Monday, April 06, 2009

Was Ted Stevens tortured?

Word has arrived in these remote precincts that former senator Ted Stevens’ conviction has been raptured. You will recall, boys and girls, that Stevens was found guilty last fall of a little prevarication about gifts:

Mr. Stevens was charged in July with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska. Prosecutors said he had received the bulk of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska’s booming oil industry.

Spotty, was the conviction reversed on appeal?

No, grasshopper. The appeal was underway, and the Justice Department, with its new Attorney General Eric Holder, found out something about how the case had been prosecuted (by prosecutors appointed by George W. Bush, by the way):

But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said they had recently learned that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens' defense lawyers the notes from a 2008 interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges. Among other things, Mr. Allen asserted in the interview that the work on the Stevens home was worth only about $80,000, they said.

This is prosecutorial misconduct, and the Justice Department asked that Steven’s conviction be vacated.

So Senator Stevens was guilty of only an eighty thousand dollar fib instead of a quarter-milion dollar fib, Spotty?

That’s certainly one reading of it, grasshopper. Or maybe Bill Allen fibbed in the meeting with the investigators about it being “only” eighty thousand dollars when it really was a quarter of a million. But no matter, it would have been a useful item for the defense to use to impeach Bill Allen, and it should have been disclosed.

Holder made the right decision. But to listen to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Governor (shudder) Sarah Palin, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Orrin Hatch, and Stevens’ facile lawyer Brendan Sullivan, you might think that former senator Stevens was entirely vindicated. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

There is still a cloud over Stevens even if it was only eighty thou, and there were other things, like the “borrowed” massage chair that still raise questions about him. As a matter of the criminal law — for which you can do time or be fined — as opposed to the political consequences such as Ted Stevens suffered, his conviction is tainted, but that doesn’t mean he should get his Senate seat back.

It is some kind of harmonic convergence that the Stevens conviction and the revelation that the torturing of Abu Zubaida produced only false leads are in nearly the same news cycles:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

What do these two cases have in common? There was illegality in the investigation and prosecution of both cases. Somehow, Spot doesn’t think that the people keening about Ted Stevens mistreatment have the same attitude about Abu Zubaida.

But if you stand for the rule of law, it ought to at least give you pause.

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