,” Dahlan said in a letter that he has circulated among mosques in the Bekasi area. In it he states that plans for the Mother Teresa church would make it the largest church building in southeast Asia. The letter has reportedly generated much unrest among area residents.

At a recent press conference, Dahlan said Unified Muslim Action of Bekasi, along with “all Muslims, mosque congregations, leaders of women’s study groups, Quranic schools, and Islamic education foundations have firmly decided to reject the construction of Mother Teresa Catholic Church in Cikarang and request that the Bekasi Regency cancel all [construction] plans.”

The Islamic groups also called on Bekasi officials to clamp down on “illegal churches” meeting in homes and shops and to block “all forms of Christianization” in the area. Local government officials frequently stall Christian applications for building and worship permits, opening the way for Islamic groups to accuse churches of being “illegal.”

The Mother Teresa church applied for a building permit in 2006, but the Bekasi government has not yet acted on the application, said a clergyman from the church identified only as Pangestu. He added that his church has met all requirements of 2006 Joint Ministerial Decrees No. 8 and No. 9, but the permit has still not been granted. The 2006 decrees require at least 60 non-Christian residents to agree to the construction of a church building, and the congregation must have at least 90 members….

Jihad Watch

Hill Buzz: The Federal Building To Nowhere

October 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Can’t get there. Can’t park there. Can’t think of a dumber government.

Liberty Pundits Blog

La. Officials Want To Keep Building Berms: ‘Still Oil In The Gulf’

October 6, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Louisiana officials want to keep building sand berms, man-made islands off the coast, to protect wetlands from the “million of barrels of oil [still] in the Gulf,” even though BP’s leaking well has been sealed.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Louisiana officials on Monday asked the Army Corps of Engineers for an emergency permit to construct berms along 40 miles of coastline.

Federal agencies, independent scientists and environmental groups “continue to gather information on this unprecedented environmental disaster, discover new locations and forms of oil, and acknowledge the value and sensitivity of the ecological system that this emergency response action is working to protect,” wrote Steve Mathies, director of the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration. “Until certainty of the location, threat and effects of the spilled oil is known, stopping actions to protect this important national resource would be irresponsible. We must remain prepared.”

Many scientists and enviro groups have complained to the Corps, however, that the berms are counterproductive, threatening endangered wildlife in the Gulf like sea turtles.

Still, Louisiana officials are asking for the permits. One official, during a flyover of the Gulf which the Times-Picayune reported showed still-visible oil sheen, said, “It’s important to keep in mind that there’s more confirmed oil in the Gulf of Mexico today than there was when this berm project was proposed or approved. There’s still millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf that’s been confirmed.”

The state has also put on hold plans for other large berms, after federal officials nixed the use of a nearby shoal as a sand source.


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