Monday, March 13, 2006

Olbermann: Execs at NBC "do not like to see the current...administration criticized"

Summary: Keith Olbermann, appearing on C-SPAN, said: "There are people I know in the hierarchy of NBC, the company, and GE, the company, who do not like to see the current presidential administration criticized at all. ... There are people who I work for who would prefer, who would sleep much easier at night if this never happened. On the other hand, if they look at my ratings and my ratings are improved and there is criticism of the president of the United States, they're happy."

During a March 12 interview with C-SPAN president and chief executive officer Brian Lamb, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann said: "There are people I know in the hierarchy of NBC, the company, and GE [General Electric Co., NBC's parent corporation], the company, who do not like to see the current presidential administration criticized at all. ... There are people who I work for who would prefer, who would sleep much easier at night if this never happened." He added, "On the other hand, if they look at my ratings and my ratings are improved and there is criticism of the president of the United States, they're happy."

Olbermann also discussed his relationship to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and claimed: "O'Reilly's agent calls the head of NBC week after week saying, you have got to get Olbermann to stop" criticizing O'Reilly.

From Olbermann's interview with Lamb, aired on the March 12 edition of C-SPAN's Q&A:

LAMB: We have got some other quotes about Fox from you: "Fortunately for the free world, News Corp.," which owns FOX, "is very aggressive but ultimately not very bright."

OLBERMANN: Yes, they are somewhat self-destructive. And that's the best hope for mankind, relative to them. In other words, you know, Bill O'Reilly, who has an audience at 8 o'clock [p.m. ET] that even with recent programming gains on the part of my show, the total audience that he has is still, what, six, seven times what we are doing. Even -- as Fox and News Corp. put it, the "money demo," the 25- to 54-year-old news viewers who don't watch news, even there they are still about double what we are doing.

When I attack Bill O'Reilly or criticize him for something that he said on the air, some ludicrous suggestion like, you know, we should let Al Qaeda go in and blow up San Francisco because he doesn't like San Francisco, I mean, just lunatic things, if I punch upwards at Fox News, the clever response, the cynical and brilliant response is to just ignore. Like, well, why do we have to worry, they have one-seventh of our audience? They attack. Bill O'Reilly's agent calls the head of NBC week after week saying, you have got to get Olbermann to stop this, as if for some reason there are rules here. We have -- these are the people who have suspended the rules, and they want the referee to step in protect them against my little pinky.

LAMB: More quotes. This is about Rupert Murdoch: "His covey of flying monkeys do something journalistically atrocious every hour of the day."

OLBERMANN: Yeah. I think that's probably true. I think -- well, sometimes they miss. They are sometimes -- there are a few hours in a row where there might not be a flying monkey appearing, devastating society.

LAMB: Doesn't this work for both of you?

OLBERMANN: I don't think so. I haven't met a lot of flying monkeys at NBC. I have met people who -- and by the way, this is the great freedom and the great protection of American broadcasting, commercial broadcasting -- we made a mistake in the '20s. We let broadcasting in this country develop with commercial broadcasting taking the lead and all other kinds of information on radio or television secondary or tertiary. But the protection of money at the center of everything, including news to the degree that it is now, is that as long as you make the money, they don't care what it is you put on the air.

They don't care. There are people I know in the hierarchy of NBC, the company, and GE, the company, who do not like to see the current presidential administration criticized at all.

Anybody who knew anything about American history and stepped out at any point in American history and got an assessment of this presidential administration would say, "Yeah, I don't know how much they need to be criticized, but they need to be criticized to some degree."

There are people who I work for who would prefer, who would sleep much easier at night if this never happened. On the other hand, if they look at my ratings and my ratings are improved and there is criticism of the president of the United States, they're happy.

If my ratings went up because there was no criticism of the president of the United States, they'd be happy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sandra Day O'Connor Warns that GOP Thugs are Pulling Us Onto the Path Toward Dictatorship

NPR's Nina Totenberg aired an amazing story this morning about a talk that just-resigned Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor gave at Georgetown University. The first woman to serve on the High Court wouldn't allow her actual words to be broadcast, and that's a shame, because -- based on Totenberg's report -- every American needs to hear what she said. The Reagan appointee who became a moderate and an American icon -- Bush v. Gore notwithstanding -- all but named names in thinly veiled attacks on former House majority leader Tom DeLay and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and ended with a stunning warning.

We transcribed some of the report, which you can listen to here. (UPDATE: Here's a full transcript from Raw Story.)

O'Connor told her Georgetown audience that judges can make presidents, Congress and governors "really really mad," and that if judges don't make people angry, they aren't doing their job. But she said judicial effectiveness is "premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts." While hailing the American system of rights and privileges, she noted that these don't protect the judiciary, that "people do":

Then, she took aim at former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year, when DeLay took out after the courts for its rulings on abortion, prayer, and the Terry Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress' one-time-only statute about Schiavo as it was written, not, said O'Connor, as the Congressman might have wished it were written. The response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O'Conner, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas Sen. John Cornyn who made that statement after a Georgia judge was murdered in court and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge's home.
Now, the kicker:

O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms -- recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges stripping the courts of jurisdictions and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decision that political leaders disagree with

I, said O’ Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and formerly Communist countries, where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

Courtesy of Attywood

Friday, March 03, 2006

McCain's Anti-Torture Compromise PROHIBITS ITS OWN ENFORCEMENT! Way to Go, John!

Josh White and Carol D. Leonnig

Friday, March 3, 2006; A04

Bush administration lawyers, fighting a claim of torture by a Guantanamo Bay detainee, yesterday argued that the new law that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody does not apply to people held at the military prison.

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

Government lawyers have argued that another portion of that same law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, removes general access to U.S. courts for all Guantanamo Bay captives. Therefore, they said, Mohammed Bawazir, a Yemeni national held since May 2002, cannot claim protection under the anti-torture provisions.

Bawazir's attorneys contend that "extremely painful" new tactics used by the government to force-feed him and end his hunger strike amount to torture.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in a hearing yesterday that she found allegations of aggressive U.S. military tactics used to break the detainee hunger strike "extremely disturbing" and possibly against U.S. and international law. But Justice Department lawyers argued that even if the tactics were considered in violation of McCain's language, detainees at Guantanamo would have no recourse to challenge them in court.

In Bawazir's case, the government claims that it had to forcefully intervene in a hunger strike that was causing his weight to drop dangerously. In January, officials strapped Bawazir into a special chair, put a larger tube than they had previously used through his nose and kept him restrained for nearly two hours at a time to make sure he did not purge the food he was being given, the government and Bawazir's attorneys said.

Richard Murphy Jr., Bawazir's attorney, said his client gave in to the new techniques and began eating solid food days after the first use of the restraint chair. Murphy said the military deliberately made the process painful and embarrassing, noting that Bawazir soiled himself because of the approach.

Kessler said getting to the root of the allegations is an "urgent matter."

"These allegations . . . describe disgusting treatment, that if proven, is treatment that is cruel, profoundly disturbing and violative of" U.S. and foreign treaties banning torture, Kessler told the government's lawyers. She said she needs more information, but made clear she is considering banning the use of larger nasal-gastric tubes and the restraint chair.

In court filings, the Justice Department lawyers argued that language in the law written by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) gives Guantanamo Bay detainees access to the courts only to appeal their enemy combatant status determinations and convictions by military commissions.

"Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."

Thomas Wilner, a lawyer representing several detainees at Guantanamo, agreed that the law cannot be enforced. "This is what Guantanamo was about to begin with, a place to keep detainees out of the U.S. precisely so they can say they can't go to court," Wilner said.

A spokeswoman for McCain's office did not respond to questions yesterday.

Murphy told the judge the military's claims that it switched tactics to protect Bawazir should not be believed. He noted that on Jan. 11 -- days after the new law passed -- the Defense Department made the identical health determination for about 20 other detainees, all of whom had been engaged in the hunger strike.

Guantanamo Bay officials deny that the tactics constitute torture. They wrote in sworn statements that they are necessary efforts to ensure detainee health. Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the facility's commander, wrote that Bawazir's claims of abuse are "patently false."

"In short, he is a trained al Qaida terrorist, who has been taught to claim torture, abuse, and medical mistreatment if captured," Hood wrote. He added that Bawazir allegedly went to Afghanistan to train for jihad and ultimately fought with the Taliban against U.S. troops.

Navy Capt. Stephen G. Hooker, who runs the prison's detention hospital, noted that the hunger strike began on Aug. 8, reached a peak of 131 participants on Sept. 11, and dropped to 84 on Christmas Day. After use of the restraint chair began, only five captives continued not eating.

Hooker wrote that he suspected Bawazir was purging his food after feedings. Bawazir weighed 130 pounds in late 2002, according to Hooker, but 97 pounds on the day he was first strapped to the chair. As of Sunday, his weight was back to 137 pounds, the government said.

Kessler noted with irritation that Hood and Hooker made largely general claims about the group of detainees on the hunger strike in defending the switch to the new force-feeding procedures used on Bawazir.

"I know it's a sad day when a federal judge has to ask a DOJ attorney this, but I'm asking you -- why should I believe them?" Kessler asked Justice Department attorney Terry Henry.

Henry said he would attempt to gather more information from the officials but said there was no legal basis for the court to intervene. Bawazir's weight is back to normal, his health is "robust" and he is no longer on a hunger strike, Henry said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company