Purging Prosecutors—It’s an ugly trend. Democratic control of Congress hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from continuing to remake the courts and refashion the rule of law in its ideological image. In recent months, eight U.S. Attorneys have been asked to resign by the Justice Department in an unprecedented purge of the nation’s top law enforcement officials. Two of the forced-out U.S. Attorneys were replaced after clashing with Washington over the death penalty. Bud Cummings, the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas, was pushed aside in favor of a former political director at the Republican National Committee and deputy to Karl Rove. (Plagued by controversy, Bush crony Timothy Griffin has since withdrawn his name from consideration.) Arguably the most significant dismissal was that of Carol Lam, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego, who successfully prosecuted former Congressman Duke Cunningham on corruption charges. Two days before she prepared to indict a top CIA official for illegally funneling defense contracts to a lobbyist connected to Cunningham, Lam was shown the door.
The administration has yet to convincingly explain the sudden exodus of so much legal talent. Internal DOJ performance reports called six of the eight U.S. Attorneys “well-regarded,” “capable” and “very competent.” Cummings was known to be “highly regarded,” and Lam was described as “an effective manager and respected leader in the district.” The resignations-under-pressure have angered both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee plans to invite the former prosecutors up to the Hill to testify next month. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to 6 to prevent the U.S. Attorney General from indefinitely appointing interim U.S. Attorneys. “I have observed, with increasing alarm, how politicized the Department of Justice has become,” said Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a Judiciary Committee member. Perhaps not surprisingly, the administration official responsible for the departures, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, served as counsel to House Republicans during Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Casualties of War—In June 2004, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz offered his diagnosis of what ailed Iraq. “Frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors,” he told the House Armed Services Committee. Journalists were rightly furious at Wolfowitz. Twenty-four reporters were killed in Iraq in 2004. Last year, the number spiked to 32, mostly Iraqis, the deadliest year ever recorded for the press in a single country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The carnage in Iraq was largely responsible for raising the number of journalists killed worldwide from 47 in 2005 to 55 in 2006.
Wolfowitz’s words have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Iraq is now so dangerous that it is nearly impossible for reporters (or politicians, or diplomats) to travel freely across the country. Iraqi journalists, in particular, are routinely accused of being accomplices of the enemy. The Iraq War has easily surpassed the civil war in Algeria as the most treacherous war for journalists to cover, with a death count of 92 versus 58. Far from transforming the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq has emboldened authoritarian regimes. “With few checks on their powers, governments across the region preyed on critical journalists, using draconian press laws or outright intimidation,” said CPJ’s latest annual report. Journalists have become more outspoken in places like Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. But as a result, the CPJ report notes, “attacks against the press are on the rise.”
No to “Gitmo”—The U.S. could learn a thing or two from its northern neighbor. On February 23, Canada’s highest court unanimously ruled that foreign-born detainees could not be held indefinitely, without access to evidence, in a legal limbo known by critics as “Guantánamo North.” Three days earlier, a U.S. appeals court in Washington took the opposite tack, arguing that detainees at Guantánamo Bay (“South”), the prison in Cuba, could not challenge their detentions in U.S. courts, thereby upholding a key provision of the Military Commissions Act (MCA), passed by Congress last year. The issue now moves to the Supreme Court, which has twice ruled that detainees are eligible to file habeas corpus petitions and challenge being locked up. The appeals verdict may also expedite action in Congress, where a group of Democratic senators want to repeal the MCA. The House, meanwhile, is considering shutting down Gitmo altogether by the end of 2008.