Senator Klobuchar: Is torture a legal issue?

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a former County Attorney, a current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a possible future Supreme Court nominee, is adept at avoiding legal categories when it suits her purpose. Last month the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the Executive Summary of its report on U.S.-committed torture in the post-9/11 era. A friend of mine wrote several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggesting that now, if ever, it was time to push for justice and accountability. Senator Klobuchar responded with a carefully crafted form letter that ignored all legal concepts. Here was my subsequent reply to Sen. Klobuchar: Dear Senator Klobuchar, Reverend Sonja Johnson shared with me a copy of your response to her recent letter to you about holding those responsible for torture accountable. It scared me. It scared me because you may well be on future Supreme Court nominee “short lists,” and while Rev. Johnson’s letter focused on law and justice, your response used totally different categories and terminology. I appreciate that this was a form letter, not written to respond directly to Rev. Johnson, but your response dealt with none of the issues she raised. You wrote of “the troubling interrogation techniques,” that “torture is unacceptable,” and that “the values that define our nation…[were] intentionally disregarded” (emphasis added). The words “crime,” “law,” “justice,” and “accountability” were absent. The interrogation techniques were not “troubling”; they were criminal. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Condoleezza Rice and the Humphrey School: It’s not about free speech

Dear Humphrey School Faculty, Fellows Staff and PASA members,April 17 will be a sad day for the University of Minnesota and in particular for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. That is when Dr. Condoleezza Rice, at the Humphrey School’s invitation, will deliver a Distinguished Carlson Lecture as part of the month-long series of events commemorating the reopening of Northrop Auditorium.The university is a place where ideas get tested, where multiple viewpoints are welcomed. In such a setting, opposition to a speaker seems to violate the very essence of the institution.But I oppose this invitation and in fact believe the University of Minnesota would be doing a valuable service to humanity by withdrawing it, no matter how awkward that might be at this late date.This isn’t about free speech, a diversity of viewpoints, excluding voices, or discouraging dialogue. Rather, it’s about the University becoming associated with abhorrent conduct done in our names.This isn’t about suppressing free speech. Dr. Rice will continue to have no shortage of available forums in which to express her views. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Civilian review and tortured definitions

Remember the torture memos? Those were the Department of Justice documents that were issued shortly after 9/11 — and later withdrawn — that defined torture so narrowly that it was virtually defined out of existence. They said that to constitute torture, the pain had to be “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Well, hold on to your dictionaries. Minneapolis’s new Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) has done some similar major surgery on the word “transparency.” Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Minneapolis DFL Party should apologize

The Minneapolis DFL Party owes the citizens of Minneapolis an apology and ought to make a statement to that effect — whether by resolution or otherwise — at its upcoming city convention.At its convention last year, the Party refused even to consider a resolution expressing the will of the body on the proposed “People’s Stadium.” This was five days before the Minneapolis City Council’s Committee of the Whole — with 12 DFLers out of its 13 members — was going to take the key vote on the stadium bill the legislature had passed. But the Minneapolis DFL Convention remained silent.How is that defensible?The primary business to be conducted at that convention was endorsement of school board candidates. But it was clear that after the at-large endorsements had been voted on, a motion would be made and passed to adjourn so that the smaller political units could make their district school board endorsements. This would mean the resolutions portion of the agenda would fall by the wayside.So at the time the agenda was being considered for adoption, a motion was made to move to the top of the agenda a 10-minute discussion on a stadium resolution. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid embarrasses itself

 A “News of the Weird” section would be a more appropriate site for this post. On Thursday evening, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (Minneapolis and a few non-metro offices), held a “Legal Aid Centennial Law Day Testimonial Dinner” at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. At $175 a plate, this was a major fundraising event for Legal Aid. The liberal elite of the legal profession was well represented — lawyers and legal workers who have lent their skills to extend to the disenfranchised legal rights that others take for granted, board members of eminent local organizations that have fought for human rights for decades, lawyers who have represented Guantanamo prisoners. And who was the keynote speaker, speaking on “Why Democracy Matters”? None other than Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor during George W. Bush’s first presidential term. That was when it was decided to house prisoners in the “war on terror” at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, to keep them out of the clutches of the U.S. legal system and the rights it grants such prisoners. That was also when Ms. Rice says she attended meetings — the Bush administration’s “Principals Group” — where interrogation “techniques” were discussed and approved. Continue Reading