Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blackwater still swirling in aftermath of Iraq invasion

Word from Washington that the Justice Department decided Monday not to charge a Blackwater Worldwide employee with murder for a killing in Baghdad that he admitted appears to spell the end of U.S. efforts to address the some of the excesses that have come, sadly, to characterize the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The decision followed a line of failures in high-profile cases brought against employees of companies that were armed contractors for the U.S. State Department in Iraq, a still-questionable arrangement with dire constitutional implications that still have not been adequately examined. The most notable prosecution that failed, of course, resulted in the acquittal of five former Blackwater guards who opened fire on civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square in 2007, killing 17, according to the New York Times. The Justice Department decision came in a case involving Andrew Moonen of Seattle, who killed a guard protecting Iraq's vice president on Christmas Eve in 2006. The case was complicated by a blanket grant of immunity to State Department contractors, like Blackwater, but not to Defense Department contractors, immunity granted to Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater employee, by a U.S. Embassy official and by Moonen's claim of self-defense. The Justice Department has investigated the case for four years, and already paid damages to Moonen's family. But the murky legal environment that finally prompted Justice to drop the case is no accident. The government of George W. Bush went to war on dubious evidence and corrupted longstanding legal and constitutional principles along the way. The only real surprises here are that is has taken so long for these cases to be dismissed and the subsequent Obama administration's refusal to investigate misconduct by his predecessor. It will take decades to repair the damage to the legal system of the United States, and may take even longer for the country to regain its moral footing unless such an investigation is undertaken. The issue is not whether anyone will have to prison, although it may come to that. The future of the United States is on the line here -- the sooner the reckoning begins, the better for everyone.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Clinton: U.S. wants to increase help for Mexico's fight against drug cartels

Can the United States really help Mexico succeed in its battle against drug cartels that have expanded their influence farther and farther south from the border between the two countries? From the safety of Northern California, hundreds of miles from Tijuana, it used to look as if the Mexican government was forced to fight corruption it its own police forces before it could engage the drug traffickers that had turned even peaceful cities into dangerous places. But years of unabated violence have made the lines of power a lot easier to understand. That's why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the other day that the powerful Mexican drug cartels were behaving a lot like political insurgent groups than mere gangs. "This is one of the most difficult fights that any country faces today," Clinton told San Francisco's nonpartisan Commonwealth Club in a speech Friday, according to Cable News Network (CNN). "We are watching drug traffickers undermine and corrupt governments in Central America, and we are watching the brutality and barbarity of their assaults on governors and mayors, the press, as well as each other, in Mexico." Clinton said the United States could help Mexico rebuild its criminal justice system and retrain its police forces to fight the cartels, which she said were acting like terrorists. "For the first time, they are using car bombings," she said. "You see them being much more organized in a kind of paramilitary way." Clinton's comments were no doubt a reference to U.S. efforts to find the body of David Hartley, a U.S. resident believed to have been shot by drug traffickers on Mexico's border with Texas, CNN said.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

French ban on Islamic face coverings ruled constitutional

So, is it merely nervy or something worse that France has made it a crime for women to wear Islamic face coverings in public? The county's top legal authority, the French Constitutional Council, decided Thursday that the so-called burqa ban, approved overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, was legal under the country's constitution. Councilmembers ruled that the ban, which makes the wearing of the burqa full-body covering or the nigab face-covering punishable by a fine, was constitutional because it did not prevent the free practice of religion in a place of worship, according to Cable News Network (CNN). How could this happen in a place as modern and aware as France, which had the wisdom to oppose the United States' occupation of Iraq from the outset? Easily, it turns out. More than 80 percent of the country supported the ban in a poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project earlier this year, CNN said. Residents of Germany, England and Spain also backed the ban by large majorities but those countries have not imposed one, CNN said. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. residents oppose such a ban. The French government, which backed the ban, called the wearing of Islamic head coverings by women "a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil." France barred the wearing of all overt religious symbols, including Islamic headscarves, in the nation's public schools in 2004. CNN said 3.5 million Muslims -- 6 percent of the population -- live in France.