Weekly Web Watch 08/24/09 – 08/30/09

By Ryan Caldwell
Sen. Ted Kennedy

Sen. Ted Kennedy

Sen. Edward Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer.  Kennedy had been a senator for 46 years.  His death leaves the Democrats with 59 senators instead of the filibuster-proof 60 (though they have been effectively operating with 58 senators recently, Kennedy being absent while undergoing cancer treatment and Robert Byrd staying at home in West Virginia).  Kennedy had urged Massachusetts to change the state’s procedure for choosing a replacement senator; currently, the law requires a special election 145 to 160 days after the vacancy arises.  Doug Bandow says that the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for that mess.

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed John Durham as a special prosecutor with the mandate to investigate detainee abuse allegedly committed by the CIA.  The New York Times has a look at the bureaucratic struggles that this probe is aggravating.  Notable amongst those are the frustration of CIA efforts to end DoJ inquiries and the general sense of irritation at White House Cousel Gregory Craig for his troubles with message management.  Quin Hillyer makes no secret of his support for CIA in this struggle and worries that CIA director Leon Panetta is already on his way out of the administration.  Rep. Peter King says that Holder has “declared war” on the CIA.  Contrast that with Glenn Greenwald, who says that Holder’s investigation is designed to find a few bad apples while leaving the policymakers safe.  David Cole agrees that the investigation should push further.

The Obama administration directed the Office of Legal Counsel to release a wide range of memoranda on various aspects of the War on Terror.  They have helpfully been made available on the DoJ website.  John Elwood has helpfully reviewed and categorized them at the Volokh Conspiracy.  Scott Horton has helpfully read one of the memos; you can learn how an “extraordinary rendition” is done, step-by-step, by reading his summary.

The Washington Post reported that waterboarding and other techniques were effective in getting alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to talk.  Thomas Joscelyn predicts that this is just the first of several documents and reports that will justify “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Andrew Exum has the counterinsurgency manual for Afghanistan posted at his blog, Abu Muqawama.  Key points include the emphases on “partnering” with Afghani security forces and winning hearts and minds through community integration.  The Economist calls it the “least violence-oriented military document you’re ever likely to see.”  Spencer Ackerman goes further, joking that it makes Gen. Stanley McChrystal “look like a dirty hippie.”  A different sort of document is offered by Indian Defense Review, which offers lessons from the Tamil Tigers conflict.  An interesting suggestion in that essay is the suggestion that the government regulate the media during counterinsurgency operations.  Exum also claims that Afghan President Karzai might be exhausting Washington’s patience and reminds him that “Obama does not appear read to bet his entire presidency on Afghanistan.”  He also has a link to a panel discussion about the Afghan presidential elections.  Participants are Jim Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, Lisa Curtis of Heritage, author David Isby (doc file), Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute, and Lt. Gen. David Barno (pdf).

Gen. David Petraeus plans to start a new intelligence command directly under U.S. Central Command, Eli Lake reports.  It is unclear how this command will mesh with the rest of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.  Also unclear is whether this is good or bad news for independent aid workers, who may or may not be used by U.S. intelligence officials.

Stars and Stripes reports that the Pentagon hired a contract or to review applications from journalists requesting embeds with troops.  The contractor went on to assign grades to the journalists for their reporting, not for accuracy, but for support of the war effort.  The Pentagon denied that the grades were being used, leading Stripes to release documents proving that some Pentagon officials had reviewed the grades and thought up ways to control the message given by some journalists.  The Pentagon now says the entire system is under review and that they have terminated the contract.  Previously, we blogged about a reporter for Stars and Stripes being denied an embed, allegedly because he “refused to highlight” what the Pentagon wanted highlighted.  Possibly related: Uber-blogger Michael Yon had his embed with British forces cancelled “after [Monday’s] dispatch.”

Stephen Griffin is starting a series of posts at Balkinization that aim to explore the history of war powers in the U.S.  He claims that the critical moment in the current war powers debate can be traced back to 1950.  He also investigates how war became outdated.  Probably a good series to keep up with.  A related article is offered by Gerard Magliocca, who wonders what the Third Amendment has to say about war powers.

Part of the proposed health-care bill would give health-care officials access to the tax records of Americans in order to determine eligibility for subsidies.  Reporter Declan McCullagh reports that this is just one of the privacy hurdles yet to be resolved in the bill.

Under pressure from Montana senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, the Department of Homeland Security allocated $15 million to upgrade a border crossing that services three people per day.

The Washington Independent obtained the two CIA documents that former Vice-President Dick Cheney claims prove the efficacy of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  The Economist reviews them and finds that, surprise!, few people will be swayed to either side by their release.

The ACLU filed suit against DHS over the latter’s policy allowing warrantless searches of laptops at border crossings.  The ACLU claims that the practice allows DHS agents overly broad access to a wide range of information that should be protected by the First and Fourth Amendments.  DHS updated the policy later; Ars Technica says that the policy is an improvement but still leaves DHS with too much discretion.

Mohammed Jawad, allegedly the youngest Guantanamo detainee, arrived back in Afghanistan, where he was reunited with his family and met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  Jawad alleges that he was tortured by U.S. troops.

U.S. troops may be deployed to as many as seven Colombian army bases to counter narcotics trafficking.  Most of them will be involved in conducting surveillance flights and interdicting sea and air traffic.  However, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is warning of an “impending U.S. invasion.”  So, there’s that, too.

Declan McCullagh reports on a new bill being drafted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller that would allow the president to take over private internet networks during a “cybersecurity emergency.”  A spokesman for the Senate Commerce Committee claims that the president already has the authority and that the senate bill is merely a reiteration of congress’s support.  Possibly this would allow the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to secure his identity.

David Rothkopf argues that Hillary Clinton has been an extremely effective Secretary of State and that she is leading the transition to a truly post-Cold War foreign policy.  James Joyner responds, arguing that Clinton is, in effect, fulfilling Obama’s goal of having a third Bush term.

Kenneth Anderson and Kevin Jon Heller trade shots over a Wall Street Journal article about the increased use of the Alien Torts Statute to pursue corporate defendants.  Please note the use of Executive Watch’s own Curtis Bradley as an expert in the article.

Finally, someone found a new way to rein in federal spending: Selling sponsorships for military parties in Iraq!


One Response to “Weekly Web Watch 08/24/09 – 08/30/09”

  1. Weekly Web Watch 11/9/09 – 11/15/09 « EXECUTIVE WATCH Says:

    [...] will step down early next year.  Craig, who was charged with closing Guantanamo Bay this year, had been under fire for his lack of progress with detainee issues and seeming lack of political [...]

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