Cheney and Manning: A Modest Proposal

by Henry Farrell on March 13, 2012

It’s not at all surprising that most US media have yawned at “today’s news”: that a UN rapporteur has found that the US has treated Bradley Manning in a cruel and inhuman fashion. But it does highlight a rather interesting inequity.

On the one side of the balance sheet, we have Richard B. Cheney. This gentleman, now in private life, is a self-admitted and unrepentant perpetrator of war crimes – specifically, of ordering the torture of Al Qaeda detainees. Along with other senior members of the Bush regime, he is also guilty of the outsourcing of even viler forms of torture through the extraordinary rendition of individuals to regimes notorious for torturing prisoners (including the dispatch of Maher Arar, who was entirely innocent, to the torturers of Syria). The Obama administration has shown no enthusiasm whatsoever for prosecuting Cheney, or other Bush senior officials, for their crimes. While Obama has effectively admitted that they were torturers, he has indicated, both through public statements and continued inaction, that he would prefer to let bygones be bygones.

On the other, we have Bradley Manning. He appears to be a confused individual – but his initial motivation for leaking information, if the transcripts are correct, were perfectly clear. He was appalled at what he saw as major abuses of authority by the US, including incidents that he witnessed directly in Iraq. There is no evidence that his leaking of information has caused anything worse than embarrassment for the US. Yet he is being pursued by the Obama administration with the vengefulness of Greek Furies. While Manning was being kept in solitary confinement, and treated in an inhuman fashion, Richard Cheney was enjoying the manifold pleasures of a well-compensated private life, being subjected to no more than the occasional impertinent question on a Sunday talk show, and the inconveniences of being unable to travel to jurisdictions where he might be arrested.

It would appear then that the administration is rather more prepared to let bygones be bygones in some cases than in others. High officials, who ordered that torture be carried out and dragged the US into international disrepute, are given an _ex post_ carte blanche for their crimes, while a low-ranking soldier who is at most guilty of leaking minor secrets at the lowest levels of classification, is treated inhumanely and likely, should he be convicted, to face life imprisonment.

So here’s my proposal. It’s perfectly clear that Richard B. Cheney will never be prosecuted because a prosecution would be politically inconvenient. If that’s the Obama administration’s decision (and it’s pretty clear that it _is_ the Obama administration’s decision), then the administration should own it. The president should grant Richard Cheney a pardon for his crimes. Simultaneously, as an acknowledgement that the high crimes of state officials should not go unpunished while the lesser crimes of those who opposed the Iraq war are exposed to the vengefulness of the military tribunal system, Bradley Manning should receive a complete pardon too.

I can’t imagine that Richard B. Cheney would _like_ getting a presidential pardon. Indeed, I rather imagine that he’d vigorously protest it. It would serve as the best formal acknowledgment that we’re likely to get that he is, indeed, a criminal. Obviously, it would also be an unhappy compromise for those who think that he should be exposed to the full rigors of the law. But I personally think that it would be an acceptable compromise (others may reasonably disagree), if it were applied to both sides rather than just one.

Michigan Student Unionization Update

by Henry Farrell on March 13, 2012

The “bad news”: – the Michigan state legislature passed the bill denying RAs recognition as public workers, on a party-line vote, and it is heading to the governor, who has announced he will approve it. The legislation has been hustled through incredibly quickly, to prevent the opposition from mobilizing. The interesting news – this, together with other similar of the Republican state government, is pushing Michigan unions into “looking for a referendum on organization rights”:

bq. Michigan unions are fighting back with a sweeping proposal that would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution and put them beyond the reach of state lawmakers. The measure would serve as a pre-emptive strike against a possible right-to-work movement in Michigan, and potentially could undo some of what the state Legislature has done in the past 14 months related to unions and bargaining powers. It also could serve as a get-out-the-vote rallying point for Democrats as they seek to re-elect President Barack Obama this fall.

bq. … Union members and other supporters would need to collect at least 322,609 valid voter signatures by early July to put the proposed constitutional amendment before Michigan voters in November. The measure reads that “no existing or future law of the state … shall abridge, impair or limit” the collective bargaining rights outlined in the proposal. That could nullify possible Michigan efforts to pass a right-to-work law, which would prohibit labor contracts that require workers to pay union representation fees. Michigan Republicans are divided on the issue, but debate has intensified since Indiana recently became the first Rust Belt state to adopt such a measure.

I have no expertise _at all_ in Michigan state politics, but this seems a hopeful step. Rick Kahlenberg has a “recent op-ed”: and a “new book”: (PDF of first chapter) arguing that the right to unionize ought to be included in the Civil Rights Act. That’s a long term project, but state-level efforts like the one starting in Michigan might help it along a bit (it would be nice to see “Scott Walker go down too”: while we’re at it).

In the long tradition of tenants trashing the gaff as they’re finally evicted, ICANN’s outgoing CEO seems determined to burn down the house he’s been renting for the past three years. ICANN’s Costa Rica meeting was addressed this morning by Rod Beckstrom, who’s in his last couple of months on the job. In an effort to salvage his tattered reputation, Beckstrom seems to be following his standard m.o. of shifting attention to the suddenly glaring failings of the organization that’s decided to terminate his employment.

(Avid readers may remember my intervention at an ICANN meeting in San Francisco a year ago on the lasting damage Beckstrom has done to ICANN’s international reputation and staff. Soon after, the Board of Directors decided not to renew Beckstrom’s contract, and launched a search process that will culminate next month in the announcement of a new CEO.)
[click to continue…]