By The Associated Press
The Dallas Morning News. May 9, 2012.
9/11 trial descends into mockery
The military-commissions trial at the Guantanamo Bay prison of 5 men accused in the 9/11 terrorist attacks devolved Saturday into a circuslike display that insulted victims' families and made a mockery of justice. The presiding judge, Army Col. James Pohl, must restore a higher standard over future proceedings.
Pohl is going to extremes to create an atmosphere of impartiality, which is understandable considering that the defendants, all accused of major 9/11 support roles, have been exposed to torture, prolonged detention in secret overseas prisons and other procedures that have tainted the concept of fairness.
In his desire to keep the court case on track, Pohl allowed disruptions Saturday that stretched the bounds of reason. The judge can be balanced without acceding to the defense's clownish behavior, and he must cease the appearance of bending to their whims.
Take, for example, the mild frustration Pohl displayed, without ordering guards' intervention, when defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh stood amid the proceedings and began praying. That caused a 20-minute delay. At another time, bin al Shibh began shouting.
The defendants, apparently colluding, refused to wear headphones that would enable them to hear the proceedings translated simultaneously into Arabic. This forced more delays and confusion as Pohl ordered the translation read over a loudspeaker.
Defense attorney Cheryl Borman contributed her own antics, arriving in a black head-to-toe abaya cloak that covered everything but her face. The garment is not required in Islam but is imposed in the strictest Muslim countries.
Borman chose not only to embrace 1 of the most extreme examples of oppression against women, which radicals such as the defendants advocate, but went the extra step of demanding that other women in the courtroom cover themselves so as not to offend the defendants' religious sensibilities.
"What is wrong with the United States of America? I mean, honest to God," Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress told a television interviewer. Borman represents the "useful idiots that will sink the entire Western civilization," he added.
Borman and her colleagues have a thankless task defending men who face an overwhelming amount of evidence, not all of it torture-induced, pointing to their guilt. The five probably have zero chance of winning freedom even in the extremely unlikely event they are acquitted.
Borman's client and his colleagues are entitled to a defense, not their lawyers' radical religious conversion. She does not have to embrace their skewed interpretation of Islam to do her job.
It is up to Pohl to stop this charade and instill order on a trial that represents the only chance to render justice for the deaths of nearly 3,000 in the 9/11 attacks. Do not tolerate mockery.
Beaumont Enterprise. May 11, 2012.
Anyone who wonders why the national approval rating for Congress hovers around 10% should consider the latest gambit by House Republicans. They are now trying to avoid the automatic budget cuts triggered by collapse of negotiations when the debt ceiling was raised last year. More specifically, they want to keep the automatic cuts opposed by Democrats and cancel theirs.
That's ridiculous. Last July's deal was designed to motivate both parties by triggering automatic budget cuts in January - half from defense, half from social programs. Yet now House Republicans want to reduce more spending on the social side and roll back some financial reforms instead. That plan will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
If Republicans or Democrats want to avoid "painful" budget cuts in January, they should put forth a realistic plan now. If they don't, those spending cuts are better than nothing, and they should proceed.
San Antonio Express-News. May 9, 2012.
No place for Roman justice in U.S.
Al Armendariz was, until recently, an administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. He was in charge of the EPA's South Central region, which includes Texas.
Last month, Republicans on Capitol Hill uncovered a recording of a speech Armendariz gave in 2010. In it, the El Paso native compared the EPA's application of environmental regulations to the Roman Empire's enforcement of law and order.
"They'd go into little ... towns somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw, they'd crucify them," Armendariz said. "Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years."
Facing mounting calls for his resignation, Armendariz resigned on April 30. It was the only sensible thing to do.
Public officials have the ability to wield extraordinary power. Whether as lawmakers, prosecutors or regulators, they can use that power for positive or negative ends.
Armendariz had a contentious relationship with the state of Texas on a variety of issues, clashing with the Texas Railroad Commission over fracking and with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality over air quality permitting. There's no evidence, however, that he enforced "Roman justice" in Texas, crucifying individuals or companies irrespective of whether they were actually guilty of breaking the law.
Nevertheless, Armendariz's comments undermined his authority as a fair enforcer of the law, as opposed to an arbitrary hangman. And they eroded respect for the EPA as an impartial protector of the environment. For those reasons, Armendariz had to go.
Austin American-Statesman. May 11, 2012.
Calling in juvenile justice cavalry
The governor has called in the cavalry - well, the man he considers its equivalent, anyway - to again help set straight Texas' juvenile justice system.
Gov. Rick Perry this week moved Jay Kimbrough from his new position as assistant director for homeland security at the Department of Public Safety to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
Kimbrough's orders are to bring some urgently needed safety and security to the agency's youth lockups. The move is described as a loan of Kimbrough's trouble-shooting services, one that will last until the troubles plaguing the Juvenile Justice Department are resolved.
Lawmakers will make whatever legislative fixes are needed to the juvenile justice system when they meet early next year, but something has to be done now.
Kimbrough just might be the right man for the job. He's a Perry loyalist whom the governor has relied on numerous times to deal with various problems. And he has the respect of key lawmakers.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs his chamber's Criminal Justice Committee, called Kimbrough "a no-nonsense person who can get things done. I expect some immediate results."
So do we.
Recent reports out of Giddings State School of a violent campus out of control have been troubling, to say the least. They also have been frustrating.
Lawmakers and citizens alike thought that the serious issues that prompted the rethinking of how the state deals with youth offenders had been resolved following a series of scandals reported in 2007. Lawmakers are angry to learn that problems within the juvenile justice system persist.
At the time, those 2007 scandals seemed to have no end. Problems with the Texas Youth Commission - the agency then in charge of juvenile justice - included reports of sexual abuse of inmates, the hiring of guards and supervisors with questionable records, and efforts within the agency and its facilities to keep reports of abuse quiet.
As the scandals continued to unfold, several TYC employees were arrested, executives and superintendents within the agency were fired, and the six-member Youth Commission was forced to resign.
The Legislature ordered sweeping changes to the juvenile justice system. Almost half the state's youth lockups, especially those in remote areas where some of the worst abuses were reported, eventually were closed. In their place, the state adopted community-based rehabilitation programs designed to keep most youth offenders as close to home as possible.
The reforms led to the eventual merger of the Texas Youth Commission with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to create the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
A half-dozen lockups were kept open to house youths guilty of committing more serious, violent crimes. 1 of these facilities was the 300-bed Giddings State School.
The recent allegations at Giddings include reports of a campus under the control of youth gang leaders and of staff members dressing more like gang members than state employees. There also have been accusations of the facility failing to maintain a legislatively mandated 12 to 1 offender-to-staff ratio and of supervisors failing to adequately investigate charges of bullying and extortion.
So now Kimbrough is back to try to bring some order to the system.
In 2007, he took over the Texas Youth Commission for several months to implement the changes lawmakers had made to the agency.
Kimbrough has held numerous state positions since 2000, when he served as executive director of the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Many of the jobs have involved dealing with criminal justice in one form or another. He made news last year for brandishing an unopened pocket knife as he was being fired as deputy chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. Kimbrough called the incident a joke, a misunderstanding that he regretted. It should not affect his effectiveness dealing with the state's juvenile justice problems.
As the American-Statesman reported in Wednesday's newspaper, Whitmire's advice to Kimbrough is to immediately lock down all the state-run juvenile lockups to prevent injuries "and then go bed by bed and evaluate whether the youths who are there should be there."
Separating those who should be under greater scrutiny and security from those who should be in a community-based program is urgently needed, as is insisting that staff members act with professional discipline.
The agency needs a tough monitor right now.
We hope Perry's "happy warrior," as Kimbrough has been called, can put things back on the reform track the Legislature thought it had built five years ago.
Longview News-Journal. May 13, 2012.
Don't buy it: Rigid ideological purity can't replace thoughtful leaders
From where we sit, it doesn't seem Congress has been lacking in those who would rather see partisan gridlock than reasoned compromise and progress.
But adding another such member to the U.S. Senate became a possibility Tuesday, when a candidate backed by the tea party and big-money outside groups trounced six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP primary. The outcome will end the 35-year career of 1 of the most highly respected senators on either side of the aisle.
On one hand, we can't help thinking six terms is more than enough, and change can be good. The campaign suggested Lugar has lost touch with Indiana, and maybe it was just time for him to go.
But the upset is troubling on many levels. For one, the Senate will lose 1 of its few remaining statesmen. Lugar has long commanded respect from his colleagues, Democrat and Republican. Worse, it's clear his possible replacement has no use for the art of compromise when it comes to what's best for our nation. Listen to what Richard Mourdock, the Indiana treasurer who whipped Lugar, had to say on election night:
"The fact is you never compromise on principles. If people on the far left have a principle they want to stand by, they should never compromise. Those of us on the right should not, either."
"I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view."
We have concerns about what any party has become - and where it's headed - when its driving force seems to be intractability and demand for ideological purity.
That is our biggest concern about the trend illustrated by the election in Indiana. The problem with such a no-compromise philosophy is that it leads to gridlock and dysfunction, not progress and solutions. Such gridlock is what we are seeing today on any number of issues such as taxes, immigration and the future of the post office.
That same demand for ideological purity has been rearing its head in Texas. It was clearly evident in the Texas Budget Compact pledge recently unveiled by Gov. Rick Perry with the aim of tying lawmakers' hands on the state budget. And it's an issue in the Texas primary for U.S. Senate.
The same outside group that backed Mourdock against Lugar in Indiana is spending $1 million in Texas on ads slamming Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as too moderate. The group suggests Texans instead vote for tea party favorite Ted Cruz. The gist of the arguments against Dewhurst? He talked about health care with a doctor who supports requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. Worse, he has worked with Democrats in the Legislature. The horror!
Texas Republicans should not fall for these tricks in the campaign for U.S. Senate or any other office. Lawmakers must be able to discuss a wide variety of issues with a wide variety of people, and they must be allowed to make their own decisions on issues based on facts and conscience, not rigid party ideology. There's no other realistic way to write laws or round up enough votes in a divided legislative body to make progress.