FBI Stomping on protected speech
September 30, 2003 6:25 AM   Subscribe

The Subpoenas are Coming! The FBI, in an attempt to prosecute Adrian Lamo (discussed here) is sending letters to journalists telling them to secretly prepare to turn over their notes, e-mails and sources to the bureau. And by secretly, they mean don't tell your colleagues, editors or lawyers, or risk facing obstruction of justice charges. (Via dailyrotten)
posted by Officeslacker (11 comments total)
I wonder if the DOJ will put the same creative focus into Wilsongate.
posted by alms at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2003

alms - Maybe they'll turn their creative focus to using these pseudo-Inquisition methods to hound down anyone who has any incriminating material on the Bush Administration......

These days, it's so 'friendly' and sanitized. Subpoenas? - The Vatican devised a much more effective method during it's Inquisitions - first, "...accused heretics were imprisoned without hearing the charges against them, and kept in stinking dungeons, dark and vermin infested, alone with their excrement. Moldy bread and stale water helped to supplement the cockroaches and spiders...."Or again, a prisoner who refused to confess his heresies would be left in solitude and darkness for weeks, months or even years, for time was no object with the Inquisition...."....If a few weeks or even months did not bring the accused heretic to terms the time might lengthen into years, the years into decades".... " " -- sounds a bit like Guantanamo, eh?

If the subject agreed to the charges, the fun really began. No pesky notions of individual rights - or annoying PR image problems - in those days. Just racks and branding irons, Catherine Wheels and the "oral, rectal and vaginal pear". lists of names produced by subjects under torture were cross referenced. Individuals whose names came up most frequently were seized and tortured to produce yet more lists of names. And so on.

Well, at least the Ashcroft justice department and the FBI haven't brought back the rack and the various other wringers, crushers, strippers, snippers and "pears" of the Inquisition (yet).

Ethics 101, Generic U, Final Exam/Extra Credit:

"Osama may have knowledge/and or association with groups/individuals which/who may have plans or intentions to procure information and money for the purposes of obtaining weapons of mass destruction.

Time may be of the essence.

Which methods of torture are most/least ethical given the overall utilitarian calculus (one life vs. many), and what rights (if any) do you feel that Osama should be accorded given his possible knowledge of individuals/groups which may have plans or intentions to acquire weapons of mass destruction?

(For advanced level student extra credit only) Define the Ashcroft Calculus™ - what is it, and why was it constructed? Expand (on the basis of this calculus) on the following question - Under which circumstances would it be considered ethical to secretly apprehend and torture the friends/relatives/associates who are mentioned by Osama during his torture (especially those who cross reference with other torture-generated lists) ? How many successive iterations of the "Torquemada Progression" does the Ashcroft Calculus™ allow?"
posted by troutfishing at 7:59 AM on September 30, 2003

"Well, at least the Ashcroft justice department and the FBI haven't brought back the rack and the various other wringers, crushers, strippers, snippers and "pears" of the Inquisition (yet).

Not yet... too busy using them in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo right now. There is a war on, after all.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:32 AM on September 30, 2003

insomnia_lj - No way! That's not us (err...except for Guantanamo) - Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have subcontracted that work out, so US hands are clean.

posted by troutfishing at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2003

Trout -- comparing Lamo, someone who has gone out of his way to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law -- to a victim of the inquisition is hardly a good analogy.
posted by ph00dz at 8:45 AM on September 30, 2003

I'm a bit mystified by the comparison myself. I suspect Mr Trout is a bit confused about who Adrian Lamo is and what the subject of the linked article is about.

Which is sad, because the actual point of the article is much more interesting than the tired partisan comments we've seen in this thread so far. and I say that as someone who thinks Ashcroft is truly evil.

So back on track - What about the FBI using a section of the Patriot Act aimed at ISP log files to do an end run around what we normally consider a reporter's ethical duty to protect sources? And taken in the context of so many other wildly broad interpretations of the Patriot Act, and Ashcroft's recent admonition to prosecute *everything* to the fullest extent of the law, can we now say straight up that the DOJ has gone fully bonkers?

Please. This is new. This is real. Try to stay on track. More reasoned debate, less frothing at the mouth please.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2003

i don't think he was talking about Lamo as the victim here.

Instead, the FBI has threatened to put these reporters in jail unless they agree to preserve all of these records while they obtain a subpoena for them under provisions amended by the USA-PATRIOT Act. The government also officiously informed the reporters that this is an "official criminal investigation" and asks that they not disclose the request to preserve documents, or the contents of the letter, to anyone -- presumably including their editors, directors, or lawyers -- under the implied threat of prosecution for obstruction of justice.

scary stuff. but then again, that's what the Patriot Act is all about (Grown-ups did that).
posted by mrgrimm at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2003

I don't think the Inquisition metaphor is too far fetched considering what the individual's rights were of that day. It was appropriate behavior by the Church/State to torture and kill in the name of public security. In today's age, in the name of public security, it is appropriate to erode the rights of the individual. The FBI's interpretation that reporters' and their subjects' rights are subservient to public security seems appropriate. But what may be the real issue is that a faction of the FBI feels free to deliberately misquote or misinterpret the Patriot act under public scrutiny; read the section in question, there is no way to interpret it as giving a governmental entity the power to require a reporter to disclose confidential communications. The struggle for power between Republican and Democratic factions of the government is what's really going on. It's about the struggle between corporate and public interests. Who is going to win? -baaa, baaa- is the ridiculousness of this blatant and offensive enough to get anyone to change sides. I doubt it. What does it take to scare wolves in sheeps clothing out of their costumes, and make them realise that there's a sheep herder with a gun waiting for them. -hmmn, is that metaphor too much?
posted by giantkicks at 1:03 PM on September 30, 2003

Thankyou trout fishing. At the end of the "pear" posting there's a link that surprised this Australian expat. The founding fathers were not Christians.

On reading the post it would appear that Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and a few others were content with the concept of God, but not confined to the description given in the New Testament. These guys fought a serious war, but seem less paranoid, fundamentalist and closeminded than governments to the right in either my home or host country.

It seems to be a personality thing. Those who believe that "you are with us or against us", and those more comfortable with plurality. Looks like we're back to McCarthy.
posted by ozjohn at 4:23 PM on September 30, 2003

ph00dz, y6y6y6 - I should have clarified that I wasn't talking about Lamo but about the reporters subpoenaed by the FBI.

ozjohn - Thanks. Personally, I was blown away by the "pear" device.....

Many try and debunk this "The founding fathers were not Christians." meme by pointing out that, actually, the majority of signatories to the Declaration of Independence or to the U.S. Constitution were declared Christians.

This is true from what I know - so maybe that case is overstated - but it's also likely that a slim majority of the most brilliant, charismatic, and forcefull of the founding fathers were not Christian - they were Deists, Unitarians and (as the Church Lady might have said on Saturday Night Live, before she got cancer and died)"......SATANISTS ??????" (the Satanist part is hearsay actually. But quite a few of them they were Masons.
posted by troutfishing at 8:29 PM on September 30, 2003

Meanwhile, I was watching a dumb Hollywood movie last week, "Big Trouble" (starring Tim Allen) and one sub plot was of the US government "special agents" who got to go around doing whatever the hell they wanted to do in the service of their mission.

Their mission was really, really important. It concerned a small nuclear device - ready to go off - in a major urban area.

To be fair, the most vicious thing the "special agents" did in the movie was to gratuitiously shoot a guy in the foot.

But - all through the movie - they kept repeating over and over and over again, "we're on a special mission - we're working under this oh-so-very-special presidential directive, and so we can do whatever the hell we want to whoever the hell we choose to do it to. Ha ha."

I thought it was more than a little creepy.
posted by troutfishing at 8:41 PM on September 30, 2003

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