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As a result of the Secure America Act, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is constructing an 18-foot steel and concrete wall at the Texas-Mexico border that will pass through the backyards of family homes (whose owners face condemnation lawsuits if they protest) but will stop short of the River Bend Resort and golf course. The fence will resume at the other side of the resort. A similarly proposed border wall will bypass the property of Dallas billionaire and friend of President Bush, Ray Hunt. DHS has failed to provide answers about how it decided where to build the border fence but the Texas Observer has learned that SBInet - private consortium of contractors led by Boeing Co. - is making almost all of the decisions. (Texas Observer, Think Progress)

A closely watched Iraqi trial of high-ranking Shiite officials (accused of running militias that killed and kidnapped hundreds of Sunnis) is regarded as a test for Iraq's judicial system, but it is already an embarrassment. Before the trial started, one judge was removed because he allegedly agreed to find the defendants not guilty, and on the fist day a key witness failed to appear - perhaps because of pervasive witness intimidation. (New York Times)

Pentagon Prosecutors have challenged a military court's decision that grants Osama Bin Laden's driver (Salim Ahmed Hamdan) the right to send written questions to alleged al Qaeda detainees held at Camp 7 in Guantanamo Bay. The defense asserts that answers to their questions will determine what defense witnesses they need to call, but a military commissions spokesperson says that prosecutors believe that access to detainees in camp 7 raise ``a lot of complicated issues.'' (Miami Herald)

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You remember former CIA official Jose Rodriguez. He's the guy at the center of the criminal investigation into the destruction of the CIA's torture tapes. The videotapes, you'll remember, documented interrogation techniques authorized by Justice Department lawyers and the White House on two detainees. CIA interrogators (and possibly contractors) waterboarded the two detainees and possibly exposed them to a range of other techniques, such as inducing hypothermia. The investigation is not focusing on the use of those techniques, though. The focus is the destruction of the tapes.

But back to Rodriguez. The line from White House and senior CIA officials has been that they repeatedly advised against destroying the tapes. Rodriguez (via his lawyer) says that advice was never unequivocal. The New York Times has a story today exploring that breach between Rodriguez, who ran the CIA's clandestine service, and the leadership.

The story goes something like this: Porter Goss, then the director of the CIA, was viewed as something of a buffoon by the career officers. They didn't like the crew he brought in (like his #3 Dusty Foggo, who was subsequently indicted for taking bribes from Brent Wilkes), and they didn't like the way he ran the place. So Rodriguez pretty much ran things the way he thought they ought to be run in his division. And when the issue of whether to destroy those tapes arose again in late 2005, he did what he thought was right. He saw the tapes as "a sort of time bomb that, if leaked, threatened irreparable damage to the United States’ image in the Muslim world, his friends say, and posed physical and legal risks to C.I.A. officers on them."

And Goss... did nothing. The Times reports that there is "no record of any reprimand or punishment" in Rodriguez's personnel file at the agency. Because:

People close to Mr. Goss, who knew from his Congressional years how explosive accusations of cover-up could be, insist he told Mr. Rodriguez the tapes should be preserved.

But if Mr. Goss believed Mr. Rodriguez had disobeyed him, why did he not punish the clandestine service chief? One former C.I.A. official said White House officials had complained about the news media firestorm that accompanied the departure of [two CIA officials who'd resigned] a year earlier, and Mr. Goss felt he could not risk another blowup.

And of course the administration kept the whole thing quiet for more than two years until the Times blew the whistle. Too bad there's never a convenient time for "another blowup."

Even if Brent Wilkes can breathe a sigh of relief that he did not get the 25-year sentence that prosecutors were gunning for, it was far from a good day.

The judge sent Wilkes to prison immediately, because he could not be trusted to remain free while his appeal of the verdict was pending. That's because, Judge Larry Burns wrote in his order (which you can read here), he "doubts Mr. Wilkes trustworthiness."

For one thing, he lied on the stand when he said he didn't bribe Cunningham, the judge wrote. And when he claimed not to have had anything to do with getting Cunningham a prostitute in Hawaii, "his testimony was utterly unbelievable and thoroughly contradicted by the weight of the evidence."

What's more, Judge Burns concluded that Wilkes had lied when he'd claimed that he was too broke to be able to afford a lawyer. Based on that representation, Burns had assigned him public defenders. "The Court finds Mr. Wilkes materially misrepresented his financial condition in an improper effort to obtain legal representation at the expense of the taxpayer."

So it's off to jail Brent Wilkes goes.

So it appears that Brent Wilkes will get only a slightly more severe sentence than Duke Cunningham. Wilkes, convicted last year on all counts, was reportedly sentenced to 12 years in prison today -- prosecutors had asked for as much as 25 years and no fewer than 15. The probation officials had recommended as much as 60.

But Judge Larry Burns, for whatever reason, decided on 12. Cunningham himself was sentenced to a little more than 8 years after pleading guilty. We'll have more information when it's available.

Update: The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that "the judge disagreed with prosecutors who contended Wilkes masterminded the scheme." As the prosecutors had put it in their sentencing recommendation, “There can be little doubt Wilkes was the spider, and Cunningham the fly, in this web of corruption.”

Apparently Judge Burns thought Duke was at least part-spider. He may have been really dumb, but he knew what he was doing.

Remember that Wilkes had contended that he was just playing Cunningham's game -- a system he termed "transactional lobbying."

Update: It's worth mentioning that though this sentence is well below what prosecutors requested, it's the most severe sentence meted out for political corruption in the last several years (see update below). Even Jack Abramoff himself is likely to finally be sentenced to fewer than ten years in prison.

Update: Ask and you shall receive. A TPM Reader writes in to flag a more severe sentence meted out to the former mayor of Lynwood, California -- he got about 16 years. There very well might be other examples of less widely known cases with similarly severe sentences. But certainly, when it comes to the flurry of congerssional corruption cases in D.C., Wilkes has received the most severe sentence so far.

Update: More from The San Diego Union-Tribune:

The judge disagreed with prosecutors who contended Wilkes masterminded the scheme, yet said he was troubled by Wilkes' demeanor in court.

“Mr. Wilkes, you have not indicated any sense of contrition to this day,” he said.

“I'm not big on sending a message, but I do think people will pay attention to what happened here,” Burns said.

Update: More here.

From the AP:

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge Tuesday to the Bush administration's domestic spying program.

The justices' decision, issued without comment, is the latest setback to legal efforts to force disclosure of details of the warrantless wiretapping that began after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union wanted the court to allow a lawsuit by the group and individuals over the wiretapping program. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, saying the plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been monitored.

There are still a number of suits ongoing. But the hurdle in this case and most others challenging the program is a high one -- the court has refused to hear the lawsuit because the journalists, scholars, attorneys and national advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit can't prove that they were wiretapped under the program. Of course, that information is secret, and the government refuses to say.

Not all judges have found that to be a problem. For instance, district Judge Anna Diggs Taylor issued an injunction shutting down the program in August, 2006 -- and proclaimed in her opinion that "It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights." An appeals court dismissed the suit last July, citing the lack of standing.

This suit was against the National Security Agency itself, not against the telecoms. Those suits are ongoing -- for now. They would be automatically dismissed if the administration got its way and the new surveillance law contained immunity for the companies' participation in the program.

It's gotten to be a common occurrence. When Congress has a scheduled recess, the Democratic leadership keeps the Senate (and sometimes the House) in pro forma session in order to prevent any administration recess tomfoolery.

The main concern, of course, has been that the president would push through controversial recess appointments. But this time around, the Politico reports, a main concern is that the administration would try a coup de théâtre -- i.e. use the president's power to force the House into special session as a way of putting further pressure on the House Dem leadership to pass the Senate's surveillance bill and win that coveted retroactive immunity for the telecoms:

Pelosi, fearing that Bush would try to capitalize on the House’s absence to call Congress back into a special session, scheduled two pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. The Senate will do the same at the same time. Since neither chamber goes out for more than three days, Bush cannot take the dramatic step of calling the Congress back for the first special session since Harry Truman did it in 1948.

Not to worry, though, as you can be sure that the administration will find somehow, some way to issue periodical warnings about our imperiled nation this week. They seem to have taken a break on President's Day, but we'll let you know when they're back at it.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the House and Senate judiciary and intelligence committees are negotiating a compromise bill. No word yet on how things are going.

A newly released British document from 2002 asserts that Saddam Hussein had acquired uranium and technology necessary for chemical weapons. But the document does not include the crucial allegation used to justify the Iraq invasion - that Hussein was capable of launching weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. A later draft of the document did include this assertion and critics believe that Prime Minister Tony Blair's press advisers ordered its inclusion to bolster the case for war. (AP)

Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Kit Bond (R-MO) have called for an investigation into why officials from the Marine Corps turned down a 2005 request from commanders for more blast resistant vehicles in Iraq. The call comes after a study found that "hundreds of United States marines may have been killed or wounded by roadside bombs in Iraq" because of the refusal of the request. (AP)

Christopher Christie, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey whose office gave former Attorney General John Ashcroft a contract worth between $27 million and $52 million to monitor a settlement in a fraud case, has been asked to testify before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee next week. The committee, which wants to ask Christie "about the process by which [Ashcroft] was selected to be the monitor and what exactly he’s doing to earn the fee," has also asked Ashcroft to testify. (AP)

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Victory! Only 47 years after the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro has toppled from power. Or resigned to hand power to his brother. In any case, he's gone.

You can read his resignation letter here. In it, the relic of the Cold War looks forward to the future:

Fortunately, our Revolution can still count on cadres from the old guard and others who were very young in the early stages of the process. Some were very young, almost children, when they joined the fight on the mountains and later they have given glory to the country with their heroic performance and their internationalist missions. They have the authority and the experience to guarantee the replacement. There is also the intermediate generation which learned together with us the basics of the complex and almost unattainable art of organizing and leading a revolution.

The path will always be difficult and require from everyone’s intelligent effort. I distrust the seemingly easy path of apologetics or its antithesis the self-flagellation. We should always be prepared for the worst variable. The principle of being as prudent in success as steady in adversity cannot be forgotten. The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong; however, we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century.

On the adversary's side of things, the scramble begins. President Bush has chimed in with his hope that Castro's move will usher in a new era. And it's a prime opportunity for primary candidate jockeying -- already the calls are coming for the candidates to outline a new approach to Cuba.

As The Washington Post reported on Saturday, John McCain's campaign struck a canny deal with a bank in December. If his campaign tanked, public funds would be there to bail him out. But if he emerged as the nominee, there'd be no need for public financing, since the contributions would come flowing.

It's an arrangement that no one has ever tried before. And it appears that McCain, who has built his reputation on campaign finance reform, was gaming the system. Or as a campaign finance expert who preferred to remain anonymous told me, referring to the prominent role that lobbyists have as advisers to his campaign, "This places McCain’s grandstanding on public financing in a new light. True reformers believe public financing is a way to replace the lobbyists’ influence, not a slush fund that the lobbyists use to pay off campaign debts."

Here's the back story. As of December, McCain was still enrolled in the public financing system, but had yet to actually receive any public matching funds. The Federal Election Commission had certified that the campaign would be receiving $5.8 million in public funds. But they wouldn't get that money for a couple more months. In need of even more cash beyond the $3 million loan he'd already secured from a Maryland bank (he'd taken out a life insurance policy as collateral), the McCain campaign was stuck in a bind. They needed more money, but the bank needed collateral.

The promise of those public matching funds (to the tune of more than $5 million) was the only collateral the campaign could offer. But there was a problem with that. Using that promised money as collateral would have bound McCain to the public financing system, according to FEC rules. And the McCain camp wanted to avoid that, because the system limits campaigns to spending $54 million in the primary (through August). That would mean McCain would get seriously outspent by the Democratic nominee through the summer. (McCain has separately pledged to enroll in the system for the general election; that would give him $85 million in taxpayer funds for use after the party convention through Election Day but bar other contributions.)

So here's what the McCain campaign did. They struck a deal with the bank that simultaneously allowed his campaign to secure public funds if necessary, but did not compel his campaign to stay in the public system if fundraising went well (i.e. if he won the nomination). As McCain's lawyer told the Post, "We very carefully did not do that."

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From the BBC:, as it is known, was cut off from the internet following a California court ruling, the site says. The case was brought by a Swiss bank after "several hundred" documents were posted about its offshore activities.

Other versions of the pages, hosted in countries such as Belgium and India, can still be accessed.

However, the main site was taken offline after the court ordered that Dynadot, which controls the site's domain name, should remove all traces of wikileak from its servers.

Wikileaks has been the source for a number of revelatory documents, including the U.S. military's manual for Gitmo and the rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq.

But see it for yourself, is indeed out of commission. The Belgian wikileaks, however, is still up.

As for why this California judge ordered the whole site taken down over a few documents, that's not clear. As the BBC reports, "The case was brought by lawyers working for the Swiss banking group Julius Baer. It concerned several documents posted on the site which allegedly reveal that the bank was involved with money laundering and tax evasion." Why didn't the judge just didn't order the documents taken down instead of the whole site? We hope to get some expert guidance on the question.

Update: Just spoke with Steve Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy, who offered a clue. "My hunch is that the action was dictated by the practical options. [The judge and Julius Baer] don't know who is or who the responsible parties are upon whom a court order could be served. What they did know was the U.S. based internet service provider." So they got the ISP to shut the site down. "If they had known who to serve the order to – who represents Wikileaks --, then they might have chosen a more targeted action." Nevertheless, he thought the judge's move was "extraordinary," based as it was on the bank's contention that these were legally protected documents.

A large number of mirror sites have sprung up to counter the judge's move -- sites mirroring not only wikileaks, but also the Julius Baer documents at issue.

"Wikileaks had boasted that they were impervious to censorship," Aftergood told me. "This is the most serious test they've faced in their year-long existence. They may lose their current website, but dozens of mirrors around the world will endure. And I expect they will regroup."

Update: Here's the judge's order. And here's the motion for injunction filed by Julius Baer.

The court documents show that no lawyer has stepped forward to defend Wikileaks in the case, and that Wikileaks did not respond to Julius Baer's legal filings, including the original complaint, which was filed February 8th.

Update: The link to the judge's order has been fixed. Thanks to commenter rincewind below.

Update: Wired has a good tick-tock of the case -- and an explanation for why Wikileaks does not have a lawyer of record in the case and hasn't yet contested the suit in court. Also, Wikileaks has posted some of its correspondence with lawyers for Julius Baer.