Recent statements by Attorney General Eric Holder and by drug czar Gil Kerlikowske may signal an impending crackdown on the experiments with partial legalization of recreational marijuana for which solid majorities of the Colorado and Washington State electorates voted last November.
“When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children,” Holder told a House appropriations subcommittee. “We are certainly going to enforce federal law.”
At a National Press Club luncheon, Kerlikowske asserted that “neither a state nor the executive branch can nullify” federal anti-marijuana laws, adding that “using marijuana has public health consequences.”
But the impact on children, and the public health consequences, are likely to be bad if the Obama administration cracks down on the hundreds of marijuana businesses that Colorado and Washington are preparing to license, regulate, and tax.
Such action would likely backfire — warping both federal and state drug policy for years to come — by aggravating the harm to public health, especially to kids, and the leakage of marijuana across state lines that the administration and other opponents of legalization want to prevent.
How would a crackdown backfire? By producing — immediately in Colorado, and eventually in other states — an atomized, anarchic, state-legalized but unregulated marijuana market that federal drug enforcers lack the manpower to contain and the legal power to force the states to contain.
Consider how a federal effort to abort the state experiment would unfold in Colorado, where the voters (unlike those in Washington) chose to create both a state-regulated marijuana industry and another, largely unregulated, one.
In 1966, the Supreme Court instructed police, in Miranda v. Arizona, to tell arrested suspects that "you have the right to remain silent." But, in fact, you don’t.
Rather, police — or more to the point of current debate, federal agents interrogating suspected terrorists — can skip the famous Miranda warnings and even use some degree of coercion to extract a confession, all quite legally. Indeed, you can even be jailed for refusing to answer questions after being granted immunity from any prosecution.
The problem for law enforcement — especially in the terrorism context — is that any statements obtained from an arrested suspect without Miranda warnings, or by directly coercing an involuntary confession, ordinarily cannot be used against the person in a criminal case.
A less familiar but perhaps more important problem is that current federal law also bars the use of most statements made more than six hours after a suspect’s arrest without first taking him to a magistrate judge for a "presentment" hearing. In a terrorism incident, such an interruption could derail a promising effort to get information about co-conspirators and planned attacks.
The combined effect is to force officials to make an unnecessarily difficult choice: They can put terrorism suspects through the kind of prolonged, uninterrupted interrogation that is their best hope of preventing future attacks. Or they can maximize the chance of a successful prosecution. But they can’t count on doing both, unless they get lucky.
This dilemma creates unhealthy incentives either to shun aggressive interrogation — which the Obama administration has sometimes seemed all too ready to do — or to subject suspects to the indefinite military detention, interrogation, and trial that the Bush administration favored.
Is waterboarding torture? Of course it is, say Attorney General Eric Holder and many others who have confidently declared that the Bush administration’s lawyers were clearly wrong to approve as legal the CIA’s proposed use of waterboarding and nine other brutal interrogation methods.
I agree that waterboarding is torture as colloquially understood by many of us and that it should be banned.
But that does not mean that the CIA’s proposal — eventually endorsed by officials up to and including Present Bush — was illegal under the extremely narrow definition of "torture" that Congress wrote in 1994 when it made the practice a federal crime.
Indeed, the recently released report by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, the senior Justice Department expert on legal ethics, implicitly contradicts the strikingly superficial analysis underlying Holder’s assertions that waterboarding is illegal torture.
And while Margolis did not directly rule on the legality of the CIA’s interrogation methods, his 69-page analysis more strongly supports the view that the kind of waterboarding that the agency proposed in 2002 was not illegal torture.
You would hardly guess this from the media coverage after Justice released the Margolis report and related documents on February 19.
The report’s central conclusion absolved Jay Bybee and John Yoo — the Bush-appointed Justice Department lawyers who prepared two key "torture memos," both dated August 1, 2002 — of unethical conduct. Margolis firmly rejected a pervasively slanted, and unethically leaked, effort by Holder protÃ©gÃ©s in the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to subject Bybee and Yoo to discipline from the bar. (The OPR is not to be confused with the Office of Legal Counsel, known as the OLC, which Bybee headed in 2002 with Yoo as a deputy.)
The legions of left-liberal avengers demanding prosecutions of CIA grunts and the entire Bush national security team on charges of illegal torture are likely to be disappointed, for reasons discussed in my September 5 column.
But many still hope to drive from the legal profession the Bush administration lawyers who advised that waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods were legal.
And Attorney General Eric Holder is endlessly mulling a 200-plus-page draft report recommending (according to news leaks) referral of former Justice Department lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo to state bar authorities for disciplinary proceedings.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility presented the draft to Holder’s predecessor, Michael Mukasey, in December after a five-year investigation. It focuses on two lengthy, August 1, 2002, memos that Bybee and Yoo, then his deputy, co-authored. They helped open the door for the CIA to use brutal interrogation techniques by construing very narrowly the 1994 law that makes "torture" a federal crime.
Holder should unambiguously reject this recommendation, as Mukasey reportedly did in a still-unreleased memo before leaving office. Even if these "torture memos" were wrong, the relevant rules clearly provide that the only grounds for the OPR or state bar officials to discipline Bybee or Yoo would be proof that they acted in bad faith by knowingly misstating the law, or were incompetent.
There is nothing remotely like such proof. Nobody who knows Bybee, now a federal Appeals Court judge, or Yoo, a leading scholarly advocate of sweeping presidential war powers who teaches law at the University of California (Berkeley), doubts that they believed in their own interpretation of the anti-torture law.
Dear Mr. Attorney General:
Your speech commemorating Black History Month by calling America "a nation of cowards" because we "do not talk enough with each other about race" — a topic about which we talk incessantly — was unworthy of the admirable public servant I believe you to be.
The speech was, as others have pointed out, embarrassingly misinformed, hackneyed, and devoid of thoughtful contributions to racial dialogue.
You can do much better. Please use your bully pulpit in the future to cut through the usual cant and state some politically incorrect truths about race in America that would carry special weight if they came from you. That would require mustering the courage to take on the Democratic Party’s powerful racial-grievance lobby. But it would do the country a lot of good.
The one point that you developed in a bit of detail in the February 18 speech was especially silly: "Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment…. Until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so-called ‘real’ American history."
Bosh. The reality is that our high schools and universities are quite clearly focusing disproportionate attention on black history.
The proof includes a poll published last year in which 2,000 high school juniors and seniors in all 50 states were asked to name the 10 most famous Americans, other than presidents and first ladies. The top three finishers were black: Martin Luther King Jr. (67 percent), Rosa Parks (60 percent), and Harriet Tubman (44 percent). So is the only living finisher, Oprah Winfrey (22 percent).