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Roger Fitch Esq
4 June, 2007  
Our Man in Washington

Sabotaging the Iran-Contra investigation … The pursuit of Clinton over Whitewater … Ignoring Supreme Court rulings on habeas ... Gutting the RICO action against big tobacco … Deregulating car pollution. The common link in all these proceedings is DC appeals judge David Sentelle, a Republican stalwart and Bush law enforcer. In time the word Sentelle will enter the language as a transitive verb or a noun


Aside from George Bush’s disastrous foreign policies, a likely theme of future historians will be the regime’s barefaced corruption – in politics, regulatory agencies, the legal system, even the judiciary.

Particularly noteworthy is the justice system. In the Orwellian world of Bush, a misnamed Department of Justice offers [il]legal advice, supported by an [in]judicious judiciary largely drawn from a Republican Party no longer attached to the idea of a republic.

imageNew confirmation of the rot has been provided by the Senate testimony of the recently-resigned Deputy Attorney General, Paul McNulty and contradictory testimony of Monica Goodling (pic), former “counsellor” to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Goodling also “liaised” with the Bush White House. Unlike her namesake in the Clinton White House, it was strictly political. Ms Goodling, you see, is a deeply moral and religious person.

After the recent testimony of McNulty’s predecessor, James Comey about the stand-off with the White House over warrantless wiretapping, even the Court Circular, i.e. The Washington Post, was calling for an investigation to find out exactly what George W. Bush was attempting to do that was found to be so illegal by a remnant of honest lawyers in the so-called Justice Department.

Newsweek suggested that as many as 30 such lawyers were prepared to resign (why didn’t they?).

Despite my earlier estimate of 12, it’s now 26 prosecutors that the DoJ has admitted they wanted to fire.

Political corruption has always been a factor in US politics although universal corruption, a relatively recent innovation, has been largely a product of the Bush administration. Each day brings new examples.

* * *

By contrast, the Republican scheme to taint the judiciary began long ago, during the Reagan administration. It is now coming to fruition, and is altogether more alarming.

Earlier this year I reported the shocking case of the American citizen Mohammed Munaf.

Munaf was tried in absentia in the Baghdad Central Criminal Court, without his lawyers or any evidence, and then condemned to death. The American government had been intimately involved in his “trial”.

True to the well-known blood lust of the Bush administration, the Pentagon was eager to transfer Munaf to the Iraqis for execution. But his wife and family in the US had other ideas and had filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Washington.

Munaf was being held by the American government in one of its Iraqi dungeons, but the administration claimed it was all down to UN resolutions and the corpus of Mr Munaf was not really in the custody of the US.

A district court judge obligingly denied habeas and in April, on appeal, a DC Circuit panel had no difficulty finding that Munaf could be transferred to die at the hands of the Iraqi government pursuant to its summary trial, see Munaf v Geren.

This judicial activism, however, required an apparent expansion of the ruling Supreme Court precedent in Hirota, despite the fact that a different panel of the DC Court of Appeals had just ruled in an almost identical case that habeas was required. That case, Omar v Harvey, was recently cited with approval in your Federal Court by Justice Brian Tamberlin in his decision allowing the action of David Hicks against the Howard Government to go forward.

* * *

The Munaf case reminded me of other fortuitous legal decisions enjoyed in the DC Court of Appeals by Republican presidents.

When the Iran-Contra scandal – a legacy of the Reagan administration – broke out during the term of George H.W. Bush a respected non-partisan (nominally Republican) special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, was appointed to investigate.

Such prosecutors must be, and be seen to be, non-partisan. But Walsh was a little too zealous and was replaced when he got too close to the truth. His successor was less zealous.

When another respected non-partisan Republican special prosecutor, Robert Fiske, could find no dirt on president Clinton, a court panel appointed by (Republican) Chief Justice William Rehnquist procured Fiske’s replacement by the nakedly partisan Republican apparatchik Ken Starr.

imageThis was fully aired at the time and even judicially upheld.

George W. Bush brought into his administration the previously convicted Iran-Contra criminal John Poindexter (pic), who was promptly disgraced once again and had to resign. Of course, Admiral Poindexter’s conviction had been judicially overturned on fanciful grounds.

At the time the Bush regime set out to gut Bill Clinton’s case against the American tobacco companies, they were greatly assisted by a decision of an appellate court in a case that reversed a lower court finding that tobacco companies could be forced under racketeering laws to disgorge profits earned as a result of illegal activity.

The ruling saved the tobacco companies, many of which were based in the home state of a particular judge on the panel, tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars, and left little basis for crafting a deterrent opinion in the judgment the district court ultimately awarded.

In any event, the DoJ political appointee (now ambassador to Australia) Robert McCallum gratuitously lowered the amount sought from $130 billion to $10 billion.

When the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity in the US, was bailed up by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, without apparent due process, a handy precedent was established to knock most Muslim charities on the head.

When the Guantanamo-related cases of Rasul (Hicks and Habib) and Al Odah were first on appeal, the detainees were found to have no right to habeas corpus because of Guantanamo’s offshore status.

But the Supreme Court reversed and found that habeas did extend to Guantanamo. Nevertheless, when Rasul/Al Odah redux, now called Boumediene, was again on appeal before the same appeal court, it again found essentially the same thing – no habeas in Guantanamo for alien detainees.

imageAnd just recently, the Supreme Court overruled an astonishing decision of the DC Court of Appeals that emissions from cars could not be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

What’s the common thread, the link in all these proceedings? A man named David Sentelle (pic). The talented Judge Sentelle, a senior jurist and Republican stalwart, is noted for rigorously enforcing Bush Law on the DC Court of Appeals.

The investigative reporter Robert Parry has examined the rise to notoriety of Judge Sentelle and his well-deserved reputation for partisan activity on the bench, beginning with the Reagan-Bush Iran-Contra scandal. That’s where Iranian payments for prohibited US arms were redirected to the American-backed contras of Nicaragua, all in violation of laws enacted by the Democrat Congress.

As Parry notes, Chief Justice Rehnquist was able to effectively sabotage the Iran-Contra inquiry through his position as the appointing authority for a three-judge panel that appointed special prosecutors.

At the time that panel was led by a traditional Republican, senior appeals court Judge George MacKinnon, who had selected and backed Walsh. But, Parry says:

“After Walsh broke through the Iran-Contra cover-up in 1991 and brought obstruction-of-justice cases against former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and several senior CIA officials, Rehnquist acted.”

How? According to Parry, by removing McKinnon and replacing him with David Sentelle, a junior appeals court judge known, Parry says, as a “committed Republican partisan”:

“By ousting MacKinnon, Rehnquist eliminated one of Walsh’s strongest defenders. By putting Sentelle in charge, the chief justice picked a judge who had already voted to overturn Walsh’s hard-fought convictions of Reagan’s White House aide Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter.”

The result was all that could be desired:

“With MacKinnon’s ouster, Walsh recognized that his Iran-Contra investigation was growing increasingly isolated, even as it closed in on the long-protected roles of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Under mounting pressure – and after Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra defendants on Christmas Eve 1992 – Walsh reluctantly shut his office down.

“But Sentelle remained as Rehnquist’s appointee to run the three-judge panel. Sentelle used that authority to pick Republicans for sensitive special prosecutor investigations, whether the target was a Republican or a Democrat.”

imageThe rest is history, as they say. Sentelle’s panel subsequently selected Bush senior’s solicitor general Kenneth Starr (pic) to investigate Bill Clinton, first over the Whitewater case and later over a variety of other allegations. As Sentelle artlessly explained in 1999 Senate testimony, he was looking for Republican prosecutors “who had been active on the other side of the political fence” to investigate Clinton and his administration.

The saga isn’t over. It is said that the Bush administration is counting on Judge Sentelle to overturn the Libby conviction, thus avoiding the trouble a presidential pardon in an election year might cause.

Perhaps, like Boycott and Quisling, Sentelle will enter the language as a transitive verb or a noun.