October 12, 2011

Texas Used Car Salesman Brings World to Brink of WW III

For the hell of it, I read the federal complaint against Mansour Arabsiar, the Persian American allegedly behind an Iranian plot to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. I confess I have a weakness for such reading - it's always interesting to me to see how the other guys try to get mileage out of the very little evidence usually available at the outset of a case. This one did not disappoint in that regard. In essence, the case against Arabsiar and his Iranian confederate (Gholum Shakuri) comes down to this:

1. Mansour was a used car salesman in Corpus Christi, Texas, with a history of financial problems and minor run-ins with the law. Over the last several months, he got involved with a guy called "CS-1," which stands for Confidential Source 1, a paid informant working for the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Texas-Mexico border area. CS-1 worked a deal with the Department of Justice where he got a narcotics rap dismissed in exchange for working undercover for the FBI.

2. The complaint does not tell you how Arabsiar found or encountered CS-1, other than they met in Mexico on one of Mansour's trips down there. By itself, that is a very interesting (and perhaps telling) omission. One way or the other, Arabsiar and CS-1 began discussing a plot to blow up the Saudi Ambassador, in Washington, D.C., with C-4 (no relation) explosives. Both Arabsiar and CS-1 then began blowing voluminous quantities of smoke up the ass of the other (inter sese, as we say in law). Mansour said he had a cousin in Quds, the bad ass corps of Revolutionary Guard paramilitaries in Iran. CS-1 said he was tight with Los Zetas (Drug Cartel #1, in the complaint), a Mexican drug and gun-running gang with a major rep for what you might call excessive, even wholly gratuitous, violence.

3. Mansour (or maybe it was CS-1) then suggested that this group of Mexican bandidos would be the perfect outfit to blow up the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, D.C. Personally, I would think that this hit would be somewhat beyond, and a little too subtle for, their usual skill set, which normally involves blasting away at local police, judges and other Mexican citizens with weapons of awesome firepower, then decapitating the victims and placing their heads in the local zocalo (see, "Murder City," an excellent book about life and death in Laredo).

4. CS-1 told Mansour that killing the Ambassador was no problem, but, lamentably, such things cost a lot of money, and suggested the figure $1.5 million. Of course, there would be the requirement of a down payment, or earnest money, to show that Mansour, the failed used car salesman who was so disorganized that the guy who bought him out of the car lot said Mansour often had trouble finding the titles to cars he had just sold (he sounds a little like the Bill Macy character in "Fargo"), could command this kind of cash from the villains back home in Tehran.

5. There are a bunch of references to "international travel" by Mansour in the complaint, but they aren't really place-specific. Did he go to Iran over the summer? I wasn't able to tell. What you can be certain about is that Mansour arranged for two wire transfers to a bank account set up by CS-1, each in the amount of $49,960 or so (there must be something about keeping it under 50 grand). This made the FBI's job easier, since it provided the "overt acts" in furtherance of the conspiracy necessary to nail Mansour, and, in a twist of luck, the money was routed through New York City, establishing a nice, convenient venue for filing the complaint in Federal Court in Foley Square (who wants to spend next summer in Houston, you know?).

6. The money was wired in from a "foreign country" by a foreigner. Was this Gholum Shakuri, Mansour's co-conspirator? I presume so.

Well, there you have it. Two Persians, money changing hands, plans to blow up the Saudi Ambassador. It seems to me the Feds have their conspiracy case fairly well made. An agreement to commit a felony, a couple of overt acts (wire transfers). That's all the Feds need; no one actually has to get detonated.

As to the reality of the plot, what I notice right away is that you can't find anything in the complaint which describes "planning" of the assassination between any two people other than Mansour Arabsiar, the used car salesman, and CS-1, the guy who beat the drug rap by becoming a snitch.

Also, since the FBI knew that the plan was not in any sense real or even close to fruition (after all, CS-1 was not really a honcho in a Mexican drug cartel so no one had actually been enlisted to carry out the assassination), why did they interrupt the plot when it had been funded only to the $100 K level? See, this is how lawyers think: if the Republic of Iran was actually behind this Robert Ludlumesque plot, then the balance of $1.4 million would surely have been forthcoming, and the actual payment, in such size, would be impressive evidence that it wasn't just Mansour and Gholum playing out a reckless fantasy with a bunch of (nonexistent) Mexican desperados. But maybe a hundred grand could find its way from Iran one way or another, with or without the Iranian government, Quds, or the Ayatollah's petty cash drawer.

I suspect this one will sink beneath the waves pretty soon. It looks suspiciously like a Wag the Dog Op, the way it instantly became front page news with really so little of substance to actually connect it to the Iranian government. It's curious, as to the question of the hurry-up timing, that all this comes to light just as Eric Holder, the Rip Van Winkle of Attorneys General, had his boredom-induced coma interrupted by cries of "perjury!" from Darrell Issa and others in the House concerning the "Fast & Furious" controversy, where Mr. Holder stated (under oath, to a House panel) that he only lately found out about the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms & Tobacco (ATF's) role in allowing the sale of AK-47 weapons to criminals (mainly sales in Arizona gun shops), and then permitting the guns to "walk" across the Mexican border to, uh, drug cartels. Part of a tracing operation, I guess.

Well, you certainly would not want to harass your own Attorney General about some gun-running program, harebrained as it might have been, when he's busy unraveling a plot involving those same drug cartels and the Evil Republic itself, Iran. Would you? So even if an old Iran hand like Robert Baer says unequivocally that it's ludicrous to imagine that Quds and the Iranian government would get involved with a couple of small-time losers and a Mexican gang to carry out an embassy assassination - well, I say, wait till all the facts are in. That's my legal training talking. Although that same training tells me all the facts are probably already in.

October 10, 2011

What if we didn't have Roe versus Wade?

Criticisms of Barack Obama seem to come in two distinct styles. From the Right, particularly the radio voices which provide the Loony Bin Conservatives with their Weltanschauung, are the usual totally unhinged, clinically insane descriptions of Obama as a Hitlerian Socialist, whatever that is, bent on forcing collectivizaton of the people, herding everyone into FEMA Death Camps, and giving over what little the federal government has left to a cabal of Wall Street Bankers who go to dinner parties with him in Manhattan. Weirdly enough, this is not in any sense an exaggeration of the tone.

From the liberal side of politics, the criticisms focus on Obama's relentless double-crossing of the people who elected him; his abysmal record of refusing to take any kind of prosecutorial action against the thieves and grifters of those same people in his dinner parties at Robert, the trendy Manhattan eatery where he raises money; his free pass to the war criminals and torturers of the previous administration; and his worse-than-Bush record on civil liberties and transparency in government. One could go on and point out his doubling-down on the most pointless and absurd war in American history, the invasion of Afghanistan and our residence there for the past ten years to avenge attacks emanating from Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula - but it all just becomes words.

The question is what to do about it. Despite the increasingly faint-hearted "support" Obama draws from die-hard Democratic partisans, I think he's been a colossal disappointment, almost surreal, movie-like, "Manchurian Candidate" in scope, but there he still is, and he'll be on the ticket next year for the Democrats, matched up against either a guy who believes in a fable about Jesus Christ visiting Native Americans in the Missouri area (according to Joseph Smith's reading of gibberish through the portal of a Magic Box), or a C+ student from Texas A&M who makes George W. Bush look like Charles Van Doren.

So then what? One liberal trope an apostate is immediately hit with, of course, is always the same: what happens to the "composition" of the Supreme Court if we put someone like Rick Perry in the White House? My first reaction is that we'll have much bigger problems than the composition of the Supreme Court in that bizarre eventuality, but the composition of the Supreme Court will suffer yet more, to the extent that a court which agrees that corporations should be allowed to control political elections entirely can get any worse. But certainly one casualty of a court which finally tips over to the definite 5-4 or 6-3 Cro-Magnon majority necessary to reverse Roe vs. Wade is that a woman's right to choose what to do with a pregnancy during the first two trimesters may very well lose its federal guarantee.

I wrote a blog a while back on the subject of Wade reversal, and pointed out that if a future Supreme Court decision decided that the "zone of privacy" reasoning which supports Roe vs. Wade was a bunch of liberal nonsense, that such a ruling would not mean that abortion would automatically be illegal, nationwide, the following day. Far from it. Such a decision would mean that the states were not prevented from enacting laws to limit or eliminate abortion, but it would not compel the states to criminalize abortion. The distinction is very important.

I have long thought that the abortion decision rested on a very slender reed, Constitutionally speaking. Abortion per se is certainly not mentioned in the Constitution (one would not expect it to be), but more fundamentally the "zone of privacy" implied in the Ninth Amendment in the Bill or Rights is also a legal concoction, and it is on this construct that Roe vs. Wade is built. The Ninth Amendment only says,

"The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Did the people retain the right of abortion when the Constitution was enacted? I don't want to sound like Antonin Scalia (ever), but it is a stretch. Of course, did the people retain the right of back-door sex and other fun bedroom activities all protected as well by the Ninth Amendment's "zone of privacy" (Griswold vs. Connecticut, 1965)? It all depends on whose ox is being gored, or whose....never mind.

Further, Justice Harry Blackmun's neat and tidy analysis based on trimesters and viability has also been superseded by the current state of gestational science. Be that as it may: provided the Supreme Court simply left it at that, reversing Roe vs. Wade on its own terms, and the Clowns of Capitol Hill did not rush into the vacuum thus created and attempt to pass a federal criminal law banning abortion, then those states favorably disposed to choice issues would provide abortions; and those states which are inclined to believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and will only be around a little while longer until things heat up in Israel can do what they want at last, and we all know what that is. Perhaps a happier country all the way around, for as long as it lasts (the country, I mean). Indeed, abortion has been such a polarizing issue (like forever) in this country, that a state-by-state decision through local plebiscites might accomplish both the goal of local self-determination and a goad to the realization among the states that, you know, we just really don't have that much in common anymore, but we'll always cherish our initial misconceptions about each other. What a relief, however, if the issue of court-packing could finally stop distorting national elections, and we could all blissfully accept that we were throwing away our vote because we just can't stand voting for someone we don't really enthusiastically support simply because the other guy will appoint another Luddite to the high bench and disrupt the delicate Roe balance.

Looked at that way, maybe the Ransom Note approach to presidential elections could be altered somewhat. Forget the Supreme Court; they've certainly forgotten you, my fellow American commoners. If you want to vote for Roseanne Barr, who's running for president (of both the USA and Israel, simultaneously) on a platform of replacing fiat currency with a barter system based on vegetables, restoration of the guillotine as punishment for the obscenely rich, and a return to an agrarian economy in America, then you can do so with a fairly clear conscience, simply remembering that if you want to have liberal rights in the state where you live, you'll have to work for them at that level. Which, now that you mention it, is where there's a chance you could actually affect the outcome.

October 09, 2011

Arguments Made from Legal Play-Doh

I see where the public relations department for the Obama White House, otherwise known as the New York Times, has published a lengthy, front-page article on the legal basis for the President's decision to kill Anwar al-Awlaki with a missile strike. Such prominent placement in the nation's Newspaper of Record probably reflects some discomfiture in the West Wing about the blowback from civil libertarians and other extremists who thought that
killing an American citizen, even a Muslim troublemaker, in defiance of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause deserved a more thorough legal workout. The White House has refused to discuss the actual evidence against al-Awlaki, other than some very generalized intelligence data about the cleric's "involvement" in terrorist plots, some of which is almost laughably vague and unsubstantiated, such as al-Awlaki's "possible presence" "in the vicinity" of someone (unidentified) who may have been on the phone with the Christmas Day underwear bomber. I'm not kidding about that: that's actually the quality of the evidence, at least to the extent it has been made public, and Jay Carney, Obama's surfer-dude Press Secretary made a point of refusing to answer Jake Tapper's (highly commendable) tenacious questioning at a recent press conference about just what the government had on the guy before they fired a missile at him. Just not something the White House is going to discuss; if we kill you, please rest assured it's for your own good.

Thus, the usual stone wall from the Most Transparent Administration Ever, which never provides any detail, photos or data whatsoever for anything at any time. Their motto is simple, that government is best which operates most in secret. Still, they thought maybe they ought to do something, so they called in the Times and told them to write a story about a 50-page memo in vague, general terms, without the reporter (of course) actually seeing the memo (let alone reading or studying it), but with an outline of what's in it, all as verified by completely anonymous sources who (probably) had seen this memo, and that ought to be good enough. This is what passes for candor and accountability in the Obama White House; they're not even willing to go as far as George W. Bush and the John Yoo torture memo. At least we got to read the damn thing. Now we're reduced to having the New York Times, made to feel special because an anonymous source is giving them the inside dope on why it was okay to whack Awlaki, describe why "precedents" and the "law of war" provided all kinds of exceptions to the Bill of Rights, and so stop worrying, okay? We did the right thing.

From what I could tell (and it's very hard to tell), the legal memo uses the standard connect-the-dots from the September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to the decision to blow up the Muslim from New Mexico. You can see the obvious nexus if I just reproduce the AUMF one more time:


    (a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

It's a thing of beauty, isn't it? Notice that Congress, moving as far away as it possibly could from its own Constitutional duty of Declaring War, deferred completely to George W. Bush's unilateral right to determine who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the attacks of 9-11, which of course were carried out by an Egyptian, two citizens of the UAE, a Lebanese and 15 guys from Saudi Arabia, based on plans they had developed in South Florida and Hamburg, Germany, probably with financial help from the Saudi royal family. If that's not reason enough to invade Afghanistan and stay there for ten years, then I don't know what is.

So anyway, Al Qaeda. That's what we're talking about. An umbrella term for an umbrella organization. If it's kind of Muslim, kind of terroristic, sort of Arab, involves burnooses, robes, that kind of thing, let's call it al-Qaeda, because the President determined (that's for sure) that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks of 9-11. What's the evidence for that? That doesn't need to be discussed, because evidence is not discussed. It's a State Secret. It was al-Qaeda, Bin Laden is definitely "affiliated" with al-Qaeda, and the Lebanese, Egyptian, Saudi etc. guys were affiliated with al-Qaeda, because we think maybe they went to Afghanistan to train on the Jungle Gym Complex there, or maybe not (what's the difference, and where does Dore Gold get off writing in Hatred's Kingdom that there is no evidence any hijacker ever went to Afghanistan before the attacks, and that it was all Saudi money which funded the operation? Dore Gold, born in Hartford, Connecticut, educated in a yeshiva there, yet a prominent member of Israel's foreign policy apparatus? Sounds suspicious.)

Where were we? Okay, so you can see how much fun lawyering at the highest levels can be. It's like molding arguments out of Legal Play-Doh. Getting from the AUMF of September 18, 2001 to whacking Awlaki with a Hellfire missile in September, 2011, is almost too easy. It's not our fault Awlaki got "identified" or "affiliated with" al-Qaeda. Arabic is a resourceful, big language, and there are lots of terms he could have used (maybe he did, but never mind) to identify himself and his "affiliation," but we decided he was part of what we call al-Qaeda, sort of like SMERSH, and that was that. We "determined" that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks of 9-11, and we define al-Qaeda as basically anything sort of Arabic or Muslim that makes hostile noises against the United States. Arab-Americans who want to dissent without getting blown up by a Predator Drone should be careful to designate themselves something not covered by the AUMF, such as the Koran-Krips, or the Mecca Maulers, or even Muslim Brotherhood, since that was probably an actual organization involved in the attacks of 9-11, but the USA apparently never figured that out.