Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 9:53 pm

Well, I won’t say the horse is out of the barn …

… but 11 people are dead and one hell of a lot of oil is out of the ground. Still, the fact that Justice has finally gotten off its rear end and opened a criminal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is welcome, if grossly tardy, news.

I hope they’ll throw the book at BP and Transocean, at least — for once, Halliburton might actually be blameless, although a decent investigation will tell us. At the least, someone at BP needs to be looking at 11 counts of manslaughter, and I would pile on the charges, everything from destruction of federal property to mopery. Decades from now, I want the testicles of descendants yet unborn of oil-company executives everywhere to shrivel up into their bellies when the tale of what finally happened to those responsible for this tragedy is recounted.

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Criminal cover-up

Former federal prosecutor bmaz rounds up some of the documented misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon case:

The failed blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had a hydraulic leak and a dead battery in one of its control pods, and testing in the hours before an April 20 explosion revealed that pressure in the well was dangerously out of whack.

While some data were being transmitted to shore for safekeeping right up until the April 20 blast, officials from Transocean, the rig owner, told Congress that the last seven hours of its data are missing and that all written logs were lost in the explosion.

Heavy drilling fluid was unconscionably replaced with lighter seawater against industry standards just prior to the blowout. Over heated objections by experts on the scene, BP management supervisors overruled drillers, and insisted on displacing the mud with seawater

The broken blow out preventer had not been inspected in over five years.

BP was in a severe economic and time crunch to finish the job quickly and were over six weeks behind schedule.

Immediately leading up to the explosion, BP used procedures that violated their own drill plan; and in spite of indications of a “very large abnormality,” kept testing until they got something they could disingenuously claim fulfilled the test.

BP management supervisors refused to run the comprehensive cement bond log test, a definitive test of the integrity of a well’s cement mandated by Federal Regulations if there are concerns with the results of negative and positive pressure tests like were clearly present.

The BP management official on Deepwater Horizon making the unconscionable decisions, over the vehement objections of seasoned drilling experts, Robert Kaluzza has refused to testify by invoking his 5th Amendment criminal right against self incrimination.

BP officials aboard the rig wanted to skip required pressure tests and tried to impose a drilling plan sent directly from BP’s Houston headquarters that had not been approved, as required, by the federal government’s Minerals Management Service.

bmaz then lays out the elements of the crimes of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act and manslaughter and adds:

It is hard, if not impossible, to find any way that the conduct of both BP and its key decision making officials responsible for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, and corresponding mass loss of life, do not fit within the ambit of the above crimes. Why has the Obama Administration and its DOJ not acted? Why is there not a dedicated criminal investigation open and securing critical evidence?

As best as can be ascertained, the only real DOJ Main [i.e., Justice Department officials from Washington headquarters — Lex] assets sent to the Gulf scene are Tony West and Ignacia Moreno, the talking heads for the Civil Division and Environmental Divisions respectively, a tasking that screams of a total coddle-the-petroleum-industry-and-manage-the-fallout move, not a get-tough criminal consideration.

The DOJ could also be using the Texas Refinery Fire probation case that BP is still under the court’s jurisdiction for from their 2007 felony conviction as an easy investigatory and prosecutorial tool; but the DOJ will not even address the thought, much less act on it.

Why?

The Obama Administration and its DOJ owes the citizens a better effort than they have mustered to date. It is funny they are out trying to prosecute Guantanamo defense attorneys for doing their jobs and are still hell bent to persecute inconsequential marijuana crimes, but have no burning desire to go hard after BP, the biggest environmental criminal in history. How can that be?

Ooh! Ooh! I know this one!

“Because Guantanamo defense attorneys and inconsequential possessors of marijuana do not make the kind of political contributions on which both major parties depend.”

Impeach the SOB.

Friday, November 27, 2009 5:12 pm

Odds and ends for 11/27

  • Down in the desert: Dubai, whose potential sovereign-debt default is in today’s news, is messed up, economically and in other ways. Zero Hedge’s Marla Singer, who has spent time there, offers a pretty readable summary. Key takeaway: Dubai’s travails say a lot less about the pitfalls of capitalism than meets the eye.
  • Housing-market update: I’m not smart enough to know what to do about this, but more U.S. homes are in delinquency or foreclosure than are for sale.
  • The “deadbeat stimulus”: At least $160 billion a year.
  • Tim F. observes how the health-care reform bill is being set up to fail.
  • Martyrs: The people trying desperately to help Sarah Palin run her life are getting no help at all from the boss. I’m shocked.
  • The Obama-Bush Administration: The Obama Justice Department’s arguments against exoneration for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman are being prepared by the very same people involved in the original frame-up — the one in which Karl Rove was involved up to his eyeballs. So spare me all this talk about how much better things are in government now that Obama has replaced Bush.
  • So if we fire all the execs who ran the banking system into the ground, the banking system will crash and burn? Well, pardon me for agreeing with a former public official who barebacked a whore, but I’m thinking we should test that hypothesis.
  • Apologies are fine, but the Roman Catholic Church needs to take some of the time it’s spending on apologies and spend it on turning the guilty over to police. Also? Any institution with this kind of problem needs to get itself fixed before presuming to comment upon moral issues.
  • Relatedly, not only does a 2007 court filing by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, last seen denying communion to Rep. Patrick Kennedy because Kennedy won’t oppose abortion, admit the existence of more than twice as many accused priests as the diocese had admitted just three years earlier, it also cites that high number (~125) as a reason why court-ordered disclosure of documents would be excessively “burdensome.” Awwwww …
  • Unproductive speculation: If anyone has any ideas about how to end it other than by taxing financial transactions — an idea devised in 1972 by a Nobel winner, by the way — I’m all ears. But it needs to end.

Friday, June 19, 2009 5:55 pm

Getting to the bottom?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the mysterious dismissal by the Obama Justice Department of a suit against the New Black Panther Party regarding voter intimidation in Philadelphia during the 2008 general election. Now, by a unanimous vote with one abstention, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has sent a letter to Loretta King, the acting assistant attorney general who oversees the civil rights division, pointing out that there appears to have been no good reason for the dismissal.

Good. Perhaps there’s a good explanation for the department’s decision in this case. But we’ve seen no evidence of that at this point. And political meddling in the decisions of the career professional staff, which was wrong when it happened in the Bush Justice Department, would be equally wrong here.

(h/t: Fred)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:52 pm

Another swing-and-a-miss in New York … and I ain’t talking baseball.

On Saturday, The New York Times published this story:

WASHINGTON — When Justice Department lawyers engaged in a sharp internal debate in 2005 over brutal interrogation techniques, even some who believed that using tough tactics was a serious mistake agreed on a basic point: the methods themselves were legal.

Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.

Only here’s the thing: The Times based its story in significant part on memos from Comey that actually show the opposite with respect to combining various forms of, as the phrase goes, enhanced interrogation techniques. Go on and read ’em yourself; it won’t take long.

What they actually show, among other things, is that both Comey and another Justice official, Pat Philbin, were raising serious concerns about the analysis that led to the conclusion that torture was legal; that Vice President Dick Cheney was putting pressure on Justice to provide legal cover — and to do it quickly; that Comey personally told then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez that the combined-effects memo “would come back to haunt him and the Department.” (Gonzalez even agreed with Comey that that memo was unacceptable as written.)

Comey also writes:

[Ted Ullyot, then chief of staff to Gonzalez] asked if I felt like I had had the chance to adequately air my views with the AG. I told him I had, so much so that the AG had agreed with me, which left me puzzled about the need to send the opinion now.

I told him that the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the [   ] hit the fan. Rather, they would simply say that they had only asked for an opinion. It would be Alberto Gonzalez in the bullseye. I told him that my job was to protect the Departmwnt [sic] and the AG and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong.

Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald provides more detailed analysis of how the memos undermine the Times’ thesis rather than supporting it.

So does Marcy Wheeler, a former federal prosecutor, at Firedoglake. One thing she finds in the memos that the Times somehow did not is that ” … the May 10, 2005 authorization to use combined techniques was designed to give legal cover for something that had already happened.” She also provides additional analysis, particularly in this post, although even someone not overly familiar with either Washington politics or the law can look at the plain meaning of the memos and understand that the Times article does not accurately represent their contents.

In particular, she points out that although the Times says Comey said individual torture techniques were “legal,” Comey in fact makes clear that he believes only that they do not violate one particular U.S. statute (which was all he actually was asked about). He specifically emphasizes that he is not considering whether they might violate the Geneva Conventions or the UN Convention Against Torture.

Here’s Greenwald’s summary:

It’s worth noting that all of the officials involved in these events — including Comey — are right-wing ideologues appointed by George Bush.  That’s why they were appointed.  The fact that Comey was willing to go along with approval of these tactics when used individually — just as is true of his willingness to endorse a modified version of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program in the face of FISA — hardly proves that there was a good-faith basis for the view that these individual tactics were legal.

But the real story here is obvious — these DOJ memos authorizing torture were anything but the by-product of independent, good faith legal analysis.  Instead, those memos — just like the pre-war CIA reports about The Threat of Saddam — were coerced by White House officials eager for bureaucratic cover for what they had already ordered.  This was done precisely so that once this all became public, they could point to those memos and have the political and media establishment excuse what they did (“Oh, they only did what they DOJ told them was legal”‘/”Oh, they were only reacting to CIA warnings about Saddam’s weapons”).  These DOJ memos, like the CIA reports, were all engineered by the White House to give cover to what they wanted to do; they were not the precipitating events that led to and justified those decisions.  That is the critical point proven by the Comey emails, and it is completely obscured by the NYT article, which instead trumpets the opposite point (“Unanimity at DOJ that these tactics were legal”) because that’s the story their leaking sources wanted them to promote.

What’s most ironic about what the NYT did here is that on the very same day this article appears, there is a column from the NYT Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, excoriating the paper for having published a deeply misleading front page story by Elizabeth Bumiller, that claimed that 1 out of 7 Guantanamo detainees returned to “jihad” once they are released.  That happened because Bumiller followed the most common method of modern establishment reporting:  she mindlessly repeated what her government sources told her to say.  As Hoyt put it:

But the article on which he based that statement was seriously flawed and greatly overplayed. It demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically. The lapse is especially unfortunate at The Times, given its history in covering the run-up to the Iraq war.

That is exactly what Shane and Johnston did with these Comey emails.

The first three rules of journalism are 1) follow the money, 2) follow the money and 3) follow the money. Rule No. 4 is: Always read the documents. The NYT article reads as if the people who wrote it didn’t read them. I don’t know whether that’s because, as Greenwald supposes, the reporters were merely parroting what their sources were telling them, or whether something else was going on. But the Times blew this one badly, as anyone who looks at the e-mails him/herself can plainly see.

Saturday, May 30, 2009 7:10 am

Political meddling in political-intimidation case

The New Black Panther members who appeared on YouTube last fall wielding nightsticks and apparently trying to prevent some people in Philly from voting are going to skate, over the objections of career Justice Department lawyers:

Justice Department political appointees overruled career lawyers and ended a civil complaint accusing three members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense of wielding a nightstick and intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place last Election Day, according to documents and interviews.

The incident – which gained national attention when it was captured on videotape and distributed on YouTube – had prompted the government to sue the men, saying they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by scaring would-be voters with the weapon, racial slurs and military-style uniforms.

Career lawyers pursued the case for months, including obtaining an affidavit from a prominent 1960s civil rights activist who witnessed the confrontation and described it as “the most blatant form of voter intimidation” that he had seen, even during the voting rights crisis in Mississippi a half-century ago.

One of the many objectionable hallmarks of the Bush administration was the insistence by political appointees of overturning decisions made by career staff, particularly in Justice. I’d say Attorney General Eric Holder has some explaining to do.

(h/t: Fred)

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