This is a new local blog for Florida's sixth Congressional district and watching the actions of Cliff Stearns, the Republican representative who misserves us in Washington. If you are interested in posting at The Case Against Cliff, drop me a line at with some idea of your Democratic and/or progressive credentials and I'll add you as a blogger.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cliff Takes a Tour

On May 8, Congressman Stearns visited Guantanmo Bay Naval Base. In describing the trip in a press release on his website prior to departure, he said "I look forward to touring the facilities, evaluating the procedures, and getting a better picture of the role of Guantanamo in the War on Terror." After returning, he gleefully posted pictures of his trip, including this one, with a "thumbs up" worthy of Lynndie England herself:

The problem is that the Bush Administration's use of Guantanamo Bay has been a blatant violation of international law from the start. Coupling the violations of the Geneva Convention with the fact that 55% of the detainees at Guantanamo have committed no "hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies" and only 8% of detainees are actual fighters for al Qaeda, it is a true mystery why the Congressman would visit this facility with such enthusiasm.

In the documents released by the military to the New York Times in its story on the use of retired military officers as military analysts for the press, we find this passage about treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, taken from the transcript of a briefing of the officers (see 06-F-01532 doc 07 from the April 13, 2007 entry, page 6):
In GTMO, that ego down translated down to telling the detainee that his mother and sister were whores, he was forced to wear women's lingerie, multiple allegations of his homosexuality, he was forced to dance with a male interrogator, he was strip searched for control measures, and he was forced to perform dog tricks on a leash.

Now, the basic line there - you say that sounds, you know, like I did - that sounds like degrading. Well, we said yes, it could be. The basic line though in the charter for those interrogations was humane treatment. And humane treatment is spelled out by the President. It's a safe, secure environment that provides medical care, food, water, and the basics of that person's security. Not this. Was this person injured, harmed?

So, when Congressman Stearns says, in his press release, that treatment of detainees complies with international law, there are those who would disagree with him. According to the National Lawyers Guild, both those who mistreated prisoners and those involved at all levels of approving of this abuse have violated international law:

The prohibition of torture is a jus cogens norm (these are principles of international law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt to contract out of them through treaties). The United States has consistently prohibited the use of torture through its Constitution, laws, executive statements and judicial decisions and by ratifying international treaties that prohibit it. The prohibition against torture applies to all persons in U.S. custody in times of peace, armed conflict, or state of emergency. In other words, the prohibition is absolute. However, the legal memoranda drafted by government lawyers purposely or recklessly misconstrued and/or ignored jus cogens, customary international law, and various U.S. treaty obligations in order to justify the unjustifiable, claiming that clearly unlawful interrogation “techniques” were lawful.

Further, the NLG also states, in the same white paper, that "all those who approved the use of torture and committed it—whether ordering it, approving it or giving purported legal advice to justify it—are subject to prosecution under international and U.S. domestic law."

The white paper from the NLG tells us that because torture of prisoners is under a jus cogens norm, it is not made legal by the flawed memos of John Yoo, or by the pronouncement of President Bush, or by a vote of Congress in the Military Commissions Act. That is why Stearns has it exactly backwards when he ends his report on the Guantanamo Bay trip with a reference to a released detainee who became a suicide bomber. Taking innocent people off the street, placing them beyond the reach of international law and then subjecting them to needless physical and psychological torture for years is a guaranteed recipe for creating enemies. It was Guantanamo Bay and the methods employed there that are directly responsible for the unleashing of that particular bomber.

Update (June 10): The photo is no longer on Cliff's website. Nervous much, Cliff?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paid Shill for Telecoms?

An ad campaign being unleashed next week against Blue Dog Democrat Chris Carney of Pennsylvania easily could apply to Bush rubber-stamper Cliff Stearns. The ad campaign takes on Carney for his support of the Bush Administration position on retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies in FISA revision legislation, and points out the large contributions from telecommunications companies that Carney has received.

A look at the database reveals that Cliff's top two contributors in the current campaign cycle, at $10,000 each, are AT&T and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, while telephone utilities have contributed $27,000 in total. Cliff clearly is a darling to the telecommunications industry, as seen in this press release from his website:
WASHINGTON, APRIL 7, 2008 - The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) is presenting its "Spirit of Innovation" Award to Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) at the group's Ninth Annual Spring Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. Stearns is the Republican Leader on the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee. In addition to receiving the award, Stearns will provide the keynote address to the TIA membership at 8:00 AM on Tuesday, April 8th in the Atrium Hall of the Ronald Reagan Building. The TIA membership represents the information, communications, and entertainment industry.

Of course, the "innovation" that Cliff is trying to bring in this case is nothing more than retroactive immunity for illegal spying on American citizens. Watch the ad against Carney and realize that it applies to Cliff just as well:

Friday, May 9, 2008

Cliff's Priorities

Last December, Congressman Stearns released a statement to the press in which he said:
I am pleased to join the House in extending SCHIP through March 31, 2009, without opening the program to higher income families and to more adults.
It is truly sad that he is pleased that the program was not extended to higher income families, even though those families still are so poor that they cannot afford health insurance for their children. However, that pleasure at not expanding the program is a result, in part, of his activley preventing the expansion of SCHIP. On September 25, 2007, Congressman Stearns voted against a conference bill ironing out final differences between the House and Senate on an expansion of SCHIP that would have expanded coverage from the current 6.6 million low income children to 10 million low income children. Further, when President Bush vetoed the bill, Congressman Stearns showed his dedication to the failed policies of the President by voting against an override of the the veto.

Congressman Stearns' vote to sustain the veto was in direct opposition to public opinion. CNN reported at the time that 61% of the public favored an override of the veto, while only 35% favored sustaining the veto. Congressman Stearns is clearly with only 35% of the American public when it comes to the health of our children. CNN cited Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Bush's support from lockstep Republicans like Congressman Stearns:
Earlier, Pelosi said Bush "is alone," in his stance on the bill, "and he's dragging some of his House members with him down this path."
The cost of the SCHIP expansion would have increased SCHIP expenditures by $35 billion over five years. It appears that Congressman Stearns feels it is more important to spend $12 billion a month for the war in Iraq than to spend $7 billion a year to cover health insurance for 4 million low income children. Are those your priorities?


Update: Cliff was for mothers before he was against them. This is just absolutely stunning, from Dana Milbank in the Washington Post:

On Wednesday afternoon, the House had just voted, 412 to 0, to pass H. Res. 1113, "Celebrating the role of mothers in the United States and supporting the goals and ideals of Mother's Day," when Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), rose in protest.

"Mr. Speaker, I move to reconsider the vote," he announced.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who has two young daughters, moved to table Tiahrt's request, setting up a revote. This time, 178 Republicans cast their votes against mothers.

It has long been the custom to compare a popular piece of legislation to motherhood and apple pie. Evidently, that is no longer the standard. Worse, Republicans are now confronted with a John Kerry-esque predicament: They actually voted for motherhood before they voted against it.

But why would 178 Republicans in the House vote against the goals and ideals of Mother's Day? Milbank explains:
As House Democrats tried to pass legislation to ease the mortgage crisis on Wednesday, Republicans served up hours of procedural delays, demanding a score of roll call votes: 10 motions to adjourn, half a dozen motions to reconsider, various and sundry amendments, a motion to approve the daily journal, a motion to instruct and a "motion to rise."
Voting against mothers was just another trick in the arsenal of House Republicans to prevent the Democratic majority doing the peoples' business.

How did Cliff vote? He voted against mothers after he voted for them. Obstructing Congress is more important to Cliff than recognizing mothers. Are those your priorities?