Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Reading

J. Edgar and Habeas Corpus: When he wasn’t trying on the latest Christian Dior, the late director of the FBI was planning to round up the usual suspects.

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.

Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Bush administration’s decision to hold suspects for years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has made habeas corpus a contentious issue for Congress and the Supreme Court today.

The Constitution says habeas corpus shall not be suspended “unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” The plan proposed by Hoover, the head of the F.B.I. from 1924 to 1972, stretched that clause to include “threatened invasion” or “attack upon United States troops in legally occupied territory.”

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush issued an order that effectively allowed the United States to hold suspects indefinitely without a hearing, a lawyer, or formal charges. In September 2006, Congress passed a law suspending habeas corpus for anyone deemed an “unlawful enemy combatant.”

But the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of American citizens to seek a writ of habeas corpus. This month the court heard arguments on whether about 300 foreigners held at Guantánamo Bay had the same rights. It is expected to rule by next summer.

Hoover’s plan was declassified Friday as part of a collection of cold-war documents concerning intelligence issues from 1950 to 1955. The collection makes up a new volume of “The Foreign Relations of the United States,” a series that by law has been published continuously by the State Department since the Civil War.

Hoover’s plan called for “the permanent detention” of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The F.B.I., he said, had found that the arrests it proposed in New York and California would cause the prisons there to overflow.

So the bureau had arranged for “detention in military facilities of the individuals apprehended” in those states, he wrote.

The prisoners eventually would have had a right to a hearing under the Hoover plan. The hearing board would have been a panel made up of one judge and two citizens. But the hearings “will not be bound by the rules of evidence,” his letter noted.

The only modern precedent for Hoover’s plan was the Palmer Raids of 1920, named after the attorney general at the time. The raids, executed in large part by Hoover’s intelligence division, swept up thousands of people suspected of being communists and radicals.

Previously declassified documents show that the F.B.I.’s “security index” of suspect Americans predated the cold war. In March 1946, Hoover sought the authority to detain Americans “who might be dangerous” if the United States went to war. In August 1948, Attorney General Tom Clark gave the F.B.I. the power to make a master list of such people.

Hoover’s July 1950 letter was addressed to Sidney W. Souers, who had served as the first director of central intelligence and was then a special national-security assistant to Truman. The plan also was sent to the executive secretary of the National Security Council, whose members were the president, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the military chiefs.

In September 1950, Congress passed and the president signed a law authorizing the detention of “dangerous radicals” if the president declared a national emergency. Truman did declare such an emergency in December 1950, after China entered the Korean War. But no known evidence suggests he or any other president approved any part of Hoover’s proposal.

Giving of Themselves: Somewhere it is written that it is better to give than to receive, and a Miami couple takes it to heart.

Early Christmas morning, Marielys Blanco will don her red and white Santa hat, Danis Hernandez will grab the list of addresses, and the couple will take a virtual sleighload of clothes, shoes, toys and meals to two dozen migrant children and their families near Florida City.

Friday, they gave clothing and toys to more than a dozen children in an after-school program in South Miami.

”I’m not a churchgoer,” Hernandez said. “I believe in God and prayer, but I believe you should give. My wife shares the same values. We’re not materialistic.”

For Hernandez, 38, and Blanco, 33, becoming South Florida Santas has brought great joy to a holiday that once brought only stress.

Each year, they extend their influence, adding more children to their list and enlisting family members, friends — even their bosses — to share the joy of giving with them.

”We’re just normal people. By no means are we rich,” Hernandez said. He works in a furniture-company warehouse, spending his days in shorts and a T-shirt, lifting heavy objects. She is a legal secretary. A few years ago, after living in a small South Miami studio, they bought a modest one-floor, single-family home, where they stash the gifts for their volunteer effort in their computer and storage rooms.

It all started six years ago.

”I got home from shopping, and I was really stressed out because I didn’t know what to get her and I was mad at what Christmas had become,” Hernandez said. “I just threw out an idea: Let’s just give money to someone who needs it.”

Instead of buying each other the usual gifts — a new pair of sneakers or workout clothing (both love to exercise) they gave the money to Toys for Tots.

Two years later, Hernandez saw an Urban Ministries advertisement for volunteers to help deliver Thanksgiving dinners. The two signed up.

”I stumbled on a couple of single moms with kids,” he said. “They were needy families living in motel rooms with three kids each.”

He couldn’t get the sad images out of his mind.

‘So I went to my wife and said, `Let’s make this more personal.’ I called the women and got shirt and shoe sizes for the kids and we went shopping. We also got some toys.”

Blanco put on her Santa hat, and the couple drove their gifts to the motel. Each family received $150 worth of presents.

”We had more fun that Christmas,” Hernandez said.

Each year since, the number of children on their gift list has grown.

Last year, they persuaded their families to pitch in. ‘We started telling them, `Here, get something for a 7-year-old instead of us,’ ” Hernandez said.

This year, the couple’s gift rooms began to fill up in July when a buddy gave Hernandez a half-dozen used bicycles.

”I fixed them up, and for $40, they’re like new,” he said.

Blanco and Hernandez took their gift list for 53 children to a Ross Dress for Less store and spent four hours shopping for clothes so each child could receive two to three gifts, including a toy, plus family food baskets.

”You wouldn’t believe it, but $400 goes a long way at Ross,” he said.

Friday afternoon, Hernandez and Blanco watched quietly from the corner as the children in South Miami opened their gifts. ”It was just fun to sit back and watch them,” Hernandez said. “They didn’t need to thank us or anything.”

Fourteen-year-old Joshue Rodriguez was ecstatic to receive a Nike T-shirt and cargo pants.

”The shirt’s extra large — my perfect size,” he said, smiling.

Rodriguez came to South Florida in 2000 from the Dominican Republic with his mother, who works as a waitress at two Denny’s restaurants. His father lives in Maryland with his brother.

”I don’t want too much,” he said. “I hear kids who want an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3. I don’t need that.”

Lars Gilberts of South Florida Urban Ministries says Danis (pronounced Danny) “goes above and beyond. We sent him at Thanksgiving with 58 meals to Florida City, way out at about 312th Street. He met families and found houses in bad shape, with no curtains, and the kids with clothes that didn’t fit. So he’s developing food baskets for moms and gifts for kids.”

Stan Schokley, Hernandez’s boss at Blue Leaf, a manufacturer of furniture for hotels, has helped, as well. Schokley calls Hernandez, who manages the warehouse, “absolutely sincere, completely.”

Schokley and his wife, Stephanie Tyler, worked through their church last year, but this year Hernandez persuaded them to join forces. Tyler’s International Design Concepts and Blue Leaf helped with the food baskets as well as individual gifts for children.

”With very little, we can do things that make a big difference,” Schokley said.

Frank Rich: No Experience Required?

We can only imagine what is going on inside John McCain’s head when he contemplates Mike Huckabee. It can’t be pretty. No presidential candidate in either party has more experience in matters of war than the Arizona senator, and yet in a wartime election he is being outpaced by a guy who has zero experience and is proud of it.

“I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy,” Mr. Huckabee joked to Don Imus, “but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.” So much for the gravitas points earned during a five-and-a-half year stay at the Hanoi Hilton.

But if Mr. McCain has so far resisted slapping down the upstart in his party, Bill Clinton has shown no such self-restraint about Barack Obama. Early this month the former president criticized the press for not sufficiently covering the candidates’ “record in public life” and thereby making “people think experience is irrelevant.” His pique boiled over on Charlie Rose’s show on Dec. 14, when he made his now-famous claim that the 2008 election will be a referendum on whether “no experience matters.” He insinuated that Mr. Obama was tantamount to “a gifted television commentator” and likened a potential Obama presidency to a roll of the dice.

Attention Bill Clinton: If that’s what this election is about, it’s already over. No matter how much Hillary Clinton, Mr. McCain or Rudy Giuliani brag about being tested and vetted, it’s not experience that will be decisive in determining the next president.

For many, Mr. McCain’s long record of experience may be a liability even greater than his party-bucking moderation on immigration and his bear hug of President Bush on Iraq. What his résumé mainly does is remind a youth-obsessed culture of his age. When Gallup asked voters in August to rate traits as desirable or not in the next president, the “undesirable” percentages for being a member of a racial or ethnic minority group (13), a woman (14), a Mormon (22) or having “strained relationships” with one’s children (45) all paled next to being age 70 or older (52). It’s not morning in America for Reaganesque elders in the political arena anymore.

For Mrs. Clinton, the failure of “experience” as a selling point was becoming apparent even as her husband continued to push it on Charlie Rose. Last week’s ABC News-Washington Post poll in Iowa found that she clobbers Mr. Obama on the question of who has the most experience — 49 percent to 8 percent. But to little end. That same survey had Mr. Obama ahead by 4 points over all because, as this year’s pervasive polling matchup has it, the electorate values change over experience.

The rabid hunger for change, it turns out, has made the very idea of experience as toxic as every other attribute of the Bush White House. The once-heralded notion of a C.E.O. presidency, overstocked with “tested” Washington and Fortune 500 executives like Cheney and Rumsfeld, is now in the toilet with Larry Craig. You couldn’t push the pendulum further in the other direction than by supporting a candidate like Mr. Huckabee, who is blatantly unprepared to be president and whose most impressive battle has been with his weight. In a Rasmussen poll in Florida, Mr. Huckabee even did well among foreign-policy-minded Republicans whose most important issue is Iraq.

But for Mrs. Clinton, the problem isn’t just that the Bush years have tarnished the notion that experience is a positive indicator of future performance. She has further devalued that sales pitch with her own inflated claims of what her experience has been. Ted Sorensen, the J.F.K. speechwriter now in the Obama camp, saw the backlash coming in a recent conversation I had with him after Mrs. Clinton had mocked Mr. Obama for counting his elementary-school years in Indonesia as an asset.

“Hillary should be careful about scoffing at other people’s experience,” Mr. Sorensen said. “It’s not as if the process of osmosis gives her presidential qualities by physical proximity.”

Whatever Mrs. Clinton’s experience as first lady or senator, what matters most in any case is not its sheer volume, that 35 years she keeps citing. It’s what she did or did not learn along the way that counts. That’s why one of the most revealing debate passages so far came in an exchange that earned much laughter but scant scrutiny this month in Des Moines.

This was the moment when Mr. Obama was asked how he could deliver a clean break from the past while relying on “so many Clinton advisers.” Mrs. Clinton jokingly called out, “I want to hear that,” prompting Mr. Obama to one-up her by responding, “Well, Hillary, I’m looking forward to you advising me, as well.”

Well, touché. But what was left unexamined beneath the levity was a revealing distinction between these two candidates. The questioner was right: Mr. Obama, like Mrs. Clinton, has indeed turned to former Clintonites for foreign-policy advice. But the Clinton players were not homogeneous, and who ended up with which ’08 candidate is instructive.


What Mrs. Clinton clearly has learned from her White House experience, as she reminds us, is to strike back at her critics. Unfortunately, she has assimilated those critics’ methods as well. Attacks on Mr. Obama’s record and views are fair game. But the steady personal attacks — the invocations of “cocaine” and “Hussein” and “madrassa” by surrogates — smell like the dirty tricks of the old Clinton haters. The Clinton-camp denials that these tactics have been “authorized” sound like Karl Rove’s denials of similar smear campaigns against John McCain in 2000.

If Mrs. Clinton is to win, she won’t do so by running on that kind of experience but by rising above it. Bill Clinton wouldn’t have shifted gears to refer to his wife constantly as a “change agent,” however implausibly, if his acute political sensors didn’t tell him that Americans are not just willing but eager to roll the dice.

Doonesbury: Repeated application may have undesired side effects.

Opus: The jig is up.