Posted on October 06, 2016 in Countdown

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One VP Candidate Debates, Another Denies But Doesn't Defend

If you didn't tune in to the Vice Presidential debate this week, well, neither did most Americans so we're here to catch you up. It was a somewhat frustrating, awkward, and downright strange conversation between Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Governor Mike Pence - but there were some highlights. Despite being uncomfortable, the two candidates covered a whole lot of policy ground on many of the issues we've been tracking, like Syria, community policing, and bigotry. You can find our coverage of all of those issues here and here, but let's just take a moment to talk about what we didn't expect. We definitely didn't think Sen. Kaine would test out his "tough guy" chops, which has been pretty widely beeb panned as unsuccessful. But the Pence conundrum is even more surprising. Hot off the heels of an embarrassing court decision against his suspension of refugee resettlement in Indiana, Pence was able to sugarcoat many of Trump's most sour pills. However untruthful, it seems Pence's "deny, deny, deny" strategy was able to completely frustrate his opponent. But for a guy who appears to have won the debate in the polls, he sure isn't getting much thanks from his boss, Donald Trump. Maybe Trump has good reason. Pence's "deny, deny, deny" strategy was a painfully obvious refusal to "defend, defend, defend." While Clinton was firing off some real zingers in celebration of her running mate, Donald Trump was apparently upset that Pence perhaps upstaged him, and definitely didn't defend him. We're not sure where this leaves the Pence-Trump arrangement, but if the past can be used to predict the future - we're sure Trump will tweet about it soon.


The DOJ is Intervening on the FBI's Problematic Intervention Scheme

This week the Department of Justice announced it was quashing the FBI's proto-program called "Shared Responsibility Committees" (SRCs). Earlier this year the FBI launched this program in a few cities across the country in the hopes of formalizing ad hoc attempts to "save" Arab and Muslim youth from becoming terrorists. DOJ won't say exactly why they are reeling in the FBI's program (they only say "we've heard your concerns and are suspending the program"), but we have a few guesses. Perhaps because the program crosses some major professional ethics lines? And because the FBI (a law enforcement organization) doesn't have the ability to legally or effectively take action before a crime has been committed? Definitely because they are discriminatory. Or maybe because Arab and Muslim communities do not want to welcome increased surveillance? All this is to say that we - along with our amazing allies like Muslim Advocates, ADC, Brennan Center, and the ACLU - are relieved to hear that the Department of Justice also disapproves of these programs and wants them to be brought to an end. However, we have serious questions about whether the FBI is going to listen to them, and listen to them honestly, without any "wink, wink" action. You see, we can't truly believe that the SRC program is dead until we know that the Los Angeles RENEW program has ceased working with the FBI. Or until we know that people who received this letter from the FBI regarding SRCs have received a second letter detailing their cancellation. Or until we figure out if there is an operational SRC working with the FBI in Arizona - something we only know from the father of a recently arrested autistic boy. Or if the same can be said for the New Jersey SRC. Or until Director Comey clarifies his statements on the record that suggest the FBI has not abandoned its program at all. Until then, we're not comfortable with how the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, CVE Task Force, and the FBI have decided to intervene in the Arab and Muslim communities.


With Great Terrorism Suing Power, Comes Great Terrorism Suing Problems

It's been a whole week since the United States Congress, in all of its infinite wisdom, was able to override a Presidential veto and force the "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act" (JASTA) into law. While we indeed support justice for victims of terrorism, this bill sets a terrible precedent for congressional interference in complicated foreign affairs, and it is probably only going to bring the victims of 9/11 an avalanche of legal fees and little to no justice. But now that the law has been passed, Congress already has some serious "rapid onset buyers remorse" concerning JASTA's potential repercussions. We've already begun to seen where this new legal avenue can lead. Saudi Arabia, the real target of the legislation, is now being sued by at least one victim of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Perhaps in response, Saudi has reportedly hired its 10th (yes, 10th) D.C. based lobbying firm and is spending approximately $1.3million a MONTH to do public relations and policy clean up. And we're hearing rumbles of other countries (cough, cough - Iraq) who have been the victim of our peculiar type of American terrorism already moving forward lawsuits against the U.S. government for its actions. In light of these less than preferred repercussions, a few brave leaders in Congress are advocating for changes to JASTA to prevent other countries from suing us, which would basically have to reverse the bill's alteration of the sovereign immunity law. Congress should remember this moment and take itself - and the constitutional separation of powers - a little more seriously. Congress should stop trying to score political points in election years around emotional anniversaries.


The Two State Two-Step

People who are clinging to the hope that the two state solution is the preferred way to the end the Israeli occupation of Palestine are having to confront the fact that the two state solution is less viable by the day. One two state believer is the U.S. government, but apparently some people in government are getting wise to that fact that you can't support a two state solution without opposing the occupation. In a super strongly worded (so strong) statement about Israeli settlement growth, which by this point is par for the course settlement growth, the U.S. State Department got serious. The statement reads "this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation" and it makes us wonder if the State Department has had it with Israeli defiance of their strongly worded (so strong) statements. And while Israel defies U.S. cautions against settlement growth, Israel is also trying to have its cake (settlement growth) and eat it too (two state solution). Check out this government twitter account try to make those ends meet. While the U.S. government and Israel are making some rhetorical affirmations of the two state solution, there are plenty of people ready to abandon the very idea of a two state. And looking down the barrel of what might come from the next U.S. president, we'd kindly suggest that President Obama finally puts his foot down on settlements at the bare minimum. For Trump, if we are right in forecasting Rudy Giuliani playing a major role in his administration, then we can not only expect a U.S. rejection of a two state solution but a U.S. abandonment of the Palestinian people. With Hillary Clinton, we have recently been given more reason to believe she is not abandoning Palestinians or the flailing possibility of a two state solution. But we also have to question the position her team took during the Platform debate, when there was reluctance to admit even the obvious – like the existence of the occupation. With so much changing so quickly on the ground, something must change in Washington.


Torture Tactics & Their Consequences

This week in U.S. torture disclosures, we learned of a previously unknown CIA torture tactic: a "make-shift electric chair." After 13 years of being held by the CIA without charge, two men were recently released and repatriated to their home in Tunisia where they have since been speaking with human rights organizations about their time in a CIA rendition location near Kabul. The horrifying account brings renewed attention to the legal blowback to torture practices that were implemented under the Bush administration, many of which are still being litigated today. We bring this story to you because Donald Trump, a candidate for President of the United States, has advocated that the U.S. must bring back water boarding and "go tougher than waterboarding." We wonder if a make shift electric chair is satisfactorily "tougher" for Mr. Trump. Because to us, torture - any kind of torture - is morally reprehensible and incredibly ineffective. Also in the news last week were reports that a U.S. airstrike near Idlib in Syria killed an Al Qaeda leader who had previously been held in a secret CIA rendition site. We're not saying that all people who were tortured are innocent, nor are we saying that the two Tunisian men released will become terrorists. We are saying that there is a peculiar feature of the U.S. record on torture: it doesn't work. In the case of Tunisians, they're innocent. In the case of Abu Faraj, we ended up killing him in an airstrike. In all of this what is totally clear is that torture is wrong.