Michael Brendan Dougherty Has Said It Well

Regarding Mike Huckabee’s have-it-both-ways answer to the question of whether Jesus would support the death penalty, MBD says, “Basically, he’d kill them but he’d cry about it afterwards.” When asked tonight — and earlier when asked at the Morgan State University debate in Baltimore — Huck said that he supports the death penalty but feel really bad about it, since he’s actually had to execute prisoners (not personally, of course) as governor of Arkansas. The particular question he was asked tonight, however, and which Anderson Cooper reiterated and pressed Huck upon, was whether Jesus would support capital punishment. For all that Huck put on his “serious face” and wrung his hands about his decisions as Arkansas governor, when pressed he evaded the question by cracking a joke: Jesus was smart enough not to get into politics, he said. Funny, but why not answer the question? Presumably because an honest answer wouldn’t have served Huck’s political interests.

I’ve come around on capital punishment. I used to be for it, and in my gut I still am. But the gut is not the place for careful consideration of life-and-death matters. I changed my mind after thinking about the criticisms of capital punishment that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made and asking myself whether it could ever be right to take the life of a man who is not in a position to pose a threat to anyone. The deterrent effects of capital punishment are debatable, and other countries have been able to control their crime problems without resort to the death penalty. There are other, I think better, cases to be made for capital punishment on moral grounds — that it’s the proportionate punishment for the crime, for example. But confronted with a choice between the principle of proportionality on the one hand and the principles of mercy and of precedence on the other (by precedence I mean that God has a higher claim to a man’s life, even a criminal’s life, than the State can ever have) I think the Christian should side with mercy and precedence.

Of course, there’s a overwhelmingly compelling secular reason to oppose capital punishment as well. If Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and the great mass of the American people all support a policy, it must be very bad indeed.


Allen Dulles’s Family Jewels

The New York Times has dedicated a blog to the many accounts of spying on Americans, wiretapping journalists, consorting with the mob, breaking and entering, plotting assassinations, and other varieties of skulduggery found in the CIA’s “family jewels” file. So far the family jewels–unsurprisingly–have revealed very little that wasn’t wasn’t already known. NYT reporter Tim Weiner, whose Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is the one of the most important books that’s been published this year, is among the bloggers.

An Evolving Line on Perjury

Justin Raimondo compares Rich Lowry’s view of perjury during the Clinton era to his take on Scooter Libby’s perjury today. Is perjury not a crime if there are no charges arising from what the perjuror lied abot? Lowry didn’t think so back then.

Contrary to some libertarians, I think Libby would have earned himself slammer time even in libertopia. Think of it this way: if a company contractually guranteed anonymity to its employees and an employee of the company perjures himself in the course of covering up a possible violation of the anonymity contract, shouldn’t he be subject to a stiff penalty? Depending on the contract and the case law that might well include jail time. It should be underscored, too, that swearing under oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is about as a strong a contractual obligation as anyone can enter into.

Drug Poisoning, Another Form of Torture

Is using LSD and other psychoactive drugs on on accused (not convicted, let’s remember) terrorists a Bush administration policy? Justin Rood at TPMmuckraker investigates:

Giving detainees drugs like LSD and PCP seems stupid to the point of absurdity.

So I was surprised to discover that in 2002, Justice Department lawyers carefully considered the issue and advised the White House that it was okay. In their view, it was acceptable to force detainees to ingest “mind-altering substances,” as long as it was not intended to cause months-long bouts of serious mental illness.

How do we know that? Because in August 2002, the Justice Department gave then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales a 50-page document saying so. And a follow-up document in 2004 reaffirmed it.

Read on. Sometime after 9/11, the United States became a Terry Gilliam movie.

Bravo for Walter Jones, Goodbye Republic

Not only has the North Carolina congressman come to see the Iraq War as folly, he was one of only a handful of Republicans to oppose the torture bill. The honor roll also includes Roscoe Bartlett, Wayne Gilchrest, Steven LaTourette, James Leach, Jerry Moran, and of course Ron Paul. Along with most of the Democratic caucus.

Notice anyone missing from that list? On Bovard’s blog, “libertarian” Jeff Flake’s absence was noted. But I was most surprised — and sickened — by John Duncan’s pro-torture vote. He’s an antiwar Republican (YouTube video) who’s long seemed like one of the few decent human beings on the Hill, though there’ve always been places where one could quibble with his record. But this is just shameful. John Hostettler, of Indiana’s firecely contested “bloody eighth” district, is another antiwar but pro-torture Republican. His opponent is a pro-war Democrat. Thanks to Hostettler’s “coercive interrogation” vote, though, I hope the Dem wins just so his party gets closer to retaking the House, since that’s clearly the only thing that will stand between George W. Bush and Divine Right.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, not only did McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Warner capitulate to Bush, they voted against an attempt to preserve executive detainees’ — which is what “enemy combatants” ought to be called, since the executive branch can decide arbitrarily who fits the “enemy combatant” bill — habeas corpus protections.

I’ve never felt so slimy to be an American. The Bush administration has been torturing and illegally holding people for years, of course, but without the fig leaf of law. Now waterboarding, stress positions, extended sleep deprivation (which, if you’re keeping people awake for days on end, may be more cruel than traditional thumbscrews), and a whole array of modern torture techniques are, at least implicitly, part of the law of the land. The rule of law has become the rule of the Marquis de Sade.

In all of this, the branch of the federal government that has acquitted itself best is the Supreme Court. Why are we supposed to want a Republican Senate and president again?

Been Caught Stealing Once When I Was 34

First there's Claude Allen's retail fraud. Now David Ignatius writes about another Bushie's (allegedly) sticky fingers:

When Goss and Murray arrived at the CIA in the fall of 2004, their first choice for the agency's No. 3 job of executive director was a former CIA officer named Michael Kostiw, who had many friends in conservative political circles. But Kostiw's nomination was sabotaged when a CIA insider leaked the fact that he had once been accused of shoplifting. The charges were dropped after Kostiw resigned and agreed to seek counseling. Kostiw's past made him an inappropriate choice for such a senior position, in the view of many career CIA officers, but to Murray the leak was evidence of a liberal cabal at the CIA that was determined to obstruct the Bush administration's agenda.

What is it with these guys and petty larcency? Claude Allen was making $161,000 a year (drawn on you and me, the taxpayers, of course). I'm sure Kostiw wasn't making quite as much, but I doubt he would have been pinched for change to buy a Snickers bar.

Ah, but I see the shoplifting allegation is 25 years old. Maybe he was just a wayward young man back then — starving graduate student or something. Maybe … or then again, maybe not. Here's what Walter Pincus reported two years ago, when Kostiw withdrew from consideration for the job that ultimately went to Kyle "Dusty" Foggo:

The change came after The Washington Post reported Sunday [Oct. 3, 2004] that, in late 1981, Kostiw was caught shoplifting a $2.13 package of bacon from a supermarket in Langley, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the incident. At the time, Kostiw had been a CIA case officer for 10 years.

You work for the CIA for ten years and then you resort to shoplifting to bring home the bacon? He was 34 at the time. According to Pincus, the reason there were no charges filed was because the CIA provided what sounds like a "get out of jail free" card:

Kostiw has told friends he decided to resign during the leave. Agency officials arranged for the misdemeanor shoplifting charge to be dropped and the police record expunged in return for his resignation and agreement to seek counseling, a former official said.

I wonder whether the agency provides that kind of help to troubled teens, too?

Extra! MoDo is on the case as well — "Six Degrees of Bacon" — but you can't shoplift Times Select and I wouldn't recommend paying for it. She's mostly repackaging Pincus anyway, with a few bacon "jokes" thrown in.  I regret my own "bringing home the bacon" now.  The rest of today's posts will be strictly kosher.

The Claude Allen Story

What made Claude Allen, domestic policy advisor to President Bush and former deputy-sub-something-or-other at the Department of Health and Human Services (one of those departments that conservatives used to want to abolish), turn into a crook? A lengthy piece in the Washington Post yesterday ponders whether Allen snapped "after decades of operating outside the African American mainstream and often in concert with figures, like Helms, viewed as hostile to black interests." That's just one of several possibilities the piece moots, but since reporter Lynne Duke frames her story with an anecdote about Allen encountering racism in North Carolina, it's clearly the one readers are meant to credit. We're supposed to think that the cognitive dissonance of being a black man working for Jesse Helms and George W. Bush finally led Allen to turn to crime. Duke quotes a Virginia NAACP official named King Salim Khalafani to that effect — "The contradiction is going to manifest itself in some way in your behavior, your mental stability." — then endorses the idea herself: "It is just a theory, but one that stings."

Duke almost paints Allen as a victim — her interviews with Allen's acquaintances make him seem "enigmatic" (without ever giving any useful indication of what's supposed to be lurking beneath the surface) but even-keeled, generous, and likeable. After 20 years in politics, doesn't he have any enemies whose criticisms might shed a less flattering, less obfuscating light on this fraudster? Duke does cite critics, including Khalafani, who call him an ideologue, and she cites an instance of Allen essentially lying to Congress (when he tells a Senate confirmation panel that he left the Helms campaign after the senator filibustered the bill to make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday — in fact, as Duke reveals, Allen just took the day off). But she doesn't look deeper into what kind of political operative Allen was, instead choosing to play racial psychologist.

Let me suggest that there's a more natural explanation for Allen's behavior than the torque caused by being a black conservative: Allen turned into a crook precisely because he was an ideologue and a party stalwart. The same capacity that allows him to misrepresent his reaction to Helms's filibuster before Congress, and the same lack of scruple that makes a man effective in the Bush administration, is what allows someone like Allen to turn to petty crime. If the ends justify the means in politics, why not in retail fraud, too?

This is idle psychological speculation in its own right, of course, but it seems like a simpler and more elegant explanation than the one tendered by Duke and Khalafani, though it lacks all the titillating frisson of their racial explanation of Allen's behavior.

Outside the realm of speculation, though, one thing that can be said for certain is that Claude Allen should have listened to his mother. As Duke reveals:

Raised by Democrats, Allen shocked his mother, the late Lila Allen, when he told her back in 1982 that he was going to work for Republicans, according to Knight Ridder newspapers.

"Oh please, don't do that," she said. "You'll ruin your life."